Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What I Love: Browned Butter Brownies

First things first: don't forget to bid at the online bakesale Wednesday March 30th, to benefit Second Harvest Japan!  The sale is international, so there's bound to be something that can come to your mailbox!

As I've been thinking about the direction this blog, and my future, will take, I've been taking stock of what I love.  And since Audrey sent me a Stylish Blogger Award (Thank you, Audrey!  Though anyone who knows me in real life will probably laugh out loud at the idea that I'm stylish ... by most people's definitions I am anything but), which means I have to list some number of things about myself, maybe I'll take this opportunity to enumerate some of those loves (not counting family, of course, which is a given).

1: Writing.  Having a blog has reminded me just how much I like to write.  Some people have suggested that I'm actually good at it: once upon a time, I actually won a prize or two.  I'm less sure I have talent, and this blog is admittedly not great writing (there are much better bloggers and writers out there who actually read my blog, much to my embarrassment ... you know who you are, and I am humbled by your presence here), but having a project has given me a (semi)regular schedule for producing something, which I never had before, other than my dissertation, and let's not talk about that, shall we?

2: Food.  In case it's not obvious, I am a foodie, par excellence.  It's beyond mere appreciation.  I will spend hours gaping at pictures on foodgawker.  I plan day trips to bakeries and specialty food stores for tastings.  A good day for me is a day when I get to wander the aisles at Whole Paycheck Foods and our local farmer's market.  For two months I subscribed to the Foodzie tasting box, and though I cancelled it, I am dropping not-so-subtle hints to my friends and relatives that a subscription would make an ideal birthday gift.
    2a: Chocolate.  But it's not just that I like to eat chocolate.  I like delicate tastes and textures, discerning the differences between varietals, pairing it with things like lavender and chile and cardamom.  Did you know that you can order a chocolate bar with whatever you want on it?  I have not yet done this, but it's not out of the realm of possibility.
3: Yoga.  OK, this is related to none of the above.  And I don't even have a regular home practice to speak of, so I probably shouldn't count it.  But I know that I love the spiritual space I find when I'm in a yoga class, and I love the sangha at the studio where I currently practice when I can get away (which, sadly, has not been at all since N. was born).

4: Problem-Solving.  I think that the reason I left my first graduate program and decided to become an administrator instead of a faculty member was because I wanted to help people in a more immediate way, cliche as that sounds.  I had thought, years ago, I'd become a psychologist, but that was a no-go for my parents (not to mention that I am not the most tactful person ... a therapist probably shouldn't say something like "pull yourself together, man!" which I, in an unsympathetic moment, very well might). Still, I ended up  problem solving for people, anyway.  I've also liked problem-solving for community organizations.  I'm good at being my own boss, setting my own deadlines, and figuring out how to do something in the most efficient way.  In fact, come to think of it, I get pretty ticked off if someone interferes or thinks their way is better.  S. can attest to this character flaw.

5: Sustainable Living.  This has become sort of a mini-obsession for me.  What can I recycle?  How can I live more greenly?  How can I support local farmers?  How can I bring others to the dark side?  (Muahahaha.)

So all of this adds up to ... what?  Food blogger for a green soup kitchen?

I'll have something more thoughtful and useful to say next time, I promise.

The Stylish Blogger award requires that I share the love by passing on the award to 10+ other bloggers.  I will list a few new ones here, as I usually do, with the note that they need not feel obliged to enumerate loves or even pass on the award unless they feel moved to do so ... rather, I'd like them to go comment on a new blog today and pass it on way, instead.  I will also share a recipe for something covering my loves 1 through 2a, which I made today in preparation for a visit tomorrow from a sweets-loving former neighbor.  No culinary lavender required, and they are incredibly moist and fudgy, especially for a recipe that uses cocoa powder instead of chocolate.  I don't think I've ever made browned butter before for a dessert base, but it seems to be all the rage these days in the food blogger community.  I hope you love them (the blogs and the brownies), too.

