Thursday, October 28, 2010

Spiced Applesauce Cake

I got this recipe of the Smitten Kitchen website (surprise, surprise) and as usual it came out fantastic, so had to share. Plus I had promised many posts featuring apples and pears, right? You may be relieved to hear that I’m halfway through the three crates of apples and pears I got from my friend (mostly cause I’m cooking and pureeing for the baby like Gerber’s is going out of business) so I’ll hopefully be changing subject matter in the near future. For now, this lovely, easy cake.
This is what you need:     
A square non-stick cake pan  - I used a heart-shaped one cause I was feeling whimsical today!      
365 grams (1 ½ cup – 13oz) applesauce (I made a mix of spiced apple and pear sauce, will be posting the recipe for this asap on Moomser Baby)
½ cup crushed pecans (the original says walnuts, but I had pecans…)
250 grams (2cups – 8 ¾ oz.) all purpose flour         
10 grams (2tsp) baking powder
3 grams ( ½ tsp) baking soda
3 grams ( ½ tsp) salt
2 grams ( ¾ tsp) cinnamon
1 gram ( ½ tsp) ground ginger (I also added the same amount of ground nutmeg, ground cloves, and allspice)
115 grams (1 stick – 4oz) unsalted butter – softened
215 grams (1 cup – 7 ¾ oz) light brown sugar (as usual I would put less sugar cause it was too sweet for my palate, next time I’ll stick to no more than 180grams)
5ml (1 tsp) pure vanilla extract
2 eggs – room temperature

This is what you do:
Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F)
Beat together butter and sugar until soft and fluffy (took me at least 10 minutes, but my sugar was quite coarse, keep an eye on it).
While that’s beating, measure out your dry ingredients. And butter your cake dish.
Then add eggs to wet ingredients one at a time and beat well in between. Add applesauce.
Put your mixer on low and add in the dry ingredients and nuts and mix until just combined.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean – it took me 30 minutes, so check on your cake often!
Let it cool for 15 – 20 minutes and take out of your pan to let it cool completely. You’ll notice that my cake is cracked… I took it out too soon, so be patient!

You can serve this with cream cheese frosting:
This is what you need:
150 – 160 grams Philadelphia cream cheese
40 – 50 grams butter (softened)
120 grams (1 packet – 1 cup) confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
This is what you do:
Beat together cream cheese and butter until well combined and fluffy (smitten kitchen says to soften cream cheese too, but I find that cold cream cheese makes for a thicker frosting – as suggested by the Joy of Cooking) add vanilla.
Sift in sugar and cinnamon and beat until well mixed, but don’t over beat cause it’ll get runny.
Try and wait for your cake to cool before frosting, I obviously didn't….

One of those days

Today was one of those days… it feels like I did a lot, I’m pretty tired, and yet… not an awful lot to show for it. This morning I cleaned out the girl’s closet. I’ve been rearranging closets for the past two weeks, it never ends. Unfortunately, in Italy small closets are the norm, in fact walk-in closets are practically non-existent we basically use armoires, and since houses here don’t come outfitted with closets and furnished kitchens and bathrooms, as they do in the US when you’re renting you tend not to want to spend too much money on these sorts of things. Ergo, small closets. This leads to a biyearly tradition called “the seasonal closet rearrange”, which is a pain in the behind of monumental proportions. Basically, at the end of summer (and again at the end of winter), when the weather starts getting nippy everyone starts going through their closets, folding away they’re spring and summer clothes, and taking out their fall and winter stuff. There is one advantage to this ritual, at least as far as I’m concerned, twice a year I get to go through my stuff and through sheer frustration at folding and packing away I manage to get rid of some of it, this is how it goes: “oh geez, another black t-shirt, do I really need another black t-shirt, I’ve already packed away four… aw, man… not another tank top… now where’s the box with the tank tops… I actually never wear this…” and off to the church pile they go. Anyway, I’ve done my closet, the boy’s and today the girl’s… all I’m missing is the husband’s and then I’m done for a whole six months, sigh. (for time saving tips related to children’s clothes read this)
So this is where my morning went, and then I managed to spend most of the afternoon baking a cake. How does that even happen? Anyway, the cake was yummy, so worth it.
The kids played, their Nonna came over, so did their friends D & L, we ate cake, finished decorating the house for Halloween and then promptly removed half the decorations cause the boy thought they were too scary (incidentally, they’re not at all scary, he even  made me put away a singing and dancing pumpkin man. Unless he meant they were so ugly they were scary, not frightening scary, hmmm…). Well, there you have it, just one of those days. Though it did give me material for two posts other than this one so I can’t complain.

