Monday, July 26, 2010

Just to Clarify

So I've been getting a lot of phone calls from people I haven't heard from in a long time. They say they called just to say hello, but eventually they all get around to saying the same thing: "so I read your blog the other day, and..." So I thought I should clarify a few things. -when I wrote this post, I was in what is quite possibly the Worst Funk I've Ever Been In. Some people think it wasn't the best idea for me to publicly share what was in that post. I have no regrets, but I did want to share the context: I was feeling overwhelmed and under-equipped. I don't feel like that on a regular basis. Several things in my life converged simultaneously, and the stress got the better of me. I think my anxiety over Jack's migraines was a huge factor. That post was not representative of how I feel about my life as a whole, it was representative of how I felt about things on that particular day. It was my Emotional Self speaking, not my Reasoning Self. I knew, even as I wrote that post, that I would eventually get to a different place, but I wasn't there yet. -Aaron and I fight, I just don't usually post details about it on my blog. We are amazingly civil when we fight. This is mostly because of Aaron, who never raises his voice even a little. We have been married for five years and have never once yelled at each other or called the other person names. We try to focus on the issue at hand, and for the most part we succeed in avoiding any kind of attack on the person. Maybe I shared things that some people thought were Too Much Information, but I still don't regret it. The fight happened whether I publicized it or not(plus I did leave out some juicy bits). The reason why I chose to share my Funk was twofold: catharsis was a selfish reason; community was the other. I think community is the saving grace of motherhood. Without it I would be lonely and crazy. I can't count the number times another mom has shared with me about difficulties and challenges and I have found myself nodding in agreement and resonating with sympathy. It's important to know that it's hard for everyone, not just you. -Just because my children drive me nuts sometimes doesn't mean I don't love them. I love my children more than my own life. They also drive me nuts a good deal of the time. Those two things are not mutually exclusive. I think it is also important- crucial even- for other mothers to know this. It's par for the course. They are both my greatest source of joy and my greatest source of frustation. I don't tell them that they frustrate me(though I'm sure they can tell), I tell them they are my treasures. In the end, treasure is more important. -Everything I write on my blog is true. The wedding cake, the poop, the messy house, the organic garden, the romantic dates with my husband, the art projects, the flooded basement; in short, the Good, the Bad and the Funky. It's all my life. I know some people use their blog as a place to focus on the positive, and for the most part that's what I like to do. But that's not all there is, and I find it frustrating when people say things like "Children are such a blessing," without balancing that statement with the crustier realities of parenting. I certainly don't want to focus on the hard parts, but I think it's crazy-making to act like they aren't there. Children are a blessing. A blessing that will make you laugh, cry, gag, rejoice, despair and hope, sometimes in the span of fifteen minutes. Also, they will poop and throw up a lot. It is 11:20 and I am still in my pajamas. I'm going to change into some real clothes, put some banana bread in the oven, then go shampoo the rug downstairs which has developed a strong moldy odor since the Flood. We'll let the chickens out and probably do some gardening. At some point there will be some book reading on a blanket outside. Along the way there will certainly be some naughtiness, some fighting, some discipline and some hugging. In short, there will be real life.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

