I’ve been in a bit of a food funk lately. Okay it’s been pretty much the entire month of January. Maybe it was the inevitable let down of a rash of pre-Christmas baking with long shopping lists and flour on all the elbows of my shirts. Or perhaps it’s this mild winter that feels more like spring but without any of the fresh produce to go along with it. It’s hard to muster up recipes with winter squash, hearty root vegetables, or roasted meat and potatoes when it’s almost 60 degrees outside and all the trees have been tricked into blooming by the first week of February.
I think in retrospect this time of year is always the hardest for me. We try to eat seasonally and after four months of nothing but kale, the creative juices just aren’t flowing quite as well. To beat the slump I turned to a new cookbook I bought myself for Christmas this year that I’ve been hoarding and reading a little bit at a time over lunch as it seemed apt. Peter Miller is a great independent architectural and design book store in Seattle. When we lived there I used to wander over and spoil myself by looking at their beautifully curated selection of pens, notebooks, and cards and linger over their books, turning the pages of large books of lush photographs of landscape designs, stunning buildings, and great streets or public plazas. I can honestly say I probably want to own every single thing in the shop.
I came across a mention somewhere of a book Peter Miller put out this year and somehow didn’t put two and two together. The title is what grabbed me – Lunch at the Shop: The Art and Practice of the Midday Meal. As I may have confessed before, I dread lunch. I’m perfectly happy eating handfuls of cheese doodles or smearing chocolate peanut butter on a rice cracker. I tend to put all my effort into breakfast and dinner and am out of inspiration and energy when it comes to lunch. I bought the book hoping it could turn over a new page in my lunch repertoire. After trying my first recipe, I can already say buying the book has been worth it. I’ve made this sandwich three times already just this week. I love how it perfectly marries two different creamy textures (almond butter and brie) with two bright crisp flavors and texture (apples and arugula).
I’m not going to lie to you, I dread feeding my son. Before I had a kid I used to try and imagine all the things I would love to share with him once he arrived. I would close my eyes and picture reading books before bedtime or giggling while splashing during bath time or see him sitting in his high chair squishing food I’d canned for him between his fingers then eating vigorously. At no point in time did I imagine a kid with yogurt up to his elbows and inside his nostrils screaming red faced at me while throwing food all over the floor.
When we first started feeding Orion I was excited. He seemed to be an intrepid eater with a broad palette and an adventurous sensibility. He ate dumplings at Mission Chinese, smoked salmon and roasted beets at Bar Sajor in Seattle. In fact the only things he didn’t seem to like were sweet potatoes and zucchini – a very short list. We were elated. Then around the time he started walking, something shifted seemingly overnight with our son. He became a kid who does not like to eat. Or more accurately, a kid who sometimes likes to eat but only certain things on certain days at certain times but it’s hard to say what he wants or when. It’s been a huge struggle to try to unravel the mystery of Orion’s eating patterns. And more and more of our meals have been ending like this, Orion covered in yogurt yelling at me yelling at him.
We recently had several breakthroughs, the first of which was meeting an actually picky child. My niece appears to live off of fake chicken patties, bananas, blueberry yogurt, and candy. Nothing else will pass her lips. Now here was a kid I’d call picky. Orion, on the other hand, will eat things most kids would never eat. Just last week he stole my lunch of avocado with toasted mustard seeds and curry powder. I realized that Orion isn’t picky, he’s just particular, meaning that finding a right answer that’s consistently right is a very difficult challenge. The second breakthrough was examining my own beliefs and behavior around his eating. After almost a year of hard work struggling with my particular child, I thought I’d share some tips and tricks I’ve developed along the way that may help you if you find yourself in a similar situation. There’s some principles that probably apply to all kids no matter how they eat in terms of how to approach meals with your kid. Oh and a new recipe we’re very happy with. Orion and I shared it for lunch just this week.
Even before Mollie’s delicious looking carrot soup post, I had carrots on my mind. After trying hopelessly to cling to summer for the months of September and October, I’ve finally come around to the reality of seasons and started bringing home root vegetables and winter squash and big bundles of colorful chard instead of bags filled to the brim with zucchini, peppers, and tomatoes. I managed to sneak in one last perfect season bridging recipe – a simple carrot soup by Nigel Slater with equal parts carrots and yellow tomatoes – before succumbing to more substantial soups and all things roasted and stewed.
Here’s one more season extender – a quick spicy carrot pickle recipe. Now is the perfect time of year to make these pickles. In October/November you start to see big bundles of baby carrots stacked high on the tables of farmers market stands. No, not those slimy baby carrots you find in bags at the super market; verifiable baby carrots planted in the summer and plucked out of the earth hardened by a first frost. These tender little carrots are not only delicious but pretty much exactly the right length to stand upright in a pint jar in a mix of spicy pickling liquid.
