Friday, August 26, 2011

A Room of Her Own

We live in a two-bedroom place. Ben works from home, and so when we first moved in we set up the second bedroom as his office.

When Dot came along, I was initially adamant that we keep that second room for his office. I wanted to keep our bedroom as a relaxing, work-free zone. I figured we could keep Dot at first in our bedroom, and then in the closet, and then maybe set her up in the corner of the living room if we had to.

It became clear pretty quickly that that wasn't going to work. My goal of having a work-free, relaxing, calm bedroom was not served at ALL by keeping a baby in there. (That was the kind of self-delusion only a first-time parent can indulge in.) I couldn't go into the bedroom while she was napping, which meant I couldn't shower, grab the dirty laundry to take care of, straighten up, or do any number of things I might like to do during that time. We'd have to sneak in and get ready for bed in the dark when it was our turn to go to bed -- and frequently she'd wake up anyway and demand one last feeding before I went to sleep. Plus, sometimes I'd just lie awake at night and try to listen to her breathe.

It was not very restful for anyone.

So last weekend I gave in, and Ben and I spent Saturday moving his office into our bedroom and setting up a little nursery.

We should have done that MONTHS ago.

There were some initial hiccups with getting her settled -- naps suddenly became a terrible battle and shortened down to being little half hour things -- but (fingers crossed) she's sleeping SO MUCH BETTER now. After our trip to Utah totally undid her schedule, she'd been getting up two, three, four times a night. Now we're back down to once, and it's been creeping later and later each night. And the naps show real signs of improving.


(Babies who let their mothers get some sleep are 73 percent cuter, 80 percent smarter and 93 percent happier than those who don't, according to this blog's panel of experts.)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Next Great Orator of the 21st Century

Click anywhere on the image to make Dot give a speech.

Don't you feel moved now? Inspired, even?

(I love this age.)

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Most Impressive "Cake" I Have Ever Made

I enjoy cooking, but have not yet in my life been much of a baker. I've been particularly intimidated by the idea of decorating a cake, for some reason. My mom and my sister both decorate beautiful cakes, and I know the basic idea -- I've just been unwilling to try. It's probably because I know I need practice, and am unwilling to turn out the many lopsided, messy, goopy cakes required to learn on before I get good.

However, I did want to make something really special for Ben's birthday this year. He got his birthday gift (luggage -- he has a stated preference for practical gifts, and we were going on a trip) without wrapping and without fanfare a couple weeks before the actual birthday, and I thought a beautiful, delicious cake would be a good substitute for the actual unwrapping of presents/general fanfare. And when I saw a crepe cake on one of the many food blogs I peruse, I knew that was what I wanted to make.

When I first presented the cake to my husband and his family, my sister-in-law commented that it looked like it was a lot of work. And yeah, this is not something you can make in a hurry. Fortunately, the work can be spread out over a couple of days.

I used this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, and it's a good one. The crepes in particular are extremely yummy -- eating the ruined crepes that I hadn't poured, swirled or flipped properly was one of my favorite parts of putting this together. However, the special deliciousness of the crepes kind of got lost once the whole cake came together, so I think next time I make this (and I WILL make it again) I'll use a crepe recipe that's slightly less fussy. The main thing is to get 20 or so good round crepes.

I'm also looking forward to playing with different fillings. The pastry cream with whipped cream was fantastic (and with ganache on top tasted basically exactly like a chocolate eclair in cake form), but I saw some variations in google recipe search that looked really good, too, like lemon curd, fruit and yogurt, and cream cheese with white chocolate.

So here's the timeline for making a crepe cake:

Saturday morning, while baby naps: Make the crepe batter and stick it in the fridge. You've never heard before that crepe batter is better if it has time to rest before being cooked, but you don't make your living off running a food blog. Trust it. Try to make the pastry cream now, but if your baby decides that long naps aren't really her thing, that can be done while she plays on the floor next to you.

Saturday night, after baby is asleep: Make the crepes. The recipe says the crepes only need to cook about one minute on the first side and a few seconds on the other. The recipe also says to flip the crepe with your fingers. This is insane, and written for people who cook so much they have no nerves left in their fingertips. Ignore. Sweat over the stovetop for an hour, thinking about how much you love your husband. Try not to lie to him when he asks about the number of ruined crepes, even though you were hoping to eat them all yourself.

Saturday night: Lie awake stressing about the stack of crepes in the fridge. What if they all stick together? What if the cake isn't impressive enough? What if the pastry cream is lumpy? Should you make a whipped cream frosting for it tomorrow or a chocolate ganache? Tell your brain to shut up and sleep.

Sunday morning, while baby naps: Don't bother straining the pastry cream again, as the recipe suggests. It looks fine, and at this point, you are past caring about any lumps. Whip heavy cream with some sugar, but substitute a little splash of vanilla for kirsch, which you don't have and aren't interested in buying. Fold together the whipping cream and pastry cream. Take the crepes (which have NOT stuck together and were never even thinking about it) and start to assemble. This part goes pretty quickly. Crepe, cream, crepe, cream, crepe, cream. Feel tremendously impressed with yourself and take lots of pictures.

Sunday afternoon: Decide that you really DO want to put a chocolate ganache glaze on it, because the cake looks a little bare just on its own. Heat 2/3 cup heavy cream with 1 tablespoon light corn syrup until just simmering, then pour into a bowl with 6 ounces chocolate chips that you've made some attempt at chopping up a little. Stir until glossy. Pour over the cake. It might pour more quickly than you thought it would, and make a huge mess. You might get chocolate all over your white shirt. For this reason, I would not recommend wearing a white shirt while you do this. At least not one that you're attatched to.