Handy Tips # 1

Let me tell you what I’ve been doing for two days, sorting socks, teeny socks, not so teeny socks, toddler socks, socks, socks, socks. Get it? I’m so sick of going through socks, matching them up and trying to figure out who’s wearing what, when and where that I’m tempted to just throw out the whole lot and make the kids go around sockless. Unfortunately, it’ll start snowing soon, and that’ll be considered child endangerment or something so I really can’t. So, I came up with a solution, it’s not the most practical solution in the world, but it’ll keep you from finding yourself where I am right now, going crazy with socks. I went and got me some iron-on clothing tape and a clothing marker and I’m going to iron-on little tags with the damn sizes of the socks on them. Why on earth would I want to do this, you ask? Because, when you have one child and he outgrows the socks, who cares, you just put them away with the rest of the outgrown clothes you’re saving for the next kid and go on with your life. Fast forward a few years and you have your second kid, out come the old socks, and all the socks your first born is using right now and when they’re folded you realize YOU CAN’T TELL THEM APART. So you occasionally find your toddler with teeny socks on his huge feet or your baby with socks that come up mid thigh. Or, you know, this is what happens to me. So what I suggest is write down the sizes on your baby’s socks right away, ideally before the baby is born and keep doing it as you go along because when number two comes along and half your socks have shrunk and faded you don’t want to find yourself looking at four pairs of slightly different dark blue socks and wondering who the hell they belong to.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

To sleep or... well, not to actually

Okay, let’s get this out of the way right away so we can start again with a clean slate, sleeping when you have a baby just doesn’t happen. People who tell you their babies sleep through the night at five weeks are either: a) lying; b) delusional from lack of sleep; c) the exception to the rule; or d) one of those people who consider sleeping through the night as sleeping between four and five hours in a row.
I, on the other hand, am none of these things, so I will tell you how it is (or, in any case, how it’s been for me). I used to love sleeping, if I didn’t get my full eight hours, no interruptions, a night I was one grouchy gal. I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in almost three years. The most I’ve managed to sleep uninterrupted is five hours. Now, I know that some people sleep five hours a night and are perfectly happy and totally functional, that, however, is not and has never been my case. It’s all relative, you see. If you’re one of these people, you can stop reading now, this post does not apply to you.
As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I stopped sleeping three years ago, cause I was in my third trimester and peeing every thirty minutes, then my first baby, the Boy, was born. He ate twice a night for the entire first year of his life, he then reduced it to just once a night until he was 18 months, by then I was in my third trimester again with the Girl and peeing… well you know how it goes. But I’m not writing a negative, poor little ole me post, I want to give you hope, because you see, I may not be sleeping much, but nothing terrible has happened. I tire a little more easily, sure, I’m not as reactive as I once was, not as quick on my toes, my memory can be a little foggy, but I’m fine and the kids are fine. A little lack of sleep never killed anyone, parents have been raising kids on very little sleep for a very long time and here we all are, the human race, healthy and thriving as can be.
The other thing I’ve come to realize is where children are concerned nothing lasts, nothing is writ in stone. And this heartens me to no end, because I know, I know that sooner or later I’ll start sleeping again. In fact, I know that sooner or later I’m  going to be the one waking them up and that is going to give me so much pleasure! In fact, I’ll let you in on a little secret, sometimes when one or the other wakes up crying and I’m nursing or prepping a bottle or changing a diaper at 3am I fantasize about the day when I’m going to wake them by crying for pancakes in the middle of the night, and they damn well better come with melted butter and maple syrup.
So the point of this post is, be prepared, resign yourself to the fact that the first few years you won’t be getting much sleep but that’s ok cause you’ll survive and that first full night’s sleep you get, that first night when no one wakes you, not even your own overly neurotic brain that wants to make sure the kids are ok since they haven’t made a peep yet, that first night will be magical, glorious, fabulous. It gives me hope and I am so looking forward to it…

Monday, October 25, 2010

Time change, or something.

For the past few years whenever we were at the Salone del Gusto trade show the time changed, and that extra hour of sleep on Sunday, the hardest day of the fair, was a godsend. So this year, as usual, we were looking forward to the time change. The only thing we were a little worried about was the fact that you can’t really explain to an 11 month old that she can and must sleep in for an extra hour now, cause that’s what the clock says, so I had pretty much resigned myself to being up at the crack of dawn, but with a whole extra hour to do stuff. And let me tell you that extra hour takes on a whole new meaning. That extra hour is going to solve all my problems, I’ll finally managed to put some order in my house cause I’ve got a whole extra hour, and if I let my body think it’s still on the old time, it’s like I get an extra hour every day, hell I can start exercising and leaving the house in make-up and matching clothes once again, oh that extra hour, it’s so wonderful I can barely stand the excitement. So last night when both kids woke up at separate times, I didn’t really get too upset, and then when both of them woke up again at 5 am I was actually happy because I gave both of them milk and they went back to sleep so I was pretty sure I was going to get that extra hour of sleep after all (I realize the logic there is faulty, being happy at being awakened three times during the night for a measly extra hour of sleep is pretty stupid). So the husband, kids and I wake up at nine (which is supposedly actually eight cause we turned the clock back) and as usual we start firing up all our technology. Out come the i-phones and the i-pads so we can download the day’s paper during breakfast and… hmmm… this is weird… what time does yours say? Cause mine hasn’t updated yet, hmmm, strange, is the wi-fi working? Here, turn on the news, what time is it? oh CRAP. It’s nine. The time hasn’t changed. It changes next week. Sigh.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Food fairs and chocolate

