27 December 2009
I'm noticing that, as he gets older, his birthday becomes more and more about celebrating who he is, fulfilling his wishes, his desires, sloshing and splashing around in the glorious mud puddle of his excitement, than it is about that almost incomprehensible moment when he left my belly and really, fully, entered my life. And this is a good thing, though letting go, little by little, of my baby makes me sad.
We spent a nearly perfect day together. I took him ice skating in the morning and was amazed at how fearless he was. Before he slid out onto the ice, leaning on the little walker they give to younger kids, I worried. I thought he'd end up frustrated, clinging to my leg. Instead, he pushed me away when I offered to "help" him skate, insisting that he wanted to skate by himself. So I circled round and round, keeping him in view, checking in now and then, and leaving him to the fun of figuring out how to make his ankles work for him. He loved it, and by the end of our skating session, he was ready to try skating on his own.
Then we took a ride on a carousel, and I watched again, flabbergasted, as he scrambled onto a horse, something that just a few months ago he was too afraid to do on his own.
We ended our day with a big birthday bash at our house with a bunch of his (and our) friends, complete with ice cream cake. I'd sent a warning out to parents that we'd be doing our party Jules-style, which meant eating the cake first. For some reason, just the idea of the promise of something sweet, especially at parties, can be so distracting to Jules that he will not be able to focus on eating a meal. So occasionally, I find it easier to let him eat his dessert along with his dinner. I don't think I've ever seen him fill up on the dessert and not eat the dinner when we've given them to him side by side. But he WILL refuse to eat dinner at all when we hold dessert over his head as a reward. Is my giving in to him wanting the sweet stuff FIRST a sign of bad parenting or a sign that I know my kid best? Most days, I'm pretty happy to defend the latter position. And today was one of those days.
I DO know my kid, though my big fear has always been that with each passing year I will know him less and less. I try to remind myself that his pushing me away on the skating rink or not begging to sit on my lap on the carousel are not signs that he needs me less. I think he just needs me differently. He needs me to be there, proudly watching him as he tries new things, sharing his excitement, celebrating the beautiful, amazing person that he's becoming right in the middle of him becoming. And this I can do. This I hope I can always do. This is my birthday wish for my baby boy. And for me. For the "we" that I hope we'll always be.
Happy Birthday to my sweet baby.
19 November 2009
I feel like I should be writing in to "This I Believe" instead of posting this on my blog. But they'd never publish me anyway, so I'll have to settle.
I believe in Santa. Passionately, with a few reservations. With Christmas season upon us and few of us ready for it, I too am dismayed at the gobs and gobs of crap that started popping up in the stores even BEFORE Halloween's ghosts started haunting our doorsteps. Yes, the materialism of Christmas is sickening, and Santa has, and always will, be a part of that.
Yes, Santa is a part of Christmas that encourages a lot of the greedy "gimme gimmes" from good little girls and boys all over North America. And for this reason, or perhaps due to the cynicism of my generation, a lot of people I know with young kids are choosing to forgo the Santa myth, saying they don't want to lie to their kids. They'd rather craft their own family holiday traditions, and leave the materialism of a Coca Cola crafted Santa out of the picture. I get that, and I respect it. But I'm not choosing that for my kids.
So why do I love Santa? Simple. He's magic. I love that giddy excitement he brings out in kids, that "I can't sleep, but I HAVE to sleep, oh HOW CAN I SLEEP when there could be a fat man in a red suit tiptoeing in to leave candy and presents for me in the next room?" craziness of Christmas Eve, that look of wonder, eyes wide when we talk about how reindeer can FLY, find nibbled carrots, cookie crumbs and an empty glass of milk (or bottle of beer) on Christmas morning. I love the reverence Jules has for the bearded guy as he walks up to him carrying a book for the two of them to read while I snap photos. I even love, sadistic as it sounds, the souvenir photos of my crying babies on Santa's lap. And I'm willing to bet that they'll love it, too.
I can tell you that I did not have the easiest childhood, but I did have Santa, and I will always be grateful for that. Santa got me through some pretty rough Christmases, otherwise marred by things like divorce, poverty, alcoholism and sometimes worse. And when I grew old enough to "know better," promoting the myth of Santa for my younger siblings was its own little bit of magic for me.
And now, having young kids of my own, the magic is back for me, full on. Before having kids, Johan and I had pretty much stopped celebrating Christmas. Sure, we bought a tree more years than not, I baked a batch of cookies every once in a while, we attended holiday company parties, went to friends' houses and drank gluhwein, and tried to inject as much holiday cheer as we could into our DINKy lives without, you know, going overboard. So we bought a few presents for family members, but stopped giving gifts to each other, instead spending our money on one "big" item like a piece of furniture for our household, usually in February. Christmas was a much more sober affair for us. Kids changed all of that.
First, we found ourselves in the position of having to choose between Christmas traditions. In Belgium, Santa isn't much more than a hokey theme park-like character, dubbed Kerstman (Christmas Man), who makes appearances in shopping malls and grown-up parties and such. Nobody believes he's real. All the kids get giddy over Sinterklaas instead, a more regal character who brings his presents on December 6, with the aid of his little black helper, Zwarte Piet (Black Pete). Right after Jules was born, we celebrated both Sinterklaas and Santa, but after attending a holiday party for Jules's Dutch preschool when he was just shy of two and seeing him shake with fear as all the black-face Zwarte Piets entered the room, I just didn't have the passion for promoting what's always been to me a blatantly racist stereotype that should have been ditched long ago.
I know many (maybe most) of Johan's friends and family think I'm my own version of Scrooge, since Zwarte Piet, despite his black-face, gold hoop earrings, big red lips, curly black afro and threats of stuffing naughty children in his sack and bringing them back to Santa's home in Spain (SPAIN? Really?!), is really jovial and sweet. But I just can't go there. And I'm probably being extremely hypocritical in this regard, since my own Santa and his origins are suspect as well. But there it is.
