Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The New Normal

There have been a lot of changes since I've last posted.

For one thing, I am now in charge of making sure these are warm:

and I also get to look into these everyday:

At the end of September, out of nowhere, my father was diagnosed with a brain tumor.  Four days later he was in surgery, and five days after that he came home.  The next week, I was in the operating room, all feeling blocked from the middle of my back down,while the doctor and nurses delivered my daughter.

Michael Chabon wrote an essay for Bon Appetit this month about Thanksgiving and tradition.  It's a wonderfully written piece, and I want to share the last paragraph with you:

And that, to me, is the meaning of Thanksgiving. Of all the Thanksgivings before and since, the one spent at Manka's stands out for me as the truest, even though we were far from our places of origin. Nothing lasts; everything changes. People die, and marriages dissolve, and friendships fade, and families fall apart, whether or not we appreciate them; whether or not we give thanks every waking moment or one night a year. For the act of returning to the same table, to the same people and the same dishes--to the same traditions--can blind you to life's transience. It can lull you into believing that some things, at least, stay the same. And if that's what you believe, then what have you got to be grateful for? None of our Thanksgivings are ever coming back; we've lost them. They're gone. And so this year, let's go somewhere with strange customs and unfamiliar recipes and the latest collection of ill-assorted chairs, and give thanks--not for everything we have, but for everything, instead, that we have lost.

I believe in what he says.  I've had many different Thanksgivings.  Most of my childhood had my family gathered around the table, the large turkey and same sides we looked forward to year after year, the pumpkin and pecan pies afterwards, always too many than reasonable for a family five.  Since then, there have been a number of different ones.  I remember making the turkey and all the fixings for some college friends.  It was my first Thanksgiving away from my family, and I was pretending I was more grown up than I really was.  One year we drove eleven hours for a wonderful, surf-and-turf Thanksgiving with in-laws, which I enjoyed despite being sick as a dog.  I've had one that fell right between two funerals.  That one especially, minds were on what we had lost.  This year's will have a funeral following it as well.

Still, I know that with my father well and at the table, and my new daughter in my arms, this year I am grateful for all I have.

Monday, September 10, 2012

What's Your Chocolate?

I couldn't not participate in this blogfest once I saw the title on several blogs I read.  It's  What’s Your Chocolate? hosted by M. Pax, Laura Eno, Brinda Barry, and Ciarra Knight.  It's a simple and delicious premise, post about your favorite chocolate to eat, when and where you eat it, chocolate memory, anything chocolate related.  

I love chocolate.  If we had as many words for love as the Inuits have for snow, there would be one just to describe my love of chocolate.  I take it pretty seriously.  I love to read about the harvesting of the cacao beans, the hulling and roasting process.  I've read and experimented with the tempering process (it's hard to keep your own temper, let alone the chocolate's, when you are trying this in a tiny kitchen with two little ones underfoot).  I still have plans to make my own chocolates.

It wouldn't be fair for me to call out one favorite chocolate.  I grew up in Belgium, so I was in the perfect place to indulge.  Sometimes, when I would go downtown Brussels just to walk around (why don't I do that as much here?), I'd let the different chocolate shops dictate which direction I would take.  There was a Leonidas shop on Northwest corner of the Grand Place, and my friend and I would buy a few chocolates and then eat them on the steps of the Bourse before seeing concerts at the Ancienne Belgique.  I'd pick up Cote D'Or bars from the local grocery stores, the Noissette and Double Lait were my favorite.  From the American Shoppette I'd buy Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, which you couldn't easily find on the local economy (a shame, since peanut butter and chocolate is one of the best combinations of all time).

Nowadays, I practice a little more self control when it comes to my consuming passion for chocolate (except  lately, but I'm pregnant, and there are so few vices I can indulge in).  I no longer devour an entire bar in one sitting.  I buy small amounts of quality, mostly dark chocolate, and have just one ounce at a time.  My children are chocoholics as well, which secretly pleases me.  Two Christmases ago, my sister and I each made a dessert for dinner.  I made a Buche de Noel with chocolate ganache and mocha buttercream.  My sister made a beautiful and delicious lemon-cranberry bundt cake.  She was serving cake to my son, cut him a slice of the Buche, and asked if he wanted some of her cake.  "No!" he shouted adamantly. "It's not chocolate!"

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Winding Down

It's already August 8th!  or, it's only August 8th!  I'm vacillating between the two sentiments.  On one hand, where did this summer go?  The season is winding down, there is only a small window to get in our summertime activities.  It feels like we didn't go to the lake enough, to the pool enough, even just outside enough (of course, a rapidly expanding belly, and temperatures regularly in the mid 90's contributed to that). I don't think I've made a single fruit pie, and I can count on one hand the number of pitchers of sweet tea I've brewed.  A voice inside me is scolding me for letting this season pass me by.  "Hurry, there's still time!  Lets eat breakfast on the porch, bake a peach pie, have a waterballoon fight in the yard.  We still have summer left!"

