We all have memories of foods that remind us of Summer. For me, it’s Log Cabin ice cream. My family has been coming to the same little funky cabin in Kings Beach, Lake Tahoe for almost thirty years–beginning soon after I was born. When we lived in Eureka, the drive was much longer than it is now (a quick jaunt from the Bay Area); we’d load up the car with blow up rafts, word puzzles, and juice boxes and head on out. Although we’d only go up in the Summer and the Winter, I can’t think of a place that has been more of a constant in my life. This from the girl who moved into three different apartments during the three years I lived in Boston. I feel like I always have a box packed. Things have changed, for sure. When my parents got divorced, my dad got the house. So a place that was so much about my mom isn’t any longer. We don’t hear the late night sound of her sneaking out to the casino ; we don’t look out onto the pier to see her perched on the edge with a floppy hat and a fashion magazine. The lake levels fluctuate, neighbors come and go, restaurants change ownership…but Log Cabin’s always there.
In a world where things change by the microsecond, I love that I can come back to Tahoe, walk through the dilapidated motel with bats, drug deals, and screechy electrical wires, over to The Log Cabin to see the same menu that I did when I was four, fourteen, twenty-four. I realize you don’t get a good sense of each sundae with this photo, but as a kid this is pretty much how it looked. A big board with lots of words, colorful swirly’s and zig-zags, and endless opportunity.
We often went to Log Cabin for a small scoop throughout the summer. As a kid, it was all about the bubblegum ice cream: blue, creamy confection with multicolored round treasures that you’d clean, spit back out, and save for later. But throughout our vacation, my mom only let us have one sundae, on the very last night. So each time we were at the little walk-up, we stared at the menu, trying to decide which one we’d choose when the fateful day came. S’more Sundae? Emerald Bay Split? Growing up, you sort of defined yourself by which sundae you chose. It was a statement–something that spoke about your interests and your palette, if only to yourself (which was obviously the case). When I was little, I would usually get Goodbye Mr. Chips. I think just for the cool name. I remember wondering who this mysterious Mr. Chips was and where he went off to, making up scenarios on the walk home. Maybe he was a lawyer who had to relocate for work. Maybe he was a fisherman who drowned at sea. I loved the smattering of little chocolate chips and the animal cracker plunked victoriously on top of the whipped cream pillow. But as a teenager, I remember thinking that I had finally grown into a different kind of sundae: ah, Brownie Points, bringer of all things chocolate. A sundae for real chocolate lovers, what I decided I was. Much more refined. Much more sophisticated. Or so I thought. Then in college, I decided it was important to stay traditional, stay classic. I opted for the Hot Fudge Sundae. Simple, dependable: me.
Today, I’m back to Goodbye Mr. Chips. I smile at the teenagers working behind the counter–they weren’t even born when I first started ordering it. I smile looking at families with little kids staring at the menu in awe, wondering if they’ll be perched on a rotting wooden bench at thirty years old eating the same thing they order that day. I did notice something new on the sign as I took this photo: they’ve whited out all of the prices. Some things have to change, I suppose.
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?)