...and now for something completely different

Thank you all for your support over my little nervous breakdown. I wake up almost every day feeling happy just because, and it distresses me when that doesn't happen. I was venting to my cousin Kayleigh the other day about all the sources of stress in my life, and she said " The Dalai Lama would say that those things have something to teach you." So I said to my nervous breakdown, "Breakdown, you are my teacher. What do I need to learn?" The conversation is ongoing. It was tricky that I was going through all that emotional turmoil at a time when my husband was otherwise engaged(he was the best man in Trevor and Melissa's wedding) so he didn't have a lot of time or attention to give me. The drive home from the wedding last night was over an hour, so we finally had a chance to connect and have a real conversation. I realize I don't talk to him enough, and also that I'm not very good at speaking his language. We have very different communication styles, and so many times when I'm satisfied that I've successfully communicated specific things to him Aaron will later inform me that he had a completely different interpretation than what I intended. I sometimes find it frustrating that being in a relationship with someone can be so much work, that it's not enough to simply be in love with each other. A mistake I have repeatedly made is to hold Aaron responsible for meeting all of my needs, rather than discerning which needs are actually best met by him and which needs could be met elsewhere. Also, it's miraculous what some time away from your children can do for your relationship with them. Most days I do actually enjoy being with my kids, but sometimes a mama needs a break. My sister took them overnight, then my cousin took over all day yesterday so I could make wedding cake like a total maniac. I'll be you're all wondering how that went. It all worked out in the end, but I'd be lying if I said there weren't moments when I let loose a string of expletives that would make a sailor blush. Some things that surprised me: -how very, very long it takes to properly frost a cake -how tricky it can be not to use too much sugar -how relaxing it was to transport all thirty pounds of it I would totally do it again. Which is good, because I've already signed myself up for two more weddings. The part I was the most apprehensive about was driving it 62 miles to Gig Harbor, but that part went just fine aside from the fact that I had to periodically remind myself to relax the death grip I had on the steering wheel. I wanted to make extra sure that nothing would slide around, so I used some of that rubber stuff you put under an area rug to keep it from sliding around and duct taped it to shallow boxes. The cakes didn't budge, not even when I missed the street the church was on and had to turn around on a narrow road. Next time I think I'll save myself some time and just line my trunk with my yoga mat. I got there several hours later than I planned. As in 20 minutes before the ceremony started. Everything took so much longer than I thought it would, then I hit terrible traffic on the drive down. I wore shorts and a tank top, certain that if I arrived dressed for the wedding I would get frosting all over myself. The church where the wedding was held was a huge compound, and there were multiple buildings to choose from. I saw signs that said "Fellowship Hall" and parked in the closest spot I could find. I grabbed the bottom tier and made haste into the building, where there were dozens of people milling about and some tables with flowers on them. Naturally I assumed this was where the reception would be, so I made my way to the back of the room where there appeared to be a kitchen and asked the nearest lady if I could do cake set up in there. "You're bringing the cake?" she asked. "Um, yes," I replied, thinking that much was obvious. "Are you here for the memorial?" she asked. "This is a memorial?" I asked, mortified. "Yes. You probably want the reception hall on the other side of the church." So yeah. I waltzed into a memorial in an outfit I would garden in, bearing a cake for a wedding celebration. That's just how classy I am. I thought I couldn't be any more embarrassed, but then I walked by a mirror and saw a streak of frosting about ten inches wide across my chest. So in review, I walked into a memorial horribly underdressed and asked if I could set up a cake I'd just smeared across my boobs. I did manage to get the cake finished and had just enough time to rush to the bathroom, throw on a dress and some lipstick and make it to the sanctuary about 25 seconds before Melissa walked down the aisle. I don't know why I wasn't more concerned about this project. I thought it be easy, but apparently the term "piece of cake" was coined in referrence to a single piece of cake, not 186 pieces of cake. I don't know if you can tell from these pictures, but the lilies have a very faint pink shimmer to them. The sash on Melissa's dress was the same color. Melissa requested Nutella filling. In taste tests, it proved to be overwhelmingly sweet but the flavor was great, so I whipped Nutella with cream cheese and chopped toasted pecans. A one-to-one ratio of jars of Nutella to bricks of cream cheese was just about perfect; it also made the Nutella silkier and less gooey, so it was a little easier to spread without getting the crumbs all excited.
I was nervous about smearing the Nutella filling with white frosting, so I piped a ring of frosting around the cake before I filled it. It worked great, and I didn't have any trouble with the filling mixing with the frosting.
I read so many recipes for Swiss Buttercream, but I kept coming back to Deb's. Hers uses slightly less butter than others, and then I cut the amount of butter even further(but just a smidge). The quantity which worked best for my mixer was eight egg whites, two cups of sugar, six cubes of butter and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Also, I found I preferred to use half salted butter and half unsalted to keep the flavor lighter. When I do this again, I'm going to borrow my sister's Kitchenaid because I think mine hates me now for all the work I made it do and next time might go better if I can make twice the frosting in half the time. Each batch takes about half an hour to make with all the double-boiling and prolonged whipping. I made four batches that morning. That's two hours just for frosting, y'all. And 24 cubes of butter, in case you weren't adding it up. I'm amazed that I can add at all anymore, after all the calculating this project required.
For all my careful leveling, the cake still leaned just a bit. I used small dowels in the bottom two layers, but now I think I might need to buy those plastic pillar things. I might ask the next person I make a cake for to pay me in craft store gift certificates, because I also think I need a cake lifter.
The cake itself was also from Deb, and frankly I don't know why I ever bothered looking elsewhere. For some time now I've had this irrational aversion to adding any kind of flavoring besides vanilla to chocolate cake, and I realize now how foolish that was of me. Deb's recipe calls for coffee and cinnamon, and I used fresh hot French press coffee in mine.
To die for. I don't even like cake, and I loved this. Ina Garten is always saying that coffee in chocolate recipes makes the chocolate taste even more like chocolate, but somehow I always expected it to come out tasting like a mocha. It doesn't. It adds a lovely depth and keeps the cake from being too sweet. And the touch of cinnamon with the Nutella filling...there weren't so much as crumbs left. I didn't even get my own piece, but my brother Damien shared a few bites of his with me.
This morning as Aaron and I were having coffee on the couch, I looked at him and said "I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think I want some cake." I have about five pounds of that Nutella cream cheese mixture in my fridge and I've been curious to see how it tastes with yellow cake.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Broadcasting Live From the Long Dark Teatime of the Soul

