Tuesday, January 29, 2008

chocolate monsters

One day Jove and I are eating Ghirardelli chocolate squares (I won' t say how many) and he starts to gobble his up in true Cookie Monster fashion, and then he declares, "We are the chocolate monsters." I agree; we are the chocolate monsters.

Like a true chocolate monster, Jove always tilts his hot chocolate mug way back to get the last drips of cocoa and it leaves him with a chocolate unibrow.

Friday, January 25, 2008

ahhh, Miranda

Miranda is changing so much, so fast. I am in awe of her development and so grateful to be with her all of the time to witness it.
She is mobile, scooting around and getting into everything I keep trying to put away so she won't get into it.
She has two front teeth, plus three on the bottom which give her face so more character and make nursing extra interesting.

She is much more aware of Jove and other babies and children. She will take Jove's toys and fuss if he takes one from her. She has a couple of baby friends from my mom's group that she is developing a relationship with.
Her new love is dancing. She will bop her head to any beat, even the sound of Jove drawing with markers. She also bops her head towards Jupiter's computer to let us know that she wants the music turned on.

I can't believe she will be a year old in a couple of months. And, yes, she still has no hair.

chocolate cake: a story of redemption

First of all, let me say that I am not a baker. All of the intuition I have about cooking completely flies out the window when yeast, flour, sugar and eggs are on the ingredients list. I am not afraid to bake, but slightly confused by it (butter, room temperature or chilled??) and often disappointed with my results.
My biggest cooking disaster, so far, involved a chocolate cake I made for Jove's birthday party last summer. It was a ladybug cake and the red frosting that I made myself was disgusting (how was I supposed to know that large amounts of Wilton's red food coloring would "distort" the flavor to the point of inedibility??). Children were spitting out the frosting. It reminded me of the puking scene from Stand by Me, maybe slightly less dramatic, but still pretty embarrassing. I will include a picture of how cute the cake was before anyone actually tasted it to make myself feel better.

So, last Monday, I braved my chocolate cake fears and the results were quite extraordinary. My mother-in-law's birthday was last Monday (as was Martin Luther King Jr's) and I made her dinner and dessert to celebrate. I found a recipe for a flour-less chocolate cake on allrecipes.com and it was so easy and yummy that I feel like the red frosting incident is the distant past and I can now make dessert for people that they will want to eat.

The cake is uber-rich, chocolatey and so full of saturated fat that I recommend only making it when there will be enough people around to eat it or you may have a chocolate induced heart attack. I put a raspberry sauce and fresh raspberries on top to finish it, but the possible variations are endless. The original recipe called for a caramel sauce, but I thought that might be a bit cloying.

So here goes,

my chocolate cake redemption recipe

  • 1 cup butter, cubed (2 sticks)
  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 1/4 cups white sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup raspberry jam
  • Water to thin jam
  • 1 pint fresh raspberries (do not wash)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F . Butter the bottom of a 10 inch springform pan, and line with parchment paper.
  2. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Stir in chocolate, and continue to stir until almost melted. Remove from heat, and stir until melted and smooth. In a large bowl, stir together 1 1/4 cups sugar and the cocoa powder. Whisk in the eggs until well blended, then whisk in the chocolate and butter. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
  3. Bake for about 45 minutes in the preheated oven, or until a knife or toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool cake in the pan over a wire rack. Run a knife around the sides of the pan to loosen the cake, then remove the sides of the pan, and invert onto a serving plate. Remove the parchment paper.
  4. Place the jam in a small sauce pan and heat and add water until the consistency will allow it to be easily spread without creating lumps.
  5. Spread the jam evenly on the top of the cake and top with fresh raspberries.
The cake platter pictured above was my wedding gift from my great aunt who lives in West Virginia. There is a glass making factory near where my father's parents grew up and they are known for their iridescent glass. At the time, I thought I wouldn't have much use for a cake platter, but I really love it and I always think of my family in West Virginia when I use it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Over the weekend, I opened up an email to find that my dear friend has started a blog and I felt a rush of happiness. Now, I get to read about her days, thoughts and adventures and feel close to her even though she is far away. It feels like the best gift ever, as do the blogs of other friends. I have been listening to the CD she made me for my birthday on my trips driving Jove to pre-school and we both give it two thumbs up.

