Melty popsicles on the first weekend of September. Banana popsicles, to be exact, with a little bourbon and brown sugar. Thoughts of an Indian summer, a little jaunt here in one week, and choosing to linger — over morning coffee, evening drinks, a good book. Choosing not to linger over the television, online to-do lists, or starting to think about the holidays.
Last week I read a little Anne Lamott piece (via Molly) that spoke to this idea of choosing what you want to linger over or focus on. She talks about how the feeling of being busy all of the time is actually addictive–how much we all like to feel connected at all hours of the day, thriving on multi-tasking and creating little efficient systems around things that don’t necessarily need systems. She says, “Time is not free—that’s why it’s so precious and worth fighting for.” I read this right after I finished a hot-and-heavy texting conversation with my sister Zoe about hurricane Irene. Zoe lives in Manhattan and was writing to ask why I hadn’t checked in on her yet. Didn’t I know she was leaving her apartment to go stay with my aunt and uncle? Didn’t I know that the grocery stores were all sold out of food? That this could actually be big. The truth was I didn’t know. I had no idea.
My excuse? I don’t have cable. Sarcastically Zoe asked if my internet was broken, too. Had I been drinking all day, she wondered. I explained I’d been baking for the farmers market and it just wasn’t on my radar. She only sort of bought it. I think she still would’ve liked a “checking in” text or call. Fair enough. But I have to say, there’s something really, really nice about not having TV and getting to choose what information you look up and seek out. To fight for a little bit of time. While I wasn’t on the verge of breaking hurricane news, I seem to generally do just fine. I looked up where Irene was slated to land and checked in with The New York Times occasionally. But I did miss a lot of the good shots with news anchors and their flailing umbrellas. True. Speaking in general terms, Anne Lamott says, “No one needs to watch the news every night, unless one is married to the anchor. Otherwise, you are mostly going to learn more than you need to know about where the local fires are, and how rainy it has been: so rainy!” So much of it is largely noise.
When I lived in the city by myself for a few brief months searching for employment and nursing a broken heart, I liked to have the TV on for background noise. It made me feel less lonely. It made the apartment feel much less quiet. And I thought I’d feel the same way here in my Oakland apartment, but months ago I realized I didn’t. I cancelled cable but the TV still sat there completely untouched. Now it’s shoved into a closet with my snowshoes, ugly duffel bags, and a snorkel. Am I using the time I’d generally be sitting and watching TV to blaze through all of Russian literature? I’m afraid not. But I am listening to much more music, doing more writing, and every now and again looking around and marveling at my sunny little Oakland apartment. Marveling at the choices we get to make and how we can go about fashioning our days to be kind of how we want them to be. Melty popsicles, shelves of books, good booze, a plane ticket to West Virginia, and the sun setting across my school house desk. That’s the view from here as I linger (or dawdle, depending on how you look at it), stealing a little bit of time before digging into what’s next. In your case, that would be popsicles.
While it may be tempting to add a little more bourbon, remember that will affect how well your popsicles freeze. And this recipe yields popsicles that aren’t at all too sweet. Taste the mixture before pouring it into the molds, and adjust the sweetness as necessary. By the way, I think these would be lovely with cardamom or even a dash of cinnamon.
Quick note: the popsicles take a good 4 hours to freeze up completely (time not factored in the breakdown above), so plan accordingly.
Pour the milk, cream and brown sugar into a small saucepan and heat until just before it begins to boil. This helps integrate the brown sugar smoothly. Add the bourbon and vanilla and pour into a blender. Add bananas. Blend quickly — the mixture can remain a little chunky. Let cool and refrigerate until cooled completely.
Divide the mixture amongst the molds and freeze for 4-5 hours.
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?)