Lemongrass Grilled Pork (Thit Nuong)

Lemongrass is a perennial native of India but cultivated worldwide for its oil for medicinal, culinary, or cosmetic applications among a multitude of other uses.  The lemongrass stalk itself, though very tough, is commonly finely crushed or chopped and used in Thai and Vietnamese cooking.  I personally like it because it’s very fragrant with a refreshing lemony taste, but more delicate and subtle than citrus zests as I’m very sensitive to bitter flavors.

It pairs well with seafood, chicken and pork and is good for a variety of curries, soups, marinades, or tea recipes.  But it’s hard to find fresh lemongrass in my neighborhood grocery stores so I’ve long contemplated growing my own.  Is it wrong to fantasize about access to fresh herbs on demand?  I have an okay green thumb for ornamental plants, but a complete black thumb when it comes to gardening for food.  I have never ever succeeded in growing anything edible but since lemongrass is a grass, maybe, just maybe?

Growing lemongrass (among other herbs I frequently use) is fairly high on the list of things I would like to do (when I have the time or energy), but it had been very low on the list of priorities to-dos.  However, lately there has been a lot of news about Zika carrying mosquitoes.  I suppose these news are more scary for pregnant or planning to be pregnant women, but either way, it seems the demand for mosquito repelling plants are up, because I am seeing more and more citronella grass, lemon balm, catmint (catnip), marigolds, lavender, and garlic, just to name a few, for sale with “MOSQUITO PLANT” signs or labels (which I assume means these plants help repel mosquitoes rather than attract them).

So what does this have to do with growing lemongrass?  Lemongrass is also a top mosquito repelling plant.  So maybe growing lemongrass, now with the additional purpose of protecting my dinky-a-roo and family from nasty bites, has very good reason to move up on my priority to-dos list?

Grilled Lemongrass Pork Recipe

Adapted from one of my favorite blogs for Vietnamese cuisine The Ravenous Couple 

Ingredients

Lemongrass Pork ingredients 01

  • 1.5 lb pork butt or shoulder
  • 1/4 cup finely minced lemongrass (fresh or frozen)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp ground pepper
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 shallots, minced
  • 3 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp thick soy sauce*
  • 3 tbsp roasted sesame

Lemongrass Pork ingredients 02

*Note thick soy sauce is a different product than regular soy sauce.  It is thick and rich and has molasses.  This was another product I had difficulty finding so there are several jars sitting my pantry.

Directions

The hardest part of this recipe might be finding all the ingredients but otherwise, it’s fairly easy and can be prepared ahead of time and frozen.  The below piece of pork butt was approximately 3 lbs and for our small family, was 6 meals worth of meat.  We ate one fresh and froze 5 for the rest of the month.

Lemongrass Pork Butt 01

Cut meat into 2 to 3 inch pieces of approximately 1/4 inch thickness.  Optional, hand tenderize the pieces.  If you have quality meat, this is totally unnecessary.

Lemongrass Pork Butt 03

Mix all ingredients except for the sesame seeds for marinade.

Lemongrass Pork ingredients 03

Marinade for at least an hour up to a day.  If freezing, I just place each meal portion into a plastic bag and then put them directly into the freezer without waiting for it to marinade.  The time it takes to freeze and defrost is sufficient for meat to marinade.

Lemongrass Pork Marinate

Grill until golden and slightly charred.  Alternatively, bake at 300 degrees Fahrenheit/ 148.9 degrees Celsius until done, approximately 40 minutes.

Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and serve hot with vermicelli or rice. I find it best served with mild or sweeter sides as the meat can be on the saltier side.

I was pensive about posting this recipe because the only picture I have of the finished meal was actually of a flopped attempt.  I’m good with finding time to take pictures during the preparation process but always forget the finished product because by then, my attention is on making sure everyone is ready to eat while the food is still the right temperature.

The pieces pictured below were totally overcooked because I was too zealous about the hand tenderizing (there is something therapeutic with pounding with a hammer) and the pieces were thinner than ideal.  And then I did another cooking no-no, I stepped away from the grill and didn’t check on the pork until it was too late.  It still tasted okay, but was not juicy as usual.  But like my putting growing lemongrass off again and again, until news of Zika gave me additional reason to do it, I decided the same for this post, if not now, when?

Lemongrass Pork

In addition to Tom Yum soup, another recently discovered family favorite with fragrant lemongrass is Melissa’s Curry Chicken.  Thank you Melissa for the recipe!

Next time you’re grilling, will you give this recipe a try?  And if you have lemongrass growing in your yard, there might even be less uninvited pests at your BBQ.

