My baby boy had his first birthday recently.

I know how cliche this sounds, but I really don't know where the year went.

When my daughter turned one, I was thrilled. I marveled at her existence every single day, and each milestone was another chance to celebrate: she was learning, growing, turning more and more into this amazing little person I was so excited to get to know.

When I met other mothers who greeted their babies' first birthdays with a little less enthusiasm, I was completely perplexed. Why mourn time passed, I wondered, when the present - and presumably the future - was brimming with wonderful things?

These days, I think I understand that ambivalence a little better.

My son's birth was a harrowing experience, one from which I feel, in many ways, that I am still recovering. After he was born he spent days in the NICU, having his lungs and tiny belly filled by machine, while I was in another room on a morphine drip, feeling like I'd thrown a party to which the guest of honour hadn't shown up.

After those first dire days came weeks, then months, of management: me learning to manage my pain, my guilt, my disappointment in myself and my inability to bounce back the way I'd have liked.

A series of difficulties, more and less agonizing, arose for me to manage that fall: my son had colic, my husband had to travel extensively for work. A beloved friend and crucial part of my day-to-day support was killed in a bizarre and tragic fashion.

We found out we had to move, and it took us six months of searching before we found a new place to live.

Somewhere in that period, I realized I had spent more than half of my baby's life distracted by a haze of worry and grief and pain, and I found it utterly crushing to think that I would not get those first months of his life back, ever.

Eventually, as is always the case, we made our through that period of crisis. The big concerns were settled, and the idea of returning to some kind of balance began to seem not so far-fetched.

Throughout my high-wire act, my daughter continued to be the amazing little person I had taken all of the time in the world to get to know, and my son's personality began to emerge - and he is awesome. Sweet like his sister, and adoring in the way that makes all mothers of boys secretly swoon. He's smart and quick and daring, chubby and charming.

I am thrilled that he is one whole year old, that he is strong and healthy, that he is learning and growing so quickly. He and I are as thick as thieves, our relationship none the worse for all of my feelings of anguish and guilt.

But if I could, I would turn back the clock - I would stop time. I would go back and marvel at his existence, every single day, from the moment he was born.

Since that is not an option, I will settle for rejoicing in a present - and presumably a future - brimming with wonderful things...and our family will celebrate, all four of us, with cake.

Buttermilk Birthday Cake with Milk Chocolate Icing
(adapted from Nigella Lawson)

I know that it seems counter-intuitive to post such a recipe in these last, dog days of summer, but please, do us both a favour and take note of it for the next time you have a birthday cake to make. Trust me, you won't regret it - and I promise I will be back tomorrow with something a little more seasonal!

For the cake:

1 2/3c all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4c plus 2 tbsp buttermilk, at room temperature
1 tbsp vanilla
1/2c very soft unsalted butter
3/4c sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and line with parchment two 8- or 9-inch round cake pans.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a medium bowl and set aside.

Whisk together buttermilk and vanilla in a glass measuring cup (or other vessel with a spout) and set aside.

Combine butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce speed slightly and add eggs, one at a time, beating 30 seconds between additions. Add flour mixture and buttermilk mixture in alternating increments, beating well between additions, until a smooth, pale golden batter forms.

(You may find, partway through or even towards the end of the mixing, that your batter looks slightly curdled. Please don't be alarmed - this has happened to me without fail every time I have made this cake, and it doesn't affect the end result whatsoever.)

Divide batter evenly between the two prepared pans and bake about 25 minutes, rotating pans halfway through cooking time. The cake is done when it is slightly burnished and beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool in pans 10 minutes on a rack, then turn cakes out onto the rack to cool completely.

For the icing:

250g milk chocolate, coarsely chopped (or use milk chocolate chips)
3/4c unsalted butter
6 1/2c icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla
1-2 tbsp milk, if needed

Melt chocolate and butter together in a saucepan over VERY low heat, or in a double boiler, or (although I have never tried this) in a microwave. Transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and beat in icing sugar and vanilla at medium-low speed. If icing is too thick, thin with a little milk.

When cakes have cooled completely, trim of the domed top of each cake. Place one cake, cut side up, on a platter or cake stand. Scoop a generous amount if icing onto this bottom cake (there will be plenty of icing, so don't be skimpy on the filling) and spread it out evenly with an offset spatula or table knife.

Invert second cake onto the iced bottom layer. Use remaining icing to generously frost the top and sides of the cake (there may be some icing leftover).

Serves 8.


not missing.

Friends, it is going to be Labour Day!

This coming weekend!

I have to say it: How did this happen?

Actually, I have a pretty good idea of how it happened, but it still seems incredible that even my time to make up for lost time this summer is coming to a close.

In response, my husband and I have spent the past few days tearing around our city and its surrounding areas in full staycation mode, dragging our children from one picturesque location to the next, camera at the ready, trying to eke out as much carefree living as we can before getting down to the serious work that will come with September.

In spite of the summer's having fled by at an astonishing pace, with me and my apron flapping haplessly along behind it, I am determined to make the most of what is left of its bounty.

And what a bounty it is! This has been the most dreamy of seasons for produce in our area, and we have been gobbling up blueberries, peaches, corn and tomatoes by the handful.

So it isn't that we haven't been eating the good stuff.

It's just that I haven't really been cooking it much - unless you consider grilling to be the same thing as cooking, which I do not.

I do support the popular notion that really good, fresh food needs little adornment to make it tasty and lovely, but I have to admit that I am ready to get seriously back into the kitchen.

So much so that yesterday, after a day at the beach and despite the high temperature outside, I made this lovely curry. We ate it out on our deck, the smells from our neighbours' barbecues wafting around us.

