Sunday, September 15, 2013

Reason #4,031 that I love my husband

Earlier today I was feeling a bit blue. It's a week to the day before my birthday and this time of year always gets me a bit down thinking about and missing my mom. As an only child, the sun rose and set on my birthday for my mom (and for me, if I'm being honest, for most of my life). It was an event and celebrated at home (usually just her and me), then later with my dad, with my mom's family, and as I got older with friends too. Every year on my birthday my mom would tell me The Birthday Story which was the story of my birth in the hosptial from the moment her water broke until the moment I was born. Even when I was in my 20s and no longer lived with her, it was our tradition that she would call me and tell me the story. As the years went on she added newer, funnier, and sweeter details. I meant for the longest time to write it down after she died but did not. Now it's been 11 years since I've heard The Birthday Story and it is getting pretty fuzzy in my mind. This year, on my birthday, I plan to write down as much as I can remember (clearly I'm not getting any younger and my memory not any sharper-ha).

So back to my wonderful husband...All of this pre-birthday sad blah feeling is just kind of riding along with me all day. This morning was particularly chaotic with FB starting to scale everything in sight (he's 13 months) and E cantankerous because he missed a nap. So I was feeling tired and blue and overwhelmed scheduling travel for my crazy job (that I love, but that sucks the life out of me sometimes). On top of that I am really missing my girls-my dearest friends (both female and male) and feeling really disconnected from the life I used to have.

There I was, stuck in this gloomy place in that particular moment, when I looked over and the light caught M's face. Well, actually he was standing over the sink getting a glass of water and turned and gave me a sweet smile for no reason other than he's my sweet hubby. With no warning and a bit out of nowhere, I started spontaneously singing "I got you Babe" and grabbed him and leaned close. After the first verse (yes, I take it seriously when I sing):

"They say we're young, and we don't know
Won't find out until we grow
I don't know if all that's true
But you got me and baby, I got you"

If you know the song, you know what comes next is the first "Babe." Then "I got you, Babe." So when it comes time for that first line of the chorus M chimes in with what I can only describe as a gorilla voice with the first "Babe." I went with it and we sang the chorus together and whirled around the kitchen for a moment. Then I ran to pick FB off the chair he had climbed onto since he was about to fall over and hit the ground from at least 3 feet.

The sweetest part of this whole thing is that M is not a Sonny and Cher fan. Nor a fan of any oldies-esque music (except maybe the Iggy Pop and The Sex Pistols). He is a metal guy and tolerates my love for cheesy (mostly 70s) love songs with a mild disdain. But he knew I needed a moment, and he joined me without hesitation...which surprised me...which made me laugh a bit...which reminded me that I am super lucky to have a great partner and best friend. He makes my dark moments brighter, even and especially when we dance badly in the kitchen while our home continues on it's chaotic journey around us.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Honey, I baked you a cake

I am bursting with pride for my wonderful hubby, M. After taking two grueling 8-hour exams over a six month time frame, he now has his professional license in our state...the highest honor for his field. I wanted to mark the occasion by making something special for our family to eat together. On hand I had some amazing organic North Carolina strawberries from the Farmer's Market. M is not really into traditional cake so I tried to come up with a creative and delicious dessert. I wanted some kind of shortcake or parfait so decided to make a strawberry cake and serve it topped with homemade vanilla pudding.

The pudding needed to chill for a couple of hours so I made it first. In the past, my homemade pudding was not terribly successful so I didn't have really high hopes for this one. I was pleasantly surprised...the recipe from Tasty Kitchen was easy and it turned out great! There's nothing like the smell of homemade pudding on the stove. It reminds me of making pudding with my Gram as a little girl.

Pudding done, I washed and hulled the organic strawberries. I found this recipe for a simple strawberry cake and decided to give it a whirl. First you simmer the chopped strawberries with cornstarch, lemon juice, and sugar:

And pour them over a simple batter made with lots of butter (!).

Bake at 375 for about 30 minutes and voilà!

I served the cake warm with the chilled vanilla pudding on top. Delish! A seasonal homemade treat - filled with love for my family, my amazing husband, and the life we have built together.

