I can scarcely believe that, in effect, an entire season has just passed without my contributing a thing around here.
I have been trying to figure out how to address this last epic silence from my end; as these things go, the longer I thought about it, the more ambivalent I was about addressing it at all, and then the silence itself started to feel so insurmountable that I nearly gave up on the idea of blogging altogether.
But then, December arrived, and my husband returned home after months of (more and less) lengthy absences.
And, just like that, the festive season began around here.
My children woke up this morning to the first real snow of the season, and I woke up to the promise of a long bath, a new magazine, and coffee drunk while it is still hot.
Friends, we have so much to catch up on!
Even while single-parenting, I can’t resist the outlook-changing lure of a fresh-baked breakfast. I have been using spelt or light spelt flour of late, but for these I tried a combination of light spelt, coconut, and whole wheat flours, because that is all I had on hand!
1c large flake oats
1 1/2c flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 stick (1/2c) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1/4c brown sugar
1 large ripe banana, mashed
1/4c chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
Combine oats and buttermilk in a glass measuring cup, stir well, and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and a pinch of salt, if desired. Cut in butter and brown sugar until mixture is fairly uniform and resembles small peas.
Add oat mixture, banana, chocolate chips and craisins to bowl and stir just to combine into a sloppy dough. Turn out onto a well-floured piece of parchment and knead 3-4 times to help the dough come together a bit.
Roll (using a well-floured rolling pin) or pat dough into a round about an inch thick. Cut out shapes using an approximately 3″ cookie or biscuit cutter. Place biscuits on prepared baking sheet; re-roll or pat the dough and cut out more shapes, until you’ve filled the baking sheet – I usually get somewhere in the neighbourhood of 16-18 biscuits.
Bake 18-20 minutes, rotating pan halfway through. Cool a few minutes on pan, then transfer to a rack and serve very warm, while the chocolate is still gooey.
I know how cliche this sounds, but I really don’t know where the year went.
When my daughter turned one, I was thrilled. I marveled at her existence every single day, and each milestone was another chance to celebrate: she was learning, growing, turning more and more into this amazing little person I was so excited to get to know.
When I met other mothers who greeted their babies’ first birthdays with a little less enthusiasm, I was completely perplexed. Why mourn time passed, I wondered, when the present – and presumably the future – was brimming with wonderful things?
These days, I think I understand that ambivalence a little better.
My son’s birth was a harrowing experience, one from which I feel, in many ways, that I am still recovering. After he was born he spent days in the NICU, having his lungs and tiny belly filled by machine, while I was in another room on a morphine drip, feeling like I’d thrown a party to which the guest of honour hadn’t shown up.
After those first dire days came weeks, then months, of management: me learning to manage my pain, my guilt, my disappointment in myself and my inability to bounce back the way I’d have liked.
A series of difficulties, more and less agonizing, arose for me to manage that fall: my son had colic, my husband had to travel extensively for work. A beloved friend and crucial part of my day-to-day support was killed in a bizarre and tragic fashion.
We found out we had to move, and it took us six months of searching before we found a new place to live.
Somewhere in that period, I realized I had spent more than half of my baby’s life distracted by a haze of worry and grief and pain, and I found it utterly crushing to think that I would not get those first months of his life back, ever.
Eventually, as is always the case, we made our through that period of crisis. The big concerns were settled, and the idea of returning to some kind of balance began to seem not so far-fetched.
Throughout my high-wire act, my daughter continued to be the amazing little person I had taken all of the time in the world to get to know, and my son’s personality began to emerge – and he is awesome. Sweet like his sister, and adoring in the way that makes all mothers of boys secretly swoon. He’s smart and quick and daring, chubby and charming.
I am thrilled that he is one whole year old, that he is strong and healthy, that he is learning and growing so quickly. He and I are as thick as thieves, our relationship none the worse for all of my feelings of anguish and guilt.
But if I could, I would turn back the clock – I would stop time. I would go back and marvel at his existence, every single day, from the moment he was born.
Buttermilk Birthday Cake with Milk Chocolate Icing
(adapted from Nigella Lawson)
I know that it seems counter-intuitive to post such a recipe in these last, dog days of summer, but please, do us both a favour and take note of it for the next time you have a birthday cake to make. Trust me, you won’t regret it – and I promise I will be back tomorrow with something a little more seasonal!
For the cake:
1 2/3c all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4c plus 2 tbsp buttermilk, at room temperature
1 tbsp vanilla
1/2c very soft unsalted butter
3 large eggs, at room temperature
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and line with parchment two 8- or 9-inch round cake pans.
Sift together flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a medium bowl and set aside.
Whisk together buttermilk and vanilla in a glass measuring cup (or other vessel with a spout) and set aside.
Combine butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce speed slightly and add eggs, one at a time, beating 30 seconds between additions. Add flour mixture and buttermilk mixture in alternating increments, beating well between additions, until a smooth, pale golden batter forms.
