Archive for the ‘Carter’ category

When does a “play date” become a party? Is five kids the tipping point?

December 18th, 2010

Carter melted down while I was briefly out of town early this month because, “I couldn’t wait for you to come home, and I couldn’t wait for my play date to come!” With Carter in fulltime daycare and neighbor kids to play with on weekends, I didn’t used to have to worry about official play dates. Those days are over. He sees his classmates who aren’t in daycare or don’t have a nanny having play dates often, and he wants them too.

Awhile back, he invited himself over to Kiley’s house for a play date. Fortunately, her mom was nice enough to email me and arrange a Sunday play date. Carter was fine. I was the awkward guest. I didn’t know whether to stay or go, and I’m pretty sure overstayed.

Next Carter told Anastasia and her mom to meet use at the park on a Sunday at 2:30 pm. I wasn’t sure how seriously they took the invitation (we couldn’t make it anyway), so I emailed Anastasia’s mom and arranged a play date—two weeks away!!! Not only could Carter not stand the wait, he also had time to invite Kaitlyn. And Paul. And Sonia. And Finley (the only one who couldn’t make it.) Now would you call having five kindergarteners over a “play date” or a “party”?

Last Sunday, Carter got up at 7 a.m. and filled five cups with apple juice and added silly straws. The doorbell rang, finally, at 1:15 pm. Showtime. The moms helped get everyone settled. I assured them it was ok to go. Then I was on my own.

The kids took turns helping make white frosting to decorate a premade gingerbread house. Coloring a giant pirate poster also was a hit. As was the PlayMobil soccer game. But an hour and a half later the kids needed to be aired out. Lucky me: Carter had promised we’d go to the park. I called on Nandini, Paul and Sonia’s mom, for backup. Off we went, two moms, five kids, scooter, bike, and wagon in tow to the park, the final play date activity. Phew.

Running around didn’t tire me out as much as redirecting group dynamics, like when one girl was ok with one girl next to her but not another. (Kindergarten rule: Can’t say, “Can’t play.)” It was also tough because Carter is still learning social graces and cues. Going to school with so many kids his age and older is a big change from daycare where he was the oldest child. He gets so, so, so excited playing with his friends that he has an especially hard time listening and staying calm when things aren’t going exactly as he wants them to. Tears threatened several times, and even spilled over a bit (like when I tried to get out of taking the kids to the park).

But for Carter, the fun far outweighed everything else. He is already talking about his next play date—at Anastasia’s house.

showing up a year after the break-in

October 1st, 2010

Unplanned, unintended hiatus. Months go by without blogging, and here I am showing up finally.

Much has happened. Carter has started kindergarten, rides his bike without training wheels, and lost his first tooth. As the “snack coordinator” for Team Dynamite, I officially become a soccer mom on Saturday.

Saturday is also the one-year anniversary of the break-in. I am not the same, and I am not over it. How sad and annoying is that? I still don’t have a new wedding ring, but a titanium (both nonallergenic and airplane grade, how appropriate) one is on its way.

You know you can get anything on Amazon, except, perhaps, peace of mind.

why kids should play with raw eggs

July 19th, 2010

playing with raw eggsSprinkles’ vanilla cupcake mix calls for two egg whites—although the package says you need three eggs (?)—offering the perfect opportunity for Carter to advance from cracking eggs to separating eggs. Of course, gadget-lover that I am, I use an egg-separator, which looks something like the plastic kid-friendly Egg Yolky egg separator without the face and feet.

Instead of just tossing the yolks, I let Carter poke at them. I know. I know. Yes, there’s a risk of getting  a risk of getting  salmonella from raw eggs.* But I’d rather teach Carter to keep his hands away from his face when handling raw eggs and to wash his hands after than to have him afraid of touching an egg white or yolk.

