#TBT All consuming

He was absolutely delicious. I wish I could return to his scrumptious Michelin man stage this very moment, nuzzle his bulging belly, squeeze his rolls, and play peek-a-boo with him. I need to borrow a baby. Stat.4704873437_be4cd61b9c_z

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He was the cutest pot of soup to ever exist. He made a damn fine sous chef, too. Those rolls are just the results of breast milk and a serious love for pureed peas, folks. Apparently I produced top notch cream. Now,  he’s nearly five years old and there’s barely any sign of chub on his body.

My baby enters Kindergarten next fall and I’m in the midst of significant inner turmoil about it. I don’t believe in full-day Kindergarten unless it incorporates an enormous amount of play. Sadly, none of our local public schools do that. (Despite what the research says regarding executive functioning and what countries with the best outcomes are doing. Grrr.) That’s why we home-schooled Charlie for Kindergarten. Why should Miles receive less? This brings me enormous angst. We’re not ignoring our beliefs, even though it’s scary. So that feels right.

Knowing there are enormous changes ahead, whatever they may be, I find myself treasuring our alone time more than ever. The way he lays his head on me when we snuggle up to read. His newest compliment, “You’re the best cooker!”, that I’m lucky enough to receive every time I hand him a favorite food. His ability to enter any room and light up it with conversation about the most everyday things simply because he’s so happy to chat at length with any adult who will listen. During yesterday’s bike ride home from school he told me, “We should visit Italy, Mama. Leonardo made a horse out of steel and it still exist-is. [I adore this language error.] First he made one of clay but it melted. His friend Charlie told him he should build one out of metal, so he did. And IT STILL EXIST-IS!!!”

To witness a couple of my favorite videos of his giggles, visit:

The amazing powers of a tissue and fake sneeze

Worse than a chalkboard (don’t watch if you’re a dentist)

To examine

I reflect on 2014 with such contrasting emotions. Changes and choices in my life brought freedom, adventure and greater happiness, yet at the same time many of my dearest friends have plowed through their crappiest year yet. My life has become easier in many ways, yet more people are struggling for food, safety, and shelter. I anticipate returning to work next year having choices about where I’ll resume my career, not whether or not I’ll be able to find work. Many concerns for my boys have lessened, as there are fewer head bonks on doorknobs and falls off of furniture, yet I’m intensely aware that fears other parents face only grow as their children age.

It’s never simple, is it?

Sometimes I wish I was one of those people that could gloss over everything and focus solely on the beauty of the world, but I’m not. So, here we are again.IMG_5526

I have an amazingly easy, beautiful life right now. There is pain, loneliness, anger, longing and grief, of course. But, man, I really have it so good. (This is not because “I’m blessed” or did something right. I hate that complete disregard for privilege. My life is what it is because of a wide variety of factors, many of which I have no control over.) Yet, instead of reveling in the glory of this, I often get sucked into lies. Nearly forty years into life and I still must actively fight against believing that circumstances out of my control can determine how I judge the “success” of my life. Somehow I still have moments that I believe I will find relief from internal struggles if only we lived a more sparkly life.

When I buy into the lure of the shiny, I only find disappointment. I feel sad that we don’t own a house and may never be able to afford one in the city unless we sacrifice certain values. I want a Not So Big House with a permaculture garden. I also wouldn’t say no to a Tesla. I could wear a different pair of Bombsheller leggings every day. I want a red helmet to match my red bags on my bike. I could go on and on and on, even though I know deep in my core that happiness from stuff is fleeting.

When I’m still, listening to the voice of truth instead of fear, I can settle into contentment. Therefore, in an act that will probably be necessary for my entire life, I take the end of the year to reflect on how I grew. For me, this growth usually comes by rejecting lies and fears. I don’t come by it naturally. In addition to gratitude, this is my antidote to the shiny.

I leave 2014 thankful for the support that helped me take the risk of biking with the boys, rejecting the idea that it’s too dangerous, slow or inconvenient. Biking has been a hard-won highlight of the year. Each new step up in the riding progression was incredibly scary for me so I procrastinated like crazy. I have managed my anxiety by taking baby steps, along with ample cheerleading from my husband and inspiration from Seattle’s family biking community. There are plenty more fears to conquer, but I am finally far enough up the mountain to know it’s an adventure I will gladly continue.