So bring on the toys, bring on the stockings, bring on the candy, cookies and sweets and treats. I choose my Santa, and con my kids into believing in him, and my Belgian partner into backing me up on it, even though it's foreign to him, and in the end, I inject (at least I hope I do) a little magic into all of our lives, just when we need it most in the bleakest days of winter. And for me, that's enough of a reason to believe in Santa Claus. Maybe now I'll go bake a cookie for the guy.
06 November 2009
This recipe is a knock-off of my favorite bakery muffin, made by the bakers at Macrina in Seattle. They make luscious desserts, killer sandwiches, the tastiest bread in Seattle, if not on the planet, but whenever I make it in there, I find myself ordering the same thing: morning glory muffins. If it weren't for the trek out in the rain to get to them, and for my pocket book, and, well, for the satisfaction of mixing something up with my own two hands and smelling its sweet smells wafting from my oven and filling my house with cinnamony goodness, or for having a big stash of them in my freezer, then I would be perfectly content to just let the bakery provide them to me. But I'm not content. So yesterday, I made my own. And while they weren't as good as a Macrina muffin, they held their own. Be sure to dice, and not grate, your apple. That way the juices save themselves for you, popping open and streaming out when you chew. A delightful eating experience.
Morning Glory Muffins
1 cup white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 large eggs
2 cups grated carrot
2 small apples, cored, peeled and diced
1/2 cup apple sauce
3/4 cup vegetable oil
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease muffin tin with cooking spray.
Whisk first 8 ingredients (through cinnamon) together in a large bowl and set aside.
In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and oil together, then add the grated carrot, apples, apple sauce and oil. Pour the wet ingredients in with the flour mixture and stir until just combined.
Fill muffin cups about 3/4 full. Bake for 20-25 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean.
Remove from the oven, let stand a few minutes and then place on a wire rack to cool.
Makes 12+ muffins.
Jules has become extremely curious of late about where his food comes from. For the most part, his concerns are meat related. When we eat bacon, he wants to know not only IF the pig died so we could eat it, but HOW he died. I've tried to brush him off with a quick answer, like, the farmer cut the pig's throat, or broke the chicken's neck, or something like that. But Jules is never satisfied with this amount of information. He wants every gory detail, and if it's not provided, he manufactures it himself. "I think the pig was shot in the head. He lived on the farm and one day the farmer decided to eat him, so he got out his gun and..." -- you get the idea. While Jules 's curiosity has made me contemplate becoming a vegetarian, he is unphased. The fact that meat comes from a dead animal is just a fact to him, like hail comes from the sky, or Kuku is a baby.
The line from last night's meal was priceless. We were eating chicken sausages, roasted over delicata squash (no, I can't get enough of the stuff), and served with what turned out to be a putrid chanterelle mushroom risotto (I blame the white truffle oil, a last minute splurge that the recipe called for). When told the sausage came from a chicken, Jules became quiet and thoughtful for a moment. Then, quite matter-of-factly: "the chicken died for our sausage..."
Then a bite. Then another, until it was all gone.
And I have to admit, it was great sausage. And the sausage drippings over the delicata squash? Yum.
The chicken (that) died for our roasted sausage over delicata squash (adapted from this recipe from Orangette)
6 chicken sausages (mild Italian, or other)
1 delicata squash, seeded and sliced into 1/2 inch crescent moons
olive oil, for drizzling
salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Heat a heavy skillet over moderate heat and cook the sausages until browned all over, about 8-10 minutes.
While the sausages are cooking, seed and slice the delicata squash. Place in a bowl and drizzle about a tablespoon of olive oil over, salt and pepper to taste, and then transfer into a baking dish big enough to hold the squash and the sausages.
When the sausages are browned, place them on top of the squash and slide the baking dish into the oven. Roast for 20-25 minutes, turning everything about halfway through, until sausages are cooked through and oozing some of their juices. Serve hot.
04 November 2009
Onions, sauteed until very very soft, add thin-sliced garlic, halved cherry tomatoes and cook until tomatoes begin to pop and release some of their juices, then add just as much baby spinach as you want and cook, stirring, until just wilted. Salt, pepper. Top with a gooey fried egg. Would also be good with a little shredded cheese, or a squeeze of lemon, but tasty all on its own.
What was in your lunchbox today?
27 October 2009
Kasper's just learned how to walk, and is wobbling around like a little frankenstein, so I couldn't resist the idea of making these cupcakes. No recipe. Just know, it's chocolate cupcakes, chocolate frosting, marshmallows dipped in thin green icing, a little white frosting for the eyes, green for the hands, black for the rest. I should have added bolts, but after all that monster-making, I was tired, so I guess I'll just have to plead for his forgiveness when he points it out to me on his fourteenth birthday.
On the subject of monsters, this is very off the subject but, heck, it's my blog and I'll say what I want. For some reason I've been thinking a lot about children, just on the edge of sleep, and how the very small ones seem like the monsters you see in horror films. You know the scene. Just when you think that monster is down for the count, dead as a doornail, still beyond still, he jumps up, grabs your ankle and attacks. Getting my kids to sleep often involves a rendition of that scene.
So back to the birthday. He's one. I can hardly believe it. I'm glad the day has come and gone because I have a really difficult time with birthdays. It has nothing to do with sadness at the passage of time, getting older, etc. I've just come to realize that birthdays, for whatever reason, are hugely important to me, and I always enter into them with the highest of expectations. I'm inevitably disappointed when those expectations aren't met. And not matter how hard I try to make it not so, I am always like this. I tried this time to relax, to just accept it for what it was. Jules and I made our monster cupcakes together, and that went over with only a small amount of tensing up on my part, since I've long let go of the need to control just how many times he dips his fingers into the mixing bowl.
