Archive for the ‘Carter’ category

epic failure: the rise and fall of orange-nutmeg popovers

January 9th, 2010

risefallBad omen: Carter describing the orange-nutmeg popovers in the oven as “mashed potatoes shaped like Mount St. Helens.” They looked puffy and yummy, but we all know what happened to the picturesque Mount St. Helens. It’s rare that a recipe doesn’t work for me. The orange-nutmeg popover recipe in Savory Baking just didn’t.

The recipe said to “prick each popover with a small knife to let the the steam escape because this helps them from collapsing.” I pricked. They collapsed.

Did using a blender, instead of mixing by hand, affect the batter’s airiness in a bad way? Was the baking temperature, only 375˚F, compared to 425˚F in other recipes, too low to crisp up enough the popovers? This popover recipe didn’t have any additional notes on popover baking techniques. The popover recipes in BakeWise and Baking Illustrated are much more informative.

Aside from the technical issues, the real problem was the strong, off-putting flavor. For six popovers, the recipe included 1 teaspoon each of salt, fresh ground nutmeg, and freshly ground black pepper, plus the zest of one large orange. The other ingredients were fairly standard: 3 eggs, 1 cup milk, 3 tablespoons melted butter, and 1 cup flour.

Jeff took one look at the popover on the plate and requested one of the “puffy” ones. I had to explain that these were the (formerly) puffy ones. He took one bite, put it down, and said “too nutmeggy.” I thought they tasted too salty and peppery but powered through eating one, as I tried to pinpoint the flavoring errors of my ways.

I had trouble leveling off the teaspoons (I used a 1/4 teaspoon to measure because it’s hard to scoop up fresh-ground spices) of nutmeg and pepper because of their rough texture, and I wonder if I packed the spices instead of loosely leveling them, ending up with too much. That wouldn’t explain the salt, though, because I used table salt. If I were to try these again, I would cut all of the spices in half, but keep the orange zest.

I hope my successful popover debut wasn’t beginners’ luck, which I’m prone to. (Don’t ask my brother David about the first time we played backgammon, or my brother Tom about fishing in Virden, IL, for instance. )

I also hope my favorite little baker and budding scientist, who is feeling much better, will help me experiment with another popover recipe this weekend. Carter said to me the other day: “Mommy, I have a hypothesis, and I’d like to do an experiment to test it out.” I asked him if Daddy had told him what a hypothesis is, which wouldn’t be out of character. His answer: “No. I heard it on Dinosaur Train.”

magical popover debut

January 5th, 2010

popoversAs far as I’m concerned, a perfect present is something I really want and wouldn’t buy for myself—like a popover pan (thanks, Dawn!). I’ve never met a Nordic Ware pan I didn’t like (I’ll cop to collecting Bundt pans), and the English popover pan is no exception. I’d never actually made popovers. It sounded like fun, and it is.

The basic batter is super simple—milk, eggs, flour, salt, butter—and should be easy to put together with kids. Sadly, I didn’t get to try because Carter has been recovering from pneumonia and was napping when I mixed up the first batch.

Better yet, though, is watching popovers balloon up like new skyscrapers in the oven. Popover pan cups are 4 inches high, and the batter goes from filling the cups halfway up to towering over the top—demonstrating yet again the magical chemistry behind baking. Carter missed the transformation because he was in the bath, but he was impressed with the result when I carried the pan in to show him.

You can make popovers in a muffin pan, too, so don’t be scared off by my choice of specialty bakeware. I read a bunch of popover recipes and the key to the “pouf” is high heat. You heat the oven with your baking pan of choice in it with a silver baking sheet or a baking stone under it. Once the batter has rested (another key) and everything is hot, fill the pan quickly, and don’t open the oven door once the popovers are baking.

Jeff appreciated my effort. Carter ate half of one with strawberry jelly and was underwhelmed. He, like me, has an expressive face that doesn’t hide much. I hope he’ll be a little more excited when he feels better and we make them together. I also want to experiment with flavors. I have my eye on Mary Cech’s orange nutmeg popover recipe in Savory Baking. I’ll report back.


