In the first days after coming home from the hospital with Oliver, we got a few care packages from friends and neighbors. One was a box from my friend Anne in San Francisco with a handful of sweet little baby things and a batch of homemade breakfast cookies. They reminded me of the recipe from my cookbook and, because I was up at all odd hours of the day and night, they fueled me equally well at 3am and 3pm. The other box was from one of our neighbors: homemade chocolate chip cookies. In truth, they weren’t even great cookies and normally I may not have even eaten them, but I cried with happiness every afternoon when I reached for one — they were keeping us going.
We all lead busy lives and taking time to make something homemade and box it up and get to the post office is no small thing, and the gesture was so far from lost on us. Simple daily tasks like making breakfast were far harder than I’d imagined they would be (people told me this would be the case but I figured since Sam and I like to cook and bake, things would be different for us … and they were most certainly not). The combination of lack of sleep and little to no routine made the days feel like one diaphanous tunnel, and having friends bring us meals, treats from around town, and homemade baked goods was a lifesaver. So much so that I always make an effort to do the same now for friends who have babies — even acquaintances, actually. A homemade cookie is a big deal for a new mama.Our friends Jenny and Tom just had their first baby, Rivers, about a month ago and the second we heard he’d arrived we started thinking about what books and treats we could send them. Preparing a care package takes a little thought (especially one traveling across the country) as you want to bake something that will hold up ok (pie and cake are out, in my opinion), but that’s also delicious. The treats need not be healthy necessarily, but I loved having nourishing snacks mid-day as a second breakfast, and nursing mamas in particular really need to keep snacking to keep their calories up, so breakfast cookies are always a good bet.
For Jenny and Tom, I decided to go that route and changed up the recipe in my book with nursing mamas in mind: I added flax meal from one of my favorite natural food brands, Bob’s Red Mill, which is said to help with milk production, and then I cut down on the oil and sweetener just a bit. Dried tart cherries, pistachios and dark chocolate chunks felt like vibrant and delicious mix-ins, so in they went – and we were off to the races. If you wanted to really amp these up for nursing mamas, you could experiment with adding in some brewers yeast and even sesame seeds, too (both also purported to help with milk production).
A few other good tips I gleaned after having our own baby that you may find helpful as you think about the new parents in your life:
Don’t Stress About Timing
While it’s great to get something in the mail soon after baby arrives, keep in mind that the chances are good that this pair of new parents may have family or friends doing the same thing right about now — there tends to be a rush right at the beginning … and then nothing. And truthfully, we found the period of time after the meals and treats dropped off and after the new baby adrenaline died down to be the hardest. I would’ve killed to have a homemade meal dropped off at week 8. So it’s never too late and you haven’t dropped the ball. When it comes to treats for new parents, any time is a great time.
Check in Regarding Dietary Restrictions
There are a lot of dietary restrictions these days, and of course you want to be sure that whatever you send is something the new family can enjoy. That being said, I make sure that’s where my questions end. The last thing a sleep-deprived new family needs are lots of decisions and, for some people, asking for help can be really tough, so they may feel uncomfortable answering a lot of specifics about what they may like: check in about allergies and end the conversation there. While the kind of muffin you’re going to send may not be the one they’d order at their local coffee shop, trust me that they’re going to love it. In many ways, it matters less what’s in the box than the act of sending the box in the first place.
Dropping Off in Person?
If you’re dropping off something in person, sending a quick text to a family member — not the new mama if possible as they often have their hands pretty full with nursing and hopefully catching up on a little sleep — is always smart to determine what might be a good time to stop by. Then I always assume and overtly communicate that I’ll be dropping something off on the doorstep at, say 4pm, and if they decide they’re up for visitors to text me, otherwise zero pressure and I’ll catch up with them once they’ve all settled in. Getting to understand a new baby’s sleep schedule (or lack thereof) and, frankly, showering is enough of an undertaking for new parents; the last thing they need to think about is how and when to be welcoming and accommodating to guests. That can come later.
One-Handed Treats Rule
In the early days with Oliver, Sam and I would take turns eating dinner while one of us bounced him on the bouncy ball or rocked him to sleep. I remember crying one night, thinking we’d never eat at the same time again. Of course, that worry was unfounded and now we eat together every night. But it is true that in those early days you’re often either holding the baby or holding baby-related things when hunger strikes and having treats or snacks that are easy to eat with one hand (not super crumbly or messy) are great for new parents. Granola bars, muffins, scones and cookies are all perfect choices.
A Little Goes a Long Way
As for other goodies to include in your care package, here’s a good rule of thumb: a little something is better than nothing, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed, just send cookies! Still overwhelmed? Buy cookies instead of making them! There are no awards here – it’s the gesture that counts. That being said, if you have the time to pick up a few little things for the baby, it’s always so appreciated; to this day, when I read Oliver most of his books I remember exactly who sent him each one.
Beyond the Care Package
Looking to send something but no time to bake or pull together a package? No problem. When Oliver was born, one of my editors sent Sam and I a gift certificate for diapers which, on one hand, feels a bit impersonal but MAN were we thrilled to have it. Also, there are so many wonderful and convenient meal delivery services out there these days, and that can offer parents all the convenience and ease with a bit more control over when they’ll prepare and enjoy each particular dish. I’ve also had friends tell me they’ve gotten their new-parent-friends a gift certificate to a local housecleaning service, which I imagine was welcomed with open arms.
Curious to Read More?
Beyond Casseroles: What to Cook for New Parents – Serious Eats
10 Meals to Bring to a New Mom – The Kitchn (by yours truly!)
15 Make-Ahead Delicious Meals + Treats to Bring to New Parents – Brit and Co
These cookies are not too sweet and lightly spiced, so they’re a strong candidate for a mid-morning snack but they also make for a simple dessert. They don’t spread at all on the baking sheet and are a touch biscuity in nature, so do be sure to flatten them before baking as the directions here indicate. You can use any mix-ins you’d like, just keep the proportions about the same; I made a special batch for Oliver with golden raisins, sunflower seeds and pepitas and they were met with immense enthusiasm. They freeze beautifully, so a double batch is always a good idea.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 1 large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
In a large bowl, whisk together both flours, oats, flax meal, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and salt.
In another medium bowl, whisk together the banana, coconut oil, maple syrup, egg, and vanilla.
Add the wet ingredients to the bowl of dry ingredients and stir until incorporated. Fold in the cherries, pistachios and chocolate. Let dough sit and rest 10 minutes.
Using between 2 to 3 tablespoons of dough, scoop balls onto cookie sheet, leaving about 2 inches between cookies. Use the palm of your hand to gently flatten the cookies until about 3/4-inch thick.
Bake until golden brown around the edges and firmed yet slightly soft in the center (they’ll continue to firm as they cool), about 10 to 12 minutes. Allow cookies to cool at least 5 minutes before transferring to wire rack to cool completely. If kept in an airtight container, cookies will remain fresh for 3-4 days.
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?)