Everyone keeps saying that now is the time to journal, so we can remember what was happening — and how we passed each day — during this crazy time. And I keep meaning to and then each day comes to a close and, well, it just seems like one more thing to do. But I find myself constantly making lists in my head of what I’d say, beginning with the interesting waves of realization, panic and acceptance that have struck our household over the past month. The slow down at work, Sam caring for both kids, getting scrappy with nightly meals, worrying about money, not sleeping nearly enough.
It feels strange to talk about upsides to any of this, but one has arisen: having more time (and the inclination) to bake for others again. For neighbors or friends, or simply my own kids. I buy bananas now for the sole purpose of making two loaves of banana bread (one for us, one to give away), Sam’s made homemade olive bread and pita, and Oliver’s one home school wish this week is to bake a cake. While we’re now out of yeast, we’ve got plenty of flour, so this weekend I tinkered with a new cookie recipe that I think you’ll like: these have brown butter, a little cardamom and rely heavily on brown sugar for chewiness and flavor.
With both kids home through the summer and the weather turning decidedly spring on us, we’ve been taking a few long walks every day. Frances is at a particularly needy stage and Oliver is always chatty, so this is a nice time for fresh air and … a little quiet in my head. And during these walks I wonder about how things will be different for good. How hopeful – but also sad – I find the rainbows and stuffed animals in the window. The encouraging sidewalk chalk drawings done by neighbor kids, proclaiming “we’re all in this together,” or “we CAN do this.” This. What is This, though?
Overcome? Come out better and stronger? Simply survive? Having so many friends in the restaurant industry, I’m having trouble picturing the economy in a few months time. I’m not convinced we can overcome that piece of it. But I am sure that we’ll see our friends and neighbors more once it’s safe to do so. We miss seeing our people and Zoom calls, while supposed to make us feel more connected, seem to make me feel the opposite. But dropping by baked goods and hard-to-find ingredients has brought me a lot of joy. Texting with our neighbors, arranging a trade (their rhubarb for our millet) feels very Little House on the Prairie and I’m here for it.
I hope you’re all staying well. It’s harder than ever just to keep your head up these days. Of course cookies help, but I think it’s not so much the actual cookies and more the act of making the cookies and sharing them that’s the real salve. It’s one thing we’ve got that we can control – dropping something sweet on the stoops of the people we love and waving through the window.
While you may feel as though oatmeal raisin cookies are all relatively similar, this recipe will prove you wrong: here, we’re downplaying the often heavy-handed cinnamon and balancing it with a bit of cardamon, relying largely on brown sugar for sweetness, and browning the butter to ensure that each cookie has a supremely buttery, nutty flavor. These are moist and chewy – if you prefer a crisper cookie, bake them for 2 minutes longer.
Brown the butter: 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. Set aside.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and cardamom.
Using a hand mixer or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the browned butter and both sugars together on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs and vanilla beat until combined. Slowly add the flour and beat until all dry bits are incorporated. Fold in the oats, raisins and nuts, if using, with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula.
Cover the bowl and chill for 30-60 minutes, or up to overnight.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Roll balls of dough (about 2 tablespoons of dough per cookie) and place them 2 inches apart on the baking sheets (they’ll spread a bit).
Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until they’re just brown around the edges. The center of the cookie will look a bit under baked, but they’ll firm up as they cool. Allow to cool for 5 minutes on baking sheet then transfer to cooling rack. Store in an airtight container for up to 4 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?)