I leave 2014 appreciative of renewed discipline, loosening a tightly held notion that I no longer had the resolve to consistently take care of myself as well as I’d like. Years of sleep deprivation and the incessant demands of parenting young children made me wonder if I’d lost my ability to be very disciplined. The first time I dragged my booty out of bed for a 6am weight-lifting class last spring felt like summiting Mt. Everest. I rejected months of serious doubt-training by finally showing up one morning. And the next. And the next. Now it’s a precious part of my weekly routine that elevates my mood, makes me feel better in my body, and gives me strength for biking the hills with the precious, heavy cargo.

I leave 2014 grateful for a husband who thinks deeply and questions conventions. Between the two of us, he is the one most frequent to question our motives. His constant call to reject fear is not always been easy for me, but listening to him and questioning with him has undoubtedly led us to better choices. Because of him I am excited about and energized by more risks we’re going to take in 2015. I am really lucky to have him.

I leave 2014 aching for several friends in crisis. They are unbelievably resilient, having to call on reserves I don’t know. One has demonstrated to me first hand that in our pain we need to call on our trusted loved ones to support us in specific ways. “Text me tomorrow and check in. It’s going to be a hard day for me.” This has aided me tremendously in knowing how to walk alongside her, and others, in agonizing challenges. It’s also a lesson for myself. I sometimes believe that others should know what I need when I’m struggling, and that if they don’t, they don’t really love me. I no longer want to fall for that lie. I want to let people know specific ways they can support me.

I leave 2014 thankful for freedom from false loyalties, rejecting the idea that I need to stay in relationships or communities that have not always honored my values nor shown care for me. This may sound a little crazy at first, but I am an intensely loyal person. I’ve only realized this year how that aspect of my personality has brought imprisonment along with it’s benefits. By listening to that quiet voice, and asking myself what I really want, I am finding desperately needed liberation.

I also leave 2014 angry. Rejecting lies and seeking truth comes with anger. In hindsight, yelling “fucker” at the driver who nearly hit me on my bike wasn’t my best possible choice, but FINALLY, I am speaking my anger, and this is very, very good. It’s probably not too surprising to those older than me. I’m in my late-30s, finally discovering who I really am and fighting hard to take off the masks I’ve unknowingly worn for years. I’m pissed about those masks. Mad at myself for putting them on; mad at those who encouraged me to wear them. I’m also angry at the systems that are failing our most vulnerable and maintaining people in oppression and poverty. I still don’t know what to do with the piles of rage. Word on the street is the antidote is love. And prayer. But many questions and doubts remain for me. I suppose that’s good. It’ll give 2015 something to do.

Happy New Year, friends. May 2015 bring us eyes to see what binds us, the courage to leave it, and a greater ability to love. Ourselves and each other. Out with old lies, in with newly found freedom!

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December 24th

Hoi! Hello! ¡Hola! I decided to pop my head out from behind our Christmas tree and say hi to you all before we’re ringing in 2015. Our family is having an exceptionally quiet Christmas eve and day. Our calmest and quietest yet. No parties to attend, no hosting to tend to, no family to visit or visiting us. I am making simple meals. While I love to cook, elaborate meals take away from family time. All of this was intentional and it feels soooo good. We desperately needed to relax and play as a family. Anything that distracted from that got the ax.

We let the boys pick a present to open today, and they both happened to pick ones with Legos inside (good odds?), so Harry and I are reading and writing while the boys are building new sets. Watching Miles open his and jump all around in excitement, “I wanted this! Thank you so much!” started the day off beautifully.

This year involved a few lessons for us regarding city crowds. Santa is in demand, people. Finding an open Santa lap to sit on is harder than finding a parking spot at the mall. It may take days. We should’ve been sufficiently warned when we saw people carrying sleeping bags, coolers of food and toy baskets to the lines.

With under a week left until Christmas, Charlie informed us that he really wanted to sit on Santa’s lap. This has not been a tradition for us. In fact, Harry and I hated the idea of forcing our wary kids on some guys’ lap to make them cry so we could get a picture. Now that Charlie was instead desiring this to the point of tears, honoring it was a serious act of love. An act that led us on a tear-filled Santa scavenger hunt all around town.

