You lose a lot when you have children.
You lose sleep, of course. Everyone knows that. Well, you think you know that until you are dragging through the day, the 14th day in a row, with no real end in sight, reaching for coffee again and hoping for a nap. For years, when our daughter was less than 5 years old, Danny and I took turns being depleted of sleep every other night. She just had to dance, even at 3 am when she awoke from a dream. She still dances, everywhere, but it seems to sufficiently exhaust her now that she sleeps through the night. In fact, she started sleeping solidly, arm stretched out over her head in a graceful arc, just before her baby brother arrived. We’re right back to sleeping in fits and stages again.
You lose more than sleep when you have small children, however. You lose shirts without food stains on them. You lose the ability to drink an entire cup of hot coffee, slowly, without interruption. You lose conversations without interruptions. If you’re an introvert, like me, you lose the quiet space to gather your thoughts without having to answer a question or fetch a glass of water or hear again, “Mama! He’s touching my stuff!” You lose quiet. You lose the chance to read an entire newspaper in one sitting. You lose the ability to read more than a 1200-word essay, on the phone, while hiding in the bedroom for a few moments while your partner takes the helm. And at the end of the day, there’s another night of interrupted night’s sleep.
Life is full of loss. Everything changes.
These kids are worth the interruptions, the lack of sleep. Now, with Desmond here, the noise is doubled and the joy is quadrupled. This evening at dinner, we sat together eating butternut squash soup with coconut and curry, a quinoa salad with endive and cucumbers, soft Italian cheese, salami, and homemade bread. Desmond opened his mouth wide, asking for another spoonful of the soup. He closed his eyes and licked his lips and then opened his mouth again, like a baby bird. If I turned toward Danny to laugh about his expression of pleasure, Desmond slapped his hand on his highchair, demanding my attention. Lucy ate her soup too, giggling at Desmond, then pretending to be Laura from Little House on the Prairie again. “Ma, can I bring in some more butter and milk from the barn after dinner?” Danny’s chair broke underneath him — it had been feeling rickety for weeks — and he fell backwards. We all checked to make sure he was fine, then Lucy and I started laughing. “Nice pratfall, Dad!” Lucy shouted and Danny started laughing too. Lu and I cleared the table, and did the dishes while Danny fed more soup to the still-insistent baby. She asked me why we have electricity at the beginning of the talk while she helped me do the dishes. Later, she wanted to know why we have feet. Back at the table, Danny and Lucy and I enjoyed a little piece of bittersweet brownies with salted peanut butter frosting. Desmond ate almost an entire banana. Lucy grabbed her top hat and wooden stick horse and galloped through the dining room, begging us to sing Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds to her. We did, Danny out of tune (singing another tune, really) and Desmond clapping. Lucy danced. We sang Ob La Di Ob La Da to Desmond, whose eyes always go wide when he hears his name. He started bopping his head around, dancing, just like his sister. Danny and I looked at each other and just started laughing, singing louder. Who would trade quiet for this?
When I had the quiet hours to read the newspaper, more than a decade ago, I felt a little lonely there, wishing for someone else to share those stories. Now, there are no shortage of stories. And no shortage of small people opening my heart simply by being here, in the moments I start to think too much about myself.
Still, there’s one loss that seems inevitable, unless you work against it. It’s easy to lose the romance with the love of your life when you have children. You have a fellow dishwasher, someone with whom to tag team on the diaper changes, a lovely warm body to cuddle against as you watch an hour of television before climbing into bed. But someone who wants to woo you? That can disappear.
After 39 years of being alive, Danny came along, and I wrote every day about the joy, the joy!, of knowing him, finally. We had a year and a half together, dating each other, falling deeply in love with each other, and making a life together before Lucy was born. Sometimes I miss him now.
We spend every day together. We parent together. We work together. We write cookbooks together. We have started a business together. We talk about everything, everything, together. And I love this closeness, the nearness of him right now as I write this. But it’s awfully easy for our days to become a tangle of to-do lists, carpools, grocery trips, and endless conversations about the best way to ship boxes of flour and doing our taxes. But the romance? That we have to work at, when we can.
That’s one of the reasons I love Ashley Rodriguez’s beautiful new cookbook, Date Night In: More than 120 Recipes to Nourish Your Relationship. Our friends Ashley and her husband Gabe are both incredibly talented, kind people, and Danny and I adore them both. (You might know Ashley’s wonderful blog, Not Without Salt.) Ashley is a phenomenal photographer and former pastry chef. This woman knows how to cook. I love most what she wrote in the introduction to her book, about the routine they settled into in the evenings after the kids were finally asleep.
