Being a Mom

I loved being pregnant. I was fortunate to have an easy pregnancy with Little Man. Every day I was in awe of how my body changed and became something so different from what it was before, of the tiny creature growing and moving and thriving inside of me. I loved the way complete strangers would look on me with such kindness, would go out of their way to be helpful and give a smile, simply because they saw that I was a soon-to-be-mom.

While pregnant, I studied What to Expect When You're Expecting and a few other parenting books. I signed up for the weekly newsletters from online parenting magazines. I agonized over what stroller and crib bedding and high chair to purchase, spending hours researching and reading reviews and comparing prices. I approached my last month of pregnancy with a fair amount of trepidation, knowing that I stood on a precipice, at the point of no return—once I stepped off, once our Little Man entered the world, my life as I knew it would never be the same. The old Julie would be gone, replaced by Mom Julie.
But all that was fuzzy, intangible. I was realistic. I knew having a baby wasn't going to be easy. But I also knew how many women successfully raised children every year, many with a lot less preparation and support than I had. And women kept having babies, some one right after another. They encouraged other women to have children. So it couldn't possibly be that hard.

You know what? Parenting—particularly motherhood, particularly for those first few months when your little bundle of joy is not always so joyous and you're trying to care for his every need without really knowing what he needs or how the heck to give it to him—is much harder than I ever imagined it would be.
While I was in the midst of nine solid months of serious sleep deprivation, struggling to produce enough milk to sustain my hungry fellow, feeling every day like I was a failure as a mother because this messy, stressful life wasn't anything like what people made motherhood out to be, I railed against the pretty, perfect picture people paint of the joys of having babies.

To be fair, some practical books do cover the nitty gritty details of all the problems you might face with your little one. But those helpful advice tomes seem so abstract compared to reality. And the truth of the matter is, they're often more confusing than helpful. Take our sleep challenges, for instance. One book would tell me I should do one thing to help Little Man sleep better. Another book said the complete opposite. Websites, other moms interested in lending their advice, whatever the source might be, there was absolutely zero agreement on one best course of action for me to take. It made my head spin and left me more confused than when I started.
That's when I started to realize that there isn't one right way to survive having a baby and being a new mother. There is no one perfect, agreed-upon way to do anything related to newborns. What worked for five other new moms and their little ones will not work for you. You really do have to just do what feels right to you, what you think is best.

But how do you know what's right, what's best, when you can't even see straight from exhaustion? When you question whether every decision you make regarding your baby is wrong? When you have no inherent knowledge, and certainly no experience, to rely on?

It can be hard to rely on mother's intuition and insight when you don't think you have a lick of it. I wondered many times during those first nine months if I was cut out to be a mom at all. How could I be so terrible at something other women seemed to do so effortlessly? How could I be so confident presenting information to a room full of strangers or editing a book or whatever else I was capable of doing in my "other" life and yet be so incapacitated and unsure of myself as a mother?

And why the heck weren't any other new moms having as tough of a time as I was?
Only after the fog of those first nine months started to lift, when Little Man no longer relied solely on me for sustenance and finally started to sleep for longer stretches, when I became a bit more comfortable in my skin as a new mother, did I realize the truth.

All those other new moms probably were having just as tough of a time as I was. In fact, a few I spoke to admitted just how hard it had been for them, how much they wished they had known other moms went through the same thing.

They thought it was just a personal problem, like I did. They thought maybe they weren't cut out for this motherhood stuff while all other moms were perfectly-put-together saints. They spent sleepless nights laying awake questioning every action they'd taken that day, not realizing that all across town other new moms were doing the same thing.
During those first months that were so hard, when I felt so alone, I wish I would've known other young mothers were struggling too. I wish I could have connected with them somehow. I also wish I would've realized how today's access to information only fuels our feelings of inadequacy as mothers.

Every day on Facebook new moms post cheerful updates and happy smiling baby pictures. They rarely mention how sore their nipples are from breastfeeding, how many times they've been peed on in the last 24 hours, how they were so exhausted they smeared toothpaste all over their faces before bed instead of face wash. The same thing happens on so many blogs (I'm guilty, even right here, I know—but who takes photos of the hard parts?) and a million other places where moms have a presence.
Then there's Pinterest, where you can pin photos of dreamy birthday cakes, the ultimate outdoor activities for every age, patterns for quilts and clothes and a million handmade things perfect moms are making every day for their children while their babies nap peacefully beside them in their bassinets. It's a new (real life) mom's nightmare.

And don't even get me started on the mass media and the general public, who these days seems to think that their place is right in your living room beside you as you feed your baby. There's public outcry from all corners when moms dare to speak about choosing formula over breast milk, then there's more outcry when breastfeeding moms say they're stopping before a year or continuing past two years. Disposable diapers vs. cloth? When should children be immunized? When is it OK to give kids highly allergenic foods? To let them watch TV? To potty train them? Tread lightly, new moms, because everyone—even people who've never been there themselves—have strong opinions.
It's information overload. An overabundance of options (don't even get me started on all the products new moms should have, all the choices they have to make just to figure out which bottle or burp rag to buy). It's too much content not saying enough about the reality of motherhood. It's enough to make your head spin. To make you question every decision you make. To make you wonder why you got into this whole motherhood thing in the first place.