Safety of the specific food aside, grownups sometimes forget how much fun—or yucky but still interesting—touching food can be. In terms of child development (one of the Baking with Carter blog themes), sensory and tactile experiences are essential—and baking is an easy way to provide them them, no expensive toys required. I still remember Carter saying in amazement, “It’s so soft!” the first time he touched all-purpose flour. So go ahead and let your kids touch softened butter, squish brown sugar in their hands, and , if you’re ok with it, poke an egg yolk.

Poking egg yolks can also be looked as as a science experiment. Carter tested how much pressure it took to break the yolks and then smeared them around in the bowl to study their viscosity. He asked: What would happen if he poured in water? Well, I said, hot-enough water could start to cook them. Otherwise? Not much. He dumped in a cup of water, which was room temperature, to see for himself. The water floated to the top; the heavier eggs sank.

Then I had him wash his hands with soap and water twice.

By the time the cupcakes came out of the oven, it was too late to eat them. In the morning, my aspiring baker brought me breakfast in bed: a cupcake, with lots and lots of red sprinkles, of course.

*Caution: Always wash hands with soap and water thoroughly after handling raw eggs. Do this activity only with children you can trust to keeps their hands away from their mouths and face. To be extra safe, use pasteurized eggs.

alphabet cookies, with red sprinkles, of course

June 20th, 2010

letter_cookies From letters to sounds to words, Carter is making the literacy journey. He aced letters and sounds, started reading words well over a year ago, and can sound out new words. But he’s a bit spooked about reading. No fear of baking, though, so our culinary take: alphabet cookies. We used Alton Brown’s trusty sugar cookie recipe, teamed up with Carter’s neighbor friend Sonia, and got rolling. As you can see, I kid not about Carter’s love of red sprinkles.

One note: If you buy alphabet cookie cutters, be sure to check the size. Miniature letters will spell “frustration” with kids. The letter cookie cutters we used are 2 inches high. They came as part of  The Alphabake: A Cookbook and Cookie Cutter Set. The set comes with 26 ABC cookie cutters, a square baking sheet, and a wipe-off, 32-page cookbook. Author Debra Pearson has some fun ideas, such as making a “negative” cookie with the letters of your name or a word cut out; edible Cocoa Cookie Kisses, with Xs and Os; and not-for-consumption salt play dough. You can also just buy ABC cookie cutters, which often come with numbers, too; for example, Wilton has a 50-piece ABC and 123 cookie cutter set with cookie cutters that are about 3.5 inches in size.

my mother’s day: trauma! drama! and lack thereof, so do you care?

May 15th, 2010

cardsagainOutside of school assignments decades ago, I rarely wrote about my own life until I took a personal essay class from Adair Lara back in 2001. The biggest “aha!”—realizing that readers get bored if everything is going well. Conflict keeps their attention. You also have to show how your experience illustrates some universal truth without it being a cliché. It’s way harder to do than I imagined. I didn’t even attempt it again for years.

Now, I’m writing a blog, where the whole point is to share something personal that I hope will be of value and interest to other people. While I’ve been microblogging on Twitter (bakingwithc) lately, this is the longest I’ve gone without updating the blog. Part of it is I’m a perfectionist when it comes to writing. I just can’t dash out a blog and hit “publish.” To me, blogs are personal essays, so I hesitate to write unless I can deliver a fully-formed essay. (I’ve also been trading writing time for sleeping, but that’s a different day’s topic.)

Which is a very long way to get around to talking about Mothers’ Day, because mine was so nice.

Carter, who was supposedly going to let me sleep in, woke me up around 6 am, because he couldn’t wait to give me my cards. The only problem was he wanted to know where they were. I realize I’m his early-morning go-to guy, but this was one question I could not answer. Jeff got a rare wake-up call, followed by whispering.

The card that Carter made for me at daycare had his handprint on one side and flowers he drew on the other side. He also got me a baby pink Hallmark card pink decorated with chiffon ribbons and a gold seal. “Mommy, I know the bad guys took your jewelry and made you sad, so I got you this card that has jewelry on it to help you feel better.” Put that together with hand-drawn hearts and a signature with both his first and last name on the inside and who wouldn’t melt? (See it’s just not tension-filled essay material.)

