The last time we were camping on Orcas Island, I was almost 7 months pregnant and we shared a shaded campsite with two other couples and their kids. I made banana bread and recall hoarding it from the kids (and, really, everyone); Sam and I snuck into town for strong lattes early in the mornings, spent a lot of time down by the lake and on easy ambling hikes, and took turns cooking over the fire each night for dinner. As is so often the case with camping, the days felt eternally long in that loose, listless way that only summer can gift us, and we came home with flip-flop tan lines and dusty hair.
Last week we took Oliver on his first camping trip to Moran State Park which was, as you can imagine, quite different. On the ferry coming home, while chasing Oliver through rows of tourists and travelers, we decided that you almost need to reframe and even rename activities that you once did before having a kid. I see a lot of friends who become quite disappointed and resigned — even depressed — that the things they once used to love doing are now a thing of the past. Hiking? Give me eight years. Camping or international traveling? See you in 2022. The list goes on.
And it’s true: it’s a lot of work and planning and the truth is that summer never gifts you those drawn-out quiet, listless days when you’re camping with a small person. It just doesn’t. And hiking? On our last trip a few weekends ago, I ended up carrying Oliver most of the way up to the waterfall (although we actually never made it to the waterfall) after he refused to sit in his baby backpack. So we manage expectations. We don’t bring novels to the beach, we don’t think through the elaborate camp meals we once used to make, we eat more PB & J sandwiches than we ever thought we would, and we fill our flasks with pre-mixed cocktails.
Our first night of camp, Oliver decided he was none too keen on sleeping in the Great Outdoors, or at least, on going to sleep. In fact, he straight up Freaked (this is our family’s very technical sleep term, signaling to one another that Shit Is Bad) so fully and completely that you could hear our camp neighbors sighing, getting out of their tents, whispering amongst each other. Flashlights clicked on. More sighing. At home, while we would’ve let Oliver cry for a bit and tire himself out, it felt disrespectful to keep the rest of the campground up, so Sam and O. hopped in the car and drove around the island, podcasting away, until it was clear the backseat passenger was sleeping soundly enough to transfer to his own private tent. This became the nightly routine: the menfolk would leave at dusk and I’d keep the fire stoked, get the tents ready, sneak squares of dark chocolate meant for s’mores and dip into my book awaiting their return.
After what felt like a full night of me holding my breath, hoping we wouldn’t rouse our camp neighbors yet again, daybreak came — as it’s known to do — and over bacon and eggs, we talked about the day ahead. While we have so many memories on Orcas (Mount Constitution hikes, wood-fired pizza at Hogstone, oysters from Buck Bay), having a young child is funny because on one hand you’re excited to introduce them to all the things you used to do and, on the other, you know you can’t hike Mount Constitution or have any sort of a sane or restful meal at Hogstone. As I’ve said before, you rejigger. The things you used to do may not apply.
So we didn’t plan or schedule much in the way of activities, and instead found ourselves down by the beach more often than not, trying to teach Oliver how to build a moat and share ice cream cones. Our child became obsessed with water fountains, made a baby friend from LA, and took what must have been hundreds of trips down the slide at the park playground. Back at camp, dinner wasn’t something we stressed over: I’d spent a lot of time planning our meals so evenings could be easy. There was a spicy turkey chili and quinoa one night; vegetarian tacos the next; and on our last night we grilled sausages and corn over the open fire, and pulled together this triple tomato and feta salad, the MVP of summer 2017.
A version of this salad made an appearance at our Fourth of July get-together: I’d made Samin Nosrat’s Summer Panzanella from her incredible book and, try as I might, I just don’t get panzanella salads. No matter how you roll the dice, you’re always left with really soggy bread. But the one thing that I was struck with was Samin’s perfectly-balanced tomato vinaigrette. At first it came off as a bit fussy (you have to grate a very ripe tomato and whisk it into the dressing), but it turns out grating a tomato is no big deal, and we’ve been keeping the dressing on hand to drizzle over sliced, ripe summer tomatoes for weeks now. It’s also a great dip for crusty bread and I imagine it’d make an all star appearance in a pasta or whole grain salad.For our camping trip, I made a batch of the vinaigrette at home and we just kept it in the cooler, pulling it out on our last night to generously pour over heirloom tomatoes with big spoonfuls of feta. It felt fancy even though it was all quite simple and we each had seconds, silently gearing up for what could possibly be a long night ahead.
The next morning, we cooked the rest of our bacon, made some strong coffee and started to pack up. I ruffled around in my bag to find enough quarters to use the camp showers and Oliver dutifully pointed out every truck and motorcycle he could spot on the road below. We headed into town to share baked eggs and a brownie at Rose’s before catching the ferry back home, stopping only to run around the rocky beach in Eastsound, where Oliver lugged driftwood from the shore and pushed it into the water with genuine gusto. I snapped a few photos of him by the shore grinning, stood up, and thought I might as well lug a piece to the water, too. I can’t say that I’d ever done that before.
With Samin’s tomato vinaigrette, grape tomatoes and cubed heirlooms, this salad boasts tomatoes three ways. That being said, keeping it simple and drizzling the vinaigrette over sliced heirlooms with a sprinkle of flaky salt is still summer at its best. Here you’ll have leftover dressing; it keeps for a good four days and makes a great dip for crusty bread. This salad is best served room temperature the day its made, and if you want to really do it justice enjoy it right away.
Tomato Vinaigrette (makes about 1 cup):
For the Dressing:
In a small bowl or jar, let the shallot sit in the vinegars for 15 minutes to macerate.
Halve the tomato crosswise. Grate on the largest hold of a box grater and discard the skin. You should be left with about 1/2 cup grated tomato. Add it to the shallot. Add the basil, oil, and a generous pinch of salt. Smash the garlic against the counter with the palm of your hand and add to the dressing. Shake or stir to combine. Taste and adjust the salt or acid as needed. Let sit for about 10 minutes, and remove garlic before using.
For the Salad:
In a large bowl, combine the heirloom tomatoes, grape tomatoes and fold in 1/3 cup dressing. Top with feta and chives and a sprinkle of flaky salt. 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?)