But odds are, if you're like me, when you're finally able to quiet your mind, to stop second-guessing yourself, to just be present with those ten little fingers and toes and that adorable nose, you realize none of the chatter or the pressure or the debates matter. What matters is that you have a healthy baby. What matters is that you are the single most important person in your child's life. And that, despite how difficult those first few months may be, you are better off having your little one in your life.
In a few months, the things you agonize over now will seem rather inconsequential. Your little one will be running around and chattering nonstop, becoming his or her own person. You'll laugh and cuddle and play together and know that everything is alright.

It's a wild ride from here, to be sure, but things get easier than those first challenging months. You're a good mom. Did you hear me? I mean it. You're a good mom.
Your child will grow to be strong, healthy, and happy. You'll be stronger, healthier, and happier, too. You'll discover yourself again, you'll get more sleep, you'll find a balance between being a mom and still being your own person. You'll savor the little moments and perhaps even look back with fondness on the craziness of the beginning.

You'll see. Trust me. If I survived this far, you can too.


Random Recipes

Last night I made chicken picatta for dinner. I did not take a photo of it, so you'll have to use your imagination. But imagine it was hot and tender and a bit lemony, and you'll have the gist of it.

I used a random recipe I found online from Giada De Laurentiis. It was good, very good. I will likely make it again.

Lately I have been making a lot of random recipes. Sometimes they're recipes I come across on Pinterest or on my favorite food blogs. Other times they're recipes I seek out because I'm looking to use certain ingredients—the chicken breasts in the freezer, as was the case last night, or some leftover bacon, or produce from our weekly CSA delivery that I don't normally cook with.

Some of the recipes I've tried recently include mashed potatoes and turnips with greens; grilled garlic scapes (yum); a slaw with fennel, cabbage, and kohlrabi from a weekly CSA email; a gluten-free version of strawberries and cream biscuits (a failure once they baked, though as you can see above they were pretty pre-oven; but the original version from Smitten Kitchen looks divine so please make them for me!); black bean sweet potato flautas (below); cheese papusas; huevos rancheros; and beef with snow peas from The Pioneer Woman. Most of these recipes were good. Most of these recipes I'll make again.
Along with those random recipes I've been making recently, though, I've also been relying on a couple of cookbooks.
The first is Gluten-Free Girl Every Day by Shauna James Ahern. She writes my favorite gluten-free cooking blog, which I reference frequently here, and also wrote the first gf cookbook I ever purchased. That first book, Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, tells a lovely story and includes some delicious albeit rather aspirational recipes—most aren't the kind you'd have the time or ingredients to make on an the typical night. (Well, maybe you do, but I sure don't.) That's why I picked up the new book. Because it's made—as the title says—for everyday cooking.

One of the things I like best about the new cookbook is that it doesn't just give you recipes. It tells the story behind them and includes the hints and tips and tricks that make cooking easy and enjoyable for the Aherns. I appreciate knowing what substitutions I can make or how I can modify a recipe if, say, I don't want to include dairy.
So far from the new cookbook I've made waffles (though not the fried chicken that accompanies them—cross your fingers I have time for that soon!), the browned butter peach buckle (above), a chicken recipe that involves lemon and raisins and pistachios called "everyday chicken," and a nice loaf of bread (which I'll share with you someday).

I've also been cooking—a lot—from PrairiErth Farm Cookbook by Katie Bishop. This one has a special place on my countertop because it's actually the cookbook written and published by PrairiErth Farm, which is where we get our wonderful fresh organic produce each week.

The recipes are divided up by type of produce, which makes it easy to find something to make with our loot. If I want to make something with leeks or fennel or kale, I just flip to that section of the cookbook. A lot of the recipes come straight from Katie; others are from other CSA members. I have yet to try a recipe I didn't like. So far this year we've had roasted beets with rosemary, scalloped potatoes with fennel, and garlic scapes hummus (below).
As I write this, I'm pretty sure I've made more than just those few recipes, but now I need to get out the cookbook and check. You should probably just go order a copy and try them out for yourself anyway.

So there you have it. A random roundup of some of the many recipes we've tried recently. I welcome any suggestions you might have on other recipes I should add to my "to try" list.


A New Front Door

I always loved this door.

It had great midcentury modern style and so perfectly fit with our little brick ranch house that was, naturally, built in the middle of the last century.

But this door had to go. For one, the outside had become so weathered you could quite literally get a splinter just from leaning up against it. (Had I thought to remove it, stand it, and stain it when we moved in more than five years ago, it might have looked OK today. But that thought never once crossed my mind until it was beyond repair.)
Plus it was so old and warped that you could actually see light coming through from outside on three of the four sides. That, of course, also means cold air was escaping in the summer and warm air was coming in. Not cool.

