Monday, May 30, 2011

A Strawberry Cake for Mary and Mothers Day

Hail Mary, full of grace,
The Lord is with Thee.
Blessed art Thou among women
And Blessed in the fruit of Thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners
Now and at the hour of our death.

We were sitting in church a few weeks ago, when Father Steve said that May is Mary's month. Isn't that nice?  And so, me being me, I immediately thought it an excellent reason to make a nice cake, in honor of Mary.  It took a little while to settle on which one in particular, but Emilia was fairly adamant about it being pink.  First we tried the little pink cupcakes in Tessa Kiros's Apples for Jam cookbook, but the icing turned out so nasty that I refused, on the spot, to let them have anything to do with Mary.  (As a sidenote, I do not recommend using the organic powdered sugar from Trader Joe's -- just stick with the good old fashioned C&H.  Also, I suggest you read up on red food coloring in advance.  Seriously, how do you achieve a bright pink icing with red food coloring?  For some bizarre reason the answer eludes me.) 

Then one day I was thumbing through May's Saveur Magazine, and I found it -- Strawberry Cake.  That sounded perfect for Mary, not to mention the fact that it was clearly a suitable shade of pink for the girl.  And let me just tell you that it was fabulous -- worth every bit of time consumed driving around looking for strawberry extract, texting everyone I know about levels of red food coloring used in food, and all the mess in the kitchen.  Everything about this cake is perfect.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

My Cheering Squad

Emilia and I sat in the big green chair a few days ago reading a great big stack of books before her nap.  One of the books we read was Olivia Goes to Venice by the marvelous, inimitable Ian Falconer.  The book is all about how Olivia and her family go to Venice for spring break, eat loads of gelato, see the sights, and then leave in a dash.  Anyway, there we were, reading away, and minding our own business, when we turn the page and see the pictures of Olivia and her family on a gondola.  Emilia points at the gondolier, who is huffing, puffing, and sweating profusely, and says, 'He's just like you, mama, pushing me in the jogger!'

We were out one day a while ago for a quick run, and I was huffing and puffing and pushing the jogger up a long hill.  At the top of the hill there stood a little old Chinese woman who was pushing her little grandchild in a stroller.  She kept taking a few steps and then stopping to rest, taking a few more, resting some more.  When she saw us on the move, she stopped and clapped and cheered us on.  It was fabulous.

Once we got up there, I said, '..huff...puff...big...hill...huff...puff...gasp...!'  She then said something I did not understand, but which I took to be lovely words of encouragement.  And we were on our merry way.  Repeat the whole scenario about five minutes later -- the nice little lady with baby in stroller going down a hill, stopping for a rest, and us running up said blasted hill, '..huff...puff...big...hill...huff...puff...gasp...!'  More clapping and cheering, Emilia chiming in with, 'Are they out for a quick run, too, mama?  That baby's a little guy!' and so on. 

It was one of my favorite things in a while.  Looking like the sweaty ol' gondolier from Olivia, on the other hand, is not. But it still made me laugh, because I suppose the girl did have a point.  Now, if I could just do something to keep up with that South African Guinea Hen, who also lives in the neighborhood, and who periodically joins us on our runs, then we'll be in business!  And that's all I have to say about that.

Friday, May 6, 2011

On Cabbage, Leprechauns, and Unseemly Behaviour

'It is not ok to toot at church -- but it is ok to toot at the dinner table!', said the three-year-old.
'No, it's not ok.  It's disgusting, so knock it off'!', said her mama.
'But it is ok to toot at the ice-cream table, though.'  (As it happened, we were having ice-cream at the dining room table.)
'Stay classy, you nasty bugger.  And, no, it's not.'
'But I'm just a nasty cuss!  Governor is a nasty bugger!'
Well, I say!

We were sitting on a bench a few days later waiting for Emilia's swim lessons to start, when she nearly caused me to pass out on account of her new-found pride.  I was quite annoyed, and I had to decide if we should leave immediately in order to avoid further shame, or just ignore it and act like nothing happened.  And yet she just sat there smiling as brightly as she could, saying, 'I stink!  I tooted!'  Yes, to be sure. 

She has also become quite a fan of announcing the state of her gaseous health to all at Whole Foods, 'I stink!'  We've talked about it now and I've told her she cannot do such rude things in public, but she fails to understand why on earth not.  Apparently she does not find my argument all that compelling.

And so, why am I informing you of the gaseous state of our daughter, you ask?  Why, because today's lesson is on cabbage, beans, potatoes, and the like.  You know, leprechaun food.  Emilia has been operating under the pretence of becoming a leprechaun by morning if she stocks up on lots of cabbage (and other leprechaun foods) at night.  When she's feeling dangerous, she'll switch it over to Benjamin Bunny and Peter Rabbit, but since they also eat radishes (which she has decided are unfit for human consumption) this is not as attractive an option.  Anyway, she started picking out cabbage from the store a few months ago when I officially banned her from choosing parsnips (they aren't very springy, parsnips).  And cabbage, being ridiculously healthy, not to mention a nice cruciferous veg (always high on my list), I've been indulging the girl.  And I suppose I must now suffer the consequences.

As luck would have it, Heidi Swanson's new cookbook has the most gorgeous cabbage dish on the cover.  (I know what you are thinking, but yes, cabbage can look gorgeous.)  And I knew from the first moment I saw this recipe that we would be great friends.   Emilia resisted it the first time, but now eats it up on account of the leprechaun factor.  In fact, a few nights ago she ate her dinner and then demanded a hat and wellies so she could run around in the backyard in the manner of a leprechaun and 'do what I gotta do.'  What she had to do was simply run like a crazed lunatic, yelling 'I'm a leprechaun!' to her little heart's content.  'Twas a marvel to watch. 

And so, we've found a winner of a recipe.  Alas, I've already made it three times.  And alas, as good as it is, I now need to take a bit of a break from it.  Because as good as it is, it's rather unseemly having your little three-year-old standing at the swimming pool wearing her little red and white polka dot bikini, and laughing like nobody's business because she 'ripped' (to quote her).

White Beans & Cabbage (Parmesan, Potatoes, Shallots)
serves 4

1 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces potatoes, unpeeled, scrubbed, and cut into tiny cubes
Fine-grain sea salt
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
2 cups cooked and cooled white beans
3 cups very finely shredded cabbage
A bit of freshly grated parmesan cheese

Pour the olive oil into a large saute pan or skillet.  Heat over medium-high.  Add the potatoes and some salt.  Stir, cover, and cook for 5 to 8 minutes, until the potatoes are cooked through.  Be sure to toss them a few times in the pan so they can cook uniformly and get nicely colored on all sides.  Stir in the shallot and the beans.  Let the mixture cook in a single layer for a few so the beans can brown.  Scrape, toss again, and let the beans brown some more and get crispy-ish.  Stir in the cabbage and cook for a few more minutes, until the cabbage loses some of its structure.  Serve with parmesan.  Recipe from Super Natural Cooking Every Day by Heidi Swanson.  Ten Speed Press, 2011.