Somehow, in the blink of an eye, Avery is six weeks old. Her one month birthday has come and gone; she’s sleeping for longer stretches; her face breaks into smiles when we talk to her; and she has started cooing, finally making our conversations at least quasi-two-sided. These have been some crazy times—at times I’ve felt crazy, but mostly I’m in awe of how crazy wonderful it is to get to know Avery and to enjoy our little family. My days, in large part, revolve around feeding Avery, but I’ve been slowly returning to feeding us, too. Finding my way back into the kitchen hasn’t been quick and it’s not always easy, but it is so, so good to be there.
As I mentioned in my last post, we had a lot of help in the early days. When we got home from the hospital, my mom was staying with us; armed with a fistful of recipes, she put dinner on the table for us every night. She gradually coaxed me into the kitchen to help her in small ways, knowing how comforted I would feel to be there—at first, I simply whisked the salad’s vinaigrette; a few days later, I slowly stirred the risotto while perched on a stool; eventually, I made a batch of garlic bread, from start to finish, to sop up the pasta that my mom had made. We also relied on friends and family who dropped off food, and that kindness helped me back into the kitchen, too. I sliced the tomatoes to top the bagels that Patty and Ryan brought over. I heated up the vegetable gratin that Emily delivered. I took a tip from Kevin’s mom and doctored up some baked chicken she had brought us with a splash of white wine and a squeeze of lemon before I reheated it. I took help from myself, too, warming up the soups and pastas and such that I had frozen while we waited for Avery to arrive.
These sound like small things, I know, but again and again, they helped me find my way to the oven or the cutting board, for even just a few minutes, when a few minutes was all I had.
As I’ve found my footing as a new mom, I’ve started to cook more regularly again. Most evenings, I’ll manage to pull together a dinner for Kevin and me, and with a little luck, Avery will allow us to eat it together, while she dozes in her crib or lounges nearby in her bouncy chair. But the dinners that we eat—and the way that I prepare them—have changed pretty drastically. Before Avery was born, we’d get home from work, unwind a bit, and then spend a half hour or hour in the kitchen chopping, boiling, simmering or roasting. These days, we keep our meals easy, and I might spend a whole day preparing a simple Greek salad during little pockets of time—halving the cherry tomatoes and dicing the cucumber during one of Avery’s naps; whisking up a cumin-y dressing while Avery is on her play mat, mesmerized by her own image reflected in the mirror that hangs above it; toasting some pitas a little while later, while Avery is snuggled against my chest in a sling; and finally tossing the salad when Kevin gets home from work.
It’s definitely different, but it’s still dinner and it’s still homemade, and that’s important to me.
I’ve made some more complicated meals, too, of course. On the weekends, when Kevin is home, I have the time and free hands to cook some of our favorite dishes. When my family came to visit a couple weeks ago, there were plenty of people delighted to look after Avery while I busied myself preparing dinner. But it was when new recipes started to come to me that I knew I was really back. First, there was a summer risotto, with tiny sungold tomatoes and sweet corn and bits of bacon. And, more recently, there were these stuffed peppers, the idea for which was born at the farmers’ market, when I saw a huge pile of peppers in a rainbow of colors.
I prepared the filling—farro, ground beef and summer squash bound by a tomato sauce—on a Sunday afternoon, while Kevin and Avery hung out, and I stashed it in the fridge. The morning that we planned to eat them, I halved the peppers and parboiled them, allowing them to drain and cool while Avery and I took a stroll. In the afternoon, I stuffed the peppers with the filling, nestled them into a baking dish, and set them aside. When Kevin got home, I handed Avery over to him, preheated the oven, and whizzed up some breadcrumbs in the food processor. While we gave Avery her nightly bath, the peppers baked. As Kevin put Avery down to sleep, I plated up the peppers and dressed some arugula with lemon juice and olive oil. She slept and we feasted.
While Avery had no idea that Kevin and I ate a homemade dinner that night (and are trying to do the same on most nights), I still want to instill the importance of this habit now, when she’s only just arrived, when our family is brand new. Someday, we’ll eat as three, and I’m so excited for that. I’ll make these peppers for us then, telling Avery that I invented the recipe when she was just a baby, and I hope that she will fall for their beautiful colors and hearty filling, just like I did.
Stuffed Peppers with Farro & Summer Squash
4 bell peppers (any color), halved and cored, seeds removed
1 pound ground sirloin*
1 yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups diced summer squash
4 cups baby spinach
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 cup cooked farro (rice, couscous or quinoa would work, too)
1 heaping cup coarse bread crumbs (pulse torn bread quickly in the food processor)
1 tablespoon Parmesan
olive oil, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Boil the halved peppers for five minutes, before draining and cooling them (cut side down).
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, brown the ground sirloin, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. When the beef is no longer pink, add the onion, garlic, squash and fennel seeds, and cook for several minutes, until the vegetables are softened. Add the spinach, and cook until the spinach is wilted. Add the tomato paste, crushed tomatoes and cooked farro, simmer for 15 minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper, to taste, if needed.
Divide the farro mixture among the halved peppers. Arrange the stuffed peppers in a baking dish. Top with bread crumbs and parmesan. Drizzle the peppers with olive oil and top with salt and pepper, to taste. Bake the peppers for 30 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are toasted and the peppers and filling are heated through.
* I think these peppers would be delicious without the beef, too. Simply skip the beef and saute the vegetables in a little olive oil.