Sister Visit: one weekend, two frazzled moms, three whining kids and a stack of Hazelnut Belgian Waffles to make it all better

My sister and I just wrapped up her latest and much-anticipated visit from Wisconsin. This time, she was flying solo with my nephew, Finn, who turned one in March.

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Visits from my sister are infrequent (she hasn’t been here since September, which means this was her first time at our new house), so they’re a big deal. I’d been anticipating this one for a while.

I had visions of all our usual visit activities dancing in my head: shopping, eating ice cream, haircuts (with multiple touch-ups) and TV. Possibly a casual run. Swapping beauty products for baby clothes. Getting her opinion on various items hanging on the living room walls and in my closet. Finally finishing conversations that, on the phone, are usually cut short by dinner time or bath time or daycare pick-up.

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All of those things happened (well, except for the beauty products. I’ll be expecting some samples in July, sis.):

We watched episodes of Broad City and The Mindy Project and Blue Jasmine.

We ate decadent ice cream sandwiches (e.g., banana ice cream with peanut butter cups squeezed between two chocolate chip cookies. For real.)

We hit the Maxx and the Marsh and some consignment furniture places and bought almost nothing.

We went for a slow run that devolved into a fast walk so we could focus on what we were talking about.

We went to yoga, where I warned the teacher that we might get the giggles during class. We didn’t laugh, but afterward, Katie confessed that “the little sister in me wanted to push you over during some of the poses.”

Katie cut my hair. Short, as requested. (Sorry, no picture yet.) I sent her home with a bunch of 12-18 month clothes and a couple work blouses I no longer have the need for. We got a decent amount of talking done. But that was definitely a challenge. Because I don’t think either of us counted on how much the three kids –  ages five, two and one – could throw us off our game.

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Relaxing out here on the porch, Moms? Let’s see what we can do to change that.

Don’t get me wrong – I was so happy to see Finn, and I know Katie felt the same about Noah and Rory. And the kids had some fun together. But Katie and I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to coordinate who needed to sleep, who wanted to eat, who had a stinky diaper, who wasn’t sharing, who was melting down, who needed to be held and – hey! who turned on the TV?

Finn, who is normally a really easy, smiley kid, had a low-grade fever and cold for most of the trip, making him out of sorts. Noah, who is pretty self-sufficient, wanted more of Katie’s attention than he could get. And Rory, well, Rory is Rory. A wrecking ball in human form, who knows what he wants and requests it with blood-curdling screams straight out of a horror movie.

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This pretty much sums up the week.

I knew that visits consisting of non-stop eating and drinking at  our favorite bars and restaurants were long gone. But I still had hopes of trying out some new “clean” recipes on Katie, and maybe getting a girls’ night out. Even that was too much work.  I cooked a couple meals, but at the end of most days, we got take-out and ate on the back porch. And once we made it through bedtime, we were both too tired to do much more than crack open a beer and sink into the couch.

I did make one special breakfast on the first morning of her visit, before things got too exhausting: Whole-Grain Hazelnut Belgian Waffles wtih Strawberries.  It’s another recipe from Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals For Any Eater and Every Appetite. the fabulous cookbook by Sarah Copeland I featured last week

I’d made this recipe a few times before (it’s already become my go-to), but never with the hazelnut oil it called for. Honestly, I hadn’t really looked for it. The grapeseed oil I used instead worked fine, but I always felt like I wasn’t letting the waffles live up to their full potential.

On the first night of Katie’s visit, dinner Plan A was thwarted by a major traffic jam. Pat and I conferred via cellphone (we couldn’t all fit in one car) and figured out Plan B, a nearby market and cafe that required only a small detour.

By the time we got there, Finn, who hadn’t napped all day, was asleep in the back seat. Onto Plan C. Katie stayed in the car with Finn while the rest of us went in to order our food to go. Pat left with Rory, while I mindlessly browsed the selection of wine and sundries.

And then, there on the top shelf, a bottle of hazelnut oil appeared before me. It was $12, pretty pricey for something for which I have one intended use, but it felt like fate. I bought it.

hazelnut oil

Now, I’ll be honest: the hazelnut oil is nice, but I didn’t notice a huge difference in the flavor of the waffles. As far as I’m concerned, the keys to this recipe are the buttermilk (for fluffiness) and the toasted hazelnuts on top. They add a perfect amount of nutty crunch. And the strawberries, of course. But I’d put strawberries on everything if I could.

So you have my permission (and the cookbook author’s, according to her recipe notes) to use whatever neutral-flavored vegetable oil you have on hand. But do yourself a favor, and don’t skip the toppings. They really make the difference.

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Reprinted with permission from Sarah Copeland from Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Easter and Every Appetite (Chronicle Books).

Makes 6 Belgian or 12 Standard Waffles

  • 2 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup unbleached raw sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 3 cups buttermilk, well shaken
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature and lightly beaten
  • 4 tbsp  unsalted butter, melted, plus more for the waffle iron and serving
  • 2 tbsp hazelnut oil (or any neutral-flavored vegetable oil)
  • Fresh strawberries, halved or quartered, for topping
  • 1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
  • Grade B maple syrup or agave nectar for serving

Step 1. Wisk together the whole-wheat flour, all-purpose flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk together the buttermilk, eggs, melted butter and hazelnut oil in another large bowl. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and whisk in the wet ingredients until just combined into a thick batter and no lumps remain. (Be careful not to overmix, which can make waffles tough.)

Step 2. Preheat the waffle iron on medium heat until hot, To test, splash a drop of water onto the iron; it should sizzle. Brush the iron lightly with melted butter. Scoop about 1/2 cup of the batter onto the iron, smoothing it with a spoon, and close the lid. Cook until the iron stops steaming and the waffles are golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Open up the lid and check the color, and cook another minute if needed. Repeat until all the batter is used, adding more melted butter to the waffle iron as needed. Hold the waffles on a rack (rather than stacked) in a low oven to keep them warm.

Step 3. Serve the waffles topped with butter, strawberries, hazelnuts and maple syrup.

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These waffles make everyone happy. Really, is there anything better than a mouthful of buttery, syrupy waffles to cheer up a bunch of whining kids? And whining parents, for that matter? Not that I’ve found.

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