Come July you can (too) often find me at the nursery stocking up on plants, cursing myself for not getting out into the yard sooner. Last year I texted my mom a photo of all the annuals I bought in late July and she gently reminded me they’d probably die in six weeks. This year, I was determined to get started before our July 4th barbecue and, true to form, managed to wait until the last minute. But here we are — with new annuals and a whole evergreen shade-loving situation under our rhododendron tree. Even chives and parsley. Oliver’s obsessed with watering the plants, but does so with such gusto (and crushing force) that Sam and I usually take turns after he goes to bed in the evening — preferably, if things are really going our way, with a cold beer and black bean burger in hand. I drove by our hardware store on the way to work this morning and the sign out front said something about enjoying the halcyon days of summer. And I thought to myself, we are in them, aren’t we? A funny thing can happen when you live in Seattle: many believe the unofficial start of summer is July 5 as June can be pretty cloudy and even quite cool. So you hold your breath and wait until the days are clear and even hot and for some reason even then it takes a sign outside the local hardware store to remind you that yes, here we are. Those halcyon days are now.
In years past, we’d flown to my mom’s Adirondack cabin for the 4th of July, but with my youngest sister getting married in September, we decided to hold off and take a longer trip in early fall instead. On our own for the 4th it was, so out came the index cards and late night cookbook-hunting: these two ex-vegetarians were going to host their first July 4th barbecue, complete with toddlers yielding watering cans, aging annuals, and friends near and far. I made Samin’s tomato panzanella salad and a grilled corn salad, Greek potato salad and watermelon acqu fresca from The Modern Potluck. Sam made homemade barbecue sauce and marinade and we had grilled spicy sausages, chicken and herbed skirt steak. There were fresh cherries and watermelon, cocktails and cold rosé, and large slices of coconut cream pie around the fire pit later that night. Also, I didn’t take a single food photo or document the table, the music, the beautiful lights overhead or the over-too-soon fire at our feet. Or anything, for that matter.
The inspiration tank is low when it comes to social media lately and the result seems to be much less documentation of our meals or routines at home. I’m not sure how much of that is just the natural course of things with an active toddler hanging off of me at all hours of the day or perhaps more of a change of the tide, so to speak, but I really hope to find some light and excitement in that again and get back to a place where it feels natural and purposeful to share a bit more about the unfolding of our days. That being said, the unexpected result of this quieter season is a true settling into these halcyon days of summer, as our poetically inclined Ace Hardware reminds us. With fewer thoughts of staging a meal so it looks pretty for Instagram or getting out the camera at a restaurant with friends, the days feel less fragmented and planned — they’re unfolding as they should, without niggling thoughts about getting the right shot or what the appropriate hashtag should be. Like all of us I’m sure, I feel like summer is whizzing by, but at the same time I feel very firmly and deeply seated in it. There’s nowhere else to be, no other story to try to tell and the days are oh so long.
As for cooking, I always feel like I get a little of my mojo back in the summer: it’s just so easy with all of the beautiful, vibrant tomatoes and sweet summer corn. And while I loved our barbecue over the fourth, we were ready to have a few lighter meals this past week so I mixed up these smoky black bean burgers with a super creamy, herby Green Goddess sauce. They’re easy to pull together and feed a crowd, and while they don’t hold up terribly well on the grill we always eat them outside either on the front stoop, people watching, or in the backyard marveling how very very light it is at 9:30 pm.
Thanks to sweet potato, quinoa and black beans, these smoky vegetarian burgers are packed with nutrition and come together quickly. Like many homemade veggie burgers, they don’t behave famously on the grill, so I pan fry them and handle them gently; they’re supposed to be soft in texture. In terms of logistics, the burgers must chill for at least two hours, so plan for that when mapping out your day. You’ll have leftovers of this creamy, super herby Green Goddess sauce and we use it as a veggie dip, sandwich spread, or dressing for pasta salads.
Green Goddess Sauce (Makes about 1 cup):
Black Bean Quinoa Burgers:
Make the Green Goddess Dressing: Place all of the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor or blender and process until smooth and creamy, about 45 seconds. Taste and add additional pinch (or two) of salt, if you’d like.
Make the Black Bean Burgers: In a medium skillet over medium heat, warm 2 tablespoons olive oil until shimmering and add the onion. Sauté until fragrant and beginning to caramelize, about 10 minutes. Stir every few minutes to avoid sticking.
Reduce the heat and add the garlic. Stir well and cook for another 1 minute.
In the bowl of a food processor, add the onion mixture along with the beans, sweet potatoes, cilantro, Worcestershire sauce, salt, paprika, chile powder, cumin and cayenne pepper. Pulse to form a thick, chunky puree. Spoon mixture out into a large bowl, fold in the quinoa and flour, and stir to combine thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate mixture for at least 2 hours and up to 2 days
When you’re ready to cook the burgers, lightly oil your hands and divide the mixture into equal portions. Shape each into patties about 1-inch thick.
Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat and set patties into skillet (you’ll likely only be able to cook 3-4 at a time, depending on size of your skillet). Cook on each side for about 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Add a little more oil to the pan if the burgers begin to stick. Serve with lettuce, avocado and Green Goddess Sauce.
Planning Ahead: Cooked or un-cooked, the burgers will keep well for up to 3 days covered in the refrigerator, or you can freeze the un-cooked burgers in a freezer-safe container for up to 3 months. Cooked burgers can be done in advance and reheated in a 325 F oven for 10 minutes.
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?)