Every two years Slow Food organizes a massive trade show in Torino called the Salone del Gusto. Since the husband works at (and I still freelance with) a mineral water company that is one of the primary sponsors of this event, we have the “pleasure” of participating every other year. As any of you who have ever worked the trade show circuit know, they are a lot of work, you basically give up your life for the (thankfully) few days these things last, and you spend every breathing moment smooching up to people, eating totally unhealthy foods, on your feet, in a closed environment with the constant din of thousands of people talking at the same time. And yet, I always seem to have a lot of fun. You meet people, have a chat over a beer or a glass of wine, and this being a food fair, you get to try a lot of yummy stuff.
As a matter of fact, we were reminiscing today about the best year for us, which was the first year we participated (2004), it was total and utter chaos, but we were right next to the Lindt Chocolate stand… and we made friends with them… I basically subsisted on a diet of chocolate, hot chocolate, spreadable chocolate, dark chocolate… and tea (they were partnering with a tea company) for five days. Heaven! Though my skin was visibly upset at the abuse for days. We haven’t been that lucky since, but really all this means is that we don’t have the goodies parked right next door, we have to go find them, but they’re there so we shall.
All this to say that this is where I’ll be until Monday, I’ll try to keep you updated on how it goes, but seeing as for the next few days my time is no longer my own, I may not be able to. So, ta-ta for now, I’ve got to go find the chocolate pavilion…

Friday, October 22, 2010

Salone del Gusto 2010

The Salone del Gusto is upon us once again. Every two years Slow Food organizes the massive trade fair that is the International Salone del Gusto in Turin, and as one of the main sponsors we participate with a passion. I mentioned in “Why Moomser Food” that I have never worked in the food service industry, but I have worked in the food production industry, namely a mineral water company, so I will occasionally post on these types of events.
Unfortunately, after a full day at the fair I’m completely beat, so will reserve all commentary on how it’s going for tomorrow (I hope) but for now I just wanted to share our little midnight snack with you…
One of the great things about participating in these large trade shows is that we get to interact with other food producers from around the globe, and by interact I really mean try out all their goodies, and obviously in the wonderful spirit of bartering that prevails at these events, we get to go home with some yummy things. So after a tiring day on our feet, our mouths constantly in motion (mostly talking to clients and such, but also eating, of course), the husband and I got home and decided to have a light dinner of German whole wheat bread, fresh Greek feta cheese and the most fragrant Sicilian extra virgin olive oil I have ever had the pleasure of trying.

German bread? But you’re Italian, you might object, but the truth is that the Germans make the lightest, tastiest, most delicate whole wheat bread I have ever had, and Italian bread, though phenomenal when baked with regular flour, simply doesn’t measure up in this, dare I say healthier, variety. The Sicilian olive oil was divine, totally different from the Liguria oil we are used to eating, I can barely describe it, it is so fragrant, slightly spicy on the tongue, it is very smooth but not thick, when you taste it you realize you could probably dress a salad with just this oil, and nothing else. And the Feta? Well, we just really love it and it’s lovely with a little oil, so what more could we want for a midnight snack?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Left, right, left

Yesterday I went to Cuneo to meet some friends for a birthday coffee (yes, I’m still celebrating my birthday, so??) with the Girl, and since it was almost naptime I started the doing the usual song and dance to get her to sleep,  the thousand mile walk with slight bouncing of the stroller and monotonous chanting that works only 50% of the time. So, I’m pacing the streets getting worried glances from passerby’s (since I’m chanting like a Buddhist monk, in the hopes of boring the girl into a stupor) and I see a big commotion at the street corner, and off I go to investigate (anything to alleviate the tedium). And beyond the crowd of onlookers I see a woman sitting in the middle of the street, on the pedestrian crossing, her head bleeding and a man (possibly a doctor) testing her limbs. Ah, I think, another pedestrian got hit by a car on the clearly marked crossing. Now, just in case you don’t know, I feel the need to reiterate that I don’t live in a bustling metropolis, in fact, you’d be hard pressed to call Cuneo a city, more of a town, really, just a smidge above village, in fact. The whole town counts no more than 50,000 souls. And yet, pedestrians get run over at street crossings with alarming frequency; as a matter of fact, in the five years I’ve lived here I’ve already personally seen four. In the ten years I lived in Milan or the twelve I lived in Houston I had seen exactly none. (ok, ok, people don’t actually walk on the street in Houston, but you get my drift). The problem in my opinion is two-fold: people here drive like morons, I’m not exaggerating, they are totally and completely spaced out, non-reactive, like they’re all on drugs, but not the kind of drugs that pump you with adrenaline and make you hyper vigilant and in perpetual motion, no, they drive like they’re all mellow from a killer doobie, and like, dude, let’s stop here I’ve got the munchies, what? my turn signal, dude, chill man, I like, just need to stop for a sec, relax, oh wait, what’s that lady doing walking on the street, oh, right  n e e d   t   o       b    r     a     k      e .  .   .
So my advice to you, if you ever come to Cuneo, do exactly what your Mom taught you as a kid, look before crossing the street, I would actually take it one step further and follow the mantra of all driver’s ed instructors teach: look left, right, left and then go.
Oh, and by the way, just in case you were wondering the birthday coffee was organized so my friends could give me my gift before it “expired” (so they said, leading me to think it was food of some sort) - Sting tickets for November 3rd in Torino. YAY! THANKS GIRLS!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Breastfeeding is f***ing hard

