Thursday, December 16, 2010

Out of Sequence But Still Cute 5 Month Old Video

Apologies for the shaky cam as I tried to hold onto her while filming.

Six Months Is A Big Deal

My sister reminded me to post the latest in my monthly progression photos so there it is.
Here are a couple of outtakes from that photo session which show how much more active she is. Poor Mr. Duck. She sits up all by herself and plays with her toys for long periods of time (well, long enough for me to drink an entire glass of water sometimes!) She loves her toys, especially Mr. Piggy and Sophie the French Giraffe, the weirdly hip squeaky toy. It is fascinating for me to see how she changes. I am amazed each time with the comparison and can't remember her ever being that tiny. Just those few photos on the side demonstrate how her level of activity has changed -- I was barely able to keep her on the seat in this last one.
We are having fun growing and learning together. And then there are days that aren't as fun when I'm exhausted and struggling to hold it all together. Being a working mom is every bit as hard as promised. And sometimes it is so hard I just weep and wonder when it will get easier -- wasn't that supposed to happen by now? I do love her so. And this motherhood thing truly does kick my butt every day.

Happy holidays from the house of chaos and sleep deprivation and adorable baby girl!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Sweet Potatoes!

We've added solids to the daily repetoire. She doesn't like them at home but she loves them at daycare. She's growing up, the little peanut.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Age: 4 months! (3.5 in this photo)

Size and Shape: She is still a peanut. She looks BIG to me because she was once so tiny. But when we're out and about, people constantly say, "Look at the tiny baby!"
Eat: We seem to have our nursing and pumping routine more or less in place. I have noticed that she doesn't "unlatch" as much now, probably because she wants the extra comfort and mommy time, so our sessions can go much longer than they did.
Getting Around: We haven't had as much carseat problems, but we haven't taken her in the car quite as much as we were. So we shall see. I think she is happy to not have to spend much time in the car -- one of the benefits of daycare is that I'm not dragging her with me all over creation anymore. We love our variety of carriers! Still love the bjorn and baby hawks best.
New People: There are new babies at the daycare and we're told she is very friendly and smiley with all of them. She continues to be a friendly little soul with everyone she meets, giving smiles and patient with being passed around from person to person.
Best moment this week: She looked up at me while nursing and smiled and laughed, which made me cry it was so sweet. Probably very confusing for her to have mom laugh and cry. We also love her "dinosaur noises" where she shouts "Aaah!" in this growly voice over and over. It was also wonderful to get to skype with my mom and dad and see my mom's big smile when getting to look at her granddaughter. Oh and I got to go to yoga last night for the first time since … probably 6 months pregnant! It was AWESOME. Felt so good and was such a great break.
Worst moment this week: Saying goodbye in the mornings. Mr. Right always calls to tell me how the drop-off went which makes me really happy.

What I miss: I am wishing I had captured more of her "newborn" moments by video or snapshot. She is much more of a "baby" now than a newborn.
What I am looking forward to: She has become so communicative in her dinosaur voice -- makes me realize how fun she'll be when we can actually talk!
Weekly Wisdom: Going to yoga reminded me how much taking care of myself helps me be a better mom.

Summmer Cooking in Review

And now a break from baby blogging:

Despite a busy and HOT summer, Mr. Right and I managed to do some cooking. Some of these meals were real accomplishments, worthy of a post here in the blog. A lot of them were driven by Mr. Right's food passions. Here goes:

Baked beans -- Mr Right brought home a recipe he found on the internet to make the beans. Curious, I scanned it and was annoyed that the recipe for homemade baked beans involved TWO CANS OF FACTORY MADE BAKED BEANS. WHAT??? We dug up another recipe to use instead, and found the secret to making really good beans is to accidentally bake them for three hours longer than the recipe says.

For father's day, the kids and I gave Mr. Right a bbq smoker. Mr. Right made ribs and tenderloin on his first try. In keeping with Mr. Right's generous personality, when the recipe called for a few pieces of wood to put in the smoker for flavor, he used 3 different entire packages of wood. So the meat was definitely smoky, but very tasty.

Beer can chicken -- This was fun for Mr. Right to try. He even bought a little contraption that keeps the whole thing upright. As always, beer can chicken is super yummy. And amusing to discuss.

Fried Chicken -- During a hard week at work for Mr. Right, I emailed him during his workday, "Want to make friend chicken for the first time tonight?" And you know you have a husband who likes to cook when he is just as excited to make it as he is to eat it. Our first try was pretty successful as we followed the recipe to the letter. Second try was less successful as we were being more experimental, and we didn't let the oil get hot enough. But both times it was very fun and very delicious. Next time we do this, we're going to brine the chicken in buttermilk and salt. And use the crisco and not the cooking oil..

Pasta -- I insisted that we do this over the summer as we have been talking about making pasta at home for years now. And you read about how incredibly easy it is. All of this was true. The recipe we followed was much more extravagant than is really necessary as it used a DOZEN eggs, but as I mentioned above, Mr. Right is of a generous nature and wanted to try the fancy recipe. The noodles were delicious, and it was fun to make.