“It was in those quiet hours that I started to notice a very un–romantic routine forming. Gabe would retreat to his computer and I to mine. After a long day spent caring for three small children, I had nothing more to give; I felt like this time was mine. But the neglect to our marriage started to become clear, as we began to feel more like roommates than husband and wife.…It was then that I decided things had to change. We needed more than the quarterly date we were trying to squeeze into our budget and our schedule. Our finances were tight, and babysitters were not lining up at the door eager to hang out with our three young children. We had to get creative. So we turned to our modest kitchen as a new, romantic setting where we could begin to date again.”
This inspiring cookbook is a series of menus that Ashley created for Gabe on their date nights in. He put the kids to bed and she made a three-course meal to share together, meals like this: spiced cider toddy; brussels sprouts slaw with grapes and feta; white bean and pumpkin gratin with crispy shallot crumbs; and grandma’s apple cake with maple cream.
That’s my kind of date. And Danny’s.
We’ve been so inspired by Ashley’s lovely cookbook that we’re starting our own date night routine. Starting this week, I’ll put the kids to bed early (Lucy, go to sleep!) and Danny will spend the evening cooking for us. These will be dishes no one else will see. No recipe testing. No Instagram photos. Just a man cooking for the woman he loves and a woman grateful for this food. We used to share a meal like this every night, after midnight most nights. We never make it up to midnight these days. But the two of us? We’re going to have meals without interruptions, with no talk of work, and no phones.
I’ll try not to spill food on my shirt.
I can’t tell you how excited I am about Saturday nights again.
Bittersweet Brownies with Salted Peanut Butter Frosting,
adapted from Date Night In: More than 120 Recipes to Nourish Your Relationship
If your mouth is watering just looking at this photo, wait until you taste these brownies. They are super dark fudgy chocolate brownies, with a crackly top and the crisp edges people fight over as they come out of the pan. I’ve made brownies I love before but these are the best. (Ashley! Brown butter in brownies? Stop.) They would be enough. But topped with a creamy peanut butter frosting and flaky sea salt? Stick a fork in me. I’m done.
Oh, and the fact that these brownies contain no gluten is lovely too.
3/4 cup (170 grams) unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
90 grams unsweetened chocolate (we used bittersweet chocolate chips)
1 1/2 cups (300 grams) organic cane sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup (40 grams) cocoa powder
1/2 cup (70 grams) All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour
6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (100 grams) smooth peanut butter
1/3 cup (40 grams) powdered sugar
flaky sea salt
Prepare to bake. Heat oven to 325°. Line an 8x8 square baking pan with two long pieces of parchment paper so a couple of inches of paper hang over all sides. Liberally grease the parchment paper.
Brown the butter. Brown the butter. Set a small pot over low heat. Add the butter. Let the butter melt, then come to a simmer. Keep an eye on the butter as you keep heating it, letting the edges come to a boil. There might be some spattering as the water in the butter starts to evaporate. Raise the heat to medium and give the pot a swirl to prevent any places from burning. After about 5 minutes, the butter will start foaming on the top and release a nutty smell. You’ll see parts of the butter at the bottom of the pan start to brown. Watch the pot carefully, swirling it sometimes. Watch the butterfat solids on the bottom of the pot and let them get as brown as you wish, about 3 to 5 minutes. Be careful — it’s so easy to burn butter. Take the pot off the heat immediately and pour the butter into a large bowl.
Make the batter. Add the chopped chocolate (or in this case, chocolate chips) to the brown butter. Let them sit for a moment, then whisk them together. Whisk in the sugar and vanilla while the the butter is still warm, stirring until the sugar has melted entirely. Stir in the eggs, one at a time, then the salt until everything is blended into one color. Slowly add the cocoa powder and flour to the batter. Fold them all together with a rubber spatula.
Bake the brownies. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean, 25 to 35 minutes. Let the brownies cool to room temperature. (I know. It’s hard.)
Make the frosting. Put the butter, peanut butter, and powdered sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer. Whip them together until you have a light and fluffy frosting, about 3 minutes.
Frost the brownies with the peanut butter frosting and crunch the flaky salt on top, as you will.
Makes 12 to 15 brownies.
Feel like playing? We haven’t tried this yet, but I’m pretty sure that coconut oil would be a great substitution for the butter if you can’t eat dairy. This peanut butter frosting would be great on a chocolate cake for a birthday party someday.
As Ashley writes in her cookbook: “I realize that some people like a more cake-like top. So, here’s a way to please both with this one recipe. If you like the crackly top, follow the recipe above; if you prefer your brownies without the crackly top, simple add the eggs when you add the sugar. The crackly top comes when the sugar has a chance to melt before it bakes.”