1 cup milk
2 eggs
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 tablespoon oil (for greasing a popover pan; plus 2 teaspoons if using a muffin tin)

In a mixing bowl, whisk the milk and eggs. In another bowl, whisk the flour and salt; add to the egg mixture. Stir with a spatula just until combined; the mixture will be lumpy. Add the melted butter. Whisk until the batter is bubbly and smooth, about 30 seconds. Let the batter rest at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour, then put it in a container with a spout, if your mixing bowl doesn’t have one.

Meanwhile, put 1/2 teaspoon oil in the bottom of each of the 6 cups of a popover pan (or in each of 10 cups of a muffin tin)—no need to spread around. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven; place the popover pan (or muffin tin) on a silver (not dark) baking sheet or a baking stone on the rack. Heat the oven to 450˚F.

After the batter has rested, remove the pan from the oven and distribute the batter evenly among the cups in the pan—work quickly and keep the oven door closed. Return the pan to the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Do not open the oven door! Lower the heat to 350˚F and bake until popovers are golden brown all over, about 15 minutes more. Remove the popovers from the pan and cool them on a wire rack for a few minutes. Best served immediately.

Adapted from Baking Illustrated

remember me? catching up

January 3rd, 2010

treenew cousins

Hello, Blog, My Old Friend. It’s been too long. It’s not that I haven’t thought about writing, just like I think about baking and exercising. Doing, however, is a whole different thing than thinking about. Starting is the hardest part. And, I know, when I show up, the rest takes care of itself. (I’ve been trying to say and—not but—a brainstorming lesson learned at Stanford.)

Whether blogging, baking, or exercising, I resolve to show up more this year. And getting more organized is always on my list. Started out on the right foot (and left) today: yoga class at the Y this morning and Wii Fit (thank you, Santa!) this afternoon. If Wii Yoga classifies me as an “amateur,” what does it call people who haven’t taken a dozen years of yoga classes? At least, I bowled a 181 (Carter had a 183) and lowered my WiiFit age to 33, down from 56 (!) on Christmas. Hope I can keep it up better than all the other people with good intentions who will pack the Y this month.

karateDecember was busy. We went to Charlotte to meet my newest niece and nephew (now 6 months old); Carter and their 5-year-old brother, Conor, adore each other and had a blast. Carter earned his green belt in karate. He picked out a “Carter-size” tree (almost 4 feet tall) at Target and waited to trim it with my father- and sister-in-law, who came for Christmas. A lot of presents for Carter fit under that little tree. Jeff and I want to play with his new toys—Lincoln Logs,  Lego helicopter transporter, etc.

Continuing a bit of an unlucky streak, three UPS packages were stolen from our front porch, so having a Crayola Glow Station from Santa under the tree  required a Christmas Eve dash to Target. Also taken: a smoked turkey from Jeff’s dad, a rocket place mat that says “Daddy,” and another (still a surprise) present for Jeff. Also, unfortunately, Carter came down with pneumonia during a quick post-Christmas trip to visit my family in Illinois. He’s recovering well, and needless to say, it’s good to be home for a quiet weekend before it’s back to the normal weekday commute-work-daycare routine come Monday.

I look forward to 2010 being a better year, and I wish you and yours a happy, healthy new decade.

sewing project: a bear ballerina costume

December 9th, 2009

c swings PBballerinaballet 3 square

Carter wanted me to make Pink Bear a tutu. Actually, he was quite specific about it being pink, and sparkly, and how it would stick out. To Carter, a simple request. After all, I made his favorite teddy bear red pants.

I told him: Wait until Grandma gets here. My mom sewed costumes for all my dance concerts, from grade school through high school. I’ve sewn PJ pants. My mom sewed my sister’s wedding dress (and all the bridesmaids’ dresses and my dad’s tuxedo). Thank goodness, I knew she was coming for Thanksgiving when Carter started dreaming up Pink Bear’s ballerina outfit.

My mom and I spent hours at Joann Fabrics, finally finding pink netting in the bridal department, and chiffon ribbon with sparkly hearts to piece together for a bodice overlay. (We also each got a purse handle and purse pattern; now we just have to get the fabric and make the purses to match.)