This is what the boys did yesterday while I was washing wedding cake dishes. I knew they had the hose on and I could see them from the window above the sink, but somehow I forgot to look at them. They flooded the patio, which flooded the basement. With gallons and gallons and gallons of water. They came running up the stairs, muddy and breathless and reported "there's water in the house! Lots of water!!!"
I stood there for a minute and tried to summon a can-do attitude, but the most productive response I could muster was to sit down on the only dry spot I could find and sob.
This morning Matteas peed the bed and when I put him in the tub to clean up he pooped in the bath water. I feel like this is a metaphor for my life right now; work, more work, and then while I'm trying to do the work someone shits on it.
I never wanted to have kids, and I knew it. But then I had a few by accident and I thought that I grew up and got over myself, but here I am five years later still seething with resentment. I would like to insert some touching anecdote here about getting to the end of a hard day and kissing the boys goodnight, about feeling a soft cheek against mine and the voice of a little boy whispering about how I'm the best mom in the whole world, how all the blood and sweat and tears are so worth it. But I don't feel that way. I feel like it is hard and shitty and thankless, and then the little darlings flood the basement.
Also, this morning Jack announced that he does not love me. I know that he's five years old, that all kids say that to their parents at some point, that I should not take it personally. But I do because it is a mean thing to say and if it is really true then there's not much point to what I do all day. Parenting is not modelled on capitalism, and this is part of what is wrong with it. If you work hard at something, you should be rewarded. Maybe not with a huge paycheck, but at this point I'd settle for job satisfaction. Instead I work my ass off for a group of people who, far from appreciating my efforts, tend to resist and resent them. Jack refused to eat breakfast this morning, which means he is setting himself up for a migraine later. I can play scientist all I want and take notes on his behavior and various reactions to all kinds of situations and factors, I can discover all there is to know about migraines and Jack's particular chemistry, but when it comes down to it I cannot force him to comply with any remedies. This is infuriating. Especially today, because I scored an appointment with a neurologist at Children's due to a cancellation, without which he'd have to wait until late September to be seen. He doesn't care because he's not in pain at the moment, and I resent that he is only motivated by incentive or by consequence; why can't he be good simply because it's the right thing to do?
To add insult to injury, Aaron and I do not agree on the reality of Jack's migraines. Aaron knows he gets them and how much medicine to give him if it happens, but he doesn't take my word for it when it comes to triggers. Jack can't handle a lot of stimulation or prolonged activities; we can't go to the park after three hours at school without going home for a snack first. I've tried it. The result is always the same. The other night Aaron took the boys out for pizza and then to a movie. Jack got a headache when they got home. I think Aaron wants Jack to be a normal kid who can do normal things, but he isn't and he can't. Aaron's failure to accept this fact makes me feel crazy, because I work really hard to manage Jack and figure him out, then Aaron disregards what I say. This means he thinks that I am either a) stupid or b) wrong, and both conclusions are distasteful. Also, he will be mad that I wrote that. I should probably care about the fact that Aaron will be mad, but right now I don't because I am tired of repeating and repeating and repeating myself and not being heard.
I feel like the guy in Greek mythology whose damnation involves rolling a heavy boulder up a steep hill over and over, but every time he nears the top the boulder magically appears at the bottom of the hill again. He never gets to the top, but he has to keep trying again and again. I find it cruel that parenting is so psychologically torturous; how am I supposed to raise healthy, happy kids when they're driving me fucking bonkers?
A friend on Facebook was in distress the other day, and someone posted a comment to her which read "God doesn't give you more than you can handle." I want to punch people who say that. If you really believe in God, then you're not the one handling things anyway. And how is that supposed to be consoling anyway? All it really says is that your feelings aren't valid: if it happened, you can handle it.
Now I get to go spend a couple of hours in the car so I can talk to someone about Jack's migraines while he dorks out and makes noises like a baby so that the doctor and I can't hear each other. But first I have to find Jack and make him put pants on against his will, which he will probably really appreciate. After the appointment I will call Aaron and tell him what the doctor said, and he will believe her because she is a doctor. She might be a mom as well, but that's not the important part.

