Good morning, friends. It's been awhile. Like many of you, I feel like I'm finally exhaling after many months (years?) and it seemed like a good time to celebrate with a very simple fall dessert for all you pie lovers out there who are too tired to make homemade pie crust this year. You're forgiven: 2020 has been a beast.
Looks like we're going for quality, not quantity when it comes to ye ol' blog this summer. Of course I know you all understand: to say this has been an unusual season is certainly an understatement. And ironically, while our summer plans have largely been focused around our backyard, it still feels like the season has whizzed right on by somehow.
There have been moments – many of them, if I'm to be honest – when I sit down to write a blog post and am not entirely sure how to begin or what to say. This current moment we find ourselves in is, of course, one of those times. In Washington state today, many businesses are closed to honor a day of silent protest. I'm up here at my desk still working, tying up loose ends before we leave for a family road trip this weekend – sitting here trying to decide what to tell you about cake. Do you need to hear about cake today? Do you need to hear about it from me? We're full of questions right now about how to share, what to share, and when to share it. And on this rainy Friday as I'm hustling to get laundry done and figure out how to keep the kids occupied in the car for two days, we're finding a lot of solace in little slices of this strawberry cake. So I'm sharing it today, thinking you might, too.
They say in Seattle it rained every day in January. I was lucky enough to escape to Palm Spring for a long weekend for work, and can I just say, you forget how much you miss the sun until you're sitting outside eating chips and guacamole and enjoying a 3pm margarita. It was good to be away. The thing about having young kids, as all parents out there already know, is your personal desires are basically always suppressed in favor of keeping your kids alive, healthy, and happy. Let's dig into this for a minute: rarely do I actually get to ponder what I'd like to eat for breakfast or what my body feels like it really needs. Nope, I typically eat the remains of Oliver's frozen waffle and grab a handful of nuts on the way out the door (parents who survive off of your kid's scraps: I SEE YOU).
Oliver turned four, Frances had her first taste of stuffing in California last week, and the weather’s cold enough for wool hats. Here we are. A new season, somehow. I didn’t expect to be quiet for so long here but, as Sam and I are known to say: #life.
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.
In year's past, I've made a Summer Bucket List, kind of mapping out what I wanted to do, accomplish or see during these fleeting warm months in Seattle. Usually there are a few things to learn or do more of (bake more bread, crochet) but this year is looking different. This year I'm focusing on getting better at doing ... nothing.
I had a moment last week when I looked around at Sam and I racing to get Oliver a second glass of milk while simultaneously making lunch for the next day, running his bath and washing one of Frankie's bottles and thought: what have we done? We'd hardly talked to one another since we got home and we both had an agenda the second Oliver was asleep: Sam to catch up on unfinished work, me to do some yoga and shower before bed. Two passing ships. To say that life looked different years ago when we met is an understatement: obviously we didn't have kids then, we both were self employed and hustling to make a dream work. Today there's less of that constant hustle as we both make moves to settle in and work for other companies with actual health care and steady pay checks. Imagine!
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."
I had two things I wanted to accomplish during maternity leave: sew Frances new curtains and organize our family photos. When I set these goals for myself both seemed so doable and, of course, without kids I could tackle them in a long weekend. But before getting too bummed about the fact that the curtains just aren't happening, I hear my friend Kelsey's voice in the back of my head: don't should all over yourself. There's so many things we should do in our own minds but really there's other priorities, too: planting flowers with Oliver in the backyard, walking for vegan ice cream cones after dinner, and getting to bed early. Because how good does it feel to SLEEP?! I'm willing to bet it feels way better than new curtains.
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.
The baby's sleeping, the baby's sleeping: quick, write about lentils! The truth is what I really want to write about is the soft spring rain (not even sure we can call it that as it feels more like a mist) and the pillowy cherry blossoms gracing what feels like every street in Seattle. We have a large shrub in our front yard and every year I forget that it actually blooms until one morning in early April when I look outside and BAM it's filled with the most gorgeous white blossoms. It's a good time for evening scooter rides (if you're Oliver), and making plans for a modest summer garden. It's a good time for salad for dinner, too, which is where these lentils come into play.
Almost two months into maternity leave and Frances and I are finding a groove. I feed her in the morning before anyone else is up and we head downstairs where she sits in her funny little seat on the kitchen floor while I make tea and figure out what to lay out for Oliver's breakfast. The rest of the day fluctuates between me wearing her in a carrier while she naps, taking walks around the neighborhood or playing during the brief window she's awake. After dinner when I think back on what we did during the day, it's hard to name specifics -- yet somehow time ticks on all the same. Knowing that Frances is our last baby has helped me accept this dramatic slow down in pace more readily than I ever could with Oliver. That and the perspective that the pace picks up quickly enough and these slower days will be gone in a blink.
