This is the third week I’ve been back at work, and it’s finally starting to feel normal enough. Of course I miss my days with Frances terribly, and the shuffle of dropping Oliver off at preschool, joining the morning commute to get to the office, and then turning around and doing it all over again on the way home took some adjustment. Sometimes I spend almost three hours a day in the car, and am not always a happy camper walking in the door, met with the question of dinner, the task of packing lunch for the next day, filling the bath and so on.
One morning at breakfast last week, Oliver and I were talking about our upcoming day: he asks me what I’ll do at work and then we talk about the weather and what he’s excited about. Typically his list involves wearing his astronaut helmet on the drive to school and helping me water the flowers when he gets home. As he was rattling on, I got up to make more tea and noticed it’d started to rain. I was dreading the drive into work, and my mind started spinning thinking about all the things I could do if I didn’t have such a long commute (exercise! bake! meditate! play with Frances!) Then I heard Ollie’s little voice from the table, “Mom I think the sun will come through the clouds today for me and for you, too.”
As adults we often talk about reframing problems or frustrations as opportunities as a way to remain positive and hopeful — replacing all of those “have to’s” with “get to’s.” This all sounds fine and good in theory, but it can be tough in the moment. There are just some things that are downright hard no matter how you reframe it.
But lately I’ve been taking small lessons from Oliver of all people. Mr. Sun Through the Clouds himself. Last weekend when I was helping him get ready for bed I noticed a small hole in his new shirt. “Oh man, buddy, your new shirt has a hole in it. How do you think that happened? We’ll have to set it aside to see if I can fix it.” Oliver shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well, the good news, mom, is certainly that it only has one hole!”
Three and a half is a tough age, and I say that knowing we have a pretty well-behaved boy. But from the moment he gets home in the late afternoon, it’s non stop, all-in parenting. He’s testing boundaries, trying to get out pent-up energy, negotiating for dessert and just … being three. But in unexpected moments he teaches us, too.
Last night Oliver was asking Sam and I who our respective moms and dads are. He’s become really interested in extended families, and we’ve been talking about this more and more, especially as my sister Zoe is about to have her first baby next month. I went through the same routine of telling Oliver that his Grandpa is actually my Dad — this never ceases to blow his mind — and then he asked about Sam’s dad. Sam reminded him that his dad isn’t alive anymore. He’s dead. O responded, asking “what does dead look like?” I paused for a bit and realized my gut response was “I don’t know,” and we stuck with that for a minute as Sam and I exchanged glances. We ultimately landed with a talk about how when you’re dead you’re not awake anymore. “Ok, so just like a long nap?” Like a long nap, buddy. Exactly.
This week has been a really tough news week for me. I notice the bad news kind of seeping into me physically: my shoulder and jaw are tense and I’m snappy and quick to react. While I’d like to say a cheery “lemon cake helps” to wrap up this post, of course it doesn’t really. Global warming is still here. Detained children are still being detained at the border. As Annie Dillard wrote, this is the big time here, every minute of it, and it’s been a lot.
But lemon cake with a little guy who tends to look on the bright side of things in truly unexpected ways and moments — whether because it’s just his nature or to help me feel better — has helped a bit. The Big Time still feels pretty Big Time, but a few moments spared for cake with the right person can look an awful lot like promise coming through the clouds for a minute.
If you, too, find yourself too busy to bake lately and a bit overwhelmed with the daily shuffle, you can still make this cake! It’s simple, it’s even better the next day, and it doubles as breakfast and dessert. Good news.
This is one of those simple loaf cakes that actually gets better the second day. It’s not at all too sweet, and packs up nicely for picnics or road trips. While I love a good glaze, I liked the simplicity of just a little powdered sugar on top here.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch loaf pan with coconut oil or cooking spray.
In a small bowl, whisk together the almond milk, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Set aside for 5 minutes
In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, eggs, olive oil and vanilla until combined. Stream in the almond milk mixture and whisk until smooth.
In a separate medium bowl, combine the flour, almond meal, baking soda, and salt. Fold into buttermilk mixture and stir until just incorporated.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and until the cake starts pulling away from the edges and is a nice, golden brown, about 35 minutes. Allow cake to cool in pan for at least 45 minutes before removing and slicing.
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?)