Archive for September, 2009

“guilty mommy” gets attention

September 19th, 2009

Yesterday’s blog about mommy guilt received the swiftest and most responses (on the blog and on my Facebook page) to anything that I’ve written so far. (I know, I know; baking brownies just doesn’t stir emotions in the same way.)

If you haven’t read the book I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids, I recommend that you do. It’s a super fast read, with lots of insight, humor, and advice packed in. The authors, Trisha Ashworth and Amy Nobile, start by fessing up to how they feel. See if any of these ring true:

-“As mothers, we put way too much pressure on ourselves.” [agree]
-“We have an unrealistic image of what a ‘good’ mom is.” [agree]
-“We secretly compare ourselves to other moms, who seem to have it all together.” [not so much—I admire and depend on lots of moms]
-We think we need to be perfect all the time. [agree]
-We feel alone. [sometimes]
-Our lives feel out of balance.” [sometimes]

Then the authors interviewed a lot of moms who (surprise!) feel the same way.

Spoiler alert! To summarize, for those who don’t read the book, the authors’ advice boils down to: realign your expectations of yourself as a parent. Consider if your expectations make sense and whether they make you and your family happy. Just doing this, they say, is the key to letting go of guilt and judgment—and to loving being a mom as much as you love your kids.

I think an equally important takeaway is their advice for moms to talk honestly to each other and to support each other.

I wouldn’t have survived motherhood thus far if it weren’t for other moms. It was thanks to my friends and sisters that I was eventually able to breastfeed Carter, after doctors and lactation consultants had long given up on me. (Carter was 9 weeks old the first day I was able to exclusively breastfeed him. He then nursed until he weaned himself at 2 1/2 years old.) When Carter was an infant, I would email my weekly new mommies’ group, which still gets together, in the middle of the night and get a response. Carter broke his leg when he was 3, and a mom I’d never met from the Palo Alto Menlo Park Parents’ Club, which has thousands of members, lent me her copy of Jessica’s X-Ray. I could go on and on. Suffice it to say, I am filled with gratitude for all that other moms have done for me.

In the end, I don’t think “realigning expectations” will ever assuage all my guilt. But support from other moms? Now, that gets results.

Yet another guilty mommy

September 18th, 2009

I just read I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids: Reinventing Modern Motherhood for book club. Authors Trisha Ashworth and Amy Nobile interviewed a lot of moms who feel a lot of guilt about a lot of things. It got me to thinking: What do I feel guilty about—aside from never putting together any scrapbooks for Carter?

I don’t feel guilty about working, even though I’m gone from 8 am to 6 pm every weekday. (I don’t know how stay-at-home moms do it—how they have the patience and physical stamina. The most exhausting time of my life was my 20-week maternity leave.) I think it’s good for Carter to see me do what I love. It doesn’t hurt, in his eyes, that my job means I can make a book about airplanes.

I don’t feel guilty about Carter going to daycare. He learns more at Lucy’s than I could ever teach him staying at home. (Did I mention he understands Russian?)

However, I do feel tremendously guilty if I do something, even take a class, when Carter is not in daycare and is awake: weekday mornings, weeknights between coming home and bedtime at 8 pm, and weekends, outside of naptime, until bedtime.

Last fall, I went on two business trips, four days to New York and three days to Florida—the first time and only times I’ve ever left Carter for more than a day.

I also feel guilty when I want to sleep in the morning, but Carter is awake—especially when he bounces in at 6 am, or even 7 am, and says, “Get up, Mommy! I want you to play with me.”

I should be grateful. For years, Carter got up between 5 and 5:30 am—every morning. And that was it. We were both awake. I’d read stacks and stacks of books. I’d take him for walks in our PJs. Sometimes, I got lucky: he’d nurse and then we’d both snooze.

However, I feel like if I were a truly Good Mother, I would spend and savor every possible hour—even when I’d rather be sleeping—with Carter.

