Category Archives: food

The 2-for-1-Special Springtime Birthday

One thing you have to admit for our family planning, we are really going to save money on birthday parties. Man, have we beat the system!

Last year I was convinced Alton was going to be born on Harper’s birthday, and so we had her tiny tea party a little early, but he had the good manners/laziness to be born weeks later. That was fun! I’m kidding, it was miserable! Anyway. So their birthdays ended up being two weeks apart, in different months even so they each get their own little sector of spring, but close enough that for the next few years anyway we can force them let them share a birthday party.

I decided a spring theme made sense, which meant some fake cherry blossom sprigs, some springy bunting, and two cake-foods. For the Harper side of things, dainty pink cupcakes with gum paste cherry blossoms that I lovingly crafted by hand. Come on, my kids eat nuggets every night. I ordered those suckers online. And for the Alton side of things, a chocolate cake that looked like mud, which is to say, slathered in chocolate pudding and crumbled cookies and gummy worms and slugs. For some reason, some of the guests found this to be off-putting. There was pin-the-tail-on-the-robin, but more importantly, tons of balloons. And that was it. We played records. We gave the grownups mimosas and bagels. Alton wandered around like a puppy, climbing into people’s laps and stealing their food. Harper occasionally reminded her guests not to take home her presents. Murray got shy at the last minute and stayed home with all his cats in Paris. It was really so much fun, and we felt so thankful to all the friends and new neighbors who came by, and very house-warmed and heart-warmed.

Here are some photos Adam took. And you can also get a peek at our new place, which we are semi-settled into. So without further ado, here is why is my novel revisions are not into my editor yet:

McMe-Time With Fries

They made me do it.

I am writing this blog post on my phone, in my parked car, having just participated in one of the most salacious, shameful activities in my mom-repetoire, so embarrassing that I feel compelled to immediately share with the world. It involves… sleeping children. And… fast food.

But before I dive in, let me just provide some context– after an exciting morning of having a cavity filled (honestly, the most restful moment of the day), I spent an hour getting the kids ready to go to the doctor. This had me a little anxious already; last time we went to the doctor’s Harper distinguished herself by shouting,  “I’m not listening to you! I’m going to escape!” and running out of the room. This morning she is being especially contrary, vetoing the sweater I offer, turning down the suggested boots with disgust, really wanting Special Baby to go in the car seat instead of Ollie. (How do you argue with something like that?) Getting downstairs takes cajoling, getting across the street to where the car is parked takes threats, by the time I’m trying to get her in the car seat she’s kicking at my face (“I want to do everything all by myself on my own!”) while Ollie watches the show, and I’m yelling at her there on the avenue for all to see. “Stop kicking me!” I add as I shut the door, just in case any disapproving eavesdropper needs to know why I’m spewing venom at a sweet-faced little blonde clutching her dolly.

So. Then, the doctor’s office, where Harper repeats her trickery despite not being the one being examined at all, pushing at the doctor’s chair experimentally and whispering, “No doctor for me OR Ollie.” One shot and one screaming baby later, we are headed home. “I’m going to be a doctor when I grow up!” Harper announces as we get back in the car.

Now, we don’t drive often. This used to be because, hello, we live in New York City which is where people live when they are superior beings who walk places and frequent local shops. Now I admit, it’s mostly because finding parking in our neighborhood is an exercise in futility, so that my outings are all coordinated with alternate side parking, when the streets miraculously clear for the street sweepers, only to have every spot filled the instant it’s legal again. So driving is a little bit of a novelty for the kids, and for me, and so I am unused to this weird phenomenon of the kids both falling asleep in their car seats on our way back from anywhere.

Car naps used to disturb me because I used to care about “junk sleep” and “nap schedules.” Then I had another baby. Now I take what I can get. And when both kids are asleep at the same time, it’s like a spa vacation. In my car. So you know what I do?