First I called a local nursery to see if we could snag an appointment with their Santa. A set time seemed so civilized, but that’s what everyone thought so of course they were completely booked. Next we visited an outdoor mall close to our house. The line was a minimum of an hour and a half. Outside. There was no way the boys were going to get through that, so we told Charlie we’d need to try something else. Tears welled up. We headed downtown to visit Nordstrom’s Santa whose staff was conveniently texting you at your appointment time. Perfect! We’d go see the Gingerbread Village while we waited. “Mama, how can Santa be at the other place and downtown?” Let the Christmas lying begin.

We arrived at 2:30 and Santa was already booked until closing at 9pm. Even their consolation wait-list was so long that the elf told me it was pointless to put our name down. Surrounding this kiosk were many tearful little boys and girls and their shocked parents. We made more promises to Charlie, realizing we may have to return to a line first thing in the morning.

How did we get in this place of potentially devoting two days of our vacation to finding a Santa lap? I was ready to pay any old man on the street for his services. Anyone from this list would’ve been excellent, too.

While looking at the famous, and therefore also unbelievably crowded, Gingerbread Village structures, I had plenty of time to think and got a feeling we should try Macy’s. We headed there next. With an enormous sigh of relief, we took our spot in a reasonable line. An hour later, one boy was sitting on his lap while the other watched curiously and eventually talked to him from a very cautious distance.

“Santa, a lot of my friends say you don’t exist, but now I can tell them that you do!”

“Why do they say I don’t exist?”

“One of them stayed up all night and never saw you!”

“Well, part of my magic means that I can’t come while kids are awake.”IMG_5635

They talked for five minutes, about Santa’s magical ways and what Charlie wanted. (None of which, of course, was on his original list. Aint’ gonna happen, kid.) Charlie called it his “order.” We gently informed him later that Santa lists are wish lists and not guaranteed orders. There may be disappointment tomorrow.

But for those five beautiful minutes and much of our time afterward, his eyes were completely lit up. He kept asking question after question. “I meant to ask how old he is!” We may only have a year or two left of the magic with him, so I’m glad we embraced it. I’m also incredibly thankful I’m sitting with a blanket around me instead of waiting in a line right now.

Grasshopper Squares have been a Christmas tradition for us for at least five years and they’re one I can’t imagine ever giving up. Maybe it’s because I was conceived after my mom had a Grasshopper at a restaurant. Mint and cream are a part of my DNA. I remember making them while pregnant with Miles, so he’s probably hooked forever, too. These treats have that lovely peppermint chocolate combination (like a Thin Mint! Andes! Frangos!), with a smooth truffle-like top and a brownie base. They are a really luxurious bite. Or ten.

I decided to share these here after making my second batch this year. Our first batch was shared too quickly (lucky teachers and neighbors, right?) and the boys were super sad. Harry and I wanted more, too. A recipe this loved by my family needs to be on record so they can make it someday themselves. And you just may want to, too.

I wish you peace, laughter, gratefulness, play and rest. And a little bite of delicious.

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Grasshopper Squares

Adapted slightly from Gourmet Magazine. Yields 5-6 dozen.

Brownie base

  •  6 ounces (12 tablespoons; 3/4 cup) unsalted butter
  • 10 1/2 oz bittersweet chocolate (between 55-65% cacoa), chopped
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla
  • 100g (3/4 cup) all-purpose flour
  • 35 g (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Mint ganache

  • 4 oz (1/2 cup) heavy cream
  • 10 oz fine-quality white chocolate, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons clear or green crème de menthe (there’s no flavor difference- I just don’t like food dyes so I buy the clear)
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract

Chocolate ganache

  • 8 oz (1 cup) heavy cream
  • 10 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (55-65% cacoa), chopped

Preheat oven to 375°F, with a rack in the middle. Lightly butter a 9×13-inch baking pan and line with 2 crisscrossed sheets of foil, leaving an overhang on all sides. Butter the foil, too.

To make the brownie base, melt the butter, chocolate, and brown sugar in double broiler (or a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat), stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove from heat. Whisk in eggs and vanilla until thoroughly integrated. Whisk in flour, cocoa, and salt until just combined.

Spread the batter evenly into the prepared baking pan. Bake about 20-minutes, or until set. Cool completely (uncovered, on a rack). This takes one to two hours.

While the brownie base cools, make the mint ganache. Heat cream and white chocolate in a double boiler (or bring the cream to a simmer in a saucepan and pour it over the finely chopped white chocolate in a bowl. Let it sit a minute before whisking.) Whisk until completely smooth. Stir in the crème de menthe and peppermint extract. Chill covered until thick. Stir occasionally. This takes about 1 hour.