Truth is: Carter doesn’t care that much if I’m gone, as long as it’s not an extensive absence and Jeff is around. Carter actually wants me to go to yoga class on Saturday morning because he likes to go to childcare at the Y (they have fun toys). He’s starting to decline to go on errands with me, even to Trader Joe’s (!), to stay home and play. Sometimes, he’d rather watch TV than bake with me (double ouch). If I leave to go somewhere, I get a “ba-bye” for the most part.

Yet. I feel guilty. Welcome to modern motherhood. According to the book, I’m in good company.

beer-spiked chocolate cupcakes

September 14th, 2009

Weeks ago, I signed up to make a dessert for our block party. It was today, but had completely slipped my mind until I got a reminder email around noon. Carter wanted to make cupcakes, which aside from the Linzer cupcakes, I haven’t made very often, so I went in search of a foolproof recipe.

I was reading through cookbooks and searching online, when I came across a five-star recipe on the Food Network site with an intriguing addition: a bottle of Guinness! On one hand, what doesn’t taste better with Guinness? On the other, I had never contemplated putting a bottle of beer in chocolate cupcakes. I don’t know why it works, but it does. (The alcohol cooks off during the baking process, so these are kid safe.)

Topping chocolate cupcakes off with cream cheese frosting also never hurts. Today, that’s what Carter was most interested in because he was making frosting for the first time. He loves to turn the crank on the sifter and hold the electric hand mixer by himself. He also insisted on frosting the cupcakes, which he did very carefully and deliberately, proving that baking is good for helping kids focus. (He had me “finish” them with a little smoothing.) And, of course, in the end, with cupcakes, it’s all about the sprinkles, lots and lots of sprinkles.

Note: Having the ingredients at room temperature helps keep the butter from clumping. If you’re short on time, putting the eggs and the bottle of beer in bowls of warm water speeds up the process.

Beer-Spiked Chocolate Cupcakes

2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 pinches salt
1 1/2 cups (1 12-ounce bottle) stout beer, such as Guinness, room temperature
1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup sour cream, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease or place 24 paper liners in muffin tins.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In another mixing bowl, combine the beer, butter, and vanilla. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Mix in the sour cream until the mixture is thoroughly combined. In three separate parts, add the dry ingredients, blending well after each addition.

Pour the batter into the muffin tins, dividing equally to make 24 cupcakes.

Bake for 12 minutes and then rotate the pans. Bake another 12 minutes, or until risen, nicely domed, and set in the middle but still soft and tender. Cool in pans on wire rack.

Adapted from Chocolate Stout Cupcakes, Dave Liedberman (Food Network)

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 cup powdered sugar
8 ounces of cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Sift the sugar into a mixing bowl. Add the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla. Blend until smooth.

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.)

handheld mixer, check

September 8th, 2009

hand-held mixer debutIMG_0962Another great banana bread recipe—and Carter’s first solo spin with a handheld electric mixer. Just like Widget on Wow! Wow! Wubbzy, who, Carter tells me, invented the Blenderoma 3000 to help Wubbzy make doodleberry pie. (Once again, I must ask myself if my child watches too much TV. At least, Widget is a positive female character who likes to invent and build things.) Carter was so excited about using the mixer that he yelled for Daddy, to “come quick.” Then he showed Jeff how to use the mixer and let him take a turn. 

I chose this Williams-Sonoma banana bread recipe for the whole-wheat flour and the fact that once mashed, the very ripe bananas my neighbor gave me equalled 1 cup. Carter and I have made similar recipes, like the  Ba-Ba banana bread and Nandini’s mini banana muffins, that employ the creaming method, where you blend together room-temperature butter and sugar. However, Carter usually exits from the kitchen when I use either the stand or the handheld mixer because he doesn’t like the noise. This is the first time Carter asked to do it himself—and then went it alone using the handheld mixer. He was proud of himself, and, needless to say, I was proud of him, too. (Tip: use a mixing bowl with a nonslip bottom to keep the bowl secure on the counter.)

