Places I love: Discovery Park beach

I’m going to start posting occasional pictures of places I love. Most will be sites I regularly frequent around the Pacific Northwest, but some will highlight previous places I’ve lived or visited, including The Netherlands and Siberia.

I’m starting off with my favorite park and beach in Seattle, Discovery Park. Looking back at our pictures taken here over the years reminds me that the best outdoor toys my boys ever received were shovels.

Discovery Park

IMG_4095

Looking northwest across Puget Sound towards Bainbridge Island’s north end.

IMG_8101

Driftwood lines the beach towards West Point Lighthouse, Olympic Mountains provide the backdrop.

 

IMG_8089

A busy boating channel- freight ships, fishing boats and pleasure boats abound.

IMG_8092

The splinters are worth it.

IMG_4093

One of us looks for porpoises, orcas, eagles, osprey and harbor seals using these.

IMG_8071

If you squint hard you might notice the Space Needle, as well as Mt. Rainier’s ghost rising above where the land hits the water. Both are visible on clear days.

Salted Chocolate Rye Cookies

I have an overdue cookbook because I couldn’t let it go before getting this recipe archived. When you discover one of your favorite cookie recipes ever, the fines are definitely worth it.

I checked out the latest Tartine cookbook because I was excited that it focused on whole grains. Plus, I keep convincing myself that if I read about the process of making naturally leavened breads just one more time I’ll actually try. That has yet to happen. I remain intimidated, but increasingly intrigued. I think I’ll get there. Maybe I’ll cross that bridge after I visit the bakery in a few weeks on my birthday (!!!) (I’m going to San Francisco! To visit a dear friend! I danced around the house for days after my tickets were finalized. I also quickly inquired to see if a trip to Tartine could be fit in. She assured me that we can walk there every day if need be. I’m fairly certain there will be need.)

IMG_4078While I may hesitate to make and feed a starter, I never hesitate to melt butter and chocolate together. Whenever I see a recipe starting out that way, I’m willing to keep reading. This one lured me in completely with the additions of rye flour and sea salt flakes.

What results are basically truffles in cookie form. Or the best fudgy-brownie-cookie I’ve ever tasted. The outside provides a little chew, while the inside melts in your mouth. The salt makes it all sing. I might have even danced a little jig while singing hallelujahs after trying my first. (There’s been a lot of dancing lately.)

IMG_8113I highly recommend not skimping on chocolate quality because it will heavily influence the flavor. In fact, if you only have chocolate chips or some sort of chocolate look alike, I would hold off. These cookies are divine because of the high quality chocolate in them. It makes them more expensive than your average homemade cookie, but not your average truffle. (Such a bargain!) You do get a lot for your money, though. Plus, my husband said they’re his second favorite cookie ever. (This is both of our first, in case you’re wondering.) Are you convinced yet?

If you’ve never dove into the melting chocolate world before, my recommendations include Valrhona, Theo, Green & Black, Guittard, Scharffenberger, and Callebaut. All of these will be far better choices than Baker’s or Hershey’s. Ghirardelli is a step up from those, too.

IMG_8117

Tartine’s Salted Chocolate Rye Cookies

Yield: Four dozen small cookies

  • 454 g / 2 2/3 cups chopped bittersweet chocolate (70%)
  • 57 g / 4 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 85 g / 3/4 cup whole-grain dark rye flour (I used Bob’s)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (I used Diamond Crystal kosher)
  • 200 g / 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 340 g / 1 1/2 cups muscovado sugar (I used a combination of turbinado and brown- using a scale to pay careful attention to their combined weight, not volume)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon, for topping

Fill the base of a double boiler with an inch or two of water (or use a saucepan and place a heatproof bowl above it, making sure that the bottom of the bowl isn’t touching the water). Bring to a simmer. Melt the chocolate and butter together, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat to cool slightly once it’s melted.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Using a standing mixer and whisk attachment, whip the eggs on medium-high speed, adding the sugar a little bit at a time until it’s all incorporated. Turn the mixer to high and whip the eggs until they’ve nearly tripled in volume, about 6-minutes.