Cheers!

with love charlie

 

Buttercream Frosting

Hello there!  I’m not sure if Tuesday is just a second Monday but here is a little sweet and colorful icing recipe to add some rainbows to your day, whichever day it is.  What is your favorite color?  What about your favorite cupcake frosting color? Are they the same?

rainbow cupcakes 01

If I had to pick one, mine would be blue.  Is yours blue too?  Just guessing blue because according to this info graphic, it is universally the most common favorite color whereas orange is the least popular favorite color.  I used to love reading those color personality tests because blue is often associated with trustworthiness, peace and intelligence and who doesn’t want to be associated with those things right?  Although I have yet to read a negative personality test result for any color 🙂

Lately my daughter is on a rainbow kick, insisting that rainbow is her favorite color.  She used to say it was blue, green and pink but lately she has added purple, brown, orange, yellow, red and gray as her favorite color.  So when it came time to put icing on some rainbow sprinkle cupcakes, she naturally requested rainbow frosting.

plain pudding cupcakes

Buttercream Frosting Recipe

Adapted from My Cupcake Addiction

Ingredients:

5 cups softened butter (250g/ 8.8oz / 2.5 sticks)
5 cups powdered sugar, sifted (600g / 21oz)
1 tsp vanilla extract (or extract of your choice)
1-2 tbsp whole milk, cold

Optional:  Food coloring if using.  The gel types would add less liquid to the icing

Directions:

 1. Soften Butter if necessary

TIP:  You can soften butter in the microwave using the defrost setting for approximately 10-15 seconds.

I can’t believe how giddy I was when I found how to soften butter quickly because it is usually impromptu baking for this mommy (and, well, I am just plain forgetful sometimes).  This is how my solid stick of butter looked after 15 seconds on defrost:

soften butter

2.  Beat butter for 5+ minutes

Beat room temperature butter for 5+ minutes

3.  Add powder sugar 1 cup at a time and beat for ~2 minutes with each addition so that sugar is well incorporated.  Add 1/2 tbsp whole milk as required if icing is too thick.  When ~1/3 sugar has been incorporated, add vanilla extract.

4.  Add coloring if using.

wilton icing colors

I envisioned a pastel rainbow so I used a small small amount of red, blue and yellow gel dye (a toothpick pokes worth of each).  I put the icing into a plastic bag and then poke each color into the icing, then tried to mix the icing so that the yellow and blue would make green and the red (pink) and blue would make purple.

Pastel Buttercream Frosting

icing in bag 02

Pastel Buttercream Frosting

After I started frosting, I saw that I got a good amount of green but didn’t mix enough purple.  My daughter still okay’ed it but I made a mental note for more purple next time.

Pastel Rainbow Sprinkle Cupcakes

This icing can sit in room temperature for a few days.  If refrigerated it can last for 1-2 weeks.  It can also be frozen for later use but I haven’t tried that.

I got the recipe and directions from this awesome YouTube video by My Cupcake Addition:

p.s. I only made 2/5 the recipe because I didn’t want to put 5 cups of butter and 5 cups of powder sugar on the table for dessert for 3 people.  As a result, I only had 1 cup of icing and it was enough to frost ~5 cupcakes as pictured below:

rainbow cupcakes 02

So let me ask again, what is your favorite icing color?  I think I’m changing my answer from blue to rainbow too.  SMILE!  It’s Rainbow-day.

Cheers!

with love charlie

 

 

 

 

First week back at work

Good morning!  How is everyone’s Monday going?  Last week was my first week back at work after being on maternity leave for a year.  On top of that the whole house was and is still, as I type, sick.  Well the dog isn’t.  Lucky guy.  Since it started with baby, I blame it on daycare.  She must have caught something during her gradual entry.  Sigh….daycare, can’t live without it, can’t live with it.  Anyhoo, needless to say, having a sick, extra clingy baby did not make the week easier.  I had a lot of anxiety about going back to work.  Here are a few reasons why:

Leaving my baby

This wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be.  I think it was because I knew she was in good hands.  Since she was sick, she was only able to go to daycare one day.  The other days, my husband and mom took care of her, whom I trusted would care for her to the best of their abilities.  Even so, I checked in with my husband multiple times a day, but did restrict myself to calling my mom only once.  While she was in daycare, I left it to my husband to check in on her.  The first day back at work was a little tough because everyone asked how I was feeling about being back and how my baby was.  This made me think about her, how she was sick and I wasn’t with her.  So, I was fine, if I didn’t think or talk about her.  Easy, right?  The transition was definitely easier for her than for me.  She would wave goodbye to me in the mornings and when I returned at night, she would look up from whatever she was doing and just smile.  She did not cling to me as I left the house or cry for me to hold her when I got home.  I am a bit sadden by this, that she does not need me so much anymore.  But I suppose this is a good thing.

Going back to work

Office

Photo by Mantinov

While on maternity leave, I kept in touch with a few co-workers and had also been checking work email, so I knew what was going on.  In the past year, the company and my department has grown substantially.  There have been a bunch of new hires and our department has expanded both in manpower and space.  What I was anxious about was going back and being the “new” person, even though I had already worked there longer than the people who were hired while I was away.  I was worried that I would have to rebuild old relationships and not be “in the know” anymore.  I was worried for nothing.  All my co-workers were so happy to see me come back.  I had the same rapport with everyone as I had before I left.  I was able to jump right into the lab since I didn’t have to be trained and get started with experiments (this helped with keeping my mind off baby).