We made four loaves in mini loaf pans. I don’t know if it’s the method or the stick of butter and cup of sugar (I’ll try less next time), but this is some good banana bread.

Whole-Wheat Banana Bread

1 1/4 cups whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 cup very ripe bananas, mashed, (3 small or 2 large)
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a standard loaf pan or four mini loaf pans.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. 

In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until blended—a handheld electric mixer is helpful for this step. Beat in the banana, then the eggs, one as a time, until completely mixed.

Add the flour mixture into the egg mixture and gently blend by hand just until combined (do not overmix!).

Spread the batter in the loaf pan(s) and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean, about 55–60 minutes for a standard loaf pan or about 30–35 minutes for mini loaf pans. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove and cool completely on a wire rack or serve warm.

Adapted from Muffins & Quick Breads (Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Library)

Lemon blueberry oatmeal muffins

September 6th, 2009

Since I let my child eat blueberry coffee cake for dinner, I thought we’d try a healthier version of blueberry baked goods. Carter had two lemons from the tree at daycare, so I searched online for lemon blueberry muffins, with an eye toward healthy ingredients. In addition to having oats and whole-wheat flour, this recipe caught my eye because it calls for agave syrup, which we have leftover from making Finnley’s Super Muffins.

Today’s new baking concept was making a “well,” i.e., a hole, in the middle of the dry ingredients in which to pour the wet ingredients all at once. This technique is supposed to make it easier to mix the batter uniformly without the dreaded overmixing that can result in tough muffins. Does it actually matter? Probably not much. (Here’s a quick sampling of opinions from Chowhound). But it was fun to show Carter before he carefully and gently mixed all this goodness together.

I was concerned that these muffins might end up tasting “too healthy,” but even with the oats and whole-wheat flour, they’re not heavy—and Carter likes them, so they’re kid tested and approved!

Lemon Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins
1 1/4 cup oats (not quick cooking)
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup milk
1/3 cup agave syrup
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest (2 lemons)
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat a 12-muffin pan with cooking spray.

In medium-sized bowl, stir together the oats, flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg, then whisk in the milk, agave syrup, vegetable oil, and lemon zest.

Make a well in the dry ingredients, pour in the wet ingredients all at once, and stir until barely combined (do not overmix!). Gently fold in blueberries.

Divide batter equally among muffin cups. Bake muffins 20–25 minutes, or until tops start to brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Adapted from Whole-Wheat Lemon Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins on Tasty Planner, contributed by Angel’s Scullery

blueberry coffee cake = fruit for dinner

September 2nd, 2009

2 pieces of blueberry coffee cake + a few bites of apple + a few sips of milk = Carter’s dinner last night. Or, as I like to look at it: 3 servings of fruit + some calcium. Not bad, considering other fast-food meal alternatives.

Needless to say, the blueberry streusel coffee cake has been a hit, which inspired me to check out other bloggers’ take on blueberry coffee cake.

Just the other day, my friend Dawn, who designs web sites for gorgeous high-end bed and breakfasts and the like (as well as Baking with Carter), recommended that I check out the baking recipes on the blog Inn Cuisine.  Food Blog Search  was like minded, pointing me to this version of  blueberry streusel coffee cake with nutmeg, butter, and lemon zest.

Kevin at Closet Cooking adds an even more pronounced citrus twist, using lemon juice in his blueberry and lemon coffee cake.

I like how Food Mahem layers the batter and struesel in a Bundt pan, because I love my Bundt pans (yes, I have several variations, although I use the classic heavy-duty one the most frequently). I’d also like to try the suggested addition of almond extract. Whipped’s Barb’s coffee cake also earns points for being made in a Bundt pan. 

For a healthy approach, Madu’s blueberry coffee cake at Eggless Cooking is not only egg-free, it’s also low fat. Maybe that would be a better dinnertime option?