Happy Jessica Day!

23 Jun

Today, June 23, is officially unofficially Jessica Day!

Or it would have been had President Bush responded accordingly to the letter I wrote him as an elementary-school student.

Feeling a touch of envy for May’s Mother’s Day and June’s Father’s Day celebrations, I decided to write to the President to ask if June 23 could be Jessica Day. A day to celebrate all Jessicas.

This makes a lot of sense if you think about it, given the popularity of the name in the 80s. The day wouldn’t just be about me, it would be for Jessicas everywhere. It may also explain why I named my daughter the #7 most-popular baby name of her day.

But, alas, all I got from the President was an autographed picture and some stock response about how the nation’s youth should go to summer school. This may or may not have had an influence over my future political leanings…

I don’t exactly celebrate Jessica Day anymore, but I did get a call from my parents this morning (thanks, Mom and Dad!) and Eric’s been known to bake me the occasional cake.

From our dating days. Presented to me in an REI hiking boot box. Classy.

I’ve been writing my congresspeople more than usual lately about more pressing issues, with everything going on in the news. I still get stock responses, but I refuse to give up. It’s not enough to merely vote on election day…our elected officials need to hear from us between elections. Whatever your views, your voice matters. Even if your name isn’t Jessica.

I haven’t been in this space much lately, as someone reminded me recently, so here I am. I’m not sure if I’ll keep this blog going for a variety of reasons–has anyone else noticed that the entire Internet has stopped blogging and started podcasting??—but since I’m here, here’s what’s on my mind on this most important of days.

1. My baby isn’t a baby anymore. This isn’t new news. At nearly 3 1/2, our daughter hasn’t been a baby for a while. But some of the milestones we’ve hit since the big 3.0 have solidly put us into big(er)-kid territory. Potty training. Independent classes. Vanishing stair gates and childproof locks. PRESCHOOL REGISTRATION. I’m not usually one to grieve over the passage of time, and you won’t catch me shedding a tear over outgrowing diapers; however, Eric and I have a breakfast date planned for her first day of school because if you’re gonna cry, you might as well do it over pancakes.

2. As children get older, traveling gets easier! Not only do kids become more easygoing and agreeable on the road, but you don’t have to lug all.the.stuff. Over Memorial Day we took our first trip sans diapers, portabed, baby backpack (for hiking), heck, we don’t always bring a stroller! We even went somewhere—wait for it—just for fun. We rented a house in Seattle’s family-friendly neighborhood of Phinney Ridge/Greenlake and became temporary residents for a week. And it went GREAT. It was the perfect confidence booster for more adventurous family travels and a sneak peek into all the good stuff yet to come–travel- and otherwise. Can you say National Parks roadtrip?!

2a. Shout-out to Seattle’s super kid-friendly shopping scene including Labels Consignment Boutique (a women’s AND children’s consignment shop WITH a dedicated toy box, the Perennial Tea Room and their popular kids’ play stove and tea set and last but not least Frock, whose cozy children’s nook kept Emily entertained for an hour while we chatted with the friendly shopkeeper.

2b. Coffee and Coyle’s. Oh man, I could talk about Seattle’s food scene all day, but the place I can’t stop thinking about is Coyle’s Bakeshop. They took the art of pastry to another level and served our favorite lattes. We might have switched to coffee indefinitely if it hadn’t been for that pot of Kumsi Tea on our last visit.

2c. Also, life-changing pizza. And blog-celebrity sightings (oooohh).

3. The Great British Baking Show returns July 1!

4. “Is there any practice less selfish any time less wasted than preparing something delicious and nourishing for the people you love?” – Michael Pollan, from his new Netflix series Cooked. This quote wins all the heart eyes.

Related: Netflix is killing it in the original content department.

And with that, go give a Jessica a high-five today. Write your congressperson, too.


Martha Washington’s Great Cake

5 Jan

In the final hours of 2015, I gave myself one final baking challenge: Martha Washington’s Great Cake.

I got the recipe from a 2008 Christmastime visit to Mt. Vernon. With the original recipe calling for 40 eggs–separated–it’s no wonder it took me seven years to attempt it.

Thankfully the recipe has been adapted for the 21st century with only a quarter of the eggs. But when my egg whites didn’t turn out the first time–and a yolk broke during round two of egg-cracking fun–I used more eggs than I’d like to admit.


Not only was the third time a charm, it made the tedious steps of adding those fluffed-to-perfection egg whites and a pound of sugar ONE SPOONFUL AT A TIME seem like a piece of cake. I felt like a rebel adding fresh fruit–take that packaged dry goods!–and the addition of a quarter cup of both wine and brandy only made a good thing better.

