I've come around

Hey, good morning! I have a recipe for you! It’s from a couple of months ago, as are these photos. We have so much to catch up on. Honestly, I’m feeling a little stressed about that. You know what I’d really, really like? How about, rather than hanging around the ol’ blog today, you all just come on over for breakfast? It’s early still. You could totally make it. Our table is really quite large, and it’s square, not long and skinny, so we’d all be able to see each other as we chat, and eat, and catch up. Mia will be there, so you could see for yourselves how she counts to 15, and eats more blueberries in a single sitting than most humans I know. You would also see hair! On her head! (Finally.) She’s a grown-up baby now.

This kid turned twenty-two months last week. Let me tell you something about life with a twenty-two month old: It is wonderful. No offense to floppy little newborn Mia, or squishywishy six-to-twelve-month-old Mia, but talky, toddle-y, twenty-two-month-old Mia, who narrates aloud her every move, takes her ice crushed, her socks purple, and won’t, under any circumstance, let the pigeon drive the bus… You guys: I LOVE THIS GIRL. (“Yeah,” she said, when I told her so this morning. “So much.”  I could slurp her through a straw.)

I think sometimes about what I felt towards this creature during the first few months of her life. Between you and me – and I can’t believe I’m about to type this – I’m not exactly sure it was love. It was more an intense awareness of her presence, an adrenaline-fueled concern for her well-being that kept me checking: that she was breathing, that she was comfortable, that she was continuing to exist and hadn't, in her tininess and near-translucence, spontaneously evaporated into the atmosphere. It was a kind of proto-love, I guess, or potential love, a bow with strings stretched back and an arrow resting just so.

Anyhow, love shmove. Best of all, these days, is how much I like her.

You’ve seen this photo before, a couple of weeks ago, when I posted about writing and the space travel it requires. It was not, in fact, taken on the moon (whaaat?), but on Cape Cod, in a small, white room overlooking the bay. This was the view from our bed. (Which nearly filled the room. It was a very small room.) Above me was a skylight, behind me a window, and to my right, the glass door and the window you see here. I’d selected the room from a photo online because it was the whitest, lightest one I could find. A cross between a boat cabin and a tree house, you might say, and our home base for a 30-hour micro-vacation, just Eli and me.

We left on a Thursday morning and came home Friday before dark. It was the longest I’d ever been away from Mia, the first time since Mia was born that “the two of us” meant Jess and Eli again, not just one of us and her.

It was rad.

Thirty hours may not have been long enough to vacation our way through the two books, one crossword puzzle, and sack of Bananagrams we zealously stuffed into our bag, but we did find time for ice cream. Twice. Above: A very happy Jess and her Lewis Brothers’ cookies and cream. Not pictured: An even happier Jess and the black raspberry soft serve that allows me to say, at last, that I get it.  I understand soft serve now. It only took me 33 years. Thank you, PJ’s.

All right. Shall we eat? How about something I first made back in May, shortly after our trip, when apricots turned up at the market? You already know how I feel about apricots (good), and in particular baked apricots (very good). Well, I’m back at it this year, only this time, I’m baking them into oatmeal.

The recipe I’ve adapted is from Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Every Day, which I bet a lot of you already know. In Molly’s post about it last March, she mentioned that I’d made a batch for her and Brandon once upon a time. What she was too kind to mention is the fact that I butchered it. As in, little bits of cooked egg clinging to the oats. Any takers? No? The problem, I’m fairly certain, is that I used the low-fat milk I’d bought for Eli – it’s his favorite cereal milk – so technically, the blame rests with him, yes?

Prepared properly, with whole milk, Heidi’s baked oatmeal is a lovely dish. I went on to make it half a dozen times to rave reviews. Still, I couldn’t shake the mild disappointment that came with each round. Turns out, I had some unfair expectations of what baked oatmeal was supposed to be: crisp on top, creamy, even custardy, inside. Baked oatmeal is the first of these things a little bit, and the last one not at all. I might as well have been mad at a cupcake for not being a cookie.

I have since realized that baked oatmeal is actually more like kugel, the faintly sweet kind, only with oats instead of noodles and fresh fruit instead of raisins. I see some of you giving me the crazy eye, but think about it: It’s on the sweet side of savory, just like a kugel, crisp here, chewy there, good hot and cold and everything in between. It sets up like a kugel, half-slices, half-scoops like a kugel. So much like a kugel!

The point is, I’ve come around. And, with the addition of apricots, around and around and AROUND. Apricot baked oatmeal is something special, the apricots doing their thing, going bold in the oven as they do – jammy, soft, sweet – splaying into the milky oats. Apricots are still going strong (Blenheims!), so you’ve got time yet to give this one a go. But only a little. So do it! Enjoy! I really think you will.

p.s. I’m a guest over at habit this month. Come visit!

Apricot Baked Oatmeal
Adapted from Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Every Day

I’ve made a few tweaks here to the spices and nuts to suit the apricots. (A bit of nutmeg in with the cinnamon, pecans instead of walnuts, brown sugar.) Speaking of the nuts, I sprinkle all of them on at the end, rather than mixing half in with the oats. This keeps them crisp and tasting toasty, and gives the top a crumble-like feel. I like to pack the baking dish with apricots, squeeze them in shoulder to shoulder, as many as I can fit. If you want your baked oatmeal more oatmeal-y, feel free to dial back the fruit.

