Friday, December 30, 2011

Here We Go Again

Christmas Morning

Late on December 7th (the eighth anniversary of Rob's first letter to me), I took a pregnancy test. I stashed it in a drawer, certain I'd imagined the results, and finished cooking dinner. Twenty-four hours later, I handed Rob an envelope. In it was a stick, and a note:

Here we go again.

We weren't "trying." In fact, we were actively preventing. After many difficult conversations, Rob and I had determined that, while we both want another child, the near-constant wondering—could I be...pregnant?—month after month was wearing on us. We decided to take a winter break from living sans birth control, enjoy our holiday cocktails, and ditch the condoms again in the spring. (Spring seems like a good time to make a baby, right?) So really, the only way this makes any sense at all is that I must have ovulated a whole week earlier than usual, which seems very unlikely and WTF-ish.

We had ten lovely, excitement-filled days—rejoicing and daydreaming and eating vitamin-rich meals—before I noticed some brown spotting. (It looked exactly like the stuff that was coming out of me six months ago, shortly before an ultrasound revealed a lump of placental tissue hanging out in my uterus.) The spotting hasn't really stopped, almost two weeks later. My hCG at 5 1/2 weeks was 60,000. Off-the-charts high. In my best moments, I remember that charts and averages don't always match individual experiences. I remember the anecdotes, especially my midwife telling me that she spotted throughout her pregnancy and went on to have a healthy baby. But when the fear feels especially heavy, I suspect a missed miscarriage, a molar pregnancy, or worse.

Westley knows that I'm pregnant. He absolutely lit up when Rob told him that we think there's a baby growing inside Mommy; Westley has decided that it's a girl. I worry about possibly putting him through another loss, but it felt dishonest not to tell him what was going on when I've been so sick.

And have I been sick! Just setting foot in the kitchen makes me gag. Thinking about food is equally miserable. I can usually make myself eat if someone puts it in front of me, but preparing anything is out of the question. Rob has been shopping and cooking up a storm for me for the past week...and caring for Westley full-time, and doing all of the housework, and slipping fresh lemon slices into my water when I'm not looking. I am beyond grateful. Gratitude doesn't begin to scratch the surface of it, really. I have done nothing but sit, nap, complain, cry, watch Portlandia, worry, nap, and complain for a week. The last semi-productive thing I did was wrap Christmas presents, and that took everything I had.

In about a week, an ultrasound will tell whether we're expecting a baby or a surgery. I'm trying to be hopeful, and I want very much to be excited. There's something magical in the idea of conceiving when we specifically set out not to.

3

.....................................

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry the Night

All ready...

It's Christmas Eve and I'm eating watermelon. Rob is baking a lemon cake for tomorrow's get-together with my parents, and it smells wonderful, but all I want for dessert is fruit. I've already reached some kind of toxic load for sugary treats. However, I did play my part in the Santa game and eat one of the two cookies Westley left out.

...just the Right Ones.

Last year, Westley decided on his own that he believed in Santa Claus. Rob and I were planning to leave Santa Claus in that gray area of "this is a story some people tell," but no. Westley declared that Santa absolutely would be coming down our chimney. And so he did.

A couple weeks ago, Westley asked me if Santa was vegan. I said I didn't know, and asked Westley what he thought.

"I think he might be," he said thoughtfully.

"It's possible," I agreed.

Westley decided that he would leave vegan cookies and soy milk for Santa. "And some vegan sushi!"

Perfect.

...for Santa
Cat + Wrap

Right in the middle of wrapping a book and minding the cake, Rob bolted down the hall. "What's up, buddy?"

Westley, awake and bleary-eyed, was trying to see past his dad and into the living room. "Can I stay up?" he asked.

"No," Rob told him gently. "Santa can't come if you're not asleep."

Westley promptly burst into tears.

"Oh, sweetie," I joined the back-to-bed effort, taking Westley in my arms, "is it hard to sleep?"

He nodded, still teary.

"Would you like me to sing?" I asked.

He nodded again. "Bad Romance."

(I sometimes wonder if I've sung that song more times than Lady Gaga has. When Westley was still napping, my singing "Bad Romance" at a slowed-down, lullaby pace was a twice-daily thing.)