Canned pickles -- I can't claim I made these but rather I learned at the feet of a master: my amazing mother-in-law. She showed me how to make bread and butter pickles using cucumbers grown in her own backyard. And did I mention she did it all with her arm in a sling from a broken elbow? She is incredible. And these are some good pickles, spicy and sweet, and they are so beautiful in their jars.

Ice cream with lumps -- I've made ice cream before (and blogged about it here), but this was my first time using the Ben & Jerry's cookbook as well as trying to use flavorings. We made a batch of chocolate chip cookie dough flavor and it came out great. My only caveat is that it is a lot more work making this than regular ice cream, as you are basically making ice cream AND a recipe for cookies at the same time. But it thrilled my stepdaughter to get to make it, and she helped so it wasn't too much work.

And after all these lovely gourmet moments, we also have the evenings like last Monday, where you mix a can of creamed soup with pasta and chicken and serve. I made it for Mr. Right, and he is the happiest man in the world because he loves that type of thing just as well as the gourmet treats. All good.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

the Most Beautiful Sound in the World

Just time to post this!

So lovely.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Is using a template cheating?

Some people who are regular baby bloggers do this weekly update. I thought I'd have fun filling it out.

Age: 14 weeks today! 3 month photo here! Gracie is good friends with her duck; they are about the same size now.
Size: Pretty much all 0-3 size clothes. 12 pounds according to the Baby Cafe scale. Her size 1 diapers are getting snug. She definitely is no longer newborn size. Sigh.
Sleep: She's a good sleeper and has been since the beginning! She wakes up to eat and then immediately falls back asleep. I know we are incredibly lucky, so just by writing this I may be dooming myself to her deciding to be awake after eating. Knocking on wood furiously!

New activity: She has officially found her thumb so the fingers are always in her mouth, even when she's trying to eat, which can be a little awkward.

New People: She is making lots of friends at daycare. They say she is a snugglebug, which is so endearing. She is also trying to make friends with her squeaky giraffe, so I guess she isn't picky.

Weekly Wisdom: It's only week two back to work, so our routines are still developing. I need to be patient!

End of the Summer

(photo credits to my very talented sister who won't answer me when I ask her why she doesn't do professional photography. Hi sis!). By the way: if anyone was wondering if the Peanut ever figured out how to suck her thumb, she HAS! But it is pretty funny that when she sticks it in her mouth it obviously is too little for her tastes so she just crams her whole hand in there.
Ah the melancholy last days of summer ... and maternity leave. I am the first to remind people that we technically have summer until Sept 21 but no one really thinks of September as summer. I went for a swim today at Walden Pond AND it was over 90 degrees, but nope, doesn't count as summer. But it was all the more special to have that swim because it will likely be my last this year. And that my friend Ann was there to hold the Peanut so I could go for a quick swim (and we had such a long visit which was wonderful). It felt SO good to be in the cool, clear water. When I take those first few strokes underwater my arms always feel so free -- they do a lot of holding these days so it is such freedom to move them through the water.
And with September comes the return to work next Tuesday, day after Labor Day, along with the last of the school kids and even the college students who have this one last weekend of freedom. We all head back together, which translates to one nasty commute coming up for me that morning.

Along with the fact I'll likely be sobbing most of the drive in. In the column of "you can't possibly know what's it like until you've gone through it" goes "Surviving Leaving Your Child with Strangers and Returning to Work." I've already had some pretty fun breakdown moments about it, which I did not anticipate so early. But I now read in my book, "Nursing Mother, Working Mother," these next two weeks are not unlike the first two weeks after the baby gets born. Nothing gets done, and both you and baby are just a big wet mess. Actually, I am sure the Peanut will be fine. I'm equally certain that I will not, so I am clearing the schedule for nothing but going to work, picking up baby at end of day, sitting on couch nursing baby, and then going to bed for the next few weeks. Pure survival mode. Then, I am hoping to come out the other side (say in October or hopefully, please God, before November), feeling like life is manageable again. Or at least able to actually socialize occasionally and prepare a meal that includes vegetables other than tomato sauce. But I am trying to learn to cut myself some slack. So, slacking it will be. I apologize in advance if I am not returning calls or emails or even making sense if I am managing a call or email.

But living in the moment, the Peanut is sleeping on my chest as I type this. I normally would try and put her down in her crib but I want her next to me for these last precious moments of maternity leave. Enjoy your last lingering days of summer, my friends.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

2.5 month update

Here is a picture of our dear girl at 1 month and then 2 months with floppy sun hat and big grin. Yay!

I go to a really great nursing moms group and whenever I look at the brand new infants I get all melty remembering how she was just a little while ago, even though now it seems like ages and ages.

Baby is growing, smiling and starting to coo and has recently found her hands. She stares at them and wrings them and occasionally bops herself in the head as she tries to get them in her mouth. She is pretty good at almost getting her thumb in there. I am looking forward to her first laugh -- we have come close many times and she has done it in her sleep but not yet awake!

