27 October 2009

happy birthday, little frankenstein

Kasper turned one last week, so we celebrated with a small family dinner on the day and a little brunch party with some of our closest friends on the weekend. When Jo suggested we pick up champagne to serve mimosas, I countered, "he's only ONE. We don't need MIMOSAS at this party!" I'm sure, quite sure, there were mimosas at our older son's first birthday brunch, so I'm not quite sure why I reacted this way this time around. I guess I had the urge to make sure everything was about the little ones. And everything WAS about the little ones, with perhaps the exception of the squash and greens strata I made, which was the main course of the meal. Big people have needs, too.

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.


  1. What a cute b-day boy. The strata looks and sounds delicious.

  2. I love your blog! Birthdays have always been hugely important to me as well but I married a guy who's family quit decorating for even Christmas when he was 10. He's just not that in to the celebrations. I have had to let go of the high expectations and enjoy what we get as well. The strata looks divine. Thanks so much for the adventures in mommy-hood and the yummy treats! Susan Palmer (for some reason I can't figure out how to get my google account on your comments)

  3. Every party need mimosas! =)

    You've really turned me on to the Delictaca squash. Thanks.

  4. yes, you and Jo might just be right about that, Teacher Tom.

    Susan: glad you like the blog. My guy isn't much into holidays, either, and halloween he's especially humbug about (which is why I try to force the most ridiculous costumes on him, ever).

    Pam: thanks for stopping by my little blog. The strata's a keeper, trust me.

  5. So now I know where to find you! And happy birthday to Kasper. Oh, we have to catch up. Now that I have a boy there are so many things in life that I finally understand! I call my guy's approach to life "learning through destruction."

    Anyway, I am thrilled to see that you are a talented cook! Yay! I am always two steps behind on meal preparation and I hate inventing things to cook, so I will be using your suggestions. Thanks, Kristi!

  6. I love the sound of that "pop" too! I must make some of those one of these days.


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