I drive to McDonalds. I do. And I go through the drive-through. I do! McDonalds is so evil and disgusting! I, who used to be a vegan who lectured people on how supporting companies like McDonalds was destroying the earth and making angels cry! And… “Ah, can I get an iced coffee? And, like, a grilled chicken sandwich? Do you have something like that? A grilled chicken sandwich?”

“A McChicken?”

“Um, is that grilled?” I hear how ridiculous this sounds and correct myself, “Yes, please.” (It is not. It is a big chicken finger covered in greenish ribbons imitating lettuce and something like mayonnaise.) (It is DELICIOUS.) “Is the chicken organic?” I’m kidding, I don’t ask that. But I do think it. Oh, and can I just say that the sandwich, coffee, and fruit thingy that I get all cost $5? Do people know about this? That’s amazing!

And then, there I am, parked on a tree-lined Park Slope street, my kids snoozing away in neck-kinking slumps, sipping a McDonalds iced coffee (the medium is large enough to kill a horse — what is wrong with this country?! — oh, and delicious), and you know what? It’s the second-most relaxing moment of my day. After having my cavity filled.

PS Read more about how deeply, embarrassingly imperfect of a mother I am over at an even-more public forum here!

Peanut Butter Playdough

peanut butter playdough

All amusements should be so edible.

The last few weeks have been characterized around here by a horrid, lingering fevery illness that each of us got, one by one. Harper is prone to subsisting on air and maybe a bit of milk here and there, and being sick did nothing for her usual minuscule appetite. But one day I managed to trick her into eating some nice high-protein peanut butter. How? PSYCHOLOGY.

She loves playdough, and like all kids everywhere, spends a lot of her playdough time sneaking furtive licks of the salty globs. So I made some edible peanut butter playdough. And guess what? She ate it! Sucker!  I spent a lot of time saying, “Now remember, usually we don’t eat playdough but this kind you can eat.” She nodded, wide-eyed, as if certain I was tricking her somehow. Which I guess I was. Anyway, it’s super easy to make and actually pretty yummy, and once you’ve played with it a bit takes on a nice smooth texture and mellow brown color, perfect for rolling into little snakes that look just like poops. Good times.

Here’s the recipe:

-1 cup peanut butter
-1/2 cup honey
-2 cups powdered sugar

Mix ingredients until your hand sort of hurts. Store in an airtight container or plastic baggie with air sucked out of the bag.

peanut butter playdough

Ha, ha -- I got you to eat.

Toddler Birthday Parties For All!

This week is always a tough one for me: Father’s Day, Adam’s birthday, and our wedding anniversary, all in one fell, evil swoop. I usually respond by retreating. Who needs a good gift when you can offer a fantastic apology? Aren’t all these holidays really about disappointment anyway? Isn’t that part of the FUN? But this year, the day before Adam’s birthday, I got inspired. “Harper, tomorrow is Daddy’s birthday. What makes a happy birthday?”

“Cupcake,” Harper answered without missing a beat. “Balloons.”

This kid knows what’s what. I had a revelation: whenever you get that post-birthday sense that your birthday wasn’t birthday-y enough, it’s probably because it lacked the kid-birthday-party trappings that you subconsciously expect. So the day before Adam’s birthday we set out with our shopping cart, I mean double stroller, and trolled the neighborhood for birthday trappings. Streamers, check. Balloons, check. Helium balloons, check. Just what every 31-year-old man wants: a big, shiny, Elmo balloon.

At home we baked Adam’s requisite birthday treat, his grandmother’s famous recipe, a rich chocolately situation known as wacky cake. (I’ve made this cake every year we’ve been together and let me just say that June birthdays are completely stupid. Nothing is less refreshing than baking a frigging cake on an 80-degree summer’s day. I recommend that people think about this when family-planning.) Am I allowed to reveal the wacky cake recipe? I don’t know. I will tell you this much: when baking with a toddler, do by all means search for an eggless recipe like this one, which calls for oil and white vinegar but no eggs. Harper was ecstatic to be allowed to lick the spoon. After ingesting about a cup of batter she sighed and said, “I don’t think I like chocolate.” Later on she decorated it with some Haribo gummy berries, a bit of wacky cake heresy (it is generally dressed only in a slinky layer of shiny dark icing) that I felt was necessary given her love for accessories.

