Tuesday, November 8, 2016

pumpkin cupcakes

Here it is:  a little hope and cupcakes in a crazy time.

I was up early this morning, piping cream cheese frosting on the domes of these perfect little pumpkins before work.  They have just the right blend of fall spices, plenty of pumpkin, and delicate sweetness.  If you eat one before noon, it's hearty enough to call it a muffin and be fine with that.  No crazy ingredients or difficult technique:  just a reliable, delicious cupcake.  Don't you feel better already?

When I set out to make brown butter rice krispie treats and these pumpkin cupcakes for our son's preschool teachers, I was shocked to discover that I have not shared this recipe with you yet.  How can that be?  These tiny cakes have commemorated some wonderful fall occasions in my life, including a post-rehearsal bonfire party the night before my dear friend Alison's wedding on Sugarloaf Mountain in Maryland.  It's hard to top that.

But I'm feeling festive, and they are delicious, so we are celebrating on a Tuesday.

There's more.  We have another baby on the way.  It's such an adventure and a privilege raising this sweet little toddler boy, and we are so excited to meet his baby brother in January.  What a joy!  I can hardly believe it when I write the words.  I haven't even gotten used to saying "I'm a mom" yet, but I love the job and all the responsibility and fun and laughter and snot and crackers that it carries.  We are, every day, on a journey of discovery and patience and forgiveness and love with these little dudes.

There's even more to celebrate today, too.  It's election day, and I voted for principles I care about in my state and an accomplished and qualified woman to lead our country.   I'm over the fear and the anxiety.  It feels amazing to shatter that glass ceiling.  (Although I freely admit I will be stress eating the cupcake uglies and the extras tonight while the election results roll in.)

I'll spend just another moment to say we really, really love our son's school.  We want to say thank you to this incredible team of women who care for children in a loving, kind, and respectful way.  It's a true community that inspires warm fuzzies in our hearts every single day he is at school.  And friends, I know from (prior) personal experience that daycare can be a total racket, so I don't take any of these gifts for granted.  We love and celebrate this community.  Cupcakes can't fully convey our gratitude, but it's a start and they are yummy.

So today, I choose love and hope and pumpkin cupcakes.  Let's do this.  The recipe follows.

Monday, February 15, 2016

anything goes fried rice

I'm watching our tiny baby get a little bigger each day.  And I'm remembering this time last year, before we knew his sex and his health and his disposition.  It was special and still mysterious.  I loved being pregnant.  Even with migraines and killer heartburn.  It was a privilege.  It was snuggly and cozy and magic and a little (lot) scary.  As I've written before, I learned a tremendous amount about letting go and letting this magic little being be himself.

I learned a few other things, too.  Things that help me every day as a working mom and human being (trying to adult, as they say). 

So here we are.  It's winter again, and as I'm writing this we are snowed in with our tiny baby asleep upstairs.  I'm cooking apples on the stove for his first applesauce.  More lessons to learn.  More moments of gratitude.

When I cook for us now, I make an effort to include lots of flavors and textures without a lot of fuss.  Fried rice is a fun way to use a little of everything and get more veggies into the mix. 

If you're frying rice at home, you're likely to have the best results with cold, leftover rice.  Warm rice will absorb too much oil and result in a greasy meal.  But cold rice will hold its shape and get just the right amount of fat and flavor.  In fact, the best outcome comes from leftover white rice from the box of your local takeout place.  This is great news to me.  If you've been a reader for a while, you know that I have a long list of failures cooking rice.  So in this case, a takeout shortcut that actually improves the end product is totally worth it.

It's also important to use a vegetable oil that can withstand high heat.  I use organic sunflower, grapeseed, or a refined high-heat coconut oil.  Save a flavorful sesame oil for adding at the end if you like.  You can also customize the salty flavoring you use here-- traditional soy, gluten-free tamari, or liquid aminos all work nicely.  Be sure to hold back on salt until you taste the rice mixture.  Some of those soy-based products can be very salty.

Start with your cold rice.  Set out everything else you will need on the counter.  Whisk a couple of eggs together, chop scallions, and find your high-heat oil.


Now add anything you want.  My version here is a colorful combination of shiitake mushrooms, broccoli and carrot slaw mix,  protein-packed edamame, and maybe some leftover pork.  Consider adding bean sprouts, shredded carrots, shredded rotisserie chicken, shrimp or tofu, even some frozen corn or canned pineapple tidbits.  The sky is the limit. Serve yourself a huge, hot bowl with some sriracha and you have the perfect snowed-in meal.

