Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Thoughts on Two


last month you turned two. to say you have grown would be an understatement. you are suddenly such a big girl! you are lanky and those little rolls on your legs and arms have disappeared. your vocabulary is also expanding in big ways. on saturday your dad turned to me and said, "so she can pretty much say anything she wants now." yes. you love to strike up conversation with anyone who will listen and we love to hear your thoughts each day. you observe everything. you forget nothing. 

for your birthday we kept things simple. no party, just family, a cake, and your requested dinner (spaghetti and meatballs). when you awoke on your birthday, you followed a trail of balloons to the living room and opened some gifts. there were birthday pancakes and candles. in the afternoon we took out a box of photos and looked back on our favorite memories of the past two years. it was the perfect weekend.

i've been thinking a lot about the months being pregnant with you. something about winter will always remind me of those cold, quiet days leading up to your arrival. i remember the days right after we brought you home. they were the coziest, most surreal days. just the three of us. fast forward to last winter. we were outgrowing our tiny apartment, just considering the possibility of moving. i was completely wrapped up in freelancer deadlines. it was a stressful time. and yet the days were mild. they were warm enough to allow for walks, you and i bundled up, holding you close to my chest. 

this winter has been brutal. we have been buried under snowstorm after snowstorm. each weekend brings more snow and bitter cold temperatures. all of us are anxious for spring to arrive. i can't wait to return to walking everywhere, longer days spent outside, and evenings filled with sunlight. a few weeks ago we saw a one day reprieve from the cold and took note. wasting no time, we put on our rain boots and headed out. we walked and walked and walked. we held hands and looked for birds, squirrels, dogs, the remains of christmas decorations. i use to daydream about doing this with you, walking hand in hand, talking with each other. the sun warmed our faces and we ran from puddle to puddle, stomping through every one. when we got home we put on warm socks and recounted every detail from our walk. 

// your current loves:  
dance parties in the living room
reading books
making lists with a pen and pad of paper
brushing your teeth
painting, stamping, coloring
helping prepare dinner
jumping and hopping
putting your dishes in the cabinet
ring around the rosy
playing board games
drinking tea
looking for the moon each evening
going to the library 
bubble baths
helping with the laundry 
making coffee
stickers and temporary tattoos
listening to music
giving high fives
playing with your dollhouse and animals
saying prayers at dinnertime
going to restaurants (in particular, ordering your food)
helping to dress and undress yourself
pushing the little cart at the grocery store

// recent phrases: 
"remember summer? remember the zoo?" 
"daddy is a really good daddy." 
when handed a mug of hot chocolate, "oh boy, oh boy! i looovvveee it!"
"that baby is crying. just take deep breaths baby, it's okay."
"i'm making coffee. emerson doesn't like coffee. mama loves coffee."
"we have to bundle up. it's freezing outside!"
upon entering a public restroom anywhere, "don't touch anything!"
"i'm really working. daddy is working just like emerson."
'let's run errands and go to a restaurant."
while listening to any jazz, "it's charlie brown music!"
when asked if you would like some carrots, "no, i'm good!"
"mama needs to turn the record."
while walking into the splits position, "i'm doing yoga. stttrrreeeeettttcccchhh."
"remember yesterday? when i put my feet on the table?"
"mama's a good eater."
when you do not care for what we're listening to, "emerson wants to listen to other music."
pointing to hot sauce on the table, "that's too spicy for emerson. daddy loves it."
after an older gentleman said hello to you at the grocery store, "emerson is shy to that old grandpa."

you leave us in wonder every single day, my love. you make us laugh and cry and constantly surprise us. you still like to cuddle and give the best hugs. you pat my back when we say goodnight. we miss you when we put you to bed at night. each age brings its own challenges and beautiful moments, but this period has been especially fun. as each month passes, your dad and i will say to each other, "this is my favorite age, hands down." truly, this feels like such a remarkable, wonderful time in your little life. 

happy second year beautiful girl! 



Thursday, January 23, 2014

classic birthday cake

In the days leading up to Emerson's birthday, I asked her what kind of dessert she wanted on the big day. "Chocolate cake with pink icing!" she declared. Luckily I had my trusty recipe to fall back on. I recently did a quick search of the recipe index on this blog and was surprised to find I had never shared this recipe before. I have been making this chocolate cake for years. It is the most requested birthday/graduation/shower/celebration cake in my family and always a crowd pleaser. For the cake pictured above, I made a classic buttercream frosting. This cake goes perfectly well with chocolate or cream cheese frosting as well. I'll include recipes for all three frostings below. Chicago readers, this recipe comes pretty close to Sweet Mandy B's devil's food cake. Definitely pull this recipe out next time you have some celebrating to do!

Classic Birthday Cake 
via Ina Garten

1 3/4 cup flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup good cocoa powder (I like E. Guittard Cocoa Rouge.)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee

Preheat the oven to 350. Butter two 8 inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low-speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla. With the mixer on low-speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With the mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Batter will be runny and bubbly. Not to worry!

Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35-40 minutes, until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely, removing parchment paper.

Note: These frosting recipes make plenty to frost a two-layer cake. If you want to get fancy with decorating, I suggest doubling the recipes. 

Buttercream Frosting
1 cup unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla 
1 lb. of confectioners' sugar
1-3 teaspoons milk

Sift sugar and set aside. Beat butter on high until creamy. Add vanilla. Then add the sugar in batches. Scrape down the sides in between each addition. Add milk a teaspoon at a time and beat on high, until desired creaminess is reached. Tint your frosting if desired. Frost your cake. Cake keeps, covered and chilled, 3 days. Bring cake to room temperature before serving.

Cream Cheese Frosting
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla 
6 cups confectioners' sugar

Sift sugar and set aside. Beat cream cheese and butter on high until creamy. Add vanilla. Then add the sugar in batches. Scrape down the sides in between each addition. Tint your frosting if desired. Frost your cake. Cake keeps, covered and chilled, 3 days. Bring cake to room temperature before serving.

Chocolate Ganache Frosting
1 pound (455 grams) fine-quality semisweet chocolate (I like Callebaut.)
1 cup (235 ml) heavy cream
2 tablespoons (25 grams) sugar
2 tablespoons (40 grams) light corn syrup
1/2 stick (1/4 cup or 55 grams) unsalted butter

Finely chop chocolate. In a 1 1/2- to 2-quart saucepan bring cream, sugar, and corn syrup to a boil over moderately low heat, whisking until sugar is dissolved. Remove pan from heat and add chocolate, whisking until chocolate is melted. Cut butter into pieces and add to frosting, whisking until smooth. Transfer frosting to a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally, until spreadable. Spread frosting between cake layers and over top and sides. Cake keeps, covered and chilled, 3 days. Bring cake to room temperature before serving.

on motherhood

Monday, January 13, 2014

the best foods come in bowls

There are quite a few boxes to check for a recipe to become a go-to, heavy rotation dinner in our house. 
Is it delcious? 
Is it healthy? 
Is it something we could eat everyday? 
Is it something Emerson will enjoy? 
Is it quick enough to prepare on a weeknight? 

This recipe happily checks all of the boxes. And it's really less of a recipe and more of a formula. Swap in your favorites if you see something you don't like. The great thing about this recipe is that the components keep well for lunches too, so the leftovers make a satisfying lunch the following day. Not long after Emerson was born I began cooking up a pot of grains and a pot of beans on the weekends. It's great to have both on hand all week for lunches and dinners. If you have beans and rice cooked already, this dinner comes together in minutes. 

The original recipe comes from Kate over at the wonderful Cookie and Kate, one of my favorite cooking blogs. Her site has so many recipes that instantly become go-to, heavy hitters. I made a few additions to her recipe, which you can adapt seasonally. Sliced radish or jicama would be fantastic as well. Note: we are bean lovers in our house, so I doubled Kate's original bean recipe.

Kale + Black Bean Bowls
based on Kate's recipe 

Roasted Sweet Potato
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1 in cubes
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon salt
Brown rice
  • 1 cup brown rice, rinsed
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
Lime marinated kale
  • 1 bunch curly kale, ribs removed and chopped into small, bite-sized pieces
  • ¼ cup lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ serrano pepper (or jalapeno), seeded and finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
Avocado salsa verde
  • 1 avocado, pitted and sliced into big chunks
  • ½ cup salsa verde (my favorite is Trader Joe's)
  • ½ cup fresh cilantro
  • 1 lime, juiced
Seasoned black beans
  • 4 cans black black beans, rinsed and drained (or 8 cups cooked black beans)
  • 2/3 cup chopped red onion
  • 6 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper 
  • cherry tomatoes, sliced into thin rounds
  • quick pickled onions (recipe below)
  • hot sauce (optional)
  1. Cook the rice: Pour the rinsed brown rice into a saucepan with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and cook uncovered for 30 minutes. After the water is absorbed, turn off the heat. Take pan off the heat. Place a tea towel over the rice, top with the lid, and let sit for 10 minutes. Then fluff the rice with a fork and season with ¼ teaspoon salt, or more to taste.
  2. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Spread the potatoes on a pan. Drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt, and roast for 35 minutes, stirring potatoes halfway through.
  3. Make the kale salad: whisk together the lime juice, olive oil, chopped pepper, cumin and salt. Toss the chopped kale with the lime marinade in a mixing bowl.
  4. Make the avocado salsa verde: in a food processor or blender, combine the avocado chunks, salsa verde, cilantro and lime juice and blend well.
  5. Warm the beans: in a sauce pan, warm 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-low heat. Sauté the onion and garlic until fragrant, then add the beans, chili powder and cayenne pepper. Cook until the beans are warmed through and softened, stirring often, about 5 to 7 minutes. If the beans seem dry at any point, mix in a little splash of water. Mash gently with your spoon.
  6. To serve, spoon generous portions of rice, beans and kale salad into a bowl along with a couple spoonfuls of avocado salsa verde. Garnish with chopped cherry tomatoes and pickled onion.
  • If eating leftovers the next day, I recommend mixing in a little undressed kale to your leftover kale. It perks everything up and adds any extra crunch that might have been lost overnight. 
  • Quinoa or bulgur work perfectly in place of the rice.
 These are a staple in our house. Great on tacos, eggs, burritos, salads.

