It’s nearing the end of January, and today our sweet baby is already four weeks old. There’s lots of frost on the ground each morning, and I can still see it hanging on in the shade into the evening (or rather until the sun goes down around 4pm). We’re spending lots of time focusing on comfort and coziness. I’m a baby person, so I wish I could freeze time. If I could I’d buy more time – more time for snuggling him, for smelling his sweet head and breath, for watching him sleep.
For the past four weeks we’ve mostly laid low. We took a long day trip into London to apply for Roux’s passport, but other than a few little walks around in the countryside, we’ve been hunkered down in our fleece pajamas, slippers on our feet, enjoying the newborn loveliness.
I have to admit, it feels amazing to be not pregnant anymore! It feels like a huge weight has been lifted – both figuratively and literally. I knew, but I didn’t know, just how stressful it was being pregnant and trying to plan for a birth in a foreign country. All that wild unknown, the logistics of childcare, not knowing where exactly to go in the hospital, all of it added up to be almost too much. Now that Roux is in our lives, we are feeling exponentially more comfortable in all facets of life.
We’re able now, more than ever, to focus on comfort. Getting more comfortable here in our temporary home in England. Getting more comfortable creating a little space for Roux, which at the moment consists of a cozy corner in our master bedroom. We’ve got our little guy close by at night, snug in his Nuna Sena Travel Cot (which may just end up being this crib forever), and his Sleepyhead bed (in the States it’s called Dock-A-Tot). The Sena/Sleepyhead combo is proving to be really wonderful. The Sleepyhead is sometimes used as a “crib reducer” which makes the space feel really cozy and secure for the baby, and I don’t worry about him squirming around or rolling over in the night. Both the Sena and the Sleepyhead will also be great for different types of travel once we get out of the house and back to our passport stamp collecting ways. Anyway, each night I swaddle him up, and lay him down, and for the most part he complies, giving us some good stretches of sleep between nursing. While we’re on the subject of sleeping newborns, I have to tell you how much I love and rely on my Snuza Hero… it’s a movement and breathing monitor that, for an anxious person like me, helps me feel way more relaxed and get way more sleep because I’m not stressed about the baby. I got one when Lulu was a newborn and it was life-changing for me in regards to post-partum anxiety. Anyway, all that said, Roux ends up in bed with me, snug and warm on my chest, by the middle of most nights. So I wake up with his little breath tickling my arm or neck, and his little hands gripped onto my t-shirt. Have I mentioned how much I love babies?
Part of feeling and getting more comfortable in our home, is our continued focus on simple comfort food. I’m trying new recipes that I can make with easily found ingredients, and simple cooking equipment like this Sticky Braised Pork (all you need is a dutch oven and knife), and soups like this Sausage Barley Soup (all you need is a pot and a knife). Baby Roux is a bit fussy in the evenings, so I also like anything that I can start ahead of time. Soups and slow roasts that spend a good while simmering on the stovetop or in the oven, the rich flavors being coaxed out by the low heat, provide wonderfully easy ways to get a delicious dinner on the table without too much stress.
This Sausage Barley Soup is in regular rotation these days, Gigi loves it, and with enough Parmesan cheese on top, so does Lulu. The basic aromatics are sautéed in olive oil, spiked with a bit of garlic, and then the vegetables and joined by dried herbs and a bay leaf, tomato paste, crushed plum tomatoes, a Parmesan rind, (preferably homemade) chicken or vegetable stock, and pearl barley. It’s really pretty darn simple, so simple that you hardly need a recipe to make it! In fact, I’ve made variations of this soup for years, and this is the first time I’ve written it down. The same soup can be made with puy lentils (also called French lentils) in the place of barley if you’re looking for more protein or if you want to make the recipe gluten free. The barley version is a bit more comforting, it has a toasty, warming quality that I love and seem to be craving these days. The lentil version is a bit heartier, more earthy and robust than the barley one. Whichever direction you go with it, I recommend serving this soup with a good crusty French bread or a heaping plate of fragrant garlic bread, and topping the soup itself with a little grated Parmesan (or a lot if you’re Lulu), and a drizzle of olive oil.
SAUSAGE BARLEY (OR LENTIL) SOUP
1 lb (450g) ground sausage
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
2-3 celery stalks, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley, sage, and thyme
1 bay leaf
pinch of ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 14oz can peeled plum tomatoes
1 parmesan rind
2 1/2 pints (6 cups) chicken or vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups pearl barley (or puy lentils)
extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
Season the ground sausage with salt and pepper. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Brown the sausage in the pot, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until it’s golden brown. Transfer the sausage to a bowl and set it aside.
