There are many reasons to make cake for breakfast. Especially if that cake is made from 100% whole-grains and uses ripe bananas, fragrant coconut and toasty walnuts with just a touch of natural sugar. The main reason, today, is that it’s time for a new album. Have a seat. Let me explain. We had a small dinner party in our backyard last week to celebrate a friend’s new business idea. She needed some photos for her website, so she offered to cook a summery spread if we’d host it and I’d snap a few shots. It was one of those ‘let’s plan it 6 weeks ahead to jive our Google calendar’ affairs, but at the end of the night — after too much wine and a rollicking game of Farkle — we were so happy to have had the company, the music, the Indian-spiced roast chicken and rosé. But most of all, the company, in what has felt like a summer that’s had too much work and not enough company.
If you’re anything like me, you may skim the very front pages of a magazine — the editorial letter. It can be a bit fluffy, and I’m always eager to get to the heart of the publication anyway. But late the other night, I was flipping through a few food magazines and began reading the Editorial Letter in Cook’s Illustrated. I have to say, it struck a chord more than the Pasta Puttanesca or Fresh Peach Pie that followed.
In it, Christopher Kimball discusses the project of organizing all of his old family photos: “Perhaps life can be judged by the number of family albums one has accumulated. Some lives are a straight line between birth and death; one album does the trick. Others live lives with many chapters, each one starting with a new photo placed on a crisp white page. Dr. Seuss wrote, ‘Everyone is just waiting, waiting for the fish to bite or waiting for wind to fly a kite, or a pot to boil, or a Better Break, or a string of pearls or a pair of pants or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.’ And so, we sometimes find ourselves at the point when we need to begin a new album.”
As I sit here at my too-tall desk writing to you today, I know it’s time to start a new album. This summer hasn’t been the most leisurely. Or the most spirited. Or the most fun, to be honest. It has brought about many new challenges with Marge, from hiring my first set of employees to finessing the farmers markets, new packaging projects and a shared commercial space downtown. I bit off more than I could chew. And I realize that now.
In George Saunder’s beautiful commencement speech that I know many of you have read, he says this about the constant focus on work: “Accomplishment is unreliable. ‘Succeeding,’ whatever that might mean to you, is hard, and the need to do so constantly renews itself (success is like a mountain that keeps growing ahead of you as you hike it), and there’s the very real danger that ‘succeeding’ will take up your whole life, while the big questions go untended.” The problem with being blessed (cursed) with what Sam and I sort-of-lovingly call my “relentless, urgent ambition” is just that: it feels urgent. I have a difficult time recognizing a marker of success and celebrating it, instead always looking ahead to the next goal. The next big thing. And this month, it’s left me pretty exhausted.
As Christopher Kimball says in the close of his letter, “We don’t choose how many albums we fill during a lifetime, but we can decide how to fill them.” There are no summer do-overs, and that’s o.k. But I want to be very deliberate this fall about what will fill my album. I want it to have more play and less “relentless, urgent ambition.” I don’t think starting with breakfast cake is an awful idea, do you?
I developed this recipe for Attune Foods using their Raisin Bran cereal, along with ripe bananas and buttermilk, walnuts and coconut. It’s made with a mix of whole-wheat and barley flour and has a sweet fragrant quality (without too much sugar), making it a new morning favorite around here. It’s hearty, a touch crumbly, and season-less. Perfect for the next new album I’d say.
Get the Recipe on Attune Foods Blog: Banana-Bran Breakfast Cake
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?)