26 August 2009

mega mindy abducts budding chef

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

sleep-deprived dreams of apricot cake

I've been tired. Horribly tired. Anemically tired. Nobody in my house sleeps enough. Especially me. I feel like I can hardly write a coherent sentence, let alone wax poetically about food and my budding little chefs.

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 grano
la (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 s
erved 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)
For topping
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

For cake
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.

Make topping:
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:
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.

10 August 2009

huckleberry apricot breakfast crisp: score one for mama

This one's adapted from Deb at Smitten Kitchen, of which I've tried a few recipes and have never been disappointed. I substituted huckleberries for half the apricots in this recipe because 1) I had them and needed to use them up and 2) I figured they'd make the crisp less "crazy tart" than Deb's version. I am thankful the camera was out of commission, since my version was not nearly as pretty as Deb's (her photos are spectacular and I shall never hope to top them). But my hunch about the huckleberries sweetening the crisp up, and saving it from any chance, no matter how small, of botching on my part, was right on. It was delish. Both days I ate it.

Huckleberry Apricot Breakfast Crisp

Fruit Base
1/2 pound huckleberries (about 2 cups), rinsed and shaken dry (blueberries would be a decent, if subpar, substitute)
1/2 pound apricots
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon flour
Grated fresh nutmeg, a pinch

Crisp Topping
1/2 stick butter, melted
6 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (or a mixture of whole wheat and all-purpose flour)
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons toasted, slivered almonds

Prepare fruit: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Pull apart apricots at their seam, remove pits, and tear them one more time into quarters, placing them in a small baking dish (one that holds two to three cups is ideal). Stir in huckleberries, sugar, flour and nutmeg until just combined, being careful not to squash the berries.

Crumb topping: Melt butter and stir in sugar, then oats, then flour, salt and almonds until large clumps form. Sprinkle mixture over the fruit. Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes and serve warm with a scoop (about 1/3 cup) of Greek yoghurt.

08 August 2009

apricots, huckleberries, and failing my child

I suck as a parent. I feel like every decision I have made in the last, oh let's just say week, has been the wrong one.

Right now I am simmering a pot of apricot preserves on the stove (thank you, Amanda, for donating your apricots to what I hope is NOT yet another worthless endeavor in jam-making) while listening to my child cry his heart out while we "experiment" with letting him fall asleep on his own. It's waaaaay past his bedtime and he has been impossible all day, mostly because (a well-informed hunch) he's overtired. Sorry to those of you who can't relate to me right now as I regale you with the saga of my sobbing insomniac. I find it hard to believe myself just how much my universe revolves around when, where, and how long my kids sleep. I have been a sleep hostage for almost four years now. And I hate it. We've tried the Dr. Sears method (just sleep with your kid, when your kid sleeps, even when he's FIVE), dabbled in Ferber (cry baby, cry), danced with the Sleep Lady (go on and wail, baby, but know I'm here for ya), and spit on what we wish was Elizabeth Pantley's grave (there is NO "No Cry Sleep Solution,"at least for our kids, believe me).

Did I mention I'm also baking what smells like a delicious huckleberry-apricot breakfast crisp? And I'm drinking really good pinot noir? Tomorrow is bound to be a better day, right?

I just tasted the preserves, half-way through cooking, and they were SOUR, so I added what was left of a bag of sugar to the pot. I have no idea how much it was. Maybe 2 to 3 cups? Oh, and right after that, I turned on the back burner to get a pot of boiling water started to sterilize the lids to for my no-doubt sour preserves, and I set the cord to our rice cooker on fire. Did I mention that during our kitchen remodel last year we splurged on a gas range that cooks with real blue shooting flames? I guess I'll add "new rice cooker" to the list of "must-have" kitchen gadgets that I need to write this blog.

Back to the crying child, who is quiet now (except for the hiccup/shudder from the trauma he's just experienced of being left alone in his bed to fall asleep) because Johan is now lying next to him. Jules has never, not ever, fallen asleep on his own at night since the day he was born. Is that a bad thing? Most days I am quite certain, and quite willing to defend the position that that it is not a bad thing. It is just simply human to want to have someone you love lying next to you, feeling their warm body breathe in and out, in and out, as you drift off to sleep in the comfort of their embrace. Who would not fight until their last waking moment to fall asleep that way, every night of their life, if they could? Tonight, however, is not a night where I find myself willing to defend that position. I just need a break.

Preserves are done. A sweet-sour concoction that I pray will set up just right. It's much more gelled than the batch of strawberry jam I tried to make a few weeks back. So I'm hopeful.

