Tuesday, February 21, 2012

TWD: Baking with Julia- Chocolate Truffle Tartlets

Chocolate Truffle Tartlets. What's not to love?

With a crust made of chocolate dough and a filling of melted bittersweet chocolate with pieces of milk chocolate, white chocolate and biscotti stirred into it, who would not want to bake this dessert?

Me. I wanted to eat it, but I definitely didn't want to bake it. At least not by myself. I found myself really wishing that Laura and I were taking this recipe on together (in the same kitchen) instead of "together" (but actually hundreds of miles apart on opposite sides of the country).

This recipe intimidated me so much that I watched a video of its creator, David Ogonowski, making the crust. (I watched it more than once. Probably four times.) The idea of putting the ingredients straight onto the countertop and mixing them with my fingers...putting eggs and ice water into that mixture...no bowl? no spoon?...pretty much seemed beyond my capabilities as a baker. Furthermore, this recipe needs its own special mini tart pan - a tartlet pan. No, six mini tart pans. With removable bottoms. 

Not to worry, the more experienced bakers, said - just use your tart pan if you don't have any mini tart pans.

I didn't have a tart pan, either.

Worries or not, I decided to tackle the recipe with everything I had.

Here is what I learned:

1. This was not beyond my capabilities.
2. This dessert is worth the work involved.
3. Putting the ingredients right on the counter and mixing everything right there makes me feel pretty hard core!

I was able to find four mini tart pans at TJ Maxx (love that place!) for $4.99. Bargain. The results were so lovely.

Now I am the kind of baker who owns her own tartlet pans. With removable bottoms. 

Here is how they turned out. (Mine looked shiny on top because I do not have a food stylist to arrange the lighting for my photos. Maybe I'll get better at that part. Anyway, the tarts were definitely done, not gooey or wet on the top!):

Here is what The Boy thought of them ("I really get to eat my whole, own, very own, whole pie thingy all to myself?"):

Here is what was left when George (aka "Least Likely to Ever Order a Chocolate Dessert") was done with his:

I think that was all the review I needed.

Be sure to see my sister Laura's Rustic Alaskan Tartlets here. She did a great job improvising in true Western Alaska fashion.

To see the recipe, check our hosts' blogs this week - you can find Jaime's blog here, Jessica's here, Spike's here and Steph's here. Or, check out all the bakers' results by visiting Tuesdays with Dorie.

Monday, February 20, 2012

On becoming a chewer

There is clearly a reason why we do not remember when our teeth emerged.

It must be the most miserable experience a human being can have.

Teething seems to turn my otherwise smiling, happy children into fussy, frowny, irritable beings who cannot be comforted but by nursing or sleeping.

As I watch the misery of my normally-smiley Belle, I can't help but feeling that this process is kind of inefficient. Couldn't God have designed a less-painful, more streamlined way for us to get our teeth? After all, teeth are pretty important, in the grand scheme of things. We really need them...and yet, we are not born with them and have to acquire them through this long, drawn-out period of hurting.

I'd like to note, for the record, that our fraternal twin girls are not going through this process simultaneously (or if they are, LadyBug is experiencing little to no pain so that we are unaware of it). This seems like a blessing. One inconsolable sufferer is better than two, I think.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

"All bets are off."

One year ago today, as my husband left for work, I said these words to him: "All bets are off."

Having just found out a couple of weeks before that we were expecting again, I was fairly certain on Valentine's Day that something was very wrong. The symptoms were alarming and weren't going away. I called our midwives' office and was instructed to come for an ultrasound later that morning. Numbly, I got ready to go, met George at work, climbed into his car to make the trip. I steeled myself to hear the news that we were going to lose the baby.

As we huddled in the cramped darkness of that ultrasound room, anxiously awaiting some information, I didn't know how to pray, didn't know what words to use. I just kept saying, "Please, God." I don't even know what I was asking for, exactly.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things...

What we got, of course, was the furthest thing from what I thought I'd been asking...the most shocking, world-altering news I have ever heard.

"Here is the baby...and here is the other baby. Both Baby A and Baby B are doing fine."

I don't remember what I said. I just know that it felt like the room had started spinning madly and wouldn't stop. George was laughing and rocking in his chair, head in his hands part of the time, staring up at the screen and then hiding his face in his hands again.


One year ago, things changed forever.

Countless times since that day, I have prayed without knowing what words to use. And yet, God heard my heart all those times.

Love never fails.