Harper was in a kind of a happy haze all day, asking every hour or so, “Daddy’s home yet?” We spoke to him on the phone (to tell him that Alton had rolled over!) and she blurted out, “Ollie rolled and we made a cake!” When he finally got home instead of yelling “Surprise!” like I’d coached her, she leapt around showing him the balloons and pointing to the wrapped packages on the table — “And we got shirts! And…”

Realistically, it was the most fun for her. But I think Adam liked it too. If not, well, I also can offer him the best birthday present of all:  apologetic excuses.

Adam's toddler birthday party

The coffee-filter flowers and Harper-paintings on the wall were still loitering around from Father's Day. Too bad there's no birthday cake left to serve on our anniversary. Seriously, this week is a killer.

Harper’s Tiny Tea Party

Harper is about to turn two in a few weeks here, but since her brother might just be born on her actual birthday (which we think is totally cute and everyone seems to think is basically child abuse) we went ahead and had a birthday party for her this weekend. And since every birthday party she has from here on out will probably be shared with Boombox, I decided to go totally girly with this one.

Happy birthday, kiddo.

When I started to look around at venues to rent, I realized that we were looking at probably at the very very least $300-400 for a few hours of toddlers smashing frosting into things. Especially with a kid so little and so undemanding in the sphere of entertainments (uh, and another on the way!), I just couldn’t justify the expense. Plus, hasn’t everyone been to birthday parties where the little guest of honor seems really stressed out the whole time but all the noisy, elaborate festivities? What’s the point? But could we have a birthday party at home, in our teeny-tiny 1.5 bedroom apartment? Reader, we did, and we have lived to tell the tale.

Like partying in a subway car. Minus the screaming homeless.

I heeded the advice you always get about the age of the child plus one and just invited three little girls and their moms. No room for dads even! Sorry, men! (Adam’s theory was that no adult is ever actually disappointed to miss out on a kid’s birthday party. As evidence he cited the (awesome) dad we encountered at a 2nd birthday party, drinking a 40 from a paper bag.) The only drawback to this was fielding Harper’s excited questions in the days preceding about her wonderful (male) friends coming to her party and telling her “Ah, no, Booker/August/‘Japser’/etc isn’t coming because, ah, well, because.” (Actually we invited four kids, assuming at least one wouldn’t be able to come, which ended up being exactly what happened. There were enough kids to seem like a party, but not so many people that Harper got overwhelmed or things felt chaotic.)

Harper can't stop talking about how everyone got on her bed and was laughing. That's how you know it's a party!

I really meant to keep track of how much I was spending on party preparations and then to post some gleeful total here – “All this for $34.75!” – but of course I lost track and then got confused about whether to include cost of ingredients for things I was baking – like, so, I didn’t have to buy sugar because I had it but I sure used a lot so how does that tally – and all that math was just killing my party mood. So I’m going to say the whole thing cost under $100. Although that might be a lie since we did send our faithful hound to a place we’ll generously call doggie daycare for the day and that might have tipped us over the $100 mark. But it was worth it to not have to guard our small guests against countless, overly passionate, garbage-can-scented tongue kisses, which for some reason some people seem to find disconcerting.

Before the kiddie chaos. You can kind of see the bunting. I didn't take very good photos of it. Oh well. Imagine it's perfect.

Harper and I made decorations, which helped her to get really excited for this otherwise slightly abstract party concept. She especially loved drawing pictures together on circles of construction paper, including stick-figurey portraits of our guests, and in the days before the party she’d point to them and go through their names all excitedly. One night I put together a couple strands of really simple paper bunting – triangles of origami paper taped to string, all of which I had lying around. It seriously took about 20 minutes.

Even star-shaped jelly sandwiches can't hold a candle to chocolate chip cookies.