Reduce the speed to low and add the vanilla and melted chocolate-butter mixture. Mix to combine, scraping down the bowl sides as needed. Mix in the flour mixture until just combined. (I did this gently by hand with a spatula.) The dough resembles a cake batter, very soft and loose. Don’t fret, it hardens as it chills.

Refrigerate the dough in the mixing bowl about 30-minutes, until it is firm to the touch. If you chill it longer, bring it to room temperature prior to scooping.

Preheat the oven to 350℉ / 180℃ and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Scoop the dough with a rounded tablespoon onto the baking sheets (I used a small ice cream scoop with a nifty release mechanism- my favorite cookie dough dispenser). Space the balls about 2 inches apart. (I fit 12 on each sheet.) Sprinkle a few flakes of sea salt on each ball, pressing them in gently so they stick. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until the cookies have puffed up, have smooth bottoms and rounded tops. Let the cookies cool a minute or two on the sheets before transferring them to wire racks to cool completely.

The cookies remain very moist and chewy for several days if you keep them in an airtight container. Speaking from experience, they pair nicely with coffee in the morning, milk in the afternoon and red wine at night.

 

Birth

IMG_8054

In a bit over a week my youngest son turns four. He understands enough about time to realize April is his birthday month, but not enough to comprehend that waiting NINE MORE DAYS means it’s also not his birthday tomorrow, or the next day, or the next. He knows it’s coming, but he can’t track it day to day. So, every morning we’re hearing these excited statements laced with doubt. “It’s my birthday!…?” “Today’s my party!?”  It’s all he’s thinking about, besides Legos and food.

The sentences flying out of his mouth these days could land him on Ellen’s couch or Bill Cosby’s lap. (Also, the principal’s office, but for different reasons.) Today he told one of Charlie’s classmates how old he was: “I’m three and three quarters. When I’m four I’ll be four and three nickels!” He is at that sweet spot of language development in which spoken vocabulary is incredibly diverse, but most multiple meanings remain confusing and misused. I hope I get to hear that one again since Charlie didn’t catch him and correct it. (What is it with first graders correcting EVERYTHING? And they’re so often wrong! Then I wonder, if I correct Charlie for incorrectly correcting Miles, does that make me as equally annoying to Charlie as Charlie is to Miles? Sheesh.)

Yesterday, Miles tried to playfully spit at me. Not real spitting, more like a directed air-zerbert. He explained, “I’m spitting sunscreen on you! My sa-li-va mixes with chocolate in my mouth and becomes sunscreen!” Spit, spit, spit. It was sunny, so the protection was quite appreciated.

IMG_8030

I began labor at 2am and continued slow and steady enough through the bluebird morning to walk the historic Queen Anne streets surrounding our previous rental. Under giant magnolia trees and alongside tulips, I chatted with Harry and my friend/doula between contractions. One of my elderly neighbors watched me leaning against a wall during one and offered to take me to the hospital. Very kind, but I didn’t mind laboring in public. We even strolled to the Macrina bakery, where I stood outside the store window having a contraction, while Kari and Harry got coffee and pastries. We sat for a bit, waved goodbye to my favorite workers with promises to bring a baby by next visit, and moved on to enjoy the beautiful day as much as possible until the real work commenced.

My memories of his birthdays are bound together with my favorite images from Seattle spring. Our ornamental cherry tree proudly wearing it’s light pink tutu, the skirt of little ballerina dreams. Our pear tree blossoms dripping with rain, sparkling in the bits of light that peek through the clouds. Our delicate plum tree flowers, whose sight always prompts me to yearn for a huge harvest.

Petals carpeting the sidewalks and streets, trees dressed to the nines in fancy blossoms and moss accessories, baby leaves emerging, pea vines popping out of the ground, little boys pleading for their birthday to arrive. Springtime and birth, woven together.

IMG_8039IMG_8050

Moody food

Happy April, friends! Have you had anyone fool you today? I haven’t tried to pull off anything lately, but I cringe with embarrassment thinking of all the pranks I did to my mom. When I was sixteen, I told her I was pregnant. Now that I’m a mom, I realize I might’ve crossed the line with that one. I pulled off my favorite pranks on days other than April first, though. Youth group camps and trips were my ideal playgrounds. At a muggy, Mississippi KOA campground while daylight faded, my friend and I filled a boy’s tent with frogs from a nearby ditch. He entered after dark, without a flashlight. Screaming commenced. I could have peed my pants from laughing so hard. (I felt bad, too, and fessed up.) He sought revenge the rest of high school. On a different trip I called the motel front desk and pretended I was on staff. I gave all the boys’ rooms a 4am wake-up call. One unlucky chap without a watch showered before he realized the time.