And, perhaps most importantly, the door handle no longer worked. It flat out didn't work. We tried to replace it when it broke, but our door is so old that new hardware won't fit it—the knob and lock on this door is set much farther away from the edge of the door than new hardware is. So we went for months with a worthless door handle that jiggled but did little else, with our only security being the deadbolt.
In other words, for this decidedly un-handy family, the door was beyond repair.

Since we aren't very good DIYers, of course, we finally had to break down and hire a contractor to install a new door for us. (We used the same company that did such a great job on our new kitchen.) So the hardest part for Conservative Hubby and I was picking the door and the color.

The book of doors the contractor gave us didn't include prices, so naturally we selected an incredibly expensive one without realizing it. After we went back to the book and tried again, we found a door we liked at a price we could handle. We also picked out a new screen door, which is one of my favorite parts, because the screen is built right into the door so all you do is push down on the top of the glass to let in great breezes. (Butter likes it, too.)
We knew we wanted to let in lots of light, so we thought this door would be just right. One thing we didn't consider, however, was how little privacy we'd have with so much clear glass. (Nor did we realize that it's hard to find curtains that actually fit a door like this, but the sheer hanging there does the trick for now—at least it ensures people don't have unfettered views straight into the dining room.)
For paint, I picked the same sandy-white hue as the walls for inside. For outside, I wanted something a bit fun, so I decided on a playful but not too crazy bright green called "Edamame."
I have to say, it's wonderful having a door with a handle that works, that opens and closes easily, and that isn't a safety hazard. Plus it brightens up the front of our house, which is a plus.

Another household to-do crossed off the list. Now if only those darn ugly bushes would just disappear ... and the carpet would replace itself ... and oh how I could go on ... and on ... and on ...


Fruit Pizza

Hello. How was your long 4th of July weekend? I hope it was filled with fireworks, fun in the sun, and good food. That about sums up ours.

Since we went to Georgia for Memorial Day weekend this year, we stayed home for July's big patriotic holiday. It was rather quiet around here, but there's something nice about a long weekend that moves at a slower pace.

Conservative Hubby golfed five days in a row, the last two of which were a tournament he plays in each year. That left plenty of time for Little Man and I to take walks, dig in the dirt, go swimming, and generally run around seeing what trouble we could get into. I took Little Man back to daycare this morning covered in scrapes and bruises from all of his debauchery outside (and looking rather tan despite liberal applications of SPF 50+). This, to me, is the sign of a good weekend.

On Saturday night we had some friends over for a low-key BBQ. Conservative Hubby requested a fruit pizza for dessert, so I went on the hunt for a recipe, as it had been a few years since I made one.

I decided I really wanted to find a fruit pizza that Little Man and I could eat too. Since most fruit pizzas have what is essentially a sugar cookie crust, I figured I just needed to find a decent gluten-free sugar cookie recipe.

Let me tell you, I spent a long time looking at and dismissing gluten-free sugar cookie recipes leading up to Saturday. For one reason or another, none of them seemed right to me. For one thing, as I've made clear here before, I'm a bit of a sugar cookie snob, so I was reluctant to try recipes that seemed incredibly different than my old standby or that included a ridiculous amount of random ingredients (because trust me, with gluten-free baking, sometimes the number of ingredients is downright insane). I was also being cautious because I really wanted to find a cookie that wasn't "good—for gluten-free." I wanted it to be just good. Good enough that no one else eating the fruit pizza would know it was gluten-free in the first place.

But after quite a bit of searching I realized I was going to drive myself mad trying to find the perfect recipe. So I just decided to try one that looked like it had potential—and if it didn't turn out how I wanted, I'd go buy premade sugar cookie dough to slap in the pan and bake at the last minute.

The recipe I tried is from The Gluten-Free Homemaker. One reason I picked it is because she says it's not an overly sweet sugar cookie. (The big fluffy grocery store bakery sugar cookies are so sweet my teeth literally hurt when I bite into them—not what I wanted for my fruit pizza crust or what I want when I make my own sugar cookies.) The other reason I decided to give this recipe a try is because it seemed pretty manageable and not that far of a cry from my usual sugar cookies, aside, of course, from the substitution of flours.

This recipe involves butter and coconut oil, sugar, egg, vanilla, a touch of milk, baking powder, then rice flour, potato flour, and a bit of xanthan gum to replace the wheat flour. I creamed the butter, coconut oil, and sugar, mixed in the vanilla and milk, then combined the dry ingredients in a separate bowl before adding them to the liquid mixture. Once everything was mixed together, I refrigerated the dough for an hour before spreading it in my pan to bake for about 15 minutes.

I had enough extra dough to make three cookies, which I baked beside the fruit pizza crust. I figured this would give me a chance to try the crust without cutting into my (hopefully) pretty fruit pizza.