Quick Pickled Onions
In a small saucepan bring the following to a boil: 1 cup water, 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoons sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add 1/2 medium red onion (thinly sliced) and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove onions from pickling liquid with tongs and set aside in a bowl to cool.

Friday, January 10, 2014

words to remember

RIP, Amiri Baraka. One of your first poems has remained one of my favorites.

Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note
Lately, I've become accustomed to the way
The ground opens up and envelopes me
Each time I go out to walk the dog.
Or the broad edged silly music the wind
Makes when I run for a bus...

Things have come to that.


And now, each night I count the stars.
And each night I get the same number.
And when they will not come to be counted,
I count the holes they leave.


Nobody sings anymore.

And then last night I tiptoed up
To my daughter's room and heard her
Talking to someone, and when I opened
The door, there was no one there...
Only she on her knees, peeking into


Her own clasped hands

photo via
poem via University of Illinois

Sunday, January 5, 2014

the early, snowy days of january

on thursday i wrote "2014" down on paper for the first time. it is unnatural and strange to write out those numbers. 2-0-1-4. suddenly another year presents itself. one to seize and fill with the ups and downs of life. since becoming a mother, i feel my life has come into focus. the moment you become a parent the important stuff instantly fine tunes and the insignificant details fall away. not because you prefer it that way, no. but because your brain is seized up by love and chaos and constant movement and chatter. something inevitably has to give. for me this was a welcome change. a chance to quiet the outside buzz and simply be present in my life and current position. this theme presents itself again every january. the new year arrives with a reminder to pause, to breathe, and focus on the important stuff. 

along with the new year, a blast of winter weather arrived, which has given all of us no choice but to slow down. it has been a chance to stay inside and rest and i'm wondering if it should become a requirement of every first week of january. with the extra quiet time this week, we've had the chance to reflect on the past year and to think about the year ahead. 2013 was all about getting established. we purchased our first home and have spent the past months slowly making it our own. charlie took a new job. emerson grew and shifted from crawling to walking and running. her handful of words at the start of last year has turned to conversations that leave me in wonder and a fit of laughter. 2014 feels like it will be a building year. building out our life in this house. defining our path and being present in every single moment. 

some goals for my year -

- simplify and consolidate my overflowing closet. 
every season i try to do this and mostly i get rid of a few items, but can't seem to part with the majority. this year no ifs, ands, or buts. i am due for a major overhaul. 

- work with my hands.
i am overcome with a sense of calm when i am creating. making art and writing are my two great loves and too often they fall away in favor of bigger priorities. for my own mental health, i need to dedicate time to these things on a daily and weekly basis. 

- run another race. 
it's been years since i ran a marathon or a half-marathon. time to get back in the saddle and run another race, though i may need to set my sights on a smaller goal. 

- take more photos with my family, not of my family.
one parent inevitably becomes the photographer. this falls to me, despite charlie being a very talented photographer. when i browsed through our photos from the past year, i was shocked by how few i was in. this year i hope to have more photos of all of us together. 

- get organized.
my computer files are quite the mess at the moment. time to tidy up and organize. that goes for a few closets around the house as well. 

- take a class, learn a new skill. 
i would love to learn something new this year. knitting? sewing? wood working? 

- read poems. 
when charlie and i were first married, i would often read a poem each morning with breakfast. it was such a wonderful ritual. i'd love to do it again. 

- get more sleep. 
always the battle for two night owls like us. but i function so much better with more sleep. i will continue my efforts to get to bed earlier. 

- read 12 books. 
before emerson was born my goal was 25-30. 12 is probably more realistic. especially when that includes infinite jest. 

what is on your list? i hope you are warm and safe and surrounded by the ones you love. happy 2014! it will be a very good year. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

July Arrives

I am up with the birds today. They dart from one tree to the next, always stopping at our bird feeder to see if we have finally filled it with seed. Our yard (jungle) is growing wild and crazy with lady ferns shooting up willy nilly. Vines wrap around every surface, closing in on the last untouched plants in the yard. 

I blinked and suddenly it is July. Days and weeks fly off the calendar and time moves in double speed. I keep thinking that if I can just take enough photos or get things in order around the house, I can get ahead of the passage of time. And yet the hours and days just move faster and I wonder how anyone gets anything done. Summer has an important to-do list. There are barbecues and dinners to eat on patios, visits to host with out of town guests, festivals to attend, and ice cream cones to enjoy on stoops. There are pools and lakes to swim in, parks to explore, animals to admire at the zoo, and cocktails to mix. This is what I tell myself when I look at our overgrown yard or the handful of boxes still left to unpack in the house. These things can wait. There is summer to be had.