She is sleeping right now which is why I can type with two hands. We are starting to hit our stride, of course now that I have hit my stride it is time to go back to work. Sigh. I don't mind the working part, but I mind terribly the separation part. At the mom's group the leader said there are some places that will let you take your infant to work and it actually can be a really positive thing in a workplace. Wouldn't that be wonderful? Ooop she's waking up now...

Friday, July 23, 2010

Equipment I Do Love

In the months before the baby was due, I scoured the internet looking for people's recommendations for gear for pregnancy and baby. I assembled my own patchwork list from their list, and now that I am on "the other side," here's what we have found most useful:

For the pregnant ladies:

1. Maternity shirts that double as nursing tops (they have flap things) -- buy them at 6 months pregnant and you will have shirts to wear while pregnant AND while nursing! It is really annoying (and expensive) to have to go out and buy tops that work for nursing because you only have 3 tops that work for nursing and you will wear them non-stop for the first so many weeks after the baby is born. Wish I had known this.

2. You can buy special pregnancy pillows which are probably awesome, but at $50, I was too cheap even if my back bugged me. Ikea has these longish thin body pillows for about $10. Ultimately, nothing will be comfortable but for a while these were a big help.

3. Cheap maternity clothes -- best option new is Old Navy but bless those girlfriends willing to share theirs as you are going to wear them for all of a few months.

For the baby:

1. I do like the video monitor. I know it's not really necessary and I know I'm obsessing, but it is really reassuring to see the baby is OK. It's different to see the baby is OK than to hear silence which means the baby is PROBABLY ok, but if you're insane like me, you want to khow the baby is DEFINITELY ok. So, if you're not insane, a regular monitor is fine..

2. If you can get a copy of the Happiest Baby on the Block video from the library or borrow or buy, I recommend it for yourself and so your partner will watch it. You may have obsessively read all of the "how to take care of a baby" books but your partner likely rolled his/her eyes at you and continued to read "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" book. Watching the dvd is a fast easy way to teach them how to soothe the baby so they don't hand the baby back to you the second the baby starts to cry. So worth it. And your partner will be so thrilled when it works for them which is super cute to watch.

3. I think the swaddle thing was a big help to us (at least for the first few months). So blankets that actually are built for swaddling help a lot as they have places that hold their arms because babies are little houdinis with getting their arms out of the blankets.

4. Baby carriers rock (ha, pun intended) but it is amazing how different they all are. I've tried the Moby, the Ergo, the Bjorn, the BabyHawk and all have their pluses and minuses. If you can borrow one from someone even temporarily before you buy it will be a huge help. I wore the Moby for a while and liked it a lot but now I need more head support for her. I'm wearing the Bjorn as I type but I anticipate we'll be moving into the Ergo as soon as she is big enough as the shoulders are much easier in the Ergo. But the Babyhawk that dear Susan sent me may work as well -- we shall see.

5. I have liked the stroller system where you have the car seat that snaps into just a lightweight frame. Nice and light and easy to throw in the trunk. We now are looking for the more permanent stroller to get around the city, but for quick trips while she is still little, the stroller frame works GREAT.

A final note: never underestimate borrowing/inheriting items from your friends and family. We have been so lucky to be inundated with enormous amounts of wonderful items from them from the cradle we got from Mr. Right's parents (in which Mr. Right slept when he was a baby) to the swing from dear Elizabeth which she got from dear Claudette, to the carriers inherited by the incredibly generous Kris and Susan, both of whom have two toddlers they are having to manage while still taking the time to help the hapless new mom. It truly does take a village!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Movie time again! Not sleeping!

Oh the fun we have here at the movies on the Baby Channel. This time it's all about her feet. It's the best movie you'll have seen all day, assuming you haven't watched any other movies today.

aaand more baby stuff

I can't really apologize for turning this into baby blog. I'd be lying if I said I was doing much else. Although I have cooked a few interesting things I can blog about later (barley salad, yum, and we made 2 kinds of ice cream with the kids, chocolate chip cookie dough and strawberry. Yes, we made ice cream with chunks! Yay!)

I chose this photo because Mr. Right rarely reads this blog. I secretly love this onesie that dear Joyce gave to us. It's silly, I don't think Mr. Right cares, but I try not to parade this onesie around in front of him because for some bizarre reason I think he'll see it and think she likes me best and of course I secretly want her to. This is the mind of a sleep deprived crazy person, moi.

I wanted to mention a few things I have learned, no particular order:

1. I had no idea how much I didn't know. I thought I knew stuff about babies. I kinda did, but really it was a drop in the bucket compared to this 24/7 thing.
2. I am only beginning to conceive how cute one thinks one's own child is. Anyone who doesn't agree that she is the cutest thing ever to appear on this earth is crazy in my opinion. It's like a the stupidest contest ever and I'm really into it. Oh well. We win.

