I’m leaving town on a red eye tonight to go to my little sister’s bridal shower outside of Boston. I’ve got my scarf-that-doubles-as-a-blanket all packed and am debating buying one of those neck pillows at the airport. My mom booked a fancy hotel downtown, I bought a new tank top with a tropical palm tree situation gracing the front, and I plan to sleep past 7 am at least once. Hopefully twice. Usually before I leave town, I jot down ideas for Oliver’s meals and lay things out for Sam. From what I’ve gathered from other parents and friends, it seems we all fall into funny, unspoken roles and while Sam almost always bathes Oliver, I plan and prep his meals. Sure, I’m quite capable of giving him a bath and Sam is quite capable of roasting his sweet potatoes, but this is just how things have landed for us. But tonight I’m walking out the door without jotting anything down. While I did stock up on berries and string cheese, I’m not leaving any notes and for the first time, not feeling terribly worried about how much Oliver eats, when he eats, even frankly if he eats. They’re going to be just fine.
I wish I could say this swing in sentiment was just a natural progression, but we had a funny meeting last week that changed things for me. Oliver has been seeing a language therapist for about a month now. I’m not entirely convinced it’s necessary, but his doctor was concerned about a delay and it’s certainly true that the few “mamas” we used to get every now and again have disappeared altogether, so every Friday Ashley comes over and hangs out with us, playing blocks, observing and guiding. Last week she came for lunchtime after I’d mentioned that I was concerned we weren’t doing a great job with the food thing, that Oliver only stayed seated for about 1/3 of his meal and became incredibly fussy — that whole hot dog on the floor bit. She asked how he was for smaller snacks and I said he really didn’t snack and never motioned or communicated to me that he was hungry. Something was wrong.
So Ashely visited while Sam diced Oliver’s half avocado and I got his chicken sausage and pasta together — I did notice her eyes kind of widen as we laid out Oliver’s food but I thought nothing of it at the time. Sure enough, at about 1/3 of the way through his meal, O started fussing and waving his hands back and forth indicating he was done. “See,” I said! “This is what happens every time! He just shows little interest in meal times and doesn’t seem all that excited about anything we set in front of him”. She looked at me from across the table and said kindly, “Megan, he’s stuffed.”
It seems we’ve been over feeding out little Tank. Apparently an entire chicken sausage, a half an avocado and pasta is a pretty big lunch for a toddler. I think it was the half avocado that really did Ashley in. That and the fact that I’d typically follow Oliver around the house after dinner kind of popping tortellini in his mouth if he didn’t finish his whole bowl, like a good neurotic Italian grandmother (I’m neither of those things). I’m not sure why I didn’t realize it before, but an immediate wave of relief flooded over me: The problem is us, not Oliver. Poor kid has been trying to tell us for months: Enough already!
Since Ashley’s visit, mealtimes are much less stressful for me. They’re not as loaded — I don’t glance at Oliver’s plate the entire time wondering if he’ll finish or question why he’s pausing for so long. Somedays he surprises me with the amount of something he’ll be into and other days he takes one bite and isn’t interested at all. The result: I have peas and leftover pancake pieces for lunch more often than I care to admit. Other days, we eat like kings at breakfast during that short blip of summer when rhubarb and raspberries are in season at the same time (run, now!). Oliver and I have been having a little spoonful of this quick and easy compote on our yogurt or oatmeal lately. It’d be great on waffles or pancakes, too. And Sam and I can vouch that it’s mighty fine on ice cream, eaten outside on your summery deck right after hanging sparkly string lights as your not-so-little Tank sleeps soundly in the room above.
This simple summer compote is a great way to dress up plain yogurt, or spoon it atop oatmeal, waffles, or ice cream. I used a little less sugar than the recipe called for, so feel free to add an additional few spoonfuls if you like yours on the sweeter side.
Slightly adapted from: Vegetable Literacy
Trim the rhubarb stalks, then cut them crosswise into 1-inch pieces. Put them in a saucepan with the sugar, orange juice, and berries and place over medium heat.
Stir frequently while the rhubarb is warming up and the sugar is starting to dissolve, until juices appear, then cover the pan and cook until the rhubarb is tender, about 10 minutes. Give the contents of the pan a good stir. Slide the fruit into a dish and chill well before serving.
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?)