One year ago today we were sitting at Elliot Bay Book Company, my chest feeling immensely tight, awaiting word from our broker about an offer we put on a house. In a very competitive market, it turned out that we were the tenth offer; I knew ours wasn’t the highest and that chances were slim. We’d spent a lot of time on a letter to the buyer and were just crossing our fingers that they might be the kind of people who would read such a letter and even like to envision a new family making a home there. But I also knew that money talks, and they’d likely choose the highest offer. During the reception for the book event, as I stood nervously sipping sparkling water, a text came through from our broker that they’d accepted our offer. The house was ours. I burst into tears and grabbed onto Sam and tried really, really hard not to take any of the attention away from our friend’s lovely book. But THE HOUSE. We got THE HOUSE!
In many ways, a year can go by so quickly. Every time the first of the month rolls around I always find myself thinking, where does the time go? (Or more like: It’s time to pay our mortgage again?!) But in other ways, so much happens in a year. I’m sitting here now inside that very same house we’d talked and dreamed about, with the baby that we still referred to as Sprout and had yet to meet, now napping upstairs. And there are two nice men out back helping us with a small brick patio. Last summer I told myself that pregnant ladies can’t do everything and the yard just lost the fight: neither of us had time to do much back there and we let it go. But this summer I’m determined to spend lots of time outside, eating cold noodle salads, reading a page or two of a book if Oliver lets me, and maybe even learning to sort-of use a grill.
In the past year, we’ve done some minor work on the house to make it feel lighter and softer and more like us; it’s a 1930’s brick Tudor so the rooms are quite small and tight and they were originally painted really dark, rather gothic colors. So we painted many of the rooms using grays and light blues and whites, put in some new fixtures, and are currently working with a company I love to bring about a few new touches in the dining room which I’m excited to tell you about in a few months.
And maybe by the time the sun decides to really show up in earnest, we’ll have some new grass sprouting in the backyard and a table big enough to sit some of our favorite people. But for now, I’ll settle for cold noodle salads inside and this past weekend, I doubled this recipe so I’ll have it for lunch every. single. day. It’s that good: light and refreshing, with asparagus at the height of its season, little ribbons of carrot, toasted sesame seeds and citrus-drenched tofu. It’s one of those salads that’s actually better the second day (if you can wait) and is best served room temperature or cold (I prefer cold).
I had the opportunity to partner with Albertsons and Safeway to create this noodle recipe, and was eager to try a handful of their Signature line of ingredients in the testing process. I was looking for an interesting way to brighten up baked tofu that didn’t rely on the typical peanut, tahini or Sriacha shuffle I usually do, so I opted for big citrusy flavor instead thanks to the Signature SELECT Seville marmalade and a healthy splash of orange juice. Those flavors are balanced with Signature Kitchens soy sauce, ginger, garlic and honey. It is perfect picnic food, but has also proved to be great lunch fuel at my desk this week, while staring out the window dreaming about the sunny days to come. I hope you’re all having a great week.
I use soba noodles for this salad although you can certainly use a rice or chow mein noodle if you’d prefer. And as with many simple noodle salads, this is quite adaptable so if you’d prefer using broccoli or another seasonal vegetable instead of the asparagus, go right ahead. And last, the marinade for the tofu and the dressing for the noodles both rely on a handful of the same ingredients, so keep them close at hand.
For the Tofu Marinade:
For the Noodles:
Prepare the Tofu: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a small bowl, whisk together the marmalade, orange juice, soy sauce, olive oil, honey, ginger and garlic.
Unwrap the tofu, blot with a few paper towels to remove excess moisture, and cut into 1-inch cubes. Arrange the tofu in an even layer in a 9×13 baking pan and pour the marinade on top. Stir to coat the tofu. Place the pan into the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Remove, stir well, then bake for an additional 15 minutes, or until tofu is golden brown. Spoon the saucy tofu out of the pan and into a small bowl; set aside.
Prepare the Salad: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the soba noodles according to package instructions. Drain the noodles and place them in a large bowl.
Meanwhile, bring a small pot of water to a boil, and blanch the asparagus for 90 seconds, or until bright green and tender. Immediately strain and rinse with cold water.
In a small bowl, make the dressing: whisk together the orange juice, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce, marmalade, shallot and salt. Set aside.
In a large salad bowl, toss the noodles with the asparagus, carrots, cilantro, green onion, ½ the amount of sesame seeds and red pepper flakes (if using). Gently fold in the tofu (along with the leftover marinade) and dressing. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Serve room temperature (or cold), topped with the remaining toasted sesame seeds.
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?)