3. Babies get all sticky and dirty pretty fast.

4. I am learning LOTS about limitations. Things I assumed I could do, I just can't. Whether it's because our stroller doesn't go there (hiking, escalators, subways) or distance limitations (Baby will only put up with car rides for a limited and unpredictable time period before MELTDOWN), going to the beach (don't even ask, I'm still traumatized), or typing, cooking, cleaning, reading, making phone calls effectively while holding her even in her carrier, I just can't do what I thought I'd do easily. Sometimes drinking a full glass of water is more than I can accomplish at a time. It's weird and hard and frustrating and even things I could do a week ago are no longer workable, although sometimes the reverse is true. It makes it scary to do a 10 minute drive to bookclub, and wait, bookclub doesn't end until 9? Uh oh. Oh and a haircut? How do I do that exactly? How do a I make an appointment and then find someone to watch her while I am at said appt if I don't have enough milk to feed her pumped while I am gone? Whew. It's tiring.

5. Have I mentioned tired? I have become a fabulous conversationalist who loses my train of thought every 3 sentences or so. And when I do talk, it's only about how cute she is. Fun!

6. Be patient, she's only 5 weeks old. (rinse and repeat) I forget how little she is because she is so much bigger than she was 5 weeks ago! (Namely, she now weighs 8 lbs 4 oz. Huge! And then I see the 10 pound babies who are 1 week old. Weird perspective flip!)

7. A wise person said: Life is short, but the days and nights are long. Yup. We are very glad to have Mr. Right come home at the end of each day. But then I'm like, wait, she's going to be 6 weeks old?

That's enough wisdom for now.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Watching Someone Sleep

Okay, I lied in the last post. I'm going to post the video of her sleeping because I was getting tired of emailing it out and torturing my family. This is my first video post so have patience with me. And yes, I realize that a video of a sleeping baby is not exactly Oscar worthy, although didn't Andy Warhol do something like this at some point? (answer: yes). But remember, this is MY sleeping baby whom I believe is award winningly cute. And it's not 5 hours long, like the Warhol film. So you can thank me for that, right?

Yikes. I think I have become one of THOSE moms. Ack!!!!

By the way, I bought a (cheapie) webcam for the purposes of sharing her cuteness most effectively, but I begin to wonder if just taping her isn't the best way to show her off. Any thoughts out there?

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Picture Happy

Having a newborn around all day is almost overwhelming for me as photographer. She's just so darned cute (nothing to do with her being my child of course), so just about every moment seems photo worthy. I seem to find her especially irresistable while she is sleeping -- yesterday I even videotaped a clip, which I will spare most of you from having to watch a video of her sleeping. (family, be warned: you will NOT be spared from having to watch). Oh and baby girl, sorry for all the no clothes shots, but we promise not to bring them out to show when you're dating (fingers crossed).

We're doing well, surviving the next heat wave ok, doing our best to stay hydrated and not survive solely on ice cream. No real milestones to report although it did look awfully like she smiled at Mr. Right yesterday. She's 3.5 weeks old. Next thing I know she'll be asking to borrow the car.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Maternity Leave

I've had two weeks now to get used to our little pumpkin's arrival. Tomorrow is her official due date. Ha! She showed me. But maybe that little marker will make the whole thing seem official.

Today does feel like the official start of my maternity leave as my mom has headed back home and Mr. Right is back at work. It's just me and the pumpkin here at the house on a day that is supposed to reach 94 degrees. She is happily sleeping on my chest in one of these amazing baby slings (thanks Kris!), and for the hands free and happy baby mode, I'm very glad to have this little warm bundle against me on this hot day.

I am a little daunted by this maternity leave thing. I'm a little perplexed about what it is you do with yourself on leave ... and then I start to make a list of things I need to do that goes on for a whole page and then she wakes up from her nap and makes some diaper noises that impress Mr. Right to no end, and then it's time to feed her again, and are there really no clean blankets left? and then I remember, oh yeah, I've got plenty to do here. So, we're fine.

Most of all I try to remember the number one item on my list: take the time to stare at her precious face as these moments will go by fast. She is already 2.5 weeks old! I read some other new mom blogs and some of them talk about wanting to stop time to be able to really appreciate this moment ... I understand this feeling now, after years of trying to appreciate the moment through meditation or yoga, all you need is a newborn. After a lifetime of "what's the next thing?" it's lovely to look down at my daughter's face and think, "What could be more perfect than this moment?"

I was at a family get-together yesterday for most of the day, and I'm learning how you turn into a quasi-celebrity if you have an infant in your arms. Or at least you learn what it feels like to be the bodyguard of the celebrity. I looked up at one point to find about eight little girls clustered around me, peering at me and the baby. I didn't know what to do or say. Finally I got her into her seat and they clustered around the seat and I felt much better. A little later, I had a little magical moment as a little seven year old asked to hold her, and it was such an incredible moment to see her joyful smile looking down at the baby. I remember my own fascination with babies starting very young, a decade of daycare work and babysitting, and all those years wondering what my own child would be like. And here she is.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Our Little Peanut is Here!

