When you have an eight month old baby, making social plans can be hard. Especially in the evenings. When I was pregnant, I read Bringing up Bebe and one of the big premises of the book is how the French feel strongly that babies and children can fit into your lives and that you shouldn’t have to change and alter everything to accommodate them. I remember reading the book and thinking: YES! Life will be just as it was, except we’ll have a small baby in tow. Obviously a few things would likely be different, but I didn’t want to change our routines, change the way we cooked or approached time off together, or see our friends any less.
Well of course I’m the fool. Or at the very least, I’m not as French as I thought I was. Today, we very much schedule things around Oliver’s nap schedule and bedtime, but thankfully we have a lot of other friends with kids who get it. Friends who make homemade cookies, own ice cream businesses, and have really great taste in music. Friends who host the kind of occasion that warrants homemade hot fudge sauce and eating dessert first. Last weekend Kasey and Matt had us over to their house for a little neighborhood ice cream social. They have twins and a toddler, and our friends Ashley and Gabe came with their three kids. Sam showed up fashionably late with Oliver (ahhh, the nap schedule). I figured the kids would all be eager to make sundaes right away, but there was cornhole and wrestling, crawling and scooting — and all manner of more important things to tend to first. Oliver took his sweet time eating some carrots and practiced crawling (so close! Yet so far!), and I tried not to stress out too much about the fact that we forgot his sunscreen. He’s acquired some little sandal tan lines on his feet and I have to think that a base tan on a baby is probably not a great thing. Kasey invited Lauren from Seattle-based Sweet Lo’s Ice Cream, and we were all over-the-moon that she was able to make it. If you’ve been around this space for long or know me personally, you know I have some impassioned opinions about cool treats. And if you’re in Seattle and you haven’t yet tried Lauren’s crazy good, small batch ice cream, you’re really missing out. I’m addicted to the Oatmeal Cookie and am a recent fan of the Mint Oreo. Her vanilla is so classic and clean and delicious, and her strawberry is summer, summer, summer. Also, she delivers to your house. Best (most dangerous) news of the season.
With ice cream squared away, we needed toppings. Ashley brought some of her addictive Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies and her new savory salty sprinkles (coming soon!). Kasey picked up cones and rainbow sprinkles. I threw some Marge Hazelnut Cacao Nib Granola in my bag and whipped up a batch of this no-fuss hot fudge sauce. I set out to make the hot fudge sauce for selfish reasons, really. I found myself a little disappointed with so many of the homemade recipes I’ve been stumbling upon. Either they have corn syrup or loads of sugar or they call for a candy thermometer. I wanted a simpler hot fudge recipe without all those things; it’s summer and things should feel easy.
So instead of corn syrup I used brown rice syrup which has a much more subtle sweetness; I used a little brown sugar, too, and a generous handful of dark chocolate. I cooked it down on the stovetop but give pretty clear directions here for how to tackle it without a candy thermometer. And extra bonus: it can be pulled together during one of Oliver’s naps — because let’s be honest: I’m not sure how the French do it (what am I missing?!), but nap time is the only time we get any real cooking or baking done.
This past week, we’ve all been texting and lamenting the fact that afternoon ice cream parties aren’t a reality of everyday life — and I suppose if they were, they wouldn’t feel nearly as special. Next week, we’re hoping to bring some of that spirit over to our place and have more friends over to hang out in the backyard, sprinkler dodging and wondering how it is that August is now firmly at our front stoop.
Because it doesn’t have any stablizers (what helps give the storebought stuff its perfect texture), this hot fudge becomes quite firm in the refrigerator and a bit on the thin side when heated too vigorously. So I think leaving it out at room temperature for a few hours or lightly warming it is really the way to go for a smooth, spoonable hot fudge with a deep, dark chocolate flavor.
In a medium heavy duty saucepan, combine the cream, brown rice syrup, brown sugar, and cocoa powder. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and let simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid clumping or burning.
Stir in the dark chocolate until fully melted. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, stirring and scraping sides until bubbling vigorously, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and whisk in butter, vanilla and salt.
Strain sauce through a fine-mesh sieve into a heatproof bowl. Continue whisking until smooth. You want the consistency to be thick but pourable (but keep in mind it will thicken as it cools). Let cool to room temperature.
You can make this sauce up to 2 weeks in advance: simply store in the refrigerator, covered. Warm before serving. To reheat, microwave for 30-40 seconds until it’s pourable but still thick. Alternatively, warm in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring often and adding 1-2 teaspoons of water if needed to thin.
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?)