Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can’t remember a time we didn’t have an Oliver, and in other ways it’s all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent’s group, doctor’s visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver’s need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it’s thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we’ve all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it’s from her beautiful new cookbook that I’ve bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
I taught a cooking class last weekend and Sam and Oliver came to visit right at the very end. Oliver wore his favorite red moccasins and quickly made some new friends; Sam helped us eat leftover asparagus tart; and I boxed up some brownie ends and corners to eat later in the evening. I’m here to advise: brownie ends and corners taste their very best at about 11 p.m. As we were leaving, one of my students stopped me and asked how we possibly balance it all. This question always strikes me as tough (and I no longer ask it of people for that reason): Of course we feel like everything is immensely unbalanced and are constantly searching for time to exercise, eat better, cook something for dinner, procure something to make for lunch the next day, read the baby book on sleep habits that’s been sitting on the dresser for 2.5 months, read a non-baby book, water the lawn, figure out what’s killing the lawn, listen to Beyonce’s Lemonade — the list goes on. As it does for you. The stuff of daily life. The reason I bring it up is because the answer to her question is really that we tag team it so well. We have a pretty rigid weekly schedule where we trade off caring for Oliver, and Sam’s sister Christa helps us a few days each week. This way, we can aim to get most of our work done, and then we plan to fit the other things in later in the evening or on the weekends. And Oliver gets to chill in his own house with his own people.
The interesting thing about this tag-teaming is that we all have very different days with Oliver. It’s easy, when you’re talking about your baby, to think anyone’s experience would be similar: he sleeps about this time, he eats this much, he loves this toy, he loves walks in the carrier, white noise when he naps … and so on. But really a new person brings an entirely different layer to the unfurling of his days. When I’m with Oliver, we usually go for a long walk. We often make it to the grocery store, read books, eat avocado, practice crawling, sit in the backyard. When Sam’s with Oliver, they go pop in on Liz and her chickens, swing upside down, visit museums and the library, and walk to Essex in the early evening to have a quick drink before bringing home a takeout burger. Despite the fact she only lives four blocks away, I’d never known of Liz and her chickens until we all walked over that way recently. And I’d never thought to swing Oliver upside down. In his early fussy baby days, I didn’t have the guts to bring him to a museum. Christa’s days are different, too: she was the first to introduce him to the swings at the playground, and they go and visit her dog during the day and her son Kevin’s cat. She sings Row, Row, Row Your Boat and is trying to teach him to wave goodbye. We all have our things. And for that, I know that Oliver is so lucky.
Sam was out of town this past weekend and when I told him we were planning to go to the pool with our parents group, he said: “make sure you dunk him!” He likes getting Oliver used to the water by dunking him all the way under a few times, and I guess deep down I know that’s a good thing. But I can’t bring myself to do it. That’s not our thing. For that, he’ll just have to wait until his Papa gets home. I’m sure Liz and the chickens will be excited to see them stroll on by, too.
The method of folding half of the cherries into the batter and scattering the other half on top ensures that you’ll always get a bite of sweet, jammy fruit in each slice.To mix things up on the fruit end, Yossi mentions substituting any berry or stone fruit that may be in season instead of using cherries. I love the kamut flour here because it’s warm and nutty, but if you have trouble finding it, feel free to use all-purpose flour instead — or experiment with whole wheat or spelt flour.
Adapted from Sweeter off the Vine
For the streusel:
For the cake:
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 F. Butter and flour a 9 by 5 by 3-inch loaf pan.
To make the streusel: In a small bowl, stir the flour, oats, sugar, poppy seeds and salt together. Add in the butter and use your fingertips to mix until small crumbs form. Set aside while you prepare the cake batter.
To make the cake: Whisk the flours, baking powder, poppy seeds, and salt together in a small bowl and set aside. Add the sugar to a large bowl and grate about 1 tablespoon of lime zest directly into the sugar. Use your fingers to rub the zest into the sugar until evenly distributed. Add the oil, eggs, yogurt, and lime juice and whisk to combine. Add the flour mixture all at once, switch to a rubber spatula, and stir until just combined. Fold in half of the cherries.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and scatter the remaining cherries over the top. Sprinkle the streusel in an even layer over the cherries. Bake the cake until puffed and golden and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 45-50 minutes. Let cool completely before slicing. This cake will keep for about three days in an airtight container at 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?)