I enlisted my largest cake pan to bake the behemoth of a cake for–get this–75 minutes. That’s about three or four times more than a standard cake. But with nearly a carton of eggs and a pound or more EACH of butter, sugar, flour and assorted fruits and nuts, this is one heavy cake.

As the minutes ticked by–both on my kitchen timer and the countdown to midnight–my anticipation grew. What was this thing going to taste like anyway? Was my final bake of 2015 going to be a success or flop? And what about next year? What was 2016 going to dish up–both in and out of the kitchen? I love how NYE offers a sense of finality, a figurative bow wrapped neatly around a year, but also endless possibilities for the year ahead–with it’s own challenges, victories and occasional fails.

I’m happy to report that 2015 ended on a high note–with a weighty cake worthy of a crowd. It turned out to be part fruit cake, part pound cake, and part 2016 confidence booster.

Let’s do this.

Martha Washington’s Great Cake

Makes sooooo many servings; you won’t run out

10 eggs

1 pound butter

1 pound (2 cups) of sugar

1 1/4 pounds (4 1/8 cup) flour

1 1/4 pounds assorted fruits and nuts (we did roughly 5 oz. pear, 9 1/2 oz. apple, 3 1/2 oz. raisins and 2 oz. crushed pecans)

2 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg

2 1/2 teaspoons ground mace (the outer shell of nutmeg)

2 ounces wine (we used Chardonnay)

2 ounces French brandy (or whatever your go-to is)

Separate the egg whites from yolks and let them come to temperature for about 30 minutes. Save the yolks!

Beat egg whites to a “soft peak” using a hand mixer with the whisk attachment. Meanwhile, in a stand mixer, cream the butter then slowly add the egg whites, one spoonful at a time.

Slowly add the sugar, one spoonful at a time, to the egg whites and butter. Add egg yolks. Add flour–you guessed it–slowly.

With a large mixing spoon, stir in fruit, mace, nutmeg, wine and brandy.  Lightly grease and flour your largest cake pan (I used an angel-food cake pan) and bake at 350 degress for 75 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.*

As the cake cools, make the icing:

The original 18th-century recipe calls for an egg white-based icing that hardens in a 200-degree oven for an hour, but since I was out of eggs–and time–I reimagined the recipe which called for grated lemon peel and orange-flower water. I’d make this citrus-y icing again! Not only is citrus in season here, but readily available in my backyard. Win-win.

Mix 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar with the zest and juice of one small orange and lemon until the icing is smooth, spreadable and not too thick. Add additional juice as necessary. Spread on top of cake, encouraging it to drip down the sides like a Bundt cake.

*If you use fresh fruit, the sliced cake might have a series of wet-looking spots. Don’t worry, it’s cooked! There is probably a way to mitigate this, although it didn’t really take away from the taste or texture of the cake.

Recipe adapted from Mt. Vernon

Psst! Because it’s the final season of Downton–and I’m back to being a Lady’s Maid this week–this post from a year ago.

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Doughnuts and sugar cookies and hot fudge sauce, oh my!

24 Sep


I promise I’ll be back soon with some more deep thoughts about parenting, but I’m coming off a weeklong sugar-high and want to jot down these recipes before I forget the specifics. Of course, I could just direct you to Joy the Baker since that’s where all three of these gems came from, but what would be the fun in that?

First, a larger-than-usual midweek playgroup found me baking nearly four dozen doughnuts in the predawn hours (one of my favorite times to bake) that were OUT.OF.THIS.WORLD. They taste as good as they look and were a whole lot of fun to make–especially dunking them into bowls of rainbow jimmies and coconut flakes with help from my favorite redheaded assistant.

Then, there was the baby shower and ice cream social that I hosted for my sister Saturday:

Ice cream social

I’ve wanted to have an ice cream social ever since I inherited my great-grandmother’s ice cream dishes. And it turned out to be a GREAT idea for a party. We dished up old-fashioned scoops, cones, sundaes, rootbeer floats, mini banana splits and ice cream sandwiches–serious fun and seriously delicious. Now that I know how easy it is to make hot fudge sauce, all future ice cream dished up in this house will receive The Royal Hot Fudge Treatment.

Then, there were these cookies: (OMG, these cookies!)

I wanted something for our guests to nibble on pre or post sundaes and possibly double as a vehicle to make ice cream sandwiches. Enter Joy’s Sugar Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches. WOW. It makes a satisfyingly large cookie and was just so, sooooo good. I know this blog already has several sugar cookie recipes, but this may be my new favorite. Plus, no rolling out the dough!!!! Is there anything more annoying than rolling out cookie dough?? Clearly I’m a drop-cookie person.