The fact that Miles has an extremely mischievous side should give my victims some comfort. Payback arrived through my own womb. His adorable naughty giggle begins anytime he’s trying to be sneaky. He frequently hides Charlie’s toys in our shoes, under our pillows, and in drawers. One of his favorite things to do while I’m seated is take my slippers off my feet, run away giggling, and hide them somewhere. His eyes twinkle the whole time, too.

IMG_4003

Stuck in a swing, unable to cause mischief

So yes, I know it’s April Fool’s Day, but trust me here. Prankster and all, I’m not so mean as to intentionally post a recipe that won’t turn out. This chili struck a note with Harry and me last week and I just happen to be getting around to sharing it today.

Weather in March in Seattle is notoriously moody. Dark gray skies and thunderstorms quickly trample our crystal blue skies. Only the flowering trees still shine in that darkness. This year the exceedingly heavy rainfall led to the horrendously tragic mudslide just north of Seattle, too. There’s been a lot of contrast. A lot of grief and sadness. A lot of joy and beauty.

IMG_4042

$200+ worth of cookbooks for free. God bless Seattle Public Library.

I picked chili during a rainstorm. Consulting cookbooks I checked out from the library, I searched for a recipe that would feed my family and a friend’s. (I try to drop off more meals than frogs these days.) The recipe needed to improve with time, too, in case I delivered it the next day. It comes from the yet-to-fail-me Melissa Clark, via In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite. I don’t make chili often because I find many of the recipes to be a little boring. My interest was piqued by this one because 1) BEER, 2) the pepper variety encouraged me, and 3) she recommended changing up the chili powder. Chipotle, guajillo, New Mexican and ding, ding, ding! I thought of my leftover ancho chili powder from making mole and began to salivate.

Just like that, this chili became my go-to recipe. I like the slight heat of the jalapeño, the hominy’s chew, the ancho chile powder’s nod to mole. Whenever that happens, I will share it here. Both so you can try it and so I can reference the recipe after the cookbook has returned to the library.

IMG_4031

A quick iPhone shot. I’m not sure it’s possible to make chili look really great in a photograph, but I didn’t really try. I will probably never become a stellar food photographer because I like to eat more than I like to shoot. How do these people take pictures and let their food get cold? They are devoted to the craft, my friends. I’m not there yet. My devotion lies with the food.

Beef, Bean and Hominy Chili with Cilantro Sour Cream from Melissa Clark

Serves 8

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 lbs ground beef (I used 1 lb beef, 1 lb bison)
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large Spanish onion, chopped (I used a white onion on my counter)
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 poblano pepper, seeded & chopped
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded & finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup chili powder (I used ~80% ancho chili powder and 20% regular chili powder- any powder will work, but a mix of special ones will add to the depth of flavors)
  • 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 12-ounce bottle dark beer (I used an oatmeal stout)
  • 1 30-ounce can hominy, drained
  • 1 15-ounce can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican (I used normal)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro or chives

1) Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large pot over high heat. Brown half the beef until it is cooked through. Break it up with a fork to help it cook evenly. Transfer it to a large plate or bowl using slotted spoon, and season it with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Drain the fat from the pan and repeat this step with the other half of the meat.

2) Return the pot to the stove (after most of the fat has been drained) and add the remaining oil. Stir in the onion and peppers and cook until softened, about five minutes. Stir in the garlic and chili powder and cook until fragrant, about two minutes. Add the tomatoes, cooked beef, stock, beer, hominy, beans, oregano, bay leaf, and remaining 2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Bring to a simmer and reduce the heat to medium-low, simmering until thickened. This will take anywhere from one to two hours. Try not to rush it, though. The length only helps the flavors meld.