I'd wanted to make a special breakfast (Jules had homemade waffles and cream on his first birthday; we ended up having pancakes from a mix), go on a special outing (I'd planned a trip to a tot gym, but we ended up spending most of our time baking, so a ride in the car to look at the fall leaves and get the kids to fall asleep was what actually happened), make a special dinner. Dinner, I pulled off, because I made it simple.
I figure that since turning one is really more a rite of passage for the mama than it is for the baby ("I can't believe you've been out of my belly for a WHOLE YEAR"), I decided to mark this one by eating the meals I ate one year ago. Pagliacci pizza and salad while I was in labor, and eggs, sausage and toast as my first meal after pushing Kasper out. In the process, I discovered that Kasper LOVES cheese pizza. He ate it like I'd been starving him all day. Well, maybe I had. I was so busy working on those cupcakes, who knows if I actually remembered to feed him. And, not surprisingly, Kasper LOVES chocolate cupcakes. Guess it runs in the family.
Saving mama's sanity (and time spent in the kitchen) was on the menu for the birthday brunch, too, so we stuck with fruit salad, biscuits from a can (I love the surprise when you "pop" it open with a spoon), and a strata with delicata squash, collard greens and cheddar cheese that I made the night before, following Molly Wizenberg's recipe in this month's Bon Appetit, which pleased even the squash haters among us. More Frankensteins for dessert, plus a storebought pumpkin cheesecake and pumpkin pie. And no tears or tense words from the kitchen on the day of the party. Yay for mama! And Happy Birthday to my baby!
Sanity-saving Strata with Delicata Squash, Collard Greens and Cheddar
2 pounds delicata squash, seeded (leave the peel on), and cut into 1 inch cubes
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
7 large eggs
2 1/4 cups milk
6 tablespoons dry white wine
1 1/2 teaspoons mustard (I used stoneground)
1 day-old baguette torn into 1 inch cubes (I bought mine the day of, and put the cubes on a cookie sheet and set them in a 250 degree oven for about 20 minutes to dry them out)
1 cup chopped shallots
1 bunch collard greens, stems removed and chopped into 1 inch pieces
Dash of white balsamic vinegar
8 ounces extra sharp cheddar, grated
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put the squash in a medium bowl and toss it with 1 tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Spread the squash onto a foil-lined cookie sheet and roast until squash is tender, about 20 minutes, turning it over with a spatula once or twice so it cooks evenly. Let squash cool and set aside.
While the squash roasts, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the shallots and saute until soft, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Add the collard greens and cook, covered, about 2 minutes. Uncover and stirl until collard greens are tender, about 5 minutes. Finish the greens with a splash of white balsamic vinegar, stir and set aside.
Whisk eggs in a large bowl. Add milk, wine, mustard, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and whisk to combine. Fold baguette pieces into the egg mixture.
Generously butter a 13x9x2 inch pan. Using a slotted spoon, transfer half the bread mixture to the pan, covering most of the bottom. Spoon half the collard greens over the bread, followed by half the squash, and then half of the cheese. Repeat with remaining bread, squash, greens, squash and cheese. Pour remaining egg mixture over the strata.
Cover the strata with plastic wrap, weight it down with something heavy (I like bags of rice or beans, nothing too heavy or it will start to squeeze out the sides). Let the strata sit in the refrigerator overnight.
Remove the strata 1 hour before baking. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Replace plastic wrap with foil and bake, covered, for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake uncovered until the strata is set, browned, and the juices begin to bubble up the side. Let the strata cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.
12 October 2009
Fire burn and cauldron bubble
Nyyyaaaaaaah HA HA HA HA!!
So this morning, Jules and I set about stirring our cauldron together and learning our lines. It was just like old times (granted, those times were way before he was born, but still). He got really good at the cackle, too. Quite impressed me, actually, that he could pull off that kind of sound with the vocal chords of a not-even-four-year-old. But by the end of the morning, Jules had shed any vestiges of witch to don his superhero costume and head to the park, and by the afternoon he was asking me if it would be OK if he "did not be a witch for Halloween" and chose to be a superhero instead. I tried to hide my disappointment in a smile as I told him, "of course, honey. You can be whatever you want to be for Halloween." Drats. Curses. Guess I'll be stirring my pot alone again this year.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the caldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg, and owlet's wing,—
So far, I've only roasted it. Cut it up in chunks, tossed it with a little bit of olive oil, salt, pepper, maybe some thyme, and popped it in the oven. It forms the basis of a great pasta or soup. And I even like eating it hot off the roasting pan. My first delicata, I roasted and then tossed in a pan with bacon, onions, garlic, white beans, spinach and tomatoes from the garden, then added pasta and served it with a squeeze of lemon and some parmiggiano reggiano.
And with the weather cooling, my pot's been in constant use. Tonight it was a spicy sausage and sweet potato stew with garlic, onions, kale and fire-roasted tomatoes.
It was very, I'd almost say, bewitchingly (nyaaah ha ha), good. I suggest you try it, if you know what's good for you.
Spicy Sausage and Sweet Potato Stew (based on this recipe in Cooking Light)
2 Tbs.olive oil
2 cups chopped onion (about 2 large)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 pound Italian chicken sausage
3-4 cups coarsely chopped peeled sweet potato (about 2 1/4 pounds)
4 cups water or broth
2 cups kale, stems removed and coarsely chopped
1 (14 ounce) can diced, fire roasted tomatoes
1 (16-ounce) can cannellini beans or other white beans, rinsed and drained (we skipped these tonight, but they're good if you're in the mood for them)
Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté 5 minutes. Add salt, red pepper flakes, and garlic; stir, cooking until just fragrant, about 1 minute. Squeeze sausage out of casings and into the pan. Cook 5 minutes or so, breaking up sausage into small bite-size pieces as you stir. Add sweet potato, tomatoes, and water or stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 8 minutes. Gradually add kale; cook 10 minutes or until tender. Stir in beans; cook 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Slurp and eat.