Westley was asleep before the end of the second verse, but I sang the rest anyway. Sitting in the glider, with Rob on a pillow on the floor and Westley dozing in his bed, I realized that the exhaustion and anxiety that had ruled a good portion of my evening had been completely washed away by the sweetness of my little family. I sang Elton John's "Your Song" to keep us sitting there a little longer.

<span class=

It's still relatively early in the night, and we're basically ready for tomorrow morning. The kitty is nestled up close to Rob's lap, and I can see a glass of wine in my peripheral vision. Somehow, everything is wrapped, baked, and stuffed into stockings, as appropriate. The kitty's stocking posed a bit of a challenge. (A bottle of catnip bubbles is bigger than a mini-stocking, it turns out.) But Rob was happy to declare, twice, "I'm a master at putting too-big things inside of too-small things."

How lucky am I?

* * *
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night('s sleep).

.....................................

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Our Secular Hanukkah

Dreidel

No one in my family, immediate or extended, is Jewish, but I love Hanukkah. I grew up surrounded by Jewish peers who bragged about their eight nights of presents, and while that sounded great, I had Swedish tomtes leaving me treats and surprises from December 1st through the 24th. I was more drawn to the menorah, which struck me as very elegant, and also to the food. Oh, the food!

Does every culture have a fried potato dish? Every culture that eats potatoes, that is? In any case, latkes are friggin' delicious, and when Westley came home from preschool singing a song about latke-making and dreidel-spinning, I decided we should celebrate Hanukkah this year. In our own, non-traditional, completely secular way.

Westley helped me make the latkes. He enjoyed pushing the onion, potato, and carrots down into the food processor. He stirred the vegetables around with potato starch, spilling just a little bit. When I got down the canister of brown rice flour, he said, "Can I do that?" I used an ice-cream scoop to dish out roundish blobs of potato mixture into Westley's hands. He sang his preschool song as he flattened them into patties: "Take a potato, pat-pat-pat...!"

Gluten-Free, Vegan Latkes (Fried)
Non-traditional, highly-nomable gluten-free, vegan latkes...

Gluten-Free, Vegan Latkes (Baked)
...and even less traditional baked latkes.

Gluten-free, Vegan Latkes

Westley doused at least one of his latkes in ketchup. I'd wanted to get all super-festive and make butternut squash soup and some kind of nut pate, but we settled for a side of simple, roasted cauliflower.

After dinner we played dreidel with pennies. I wasn't able to snag any vegan Hanukkah gelt, but next year? Chocolate coins for all!

Dreidel
Spinning
Spinning
"Baruch zemahn shel simhah, z’man shel or tikvah laohlahm."
(Blessed is the time of our celebration, time of light for hope in the world.)

Happy Hanukkah!

.....................................

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Dark Side of the Road

Snuggle Bug

Earlier this month, on a Thursday morning, Westley and I set out for preschool, as usual. As I approached the main intersection closest to our house, I was surprised to see bumper-to-bumper traffic stretching all the way up the hill. I was a bit taken aback. The road in question is a busy one, but never so crowded as to be at a standstill.

"We're gonna go a different way today, buddy."

But as I joined up with the nearby, less-popular route east, it was clear that others had had the same idea. My sneaky path around the congestion wasn't so sneaky after all.

Preschool is about a 12-minute drive from the house. That day, it took us 40 minutes to get there. I wanted to feel annoyed, but I couldn't shake the chilling certainty that something awful must have happened.

That evening, Rob learned that there had been a bicycle fatality at 3:00 AM. Several roads were closed, hence the traffic almost six hours later. My chest feels tight whenever I learn that someone has died, like my heart is the center of a giant rubber band ball—and this time was no exception. I couldn't stop thinking about the incident, though my information about it was almost entirely imagined.

"Who's out cycling at 3:00 AM?" Rob wondered.

"Someone who really loves it, I guess," I reflected.

Or maybe that person was out on bike at 3:00 AM because he didn't own a car, and was going to or coming home from work. In any case, riding a bicycle in the early morning dark was that person's reality, and I doubt that he expected to die.