Spread the chilled mint ganache on top of the cooled brownie base. Make a thin even layer by using an offset spatula. (Of, if you’re like me, just deal with it not being perfectly even. You won’t care when you taste one.) Chill covered until firm but slightly sticky, about 30-minutes.

While the mint layer chills, make the chocolate ganache. Heat the cream and dark chocolate in a double boiler (or heat the cream to a simmer in a saucepan, and pour over finely chopped bittersweet chocolate in a bowl. Let stand 1 minute prior to whisking.) Whisk until smooth. Chill covered until thick, about 30-minutes. Stir occasionally.

Carefully spread the cooled chocolate ganache over the mint layer and chill at least 2 hours prior to cutting.

Lift the dessert out of pan using the foil overhang. Carefully peel off the foil and place the giant bar on a large cutting board. Run a knife under hot water and wipe dry, then trim the edges of dessert (~1/4 inch off each side). Cut into squares (rectangles! triangles!) and serve.

The grasshopper squares keep chilled in an airtight container for 3-weeks. They can be layered between sheets of wax paper or parchment if needed.

Still hungry?

It was particularly soggy and gray today, which felt perfect for the luxuriously lazy day I enjoyed. Harry let me sleep in until 10. I didn’t get dressed until 2. I lounged while sipping coffee, watched Peep cartoons with the boys, and showed them bits of a video from my exchange student year in Holland. Harry and I have been trying to give each other plenty of quiet moments to recharge our introverted souls, so I wrote from home with only the sounds of raindrops on our skylights while the he took the boys to burn off energy.

It feels either a little late or extremely soon to be sharing a pumpkin cheesecake recipe with you. Yet here I am. I worried I might not remember what I did to make this one so successful if I didn’t record it today. I sliced one of few remaining pieces to take a picture for you and then sacrificially consumed it. Someone had to take one for the team. Let me assure you that if you love pumpkin, there is no reason to wait a year to make this beauty. She’d be welcome at the next holiday, I’m certain, but next weekend shouldn’t be a problem either. Otherwise, visit this recipe next November. You won’t be sorry.

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I’ve been making a version of this cheesecake for at least four years, either for Thanksgiving or Harry’s birthday, which falls shortly thereafter. I actually made him a birthday cheesecake for nearly a decade! It was this particular one that made us move that tradition to Thanksgiving because we prefer it to pumpkin pie.

Anyways, after four years of messing around with versions of this idea, I finally landed on the keeper. I got rave reviews from our friends last night, so I’m feeling even more confident that the recipe is fit to print. Like all good cheesecakes, it requires a bit of patience and several steps in the process, but it’s totally worth it. (Read ahead so you know what you’re in for.) You can make it easier by purchasing salted caramel sauce and/or canned pumpkin. Your cheesecake will still taste amazing.

First off, the caramel sauce. If you’re going to buy some, I recommend Fran’s or Hot Cakes salted caramel sauce to my Seattle friends. I have no idea what options are out there for those not in Seattle, so my apologies to the rest of you. Last year I tried making my own and messed it up, so I ended up buying one of the tiny jars of gold. I always justify the purchase with, “It’s a holiday!” while simultaneously wincing at the price, knowing it’s basically just cream and sugar.

This year, I tried again with a different recipe and succeeded. Smoky, sweet and salty, this caramel is divine. We all tasted spoonfuls of it, oohing and aahing. Plus, it felt incredibly freeing to be done with those pricey jars. Caramel no longer has to be an annual splurge.

The recipe came from my most recent cookbook acquisition, Dorie Greenspan’s Baking Chez Moi. I promised myself I would only buy two cookbooks this year, and by October that had been fulfilled: Shroom and A Boat, A Whale and A Walrus. Then, Dorie’s latest book came out and I desperately wanted to hear her speak at our local cookbook shop, the price of admission being her cookbook. I hemmed and hawed, but in the end Harry had a late work meeting that conflicted, instantly solving my problem. Fan that I am, though, I noticed her book giveaways on Instagram. The exact same day I mailed Shroom to it’s winner I was notified that I won a signed copy of Dorie’s book from her publisher! I cheered and danced all day! Maybe there’s such a thing as cookbook giveaway karma.

