This year in particular, it seems to be a race to transition from fall to winter and start thinking about gingerbread and gifts and holiday travel — when really we just got home from Thanksgiving a few days ago. Regardless, we’re feeling it here too: this afternoon we’ll head out to buy our tree at the Boy Scout lot down the road and stop off for clam chowder at Ivar’s — a new but fierce tradition in our house. Sam will hang some lights outside, and at some point this week we’ll string popcorn and cranberries on the tree, hang a wreath on the front door, and nuzzle garland on the shelf above the fireplace. There’s a rumor it might even snow tomorrow — I won’t hold my breath. But I would like to hold my breath and hope to prolong the in between time we find ourselves in now as we look back on one holiday and ahead to another. I’d like to draw it out as much as possible this year.
Before bed for the past month or so, I’ve been reading Nigel Slater’s Notes From the Larder. I know some of you are familiar with it already, but if you’re not, Notes From the Larder is essentially a kitchen diary with recipes spanning each day (or most days) of the year — so it’s uber-seasonal and full of Slater’s succinct and beautiful meditations on simple, daily food. The entry for November 18 is titled “An Autumn Taking Stock and a New Pear Cake.” While I didn’t make the pear cake depicted in the photo, I can relate to the feeling of taking stock this time of year — especially as we gear up for another busy holiday full of travel, seeing friends old and new, gift buying and giving, and family.
While Slater’s entry really focuses on taking stock around the garden, it’s also a universal sentiment. He notes, “The garden seems to have been in this state of assorted ochers and reds for several weeks now. It is rare I stop and look for as long as I have today, but I just cannot take my eyes off it … For many, this garden would not be a scene of romantic melancholy and rich-hued foliage but an unholy mess in desperate need of weeding, raking, sweeping and pruning.” There is an inclination to do a lot right now: decorate the house, select the perfect cookies, plan a holiday gathering, purchase just the right gift, get a little exercise, make travel plans — all in the span of three weeks. It’s a lot. And Slater’s inclination to look around at the garden — which exudes the need for much tending — and notice the beauty in the wildness is something I want to put in my pocket this season. There’s a very strong chance we won’t get to everything we’d like to do or see or read or accomplish this season. It just can’t all happen. I hope to be able to stand amongst the flowers and the weeds and not lament the latter too, too much.
Remember how I spoke in the last post about being prohibited from preparing kale at the Thanksgiving table? Well I’m making up for that today with this creamy squash and kale bake I developed for Attune Foods. The kale bake is similar to the Winter Greens and Grains Gratin I made last year — only this version boasts pieces of butternut squash, less cream, and a crispy topping made from Uncle Sam Cereal, butter and Parmesan cheese. It’s perfect for the weekends you return home and crave kale after heavy holiday meals, yet it also satisfies the desire for comfort food on cold December nights when you don’t have much stocked in the refrigerator. Perhaps you’ll find occasion to make a pan of it during this busy in between time. And hopefully, eat it slowly — saving some for leftovers the next day.
For the Bake:
For the Parmesan Topping:
Preheat the oven to 425 F and butter a 2-quart baking dish.
On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the squash with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and season with ¼ teaspoon of the salt and pepper. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the squash is just tender. Stir once or twice to avoid sticking. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 F.
In a large skillet over medium heat, warm remaining 2 tablespoons oil until shimmering. Add the shallot, kale and a pinch of salt. Cook until tender, stirring occasionally to ensure even cooking, for about 5 minutes. Fold the cooked squash pieces in with the kale and stir to combine. Turn off the heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes.
Prepare the topping: In a small bowl, whisk together the butter, Uncle Sam cereal and Parmesan cheese. Set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, Parmesan cheese, heavy cream, milk, nutmeg, remaining ¼ teaspoon salt and black pepper. Turn the squash mixture into the prepared baking dish and pour the liquid over the top. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove foil and top with Parmesan topping. Bake uncovered for an additional 20 minutes, or until top is crispy and center is set.
Allow to cool and set for 15 minutes before serving. Cover leftovers and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
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?)