February in Seattle: despite the fact that it's literally the shortest month, it always feels never ending to me. It's that bridge month between winter and a tiny glimpse of spring, when we all start counting down the days until daylight savings time. Or said another way, it's a major oatmeal, cocoa and hunker-down month and this year is proving to be no exception. Except now with two small people instead of just one, I'm all about taking as many shortcuts as possible, so hellllooooo Instant Pot oats!
We've taken the tree out to the curb and I've been slowly putting away decorations, leaving the wintry snowflakes and bristle brush trees out for awhile. Oliver has been reluctant to let go of the holiday (who can blame him?!), so we've been continuing to talk about the Christmas lights in the neighborhood and reading our favorite holiday stories. His reindeer and yeti pajamas are still in heavy rotation. As is, sadly, the habit of having dessert after dinner each night which we never used to do but which somehow crept in during all of the treat frenzy this season.
Well here we are: what will presumably be the last post of 2018. Any second we'll start seeing all the "Top 9" posts on Instagram along with friend's musings as they look back on 2018 and look forward to what they hope to accomplish next year. As with all social media, I can't help but think that a tiny bit of this is performance or posturing for others, no? We have a few clear goals or intentions for the year ahead and then maybe we throw in a few that just sound good -- even to ourselves -- although we may know deep down we're not going to run a triathlon or take up watercolor painting. It could happen though, right?
Oliver turned three a few weeks ago, and we had a birthday party for him at the local children's museum with his closest friends. That morning we ate satsumas for breakfast as he helped me make the chocolate frosting for his cupcakes and put the sprinkles on each one. I told myself not to worry about the mess; three year olds aren't known for neatness in the kitchen (or anywhere). As with most kid birthday parties, it was exhausting and I barely had time to chat with any of the parents or even take many photos. You get home too overwhelmed to think about dinner and wonder why you went to the trouble in the first place. But then, of course, Oliver had a great time and was talking about it for days, and that's really all that matters. We settled into the birthday weekend with a special lunch and O's first haircut, and I baked up some of these Pecan Pie thumbprint cookies to test out for the holidays. They're basically pecan pie in cookie form; what's not to love?
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.
We drove out to the pumpkin patch last weekend, a lucky little stretch of time in between me traveling to see my sister in Maine and Sam traveling briefly for work. And really, to say it's a pumpkin patch is misleading as it's one of those spots with farm animals, apple picking, a corn maze, cider donuts and roasted corn -- these people are all in when it comes to fall.
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.
In looking back on the last ten years, it seems there's a trend of piling on Big New Things all at once: a few years ago it was write a book / get married. Then it was buy a house / have a baby. This time around it's get a new job / have a baby. No easy transitions here, apparently. If you hadn't yet gleaned, we're expecting another baby in late January! I've been excited to share the news with you guys -- and a little nervous, too. You never know when it's the right time to share private news publicly, and those of you who have suffered pregnancy losses know that decision can feel particularly challenging. But the weeks are whizzing by here (not nearly as much time to nap and journal and idly bake things as I had in my first pregnancy; I miss those naps and Netflix binges!); we're feeling positive and trying to wrap our minds around what life will be like with two small people.
We all blasted through the front door a few hours ago, feet dirty and a bit exhausted from a full day of blueberry picking -- something that's become a bit of a family tradition in late July ever since Oliver was born. We have photos out in the field with O in the baby carrier, chubby legs swaying in the breeze while I obsessively applied sunscreen every ten minutes. Last year found Oliver and his friend Lewis traipsing through the rows of berries together in the late morning hours, eating more than we ended up taking home. This year's photos tell a different story: Oliver and I in a big open field used for overflow parking, he sitting on his little potty, me singing songs and chatting away, the sun beating down on the two of us. We're deep in the thick of potty training, so as it turned out, Sam and Oliver's Aunt Christa did the brunt of the picking today. But Oliver and I had some good talks while staying hydrated, people watching, and eating Sour Cream and Onion Kettle chips. Not a bad way to spend a morning. And really, it's never about how many berries we bring home because neither of these years have proven to be particularly bountiful, but it just never feels like high summer until we get out there and start filling our buckets, however slowly.