Our Baby A and Baby B will be 5 months old tomorrow. Although I know we're really just at the beginning of this journey, I can look back over the last year and sigh with some relief that we have made it this far.  I am so grateful for all the places that Real Love has shown up to help us in making it through - all the family and friends who took care of us, all the co-workers who helped out, all the meals brought here when I was put on bed rest and couldn't cook anything myself, all the e-mails and phone calls and prayers on our behalf.

The support we received was Real Love. Not the chocolate-eating, flower-buying kind that usually gets celebrated on this day. The real kind, the self-sacrificing kind...the kind that gives away pieces of itself over and over and over again but is never reduced in size.

The kind that mamas and daddies have for their children.

The kind that God has for each of us.

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

If I'd known you were coming...

My mom texted to let me know that my grandparents are on their way up to visit. She didn't know when they were leaving to make the three or four hour trip, but it could be today.

I treasure my grandparents. They were a big part of raising us when our dad died (I was 5 at the time). They mean the world to me, and if they are coming to visit, it's a special thing. I want to be ready for them. Having said that, the last time they were here was pretty stressful. My grandfather is accustomed to having things done his way, and he expects things to run on his schedule. We have our own schedule around here, one which is tantalizingly close to a routine on some days, but it revolves around babies' naps and a preschooler's snacks, not the preferences of retired grandpas. His practice of never calling ahead to tell me he is coming makes things even more complicated.

With Mom's text, I felt the room slowly start to tilt to one side. My chest started feeling a little tight.

Still in my pajamas and on my second day without a shower, I surveyed the scene around me and marveled at how I could trace the last two days' events by the position of various things on the floors and counters and table. Looking up from the chicken I was trimming to put into the crock pot for dinner, I noticed the crumbs on the counter from breakfast toast, some flour on the floor from Monday's breadmaking (thought for sure I'd swept that!), basket full of laundry in the living room waiting to be folded, another laundry basket with neat piles folded yesterday by my helpful friend but still waiting to be put away. Sam's toy trains, dinosaurs, matchbox cars and an Elmo figurine were in the middle of the floor, involved in an elaborate, complex relationship about which I confess I do not know the details.

A slightly crazy feeling washed over me - knowing someone is coming but not knowing when- not the day nor the hour - how was I supposed to get ready? It kind of reminded me of those talks about THE RAPTURE we used to get in Sunday School. Or that sign on the realty building in the town where I grew up: Jesus Is Coming! Rapture - Next Major Event. I had a similar feeling of helplessness. How could I prepare for the unknown? I took a deep breath. What is the thing I'd feel worst about if they showed up right now? Start there, I told myself. Then if they come walking in, at least that one thing will be done.

How we receive people matters a great deal. Having spent some formative personal time with Benedictines, I'm aware that hospitality doesn't have to be fancy...the spirit in which things are offered makes all the difference. The heart of Benedictine hospitality is the recognition that all are to be received as Christ, that Christ is present in each guest and should be welcomed. Simple is fine, as long as the door is open and there's room at the table. I love this about my Benedictine friends and yearn to live up to this standard when welcoming people to my home.

As I think about this ideal, I have to hope that Christ (and my guests, alike) would appreciate that I chose to take time to rock my babies this morning for fun, even though they weren't sleepy, to cuddle with them and smell their hair and watch them hold each other's hands. I did that instead of dusting the bookcase or decluttering that annoying pile of papers next to the microwave. I tried to remind myself that the house didn't have to look perfect for my grandparents as long as they knew we were happy to have them here (although it would probably help if they didn't trip over Elmo and the dinosaurs on their way in).

I have been spending some time on Pinterest lately, loving all the beautiful pictures of interiors. Sometimes Pinterest tricks me, making me think that those photos of houses are real, actual houses...that people are carrying on their crazy lives in those lovely, perfectly appointed kitchens with no crumbs on the counters. My house doesn't look like that. I don't have a themed shelf in my home with rotating seasonal displays. I don't have a handmade Valentine wreath on the door that I created from used coffee filters and hair salvaged from the vacuum cleaner and custom-colored baker's twine that matches our trim. I confess that I'm not even exactly sure when my rugs were last vacuumed. The thing is, I like that stuff! I'd like to have monogrammed towels and napkins I'd stitched myself, a perfectly clean, decorated and "together" house.

Really, though, at this stage in my life, with two babies and a preschooler, this isn't going to happen. It's not even important.