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Salted Caramel Sauce

From Dorie Greenspan’s Baking Chez Moi. Yields 12-16 slices.

  • 200 g (1 cup) sugar
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 300 ml (1 1/4 cup) heavy cream, warm or at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, preferably fleur de sel
  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce; 28 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Put the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan. Without stirring, place the pan over medium-high heat and cook until they melt and start to take on color. Then, swirl the pan quite regularly until the caramel turns a medium amber color. (I didn’t time this, but I’d estimate that it took about five minutes. Be patient. The color = flavor.) It will boil and may even smoke. This is ok, just keep swirling to keep it from burning. Use a silicone pastry brush or a small silicone spatula dipped in cold water to brush the splatters from the sides of the pan back down into the caramel as it cooks. You can test the color of the caramel by dropping some from a spoon onto a white plate. Once it’s dark enough, turn off the heat.

Standing back and being careful to not burn yourself, add 3/4 cup of the cream, the salt and the butter. (This is easiest if they’re poured in simultaneously.) There will be a little volcanic eruption in your saucepan, but it will calm down soon enough. Once it does, stir it until it is smooth and creamy using a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon. Then stir in the vanilla extract. Next, add in the final 1/2 cup of cream. (You can leave this out for thicker sauce, or add even more cream for thinner. For the pumpkin cheesecake, I recommend using what I’ve written.)

Once cooled a bit, store it in a jar or two, with a piece of plastic film pressed against the surface. It will keep refrigerated for up to a month. Reheat it gently before serving.

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Salted Caramel and Roasted Pumpkin Cheesecake

Inspired by Lynne Vea’s PCC recipe

Crust

  • 130 g (1 cup) gingersnap cookie crumbs
  • 130 g (1 cup) honey graham cracker crumbs
  • 4 ounces butter (1/2 cup; 1 stick), melted
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

Filling

  • 24 ounces full-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 3 eggs, plus 1 egg yolk, at room temperature
  • 2 cups pumpkin puree (A little shy of 500g- I forgot to weigh mine so this isn’t exact but it shouldn’t matter if it’s off by a bit)
  • 1/3 cup full-fat sour cream, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons unbleached white flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup salted caramel sauce, plus extra for drizzling

To make the crust, blitz the cookies and crackers until they’re fine crumbs. Mix them together with the salt, melted butter, and sugar. Press them evenly into a 9-inch springform pan. Freeze the crust at least 15-minutes, then bake it for 10-minutes at 350℉ on a center rack. Let it cool while you make the filling.

Lower the oven temperature to 325℉.

To prepare for the water bath, have a roasting pan large enough to hold the springform pan ready. Also, have a kettle of water on to boil. Lastly, make sure that your springform’s bottom and sides are tightly wrapped with aluminum foil. I wrapped mine three times; at least twice is necessary to prevent water from seeping into the pan. (I’m anxious, so I pretty much always overcompensate.) You can wrap it before making the crust or after the crust has cooled.

Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment (though a hand mixer will work- you’ll have awesome arm muscles by the end!), beat the cream cheese at medium speed for about 4-minutes or until it is completely smooth. Add the sugar and salt; beat for another 4-minutes. Regularly stop to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a spatula to incorporate ingredients evenly. Beat in the vanilla extract. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for a minute after each one enters. Reduce the speed to low and add the pumpkin, sour cream, flour, spices, and caramel sauce. Once it’s silky smooth, give it a few final stirs with the spatula.

Pour the batter over the cooled crust. Rap it on the counter a time or two to smooth it out. If you desire, pour a little caramel swirl over the top. You can use a toothpick or chopstick to make lines from your circles, or form whatever design floats your boat.

Place the springform pan into the roasting pan. Place this in the oven. Fill the roasting pan with enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the springform. Set a timer for 90-minutes. You only need to rotate the pan if your oven heat is extremely uneven. It’s best not to mess with this, if possible, as the hot water and heavy pan is a wee bit dangerous on the move. When the timer goes off, turn off the oven, prop open the oven door and let the cake slowly cool inside for one more hour.

Carefully lift the springform pan out of the roasting pan. Inevitably some water will have made it’s way between the layers of foil, so take care not to let it spill on you. Remove the foil and let the cheesecake come to room temperature. This is best done on a rack with a baking sheet below it to catch drips.