08 October 2009
If you happened to have come across him, given him a place to sleep last night, or have any clues to his whereabouts, could you please email her Dad Steve at the address below:
steve_gardner at comcast dot net
03 October 2009
----written sometime in the Fall of 2003
I just finished reading Kimberly Sultze's "Women, Power and Photography in The New York Times Magazine" which touched on a lot of issues that have been swirling around in my brain the last several months. Two weeks ago, the New York Times ran as its feature article a story called "The Opt-Out Revolution" written by Lisa Belkin, who argues that professional women are increasingly making the deliberate choice to drop out of work life and become stay-at-home Moms. The cover of the magazine features a woman sitting at the base of a peach-colored ladder on the peach-colored floor of a peach-colored room looking somewhere off in the distance as if distracted, while the child sitting in her lap directs his/her gaze directly at us. Below her are the words:
Q: Why Don't More Women Get to the Top?
A: They Choose Not To.
Abandoning the Climb and Heading Home by Lisa Belkin
Before I'd even opened the magazine I was ticked off. In fact, that magazine sat on the floor for nearly two weeks before I finally opened it up and read what Belkin had to say. Every time I passed by it, I'd fume. And then lo and behold we're reading an article in class that makes me want to see what Belkin has to say, and not only that, to look at the ads, pay attention to the little details, see if I can get at what's bugging me.
So I turn the page. No ads of scantily clad, dismembered women in stiletto heels and fishnet stockings draped provocatively over the desk of their corner office sipping Bombay Sapphire. It's an ad for a printer from Hewlett Packard, but this ad actually makes me more irate. It's beautiful, colorful and striking: a two page spread with a large picture of a small South American boy smiling big for the camera. To the left of this image are four small thumbnails, each from a colorful corner of the so-called "Third World": an old, hunched man walking in front of a vividly painted blue wall, an African man wearing a green shirt balancing a tray of green-and-orange fruit in front of a green wall, his white shawl gleaming against the darker background and his dark skin, an older, barefoot man dressed in a black pants and hat, with a yellow blazer leaning against an equally yellow wall, and three Mayan women, dressed in vivid colors, with their backs turned to the camera, peering through the smudged windows of what looks to be a schoolhouse. Oh, and here's the kicker. The captions:
YOU SEE YOUR PICTURES IN EXTRAORDINARY, TRUE-TO-LIFE COLOR.
YOU SEE YOUR PICTURES IN PROFESSIONAL QUALITY BLACK AND WHITE.
YOU SEE YOUR PICTURES LAST LONGER THAN YOU EVER THOUGHT POSSIBLE.
YOU SEE YOUR PICTURES TRANSFORM YOUR HOME INTO AN ART GALLERY.
I turn the page.
Another HP ad, this one for the HP Media Center, with a large photo of three blond children, all wearing birthday crowns, blowing out the candles on an enormous birthday cake. Next to the large photo are a jumble of photos of similarly blond children all celebrating at this camelot-themed party. And here are the captions:
YOU MADE THE INVITATIONS.
YOU MADE THE T-SHIRTS.
YOU MADE THE CAKE.
YOU MADE THEIR DAY ONE TO REMEMBER.
So I haven't even made it to the Belkin article yet and I'm already side-tracked. I'm unsettled by the cover of the magazine. I'm more unsettled when I turn the page to see people turned into objects that grace other people's living room walls, elevating their status to that of an "art gallery" of colorful Third World poverty. And the juxtaposition of this ad with the one on the following page of the kids' Camelot birthday party in suburbia fills me with DISMAY."Our" normal lives on display. This is us. Is this me? Do these three images reflect me?
Criticism comes easy. Holding yourself blameless can sometimes be a perk to this. But lately, I never seem to be able to escape the blame. Don't get me wrong, I'm not walking around wracked with guilt over the way I personally embody the kind of female whiteness against which women living in the Horn of Africa or Vanessa Williams are measured. But... well, I'm not sure what to say here. I feel something, and the urge to do something about it grows stronger every day, especially since I set off traveling, and even more so now that I've settled back into a comfortable, middle-class lifestyle (if it could even be argued that I ever left it). What the "doing something" that needs to be done is, is still a bit fuzzy, though.
So I'll do some fessing up. I want to have kids and don't really know if, when the time comes to have them, I'll want to be the progressive working woman who supports the family while her partner stays home. Maybe I'm selfish that way, but I kind of think I'll want the person who stays home to be me. I do take some solace in the fact that, knowing my personality, I won't be spending my time socializing with other Moms in play groups planning the biggest ever Camelot-themed birthday party that suburbia has ever seen. But who knows what motherhood will do to you. I have another confession to make. My husband and I took over 1500 pictures when we were traveling. Of those 1500, five are hanging on various walls in our house: two from Thailand, two from India and one from Nepal. Will I take them down after seeing the HP ad? No, I like them. They look good up on the wall. So my criticism of these images is not one that can be filled with smug righteousness (well, maybe the camelot party got a little smugness--I can't help that).
So, what am I going to do if not alter my personality, strip my walls bare, stop traveling? Well, I do do things already. Small things. And before I started grad school, bigger things like the volunteer work I was doing--though I'm starting to question the role I played there, too, and whether it was really working toward promoting positive change or helping along the status quo--I think it's a bit of both--or a bit of good in a lot of band-aid.