I'm fascinated by our collective ignorance when it comes to death. Every one of us will die some day, and we have no way of knowing when that will be. When Westley was tiny, just a few days old, I used to look down at him in my arms and cry and cry—because this tiny baby would one day become a man who would grow old and die. But of course I don't know that for certain. There are illnesses, there are injuries. Accidents happen all the time, and sometimes they happen to people you love.

In these last few days of darkness before the Solstice, I catch myself thinking about death often. Everything seems very fragile, and I'm thankful to be part of it for now, awake and living. I feel a little extra burst of gladness when I see the kitty curled on the couch, motionless except for her side rising and falling. I feel ever so slightly more loving towards Westley when I check on him at night, snug his blankets around him, notice his gentle breathing.

Mama's guy

Reflecting on death—especially the sudden, violent death of a stranger just blocks from my home—makes this time, right now, with its clutter and stress and arguments, seem somehow perfect. For now, we are safe, healthy, loved. There's something kind of beautiful about your four-year-old's runny nose when you realize that, twenty years from now, he might be out riding his bicycle at 3:00 AM.

.....................................

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Rest in Movement

Sitting down doesn't do what I want it to do.

I imagine that a day spent sitting, possibly drinking tea or cocoa with vegan marshmallows and watching Christmas movies, will leave me feeling more rested, a little less overwhelmed by the season and my never-ending train of thought.

Sadly, this is not how it works. Sitting for most of the day somehow makes me feel more tired, more overwhelmed. Also, my butt starts to get sore. (Despite having ample padding in the front, I have bony rear end. When I gain weight, the only thing that doesn't get bigger is my ass.) Sitting should be restful, but it's actually kind of exhausting.

Working out does what I want sitting down to do. If what I'm craving is relaxation, 40 minutes of bouncing around on the elliptical is more restful than any bubble bath. I've known this for years, but it makes so little sense to me that I'm always surprised when I push my wiped-out self through a workout only to end up feeling better than ever.

If only moving through tiredness were more intuitive, I wouldn't waste so much energy on sitting around.

.....................................

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Dreaming of a Preschool Christmas

Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Hand-cutout reindeer antlers.

Westley's Ornaments
Popsicle-stick snowflakes.

Westley's Ornaments
Preschool "Gingerbread" House
Graham cracker gingerbread house.

Preschool "Gingerbread" House
Rudolph & Mommy
My adorable preschooler.

.....................................

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Oh, Christmas Tree...

I really thought we'd have our tree up by now, with Christmas less than two weeks away. What I failed to remember, however, was that a noble fir would not magically appear in the corner of our living room. If there was going to be a tree, we, the responsible adults in the house, would have to decide to go get one.

Putting up the tree.

We came very close to coming home with a flocked tree. ("I see you sprayin' white stuff / On your Christmas tree, and I'm like, / Flock you!") As we were driving up to the lot, Westley spotted the glittery flocked trees and said, "Let's get a white tree!"

I mentioned that as a child, I always wanted a flocked tree, but my family never had one. My parents were hooked on the real-tree smell, I think. But those fake-snow-covered trees always seemed very romantic and theatrical to my drama-loving small self.

"I don't really want one now, though. They're messy," I said, even as I thought the sprayed trees were probably not as messy as a standard, naked evergreen. "We'll look at them."

But Westley made a bee-line for the fresh tree "forest" straight out of the car. "Here's our tree!" he proclaimed, standing in front of a noble fir that was a dead ringer for last year's tree.

"Did you want to look at the flocked trees?" I asked. We headed over.

I touched one of the smallest flocked trees. It felt spiky, and a little bit like packing material. "Let's get it!" Westley decided with enthusiasm.

"Well..." I looked it over. "There's not really a lot of space to hang ornaments. And," I turned to Rob, "how do you dispose of one of these?"

He shrugged.

Westley lead us back to the first, au naturale tree. "This is it," he said. "Yeah."

Christmas Tree Get!

We drove home with it tied to the roof of our car—something I've never done, and was kind of excited to do. There's an iconic, festive humor to the car driving along with a sideways tree on top.

I spent what felt like three hours untangling lights I swear were neatly put away last January. By the time the lights were on the tree, it was late. Westley was determined that we do some decorating of the tree tonight. He insisted on hanging six ornaments, and arranged them in a large clump on the front of the tree at about his chest height.

We'll tackle the rest of the tree-trimming first thing in the morning.

