We just got home from a long trip back East to visit both sides of our family and to see my youngest sister Zoe get married in a breezy outdoor ceremony in Vergennes, Vermont. We were gone almost three weeks total, which, towards the end started to feel like a really long time; I couldn’t help but wonder if the leaves were turning on the tree across the street from our house or daydream about all the mail we’d have waiting for us (I’m a real fan girl of good and even quite marginal mail days). From the Adirondack mountains and Burlington, Vermont to New Brunswick, New Jersey, we were in planes, boats and cars on this trip and pretty far removed from our typical routines. And while I’m getting a lot better about going with the flow and letting unstructured days unfold as they will, having access to a few staples in the kitchen always makes me feel a bit more settled wherever we are.
We started by visiting my dad at his cabin in the Adirondacks. I’d asked ahead of time for them to stock up on avocados and eggs and my sister picked up some killer farmstand bread on her drive from Central New York, so we made toast fit for kings most mornings while listening to the rain patter away insistently on the roof. Oliver sat on the porch pointing out every passing boat (and there were many), and I spent a lot of time by the big fireplace fantasizing about reading novels in lieu of toddler tending. Real talk.
From my Dad’s place, we headed to the wedding (which I hope to talk more about here soon!) and from there, back to my mom’s in Burlington, where we spent a number of days eating wood-fired bagels and local cheese, visiting Shelburne Farms, cooking a little, taking walks downtown and daydreaming about being in college again. My mom lives within walking distance to a great coop, so we stocked up on basics like coffee, sweet potatoes (which I like to roast for Oliver each week), little grape tomatoes, more avocados and black beans. We’d been buying Dr. Praeger’s hash browns at home for quick, easy breakfast bowls and I was able to track them down as well (simple ingredients; no creepy stuff), so we upgraded our morning toast and made breakfast bowls fit for kings.
I’ve long been a fan of chilaquiles for breakfast and these bowls have that vibe, only with fresh tomatoes and pickled-onions, and hash browns instead of chips. It’s a protein-packed morning meal and what I’ve recently taken to calling Happy Food — meals that just make you feel really good.
That being said, I know breakfast can be a challenge, especially in this Back to School period many of us find ourselves in. Even without school age kiddos (or any kiddos at all), actually cooking anything on a weekday morning can feel unrealistic. So these could definitely be reserved for a weekend affair or if you’re organized, make the pickled onions and cook down the beans ahead of time and really, you’re just frying an egg and heating up your hash browns at that point. I can handle that, even far away from my own kitchen. Have fun with these; adapt as you will to make them work for your people. Because bowls for breakfast, I tell you: Happy Food.
In an effort to save time here, I used a store bought salsa verde but you could certainly make yours homemade if you prefer. I didn’t include instructions for cooking your eggs as I’ve done these bowls with everything from soft boiled to fried to scrambled and they’re delicious with each — so feel free to cook your egg exactly how you like it (or leave it out altogether). The bowls are best eaten right after you prepare them, but you could certainly prep most of the components (beans, sliced tomatoes, pickled onions) in advance so you’re simply throwing in a few hash browns and frying an egg in the morning.
For the Quick-Pickled Onions: (makes about 1/4 cup)
For the Bowls:
Make the quick-pickled onions: In a medium bowl, whisk together the vinegar, sugar and salt. Add onion and ensure the slices are all covered by the liquid. Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Make the bowls: Preheat the oven to 450 F. Place hash browns on an ungreased baking sheet and bake for 7 minutes until browned. Carefully flip and bake an additional 4-5 minutes until browned on the second side.
MeanwhiIe, in a medium skillet over medium heat warm the olive oil until shimmering. Add the onion and cook until tender and translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add the beans, salt, cumin and paprika and stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning if you’d like. Fold in the cilantro and set aside.
Assemble each bowl by arranging two hashbrowns, a scoop of beans, spoonful of tomatoes, pickled onions, and avocado slices. Top with fried egg. Repeat with second bowl. Top with salsa verde and a few spoonfuls of queso fresca. Enjoy 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?)