Something funny happens when you live with someone instead of dating them from afar. You learn little nuances about each other’s behavior, see the bottom-of-the-barrel sweaters, take out the trash, and buy underwear and shampoo together. Sam calls my beloved furry slippers old lady slippers and, to be fair, they kind of are. And I’ve become well acquainted with his holey “sick sweater,” his eagerness to retrieve the mail in the early afternoon, and his uncanny ability to drink more tea than anyone I’ve ever known. Also, I’m learning things about myself. Like the fact that, apparently, most people don’t eat a whole grapefruit when they sit down for breakfast. According to Sam, they stop at a half.
Also, something funny happens when you both work largely from home. You have to find a certain rhythm to make it work. I think it’s largely unspoken — you discover the other person’s patterns and moods. I can hear Sam pitter-patter into the kitchen around 3 p.m. and I know a cup of coffee or a pot of tea is happening. He knows when I’m in my “efficient kitchen mode,” organizing, baking, cleaning and perhaps photographing, and he quietly sneaks away to his office.
So we’re figuring it out. In the midst, there are many shared evening beers, new-to-me music from Sam’s collection, exploring the Ballard farmer’s market, and walks around our neighborhood (the library! the hot chocolate!). I’ve set up my writing office and am getting used to working in the cold. The writing office doesn’t have heat. The mornings are brisk.
It’s all quieter than our visits which were often packed with restaurants we wanted to show one another, plays and beaches and movies and road trips. And I love it even more — the everydayness of it all. The holey sweaters and old lady slippers and eagerness to get the mail. The pot of white beans simmering on the stove all afternoon. And the fact that we get to sit down and share it together. Whenever we want.
A note on this recipe: This stew is oh-so-loosely based on a recipe Melissa Clark has for a White Bean and Farro Stew in her wonderful book, Cook This Now. In her directions, there are a few very specific steps she takes in preparing the stew — some of which I kept here and some which I altered. I added kale for a more complete meal and used barley because it’s so nice in soups and stews this time of year. In her version, Melissa Clark cooks the farro separately and then spoons the beans over it. I took a hint from her, cooking the barley separately but I mixed it into the stew along with the kale at the very end. This way, while cooking, the barley wasn’t hogging the moisture from the beans.
Soaking the beans overnight is always a good idea if you have the time. If not, the beans will just take a few hours longer; there’s something nice about a pot simmering away on the stove all afternoon anyway. I’ll leave the cook time’s out of this recipe as it will obviously so depend on how you’re preparing your beans (see your options below). Also, for an even heartier stew, you could add bacon or sausage to the pot.
Adapted from: Cook This Now
If you plan on soaking your beans, put them in a bowl and cover with several inches of water. Let them soak for at least 4 hours — overnight is ideal.
Cook the beans: drain (or rinse if you didn’t soak overnight) and place them in a large pot along with the oil, 3 of the whole garlic cloves, celery and onion over medium-high heat. Add the bay leaf, thyme, rosemary and salt. Cover with water, stir gently, and bring to a boil. Once the pot boils, reduce heat to medium-low and allow it to simmer, partially covered until the beans are soft. This can take anywhere from 1-4 hours depending on how long you soaked your beans (if at all) or how old your dried beans are. You know your beans are done when they’re soft in the middle but still slightly firm on the outside. You will likely need to add 2-3 cups of extra water as the beans simmer and the water is absorbed–you always want to have the beans just barely covered with liquid, so do keep an eye on your pot every now and then.
Cook the barley: In a small saucepan, add the barley to 3 cups boiling water and stir together. Cover the pot with a lid and reduce the heat to low, allowing the barley to gently simmer for 40-50 minutes, or until it has absorbed the water and is no longer crunchy. Note: Cooking time on barley can vary quite a bit depending on if you’re using hulled or unhulled grains (hulled has only the outer shell removed and takes longer to cook).
Mince the remaining 2 cloves of garlic. When the beans are done cooking, remove and discard the onion, celery and bay leaf. Ladle half of the beans into a food processor or blender, add the minced garlic and puree. Return the pureed mixture to the pot. Add the cooked barley and chopped kale and allow the pot to simmer on low for just a few minutes. This will allow the kale to soften into the stew nicely.
To serve: spoon into bowls and drizzle each portion with plenty of olive oil, flaky Maldon salt, red pepper flakes, a few chopped celery leaves, grated Parmesan, and a squeeze of lemon.
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?)