Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Baking is NOT an Exact Science

In honor of everyone's favorite food holiday, I'd like to encourage those of you who are intimidated by baking to give it a try. Here's what bakers don't want us to know: it's not an exact science. I know, this flies in the face of conventional wisdom. But a friend posted something on Facebook about improvising when baking recently, and when I questioned her further, she insisted it was possible, that all I needed was trial and error. I remained skeptical.

But just as when you're pregnant, suddenly you see baby bumps everywhere, with my baking antenna up, I kept hearing the same message: there is wiggle room. Feeling brave, I attempted the yogurt cake recipe, found in Bringing Up Bébé, a lovely memoir by Pamela Druckerman, an American woman raising her children in France. Druckerman claims a toddler can make this cake on their own and not mess up, because the measurements don't have to be exact. I was intrigued, but thought I'd try it myself before involving Daniel.

My only problem was that the only yogurt I had was Greek. When I folded this into the batter, it seemed too thick, so I added some milk and hoped for the best. It came out beautifully—my friend Carolyn said it looked like something from a patisserie. I don’t know about that, but it tasted good, and looked good too.

Spurred on by my success, I offered to bring dessert to a friend’s house after a last minute dinner invitation. Daniel was napping, so I scanned the cabinets. I had chocolate chips, but not enough to make Blondies, my only baking standard. I looked in my trusty How to Cook Everything for a Brownie recipe. It called for unsweetened chocolate, but I figured semi-sweet chips would just be a bit sweeter. (A substitution I wouldn't have dared make a few weeks prior.) After I began melting the chocolate and butter, I realized that all our eggs were hard-boiled. Grr.

With my new baking confidence, I scanned the internet for an egg-free brownie recipe, and found one that uses flour and water as a binder instead of eggs. It called for cocoa powder rather than chocolate, so I was really putting my improvising theory to the test. I figured with chocolate, butter, flour and sugar, even if they weren't a masterpiece, how bad could they taste? I sprinkled some sea salt and chocolate chips on top of the batter for good measure and prayed to the kitchen gods.

My dinner companions oohed and aahed when I revealed the pan of brownies. I sliced them, noting a cakey consistency, then wished I would have tasted them at home. But I channeled Julia Child, and decided to just laugh it off if they were horrible. Thankfully, they tasted quite good. Yes, they were more cake than brownie, but still delicious.

Maybe I’ll ask Santa for some baking tins and attempt the cupcakes with caramel filling Liz told me about. This new hobby could really increase my dinner invitations.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Grandparent Love

Grandmom, Daniel, Nalu, Pop-pop and Heidi

Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on many people’s lives. I feel very lucky that the storm passed over us, leaving our heat and electricity intact, our trees in the ground. Still, it wasn’t the best week, between the stress of the storm and being cooped up at home. By Wednesday I was thrilled to go to work, to return to normal life. But then my thirty minute commute took ninety minutes, and everywhere I went people seemed cranky, depleted, hurried. All of this was manageable. Then I came home to Unhappy Daniel.

Daniel even has a G-G-mom to love him
Although the first five months of his life were extremely challenging, since then, my child has shown a happy disposition. Unless he’s tired, hungry, or in pain he rarely cries. I love this about him. But teething + diaper rash = extreme crankiness. For example, when I would try to pick him up to change his diaper last week, he would go completely slack, then kick and scream. Once I saw his raw bottom, I understood why, but his antics didn’t make things any easier. Then he would ask for a bottle, I would get one, then he would cry, point at it, saying, “Ba-ba, ba-ba.” I’d say, “Here it is,” and try to hand it to him, but he would just keep asking for it, refuse to take it, and keep crying. I called the doctor, administered some Tylenol, and though we had a few windows of calm, my nerves were shot by Thursday night.

I worked Friday, thank God, but Saturday Daniel and I were on our own again. I arranged for a babysitter for the morning so I could write and have a little down time. That helped a lot. But still, by 4 PM, I had exhausted all my internal resources. I had to call in the big guns, the grandparents.

Things improved as soon as Grandmom and Pop-Pop showed up. Their absolute delight in Daniel lifted everybody’s mood. My whining, crying, inconsolable child morphed into a content, even pleasant soul under their loving attention. We ventured out to dinner, and through a 20 minute wait for a table, and a 90 minute meal, he was delightful, waving to the waitresses, flirting with other patrons, quietly eating. It was a quasi-miraculous change.

Man, does he love Pop-pop
With Daniel, a change of scenery generally helps, as does seeing people other than just Carl and me. But I saw on Saturday that there’s something extra special about grandparent love. Nothing I had done in the previous two days had pleased or calmed him, but their very presence did both within minutes.

Watching how he bloomed under their care reminded me of how I felt with my own Grandmom. Even as an adult, just being with her made me feel cherished, safe, calm. I remember having breakfast with her one morning when I had an important project due for law school. I was full of angst and worry, but her complete confidence in my abilities fortified me, helped me believe in myself again.

I know my parents have always loved me, but with my Grandmom, that’s all there was – no angst, no battles about discipline or anything else. Maybe that’s what makes the grandparent relationship so special. It can be pure love. It’s like a beloved friend v. a roommate. With the friend, you see what’s lovely and charming, without having to fight about the dishes in the sink. I think a grandparent’s love can be the closest thing to unconditional that many of us feel. Seeing Daniel experience this is one of the best gifts I’ve received from parenthood.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Happy Halloween

We went to the birds this year. My pretty peacock and my dashing parrott flew around the neighborhood collecting candy. I had a great bird related costume idea to be a "tweet." Like many things in my life, idea and execution didn't come together, so I went as myself, a tired but loving mom.

My tweet would have said, "This year the Ackermans say trick or tweet."