I remember a few years back observing my family eat at the Olema Inn in West Marin. I was so sick that weekend. I laid in bed sweating out a fever, having delusions that the stuffed squirrels on the mantle were dancing around my bedposts. So when my sisters begged me to just come downstairs and sit at the table even if I didn’t feel like eating, I decided it was time to get a little fresh air (and escape those demonic squirrels). I stumbled downstairs, and sat in the sweet candlelit dining room admiring the menu and wishing that I could eat just a little something.
These days it’s common to ask if our meat is corn-fed, grass-fed, free-range etc. But at the Olema Inn, they went so far as to list whose field the cows had grazed on (The Turner’s field down the road a bit). At the time I thought this was a little too precious: do we really need to know that many details? Seriously, does it matter whose grass the cows consumed on what day? But the Olema Inn was two steps ahead of me. They understood that what your food eats, where it’s raised, and the conditions in which it’s raised greatly affect the taste and quality.
This morning, as I was strolling the aisles of my favorite natural grocery store, I spotted “Seaside Cheddar,” a rugged mature English Cheddar that’s unique in that the cows graze on grass right near the shore of an English farm, giving the cheese a distinct flavor and texture. “Try it,” the cheese man goaded me. He detailed how it would be different than any cheddar I’d ever tasted and instructed me to move it to the back of my mouth where I’d notice “small crunchy little pockets of salty flavor”. Yeah, Right. I doubted the cheese man. I wondered how he could be so enthusiastic about cheese at such an early hour. Yet again, the cheese man and the folks behind the Seaside Cheddar are two steps ahead of me. It’s an incredible, almost delicate cheddar, a word that generally doesn’t come to mind when people talk about cheddar. This cheese has your typical sharp, salty flavor, but it’s unique in that it almost crumbles like a parmesan. For a cows milk cheese, there’s a lot going on. It’s complex and delightful. And yes, pay attention: there are little air pockets in the cheese due largely to an effect of the aging process (calcium crystals form). Pick some up–you’ll see what I mean.
I sliced some with crackers. It would be lovely with apple wedges or on some crusty, toasted bread. Serve it room temperature so you can really appreciate the flavors. You can pick some up at your local Whole Foods this week (on sale for $7.99/pound) and reflect on the fact that the grass is greener across the pond–so different you can taste it.
Healthy Comfort Food
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)