Monday, October 28, 2013

Braised red cabbage with pancetta, apples and balsamic vinegar, Jamie-style

Since I am on a roll about the kids these days (incidentally, since my post last week, my four-year old has been a sweetheart... maybe I should complain online more often) here is another thing I have noticed in my eight years of parenting.
A child's true development occurs in the bathroom.
First of all, it is uncanny how much time you spend sitting on bathroom tiles, on the toilet or on the rim of the tub as the parent of younger kids. You hear me, parents of the world, right?
Now, as a mother, you expect an in-depth analysis of all bodily-related matters in this scenario. You know you will find yourself discussing at length the size, differences, color, consistency of parts attached to, or recently detached from, your child's body. 
But that is not where it ends.
Children tend to be particularly loquacious whilst sitting on the porcelain throne.
Whether you like it or not, while they are taking a dump, you will get all the information about their day that they didn't volunteer earlier. When only a handful of hours before questions like "What did you do in school today?" or "What did you have for lunch today?" were met with silence or monosillabic answers like "Nothing/don't remember/know", in the bathroom they are suddenly all about communicating, sharing, extreme detail. 
What I however did not expect were the big questions, nonchalantly thrown in there between a gargle and a nail scrub.
A few recent examples:
"Mommy, what does I hate you mean?" (Your child has been having tantrums and telling you you are mean and that he hates you for the past two months and you have been trying not to take it too personally and then you suddenly realize that you do not have a clue about what really goes on in his head).
"Guess what so-and-so said yesterday? That he wants to go to whatshername's house and he wants to have sex with her". (SAY WHAAAAAAT??????? Sweetie, do you know what the word sex means? You do? HOW???? Can you tell me what you think it means? Yes, that is right to a degree. Honey, when your little brother goes to bed, you and I and Daddy will talk a little and you can ask us anything you don't understand or you are curious about).
Or the philosophical questions:
"Is there meat inside of us?"
"Can you touch darkness?"
(latest addition in Ikea bathroom over the week end)
"Are shadows boys or girls?"
"Shadows don't have eyes and a mouth, right? Just legs and arms...
Let's just say the bathroom has never been the same since I became a mom. 
But now, because I always tell my kids it is not ok to have bathroom-related talk at the table, let's change the subject.
You all know by now that I am not one of those super-organized bloggers who starts posting Thanksgiving menus in October and Christmas goodies throughout November and December.  I might throw in a recipe here and there, but usually, like today, it is just a happy coincidence.
So let's just say you got lucky today, because last week I happened to make a side dish I think would work wonderfully with turkey, ham, goose, duck or whatever it is you love to eat on the approaching holidays. You can keep it vegetarian by substituting the pancetta with toasted pinoli or by frying the onions until crispy (because it needs some crunch one way or another in my opinion). 
Recipe from Jamie Oliver

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Polpo con patate in umido (octopus and potato stew)

This is the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde... went a famous song in the early Eighties.
That is my story these days, the story of my blond-haired, blue-eyed baby who not-so-occasionally morphs into a little monster with tentacles, a spinning head and flying spittle.
I get that Terrible Twos sounds much more catching than Terrible Fours, but for me it has always been about the fours. And from what I hear and see around, it is not just me. So to hell with the Terrible Twos, let's get serious and discuss the Frightful Fours.

My daughter had a pretty bad case of them, much worse than my son's, but she had the partial excuse of a baby brother invading her territory at the time.

He, on the other hand, may be a little easier to handle (and I have a feeling this is partly because he is a boy, a more simple gender to deal with in general) but he has no such excuse.
Lately the constant "No"s and whining and defiant attitude have been eroding my soul like a slow yet steady trickle of water. I know this phase will pass, I know he is taking his first steps in becoming independent, I know deep, deep down inside he is still my sweet little boy. But let me tell you, he can be a real pain in the a** on the outside these days.

Unfortunately, there is not much you can do except breathe in and breathe out (after you have tried everything from ignoring to reasoning to time outs - because everything just makes it worse) until it passes.
So when it takes me 20 minutes to get his shoes on at pre-school because this involves ten minutes of cajoling on my part and crying and screaming on his just to get to him to his locker (the last time it was about me daring to kiss him on his ear when he ran into my arms minutes before), five minutes of him flinging said shoes off every time I get them on his kicking feet and another five of him opening and closing the velcro straps repeatedly because I did it wrong and I am mean... I breathe in and I breathe out.

When he constantly and very publicly refuses to sit near me anywhere, whether on a bus, a plane or in a restaurant, because he wants Daddy and only Daddy - even when it is logistically impossible... I breathe in and I breathe out.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Indian lentil and acorn squash curry (or soup)

If you have never heard of a What's App group chat then you also probably don't know how addictive it can get. The other day I decided to create one for my running group: the core group consists in myself, another girl and a guy, but we have had quite a few new entries lately so organizing our outings has become more engaging than before. We have been spending so much time texting and messaging on What's App individually to figure out who is coming and where to meet up that I thought it would be practical to create a What's App group chat. One of us writes, who wants to run answers and who doesn't abstains. Simple. Or so I thought.
Let's just say the group chat took on a life of its own.
Yesterday, the only guy of the group came out of an evening class to find 26 messages on his phone.