3) Stir together the sour cream and cilantro or chives prior to serving. To serve, top off a bowl of the chili with a spoonful of the sour cream! And don’t forget the cornbread!*

*I served my all-time favorite cornbread recipe in muffin form. This cornbread is wonderfully moist, a little tangy, buttery and slightly sweet. It offset the slight heat of the chili perfectly. If you’ve never browned butter before, Michael Natkin has a lovely video tutorial that should help you feel more comfortable. It’s a great thing to learn–it makes almost everything with butter in it taste better. (Cookies, rice crispy treats, scones, you name it.)

 

 

Enter in

In my last post, I mentioned the (fading) tendency for many parents to avoid discussions about any topic that is potentially controversial or dangerous, apart from the obvious “Stranger Danger” talk, which is commonly accepted as suitable for young children’s ears. I have written about talking with kids about race and sex before, but I wanted to follow up. Partly because I keep hearing well-intentioned comments like, “Kids just need to know we’re all special and unique”, and partly because reading about the White Man March made my blood boil–writing here let off some steam. Hordes of parents thoughtfully, respectfully, proactively educating their children about differences among people is the march in which I want to participate.

A study mentioned in NurtureShock’s chapter on “Why White Parents Don’t Talk About Race” shared that even in a liberal-leaning city like Austin in 2006, most white parents weren’t talking about race. Not because they didn’t believe it was important, but because they were afraid of saying the “wrong thing.” So, instead of commenting specifically on racial differences, these parents fell back on safe phrases like “everybody’s equal” and “we’re all the same under our skin.”

IMG_6707

One type of ornamental cherry tree blossom–feel free to help me develop my specificity here!

Not all families have the luxury of ignoring specificity. If you’re a family with two moms, it won’t be long before your child takes note that your family structure is less common and inquires about it. Or perhaps an older child will bring it up at the playground first, catching you off guard. Either way, those moms will talk thoughtfully with their child about all the possible combinations of people that may comprise a family. This conversation will continue throughout their lifetime, too, because it’s importance will grow. The same goes for families whose members are of a minority ethnicity, whose child has a disability, who practice an uncommon religion, who are vegan, etc… In fact, I would surmise that conversations about differences are common practice for families who find themselves in just about any type of minority group.

Parents in exceptional situations learn to speak directly to their children regarding the societal attitudes that impact them. This necessity for specifically educating children is even greater if their particular minority group is feared or hated. Those parents know there is an inherent element of risk in just being who they are. To be silent on the topic is to risk allowing their children to internalize the stigmas, face isolation and experience deep pain, let alone experience worst case scenarios like the Trayvon Martin and Matthew Shepherd tragedies. Black parents will have very frank discussions with their sons about how they must carry themselves to avoid danger. White parents do not have to do this. I would not worry if my husband or boys got pulled over by a cop. I would if I were black. Those in the majority groups have the luxury of deciding whether or not to enter the conversation. This is one of countless examples of how majority privilege plays out.

The problem with discussing race and other differences vaguely (“We’re all unique, like snowflakes!”) is that, like adults, kids are not difference-blind. Young children are quite observant of all human characteristics, particularly those that are different than themselves. Even babies as young as six months show they are sensitive to new facial features by staring at pictures of people from unfamiliar ethnicities longer than pictures of people familiar to them. Later, as children age, they become “developmentally prone to in-group favoritism.”¹ This is why by age five and six, most kids begin to prefer playing with the same gender, or at a minimum begin rejecting anything stereotypically associated with the other gender. “I don’t want the pink cup. I’m a boy!” The same goes for race. Even in racially diverse environments, children will begin to naturally segregate into their “known” group whenever possible. Again and again, this happens unless a specific conversation takes place.

Consider how babies and toddlers learn concrete vocabulary. Prior to speaking their first word, babies will understand many words and phrases. They are soaking in all the labels tossed at them during walks, story time, playtime and mealtime. The first time parents realize their child truly knows a word is magical. Baby might have casually heard the word milk and began kicking their legs excitedly and babbling. Parents naturally tune into their child’s ever-growing vocabulary base and begin to stretch it. “Milk? You’re hungry? Ok, time to eat!” Similarly, once parents realize their child understands the word for flower, they will begin labeling specific flowers. Meanwhile, the child’s brain is busy mapping all these new words, figuring out the semantic relationships–what is a category and what is a subcategory, what is a noun and what is an adjective? Eventually they understand that flowers have some things in common (petals, stems, leaves) but that their shapes and color may differ. The same thing needs to happen for kids to understand the differences among people. A tulip does not lose it’s beauty nor value by being labeled more specifically. Nor does a person lose their beauty or value by being labeled appropriately. Rather, understanding differences, and the reasons for them, provides opportunity for greater appreciation.