The fact is, I can see myself in some way in all of these images. And I can see, to some extent, the potential I have to resist them, to question their underlying message, and to reject that message or at least to understand it for what it is. I never got to the article. I did read it. I have mixed feelings about it, just as I do about my own plans for the future. But what I'm realizing more and more is that what motivates me these days to do what I'm doing, to ask the questions I'm asking, is not guilt. It feels more like knowledge--if I had to put a name to it, and that actually feels good.
Here's my problem. I've never been a baker, and much less a baker of birthday cakes. Sure, once I did make an almost perfect replica of Cookie Puss for a friend's 25th birthday party after hearing her talk to a fellow former-Eastcoaster about how that cake pretty much define their childhood. It looked spot-on, but tastest dense and chewy (and not the ice cream part, mind you, but the cake) and the frosting was little more than wet powdered sugar spread so thick and hardened so completely you could hear it crack when we cut into it.
But for some reason motherhood has changed all that for me. When Jules was just a month old, I had the crazed idea that a new mom should celebrate her fledgling's first 30 days outside the belly with chocolate cake. I looked up a recipe online for some chocolate ganache thing or other and, while the cake turned out OK, the ganache shared Cookie Puss's fate. A yummy candy, it did make, but that wasn't quite what I was aiming for. Nice as they were, my friends ate it with smiles on their faces, and large helpings of ice cream.
When Jules turned one, I decided to mark the occasion with a monkey cake shaped like one of the monkey paintings I'd started hanging in his room a few months after he was born. It was cheeky and cute and maddening to make. The tail broke off in little pieces that I had to glue back together with my signature rock-hard frosting, and I had no platter big enough to hold it, so I eased it onto an ugly gray cookie sheet and decorated and served it on that. Still, it was a proud cake baking moment for me and, will make some lovely memories for him when he sees the pictures.
Year two I decided my gift to would be a calm and centered mama who was not working herself into a frenzy in the kitchen cursing some cutesy cake-like creation for her son. I bought an ice cream cake at Safeway, and a bunch of balloons and called it good.
Year three found me back in crazy-ville, baking up a blizzard of a polar bear while Jules was out playing with Bomma and Tante Leen from Belgium and Kasper, just three months old, gave me a brief period of silence while he dozed in his bed. Of course this one drove me crazy, too, but the cake was good and the frosting slightly better than previous versions. And if you didn't look to close, you'd miss the lumpy crumbs of cake under the frosting I'd try to camouflage with a dusting of powdered sugar.
With Kasper's first birthday fast approaching, I'm starting to panic. Do I slave away in the kitchen to produce a mini-masterpiece of mediocrity for my sweet baby who happened to bless me with his presence a little later in my life? And if I do bite the bullet and bake, what will it be? A Halloween-themed spider? A cutesy bumble bee? Something else? Or do I give him the gift of my sanity and pick up a few cupcakes at the local bakery and call it good? And if I don't bake, will this come back to bite me in, say, 16 years when Kasper's pleading with me to let him get his driver's license and pulls the "you always loved Jules best" line? See? SEE?
So I give you a recipe inspired by a bag of plums almost gone bad that sat in my fridge for almost a week. Before that, they sat in my brother's fridge for I'm not sure how long. And then they traveled across the state with me, since my brother had bought them for Jules and Kasper to eat while we were staying with him, but we never got around to it. Apparently, fruit doesn't belong in my brother's fridge as much as it belongs in ours. So we took it. And I tried to feed it to Kasper and Jules, but the plums were too sour. And then they got old and were too tough. I didn't want to throw them out, so I decided to try to make something with them. Along the way, I discovered that one of the best ways to salvage almost rotten fruit is to make a crumble out of it.
And ooooohhhh was it good. I wasn't even planning to blog about it, but I knew that if I didn't I'd never make this thing again. And this thing deserves to be made. Again and again. I'm a little bit embarrassed and a little bit proud to admit that I was up at 4am this morning, not able to sleep, eating this crisp from the pan with a spoon. Yum.
(almost) rotten plum crumble (based on this recipe)
One of the best parts of this recipe, in my opinion, is that you don't need a spoon to make it. Though you will need one to eat it, especially if you want to do it like me, straight out of the pan.
15-20 plums, pitted and halved
3 Tbsp. sugar (more or less)
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/3 cup butter, cut in 1/2 inch pieces
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Toss the plums into a pie dish, sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon and mix them around with your hands, then spread them out evenly.
Mix together flour, brown sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon; add the butter and blend together with your fingers until pieces are no bigger than a pea. Sprinkle over the plums. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until golden and bubbly around the edges.
Serve warm, with or without ice cream, or straight from the pan. Serves 6.
29 September 2009
This morning as we were driving to school, along with the usual pleas to stay home so he could complete the important job of making his Playmobil Knights "fight" at the dining room table (with much participation from me), Jules slipped in a request. "Will you bake cookies today, Mom?"
How could I say no to that? It seems to take every ounce of courage the kid can muster to show up for preschool on Tuesday mornings. So I was quick with the yes's. A little too quick, since I had no intention whatsoever of heading to the store today as my plan is to clear out the fridge and cupboards of anything that might pose as food before I spend another fortune on groceries. And this meant I had no eggs.
But lucky for Jules, I had everything I needed for what turned out to be some of the tastiest cookies I've baked, probably, ever. I've adapted the recipe from Orangette(my go-to gal for guaranteed goodness these last few weeks), who adapted hers from Alice Medrich's recipe. My version has a bit more salt (which makes sweet things taste better, in my opinion) and I've added some instant espresso powder to boost the chocolate flavor.
