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March 29, 2011

Lunchtime Manners

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Next week, at long last, Henry will turn two and be able to join Adelaide at her Big Kid Daycare here in town. Joel and I have been awaiting this moment since Henry's birth. We are so thrilled that we've been able to discuss little else.

Today, Adelaide succinctly reviewed the daycare's lunchtime rules over our lunch for Henry's benefit:

"You should always chew with your mouth closed."
"You should sit at the place with your nametag."
"You should never take food before other people are sitting down."
"You should never say, 'Mine.'"
"You should never throw up on your plate. That happened to Jack and he felt pretty bad about that."
"You should never grab a toy and then bring it into lunch and then drop it into your food."

Henry burped and then smiled.

March 18, 2011

Adelaide Is Five

Five means that you learn to ride a bike.

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Five means you lead by example to impress all of your little friends.

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Five means that sometimes your little friends impress you.

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Five means you show your delight unfettered.

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Five means you share your joy.

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Five means your everyday treats are a decadent dream come true.

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Five means you are innovative.

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Five means you are a little silly.

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March 17, 2011

Birthday Cake

My Auntie Kathleen is an artist. Well, in my mind, anyway. I haven’t seen her on day-to-day basis in over ten years, but I always think of her as an artist.

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Kathleen and I at my sister's wedding in 2006.

In the late eighties, Auntie Kath watercolored her way through college, leaving a beautiful trail of prized family portraits. During my elementary and middle school years we lived in the same town and she was a part of everything, including birthdays.

One year, for my little sister’s birthday, she made the most amazing homemade birthday cake I’d ever seen: a Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz cake, complete with a hand-drawn cardboard Emerald City backdrop and four little cupcakes, decorated like Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion, walking down a perfectly iced yellow brick road. It was stunning chocolate perfection. I’m sure my mom has a picture of it somewhere, but just use your ten-year-old imagination ... Isn’t it cool? I got to eat the Scarecrow.

Somehow the years have slipped by ... She’s a wife and mother and business leader, living on a beach next to the Pacific Ocean now and I’m a wife and mother and nurse living next to a cornfield in Iowa. Despite our distance, she’s always close in my heart, especially when I’m trying something new and brave in the kitchen.

When visiting several years ago, I was lending a hand in her kitchen as she prepared a huge meal for friends and family [Aside: I believe I peeled over fifty cloves of garlic for a brisket that afternoon; it just shows my place in the kitchen at that time: a little better than dish duty.]. Good conversations happen while pots are bubbling ... I asked her why she didn’t paint so much anymore. She said, simply and easily, “This,” gesturing to the busy kitchen, “is my medium now.”

“This” is the careful preparation of food, life-giving nutrition, for loved ones. “This” is the establishment of traditions that food and eating together afford all who share at the table. “This” is lovingly-crafted tastiness and togetherness. “This” means that the ordinary and necessary can be extraordinary. "This" makes me want to drop everything and whip up some Softy Cake and sing "Tradition" at the top of my lungs.

“This” is what I think of when I break out the hand mixer to make Adelaide’s birthday cake. Or when I shake up a Bramble for Joel. Or tuck a casserole for the freezer.

This year, I got a little more creative than usual and combined several recipes to come up with Adelaide’s birthday cake. I can’t wait to see what she says when we cut into it!

Adelaide’s Over-the-Rainbow Birthday Cake

Adapted from The Best Recipe (1999), Edward Kostrya’s Birthday Cake (www.marthastewart.com), and Bon Appetit (2004).

Cake
1 cup of milk, room temperature
3/4 cup egg whites, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups plain cake flour
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease two 9 1/2 by 2 inch round cake pans (or five pans, if you have them. I simply repeated this step for all the layers). Cover bottoms of pans with parchment and grease parchment, dust with flour, and tap out excess.

Pour milk, egg whites, and vanilla into 2-cup glass measure, and mix with fork until blended.

Mix cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt at slow speed. Add butter, and continue beating at slow speed until mixture resembles moist crumbs with no powdery ingredients remaining.

Add all but 1/2 cup of milk mixture to crumbs and beat at medium speed for 1 1/2 minutes. Add remaining 1/2 cup of milk mixture and beat 30 seconds more. Stop and scrape sides of bowl.

Divide batter evenly between five smaller bowls. Add red, yellow, green, blue, and purple gel coloring to each bowl, respectively. Mix thoroughly.

Pour into prepared cake pans and spread evenly. Bake until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 23 to 25 minutes.

Let cakes rest for 3 minutes. Loosen sides and turn out onto greased racks. Cool completely.

Orange Curd (This is incredible on it's own ... If you ever find yourself in supply of a lot of lonely egg yolks, I heartily recommend making curd.)

6 egg yolks
zest of 1 orange
18 cup of orange juice
1/4 cup of lemon juice
3/4 cup of sugar
1/8 teaspoon of coarse salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) of unsalted butter, cold

Combine yolks, orange zest, orange juice, lemon juice, and sugar in a heavy-bottom saucepan; whisk to combine. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula (be sure to scrape the sides of the pan), until the mixture is thick, about 8 to 10 minutes. Let mixture come to a vigorous simmer and cook, continually scraping sides of pan, for 2 minutes.

Remove saucepan from heat. Add salt and butter, one piece at a time, stirring until smooth. If desired, strain through a fine sieve into a medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface of the curd to prevent a skin forming. Refrigerate until chilled and very firm, at least 2 hours or up to 1 1/2 weeks.

Buttercream Frosting

2 ounces of cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 1/2 cups of powdered sugar, sifted
2 heaping tablespoons of prepared orange curd

Using a mixer, beat cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add powdered sugar one cup at a time, beating well. Add orange curd, beat until smooth.

To assemble:

Place purple cake round on cake plate. Smear two heaping tablespoons of prepared orange curd on layer and evenly spread. Continue with all other cake layers, smearing orange curd between each layer. On the top, or red layer, heap prepared buttercream. Spread around until cake looks pretty. Insert a wooden skewer into center of the cake to keep it from sliding around during party. Hide the end of the skewer with a little well-placed frosting.

March 13, 2011

Mythology vs. Physiology

Adelaide: Papa, you know that guy with all the eyes all over his body?

Joel: Right, Argus.

Adelaide: How could that work? He'd have to have way too many eye-holes in his bones.

Joel: Huh, yeah that's true, with so many eye-sockets his bones would be too holey. Maybe his eyes were just stuck in his muscles and sort of hung there.

Adelaide: Maybe.

Aimee: Yuck.

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(Argus is on the left)

March 3, 2011

Communicating

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Today at Library Storytime, Adelaide correctly wrote her entire name, all by herself on her rabbit-shaped nametag, without any reminders of "what letter comes next" from me. This is a big deal when you have a name with eight letters.

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For some bizarre reason, Henry, who boasts an extensive vocabulary complete with three-and-four word phrases, has started taking an interest in signing. Above, he signs "cookie" and chews one of the oatmeal raisin variety.

(I think Ophelia's intentions are obvious and understood. No formal spoken or written language necessary there, although we continue to drill her on the concepts of "come" and "NO".)

March 1, 2011

March Is Here!

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Finally!

We're leaving February with it's blizzards and snow days, x-rays and doctor's appointments, coughs and colds behind. We're finishing up a bout of stomach flu, but we're excited and hopeful to begin March!

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