I sat down to write this Mother’s Day post a few weeks ago, and was so looking forward to sharing these strawberry muffins with you. I’d planned to write a simple enough post on motherhood, a dispatch of sorts, 18 months in. But as the days ticked on and I stared at my screen, I found myself constantly hedging and apologizing and acknowledging how hard this thing is for so many: to get pregnant, to stay pregnant, to find a community as a new mom, to continue feeling like yourself, or some semblance of the self you remember, to be the kind of mom you always thought you’d be, to be ok — periodically — with letting the kind of mom you’d always wanted to be … go. So today I’m sharing a bit of a messier glimpse into things over here and please know that you have my full permission to just scroll down to the bottom of this post if you just want to make yourself some damn muffins and get on with your weekend. I get it. They’re good muffins.
I found out I was pregnant for the first time the same day I found out I was no longer pregnant. We’d been talking about having a baby for quite awhile and had been trying for a bit when I made the mistake of telling people we were trying. With friends and family now constantly asking how that was going, it wasn’t. Until it was. And I jumped into Sam’s arms to tell him and bought myself a fancy decaf latte and walked around our neighborhood feeling like, all of a sudden, everything was different. I stared at my belly in the shower wondering when it’d start to grow, googled pregnancy blogs, and picked up a book on pregnancy nutrition at the library. Later that afternoon, I started to have awful cramps but didn’t think much of it because, hey! Maybe this is what pregnancy is like! And then I started bleeding. A lot. The rest of that afternoon and evening is more of a blur than a memory, a doctor visit and bad news and a bottle of champagne sitting in the fridge that we didn’t end up touching. I sat in the car on the way home from the doctor wondering what was wrong with my body, why it wasn’t a hospitable home for this babe. Wondering how we would visit my mom’s house in California for Christmas a week and a half later and pretend like everything was just fine.
My doctor assured me it was nothing I’d done wrong. As I gripped the referral for counseling, he told me this was actually a really good sign: we got pregnant! It worked. And it would work again. This was actually very common. I wondered why, if it was so common, no one seemed to talk about it. After taking a few months off, we started actively trying to get pregnant again and in very early spring, got good news: It worked (again). This time we didn’t tell anyone right away. Instead, I focused on staying really healthy, eating well, taking fish oil. All the things. I started to see an acupuncturist who, for some reason, told me I shouldn’t be running and that I needed to eat and drink lots of warming, nurturing, gentle foods and to keep my body in a “cocoon” state (I know now that this was insane advice, but boy did I spend weeks gently stepping off curbs and eating lots of sweet potatoes and broth, as if that baby could somehow get jarred right out of me with too boisterous a step).
Cocoon or not, this time around felt different and after three months, we told family. Time ticked on, yoga classes became cumbersome as my belly grew, and I started to realize that my acupuncturist was, well, full of it. I began running again and stepping off curbs with some verve — and I told you all here. I was lucky enough to have a really healthy and energetic pregnancy, and was fascinated by the whole thing. Bodies! Then on a very cold, bright day in mid-November Oliver was born in the late afternoon after a long morning mostly laboring at home. While I didn’t write his whole birth story here as, I guess, it felt a bit private, I shared him with you as soon as I had the chance.So many people talk about how they couldn’t wait to get home from the hospital with their new baby. Because I had some hemorrhaging, we ended up having to stay an extra night and I remember thinking, THANK GOD. Let’s order another breakfast burrito and get some of that delicious tiny round ice to put in our apple juice! I was in no rush to start the motherhood thing without helpful nurses by my side. And as I suspected, it wasn’t all sunshine and unicorns when we got home. Much like miscarriage, people don’t talk enough about how hard breastfeeding is or how you may not feel like a complete natural the second you hold your baby. Looking back, I wish someone would’ve encouraged me to stop shuttling around to see lactation consultants and specialists and chill out a bit on the breastfeeding front. Or to stop all the late night googling. It was helping no one, and making me feel like we weren’t doing a good job. I wish I could’ve seen the bigger picture of it all — that we were, in fact, doing a great job keeping our new baby alive and relatively healthy. And that was our only job at the moment. But when you’re in the thick of all that monumental newness, it’s impossible to see the daylight streaming in from all the windows; it often looks much more like a tunnel.
