the song, the cake, the candles

Leading up to her birthday party, all Fiona could talk about was how all her family and friends were going to sing happy birthday to her. She would insist we all rehearse the song several times a day and she would practice blowing out the candles. I think, when the moment finally came, it was everything she'd dreamed it would be. It was such a happy moment for all of us! As Fiona gets older, I can see her starting to value traditions and rituals like this. It's really exciting to experience that with her.

Oh, and the night before Fiona's birthday party, I realized I couldn't find my camera battery charger. Thanks to Jenny (Elijah's mom) for the top three photos!

Above is the lone piece of cake left the day after the party (The day I frantically drove to three different stores to find a new charger). I used this cake recipe with this icing, both from Smitten Kitchen. It's such a perfect, classic birthday cake. Everyone loved it, including the birthday girl!

Next week's posts will be all about Fiona's spring fairy party, so come back to see the fun details.

the basics: baked chicken

So, next on my list of The Basics is baked chicken. I was pretty excited when I saw this chicken with a 5 on Whole Food's 5-Step Animal Rating system from White Oak Pastures. We mostly get our meat from MOM's and the Fell's Point Farmer's Market, but if there were some more humane options at Whole Foods, that would be really convenient.

I made the chicken by puting a pad or two of butter under the skin, then rubbing another pad over the entire outside. I stuffed it with a quartered onion and a handful of rosemary (from our garden!), then baked it at 350 degrees for about an hour and a half. It turned out really well. The great thing about chicken is everyone in the family eats it. Even the picky ones.

I'm always curious about family recipes and techniques. Do you have any special way of baking a chicken? How about your mother and grandmother?

the basics: chicken stock

Good broth resurrects the dead. ~South African Proverb

Since I've gone pro with this homemaking thing, I thought I should brush up on (or learn!) the basics. Chicken stock seemed like a good place to start. It took about 24 hours start to finish, such a slow and glorious process.

It's really amazing, the healing qualities of a good chicken soup, and it just feels like something that a Mama needs to know how to make well. Not to mention the appeal of buying a whole chicken, eating baked chicken for dinner, chicken salad for lunch the next day, then chicken soup later in the week.

To make the stock, I used the book, Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats as my guide. It's a really comprehensive look at nutrition and a beautiful manual to cooking traditional, family food.

I'm excited to really dive into these skills with a new focus, food preparation, homemaking, bodycare. Some ideas I have for future topics in the basics series are: knitting a hat, planting a garden, making jam and sewing a simple quilt.

What would you add to that list? What skills are invaluable in running a household, keeping your family well-fed and healthy and keeping your home beautiful and functional?

cranberry pistachio dark chocolate bark

Sheldon's birthday is this Saturday and for every holiday I get him truffles from his favorite chocolate shop a couple blocks away. I decided to step it up this year and make him some homemade chocolates, too. I thought I'd share this super easy recipe with you in case you have a loved one who might appreciate some homemade treats for Valentine's Day.

16 ounces dark chocolate (70% cocoa), chopped
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup pistachio nuts

Turn a baking sheet upside down and wrap it with tin foil. You'll use this to spread the melted chocolate on. Fill a small plastic bag with the pistachio nuts and hit them gently with a glass jar to turn them into coarse bits. Save for later.

Put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and sit it over a saucepan of simmering water. The bowl should not be touching the water. Stir here and there until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Add the cranberries and gently fold them in.

Spread the chocolate and cranberry mixture on the foil covered baking sheet evenly to desired thickness. While the chocolate is still hot, sprinkle the pistachio bits and a bit of sea salt over the surface. Chill for about a half an hour in the fridge until cold and firm.

I like the look of simply breaking it into uneven pieces, but you could also cut with a sharp knife if you'd prefer even squares. Triangles could also be cute. Store in the fridge.

If you're giving the bark as a gifts, this batch would fill about 4-5 half pint mason jars. Fabric and a sweet tag complete the package.

