The Sebastopol Gravenstein Fair was this past weekend. I had a few food adventures planned in the city, but Craig, Linnea, and I decided a little jaunt up North might be fun. It’s been strangely cool in the mornings and evenings here; the light is even starting to change. I’ve been in denial that Fall is looming. The Gravenstein Fair, I figured, would be a nice way to come to terms with this fact.
When I was going to graduate school in Boston, I couldn’t wait for Fall. The leaves turned overnight (I kid you not), the air was crisp without being frigid, and there seemed to always be a good reason to make soup. One of my favorite things to do was go apple picking out on an old family farm in New Hampshire. They gave you special apple picking bags with super sturdy handles, and you could buy provisions at the little country store to have a picnic out in the orchards: honeys, apple butter, farm-fresh eggs, apple chutneys, and homemade apple breads. I miss that. But I was thinking the Gravenstein Fair might be similar: paper cups full of cider, bales of hay, maybe pick some apples. Instead, I found something very different. I realized quickly that, amidst the Thai BBQ and corndogs, there wasn’t going to be any apple picking. I really had to hunt for cider. And people were walking around with carnival toys and huge, furry hats. But the more I excused the fact that I’d had the wrong idea of what the festival would hold, it was actually a nice afternoon. We saw a restored tractor exhibit, ate doughy apple fritters, and tried Grandma’s Fried Apple Rings (apple rings, lightly battered and fried, and dusted with powdered sugar by none other than Grandma herself):
Grandma agreed to pose for a picture, and took great care to sprinkle the powdered sugar evenly and liberally. I found a bag of Gravensteins to take home–didn’t get to pick them, but they’re still delicious. They’re sitting in a big bowl by my sink and I’ve been having one before bed with a little almond butter.
We found an amazing shady spot under a big Madrone to rest after indulging in food we’d never usually eat, we tried (and tried) to win a hermit crab by tossing ping pong balls into fish bowls, and we sat on long wooden benches under the late August sun watching locals in a riotous apple juggling competition. Even better: we got to take in one of the last weekends of summer outdoors, together… before the back-to-school traffic picks up again, before the evenings become darker earlier, and before Summer slinks its way on out. Although I’m not in New England anymore to experience Fall, it still happens here and it still happens overnight. And now I have a few new early season traditions– from another coast.
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?)