I've been promising photos to lots of people, and this might be the easiest way to get them to you along with the stats on our little munchkin.

Last Thursday night at about 1:30 am, two and a half weeks before the baby was due, my water broke! I had no other symptoms, no contractions that I noticed, no premonitions, nada. I was so shocked -- I know I was full term, but mentally I hadn't prepared myself at all to have her come early. I was expecting to have to blow right past my due date and agonize well into July. But no, the baby had other ideas. And once your water breaks, well, you know you'll be meeting that baby soon.

Mr. Right and I got ready, with me mostly running around in circles, and then we headed to the hospital at about 2 am. Here's us at the hospital. I was nervous, but I was so excited to meet our baby that I was just feeling very happy. Mr. Right was a big help through the contractions.

Because we knew the baby was probably still breech after many attempts to turn him or her around, we knew a cesarean birth was pretty likely. So they checked, and yes, the little boulder under my ribs was still the baby's head. So they set us up for the birth, and at 4:54, the docs delivered the baby. Mr. Right, upon my request, was the one to announce the baby's birth to me: "We have a little girl." Much crying and rejoicing ensued.

Mr. Right took some amazing photos of our newborn daughter. And these last few are of us finally settled into our hospital room and recovering. I know it's a cliche, but goodness I'm in love with this little girl. Of course I think she is the most amazing baby ever. We are all doing well and settling into our new life together. I have been bouncing back amazingly well to the degree that I can forget that I am still recovering, until it all catches up to me and then I have to go collapse. Will post more as we get caught up on our lives. I still am just stunned that she arrived so early, and so there was a lot of setting up to do when we brought her home. We love getting to know her, and we can't wait to introduce her to you!


My sister-in-law made this amazing diaper wreath for us. It must have like 80 diapers on it, not to mention toys and little shoes, all for our "little monkey." So cute! Here I am, putting it up around my 9 month pregnant belly.
I am all behind in my blogging, so I'm trying to catch up now. Baby is due June 29.... get ready for this blog to transform into baby meets world ...

Sunday, April 25, 2010

When Life Gives You Meyer Lemons, Make Crepes: Mixed Results

This is my first "hey look, I made this" post in a while. Writing the previous post about spices has made me realize how passionate I am about food. Anyone who knows me would say, "Well, duh!" But ever since finding Mr. Right and the whirlwind romance, wedding, and now the Munchkin on the way, well, I've been distracted from my passion for food. Sometimes I diminish it as not important, not that healthy, too expensive, and so on. But then someone asks my opinion about something food-related, and I just explode with information in a way that totally overwhelms anyone standing within 20 yards. So. Guess I've kept it tamped down a little too long.

And so I had a baking adventure with crepes. Crepes are a pretty safe bet as a popular food. It's fun and a little bit fancy, and it brings back memories of blissfully wandering around Paris clutching a Crepe Nutella. Somewhere in my food explorations I stumbled across a photo of a crepe cake which made me drool. I mean, look at that thing! I like crepes, I love cake, and the idea of slicing into this confection intrigued me, but didn't motivate me to jump up and make it.

Evidently, I needed the proper filling to really inspire me, and lo and behold, after my spontaneous trip back to Santa Barbara in late March (more in a later post with photos), I had the inspiration. Lemon curd made with the meyer lemons I bought at the farmer's market during my visit. And voila, Martha Stewart again had a recipe! I set to work.

Making the curd was easier, quicker, and required less ingredients than I might have imagined. I was imagining the need for eight egg yolks, heavy cream, etc. which are all wonderful as ingredients, but I am hesitant to make foods that require food follow-up: as in, I would then have to make something with 8 egg whites, and I'd have to come up with something to do with the extra cream since you never use a whole container. But no, this recipe only needed 2 eggs, sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice. Easy! I whipped it up with the lovely smelling Meyer Lemons and voila, had a completely addictive lemon curd in minutes, which I had to restrain myself from treating as lemon pudding and eating it all immediately. However, I decided not to make it into a mousse by mixing the curd with whipped cream because curd is super yummy, why dilute it? (And why buy cream said my inner cheapskate). I will discuss this decision later as the downfall of my endeavor.

Next the crepes. I was much less worried about this part as I've made them before and they don't require a lot of fancy ingredients either: flour, eggs, milk, a little salt, a little sugar. Easy! However, the crepey formation was a bit more challenging -- it takes forever to cook them all one by one in the crepe pan, 12 in all. But that's ok; the bits I tasted were really yummy and I was excited to try my new confection when it was all put together.

So. I pondered a bit on how to make it look pretty on the plate, and hacked off around the edges to try and make it look pretty, oh, and round like a cake. This was not as simple as I thought and it was neither fabulous before I did the edges nor afterward. Then I started layering in the curd, which also was trickier than I expected as some of the crepes stuck together so I'd skip that layer and then have to go back and re-slather between layers, which then made the other layers all off center. Finally, after some struggle, I got it on the plate and snapped the photo. And it was time for the ultimate determination: how good did it taste?