Loosely cover the cooled cake and refrigerate it at least 4 hours. (It can be wrapped and refrigerated up to 3 days in advance.)

Prior to serving, run a table knife between the crust and the sides of the pan. If you’re so inclined, you can use a hair dryer to heat the sides and help with the release. I don’t find this necessary, but I also don’t mind imperfections in my cheesecake. Unlock the springform and carefully remove it from the base. It’s nearly impossible to remove the entire cake from the base of the springform pan, so I recommend serving it from there. The crust is a bit of a challenge to slice through. You’ll need to push hard. I recommend slicing one piece at a time. It gets easier after the first piece, and an awesome knife and excellent pie server will help you do the job. If you’re so inclined, warm up some extra caramel sauce to pour on top of each slice.

Enjoy! I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving. This post goes out to my amazing host, and her parents, who made me feel like I should open a bakery. xoxo

 

Celebrating in both spaces

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Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.
Khalil Gibran, The Prophet

 

 

Like all holidays past, and all holidays future, there are other thoughts racing around in the back of our heads beyond whether or not the turkey will taste good and the pies will turn out. We miss loved ones. We ache for relationships to be healed. We want the children to stop pestering each other. We long for patience and wisdom.

Sunday morning brought news of my parents’ decades long neighbor passing away. Though her death was expected, I am never ready for the wave of grief that inevitably crashes into me as the words are spoken, and this time was no different. I sobbed, first to my mom on the phone and later in my bedroom while the boys played. It’s an odd experience to cry loudly while your kids are laughing and tearing apart the house. They were completely oblivious to my sounds. This isn’t too surprising since I could probably walk past them naked wearing a Frankenstein mask and they also wouldn’t notice if they were fully engrossed in their play, but it’s still strange to experience.

Once I calmed, all I wanted was to recount the stories. There are many, starting with my birth. Louise’s oldest daughter and I share the same birthday, a decade apart. My brother, nearly nine years older than me, spent the night with a swarm of ten-year-old girls at a birthday party while Mom labored and delivered. (I don’t know whether or not he enjoyed the party scene, but I like that it happened on account of me. My earliest successful attempt to mess with a sibling.) Several years later Louise baked me my favorite birthday cake- heart’s desire of every little girl of the 80s: the kind with the doll awkwardly sticking out of the middle of the cake while wearing a giant, impossible-to-walk-in dress, of course!

Louise lived across the street from me during my entire childhood, and she loved to garden. These two things ensured that our paths crossed frequently. Nearly every morning and afternoon of elementary school, as I hopped on and off the school bus, I’d look for her cats. Talkative, snuggly Cookie would cross the street, waiting with me in the morning and walking me partway home in the afternoon. Sugar or Pepper (I can’t remember which- they owned a lot of cats over the years and their food names always confused me) would wait in their yard, knowing I’d eventually come scratch behind her ears. If the cats weren’t outside, I’d inevitably ask my mom if I could go visit. I was always welcomed inside.

Routine, everyday encounters were the norm, but there were exceptional moments, too. One winter evening, a friend’s mom dropped me off at home after a dance recital. My mom and sister stayed for performances later that evening, but I was only six years old, exhausted and ready for bed. The woman didn’t wait to see if I got in, driving away before I even reached my front door. I stood knocking and ringing the bell, increasingly scared and lonely. The house was dark. The porch light wasn’t even on. The bushes grew big enough for people to be hiding behind. The night grew colder and darker. The wind hissed. My dad and brother were supposed to be home.

I was so young that I’m not sure if I’d even crossed the street by myself yet. I clearly remember being terrified to do it,  especially in the dark, but I knew where I wanted to go. Their porch light was on. The cats would be inside, too. I was even happy knowing that I could peek at the little world inside their enormous terrarium, which I found both odd and amazing. I remember my run across the street vividly, though more like I recently dreamt it than that it really happened. My heart pounded as I rang their doorbell. (I vaguely remember also feeling nervous about bothering them late at night or waking them up. It was probably 8pm.) A warm blanket of comfort covered me as the door opened and my neighbor took me in.

Both of the neighborhood women that nurtured me in special ways are now gone. There were countless simple, beautiful acts that only thoughtful neighbors can do: daily greetings, inviting me in for tea or kitty-cat petting, running little treats outside because I was spotted passing by. These women were present for my family during our most challenging and celebratory moments, too. They threw parties, brought food, gave hugs and ran errands. Their presence made our surrounding neighborhood pretty close to the elusive village “it takes” to raise kids.