Then miracle of miracles, Carter let me sleep some until Jeff brought me breakfast in bed: Mickey Mouse pancakes, grapefruit, cheesy scrambled eggs, and Whitman’s dark chocolate sampler. No complaints there.

And that’s not all! I went to yoga, and my shoulder didn’t hurt! (Thank you, thank you, Dr. George Thabit for ending my year and a half of pain with one shot.)

That’s still not all. I went to hear Anna Quindlen speak. I’m so in love, that’s whole other blog topic.

And to top it off, Carter insisted we go to Dave and Busters because that’s where we went last year. Not my scene, but after dinner, we stopped by Forever 21, a new store to me. Carter picked out an adorable, albeit short, blue polka-dot dress for me. I wore it with skinny jeans to work on Monday and got an unusual number of compliments. (This reminded me of Anna’s comment about how this is the first generation of mothers to dress so much like their daughters.)

So no drama, just a really nice day.

If stuck with me this far, despite the lack of conflict, thank you. I owe you a pithy wrap-up that ties my Mother’s Day to a universally understood experience. But I’m not coming up with it. So, instead, I’ll simply sign off by sending my best wishes to all mothers out there. I hope you, too, had a wonderful day.

baking with friends: lemon baby Bundts

April 12th, 2010
Hands washed, aprons on: it's baking time

Hands washed, aprons on: it's time to bake

Sonia mixing the wet ingredients for mini lemon Bundt cakes

Sonia mixing the wet ingredients for lemon Bundt cakes

On rainy days when I was a kid, all the neighborhood kids would gather around our kitchen table (big enough to seat my parents and us six kids) for my mom’s project du jour. It could be anything from copper enameling to baking chocolate-chip oatmeal cookies, making candles to pouring plaster of Paris in red rubber molds.

When Carter’s friend and neighbor Sonia came over to bake with us on a rainy afternoon, I felt a bit nostalgic for those days. Sonia wore her new apron, and we made mini lemon Bundt cakes. I explained to Carter and Sonia how they could each put in a quarter cup to equal a half, and figured that pinches from two 5-year-olds equalled the called-for pinch of salt. (Baking is such a great way to teach math, without it seeming like you’re teaching math.)

We also did some experimenting. Since we were out of yogurt, we substituted sour cream and added 2 tablespoons of buttermilk. If I were Alton Brown, that could have been a science lesson.

Better than the mini lemon Bundt cakes being delicious (thanks to Nigella and four helping hands): Sonia wanting to come back and bake with us again.

phobia cure: chewy oatmeal chocolate chip cookies recipe

March 7th, 2010

Cookie recipes scare me. I remember too well as a kid struggling to hand-mix the stiff Tollhouse chocolate chip dough and then burning the cookies. My sister Margaret’s always came out just right, so I ceded that ground to her. Then there was that time I attempted to make my Great Aunt Frances’ famous ginger snaps. I can still picture the baking dough oozing across the cookie sheet, leaving a charred path in its wake.

My mom’s go-to cookie recipe was oatmeal chocolate chip cookies with wheat germ. I remember eating a lot of those—no childhood baking trauma attached. So the other day, I was in line at Trader Joe’s and saw packages of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, strategically placed for impulse purchases. Not only did I resist, but I also vowed to set aside my cookie baking phobia and make some myself.

Coincidentally, I’ve also had a copy of Sur La Table’s book Baking Kids Love by Cindy Mushet that I’ve been wanting to try out and report on. (Editorial note: I received a free review copy of this book from its publisher, Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC.) One of its 30 recipes is Chewy Oatmeal Cookies. Perfect.

Cindy’s 11-year-old daughter, Bella, helped her create the book and offers a running commentary. Photos of Bella and other kids, a colorful design, and full-page photos of the end results will appeal to kids. In addition to baking these recipes with your child, I recommend this book for kids who are old enough to read it themselves.