My mom designed, cut, and directed. I pinned and sewed. And sewed. And ripped seams. And sewed. Took my sewing machine apart, and sewed and ripped some more. Small does not mean fast with sewing.

Carter says Pink Bear looks beautiful in her ballerina outfit.

Sewing with my mom is like baking with Carter. We get to do something we like to do together. There’s teaching; there’s learning. We’re proud of each other and what we make together. Bonus: we get to enjoy the end result—eat it, share it, or just admire Pink Bear wearing it and see how happy that makes Carter.

licensed characters crowd the bookstore

December 2nd, 2009

My dad loves to take grandkids to bookstores, and going to Borders with Carter was one of three things he wanted to do when he and my mom came to visit for Thanksgiving. (The Creamery for a root beer float and The Counter for a burger were the others.)

Usually, Carter heads straight for the airplane books, but this time (for the first time) he never got past the toys, games, and sticker books in front of the children’s book section. And I have to admit that I was embarrassed that it was licensed characters—Dora, the Super Why team, Up movie characters—that attracted his attention. (At least, Charlie Brown and Olivia debuted on the printed page.)

It’s not that I don’t like these characters. Dora is a positive Hispanic female role model, and the Super Why TV show is getting Carter excited about learning to reading skills. But I feel guilty that my child can so easily recognize so many TV and movie characters. It feels like a mark of poor parenting, which I compound by buying licensed products. I don’t like how so much stuff is marketed successfully to kids, yet I’d rather my child read licensed books than no books. And he likes them.

In the end, Carter had Grandpa get him a Super Why ABC Letter game and an Up sticker book—and, thankfully, to redeem me: an airplane sticker book. Before bed tonight, Carter, Jeff, and I played the game. The first question posed to Carter: What rhymes with “hill” and “drill”? The moment when he answered “daffodil” somehow made it ok that I had succumbed to the PBS marketing muscle.

healthy cranberry sauce that kids will eat

November 27th, 2009

Homemade cranberry sauce without that much sugar. Not what I would have guessed would be Carter’s favorite Thanksgiving offering, but he served himself up spoonful after spoonful. Pretty surprising considering the tartness and his love affair with salty meats, including smoked turkey breast from Burger’s Smokehouse. (I know it’s not hard to make a turkey, but buying boneless, sliced turkey is easier yet.) My favorite leftovers: turkey and cranberry sauce sandwiches.

Cranberry-Orange Sauce

12.5-ounce bag of cranberries
1 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
3 strips of orange peel
3 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Turn heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries pop and mixture thickens to desired consistency. (While the original recipe says 20 minutes, I do it for about an hour.)

Remove the cinnamon stick and cloves (if you can find them!). Transfer sauce to a bowl. Cool to room temperature (the sauce will set) and serve. You can also make it in advance and refrigerate for up to three days prior to serving.

Adapted from Simple Cranberry-Citrus Relish, Health magazine, November 2007

buttered-up beer bread and boys in the kitchen

November 16th, 2009

To make Trader Joe’s beer bread, add a bottle of beer to the mix and pour melted butter over the top. Lucky for us, Jeff read it as 1/4 lb (full stick) of butter, instead of  1/4 cup of butter (half of a stick). While it’s exceedingly unusual for Jeff to misread anything, the bread tasted twice as nice, with a delicious crisp crust. We had the bread fresh the other day and the leftover toasted (spread with yet more butter) today.

Yesterday, Carter helped me make breakfast. I was so proud when he got out the vanilla and said we should add it to the pancakes. Of course, he also wanted to smell it! Osmosis at work: vanilla isn’t in our current favorite pancake recipe, but he’s heard me talk about/adding it to other pancake recipes. (I put in 1 teaspoon.)

When we didn’t have enough blueberries to make all blueberry pancakes, Carter said we should make strawberry pancakes. (Fold diced strawberries into the batter before ladling onto griddle. Coating the strawberries with batter helps prevent them from getting overly browned. Don’t worry, though, if the fruit gets pretty dark brown; it doesn’t taste burned. Note: It works better to sprinkle the blueberries on top, rather than mixing them with the batter.)

