Monday, September 2, 2013

Ruby's 1st Birthday

I'm the mother of a one year old.

Typing those words gave me heart palpitations. Mostly because I can't believe my little baby is growing up so quickly but also because, even one year into this gig, it's still hard to wrap my head around the fact that I'm a mother. 

We went home to Florida to celebrate Ruby's first birthday with our families. I made an old favorite cupcake recipe for the guests and a mini cake for Ruby. 

She didn't quite know what to make of her cake. She kept pointing at it and looking over at me like, "Is it all for me? Can I touch it?" It was hysterical to watch. Unfortunately, we forgot to video it. We are still such amateurs at this parenting business. 

Speaking of amateurism, we've yet to master the art of family portrait taking. Inevitably, some one's eyes are closed or some one is looking away from the camera. The pic below was the best we could do. Happily, we have many more birthdays to come to get better at all this.  

Ruby's pediatrician told me at her one year checkup that the second year was always a favorite year with his boys (he has four!!!) and that Ruby has lots of fun in store for us this upcoming year.

Yippee! Bring it on, kiddo.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Chocolate Muscovado Banana Bread

Nigel Slater's recipe calls this a cake but I'm calling it bread, mostly because a slice is absolutely to-die-for spread with a generous smear of Plugra salted butter. Smearing cake with salted butter just seems overly decadent and wrong somehow, but bread and butter? They just go together.

I vaguely seem to recall making banana bread at some point in the past but it has never been a staple in my recipe rotation. The fact is, I don't really care for plain banana bread. Had it not been for a co-worker who often brings in banana bread with chocolate chips to share with the office, I might have continued to turn up my nose at banana bread. Adding chocolate to banana bread brings it to a whole other level. Thanks to chocolate, I've developed a new-found appreciation for banana bread.

When I saw Mr. Slater's banana cake recipe called for the addition of muscovado sugar and dark chocolate, I was intrigued and mentally tucked it away. Months later, while staring a bunch of bananas too far past their prime, my memory was jogged and I added muscovado sugar to the grocery list. If you, like me, don't keep it on hand, you could substitute dark brown sugar for the muscovado sugar called for in the recipe. But I wouldn't. The lovely, molassassy flavor muscovado adds to the bread is worth a trip to the store to pick up a bag.

My little helper is constantly under foot when I'm cooking or baking these days. Ruby is now mobile (still crawling, not yet walking) and is quite the busy bee. She thinks the kitchen is her personal playground. One of her favorite tricks is to crawl onto the dishwasher door when open. Funnily enough, I used to do the exact same thing as a kiddo. My father kept a framed photo of me standing on the dishwasher door on his bathroom vanity. Do all kids go through an obsession with the dishwasher or did I just pass a mutant gene on to Ruby? Whatever. I just hope her interest in the dishwasher continues. I can't wait to teach her how to load the dishes into the dish racks.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


 Last summer, when I was great with child (I didn't get to use that expression nearly as often as I wanted when I was pregnant), Eric and I took an overnight getaway to San Antonio. It was sort of an early anniversary trip because Ruby was anticipated to make her arrival right around our actual anniversary. In the end, she was a few days early and didn't come on our anniversary. I've never been early for anything in my life but perhaps she takes after her dad for whom "on time" = arriving at least 20 minutes early. Anyway, the San Antonio bit is pertinent because we stopped by the bake shop at the Culinary Institute of America at San Antonio campus, stocked by the pastry program students. When I perused the offerings, I came across a cookie called an alfajor. I'd never had an alfajor so I ordered one. I took one bite and promptly decreed it my new favorite cookie.
Alfajores are a common Latin American confection- it seems every country in South America lays claim to them. There are many iterations on an alfajor but the version I made was similar to a sugar cookie, sandwiched with dulce de leche and sprinkled with confectioner's sugar. I rolled some of the cookies' edges in coconut, which I highly recommend, although next time I would use smaller, shredded coconut instead of flake. I'm not including a link to the recipe I used as a guide in making these cookies as I had to make pretty substantial adjustments to get the dough to a proper, workable consistency. Next time, I think I'll just adapt my favorite sugar cookie recipe to replace of some of the flour called for with corn starch and add lemon zest and juice for additional flavoring.

I made these alfajores for a recent Austin Bakes bake sale that raised monies for relief efforts in West, TX, site of the recent fertilizer plant fire and explosion that devastated the small town. The bake sale raised over $19,000 for West and I believe the online giving portal is still open if you'd like to contribute.

