Birthday!

Sam, Tanya and I celebrated his 3rd birthday last Thursday. Unlike Christmas, which went pretty well overall (see last week’s post), his birthday was a bit of a debacle, lemme tell ya. Thank goodness Tanya was there. He just adores her, and loved her gifts — the book Up and Down (which of course she read to him), and the very cool game Zitternix, which they played together.

Then it was time to open my gifts. He opens his first gift, this floor piano. He plays with it for a minute then declares, “I don’t like it.” Second gift, a firefighter play costume, gets the same reaction. At least he liked his (used) books, and his Thomas the Tank Engine winter boots picked up on clearance at the Zellers store-closing sale, which I hadn’t wrapped, just brought with me to daycare for him to wear home that day. Still, I was feeling pretty low at having chosen gifts that failed to delight, you know?

Then, supper. Sam requested “noodles” for his birthday supper. (The kid LOVES his pasta.) Stupid me, I make a new sauce recipe for a change, the Moosewood Eggplant Scallopini Marsala… because I can ALWAYS get him to eat pasta, and he’d enjoyed a veggie lasagna with similar components in the past — eggplant, mushrooms, tomatoes, the last of my dad’s sweet wine. Well, not that night. One bite and he’s, “I don’t like it.” Absolutely refuses to have even one more bite.

That’s when I lost it. Burst out crying. (Using up the last of my dad’s wine had me feeling extra emotional, I’ll admit.) Tanya got up and hugged me. Sam seemed perplexed but not overly upset. He ended up eating cold pasta leftovers instead. (I offered him the option of having the noodles warmed up a little, but he chose to eat them cold. He hates when his food is too hot.) I’m afraid I was a bit harsh in my tone when presenting him with his alternate main course, raising my voice, banging his bowl onto the table angrily. I then gulped down the better part of my glass of wine.

OK, cake. Can’t go wrong with birthday cake, right? Bananas are one of Sam’s favourite fruits, so I thought a banana cake would be a hit. Unfortunately, I didn’t have nearly as many chocolate chips (that’s the last of them there, sprinkled on top for decoration) as I thought I did, so I couldn’t make the sour cream ganache I’d originally been planning since Sam loves chocolate, and threw on an incompletely blended cream cheese frosting instead, quickly improvised, not following a recipe, but using minimal sugar since I was low on that too. The frosting was lumpy… I mean rustic, yeah, rustic, that’s the ticket… Anyway: light the candles, turn out the lights, sing Happy Birthday, he’s all smiles blowing out the candles. I serve the cake to Sam. One bite. The result below is plain: “I don’t like it.” Then Tanya and I taste it and have seconds, Rose Levy Berenbaum’s Cordon Rose Banana Cake is so divine. Seriously, best banana cake I’ve ever made. It was amazing.

You know when you have a vision of how a special occasion is going to be? Yeah, that was nothing like my vision. Welcome to threenager-hood, my friend Amy might say. AAAAARGH! Just keepin’ it real, folks.

Ah well, Tanya and I had a couple of beers after he went to bed and had a nice long talk, which helped me feel a lot better. And Dude was super affectionate and cuddly and sweet the next morning, and all was well. (:

*Photos courtesy of Tanya Wright.

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Presentation counts

I fed my toddler salmon-brie-sundried tomato quiche and roasted broccoli for our Christmas dinner. And he gobbled it all up and asked for seconds!! It’s not really obvious from the picture, but I tried to make the quiche look like a Christmas ornament, with a ribbon threaded through a hole I punched in the foil pie plate. (The star is some of the extra quiche filling, baked separately in the toaster oven without a crust.) The quiche ingredients — a frozen salmon fillet poached in a bit of olive oil and lemon juice then flaked, a smallish wedge of brie thinly sliced, a sautéed onion, a few minced sundried tomatoes and a dollop of pesto, and long thin strips of jarred roasted red pepper for decoration on top — were just some things in my fridge and freezer that I thought would taste good together, and turned out to be a truly inspired combination. I threw everything into a parbaked frozen pie shell with eggs and milk using my adaptation of Mark Bittman’s basic quiche recipe from How to Cook Everything — although the overbaking (as you can see, it’s pretty brown) was strictly my fault, not Mr. Bittman’s. You could easily do something similar using your own favourite quiche formula.