Friday, July 16, 2010

One Day, I Will Figure This Out

It's hard to believe that Jack was ever that tiny. He was five days old in that picture, and weighed just a few ounces over five pounds. He was slow to gain, and the hospital almost made us stay another day because he wasn't putting on weight the way he was supposed to. He became jaundiced and had to spend a night under the lights, the blindfold covering half his tiny face. It really was the best of times and the worst of times; I was so in love with this tiny, tiny person, but it was scary to be in charge of caring for him. He couldn't do anything for himself and he was so very needy. I felt fiercely protective of him, and determinedly pumped bottles of breast milk in the middle of the night for months and months. He was small and needed the very best calories; I could sleep later. Five years later and a lot is still the same; I am so in love with Jack, but it's scary to be in charge of caring for him. He's not tiny anymore. He weighs 55 pounds and is tall, muscular and fast. He draws and sings constantly, works hard to overcome his many fears, bravely accepts his wheat allergies and tries new foods. He has grown so much and in so many ways. But something is wrong. Recently, Jack has been getting migraines. A lot of migraines. From the time he had the vocabulary to articulate it, he has frequently complained about his forehead hurting. He loses his appetite, the pain gets worse, and then the vomiting starts. After a good night's sleep he wakes up feeling much better and then eats like a horse. This used to happen two or three times a year. In June I noticed it was happening more often, so I started writing it on the calendar every time he got a migraine. We have a routine now. When he complains that his forehead hurts, I give him Tylenol and Motrin simultaneously, make him drink water and then have him lie down in a dark, quiet spot. This is usually enough to pull him back from the brink, and after a 30 minute rest he's good to go. Most of the time we can avoid getting to the vomiting stage. With the last migraine, we weren't so lucky. It was 91 degrees and, despite my best efforts, I think his body couldn't stay hydrated. We were at his grandma's and it was late, so when he told me that his forehead hurt I decided we should just head home. I didn't have any medicine with me, so I hoped he would just fall asleep in the car. Three blocks away from grandma's, he threw up. That's what the bucket in my back seat is for. After a good purge, we made it home without further incident. He was asleep, so I put him to bed without waking him up to take any pain medication. At 2:30 a.m. he came into my room crying, saying his forehead still hurt. He'd never woken up in pain before. I gave him his usual cocktail and some water, then got in bed beside him and massaged his scalp. I thought back to how many times I'd written "migraine" on the calendar and realized that this was his fifth migraine in a month. I lay next to him in the dark, unable to do much but be with him while we both waited for the medicine to work. It usually takes about 20 minutes, which can feel like an eternity when your child is suffering. Plus, 2:30 in the morning is a Worrisome Time, the time of night when everything is menacing and this is not just a headache and what his wrong with my son I'm his mother I should know why can't I figure this out and HOLY SHIT if anything happens to this kid I will want to die. I hate caring about another person this much. The next morning I make an appointment with his doctor. In the exam room, Jack is chipper and talkative. He likes being the center of attention, and his doctor is a really nice guy. I go over Jack's migraine history, explaining that he had episodes of vomiting without apparent illness from the time he was about two. I think he had his first migraine the day we went to buy a Christmas tree, and he puked all over Aaron at Azteca. The next morning he was fine, and we didn't think much of it. Kids puke all the time, right? Now that I know what his migraines look like, I realize that's what was going on. I tell the doctor about our current management plan, how I make sure Jack has something to eat and drink at least every two hours throughout the day. As soon as I say it out loud, I know it sounds odd. Every two hours? What is he, an infant? Clearly, no. So why do I still have to feed him like one? I go on, explaining that we avoid things like big, loud parties or crowded places; we can't stay at the beach too long on a sunny day because it's too bright for Jack; he gets carsick easily; I never leave the house without food and drink in the car; if we take a trip, the first thing I pack is the bottle of chewable Tylenol and Motrin; his babysitters know to give him a glass of water every hour. I know this is not standard issue care for most five year-olds, but hearing myself say it out loud to another person really underlines it for me. Jack was difficult to care for from day one. He didn't nurse, cried inconsolably for months, was unhappy in new situations. All babies are work, but I didn't realize how much more work Jack was until my sister told me "Your one baby is more work than all five of my children put together." So I guess it didn't seem that odd to me, this frequent feeding and watering and having of medicine and buckets. Jack is high-maintenance; it's just how he rolls. But this has gotten to the point where it is not okay, is past being explained by saying things like "he was early, lots of early babies have colic." I realize that Jack has a very, very narrow range of being in which he thrives and if anything comes along to tip the balance, it triggers a migraine. The doctor asks me if Aaron or I have ever had migraines. I tell him never once in either of our lives. He tells me that it's unusual for a person to have chronic migraines without at least one parent having them in their history. He also tells me that it's extremely rare to see chronic migraines in a child under the age of seven. He gives Jack a bunch of little tests; close your eyes and touch your nose, balance on one foot, raise your eyebrows, squeeze my hand. Jack does them all perfectly, and I breathe a sigh of relief when the doctor says that all his neurological functions look good. I cross Brain Cancer off my list of worries. The doctor tells me that I'm doing a great job, and to keep doing everything we're doing; treat migraines as they come, and do our best to avoid the things that trigger them. We will see a neurologist and discuss preventative treatment. This makes me nervous because a lot of prophylactic migraine treatment involves anti-depressants. They are given in lower doses than they would be for the treatment of depression, but I question the wisdom of putting such powerful drugs into the body of a child who clearly has a sensitive system. I want to know why he keeps getting migraines, not just suppress them.