I was talking to someone the other day about how hard it is to try new things as you get older. Every day I sit back and watch Orion voraciously exploring the world around him. Sometimes it seems like every day he finds something new to examine, learn about, or attempt to master. He’s recently decided that he’s big enough and coordinated enough to start walking down stairs by himself – he’s not. How different the world looks through his eyes.
It can feel insurmountable some days to take care of the littlest of tasks, let alone finding the confidence to take on new unfamiliar adventures. I remember moving to the west coast and trying for the first time to snowboard or surf or even spend a night out in the woods backpacking – each seemed as foreign and terrifying to me as visiting a new country by myself. Then came learning how to drive stick shift. Then learning how to drive stick shift up large hills. And finally mastering parallel parking on big hills. All in all, I’d say the west coast has been good for me. I was raised to eye new and unfamiliar things suspiciously and proceed with caution. So trying these new things, while scary, was also invigorating. Although ultimately other than learning to drive our new car, most of my attempts at new hobbies were fairly unsuccessful.
Now here I am ten years later fashioning myself into your run of the mill pacific northwesterner with a new slate of hobbies to try or attempt to try. And yet trying new things still feels just as scary. It seems easy on the face of it. Why not just get off your butt and give it your best shot. What’s the worst thing that can happen if you take the right precautions and prepare adequately. Somehow that very real fear of failure though can stop me in my tracks.
Some days I feel giddy with excitement at trying to get this blog off the ground. I love the back and forth with Mollie, the sharing of recipes and gathering of ideas. I like trying to find new ways to express myself and new foods to try. Yet most of the days in between feel uncertain and intimidating. How can we get our voice to come through. How can we find something interesting to say to our readers about what we’re making. Do we even have any readers. And how can we make delicious, simple food while convincing our toddlers to wait just a minute longer and stop spreading peanut butter on the floor.
After a fairly hectic summer filled to the brim with activities, fall announced itself in no uncertain terms last week. I felt myself dragging my heels at first refusing to give in to apple tarts, soups of any kind or anything remotely hinting at pumpkin or spice. But inevitably I’ve had to face facts. Fall is here and it’s only a matter of time until I make my first batch of soup and the sound of rain on our windows sounds cozy instead of depressing.
We’ve been taking the opportunity of a slower season to take a little longer to do things. Orion and I have started taking walks since school is back in session and the local playground is off limits. We’ve been taking fifteen to twenty minutes to explore the three blocks leading back to our house. I said slower, didn’t I. And yet you’d be amazed at how much a toddler can find to marvel at in one block, let alone three.
We’ve talked about the difference between sun and shade, met rolly pollys, learned about ants and stopped to watch them, met neighborhood dogs, and unearthed small treasures like this ladybug peaking out from flowers around the corner from our house or the elfin-sized swing tucked away under a cyprus that only someone Orion’s height could discover. If it had been summer we would have been rushing through sprinklers or playing with friends outside, too busy to notice the wonder tucked into the edges of our daily lives.
So take advantage of this change in seasons to spend a little longer making a hot breakfast and then sit down on the kitchen floor to share it. Or see the buskers at the farmers market through your kids eyes and let him walk back and forth between two performers for twenty plus minutes unable to chose which he’d rather dance to. And if you’re feeling brave even try to listen to your one and a half year old when they tell you they are perfectly capable of carrying an egg from the chicken coop to the kitchen by themselves. As it turns out sometimes they aren’t but other times they’ll make it all the way inside the door and deliver the egg safely.
It’s probably too late for this post. Chalk it up to trying to steal as much of the end of summer as possible. It’s been a full summer of bike rides to the farmers market, family hikes, kayaking, barbecues and picnics, and trips to the beach to catch Dungeness Crab. Pretty much all the best the northwest has to offer. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to believe it’s all real. Sure we all love summer, but there’s a special type of joy to be found in three months of unending sunshine and long warm days when you face an uphill trudge through nine months of grey rain.
Our first cloudy day rose up out of the bay today and descended on us with drizzle and a cool breeze that hinted at the beginnings of fall. Orion still wakes up every morning asking for “blue-b’s.” We’ve tried to explain seasons and how there will be no more berries until next summer but either he doesn’t understand or he’s just hopeful that if he believes enough, he might find juicy berries to cram in his cheeks. He doesn’t seem to mind the rain either so perhaps less fruit and more mud is in our fall forecast.
Here’s some shots of a trip we took this summer out to Lummi Island that remind me of everything I love about the northwest.
We took a ferry ride with the windows rolled down and our feet up on the dashboard and ate fresh produce and seafood. Snuck away for a paddle through open water between the islands and found porpoises rising up out of the water and a seal tailing us. Then jumped in the water to cool off and lay on the warm rocks on the beach. I can count the number of times on one hand that I’ve swum in the ocean on the west coast without a wet suit on, and I don’t even need all my fingers. But this was just such a summer. Every where we turned we happened on views out to the Cascades with Baker’s snowing peak rearing up. And as is always the case, got home way past Orion’s bedtime.