I’ve been in the slow process of cleaning out my home office this week, and yesterday I stumbled upon some notebooks containing previous year’s Summer Bucket Lists (if you may recall, I used to write sort of elaborate lists of things I wanted to learn, see or accomplish during the summer season). Scrawled throughout these pages were lines about baking sourdough bread, starting a garden for cut flowers or taking a road trip and discovering new towns in the region (or beyond). This year I don’t have such a list. The days feel more like a race to get our work done, figure out how to feed ourselves, take care of the plants in the backyard, be a good friend, be a good sister, be a good mom and a good partner. Walk to the park. Point out airplanes, trucks, buses, vans, birds and flowers with Oliver. Drink a cocktail and watch The Handmaid’s Tale with Sam at night. Buy wedding presents and shower presents. Show up.
These simple things seem to take up all of the time that perhaps I once used to spend baking more bread or taking more road trips. I remember the one summer a few years ago when I made loads of peach jam, ate it with homemade yogurt, sewed a gigantic quilt, and wrote a book proposal in my free time. That, my friends, is not this year. Instead, this summer I’m hoping to simply cook more and get outside more. Oliver has some new sandals he’s jazzed about and we bought him a sun hat with realllllllly full coverage that he tries to rip off, as if he knows it’s slightly humiliating to show up at the neighborhood park donning such a wardrobe atrocity. I got him a little mini rake to accompany his sand pail and shovel, and have big plans to head to the beach to shovel, rake and cap things off with a vanilla soft serve cone.
The one trick I always have for guaranteeing I’m cooking more is to think a lot about Future Megan — in other words, my Tonight Self or Tomorrow Self. We try to make a pot of grains on the weekend and have some fresh herbs and lemon around, and thanks to summer produce (tomatoes! corn! tomatoes again!), the rest often kind of comes together naturally, however haphazardly, which was the case with this summery salad.
In one of the classes I teach at The Pantry here in Seattle, we make a similar whole grain bowl with millet, but I received some beautiful farro and french lentils from a whole grain company in Canada that I love, Grain, and was excited to put both to work this week. The lentils are a nice touch because they make this much more of a complete meal, so we can spend a little less time thinking through the components of dinner and a little more time shoveling and raking, and stopping to wave at passing trucks.
This salad is a particular favorite when all of the ingredients are at their peak of freshness (now!), and are given space to just do their thing. A tough recipe to mess up, the one piece of advice I do have here is to try your best to be attentive while cooking the lentils so as not to overcook them — I taste them every 5-8 minutes or so to make sure they’re still nice and toothsome. As for making this salad even simpler, you can certainly use frozen corn although I will say it’s so, so good with fresh, sweet summer corn. I generally always double the dressing recipe, too, and save half for a future green salad, soba noodles or a whole grain bowl later in the week.
For the Salad:
For the Dressing:
Cook the farro: In a 2-quart saucepan, bring the farro, 2 cups water and a pinch of salt to a boil. Decrease the heat to low and cover. Simmer until farro is tender and most of the liquid evaporates, about 30 minutes. If there is excess liquid after the farro is done cooking, simply strain it away. Remove from heat and set aside for 10 minutes to cool.
Meanwhile, rinse the lentils. In a separate small saucepan, add the lentils and 1 cup water. Bring to a rapid simmer over medium high heat, then reduce the heat to low (should be a gentle simmer) and cook lentils until just tender, about 25 minutes. Strain, rinse with cold water and set aside to cool.
Cook the corn: In a large nonstick skillet, warm the olive oil and add the shallot. Cook over medium heat until just soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the corn and generous pinch of salt and increase heat to medium-high. Cook corn until it’s just beginning to brown on the edges and soften, about 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic and stir to combine. Cook an additional 2 to 3 minutes.
Whisk together all of the dressing ingredients. In a large salad bowl, toss together the cooked farro, lentils, corn mixture, tomatoes, feta and herbs. Fold in the dressing. Serve immediately.
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?)