Somehow it’s October. Really, truly fall. I’m writing this from a rather uncomfortable couch in our Airbnb in Rockland, Maine on the eve of packing up the car and heading north for my sister Rachael’s wedding. The kids are asleep, Sam’s sipping a Negroni and writing postcards, and outside there’s the threat of one of those sudden East Coast thunder storms. Everyone’s tired after a day of driving up the coast, visiting Owl’s Head lighthouse and the little town of Camden, walking the boardwalk and getting cookies in Rockland.
As is always the case when we’re away from everything familiar, I notice changes in our kids more immediately. Oliver is asserting his independence more and more (Read: BIG FEELINGS) and Frances has a real lust for life these days, inhaling macaroni noodles, baguette, french fries, cheese and … anything we let her get her hands on. After living with a picky toddler for years, I can’t get enough of watching this girl’s joy around food.
As is also the case when I’m away from home, I think about the things I’m most excited to return to and cooking dinner is right up there at the top of the list – as mundane as that sounds. For weeks leading up to this trip, we were so busy that we relied on lots of frozen Trader Joe’s meals, quesadillas, quick salads, and pasta for dinner. I haven’t done much real cooking in awhile. The one kitchen success I did have was experimenting with cooking beans in the Instant Pot, which I’d had yet to do (so quick! so tender!). This whole recipe was a grand experiment as I didn’t really know how much extra liquid I’d need to add in addition to the tomatoes or how long the beans would take to cook. I will say that depending on the age, size and brand of your beans your cook time may vary a bit. So don’t panic if your beans are taking a little longer to cook — it’s easy to give them another few minutes in the pressure cooker even after you release the pressure.
If you, too, are looking forward to getting back in the kitchen after a busy summer, I have a hunch you may like this recipe. I imagined serving the beans on toast, and they’re great that way. But they’re more of a thick stew that I like to have with rice (or on its own), chopped fresh basil and feta. We ate half the batch the night before our flight and I froze the rest — a gift to my future post-vacation self who I know will be tired and hungry and happy to eat something homemade for the first time in what feels like forever.
Add the olive oil to the bowl of the Instant Pot and press the saute button. Once hot, add the onion and a pinch of salt and saute until the onions are soft and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for an additional 1 minute.
Turn the saute button off and add the beans, vegetable broth, tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, and red pepper flakes. Don’t stir (best if tomatoes remain on the top as they can scorch on the bottom).
Cover the machine and press the manual button, cooking on high pressure for 40 minutes. Allow the pressure to release naturally. If the beans aren’t done cooking, cook on high pressure for another 5 minutes, then manually release the pressure (repeat if they’re still too firm).
Open the lid and stir the mixture well. Taste and adjust the seasoning, as needed.
Serve the beans over toast and top with crumbed feta and basil.
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?)