Hello, January! I still hear people out on the street and in my exercise class wishing one another a happy New Year and it brings a smile to my face — there’s something about this time of year that feels truly hopeful. It’s not so much about goals or resolutions for me (although it used to be); it’s more about checking in with each other, wishing one another well and doing better by ourselves and for ourselves. I remember one of the things I loved about being pregnant was how often people asked me how I was feeling — from my caregivers to friends, family, acquaintances, the woman making my coffee on my way to work. And they waited for a genuine answer. They seemed to really care. What a revelation! To check in with people in a very real way about how they’re feeling! Let’s keep it up for at least a few more weeks, shall we?
Yesterday we went to the Seattle Art Museum to visit the Andrew Wyeth exhibit on its very last day — I’ve wanted to go for some time, and Sam and I even planned a Day Date last month when we had a sitter, but the museum happened to be closed that day. Soooo, we went yesterday with Oliver, Sam quite positive that we’d all have a nice experience looking at art and me a bit doubtful that I’d get a chance to truly ingest and absorb much of it at all. Can you guess who was right?
It turns out, if you have the inkling to go to a museum exhibit you’re really excited about with a two year old, you should expect to spend the brunt of the time riding the escalators up and down … and back up again. And making promises about snacks you’ll find together that don’t actually exist. But I did have one takeaway in the whirlwind half hour or so I spent chasing a crazed, small person around the viewing rooms — and that is that inspiration is so often right outside our window or front door.
This time of year so many of us are thinking about new ways to approach work, life, parenting, self care: what apps can you buy to make things easier and fresh? What ways can you mix up how you approach meal planning, what goals do you have for the house or the garden this spring? What new friendships do you want to foster? Something I found interesting about Andrew Wyeth was that his large body of work really focused on the view outside the window or door of his residence in Pennsylvania or his summer home in Maine. So many paintings and such rich stories and history spanning years … from largely the same vantage point.
In many ways I think this is an important little nudge for this time of year, a reminder that we can do better for others and ourselves and work towards many of our goals and resolutions without grand gestures, different apps on our phone, or the infinite search for newness. Oftentimes, the inspiration we’re looking for is right outside the window, and perhaps we can even reach it sometimes without moving a muscle.
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This is a slow cooker curry, and I’m hoping some of you are luddites like me and are still using your slow cooker instead of the Instant Pot (I just can’t justify another appliance, you guys!). I think the slow cooker is still the best weeknight hack for busy families, and this is a great winter recipe as it’s filling; has a good hit of protein thanks to the lentils; and marries the flavors of curry, coriander, cinnamon and turmeric, making the house smell like a dream. We’ve been serving this with brown rice, although it’d be great on its own with a big slice of buttery naan. Good fuel for gazing out the window and trying to see things in a new light this week; I hope you get a chance to do just that.
The work here is really in chopping the veggies; beyond that, this curry makes itself. If you’d like to add some chopped greens (kale or spinach would be great), you could do so at the very end and let them wilt in the hot curry. I thought about adding frozen peas, too, which I may do next time around. You’ll have a little leftover coconut milk, which I save and use in smoothies so as not to waste any ingredients. Leftover curry is great for up to 5 days in the refrigerator, or freeze for harried weeknights in the future.
Coat a 5-6 quart electric slow cooker with cooking spray.
Place the cauliflower, sweet potato, onion, water, lentils, broth, curry paste, garlic, coriander, cumin, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon stick, salt, and tomato paste in the slow cooker. Stir well to combine. Cover and cook on low for 7 hours. Turn off the heat, stir in coconut milk and remove cinnamon stick. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
Serve with rice, chopped cilantro, green onions, toasted cashews and a spoonful of plain yogurt.
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?)