I’m late to the game on meditating. Like really, really late but I’m doing it now and because we live in a weird, modern world I have an app that sends me a little reminder each day in case I forget. It also keeps track of my consecutive days of meditation which I find strangely motivating (it’s not lost on me this. is. not. the. point but for some reason seeing all my days in a row feels like a new achievement, which I suppose is how I’m wired). I don’t have enough days amassed to make any grand statement on the benefits of meditation, but I will say that it helps me just sit and be where I am, which is something I don’t often find easy. I have a busy mind that likes to be many places at any given time, so meditating has helped me reign it in, for at least a few minutes.
Sam’s been out of town for a few days, so it’s just been me and Oliver holding down the fort. I had grand visions of the two of us going out on an ice cream date (Salt and Straw just opened in our neighborhood!), but O has a brutal cough and I’ve had work deadlines, so that just hasn’t been our reality. The first night I found myself really rushing through the bedtime routine. Hurry up, read these books. Hurry up, get these teeth brushed. Hurry, hurry, hurry. After I put O down, I slumped down on the couch feeling a little empty and guilty for it all: what was the big hurry? I was racing downstairs to what? Flip through the new issue of Bon Appetit or watch something on Netflix?!
Motherhood is a funny thing. One moment we lament that our babies are growing too quickly and the next, we’re racing through Busytown so we can hurry, hurry get downstairs to watch the newest season of Queer Eye and eat leftover Valentine’s candy. As I sat there eating more candy than I care to admit, I kept hearing that calming voice from my meditation app, encouraging me to just ‘sit here now’ and I wished I could race back upstairs and do Busytown all over again. Really do it. Just sit and be with Oliver as we read it instead of being entirely somewhere else.
Of course this is easier said than done, which is why, I suppose, meditation is a lifelong practice. I think I’m a little late to the game because so much of the practice has been pitched (to me, anyway) as working to quiet the mind and this always felt daunting: I felt set up for failure from the get-go (my mind is a very un-quiet place). But learning to just sit and be somewhere? That was something I could work on. All the tiny, vibrant drawings in Busytown, Oliver’s worsening cough, his insistence on choosing his own “jammas” and the way he tries to trick me out of going to bed by insisting he needs more water or maybe some popcorn. Right away. Last night we didn’t hurry through any of that; I sat with him and with it all, not thinking about anywhere else I could be. He fell asleep quicker than usual — and so did I.
If you’ve been following along on Instagram, you know we were at a friend’s cabin outside of Leavenworth for the long holiday weekend when Mother Nature decided to dump a last wintery hurrah. We coziest in with a few friends, ate pork ragu, chased toddlers, lingered over morning coffee and snacked on these insanely addicting Salted Hazelnut Brown Butter Blondies (Sam has deemed them the best thing I’ve ever baked; I think you’ve heard me say this before. He’s an easy audience but that said, these are quite remarkable and well worth a bookmark). They have a distinct butterscotch vibe thanks to the dash of bourbon and dark coconut sugar (you can omit the bourbon if you’d like and use brown sugar instead of coconut sugar), are generously studded with toasted hazelnuts and absolutely gooey with hand-chopped dark chocolate (they are verrrrrry chocolaty inside — in a good way!– but I suspect you could get away with using 4-5 ounces instead of 6 ounces if that’s what you’ve got on hand). I think you’re really, really going to like them.
These butterscotchy blondies get their big flavor from a little bourbon, vanilla, dark coconut sugar, toasty hazelnuts, browned butter and salted tops. I love the whole wheat flour here and like to hand chop the chocolate so there are larger pockets and shards throughout versus neat and tidy chips. That said, chocolate chips work just fine — and you could substitute in any nut you’d like if hazelnuts aren’t your jam. These are quite rich and decadent, so I suggest slicing them in smaller squares; they keep great at room temperature for a good 5 days or freeze them for future late night snacking.
Preheat the oven to 350 F°. Nestle a sheet of parchment paper into an 8×8″ pan (this will help you lift the blondies out very easily) or, alternatively, grease the pan, dust with flour and set aside.
Lay hazelnuts on a small rimmed baking sheet and toast until fragrant, about 4 minutes (if you’re using whole hazelnuts and plan to just chop them, these take longer to toast, about 8 minutes).
In a small light-colored saucepan (this helps so you can see the color change that will occur), melt the butter over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Cook until the butter begins to foam, about 5 minutes. Continue cooking until the foam subsides and little brown bits appear at the bottom of the pan, smelling fragrant and nutty. During this time, stir vigorously with a wooden spoon, scraping the bits from the bottom of the pan. Pour butter into a heatproof bowl, and stir for 2-3 minutes to allow it to cool to room temperature.
Once butter is cool (but still liquid), whisk in the sugar, eggs,vanilla and bourbon.
In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together both flours, baking powder, and salt. Using a rubber spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and stir until combined. Fold in the chocolate and toasted hazelnuts.
Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth the top with the rubber spatula. Sprinkle with flaky salt.
Bake blondies for 30-35 minutes or until tops are light golden brown and firm (can’t really do the toothpick test as there’s lots of chocolate going on). Let cool completely before lifting out of pan to slice.
Top with additional sprinkle of flaky salt, and cut into 16 small squares (or 9 large squares) and serve.
Note on brown sugar / coconut sugar: I love the dark flavor of coconut sugar in these, but if brown sugar is more readily available to you, just swap it in but do it by weight (as brown sugar is heavier than coconut sugar). So while 1 3/4 cups of coconut sugar weighs 300g, you can use just 1 1/2 cups of brown sugar as it has an equal weight.
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?)