Just like Jeff (albeit unintentionally) made a good call on the butter, Carter made the right call on the vanilla and the strawberries. And I got to enjoy the results. I wonder what the boys will cook up next….

project runway: easy-to-make costume for a kid who loves airplanes

November 1st, 2009

run smallSew a black jack o’ lantern face on an orange T-shirt and pair it with orange sweatpants. That’s my idea of how much effort should go into making a costume. And it matched perfectly what Carter wanted the last two Halloweens.

When Carter said he wanted to be a prince or a knight for Halloween this year, I told him they both sounded complicated to make. His solution: “Tell me what you can make, and then I’ll tell you what I’ll be.”

Auntie Stacey is famous for her creativity when it comes to making costumes (Carter wore her son’s outgrown Max from the Wild Things costume one year), so she came over to brainstorm with us. She gets credit for this year’s winner: What better than an airport for the boy who loves planes? And what could be easier to make? Jeff taped the runway markings precisely on a black T-shirt and sweatpants. (Thank you, Honey!) For added security, I tacked down the tape with thread and sewed on a plush plane. Done!

Carter’s a happy boy posing with an added biplane in the photo, but earlier in the evening there was doubt he would go trick or treating and tears when he realized he could not join his neighbor friends. He started coughing Thursday and running a fever last night, and both were worse today. Around 6 pm, the poor lil guy said: “I’m too sick to go trick or treating. I’ll go tomorrow instead.”

Fortunately, the ibuprofen kicked in and he perked up just enough to walk up and down our block with me. I know it’s not a good thing to take a child with a fever out, but on Halloween, it seems far worse to keep a child home. He washed and sanitized his hands before we went, and stood back, didn’t touch anything, and had me put the candy in his bag. But at least he got to say “trick or treat” and “thank you” for both the candy and the compliments on his clever, custom-made costume.

daycare baking project

September 12th, 2009

Today, at daycare, the kids “made” cinnamon rolls—put premade dough on baking sheets, which Lucy baked and cooled during gym class. Afterward, the kids frosted and decorated them with raisins and candy. They sampled their creations, and each brought one home. A hands-on baking project. Yet another reason for me to love Carter’s daycare and be grateful that the NASA daycare center stiffed us.

When I was pregnant, Jeff and I had put our names on the waiting list for NASA’s onsite daycare center. The director assured us that it wouldn’t be a problem getting in. But it was. Which I found out at the end of my maternity leave when I called to set up Carter’s start date. Then I found out how hard it is to find daycare with an open infant spot. I was on my way to put a deposit down at an expensive, inconvenient center, because it was the best option I had found, when I stopped to visit one last home provider. Thank goodness. Carter has now been going to Lucy’s for over four years—and learning more than I ever could have taught him had I stayed home. (NASA finally offered us a slot when Carter was 18 months old. We declined.)

After dinner, Carter nibbled on his cinnamon roll and then said, “Mommy, You can have the rest.” It was nice of him to share, but I could taste why. The mish-mash of sweet decorations looked better together than they tasted. So if you try decorating cinnamon rolls with your kids, which is a great easy, creative, and tactile project, keep in mind it’s about the process, not the end result. (At least that’s what I told Jeff when he caught me being a bad mommy and surreptitiously throwing out the remains.)

Doll does Discovery Museum

August 29th, 2009

101°F in Palo Alto. Hot enough to fry an egg. Too hot to bake. Perfect for making pretend pizza for Doll (and Mommy), rolling out sculpting clay, and splashing in water at the air-conditioned San Jose Children’s Discovery Museum

I limited Carter to bringing just one toy friend into the museum, and today Doll made the cut. (Pink Bear and Holly Bear kept each other company in the car.)

A note about Doll: I have to give a shout out to Dolls Like Me, a source for “multicultural toys.” In other words, a place where I could buy my son a boy doll with brown skin. They now have a doll of a more famous biracial boy: President Barack Obama.