As I sit here now, it seems like forever ago that I was on the couch with Oliver, nursing him with my weird wraparound pillow, watching the neighborhood kids walk to and back home from school. Today things are very different. We’re all settling into a routine and getting to know each other as actual people. Oliver sleeps through the night and sits with us for meals. He’s developed a true passion for avocados and tortellini, loves to walk around the block and has a jaunty little swing with his right arm that helps propel his stride. He has a killer sense of humor, likes to shower with his papa, and make smoothies in the morning with me.
We have a pretty good thing going. It’s a very different kind of thing than it used to be, and in many ways it’s actually harder, but still good. Right now, we’re in the toddler thick of it which, in short, means Oliver has FEELINGS about things and likes to express them. When I was pregnant, I read that book Bringing Up Bebe and remember thinking: Yes! There’s no need to change the cadence of our days and what our life looks like just because we have a baby! Kids need to learn to incorporate themselves into their family’s life — not the other way around. Well, clearly I need to read that book again … or move to France, or even better: forget I ever read that book. Toddlers completely change the dynamic of a household; there’s just no way around it. We have more ugly plastic toys than I ever thought we would and make certain concessions that I remember judging other parents for way back when.
Eating has become a particular challenge these days. Whereas babies are so curious and often, at least in my experience, love trying new purees and flavors, toddlers develop opinions quickly and Oliver loves the ole’ headshake and head turn. No thanks. Nope, nope, nope. We’ve tried moving him from the highchair to a booster seat, incorporating all different foods, reading to him during dinner, even singing. We’re pulling out all the stops over here. And you know what we did this past Monday? We sat on the floor and ate hot dogs and popcorn because that’s the only thing Oliver wanted and the only way he’d stop losing his mind. And I really needed to have a night without Oliver losing his mind. And while part of me wants to teach him that we eat sitting in our chairs, another part thinks he’s still so small and there are bigger battles. I often turn to Sam and ask, wait, is this how we’re doing this? This isn’t what we’d thought or talked about or envisioned.
We change and rejigger, regroup and make concessions and occasionally don’t even recognize the person we become. In many ways, writing about motherhood is really hard for me because I can just hear the judgement or muttering from family or from friends, some who have numerous kids or just different philosophies. What could you possibly have to offer after just 18 months? You only have one kid? Try three. But of course, we all have our own path through the tunnel. Some are darker. Some are full of roadblocks or even dead ends. Some catch some light streaming in from unseen windows. And maybe, for the lucky, there are hot dogs and popcorn on the other side. Preferably enjoyed sitting cross-legged on the floor.
These muffins are from Andrea Bemis’s book Dishing up the Dirt. They’re simple, naturally-sweetened, and besides the strawberries, I had everything I needed in the pantry to get them in the oven. Depending on the day, time of day, weather, current mood, temperature, or state of world affairs, they’re kid-approved. You feel me? I hope you all like them and enjoy your weekend, whatever that may bring.
These muffins make for a stellar mid-morning snack, and while I loved them with roasted strawberries, I imagine you could use any berries you’d like here. I made a few tweaks to Andrea’s recipe based solely on what we had in the cupboards, and my changes are written in the recipe below. But just so you know, you can easily make these muffins dairy free: Andrea suggests using almond milk instead of milk; she also calls for walnut oil (but I opted for olive oil here instead).
Recipe ever so slightly adapted from Dishing up the Dirt
To roast the berries:
Preheat the oven to 350 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Toss the berries with the oil, honey and salt. Place them on the baking sheet and roast until they’re juicy and reduced in size, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let them cool slightly. If the berries are still rather large, slice in half so you have large chunks and reserve 3/4 cup for the muffins (if you have extra, use them on your morning yogurt or atop ice cream).
To finish the muffins:
Increase the oven temperature to 400 F. Line a standard muffin tin with paper liners or generously coat the tin with oil.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, oil, vanilla and honey. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Gently fold in the reserved strawberries and stir until they’re evenly incorporated.
Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups and bake until muffins are golden and a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the center, 18-20 minutes. Let muffins cool for 5 minutes before using a knife to gently remove them from the pan and transfer to a wire rack to cool. Enjoy within 2 days or freeze for up to 1 month.
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?)