The dough baked up well. Light, golden, looking very much like my sugar cookies I usually make. And although they of course didn't taste exactly like my go-to recipe, the cookies I ate were good. Nice, subtle flavor. Not too sweet, as advertised. I ate all three cookies just to be sure the crust would work (sometimes this baking stuff is hard work) and decided it would make a great fruit pizza base, no "for gluten-free" addendum required.
Just before the BBQ, I mixed 8 ounces of softened cream cheese with 1/2 cup powdered sugar for the "frosting" on the pizza. Some fruit pizza recipes use less sugar, some also use a bit of vanilla. There are plenty of variations out there. But I decided to go ahead and use the sugary version since the sugar cookies weren't all that sweet. Then I cut up some fruit to place atop the pizza and voila! it was ready to serve.

Conservative Hubby loved it. In fact, he said it was "unreal." So there's your assurance that this version is, in fact, worth serving to the masses.

P.S. The lady in charge of photos around here sure stinks at her job. She didn't even bother to snap a pic until after she cut into the pie and people had already eaten a few pieces. Oops. Might have to fire her. Then again, the pay is pretty lousy, so what do you expect?


Sponge Cake with Whipped Cream and Berries

Once I finally got settled in our new kitchen, I was overcome with the serious urge to bake something. Anything. Preferably a cake or pie. It had been a long time since I'd bothered much with baking since our old oven was so unpredictable.

Although my first choice is always a pie, since it was Father's Day weekend I decided instead to make a cake to celebrate. But I didn't want something heavy, like the German chocolate cake Conservative Hubby suggested at first. I wanted something light and fresh and springy.

So I decided to make this sponge cake with whipped cream and strawberries.

Admittedly, I was a little nervous about tackling this recipe. For one thing, I don't bake cakes all that often. For another, I was trying out our new oven for the first time. And—this was the big one—I decided to be brave and try a gluten-free sponge cake recipe.

The recipe I used, from Gluten Free on a Shoestring, looked easy enough. Eggs, granulated sugar, freshly squeezed lemon juice, cornstarch, kosher salt, vanilla extract, and a gluten-free flour blend. (She includes a link to her preferred blend with the recipe, but I used my usual mix instead.)

Mixing together the ingredients was easy. (There's something I can't quite describe about how lovely a bowl of cake batter can be. Perhaps someday I will try to put it into words for you, when I'm feeling a bit more poetic and my stomach isn't growling at me.)

Pouring the batter into the pan was easy.
Waiting for the cake to bake—and praying it would turn out OK—was excruciatingly hard.

Fortunately, the cake turned out beautifully. Golden and spongey, just as it should.
Once the cake cooled, I made some homemade whipped cream. (Nothing fancy. Just 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1 cup heavy whipping cream, mixed and mixed and mixed some more until I had a bowl full of sugary-white peaks. This, by the way, made more whipped cream than I actually needed. But there's nothing wrong with having some leftover whipped cream.)

I cut the cake in half, generously slathered the top of the first half with whipped cream, added cut strawberries, placed the second half of the cake on top, and repeated the slathering and placing. Easy as can be.

And the results? Absolutely delicious. No one would have been the wiser that it was gluten free, except that both Little Man and I got to enjoy a rather large piece of cake—and otherwise, we would've passed on it.

(He said "mmmm" after each and every bite and ended up with whipped cream from his chin to the top of his head. That, in my world, is success.)

I'm thinking of making this cake again this week, in fact. With some blueberries thrown in alongside the strawberries, I imagine this would make for a rather festive Fourth of July treat.



Let's talk strawberries for a moment, shall we?

I'm rather smitten with berries of all sorts lately, but most especially strawberries.

I'm not the only one in the house who's smitten. In fact, given the choice, Little Man would eat only berries all day every day. I'm quite sure of it. Can't say I blame the kid.

So we've been eating a lot of berries, not only strawberries but also blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries. Yet the strawberries have taken a particularly important place in our diet lately.

Mostly, we've been nibbling on the strawberries picked from our front-yard patch. Or buying strawberries from the grocery store.

But this past Saturday at the farmer's market, there were plenty of local strawberries for sale, so I brought some home. And promptly set to eating them plain, making strawberry and cream biscuits (more on those later), and whipping up buckwheat pancakes with roasted strawberries (more on that coming, too).

I had a few store-bought strawberries lingering in the fridge when I brought home the fresh local ones, so I cut the last of those up too. Here's a bowl with a few of each. Bet you'll never guess which is which.
Can you believe the difference? The store-bought berries, probably shipped from California and sitting in the store for close to a week before I bought them, are on the left. They're firm, almost a bit dry, mostly white on the inside. The ones on the right are the fresh local berries. They're a bit soft, incredibly juicy, and bright red all the way through.

Bet you'll never guess which ones taste better, either.

And this is why, whenever I can, I try to buy local. Because whether it's just-picked strawberries or fresh-from-the-vine tomatoes, it doesn't get any better than something grown right here near home.


A New Kitchen (After)

Yesterday I regaled you with the tale of why we had to update our kitchen. Today I'm going to show you what the new kitchen looks like.