And, for possibly the first time this summer, I didn't feel like I was missing a thing.

Zucchini Curry

The best part of this dish is the curry paste. You pound it together yourself, using a mortar and pestle, which is equal parts aggravating and gratifying - but so worth it!

3 cloves garlic, chopped
a 2" piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp brown mustard seeds
1 tbsp Madras curry powder
1/4c vegetable oil
1 large Vidalia onion, sliced thinly
1 tsp brown sugar
6 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise then cut crosswise into slices 1/2" thick
1 can (398ml) coconut milk
a handful of roasted cashews
a handful of fresh coriander leaves

To make curry paste, first bash together garlic, ginger and sea salt in a mortar and pestle until a coarse paste forms. Add cumin, coriander, mustard seeds, and curry powder, and keep pounding until mixture is fairly smooth and cohesive. Set curry paste aside.

In a large heavy saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion slices and sugar and cook, stirring, until golden, 8-10 minutes.

Turn heat down to medium-low and add curry paste to pot. Cook, stirring, until very fragrant, about a minute. Add zucchini to pot and stir well. Add coconut milk.

Bring just to a boil, then stir well, cover and simmer until zucchini is just tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in cashews and fresh coriander.

Serve with steamed rice.
Serves six.


is this thing (still) on?

I can't go another minute without acknowledging my rather lengthy, and completely unplanned, absence from this blog.

The list of things that have conspired to keep me off the keys these past several weeks includes, but is not limited to:

Our move;

a lack of internet service (and an appalling lack of service from our internet provider, but you've all no doubt heard that story before) for more than a week following the move;

three family birthdays and twice that number of birthday parties;

many wonderful out of town house guests;

a broken camera;

and my husband's travel schedule, which took him away from us for what felt like an eternity.

I have missed posting a great deal - in fact, I have missed cooking a great deal, since most of my meals this summer have centered around cheese and crackers and leftover birthday cake.

Still, there are at least a couple of weeks left of this glorious summer yet, and my kitchen, now that I have begun to settle into it, is awash in fresh local ingredients.

Which I plan to press into service.

Any minute now.

As soon as I finish this cupcake.

**I may have mentioned before that Alysa is the person in our relationship who really knows how to make things happen, and for that I am especially grateful this summer, since she has unsurprisingly held up her end of things with aplomb even while juggling her own family's hectic existence. Thank you Alysa!**

Carrot Cupcakes for a Momentous Day
adapted from Gourmet Today

It was my son's first birthday on Saturday, and I made these cupcakes for the first of two parties we held for him over the weekend. They were a huge hit, and I'd make them again in a heartbeat.

For the Cupcakes:

1 1/2c light spelt pastry flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
3/4c vegetable oil
1c packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 3/4c finely shredded carrots (I used 2 large ones)
1/3c finely chopped walnuts, toasted
1/2c sweetened shredded coconut, toasted

For the Icing:

3 1/2c icing sugar
250g cream cheese, room temperature
1/2c unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tbsp molasses
1 tbsp vanilla

For the cupcakes:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg in a bowl.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together oil, brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla until smooth. Beat in flour mixture until well combined. Gently fold in carrots, walnuts and coconut until just combined.

Divide batter evenly among muffin cups. Bake 25-30 minutes, turning pan halfway through cooking time, until a tester inserted in the middle of a cupcake comes out clean. Turn cupcakes out onto rack to cool completely.

For the Icing:

Place icing sugar in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to remove any lumps. Add remaining ingredients and process until smooth and thick. If icing is runny (as mine was on a highly humid Saturday morning), refrigerate it for an hour or so until firm enough to pipe onto the tops of the cupcakes.

Makes 12.


I'm Off

I won't be posting for awhile. I'm taking my girls to England for a month to meet my family. My mom is already there, and we will be staying with my aunt. I'll be taking lots of pictures and posting when I can but I'm not making any promises. I'm not sure what my aunt's internet scene is over there but I'm sure I can find a hip (or nerdy) internet cafe to communicate with you all. I hear they have the internet on computers now in the UK.

It is said, mainly by my mom, that my aunt Sara makes the best pie crust in town. I've never been a huge pie lover until Jess started baking pies. I think he is the best pie maker this side of the Atlantic. My mom is always trying to set up a pie competition between him and my aunt, but neither of them seem particularly interested. Maybe my mom has a secret fantasy to be the best pie tasting judge of all time. Perhaps at her age she feels that dream will only be realized by forcing family members to compete in the kitchen. She'll only be satisfied until one person is left humiliated and crying on the kitchen floor amongst piles of second place pie dough. Or maybe my mom is just trying to make conversation by engaging people with a common interest. It's a toss up, I could believe either one.

That being said I will try and ply Aunt Sara's pie crust recipe from her. No forms of manipulation are below me, but I'm pretty sure she'll just tell me if I ask nicely. So look forward to pie and scones in blog future, and wish me all the best parenting luck when I fly solo with my three little girls. Gravol may be my new best friend.

Roasted Tomato and Corn Soup
from Bonnie Stern's Heart Smart

12 to 15 plum tomatoes, halved and seeded
2 onions, cut into 1/2 inch slices
3 ears of corn, husked
1 tbsp of olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp chipotle puree
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup shredded fresh basil

Grill tomatoes and onions on BBQ until each side is soft and brown. Grill corn until browned turning to cook all sides. Remove and cut kernels off of corn and set aside. Heat oil on medium heat, add garlic and cook for a few minutes. Add chipotle and tomatoes, stir and cook until hot. Add stock and bring to a boil. Reduce and simmer for about 15 minutes. Puree soup, and return to heat. Add onions and corn and cook for 5 minutes. Add vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Garnish with basil and serve.