.....................................

Monday, December 12, 2011

Date Knight

Rob loves for us to have time together, just the two of us, whenever possible. As soon as we've gone on a date—whether it's an elaborate dinner-followed-by-theater-followed-by-drinks-and-then-philosophizing-into-the-wee-hours or a simple lunch—he's on the lookout for the next one. So when we had the chance to go to an adults-only Christmas party, Rob jumped into action, arranging for childcare and making sure his beard was shaped just so.

It was supposed to be a great party. It looked great. The halls were most certainly decked, though not traditionally so, and most of the attendees had gotten the "Let's get dressed up!" memo. But the food was vegan-unfriendly or loaded with gluten or both, and there were more guests than there were chairs. And if only the karaoke machine had been positioned somewhere less ice-cold! (For a non-singer, I kick some serious karaoke ass. But it's hard to be awesome when your teeth are chattering.)

We made one circuit, chatted with some people, made a second circuit. I was starting to feel that itchy, introvert-trapped-in-an-extrovert-world feeling. Rob turned to me.

"You wanna go?" he asked.

Cue the Hallelujah chorus.

"Sure, if you're really done." I felt kind of guilty for wanting to leave already. We'd been there just under an hour.

"Honestly, I'd rather be home, under a blanket, watching Parks and Recreation."

We stopped at the grocery store for soy-free vegan cheese and corn tortillas. At home, I improvised an enchilada casserole for two. I set the casserole on a cutting board, and set the cutting board on the couch. We sat with our legs overlapping and ate directly out of the baking dish.

Christmas-Party Dinner

"This was supposed to be a Christmas party, and you made a mini Christmas dinner!"

"Hey, I did! Awesome!"

And then we toasted each other with giant glasses of room-temperature water and snugged the blanket in around our legs.

Christmas <span class=

.....................................

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Broad Points VII

61. I prefer to quit things "cold turkey" rather than wean myself off slowly. (Goodbye again, caffeine!)

62. Conversely, I peel bandages off as slowly (and excruciatingly) as possible.

63. I try always to get "dressed up" before leaving the house, and nine times out of ten, I pull it off. But at home, I can look pretty ridiculous. Westley's photos sometimes capture my bag-lady look.

Home Wear
Home Wear
Oh, yeah.

64. This year, at the age of almost-29, I finally stopped biting my nails. Now I just pick at them.

65. I feel a strange, inexplicable hostility towards people who put those stick-figure family decals on their cars.

66. My car has a "Midwives Help People Out" sticker on it.

"Midwives help people out" cool bumper sticker.
This is not my car.

I've been asked a few times if I'm a midwife. "Nope, just a fan of midwives," is my standard reply.

67. I don't remember the last time I ate boxed cereal.

68. I try to drink a gallon of water every day. On the days that I make it through an entire gallon, I pee about once every 45 minutes while I'm awake.

69. I'm pretty sure there were days in college when I drank a gallon of diet Coke.

70. I'd like to do a body suspension some day.

.....................................

Friday, December 9, 2011

A Little Good

<span class=

Sometimes depression is a bigger character in my writing than it is in my life. When I'm up awfulsauce creek, writing is my paddle. But when things are awesome, I don't always think to put it into words. I'm too busy enjoying the moment to record it.

This is especially true of the little good things that can find their way into even the worst of days.

The afternoon bubble baths where Westley plays while I sing to him or knit or both. The trips to the grocery store when Westley pushes the cart and finds the vegan marshmallows before I do.

Carob Cocoa

Carob cocoa and fuzzy sweaters with double zippers to keep the cold away. Westley's wild laugh-squeal when I make a face at him.

Friday

I tend to reserve the idea of "a good day" for the kind of big good that happens when I'm dressed up and going out with my equally dressed-up partner. Which is totally ridiculous. For starters, that doesn't happen very often—and while I'm waiting around for the "real" good days to start, I can easily miss enjoying the real good that happens every day.

<span class=

.....................................

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Caring For One

I often feel homesick for pregnancy. I reflect on Westley's time on the inside and sigh.

"But you hated being pregnant," Rob reminds me.

I hated being morning-sick throughout the day (for five queasy months), I hated the wardrobe, I hated not looking pregnant. But pregnancy made certain things easier.