Cue the recipes. I’ve included some ice cream social details if you want to try hosting one! You just have to promise to invite me. :)

Double Chocolate Cake Doughnuts

Makes about 10 doughnuts (I quadrupled the recipe and got 42 doughnuts*)

Recipe adapted from Joy the Baker

For the Doughnuts:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 large egg

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted until just browned

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the Chocolate Glaze:

1 1/4 cup powdered sugar (I think I used 1 cup by mistake; powdered sugar icings are VERY forgiving)

3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder**

3 to 4 tablespoons milk

2 teaspoons pure vanilla

Rainbow jimmies or shredded coconut or whatever your heart desires

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt, and brown sugar.

In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk, egg, melted butter, and vanilla extract until thoroughly combined.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and fold together until all of the ingredients are well combined.  Scrape the bottom of the bowl to ensure that you’re not leaving any flour behind.  Use a small spoon to portion batter into a greased doughnut baking pan.  Each doughnut mold should be about two-thirds full.  Bake doughnuts at 325 degrees for 11 minutes or until a skewer inserted into one of the doughnuts comes out clean.  Invert the doughnuts onto a wire rack to cool completely before dipping (I found a small cutting board worked well).

To make the glaze, in a medium bowl whisk together powdered sugar, cocoa powder and salt.  Add milk and vanilla until the glaze is thick but still pourable. Add additional milk or powdered sugar if you need to thin or thicken the mixture.

Dip each doughnut*** (I dipped the bottom side for presentation purposes) into the chocolate glaze, letting some of the excess drip off before dunking in assorted topping bowls. Joy says these doughnuts are best served within two days of baking, but if you have any leftover after 24 hours you have CLEARLY DONE SOMETHING WRONG.

Playgroup tip: Cutting them in half is not only perfect for toddler-size hands, but they’ll also look like little rainbows!

*Maxes out a large mixing bowl

**For a variety play, I omitted the cocoa from the first couple dozen to make white-iced doughnuts. Once the icing loses it’s bright-white appearance, add the cocoa!

***Only needed to triple the recipe

Sugar Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches

Adapted from Joy the Baker

Makes about 18 large cookies

1 1/2 cup sugar

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup sugar or so, for rolling cookies

1/2 gallon of your favorite ice cream (optional)

In the bowl of a stand mixer, fit with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla extract.

Sift together the dry ingredients and add all at once to the butter and egg mixture. Mix until just combined.

Form dough into 2-inch balls and roll in granulated sugar.  Place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake at 375 degrees until the edges are just slightly golden, about 12+ minutes. The cookies spread a lot so I recommend no more than 9 per baking sheet.

Let cool completely on a wire rack before scooping a generous scoop of ice cream on top of the bottom side of one cookie.  Top with another sugar cookie.  Refreeze before wrapping individually in plastic wrap. Or just eat the cookies.

Hot Fudge Sauce

Adapted from the Joy the Baker Cookbook (sorry, no link!)

Makes about 2 cups

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/3 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup

3/4 cup heavy cream

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon instant coffee

7 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate (we used Ghirardelli baking chips)

2 tablespoons butter

2 teaspoons vanilla

Place a medium, heavy bodied saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder, brown sugar, corn syrup, cream, salt, instant coffee and half of the chocolate to the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate has melted and everything is smooth, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add remaining chocolate, butter and vanilla. Stir until smooth and shiny.

Cool slightly and serve or leave on the stovetop on low and let guests help themselves. Leftovers store great in the fridge; just reheat in the microwave for several seconds. I’ll report back on how it freezes.

Party Thoughts

  • Guests won’t necessarily have to sit at a table to eat, which is sooooo nice for a larger gathering
  • About 4 tubs of ice cream (we used Breyers 1.5qt) serves 20ish people (vanilla is WAY more popular than chocolate)
  • Toppings might include maraschino cherries, crushed Oreos, some sort of crushed chocolate candy (think Reese’s or Butterfinger), sliced bananas, M&M’s, chocolate and/or butterscotch chips, rainbow and chocolate jimmies, crushed peanuts, sliced strawberries and gummy bears (Emily’s favorite)
  • Cake and sugar cones are nice too…although no one will take one with so many topping options!
  • A half slice of banana on each side of a small ice cream dish makes a PERFECT mini banana split
  • A nondairy option, such as sorbet, is a sweet offer for those with dairy allergies
  • Don’t forget the whipped cream!

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She won’t remember this

29 Jul

She won't remember sleeping in her crib...