IMG_7998

Another type of ornamental cherry tree blossom (at the University of Washington quad)

So, I choose to enter the conversation.

Choosing to enter the conversation means I didn’t dodge the awkwardness when my then two-year-old commented that our visiting black friend has “dirty” skin. Instead, I stepped right into the heart of it. (Remember, this is not a mean comment coming from a little kid. My white son knew his fingers got darker after playing in dirt. He knew that his skin is dirty when it’s dark brown, so he was simply applying his truth to someone else.) I said something like, “Oh, Natalie’s skin isn’t dirty. She has brown skin all the time. People have all sorts of different skin colors, and ways their faces and bodies look.” Since Natalie was in touch with what kids need, she asked him if he wanted to touch her skin. She rubbed it to show she didn’t have dirt coming off. By doing this, she invited him further into the conversation.

As my boys age, we talk with increasing detail about differences found in people. I provide my children with the proper labels for ethnic groups, for referring to people with disabilities, for talking about people who are overweight, etc… We began with the most common people groups of the United States and move towards deepening and broadening their understanding over time. They know that many of their friends are multi-racial and how that happens. They know that others were adopted from other countries. They know that some friends have gay parents. Having these conversations makes it acceptable to discuss that someone looks different, acts different, or has differences in their family. Because we all do.

IMG_7996

Sometimes knowing what term is correct can be tricky (black vs African American, Asian American vs Amerasian, etc…). Asking friends if they have a preference will quickly clear up confusion. Questioning politely, with your child present, models to your children that this is a safe topic when handled respectfully. It helps to keep stigma at bay and maintain open lines of communication. In general, stick with teaching your kids the most correct terms you know and be open to the understanding that they may change. Soon enough your kids will inform you if you don’t stay on top of it. (“They’re not Oriental! They’re Asian!” has been groaned by thousands of forty year old white children to their parents.)

Older kids can be invited even deeper, learning about how places of origin often determine skin color, facial features, height, etc… Every time we have this discussion, I find a world map and the internet quite useful. We have talked about how America was initially inhabited by Native Americans and then looked at pictures, read books, etc… We have talked about many people came to America from different places and that’s part of why we see so many different types of people, whereas some countries remain relatively homogenous. The lesson incorporates race, geography and history.

Choosing to enter the conversation means that I share developmentally appropriate details about racism and how various people groups, including kids, have been treated poorly because of how they look. With my first grader, it means educating him on a handful of details about slavery and Jim Crow laws, as well as introducing him to a few key brave people who fought to change these laws. It also means letting him know that plenty of injustice remains and talking about how we can help.

Choosing to enter the conversation means that I don’t rush my boys along when they pass someone in a wheelchair and stare or inquire about it. If the person in the chair appears open to converse, I will sometimes engage them in our conversation by introducing myself and letting them know my boys have questions (which is already obvious to them, but it helps break the ice). Once this led to one exceptionally friendly woman demonstrating everything her electric wheelchair could do, including moving it into a full stand. My boys thought she was bad-ass! She enthusiastically answered their questions. In fact, I think she was touched. She was seen. She was heard. Her differences were acknowledged as worthy of discussion. My kids weren’t shushed as she passed. We welcomed her presence.

Choosing to enter the conversation means that I talk to my boys about different family structures. Some parents are divorced. Some parents are both dads, some are both moms. Some kids are adopted. It means we talk about how some people don’t think all of these families are ok, but that we do and why.