Stumbling Gracefully   AFM   A Moment 2 Think
Lauren vs. the World   Love Life Project   One Year Down, 2 Years Left ...
Sparkling Ink   Three Is A Magic Number    Too Many Fish

Browned Butter Brownies
Adapted from Bon Appetit, February 2011, recipe by Alice Medrich

1 1/4 stick unsalted butter (10 tbsps) cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. cocoa powder
1 t. pure vanilla extract
1/2 t. sea salt
2 large eggs (I beat them first)
1/3 c. plus 1 T. flour
1 c. pecans, chopped (optional) or orange zest (I added about 2 t. dried)
Extra sea salt for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 325 F, and line the inside of an 8x8 square baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving 2-inch overhangs and pressing the foil tightly to the sides of the pan. (If you like, spray the aluminum foil with non-stick cooking spray, though I didn't find this necessary, and it meant that some of the brownie stuck to the foil, which I could scrape off later and eat.  Yum.)

In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat, stirring often. The butter will first melt, then foam, then form more clear bubbles. Once the butter has only bubbles (and no foam) and there are browned bits at the bottom of the pan, remove the butter from the heat.  (This step requires patience.  Cultivate it.)  Stir in the sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla extract, salt, and 2 teaspoons water. Let the mixture sit for about 4-5 minutes to cool, then mix in the eggs one at a time, beating quickly after each addition. Once the chocolate mixture looks relatively smooth, mix in the flour, and then beat well for a few minutes. Mix in the chopped nuts (or whatever else you decide to add), and transfer to the prepared pan, smoothing the top before baking.

Bake for about 30 minutes or more, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean - if there is still a tiny bit of moist batter at the very bottom that is ok. Remove the brownies from the oven and cool completely on a cooling rack. Once cool, remove the brownies from the pan using the aluminum foil overhangs; peel the foil away and cut as you like. Eat immediately or store in an airtight container.
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Monday, March 28, 2011

Food in the Mail: Online Bake Sale for Japan

When I was a kid, I loved to get things in the mail.  There was a wonderful book called Free Stuff for Kids that I checked out of the library countless times, just so I could ensure a constant stream of packages and envelopes to our house.  Since then, partly due to the explosion of the internet (gee, I am getting old) the U.S. Postal Service has seen a downturn in people sending things other than bills and junk mail, and I think it's a damn shame.

So I try to make up for it by sending food in the mail.  Some of you know this first hand ... and while I know there's no guarantee that everything arrives intact as it leaves my kitchen, at least I'm keeping the post office in business.  I especially like to send food to people when they're feeling under the weather, or when there's a crisis that leaves them less able to cope in the kitchen.  Now there's an important cause that requires our attention.

A fellow blogger at The Tomato Tart came up with a cool idea to raise a little “dough” for a good cause through a virtual online bake sale. All of the proceeds will go to Second Harvest Japan, which is an organization that makes sure perfectly good food that can’t be sold through mainstream stores in Japan make it to the people who need it. (Take a look at this little video from CNN if you’d like to learn more about the organization.) I am one of the many food bloggers participating in the bake sale, and I'll be sending the lucky winner 9x13 inches of my amazingly buttery, nutty (only if you want them that way), chocolatey blondies!  Bidding will go live on March 30th for one day only. There's a little article in SF weekly about the sale ... I hope you'll check it out and bid on some amazing baked goods, for a good cause!  Go to The Tomato Tart now!
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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Minestrone di Verdura

Yesterday, I was on top of the world.  I went to work for a Senate meeting with N. in tow and returned with both of our sanities intact, put both kids to bed with minimal crying, did the laundry, ran and emptied the dishwasher, emptied the compost, and started beans soaking for a soup.

But honestly, more often lately, I've been feeling like I suck at motherhood.  I read other mom bloggers that seem to be having such an amazing time with their newborns, and wonder what's wrong with me.  I'm not cooing at my infant while she nurses; I'm typing one handed on my computer.  Am I supposed to be talking to her?  The other day, she was crying, I had exhausted all possible options and was not willing to feed her again (she had just fallen off minutes ago), and I went about doing laundry, crying infant on my shoulder.  Is this heartless?  And then there's I., whom I feel like I don't pay enough attention to, either ... I want to pay attention to him, but I can't make my brain function to play pretend with him, and I sometimes find myself wanting to turn him off ... to turn everyone off and have a minute to myself.  I don't think I have postpartum depression, but boy, it's easy to get down on myself these days.

