Last weekend we went camping out on Orcas Island, my favorite of all the San Juan Islands. The trip had been on our calendar for a few months, but it seemed to sneak up quickly (hasn’t that been the case this summer?) leaving us scurrying like crazy to get out of the house Friday afternoon to catch our ferry. We’ve been to Orcas enough times to have a favorite swimming hole, hike, and bakery, but this trip would be different as we were going car camping with three other couples and a gaggle of kids. I knew that at 24 weeks pregnant it might not be superbly comfortable to sleep in our small tent, but we were bringing air mattresses and I packed my pillow so surely all would be well. The day before we left I baked a loaf of this banana bread and stocked up on healthy snacks and fizzy water. Sam dug through the basement to find all of our camping gear. We were ready.
A few friends commented that they couldn’t believe I was going camping pregnant, but really let’s face it, it was car camping right by a gorgeous lake and we had fresh banana bread: how bad could it be? And for the most part, I seem to have an interesting reaction to many of the negative comments or warnings I hear about pregnancy: I tend to take it with a weighty grain of salt. I know that I’ve been very lucky in not feeling sick and having relatively good energy, and I’m fully aware that this isn’t the case for many people (and that it could also change for me). I also know that I’m a ‘mind over matter’ kind of gal which has served me pretty well so far. When I ran marathons a few years ago, you get used to not listening to your body — you listen to your mind. Sure, you train smart and show up physically prepared, but on race day you often ignore all the signs your body gives you that it’d really like to stop and walk, thank you very much. Instead you listen to your mind telling you to keep putting one foot in front of the other. To be honest, this is how I’ve approached so many things in life: I assume I’ll work hard at it and it’ll work out. I’ll put my mind to it. I’ll focus and drown out the naysayers.
But pregnancy is slowly teaching me that this isn’t going to work all the time. The days of talking myself into running another mile, staying up another hour, or getting up earlier to get more accomplished might just be nearing an end (for now). The weekend we were camping was a hot one — as we’ve been experiencing so much this summer in the Pacific Northwest. And for the first time, my ankles and calves became so swollen I could barely see my ankle bones. When I looked down one morning I thought, oh no. I’m becoming one of those pregnant women.
Now, my theory with many minor ailments in life is to drink more water (those who know me well lovingly roll their eyes at my suggestion that it cures so! many! things!). But liters of water and hours later, my ankles were still stumpy and my energy was low. That evening, I figured I needed to go on a brisk walk — surely that would fix me right up. I set off by myself to explore the other campsites and trails nearby. I came back to camp, had a huge glass of water, and put my feet up. No change. Sleeping that night turned out to be far less comfortable than I’d thought and getting up in the middle of the night to pee numerous times was a challenge in our very small two-person wilderness backpacking tent. I was humbled.
This of course is all very minor, but it has made me confront the fact that I’m likely not going to be the one driving the ship for the next few months. I know that as much as we prepare and as many books as we may read, my body and our baby may have other things in mind than what we expect, anticipate or plan for. As I’ve written about in my pregnancy journal, it’s good that pregnancy is such a gradual process. If you went from not pregnant to 24 weeks with a sizably round belly and baby kicks and jabs and swelling and fatigue right away it would be rather shocking. But the body eases you in slowly; now I’m just going to have to get a little better at really letting go and listening to it.
I don’t necessarily have a go-to banana bread recipe so I searched through a few cookbooks that I’ve been wanting to bake from and found this beauty from the new-ish Ovenly cookbook. And while there are so many banana bread recipes out there and you may wonder why it’s necessary to talk about yet another, this one is special because it’s an adapted Moosewood Cookbook recipe and I appreciate that it’s largely sweetened with maple syrup and is made with whole wheat flour. So many banana bread recipes are so delicious because they’re actually more like a cake, loaded down with sugar and oil; this one looked different and called to me. It turned out to be a hit in the mornings. We unwrapped it and kept Sam’s camping knife close by to slice away small pieces. With campsite coffee and slightly cooler mornings, it really hit the spot.
The Ovenly ladies call for canola oil in their recipe but I opted to use coconut oil instead; it has a really wonderful sweet fragrance that works well with the flavors in this bread. If you don’t have coconut oil, you can certainly use a canola or vegetable oil instead. I also added walnuts because I happen to love nuts in my banana bread. You could leave the nuts out altogether if you prefer or make this loaf a bit more indulgent by adding chocolate chips. It’s wonderful sliced at room temperature or toasted — always with a little butter.
Slightly adapted from: Ovenly
Preheat the oven to 350F. Liberally grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan with butter (or non-stick cooking spray).
Peel the bananas and place in a small bowl. Mash with a fork until smooth. Separate out 1 cup of the banana mash. If there is extra, feel free to freeze in an airtight container for future use (smoothies, top your yogurt or oatmeal).
Grind the flaxseeds into a fine powder using a coffee or spice grinder.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, flaxseed meal, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, eggs, oil, brown sugar and vanilla extract. Add the sour cream and mashed banana. Whisk until almost smooth — it’s ok if a few lumps remain.
Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined. Don’t overmix. At the very end, fold in the toasted walnuts. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan.
Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean.
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?)