I admit I got a little needlessly complex with the food. Because this was a tea party, after all, I decided we needed dainty finger sandwiches (I used this cucumber-and-mint recipe and also made some plain cream cheese-and-jelly ones) that I don’t think any of the girls touched, and strawberry scones and lemon curd. Having never made scones I was really pleased with this easy and delicious strawberry scone recipe. But again, the kids didn’t really care. One little girl ate a scone, but I think she just hadn’t noticed the cookies yet. Obviously all the girls really wanted were the chocolate chip cookies and marshmallows, and I think two of them had chamomile tea and maybe only I had the hot chocolate. Still, it was fun to do all the baking, even if it meant no one in my family ate an actual meal for two days because I was too busy with other things.

All pregnant ladies should have a tupperware container of leftover homemade buttercream frosting. And now I do. Hee.

The pink cupcakes were of course a big hit. I used this vanilla cupcake recipe, and I would just like to say a word about it here since there are like 4,000 comments online regarding the inconsistencies of the recipe. The recipe says to cook for 20 minutes, and the first batch I did, and my toothpick came out clean and they looked good for a few instants before deflating into gooey, eggy-smelling little mucous-balls. I did not feel happy. The next batch I left in for 30 minutes and voila! Perfect golden-brown cakey vehicles for frosting (which is all I personally care about anyway). For coloring the buttercream frosting, I recommend 4 or 5 drops of red food dye and 1 blue. Can I just note that for Harper’s first birthday party I made this all-natural, low-sugar, organic apple-pumpkin cake? HA!

Knowing how 2 year-olds are, I put away some Harper’s least-shareable toys, stocked the living room with a big roll of white paper, new crayons, stickers, play-dough (aka delicious salty snack globs) and bubbles (which I forgot about and never used). We played Harper’s favorite record (The Crystals, obviously) and let the kids run wild.

Instead of goody bags, I had the brilliant inspiration to give each girl a little stuffed bear from Ikea ($1.99 each!) and a play tea cup. The bears were identical. The girls immediately started fighting over the different colored teacups. Ach, so close.

And there you have it. Super simple, terrifically tiny, and on the cheap. And I wasn’t worried about getting my deposit back in case I went into labor. Afterwards, Harper spun around the living room, all high on sugar, chanting, “Oh what a day! Oh what a day!” I expect the same response from every birthday party she ever has.

"Best party ever, Mama! I will always be this easy to please!" Okay, I'm paraphrasing.

Toddler Project Fails and Wins

slime

Harper's assessment of homemade slime: "Mama made a big mess."

It’s been a long winter, and between New York’s unfairly Arctic snowdrifts and me being all big and pregnant for what seems like the past nine years or so, for us it’s been a season of inter-apartment adventures. Which really is okay. I tend to get sort of excited about projects. Maybe too excited. Harper’s winter refrain has become “Mama made a big mess.” And it’s true. Apparently my idea of a good time is engaging in complex craft projects that are entertaining for about 5-7 minutes and then involve lengthy clean-up on my part. Smart!

The above photo features “clean play slime,” which looked like a total housebound-afternoon godsend when I saw the recipe online. Harper found the finished product somewhat distressing, played with it for a few minutes after much coaxing, and then watched me wipe cornstarch off every surface in the kitchen. “Mama made a big mess.” Indeed.

Then there was the noble attempt at homemade finger paint. I don’t know what happened here, but I ended up with what looked like a big old pan of something I don’t want to type here for fear of all the googling creepos it might attract.

finger paint?

WTF.

That’s right. Mama made a big mess.

painting toast

This is neither here nor there, but it occurs to me that one of the funniest things about doing this blog is how often it has me publicly posting photos of my crappy and oft-loathed kitchen.

We have had some successes, though. Painting toast, a salmonella-less amendment to painting cookies, was suggested by the clever and crafty Lara Newsom.

painting toast

It's really hard. You probably couldn't handle it. You mix up food dye with milk, the kid paints it on bread, then you toast it. I can only do this because I am a total supermom.