As for the broccoli, I’d broiled it on a cookie sheet with a bit of olive oil and seasoned salt, then served it in a silicone Christmas tree cake pan. With better planning I would have had multicoloured cherry tomatoes for “decorations.” Everything was cooked before Sam’s arrival so that I could concentrate on opening gifts and playing with him instead of fussing in the kitchen.

I’m glad I was able to focus on him; although the five of us had a nice visit together, poor Sam was so sad, just bereft about being parted from Derek, Rebecca, and baby Robert… I felt such guilt. After a while, though, he came around. The DVD (Finding Nemo) and presents seemed to help.

Anyway, I’m convinced Sam liked this meal as much as he did because of the appealing presentation, although it also helped that the food was served lukewarm, as he prefers. (I was amazed at his appetite, given that he’d had my out-laws’ fabulous turkey dinner for lunch!!) I think this might just be my go-to Christmas supper for the two of us for years to come — it was easy, do-aheadable, low-stress, reasonably nutritious, and delicious.

Dessert was supposed to be a gingerbread house (from a storebought kit) but I hadn’t quite finished assembling it before his arrival. It’s just as well; Sam didn’t enjoy the hard, hard, dry cookie base the next day, at all. At least he enjoyed the candy. I think more of the candy ended up in his belly than on the house! No pictures because it was hideous.

Next Christmas, I’ll honour my French Canadian roots and go back to making a bûche de Noël instead, since that was a hit with him at my mom’s after Christmas. And now that I’ve seen Sam’s reaction to having his food presented in a creative way, I suspect I’ll be trying my hand at meringue “mushrooms” to decorate that Yule log. (:

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Happy 2013!

I thought I’d take a crack at blogging again in 2013. We’ll see how it goes; I’m not going to make any grand promises or resolutions here. Just feeling an itch to start posting again. Figured since it’s Tuesday, I’d do a quick Dudesday post with a Christmas picture of Mr. Sam. I still marvel at how he has developed this year. We (his dad, stepmom, and I) have gone from quite concerned about his speech at the beginning of 2012, to utterly delighted with his progress by the end of it. And it’s not just his speech. For example, he is assembling 12-16 piece jigsaw puzzles now with surprising ease. I had mistakenly assumed the puzzle he’s working on in this picture would be more difficult than proved to be the case. I’m not saying he’s necessarily gifted or brighter than the average about-to-turn-3-year-old. Rather, I think need to read up more on child development, so that I give him age-appropriate challenges, and don’t baby him. I haven’t given Dude enough credit this year for what he is able to do.

ETA: On the subject of Sam’s speech… Possibly the best (and certainly most surprising) thing he uttered during the entire holiday season (maybe all year) was when he went up to my mom on Saturday as she was working in the kitchen:

“Gramma?”

“Yes, Sam?”

“Will you marry me?”

We all looked at each other like, “Did he just say what I think he said?” then burst out laughing. No idea where he got that from. But you bet my mom said yes!

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Happy Hallowe’en!

You wouldn’t know it from the smile on his face here… Sam did NOT like his costume this morning. (An Old Navy number I found at a garage sale for 4 bucks, yay!) Something about the paws at the end of his sleeves either freaked him out or frustrated him, I have no idea, but he started bawling like I was torturing him as I put the jacket on before the Hallowe’en party at daycare today. (And yet he was just fine with the pants moments before, go figure.) He was still crying off and on as I walked him to daycare, but I managed to coax a smile out of him finally. I didn’t take him trick-or-treating this year; I’m not sure he would really “get” it, I’m afraid he’d choke on some candy, lord knows I don’t need the treats, and no one seems to be trick-or-treating in our building anyway. (So I bought candy for nothing. *sigh* I’ll be taking those to work to share with the coworkers, otherwise I WILL eat them.) I will take him to houses in the neighbourhood nearby next year, when he’s old enough to say “twick o’ tweat” himself. 🙂 Too bad he’ll have outgrown this costume by then; I’d have loved to dress up as Calvin. Oh well. Happy hauntings, everyone!