Although I didn’t in my adaptation of the Chewy Oatmeal Cookies recipe below, each recipe in the book lists the required tools as well as an ingredient list. Cindy includes those extra steps, for instance, when to scrape the bowl, that more experienced bakers wouldn’t need. Other recipes I’d like to try: Gone Bananas Chocolate Chip Cake, Cinnamon Streusel Coffeecake Muffins, and Crunchy-Top Vanilla Scones (along with its Scrumptious Strawberry Shortcake variation).

Cindy’s original Chewy Oatmeal Cookies recipe calls for cranberries, but I swapped in chocolate chips. I actually enjoyed making the cookies—enough so that I plan to make more cookies! Having the right gear, especially a stand mixer, helped.

Because baking with me is no longer novel and there are now so many different ways Carter can entertain himself, I never know exactly when or for how long he will join me. “Special time with Mommy” no longer is an automatic attraction. This time, he wanted to put the dough on the cookie sheets. The attraction: a mini ice cream scoop.

Gotta love the appeal of kitchen gadgets, and I highly recommend a 1 tablespoon scoop for doling out cookie dough. Carter needed some help squeezing the handles and didn’t make it through all 48 scoops, but had fun trying. The scoop was so much quicker than the two-spoon method I used to use. Carter is going to kindergarten in August, and I pictured myself up late scooping out cookie dough, so he would have cookies to take to school in the morning.

As far as taste and texture, these cookies passed the test: they were all gone fast. In fact, my neighbor Nandini, who sampled them, came over to get the recipe. She needed to make cookies that night for her son’s class. I lent her my mini scoop.

Chewy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup light brown sugar, tightly packed
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (see note)

Position an oven rack in the top third of the oven and another in the bottom third. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugars in a large mixing bowl on low speed for one minute and then medium speed for another minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the egg and vanilla and beat on medium-low speed until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. In three parts, add the dry ingredient to the butter mixture and beat on low speed just until a few patches of flour remain. Add the oats in three parts and then the chocolate chips. Mix until the ingredients are evenly blended. Scrape down the bowl and fold the dough a few times to make sure all the flour is incorporated and the chips are evenly distributed.

With a small ice cream scoop or a tablespoon, shape the dough into cookies. Evenly space 12 cookies on each baking sheet. Place one sheet on each oven rack. Bake for 7 minutes, then switch the pans’ positions and rotate each a half turn. Bake another 7 minutes, or until the cookies are golden brown around the edges.

Place the baking sheets on cooling racks and cool the cookies completely. Once the pans are cool, remove the cookies and line the pans with new parchment paper. Bake the rest of the cookies. Yield: approximately 48 cookies.

Note: The original recipe calls for 3/4 cup of dried cranberries or other dried fruit, such as raisins, currants, dried cherries, or chopped dried apricots, with the optional addition of 1/3 cup of chopped nuts or chocolate chips.

Adapted from Baking Kids Love

first time at the ballet: skipped death by hanging, Sinatra gets rave reviews

March 1st, 2010

“Well, there’s death by hanging—depends on how you feel about that.”

At will-call, the guy handed me my half-price tickets (thank you again, Google) and answered by question about whether “Medea,” one of the three Smuin Ballet dances, would be scary.

From third grade through college, being a dancer was a huge part of my identity. I quit before I went to grad school. This was the right decision at the time, but I’ve missed dancing ever since.

I continued to attend a lot of dance performances, though. Pre-motherhood, I used to go to dance concerts around the Bay Area all the time. I had an Oakland Ballet subscription and a partial San Francisco Ballet one. I’d even go over to Berkeley to see Mark Morris. Part of my strategy to remain sane post-motherhood involves cutting way back on anything extra, including seeing live performances.