Add a bit more olive oil if needed before adding in the onions. Sauté the onions until they are translucent, about 5-7 minutes.
Add in the carrots and celery and sauté for another few minutes. Toss in the garlic and sauté another few minutes. Add the sausage back into the pot along with dried herbs, the bay leaf, and the pinch of nutmeg, and stir to coat the vegetables and meat with the herbs.
To the pot add the tomato paste, and crush the peeled plum tomatoes by hand into the pot, discarding the cores, as well as any tomato juice in the can. Toss in your Parmesan rind if you have one.
Add the stock to the pot and bring the soup up to a low simmer before adding in either the barley or the lentils. Cook until either the barley or the lentils are tender but retain a bit of bite – this will vary based on the ingredient. I find that the barley takes about 30-40 minutes, and the lentils take about 20-30 minutes to cook perfectly. As the soup simmers, stir it occasionally, and check the done-ness of the barley/lentils as you go.
Serve the soup piping hot with a shower of freshly grated Parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil.
SAUSAGE BARLEY (OR LENTIL) SOUP
Kyle’s Mom arrives this afternoon and we’re looking toward to her arrival with the same anticipation and glee we normally withhold for the first snow of the season. She’s bringing along with her lots Christmas cheer in the form of: Christmas stockings, Hershey Kisses for making Peanut Blossoms, and a new set of homeschool books. She’s also bringing much needed hugs for all of us transplants, and she will be lifting a huge weight from our shoulders known as the “who-the-hell-do-we-call-when-I-go-into-labor?” weight which I felt intensely again last night as I weathered four hours of contractions through the middle of the night.
It feels like we’ve been holding our breath, waiting for Grandma to get here, and then we can all collectively relax, enjoy the holiday, and slip out to the birth center when we need to without any stress… because giving birth isn’t stressful on it’s own, right? It’s been three and half years since we welcomed Lulu to our little family, and I have to say I’m not particularly looking forward to the whole process again! I am, however, very much looking forward to having a teeny tiny, fuzzy skinned, sweet smelling baby to snuggle with. Both girls were born at exactly 39 weeks, so if this baby stays on that same program we could have a newborn by the start of next week!
We still don’t have a lot prepared for welcoming our babe, but the wonderful Nuna company sent us an amazing Ivvi Savi stroller (pushchair), and a Sena travel crib (cot), which will, for the time being, be the baby’s bassinet/crib. When the boxes arrived on Tuesday, I about hugged the delivery man! I set it up the Sena yesterday morning, and the girls quickly took it over as a crib for their dolls. I have a feeling their baby brother is going to have to get used to sharing his swaddles, bottles, new stroller, crib, board books, and tiny clothes with his sisters and their dolls. It’s amazing how much more “ready” I feel to have this baby now that we have someplace to set him down!
The freezer here is tiny and doesn’t allow for my usual about to have a baby cooking and stocking the freezer extravaganza, but the fridge is stocked with simple ingredients for simple dinners. I’ve had a really hard here time finding ingredients for most of my “go to” meals, and have spent the past few months coming up with new go to meals. I feel like my draw towards innovative cooking has had to be put on a hold a bit due to the challenge of finding ingredients (that I seriously took for granted back home), and the fact that the convection oven seems to insist on torching about everything I attempt to bake or roast.
I’m finding that if I stick to much more basic recipes and meals like tuna noodle casserole, sausage lentil soup, and roasted chicken, I’m much less likely to end up in tears (although, it’s still pretty likely regardless of the success of the dish, given my current hormonal state). If you were to ask Kyle how many times he’s found me weeping in the kitchen over a pan of dry brownies, a garbage bin full charred root vegetables, or an overcooked chicken, he would say, “A lot.”
For the most part I’m finding the stove top to be much more controllable and predictable, so I prefer to make dinner with a pots and pans “on the hob”, as they say here. One of the easiest things I’ve started making regularly, is pasta with herbs and garlic breadcrumbs. I begin with salty water boiling away, ready to cook my pasta – any type of pasta will do and the kids love macaroni so we do that, and a non-stick skillet over medium heat with a small pool of olive oil warmed through. Into that pool I toss some breadcrumbs and dried herbs, allowing them to begin toasting before I add in lots of garlic. The fragrant, toasty breadcrumbs are then simply tossed with the al dente pasta, and a bit of pasta water and served with some grated Parmesan cheese (which I know is not traditional, but I just can’t eat pasta without a little salty Parmesan!), lemon zest, a few more of the breadcrumbs, a hefty drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkling of flakey salt. The finished result also benefits from a handful of thawed frozen pea for a bit of color and pop, or can be topped with a lacy-edged olive oil fried egg. The whole dinner takes about 20 minutes to make. With meals like that in the queue, who needs a fully stocked chest freezer?