Among the many things she won’t remember…sleeping in a crib

In the many, many hours I’ve spent caring for my daughter as a stay-at-home mom–some of them exhilarating, like watching her take those first (four) tiny steps, and others routine (dare I say boring?) like feeding her Cheerios for the millionth time–I often have the same thought:

She won’t remember this.

She won't remember waddling into our neighbor's house on Halloween

She won’t remember waddling into our neighbor’s house on Halloween.

While it’s clear she’s able to remember much more than she could in babyhood, it’s unlikely (impossible?) that she’ll remember much–or anything–about the Terrible/Terrific Twos. In some ways I suppose this is good. I’m glad she won’t remember the three or four panicky minutes we lost her at the Children’s Museum and another mom found her crying in the Noodle Forest–the one place we didn’t look because it was the one place she never played. But that means she also won’t remember that really fun time at the zoo when all the big cats were roaring or any of her birthday tea parties that we put so much thought and time and love into or the first time she hiked the entirety of the Pinnacle Peak trail (1.75 miles! UPHILL!) and her Daddy and I were so proud that we did an impromptu happy dance in the middle of the trail. She won’t remember waddling up and down the street in her chicken costume last Halloween (THE cutest chicken ever) or seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time. Even the day-in-day-out stuff probably won’t make it into the long-term memory bank, like when we chase her in her hooded owl towel EVERY NIGHT after her bath (as if we won’t catch her and she won’t have to go to bed) or going to her weekly playgroup or grooving to “Jumping and Counting” at our local library music class.

And you know what? It doesn’t matter.

She won't remember seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time

She won’t remember seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time.

Not because the first few years are all about growth and development and making brain connections and other building-blocks-of-life-important stuff. They are and it is. Not because even though she won’t remember, I will (and I have a thousand pictures in case my memory needs jogging). I will remember it, some of it anyway–even if it does become a bit foggy (I always find it funny–and somewhat comforting–how much our own moms don’t remember). But because spending so much time with my daughter has taught me this: There is only right now.

It doesn’t matter that she won’t remember…because she lives in the present.

She won't remember the million times I chased her around and around and around the kitchen island

She won’t remember the million and one times I chased her around and around and around the kitchen island.

This is never more true than 2. Their attention spans are short. So, so short. If they push another child on the playground and you tell them no pushing! 10 seconds after the fact they won’t know why they’re in trouble. What’d ya talking about mom? I’m playing happily in the sand right now. The live in the here and nowand maybe we should too.

As adults, we’re often too distracted by the past or future to give our full attention to the present. And while we know we should pay more attention to the task at hand, toddlers live it.

It’s easier for them. They have to. They have to pay attention to everything because they’re figuring everything out. 

She won't remember holding my hand as she walked the entirety of the Pinnacle Peak Trail for the first time (1.75 miles! Woot!)

She won’t remember holding my hand as she walked the entirety of the Pinnacle Peak trail for the first time (1.75 miles! WOOT!)

Our lives are more complicated because we have more than block-tower-building going on–namely because we’re taking care of them–but when you spend 50-plus working hours a week with someone who rarely thinks about the next five minutes, it starts to rub off on you. There really is just now. So we might as well make the most of it. Neither of us will likely remember the epic doll dance party we had in the family room yesterday afternoon or the half-hour we spent chasing a friendly dragonfly in the backyard the afternoon before that. But in those moments we lived–really lived–not at all concerned or distracted by the events that came before or after.

I can think of no better way to make the most of these so-called longest shortest years…before they’re just memories.

Or more likely just a big happy blur.

Chocolate-chip Buttermilk Pancakes

There are two things I really hope she does remember from her early childhood: Pa’s JIFFY blueberry-cornmeal pancakes and my chocolate-chip buttermilk pancakes. She eats both regularly–THIS is the stuff childhood memories are made of. 

Just another Saturday morning…

Makes 8 pancakes, but we often double the recipe and freeze the leftovers.

1 cup flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk (regular milk works fine; don’t let it stop you from making these on a lazy Saturday morning!)

1 beaten egg

2 tablespoons cooking oil

A handful or two of chocolate chips

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and soda, and salt. Make a well in the center and set aside. In a small bowl or mixing cup, combine the buttermilk, egg and cooking oil. Add egg mixture all at once to the flour mixture and stir until just moistened. Batter will be thick, but you can thin it out with additional buttermilk if necessary. Finally, toss in some chocolate chips (a handful or two will do; roughly the same ratio as if you were making chocolate-chip cookies).

Pour 1/3 cup batter per pancake onto a medium-hot griddle and cook until golden brown on both sides. Eat while the chocolate chips are still melt-y and gooey! Sticky-fingered kids make happy kids!

Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens

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“I do it my own”

15 Jul

Wild child among the wildflowers

Wild child among the wildflowers

Since Emily turned 2, there are five little words that echo through our four walls like a broken record:

“I do it my own”

That’s 2-year-old speak for “Please don’t help me; I’ve got this, mom. I’m gonna do it allllll by myself, m’kay?”

And she does.

She takes off her own socks and shoes (she’d put them on too if she could). She brushes her own teeth and combs her own hair. She empties the dishwasher (she puts all the plasticwear–mostly hers–on the counter and leaves the breakables for me). She climbs into her car seat all by herself and proceeds to buckle herself in. She hoists herself (very carefully) into the bathtub. She even memorized her bedtime story so she could “read” it to me–on her own.

All the while spouting: I do it my own.

Her second favorite saying?

“I help”

Even princesses have to do the dishes…

Really, this is just another way for her to do things on her own. “I help, Mommy” usually means I’m gonna get some “help” in the kitchen. Stirring, measuring ingredients and sneaking tastes. She is really quite capable. While she can’t really “cook” yet, she’s a master of assembly. A pro at layering lasagnas and filling enchiladas with shredded meats and cheeses. Of course, we makes messes. Lots of ’em. But thankfully she helps me clean up too.

“I help, Daddy” likely means she’s going to dig random holes in the backyard or mow the lawn with her bubble mower alongside a hard-working daddy. All the while giggling and having the time of her life.

I love her independence. Her confidence. Her free spirit. She’ll run up to a group of first-graders on the playground, say “hi!” and proceed to laugh at jokes she doesn’t understand. (Basically she’s like that awkward person at a party who elbows her way into a conversation and laughs at the tail end of a joke. I love her for that.)

"Helping" Daddy with yard work

“Helping” Daddy with yard work

And for the most part, we step back and let her “do it her own.” We watch. We wait patiently as she discovers something new and boasts “I did it!” We give her space to learn things about herself and the world she lives in. We stand nearby “in case you need us” we helpfully offer. We don’t catch her every fall or worry about every scrapped knee, but we’re always within arms reach when she bites of a little more than she can chew.

Which is often.

Because 2-year-olds have HORRIBLE judgment. They don’t have the life experience or brain development or simple maturity to make the best decisions. Case in point: Emily decided it would fun/interesting/and maybe a little bit ornery of her to dump half a bottle of really sudsy baby shampoo on the guest room carpet. Then she blamed it on the cat. Ha! (But the joke’s on her because that’s going to be her room when she gets older).

Messes aside, when it comes to health and safety, we intercede. She is growing up fast. And that’s OK with us. We wish neither to speed it up or slow it down, but rather enjoy this moment in time…this phase that will come and go just like all the others have before it.

She’s forging ahead–doing it on her own–with a little help from Mommy and Daddy. ;)

P.S. Cherries are finalllly on super sale! Baking this pie this weekend. 

P.P.S. I know it’s been HALF A YEAR, but I plan to be back in this space again soon. :)


Mamas, We Are the Lady’s Maids of Downton Abbey

22 Jan


It’s Downton season, mamas. PBS is suddenly in vogue. Evening tea is a weekly ritual. And everyone is taking those silly quizzes to find out Which Downton Abbey Character Are You?

Let me spare you 5 minutes. If you have young daughters, the answer is: Lady’s Maid.

True, you may think that you’re the lady of the house, with the master bedroom and a formal title (either Mama or Mommy or Mommeeee or Mmmamamama!), but the real lady of the house is probably your 2-year-old daughter.

At least she is in ours.

Her bedroom may be the tiniest, but it’s likely the most thoughtfully decorated, highly-curated and Pinterest-worthy room in your manor. There may even be a mini chandy.

She rings the “gong” each morning–actually just a cry for Mommy–to change and dress her. It doesn’t matter whether or not I’m ready to start my shift, as Downton fans know, the gong waits for no one. Sending a substitute, such as the head butler (aka Daddy), simply won’t do.

The little lady needs her Lady’s Maid.

Patmore and Daisy

Downstairs, I temporarily morph into a downstairs cast member, and take on the dual role of head cook and kitchen maid. I make Cheerios like it’s nobody’s business and cut up fresh fruit for the lady of the house. When she devours the whole thing with enthusiastic mmmm’s, I feel like Mrs. Patmore. When she ceremoniously dumps it on the floor, I feel like Daisy the kitchen maid.

