Dark Chocolate Cake with Milk Chocolate Frosting

20130128-103347.jpgI was staring at the top of her head. Her tiny little baby head, lightly covered in downy strawberry blond hair, and thinking. Thinking some day she’s going to be a woman. A grown up. She’s going to meet boys(or girls). Fall in love. Get her heart broken. Oh god, some asshole is going to break her perfectly sweet heart someday, and I am simply going to murder him with my bare hands. She’s going to grow up. Go to school. Get hurt.

We were watching The New Normal the other day(which by the way I love, just like all of the other Ryan Murphy shows and no I’m not afraid to admit it). There was a scene where the little girl, who is adorable and awkward gets bullied by the other little girls. I turned to my husband and told him if any kid ever did that to my babe I will straight up punch them in the face. He laughed and told me I would go to jail. I said I didn’t care. And I’m also pretty sure I was serious.

20130128-103507.jpgThis whole growing up nonsense scares the pants off of me. I mean really, can’t I just keep her so little and tiny and mine forever? I keep thinking I need to get her on a better sleep schedule, but why? I’m not working right now, and she sleeps just fine, why am I so concerned with how she’s supposed to be sleeping. They tell me I should let her “self soothe” and put herself to sleep. That it’s ok for her to cry sometimes. I tell them it is absolutely not ok for her to cry if there is anything I can do about it. So if she wants to be held, she’s held. If she wants to sleep in my bed snuggled up next to me, while my back aches because I can’t get comfortable, so be it. I can’t imagine she remembers any of her entrance into this world, the weeks in the hospital, but I do. This kid is going to get everything she wants. Except for a snake, if she wants a snake, she’s out of luck.

I’ve been noticing when I give her a bath, the tub is full of my hair. It’s everywhere. Wrapped around her little fingers, floating by her toes. I reach up and touch my head and suddenly my hair is half as full as it used to be, as the last of the pregnancy hormones flee my body and I loose this over abundance of hair I sprouted during those 9 months. It feels somehow strange and wistful to know the last few remnants of the days she resided in my body are on their way out.

20130128-103819.jpgI’ve learned how to balance this mom thing these days. I can make whole meals and sweets with no problem anymore. Curried chicken with coconut rice made its way into our lives in less then an hour. I photographed these cookies for you while she watched curiously, strapped to my chest in a baby carrier. And right now, tonight, she sleeps peacefully next to me, arms high above her head. This kid has taken over every aspect of my life, every fiber of my being in ways I wasn’t prepared for.

So I made a cake. To celebrate her. To celebrate us. Our journey. We never really got to celebrate when she was born. We went straight into survival mode. So today we did. We ate cake and danced with her. We told her how perfect she is. How she is our own little super hero. She may have had her first major baby meltdown. But woke up happy as can be after. This cake was good, the frosting lush, the cake dark and dense. I over baked it a bit since I decided to mess with the cake size, don’t do that. It’s meant to be moist. A perfect cake to celebrate those you love.

20130128-103954.jpgDark Chocolate Cake

Recipe from Martha Stewart

Ingredients

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pans
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa (spooned and leveled), plus more for pans
2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups packed light-brown sugar
2 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks, room temperature
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup low-fat buttermilk

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350. Butter two 8-inch round cake pans; dust with cocoa, tapping out excess. Line bottom of each pan with a round of parchment paper; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

2. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition; beat in chocolate and vanilla. With mixer on low, alternately add flour mixture in three parts and buttermilk in two, beginning and ending with flour mixture.

3. Divide batter between prepared pans; smooth tops. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of a cake comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool in pans 15 minutes; run a knife around edge of each pan, and invert cakes onto a wire rack to cool completely.

4. Set a rimmed baking sheet upside down on a work surface. Place one cake on sheet, and spread top with 1/3 of frosting. Place second cake on top, and spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. Using two wide metal spatulas, carefully transfer frosted cake to a serving platter.

Milk Chocolate Frosting

Ingredients

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
3 cups confectioners sugar
8 ounces milk chocolate, melted and cooled

Directions

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer beat butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add melted chocolate, mixing thoroughly. Beat in confectioners sugar 1 cup at a time until fully incorporated.

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Nutella filled Chocolate Chip Cookies

20130123-182830.jpgI spend entirely too much time online. Like ridiculous amounts. Now that I breastfeed a baby every couple of hours, I spend even more time online. It’s obscene. So much so that I’ve been considering implementing a no phone/iPad/computer day in our household. The last thing I needed was another way to waste time online. And then I finally caved into Pinterest. Really? Did I really need Pinterest account?

