On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We’ll be visiting Sam’s family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom’s lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam’s younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs — of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we’re at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts — in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
When I’m traveling, generally the last thing I want to be bothered with are recipes. Vacation should feel a bit more effortless and haphazard and not as structured or delineated. And fruit crisp is one of the things I feel confident just kind of throwing together: I can eyeball the amount of fruit, add a few tablespoons sugar and a bit of cornstarch or flour. Maybe lemon juice if we’ve got it. And then I work some butter into a blend of flour, oats and brown sugar until it starts coming together in clumps and bake it until the fruit starts bubbling up through the crisp layer in vibrant, jammy hues. This year though, I thought it would be useful to actually get my recipe down in writing — so I’d always have it at the ready to glance at should I forget or should you want to make a pan in your own kitchen or while traveling and cozying up in someone else’s.
The version you see here is one that will be repeated in a week or so in a small, funky kitchen in upstate New York. It’s a whole grain fruit crisp with a bit less sugar than other recipes you’ll see floating around the internet — and I add a generous handful of chopped toasted nuts for added crunch. If you’re a fruit crisp purist, perhaps you won’t be into that but I’d encourage you to try it before knocking it. This recipe can be made with any fruit you’d like: summer berries are obviously great but apples, pears or stone fruit work beautifully, too. This version is a Raspberry Rhubarb crisp, and was a bit on the tart side (which I loved) with plenty of that buttery, toasty crisp topping that I swear I could eat all on its own.
I ended up bringing this one to our book club a few weeks ago. Not only had I not read the book this time around, but I actually didn’t even know what book we were to read. I told myself next month I’ll do better and even had a delusional moment thinking how much reading I could get done on the plane (I know, I know). But the nice thing is that when you show up somewhere clutching a warm fruit crisp, it doesn’t really matter. I hope the simplicity and adaptability of this recipe encourages you to show up somewhere clutching one, too.
While this recipe will work with any fruit, it’s worth saying something about sugar. The formula below was perfect for my Raspberry Rhubarb crisp, but for my tastes it was a touch on the sweet side when I made this with all strawberries the week before. I would say if you use a naturally very sweet fruit like strawberries or stone fruits, I would probably go down to 2 tablespoons of sugar in the filling. Of course, if you like a slightly sweeter, jammier filling keep it just as is. As for the flour, I’ve tried this recipe with 100% whole wheat flour, barley and oat flour and all-purpose flour and it’s great each time. I think you could use any flour you’re excited about and likely have good results. Like most simple, humble desserts, spend a little time to make it your own. Then you’ll want to keep it in heavy rotation this season; I know we will.
For the Filling:
For the Topping:
Preheat the oven to 375 F.
In a medium bowl, toss together the fruit, sugar, lemon juice and cornstarch. Set aside.
In another medium bowl, whisk together the oats, flour, nuts, brown sugar and salt. Working with your fingertips, blend in the small cubes of butter until no dry spots remain; some of the butter will be fully incorporated while some will be in pea-size clumps.
Butter a 2-quart baking dish, scrape in fruit filling, and scatter topping on top. Avoid the temptation to press the topping into the fruit crisp — it should be sitting there loosely as that’ll help it clump when it bakes. Bake for 35-50 min, depending on the fruit you’re using. You want the top to brown evenly and, just as importantly, you want to see the juices from the fruit bubbling up through the crisp topping in places.
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?)