For now, we wait. We haven't seen the neurologist yet, so I'm doing what I normally do and trying not to get too worried before I know what it is I should be worried about. When I feel like I might start freaking out, I make muffins. Wheat-free, dairy-free raspberry muffins. They are warm and soft and yielding, and for fifteen minutes I am comforted. Then I go back to worrying, because I can't make muffins all day.

One day I will figure out how to manage this whole parenting thing, how to balance the fear of what could be wrong with the faith that everything will turn out alright, but I'm not there yet. I struggle not to resent my attachment to my kids, these little people who can bring moments of such joy to my life but who make daily living so messy, so loud, so fraught with sibling rivalry and screaming and general unpleasantness and threats of penile violence in public. After I kiss the boys good night, I survey the day's damage to the house and begin the never-ending work of picking up the living room. I scoop the blocks into a basket, put the books back on the shelf. I pick my purse up off the floor and hear the rattle of pills inside, the medicine I almost always carry. It reminds me that I need to put a clean bucket in the car before we go anywhere this weekend. Because for now, that's our normal.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Dairy Free: An Experiment- Day 1

Don't be fooled by the picture; it is NOT 'so delicious.' There's no fat in it, which I feel totally defeats the purpose of using coconut milk in the first place. I have decided- for the time being- to try removing all dairy from my diet. I am not excited about this. I am excited about the possibility of feeling better, but it's one of those things where the destination, not the journey, will be the fun part. I've been ignoring my body. Or at least, whatever it is my body is trying to tell me. I must be ignoring it because it seems to feel the need to say whatever it is trying to say with increasing volume, and what was once a delicate whisper of a suggestion has grown into a full-on screaming tantrum. It started in my left hand, just my thumb. Sometimes it would feel a little stiff or like it was about to cramp, and a few times while I was pregnant it actually did and I had to use my right hand to unfold my left. Then I noticed that it was occasionally difficult to grip something very tightly with my left thumb, but I only really noticed it if I was trying to open a really stubborn jar. I continued to ignore the stiffness, figuring it was a lot to ask for every single part of a body to function perfectly all the time. Recently, my right hand has started playing the 'sore and stiff' game as well. When my ability to hold a chef's knife is compromised, that is pretty much when I start paying attention. I started googling "stiffness in thumb joint" and discovered that I am most likely developing arthritis. It runs in my family and I often use my hands a lot without giving them a break. The prescribed treatment is to take ibuprofen. I started googling natural remedies. It was at this point that I started to see my body and my symptoms as a whole organism, not separate parts with separate problems. I never ran the marathon. Not even the half. I couldn't run more than eight miles without severe pain in my left knee, pain that wouldn't back off even after I'd quit running. I tried buying the pain a new pair of shoes, but it didn't like them. I tried taking the pain to physical therapy, but the pain wasn't really into it. So I stopped running, and the pain went away except for a slight ache that is still with me. Then I noticed, on what appears at first glance to be totally unrelated, that my tongue becomes easily irritated. A few bites of citrus or strong vinegar, and parts of my tongue would feel inflamed. At night when I'd brush my teeth, one or two taste buds would sometimes bleed. I may or may not have arthritis. What I have got is a body that is in an inflammatory state. I could take ibuprofen, but that would really only be suppressing the symptom. I'm more interested in addressing whatever it is that's causing this inflammatory reaction. I've started taking joint