Breakfast crisp is out, too, and now covered and chilling in the fridge. I have no idea how this will turn out, but I am, again, really hopeful. I made it with huckleberries picked by my Dad (some of which were plucked under imminent threat of black bear attack--Dad REALLY loves me, or he really loves huckleberries, or both). I've discovered that so far everything I've ever made with huckleberries has turned out just fine. I made a huckleberry apple pie last week and, while the pie was soupy (too shy with the flour in the fruit, according to Dad), the flavor was just right. Maybe I think so because huckleberries are, for me, the magic fruit. I'm sure it has something to do with the fact that my Dad dragged me out to the woods to pick huckleberries as a kid, then stuffed me with pies and pancakes made with our berry loot for weeks after. I can't wait until Jules and Kasper are old enough to come picking with me. I hope they love it (and the huckleberries) as much as I did as a kid.

Right now, OK almost all the time, I feel like my life is much like my cooking. It's an experiment, one which ends with almost as many happy surprises as it does with heart-wrenching disappointments (did you note my "glass half full" speak here? Do I get any credit whatsoever for that?) . It's sometimes hard to believe that Jules has been earth-side for more than 3 1/2 years and I still have days where I feel like my parenting choices are based more on "hunches" about my kid, why he's behaving the way he is, what I could be doing to make his behavior conform to my wishes, than "hard facts."

Be that as it may, here's hoping this latest series of experiments (in cooking and in "life") end in happy surprises. Wouldn't life be grand if my "huckleberries" were the culinary equivalent to my parenting "hunches?" If that were so, then I could rest easy knowing that no matter what I might do to botch things up, as long as I relied on my "hunches," on what I knew to be true about my kids, then everything would turn out just fine. For some reason, though, I'm less confident in the "hunches" than I am in the "huckleberries" that populate my life right now.

Oh, and did I mention that we started potty training again last week for the umpteenth time? I've been warned against mixing poop stories with recipes, so I will spare you the harrowing details of the last four days. You should thank me for this. And you should also be grateful that our camera died from sand-poisoning on the Belgian coast. Fun, mouthwatering photos (I promise, no poo) will resume shortly. As will the recipes. And child-rearing advice. If, that is, my experiments turn out.

04 August 2009

i scream you scream

I was not exaggerating.

we all scream

03 August 2009

horsing around with grijze garnalen (gray shrimp)

Scampi-induced guilt aside, we DID manage to eat our fair share of locally-caught shrimp during our week-long stay on the Belgian coast. Small, delicately-flavored (read not too shrimpy) "gray shrimp" are abundant here, and every day we were witness to the many ways they're harvested: by men in chest-high fisherman pants pulling nets behind them, by the tiny shrimp boats trawling back and forth just a few hundred meters from the beach, and, the tourists' favorite spectacle, by "Brabanders"--a stocky Belgian breed of horse--saddled with nets and baskets and weathered fisher faces.

The fishermen and their horses put on a show at extreme low tide
on an almost-daily basis in the summer for tourists. We'd planned on taking the kids down to watch one morning, but could convince none save Kasper (whose favorite napping spot just happened to be hoofing it down to the show) to join us. I, for one, was glad I went, and even more glad I was not trampled by one of the massive beasts while I posed in front of them for that perfect "been there" shot.

Kasper's first shrimping adventure
the shrimp shuffle
duwen (push), draaien (turn), trekken (pull)
Bomma (Grandma), demonstrating her finely-honed peeling skills
a new generation of shrimp peelers
Best enjoyed with a glass of Rodenbach, a slightly sour beer from Roeselare (Johan's mom's hometown, not far from the coast). Also often used in tomaat crevette (mixed with a mayonaisey cocktail sauce, stuffed into a hollowed out tomato, and garnished with parsley).

i heart croquettes

As promised, the first in a series of installments on what made me gain weight while in Belgium, the chief culprit of course being deep-fried goodness such as these. Potato croquettes. Little logs of mashed potatoes, dipped in egg and rolled in bread crumbs and plunged into hot oil. We've started a tradition of making these for Christmas Eve every year because we can't seem to find them in the supermarkets here. And because we're masochists, I suppose. Croquette making is not for the faint hearted. It takes time, lots of space in your refrigerator to leave them to dry overnight, and the patience of a conveyor-belt worker. Cut, dip, roll. Cut, dip, roll. Cut, dip, roll. No surprise they hit the platter just once a year.

Accompanying my croquettes this fine evening were scampis in curry sauce. We ate a fair amount of scampis while in Belgium, and have been cooking them at home in Seattle, too. This, of course, was a huge source of guilt for me last week when I passed the Mangrove Action Project booth at the Ballard Seafood Festival, which boasted a large and catchy banner that admonished us all to "Shrimp Less. Think More." Since most shrimp is imported from the other side of the world (I think most of ours comes from Thailand), the carbon footprint made by my meals of late is, well, embarrassing. But the scampis were good. I promise to do better from now on.

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