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I. Made. BREAD!

So I’ve been doing something lately that I’ve been meaning to do for a long time: experimenting with making bread outside the breadmaker. This is a light rye based on Mark Bittman’s “Easiest, Best French Bread” recipe. Needs some work yet, but the texture is so much better than breadmaker bread… Crusty, chewy… Yum! I’ve been doing lots of reading (especially Rose Levy Berenbaum’s The Bread Bible) and I’m enjoying the experiments… I’m totally hooked now!

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The return of Dudesday!

My little guy is getting so big! He sure does love his homemade mac & cheese. And I love the red walls in the kitchen of my new place, even though it took five (yes, FIVE!) coats of paint to get them that colour. (I know, I’ll have to paint over it when I leave, or forfeit a portion of my deposit. I don’t care. Aaaaaanyway….)

It’s September, what can I say, it feels like time to go back to school, or in my case, go back to blogging. It’s been a busy few months — there will be lots to catch up on.

First up: Dude. He’s growing up so fast, before my very eyes. He seems to be adjusting to his new living arrangements, going back and forth between his dad’s and my place. Nowadays he’s generally eating well, sleeping better and better, and is in pretty good spirits most of the time. (It was rocky at the start, though, lemme tell ya… Good thing kids are resilient.) However… he does seem to be a bit speech delayed. He barely says any recognizable words at all besides “Up.” He actually seems to have lost a bit of ground, linguistically, since I moved out. Derek and I are doing what we can to encourage his linguistic development, and his daycare has begun the referral process for speech therapy (referrals take 6 months… at which point he may be fine, but if he’s not, we’ll be glad of the help, to be sure). He babbles lots of nonsense now, and he can follow simple instructions (if he feels like it… sigh), *seems* to understand much of what I’m saying (I think), but still… I worry. I’ve heard plenty of stories of kids (especially but not only) boys who talked late and who are fine today. Even so, any parents out there reading who have suggestions, ideas, support… I’d be grateful for them!

(Could this post have any more parentheses or ellipses…?)

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Retail therapy

Look what I bought from LisaLesa at the One of a Kind show in Toronto on Saturday! (Apparently I have a thing for sparkly shoes.) Yes, I admit that since the breakup, I have been spending a bit of money on renovating my look: new clothes, shoes, jewellery, glasses, fresh haircut and colour, a new tattoo (more on that one next week). Typical woman in that regard, I suppose. I’ll have to cut out that sort of indulgent behaviour soon… the single-parent lifestyle will be a bit more of a frugal one. Anyway, on Saturday, after I’d already bought an absolutely gorgeous ring (the all-silver version), I just fell in love with these totally unique, literally one-of-a-kind boots as soon as I saw them… and when they just happened to fit me perfectly on trying them on (even though they claim to be a size 7 and I wear a 7.5… they’re obviously a roomy 7), well, Cinderella just had to buy them. And hey, since I signed up for Lisa’s “Style Ambassador” program, I gotta tell you: if you’ve got a dull pair of shoes collecting dust in your closet, you can ship them to her to spiff up with a custom graffiti job — check out her website for details! Wearable art — my favourite kind!

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So, I’ve been keeping a secret.

Yes, part of the reason I haven’t been blogging much is that I haven’t had much time for it since I went back to work in January. But.

Derek and I are in the process of splitting up. Have been for months… the most civilized, amicable, non-acrimonious separation imaginable. It wasn’t an easy decision, but it is a mutual one. We have made our decision public in stages — our immediate families and closest friends first, then slowly letting wider and wider circles of acquaintance in on the situation. But, procrastinator that I am, I’ve put off announcing it here. Nothing specific happened to cause the break — no infidelity or other drama/nonsense — we were always  very different people, and we just weren’t working as a couple any more, despite our great love for our son. So, I’ll be moving to my own apartment this summer, within walking distance of work and a new French daycare for Sam that takes kids at 18 months; Derek and I will be sharing custody 50/50. Eventually I’ll start posting about the transition — choosing, decorating, and moving into my new place, adjusting to life as a single working mom — here on the blog… just not quite yet. What I can say is this: I don’t know why, but I feel strangely certain that this decision is the right one for us, and that the future will be good. Anyway, if my radio silence has had you wondering, what’s what’s going on with me.