supplements, fish oil, and cherry juice. Fish oil and cherries have both been shown to be powerful anti-inflammatories, and while it's a little early to say I think they're helping. My tongue can handle citrus and doesn't bleed when I brush my teeth. My hands feel less sore. I also noticed improvement after I ate a lot of strawberry shortcake with extra strawberries. As it turns out, strawberries can be very helpful for arthritis. All dark berries actually, except for cranberries. Which is fine because I think I like all the other berries better anyway. So now, the dairy-free experiment. Dairy can greatly exacerbate arthritis. Of all the foods I could give up, I think dairy is the hardest. It is how I start my day, a splash of half and half in my French press coffee. Later, I'll put a nub of butter in my steel cut oatmeal. I love a nice tall glass of cold milk. I find something about the weight of a cube of butter in my hand deeply reassuring. I love cheese, the way it can be toothsome and chewy when eaten cold or go all soft and lovely when melted. I could go on, but it might get depressing so I should probably do what I'm always telling Jack: focus on what you can have. What I can have is steak with chimichurri. If you've never had chimichurri, you really should try it. A mixture of fresh herbs, garlic, vinegar and oil, it smells like zesty freshly-cut grass. It tastes somewhat better than zesty freshly-cut grass. I'm guessing. I've been increasingly intrigued by the idea of raw sauces, and when it's hot out and we're cooking primarily from the grill this is the perfect thing. I love red meat in just about any form, but sometimes a juicy steak can feel a little heavy on a hot day; chimichurri lightens it right up, adding an unexpected freshness to an otherwise rich meal. I plan on putting it on everything from now on, and think it would be a fantastic garnish for some huevos rancheros. Argentinians apparently use the stuff like ketchup, so I feel totally validated in this decision. Jack and Matteas both loved it, and kept asking for "more steak with hummus, please." This was a small miracle because Matteas has never once eaten steak. Jack has long been a proper carnivore and a fairly adventurous eater, but I thought the raw garlic and herbiness of the sauce might be too much even for him. Truthfully, the raw garlic was a bit much for me. I think I'll try roasting the garlic first next time which I'm sure violates authentic Argentinian rules, but I'm not a huge fan of tasting my dinner the morning after I've eaten it. It was totally worth it though, and we made an experience out of it. Aaron had seen the recipe for it in my most recent Cook's Illustrated and decided we really should have it for dinner. We all headed to Central Market and the boys were thrilled that we let them each have a "baby cart," something I only allow them to do when Aaron and I are both present(if you ever want to be a walking birth control add, take two kids to a large supermarket by yourself, give them each a baby cart and then watch them run in two different directions, much to the chagrin of the other shoppers' ankles). Chimichurri 1 large handful cilantro 1 large handful flat-leaf(Italian) parsley 2-3 sprigs fresh oregano 3 cloves garlic, chopped Pinch red pepper flakes 1/2 tsp salt 1/2 tsp honey A few grinds of black pepper 3 TB red wine vinegar 1/4 good quality olive oil Toss everything but the oil into a food processor or blender. Blend until very finely chopped, then drizzle in the olive oil while with the machine running. The flavors improve with age, so try to make it at least an hour before you plan on eating. The honey is not a traditional ingredient, but I liked it. Play with whatever herbs you like, it's not an exact science. Try using basil in place of cilantro to drizzle over grilled chicken, or adding a little rosemary to go with some lamb kabobs. So that fondant lily tutorial I promised will have to wait. I will get to it because the wedding I'm making them for is on the 24th, but until then I'm going to drink cherry juice, rest my hands, and dream of half and half.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Let Them Eat Cake That Tastes Good