Another dear friend, made Jove sewn books for him to illustrate and create stories in and here is a picture of him reading the story with his papa. So far, he has created two stories, one about flying shoes and one about a sleepy frog. This is the coolest gift ever for him, along with his tin pan crayons.

Thanks for weaving me into your webs.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Mortality from Jove's Point of View

Our fish, Io, is dying. In fact, let me check, nope he's still kind of alive. He has been becoming more and more horizontal each day and Jove has been telling everyone who comes to our house that Io is going to die. It has affected me more than I thought it would, since it isn't really an untimely death. Io is a Japanese Betta and has been with us for two years and survived numerous adventures in the car, being babysat by various family members and neighbors and forgetting to feed him occasionally. Maybe I feel guilty more than sad. Jove has plans to bury him behind our pool and says then the ants and larvae can carry him away.

Jove said a couple of nights ago at dinner that when he (himself, not Io) dies (Jupiter and I shoot each other a concerned glance) he will buried in a cemetery and then the ants and larvae can be carry him away. Jupiter says, "Yes, in a long, long time when you die you can buried in a cemetery, if you want." Jove responds, "What? I don't want to be buried. I would be lonely in the ground by myself." Jupiter says, "But, you wouldn't feel lonely if you're dead." Jove says, "What?" Exactly. A little confusing for a three year old.

Part of me thinks it a morbid topic for conversation, but since we have huge cemeteries near our house that Jove always asks about I have decided just to be honest about dead people getting buried there. At first I just told him it was like a park with stones, but then we would occasionally see funerals, flowers and he would ask, "Why are there so many stones with writing?" Plus, he knows that other living things die. Luckily, no one close to us has died that he can remember. Jove is just at the age where he picks up on everything and is started to understand the presence of bad and undesirable things in the world. It feels like parenting just got a lot trickier.

the new year

I have been meaning to reflect in writing on the arrival of 2008 and so here goes. This past year has been a big change for me and I have been able to enjoy the moments of my life more than before. Usually my list of goals for a new year would include a to do list (maybe a wish list): exercise more, be more patient and accepting, less judgmental, help other people more, have a regular spiritual practice, etc.
I find myself kind of goal-less right now which feels good, surprisingly. Not working and being with the kids has allowed (and forced) me to slow down a lot and enjoy just being. Instead of making a resolution to meditate daily, which may be almost impossible with two young kids, I have a tickling meditation with Jove which involves a lot of tickling and leaves me feeling pretty blissed out. In my mind, it requires the same type of discipline to be mindfully present with my kids as it does to make time to meditate. Jove will ask me, sometimes at what seems like the most inopportune moment, "Let's tickle on the couch." For Jove, there is only the present moment and what I do in that present moment seems pretty important, for both of us. It is the same with Miranda and nursing her to sleep, another one of my daily meditations.

This last year, I feel less busy and happier. So that is my new year's wish this year, be less busy and happier. I also find comfort in routines and seasons more than I used to. I am more appreciative of my friends and family, new and old, and realize that ultimately my life is only about the people in it. So, thank you (you know who you are), to the people who are in my life and for each day I have to share it with all of you.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Friday Night Pizza

After I read Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life about her family's experiment with growing and buying almost only locally grown food for a year I was definitely inspired. But, my garden was almost done for the year (we had tomatoes on the vine until October, freaky global warming) and I wasn't ready to start such an admirable journey myself. But a lot of the habits her family has appealed to me and one that we adopted was Friday Night Pizza (homemade, that is). I don't actually use her recipe, although I will try it, I use a pizza dough recipe I have been using for a long time for calzones. (recipe to follow)

She writes about the need to unwind at the end of the week and especially for working moms (and dads) to not have to think about what is for dinner. I am not working right now, but my hope is to get really good at making homemade pizza and we can eat it one night a week during the school year until my kids start making dinner for us. I love that Kingsolver is so idealistic and hard-working (processing a couple of hundred pounds of tomatoes in a few weeks), but also realistic. We all know that everyone is not going to switch to locally, more sustainably grown food if it is a ton of work. Pizza is so easy, everyone loves it and it is easy to use whatever is in season as a topping.