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Maybe I should change the category to “Soupy Wednesdays”

I don’t ever seem to get tired of soup. Here’s the one I made today — almost a stew. Very hearty… perfect for a snow day. It’s based on Mollie Katzen’s Minestrone from The Moosewood Cookbook. Sorry for the long absence; I’ve gone back to work, and let’s just say that blogging has become, well, less of a priority.

2 Tbsp olive oil
2 cups chopped onion
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 large carrot, diced
1 large parsnip, diced
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp basil
1 medium bell pepper, diced (yellow is pretty with the other colours here)
4 cups water
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes, including juice
1 1/2 cups canned kidney beans (other cooked/canned beans or chickpeas would be good here)
1 cup dry pasta, any shape (I used bowties)

1. Heat the olive oil in a big pot. Add onion, garlic, and salt. Sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes, then add celery, carrot, parsnip, oregano, and basil. (She also calls for fresh black pepper here, which would have been good, but I left it out to keep the soup mild for Sam, then forgot to add some to my bowl.) Cover and cook over very low heat about 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. Add bell pepper (oops, I put it in with the other veggies… and it was fine), water, and tomatoes. Cover and simmer about 15 minutes. Add beans and simmer another 5 minutes.

3. Bring the soup to a gentle boil. Add pasta, stir, and cook until the pasta is tender. Serve topped with minced fresh parsley (if you have it… I didn’t) and grated parmesan (which I forgot… soup was delicious even so).

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I am ridiculously pleased with this cake.

On Saturday we had Sam’s godparents over for a belated birthday dinner; they brought the main course, and I made the cake. At first I was just going to keep it simple and make a boring square cake, but that didn’t feel festive enough. So I did a bit of looking on Google Images for ideas for car cakes, since Sam is utterly fascinated by anything that has wheels right now. (Luckily he has more vehicle toys than I would have ever thought possible.) Holy cow did I see some impressive, gorgeous work out there, crazy realistic 3D racecar cakes — way more involved and complicated than I was prepared to do at the last minute on Saturday afternoon. But then I came across a picture somewhat similar to this, and I thought, OK, I can do that. So I baked a smallish rectangular carrot cake that I then cut to shape, with two large, shallow (flat topped) cupcakes for wheels. I used the traditional cream cheese icing for the body, Nutella for the wheels, and (again thanks to the wonders of the interwebs, because I really did not want to be making coloured icing and figuring out how to pipe it), cut out fruit roll-ups for decorations, with some large sprinkles to spell out his name. It is clearly a homemade, not professional cake, but I think it has a certain humble charm, no? At least not a candidate for Cake Wrecks, I hope… (If you don’t know Cake Wrecks, you should go check it out now: OMG hilarious.)

Anyway, here’s the fabulously moist, reasonably healthful carrot cake recipe I used, courtesy of my dear MIL Shirley. You will note it has NO DREADED RAISINS, although I suppose you could add some if you are one of those raisin fans…

Carrot Cake

1 cup grated carrot
3 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar (I used brown sugar)
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (I chopped them finer than usual for Sam’s benefit, and toasted them in the oven as it preheated)
14 oz can crushed pineapple, drained

Whisk eggs, oil, and sugar together in large mixing bowl. Stir flour, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon together. Add to egg mixture and blend thoroughly. Mix in carrots, nuts, and drained pineapple. Pour batter into greased 8×8-inch baking pan. Bake at 350F for 40 minutes or until cake tests done.

Cream Cheese Frosting

125 g cream cheese (I double this)
3 Tbsp butter, softened
1 1/2 cups icing sugar (I halve this — I like a very cheesy, not too sweet frosting)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon juice

Beat all ingredients together until smooth and creamy, and frost completely cooled cake.

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