The first thing Jules asked me when I picked them up was, of course, "did you make cookies?" I did not dissapoint. He gobbled two in about two seconds while gulping a glass of milk, dubbed them "brownie cookies" and then asked for more. My answer of "after dinner" turned out to be NOT NEARLY SOON ENOUGH for Jules, which sparked some disgraceful tantrumming behavior, but I don't blame him. Chewy chocolate cookies can have that effect on me, too.
Cocoa chocolate chip "brownie" cookies (based on this recipe from Orangette)
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
4 Tbsp. (½ stick) unsalted butter
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
7 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. instant espresso powder
1/3 cup plain yogurt, preferably not low- or nonfat (I used full-fat greek yogurt with a couple of tablespoons of 1% milk)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ cup semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone liner.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt.
Place the butter in a medium microwave-safe bowl, and microwave briefly, until just melted. Add the sugars, and sift in the cocoa and espresso powder. Stir to blend well. The mixture will be somewhat thick and pasty, like wet sand. Add the yogurt and vanilla and stir to mix thoroughly. Add the dry flour mixture, and stir to just combine. Add the chocolate chips and stir to incorporate.
Drop the dough by generous tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes, or until the tops of the cookies have crackled slightly and look set. Transfer the sheet pan to a wire rack, and cool the cookies on the pan for 10 minutes. Transfer them to the rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough.
Now we're home and I'm resisting the urge to run to the store and stock up on the million things I think we need. I tried to empty the fridge of most of its contents before we left. We'd just gotten a delivery from New Roots Organics, and all of it would sit, rotting in the fridge until we got back unless I got creative.
We had three different kinds of potatoes (purple, red and fingerling), green beans, a big bounty of yellow grape tomatoes from our garden, red onion, corn on the cob...
So I settled on roasted potato salad. What I'll whip up this week is anyone's guess.
It started out pretty...
And mixed up a little bit homely...
But it tasted just right. And even better the day after.
Rainbow Roasted Potato and Green Bean Salad (adapted from this recipe in Gourmet)
3 pounds small potatoes (purple, red, fingerling, knock yourself out picking)
2/3 cup olive oil
1 garlic clove
1/4 cup red-wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves or 1 teaspoon crumbled dried, plus rosemary sprigs for garnish
1 red onion, halved lengthwise and sliced thin lengthwise
2 pounds green (or yellow, or both) beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pint cherry tomatoes (red, yellow, orange, etc.), halved
Halve the potatoes, unpeeled, and cut them into 1-inch wedges. In a large roasting pan heat 1/3 cup of the oil in the middle of a preheated 425°F. oven for 5 minutes, add the potatoes, tossing them to coat them with the oil, and roast them, stirring them every 10 minutes, for 20-30 minutes, or until they are tender. Let the potatoes cool in the pan. In a blender purée the garlic, the vinegar, the rosemary leaves, and salt to taste, with the motor running add the remaining 1/3 cup oil in a stream, and blend the dressing until it is emulsified. In a small bowl of ice and cold water let the onion soak for 5 minutes, drain it well, and pat it dry. In a kettle of boiling salted water boil the green beans for 5 minutes, or until they are crisp-tender, and drain them in a colander. Refresh the beans under cold water and pat them dry. In a very large bowl combine the potatoes, the onion, the green beans, and the cherry tomatoes, add the dressing, and toss the salad gently. Serve the salad at room temperature.
14 September 2009
Yes, the leaves are changing color. The air is cooling. A couple of weeks ago it dumped down rain. For half a day. I felt an urgent need to roast something. And with the fall nostalgia of baby in belly have come a return of the cravings. Mostly for sausage. So I found this recipe for roasted sausages and grapes. Couldn't be easier. Toss a bunch of (browned) sausages into a roasting pan, shower them with grapes that have been bathed in olive oil, and pop them into the oven. Finish the grapes in a saucepan until they, well, pop, add a little balsamic vinegar and you have a really lovely, elegant, simple meal. I served them with a side of sauteed spinach, roasted sweet potatoes, red onion, red pepper, black beans and corn and avocado. It was actually a salad I'd made from the night before, but after a quick stir in a hot pan, tasted yummy this way, too. A little random, the combination, but my former pregnant self would have understood.
Lucky for me, Jules is a fan of just about all pork products (sausage, bacon, ham), and of most sausages in general, provided they're not spicy. He won't brush a chicken nuggets to his lips, nibbles fries with utter disdain, has not a clue what fruit leather is, but if you squeeze a bunch of mystery meat into a jacket, he's all over it.
So the sausage went down with nary a protest. As did the corn muffin I served it with. The veggies? Not so much. Though I did see a sweet potato sneak its way in.
06 September 2009
My ticket "in" to the Zapatista movement came through the language school they operated in Zapatista territory in the highlands of Chiapas. I'd write about it later in my thesis on language acquisition, transnational social activism, and tourism, a pile of pages that's likely collecting dust at my university library right now. But it was hugely important at the time.
While in Zapatista territory, I shared three very simple meals a day with my fellow language students. A little fruit for breakfast. Beans and tortillas for lunch, pasta and beans for dinner. The occasional sandwich with fresh cheese and tomatoes that I'm sure gave more of us food poisoning than not. There was a couple there, about my age, who I'd, to myself, labeled the "hippy couple." She was a yoga instructor and a new ACLU recruit, and he was an ex-businessman who'd packed it in, temporarily, to camp his way around Mexico searching for some of the best mushrooms on offer. I liked them, despite my initial labeling attempt because, like anyone, they both turned out to be infinitely more complex than I'd at first given them credit.