And then there's the limbo I mentioned in my last post.  Dressing up in my pantsuit made me feel productive, and yet a part of me longed for my comfortable baggy sweatpants.  I wish things felt less complicated.

A friend of mine (my former boss) sent me a cookbook recently.  It's a cookbook that I coveted once when I was visiting her house for dinner, full of simple soups from a Benedictine monk in a monastery in upstate New York. Most of the recipes are vegetarian, and all of them are unfussy and easy to throw together.

I cook for comfort, and simple monastery soups sound pretty appealing right now.  The book is divided by month, with attention to seasonal ingredients, and I think I'll try making one per week; we are joining a CSA again this summer (a different one from last year, which starts a little later and includes fruit), and these soups will be a good way to use our weekly share.  Here's to simplicity, one week at a time.

Minestrone di Verdura

2/3 c. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, sliced
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 15 oz. can cannellini beans
1 15 oz. can peeled tomatoes
10 c. water
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
1 small head of radicchio or escarole, chopped
1 c. white wine
1 bay leaf
chopped parsley
salt and pepper, to taste
grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Gently saute the onion, carrots and celery stalks for about 5 minutes. Add the beans and tomatoes and continue sauteing for 2 more minutes.

Add water and bring the soup to a boil. Add the diced potatoes, radicchio, wine, bay leaf, parsley, salt and pepper. Cover the pot an simmer the soup for 60 minutes. Turn off the heat ans let the soup stand for 15 minutes. Remove the bay leaf. Serve hot. Grated cheese may be sprinkled on top of each serving.
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Thursday, March 24, 2011

In Between: Lavender Shortbread

In case you don't live in my part of the world, let me give you a visual:

Yes, that's snow.  Those are crocuses.  The crocuses were there first, and the snow came later.  Mother nature can't decide, it seems.  (Sort of like me these days, I guess, in between places professionally, personally, blogally ...) My son had a delayed opening yesterday.  Really? I thought, when the phone rang at 5am.  Then I thought something much less printable in polite conversation.

Winter weather means that N. and I are cooped up.  Short of going to the mall (which is pretty unappealing to me--this will probably be unfortunate for my daughter when she reaches her teenage years), there aren't many places one can go walk with the baby when there's pea-sized hail coming down.  And the bad thing about being cooped up is that I eat.  My oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, for example.  I think I ate about ten of them last night.  (No, I have not a modicum of self-control, thanks for asking.  I was thinking I might just finish the whole tub of them.  And then I will complain that I am gaining weight, refusing to acknowledge the irony here.)

The good thing about being cooped up (related to the bad thing, come to think of it) is that I bake.

My mother in law was visiting this past weekend, and I wanted to make something for dessert that would impress her (though she is pretty easily impressed; rice krispie treats would likely also have bowled her over).  I didn't want to spend too much time fussing over it, because I knew we'd also be making breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.  And I wanted something that would taste like spring.  And I so enjoyed using my culinary lavender when I made lavender cupcakes that I had to do it again.  (This picture was taken before the snow, in case you were wondering.  We actually had green grass for a bit there.)

These lavender shortbread are something new and beautiful, a little bit different.  I think I like these even better than the cupcakes; they're more subtle, and they really do taste like spring.  Here's to getting out of limbo.

Lavender Shortbread

1/2 c. unsalted butter
1/3 c. superfine sugar
1 c. flour
1 t. dried edible lavender or 2 T. of fresh - roughly chopped
1/2 t. vanilla

Preheat oven to 325 F and grease a large baking sheet or prepare your shortbread pan.

Cream together the butter and sugar till pale and fluffy. Stir in the flour and lavender and bring together in a soft ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface. Using a pretty cutter, stamp out biscuits re-rolling the scraps when necessary. (Or: use a shortbread pan like I did, and press the dough into the pan.). Place on the baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven for around 30 minutes or until lightly golden.