What's the same: The basic layout. The flooring. The cooktop and range hood. The fact that I have way too many small kitchen appliances, gadgets, cookbooks, you name it to stash in the kitchen.
What's different: The cabinets. They're a basic oak selected because it matches the trim around our windows and doors. We wanted something to lighten up the room, given the darker flooring already in place. They're nothing fancy, but very nice. (We do have the fabulous drawers that shut themselves, which is super cool). 

One major plus to the new cabinets (besides the fact the drawers actually open and the cupboard doors aren't falling apart) is a bit of added functionality. We have an easy-to-access turnaround now, a divider to make the cookie sheet cabinet more useful, and best of all, a real pantry to replace my futile attempt to create a pantry from a too-small cabinet.
(Someone else enjoys the pantry, and all the cabinets and drawers he can now get into, since we're loath to screw in childproof locks yet so only a few are inaccessible to Little Man right now.)

What else is different: The countertops. They're laminate, nothing fancy, but look like stone and are a great neutral color that hides spots and crumbs and such very well. This is a key feature in my world. (Although I kind of miss the gold and silver speckles in our old countertops. Kind of.)
The dishwasher, combination wall oven and microwave, and fridge. (Hooray for matching appliances and an oven that works! Plus now I can actually use the microwave and oven at the same time without blowing a fuse. That's big. HUGE.)
The kitchen sink and faucet (thank goodness—the old ones were seriously nasty).
The light fixtures, including the chandelier above the table. It's not nearly as cool as the retro chandelier we had before, but we don't have to worry about it burning the house down.
And the walls. Instead of old wallpaper and pink tile, now they're all just painted a sagey green. It makes for a welcoming, serene space.

I absolutely love the new kitchen. It's taking some getting used to, though. It's a place I'm comfortable with and know well, since we kept the same layout, yet it's still so different. I'm not quite sure it feels like "home" yet, but it's getting there.

I just need to spill and splatter a few more things first. And maybe actually hang something on the walls. (Even though I know the gaping hole in the soffit where our doorbell ringer is looks quite attractive as it is.)


A New Kitchen (Before)

For more than 5 years, this was my kitchen.

When we moved to L-Town, I was still working for a custom publishing company in Des Moines and spent a portion of my days looking at photos of and writing about dreamy kitchens. I did not consider this one of those dreamy kitchens. Not even close.

At first I wondered if I'd ever get used to the mismatched appliances, salmon tile, and retro wallpaper. But I did. I spent a lot of time in this kitchen, trying all different sorts of recipes every chance I got. I got used to the finicky oven, to the ever-present spots staining the white countertops, to the way certain drawers didn't open correctly. It became my home. I appreciated its midcentury modern style (and its quirks).
But then Little Man came along. And our oven moved from retro-cool to fire hazard territory, getting so hot you could actually burn yourself if you touched the outside of it without a pot holder. Not a good situation with a toddler in the house, particularly one who likes to play in the kitchen as much as his mamma does.

The oven also made it harder and harder to bake with any consistency—it got so bad I pretty much stopped using it because everything I tried to make either came out overcooked or undercooked (because I was afraid of burning things, which seemed to happen in mere minutes).

We looked into replacing the oven but, alas, they don't even make ovens that size anymore—unless we wanted to spend thousands of dollars buying a used replacement that looked like the original, with no guarantee it would be any safer.

We could have replaced the oven with a new one of different dimensions and had our contractor rig up the cabinet it was in so it looked like it fit, but we knew that would be a temporary, rather unfortunate fix.
And so replacing the oven suddenly became replacing the oven, the cabinets, and the countertops. And while we were at it, the refrigerator, microwave, and dishwasher too. Oh, and tearing out the tile. And ditching the wallpaper. And painting. And getting new light fixtures in the kitchen and dining room because the lovely retro chandelier in the dining room was a fire hazard, too.
It's amazing how quickly a little project becomes a big project.

So we picked out new cabinets and countertops, ordered new appliances, found light fixtures and a new sink and faucet.

Once my semester ended, I hastily packed up our kitchen (for such a small space, it's amazing how much stuff we had in there!) and tried to take off the wallpaper on the soffit. It was dreadful, let me tell you. The number of hours I spent steaming and scraping was ridiculous given how little progress I made. But that's a story for another day.
Once the kitchen was cleared out, we ran off to Georgia. And when we came back two weeks later, we had a new kitchen. How's that for glorious timing? I can't imagine how dreadful it would have been to try to work from home and keep an incredibly curious dog and little boy away from the action for two weeks. So I highly recommend getting the heck out of town the next time you hire someone to work on your house. It was terrific.

Anyhow. Now that I've talked all about what our kitchen was and how it got remodeled, I'm going to stop for today. You'll just have to come back tomorrow to see the "after."



I love reading food blogs. If time allowed, I'd spend hours gazing at them. All those striking photos of decadent cakes, divine dinners, and everything in between are like porn for food lovers.