Choosing to enter the conversation even means I don’t lie to my three year old when he sees a Diva Cup in it’s invitingly brand new bright pink and purple box on the kitchen counter and asks if he can have some candy. He says, “What is it? Can I suck on it? Does it taste good?” He thinks it’s some sort of cool lollipop! I don’t give him all the details, but I tell him it’s something women use to catch blood from their vagina. (Yup. I’m saying these things. To a kid under four feet tall. It was embarrassingly awkward the first time, but now it feels pretty easy and even quite comical.) “Women bleed every once in awhile because this is how their body works. It’s what allows them to have babies.” There is no reason for this to be an off-limits topic, so I enter in. (Random side note: Why does Diva Cup include a little lapel pin saying “Diva” in their box? Are we supposed to wear it while we’re menstruating so people treat us a little kinder? Should we also have one if we’re gassy?)

IMG_4018

Another type of cherry blossom, plus the incredible Diva lapel pin that you, too, can wear while menstruating! (Some restrictions may apply.)

Engaging in these conversations takes some thought and practice. It felt very uncomfortable at first because it hadn’t been modeled to me. Even now, every time I encounter a brand new topic I feel awkward and fumble quite a bit, especially if a stranger is involved (“Look, mom! That person is ROUND!”). My ability to formulate bites of information appropriate for their level of language comprehension has improved with practice, but I’m also growing more comfortable with the novelty of these discussions and feeling embarrassed in public. (“Mom, what’s that on her face?” “Mom, look at that person’s bottom!”) There is room for fumbling, asking questions, figuring it out together. My primary goal is to respect all the people involved.

As strange as it feels in the beginning, these conversations are best started with kids as young as two and three, because by five and six kids already have clearly divided categories upon which they’ve placed their own labels. Simply by observing the world, those older children have already divided people into groups. Having the basic knowledge of proper vocabulary can also help them understand what holds all these groups together, as well as what separates them. This allows them to have a conversation about them in a respectful manner. They can begin to connect the categories that were once divided because they now know how they fit onto their vocabulary map. It may seem counterintuitive, but it’s true.

IMG_4005

 

1 NutureShock, pg 53 (forgive my lack of APA documentation--this is my lazy footnote attempt)

First graders and “The F-Word”

Mom stirred a steaming pot while I anticipated our spaghetti dinner. My older brother joked around on the phone, his speaking range limited to within-kitchen-hearing-distance because it was the mid-1980s. (You know, cord phones!) During my brother’s friendly argument he loudly exclaimed, “BS!”, which was followed by my mom quickly shooting him a look that signaled to me with her eyes. She clearly wanted him to pay attention that I was around. Intrigued, I began pestering. “What does BS mean?” Mom tried to dodge it, “Oh, Kathleen. You’ll find out soon enough.” Dave cut in with, “Bologna stuffings” and my mom laughed. Initially doubtful, I questioned them further, but they banded together and held strong. Probably because I was six, I believed them.

Naive and gullible, I vehemently defended myself ALL THE WAY TO JUNIOR HIGH. One day while confidently standing by Bologna Stuffings, the laughter from my group of friends pushed through my wall of certainty. I realized they were right. My stomach sank with embarrassment and anger. I had been duped.

I’d guess that it was a common American belief in the 1980s among suburban white families that young kids shouldn’t be exposed to the details of potentially threatening aspects of life, including sex, alcohol, racism, and cussing.  As a preschooler and elementary school child, the only social topic I remember being explicitly taught was “Stranger Danger.” (Did you also hide behind bushes when all vans without windows passed?) All of the other topics remained off-limits, though we were inevitably exposed to them on television screens, bathroom stall walls, bus rides, and playground conversations. Among parents and children, though, silence reigned.

With each passing year of parenting, my conviction grows stronger that silence leads to stigma and taboo. The absence of a conversation about any potentially awkward, embarrassing or painful topic makes my children think that it is not to be discussed at home. If I’m not willing to share my embarrassing moments, my child won’t either. If I am not willing to engage in conversations about race, my child will not either. If I won’t talk to them about sex, they won’t either. I believe that a very important part of my job is to not only field these questions and enter a developmentally appropriate conversation, but to also bring topics up should the kids not do so. (Not all kids are inquisitive out loud. Some are so naive they don’t know what they should know. Like those who believe in Bologna Stuffings. Or Santa at age twelve.)