Breastfeeding, every new mother’s nightmare. From the day you start telling people that you’re pregnant you’re going to be talking about little else, and everyone has an opinion. Hell, you probably have an opinion right now too. Most subjects relating to babies and parenting are hot button subjects, generally it’s an either you agree with me or you’re totally wrong approach, and nowhere is this truer than for breastfeeding. Now, I really, truly, honestly don’t care what you do. I’m just sharing my own personal, no judgment about what anybody else does, views and I’d appreciate it if the same courtesy was extended to me, thank you very much.
When I was pregnant with my first child, the Boy, I wasn’t all too sure about the whole breastfeeding lark, I mean, I was bottle-fed and I turned out just fine. (Yes, I was born in the 70’s, the dark ages of breastfeeding – so was the Husband, this’ll be relevant in future posts.) Then I bought the La Leche League book “The Womanly art of Breastfeeding” and started thinking that maybe breastfeeding wasn’t so bad after all and I might just give it a try. Basically, I had a pretty laissez faire attitude about the whole thing, sure I’d like to nurse my baby, but if I can’t for whatever reason it’s no big deal, and I certainly won’t be doing it for over six months.
Though for some reason whenever someone started in on me with a “you must breastfeed or you’re a horrible mother” attitude, I would find myself being totally contrary and telling them I was too busy, plus I liked my boobs north-facing and why don’t you just mind your damn business already. Anyway, during my first pregnancy I did my homework, thought I had figured out what position the baby was supposed to be in for optimum nursing, memorized the pictures of what a proper latch-on was supposed to look like, I even got a cream to prep my nipples and reduce the chance of pain. Ha, ha, ha. Sorry, but seriously, new mothers are so naïve!
So I birth the boy, (and that’s a story for another post) and full of hope and optimism I put him to the boob. OW! Oh, right, the book says that if it hurts it means you’re not doing it correctly, let’s try again. OOOOOWWWW! Oh, ok, he’s not opening his mouth enough, and the chin isn’t positioned right… hellllooooo, he’s a newborn, he’s busy doing this new cool thing called breathing air, and what’s with all the light, he does NOT want to have to figure out how to latch on without hurting mommy he just wants the damn milk already. You know the saying, start as you mean to go? Yep, that’s what happened here, two months of pain, frustration, weigh ins, top up bottles, frustration, crying (both of us), and oh, did I mention the frustration? And then, VICTORY, month three and I was solely breastfeeding, no more bottles. Of course, it didn’t last, by month four he decided he did NOT WANT TO WAIT FOR THE STUPID MILK TO LET DOWN and we went back to mixed feeding. At that point though breastfeeding him had become such an obsession that I wasn’t doing the smart, practical thing (i.e. giving him formula in those two bottles he had a day), no, I was expressing so he only had breast milk.  By the end of month five I threw in the towel and switched to formula. My heart broke. I felt like such a huge failure. Look at me, I can’t even feed my baby.
So the next year, when the Girl was born, I was gung ho about the breastfeeding, no bottles, no pacifiers, just the boob, anytime, anywhere. This time it went fine, of course, so fine in fact that now that I want her to stop breastfeeding, I CAN’T GET HER OFF THE DAMN BOOB. But the point of this post is this:
Breastfeeding is hard. Sometimes a feeding takes forever, cause the baby is a slow eater, or your milk takes a while to let down (and how do you even know it has let down), or he keeps falling asleep. My life got marginally better when I realized “a feeding” was nowhere near the 15 minutes per side that the nurses in the hospital had told me about, but fell much, much closer to 40 minutes per side. Actually just enough time for two shows on tv or a shortish movie. And at first it hurts. Yes, even if the kid latches on properly. Put it this way, a newborn is on the boob a LOT, I promise you, your boobs have never seen so much action, your nipples are going to get sore. How sore depends on a lot of things, let me just say that I got cracked, bloody nipples with baby number 2 and I KNEW how to latch her on properly by then. But, she woke up every two hours to nurse, day and night, so my boobs hurt. Though to make you feel better I can tell you this, everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, in parenting is a phase and it will pass. I used nipple shields for a few days and my sore boobs got better, and now, ten months on my baby has teeth and it phases me not one bit.
All this to say that breastfeeding is hard, it takes a lot of commitment and it takes a lot of time, something not everyone has the luxury of having. It’s incredibly fulfilling, for some of us, but not for all of us. So if you want to breastfeed, good for you, and if you don’t, good for you too. All that matters is that you’re feeding your baby and loving her and nurturing him.
This is my first post on Moomser Baby, I chose it because it seems like it’s a difficult topic for a lot of women, it’s certainly all I could talk about those first few months, but it definitely won’t be the last post on the subject! Now, tell me about your experience, the best thing when you’re a new mom is to know that you’re not alone. Really, you’re not alone. Oh, and if you do decide to breastfeed, know that sooner or later your boobs will once again be your own, though they probably won’t be facing north anymore…