Lab Experiments

Photo by jk1991

It was like I never left.  I was new, but aside from not knowing the names connected to a bunch of new faces and where my desk and the washroom were, a lot has remained the same.  I have to admit that going to work is like going on a mini vacation away from baby each day.  I get to get “dressed up”, put on some makeup,  have “adult” conversations and finish a meal.  Maybe going back to work is a good thing.  Maybe it’s good for me….

Driving

Shift Gears

Photo by Alex White

Even though I’ve had my license for years, I’ve never had my own car so I am a very inexperience driver.  I always just took transit everywhere.  When I was in university, it would sometimes take an hour to get to school by bus because of traffic, but I didn’t mind.  I was able to study or sleep on the bus.  No stress of being behind the wheel while sleep derived.  When I started working, I either lived really close to work or lived close to transit so driving to work was unnecessary.  Before baby was born, we moved into a new place, that is not so transit friendly.  It would take me about 50 minutes to get to work by bus, but that’s if I catch the bus at the right time.  If I didn’t, I would have to wait 20 to 30 minutes since the bus doesn’t come very often.  Even though I had started driving more while on maternity leave (to go yoga, to go buy groceries and yarn 😉 ), these trips were short.  I did not have to drive on the highway or cross a bridge, something I would have to do to go to work.  Up until the night before work I was still thinking about taking the bus.  When I told my husband this, he said, “I didn’t know you were a coward!”   Well, that made me a little mad.  So, I did a test run.  I got onto the highway and drove across the bridge and back.  It wasn’t so bad because it was after dinner on a Sunday.  There wasn’t a lot of cars on the road.  This gave me the confidence to take the car the next day.  Oh boy, I was nervous that first morning.  There were way more cars than the night before.  But that kind of made merging onto the highway easier.  The rest of the way to work was uneventful.  On the way home, however, I wasn’t very careful when changing lanes after getting on the highway, that I almost caused an accident.  Scared the #*$% out of me!   After a week of driving back and forth, I am still anxious and not very confident behind the wheel.  Hopefully, that will change with time.

So, that was my first week back at work.  It wasn’t so bad, after all.  We will see how the next weeks and months play out.

How did you deal with going back to work after having baby? 

Chocolate chip cookies

Hello Sunday!  Only one more day till Monday.  Boo….I know, don’t remind you.  Let’s just forget I said that.  🙂  I know what would make you feel better.  Cookies!  Chocolate chip pecan cookies to be exact.  I made these for my husband on his birthday last month (I’m a little behind I know, life happens).  We typically don’t buy each other gifts on birthdays and other special occasions (e.g. Christmas, Valentine’s Day, etc) anymore.  We already have everything and will buy whatever we want for ourselves whenever we want.  So, in place of gifts, we just buy a card and make each other dinner or go out to eat.  I decided to make these because I’ve been promising him months and months that I would make cookies.  I even went out to buy all the ingredients, but they sat in the cupboard as other things got in the way.  What could be more important than cookies?  Don’t get me started!  Well, this year my mom decided that she wanted to cook dinner for my husband’s birthday, so I was off the hook.  Yeah!  So, with dinner taken care off, the least I could do was make dessert, since there was no cake.

Cookies!

Cookies!

But who needs cake when you have cookies?!?  Especially when you’ve got these babies.  Bit crispy on the outside, yet soft on the inside with the perfect amount of chocolate and nuts.  Need I say more?

DSC_1447

Recipe (adapted from pinch of yum):

  • 8 tablespoons of salted butter
  • ½ cup white sugar (I like to use raw cane sugar with a coarser texture)
  • ¼ cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 1½ cups all purpose flour (more as needed)
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup chocolate chips (semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips and chocolate chunks, whatever you prefer)
  • nuts (e.g. pecans or walnuts, optional but decrease amount of chocolate chips if using)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Microwave the butter for about 40 seconds to just barely melt it. It shouldn’t be hot – but it should be almost entirely in liquid form.
  2. Using a stand mixer or electric beaters, beat the butter with the sugars until creamy. Add the vanilla and the egg; beat on low speed until just incorporated – 10-15 seconds or so (if you beat the egg for too long, the cookies will be stiff).
  3. Add the flour, baking soda, and salt. Mix until crumbles form. Use your hands to press the crumbles together into a dough. It should form one large ball that is easy to handle (right at the stage between “wet” dough and “dry” dough). Add the chocolate chips (and nuts if using) and incorporate with your hands.
  4. Roll the dough into 12 large balls (or 9 for HUGELY awesome cookies or use a tablespoon for smaller cookies) and place on a cookie sheet. Bake for 9-11 minutes until the cookies look puffy and dry and just barely golden.Warning, friends: DO NOT OVERBAKE  this is essential for keeping the cookies soft. Take them out even if they look like they’re not done yet. They’ll be pale and puffy.
  5. Let them cool on the pan for a good 30 minutes or so. These should stay soft for many days if kept in an airtight container.