So, when Charlie asked me what “the F-word” was while walking home after just days of being in first grade, I knew I didn’t want to dodge the question. Miles was with us at the time, though, so I told him we could talk about it when we were alone. (Miles was three and showing far too much pleasure in testing boundaries for me to risk him knowing the word fuck. We recently took a walk around our neighborhood lake and he called a passing old man a “blockhead.” Miles was tired and hungry- apparently one wrong look was enough to send him over the edge. “Welcome to Seattle, sir! He’s the three-year-old welcoming committee!”)

I forgot to continue the conversation after Miles went to bed, and a few months passed before Charlie brought it up again while we were alone. I knew it was time to seize the opportunity, so I proceeded slowly with some thought and care. Knowing his tendency to follow rules was comforting to me. He wasn’t the kid who would use the word willy-nilly, nor use it against us in a power play. Because he is more cautious, I wanted to make sure that the primary message was that he could come to me with these things. I was trusting him, and he could trust me.

While trying my best to maintain a calm tone because I was uncomfortable with the novelty of saying fuck in front of my six-year-old son, I told him that it’s another word for sex (which he knows about) but that it’s most often used to be mean or express anger. My words went something like, “People say “Fuck you” when they’re really angry but it hurts people’s feelings. People also say it when they’re upset about something.” He asked a few questions and then tried to use it. That was funny. Even funnier when he tried it a few weeks later while giggling about jokes with Harry and I (after Miles went to bed). He uttered the most innocent, cute “fuck” I’ve ever heard. He hasn’t used it since.

Of course, our discussion came with warnings. I told him that because it’s a word that upsets many people, we have to be very careful with it. I told him that until he’s old enough to use it appropriately, he shouldn’t say it anywhere except when he’s alone with Harry and I. I also admonished him to never, ever, EVER say it in front of his brother, the King-of-Stupid-and-Blockhead-Name Calling (thank you, Charlie Brown). The last thing I needed was Miles regularly saying “Fuck you!” to the cute old men strolling the lake.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not currently feeling the need to introduce all cuss words to Charlie. We certainly don’t have a checklist that we’re working through. (He is also not ready for conversations about the many horrific, violent acts that occur in the world!) I imagine he’ll bring swearing up again shortly, and certainly be exposed to to plenty of the world’s horror soon enough. We are tackling these topics one developmentally-appropriate bite at a time. But I am thankful that along with sex and race, he knows he can talk to us about swear words.

I realize that we might offend a few people by having this discussion so young. He might even teach a few classmates about these topics. He certainly wouldn’t be the first kid to break such news to another kid. At least he’d be sparing them from it happening in middle school. (No child wants to be defending “Fiddlesticks” in the halls.) Either way, it’s a risk I’m willing to take to maintain open lines of communication in our home.

Banana Coconut Cocoa Nib Bread

If I post yet another bready-cake recipe (which are they, really?), would you believe that I don’t only eat baked goods and brussel sprouts? I admit, though. I have consumed a rather obscene amount of muffins, brownies, bread and cupcakes the past two weeks. There’s been Charlie’s birthday, which necessitated several desserts in the course of a week, a point in my cycle in which chocolate was demanded, and two boys swapping germs like baseball cards. When I’m homebound with the boys, baking is a trusted outlet. A reliable companion to keep my head from banging against the walls. I get fierce cabin fever after a few days. If I can’t get fresh air, I must bake.

IMG_7911

I didn’t bake this yesterday with intentions to share yet another recipe filled with sugar, flour and butter, but then a few things happened. First, I tasted it. Then, I watched the boys gobble up their slices without saying a single word. Lastly, out of the corner of my eye, I caught Harry exiting his office with a huge smile while holding an empty plate, on his way to retrieve a second piece. I knew what I needed to do. You need to try this bread. Cake in a loaf pan. Whatever it is.

Yesterday morning I spied three very sad bananas on our counter. Usually I throw old bananas into the freezer to use in bread or smoothies at a later date, but with a full day at home ahead of me the decision to bake was obvious. For some reason choosing a banana bread recipe isn’t ever easy for me, though. I have a lot of banana bread recipes that I like, but none that are both fairly simple to execute and make me groan with delight. Plenty are fine, but none are swoon-worthy.

