I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam’s not feeling great and my energy’s a little low so it hasn’t been quite what we’d envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I’ve done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment — it just hasn’t come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it’s now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it’s been one of those weekends — the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there’s nothing I’d rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we’ve been having lately.
This past week, there was a day when you could’ve found me sitting in the middle of our bed with many a cookbook and magazine strewn about trying to plan out recipes to make and freeze before the baby arrives (do you have any favorites? I’d honestly love to know; I’m feeling overwhelmed)! As it stands now, in our house when dinnertime rolls around, we do a lot of the ‘what do you feel like?’ ‘I don’t know, what do you feel like?” and by the time we’ve successfully answered that question one of us is off to the grocery store and we’re lucky if we’re eating by 8:30 p.m. I’m well aware that this isn’t ideal or sustainable with a brand new baby, so I want to be sure we’re pretty well stocked to avoid the scenario.
In addition to meal planning, the closet in our guest room has little piles of items with family member’s names on them, leading Sam to draw the conclusion that I’ve surely lost my mind. But it turns out that when you’re expecting a November baby, it’s possible you may start worrying about Christmas gifts in October. I just know that it will be the absolute last thing we’re going to want to be bothered with, and I want to make sure we have this safe little bubble to linger in without to-do lists or grocery lists or Christmas concerns. So while we’ve both been working hard to get things taken care of at work so we can step away next month, it’s these little things I didn’t anticipate that would be keeping me up at night.
And that actually brings me to this cranberry cornbread, a recipe I was testing out to possibly make for Thanksgiving this year. It’s from Maria Speck’s newest book, Simply Ancient Grains, a cookbook I’ve been looking at longingly since it arrived months ago but haven’t yet had a chance to cook from. While we’ve never met in person, I think of Maria as my whole grain sister in crime: her first book, Ancient Grains for Modern Meals, is truly an invaluable resource if you’re looking for new and interesting ways to work whole grains into each meal of the day. Not surprisingly then, her newest book is just as much of a keeper — this time around, Maria focuses on making whole grains accessible to home cooks with lots of time saving and do-ahead tips.
I made a few very small tweaks to Maria’s recipe that I’ll note here: she calls for 1/4 teaspoon fine grain salt and I used 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt instead. In addition, her recipe uses fresh or frozen cranberries as well as dried cranberries, but I decided to forego the dried cranberries and use all frozen instead. If you’d like to try both, Maria recommends 3/4 cup fresh or frozen cranberries and 1/3 cup dried cranberries.
So while I realize the closet of your guest room may not be peppered with Christmas gifts and hopefully no one has found you sitting in the middle of your bed virtually in tears over chili recipes, I think you’re going to be happy to have this cornbread around the house. At the very least, it has a way of turning a not-so-productive day into something notable. Also, we froze half of it for when the baby arrives. And for that, Maria, my future self thanks you.
Maria calls for fine-ground cornmeal in her recipe, but I used medium-ground and it turned out just fine. I find the sweetness of this cornbread super subtle (and perfect), but if you know yourself and think you’d like a little more sweetness, Maria recommends increasing the amount of honey to 2/3 cup instead.
Ever-so-slightly adapted from Simply Ancient Grains
Position a rack in the center of the oven and place a 10-inch cast-iron skillet on it. Preheat the oven to 450F for at least 15 minutes. Remove 2 tablespoons of the measured cornmeal and add it to a small bowl.
Whisk together the remaining cornmeal, the spelt flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center. In a medium bowl, lightly whisk the eggs to blend. Gently whisk in the buttermilk, followed by the oil, honey and zest until smooth. Add the egg mixture to the center of the flour mixture, and stir with a rubber spatula until just combined. Don’t overmix; the batter should look a little lumpy.
Add the cranberries to the small bowl of reserved cornmeal and toss to coat — this prevents the fruit from sinking to the bottom. Gently fold into the batter.
Using thick oven mitts, carefully remove the hot skillet from the oven. Add the butter (it will sizzle and brown for great flavor) and tilt it carefully to coat the bottom and the sides of the pan. Scrape the batter into the hot skillet. Decrease the oven temperature to 400 F. Bake until the edges of the cornbread turn golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes before cutting into wedges. Serve warm or room temperature.
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?)