Cool for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.  Once cooled, you might want to dip them in lavender chocolate. Enjoy with a cup of earl grey tea.
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Sunday, March 20, 2011

On Caring (and Blogging), Part II: Rosemary Flatbread

One of my favorite bloggers had a great post not long ago about the keys to successful blogging, and as we open ICLW week, (that's I Come Leave We for the uninitiated: a commenting love-fest sponsored by Melissa Ford) I think it's worth recapping.  She says that first, you have to "need your space."  I've needed this space from the beginning, even though this blog has been about lots of things: infertility and loss, cooking, yoga, work.  My "about me" blurb is actually quite accurate, even given all of the changes this blog has seen in its short life: "professional, mother, wife, and seeker of balance, wondering 'What is it [I] plan to do with [my] one wild and precious life?'"  Writing has been a way for me to continue to sort these things out.

Then, she says, you also have to write good content, and be an active part of a community.  The "good content" bit is probably questionable (though who doesn't like looking at pictures of chocolate covered strawberries? more about those in a minute ... if you follow my blog, you'll find that I write a lot about food; this is sort of like my virtual kitchen).  And then, there's the community aspect: one of the things I have loved about this journey so far is getting to know other bloggers, commenting and having others comment on my thoughts.  I think blogging is teaching me about empathy.  And maybe that's it; I'm hoping that by writing through my journey, that others will be able to help me along the way, and that maybe what I write will touch someone and help them along theirs.

I've written before about caring, and I've enjoyed the support of the blogging community for a year now, as I've posted about loss, infertility, search for career identity, pregnancy, and birth of my second child just a little over a month ago.  And because I think that community and food go well together, in honor of ICLW, I'd like to share two treats with you that two friends brought (one of which comes with a recipe) us during the past month, when cooking meals has been challenging at best.  The strawberries came courtesy of my friend R. from work who visited the other day; it was wonderful to see her, and talking with her in a setting far from our workplace made me wish that I'd known her better years ago, but also thankful that I know her now.  I've always thought that she is amazing.  Now I have even more reasons to think so.  (And no, not just because she made chocolate covered strawberries, either.)

The second treat is a rosemary flatbread that one of our friends brought with some amazing risotto and a salad, a meal that made our first weeks with a newborn a little bit more sane.  R. said she was looking for a cracker recipe, so I thought it only fitting that I publish this pictures and recipe along with her strawberries.  It will go well with spring salads that may grace your own plates soon.

So welcome to the table, friends.  Let's break bread.  I hope you'll stay for dinner, and for much longer.


Rosemary Flatbread

1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary plus 2 (6-inch) sprigs
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup olive oil plus more for brushing
Flaky sea salt

Preheat oven to 450°F with a heavy baking sheet on rack in middle.

Stir together flour, chopped rosemary, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Make a well in center, then add water and oil and gradually stir into flour with a wooden spoon until a dough forms. Knead dough gently on a work surface 4 or 5 times.

Divide dough into 3 pieces and roll out 1 piece (keep remaining pieces covered with plastic wrap) on a sheet of parchment paper into a 10-inch round (shape can be rustic; dough should be thin).

Lightly brush top with additional oil and scatter small clusters of rosemary leaves on top, pressing in slightly. Sprinkle with sea salt. Slide round (still on parchment) onto preheated baking sheet and bake until pale golden and browned in spots, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer flatbread (discard parchment) to a rack to cool, then make 2 more rounds (1 at a time) on fresh parchment (do not oil or salt until just before baking). Break into pieces.

Flatbread can be made 2 days ahead and cooled completely, then kept in an airtight container at room temperature.
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Friday, March 18, 2011

For Japan With Love

Today is the Blogger’s Day of Silence, organized by Ever Ours and Utterly Engaged.

Please donate, it's easy.

via Megan Joplin Photography

Other ways to donate: 20x200 and Life Support Japan.

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

For the Soul and the Body: Ginger Chicken Soup

We've all been a little under the weather here lately.  I. brings home germs from school, so despite our "newborn quarantine," we've had the full gamut of the standard winter cold: sore throat, hacking cough, postnasal drip, stuffy nose (we had the stomach virus going around quite some time ago, too; at least we seem to have escaped Scarlet Fever, which made an appearance at I.'s school).  Luckily, S. had the foresight to make a batch of chicken soup and freeze it before N. was born.