DSC_1442

Happy Sunday!

Gradual entry into daycare – Days 3 to 5

Day 2 of gradual entry into daycare was rough.  Here’s how the rest of the week went:

Day 3

After a tearful day 2, I had a little chat with a friend who had already gone through the process.  She gave me some advice, “Don’t doddle.  Make goodbyes short and sweet.  Just like ripping off a bandaid.”  I did just this at drop off on day 3.  I handed my daughter over to the teacher, said, “goodbye, I love you” and walked away.  She started crying immediately, but I kept on walking.  Unlike day 2, I was free to leave the facilities since they already had all our completed paperwork.  The plan was for my daughter to be there alone for 3.5 hours.

I actually got a lot done during those hours away from my daughter.  I didn’t want to stray too far from the daycare, so I went to the mall, not just to wander around aimlessly for I had missions to complete.  Shopping trips these days now involve looking for stuff for baby or other people’s babies.  The first mission was to find non-slip shoes for daycare.  Why is it so hard to find shoes for babies?  And why do they need them anyway if they don’t walk?  The second mission was to find a gift for a kid’s birthday party we’re attending this weekend.  And the last mission was to find new work clothes.  But why do I need new work clothes anyway?  Is it so bad to wear the same clothes if you still fit them and there’s nothing wrong with them?  But I digress.  Aside from the last mission, the trip to the mall was a success.  Shoes and pjs for baby check.  Present for kid’s party check.  I even had time to get some grocery shopping done and made some phone calls and lunch dates with my supervisor and work colleagues.

I called the daycare about an hour and a half after I left her.  They said that she was crying on and off and didn’t eat much at breakfast (maybe due to discomfort from bowel movements).  When I called she was napping.  Apparently, she went down easily.  I guess my sleep training helped.  When I returned, the kids were being served lunch.  I could hear my daughter crying and complaining as I walked toward the classroom.  She was in a highchair, not wanting to eat anymore having already eaten quite a bit, according to the teacher.  When she saw me, she cried and immediately wanted out of the highchair to be in my arms.  The teacher assured me that the crying was normal and that she’d seen worse.  Apparently they’d previously had a child that cried non-stop for 6 months.  Yikes!   After a few tears and cuddles, my daughter was herself again, smiling and waving goodbye to everyone.

As I left the daycare, a few things crossed my mind:

  1. I thought how much trust you have to put into complete strangers when you leave your child with them.  Did she really just cry on and off or did she cry the entire time?  Did she really eat?  I guess I just have to take their word for it.
  2. Did I not do enough to prep her for this transition?  Is she naturally more clingy or did I make her that way?  Did I not take her out enough to socialize with other people and babies?  Was mother goose, story time and swimming once a week not enough?
  3. I hope that she will never forget that….

2016-05-05 12.36.33

Day 4

My husband dropped baby off on his way to work so that I wouldn’t have to drive back and forth 4 times.  She was to be there from 9am to 2:30pm.  Since my husband dropped her off, I didn’t have to rush to get ready and was able to squeeze in some cuddles in bed with baby before they left.  With my morning free, I was able to spend some quality time with my fur baby.  🙂

13124769_10153395200771571_6057103143554230598_nWhen I called to check in, they said she again cried on and off after daddy dropped her off, but she enjoyed the cream of wheat breakfast and had a long morning nap.  She did much better in the afternoon after eating a bit of lasagna for lunch and drinking some milk.  She was actually playing quietly on her own they said.  Even after hearing this, I was anxious.  My tummy was uneasy like I was about to poop my pants.  This was the feeling I got before I left the house to go pick her up.  What would I find?

I was 30 minutes early.  To my shock, when I walked into the building, it was quiet.  As I walked toward her classroom, I was not greeted with sounds of her cries.  Could there be light at the end of the tunnel?  She was, as they said, playing on the ground by herself.  She was fine.  Fine, until she saw me.  The moment she saw me, she started to cry.  She wanted me.  She cried and screamed hysterically on the car ride all the way home.  I forgot to bring snacks to make the ride more enjoyable.  She normally doesn’t like being strapped in and me not being next to her after a long day apart made the ride even worse.  Not even my tone deaf singing was able to calm her down.  She just wanted to be held.

Day 5

Day 5 of gradual entry was to be the longest.  She was to be there from 9am to 4pm.  She was not happy to get into the car seat in the morning.  Did she know where we were going?  Unlike yesterday, singing helped.  I cycled between wheels on the bus, twinkle twinkle little star, itsy bitsy spider, slippery fish and you are my sunshine over and over again.