The holidays have always felt hard to face when grief is fresh, but I’m realizing part of that is because I bought into a lie. For too long, I equated thankfulness with smiling and good cheer and felt like I’d somehow ruin a holiday if I was sad. So, I wore my emotions tightly, holding myself in a protective stance that didn’t allow for either extreme to be expressed. Finally, I begin to make room at the table for tears. What could be a more pure reflection of love shared and missed? And, of course, I set a place for joy. We would experience a different sort of grief without the warm memories of playing, dancing, laughing and telling stories. Without those elements, our grief might actually be regret. This year, I’m beginning to see how I can hold both joy and sorrow in my heart during the holidays. It starts with making space at the table.

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Podcasts and pumpkins

While chopping, whisking flours or sorting laundry, I frequently listen to podcasts. The one requirement: I must be alone. Otherwise I’m forced to pause and rewind twenty times within a five minute window to compensate for the surrounding monkey noises. That gets awkward with beet juice or batter on my hands. Either way, between the shows, siamang calls, and our recent subscription to Rdio, I’m taken care of in the background noise department. Speaking of which, have you heard this song? It came on randomly for my husband, stopping him in his tracks. We keep listening on repeat. Take a break and let it wash over you.

Oddly enough, the music or program of choice keeps coinciding with my task. “Beat It” popped on while I chopped roasted beets. I danced in my apron in the kitchen, waving my red-stained hand like it wore a white glove. While preparing this pumpkin bread, which made my entire house smell like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, the next-in-line show from Molly and Matt’s hilarious Spilled Milk post was, whaddaya know, pumpkin spice! I guess I should stay away from podcasts and songs about knife injuries. Or burning kitchens.

Back to the pumpkin. I never imagined that anyone familiar with Seattle’s amazing coffee offerings would convince me to try a Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL?!!!) at Starbucks, but they did. Plus, they provided consolation that I’m not alone in my dislike of pumpkin pie. Lastly, and most importantly to me at the time, they enjoy pumpkin bread. It would’ve been a teensy bit discouraging to be in the midst of preparing this with intentions to share here while simultaneously wondering if my offering was detested by a majority.

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Our vegetable farmers provided CSA members with THREE (!!!) Winter Luxury pumpkins this year because the unusually sunny, warm summer weather made for fruitful squash. I was thrilled by the abundance. I’ve roasted all and thus far we’ve consumed pumpkin muffins, pumpkin bread and pumpkin risotto. Thanksgiving will involve me trying my best to share the caramel pumpkin cheesecake.

Roasting whole pumpkins is amazingly simple. Stab the pumpkin a few times with a knife. (I forgot to do this for 1/3. It turned out ok, but needed longer and I had to poke holes anyway. I may have been lucky.) Bake it for an hour at 300-325℉, or until you can poke through the skin with a fork. Once it’s cool, the skin peels off with tremendous ease, the seeds scoop out in a few swoops, and the flesh can be frozen in containers sized for the job or used within a few days. It comes out so tender and moist that it’s already a puree- no blending and very little mashing required.

Is fresh pumpkin tastier? Many argue that it’s up for debate. I surmise it depends on the squash. Winter Luxury pumpkins receive a lot of fan mail. I’ve seen their overflowing mailboxes. Apparently, butternut squash is also favored for pumpkin breads and pies. I have yet to try, but I’m intrigued. Just don’t bother roasting your average Halloween pumpkin. You’re much better off with canned. (Plus, it’s probably moldy by now.)

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This pumpkin bread is velvety, tender and has bit of a crunch from the crust. I generally prefer sweetened breads to be smooth, so I stray from nuts, raisins, etc… in the batter. Streusel and crunchy toppings are different matter, though. Bring ‘em on.

Regardless of your stance on “pumpkin spice”, you have some control here. You can tone things down if you’re not a huge fan. (In this case, I would recommend leaving the cinnamon as is, reducing the nutmeg and eliminating the cloves.) I find it strong but balanced. My boys LOVE it as is, and as trusty as their palates may be, I share that here because they would probably reject it if it were more heavy handed. In fact, I just pulled out a jar to thaw so I can make another loaf because Charlie thanked me THREE times for sending him a cream cheese slathered piece in his lunch yesterday. “It was just delicious, Mom.”