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Mrs. C's Apple Cake

Even though it doesn't look like much this is an easy peasy basic apple cake, and it’s oh, so satisfying! It’s soft and sweet and fruity. It’s great for breakfast or for dessert or for a midnight snack, it’s a simple comfort food that you’ll end up going back to over and over again.
This is what you need:
4 large apples – whatever kind you think cooks well
100gr. (¾ cup) all-purpose flour – I used whole flour, cause I’m trying to cut down on processed foods but honestly in this cake, white flour tastes better, the whole flour left it a little dry.
100gr. (¾ cup) sugar – I used brown sugar (which worked out fine) and as usual I used a bit less than called for, about 70gr. The apples I had were a little tart, so it wasn’t as sweet as other times I had made it, so I would suggest you adjust the sugar depending on the sweetness of the apples you have (if you so wish, cause the original recipe is pretty yummy as is). + 1 tbs. to sprinkle at the end.
100gr. (3.5oz.) butter
3 eggs
I used a 22cm (8.5inch) round spring-form pan, but you can use a pie dish as well.
16gr. baking powder
1tbs. cinnamon and a dash of allspice (I added these to the original recipe, cause I can’t resist cinnamon with apples)

 This is what you do:
Preheat oven at 180°C (350°F)
Peel and slice apples. Melt butter (bain marie or in the microwave). Separate yolks and beat whites till stiff. Mix the sugar, flour, baking powder, cinnamon, allspice and butter. Wait a few minutes for the mixture to have cooled completely (the butter was probably warm when you added it) then add yolks. Mix well scraping sides of bowl completely. Gently fold in whites.
 Grease and flour your baking pan. And pour in your batter. Then add the apples pressing them down into the batter, you will probably be able to get two layers in. Sprinkle the top with a tbs. of sugar.

Bake for 30 – 40 minutes.
(p.s. I told you it was easy!!)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Living with Leukemia. The other side of the story - part 2 Me

Yesterday I had an anxiety attack. Or so I think, of course, this being a self diagnosis I could be completely off the mark, but the symptoms were pretty cut and dry. This is what happened: I was having dinner and the Nanny comes in with the Girl and says to me, look she’s got another one of those marks on her arm, and indeed she had a round, red mark on her forearm it looked a little like a cigarette burn and a little like ringworm. And we started speculating about what it could be. That’s all. And a few minutes later I stopped eating and started freaking out. My heart started pounding in my chest, I heard a dull ringing in my ears, I was gulping down air, but still felt like I couldn’t breathe and my panicked brain was screaming “oh my God the girl has leukemia”. Overreacting, you say? Well, absolutely, I completely agree. Rationally I knew that I was being a total idiot, and there is no relationship between a small mark on her arm and cancer, but rationality had flown the coop.
What you may not know is that in the months before his diagnosis the husband suffered a variety of small illnesses and inconveniences, one of which was round, ringworm-like marks on his arms. I later found out, completely by accident I might add, that Echinacea, which we both used to take daily at the start of the cold season, causes a rash in people with auto immune disorders, like Aids and leukemia. Aaaahh, you say, she’s not as neurotic as we thought then. I eventually talked myself down from the ledge, the husband even offered to take her to the emergency room for tests (though honestly I don’t know what’s worst the unfounded belief that she has leukemia or the possibility of this belief being confirmed), obviously we stayed home last night and avoided having to explain my hysteria to the nurses in the ER. I will, however, be taking her to the pediatrician on Monday.
So there you have it. I thought I had survived this year relatively unscathed, apart from the few issues that I was discussing with my therapist, I was, in fact, quite proud of myself. Hubris always gets you in the end.
Since I’m in the mood for confessions, I get nervous every time I think of the coming winter. I used to love winter. But now I look at pictures of the snow, and I get a little nauseous. I get hit with the loneliness, the fear, the worry, the exhaustion and yes, the hopelessness of this past winter, and when I think that it’s going to start snowing again soon… well, my stomach clenches.
Again, it’s not rational, I know that the seasons have no bearing whatsoever on my family’s health, but that’s what’s really scary, that it’s not rational. I can’t control it. And I was heavy on the control this past year. I couldn’t cry in front of the children, I couldn’t cry, complain or really vent in front of anybody because, well, I wasn’t the one who was sick. I didn’t go through chemo, I didn’t feel like shit run over, I was not the one who risked her life, I had to be strong, I had to take over because that’s what you do in a marriage, when one is down the other fills in, I had to be fine because that’s what was expected of me. But most of all I had to keep my shit together, because I was terrified of losing it, and not being able to get rational, normal, functional again. So I compartmentalized my head, my heart, my feelings.
And now I’m freaking out at the idea of snow.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Musings of a fatty

I was going to post about something completely different today but then I read this post here and it got me thinking. It’s about girls and food and body image. Between the post and the comments I started thinking about my relationship with food and my body image and especially the fact that I too now have a girl. As Jill at Scary Mommy says, “Being a girl is hard, having a girl is harder” never have truer words been spoken.