Choosing to eat a nourishing meal, with enough good fat and protein. Taking handfuls of vitamins. Exercising not because my favorite jeans are a little snug, but because it's good and healthy and leads to more restful sleep and a host of other wonderful things. Keeping toxic chemicals out of my beverages and off my skin. Being pregnant made it easier to take care.

Being not-pregnant (or worse, un-pregnant), on the other hand, I am evil to myself. I glare, I punish. I fantasize about surgical gloves and very sharp knives. The non-pregnant have no psychic protection from treating themselves poorly. Where "eating for two" is an adventure in nutrition, eating for one is a chore. Or else it's fraught with anxiety.

After a few weeks of eating one meal a day, followed by a few weeks of feeling fed-up, copping a fuck everything attitude, and eating whatever the hell I wanted—including toxic-loading myself with soy and gluten—I decided to attempt to rework my un-caring self-care. I certainly don't believe that a woman's worth is based on her ability to conceive and sustain a child—so why do I treat myself as though I only matter when I'm pregnant?

I am the original inhabitant of this body. It's ridiculous to think that my me-ness is just a side-effect of being a potential growing-space for new people. Still, caring doesn't seem as nice when it's just me in here. I wish "eating for one" felt even half as lovely as eating for two.

.....................................

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Post-Kid Kitchen: Cow-Hugger Stew

Cow-Hugger Stew

Eventually, the weather will warm up and my cooking projects will start to vary a little. But for now, all I want to do is make soup and bread.

When Jenn (The Organic Heretic) shared her recipe for Irish Stew last month, I had an "Oh, yeah!" moment. My (Irish) mother's beef stew was one of my absolute favorite meals growing up. I've meant to attempt making a vegan version for years. The only problem (now) was that vegan spins on beef stew usually rely on seitan. You know, that vegetarian staple that's chewy, protein-rich, inexpensive and easy to make at home...and composed almost entirely of wheat gluten.

The very idea of a seitan-based stew was enough to make my digestive system organize a protest, complete with villi holding up signs saying, "Wheat is Murder!" Instead, my recipe is based on chewy, flavorful, (one might even say) meaty mushrooms.

Cow-Hugger Stew
Serves 6

1 pound cremini mushrooms
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 cups pearl onions
(I used frozen)
6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
8 cups vegetable stock (Rapunzel broth powder is a great vegan, wheat-free, soy-free option)
2 Tbsp coconut aminos
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried marjoram
1/4 tsp dried sage
2 bay leaves
1 3/4 pounds baby potatoes
3 medium carrots, sliced

Heat a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Saute onions and garlic in oil for a few minutes while you tear the mushrooms into chunks. My mushrooms were medium-sized, and I tore them into three pieces each. Go ahead and toss the mushrooms into the pot with the onions and garlic as you tear them up. Give everything a good stir once in a while.

Once all the mushrooms are in the pot, add about 1 cup of broth and stir. Add the rest of the broth and remaining ingredients to the pot, cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes, or until potatoes are cooked through.

Enjoy!

Cow-Hugger Stew

.....................................

Monday, December 5, 2011

Kid, Interrupted

Rob left for work this morning while I was in the bathroom. I heard him say to Westley, "Take good care of Mommy today."

I cringed. That's not his job, I thought. It's my job to take care of him.

<span class=

My own mother was terribly depressed when I was a child. Or so she's told me. I don't remember her being anything but extremely capable. (I believed that between my mother's book-finding and homemaking skills, and my father's carpentry and computer programming, my parents could accomplish anything.) I don't remember her crying, or retreating into a project, or hiding in her bedroom—all things I do around Westley.

Some days, Westley watches movie after movie, because I just want to put my stupid headphones on and hide from the world. Sometimes, I break down over the state of the living room after Westley has been playing in it. Last week, I started to cry because Westley had put his books and toys all over the couch and chairs, and there was nowhere to sit down. It's exactly the kind of thing I see on my workday at Westley's preschool; a kid will start to cry because his friend has a blue car. "Here's another blue car," I offer. "No! [sobbing] I want that blue car!"

Except that I'm not a four-year-old. My son is. And he should not be turning off the coffee pot when it's done brewing and then crawling into bed with me, sweetly whispering, "Coffee's ready." He shouldn't be telling me not to worry and then serenading me with "Three Little Birds."

