Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Chocolate ov(om)altine buttercream frosting

My daughter celebrated her birthday with her friends almost a month early this year.
Not because she happens to be born on the day of the Mayan prophecy (although, hey, we might as well party while we can just in case they were right!).
She and a friend decided a year ago they wanted to celebrate together this year. It so went, that once we got our act together, the only week end available between their two birthdays (which are a month apart) was last Sunday, and this thanks to a last minute cancellation (note to self: work harder on becoming a psycho mom and book the next party a year ahead).
It was rushed and a little earlier than I had planned but it meant I was keeping the promise I made to myself when my daughter was born, that her birthday and Christmas would always be two completely separate affairs and that I would never make her feel like she missed out. I will not pretend this promise hasn't made Christmas a tad more stressful than it already is for most parents; the question why we decided to abolish contraception that April of many years ago instead of the following month may or may not, in my worst moments, have crossed my mind.  
Juggling Christmas cards, school vacation, shopping craziness, tree decorating, Advent, St. Nicholas, Christmas parties and recitals x2 and birthday cakes, presents and party paraphernalia is enough to make the sanest person go out of their mind. So to be honest, why not do it a month early?

I do not believe in huge, fancy affairs for kids' parties. Having one in our apartment is out of the question, but we still try to keep it simple. We usually rent out a large, not necessarily pretty, but affrodable space and bring our own food and decoration. Family, family friends, parents, older and younger siblings are all welcome. We hire a person to entertain the kids for a few hours but that is where it usually ends. It is a however a loud, crowded, sweaty, crazy affair and takes a lot of time to organize and to recover from.
Nonetheless, before the party this year I was doubtful; it was an organized affair with pretty strict times. It was interesting (Museum of Natural History) and reasonable in price (especially sharing costs) and well-structured, but we were only alloted 1/2 hour to serve cake and drinks (no pop corn! no potato chips! no balloons!), could invite max 25 kids, no parents. 
So yes, I was doubtful and sorry I couldn't invite family friends and lots of kids. I was sorry us grown ups couldn't mingle while the kids wreaked havoc, drinking bubbly and eating panettone and make a little Christmas party out of it; I was sad we weren't allowed to make a drab, badly sound-proofed room look nicer with lots of tacky pink decoration. But I reminded myself the party wasn't about us grown ups, or about my inner Martha Stewart. It was about my daughter and her school friends (without a ton of children of our friends and baby sisters and brothers tagging along). Still I was a little sorry.
Then the day came. We served cake, we poured drinks, we soothed crying children, put cold water on bumps, we broke up piles of little bodies, we smiled at complaints and mopped up sticky messes. I never knew a half hour could last so long. Once that mass of energy moved into the other room to begin the planned activities leaving  destruction, cake crumbs and frosting prints in its wake, I wasn't so sorry after all.  

Since all I had to do this year was provide the cake, I decided I would make one. I have not made many layered cakes yet and most of them turned out to be pretty sorry sites (although tasty) because Mr. Frosting and I have seem to have some issues.  In the pictures above, you see what was left after decorating in a hot kitchen so the frosting is looking a little deflated but it was absolutely perfect to decorate with.
My daughter asked for chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. I got the recipe over at Joy the Baker and it worked perfectly paired with this cake. There was not a slice left to take home and not much left on the plates at the party either, a success according to the messy, full plates I usually throw out after birthday parties.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Spezzatino con piselli

I live in Italy and as I have already told you more than once, Thursday will be just another day -office, taking children to a birthday party, dinner, getting ready for another school/work day on Friday - so I have plenty more time on my hands right now than most fellow Americans.
Granted, we will be eating turkey meat for dinner and cranberries will make an appearance in some form on our table, but I am not standing in my kitchen cursing right now like so many of you probably are. Or maybe not since you are sitting here reading my blog, in which case, what are you doing here??? Get moving, Thanksgiving is the day after tomorrow!
We may not celebrate Thanksgiving as much as we would like to for all the reasons above, but it still is a time of the year to stop and think about what I have and say thanks.

I am thankful I am not a turkey.
Ok. Just joking.
But not entirely.
I am thankful I have first world problems to worry about, like will the buttercream frosting for the birthday cake I am baking this week end turn out ok or not.
I am thankful for the circle of life. Two days ago I found out that the place my grandmother just left in this world will be filled by a brand new soul: a person I love dearly just told me, in these exact words, that she is baking a second turkey this Thanksgiving, due in April. Making a turkey is not always as easy as it looks and she is some of the best mom material out there, so I couldn't be happier. It makes loss easier when you realize that those who have lived a full life must leave room to others who are still waiting to get their first, incredibly sweet taste.
For more things that really count when you are giving thanks, go here and here.

Here is something you might feel like making now if you are not American, or next week when you are all turkeyed out if you are.
This dish is a classic Italian recipe, the kind grandmas were making long before we were born. It is traditionally made with veal, the less noble cuts, and it is great to eat as a main course accompanied by mashed potatoes, rice or polenta.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Griessbrei (German semolina pudding) and recipe for pomegranate syrup

You are never ready when a loved one leaves you. Even though you know it is going to happen sooner rather than later because of age or health conditions, even though you think you are  prepared, you really never are.

This past week end my grandmother passed away. We called her Mutti, Mommy in German, because that is what she was for all of us, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren alike, in one way or another.

Mutti, unlike my Nana, was a maternal, traditional grandmother.

...a heap of love...
We spent time with her every summer in Austria, where she lived when we were growing up. I remember watching her  darn socks by the kitchen window with a red and white sock mushroom, the flavor of her roast chicken with peas and freshly picked mushrooms and my sister's favorite, her Paprikaschoten, meat-stuffed peppers. I remember how she always soaked envelopes in water to peel off the stamps for my uncle's collection; how she came into our room in the morning, pulling the curtains and opening the windows, so the chilly morning mountain air and the chiming of the village church bells would abruptly wake us. I remember running errands with her: the smell of freshly cut wood curls at the wood carver's who made our Christmas crib; the pungent tang of fresh milk and cow dung at the barn where the farmer filled her milk can. I remember running my fingers along the smooth surface of the tailor's chalk while they chatted. We often walked to the neighboring town on small paths along cornfields and on a few occasions she pulled us into them to give us a scolding or a very rare spanking when we had really misbehaved.


Monday, November 5, 2012

Just got back

Leaving is always sad. It seems that the older you get, the harder it gets, but I have already written about that.

Leaving is a little less sad when your big sister surprises you with comforting Bavarian treats for the drive back across the Alps. 

What can I say? A big sister is always a big sister, even when you get older. She always does just the right thing at the right time.


Auf wiedersehen Munich! Till the next time.

More pics on Instagram.