I had always been a relatively skinny girl. Not so skinny that you would wonder if I ever skipped a meal, but healthy skinny. I was also relatively active. I’ve always hated exercising, but I loved dance so took many a class in many different styles of dance. I was lucky, neither one of my parents was overweight, and they both enjoyed food, so I’m probably pretty lucky genetically. And yet, now I’m definitely over weight, I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life (which doesn’t say much, as it’s all relative, isn’t it?), let’s just say I’m uncomfortable in the body I’m wearing right now. And reading Jill’s post got me thinking. What happened? But most importantly how do I teach my children to be healthy and have a good relationship with food?

A lot of the comments to the post had some variation of I agree with you, don’t have a solution, you’re right, let’s hope we don’t screw our kids up too badly. And then there were the ones about rule setting, and no junk food, and exercising every day and (this really freaked me out) never, ever eating after 7pm. And we’re talking women who’s kids’ ages ran from 1 to 10 years old more or less. I simply cannot imagine my child coming up to me at 9pm saying he’s hungry and me not feeding him anything cause it’s after 7. Really? I mean, really?? I really think this is one way to create negative body image.

I think my parents instilled decent eating habits in us, my Dad was Italian, and my Mom is Brazilian, so food was always pretty important at our house. But it was important in the sense that it had to be good, good quality and well cooked, we never had a lot of sweets because my Mom had blood sugar issues (real or imagined, we shall never know) so we weren’t in the habit of having dessert or anything, and yet there was always ice cream if we wanted it, we were allowed sweet drinks and soft drinks, there was often candy around, it was available, but no undue value was given to it. Since my parents weren’t big junk eaters we were never huge junk eaters ourselves, though we did indulge. And very rarely did anyone diet at our house, or if they did they certainly didn’t advertise it.

And yet, and yet, I’m overweight right now. So my eating habits can’t be that good, can they? And so I wonder what happened, what the hell happened?? And when I think about it, I realize that I stopped caring how I looked, but not in the laissez faire way that I had before, in a ‘the way I look isn’t all that important, it’s never going to measure up’ way. And that’s what screwed me. I stopped exercising, had other thinks to do, and I started eating to manage stress (don’t we all?) and slowly, over the years, I gained weight, little by little… and then I had two kids in less than two years.

So, what happens now, I wonder? Well, for starters I’m going to start doing the things I enjoyed, I’m going to find me a dance class (and who cares if I look ridiculous), and I’m going to find me something else to manage stress, don’t know what yet… though it seems the husband has a few suggestions…

Because I don’t want my children to see me like this, and by this I don’t mean fat, because honestly, we can’t all be skinny and it is infinitely more important to feel comfortable in our bodies than to fit into those jeans from high school (which are, incidentally, hopelessly out of style by now), by this I mean uncomfortable.

I’m not comfortable in my clothes, I’m not comfortable in front of the mirror, I’m not comfortable in my body. And I firmly believe that the best way I can contribute to my children’s health is to teach them to enjoy food, not mindlessly ingurgitate it, to move their bodies to a beat that they enjoy and not that they have to dread exercising like the return of small pox, and to feel comfortable that their body will take them where they need to go, so they can concentrate on other things. This is why I want to lose weight.

Now I can only hope that it works!
And as far as our children are concerned, there are so many things that are going to affect their body image, media, their peers, their lifestyle, their personality… that all we can do is love them, appreciate and nurture them, and teach them by example. After that, che sera, sera.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Leek, Potato and Salmon Quiche

I am a BIG fan of quiches, and casseroles (possibly cause I grew up in the south), but mostly quiches. I love quiches cause you can make them ahead, they’re great as leftovers, they require minimal intervention and they help me get rid of stuff that’s been hanging around in the fridge too long. So the other day I happen upon a package of smoked salmon that was expiring that very day and well, with the husband’s immune system the way it is I can’t really risk feeding him food that is on its way to possibly being a bit wonky, and smoked salmon isn’t exactly cheap here so… into a quiche it went.
This is what you need:
Puff pastry sheet – in Italy I use the ready-made, refrigerated not frozen, Buitoni pasta sfoglia rotonda. It’s a round sheet of puff pastry approximately 25cm (10in.) in diameter. Use whatever you like, frozen is fine too (defrost it!) or you can make this in the form of a casserole, foregoing the puff pastry and just using a casserole dish.
Smoked salmon – I’m very sorry, but I forgot to check how much is in a package, but it’s not an insane amount – will correct this as soon as I go back to supermarket!
2 medium-sized leeks – with most of the green part cut off.
3 medium- sized potatoes - peeled
½ cup Feta cheese - crumbled                                        
Ricotta 250 gr (8.8oz)
Grated parmesan cheese (optional)
2 eggs
Salt, pepper and ground nutmeg (optional)
I used a 22cm (8.5inch) round spring-form pan, but you can use a pie dish as well.
This is what you do:

Finely cut the leeks cross-wise and sauté in a pan with a little oil till just softened and set aside.
Cut your salmon in mid to small sized pieces
Peel and cut the potatoes cross-wise and boil till slightly undercooked (they need to still be quite firm cause they will finish cooking in the oven).
Mix the ricotta and two eggs in a bowl (you’ll be putting all the other ingredients together here so a large bowl) add salt and pepper to taste and a pinch of ground nutmeg if the fancy takes you.
Add the salmon and when the potatoes and leeks  have cooled a bit, add those too.