PASTA WITH HERBS AND GARLIC BREADCRUMBS
1 lb. pasta
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
zest of 1 lemon
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley (or a small palmful minced fresh parsley)
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper or red pepper flakes
olive oil fried eggs (optional)
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
In a non-stick skillet, heat 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat. When the oil is just starting to shimmer, add in the breadcrumbs and dried herbs, stirring to coat them in the oil.
When they are just to turn a light golden brown, use your spatula to move the breadcrumbs to the outside of the pan, leaving an exposed space in the center. Pour another tablespoon of olive oil into the center of the pan and allow it to heat up a bit before adding the minced garlic, and a pinch of red pepper flakes if you’re using them. Gently sauté the garlic for a minute or so until fragrant, then mix the garlic into the breadcrumbs.
Stir occasionally until the breadcrumbs are deep, warm caramel color, and smell wonderfully toasty. Transfer the breadcrumbs to a large bowl and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper (skip the back pepper if you used red pepper flakes). Scoop out about 1/2 cup of the breadcrumbs and set aside for topping the pasta.
Cook your pasta to al dente. Drain it, reserving about 1/2 cup of the starchy pasta water.
Add the pasta to the large bowl with the breadcrumbs and begin to toss it together, adding splashes of the pasta water as needed to help the breadcrumbs adhere to the pasta. Toss in the peas, lemon zest, and fresh parsley if you have it on hand.
Transfer the pasta to serving bowls, drizzle with a bit more olive oil, top with a sprinkle of Parmesan, an extra bit of breadcrumbs, and a pinch of flake salt.
Serve on it’s own or top it with an olive oil fried egg.
PASTA WITH GARLIC AND HERB BREADCRUMBS
We’ve been pretty much homebound the past couple of weeks, which is par for the course this time of year. Last weekend I had a round of preterm contractions that left us all a bit rattled and motivated; nothing will kick you into gear like thinking your little bundle might just arrive sooner than you expected! I should know by now that that’s a possibility since I had similar experiences with the girls. But, alas…
We don’t have so much as a bassinet, diapers, or baby wipes in the house – although I do have a laundry basket of clean, folded, newborn clothes tucked away in our closet. It’s strange because as much as I want to nest and prepare for our baby’s arrival, we still feel somewhat-not-at-home here, and that has made it hard for me to nest and for me to create a space and prepare for the baby. So, while we still have a completely bare nursery with wall to wall mauve carpeting, I allowed those six hours of contractions to motivate me to log in to our Amazon account and get the basics lined up. Slowly but surely the deliveries have started arriving and by the end of the week we’ll have our stash of newborn diapers, a new booster seat for Gigi so the babe has her carseat to ride home from the hospital in, and baby wipes. The basics will be covered, and we’ll figure out where to go from there as needed. Even though this is my third baby, in so many ways it feels like it’s my first.
Another cause for our current lay-low-lifestyle is that the kids have gotten knocked down by their first major cold of the season. High fevers, coughs, and sore throats call for spending lots of time in our pajamas, making chicken stock, binge watching Curious George, lots of essential oils rubbed on chests and backs, and early bedtimes.
In the midst of our quarantine, we managed to pull together a little Thanksgiving dinner for the four of us on Sunday, and so have been nibbling at leftover stuffing and apple cobbler into the start of the week. But today the Thanksgiving leftovers are gone, and I’m mapping out what to make for the remainder of the week. I have no idea what’s for dinner tonight, but I do know that we will be making a loaf of banana bread this afternoon, an activity that has brought me untold comfort in our few months here in England.
Finding little comforts is what I’m all about at the moment. The baby’s nursery might not be complete (today or ever), but there will be banana bread. Aside from the one proper cookbook that made the suitcase cut (Mastering the Art of French Cooking), only a few food memoirs came along for the journey. Most notably, and most in rotation, is Molly Wizenberg’s wonderful A Homemade Life. I’ve made her banana bread recipe at least a dozen times since we moved. The recipe calls for chocolate chips and crystallized ginger, and it’s great with both, one or the other, or without the edition of either which is how I find myself making it most of the time.
There’s something resourceful and comforting about making banana bread – even if you find yourself buying extra bananas just to let them turn overripe on the counter, or find yourself marking perfectly edible bananas with a marker with phrases like “Don’t eat me!” and “I’m for banana bread!”