When mealtime is over, I’m back to being a Lady’s Maid. I’m at her beck and call around the clock, catering to her every whim and desire. I try to sneak in a cup or two of tea now and then, even the Downton servants, after all, are allotted proper tea breaks. But the lady always seems to need me to attend to a Very Important Matter–such as building a giant Mega Bloks tower– before I can finish a cup.

During her nap, I tend to her frocks. This little lady has a wardrobe that rivals any duchess of York–or my own. She has so many shoes, tops, dresses, leggings and coordinating hair bows that figuring out how to combine them all is a full-time job in itself. Fortunately, the lady has more than a few opinions on what she wants to wear-or more often, not wear–so this task does not fall solely on me.

I spend most of my efforts washing, de-staining (always with the de-staining!), mending (that’s a lie; I outsource that to Grandma because I’m a Lady’s Maid Who Can’t Sew), and matching tiny socks with their coordinating Disney Princesses.

Then, there are the dinner parties. We don’t sit down to a Downton-style dinner every night, but we do entertain regularly and the hostess with the mostess likes to be the belle of the ball. During a dress rehearsal for her birthday party–a multi-course Mad Hatter-style tea–I inquire whom she wants to invite. After thinking it over for a moment, she thoughtfully replies: Woof! Attention Doggies of Downton, you are more than welcome at (or under) the dinner table this year.

Downtown opening credits

Anytime we set the table for more than our family of three, out come the stuffed toys. They occupy formally empty chairs nearly as fast as I can set the table. Multi-colored plastic bowls and toy measuring cups get mixed up with the Wedgewood china, and an old baby bottle is set out for the lady’s doll. The lady of the house greets each guest with toothy toddler smiles and ensures they’re thoroughly entertained throughout the evening–that is until it’s time for her to go to bed–at which time I, the Lady’s Maid, will draw our hostess a warm bath and tend to her nightly ritual of bath, story and bed.

If a day in the life of a Lady’s Maid seems daunting, fear not. The position of Lady’s Maid is an esteemed one on Downton Abbey; the women who hold the title work hard to achieve such status and have arrived, in a sense. Miss Baxter even waxes poetic about her good fortune in becoming a Lady’s Maid to a countess–and I think I know why.

It’s hard work, yes, but rewarding beyond comprehension. That’s why I’m proud to call myself a Lady’s Maid. It’s a badge of honor I wear on my daily mom uniform of Comfy Casual Chic–and I can’t help but beam with pride when I think about what it means to be a mom. I feel fulfilled, grateful and, most of all, happy in my work.

In other words, being a Lady’s Maid is like having a perma-pregnancy glow.

And on those days when being a Lady’s Maid feels especially taxing or overwhelming–and I just want to run away with the chauffeur (also Daddy) for a kid-free weekend–I have this thought:

Someday all too soon my little girl will grow up and leave the abbey–and I’ll be the lady of the house again.


All-the-Blueberries Buttermilk Waffles

18 Jan

Blueberry waffles 003

Oh, Joy, you’ve done it again.

I have so much to tell you about. Coconut-dipped chocolate donuts (yes! I made donuts! in my very own donut pan!). Our favorite great-aunt’s artichoke quiche (yes! I made quiche! and more importantly–pastry dough!). Very good lemon pound cake with lemon poppy seed buttercream (poppy seeds! Another Joy the Baker winner).

But the kitchen still smells of these absolutely heavenly, fluffy, hearty blueberry waffles so I had to share. It’s the perfect Belgium waffle, really. And a serious contender for this year’s Mother’s Day brunch (thoughts fellow mamas?).

Speaking of, I’m working on a fun piece about motherhood and Downton Abbey that I’m pretty excited about. I may even try to get it published somewhere. Stay tuned . . .

But for now, you get waffles.

All-the-Blueberries Buttermilk Waffles

Makes 3 Belgium Waffles

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons sugar

1/3 cup melted unsalted butter

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 1/4 cups buttermilk

1 heaping cup fresh blueberries, plus more for topping

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar.

In a medium bowl, whisk together melted butter, eggs, vanilla and buttermilk. Add the wet ingredients, all at once to the dry ingredients. Stir until just incorporated. Stir in the blueberries; an enthusiastic almost-2-year-old “helper” makes an excellent assistant. ;) Try not to over-mix the batter. If a few lumps remain, that’s OK.

Make the waffles!


Italian Cream Cake and 90-something Birthdays

7 Nov

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I have one regret about our favorite great-aunt’s 90th birthday: I didn’t make her a birthday cake.

Yes, there was a late (and rather last-minute) flight the night before, a then 8-month-old baby to contend with and blah, blah, blah. Still, I wish I’d made her a birthday cake so nobody had to pick up a sheet cake at the supermarket.

