We went over to my friend Julie’s house for dinner a few weeks back – one of those early Friday night gatherings because we all have kids and they start to unravel at a certain point come the end of a busy week. Julie made saucy meatballs and garlic bread, we brought a big Italian salad, and while the boys played after dinner we all cozied up on the couch while Julie sliced generous pieces of gingerbread … from my book! Sam kept asking with amazement, “this is your recipe, Megan?!” Even I hardly recognized it: Julie had the genius inspiration to add a layer of maple frosting and a sprinkle of flaky salt to the top, elevating it from a whole grain breakfast we’ve eaten many times (mmhm, Sam) to a really special dessert.
I worked hard in my cookbook to make everything as healthy as possible: how little sugar can we get away with while still having this recipe taste delicious? What other whole grains can we play with here? And of course, on one hand that makes perfect sense because it’s a breakfast cookbook. But on the other hand, I loved seeing the recipe reimagined in someone else’s eyes as a decadent dessert, and loosening up the reins a bit today in baking for our family.
Everyone says there’s nothing quite like pregnancy to teach you to relinquish control and realize you’re not the driver. I found this to be infinitely true once tiny Oliver arrived, but when I was pregnant the first time around, I seemed to be quite set on proving things to myself. Running 6 miles at 30 weeks? No problem. Powering through barre classes until the end? Sure. Unmedicated childbirth and a nine pound baby? People did it, so I surely could, too.
Even after we brought Oliver home, it seemed like Sam and I went through months of trying to prove to ourselves we could do certain things that other parents seemed to struggle with — whether that was eating out or taking the ferry to the islands, long plane rides or camping. Looking back, I think I was running on pure adrenaline for many months. Looking back, it didn’t feel great.
This pregnancy is different (as I wrote about recently). While I wish I could say I’m running, I’m not. I walk the neighborhood now, sometimes listening to podcasts and other times calling my mom or sister — ultimately pretty happy to just be out moving. I stand in the back at barre or yoga and modify the heck out of that hour — in my own corner, happy to have made the time and gotten out of the house. Expectations are lower: I don’t feel like I have much to prove to myself anymore.
Now, I have this extremely oversized pregnancy pillow that I fought against using the first time around. We’re putting frosting on our healthy baked goods. We’re letting things unfold as they are a bit more, and crossing our fingers this pace will continue on after the baby is born.
A quick note about this gingerbread: I did a ton of gingerbread research while writing this recipe and made many, many iterations as I was having trouble finding the perfect one. I wanted a tender (not dry!) gingerbread with a bold spice profile that wasn’t too sweet, had hints of citrus, and real molasses flavor. After all that trial and error, this is without exaggeration, my very favorite gingerbread recipe. Be careful not to bake it too long – you want to pull it out of the oven when the sides just start to pull away from the pan; it’ll continue to cool / firm up a bit as it sits in the pan. I find 30 minutes is the magic cook time (although in the book I say 35). Share it with friends or, as Oliver says, “eat it all up.”
This cake requires dirtying only one bowl, and makes the house smell like a dream. Omit the frosting and enjoy it for breakfast, or go the decadent route and add it. Don’t forget the flaky salt on top! While a lot of people relegate gingerbread to the holiday table, I love it during all the cold weather months: fall and winter combined.
Gingerbread recipe from: Whole Grain Mornings
For the cake:
For the Maple Frosting:
Make the cake:
Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter and flour a 9-inch square pan.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, baking soda, salt, three kinds of ginger, cloves, cinnamon, and orange zest. Use your hands to break up any clumps of sugar and whisk well.
In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Add the molasses and honey and cook, stirring, until the mixture is warm but not boiling. Pour into the flour mixture and stir to combine. Add the milk, yogurt, and egg and fold together until combined. With a little arm power, the mixture will soon look like brownie batter.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the edges pull away from the pan slightly and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 30-35 minutes. Let the gingerbread cool completely in the pan before frosting.
Make the frosting: In a medium mixing bowl using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter on medium-high until they’re well blended and smooth, about 1-2 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add the sugar and maple syrup and beat well until silky and smooth. If you like your frosting a little thicker, simply add additional confectioners sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time.
Frost the cake: Spoon the frosting out of the bowl and onto the cake. Use an offset spatula (or knife) to spread frosting evenly onto the top of the cake. Sprinkle with flaky salt.
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?)