Before I left her in the classroom, I saw that sad little girl from day 1.  She was upset again, so I smiled, said hi and asked her how she was doing.  She said quietly, “miss daddy”.  🙁

Once again, baby cried when I said goodbye and walked away.  Funny enough as she was crying, she was also waving bye bye to me at the same time.  Silly girl.  I guess that’s an improvement.

I waited until after lunch to call to check up on her.  Boy did the time pass slowly.  Every time I looked at the clock, only 30 minutes had passed.  It is so weird being home without her.  So quiet.  I had to keep myself busy cleaning and getting ready for my return to work.  I packed up some baby things we no longer needed (breast pump, clothes and toys she’s outgrown) and did some re-organizing of my closet.

When I called, they told me that she was crying on and off more today than the other day.  She had an hour nap in the morning and didn’t eat much lunch (none of the kids did apparently because lunch was egg sandwich).  She wasn’t even happy to play in the sandbox, which she usually likes to do.  Why was she extra upset today?  Was it because I had dropped her off instead of dad?  Like the day before, she was much better in the afternoon.  She had some one on one time with the teacher while the other kids were napping and they had a pretend tea party.  When I picked her up, she had just woken up from a long afternoon nap.  I guess it’s a good thing that she comfortable enough to able to sleep there.

So, that’s was the last day of gradual entry.  The week was full of ups and downs.  Baby still cries on and off while there by herself.  It’s not like she never cries at home.  So why am I so hung up on the fact that she cries on and off at daycare?  I guess it will take some time for her to adjust.  Hopefully, not 6 months.

Ready or not, I go back to work next week and she will be doing full days in daycare.  Wish us luck!

Motherhood – things I didn’t expect

For the last post in of our Mother’s Day series, we wanted to share what we learned from becoming moms.  What I learned I did not learn from those “what to expect when you’re expecting” books.  What I learned can be taken from an episode of reality TV.  Plan all you want, but as Julie Chen would say, “expect the unexpected”.  The control freak in me had planned to have my baby delivered at the hospital by an ob.  What ended up happening was a home birth with a midwife.  Go figure.

On a deeper level, I did not expect to be so in awe and enamoured with my daughter each and every day since she was born.  I did not expect the all consuming love I feel for her and the bond we share which began before we even met.  I did not expect to put the needs of this tiny human above and beyond those of my own.  Some may call this sacrifice.  I don’t think that is the right word for it.  It’s just what you do when you become a parent.  You make sure baby is fed, clean, safe and happy before you take care of yourself.  If that means you have to wait a couple of hours before you can grab a bite to eat or go to the washroom to do your business, so be it.  If making baby happy involves holding her and pacing back and forth until she fell asleep, that’s what I did.  Things you have to do as a parent… Growing up, when I was at odds with my mom, she would always say to me, “wait until you have kids, then you will understand…”.  Although I’ve only gotten a small glimpse of what it means to be a mother, I understand now.  Mom, you were right.

Lastly,  I did not expect that the birth of my daughter would change the way I view myself and my life.  Let me explain.  My grandmother once told me a long time ago, when I was young that I would have to work really hard, but I would do great things.  Kinda vague, I know,  but I believed her.   I don’t remember how she came to this conclusion, whether it was through reading the lines on my palm or how the stars were aligned when I was born, but this prediction of hers has stuck with me all these years.  If only I was able to fulfill her prediction.  I have always struggled with knowing who I am and what I’m meant to do in life.  I’ve never felt like I’ve lived up to my potential.  Or maybe I’ve never felt like I’ve lived up to others’ expectations of me.  I didn’t become a doctor.  Not sure I really wanted to be one, but I fell pretty short of that.  I’ve done career assessments and counselling and gone on a “soul searching” trip to try to figure out what I wanted to do.   Career counselling told me I was already doing what I should be doing or otherwise go into accounting.  My little trip to “find myself” only resulted in me getting a tan and feeling even more lost.  I am starting to think that maybe my greatest achievement ever is becoming a mom.  And if that is the case, maybe I am okay with that.  Maybe I could be happy with just being the best mom I can be for her…

knots_of_glee-1462556842233

My gift.

A Cake for Mommy

What happens when my toddler wants to bake me a cake?  I baked myself a bake.

My kiddo helped more than I expected so that was a sweet surprise.

measuring ingredients

Bonus:  Refrigerator Art for Mommy

(AKA How I know she really really loves me)

Except when she excitedly showed me the hand prints she proudly made for me.  I suppose I should be thankful the sentiments are there, and glad that she didn’t protest too much when I had to removed her lovely creation.  I showed her the picture I took of it and said I would treasure it forever so I could clean the refrigerator.  She said “forever is a long time Mommy”.  That cheeky little monkey.  I will treasure her sass too.

flour hand prints

Sweet, but not too Sweet, Please

I wanted to find a recipe that didn’t have too much sugar.  I suppose too and much are subjective, but I went in search of a sponge cake recipe for cakes like those often sold in Chinese bakeries because they’re usually not too sweet (IMO).  I found one on the Nancy Baked blog  which had only one cup of sugar.  That’s not too much right?  And most importantly, I loved how she had detailed process pictures, very important (did I say that already?) for a baking-noob like myself.  Sigh, the things I get myself into for my toddler.