We do, however, have food in the slow cooker for dinner tonight, and everyone is wearing clothes that are reasonably clean, and no one is missing or dead.

These things are important, and I feel good about these things. And about rocking the girls. I'm okay with my non-Pinteresting house today. I think the people who live here also need to be treated as Christ, which sometimes results in a less-than-picturesque environment. Sometimes, the couch cushions are on the floor. Sometimes there are even handprints on the carpet. Despite these shortcomings and imperfections, we are going to have a warm welcome to offer my grandparents whenever they do show up.

Now I really should clean the bathroom.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

TWD: Baking with Julia - White Loaves

This is the first post of what I hope will be a grand and tasty adventure.

My sister, Laura, and I have a long history of cooking and baking together. Since she moved back to Nome, Alaska this past summer, it's gotten more difficult. Thousands of miles separate our kitchens. Though we share recipes frequently and often compare menus, I miss having her hands and her smile here when I'm baking or cooking something familiar we've shared (or something new and challenging).

When I heard about Tuesdays with Dorie, an online group of bakers who were baking "together" and making their way through Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan, I approached Laura about doing this project as a way to bake "together." She was game, so here we are.

I have never made bread all by myself before, so I was a little intimidated by the first recipe, White Loaves. With the exception of that sort of sci-fi moment when my dough started climbing out from my Kitchen Aid mixer, the recipe went smoothly and without difficulty, even for an aspiring baker like me. One loaf (the one to which I added a cinnamon swirl) turned out slightly bigger than the other. They aren't picture perfect, but they look pretty much like bread! They smell wonderful, too. I'm thrilled with them.
My white loaves...sized slightly differently, kind of like my twin daughters.

We ate slices of the cinnamon swirl bread as a snack with cream cheese. The cinnamon was more of a hint than a swirl. I will use more next time. The plain loaf was sliced up for toasted cheese sandwiches to go with our leftover soup this evening. It was perfect.

Find the recipe here on Jules Someone's blog at Someone's in the Kitchen. Or just buy Dorie's beautiful book. My copy now has a little butter and some flour on one page.

I'm kind of proud of that.

Friday, February 3, 2012

When paper towels fly

Some moments are just like this.

I've been going about the day, making my way through, over and around the challenging bits, breathing deeply, feeling like I'm managing. There were hundreds of moments today already where I was a good mother, a great mother, even. I prevented accidents, wiped noses, rescued a drowning Lego guy from the toilet, changed fifteen diapers, made healthy meals and snacks that were eaten. I played trains, building and rebuilding the track as a figure eight, then as an "S," then as "the same shape Daddy made it last time." I co-refereed a three-year-olds' play date. I nursed two babies a lot (in fact, I was nursing one at the same time as I was building the train track). I even managed to get one load of laundry into the washer. (It is still sitting there, but I will probably get it into the dryer eventually.)

The defining moment of my day, though, was none of these. It was this one, brief moment, in which the roll of paper towels has left my hand and is flying, in slow motion, toward the kitchen wall.

How did we get here?

The Boy and I were working on a stamping project for Valentine's Day. He had abandoned the stamps in favor of using his hands on the stamp pads. This was fine- we were in the kitchen.

The babies, having resisted sleep for nearly the entire day, were finally napping. Then I heard one of them crying. "She probably dropped her pacifier," I told him. "Wait right here- I'll be right back." I went down the hall and retrieved the pacifier. As I put it back into LadyBug's mouth, the door burst open with a crash and The Boy entered as only a three-year-old can enter a room, talking loudly about his handprints and yellow and stickers and asking for more markers. My heart sank...he was going to end this hard-earned nap before it had started! I waved my hands, shushed him, tried to ask him to wait in the hall, gestured at the sleeping babies, held my finger to my lips, begging him to just be quieter...


I leaned toward him, still holding the pacifier in LadyBug's mouth. I whisper-shouted at him.

He made his "I'm-not-budging" face and yelled it louder.

"NO! NO! NO!"

Scrunch-faced, he dropped to the floor, kicked his legs against the babies' crib, and started smearing black ink handprints onto the carpet.

By now, both babies were screaming. Picturing the black ink smears going everywhere within seconds, I lifted The Boy up under his armpits, half-carried, half-dragged him down the hall to the bathroom, hoisted him up to the sink, and started washing his hands intensely.

He started kicking me.
"NO! Stop it! No, Mommy! You are hurting me!" He grabbed at the soap container, tried to wrestle it out of my hands, kicked his feet against the cabinets. And I started yelling.