After all that work, maybe I had overly high expectations as it was really took a while and some frustration to make. Yes, it was good. The curd and the crepes were a nice combo. But it wasn't GREAT. It wasn't like birthday cake. It was more like, well, crepes with curd on them in a huge pile. The crepes were good but, not unlike eating cold pancakes, were a little bit of a weird rubbery texture. And the curd was nice too. I didn't love how after you sliced it, it kinda fell over and apart on the plate. So then, time to submit it to my official testers, wandering around in search of Saturday morning breakfast. They were puzzled and suspicious by how it looked at first (as pre-teens often are). After tasting it, the verdict: they liked it in a "hey it's a homemade thing that is sweet," but not in a "oh my, I want more right now" kind of way. Which pretty much confirms my opinion that it was good to try, but not a repeater.

And now I realize as I look at the recipe I did not choose to follow, if I had chosen to turn the curd into mousse by adding heavy cream, I think it would have had more of a creamy lemony crepey mixture that could be a lot better than what I created. Hmmm. Well. Now I know. This blogger made it much more successfully (click to see how pretty!) and was very happy with the results, so hey, go for it if you are so inspired. But it looks easier than it is.

It's funny, though, returning to my thoughts about my passion for food. As I was making this cake, I started having a running blog entry in my head. Planning and thinking about the right photos, discussing the pros and cons in my head with my reader(s); (I supose there could be more than just one of you -- hi mom). So, after a break from my baking adventures, I refound the pleasure of talking and writing about food. Ta dah.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Spice Friends

My dear friend Tina had been perusing a well loved spice catalog and was inspired to ask me and a few other folks what their favorite spices were. I replied, thinking I could dash off a quick list and suddenly I found I had a dissertation. I had no idea I cared so much about this. So I saved the email, and I'm sharing with you here. I feel like I should have a good reason for doing so, but mostly I am just amazed that I really care that much about this topic. As I'm just noticing as well how personal spices are -- how each person creates their own little culinary world.

(By the way, the photo is from a very old Nantucket herb garden we visited last June. I dream of having such a garden some day: fresh spice beats jarred hands down anyday).

First off in my list of smug spice advice, pre-filled spice racks aren't that helpful as they will include lots of stuff that you'll never use and is often all dried out anyhow. If the spice no longer has a strong smell, it won't have much taste either.

Daily/weekly most used spices:
  • We use a lot of peppercorns in a grinder. They aren't cheap when you buy them in tiny bottles from the grocery store, so I like to buy a bag at any specialty store within reasonable price. The multicolored peppercorns are the most fun and supposedly give you more flavor.
  • Red pepper flakes -- used so much in our house that we buy the big containers from the store. Not even usually in the fancy spice catalogs, but boy do we like them.
  • We use a lot of vanilla. I might use almond extract or anise extract once a year or so. Orange extract is handy to have around to use instead of orange peel or lemon peel when you're feeling lazy. Not a spice, but I'm ok with including it because it's my list.
  • Cinnamon (Penzey's is supposed to be super awesome, although truly I'm not sure I notice the difference but it smells good!)
  • Bay leaves -- I use these a lot in soup, sauces, beans, etc . When I lived in California I was very excited to be able to find them on trees in the neighborhood. Free spice! What a country. They smelled so good.
  • Oregano (turkish or greek are both fine, Mexican is different) -- pizza sauce, spaghetti sauce, etc.
  • Cumin -- used in pretty much any mexican food or indian food.
  • Nutmeg -- I love this stuff especially whole with a grinder. You can survive on the pre-ground stuff; it just isn't as wonderful,
  • Cayenne powder -- for heat without adding much of a flavor.
  • chipotle powder -- I love the smoky flavor this gives things with a little heat
  • thyme -- I like this stuff and use it pretty often. I recently learned it is often used in herbal tea.

For monthly use (very good to have on hand and annoying if you don't have on hand:

  • ground mustard -- used in Indian cooking, sometimes in cheese sauces
  • curry powder -- it's really annoying when you don't have it even if it doesn't come up all that much. My latest intel says the Tone brand at the warehouse stores is best
  • Mr. Right likes garlic powder, but I don't think it is anywhere near as good as the real thing but it's easy for garlic toast or if you have no garlic
  • White pepper: I have found their white pepper to be really interesting and has a much different flavor than black pepper. I use it in soups alot. You only need a little because it is intense! I just buy a little shaker of it.
  • Rosemary -- you won't use it much, but it will come up for lamb, stews, carrots, potatoes, potatoes
  • Chili powder -- for chili, duh. But I tend to use chipotle powder more
  • ground ginger -- not nearly as good as fresh, but it's good to have
Nice to have but you won't use very often at all:
  • cardamom gives a really nice flavor to baked goods, kindof an interesting exotic taste to banana bread or muffins
  • coriander seed (you have to grind it up yourself though which is annoying
  • cinnamon sticks (for mulling wines or cider and being fancy)
  • vanilla beans (if you like strong vanilla flavor in something or are making puddings or panna cottas)
  • allspice -- pops up in baking, especially around the holidays. I think you can sub in cinnamon/nutmeg if you have to.
  • Paprika -- for chicken -- I like Penzey's Spanish a LOT. Really different.
  • Cream of tartar -- it comes up for meringues and cookies and stuff, but you won't use it much.
  • Dried sage -- you know, I just never ever use this. I'll use fresh sage on eggs. My mom uses it. I just don't.
  • Tumeric -- sortof a hippie spice. I like it for some things and it is supposed to be a superfood, really good for you.
  • Saffron -- I never ever feel the need for it. It's super expensive. Some people swear by it in rice.