Chinese Bakery Cake Recipe

for 2 9″ round cakes, adapted from Nancy Baked

Ingredients:

6 eggs (at room temperature)
1 1/2 cup cake flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1 cup sugar, separated into 1/3 and 2/3 cup
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup oil
1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions:

Tips:  This sponge cake is light and fluffy because meringue is gently folded into the batter.  This is easier if you have two separate mixing bowls, one for the batter and one for the meringue.  Or if you only have one mixing bowl, divide and pour batter into the two cake pans and then wash the mixing bowl before making the meringue and fold it into the batter directly in the cake pan.

Nancy Bakes’ directions were to line the bottoms only, and not the sides of the baking pans, but I didn’t have parchment paper on hand so I didn’t line at all.  Instead I had rubbed a little bit of butter onto the bottom of the pans and felt the cakes came out okay.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (~176 degrees C)

1.  Separate Eggs

(with a Funny Egg Egg Yolk Separator)

I saw this egg separator at Walmart years and years ago and I *had* to get it even though I didn’t really bake because it was so fun looking.  I had it for over 10 years and this was the first time I used it for real.   Everyone who sees it in my kitchen comments on it but I was never able to say honestly if it worked or not.

And (this feels like a big reveal, ta-da), it actually worked well!  I We separated 8 eggs without any mishap so this funny egg egg yolk separator was a good $5 investment.  The recipe only called for 6 eggs, but it was so fun we did all 8 we had.  I just looked for it on Amazon and it’s still $5.  Not much inflation for egg yolk separators huh? (Affiliate link to buy your own funny egg egg yolk separator here)

seperating eggs

2.  Beat egg yolks and 2/3 cup sugar with an electric beater on high for approximately one minute or until it turns pale yellow.

3.  Sift cake flour and baking powder over the pale yellow egg yolk mixture and mix at low speed until just incorporated.

4.  Add water, oil, and vanilla extract and beat at medium speed until smooth and creamy.

mixing batter

My daughter performed the above steps but I took over for the following steps:

5.  Make meringue by whipping room temperature egg whites with an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment until slightly foamy.  Then add cream of tartar and beat on high for approximately 3 minutes or until stiff peaks have just formed.  Then decrease speed to low and while the mixer is still on, add in the 1/3 cup of sugar.  Then beat at high for another 30 seconds or so until all the sugar is incorporated.  You should be able to turn the meringue upside down and it won’t move, but how risky you live your life is entirely up to you.

6. Gentle fold meringue into batter until just incorporated.  The less mixing, the fluffier the cake.  Then transfer quickly to baking pans (if not mixing directly in pans) for baking.  The longer the batter rests, the less fluffy the cake.

7.  Bake in preheated oven at 350 degrees F (~176 degrees C) for approximately 20 minutes until tops are golden brown.  Every oven seems a little different – it took 25 minutes in my current oven (probably because, looking around sheepishly, ummm, the vents in the back of my oven are covered with cat hair).

ready to come out of oven

8.  Let cool until warm, approximately 8 minutes, before moving from pans to cooling racks to cool further.  The cake will shrink and your house will smell wonderful.  I had to guard the cooling cakes from my daughter because she kept pulling up the chair to try to sample them.  I don’t mind her sampling but didn’t want her to burn her cute little fingers.

9.  Decorate as desired when completely cooled.  I also used whipped cream and strawberries like Nancy Bakes did.  I try to always have heavy cream on hand for our family’s favorite creamy chicken recipe and since I often buy my strawberries from Costco, we usually have a little too many so this was a great way to use them up.  Whipped cream frosting is also nice when you want something lighter.

 

Whipped Cream Recipe

For a 2 layer cake, adapted from Nancy Baked

Ingredients:

4 cup heavy cream
2 cup powder sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract (or extract of your choice)

Optional:  Food coloring

This whipped cream frosting is very light and the sweetness can be adjusted easily with more or less powder sugar.  You can also adjust the flavor with different extracts or additions.

Directions:

Tip:  It works best to use very cold equipment – leave heavy cream in refrigerator until ready to use and store whisk and metal bowl in freezer for at least 30 minutes prior to mixing.

1.  Whip the heavy cream with an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, starting at a low speed and gradually working up to high to minimize splattering.

2.  When the cream starts to thicken, gradually add powder sugar and vanilla extract.  We stopped intermittently to taste and determine if we needed more sugar.  Try not to eat all the whipped cream and save enough to decorate the cake.  That is very hard to do.