So we made plans to come out for her 91st birthday. And instead of luncheon at the Denver Botanical Garden with a plethora of party-goers, we had an intimate dinner of crepes on a lovely fall day at a relative’s house–with homemade birthday cake.

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This is the first cake I ever made–and I made it for the lady who taught me how. It is not a simple cake. Far from it actually with the whole three-layer thing, whipping and folding in of egg whites, chopping of pecans and maraschino cherries, and just generally having lots of steps and special ingredients (imitation butter flavoring, anyone?). But it is a special cake. One that has been made for 50th wedding anniversaries and other important life milestones. You know, like 91st birthdays.

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It’s my favorite cake too. And every cake I’ve made thereafter has seemed, well, like a piece of cake. It tastes especially delicious on birthdays and decorated with conversation hearts on Valentine’s Day. Then again most recipes passed down from a loved one taste especially sweet.

Of course, there’s nothing sweeter than seeing these two together:

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Can’t you feel the love?

Italian Cream Cake

Makes enough for a large party, but don’t worry, the leftovers won’t go to waste ;)

For the cake:

1 cup butter (the original recipe calls for half butter, half shortening)

1 2/3 cup sugar

6 eggs, separated, at room temp

1 cup buttermilk

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cream of tarter

2 cups flour

3/4 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon imitation butter flavoring

2 cups shredded coconut

1 cup pecans, chopped

1/2 cup (or more) maraschino cherries, quartered

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks one at a time and beat well after each addition.

Add buttermilk, alternating with dry ingredients, ending with flour mixture.

Stir in flavorings (vanilla and butter flavoring), coconut, pecans and cherries (it helps if these are chopped and ready to go)

In another large bowl, beat egg whites with cream of tarter until stiff peaks form. Gently fold into cake mixture.

Pour batter into 3 well-greased round pans* and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool completely before removing from pans.

For the frosting:

1/2 cup butter, room temp

8 oz cream cheese, room temp

4 cups powdered sugar

1/4 teaspoon imitation butter flavoring

3/4 teaspoon vanilla

Cream butter and cheese. Gradually add sugar and flavorings until smooth and creamy.

*It helps if you line the bottom of pans with wax paper, flipping it over to grease both sides.

From the kitchen of a very special great-aunt

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When Mommy and Daddy are away…

28 Sep

The redhead will PLAY!

when mommy and daddy are away

And that’s what she did the first time we left our sweet baby girl with my parents for 24 hours. She was 18 months, I’d stopped breastfeeding the month prior, and we’d been dreaming of a little getaway for the two of us for some time.

But where would we go? What would we do? And–more importantly–who could we con into watching her? The promise of some summer East Coast business trips that didn’t pan out had me drooling–and I mean DROOLING–over the prospect of a cross-country flight ALL. BY. MYSELF. Just me, a window seat, a gigantic stack of magazines, maybe a cocktail (or two), and zero responsibility for another human being other than myself. I didn’t care that most of the weekend would’ve actually been eaten up by travel time; I longed, ached even, to get on that plane. You mamas know what I’m talking about.

But when it came down to it, we really wanted to spend what little time we had together, not slingshot-ed back and forth across the country in a metal tube. And when we fortuitously got our hands on a copy of Phoenix Magazine’s summer staycation issue, we thought YES. Spending the night at a local resort meant our total travel investment would be 30 minutes max, and yet we could feel like we were miles away if we settled on a part of town other than own. We’d be nearby in case of emergency–and for everybody’s peace of mind.

So we sold the idea to my parents–and promptly booked a room at the Arizona Biltmore before they could change their minds (come to think of it, we may have booked the room first and then crossed our fingers they’d say yes). But no matter. It was actually happening.

Emily didn’t have the best week leading into it, which made me all the more excited about our 24-hour vaca…and nervous that she’d give her caretakers a horrible time and we’d never get to do anything like this ever again. But our tantrum-happy tot was nothing but smiles and giggles for Grandma and Grandpa–and she was so busy playing that I’m not even sure she missed us all that much.




As the very wise Molly Wizenberg of Orangette said of leaving her toddler behind on her book tour:  I want her to have sturdy attachments to people who aren’t her parents. We’re blessed with grandparents, aunts, uncles–our entire immediate family actually (on both sides!!)–in the state (most within a 15-minute radius of our house). And she looooves her “nanas” and “pas” and aunties and uncles and cousin “Dan Dan.” They say it takes a village. THIS is her village. And why we can never leave AZ.