Crumble in some feta cheese and mix, mix, mix with a fork, spoon or spatula, trying not to break the potatoes up too much
Unroll your puff pastry in your pan (with parchment paper underneath), fill it with the mixture and crimp the edges like you would an open pie. Then sprinkle with parmesan cheese.
If you’re making this in the form of a casserole and not a quiche, add about 2 tbs of water and cover with aluminum foil.

Stick in oven for 30 – 40 minutes (or until the puff pastry is thoroughly cooked and golden and the filling is cooked through and firm) at 180°C (350°F – 360°F) – as mentioned my oven is ventilated so cooks faster than an unventilated. If you’re making a casserole cook covered for 15min then uncover and cook 15 – 20 min more or until it looks firm and golden on top (depending on your oven, you may have to broil / grill the last few minutes to get that golden look).
Let cool for five minutes, take it out of your pan, and serve.
It goes very well with a salad as it is a full meal in and of itself!

Fun, fun, fun

I was so sick last night. I’m not going to get into the mechanics of the whole thing cause it would definitely fall under the Too Much Information category, suffice it to say that I either caught a stomach (and nether regions) bug again or my body was just trying to tell me that maybe it’s not such a great idea to go on a food binge at McDonald’s at my age.
On a positive note, the Boy had a fantastic day yesterday. I had to go to a “ladies’ lunch” a monthly get together of English speaking foreigners here in Cuneo, well foreign women obviously, though this occasionally leads me to wonder if there are quite as many foreign men here as well and have they formed a group and meet periodically like we do (like “dudes who drink” or “happy fellas happy hour”) to complain about being foreign in rural Italy and how it’s impossible to find sour cream here or in their case more likely how it’s impossible to find Shiner Bock, (if they happen to be from Texas, of course) and we simply don’t know about it, otherwise we could end up having, like, co-ed mixers and stuff. Huh.

Enough with the digressions. Anyway, I had the usual dilemma of can’t go to the lunch because have to pick the boy up at daycare at 1pm to take him home for a nap, don’t want to have him sleep there cause then he’s super clingy all afternoon, so can’t go to lunch, when the husband yelled at me to stop being so damn neurotic and just take the boy with me. And I realized, why yes, I can take him with me (after a couple of minutes of worrying about how badly changing his routine was going to affect the rest of my day). So I pick up a very excited boy and we head off to the restaurant (to an ongoing chant of “are we there”, “is this the ressarant”). His buddy D was there so they entertained each other, and he was thoroughly pleased at spending a couple of hours being grown up with Mama. Who knew? I always hated being dragged places with my Mom, I’m assuming it’s the novelty of the occasion more than anything. But the fun didn’t end there, after going home for a nap, D came over with his brother L and that pretty much made his day. He hero worships L, yes, L of the sparkly shoes. And D is his bestest friend. Oh, and D is also apparently the Girls boyfriend. So there. And after all of this excitement we went to McDonald’s for dinner and the Boy had his very first taste of fast food. Though the food was definitely not as interesting as the happy meal toy nor the play area. Man, the McDonald’s play area is fun, so fun that nobody wanted to leave, so fun in fact that it generated a meltdown of epic proportions.

Now, my American friends are probably thinking, why are you making such a big deal about McDonald’s (apart from the fact that I revisited my entire McDonald’s meal last night) but you have to understand that we live out in rural Italy. There isn’t much of a fast food culture here (case in point, we have 1 McD’s and 1 Burger King 30km apart), and also there aren’t any soft indoor play areas around here like the one at McDonald’s so the boy went into sensory overload from all the new things he did, as did we, apparently.

Well, once happily tucked into bed with his lovey the boy declared the day “fuuuun”, so that’s all that matters. Until 3 am, of course, when I started spewing stuff like the exorcist. Just sayin’.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Quest

Yesterday I had my usual Monday morning therapy session, yes I’m going to therapy, and let’s just get this out of the way real quick: for those who know me I realize it seems strange since I always said that I would NEVER go to therapy, I wouldn’t be caught dead in therapy, and why would I want to put myself in a cycle that never seems to end of co-dependency with a virtual stranger (or actually just dependency, since the therapist isn’t dependent on the patient, or rather, not emotionally dependent maybe, but the therapist is in fact financially dependent on the patient, so it could be considered a co-dependent relationship after all…). But as usually happens when you mouth off to the four winds about how you are never ever going to do something, you generally end up doing it, so here I am, in therapy, hopefully not for life. Now that that little explanation is over, let’s go back to the main subject shall we?

So, yesterday I had my usual Monday morning therapy session and I was complaining that I never seem to have time to do anything and I simply don’t understand where the time goes and this frustrates me to no end, because, well, you see, to live life one must actually be able to do stuff, right?? And the therapist being a therapist gave me no insight, nor made any comments, nor in any way indicated that she had a solution to my problem, but she did let me vocalize my stream of consciousness all the way to the following reflections:

The more time I have, the less time I make. (and no, I’m not trying to sound like a Chinese proverb. Oh ok, maybe a little…) The fact is that right now I don’t have to clean my house nor iron my clothes as I have help with that and I have someone to watch the kids when I need to do something really important and yet… the closets need the seasonal rearranging, the thank you notes from the girl’s baptism need sending, the house hunt needs to be picked up more vigorously, two fun and interesting new business ideas need to be researched and implemented and the blogs need updating. Whereas now the closets are a mess of summer, some winter, the wrong size and who the hell does this belong too, the thank you notes are inching along one a day, maybe, the house hunt looks like it’s going into a biblical timeline, and the fun and interesting business ideas are still just ideas three months after I had them while the blogs get updated between 12 and 1.30am, which means I’m sleeping approximately 4 hours a night. And for the life of me I don’t understand the reason, where in the holy heck of a heck does the time go????