I know what you're thinking. Probably something along the lines of "Good grief woman, don't you do anything anymore besides make miniature wedding cakes?!" I do. But I've discovered something I didn't realize about myself: I love making wedding cake. This comes as something of a shock to me, because I'm not that crazy about cake. It's now clear to me that this is because I've had a lot of bad cake in my life, mostly of the "puffed Crisco and sugar-flavored-fluffy sponge" variety. At some point, someone thought it would be a great idea to make wedding cakes visually stunning at the cost of making them almost completely flavorless. I believe this trend has led a lot of people to mistakenly believe they hate cake. This has to stop. Even if it means that I put everything else in my life on hold to devote my energies to becoming a one-woman revolution, I will bring back tasty wedding cake. The dilemma: three dots...
...or one? I like both.
This effort was with chocolate cake; the bride I'm working with thinks she might want chocolate, so I wanted to make sure I could frost it properly without the chocolate showing through. I used a thin layer of butter and powdered sugar frosting and it sealed beautifully. I used Deb's Swiss Buttercream again, which is dynamite when paired with chocolate. I also took the extra step of dipping my frosting spatula in hot water to make the frosting extra-smooth; I was concerned how this would work out considering the egg-white base of the frosting. Nothing says "frosting failure" like scrambled eggs on top of a cake. But it worked. I'm currently without my favorite frosting spatula, which would allow me to make a much smoother surface with hardly any marks or lines. I left it at the last birthday party I baked for, but we will be reunited soon. We have work to do, that spatula and I.
I've decided that this cake revolution must happen. There's a rash of people getting married through the Summer and early Fall, and I've offered to make their wedding cakes for free. I'm serious about this. I figure I'll do them pro bono for the first couple of months until I really get the hang of it, and after my skills are honed to Wedding Cake Ninja perfection I'll put myself out there as a genuine business. And not just weddings; birthdays, retirement cakes, basically any occasion that calls for a cake. I will make it and it will be both lovely and tasty. And then I'll have to start a separate blog because I know you don't want to read about wedding cake all the time. But indulge me for the next little while, and if you have need of a cake I'd be honored to bake it for you free of charge. All you have to do is tell me what you want, and then let me take a zillion pictures of the finished product.
So, now the voting part: I want to have a name for my little cake business, but I can't decide between Let Them Eat Cake and The Occasional Cake. I like both. Which do you like?