I love the way that banana bread smells when it’s baking. I love the way that the recipe for it has become so familiar that I almost don’t have to look at it. I love that the ingredients are always on hand as long as you have those bananas at the ready. Mostly, I love that the girls love to make it with me and I feel so much like a “mom” when we are making it together, and even more like a “mom” when we’re sitting together eating warm, steaming, fragrant slices of it with glasses of cold milk in the middle of the afternoon… as we will be doing, yet again, about one hour and a half from now.
MOLLY WIZENBERG’S BANANA BREAD
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and then cooled slightly
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups mashed banana (from about 3 large ripe bananas)
1/4 cup well-stirred whole-milk plain yogurt (not low or nonfat)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Set a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat to 350F. Grease a standard-sized (about 9 by 5 inches) loaf pan with cooking spray or butter.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add the chocolate chips and crystallized ginger and whisk well to combine. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a fork. Add the mashed banana, yogurt, melted butter, and vanilla and stir to mix well. (The same fork works fine for this.)
Pour the banana mixture into the dry ingredients, and stir gently with a rubber spatula, scraping down the sides as needed, until just combined. Do not overmix. The batter with be thick and somewhat lumpy, but there should be no unincorporated flour. Scrape the batter into the loaf pan and smooth the top.
Bake into the loaf is a deep shade of golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 50 mins to 1 hour. If the loaf seems to be browning too quickly, tent with aluminum foil.
Cool the loaf in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Then tip out onto the rack, and let it cool completely before slicing – unless you absolutely can’t help yourself, in which case, dig in.
MOLLY WIZENBERG’S BANANA BREAD
We’ve spent these past couple of weeks being really quiet, embracing the chilly weather, then embracing the strange balmy weather, and now embracing the pouring rain. I’ve spent a fair amount of time sipping tea and editing photos from our trip to France. I feel overwhelmed with gratitude that we got to have this trip as a family. One of the main reasons that we took this leap abroad was that it would allow us the proximity to travel; to take our kids to some of our favorite places, and to discover new places together. France is most certainly high on our list of favorite places – not to mention favorite people and favorite food! Perhaps it has something to do with it being the first place that either Kyle or I ever set foot in Europe. It holds such a special place for the two of us… now for the four (soon to be five) of us.
We began our trip on the coast of France. We took the train from London to Paris, met my cousin, and spent the night at his home before loading into the car for a (surprisingly relaxing) five hour drive to their vacation home in Meschers-sur-Gironde. When my cousin had sent me a note the week before our trip telling me to make sure and pack the girls’ swimsuits and sandals I thought he must be confused since my only beach experiences in October and November required multiple layers of wool socks and long underwear!
As we drove Southwest from Paris the chilly, foggy grey gave way to sunshine, and by the time we found ourselves meandering down country lanes we had the windows cracked and were marveling at the greenery and gardens along the lanes. Within moments of having parked the car at the beach, the girls had embraced their cousins, had their pants rolled up (or ditched completely), and had hopped straight into the surf!
The morning after we arrived, we walked down to the market in town where we bought fish, vegetables, fruit, cheeses, and salted butter. The produce was just beautiful: dirt-encrusted mushrooms, translucent grapes, verdant spinach, fragrant clementines! The girls and I each got an apple and we walked, eating our apples, to the local bakery for baguettes, and, of course, a daily selection of croissants. We spent the rest of that first day at the beach, soaking in the sunshine, the crisp air, and the wonderful sound of the waves and the kids playing in the water.
The following day was spent exploring a nearby beach, and I made every effort to take it all in, hoping that I could absorb enough sunshine and butter to get me through the grey winter that I knew was just around the corner. Gigi and Lulu ran around non-stop with their cousins, they climbed to the top of the lighthouse in Coubre with Kyle and my cousin while I trekked alone over the dunes to the beach – since climbing to the top of a two hundred foot tall lighthouse didn’t seem advisable at all for this stage of pregnancy. A while later, they all joined me for sandcastle building and playing in the water. Kyle and walked along the beach as the sun set and everything felt so good, so positive.
October gave way to November and we spent the first day of the month picnicking on the hilltops and exploring the bunkers of Pointe de Suzac. In the afternoon my cousin took his kids to see their Grandmother, so we were on our own. We loaded up a small bag with beach toys, and walked through the crunchy leaves, down the path to the Plage de Nonnes. I mostly just sat on the towel feeling very pregnant and very happy while Kyle and Gigi worked away at the most elaborate sandcastle. I had no idea Kyle had these sandcastle building skills, but now that I know I imagine they will be called upon again and again on future beach adventures.
