Summer. Barbecues, road trips, flip-flops, rope swings, a new swimsuit, homemade popsicles or rides with the windows down and feet out the window. Reading outside. Doing just about everything outside. Gardening. Sprinklers. The list could go on.
Lately I’ve been thinking about the time when summer actually felt like an eternity. Remember that? The days right before you or your friends had a car and you came up with impossibly creative ways to pass the time–perhaps feeling bored and tortured, not realizing how you’d look back on those listless, empty afternoons with nostalgia and longing.
During those summer days, the above list would look quite different: making chocolate chip cookie dough and eating it straight out of the bowl. On the roof. In our underwear. Or walking downtown barefoot with my best friend Kristin to buy fried rice from the one and only decent Chinese restaurant in our small town. We’d wear cut-offs and put on lots of fruity lip gloss and hope to be noticed. We’d spend hours making mix tapes and sneak bottles of Zima and clove cigarettes into the garage for a smashing afternoon of pure daydreaming. The Cure. The Flaming Lips. Sublime. Tori Amos. Kristin and I would sneak out at night and traipse around the park with boys much too old for us. Those were the days. How little we knew and how much we thought we knew. But such is adolescence. I don’t really miss that. The one thing I do miss is the cadence of the days, the way they literally folded into one another into a beautiful, long swath of months we called summer.
These were the days before stress, before worrying about health insurance or Amex bills or how to raise money for a bakery if you decided you wanted to open one. Yep, those days. I know you remember them, too. I can’t seem to stop thinking about that simpler time, especially as my own summer days seem to be collapsing into one another like stuccato moments of work, rest, and more work. So I thought I’d bring back a little of the summer of ’95. Why not? Now I just baked chocolate chip cookies so that was out. A few other things we loved were pretty classy: gummy peaches, Toaster Strudels, Snackwell’s cookies, and peanut butter. Right out of the jar. Coincidentally, I haven’t grown out of peanut butter. So, it is. Something with peanut butter. Lucky for me, my friend Hallie just emailed me a recipe for Buckeyes. I didn’t know what they were, but Hallie instructed that they were all about peanut butter and as easy as “dip and dive.” Sold.
Hallie’s spending the summer in Brooklyn and I trust that she’s eating her fair share of peanut butter out of the jar this summer. We used to work together until she made the awesome, spontaneous decision to move across the country and follow her passion for design and see what happens. So far, she’s running across the Brooklyn Bridge each morning, has two awesome internships and is settling in just fine. And if this recipe is any indication of her good taste, I’m sure she’ll keep on truckin’. This one’s a keeper.
So here’s to remembering teenage summers chock full of imagination, seeming eternity, a swish of naivety, and a little dash of magic—and hoping that just a teeny, tiny bit of that gets infused into a bit of this summer.
If you do a quick online search for Buckeyes, you’ll learn two things: first, that they’re an Ohio favorite made to look like the fruit of the state tree, the Buckeye. Second, the traditional way to make them is to add a bit of paraffin wax to the melted chocolate, but that seemed a little odd to me. Apparently Hallie thinks so, too. To pull these off, you’ll need wax paper and toothpicks.
Mix the peanut butter, butter, vanilla, and salt together with a wooden spoon. Add the powdered sugar in two batches, stirring until completely combined (I used my hands here to quickly incorporate the powdered sugar at the bottom).
Shape into 1″ balls and stick a toothpick in the center of each. Chill in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.
Microwave chocolate chips on high for 1 1/2 – 2 minutes, or until completely melted. Gripping the toothpick, dip each ball into the melted chocolate until partially coated, and place on wax paper to harden. Store in an airtight container.
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?)