IMG_7903

So, I did what I always do when I’m seeking inspiration. I considered my cookbooks and favorite food blogs to decide who was most likely to provide the best hit. After a minute or two of contemplation, Ding! Ding! Ding! Google: Orangette + banana bread. I’m familiar with Molly’s lunacy for banana bread from reading her blog for years (as well as her wonderful first book). Plus, I trust her recipes implicitly. When this recipe popped up including rum and coconut, my decision was made.

I first tasted liquor in banana bread a few years ago. The recipe called for roasting the bananas in rum and sugar before mixing them into the batter. Charlie loved it so much that we joked he would end up at a friend’s house eating banana bread and politely inquire, “Excuse me. May I have some rum in my banana bread?” That bread was delicious, but it’s a relatively time-intensive recipe and I wanted something simpler.

IMG_7925

After consulting my pantry, I knew plenty of changes would need to be made, but I decided to take a chance. Here’s how this bread was born: I didn’t have shredded coconut, but a bag of coconut flakes begged me to be used. I still don’t have rum in the house after mojitos wiped us out, but spotted Marsala and thought it would be a nice pairing with those flavors. I didn’t have any demerara sugar, so I grabbed turbinado because it’s structure is similar. I felt it would yield that same crystalline crunchy crust. I also played a bit with the other sugars, flours and spices because I do things like that. The best moment of inspiration came while fetching my sugars. I happened to spy Theo’s cocoa nibs (purchased for this, also used for this) and emitted a little yelp of glee. I’m never disappointed with chocolate, coconut and banana bonding, but I didn’t want this recipe to fall completely in the cake camp. The fact that the cocoa nibs aren’t sweet was important to me. I figured the sugars and banana would do enough to cover that base. Does using whole wheat pastry flour and making this a little less sweet keep it a bread?

Whatever it is, this recipe jumped to top of my bananas-in-batter list. It’s got the classic banana bread flavor and moistness, but these amazing bonus textures and tastes. A chewy bite from a coconut flake, a deep chocolate punch from a cocoa nib, a quick crunch from the sugary crust. I am so pleased that this bread goodness not despite all the changes I made, but because of them. This bread resulted because of everything I didn’t have on hand and the one thing I did. If all the ingredients had been present, I probably wouldn’t have played around. I always breathe a sigh of relief when my changes turn out, but today’s results called for celebration. An opportunity to post. I am really pleased to have finally found my go-to banana bread. I hope you love it as much as I do.

IMG_7901

Cocoa Nib Coconut Banana Bread

Adapted from Molly Wizenberg’s adaptation of Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s recipe in HomeBaking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Tradition around the World

1 1/2 cups of banana puree (from approximately three large, overripe bananas)

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

4 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1/8 tsp distilled white vinegar

1 tablespoon Marsala

1/2 cup dried unsweetened coconut flakes

1/3 cup cocoa nibs

1 tablespoon turbinado, demerara or dark brown sugar

—————–

Preheat the oven to 350℉. Butter a standard-size loaf pan.

Puree the bananas (using a blender, food processor, grinder, masher- whatever works to get them smooth!) and measure them out.

Whisk together the flours, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt.

Using a hand or standing mixer, beat together the butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the vinegar and Marsala. Starting with the banana puree, alternate adding in the banana and flour mixture (about 1 cup at a time). Beat until it’s mostly incorporated but some flour still shows. Use a spatula to fold in the coconut, cocoa nibs and any remaining flour that is visible just until it’s incorporated. Do not overmix.

(The batter will be DENSE. After I made it I was so concerned about the thickness that I read all of Molly’s blogpost comments to make sure there wasn’t an error. Were there supposed to be eggs? Was this batter really supposed to be this hard to spread into the pan? Should I add milk? Was this going to be a disaster? Turns out her warning that it will be thick, was quite true but perhaps slightly understated. Think playdough thick. It was denser than any batter I’ve ever made. Despite your fears, assure yourself that the bread will not bake into a brick.)

Plop the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Smooth the top, and sprinkle it evenly with the turbinado sugar. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the top is nicely browned and a tester comes out clean. Run a knife around the edges and let it cool on a wire rack for 10-15 minutes. Turn the loaf out of the pan to allow it to cool completely.

Enjoy this bread within a few days. Keep it tightly covered between servings to keep it moist. (This bread was just as good the next day as the first, so don’t hesitate to make it a day ahead.)