Homemade Vanilla Pudding
Adapted from Homemade Vanilla Pudding and Strawberry Trifle by Cook, Bake, and Decorate

3 Tablespoons cornstarch
½ cups organic cane sugar
⅛ teaspoons sea salt, finely ground
3 cups whole milk (I used our yummy Homeland Creamery milk)
3 whole egg yolks (local, free range)
1 teaspoon organic vanilla
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

Combine the first 5 pudding ingredients together in a large saucepan and whisk over medium heat. Whisk consistently bringing the pudding to a boil and boiling for 2 minutes (the pudding will begin to thicken at this point). Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla and butter. Cool the pudding in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Strawberry Cake
Adapted from Strawberry Pudding Cake by

unsalted butter for greasing the pan
1/3 cup organic cane sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 cups sliced fresh organic strawberries, hulls removed
1 cup organic all-purpose flour (we get flour from NC's own Lindley Mills)
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon organic sea salt, finely ground
1/4 cup organic cane sugar
1 large egg (local, free range)
1/2 cup whole milk
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon organic vanilla

Put the oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 375F. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan. In a small saucepan combine the 1/3 cup sugar with the water, lemon juice and cornstarch. Stir to combine then add the berries. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, then continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder, salt and remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Whisk to combine.
In a large bowl combine the egg, milk, softened butter and vanilla. Combine until well mixed then add the flour mixture, whisking only until combined. Spoon the batter into the prepared baking dish, spreading it out evenly. Pour the berry mixture evenly over the batter. (Note: berries will sink into batter.)

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center portion of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes before serving.

¡Buen provecho!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

On my mind today

I'm getting ready to head out on the road for work next week and hope to spend some of my time writing (especially during lonely evenings in Hampton Inns). In the meantime, here are some of the things on my mind:

Blueprints for Building Better Girls by Elissa Schappell
I caught the post-interview Q&A with author Elissa Schappell on WFAE's Charlotte Talks in early January 2013. The author was talking with a mom and discussing how the work of building better girls also applies to building better boys: teaching all children to have empathy, to be respectful, to be kind. I was hooked. I love it when I hear something or read something that makes me grin or want to pump my fist in the air because I feel so in tune with what I'm hearing or reading. As the mom of two sons, I am raising feminists. My definition of feminist refers to any person that believes women and girls deserve rights equal to those of men and boys. I bookmarked the interview to go back, have a listen and hopefully to learn something. I would also like to get Ms. Schappell's book. You can listen to the podcast here.

Milk, Cheese, and Butter - Conventional, Raw, or Organic?
We try to purchase organic groceries whenever our budget allows it. This has very rarely extended to dairy (cow's milk) products. I find the cost of conventional dairy to be pretty costly; yet I have heard from more than one friend that if you're going to buy anything organic, it should be organic dairy (which is even more costly). I also know a number of moms in Charlotte who buy raw milk and butter (not sure about cheese). It's not legal to sell unpasteurized dairy products in North Carolina but we are just ten miles from the South Carolina border where it is legal. Must investigate these options to determine if the cost is worth it in our budget. It's so easy to get overwhelmed by the job of family nutritionist but fortunately there are a ton of resources and friends to help. What's your take on dairy - conventional, raw, or organic? Why?

Key West
Need I say more? This is hands down my favorite get-a-way since my first trip in high school with my BFF to visit her uncles. M and I got married there. It was the place I went to the week after my mom died. Last week I found out a co-worker quit her job and is moving to KW for a future unknown. While this is not my chosen path, I would be lying if I didn't admit to a smidge of envy. We all have places we hold in our hearts that fill us with longing, and for me one of those is Key West. When I think of it I feel lighter, younger; like I've taken a deep breath and experienced a release. I am looking forward to heading back there in 2015 when we celebrate our 10 year anniversary.

What's on your mind today?

Friday, January 4, 2013

Pumpkin Bread Yumminess

Over the past two years or so I have become obsessed with making everything from scratch. Bread, soups, enchilada sauce, you name it...but most of all baked goods. I've also become more aware of what's in the food we eat (and therefore, what ingredients go into what I cook or bake). This shift in thinking brings with it a focus on supporting local, sustainable agriculture whenever possible and eating whole and organic foods as our (tight) budget allows.

During the holidays I really go crazy with baking and search the internet relentlessly for new recipes to try. I also scour my Gram's cookbooks for oldies but goodies. This pumpkin bread recipe, inspired by a recipe from Two Peas and Their Pod is fast becoming a fall and holiday standard in our family. I made it tonight for the fourth time in four weeks! It takes forever to bake but it will be worth it, I promise!