What I really never use, and I mock it when I see it:

  • cinnamon sugar -- so easy to make your own it's ridiculous to buy it unless you MUST have it on hand at all times in a special shaker.
  • "italian seasoning" I just make up my own with the ones I have
  • dried parsley flakes-- dried out it doesn't add any flavor, it just adds green specks. Feh. I mean, maybe sometimes you need green specks I guess, but I don't like it, and it annoys me that it pretends like it adds something.
  • dried basil flakes -- see above. Feh again.
  • dried cilantro flakes -- see above.
  • dried lemongrass -- see above
  • dried jalapeno bits -- see above
  • dried chives -- see above
  • dried marjoram -- see above
  • dried mint -- see above (although I do like mint tea which is made from dried mint)
  • onion powder -- just use onions, people!!!!
Obviously, I spent way too much time on this. But my friends, being the dear souls that they are, put up with me. One of these friends, Allison, said if you count butter as a spice, that would be her favorite. Which led us down the road to a lively discussion of condiments, of which I am a big fan. But that's for another culinary obsessed post, isn't it? What's on your spice list? Did I forget anything?

Color me inspired. I have been reading Cold Antler farm, a blog about a city-based woman who decides it is time to make her dream come true by starting a farm. This has always been a dream of mine in some form or another, although I wouldn't say it is has been the number one fore-front topic on which I obsess. We all have our over the top obsessions, some more heroic than others (ok, mine appears to be, um, brownies), and then we have our more manageable passions and quiet dreams. And if I never live and work on a real honest to goodness farm, I'll be OK. However, I do think I've got come compost in my blood (ick?), and combined with that oh-so-trendy desire to live more greenly, I think we can make even our lives in suburban MA a little closer to the earth-based vision I hold in my head. And for the next house … who knows … Vermont or rural NH are not that far away, and Mr. Right likes the sound of both of them. Even if he's not completely convinced he loves the idea of cleaning up after chickens. But I dream of having hens scratching about in the yard and gathering still warm eggs with my family. Of trying to figure out what to do with all that extra goat's milk we are getting. Of surpluses of rhubarb and of a real root cellar.

Now that we are more or less installed in the new homestead, what steps can I take to get the place running in the right direction? First off, this is the first time I have ever been a homeOWNER which I guess is another way of saying LANDowner (which immediately makes me feel guilty in a kind of "nobody owns the land" kind of way, but you know what I mean). This is important only in that it is the first time I've ever known for pretty sure that I'd be living in one spot for more than just a year or two.

Which means, for the first time, I can plant PERENNIALS!!!! This may not be cause for celebration in your world, but in my world, there is nothing more wonderful than thinking to myself, "I'd sure like some fresh raspberries right now," and be able to go out in the garden where there are raspberry bushes begging to be picked. As opposed to going the store and feeling depressed at the tiny plasticky box with 12 moldy berries for $4. Or aspargus stalks popping up, signalling that spring really IS coming, despite the fact that April in New England can be worse than February in New England. Or … eating blackberries right off the bush at dusk in early August while they are still warm from the sun and the mosquitoes are buzzing around your ears. Sounds like heaven to me! Rosebushes! Morning glories! Fruit trees!
Of course, all these visions are even now, years off. You don't get much year one, you're not supposed to eat them while they settle into their new spots, so tells me all those to whom I've been waxing enthusiastic. But you don't get any if you never plant 'em, I say!

In addition to the most wonderful perennial lifestyle we can now adopt, there are things like composting bins and rain barrels. I really miss composting as I got pretty used to it at our last place. It cuts way down on the amount of trash output, and so it's less taking out the trash, less stinky trash in the house, free fertilizer, and all kinds of happy smug feelings when you aren't throwing away piles of beautiful rinds and peelings that you know can be put to use.
Now chickens … well … that probably isn't going to happen anytime soon. We have a shared backyard, so I'll be lucky if I can get away with composting. Someday, please forgive me for saying this, but I can't resist: the chickens will come home to roost.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Littlish Announcement

I noticed I haven't posted many photos lately. Heck, I haven't posted much of anything lately. So for those of you who are more faithful readers, I hope this is a nice post to see to reward your regular checking in. With a photo that I decidedly did NOT take, but was certainly involved in the process.

Mr. Right and I are expecting a little one. Hopefully in late June. Yay! Gulp. Yay!

