I didn’t know this until last week, but Seattle has a way of gripping you in the fall. Sure, our leaves change in the Bay Area, and the light basks down glowingly in the afternoons and evenings in a much different way than it does in the summer. We get golds and touches of amber. Because I went to graduate school on the East Coast, I’m used to boldly-hued falls, but in Seattle the colors are more muted and in this way maybe even more beautiful. The air is brisk and crisp and you need to break out your coat. A scarf would be good, too. You may want to even leave the heat on overnight or turn it on the second you patter out of bed to take the chill off.
I spent Halloween in Seattle this year — a Monday that, for some reason, felt like one big ol’ Sunday. So we treated it as such. This was a Megan & Sam Sunday Do-Over — something that, should we both never need to work again for some odd reason (very unlikely)–I’d like to repeat again and again. When you find yourself in the position to reenact a Sunday, siting at a cafe with coffee, broiled eggs, bread and mustard, and yesterdays paper is a good option. You don’t get to do it everyday and a Monday that feels like a Sunday is the best of times for this sort of thing.
When you’re embarking on a Sunday Do-Over, time shouldn’t be a huge consideration. You’ve got to really do it right. Feed the meter heartily and just sit with the afternoon. Order Pastis after lunch and people watch.
The quiet afternoon turned to evening quickly (as it’s known to do), and we were a little late with our pumpkins, racing around and looking under car seats to find a lighter or matches as the first family rounded the corner. I headed out to the store to pick up a baguette and a few things to make a quick soup, Sam was playing Ethiopian jazz out on the porch, we took turns fetching all of the little slippery seeds from the pumpkins to roast later, and shared a few bottles of beer.
This was actually the first Halloween that I’ve ever had trick-or-treaters. I’ve always lived in city apartment buildings, but Sam has a little house in a very sweet neighborhood by the lake and there were quite a few kids coming up the walk. If you think of Halloween as an actual holiday, it was our first together. And it was cozy and warm and wonderful.
So in the spirit of do-overs, the soup quickly became one of my new favorites. So much so that I recreated it again here in Oakland last night and am excited to share it with you today. It’s a simple soup but, because of the coconut milk and warm spices, it’s almost decadent. It’s perfect for anytime the opportunity strikes to have a Sunday Do-Over. Or, really, just a moment to sit in the spirit of a Sunday. Let’s take what we can get.
As with most soups, this is better the next day and freezes beautifully. That being said, we very much loved it right off the stove-top. If you prefer butternut squash or pumpkin, either would work well here, too. Spend some time pureeing it well; this will result in a rich fall soup.
Preheat oven to 400° F. Put the sweet potatoes on a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil (makes for easier clean-up) and bake for 45-50 minutes, or until sweet potatoes are soft all the way through. Remove from oven and let cool. Once cool, skin the potatoes — the skin should essentially just peel right off and cut into 1-inch chunks.
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Sautée the onion and garlic until the onion softens, about 5 minutes. Stir in the ginger and cook for 1 minute. Add the coconut milk and broth and gently bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, partially cover, and cook for 5 minutes.
Add the potatoes, garlic powder and paprika to the soup and simmer for 5 minutes. Using an immersion blender or a stand-alone blender, puree the soup in small batches until smooth and creamy. Stir in the salt and pepper.
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?)