I don’t remember the first time I met Ashley Rodriquez, which in my experience is often the case with friendships that begin online and soon blossom to actual friendship. When I lived in San Francisco, I started reading Ashley’s beautiful blog Not Without Salt and when I moved to Seattle a few years ago, we had the opportunity to actually grab coffee and share meals in person. She’s someone I feel I’ve known for a long time, and I’ve been so looking forward to her first cookbook, Date Night In. I tested a few of the recipes for the book, and knew it was going to be filled with dozens more that I was excited to make. What I didn’t expect was the rich narrative, detailing the challenges and joys of marriage and how Ashley and Gabe navigate having three young kids, vibrant careers and a romantic home life together (and if you know them personally, they do it with admirable style).
On my first read of the book, I noted recipes I wanted to come back to and others I wanted to try right away, and then I got sucked into the storytelling. The basic premise is that, with three young kids at home, it became unrealistic to go out on dates with any sort of frequency and Ashley and Gabe were finding the time they spent at home together to sort of pass by, in a blur of nighttime computer use or resting after a long day. So they set aside a weekly date night in which, after the kids are put down to bed, Gabe makes a cocktail and Ashley cooks a meal (they’ve concluded that Ashley is a better cook, and are both happier when she’s the one at the helm).
While my home life with Sam looks much different as we don’t have young kids, I think the wonderful thing about this book is that it reinforces how important it is to set aside a deliberate chunk of time to spend together. Something to ground you as a couple. We discussed this right after we returned from our honeymoon: after a whirlwind many months of nighttime wedding planning and then a trip to Italy and Morocco that was packed with new sights and places and food — we came home and found ourselves spending evenings on our couch, eating something easy and quick we’d thrown together and often watching a movie or a show. One night we both looked at each other with an “Is this it?” look. It was almost as if, after all of those months of intense excitement and newness, we’d forgotten how to just be at home together on a normal old Wednesday night with leftover chicken and kale salad.
I mention this because I’m inspired by Ashley and Gabe’s deliberate move to figure out a way to focus on their relationship despite all of the little things that so often get in the way, and I think we can all aspire to this — whether it looks like actual Date Night dinners or simply scheduled walks around the neighborhood to get a coffee. I started to think about other ways this could take shape this morning as I chopped and sliced and whisked, and I think the key is being generous and easy with ourselves while still holding expectations for ourselves and our partner. In truth, most nights around here are going to look like simple dinners spent together catching up on our workday. Sam always makes me a cocktail, and I have a New Year’s resolution to read more so I’ve been trying to get in a little bit of that, too. Winters in Seattle are quite dark, so when I start to feel a bit down about the shortness of the days, I look ahead to July and August and September when we’re eating outside and lingering until 10 p.m. with fresh corn and tomatoes and homemade ice cream. There’s no fixed way to be together, and I guess if there were things would start to feel pretty dull. I’ll take the nights of leftover chicken balanced nicely with more planned, special evenings in, too. The best we can all do is strive for a good balance. I think Ashley would agree.
This is the perfect winter salad — bright and fresh with sweet bites of pomegranate contrasted with slightly salty bits of cheese and tart apple. If you’ve never purchased or used celeriac before, it’s not the prettiest root vegetable, but it’s relatively easy to peel and slice right away. And if you want to save yourself a bit of time, a mandolin is really helpful in making the matchbox slices for this salad. Ashley’s recipe did not call for hazelnuts, but I thought they’d add a nice crunch; feel free to use another nut or seed if you’d prefer.
Ever so slightly adapted from: Date Night In
In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, salt, and olive oil. Add the celeriac, apple, fennel, leek and Cheddar. Toss well to combine. Transfer to a serving dish and finish with pomegranate seeds, hazelnuts flake salt, and freshly ground black pepper. The salad can be made 4 to 6 hours ahead and store, covered in the refrigerator.
Note: For help or instructions on roasting nuts, I like this tutorial.
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?)