I’m not sure who had more fun. Her? Us?? The grandparents??? I can speak for myself (and Eric) that while we missed our darling girl (and talked about her frequently, as we’re wont to do on date nights ), it was a nice change of pace not to be “Mom” and “Dad” for 24 hours. I wore high heels. No one flung food at me. I didn’t have to plan my day around anyone’s nap schedule (other than my own). There was a dive-in movie and lobster rolls at a swim-up bar. We even went down the water slide a few times for the heck of it. I had a mimosa at breakfast.

I’m not sure we would’ve fully appreciated the staycation experience pre-kid. But, wow, post-kid, it was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.

And we were glad to see our little redheaded ray of sunshine the next day. She was so excited to show us where she slept (Hey! Did you know there’s a special sleeping room at Grandma’s and Grandpa’s?? No? OK then, I’ll show you and pretend to tuck you in for the next 20 minutes.). She and I had a better week that week. And that staycation vacation feeling happily lingered…

b&w biltmore

PS: A GIGANTIC thank you to my amazing parents. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Emily’s lucky to have such awesome grandparents!

PPS: For the other 364 days of the year: THIS

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On Birthdays and Boston Cream Pie

20 Jul

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I’ve had this blog for almost 3 years and somehow it does not include my Boston Cream Pie. What?!!!

However, it does include the spooktacular Boston “Scream” Pie Halloween rendition.

It’s my MIL’s favorite birthday pie cake…and also my grandmother’s…and occasionally gets requested by my sister.

I’ve dubbed it THE BIRTHDAY PIE.

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Eating leftover birthday cake for breakfast like a grown-up. Because that’s what grown-ups do, right?? #dontmindthechocolatebeard

I love making birthday cakes. And baking for others in general. It’s such an–often literally–sweet way to show someone you care about them. I am always reminded of this NPR essay from the This I Believe archives (listen to it–it’s good). We relive our past and honor those who came before us when we bake treasured family recipes, and pave the way for the future when we try new recipes–destined to become family favorites and part of new traditions.

And so I bake. Birthday cakes for family. Cookies for playdates. Pumpkin pie for my pumpkin-loving husband.

Despite the dishes, it all adds up to a pretty sweet life–especially the eating-cake-for-breakfast part. ;-)

Boston Cream Pie

Part 1: The Cake

I love, love, love this hot-milk sponge cake.

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 cup sugar

5 large eggs

1/4 milk

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

In a small bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat sugar and eggs until light-colored, tripled in volume and the consistency of softly whipped cream. Meanwhile, heat butter and milk in a small saucepan until butter is melted.

In roughly 3 additions, gently fold the flour mixture into the egg mixture. Reheat the milk mixture until it’s piping hot and fold it in until well combined. Pour into 2 greased 9-inch round cake pans and bake for 20 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The cake should also lightly spring back to the touch when done. Let cool at least slightly before removing from pan.

Part 2: The Filling

Since the pastry cream* needs to be refrigerated, you can make it first if you please–or even the day before.

1/3 cup sugar

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons cornstarch

4 large egg yolks

1 1/3 cups milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

In a medium bowl, beat sugar, flour, cornstarch and eggs on high until thick and pale yellow, at least 2 minutes. Meanwhile, bring milk to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Gradually pour 1/3 of the hot-milk mixture into the egg mixture, stirring to combine. Scrape the egg mixture back into the pan and continue to cook over low to medium heat until the mixture is thickened and begins to bubble–whisking constantly to avoid scorching it. Then, continue to cook for 45 to 60 seconds.

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Pour into a clean bowl and cover the surface with a piece of wax paper to prevent a skin from forming. Let cool, then refrigerate before using.

*I know it sounds fancy, but it’s really not hard to pull off!

Part 3: The Chocolate Glaze

Here’s the part where I tell you to just throw some chocolate and maybe sugar and a little bit of liquid in a double boiler and see what happens. ;-)

6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

6 tablespoons freshly brewed coffee, milk or water

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter or less, cut into small pieces.

The ingredients listed above appear in the Joy of Cooking’s Bittersweet Chocolate Glaze Recipe–which I always use but almost never follow. The key is to melt the chocolate, add some sugar to make it sweeter if desired (sometimes I start with an unsweetened baker’s bar so the added sugar is a must), add some liquid (usually milk) until it is meltly and smooth. Remove from heat then add as much butter as seems reasonable (almost never more than 1/2 stick) and drizzle the whole thing over the cake, letting it drip down the sides as pictured above. You can’t mess this up.

That’s it! Refrigerate until serving, but let come to room temp for 20 minutes or so to take the chill off. All recipes adapted from The Joy of Cooking.

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