My cooking and baking life is nothing like those food blogs. Sometimes, when I have a success with a recipe I try, I think I may be getting there. But you know what? I'm not even close.

In fact, I've determined recently that my success ratio in the kitchen is about 3:1. For every three tries that work out beautifully (or at least reasonably well), I have one failure. Usually an epic failure.

(Here's one—some flourless banana muffins, a popular recipe on Pinterest. They were the most hideous things I ever made and didn't taste all that great either. They actually looked a lot worse than this in real life.)

The failures happen for any number of reasons. Sometimes I just pick a dud of a recipe that is rather lackluster even when I follow the instruction to a T. But often it's user error. I don't quite have the right ingredients so I leave something out intentionally. Or I just plain forget something that was vital to the recipe's success. Sometimes I fail to measure things out precisely enough. Or I get distracted by Little Man and my timing is off. There are lots of reasons I fail and fail often in the kitchen, and I'm realistic about my abilities being middling at best.

Case in point: Recently I made homemade graham crackers for Little Man. I tackled it, as I do with most baking these days, once he went down for a nap, excited that he'd have fresh, warm graham crackers for his afternoon snack. Only I decided to throw in a load of laundry and handle a few other minor household to-dos before I started in on the recipe, and alas, as he's wont to do anytime I'm baking, he woke up earlier than usual from his nap, while the just-mixed dough was still sitting on the counter.

By the time I was able to get back to rolling it out, the dough was incredibly sticky and hard to work with, so I wasn't able to roll the crackers as thin as I should have. Needless to say, the end result wasn't all that fantastic. Fail.

Fortunately, I followed up that failure with a couple of successes. Some decadent chocolate-caramel-shortbread bars I'll share with you soon, the crepes I posted recently, and a Father's Day sponge cake that also will make an appearance here before long.

That was three, so I was bound for another failure. And this one was a doozy, as it resulted in the complete ruination of dinner. Usually my failures are of the "well, it's not the best but it's edible" variety, but this one was just plain bad. And it was pizza, by gosh. How does one mess up pizza that bad?

I'm not sure what happened, but I knew something was off with the crust after it rose (very little) for an hour and fell apart when I picked it up. I thought it was maybe just a little dry but, on the bright side, that meant it wouldn't stick so much when I rolled it out. So I proceeded to make the crusts and then load the pies with toppings and bake them some more. The end result looked good, but it was so chewy and hard we couldn't even really eat the pizza.

(I forced myself to eat some so as not to waste all that food, Little Man devoured his toppings but left the crust alone, and Conservative Hubby had to scrounge around for something edible to substitute for dinner.)

Big disappointment. Big. Huge.

Now I have to figure out how I'm going to redeem myself.


Buckwheat Crepes

My first—and for the longest time only—experience with crepes came when My Parents would occasionally throw parties for their friends. Everyone would get dressed up and have cocktails and eat all sorts of tasty treats. I never attended these parties, mind you. But I'd enjoy the leftovers, and my favorite leftovers were the crepes My Mom would make on her old crepe maker (yes, there is such a thing), fill with ice cream, freeze, and serve with homemade hot fudge sauce. Heavenly. And, I thought, something only to be bothered with for very special occasions.

It wasn't until I was in college that I realized crepes weren't reserved only for the sweet—and that some of the best crepes are actually the savory ones. (That's also when I learned how to actually pronounce crepe, so thanks, Little Diplomat!)

Yet until today I never even considered the possibility of actually making crepes myself—at least, not without My Mom's handy crepe maker. And I never in a million years thought that making crepes could be so easy.

Then I stumbled across a recipe for buckwheat crepes on the Gluten-Free Girl website. (Yes, they're gluten-free, but that's beside the point.) They included a video showing how easy crepe-making was. Little Man sat patiently on my lap and, enthralled, watched the video with me. That's when we decided we were having crepes for dinner.

Just like that. No big menu-planning. No dinner party-throwing. No agonizing over technique. Just, come on, let's make crepes for dinner.

And you know what? Crepes are easy to make. I'm not saying pretty crepes are easy to make, as mine definitely are not. But they're easy to whip up. Milk, eggs, buckwheat flour, a dash of kosher salt. That's it. I didn't have coconut oil, as the recipe called for, so I used butter instead, and it worked just fine. (But you don't want to do 2 tablespoons all at once. That first crepe was ... uh ... buttery, to say the least.)

To keep things simple, Little Man and I had ham and cheese crepes for dinner. As you can see, he was a fan (though he pulled everything apart and ate the ingredients separately ... lovely).

For dessert, I may or may not have indulged in a crepe slathered in peanut butter. Just because I could.

Now that I've stopped thinking about crepes as something only trained French chefs (or lovely mothers looking to impress dinner guests) whip up, I'm imagining endless possibilities. Sweet, savory, you name it.

However, I do plan on making some homemade ice cream soon, so re-creating My Mom's fabulous dessert crepes may be on the agenda first.




Just wanted to let you know I'm here. I'm alive. I've been absent for a while, I know. I've been buried under the weight of a lot of things.