Now that Carter is more independent, I’m starting (just starting) to get over my guilt of not being with him during awake, nonwork hours. Of course, he doesn’t care. When I saw that Smuin Ballet was performing its winter program in Mountain View this weekend. I decided to try to go, as long as I could get cheap seats. (Michael Smuin was the former artistic director of the SF Ballet and a true showman. I remember seeing his “To the Beatles,” complete with motorcycle on stage, when I was a kid.) The only snag now: I didn’t know who would go with me.

“I’ll go with you, Mommy,” Carter said when he heard that. He’s been to one kid’s play and one kid’s dance performance and had decidedly mixed success sitting still and being quiet. Needless to say, I was hesitant to take him to a real ballet performance. I got tickets on the farthest side of the front row in the balcony, so we could scoot out immediately and unobtrusively at any sign on trouble.

He was an angel.

He was just as entranced as I was with the first piece, “Soon These Two Worlds,” a contemporary ballet with colorful costumes, from resident choreographer, Amy Seiwert.

We skipped Medea and its accompanying hangings, which gave Carter first intermission + 20 minutes + second intermission outside. He mostly danced around a fountain, for an hour before we went back in to see Smuin’s “Fly Me to the Moon.” (My parents introduced us six kids to the symphony with half of a concert, followed by ice cream out. Going was a pretty big deal: one parent would take one child at a time.)

“When Sinatra sings, you naturally want to dance,” Smuin said. Apparently Carter is also a fan of Frank’s: he said he liked this ballet better than the first, which was my favorite, “because it had funner music.” He also sat still and quietly watched from lights down to lights up—happy as could be.

Maybe Carter will follow in my footsteps. He wants me to find him a dance class. If nothing else, I have a new companion as I stick my toes back into the dance world.

losing a child’s lovey is an emergency

February 15th, 2010

I just read Wheels on the Bus, and Lucy, Emily’s son Benjamin’s one-of-a-kind lovey, has gone missing. For a mom, this is a crisis situation. I left an encouraging message after recently having had a Bear Blanket close call. And I don’t want to think about what would happen if we lost Pink Bear.

When I was pregnant, my friend Brenda took me to Maternal Connection at El Camino Hospital, an amazing and rare resource for breastfeeding supplies and support. She told me to buy two flannel receiving blankets. One had a balloon pattern, the other Teddy bears. As only an experienced mom would know, these blankets were cut larger than most receiving blankets, so you could actually swaddle a baby in one. Of course, we didn’t know our baby would weigh 9 pounds, 13 ounces, at birth and quickly outgrow them for swaddling.

Brenda also took one look at me the first time she saw me at home alone with Carter, called El Camino, had me hand over a credit card, and registered me for the New Mothers’ Support Group, another amazing resource when taught by her same teacher, Laurie. My mommies’ group, all with babies born within weeks of each other, is still a lifesaver and actively in touch, as is Brenda’s. During a class, Laurie taught us how to train our child to have a lovey. The hope is a baby with a lovey in the crib will wake up, comfort himself with the smell of Mommy from the lovey, and fall back asleep without crying.

I started with cloth diapers (it’s a good strategy, as you’ll see, to have multiples). I’d put one over my left shoulder, where I would pat Carter after nursing him at bedtime. (I’d be in my bed. Sometimes, I’d fall asleep, too, and “forget to put the baby back.”) I’d put it with him in his crib and toss it in the wash in the morning. Eventually, I upgraded him to flannel blankets, and the El Camino blankets went into the rotation. As the years went by, and the El Camino blankets became the softest from the most washes, Carter settled on just the Bear and Balloon Blankets. He would sleep with them and use them to comfort himself. (When he’d get upset, I’d straight out ask, “Do you want a flannel blanket?”) They also had starring roles in many pretend play schemes. Then they went missing, turning up, finally, in all places, at Brenda’s house. (She had assumed they were one of her kids’ until I called searching for them.)