6 fresh, ripe apricots, halved, stones removed
2 cups (200 g) rolled oats
½ cup (60 g) pecans, toasted and chopped
1/3 cup (65 g) brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
2 cups (475 ml) whole milk
1 large egg
3 tablespoons (45 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Heat the oven to 375 degrees with a rack in the top third of the oven. Generously butter an 8-inch square baking dish (I use a 2½-quart casserole dish) and place the apricot halves, skin side down, inside in a single layer.

In a bowl, mix together all of the dry ingredients: the oats, toasted pecans, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients: the milk, egg, half of the melted butter, and vanilla. Sprinkle the oats over the apricots, then slowly drizzle in the milk mixture. (Don’t worry if you end up with a few dry spots on top. Those patches will just be slightly crisper, which I happen to think is great.) Tap the baking dish on the counter a few times to ease the liquid all the way through the oats and fruit. Scatter the toasted, chopped pecans across the top.

Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the top is golden – even lightly brown – and the oats have set up. Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes. Drizzle the remaining melted butter on top (you may need to rewarm the butter to make it pourable again) and serve.

Makes enough for six.


Ileana said...

Glad you've come around! And given me another idea for apricots. Lately it's jam, but I'll have to try this baked oatmeal. Thanks!

ps Mia is super cute!

Erin Smith said...

Very much appreciate your honesty. She sure is cute!

Molly said...

I've got such good things to look forward to. In the meantime, not sure if you knew, but there are two Mo Willems exhibits going on in Western Mass right now. One is at the Eric Carle Museum and the other is at R. Michelson Galleries.

Jess said...

Ileana - I've been jamming, too! I made a batch of Blenheim apricot preserves last week. Soooo good.

Thanks, Erin Smith. I'll pass along the compliment to Miss M.

Oooo, Molly, thanks for the tips! Mia would love that, and so would I.

Shannon @ moveeatcreate.com said...

Oh, I absolutely am crazy about the idea of this with apricots. They are one of my two favorite additions to oatmeal, anyway (the other being figs).

Jess said...

FIGS! Shannon, I bet this would be so good with fresh, ripe figs. Genius. Thank you.

Tracy said...

Your post this morning calmed a very anxious me. Thank you for that, this.

Katie said...

I've had the same experience with that baked oatmeal recipe. I love it in theory, but I really, really wanted it to be custardy. My solution has been to cover it with foil for half the baking time; it comes out closer to what I have in my head.

Rachael said...

I'm there too--what little companions these toddlers make! The funniest thing to me is translating her for other people...she's got a constant dialogue going that riffs off of what they are talking about, but they don't even realize it.

molly said...

and i thought to myself, behold! all that hair!!!

and then actually, you know, read the words. and saw you noticed, too.

do drink her up, slurp!, through a straw. apricot oatmeal might be grand, but that mia, she's sweeter still.


Jess said...

Tracy - You're so kind to say so. Thank you.

Katie - Huh, thanks for the tip. I'll give that a try. Maybe without the nuts sprinkled on top, and then add them for the final uncovered baking time?

Rachael - I know just what you mean! Mia will sometimes hear a conversation happening in another room and respond as though the people are speaking to her. Love it.

molly - Yes, that hair! She tugs on it sometimes and says, "Longer! Longer!" I assure her that it will grow. xo.

nikki said...

This post came just in time. I planning to trek over to the Hudson Valley next weekend to pick up local(ish) apricots and plan on making jam with them and now this oatmeal. Plus I totally relate to the initial (and continuous love and) awe that comes with having a baby around.

kelsey said...

Best line I've read all week "I could slurp her through a straw." Seriously. This post was such a feel-good. Mia is positively adorable (with hair!). I've recently had the love-turned-love-AND-like experience with my little brother. He graduated from college in June and I helped him move out of his bro pad and onto bigger and better things. I had these profound moments during our few days together where I thought to myself, "wow, you are just the coolest kid ever." I already loved him crazily, but liking is almost even better.

Anyway. mustgetmyhandsonapricotsandbakethem. Now.

Hannah said...

Oh that sweet scrumptious Mia! Sounds like you're all having a fine time.

Baked oatmeal is a staple in my husband's family, but apricots are all mine - perhaps we shall marry the two yet. Also, I strongly second the comment about figs in, or rather ON, oatmeal. It is my very favorite way to eat them.

(And - I thought so but am now confirming, as I recognize that slouch and those stripes - we definitely have the *exact* same bag. Quack quack.)

Jess said...

nikki - Yes, I hear our east coast apricots are just about to make an appearance! Enjoy.

kelsey - Thanks so much, friend! Ah, siblings. I am the oldest of four, and I can relate. I think the liking is better, since it's not necessarily a given. I bet you're an amazing big sis. (And I haven't stopped laughing over that photo you posted of your, uh, accommodations while moving him out.)

Hannah - It's a match made in heaven! (Quaaaack!)

Kasey said...

Love this so much! Between you and me (and anyone reading my comment, ha) I was just talking to my husband about how my love for my daughter (6 months) has changed. I know it will only continue to grow as she goes from squishy (which I love) to chatty. Yay for honesty, and your beautiful girl!

motheringintheraw said...

I'm behind.
I found your blog somehow months ago, read through much of it, and bookmarked a few recipes. I tried to check in for updates, but during the long post-bombing lull, I lost track. One could blame the fact that my husband teaches and so has been off all summer while my 11 month old has learned to crawl and I have been running around like a madwoman, but still....
I am making your Irish soda bread in the morning, and I am back. Your blog is a delight. And I live in Plymouth, if you ever need a stopping point between Boston and the Cape...