You often hear how women begin to nest towards the end of pregnancy. This looks different for different people — some staying up late at night finishing painting projects, others buying new furniture, stocking the freezer or spending time on the nursery. Next week I’ll be entering the third trimester and I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of nesting and of spending time at home. In truth, nesting isn’t something that’s new to me: I come from a family of nesters. My dad opened a furniture store the year I was born in Northern California and during my childhood it slowly grew to be a larger chain. He cared about the fixtures in our house, and would sit with me on our front stoop pointing out examples of good and bad taste — mostly in cars that would drive by but I seem to recall this with passerbyers and their attire, too. I realize this probably sounds a bit pretentious or maybe even downright snooty, but we grew up pretty humbly in those days; it was more a matter of strong opinion than a reflection of, say, having more than anyone else on the block. Those opinions, of course, were contagious and today I care very much about the way our house is situated and how we spend our time at home (although I don’t sit out on our stoop and talk to Sam about who I feel has good and bad taste on the block).
My mom also cared a great deal about our home life: she always had fresh flowers in the kitchen or on the dining room table and insisted we all sit and eat dinner together each night. Even today, if you have a hard day or things feel a little off, she’ll suggest fresh flowers and I’ve come to realize she’s right: they really can fix many of life’s very minor problems. In addition to bouquets, my mom was always an enthusiastic consumer of seasonal wreathes and colorful holiday decorations (and still is). She loves a good throw pillow and clean-burning taper candles. My people care about their surroundings.
So as I start looking toward the things I want to complete before Sprout (our temporary name) is born, I wonder if the nesting urge will grow stronger. I imagine it may not, really, and will consist largely of freezing meals and getting the baby’s room ready. Or maybe it will kick into high gear as I’ll be naturally spending more time getting ready for Sprout and less time doing granola deliveries and shipments. Who knows? Much like the weeks of pregnancy that are now behind me, I can say that the one constant is you just don’t know what any of it will look like. In a way it’s reassuring as you can’t worry too much about things you don’t yet understand. It’s a one step at a time endeavor and if you’re lucky it’s filled with ice cream cones, long neighborhood walks in the evening when it’s still light at 9:30 p.m., and lots of fresh salads that make you look forward to lunch the next day.
Heidi Swanson’s Cucumber Salad from her new book Near and Far is one such salad. I just made this recipe last weekend as Sam and I were lingering at home on a Saturday listening to records and going through old newspapers. It’s the first recipe in Heidi’s beautiful book and the one that most called to me: it looked fresh and snappy yet substantial and interesting (lemongrass! lime! red pepper flakes!)
Heidi’s newest book comes out on September 15, and I think you’re going to get lost in it as much as I did. It’s organized around the theme of place — of recipes that are inspired by her hometown of San Francisco and others that were kickstarted thanks to her travels to Morocco, Japan, Italy, France and India. This particular salad is from one of the San Francisco sections; I made a few tweaks to the recipe, opting to use pumpkin seeds instead of pine nuts and I added in some thin-sliced radishes. I also served mine on a little nest of soba noodles but you could instead fold in additional greens or leftover grains as Heidi suggests. Not that you need to serve it with anything at all: it’s perfect just the way it is. And while I would’ve loved to have this recipe in my back pocket for the July heatwave we had in Seattle, I’m thankful to have it now to help fuel me through the third trimester. Fresh flowers, home projects, business to-do lists (maybe even a seasonal wreath?!) and all.
Ever-so-slightly adapted from Near and Far
Place the cucumbers, onion, radishes, kale and tofu in a large mixing bowl.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the lemongrass, vinegar, lemon juice, honey, and salt and simmer for a couple of minutes — long enough for the honey to dissolve fully. Remove from the heat and whisk in the red pepper flakes. Let cool for 5 minutes and pour over the cucumber mixture. Toss gently but thoroughly and let sit for at least 15 minutes. Toss again and adjust the salt and red pepper to taste.
If you’re serving this salad with soba noodles, cook them according to the instructions on the package. Drain off any residual liquid from the cucumber mixture into a small bowl. If serving with the noodles or with grains, toss them with this liquid. Top with pumpkin seeds and a good squeeze of lime. Serve the remaining lime wedges at the table.
Something funny happens when you live with someone instead of dating them from afar. You learn little nuances about each other's behavior, see the bottom-of-the-barrel sweaters, take out the trash, and buy underwear and shampoo together. Sam calls my beloved furry slippers old lady slippers and, to be fair, they kind of are. And I've become well acquainted with his holey "sick sweater," his eagerness to retrieve the mail in the early afternoon, and his uncanny ability to drink more tea than anyone I've ever known. Also, I'm learning things about myself. Like the fact that, apparently, most people don't eat a whole grapefruit when they sit down for breakfast. According to Sam, they stop at a half.
Waffles. I don't make them often enough and I'm not sure why. Oh, wait: I am sure why. Because they always seem like kind of a slow, slumbery, Sunday thing to make and I rarely have those kind of mornings--even on Sundays. But I found a recipe I've fallen pretty hard for. It's an old-fashioned waffle recipe and you make the yeasted batter in advance, put it in the fridge for 12-24 hours, and it's ready to go in the morning. I've actually kept the batter in my fridge for a few days and just pull it out, put a scoop on the waffle iron, and have a warm waffle to take in the car on the way to work. Beats a granola bar or banana any day.
The early morning view from our hotel Hi from Shanghai! I'm sitting here stealing a bit of Internet on the 32nd floor of our hotel all too early in the morning. The sun's gleaming in through the curtains, horns are starting to honk below, and I'm clutching a steaming cup of strong coffee that Walter has so kindly prepared for me. Walter's the dining room attendant and, for the lone souls who can't seem to sleep much in Shanghai (I being one of them), he'll make you one mean cup of coffee at sunrise. I have so much to share with you: photos & stories. The World Expo was really incredible, the food's been amazing, the streets are lush with leafy trees and wide-open city parks. I've discovered dragon fruit and boiled peanuts, and learned that scooters and bicyclysits don't adhere to traffic laws. We've finally figured out how to say common phrases like "thank you" properly and are logging some serious miles in our Converse.
I am officially on maternity leave and it feels stranger than I'd imagined. I thought it'd be all about catching up on novels, leisurely baking and maybe sewing a little something for Sprout. Going on lots of walks with friends and out to lunch. The reality is that most people are working during the week and can't just sneak away for lunch dates, and sitting around the house aimlessly reading seems to make me antsy. Instead, I find myself deciding that certain tasks have immense and immediate purpose (when they never seemed to before): repotting our house plants, researching new insurance plans, and planning a new product line for Marge for 2016. In the midst of all of this though, I've found some time to catch up on Netflix movies (any recommendations?), went out to Lebanese food with Sam, and finally made it to a cafe on Capital Hill I've been wanting to try for quite some time. It's gotten a bit chilly in Seattle this week so I've been making lots of cider and chai in the afternoons for an energy boost, and there certainly doesn't seem to be a shortage of soup-making or baking -- which brings me to these not-too-sweet, protein-packed blondies that I've taken quite a liking to.
There are some things you don't question or plan for. They're the things that just happen, that unfold throughout the day or week or month. The things we don't always document or discuss because they don't really seem important enough, but that -- all the same -- so often bring us together in one way or another. Patterns or obsessions or phases. Late-night online shoe shopping. Permission to nap at odd hours. Spontaneous cell-phone photo exchanges. Maybe you can relate. Maybe lately you've been doing something similar. As you do. As we do.