PS. That's the head in side profile, tilted back. Baby is looking up, probably at my stomach, wondering what the heck it is I just ate. Sorry, baby. Gummy bears and kimchi, probably. That's about the standard right now.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Putting Down Roots in the Bath

We are settling into our new life in Melrose. Just like in any new situation, there's the honeymoon phase and then the, 'uh oh, this isn't good' phase. And we're moving through both. There hasn't been any major surprises about the house, thank goodness. We are coming to see that the previous owners weren't exactly exacting about the wonderful updates they made. (Thanks for the brand new windows that don't actually close/lock, guys!) But we are coping and planning for what needs to be done.

I have noticed a shift in myself though, a shift that makes me happy. After leaving Pittsburgh for Washington DC so many years ago (ugh, was it really 15 years?), I haven’t lived in a place that felt like I was there for the long haul. DC was great but never felt like I'd stay, then off to grad school in California which was temporary, and then to Boston. Boston somehow managed to turn into "home" in a way that Pittsburgh, DC and Santa Barbara never did. DC was just too short of a visit. And Pittsburgh and Santa Barbara both call to me and still pull me in many ways, but the call is never one that said "you're home." I always felt a little itchy while living in both towns, like I wanted more than they could offer me. It's a very personal thing, and even an unpredictable thing. I have no family in New England. No history longer than my 12 years living here. But it's where my roots are now dug into the dirt, even moreso with the addition of my local-born husband with his two local kids and his enormous local family. Yep, I'm here for a long haul in New England -- not necessarily til the end of my life -- who knows where we'll go? but for a good while.

Despite my feeling that Boston would be home, I never settled on a physical home. I've had a apartments that I loved, no make that LOVED, and I still miss. But I knew they weren't IT. Part of it, yes, I'll admit, was waiting for Mr. Right. And part of it was knowing I didn't want rent going down the drain for many more years.

Here we are then, Mr. Right and I, our first home bought together. I've been unpacking and putting away dishes and hanging things on walls I haven't seen in a decade because where was I going to put them except in my new home? So there they are on the wall, my great-grandmother's apple crisp recipe in the kitchen. The beautiful Talavera plates from Mexico I never used because I didn't have a cupboard for them. The glass grape sculpture that my grandmother saved for me because no one else wanted it (I was fascinated by it as a kid). It's a wonderful feeling that my personality is now shaping this place. To surround yourself with things from your history and family and travels is such a pleasure.

The loudest signal, however, of my newfound acceptance of the new place is a small thing. I decided to take a bath. I can't explain it; I'm not a huge bath person as showers are just easier, but every once in a while, I enjoy the warm water and quiet time. Yet if I'm not really settled into a place I have no interest in the tub. But here, in our new home, it was time. And it felt great. I guess that means I'm home.

So how about you? How do you know if you're home (or not home?)

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Resolutionary Road

And we start the new year off, the new decade. I just poked through my previous posts to see if I have ever discussed the new year resolution thing, and I was surprised to see I had not. I want to share something with you that I have found pretty helpful. The whole "I want to be nicer to whomever, or lose 50 pounds thing" just never worked for me. But somewhere along the way I picked up the habit of writing out some things I would like to accomplish in the coming year in terms of FUN things. Like one of my resolutions last year was to bike the Cape Cod Canal. Not a huge accomplishment, but for whatever reason, I got attached to it, and we made it happen this past October. And now I can consider it part of my life's adventures.

I am sucker for those life lists that you hear people working on, and I've maintained a relatively informal one in the back of my planner for the past 5 years or so. I'll try to work things from my life lists into my year list. And sometimes things that weren't on my life list appear on it once I've gone to do this because it was such a cool accomplishment that I want to make sure I treasure it.

One of the most important part of working on the goals for next year is going over what you accomplished (fun things or not) in the previous year, some of which were never on your list in the first place. It really brings a sense of closure to the year. Then you can build your next year list of fun things. 2009 was a particularly big year, with the selling of our home and the buying of a new one, as well as starting to take classes toward a potential new career. This year will probably have less ambitious goals as we settle into our new lives here in a new town. I'm fine with that too! Establishing our life in a new community will be an important goal.

Okay, I'll admit I like lists. And this may be way more life introspection than you've ever wanted. It gives me an enormous sense of satisfaction. It doesn't have to be something you do on your own if that doesn't appeal to you. For the past few years, Mr. Right and I have been setting aside an evening to work on our individual lists and share them, and we even create a few shared goals (ie have a dinner party, cook a special meal (we thought about goose) take the kids on a family vacation, etc.) It does help us figure out our priorities for the year -- it was an impetus for our trip to DC in the summer with the kids. Ugh, I hope that doesn't sound like we are these fabulously organized planners of our lives. Not in the least. But we enjoy doing this together, and it does work for us. Don't knock it till you've tried it!

I'll try to get some of my lists posted up in a side column here.
So what are you proud of that happened in 2009? And what are three fun things you'd like to do this year? I'd love to hear if you want to share.