I might’ve spent the better part of the past two weeks trying to get these pumpkin muffins right. Before Oliver was born it would’ve been the better part of a single morning, with a good cup of coffee in hand. Uninterrupted time at home — the kind of time I need to weigh ingredients, take recipe notes and photograph ingredients — is pretty scarce these days. I often cook and bake in the evenings to prep for future meals, but obviously for the blog I like to snap a few photos to show you and that’s pretty hard to do at 10 pm. The upside is that I tested these muffins a few times to get them just right and did lots of futzing and experimenting with ingredients. In my mind, they’re the perfect pumpkin muffin: not too sweet, whole grain, fragrant and warmly-spiced.
I’ve lately been thinking about trying to carve out time to feel more creative in the kitchen. We do a lot of cooking, but it’s generally quite dutiful, purposeful and specific: bake some squash for dinner and bang out a simple tomato sauce, for instance. While you’re at it, puree a little baby food. But the days of languishing in the kitchen feel a bit far off, at least for now. Sam shared an article with me by Kim Brooks called A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Mom: Is Parenthood the Enemy of Creative Work? When I saw the title I sighed, refusing to believe the headline, although more and more these days realizing I may just be a living example of it.
In her article, Brooks explores the effect that domestic life has on creative work and the conflict that arises between being a parent and being a writer or artist (or creator of any kind). She says, “The idea that writers, artists, inspired and creative people make bad spouses, parents, homemakers, partners is nothing new. It’s a trope that has served the (usually male) writers of the canon well… although it’s easy to dismiss such pronouncements for their obvious misogyny, women writers, too, have often struggled with domestic obligation.” The down and dirty of it, she says, is that “the point of art is to unsettle, to question, to disturb what is comfortable and safe. And that shouldn’t be anyone’s goal as a parent.”
You need those long stretches of time to sit and daydream and watch the curtains flap in the breeze — to think some unsettling thoughts that may (or may not) just drive you towards your next creative project. But if you do that long enough, whose going to feed the baby and clean the kitchen counter?
I kept thinking to myself while reading, ‘so what’s the solution?’ I want to write another book eventually. I have projects I’m excited about starting. My sewing machine is gathering dust. I want to stare at some damn curtains flapping in the breeze. A few of the women in Brooks’ piece ended up re-jiggering their focus a bit, still creating but the subject was different. Maybe approaching creative projects in a new way than they did before. For me, the key is managing expectations. It would be too hard to run a granola business, work on a food writing career and have hours in the week to tackle creative projects — all while raising and loving on one small Oliver. Something’s got to give.
I’m currently ghostwriting a cookbook for someone else, which is wonderful because I still get the satisfaction of seeing a project come together from start to finish, but I’m not generating the creative juices behind the book (the recipe concepts). And frankly, I’m not sure I could pull off my own cookbook right now. I conquer specific tasks really efficiently, but finding the spaciousness in my day (and my mind) to sit down to brainstorm and just let my mind wander — all the necessary building blocks of creating something new — just isn’t a currently reality. And for now that’s just fine. And for later, a little more of this (thanks to my friend Nicole Gulotta for pointing me to it), please:
Getting it Right
Lying in front of the house all
afternoon, trying to write a poem.
Waking up under the stars.
These pumpkin muffins are based on the Pear Hazelnut-Oat muffins from my cookbook which have long been a fall favorite around our house. I decided to try them with 100% spelt four to amp up the nutrition a bit, but as always, if you’d like to use all-purpose flour instead, by all means go at it. I think these would be great with whole wheat pastry flour or kamut flour, too. The streusel is unapologetically buttery, fragrant and has nutty bits of pepitas strewn throughout. I could eat it all on its own. The muffins came out of the oven nicely domed and made the house smell like October. I cut one in half and took it on my early evening walk with Oliver — thinking about that Jack Gilbert poem and waking up under the stars, but simultaneously feeling quite happy to be out on a walk with my boy.
These spelt pumpkin muffins are not too sweet and delicately spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. I use ground pepitas in the muffin batter itself, and then a generous hand with that buttery pepita streusel on top. If you’re using canned pumpkin, you’ll end up with a little extra and I’ve been using it up in pancake batter on the weekends or smoothies during the week. While I did use buttermilk in this recipe, I have a hunch whole milk or your favorite nut milk will work just fine, too.
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Butter a standard 12-cup muffin tin (or line with papers)
Make the streusel: Combine the muscovado sugar with pepitas, oats, flour, cinnamon and salt. Add the butter and, using your fingertips, press the butter into the dry ingredients and mix together until the streusel comes together when squeezed. Refrigerate until ready to use.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, oats, ground pepitas, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger. Set aside.
In another mixing bowl, whisk together the melted butter and sugar. Fold in pumpkin puree. Whisk in the buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla. Fold in the flour mixture gently, being careful not to overmix.
Fill the muffin cups nearly to the top and sprinkle generously with streusel topping. Put the muffins in the oven and bake until the tops are golden brown and feel firm to the touch, about 25 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before removing muffins from the tin. Serve warm or room temperature. Muffins will keep for 3 days in an airtight container.
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?)