Monday, July 5, 2010


It never fails to amuse me, the way the Fourth of July turns grown men into giggling children. I'm not sure who had a better time: the kids watching the fireworks, or the men-turned-boys who were lighting them off. A family favorite are always the paratroopers- there's something kind of magical about seeing a little plastic Army guy come sailing gently out of the sky attached to a patriotically colored parachute. The boys love trying to catch them as they fall, then we cut the strings off the Army guys and they play with them for weeks.
I love how much power Matteas brings to his Pop-Its game. So focused.
We had an Asian-influenced meal which felt kind of odd to me, so I balanced it out with something ultra-American: strawberry-rhubarb pie. I've only attempted pie crust from scratch a few times and it never goes well, but I really wanted Jack to have pie that he could eat which meant making it myself, or paying $8 for a wheat-free crust from PCC. Spelt flour makes for a slightly crunchier crust than traditional wheat flour, but it was still satisfyingly flaky. Totally worth it.
It is amazing to me how different our two boys are. Jack was terribly afraid of all fireworks- even sparklers- until last year. Last year he consented to sit outside to watch, but declined to hold even one single sparkler. Meanwhile, Matteas couldn't get enough firepower. Every time the boys lit off something big and loud, Matteas would sing "Wheeeee!" the whole time and as soon as it was over he'd grin and say "Let's do ANOTHER one!"
Poor Jack got a migraine and nearly missed the show altogether. I convinced him to fall asleep for a bit and promised I'd wake him up for fireworks. I'm so glad he did, because he woke up pain-free and with a ravenous appetite. After lots of good food and putting on several layers of warmth, he was ready to go. I think it was the best Fourth ever. Including the one on my brother's boat seven years ago when Aaron kissed me during the fireworks.
I love Jack's lips. He's holding a sparkler in each hand, adding "double-fisting" to the growing list of things he's no longer afraid of.
Even though it came out blurry, I love this picture of Matteas. Poor baby is still kind of sick(it's 11:00 a.m. and he's still sleeping) but with a little help from Motrin he powered through the festivities like a champ. He's had a fever and a stuffy nose for the last three days. Saturday night he slept for 14 hours. Hopefully he's on the upswing now.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Even For Me

I always swore I'd never work with fondant. It's nothing more than glue made out of sugar, and in spite of the fact that it can be worked into a marble-smooth finish I'd always been turned off by the taste. So when a friend asked me to make the cake for her upcoming wedding, I said I'd be happy to but that I refuse to use fondant.
I also said I had no experience with wedding cake. Cake, yes, but mostly of the birthday, single-tier variety. Not wedding cake. No multiple tiers, no sugared flowers cascading down the side of a Corinthian-pillared masterpiece. The plan, then, was to make a small cake for cutting, making two tiers, and then a big sheet cake for serving. Easy.
But then I got to thinking about how to decorate it, and after relative success with the architectural bits of Nick and Jaime's cake(which involved things like cardboard layers under each cake, dowels under each layer to support the layer above it, and a large wooden dowel down the middle to keep the whole thing stable) decided I could possibly take on more than I initially thought.
The funny thing is, I've always hated cake. Mostly, I still do. But lately I've been obsessed with bastardizing the recipe for pineapple upside-down cake, one of the few cakes I will actually make and lust after. However, the sticky brown-sugar-and-butter goo that makes pineapple upside-down cake so luscious is not at all suited to wedding cake construction. So I omitted the fruit and the brown-sugar-and-butter-goo and found myself with a nice, not-too-sweet buttermilk cake.
It was nice.
But then I added coconut oil in place of half the butter, and it got even nicer. Generally, you can get two kinds of coconut oil; the kind that neither smells nor tastes of coconut, and the kind that does. For cake, I like the kind that does. It flavors the cake but not in an overpowering kind of way, and has the added benefit of making the cake a little more dense at room temperature. Which is a good quality for a cake to have if you plan on building a small town out of it.
With a good cake recipe in hand, I moved onto the frosting. The final result has yet to be determined, but for this trial run I used Deb's Swiss Buttercream. The instant I tasted it, I had flashbacks of my cousin's wedding. I was only 11, but I swear the frosting on that cake was a Swiss Buttercream. I remember thinking it was the best frosting I'd ever had, and try as I might I had never found its equal. Until now. It is heavenly. Light and buttery, not too sweet, not too airy, just a hint of saltiness and a ribbon of vanilla woven into its silkiness; plus, it's shiny like satin. It is officially my new favorite frosting, a beautiful compliment to a cake that's made without a lot of sugar.
With good cake and good frosting, all I had left was decoration. The bride will most likely be carrying calla lilies, and after seeing a whole bunch of really pretty pictures of fondant calla lilies I decided they can't be that hard to make.
They aren't.
Turns out, they're ridiculously easy.
In fact, I could probably do it in my sleep.
So I went ahead and made a whole bunch of them, thenpainted the stamens gold, which is a little out of control even for me. But hey, it's wedding cake.
Or in this case, Friday morning cake.
Now I have to go tend to all the things I neglected during all that cake business, like feeding my children and rescuing the living room from the layers of child resdue which have taken it over. But when I come back, I'll have an actual cake recipe and a fondant tutorial.