The following morning we shook as much sand as we could from our clothes and shoes, and loaded up the car to drive back to the city. We’d decided to venture into the heart of Paris to stay at the apartment of another wonderful friend, Cécile, who is like an Aunt to us. We hadn’t been planning on staying in the city, but we couldn’t resist taking the girls in to experience it.
I remember hearing an interview with Gwyneth Paltrow where she talked about her Dad taking her to Paris for the first time because he wanted her first trip to Paris to be with the one man who is going to love her for the rest of her life. I was lucky enough to visit and see Paris for the first time with my Dad, and that trip and time with him is one of my greatest treasures. We emerged from the metro and onto the dark street, and hurried towards the Champ de Mars. We made it around the corner and into place just in time to see the tower light up and glitter. I felt so overwhelmed that my daughters were getting to see Paris through our eyes, holding our hands, held close and loved so deeply by their Dad, just the way I had gotten to on my first trip.
We headed straight from the Eiffel Tower to Cécile’s apartment, and the moment we walked in I felt a wave of comfort, familiarity, and warmth. The girls and I made ourselves at home while Kyle popped down to the Rue Cler for a rotisserie chicken, a baguette and some cheese, and a few vegetables that would make up our dinner. Once the kids were asleep, Kyle and I mapped out our next few days in our favorite city.
We started our first day with a visit to the Marché Bastille, which has to be one of the most inviting and fun things to do in Paris. We sampled everything: tart passionfruit, sweet proscuitto, subtle persimmons, piping hot Nutella crêpes, spicy radishes, bitter espresso, crunchy cherry tomatoes. We could have spent the entire day their eating everything in sight, but we already had lunch mapped out, so we reluctantly pulled ourselves away from the market and made our way on foot deeper into Le Marais, by way of the Place des Vosges, to L’As du Fallafel where we placed our order, and hopped eagerly in line to wait for our food. Once we had our falafels and frites in hand, we walked back down the street the way we’d come and popped into a small park, quickly found ourselves benches to sit on, and proceeded to tuck into the overabundance of food we’d just purchased. After lunch we made our way to and through Notre Dame by way of Berthillon, and then over to the Shakespeare and Co. bookstore. Then it was home to the apartment for a simple dinner of bread, cheese, and all the goodies we’d bought at the market.
The following morning was the first and only day of rain during our whole trip, we bundled up in our layers, caught raindrops on our tongues, and then warmed up inside the Musée d’Orsay with Cécile, strolling somewhat quickly through the various exhibits in order to see what we could see while the kids were still enjoying it. We had every intention of spending the day on the go again, so after the museum we parted ways with Cécile and began to make our way towards the Louvre. We made it as far and the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel. We stopped under it for shelter from the freezing rain, and ate sandwiches we’d brought with us. We saw the buses heading back towards the apartment driving by every ten minutes, and decided that going back to warm up would be wiser than dragging our shivering selves all over the city.
After a nice midday rest, the afternoon turned a bit warmer so we rallied and walked to Eiffel Tower with the kids, stopping for a hot chocolate along the way. We began to make our way towards the metro with the kids to take a train out to my Aunt and Unlce’s house, but by that point it was raining again, and the kids were in full melt-down mode. We stood on the train platform, already having bought tickets, and decided that we needed to just go home and get them in bed. We walked home by the lit up Eiffel Tower, gave the kids a quick, warm bath, and had them sleeping soundly by 7:30pm.
The following day was our last lovely day in the city before we would be heading back to England. We started the day with a walk across my favorite bridge, Pont Alexandre III, where the girls and I each made a wish and tossed a cent into Seine, and I told them about the time during our honeymoon when I’d made a wish for a family to love in that very spot on that very bridge. We strolled through Jardin des Tuileries, past the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel that had kept us dry the day before, and admired the Louvre from the outside (cause, honestly, the idea of taking kids into that museum sounds like a nightmare). We walked and had a “make up” brunch with my Aunt and Unlce at Le Pain de Quotideien before taking the girls to buy macarons, which we ate in the sunshine while watching kids push their boats around at the Jardin du Luxembourg.
After an evening spent with Cécile and her partner, Jean-Marie, we climbed into bed in the apartment for the last time on this special trip. “I want to stay in this cozy apartment for twenty more days!”, Lulu declared, and we all agreed with her. We made our way home the following morning, sad that the wonderful vacation was over, excited to cozy up for the winter and get ready to welcome our baby, and incredibly grateful for the whole experience.