Chicken soup happens to be one of the few things on which S. and I fundamentally disagree.  He likes it, I could take it or leave it.  He prefers it as a stew (chock full of egg noodles and parsnips and carrots and dark chicken bits), and I prefer it as a thin broth (flavored with things like scallions and garlic).  He prefers it speedily pressure cooked, I prefer it simmered for hours.  When he was considering making one to freeze, he thumbed through some our recipe books in the interest of compromise, and ended up with a more Asian variation on the usual theme.  It was a nice gesture.

In general, S. is a pretty thoughtful husband, even if he doesn't read my mind as well as I wish he would.  But I miss being a couple sometimes.  I wouldn't trade having children for anything.  I am completely smitten with my adorable four year old son, and I suspect that the same will happen with N.  But there was a time when I used to talk with S. for hours on the phone.  When we would go hiking together, or go out to dinner and gaze at the candlelight in each others' eyes.  When kissing him took my breath away.  Now, even before N. arrived, there is so much to do that we forget to do those other things; we're sort of in survival mode.  I just hope that eventually, when the smoke clears, we will remember again.  Esperanza wrote recently about the importance of remembering now; perhaps, even if it's not candlelight dinners, we can begin to carve out time that is ours, and that doesn't involve us both typing away on our computers, in our own little worlds, less than five feet away from each other, in the few stolen moments between feedings and diaperings and naps and Legos and bath supervision.  I think the same applies even if you don't have children; to me, infertility treatments seem about as draining on a relationship as having a newborn.

In the meantime, there is chicken soup.  For the body and soul.

Homey Ginger Chicken Soup

9 c. water
1 whole 3- to 3½ pound chicken, fat trimmed and cut into 10 or 12 pieces
1 c. rice wine or sake
6 slices fresh ginger, each the size of a quarter, smashed lightly with the flat side of a knife
6 whole scallions, ends trimmed, smashed lightly with the flat side of a knife
1 small head Chinese cabbage (preferably Napa) (about 1½ lbs.)
1 t. canola or corn oil
6 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed lightly with the flat side of a knife
2 T. additional rice wine or sake
½ lb. fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems trimmed, and cut into quarters
2 oz. bean threads (cellophane noodles), softened in hot water to cover (if unavailable, substitute 1/3 lb. thin rice noodles or vermicelli, softened in warm water to cover)
2 T. salt
more fresh scallions (optional)

Prepare the Classic Chicken Broth by putting the water with the chicken, rice wine or sake, ginger slices, and scallions in a large pot and bringing to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered for 1½ hours . Remove the chicken pieces and skim the broth to remove any impurities.

Using a sharp knife, cut away the stem of the cabbage and discard. Cut the cabbage in half and cut the leaves into 2-inch squares, separating the leafy sections from the tough ones. Place the cabbage sections in a bowl. Set by the stove with the shiitake mushrooms.

Heat a Dutch oven or casserole, add the oil, and heat until very hot. Add the garlic cloves and the harder sections of the cabbage and stir-fry over high heat about 1 minute. Add the rice wine or sake, cover, and continue cooking about 5 minutes, until tender. Add the leafier sections, the shiitake mushrooms, and the chicken broth, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer 20 minutes uncovered.

Drain the bean threads and cut them into 4-inch lengths. Add them to the soup and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Return the chicken pieces to the soup and stir in the salt. Ladle into soup bowls and serve. I think this would be even better with some fresh scallions cut in at the end.
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Saturday, March 12, 2011

We Must Increase Our Bust: Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

Remember Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret?  The book my mother read before she let me read it (I read it clandestinely in the library anyway)?  That book told me more than anyone else ever had, up to that point, about my body.  It was also hilarious, in the way fourth grade could be:
    “If you ever want to get out of those baby bras you have to exercise,” she told us. 
    “What kind of exercise?” Gretchen asked. 
    “Like this,” Nancy said. She made fists, bent her arms at the elbow and moved them back and forth, sticking her chest way out. She said, “I must — I must — I must increase my bust.” She said it over and over. We copied her movements and chanted with her. “We must – we must – we must increase our bust!” “Good,” Nancy told us. “Do it thirty-five times a day and I promise you’ll see the results.”
Ah, Margaret.  Ah, Nancy.  If only there were a companion book for the infertile woman, the pregnant woman, and -- where I am now -- the breastfeeding mother.  No one ever tells you, for example, that your child who latches perfectly at the hospital will develop a lazy lower lip and begin to knaw, inexplicably, on your boob.  Or that fenugreek tea, which you are drinking to ensure a good milk supply since you are older, you know, can actually be bad for hypothyroid patients like yourself because fenugreek affects  thyroid levels.  You look wistfully at the box of Mother's Milk tea you just bought (your fourth or fifth box so far, you can't recall--you've been drinking three cups a day religiously since you got home from the hospital), and wonder, now what?  You're eating oatmeal every morning ... how else can you beat back those demons of lactation insecurity?  I must increase my bust, you think.