(You may find, partway through or even towards the end of the mixing, that your batter looks slightly curdled. Please don’t be alarmed – this has happened to me without fail every time I have made this cake, and it doesn’t affect the end result whatsoever.)
Divide batter evenly between the two prepared pans and bake about 25 minutes, rotating pans halfway through cooking time. The cake is done when it is slightly burnished and beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool in pans 10 minutes on a rack, then turn cakes out onto the rack to cool completely.
For the icing:
250g milk chocolate, coarsely chopped (or use milk chocolate chips)
3/4c unsalted butter
6 1/2c icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla
1-2 tbsp milk, if needed
Melt chocolate and butter together in a saucepan over VERY low heat, or in a double boiler, or (although I have never tried this) in a microwave. Transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and beat in icing sugar and vanilla at medium-low speed. If icing is too thick, thin with a little milk.
When cakes have cooled completely, trim of the domed top of each cake. Place one cake, cut side up, on a platter or cake stand. Scoop a generous amount if icing onto this bottom cake (there will be plenty of icing, so don’t be skimpy on the filling) and spread it out evenly with an offset spatula or table knife.
Invert second cake onto the iced bottom layer. Use remaining icing to generously frost the top and sides of the cake (there may be some icing leftover).
I have been managing to cobble together some decent – even inspired – dinners, which isn’t hard to do given the bounty of seasonal produce; and I have banished the cereal supper for the time being, which makes me disproportionately pleased with myself.
But on full, full days like the ones I’ve been having (and will continue to have for the next couple of weeks, I expect), the evening meal isn’t what keeps me going.
Most of my good times in the kitchen have been happening in the earliest part of the day, before it gets too hot and muggy and while what is required of me for the next twelve or so hours seems almost reasonable.
I have been using the fact that my baby is still nursing as an excuse for waking and baking relentlessly, and I have also been getting a lot of mileage out of these pancakes – wonderful for breakfast, a decent mid-morning snack, and not bad slathered with peanut butter for lunch or late at night, either.
adapted from Orangette
You must start these the night before, which I find more thrilling than onerous, but I recognize that not everyone may feel that way…
1 1/2c whole oats
2 1/4c buttermilk
1/2c whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp brown sugar
1/2c butter OR coconut oil, melted and cooled
Combine oats and buttermilk in a mixing bowl; stir well, so that all of the oatmeal is submerged in the buttermilk, then cover and refrigerate over night.
The next day, sift together flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a small bowl.
Whisk together brown sugar, eggs, and melted butter (or coconut oil) in a small bowl. Add egg mixture to buttermilk mixture, and stir well to combine.
Fold flour mixture into wet ingredients – do this gently, but make sure everything is well combined.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Brush lightly with a little oil, and then, when the pan is hot enough, add the batter by 1/4 cupsful (I get two pancakes per batch in my pan). Flip pancakes when they are looking dry around the edges, after 3 minutes or so. Cook a further few minutes, until golden, then transfer to a plate and place in the warm oven while you get on with the rest.
Makes 14 pancakes.
When confronted with them, I don’t find myself inspired to create marvelous dishes that are greater than the sum of their parts; instead, I think longingly of those food disposal units that would allow me to stuff the uneaten portions of our meals down the drain and grind them into oblivion.
For some reason, I find opening the fridge to the sight of shelvesful of little containers a bit anxiety-provoking, and I would be quite happy if they were to simply disappear without my having to give them a thought (and to be fair, they often do, thanks to my husband, whose appetite is tremendous and somewhat less discerning than mine).
The leftovers problem becomes complicated when I acknowledge that generally, when cooking, I prefer an abundance of ingredients. Because we are only four, and only two of us can really be said to actually consume our meals, the result is that I tend to make quantities of food from which leftovers are inevitable.
So basically, I go to as much trouble to generate leftovers as I do to avoid dealing with them once they’ve been created.
I know, it’s a problem.
But we’re not here (well, not really) to delve too deeply into my complicated relationship with food. We’re here to celebrate the fact that, when I was dispirited by the bits and pieces floating around our fridge one recent rainy day, I decided to make these pancakes for lunch. All four of us gobbled them up, and there wasn’t a leftover to be had.
Corn and Cheese Pancakes
I processed the corn kernels in deference to our baby, but you could just as easily leave them whole and stir them in at the end with the cheese.
1c fresh or frozen corn kernels
1/2c olive oil
2 tsp sugar
1c whole wheat flour
1/2c corn meal
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 heaped cup grated cheese (I used cheddar)
a little butter, for the pan
Process corn kernels in the food processor (if frozen, they will make quite a racket). Add eggs, oil, buttermilk and sugar and process until combined.
In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, corn meal, baking soda, and paprika. Add corn mixture to flour mixture and stir until just combined. Gently fold in cheese.
Heat a large heavy pan on medium-high heat. Melt a little butter in the pan.
Make pancakes in batches, using a quarter-cup measure. Cook each pancake about 3 minutes per side.
My husband and I ate ours with salsa and sour cream, my daughter had hers with maple syrup, and the baby ate his au naturel.