I received a note in the mail recently. Addressed to me, obviously, but in my own handwriting. A strange sense of familiarity struck as I stared at it, trying to figure out when exactly I’d addressed it. In Boston? In San Francisco? Maybe it was a mistake, a card I’d meant to send to someone else but accidentally sent back to myself (stranger things have happened). I stared at the envelope turning it over and over in my hands–still nothing. I opened it to find a single card with my name printed at the top.
Have fun. Don’t be scared. Dare to love again.
The note was in my writing, and it was from practically two years ago. I vaguely remember how I felt when I wrote it: Small. Uncertain. Fragile. After moving to San Francisco and realizing pretty quickly that I’d be going it solo, I started doing yoga almost every day just to clear my head and, frankly, have an excuse to get out of the apartment. I remember New Years Day when everyone (including my own parents) was hung-over after too much partying the night before. The light was soft and yellow that morning and the streets were completely empty. I was up early, made a pot of coffee, sat in my little window nook overlooking the city, and decided yoga was a good way to escape all of the New Years Resolution-ness that was bound to start weighing down on the day. I strolled into class, rolled out my mat smack in the middle of the room and sat on down.
We did very little yoga during that class. Instead, we did this exercise that I felt pretty uncomfortable with at first; it seemed too touchy-feely yet everyone was participating and there was no way to sneak out of the room. The teacher had these little wispy papers that deteriorated when you lit them on fire. So we wrote three things we wanted to let go of in the coming year and took turns coming up to the front of the room and burning them. I remember it all being strangely emotional–emotional in a very public way. Usually I would’ve put my guard up and excused the activity as silly, but I let myself actually take it all in and feel that day. We talked a little about our hearts. Everyone had a story.
At the end of class we wrote a note to ourselves that listed three things we wanted to work on in the coming year, three bits of advice. The instructor collected them and promised she’d send them sometime in the future but wouldn’t say exactly when. So here we are, and it’s a very different kind of day, week, year, isn’t it? I hardly recognize or remember the Megan that, shakily and tearfully, wrote this note. And I keep staring at it in awe and gratitude that I’ve been so blessed with a family that encourages following your heart; friends that encourage laughter, cocktails, eating out, and ice cream cones; and, of course, Sam.
So what would today’s note read? I think my advice to myself would be a little less grand in scope. I recently quit my very part-time retail job at Heath Ceramics to make more space for writing and Marge. The discount at Heath is pretty hefty and generally when people quit they make a few large purchases to round out their collection. But on my last day I looked around the shop and couldn’t think of much that I needed. I ended up buying a small bottle of good olive oil and some coffee beans. Daily pleasures I’ll use often–nothing grand, nothing showy, nothing that takes up much space. Because my life is so full on this Saturday in late September.
This weekend I’m traveling up to see Sam for almost a week. When you have been counting down the days and hours until you’re back in each others’ arms, cookies are a darn fine distraction. And not just any cookies, but wonderfully chewy ginger cookies that are soft on the inside yet slightly crackled on top. They’re nothing like light, crisp gingersnaps; they’ve got a little more heft. They’ll make your kitchen smell like fall in one moments time and are perfect for slicing off little bits throughout the evening if you happen to be up working at your desk late at night. But tomorrow they travel to Seattle. Where I’ll be for the longest visit yet. I’ll take some photos and bring them back to you. Maybe in the meantime, you whip up a batch of cookies.
Like many good things, this cookie recipe is the result of an accident (well, really, two accidents) while I was studying at the San Francisco Baking Institute. The first time I miscalculated the amount of flour and the second time we misread the spice profile. Both mistakes have given me one of my favorite fall cookie recipes of all time. Do use bread flour here instead of all-purpose flour: the higher gluten-content is integral in achieving the nice heft and chewiness that these cookies are so good for. Make a double batch; they freeze beautifully.
Preheat the oven at 350 F.
In the bowl of a stand-mixer or in a separate bowl using electric beaters, cream the butter and sugar until well combined, about one minutes. Then add the egg and molasses and mix until just combined, 20-30 seconds. Add all of the dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated (don’t overmix here).
Using a large tablespoon or ice cream scoop (see note) portion out roughly 2 ounce balls and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet.
Bake for 12-15 minutes until the tops and edges are golden brown and slightly crackled. The very center can remain slightly soft and even just a tad jiggly. When the cookies cool, they will firm up, leaving the inside and center wonderfully soft.
Note: I use a blue scoop (2 ounce, #16) for most cookies in the bakery and at home. It makes for a larger cookie.
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?)