I'm writing this post while sitting about three feet away from the fan in our master bedroom upstairs -- trying not to think about how our old brick Tudor house stubbornly holds onto the heat of the day and just plain refuses to let it go. It's tough to complain when we look forward to this season all year -- the months filled with farmers market berries, juicy stone fruit and bushy sunflowers. The months when it doesn't actually get dark until almost 10 p.m. and we eat dinner out on the picnic table or spread across the itchy grass, the neighbor's bamboo tree quietly brushing up against the fence. This year, I planted a blueberry bush out back and Oliver dutifully waters it and checks for berries each day. He runs through the back door to report the count (which, for the past six weeks, has been "no berries, mama. Maaaaaaayyyyybe someday.") Yesterday while doing his check he spotted THREE berries with his Aunt Christa and promptly snatched them up, refusing to share. It was a good day.
In my twenties I wanted so badly to own a bakery. A few failed lease attempts (thank God) led to a wholesale granola company that I kept working away at because, well, that's my personality. I work away at things. I know a lot of people romanticize entrepreneurship and I get it: you're working for yourself, setting your own hours, and presumably following your dream. But as small businesses grow, what often happens is the reason you were so excited to start the business in the first place (for me, baking and interacting with my community) gets lost in the mires of bookkeeping and lawyers and vendor contracts and hiring and firing. The dream can get lost.
I've been spending some time organizing photos lately, trying to actually print a few to frame for the house, and purge others from my phone. We took so many while in Hawaii: great ones of epic beaches and outdoor picnics, moments that you'd expect would feel important and memorable. But in thinking back, it's neither of these things that stand out for me. Instead, the night I'll remember most is when we pulled up to a beachside restaurant we'd been excited to try for dinner and were told that the wait was 60-80 minutes. With a toddler that's basically a lifetime, so my immediate reaction was a firm No. But Sam pointed to this big grassy field right next to the beach with lawn games and string lights, and in his never-failing positivity, promised the time would fly by.
Late the other night we arrived home from a week-long stay on the big island of Hawaii. Oliver promptly fell asleep in the car ride home (of course, after not sleeping through the duration of our 12 hour travel day), and Sam and I were starving so we stopped at the store for a frozen pizza, got O into bed and brought the luggage upstairs, and sat quietly at the dining room table listening to the spring rain sharing a few slices. It wasn't great pizza, and it followed not great airport sandwiches, and all I could think about was how excited I was to get in the kitchen and make something great. Something with protein that felt nourishing and tasty -- that all of us would eat and love. So instead of tackling the piles of vacation laundry today (so. much. ketchup), I headed to the store to pick up a few things to make a springtime chickpea salad -- great as a sandwich filling or dip, and the perfect antidote to too much starchy food on the road.
Weeknight dinners were something I rarely gave much thought to as an actual subject in and of themselves until we had Oliver. Before, there wasn't any urgency around the dinner hour: we poured a glass of wine, opened the cupboards and chatted about what may or may not sound good. I remember taking lots of pre-dinner walks, admiring all of the bungalows in our neighborhood, or running down to the beach with Sam before we'd come back into the house, sweaty and tired and hungry. Today there's much more urgency and I feel like we're constantly looking at the clock. There are fewer walks and -- count them -- exactly zero runs. We definitely have nights where we reach for an easy pack of ramen or a store bought salad mix. That said, so often when we as a culture talk about weeknight cooking, it falls into the rhetoric of dumbing down dinner: How can we use all the store bought shortcuts to make this assembling process a breeze? And truth be told: urgency or not, I still want to cook; I don't just want to assemble.
I first realized spring was truly here the moment I stepped on an airplane with Oliver a few weeks ago headed to see my mom in Vermont. Some of you may know that it's decidedly not spring in Vermont. But in Seattle we'd had a good sunny stretch and our daffodils were in full bloom; Sam mowed the lawn for the first time in months and the smell of fresh cut grass greeted us each time we walked down to the garage to get into the car. The season is slowly yet surely changing.
There are certain foods that, even if quite marginal, are still kind of good. Pizza is one. I certainly appreciate and prefer really good pizza - but when the craving for hot, melty cheese strikes, I'll take bad pizza over no pizza any day. Brownies fall in this camp, too. Muffins, on the other hand, can't claim this category and I don't often write about muffins here only because they are so often overly-sweet and not all that interesting. But I'm also always up for a challenge and creating a great updated classic that's simple to make and packed with whole grain nutrition and flavor (savory, please!): Game on.
A few days ago I went shopping for running shoes for the first time since Oliver was born. I used to run marathons in my early thirties and would look for pretty specific things in a shoe, but these days I knew I'd use them for occasional runs, walks and bike rides, so training shoes, per se? Not as critical. I miss my serious running days, but my priorities (and my body) are a little different now, and I've grown ok with that. So there you have it: on a mild afternoon in early March, I strolled into a local running store and strolled out twenty minutes later with not one but three pairs of new running shoes, along with an anger I couldn't squelch.