It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn’t been for me. Angels don’t sing. Stars don’t explode. Relatives don’t cry. There isn’t a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, “the one.” To be honest, I always knew that I wasn’t the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I’d have some kind of moment where I could tell I’d found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I’ve been back to the stores we visited — and I’m more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I’ll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
The one thing I have been pleasantly surprised with is that I actually like many of the dresses — a much better problem to have than not finding anything at all. And I’m finding myself drawn to dresses I never would’ve thought were much like “me.” I went in saying only simple, streamlined dresses would do and I’ve been getting kind of into some train action — even a little beading here and there. Who knew? Also, I’m in LOVE with the accessories! Bring on the sashes! In fact, I’d like to start wearing those silky wedding sashes to my yoga classes — why aren’t we all wearing more sashes? Fake camellias in my hair? Bring it.
But really, if I had to sum the whole thing up, I feel like this is a way harder decision than I thought it would be and I know in the big picture of things it really doesn’t matter. That we will get married in September with all of our friends close by, and our families will meet for the first time and there will be pretty flowers and champagne and ice cream and I won’t be thinking for a second about the dress. I’m trying to look ahead and remember all of that this week, trying not to get bogged down in the little details and remembering the great party we’ll have.
The recipe I decided to share with you today is appropriate for a few reasons. It’s all about looking ahead — to the colors of spring and the act of preserving which always reminds me of warmer weather and planning for future meals, moments and days. It’s a recipe for Quick Pickled Strawberries from Marisa McClellan’s newest book Preserving by the Pint and it’s given me the full, forceful nudge I’ve needed to get excited about spring. (Sam would like me to mention here that “quickled” would be a more apt, if not fun, term. I’m on the fence.) I’ve said it here before: I’m not much of a canner. There are a lot of things I’m good at but finessing hot water baths, rubber gloves, and dozens of jars is just not one of them. One of the things that’s long frustrated me about canning is the scale the recipes are written in. I don’t actually want 12 jars of peach jam; I want a few jars to enjoy using a handful of peaches I picked up from the farmers market. So I was truly delighted to receive Marisa’s book in the mail last week. I think it’s going to change things around here this season.
Most of the recipes in Preserving by the Pint are designed to yield just a few jars. In the introduction, Marissa notes that “Preserving on this scale means that I get to explore different flavor combinations without ever committing massive amounts of produce to an idea that might not work out. It also allows me to have three or four dozen different kinds of jams, conserves, and sauces in my pantry.” On my list in the spring chapter alone: Honey-Sweetened Strawberry Jam, Mustardy Rhubarb Chuntney, Sorrel Pesto.
Now what does one do with strawberry pickles? I have really fallen in love with these little ruby gems. They’re snappy and slightly acidic and bright. They’re really wonderful on salads or as a garnish in your favorite cocktail. Perhaps best of all, they’re super quick and don’t require any processing: you simply put your jar in the refrigerator overnight and the next day you’ve got beautiful strawberry pickles! If only choosing a wedding dress were so easy.
The only little tweak I made to Marisa’s recipe was in the amount of sugar — she calls for 1 tablespoon and I used just a touch less. I’ve been using my berries in a salad made of simple greens, shaved goat feta and a lemony vinaigrette. It’s been deemed the salad of the season around here. I’d love to hear what you do with yours. Please note that the strawberries must sit for at least 24 hours in the refrigerator before enjoying and that time isn’t factored into the breakdown above.
Recipe from: Preserving by the Pint
Wash the strawberries, remove the stems and leaves, and cut into halves or quarters, depending on size.
In a medium saucepan, combine the vinegar with 1/3 cup / 80ml water, the sugar, salt and peppercorns. Set over high heat and bring to a boil.
Place the tarragon in a wide-mouth 1-quart/1-liter jar and add the chopped berries. Once the brine has boiled pour it over the strawberries. Let the pickles cool until room temperature, and then place a lid on the jar and refrigerate.
Allow the pickles to rest for at least 24 hours before eating.
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?)