You cannot be organized without if you aren’t organized within. This I got from an article in parenting magazine on Jamie Lee Curtis and how bleeping organized and time efficient she is. I actually believe this to be deeply true, if you’ve got mental chaos (my case, completely) your house and life will be disorganized and completely inefficient, my question is, how the heckety heck do I organize my head if I can’t even organize my sock drawer (though, apparently I can’t organize my sock drawer because my head is disorganized) and why, you may very well ask, would I want to organize my sock drawer? Well, because in my disorganized brain I think that if my sock drawer (and here you can insert any number of household objects like pantry, cupboards, desk, filing system….) was more organized, I would have more time to get stuff done rather than wasting half an hour to hunt down the other blue sock.

I obviously just ran out of time to write this, so we’re closing here with the following edict from my disorganized self: I am now hereby and henceforth on a solemn quest to create order in my life (and head) and to find the time to actually get things done. Now if only someone would show me the way, the how and possibly the why. All I know is that I’m sure to regret this.

Apple Strudel

I got a whole lot of apples from a friend who has apple trees and doesn’t know what to do with all the damn apples that all come in at the same time (lucky me!) so… you’ll be seeing apples heavily featured in the next few posts (pears too, got lots of pears as well). I do, of course, cook and purée most of these totally organic, free fruits that I occasionally get (one of the pleasures of living in the country!) for the Girl and Boy but there’s only so many fruit jars you can stick in your fridge, freezer and cupboard before you start looking insane, so the excess fruit gets eaten by the adults. Not a bad compromise.
This is what you need:
4 large apples whatever you think cooks well, mine came from a friends’ apple tree and neither of us know what they are called (and am too lazy right now to do an internet search, sorry…)
Puff pastry sheet – in Italy I use the ready-made, refrigerated not frozen, Buitoni pasta sfoglia rotonda. It’s a round sheet of puff pastry approximately 25cm (10in.) in diameter. Use whatever you like, frozen is fine too (defrost it!) you can even make it yourself, but I can’t help you there yet… maybe in a few years!
½ cup brown sugar – the recipe I followed called for 1 cup sugar, which is what I used, WAY, WAY too sweet!
1cup raisins (ideally, golden raisins, but I had sun-maid so that’s why mine are so dark)
1tbs cinnamon - 1tsp vanilla extract -  1 lemon - 1 egg yolk
The husband would have like some pine nuts, or almond slivers too, but there was nary a one to be found in our house so can't tell you how that would have done, but I think it would have done quite well...
This is what you do:
1.       Peel, core, pit and slice 3 apples, then grate the 4th apple. If you’re going to peel and cut the apples and then get distracted, like I tend to do, I suggest you stick them in a bowl of water with a little lemon juice as you go so they don’t get all dark and ugly, though it is just an aesthetic concern as the darkness and ugliness of your apples in no way affects the final product.
Buuuuut, don’t put the grated apple in the water, just drizzle it with some lemon juice, it’ll still get dark, but it gives it a nice tangy note.
2.       If you’re using nice plump golden raisins, you’re good to go, but if your raisins are a little dry and sad looking (like they’ve been sitting in your cupboard, ignored, for years) soak them in a some water for a few minutes and they’ll plump right up, I like me a plump raisin.
3.       Drain your cut apples (NOT the grated apple!) and your raisins and mix in a bowl with sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and any lemon juice you’ve got left (just a few drops are fine)

4.       Now spread your puff pastry on a sheet of parchment paper on a shallow baking pan, I prefer metal ones to glass or ceramic because I feel that they heat better on the bottom and the puff pastry cooks more evenly.
5.       NOW get your grated apple (finally) and spread it down the center of your pastry, and then arrange the rest of your apple concoction on top. If you’re using a round pastry you want to make a rectangle with your filling down the center, so you’ve got two larger semicircles on the sides and smaller ones on the ends.
6.       Delicately close the pastry on top of the filling and wet the top edge with your fingertips so that it sticks to the bottom flap. And then close the two ends.
7.       Paint on your egg yolk, I actually forgot to, it doesn’t change the taste at all but it’s just not as pretty. Finally, cut steam vents on top.
8.       Stick in oven for 30 - 35 minutes*

*About cooking times: When I’m baking I tend to always set my timer a few minutes earlier than the cooking time indicated (in this case, I set it at 25 minutes) so that I can check on whatever I’m baking, as I’ve learned that you can always keep baking something, but you can’t unbake once you’ve burned it… imagine that… in this case I baked it for the full 35 minutes.
*I have a ventilated or convection oven, so it tends to cook faster than unventilated ovens. Just so you know.