One of the very "hippy" things the "hippy couple" did was initiate a supper ritual that I played along with but never really took to. During our meal, they asked us all to go around the table and all share what, to us, was the favorite part of the day we'd just lived together. I'd get all shaky, wracking my brains for something profound, or just something, to say when it came my turn. Never was my contribution very profound, though I felt it should be since we were, after all, in the middle of the cold and misty Mexican mountains surrounded by indigenous rebels (some who even wore ski masks!) with whom we struggled under the common banner of bringing health care, education, participatory democracy, and a host of other basic rights to the forgotten classes in both Mexico and around the globe.
But hard as I'd try, most of the "favorite parts" I'd share were, like they were back home, simple moments. Talking with children, walking past a shed in the twilight listening to Mexican pop music played live by a couple of musicians in residence, spending the afternoon painting murals in the pouring rain, hoping the artist I was "helping out" wouldn't catch on to the fact that I'd nearly flunked out of art class in Junior High and had practically sworn it off since then. None of these shared moments were earth-shattering. None, in and of themselves, would change my life, or anyone else's for that matter. But what I came to realize, well after the "hippy couple" and I parted ways was that, collectively, these moments did have a profound effect on me and on how I view the world and my place in it. I go back to and relive moments in Chiapas in my mind more than just about any other time or place I've been to in my life. And of course, what they taught me, what I scoffed at back then but fully appreciate now, was that reflecting on those moments, as close as you can to when you're in them, makes them last longer. It makes you more present with the people you share your life with. And sharing those reflections gives you insight not only into others' lives, but into your own.
I remembered this a few months back, and began using it as part of my nighttime ritual with Jules. After we've put on jammies, used the potty (this is new!), brushed teeth, read books and turned out the lights, we lie in his bed in the dark together and share with each other our favorite part of the day. More often than not, what he tells me surprises me. He'll pick out a moment that I'd breezed by when we were together, or that I was not a part of because it happened at preschool. Most of the moments he shares are cute, sweet, 3 year old bits of fun and happiness, but occasionally he uses them to share with me his fears or embarrassments of the day and work through them. A few days ago, when I asked him what his favorite part of the day was, he told me "making bread with you, mama." This really surprised me, since I felt I'd been too impatient with him, hadn't let him touch the dough enough, had been too preoccupied with the bread turning out (it's just flour and milk and salt and sugar and yeast, after all). I thought I'd ruined the fun for him. I'm pretty sure I yelled at him, at least once. It was a failure for me. One of many parenting failures I'd been ticking off in my head lately. But Jules enjoyed it. No, more than that. It was his favorite part of the day. This was huge to me.
That first loaf lasted us about three days, and every day, at just about every meal, Jules asked for a slice of "our bread." I just about cried every time I cut him off a piece.
I think I'm making my way toward some big a-ha moment, though I still can't quite put my finger on it, and certainly won't do so before my fingers stop typing this post. But it starts out something like this:
While my life now may seem infinitely more mundane than it did when I was a child-free, globetrotting, polilingual, academic revolutionary, it's not. It's these little moments, about things as seemingly ordinary as a loaf of bread, smushed around on the counter by me and my kid, that can reduce me to tears precisely because they are extraordinary to me at the place I'm at in my life. And more than that, they're affecting me, shaping me, in ways that I may only come to recognize long after these "little moments" have passed.
More eloquent than that, I can't be at the moment. But I'm working on it. Just come back to me later.
02 September 2009
It started out so well.
I planned to bake. And bake some more. I checked out Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours from the library, picked out some promising pastries and set to work. I bought shiny red fabric for that Mega Mindy costume I planned to make for Jules for Halloween, started in August so we'd have plenty of time. I harvested fresh tomatoes from our garden and paired them with corn from the organic fruit and veg bin to whip up what was guaranteed to be an amazing corn and tomato pie. My hopes were high, my ambitions were grand, I'd do it all.
I did do it all. Well, with the exception of the costume, which thankfully still lies unstitched in the plastic JoAnn Fabric bag it came in. Jules has changed his mind a dozen times about what he wants to be. Could be a doctor, a superhero, a strange bug with spray-painted ice cream cone horns. I think we'll wait until the morning of October 31 to decide on that.
But back to baking and Dorie Greenspan, who is, apparently, an authority on baking, according to many of the foodie blogs I've been reading (which shall remain nameless because, right now, I curse you all). She's a regular contributor to Bon Appetit, has written another book, Baking with Julia (yes the Julia), that was also well received. Her own baking book is supposed to make baking accessible. I beg to differ. It wasn't that any of the recipes I followed were particularly bad, they just weren't particularly memorable. To date, I've tried:
Truth be told, I'm a little tired of all the gushing (about our food, about our kids, about our amazing parental achievements in the blogs I've been reading), and the last week has been a big reality check for me. Kasper's been teething, barely sleeping, Jules has been his usual garble of sweetness, effervescence and tyrannic fury. And I've been trying. Really hard. To be the best mom I know how to be. To not blow up at my kids (OK, I don't blow up yet at the baby, but I like to include him in my writing) at the tiniest little thing, to indulge them in their fantasies (shoot 'em up or otherwise), and to feed them, and myself, well.
This week I was mediocre, at best, at all of the above. Next week, I'm hoping for better.
26 August 2009
A superhero swiped my sous-chef. He was here a minute ago, banana masher in hand, all covered in flour, dipping his pre-licked fingers in the brown sugar and then, *SHAZAM* vanished. Gone. History.
In saunters this saucy, stacked, scarlet thing and she just stands there, striking a pose. She's calling me "mama" (how DARE she?) and insisting I speak to her in Dutch. I ask her if she's seen Jules and she says she hasn't, but I know better because she's wearing the apron he had on just a minute ago, now as a cape. Best as I can tell, she's probably stuffed him into her pocket. It's big enough.