Enter: the oatmeal cookie.  With flaxseed.  And brewer's yeast.  How often are you told that you should eat cookies for health reasons?

They may not be quite as effective as fenugreek, but I think I will be sending some of these to some very lucky nursing moms I know.  You can also make them if you're not nursing; they're really, really good; I know some men who eat them by the dozen.  You can pretend you're making them for a new mom, and snag a few dozen for yourself.  No one will be the wiser.  And as an added bonus, if you're not pregnant, you can eat the raw dough.

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies for Nursing Moms, Friends, and Anyone Else

1 c. coconut oil (or Olivio)
1 1/4 c. coconut palm sugar
3/4 c. sucanat
4 T. water
2 T. flaxseed meal (found at health food stores; alternatively, get whole flaxseeds and grind them in a small Cuisinart or blender before using)
2 large eggs (using eggs with omega is beneficial, but not required)
1 1/4 t. vanilla
2 c. flour (whole wheat is best, but half and half is fine)
1 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1/4 c. brewer's yeast (NOT nutritional yeast; found in health food stores)
3 c. oats, thick cut work best
1 1/4 c. or more bittersweet (60% cocoa or more) chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix flaxseed meal with water and set aside.

Beat butter and sugars well.  Beat in the eggs.  Beat in flaxseed mix and vanilla. Sift together the flour, brewer's yeast, salt and baking soda, and add to butter mix. Beat well. Stir in oats and chips.

Drop by rounded tablespoons onto baking sheet an inch apart; bake for 12-15 minutes.  I found that just shy of 12 was perfect, and they continued to bake just a bit while cooling, but stayed nice and chewy.  I have yet to have anything useful to say about how they stay, though, because I keep eating them as they come out of the oven.
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Thursday, March 10, 2011

She's Baa-ack: Lavender Cupcakes with Honey Lavender Frosting

Today is one of those days when I confess I am remembering why I go to work. It's been raining since last night, and so we haven't gone anywhere. A friend from work who was supposed to visit had to cancel.  My other friend ended up not being able to meet for coffee.  I considered making a trip to my favorite ice cream store, but thought better about it once I realized I'd have to cross roads that are perpetually flooded to get there.  And my hair salon couldn't fit me in for a haircut (which I have not had for over six months) during N's "naptime."  N. has been refusing to sleep except on my shoulder, and sometimes even crying when she's on my shoulder, because it's not comfortable enough for her to fall asleep (no kidding, girlie).  We had been walking around the house like zombies since about 7:30 a.m., and as much as I love my daughter, the end of the day couldn't come soon enough.  I don't know how those of you who are stay at home moms do it; my hat's off to you amazing women.

I am yearning for spring, for consistent better weather, and for a time when N. figures out how to take naps instead of getting mad at the world for interfering with her ability to go to sleep.

In the middle of my frustration, I remembered a little canister of culinary lavender that I'd been given by my husband's friend and coworker.  We had been talking about cupcakes over a batch of pistachio rosewater cupcakes that I'd made over the summer, and they had been encouraging me to start a business from my cupcake-making hobby.  We were dreaming up flavors together, and the natural extrapolation from rosewater was lavender.  I had complained that I wanted to try lavender cupcakes but hadn't been able to find culinary lavender.  Some time later, in late fall, my husband brought home a small package from them, containing the most wonderful-smelling delicate lavender flowers.  Today was a good day, I decided, to make lavender cupcakes. It's been a while since I've baked anything fancy, and perhaps I needed to taste spring.  And after all, didn't you start reading this blog for the cupcakes?

