I officially have one more month of maternity leave left. A big part of me is excited to go back to the office and be around other adults — to wear real clothes and eat lunch in relative peace. The other part of me is, of course, worried I’ll be sad to leave Frances and the reliable and awfully sweet domestic routine we’ve established together: Walking the neighborhood looking at spring flowers and early morning chai and mat time. This past month Frances has become more wakeful and alert; she spends more time playing in her little chair and even laughed for the first time! But this increased wakefulness has also meant much less snoozing time and more fussing, which can often make for a pretty long day.
I remember while I was home with Oliver a few years ago feeling a heightened sense of anxiety with each tough moment, as if the current state of things would be a permanent part of our reality. Baby doesn’t stop crying from 5 – 6pm? Clearly you’ll never have a quiet dinner again. Baby’s now waking up three times each night. You”ll likely never sleep again. Of course now we have the perspective to know that Oliver is pretty decent evening company and sleeps through the night just fine — most kids do, eventually. If one thing’s a guarantee about parenthood, it’s that nothing remains the same.
Lately Frances hasn’t been napping well during the day. She’ll nap a bit in the carseat or carrier, but not in her crib. With Oliver, I would’ve been really worried about this, wondering if he’d ever nap, reading all the sleep books, googling like a crazy lady at 3 am, lamenting the fact that his brain wasn’t developing during those apparently critical sleep hours. Today Sam and I both look at each other with eyes that say, well what can you do?!
I’m reading a short book called It’s Easier than You Think: The Buddhist Guide to Happiness and, in it, Sylvia Boorstein talks about the difference between pain and suffering (hang with me here!) Pain is something we’ll all experience – it’s the bad stuff in life that we just can’t control (sickness, accidents, tragedy). Suffering, on the other hand, is our reaction to the pain. This we can control.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot in relation to motherhood and finding the comparison quite powerful: each day will bring new challenges whether they relate to sleep, breastfeeding, or staying healthy. But instead of letting these things unravel me or allowing my mind to race and reel about what it means for the long run, I just tell myself we’re just getting through today. I don’t feel badly about the fact that Frances takes her afternoon nap in the carseat even though I know it’d be best for her if she’d sleep in her crib. It’s the second best option, and the one that works for right now. Tomorrow may be different… but that’s not up to me.
Those of you that know me well know that I love brownies. Because I haven’t been eating dairy lately (as we think Frances has an allergy), I’ve been slowly adapting my favorite treats so we can all enjoy them, and after a few attempts these brownies are a home run. They’re dairy and gluten free, have a super rich chocolatey flavor and are even better the second day. I hope you all like them.
These brownies are super chocolaty but they do have a relatively tender crumb so I don’t recommend adding nuts. As for the oil, if you don’t have coconut oil at home, I imagine that olive oil would work just fine and if you’re looking to make these completely vegan, substitute flax eggs for the whole eggs called for here, and you’ll be good to go.
Heat the oven to 350°F and prepare the pan: Line an 8×8 square baking pan with parchment paper, and grease the parchment paper and pan with a little coconut oil.
In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the cornstarch, almond meal, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt.
Take 2 ounces of the dark chocolate and coarsely chop it. Set it aside. Take the other 6 ounces and add it to a small saucepan along with the coconut oil. Over low heat, warm them, stirring until the chocolate is completely melted, about 2 minutes.
Pour the chocolate mixture into a large bowl. Whisk both sugars and vanilla extract into the chocolate mixture, stirring vigorously until combined. Fold in the eggs.
Add the dry ingredients and stir until well combined. Fold in the 2 ounces chopped chocolate. The batter will be quite thick —it won’t be loose and thin like many traditional brownie batters.
Scoop the batter into the prepared pan, and use a rubber spatula to smooth it into the pan in an even layer.
Bake the brownies for 30 minutes, or until the edges are set and no longer jiggly. The tops of the brownies will still feel soft; they’ll firm up as they cool.
Let the brownies cool completely before slicing, at least 2 hours.
Slice, serve, and store: Using the parchment paper as a handle, lift the cooled brownies up out of the pan and onto a cutting board. Slice. Leftover brownies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 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?)