There was a heat wave last weekend that sent us diving under waves and standing for long cool minutes in the blue-green water of Monterrey Bay. No wet suits required, the sand hot enough to burn toes. We pulled the big picnic basket down from the attic and packed it with cold chicken sandwiches, and watermelon, and chocolate babka. There were two cold bottles of Pliny shared around, and dolphins surfing the waves close enough to splash. Sonia held hands with me and Kate and went out past the break line to float with us and the harbor seals, flipping in the deeper water. Later I carried Lucas out and he kept his arms around my neck and laughed, laughed, as each swell lifted us and set us back down.
It was wonderful, in the way that salt water and sand are wonderful when it’s too hot for anything else.
It was also wonderful because our summer feels like it is winding down, but it was such a rich, pure summer day. School for Jacob starts back next week, and so we have started school things – things like shoe shopping, and calendar-checking, and seeing if lunch boxes fit into backpacks (backpacks! so long, kindergarten tote!). Kyle and I snuck away for two days in Marin to hike (high recommend!) and celebrate his birthday (40!) (!!) with friends, and when we got back it seemed like summer was fast slipping away.
The heat brought summer back into focus, made it feel present and alive again. In its wake we have been at the beach, the pool, the deep redwood grove. And we have been – in some of the very best moments of our summer – at home. With blocks and puzzles and paper scraps, with markers and Ballpark Mysteries and LEGO mini figures underfoot (and under probably every piece of furniture we own).
It has been a wonderful, warm week. We have spent long hours lounging in the coolest corners we can find – reading, building, imagining whole worlds. These are slow silken hours, hours that ripple and flow and are not hemmed in by the schedules fast approaching.
We eat late breakfasts of waffles and fruit, later lunches of 5-minute eggs on salad, and dinner of whatever is around that requires no heating of the house. In the hottest parts we go to the pool, but in the early mornings our house is awash in creativity and chaos and not-infrequent conflict over scenarios imagined and real. They are intent on their projects, undirected and unbound. I try to provide anchor, while letting them ride the swells.
Long live summer, and long live play, and long live the unexpected grace of our ordinary summer days.
Cooking (and healing): My friend Jessica Fechtor wrote a story that was published in a book, a book that I read in one sitting, a book that I kept thinking back to for weeks afterwards. Stir is thoughtful, clear and so beautifully written – and a perfect summer read. Congratulations Jess! (And one of these weeks I’ll share the plum tart recipe that I got to help recipe test! Prune plums will be here sooner than we realize …)
Presence: I have long been a fan of Oliver Sacks (especially on radiolab). His recent piece, on observing the sabbath in life, was exceptionally lovely. (And this thoughtful piece on the concept of leisure provided me some additional insight and motivation in thinking about how I can observe the sabbaths in my own life.)
Parenting: A Letter of Recommendation for Egg Shakers, one of my favorite commentaries on parenting (and just living, really) in a while. “It’s a modest rock-star fantasy — not about glory, but about connectedness; the feeling of making a small but constant contribution to the machinery of a larger whole.” Yes.
Listening: The Problem We All Live With – an extra-great This American Life. (I also loved this one, from awhile back.) And you are probably already listening to Leon Bridges – but since a conversation with my brother Dan, I’ve been listening to him obsessively. (His music is ice-cream smooth and summer-perfect.) Dan got me pondering the ways Leon’s music videos push on the racial histories and relationships in and around music. His songs are a treat to listen to, and the videos are fascinating (and beautiful) to look at.
Reading: The Great Gift of Reading Aloud – a call to action and a benediction all in one, and has fortified my own investment in nightly read-aloud stories with my kids.
Walking: My blogging friend Grace writes beautifully about the importance of the ordinary in shaping our souls. I keep coming back to this one, thinking about the various walks I take in my life and what they mean to me. Summer gets away from us (!) and I find myself with more plans than time. Some summer, I will make time to walk an epic walk, with someone I love – patience, and August comes. (Alana’s photos and stories about her walk are just as dreamy and green and full of deep summer light as I imagined they would be.)
Cookies might not exactly scream summer time to you. They certainly have not to me, these last few hot-and-hotter days we have had in our neck of the woods – these last few days have been ice cream days, short cake days perhaps. But not turn-on-the-oven days. Not by a long shot.
But we had some of those days last week – days that began with a distinctly autumn-like air that had swirled cooly through our windows overnight, so that we woke to a sense of summer beginning to say good bye. It was dark on Kyle’s morning run one day; on another, the boys pulled blankets onto the couch with them and cozied up, gazing out into the yard from under cover, quiet and sleepy in the not-quite-chilly morning. On those days, we made these cookies. And these cookies, after all, are perfect companions for these last few days of summer: sturdy enough for beach days and hiking, filling enough to carry an afternoon snacker all the way through to a late summer dinner outside. They were inspired by a day the boys spent with Kyle at the ballpark, a long hot day full of ice cream and lemonade, from which they arrived home sunburned pink and calling, “Mommy? Mommy! Mommy, have you ever heard of rocky road?!”
This is nothing more (or less!) than a riff on Kim Boyce’s spectacular whole wheat chocolate chip cookies. The genius of this dough is that it can go straight from the mixing bowl into the oven – but you can also leave logs of it wrapped in the fridge to slice-and-bake as you need them. Here, in an homage to rocky road ice cream that was conceived of by Jacob and Lucas, we’ve swapped chips for chunks of chocolate, and added walnuts and marshmallows. The marshmallows must be mini – and they will change this cookie, making it sweeter and a bit gooey-er. Let the cookies cool and those gooey marshmallow pockets become caramel-y and crisp at the edges, a perfect foil for the crunch of the nuts. (If you want extra credit you could toast your walnuts before baking the cookies, but they’re delicious even without that extra step.) Worth considering: these would fit rather well in a back-to school lunch box (and with the whole wheat flour and walnuts, they’re practically health food!).
3 cups whole wheat flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) cold, unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
8 ounces chocolate chips (we have used both milk and dark, both good)
1 scant cup miniature marshmallows
1 scant cup roughly chopped walnuts
Sea salt flakes for finishing (something like Maldon)
Place racks in the upper and lower third of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Sift or whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
Put the butter and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until just blended. (About 2 minutes.) Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until each one is incorporated. Mix in the vanilla.
Add the flour mixture to the bowl, reserving about a tablespoon of it. Blend on low speed until the flour is just incorporated. Meanwhile, toss the marshmallows with the remaining tablespoon of flour. Add the marshmallows, walnuts, and chocolate chips to the bowl and mix until just incorporated. (You can finish mixing any flour pockets or unincorporated bits with your fingers.)
Scoop the dough – about 3 tablespoons per cookie – onto the baking sheets. Space them about 3 inches apart. I use a tablespoon measure, and fill it heaping full – you could also use a cookie scoop or an ice cream scoop if you have one.
(If you want to reserve some of the dough for baking later, you can either scoop it into cookies and keep the sheet in the fridge, or roll the dough into a three-inch diameter log, wrap it in parchment, and store that in the fridge for up to several days. Slice cookies off and bake as many or as few as you need.)
Just before baking, press a few flakes of salt into each ball of cookie dough. Bake for 16-20 minutes, rotating sheets half way through. (Mine are always done in 16 minutes, in a 350 F oven.) Slide the cookies, still on the parchment, onto the counter to cool.
Makes about 25 fairly large cookies.