The slow end of winter ... teaching and grading and grading some more ... freelance work ... a rambunctious little boy who never sits still and loves life with reckless abandon (which, honestly, can be exceptionally exhausting, as fun as it is) ... finding out I've been accepted to the English Studies PhD program at Illinois State University in the fall, and trying to figure out that whole new part of my life ... a trip to Georgia for spring break (only a little bit relaxing this time, since I spent most of the week writing a grant) ... a cell phone in the toilet ...  kind of sort of hunting for new houses, while also kind of sort of contemplating a kitchen remodel, and picking out a new front door, and trying to once in a while pretend to clean the house ... a million and one loads of laundry ... not to mention some personal stuff that has forced me to shut down, shut the world out, and turn inside for a while.

That means my trying things lately has been limited. My time and motivation for stopping by here to say hello has been almost nonexistent. I keep thinking of you, thinking I need to get back here more frequently than I do. I just haven't been able to as of late.

But now it's spring. The flowers are emerging from the ground, are opening up to the world and turning their delicate petals to the sun. And I am emerging too. So I promise I'll be back more soon.


Sweet Moments

I have come to truly savor the moments when it is just the two of us.

Cuddled on the couch with a book. Swaying back and forth in front of the crib right before I lay him down for the night. Crawling across the floor after one another, teasing and tickling and collapsing into fits of giggles. Splashing and playing in the tub, as soaked sitting out of it as he is sitting inside. Building Lego towers he immediately destroys, fitting puzzle pieces in their place so he can throw them across the room, clapping excitedly with every basket he makes. Watching as he mashes food in his head, on the wall, in the dog's fur. The way he hops and sways to the music—any music—in a dance all his own, the shaking and jumping overtaking his entire body in a wave.

And his kisses. Oh, his sweet slobbery open-mouthed kisses. There is nothing better in this entire world.

It took me a while to get used to being a mom, to feel comfortable with the rather heavy and all-consuming responsibility of caring for another human being. It took me a while to get past the point of overwhelmed, overtired, insecure. (OK, so maybe I'm not totally past it yet. But is a mother ever there?) Now I wish I could go back to when he was an infant, to savor those moments more. They went too fast, in a blur. I blinked and suddenly he wasn't a baby. He was a toddler. He was his own person, not a tiny swaddled figure in my arms.

But now, despite all the things I haven't yet figured out, I have figured out this: I must savor every moment. When he looks up at me with his big blue eyes, when he calls out for me or rushes over to me with his arms outstretched, when he sits contentedly in my arms, his read resting on my shoulder. These, too, soon shall pass. So I must not take a single second for granted.

Of course, it's not all sugar and light-filled memories. He has a wild streak, a bit of daredevilry that I simultaneously praise and curse. I imagine many trips to the hospital in our future. I can't even fathom how many times I've already said "no" or "that's not a good decision" or "be nice." He knows exactly what buttons to push, what limits to try. Already he's mastered the fake fit, the temper tantrum to end all tantrums.

But he also knows exactly when to smile sweetly and say "hi" so you forget what you were about to scold him for. How can you scold, when he goes to wrap his arms around you in the warmest, softest hug you've ever had?

He is curious, inquisitive. When he focuses on something he's completely lost in what he's doing. He can sit by himself with his books for long minutes, lost in his imaginary stories. He will play quietly, talking to his toy friends. But in the next breath he's up, running around, yelling at the top of his lungs. He's a social butterfly, a flirt, not afraid of anyone or anything.

I admire him for his fearlessness, his playfulness, his sweetness, his light. I want to freeze him in this moment, at this age, forever. But I know it's fleeting. So I try with all my might to savor the moments as they happen rather than fighting to keep them in my grasp as they slip away.

Because they are never as bright and true on film or in memory as they are when we are in their midst.


All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour

It's hard to believe it's been nearly a month since I quit eating wheat. Honestly, it has been a lot easier than I imagined—in large part because I researched what my baking options were in advance and stocked up on a great selection of gluten-free flours to get me started.

You know I can't possibly give up baking in the name of my health.

I know there are plenty of gluten-free all-purpose flours available, but I've heard mixed reviews about most. I knew if I was going to make going wheat-free work, I needed to find not just an okay alternative to wheat flour but a great alternative. So, mostly, I've been relying on the advice of experts, like Gluten-Free Girl and a few others.

So far since I ditched wheat I've made all the things I'd normally make—chicken and dumplings, pancakes, snickerdoodles, peanut butter cookies, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, flourless chocolate cake, pizza crust (multiple recipes—you know I have to have my pizza), all sorts of muffins. And I've yet to find anything I didn't like or wouldn't make again, in part because I've been so selective of the gf recipes I'm willing to try.

One thing that's really helped me in my new baking endeavors is a recipe for all-purpose flour from Gluten-Free Girl. I mixed up a big container of it and used it to make all sorts of cookies and as a thickening agent in recipes on occasion. I'm about out, in fact, so I need to make up another batch. I really do think a good gluten-free AP flour recipes may be the key to my survival.