I happened to have self-rising flour, which I used in place of the flour/baking powder/salt, but you can use the separate ingredients; just sift them together before you add them to the batter.  Though I can't do a damn thing about sleep training, hopefully if we bake some of these, spring will come faster.  Right?

Lavender Cupcakes

1/2 c., granulated sugar
1/4 t. dried lavender flowers
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 eggs
1 c. flour
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
2 T. milk

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Put the sugar and the lavender flowers in a food processor and process briefly to combine. Tip the lavender sugar into a bowl with the butter and beat together until pale and fluffy.

Beat the eggs into the butter mixture, one at a time, then sift in the dry ingredients and fold in. Stir in the milk.

Spoon the mixture into the paper liners. Bake in the preheated oven for about 18 minutes, until risen and golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Honey Lavender Frosting

2/3 c. cream cheese, softened
3 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/3 c. confectioner's sugar, sifted
2 T. honey
red and blue food coloring (optional)
Choose one or both:
1-2 t. dried lavender flowers, ground
1-2 t. dried lavender flowers, whole

Beat the cream cheese, butter, and confectioner's sugar in a medium bowl with an electric mixer, until light and creamy. Beat in the honey and a few drops of the food coloring. Stir in the ground lavender flowers.

Spread the frosting onto the cupcakes and sprinkle with the reserved lavender flowers.
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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Couldabeens: Sweet Potato and Squash Soup

It was a beautiful day today, our second day with no doula.  (I joked to N. on Friday, waving and watching her drive down the street as we started out on our own walk, that we'd graduated from "A.'s school of Newborn Care."  Still, I really do need lessons on babywearing.  The doula's one lesson was woefully incomplete.)  I've been trying to make myself "playdates" for March (for myself, of course, not for N.), so that I have regular adult conversation during the day.  Much as I love N., she just doesn't have much to say to me just yet, and I need words.

Yesterday a good friend came to visit, but since we were on our own today, I decided to take a drive.  I'd commented to S. that I've barely been out of the boro since N. was born, and so I thought we'd take a trip to Princeton.  It's not a terribly long drive from where we are, it's very walkable with a stroller (see above on needing more babywearing lessons), and there are lots of places to get ice cream, or rosemary bread, or cupcakes, or whatever strikes your fancy.

As we walked around town, soaking up the sun and warmer weather, it struck me that Princeton reminds me of my old aspirations to become a professor; something about the vibe there, the professors and students co-mingling off campus in the town itself, makes me think back to those graduate school days when I figured that would be my future.  I don't, for a minute, regret the choice I made, but I confess I felt a pang of nostalgia for that life, which seemed somehow intellectually glamorous in a way that the life I lead now does not, breastfeeding in the back seat of my car as I watched faculty members and undergraduates walk by swilling Starbucks, graduate students saunter past holding tattered paperbacks.  I miss my regular contact with smart, engaging, well-read people.

Graduate school was where I learned to cook.  It's not that I never cooked before, but living on my own, alone, in a city, turned the foodie in me loose.  I was impressed by my fellow graduate students who threw fancy parties with wine and elaborate finger food; I was wooed by guys who labored over the stove and produced the kind of meals that are nearly magazine-worthy.  Even on a meager budget, I found myself experimenting with new recipes, saving up during the week so that I could make something special on the weekends.  One of the things I made for the first time then was a soup very much like the one I'm posting here today, but with mushrooms sauteed in cumin and coriander added to it afterward; it was a staple in the winter.  Though I've posted winter squash soups before, each one is unique, and I like to try variations on the theme.  This particular batch was brought to us by a friend of S. from his own graduate school days, who now lives not far from us, and thought we could use another night of not having to think about dinner.  It's a wonderful way to use up the last of the winter squash, and tastes rich, even though there is no cream or butter in it.

Sweet Potato and Butternut Squash Soup

1 small onion, chopped
1 T. minced fresh ginger
1 lb. butternut squash, peeled and diced
1 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 medium-size Yukon gold or russet potato, peeled and diced<
6 c. water, chicken stock, or vegetable stock
Salt to taste

Heat the oil in a heavy soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the ginger and stir together until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the squash, sweet potatoes, regular potato, and water or stock, and bring to a simmer. Add salt to taste, reduce the heat, cover and simmer 45 minutes, or until all of the ingredients are thoroughly tender.