Kingsolver uses her own canned or dried tomatoes, she makes her own cheese (I know, who makes their own cheese?) and she tops her pizzas with a lot of interesting seasonal produce. My version is not made of local ingredients, but I like to think that it is somewhat local because I am making it in my own kitchen and not driving to the pizzeria to get it. It is tastier, healthier and a lot cheaper.

A note about pizza dough: it can be refrigerated for a few days, frozen for a couple of weeks and here in NYC pizzerias will even sell it to you for you to make pizzas at home.

My Pizza Dough Recipe
adapted from Vegetarian Planet

Makes a 12 inch pizza and an 8 inch pizza or four smaller pizzas

2/3 cup lukewarm water
1 pinch sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons dry active yeast (get a new pack, don't use old yeast)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups unbleached bread flour
1 teaspoon salt

1. In a small ceramic or glass bowl, combine 1/3 cup water and the sugar. Sprinkle the yeast over top and it will start to multiply and get foamy.
2. After ten minutes, combine the yeast mixture with all of the other ingredients and the rest of the water in a large bowl or a mixer. Mix with a spoon until it forms a ball or use the dough hook attachment on the mixer at a low speed, adding water if necessary.
3. Knead by hand for 5 to 10 minutes or run the mixer on a medium-low speed for 5 to 10 minutes. The dough should be smooth and elastic.
4. Put the dough into a deep, oiled bowl and turn it to coat with the oil. Let the dough rise, covered with plastic wrap, in a warm place for one hour.
(I put the bowl on top of my pre-heating oven which I use to roast some toppings. On top of a radiator would also be good spot.)
5. Punch down the dough and divide it into 2-4 balls depending on how many and what size pizzas you will make.

Making the Pizza

Jarred Pasta Sauce
Grated Part-Skim Mozzarella Cheese
Roasted Onions
Roasted Red Peppers
Chopped and Pitted Kalamata Olives

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees

1. Roll or hand-stretch out the dough to a uniform thickness. If you can see through it, it is too thin. I make mine somewhere between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick.

2. If you want your crust extra crisp, you pre-cook the crust without any toppings for 5 to 8 minutes and then add the toppings.

3. Spread a thin layer of pasta sauce, grated mozzarella and all other toppings.

4. Bake for a total of 15 minutes (if pre-cooking the crust, you need to subtract that time) or until the cheese is bubbly and the crust is starting to brown. I bake mine on regular cookie sheets with a piece of aluminum foil or parchment paper to keep the pizza from sticking.

Cut and Serve. Yum!!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Gingerbread part 2

Last year I bought a gingerbread house making kit with the cutters in the shapes of the pieces of the house. Jove I had a lot of fun putting together and decorating our gingerbread house over a few days. We visited the gingerbread houses on display at the Botanical Garden and read stories about gingerbread to get inspired.

I used a recipe that makes enough gingerbread for the whole thing and there were enough scraps to fashion a donkey and a giraffe for the yard, as well as a few fir trees and an angel.

The icing (glue) is made with an uncooked egg white, two cups of confectioner's sugar and 3/4 teaspoon Cream of Tartar. I used the mixer and it makes the icing viscous enough to be used as glue. I loaded the icing into pastry bags and Jove squeezed icing onto the pieces of gingerbread. He would use the back of a spoon to spread it out and then push candy pieces into it. The icing is also used to get the sides of the house to stick together and to stick to the base. I made about 7 or 8 batches of icing.

Jove could do almost all of the work: decorating the sides of the house and smaller pieces, putting up the lawn ornaments and designing the layout.

Our gingerbread house's details:
  • two gingerbread people inside eating at a table
  • a bunch of hay in the yard for animals to eat and sleep on
  • a marshmallow snowman peaking in through the window
  • a chimney flanked by an angel on one side and a star on the other.
  • rows of gummy bears in the snow lined up for school
  • a shed for the animals made from animal crackers
Now, the gingerbread house is gone, after being disassembled by Jove with a pair of pliers. But it will live on in our memory and I am sure I will be finding small pieces of dried icing in my house for many more weeks.