While you consider what's in your freezer that you could add to the fried rice, allow me to share my list of lessons I learned (so far) from pregnancy.  As it turns out, what I learned has very little do with babies and a lot to do with living a better life.

First and foremost, each of us has a light that does not flicker and cannot be extinguished.  Unquestionably.  Illuminated.  It's the truth.  Namaste.

Be patient. I was in such a huge hurry.  Time to slow down.  Time to wait.  Time to breathe. The important things take time.  A year... 10 months... longer.

Be patient with myself.  Lady why on earth do you have to have it all done now?   You'll get there when you get there.  Before I was pregnant, I was busy and punctual, especially in my professional life.  When I was pregnant, I was late all the damn time.  In the car, telling myself, you'll get there when you get there.  And I did.  And it was fine.  I lost my concentration and my memory many times.  And now as a mom I am constantly distracted.  When the baby cries, I glaze over like a zombie and can't complete a sentence.  It's OK.  It's not a contest for sharpness.  Be patient and it will come.  You will get there when you get there.

Always pack snacks.  Good lord, the hunger.  But isn't this a good way to prepare for life generally?  Pack a snack.  It can't hurt and it will be awesome later when you are hungry.

Stay hydrated.  Good habits die hard!  Absolutely essential for every living creature.  And I finally got it (because someone else's health was on the line). Take the extra 2 minutes to fill a water bottle before you leave the house.  Take a few more to refill it a couple of times during the day.  It will make you healthier.

Go to bed early.  Yup.  My husband says having a baby finally got me to go to bed early.  I take the "sleep when your baby sleeps" thing very seriously.  And I am better for it every morning after a good night's sleep.  Without drugs on my side for migraines during pregnancy, a little sleep was the best cure I could get my hands on. 

Get comfortable.  (And sleep on the left side.)  Isn't this a thing?  Well, I couldn't do it before.  I was a full-on stomach sleeper until it was no longer an option.  Buy pants that fit and expensive sheets.  Demand that standing desk at work.  Stretch.  Make yourself comfortable.

Eat more colorfully!  Strive for a rainbow on your plate.  I did it for baby, and now I do it for me.  There is so much more variety in what I eat now.  (Although admittedly I ate enormous amounts of cinnamon toast crunch while pregnant... there's seriously nothing more delicious in this world.  That habit I managed to break, thankfully.)  Get more colors in your diet and you might be surprised by the combinations you love.

Abandon high heels.  Pretty much forever.  With the exception of an occasional dinner out when I will mostly be sitting, then I will put the pretty ones on.  This one is controversial.  But they do sell cute flats, btw. 

Never take mobility for granted.  There was a brief period late in pregnancy when my left hip hurt so much I could hardly walk.  For a couple of weeks I thought maybe it would never be ok again.  I worried about it.  I stretched, and it passed, and since having surgery to bring this baby into the world there have been other things that challenged my mobility.  I am grateful every time I stand up, pick up that baby, and walk across the room without pain.  It could be so much harder.  I try to stretch and keep it on the easy side as long as I can.

Let people help you.  I first wrote, "Let friends help you," then "friends and family."  Yes, those are important, but that's not really it.  When I was pregnant, grocery store clerks and occasionally strangers would offer to help me carry things or open doors or whatever.  Sometimes I said yes.  In life, people will sometimes offer help.  And you should accept it.  Many successful women I know are really bad at this.  But when you need it most, then maybe you learn to let them help you.

...and help them, too.  And when you have the opportunity to offer help, then you should.  Now, when I see a mom on her own and trying to get in the car with all her stuff, I offer help.  Just in case she really really needs it.  It's incredible the generosity that showers on new moms in many cases-- meals to your home, hand-me-down clothes, extra milk storage bags or whatever from friends and family and co-workers and neighbors.  But some days are hard or quiet or isolating or scary for anyone and that extra hand might be what she needed.  If you're uncomfortable reaching out in person, consider donating to causes you believe in.  Extend the hand however you are able.

There's definitely some winter magic in learning to care for another life and respect our own.  It's whatever you need.  Really anything goes.  Snuggle down. The recipe for fried rice follows.