Late last year, we lost Balloon Blanket. Carter rejected the replacement from El Camino (yes, the shop still sells the same pattern nearly five years later) because it lacked the washed-hundreds-of-times texture. As a preventative measure, I cut Bear Blanket in half. Then one half disappeared. I cut the remaining half in half.

Then the other night, I found myself knocking on the door after hours at Frye’s trying to track down a 1/4-size piece of worn-thin flannel that looks like a rag. I told the man at the door, “It’s an emergency! My son lost his baby blanket!” (I left out that my son is now 5.) I retraced my husband’s steps and nearly assailed the salesperson cleaning up in the camera section, where the model trains live, too. He had seen it…and eventually found it in a back room! I could not adequately express my gratitude.

New rule: Both Bear Blanket halves stay home. Carter’s asleep with them now. And I had to find Pink Bear before he went to sleep. I hope I won’t have to ground her, too.

when life brings you lemons, make lemonade—and mini Bundt cakes

February 7th, 2010

mini bumdt at 350I didn’t know who Nigella Lawson was until my best friend Dawn gave me Nigella’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess for a wedding gift nearly eight years ago. Nigella’s lemon Baby Bundts recipe, super simple to make with impressively pretty results, has been an ideal match for any of my three mini Bundt cake pans. (I’ve already admitting to collecting Nordic Ware, so is it a surprise I have the multi, the fluted, and the flowers mini Bundt pans?)

Tonight, I used the book’s photo of white icing dripping off the sides of a mini Bundt cake to sell Carter on having the three Meyer lemons he brought home from Lucy’s tree at daycare to do double duty: make lemonade as intended and make dessert for a Super Bowl gathering tomorrow. Bonus: both offer easy ways to engage kids in the kitchen.

Carter loves to hand-squeeze lemons, using funny enough another wedding present, a lemon squeezer from friends Anita and Cameron. Tonight, I let him cut the lemons in half with a serrated knife for the first time. (Just when you thought I’d forgotten about the child-development skills part of my blog, I’ll point out that hand-squeezing and cutting take strength and coordination, while directing where juice or a knife ends up involves hand-eye coordination and spatial awareness.)

For the cakes, however, I didn’t let Carter handle the zester, yet, even though he asked. I’m still nervous about zesting the skin off my own fingers, so I think we’ll hold off on that. We did talk about what zest is and sniff it, though, for a bit of sensory awareness.

Lots of zest (I use more than the original recipe) and the frosting are key to the cakes being flavorful. This is the first time I’ve doubled the original cake recipe, so feel free to half it. You can also use vanilla yogurt instead of plain. And, according to Nigella, the recipe will also work with just about any citrus, such as orange or lime, so make it you own and let me know how it goes.

One-Lemon Lemonade

Squeeze 1 lemon. A large lemon yielded 1/3 cup lemon juice. Heat the same yield amount of water (1/3 cup) and of sugar (1/3 cup water) in the microwave on high for 2 minutes to make simple sugar. Mix juice, simple syrup, and an equal amount (1 cup) of water to dilute. Chill and enjoy.

Lemon Baby Bundts

1 cup plain yogurt (or 2/3 cup Greek yogurt + 1/3 cup water)
1 1/2 cups butter, melted and slightly cooled
4 eggs
zest of  3 lemons (preferably Meyer)
2 cups flour
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon, scant, salt (2 pinches)

2 cups powdered sugar
juice of 2 lemons

Butter two mini Bundt pans (each with six molds). Preheat over to 325˚F.

Whisk together the yogurt, butter, eggs, and lemon zest in a small mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and fold with a rubber spatula until well combined.

Divide the batter evenly among the 12 molds. Bake for 25–30 minutes, or until the tops are starting to lightly brown and a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Cool cakes 10 minutes in pans before turning out on a wire rack. Cool completely before icing.

To make the icing, sift the powdered sugar into a bowl and add enough of the lemon juice to make icing about the consistency of honey. Pour icing on top of the cakes and allow to drizzle down the sides.

Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess