Each Monday, we go to a parent’s group where we get together with 7 other couples who live in our neighborhood and compare highs and lows from the week, ask each other questions, and chat about an organized topic. I was a bit skeptical before signing up for the group, thinking maybe it’d feel like a waste of time or maybe just too difficult to attend consistently. But so far we’ve loved getting the babies together and having an excuse to get out of the house and talk to other parents who are dealing with similar issues. Last week, one of the other moms described how she’s started to feel like she’d like a little distance from her son. Her comment resonated with me although I bet it may not have with everyone: I think it’s one that we’re not really encouraged to feel or discuss at this stage in the game.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told to savor every second — that it goes by so fast. To enjoy those baby snuggles all day long. And all night, too. And don’t get me wrong – I get a big ol’ kick out of hanging out with Oliver. He’s started to smile and giggle and I’ve turned into that crazy mom who is clucking and cooing in the middle of the grocery store aisle in response to his laughter. He clutches his weird toy chicken for dear life as I carry him around the house, one arm draped lazily over my shoulder. Sam’s been playing folk songs on the guitar for him, and I’ve started to read to him in the rocker, and talk him through how to make a good cup of coffee and a decent egg each morning. But there are certainly moments when I’d perhaps like to savor Oliver just a little less and, say, do something for myself. Popular sentiment or not, it’s just the truth.
If I think too hard about how maybe we’ve now passed the newborn stage, I become really sad because it did go by so quickly — but the reality is that I think we have. Oliver is sleeping longer, we’ve got feeding pretty under control, we’re able to cook simple meals again and I’ve been slowly handling some work tasks. Things are starting to normalize a little, but with that has come a new challenge as we both try to find that little nook of space for ourselves. And that challenge came to a head last weekend.
We had planned on driving to the Methow Valley with a few friends and were looking forward to introducing Oliver to the snow. I borrowed a tiny, puffy snowsuit for him, we researched renting snowshoes, and procured bad hot chocolate (a longtime weakness of mine). I’d made a big pot of salmon chowder and laid out the ingredients to make these bars for afternoon refueling. But Sunday morning didn’t find us in the car headed to the snow; instead it found us in separate rooms of the house, taking turns entertaining the baby and formulating a lot of questions for each other. How can you give your partner some free time and space without feeling resentful that you’re doing more? How do you then not feel guilty when taking that space or that opportunity outside of the house? Is it possible to find the time to do the things that make you really feel like you again? When working for yourself, how on earth will you ever be able to clock a full work day again? Big Questions with a capital B.
I can’t say that we’ve solved them all yet, and I also recognize they’re not unique to us. But they are new to us and as we dip each toe into the waters of parenthood while negotiating looming work obligations and the desire to see friends and do things for ourselves and as a couple, we realized that sometimes you’ve just got to stay home and hash things out.
We’re learning a lot. Those of you reading this with kids know that this is just the beginning … and intuitively we do, too. What grounds us is Oliver and creating a really good, sweet life for him. Eventually showing him the snow, introducing him to bad powdered packets of hot chocolate, and taking weekend road trips. All things we now have to look forward to. Along with so much else. All while we’re savoring the moments and stealing a few for ourselves along the way.
I had lofty goals for these granola bars: first I wanted them to be nice and chewy with a good bit of crunch from the grains and nuts. I wanted to get away with as little sweetener as I felt I could and eek in some interesting grains. And the main goal was to really pack them with sesame flavor. Those of you who have been around here awhile know that Sam is Lebanese and we visit the Middle Eastern grocery what feels like every other week to stock up on tahini, olives, feta, good olives, pita, dates, halvah and cheap avocados. We have a huge container of tahini in the fridge, so I decided to go all out with it in these bars, and the result is a very addictive, sesame-forward snack. I decided not to call them granola bars as I always think of granola bars as being comprised largely of oats and I think the oats take a backseat to the seeds, nuts and other grains here. I hope you like them. They’d be great fuel if you find yourself headed to the snow this season. But I can also attest to their greatness while snuggled up on the couch with a sleeping baby. It’s all good.
Using all tahini in these bars gives them serious sesame flavor, but if you’d prefer to use a different nut butter (almond or peanut), that would be great, too. And as with many granola and granola bar recipes, these are extremely adaptable so if you are not a fan of a few of the seeds or grains, just swap them out for something you have on hand. Chopped dried fruit or chocolate bits would be a dressy option; different nuts like pecans or walnuts would be great, too. Just keep the proportions of wet and dry ingredients the same, and you should be all set. An added bonus: these actually freeze brilliantly, too. Just wrap them individually in plastic wrap and freeze. They only take about an hour to thaw on the counter — perfect timing for a second breakfast.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 9×11 inch pan with coconut oil (or butter).
Mix the tahini, coconut oil, brown rice syrup and maple syrup together in a small heavy bottomed saucepan. Bring to a low simmer over medium-low heat. Remove from the heat and set aside while you prepare the dry ingredients.
In a large bowl, mix together the oats, millet, quinoa, oat flour, almonds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds, salt and cinnamon.
Pour the warm syrup mixture over the dry ingredients and mix well; I use my hands at this point to make sure everything is fully incorporated. Press the mixture into the prepared pan using the back of a rubber spatula. Bake the bars until the edges are just turning golden brown, about 28-32 minutes (the bars will feel a bit soft to the touch at this point which is ok; they firm up as they cool). Let them cool completely in pan before slicing, about 2 hours.
Once cool, slice into squares. Wrap the bars in plastic wrap for easy snacking or store, covered, at room temperature for up to 5 days. You can also freeze them (see headnote for instructions).
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?)