3.  Scoop whipped cream into a coriander to drain excess liquid.  Maybe we didn’t couldn’t wait long enough but nothing seeped out.

Nancy Bakes provides additional directions on adding optional gelatin to add structure and stiffness to the whipping cream.

Decorating cake

My daughter alternated a spoon of whipped cream for the cake and one for her mouth until we ran out of clean spoons.  For the astute, yes, my daughter is now in blue instead of yellow. Baking a cake can be a messy job for a 3 year old and may require a change of clothing, or two, to get the job done.

sponge cake

Mother’s Day is coming up.  While I had said I no longer expect any gifts as experiencing motherhood was the ultimate gift itself, I am not above using it as an excuse to order a big Baskin Robbin’s fudge crunch ice cream cake.  I mean cake is the answer to everything right?  And everyone gets to enjoy the treat so it’s not just for me right? Cake is love right?

I haven’t told the kiddo about Mother’s Day yet but if she wants to bake me another cake, maybe I would do it (sniff ice cream cake, I’ll miss you) since this time didn’t turn out a complete disaster thanks to Nancy Bake’s detailed pictures and to my kiddo for all the help.  How about you?  Would you bake yourself a cake?

 

 

Gradual entry into daycare – Day 2

Day 2 of gradual entry into daycare started out better than day 1.  Once again, I pressed the snooze button when the alarm went off, but baby woke us up so we didn’t sleep in like the day before.  We had, so I thought, enough time to eat breakfast since the daycare told us to come later.  Even with the extra time, we still left the house 20 minutes later than my husband had suggested.  Rush, rush, rush.  Is this how it’s going to be when I go back to work?  Traffic was good and I would’ve made it on time if it didn’t take 5 minutes for me to park.  And I wasn’t even parallel parking!  Shows how inexperienced of a driver I am, but that’s another story.

The plan for today was for baby to spend 2 hours there, but with me in another room.  We entered the daycare as they were just settling down for the baby signs lesson.  My daughter must have sensed my anxiety over leaving her because unlike yesterday, she stuck to me pretty closely.  She was not interested in the baby signs and the other children.  She was more interested in the murals and mirrors on the wall and did not want to go to the daycare workers.  While I was with her, I saw the same sad little girl I saw yesterday, except she looked even sadder today.  During the 20 minutes I stayed with my daughter, this little girl sat and cried quietly.  I wanted to go over and give her a hug, but it was not my place.  The only thing the daycare workers did to comfort her was ask if she was okay.   Is that good enough?

I took my opportunity to escape leave when my daughter began to show interest in some toys.  She started to cry as soon as I said good-bye and started walking away.  I went down the hall and sat near the reception area.  From what I could hear, she cried loudly for a good 10 to 15 minutes.  It was heartbreaking and felt like sleep training all over again.  Luckily, they were doing some cleaning of the facility and her cries (and my tears) were drowned out by the sounds of a vacuum.  I thought I heard her crying non-stop, but when I checked on her after 30 minutes, the daycare worker I spoke to said the cries were from other kids.  They said that she was better after they gave her breakfast and changed her poppy diaper and was only crying on and off a bit.  She didn’t see me, but I could see that she was crawling on the ground by herself and was whining a little, making it known that she was not happy at all.  I went back to my little area and spent the next 30 minutes looking at photos of her on dropbox.  I have taken thousands of photos of her since she was born and the majority are photos of her being silly, laughing, smiling and happy.  Happy was not how she was feeling at that moment.  How could I put her in any situation that would make her unhappy?  After another 30 minutes of crying on and off, I went to her.  I decided that an hour was enough for her (and me).  I thought it would be better for her to end the day there happy rather than sad.  She clung onto me for dear life as soon as she saw me.  After a few minutes of comforting, I led her to the others and she began playing with a big box of dried pasta.  She really enjoyed this activity, but for the rest of the time we were there, she kept her eye on me and was never too far away.

At the end, the daycare worker told me that my daughter seemd better when they left her alone.  That she got more worked up when they interacted with her.  Is that why they didn’t comfort that girl?  As I left the daycare, I wondered if my baby will ever adjust.  Will she become that sad little girl overtime?  Will she feel abandoned and alone and willl her loud protests and cries become muted?

It is midnight now as I finish this post.  I am tired.  I am drained.  I am dreading day 3.

Gradual entry into daycare – Day 1

This week, my daughter started gradual entry into daycare, where she will be spending a few hours each day there so that she gets used to the people and environment.  She will be attending daycare two days a week once I return to work next week.  This is my account of events.

Day 1 started a little rough.  We just return from vacationing in Hawaii on Saturday so we are still on island time.  We all ignored the alarm and woke up late, leaving only about 15 mintues to get ready.  These days with baby, it takes at least 30-45 minutes to get out of the house.  To save time, we ate breakfast in the car and luckily, traffic wasn’t too bad so we were only 15 minutes late.