Note: This makes a good deal more ganache than you need. You could probably halve the recipe, or you could save the rest for something else, or you could eat it straight out of a bowl with a spoon. It's up to you. (I'm not saying which option I chose, only that it was DELICIOUS.)

Sunday night: Serve after dinner to your husband and assorted in-laws. Bask in the accolades. Do not let your sister-in-law who does not like anything with cream or butter to have any, because she will not appreciate it. Save two big slices for later, because it is still actually NOT your husband's birthday and you have to have SOMETHING for the actual day.

(That's your excuse, at least.)

It Takes Two

Last week, our marriage turned 2.

We celebrated with a fancy dinner out.

Well, at least the PLATES are fancy. And there are cloth napkins, too! But no silverware, because we didn't need it. If I'd thought about it, though, I might have packed some anyway, just for the sake of the table setting.

Ben's now lived with me longer than he did with anybody outside of his immediate family. We'll have to make it another year or two before he can beat my college roommate and friend extraordinaire Kim, though.

I think we'll manage it. I'm hanging on to this one!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Vacation Highlights

Well, it's taken me a while to get around to blogging again, but Dot's sleeping off her 6-month vaccines, the pizza dough is rising for dinner tonight, and I don't feel like cleaning, so here it is!

At the end of July we went to Utah for a reunion with family and friends. It was the first time I got to see many of my siblings in almost two years, and the first time Dot got to meet all her cousins. I'm so, so, so glad we went, even though Ben was sick the whole time and Dot's schedule got totally thrown off and I'm still tired from it. I really wish we'd taken more pictures, though. I remembered to BRING my camera most places. I just didn't remember to USE it. Maybe next time.

Some highlights from our trip:

OK, so here was one place I forgot to bring my camera, so I have to settle with a picture taken with my (free, old-school flip-style) cell phone, in sun so bright I couldn't see the display, with a baby who really wanted to eat said phone. So the picture's not great, but it's still one of my favorites from the trip because it reminds me how beautiful the day was and what a great time we had our first day there when we hauled the cousins up to bridal veil falls. The older kids waded in and splashed and played until their feet were numb. Two of Dot's cousins took turns pushing her in the stroller, so I got to take it easy and chat with my sister and sisters-in-law while we walked. The only downside was that Ben was coughing too hard that morning to come with us.

(Another cell phone pic, unfortunately -- but I'm glad I had it on me to capture that happy smile!)

Despite having her schedule shot all to pieces with our long, late plane flights (our flight there we didn't get into a bed until about 3:30 a.m. by our time), Dorothy was the happiest kid in the world for that week. One of my nieces told me, "Dot has the gift of happiness." She LOVED seeing everybody and getting so much attention!

Speaking of which...

Dot's cousins absolutely lavished her with love. It was so funny to me when these little tiny kidlets would beg and beg to hold Baby Dot. She was nearly as big as they were! But it really warmed my heart to see how tender, kind and sweet all my sibling's children are. The two- and three-year-old cousins were especially cute with Dot, offering her gentle hugs and kisses all the time.

My oldest niece earned this dollar fair and square by teaching Ben how to hula hoop. Hula hooping is apparently not like riding a bike -- both Ben and I were initially totally unable to keep a hula hoop up when we were playing outside with the kids. Because he didn't think it could be done, Ben offered her a dollar if she could teach him how. And later that night, we were both hula hooping like pros! (I was wise enough not to bet the dollar, though. Never bet against a determined eight-year-old.)

We attended a reunion with all my extended family on my mom's side -- aunts, uncles, cousins, cousins once removed, and so forth. There was a photographer there at the beginning who was able to take family group shots and a couple individual pictures -- hence the picture above of just Dot. It was a lot of fun to see everybody! I only wish we had had more time to chat with all my cousins, instead of just being able to breeze by and say hi-how-are-you-good-I-love-your-blog-bye! But at least many of my cousins keep blogs. Otherwise I'd be asking them inane questions like, "So... what's your name again?" (Which is not to say I did not ask a cousin or two that exact question. I have a lot of cousins, and not all of them have blogs.)

Other highlights I don't have pictures for:

*Eating out! A lot! Twice at Cafe Rio! (This is very exciting for us. We have not eaten out very much since Dot was born -- or even before that, for that matter. I enjoy cooking and we're homebodies, but it was really nice to have a reason to splurge a little and go out together and with our families. Plus, we have MISSED Cafe Rio.)

*Playing in the sprinklers

*Playing a little basketball with my brother Warren (I got OWNED, but it's been so long that I even though about playing basketball that even getting owned was fun -- until I ran out of breath disappointingly soon after beginning)

*Playing a couple rounds of Wits & Wagers with my siblings and my mom. It's a really fun kind of trivia game -- even if you have no clue what the answer might be, you can have a really good time guessing. Thanks to Christian for introducing us to it!

*Staying at my Grandpa's house, now decorated with really cool 50's-style furniture

*Making fun of my dad's new beard until my Aunt Nancy trimmed it, and then admitting that maybe it sort of looks okay

*Going to the Museum of Ancient Life at Thanksgiving Point. That place is so awesome I used to go there as a single young adult, because I just liked it. It is even MORE awesome with kids that you are related to in tow. There's lots of hands on stuff and exhibits and information for almost all age levels.

*Visiting with some of Ben's family in Utah and getting to know some more of my in-laws

*Splurging on some Amano Artisan Chocolate with Ben.

There were definitely some downsides, as well -- like the fact that the plumbing at Grandpa's house was having issues and that a house with 11 children in it under the age of 8 is going to be pretty wild and crazy -- but overall it was an amazing vacation and I had a fantastic time. I'm so blessed and so grateful to have such a wonderful family.