Then there is the other hand.  It's hot, this baby is getting bigger. I'm at that point where the pregnancy glow has almost completely disappeared, it's hard to breathe deeply, and you just embrace the waddle.  I sleep with four pillows supporting various parts of my body, and need to change sides every six minutes.  It's only August 8th, which means I have ten more weeks to go.  Plus, I'm thinking more and more of September and October.  I'm excited and nervous about Max starting preschool.  He's going to start to have his own schedule, and I'm realizing there are going to be a whole new set of dates and appointments I'm going to have to keep track of (time to get on that family calendar).  I've even already started planning out Halloween costumes.  Thinking about things so early is very unlike me, but I know that in October, I will be grateful to have it done.

I actually wrote this yesterday, stopped to take care of what-I'm-not-sure-anymore, and have come back to it today.  I'm not sure how I planned to finish these thoughts.  I know that I have some regrets that I am not able to share any pictures of the delicious Plum Clafoutis I made last week.  I made it at 9:00 pm, and my sister and I devoured most of it that night.  Today I made some zucchini bread.  It passes the taste test, but I baked it 18 minutes longer than suggested, and it still didn't bake through.  I also made a delicious cinnamon roll cake, but for the life of me, cannot find/remember the recipe I used.  It was rich (made with three sticks of butter) and sweet and nutty, and would have been the perfect breakfast for company.  If anyone has made something like this before, please let me know what recipe you used.

While I indulge in a small lamentation over my current feeble-mindedness, I should also state that my posts (and my reading of others' posts) are going to become more and more sporadic, with a decent hiatus planned in the next few months.  It's time to get my ducks in a row, my house in order.  I will try to stop by and "see" you all, and I hope everyone enjoys the rest of their summer.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Purging and Recharging

We are getting ready to pack up and go on a mini-vacation tomorrow.  I think it may be the first vacation that we're going on as a family that doesn't involve visiting other family.  We're heading down to Williamsburg, VA.  It's only a few hours from where we live; a long car trip was not desired, and there's a lot to do around there.  Hopefully without spending too much money.  I asked Max what he wanted to do on vacation and he said "have fun."  I like the way he thinks.  We're skipping Busch Gardens, but may take a trip to the beach.  My children have never really seen the ocean.  Sam saw an image of it on TV last night and exclaimed "Swimming Pool!"  I think it's time to show them the real thing.

These past few weeks have been fun, but stressful.  It's been a month of purging, but the unintentional kind.  Three weeks ago our hard drive, I'm not sure exactly what happened, but the end result is that it doesn't work, at all.  For all intents and purposes, it's fried.  We lost all documents and pictures.  One one hand, I was partially relieved that I wasn't going to have to deal with the digital clutter I'd been collecting.  Mostly though, I was devastated at losing so many memories.  Luckily, we had backed up much of our documents (so I'll have to organize it sometime), but we still lost pictures from the past year.  I'm still searching through e-mails and asking family if they have any from Christmas.  An important lesson was learned, back files up regularly and share pictures with others.

More recently we accidentally defrosted our freezer.  That's not the best way to wake up in the morning.  Again, on one hand, it forced us to clear some things out that should have probably been tossed a while ago.  I suppose it's a good thing that I no longer have a box full of ice cream sandwiches to snack on whenever my stomach rumbles the baby wants one.  On the other, I hate throwing out food.  Fortunately, we didn't lose as much as I originally thought; it just meant a short spurt of furious cooking.

A vacation will be welcome.  I've been camped out in my house this week, which has been good.  I've been recharging and trying not to spend any money.  I've also been trying to make progress on my checklist of things to do around the house before the baby arrives, but it's a slow process.  The full weight of my pregnancy is finally hitting me, and there is just so much that I should not/cannot do.  Due to time and budget constraints, I'm trying to get excited about finishing projects and organizing things, as opposed to big decorating redoes.  Pintrest has been very helpful in that respect.

Hope everyone has a wonderful weekend!  I'm hoping to take lots of pictures and have fun.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Poetry Project

Today, I found a link to this Poetry Project on Geeky Daddy's blog.  Needless to say, I saw the words poetry and project together, and got very excited.  It's a year-long project, designed to encourage reading and discussion about poetry.  From what I gather, you post once a month.  They have a guideline topic for each month, but it's not required that your post be about that, and there are no specific days that you have to post.  Sounds like my kind of challenge.  Here is the Intro Questionnaire for this month:

Why do you want to join for the Poetry Project?

I love poetry.  I'm happier when I read/hear it regularly, but find I often don't make time for it.  I figure this project will help me keep that part of my brain active, as well as expose me to some new poets and new thoughts on poetry.