"Stop it! Stop it! STOP IT!" I yelled at him. He cried harder, yelled at me to put him down. So I did. I deposited him Right Onto The Floor, wet, ink-covered, and wailing. Then I stomped into the kitchen, grabbed the paper towels to dry my own hands, let out an "arrrgggghhh!" of frustration, and flung the paper towels at the wall as hard as I could.

Who is this shrieking hurler of paper products? This yelling Mommy-monster who drags her child to the sink and scrubs him with such force? This is not the parent, not the person, I aspire to be.

(At least I didn't throw them at my son, I guess. He didn't even see me throw them...but still!)

As I discussed this incident with my friend later, the mommy guilt was consuming me. I had ruined him, my first-born. He would surely need therapy for this. He now had reason to believe that Mommy was unstable, that she might explode and freak out at any second with no warning. She might go from furtively whispering to him to flinging things at walls in no time. He would suffer from anxiety forever.

I had totally lost it.

My friend is kind, and she reminded me that all parents of young children have had these moments of which we're not proud. "We all have our moments," she said, "and no one said it would be easy." She's right, of course - it's not easy, and sometimes it's just the hardest thing I have ever done. But then she said the defining thing, the one I won't forget.

"You are doing a great job, and no one else could be as good a mom to your three as you are."

I thought about this. My instinct was to disagree with her. Surely someone else would not have lost her temper, would have been gentler, kinder with her correction of The Boy, would have washed his hands more tenderly, would certainly not have thrown the paper towels in anger.


But that same someone might not have done all the other amazing things I've done today. She wouldn't know to put out extra yellow construction paper because that is the only color The Boy would choose (even though I always put out all the other colors, too, in case he changes his mind one day). She wouldn't have known that LadyBug needs the pacifier lying just so against her lip, even after she falls asleep and it comes out of her mouth. She wouldn't know that Belle won't take her pacifier at all if she's too tired but needs her grey elephant to rub against her face.

Besides, if God has enough confidence in me to trust me with these three little souls, then I must have what I need to be their mother. Maybe I don't have it together at every moment, but I'm a work in progress, too. As my children are growing into themselves, I'm growing as their mother. I'm not perfect and never will be, but I am the perfect mother for them.

And so, I decided to forgive myself my trespasses today and try again tomorrow. I don't have tantrums every day, thankfully. And while this isn't an episode I'm particularly proud of, I'm happy that talking about it with my wise friend helped me to realize that there are countless things that I do very well, even amazingly well, even better than any other mom could do them, and that my three were entrusted to me for a reason.

To those of you on the journey with me, allow yourself a little grace next time you slip up. And remember that if you throw a whole roll of paper towels, they will fly, hit the wall, and unroll...and although you will probably be the one that has to roll them back up, it won't be the end of the world.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Sunshine blowers

There should be some rules about trying to cheer people up, particularly sleep-deprived mothers of young children. Suggested activities and phrases follow below for those who might feel challenged in this area.

If someone is having a rough day, here are some helpful things to do:

1. Bring her lunch. Better yet, bring her lunch and dinner. And a craft activity to do with her three-year-old. 
2. Bring her a donut from 7-11 that is shaped like a heart. And a diet coke.
3. Offer to take over with the children so she can get a break and change out of her pajamas, which she is still wearing at 2:00 in the afternoon.
4. Do nothing, but say something sympathetic, like "Oh, wow, that's rough...so sorry you're dealing with that!"

Here are some unhelpful ideas. If this sounds like what you were planning to do the next time your friend has a rough day, please consider trying something from the list above instead.

1. Say, "Oh, it isn't that bad. Just change your attitude and it will get better. Turn that frown upside down!"
2. Say, "Oh, man, I had it so much worse than you do, and here's my lame story about how hard my day was."
3. Say, "I'll pray for you...and, by the way, here's why my day is much worse than yours."
4. Reference the fact that she waited a long time to have children and tell her she should be grateful.
5. Tell her you think she complains too much.
6. Suggest that she take a nap or exercise to lift her mood (without offering to help watch the crying children so she can do those things).
7. Tell her you'd help, but you have so many other things to do, like yoga class, a run in the park, a pedicure, a quiet dinner with your husband, and shopping for new shoes.

Just some food for thought on this Beautiful, Sunny Thursday. And now, I'm off make my best effort to comfort the inconsolable ones.