Cinnamon Pumpkin Bread
Adapted from Pumpkin Cinnamon Streusel Muffins by Two Peas and Their Pod

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour (more if you add more pumpkin, see below)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, finely ground
1 heaping tablespoon cinnamon, plus more for sprinkling on top
1 heaping teaspoons nutmeg
1 teaspoon flaxseeds (optional)
dash of ground cloves
dash of allspice
1 1/2 cups organic cane sugar
1/2 cup organic extra virgin coconut oil, melted
1/3 cup water
1 cup canned organic pumpkin (you can add 1/2 cup more if desired; if so add 1/4 cup more flour)
2 eggs (I use eggs from an NC farmer's co-op)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 5x10 loaf pan with coconut oil or non-stick spray. Set aside. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves, allspice, and flaxseeds if using. Set aside. In a large bowl, mix together sugar, oil, water, pumpkin, eggs, and vanilla extract until smooth and combined. Stir in the flour mixture in small batches and mix until ingredients are combined. Pour into the loaf pan and make sure the top is mostly level. Sprinkle cinnamon over the top of the raw mixture (as much as you like!). Bake for 60-75 minutes or until a knife inserted comes out clean. Remove pan from oven and cool on a wire rack. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

I'm being followed by a moonshadow

Tonight when E was ready for bed, he reached up to me and said "I need to be rocked for a little bit." Whenever he asks this of me (not too often, these days) I do it. I gather my first born in my arms and try to tilt him and rock him like a baby. This is increasingly awkward since he's twice as long as the tiny baby he once was (sigh). E turned three last week and I know these moments will happen less day by day: too soon he won't want me to hold him in my arms and sway gently across his bedroom floor. Tonight he asked for a song, too. "Sing 'followed by moonshadow' mommy." I love singing this beautiful Cat Stevens song to him; for a spring and a summer (over 15 years ago) I sang it every night to my best friend's son and daughter. Back then I imagined one day I could sing it to my own children, and now I do.

Singing quietly to E, I grieve a little as I look down at him. This is my moonshadow. It's the shadow of him growing up before I'm ready; of me growing old; of losing him's always chasing me. While these thoughts flit through my head I stop and take a deep breath, and give myself a mental shake. I step back in the moment. This perfectly wondrous moment. Soaking up the beauty of my sweet boy. Gazing at his long lashes resting on his cheek. I am thankful for this amazing, precious gift I am holding in my arms and in my heart. E reminds me just to be. Present. In the moment. For this (and him) I am so grateful.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Developing a new habit (or re-constructing an old one)

Habit. A word rife with meaning. For many of my younger years (read: under 30), I associated habit with something bad, or something I was ashamed of, or what I considered to be the darker parts of me. I had a smoking habit for over 15 years. I had a habit of dating undesirable men. Well, I found them desirable, but they were lacking, shall we say, a certain substance. Or maybe the problem was too many substances...but I digress. I never could develop the habit of working out on a regular basis, because I was too too busy to waste my time on something like taking care of myself (ok, that's still an issue). However, for several years, I had a really good habit: writing. I loved to write and used to do so willingly (almost) every day. I carried a notebook or journal or scraps of paper to jot thoughts down when they crossed my mind: lines of prose or images that resonated and might later become a poem. I used to view the world through a writer's eyes, sharply observing, hearing snatches of conversations that would play over and over in my head as dialogue, noticing the subtle tones in a touch or a glance.

I haven't looked through that lens in a long time. There are many reasons for this. I could spend a lot of time speculating how I ended up so far from where I started. But the goal of writing is show, not tell. I am here today, 30-ish, a mom, professional woman, wife, educated, and a supposed grown-up. Welcome to my attempt to peel back the layers of this person I have become and to find my voice again. Ack, that sounds so clichéd. It reminds me of a job interview when I was asked to compare myself to a vegetable. Caught off guard, I hemmed and hawed for a moment and blurted an onion and said something expected about layers. I read once that clichés are around because they ring true for many of us by capturing commonalities across the human experience. So it is for me. There are many tiers in my story, and I am still walking along the edge finding my way. Thanks for taking this walk with me.