I am officially on maternity leave and it feels stranger than I’d imagined. I thought it’d be all about catching up on novels, leisurely baking and maybe sewing a little something for Sprout. Going on lots of walks with friends and out to lunch. The reality is that most people are working during the week and can’t just sneak away for lunch dates, and sitting around the house aimlessly reading seems to make me antsy. Instead, I find myself deciding that certain tasks have immense and immediate purpose (when they never seemed to before): repotting our house plants, researching new insurance plans, and planning a new product line for Marge for 2016.
In the midst of all of this though, I’ve found some time to catch up on Netflix movies (any recommendations?), went out to Lebanese food with Sam, and finally made it to a cafe on Capital Hill I’ve been wanting to try for quite some time. It’s gotten a bit chilly in Seattle this week so I’ve been making lots of cider and chai in the afternoons for an energy boost, and there certainly doesn’t seem to be a shortage of soup-making or baking — which brings me to these not-too-sweet, protein-packed blondies that I’ve taken quite a liking to.
This blondie recipe is from Tara Desmond’s wonderful cookbook, Fully Belly: Good Eats for a Healthy Pregnancy, which has been a great resource while I’ve been pregnant (in addition to actual recipes, there’s valuable nutritional information and tips on alleviating common pregnancy symptoms, along with stories from real women). In truth, it’s a keeper even if you’re not pregnant — Tara’s approach to food is similar to mine: she tries to minimize too much sugar, experiments with whole grain flours in her baked goods, and goes heavy on the protein and seasonal fruits and produce. I made her Beef Stew a few nights ago to freeze for the baby and then figured it was only fitting to balance that endeavor with something sweet.
These blondies turned out a little cakier than I’d expected which led me to the conclusion that they seemed most suitable for breakfast as well as dessert (I’m easily swayed on this count). If you like a super dense, sweet blondie, these may not be your favorites. But I love how they’re really packed with roasted almonds and bits of good chocolate, and how they have a good hit of protein from the almond butter, almond meal and actual nuts. They’re a great little snacking bar — which I’m really appreciating as I spend more and more time at home. I ended up slicing and freezing half of these for when the baby comes and we’ve not-so-slowly enjoyed the remainders.
For those of you who wrote in with tips for recipes to make ahead and freeze for baby: thank you! They were so helpful, and I still have a few bookmarked. So far, we’ve stocked the freezer with Tara’s aforementioned beef stew, Heidi’s delicious farro soup (you guys must make this!), a simple butternut squash soup, Italian braised pork, shredded beef for tacos, a bunch of pre-cooked whole grains like quinoa and farro, and rye brownies from my last post (as well as a few of these blondies). I think it’s safe to say that we will not starve.
Tara calls for white chocolate in these blondies, but I opted to use dark 70% chopped chocolate instead — certainly use whichever you prefer. And if you don’t have almond meal or almond flour at home, you can pulverize raw almonds in a food processor until they reach a coarse flour-like texture; just be careful not to overprocess or you’ll have almond butter. I used a little more salt, and vanilla extract instead of almond extract (which the recipe calls for) simply because it’s what I had on hand.
Loosely adapted from: Full Belly
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line an 8-inch square baking dish with a square piece of parchment paper, tucking in the corners so that the paper is flat against the bottom and up the sides.
Put the almond butter, butter, and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl. Use an electric mixer to beat at medium speed until smooth, about 5 minutes. Add the vanilla extract and the eggs one at a time and beat until smooth, about 3 additional minutes.
In a medium mixing bowl. whisk together the whole wheat pastry flour, almond flour, all purpose flour, baking powder and salt. Sprinkle one third of the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix for about 20 seconds. Repeat this twice with the remaining dry ingredients. Add the chopped chocolate and almonds, folding them in completely.
Scrape the thick batter into the parchment-lined baking dish and press it out evenly and into the corners. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the tops and sides are light brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Take care not to overbake, which will dry them out. Let the blondies rest in the baking dish for at least 10 minutes before lifting them out. Let cool completely before slicing into large or small squares / bars (whichever you prefer).
Store in an airtight container or wrap tightly in plastic or parchment paper for up to 5 days.
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?)