Do you have a favourite poet?

This is a hard one.  Right off the top of my head I would say E.E. Cummings, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Robert Frost.

Hopefully this will go longer than a year. Do you have any suggestions for themes?

Perhaps poems from different countries, in translation?  Or a glimpse into a poet's life, followed by a few examples of his/her work

What are your experiences with poetry in the past? Have they been positive or negative?

I have had mainly positive experiences.  Most of the time, they've been better when I've been able to discuss them with others.

Tell us about a poem or poet that has had a profound effect on you. If you can't think of a poem, how about a song? Or a line from a story?

Another hard one for me. The first one I thought of was Robert Frost's "Mending Wall."  I reread it a year ago, and realized that there is a reason we study it in school

What frustrates you about poetry or the way we talk about poetry?

I think that the language used to discuss poetry needs to be more accessible.  I don't want it dumbed-down, but if the idea is to encourage the reading of poetry by people all over, you should be able to discuss a poem without the need of an English degree.

Tell us something about yourself that has nothing to do with poetry!

I'm expecting my third child in October, so that will be three kids under the age of five (I'm excited, but a little scared).  I love to make things and bake, especially pie!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

What is a Vampire's Favorite Fruit?

Last Friday, I woke up at 6:30 am for the specific purpose of baking a cake for breakfast.  I love early morning baking; there are just so many things that make it feel right.  The kitchen is quiet, and I have it all to myself.  It's still outside, and the heat hasn't quite reached the sweltering point that early in the morning.  Also,  I'm just in better mood when I've started my day doing something productive and creative.
So this is what I made last Friday, a Nectarine Golden Cake, or really, and Nectarine Buckle.  We had five nectarines in our Green Grocery delivery the week before.  I was very excited, only to find out that my husband does not share my enthusiasm for the smooth-skinned stone fruit.  Gasp!  My oldest seemed to share his sentiments, and with all the other fruit in the house, my youngest and I were not going to finish them off.  Several sat there neglected until I decided that while they might not like them raw, they will probably like them baked.  

Buckles are so named because you place your fruit on top of the batter in the pan, and as the cake bakes, the fruit buckles underneath.  You start with something like this:

And end up with this:

It's sweet, but not too sweet, so you can easily justify it for breakfast with a hot cup of coffee or tea.  I found the recipe here,  It's been adapted from a recipe featured in Gourmet.  I pretty much followed her adaptation, with the exception of using turbinado sugar to sprinkle the top.  It gives it a little more shine and a nice crinkly crunch.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Happy 4th of July!

I hope everyone had a safe and fun Independence Day, and that most of you were able to keep cool.  Of course, for almost everyone in the USA, that would be hard if you went out at all.  We decided to brave the heat, and spent a little over four hours at our local lake, eagerly awaiting the fireworks display.  I sat on a lawn chair for most of the evening, continuously applying bug spray (the harsh, antiseptic odor was worth it, not a bite on me!), while my husband and sons splashed in the very, very warm water.  We sweated and swam, ate overpriced vendor food, and boogied to 70's dance and funk music.  Max got our permission to dance on the sand, where he regaled those sitting on the beach's edge with his creative and enthusiastic moves.  Finally, the sky grew dark enough.  We sang the Star Spangled Banner, and waited for them to start the pyrotechnics.  As much fun as we had been having, heat and all, the night just got better.  This was Sam's first experience with fireworks.  Every time a rocket flew into the air, his entire body would stiffen with excitement.  Each explosion of color brought an exclamation from him, "Red!  Green!  Loud!  Bright!" followed by simple, contagious laughs.  Max loves the fireworks as well, but he's a cautious kid and a thinker.  He couldn't help but be concerned for the kids swimming in the dark water, invisible but for the multi-colored glow-sticks around their necks and wrists, and the brief illuminations from the fireworks overhead.  I was concerned as well, and envious.  I remember how magical night swimming is, and it's been such a long time since I've participated.  My concern came from the large flashes of lighting just a few minutes before.  Luckily, the storm held off until later that night, when everyone was safely out of the water and back in their homes.

Days like yesterday, and many more these past few weeks, have brought a wonderful, sad feeling of nostalgia.  I'm not sure what it is.  We went to our first waterpark with the boys last weekend (and my first trip to a waterpark in 10 years).  Even watching cartoons on these hot, summer mornings brings a flood of memories and feelings that I can't quite place.  I find myself trying to keep this feeling up; watching and doing things from my childhood, even buying the same snacks (nothing says summer like those horrible Fruit Juice Barrels, made with no fruit juice).  I think I know that everything is going to change again at the end of the summer.  They're all good changes, the new baby arriving, Max going to preschool, Sam becoming a big brother; but right now, this summer, I like time travelling backwards.  It's strange that since I've had children, each year I've grown older and further away from my youth, I've also been getting closer.