Quickly he checked his What's App account, wondering what had happened since he had confirmed his presence.

When he opened the messages to read them he was submerged by comments along the lines of*:

"It's supposed to be really cold tomorrow morning; I really need to get some new pants. The other day I stopped for a coffee after running and the guy who always serves me asked me why I was in my pjs"
"I am wearing running tights and a zip top; d'you think I should wear a tshirt under that or just a bra?"
"I'm not coming. I need some sleep. I know, I know, I am a lazy bum. I suck"
"You don't suck, you ran a marathon girl!"
"Yeah but you are incredibly consistent, unlike me"
"I know, isn't she? She never misses a day!"

"Yeah, but who's the one who managed to lose 10lbs???"

The poor guy didn't know what he was getting himself into when he accepted the invitation to our group chat, but he truly is a good sport and plays along. He is our guardian angel, always running back and forth to check on us in the pre-dawn darkness. 
Yup, it is dark now when we run. Fall is in the nippy air, dry leaves and those chestnut burrs I already mentioned recently crunch under our sneakers as we jog.
Autumn has come, with its lovely array of seasonal fruits and vegetables.
Pumpkin is definitely a favorite of mine and I like it prepared in pretty much any manner. My daughter, however, has recently developed a dislike for it because she finds the sweetness overpowering, so I have been looking for ways to use it without its flavor being too overbearing because pumpkins and squash are so filled with antioxidants and vitamins.
This vegetarian (or actually vegan) curry is ideal: it is packed with flavor yet delicate, the pumpkin adding creamy texture, the perfect vehicle to absorb all the spices and heat. My daughter didn't even notice the pumpkin until, during her second helping,
 I admitted it was actually one of the main ingredients. She made a disgusted faced, then shrugged and went on eating.
The curry paste I used as a base is a loose adaptation of a Jamie Oliver korma paste recipe.
If, on the other hand, you like pumpkin as much as I do and want its flavor to really shine through, here are some links to other favorite recipes.



*This in not an exact transcript, forgive the poetic licence. I tried to catch the essence of endless texts into a few sentences. A few, however, are pretty accurate.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Blueberry muffin bread with cream cheese filling and fig muffins


My birthday came and went last week. I would have added quietly, but have you noticed how birthdays are on steroids since the advent of the book of faces? But hey, don't misundertstand me. I am grateful for each and every birthday wish I received. Especially the kind words from that girl I think I knew in nursery school; and from that friend of a friend of a friend that I have never met but that I know goes running three times a week, 8km each time, and whose heart - according to her status - is broken; she would willingly turn back time if only she could, if only he would let her.

But back to more important things. Me.
So, I am a year older and if truth be told, I feel better about myself and my life now than I did in my early twenties. Sure, this feeling of self assuredness comes with some usually-although-not-always well concealed grey hair, a wrinkle or two (thank goodness I can still use single digits for those) and a few extra pounds, but I am not complaining.

A birthday celebration these days no longer involves two hundred of my very best friends and drunken dancing.
It means meeting up for a quick, unplanned lunch with F and enjoying the guilty pleasure of sushi sans kids, a small beer during my lunch break, almost an hour of uninterrupted talk and holding hands every now and then without squealing and gagging sounds as accompaniment.
It means picking up my daughter, who may or may not have forgotten it was my birthday until way after she sulked because I did not agree to invite half of the class over for a playdate. But it doesn't matter, because when she finally did remember, I got a beautiful drawing that  I had watched her and her friends working on hidden behind a secretive wall of backpacks in the school square the day before.
It means a simple week night dinner at home, the usual racous, messy affair but the grand finale of a birthday cake complete with candles and presents.

This year, it was exactly what I wanted and all that I needed: an impromptu daytime date with my husband and a simple dinner at home with my family. A quiet, unnoticed affair... well, if it wasn't for FB, that is.
Since I didn't bake a cake for my birthday like I have in past years, the only baking that went on over the week end was for this blueberry muffin bread and simple muffins with a fresh fig topping. 
I first was inspired to make the blueberry bread when I saw a pin on Pinterest. However, when I was getting ready to make it I realized the recipe actually did not include cream cheese, although I thought it did for some reason when I pinned it. So I started looking up recipes on the Internet and to my surprise found what I was looking for on Anecdotes and Apple Cores, a blog I have been following for quite a few years now. I made some very minor adjustments and also ended up making an extra batch of the batter minus the cream cheese filling for the fig muffins*.