Here's what my recipe of the moment includes:
  • 200 grams superfine brown rice flour
  • 150 grams sorghum flour
  • 50 grams potato flour
  • 250 grams sweet rice flour
  • 150 grams potato starch
  • 100 grams arrowroot powder
  • 100 grams cornstarch
Wait! Stop! Come back! Please don't freak out by the huge list of items that you don't have in your kitchen and the fact everything above is written in grams.

That stressed me out a bit, too. So, yeah, it's a big list. But once you get the hang of working by weight rather than volume, it only takes a few minutes to measure things out and toss them in a container. This lovely little scale I bought makes the process a breeze.

If you live in an area with a decent health foods/natural foods/whatever store, you can probably find all these ingredients locally. Naturally L-Town doesn't have a big demand for these things (yet), so I ordered mine online from Vitacost (free shipping—yay!). I stocked up on the flours I thought I'd use the most, including what's listed above plus a few others. I'll probably place another order again before too long, but my initial order is lasting me quite a while given how frequently I bake.

If you're still a bit alarmed about the idea of mixing your own AP flour, check out this Gluten-Free Girl blog post on the topic. It even includes a video to show you how easy it is. And it includes a list of all the options, because you can even make your own special, personalized gluten-free all-purpose flour combo. All you do is follow the recommended ratios she explains in the post.

Come on, give it a try ...

Or, if you're a wheat-eater, just stick to what you know. No peer pressure here. But expect to try some delicious wheat-free baked goods if you come to visit me.


Being Home

For a week and a half, we packed up the necessities in our house (which, I've discovered, is more than a carload of things when you have a little one, a dog, and a kitchen full of food items you need) and moved over to Conservative Mom and Dad's house.

They were headed out on vacation and asked if we'd help dog and house sit. So, rather than have two big labs underfoot in our own small ranch house, we moved into their much larger ranch house.

It was ... chaotic, to say the least.

At least once a day Conservative Hubby or I or both would have to stop by our house to pick up something we forgot. Collar stays and suits for him. Flax seed and coconut and chocolate chips (very important) for me. Extra pajamas for Little Man. A brush for Butter. You get the idea. (By the end of our stay, I think we'd moved pretty much our entire house down the street.)

On mornings when I woke up early, I'd have to try to get ready and get both dogs out and fed without having them notice when the newspaper delivery person stopped by, because then they'd go beserk and everyone in the house would be up.

I won't even tell you about the many things we have to move around or hide once Little Man discovered them—even though Conservative Mom baby-proofed their house more than ours before we moved over there.

There were pluses though—like the nice, clean new shower instead of ours with the grout that makes me angry every time I step in. Having a front door with a knob that actually works. The treadmill and the elliptical in the basement, which saved me from making the trek to the gym after Little Man went to bed. The spacious kitchen (even though I could never find what I was looking for because I hadn't put everything in the cupboard myself). The newspapers on the doorstep every morning for me to read with my coffee.

Still, at the end of our time there, we were definitely ready to move back to our house, flaws and all. We were all happy to sleep in our own beds and to have all the necessities of daily life at our disposal.

Adventures in new places (even if they're right down the street) are fun.

But there's no place like home.


Chicken and Dumplings

Remember a while ago when I talked about my comfort food-making spree?

Well, along with meatloaf and mashed potatoes and quinoa and cheese, I made chicken and dumplings. (Apparently, comfort foods must be a combination of two key ingredients connected by a conjunction. ... Sorry, word nerd.)

I first grew fond of chicken and dumplings as a little girl, when my grandma made this dish for dinner one night. I don't remember a lot of the details about the chicken and dumplings I ate back then, honestly. I just remember that I loved the light, fluffy biscuits floating on top of the stew.

So I was excited to come across this recipe, because it's quick and easy and hearty. I've made it twice since I found it and will undoubtedly make it again.

This version calls for gluten-free Bisquick (it's one of many swell gluten-free recipes from the Betty Crocker website), but you could just as easily make it with regular Bisquick, I'm sure, although you might want to follow a slightly different dumpling recipe than this one if you do that.

What You Need

For the Stew
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups cut-up cooked chicken
1 cup frozen mixed vegetables
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons cornstarch

For the Dumplings
3/4 cup Bisquick Gluten-Free mix
1/3 cup milk
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 egg
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley (or, if you're like me, this time of year you'll just add a few shakes of the dried stuff instead)

What You Do

1. In a 3-quart saucepan, heat chicken broth, chicken, vegetables, salt, and pepper to boiling. In a small bowl, mix 1 cup milk and the cornstarch with a wire whisk until smooth; stir into chicken mixture. Heat just to boiling.
2. In a small bowl, stir dumpling ingredients with fork until blended.
3. Gently drop dough by 8 rounded spoonfuls onto boiling chicken mixture.
4. Cook uncovered over low heat 10 minutes. Cover and cook 15 minutes longer.