I am not sure how I acquired this recipe. I’ve been making versions of it for years, before I even read food blogs, and all I have is a printed paper. I’m sharing the version that I lean towards most often. I bake it in a loaf pan and as muffins. I add up to a third of whole grain flours by keeping the weight the same, I change the ratio of oils by keeping the volume stable. All of these experiments have worked. So, if whoever led me to this recipe is out there and reading this, Thank You! It’s survived a lot of recipe culling. It’s the slice of pumpkin I want at the table.

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Pumpkin Bread

From someone who may or may not identify themselves, who adapted it from Tartine. Makes one 9×5 inch loaf, two 8×3 inch loaves, or 12 muffins.

  • 225 g (1 2/3 cup) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 255 g (1 cup + 2 tablespoons) pumpkin puree (I’ve used as much as 300g without problems. It just needed to bake a little longer.)
  • 200 g (1 cup) coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil (I typically use about 1/2 cup of each. You can use 1 cup of just one oil. I prefer the combo.)
  • 270 g (1 1/3 cup) granulated sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons demerara or turbinado sugar (though granulated is ok)

Preheat oven to 325℉ / 160℃ with a rack in the middle. Butter pans or line them with muffin cups or parchment paper.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves in a medium bowl.

In a large bowl, vigorously whisk together the oils, granulated sugar, pumpkin puree, and salt until they are completely combined. Add each egg individually, whisking until it’s fully incorporated prior adding the next. Scrape down the sides with a spatula. Add the dry mixture to the wet, stirring with a gentle hand until just combined. To help it mix evenly, scrape down the sides occasionally.

Place the batter in your pan(s) of choice. Smooth the surface by rapping the pan on the counter, as needed. Sprinkle the two tablespoons of sugar evenly over the batter. Bake the muffins for 20-25 minutes, the 8X3 loaf pans for 44-48 minutes, or the 9×5 loaf pan for 60-65 minutes. (Always check them with a tester to ensure they’re cooked. If there’s still wet batter on the tester, throw the pan back in the oven for a few more minutes.)

Let cool in the pan for 10-minutes, then unmold and cool completely on a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Want to gild the lily? Take a note from Renee Erickson’s zucchini bread recipe and fry the slices in some butter first, serving them up with a dollop of creme fraiche. The bread is also quite nice topped with cream cheese. I bet a lightly sweetened sour cream would be delicious, too. Why not ice cream? Or whipped cream? Just like pie, but better.

 

 

Celebrating her

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The airport was still within sight, landing planes roaring above us as we headed home after dropping off my mom. Miles asked, “Mama, when is grandma coming back?” Simultaneously warming my heart and turning me into a puddle, my boy missed my mom. He fell in love with his grandma during her visit.

They held hands a lot. He touched her warm, soft winter coat and complimented it (prior to asking if he could have it). He told her how much he liked her smooth, leather gloves.

They read piles of books together, too. Sometimes side by side, but usually snuggled up.

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He told her everything. From the minute we picked her up to the minute she left, he did not miss a chance to chat. “Grandma, guess what? Um-uh, I have 36 Pokemon cards! And uh, guess what? Pokemon starts with “P”!  Puh, puh, Pokemon!”

Charlie, equally pleased to see her but less of a chatterbox these days, spent hours playing Monopoly and making Spirograph flowers with her. (Remember those?) He can read his own books these days, but he never missed a chance to sit by her side.

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When my counselor asked me what I hoped for with my mom’s visit, I shared my desire to play and laugh a lot together. I didn’t want to squander our time. From the simplicity of working together in the kitchen to prepare food for our weekend, to the marvel of soaking in stunning views from beaches and the Needle, to the joyous yells of surprise while watching chum salmon jump waterfalls in Piper’s Creek. My hopes were met, even exceeded.

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Lately I’ve felt a profound gratitude for my Mom that I can feel in my core. WIth many friends in crisis, I am acutely aware of how fleeting life is, how quickly circumstances shift, how preciously we should hold the beautiful moments. My mom is a great treasure in my life. With each passing year it is more evident how beloved she is by my boys, too. She knows how to connect. She plays games with them for hours, listens patiently to their (often painfully) long stories, delights in their journeys, and encourages them in their struggles. It’s her birthday, but we got the gift.

Happy birthday, Mom. I love you to Old Faithful and back.IMG_5396