She tells me she thinks he's gone to preschool. She'll find him. She'll save him. But right now she has to save somebody else from the "baby monster" (Kasper) crawling toward us, ready to wreak havoc in the kitchen. I tell her that when she does see Jules to tell him to come back to the kitchen because I need help finishing the banana bread we started together. I will not mash alone.
Oh, and can I tell you just how tickled I am that the first superhero my boy pretends to be is a kick-ass Belgian GIRL superhero? That ROCKS!
25 August 2009
I've come to a few realizations lately, enough to probably fill a few posts, but I'll start with this one. Here's realization number one:
Jules (at 3.675 years) will COOK just about anything with me, given the right circumstances. Eating the food is another story. If I limited myself to writing about only the food that Jules liked to eat, then, well, I wouldn't be writing much. Or the Tillamook company would have to be paying me big dividends for all the plugs I give their peach yoghurt. I'm not sure who to hit up for the bulk granola sponsorship. Yoghurt and granola (with the occasional side of fruit) has become our de facto Plan B when it comes to Jules not eating his dinner.
Kasper (at 10 months), on the other hand, will eat just about anything I put in front of him, and in copious amounts. Jules was never like this, but I'm told that this is quite typical of an almost one year old. I figure if cigarette butts at the park, and rotten fruit dropped from our trees in the back yard go in, why not a few gummable morsels of eggs and spinach? Tiny slivers of cherry tomato? Little bitty bits of pasta? I have to admit that watching Kasper eat these days are moments of sheer glee for me. I need to enjoy them while they last, because I'm also told that they just get pickier from here on out. Having been dealt one who was picky from day one, and is now undergoing a new phase of experimentation (yes, I KNOW I said I liked that YESTERDAY, but that was YESTERDAY MOOOOOM), this is new territory for me.
My second big realization (bear with me, these may not seem related, but I assure you they will be before I'm done) is that, since becoming a mom with children who eat things that don't emit directly from my body, I've been saving the good stuff (namely, all the fruit) in the house for the kids and depriving MYSELF of vital nutrients, and a whole lot of pleasure. I'd find myself staring at the last, ripe mango in the fruit bowl (OK, often I'd only buy ONE mango, but you know what I'm saying here) and thinking "oh, Jules loves mangoes. He needs that mango, not me." Apparently, the idea of sharing the mango, and I'm not talking a sliver for me and a hunk for Jules, but 50/50 split, had become foreign to me. Sure, I can teach my kid to share his toys, give his best buddy a lick of his lollypop (oh wait, that's sharing germs, a big no no), include his friends in games, but sharing fruit with his mama? That's waaay too much to ask, apparently.
But fortunately, after just 3 1/2 years of depriving myself, I had an ah-ha moment while reading Mark Bittman's Food Matters. Bittman's advice is simple. Instead of going for the chips, crackers, assorted processed snack food crap when you are monumentally hungry, have a peach (or THREE). I stopped. Re-read. Took a deep breath. THREE PEACHES, all for ME? In just ONE SITTING? Now that's a decadent idea. While I did not run out and get three peaches and scarf them down, I did start buying more fruit. Lots of fruit. Ridiculous amounts of fruit, and then some. Enough to share. With everyone. And then I started eating it. To my heart's content.
Most of the time, I'm very happy to take my fruit raw, but occasionally I like it cooked, and this is especially true of the apricot, a fruit as picky in preparation as my preschooler is with his plate. Unless it is extremely fresh and handled with kid gloves, I think the apricot is practically inedible in its raw state. Most apricots I've encountered (organic, non-organic, from the supermarket, farmer's market, or pick your own) are mushy, mealy, bruised, or way too sour. But that shouldn't stop me from enjoying them. So this year I went on an exploration of the apricot's finer side, the cooked one, making jam, crisp, and, my favorite--apricot upside down cake, served warm with fresh cream. A friend of mine served it to me last month with apricots she'd picked herself. And since then, I haven't been able to get the thing out of my head. So I made my own. And it was good.
Of course, Jules isn't into it. He still doesn't like cooked fruit, of any kind, and I can't blame him because it took me until I was in my teens to appreciate most cooked fruit myself. But Kasper loves it. He makes a crumbly sticky mess of it, but he loves it.
So while I may not be getting the sleep that my body needs, at least I'm not starving myself of fruit anymore. And in the spirit of sharing this new bounty of wisdom, here's some fruit I'd like to share with you.
Fresh Apricot Upside-Down Cake (based on this recipe in Gourmet Magazine)
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
10 or 11 small (2- to 2 1/4-inch) fresh apricots (1 1/4 lb), halved lengthwise and pitted
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 large eggs at room temperature for 30 minutes
3/4 cup well-shaken buttermilk
Fresh cream, to serve.
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Heat butter in saucepan over moderate heat until foam subsides. Reduce heat to low and sprinkle brown sugar evenly over butter, then cook, undisturbed, 3 minutes (not all of sugar will be melted). Pour brown sugar mixture into a 8x8 baking pan and arrange apricot halves, cut sides down, close together on top of brown sugar.
Make cake batter:
Sift together flour, baking powder and soda, and salt into a small bowl.
Beat together butter, sugar, and extracts in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes in a standing mixer or 3 to 4 minutes with a handheld. Beat in eggs 1 at a time, then beat until mixture is creamy and doubled in volume, 2 to 3 minutes.
Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in 3 batches alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture, and beat just until combined.
Gently spoon batter over apricots and spread evenly.
Bake cake in middle of oven until golden brown and a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes.
Wearing oven mitts, immediately invert a large plate over baking pan and, keeping plate and pan firmly pressed together, invert cake onto plate. Carefully lift pan off cake and, if necessary, replace any fruit that is stuck to bottom of skillet. Serve warm with a drizzle of fresh cream.
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