I brought Ruby along for my volunteer shift at one of the bake sale sites and she was a little champ. She's getting bigger by the day and will be 10 months old in June. Her personality is becoming more and more evident- like Eric, she is very observant and inquisitive and she has my impatience and gift of gab. She babbles at us all day long now. She's becoming such a little person- which I find both delightful and distressing in equal measure. I'd like her to stay a baby a little longer and yet it's fascinating to watch her blossom. It's fun for me to look back at the pictures I've posted these past ten months and see how much she has grown.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Lime-in-the-Coconut Macaroons

Where does time go?

A terribly trite saying, yes, but so, so true. Here's another one that is especially apt:

The days are long but the years are short.

A neighbor shared that old adage with me. It captures so well the pang that many parents' feel in their heart when realizing how quickly children grow up.

Ruby is now eight months old and getting bigger by the day. She's in that golden stage where she's an adorable handful- she coos and trills (and occasionally shrieks) and blows wet, messy raspberries.  She can sit up but hasn't quite gotten crawling down. I call her my little roly poly as she amazes me with how much area she can navigate just by rolling and scooting herself on her back. She's very grabby and everything goes in her mouth so we have to watch her like a hawk.

Ruby is a blast but she keeps us on our toes. By the time we tuck her into bed at night, we're exhausted ourselves. This parenting business is a lot of work but it's also such a joy.

I saw this macaroon recipe in Bon Appetit recently and was intrigued by the addition of lime. Lime and coconut makes sense, right? They both have bright, tropical-ish flavors that pair well together. Of further appeal, macaroons have a high return on investment quotient- they're quick and easy to make and for very little effort, you get a rather tasty treat.

So I whipped up a batch but unfortunately, I was a little underwhelmed. They weren't very sweet and the lime zest tasted more bitter than bright. Luckily, I remembered that chocolate makes everything better. In this case, I'm referring to white chocolate. A while back I made a white chocolate ganache with grapefruit zest  that blew my mind. I figured that lime zest would work just as well as grapefruit zest so I made up a bowl of white chocolate ganache with lime zest and drizzled it over the macaroons. It was a pretty good save, if I do say so myself.

You know what is even more delectable than coconut macaroons drizzled with a white chocolate ganache with lime zest?

Chubby baby cheeks!

I can't resist kissing these cheeks all day long. They're ridiculously delicious.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Lemon-Honey Tart with Salted Shortbread Crust

We went home to Florida recently and while there, I looked up my parents' neighbor whose yard is essentially a citrus fruit orchard. In the past, I've made some lovely treats with his Meyer lemons and grapefruit so I couldn't wait to hit him up again and he certainly didn't disappoint. I came home with a bag full of fruit.

I knew exactly what I wanted to make with the Meyers as I had dog eared a page in a recent issue of Bon Appetit with a lemon-honey tart recipe I wanted to try out. Coincidentally, I had also dog eared a page in Garden & Gun about Honey Pax Tupelo Honey. Tupelo honey has a distinctive yet delicate floral taste and is one of my favorite honey varietals. The company sources their honey from the Apalachicola River Basin in Northwest Florida and I couldn't wait to get my hands on a bottle. The new Fresh Market that recently opened in Pensacola carries Honey Pax products so I went in to check out the store and picked up a bottle for use in the tart.

While I was in Florida, Addie wrote about making the very same tart and her dislike of the thin lemon slices the recipe calls for adding to the curd. Based on her feedback, I decided to skip the lemon slices. Actually, I skipped the BA curd recipe entirely and adapted an old favorite, Suzanne Goin's lemon curd recipe from her divine Meyer Lemon and Chocolate Tart recipe in Sunday Suppers at LucquesI added 3 tablespoons of honey and 1 cup of sugar instead of the 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon of sugar called for in Suzanne's recipe. I then paired the adapted honey-lemon curd recipe with the salted shortbread tart crust recipe from Bon Appetit to make mini tarts topped with whipped cream and candied Meyer lemon zest.