I wonder how much Westley really sees of my depression, when it surfaces. Does he understand that something is "wrong" with Mommy? Do I seem as hot and cold as I feel? It's not that I'm all-depressed, all the time. Some days are wild and wonderful! Does Westley categorize our days as "good" and "bad" the way I do?

I imagine I must seem highly unstable to my kid, with my anger and sadness and desire to hibernate all coming out of nowhere. (I seem unstable to me, too.)

.....................................

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Broad Points VI

Don't Know!

51. I don't keep face tissues around. Sometimes, when I'm out of handkerchiefs, I blow my nose on a pair of clean underwear.

52. Police officers make me incredibly nervous. Whenever I see a police car, I assume I'm breaking some law I didn't know about.

53. I'd like to send thank you cards to people I admire while they're still alive, but I can't think of a way to say, "Your work has really made a difference in my life" without it sounding corny. Or stalkerish.

54. Looking at other people's wedding pictures makes me feel absolutely miserable. Close friends' weddings are sometimes an exception.

Wedding Reading

55. I know all the words to one and only one rap: "Big Gun" by Ice-T.

56. I've been a paid actress a handful of times in my life, playing a bad girl with a heart of gold-plated crazy. (Sadly, there are no photos.)

57. I kind of enjoy the sound of my stomach growling.

58. I love mondegreens (Sylvia Wright's word for misheard lyrics) and song parodies. I often sing things incorrectly on purpose.

59. I try to cut people slack in the grammar department, but there are a handful of errors that make me assume the writer is an idiot. I can't help it. It's like a reflex. If you write "everyday" when you mean "every day," I decide you're a half-wit.

For the record:
Every day is a time expression meaning "each day" or "regularly."
Everyday is an adjective meaning "ordinary" or "commonplace."
For example:
"I wear underwear every day." — I wear underwear on a daily basis.
"I wear everyday underwear." — I don't wear fancy lingerie.
"I wear underwear everyday." — I am a numskull.
60. I'm allergic to temporary tattoos.

.....................................

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Meme-y Christmas

Snowflakes

Sara posted this holiday-themed survey a little while ago, and, well, I love lists. So here we go.

1. Egg nog or hot chocolate?
I don't think of hot chocolate as a holiday drink; it's just yummy, cold-weather dessert-in-a-mug. Egg nog is the holiday winner. Isa's Matrioshka Eggnog is my favorite!

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?
When I was growing up Santa wrapped presents. Now, presents come from family members and friends, but Santa fills up the stockings.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white?
I prefer color. All-white looks like you're trying a little too hard to be Martha Stewart Living. (Which is not to say I don't love Martha Stewart Living, because I do.)

Tree
Westley's first Christmas tree.

4. Do you hang mistletoe?
It's not routine practice around here, but I have in the past.

5. When do you put your decorations up?
Always after Thanksgiving (never before), usually a few weeks before Christmas.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish?
Last year I made cashew-cheese enchiladas with tomatillo sauce for Christmas dinner, and they were so good, I decided to make an annual tradition out of them!

...

7. Favorite holiday memory as a child?
I don't have a specific holiday memory that stands out, but I do miss really believing in the magic of Santa Claus.

(My favorite specific holiday memory is taking my three-week-old baby to Family Mass on Christmas Eve in 2007. Rob and I had been attending Mass regularly for months, and after the Christmas Eve service was over, one of the women in the choir all but ran up to me, she was so excited: "I've been waiting to see this baby!" Also, I cannot speak highly enough of experiencing Christmastime with a newborn.)

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?
I was in elementary school: first grade, maybe? I don't remember the specifics.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?
No, but the tomtes bring a present that day. Last year, Westley got a tea set.

Last Tomte Gift

10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree?
We start with a real tree—always a real tree—and add multicolored lights and our eclectic, somewhat bizarre collection of ornaments.

...for Santa.

11. Snow! Love it or dread it?
I love it for about five minutes, when it's first falling and accumulating. Then, it's very romantic. But I get tired of being wet and cold pretty quickly.