And because this is MY BLOG and I do what I want, I'm going to indulge myself by getting all sentimental about the fabric. The last time I used it was in college when I sewed complicated things like hoodies, laughed like crazy, cried like crazy (literally. crazy.) and had some really awesome roommates (move back to Baltimore, you jerks!). I got out my old laptop and found this picture. See the fabric on the shoulder?

Look at that confused little girl. Hot, though. Maybe I'll put this picture on my fridge as a reminder to NOT EAT (too much) CRANBERRY PISTACHIO DARK CHOCOLATE BARK. ;)

Sorry about all the caps. Happy Valentines Day! And happy birthday to my dear husband! I love you, Sheldon, you sexy thing.

berry muffins make me happy

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A little over a week ago I got my very own copy of The Rhythm of Family by Amanda Blake Soule (Thanks, Mom!). I just love her blog, Soulemama. I love reading about her crafting, cooking, natural parenting, and homeschooling adventures, but there's more to it...

It's easy to take a sarcastic tone about parenting or marriage (it can be so frustrating!), and it's easy to complain about cleaning and cooking (it is, after all, so hard and time consuming!), but I've found that I'd rather not take that tone about family life. Because really, I've never been so happy and I've never found anything else in life so rewarding. In becoming a wife and a mother, not only did I gain a bunch of really awesome people in my life, but I found a better, happier, version of myself. I guess Amanda Blake Soule's blog and books capture that spirit for me. She (and many others) have given us permission to focus on the good and revel in the simple.

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Sometimes it's hard to admit to being happy, especially for this art kid who made it through a lot of years on sarcasm and a bad attitude. But, you know what, world? I'm happy. Really fucking happy. And my kids? They're perfect. And my husband? Hot. There. I said it. ;)

Anyway, onto the Berry Muffins made from a recipe in The Rhythm of Family!

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They were so good! They made me happy. They made Fiona happy, too.

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can't. stop. baking.

I know that one day I won't be so thrilled by every single culinary success, but for now, I'm impressed with myself when anything tastes good. I haven't had much practice! So bear with me while I document such banal fare as banana muffins and applesauce cake. Though I'll admit the above honeycake cupcakes with lemon icing are kinda fancy. With the drippy icing and flowers and all. ;)

When I met Sheldon, he had this tattered old Fannie Farmer Cookbook. I like pretty cookbooks with lots of pictures, so I didn't take much notice of Miss Fannie at first. Little did I know that she would become my very own all-knowing expert on all things pertaining to the kitchen. I do believe I refer to Miss Fannie almost every time I cook or bake anything.

And almost as much as I love Miss Fannie for her practicality, I love Apples for Jam for its whimsy, where I got both the recipe for honeycake cupcakes at the top of this post and for the Jam Shortbread Sandwiches below.

There's something magical about baking isn't there? How can you have a bad day when you start it with a banana muffin and end it with shortbread?

in our kitchen

Bread... There are few things in life that give a calming sense of purpose like kneading bread, pregnant and sweating, in a hot kitchen with Fiona by my side. There is something so beautiful in that strong, repetitive motion. Perhaps it's muscle memory passed down from generations of women before me. Whatever it is, it's good. And the bread itself? It's good too.

Pesto... We have a ton of basil in our garden, so we've been eating a lot of pesto.

The problem with pesto is that it has pine nuts, which are delicious, but expensive. So, my clever husband substituted walnuts. It tastes awesome and is a bit more budget-friendly.

Egg Salad... on homemade bread with garden-grown lettuce!

Rosemary- and Garlic-Roasted Potatoes... made with rosemary from our garden using a recipe in Feeding the Whole Family.

And for dessert, Peanut Butter Cookies...

...and Green Tea and Lemonade Popsicles, a great alternative to super sugary store-bought ones.

I'm hoping to continue this run of trying new recipes and making more of our lunches and snacks homemade. Sheldon especially hopes I stick with this bread-making thing. I think I found (another) key to his heart. The man loves bread, even (especially) misshapen, homemade bread.