Now this is a great project. Easy set-up, easy clean-up. A little wasteful, I realized guiltily when Harper started painting her ninth piece of bread.  Maybe in the spring we will bring some painted bread bits to the ducks in the park and cutely poison them all with food dye. Anyway Harper loves this project and asks to do it often, and swears the finished product tastes like a rainbow.

painting toast

Mmm! Rainbow toast!

Then there were the smiley pizzas. Man, was this one a hit. Part of its success was pure pedagogy: the whole thing was Harper’s idea. She’d been eying the recipe in her High Five magazine for weeks before she finally asked, “Maybe try it?” So we did, during one of those “existing on air” weeks, in the hopes that maybe if she was involved in making some food this child might actually eat something.

pizza

The sous-chefs study the recipe.

I made whole-wheat dough, which is super easy, even for me. Harper and I relieved our cabin fever stress by kneading it.  The dough had to bake for a few minutes first, which added to the anticipatory drama.

Then Harper applied tomato sauce, shredded cheese, a red-pepper smile, broccoli nose, and olive eyes.

pizza

Hard at work.

Then, a bit more baking, and voila: dinner.

pizza

The sign of a truly great toddler project: completely edible at all stages.

smiley-face pizzas

The perfect meeting of Harper's twin loves: happy faces and cheese.

I really hope Harper has enjoyed the ambition of these projects, no matter how misguided they sometimes are, because for the next few months the main project I have planned for her is called The Super Awesome Fun Change the Diaper Pail for Mama Game.

Quadberry Muffins

berry muffins

Harper's favorite part is mixing in the berries. And eating them, naturally.

I thought I would share this recipe from the excellent cookbook Real Food for Healthy Kids because it was such a big hit at a recent co-op play date.  It is reported that one small child ate up to four of these muffins in a single day.  They are normal-sized muffins, by the way.
Baking has always been a stress-relieving activity for me.  I loved that great scene in that annoying movie about Sylvia Plath where she’s supposed to be working on poems and the camera just pans over, like, 15 pies cooling in her kitchen.  When I’m in the knotty throes of a piece of writing (as I am now, trying to kick my way through yet another round of novel revisions), baking is just so much more satisfying.  The rewards are immediate, the merits obvious, the product enjoyed by all.
And baking with Harper feels like such a sweet homey activity, despite its many grave dangers — the hot oven, the contact with raw egg, the ensuing glut of baked goods.  I think it teaches some sort of vague chemistry lesson, right?  I like that it produces something she’s very eager to share (unlike, oh, everything else in the universe) — she loves delivering plates of cookies to our neighbors and friends.  And also it’s a known fact that pregnant ladies must eat many, many baked goods or their babies will turn out weird and grumpy.  I’m doing it for the child.
So anyway, the recipe.  I’ve made these a couple times, and the most recent time I used a frozen mixed assortment of blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries  (hence, quadberries). The result was berrylicious and very moist and yummy, although I learned that too many strawberries can lead to some structural unsoundness.  I recommend letting a toddler mix in the berries.  Kid saliva is a delicious addition to any recipe.

Bursting Berry Muffins, from Real Food for Healthy Kids.
Prep: 10 plus cooling
Baking: 30 minutes
Makes 1 dozen muffins

1 stick unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole milk
2/3 cup whole-wheat flour, preferably King Arthur
1/3 cup unprocessed wheat bran or additional white whole-wheat flour
1 (10-ounce) bag frozen blueberries (do not thaw) [or mixed berries]

1.    Arrange an oven rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 375. Lightly grease the top of a 12 (1/2-cup capacity) muffin pan. Line the cups with paper cupcake liners and set aside.
2.    Beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer at high speed until fluffy, at least 3 minutes, scraping down the side of the bowl as necessary. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating until fluffy after each. Add the baking powder, vanilla and salt and mix at medium speed to blend. Add the all-purpose flour and the milk and mix at medium speed until just incorporated. Add the whole-wheat flour and bran and mix just until blended. Add the frozen berries and stir in.
3.    Spoon the batter, piling high, into the muffin cups. Bake for 30 minutes, until golden on top and springy to the touch. Let cool for 15 minutes before serving.