12. Can you ice skate?
I can! I learned as a child, and for a very short time in college, I played ice hockey. I love to ice skate.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?
I don't really like gifts. The second year Rob and I were married, we got each other a new car...and then took a road trip in it! That was wonderful.

14. What's the most important thing about the holidays for you?
Recently, the most important thing has become making it through the hectic rush of it all without losing my mind, succumbing to alcoholism, or both.

15. What is your favorite holiday dessert?
I'm not a huge fan of desserts, and I don't associate any particular dessert with the holidays. I do love the charm and whimsy of gingerbread cut-out cookies, but they're not the tastiest of things.

Jolly Gingerbread Men

Oh! But for my birthday last year, I made rum raisin cupcakes with rum buttercream frosting, and whoa! Those things were beyond delicious. Those could become a holiday staple.

Fire out, hair unsinged.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?
I enjoy the annual "game" of Chase the Cats Away from the Wrapped Packages.

17. What tops your tree?
A vintage-style finial. I don't actually remember what color it is. Gold, maybe? Let's consult last year's photos.

Tree Topper
It's red with gold stars, apparently.

18. Which do you prefer giving or receiving?
I prefer giving, by far! I definitely feel the pressure to choose the "right" gifts for the people on my list, but wrapping something up for someone else is much nicer than unwrapping something for me.

19. Candy Canes: yuck or yum?
Yum-ish. I'd rather get my sugar elsewhere, but they're cute hanging on the tree, and tasty stirred into cocoa (and a great cure for pregnancy nausea!).

20. Favorite Christmas show?
I don't know about show (is this question trying to get me to say The Nutcracker?), but there are lots of Christmas movies that I love. Scrooge, the musical adaptation of A Christmas Carol, is my favorite.

21. Saddest Christmas song?
Well, for whatever reason, I can't sing "The Little Drummer Boy" without crying. And have you heard, "Mary, Did You Know?" I wasn't familiar with that one until I was a senior in college, but that song has the power to destroy me. Even more so now that I'm the mother of a little boy.

Holiday Kiss
Christmas morning, 2007.

22. What is your favorite Christmas song?
I really like the traditional ones: "Angels We Have Heard on High," "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," and "Joy to the World."

.....................................

Friday, December 2, 2011

Post-Kid Kitchen: Lemon-Frosted Crazy Cake

Vegan Birthday Cake

Yesterday was dreadful. I would go through 17 hours of unmedicated back labor again in a heartbeat if it meant never having a day like yesterday ever again. Westley was varying degrees of miserable from dawn until well past bedtime. And he expressed his unhappiness with a series of high-pitched whiny shrieks acid enough to leech the calcium from your bones.

Two notable exceptions to the all-around awfulness of yesterday were Westley's gasp of joy when I told him I needed help decorating his birthday cake, and his whole-body delight at pouring nonpareils, decorating sugar, and sprinkles over the finished cake.

"Decorating" the Cake
"Decorating" the Cake
"Decorating" the Cake

We are going to be finding pink nonpareils for weeks.

You may remember that Westley asked for a chocolate cake with lemon frosting. I thought this sounded absolutely ghastly, but a quick Internet search revealed that such a thing was not unheard of. I even found a recipe for something called "Full Moon Cake" (chocolate cake with lemon glaze) which made the idea sound downright charming.

My go-to chocolate cake is "Crazy Cake" (sometimes called "Wacky Cake"), and if you're vegan, you've probably made it before.

Gluten-Free Crazy Cake
Makes two 9-inch round cakes

3 cups your favorite gluten-free flour blend (I used Bob's Red Mill)
2 cups sugar
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup cocoa powder, sifted
3/4 tsp xanthan gum
3/4 cup canola oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 cups water


Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease two 9-inch round cake pans.

In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients and whisk together. Add wet ingredients and mix well. I beat the batter about 100 strokes with a spatula; an electric mixer would work well, too. Pour into cake pans and bake 30 minutes. Allow cakes to cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting, I made the Lemon Buttercream from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. My lemon was super-juicy, so I ended up using more lemon juice than the recipe called for, but I think it worked out well. The super-lemony lemon buttercream stood up well to the chocolate cake.

Birthday Cake Slice

And with all of Westley's decorative additions, "Crazy Cake" ended up being aptly named.

Birthday Cake, Cut

.....................................