Apparently the Bon Appetit recipe was quite eye catching as Renée, who blogs over at Sweetsugarbean, made it as well. Her tart turned out lovely but she reported the same distaste as Addie for the lemon slices in the curd filling, which is too bad since the slices look so pretty suspended in the curd. But as my husband, Le Chef as I call him when he's being a curmudgeon in the kitchen, would say, "That's a magazine recipe for you." What he means is that sometimes food magazine recipes include extra, superfluous steps that can be a waste of time at best and at worst, can detract from the dish, e.g. calling for the addition of lemon slices that render a perfectly fine tart practically inedible. Obviously, these magazines rely on enticing visual images to draw in readers, which is understandable, but sometimes it seems as though the recipes are an afterthought. Of course, this isn't always the case and some of my favorite tried-and-true recipes over the years have been torn from magazine pages  (R.I.P. Gourmet, I sure do miss you) but it seems to be happening more as of late.
In other food news, Ruby started solids when she turned six months old on February 9th. We decided against starting her on the rice cereal that is often recommended as starter food and went strait to pureed veggies. We tried yams first figuring something on the sweeter side would be an easy win and we were right. She gobbled it up! Of course, we're those obnoxious parents that video and photograph every milestone to death. I try to refrain from bombarding you all with too much baby stuff but the look on Ruby's face after her first bite was just too funny not to share a pic.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

It gets better...

What a difference a few months can make. Or four, to be exact.

For those of you who've never heard mention of the fourth trimester, it is a reference to the first few months of a baby's life when they aren't quite ready to engage with this noisy, disruptive world. So they cry and scream and generally make it known that they liked their comfy, cozy womb very much, thank you, and they aren't happy about being separated from it and thrust into the strange unknown.

Some babies acclimate more readily to their new environment and others rail against it, crying for hours on end (often referred to as colic). I'd say Ruby fell somewhere in the middle. She didn't have daily hours-long crying jags but she was, shall we say, testy quite often. She'd make her displeasure known by grumping often and occasionally screaming to punctuate her point. Mostly, she seemed frustrated. It was like she was just waiting, albeit rather impatiently, for us to get a clue. Sometimes, Eric and I would look at each other and ask, "Why is our baby so angry!?!" I never doubted that I loved her but there were moments when I certainly didn't like her so much.

We were often told that if we could just survive the fourth trimester, everything would get so much better. Well, Ruby took a little longer than the usual twelve weeks to come around. Somewhere around her fifteenth week of life, though, she forgave our bumbling ineptitude and decided to put up with us. Coincidentally, it was right around the time that we started to figure out her rhythms and to read her cues.

Now, Ruby is the smiling, giggly bundle of joy I dreamt of all those months I carried her in my belly. She even looks like I imagined she would, with her father's dark hair and my blue eyes. Not that it's all sunshine and moonbeams 24/7. She still has occasional hissy fits, particularly when tired or overstimulated. Most of the time, though, she's a happy little munchkin.

It's hard to talk about how difficult adapting to motherhood can be. Maybe because if you're lucky enough to safely deliver a healthy baby, it seems selfish to complain. That, and the whole baby industrial complex is predicated on the birth of a child being the most miraculous, amazing thing ever, if you don't spontaneously combust from happiness at the first sight of your newborn, you're set up to feel like a failure.

Thank god for my mama girlfriends who coached me to hang in there and commiserated with me and shared their own memories of newborn woes. I don't know what I would have done without them. It was such a lifeline for me to be able to whine and complain to sympathetic ears and not feel judged. As a new mom, I needed to hear that motherhood can be hard work and that it's normal to feel overwhelmed at times. I needed to know these feelings weren't a reflection on me and that I'm not alone in feeling this way. And I needed to be reassured that it does get better.

And last but not least, winter has finally arrived in Austin and with the cold weather, I got a craving for chicken pot pie. When I saw this recipe from the Kitchn in my twitter feed, it prodded me to action. The version above is inspired by it but it isn't a faithful recreation. While the biscuit crust in the recipe sounded tantalizing, I went with a good, old fashioned pie crust.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

We're loving our first Christmas with Ruby. Not that she knows what's going on yet, of course, but she sat in Mama's lap while I unwrapped her gifts for her.

It's amazing how much little ones change in a few short months. She's so alert now and notices everything. Ruby thinks the Christmas tree lights are the best thing ever and just stares and stares at them. I take her over to the tree every evening so she can coo over the pretty ornaments. I talk back to her in coos- she gets a kick out of it (and I do, too).

I had hoped to get around to making gingerbread men from an old favorite recipe but the days got away from me. So instead, I made gingerbread pancakes for our Christmas breakfast.

I hope you're enjoying the season and that you made Santa's "nice" list and he left you lots of good loot.