You often hear how women begin to nest towards the end of pregnancy. This looks different for different people — some staying up late at night finishing painting projects, others buying new furniture, stocking the freezer or spending time on the nursery. Next week I’ll be entering the third trimester and I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of nesting and of spending time at home. In truth, nesting isn’t something that’s new to me: I come from a family of nesters. My dad opened a furniture store the year I was born in Northern California and during my childhood it slowly grew to be a larger chain. He cared about the fixtures in our house, and would sit with me on our front stoop pointing out examples of good and bad taste — mostly in cars that would drive by but I seem to recall this with passerbyers and their attire, too. I realize this probably sounds a bit pretentious or maybe even downright snooty, but we grew up pretty humbly in those days; it was more a matter of strong opinion than a reflection of, say, having more than anyone else on the block. Those opinions, of course, were contagious and today I care very much about the way our house is situated and how we spend our time at home (although I don’t sit out on our stoop and talk to Sam about who I feel has good and bad taste on the block).
My mom also cared a great deal about our home life: she always had fresh flowers in the kitchen or on the dining room table and insisted we all sit and eat dinner together each night. Even today, if you have a hard day or things feel a little off, she’ll suggest fresh flowers and I’ve come to realize she’s right: they really can fix many of life’s very minor problems. In addition to bouquets, my mom was always an enthusiastic consumer of seasonal wreathes and colorful holiday decorations (and still is). She loves a good throw pillow and clean-burning taper candles. My people care about their surroundings.
So as I start looking toward the things I want to complete before Sprout (our temporary name) is born, I wonder if the nesting urge will grow stronger. I imagine it may not, really, and will consist largely of freezing meals and getting the baby’s room ready. Or maybe it will kick into high gear as I’ll be naturally spending more time getting ready for Sprout and less time doing granola deliveries and shipments. Who knows? Much like the weeks of pregnancy that are now behind me, I can say that the one constant is you just don’t know what any of it will look like. In a way it’s reassuring as you can’t worry too much about things you don’t yet understand. It’s a one step at a time endeavor and if you’re lucky it’s filled with ice cream cones, long neighborhood walks in the evening when it’s still light at 9:30 p.m., and lots of fresh salads that make you look forward to lunch the next day.
Heidi Swanson’s Cucumber Salad from her new book Near and Far is one such salad. I just made this recipe last weekend as Sam and I were lingering at home on a Saturday listening to records and going through old newspapers. It’s the first recipe in Heidi’s beautiful book and the one that most called to me: it looked fresh and snappy yet substantial and interesting (lemongrass! lime! red pepper flakes!)
Heidi’s newest book comes out on September 15, and I think you’re going to get lost in it as much as I did. It’s organized around the theme of place — of recipes that are inspired by her hometown of San Francisco and others that were kickstarted thanks to her travels to Morocco, Japan, Italy, France and India. This particular salad is from one of the San Francisco sections; I made a few tweaks to the recipe, opting to use pumpkin seeds instead of pine nuts and I added in some thin-sliced radishes. I also served mine on a little nest of soba noodles but you could instead fold in additional greens or leftover grains as Heidi suggests. Not that you need to serve it with anything at all: it’s perfect just the way it is. And while I would’ve loved to have this recipe in my back pocket for the July heatwave we had in Seattle, I’m thankful to have it now to help fuel me through the third trimester. Fresh flowers, home projects, business to-do lists (maybe even a seasonal wreath?!) and all.
Ever-so-slightly adapted from Near and Far
Place the cucumbers, onion, radishes, kale and tofu in a large mixing bowl.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the lemongrass, vinegar, lemon juice, honey, and salt and simmer for a couple of minutes — long enough for the honey to dissolve fully. Remove from the heat and whisk in the red pepper flakes. Let cool for 5 minutes and pour over the cucumber mixture. Toss gently but thoroughly and let sit for at least 15 minutes. Toss again and adjust the salt and red pepper to taste.
If you’re serving this salad with soba noodles, cook them according to the instructions on the package. Drain off any residual liquid from the cucumber mixture into a small bowl. If serving with the noodles or with grains, toss them with this liquid. Top with pumpkin seeds and a good squeeze of lime. Serve the remaining lime wedges at the table.
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?)