We spent about 2 hours there.  The plan for this first day was for me to be with my daughter for the duration that we were there.  To my surprise, she did better than I thought.  She didn’t stick to me like glue the whole time as she usually does these days (separation anxiety is alive and well).  She even let the daycare workers carry her around even though she had only met them briefly 2 times prior.   This is surprising because it still takes her a while to warm up to her grandparents, aunts and uncles after not seeing them for a while.   There were a few moments when she got upset when she didn’t see me or wanted me to hold her.  But she did go explore on her own and “played” with the other kids.  She really enjoyed the breakfast they provided (she loves to eat), the music and dancing “class”, and playing in the sandbox.

tluuy-1462303950898

I think the first day was harder on me than on my daughter.   Why?  Because there were a  few kids there that didn’t seem too happy to be there.  There was this one particularly sad looking little girl there who caught my attention.  She’s only been attending this daycare for about a month, but I’d heard from the workers that she’s had a tough time adjusting.   When I sat next to her during the baby sign lesson, she turned to me and said in her tiny pleading voice, “I want my daddy.”  That just about broke my heart.  I was so close to bawling my eyes out and taking my daughter home right then and there.  Sure, she was fine at that moment sitting with one of the workers at the opposite end of the room.   But how will she be when I’m not there?  Will she cry and want someone to take her to me or my husband?  I guess we will see on day 2….

Why Having a Baby is like Eating Humble Pie

Melissa recently asked “What is one thing you learned from your pregnancy/birth experience(s)?”

I learned so much from the experience but the two that resonate the most is humility and empathy.

Over my lifetime, I’ve heard different people’s anecdotes about pregnancy and being a parent.  I thought I had a good understanding of their situations and their feelings, but it was only after finally experiencing pregnancy and motherhood myself, that I got a mom’s perspective that I never had before.

Gaining this new perspective was earth shattering for me because I’ve always considered myself fairly open minded and emphatic but it turned out I had unintentionally made a lot of assumptions about pregnancy, being a mom and parenting.

 

Scarfing Down Big Fat Humble Pies

For example, I was so proud of myself when I took a shower and washed my hair at the hospital (almost immediately after giving birth when the nurse had my baby for tests). I even put on makeup and thought, “see, you can easily find time to shower after having a baby.”  Ha! HA! HAAAA!!! Biggest joke on myself ever.

After a blissful two weeks of thinking that, my baby started to cry all the time when I wasn’t holding her. And she was much louder than running water.  A two minute shower meant I was cringing for a full two minutes, and my mouth was constantly filled with shampoo because I kept opening it to try to say reassuring words to calm her.  The floor got sopping wet as I reached out frequently to bounce her.  All pointless. I even considered ordering a baby sling to take her into the shower with me. It took a few weeks but I finally understood why people say it can be hard to shower after a baby is born.

That was just the beginning too.

After another two more weeks, my baby started to cry for hours, even when I held her.

I did everything I can think of under the sun but nothing seemed to work. Then I started doing something I had thought I would never do, buy every pillow, chair or swing with good reviews with the hope that one might soothe her.  I only succeeded in amassing a room full of stuff. I had assumed if I tried hard enough, I can stop my baby’s crying. Nope.

A Little Bit More Empathy (from Me to You)

Now, when I hear someone else’s baby cry, my heart goes out to both baby and parents and I no longer think, “please do something to get the baby to stop crying”.

My daughter is now 3 and no longer cries with her little tears when I’m taking a shower, but she is still sticking her little fingers under the door and “cries” with her little voice.  That is if the Mister was able to distract her long enough for me to slip inside and shut the door, otherwise, she would be right next to the tub playing with the shower curtain, asking if I’m done yet, if I’m done yet, if I’m done yet…

Life is slowly shifting back to “normal”, but I am no longer the me from before.  Can’t go back.  Don’t want to go back.  I miss being her with her freedoms and her self indulgent life, and extended 30 minute showers, but I love being this exhausted and sometimes greasy mommy too.

My water bill is lower for one.  A two minute shower really is sufficient/ all that I can deal with.

A Lesson in Humility

The lesson of humility from experiencing some basic things I didn’t even know I didn’t know was profound.  The realization that there is so much that I don’t know, won’t understand, and may never experience makes me a happier and more receptive person.  I apologize for my old self.  There is still plenty I need to apologize for my current self, but it’s a start.  I’m plenty full on humble pie right now, but I’ll make room for more.

While I choose to be and prepared to be a parent, it isn’t always easy and without hardships, so I now have more empathy and respect for other people because I don’t know what they are dealing with.  They might not be sharing their challenges but that doesn’t mean they aren’t just trying to keep it together too.

And finally, the purpose and contentment I feel when my daughter repeatedly calls “mamee”, not to annoy me as I had exasperatedly concluded before, but because my presence makes her feel secure, comforted and happy, is absolutely priceless.  I love you to the moon and back my baby.