Using an immersion blender, puree the soup (or you can put it through the fine blade of a food mill or use a regular blender, working in batches and placing a kitchen towel over the top to avoid splashing). Return to the pot and stir with a whisk to even out the texture. Heat through, adjust salt and add pepper to taste.

You can make this a day ahead and refrigerate. Reheat gently. The soup freezes well. Once thawed, whisk well to smooth out the texture, and reheat.
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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Mixed Blessings: Dal

A lot of my fellow bloggers have posted about the complicated feelings about pregnancy, birth, and parenting after loss and infertility.  I've had ample time to think about this recently, and wanted to weigh in on the subject myself.

My pregnancy, while not difficult by any measure, was not exactly a picnic, either.  I was sick and dog-tired for the first trimester, sick in the second trimester, and sick in the third trimester.  I had leg cramps and pelvic cramps, especially towards the end.  N. had her foot wedged well into my ribs.  And of course there was the psychic drama every time I fell down, or felt a weird twinge in my abdomen, or was kicked by my son, or mistakenly ate yogurt that was just past its expiration date.  This last bit was probably the worst part of it; I couldn't shake the thought, up until the very end, that I might not end up with a live baby.  Once you've lost a pregnancy, I suspect at any stage, and know others who have lost pregnancies and babies at later stages, it's hard not to listen to the voices of caution.  You want to be happy, but your happiness is muted by the fear of loss; you try hard not to connect, even as you want to and desperately need to connect.

Those of us lucky enough to give birth to a live baby revel in that blessing.  But honestly, the first few months of a baby's life are not easy for parents, either, and I would like to say that I think it's OK to feel frustrated, and dog-tired, and even a little sad, at the same time that you're feeling blessed that this child arrived safely.  I didn't love the work of the first three months the first time around, and I confess, I'm not loving every minute of the work right now, either.  Breastfeeding, especially, and being the milk machine at the All Day Cafe, involves constant learning and infinite patience.  Your child may latch well, and then decide that she's feeling lazy and would rather slurp at your breast than work hard to empty it.  You get showered and dressed in the morning, but you are reluctant to put in your contact lenses because you would really just rather sleep.  At three a.m., you are ticked off, because you are supposed to wake up and feed the baby, but the baby wants to sleep, and the pediatrician has told you to wake the baby for the first few weeks (silly pediatrician).  You feel exhausted by the endless piles of laundry.  You would really like a little bit of "cute awake baby" time to assure you that yes, your lack of sleep and the constant feeding are worth it.  You are frustrated that your child fights sleep like nobody's business, and you feel like a failure when she winds up screaming in your arms because she is overtired, despite your best efforts to help her to sleep when she starts yawning (you try every comfort measure in the book), every time she needs to rest during the day.  You may even be a little upset that this life event may have changed everything for you, including possibly your career, leaving you without a job at the place where you've worked twelve years to build a future for yourself.

None of this makes you any less happy that you have a baby, or means that you love your child any less.  You are entitled to feel just like any new parent feels, even parents who are parenting a newborn for the second, or third, or even fourth time around.

S. made this before I gave birth and froze it.  I am blogging it today because curry is typically a mixture of spices, just like having a newborn entails a mixture of feelings.  Like having a baby, the mixture doesn't make it any less delicious.


1 carrot, chopped
1 T. minced ginger
2 c. yellow/red lentils
8 c. water
5 green onions
2 T. curry powder
1 c. raisins
1 more T. minced ginger
1/4 c. tomato paste
1 can coconut milk
1 t. salt
1 T. honey
dash cinnamon

Combine carrot, ginger, lentils, and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about half an hour, until tender.

Sauté green onions in a little oil for about 2 minutes with  curry powder, raisins, and additional minced ginger.

Add tomato paste, then add to the lentil mixture along with coconut milk and salt, or to taste.  Add honey and cinnamon to taste.

Let simmer for another 20 minutes, and you're done!  Serve with naan or basmati rice and Greek yogurt.
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