My justification was somewhere along the lines of “I want to get photos taken of us and the babe this fall so here’s a great way to organize the examples of stuff I like so I can show it to the photographer”. I have this very specific vision I want. These ethereal, autumnal photos. Candid shots of us with the babe. Something I will look at and not focus on the fact that I look terrible or strange somehow. Something with heart. Something like this. Or this. Sooooo along came Pinterest. Ugh.

20130123-183015.jpgAnd with Pinterest came food. Nothing made in crock pots, with jello or cool whip. Barf. Sorry, I may be a bit of a snob when it comes to my Pinterest account. Now Nutella, that’s another story. Somewhere along the way I came across a recipe for Nutella stuffed chocolate chip cookies. It brought me back to almost 10 years ago, we had just moved to Georgia for my first year of art school. We bought these chocolate filled pre packaged cookies all the time. I was obsessed with them. They don’t make them anymore, and if they did I probably wouldn’t buy them anyway. These Nutella cookies triggered that memory, and I had to make them.

These cookies are good. Like really good. Warm and chewy and crunchy and gooey. Oh man they’re good. And easy. I whipped them up in 30 minutes start to finish. The dough stores well too. I made 6 the first night and 6 the next day. Both were equally delicious. If you don’t have a jar of Nutella in your cupboard already I strongly suggest getting one. Like right now. Even if your don’t make these cookies. You can always just eat it with a spoon.

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Chocolate Chip Cookies with Nutella filling

Adapted from two peas and their pod

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
12 tablespoons Nutella (1 tablespoon per cookie)

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of a mixer, cream butter and sugars until creamy and smooth, about 3 minutes. Add egg and vanilla, beating until combined. Slowly add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

2. Using a small cookie scoop portion out 12 balls of dough. Flatten as much as possible with oiled hands. Add a tablespoon of Nutella into the center of each cookie. Cover each cookie with remaining cookie dough balls by carefully pressing the cookie dough over the Nutella. Make sure the Nutella is covered and seal edges.

3. Bake cookies on parchment lined baking sheet for about 15 minutes or until browned around the edges, but still soft in the center. Let cookies cool for 10 minutes in the pan before transferring to cooling rack.

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Chicken Soup

20130121-092944.jpgTime has been passing in the most unfamiliar way for me. It seems like just yesterday it was August, and I was waddling around the swankiest neighborhood in town, trying to walk this baby out, because mine wasn’t safe enough for late evening walks. I was anxious to go into labor, so I could have the out of hospital birth I had planned. Luckily this sweet girl knew better, and stayed put until I had to be induced. She knew how to ensure her safe arrival. And here it is, halfway through January, and here I am, with a 4 month old baby already. It’s like an avalanche, starting off so small, and picking up speed and strength as it grows hurtling towards some unknown finish line. Time is measured in naps, baths, bedtime and doctors appointments. Days blend into one another, and I blink and an entire month has gone by.

I noticed this phenomenon a few nights ago, when I decided to drive. I realized I have barely been behind the wheel since August. I found it strange to be driving, unfamiliar and foreign.

20130121-093046.jpgPart of me aches for time to slow down. To stop moving so fast, damn it. I can barely remember her tiny moments they happen so quickly. What was she like as a newborn? When did she learn how to grab things? Where did this little personality come from? Then another part of me desperately wants time to pick up, cold and flu season to be over, to know what will happen when March arrives and I’m scheduled to return to work, for her to grow bigger and stronger every day.

I was trying to remember her first week home from the hospital recently, the one before she was readmitted. She was 3 weeks old and such an easy baby. She slept soundly and easily, learned how to nurse and handled visitors with ease. I remembered chicken soup that week.

20130121-093255.jpgChicken soup brought to us by our student midwife. We barely knew her when we had this baby. She was just learning and had only come along for our last few appointments. The day our babe was born, amidst the chaos, uncertainty and fear, there she was. She helped me to shower so I could go see the baby I hadn’t even touched and was desperate to get to. She brought me snacks, and joked with my husband to ease the tension. And then, a few weeks later, she brought us this amazing chicken soup. We ate it for days on end, there was so much and it was so delicious. It was hearty and healthy and exactly what we needed at that moment.

I tried to recreate her chicken soup. I thought of her making it, and wondered if she had any idea how much that soup, and how much her help, meant to us. It was one day, for a few hours, but it touched us in a way we couldn’t possibly explain.

This soup starts with a chicken, onions and garlic. It ends with greens and pasta. Somewhere in the middle are carrots, bay and thyme. It’s meant to be made in a huge batch, and frozen, for those times when life gets the best of you and you need something easy for dinner. It’s the prefect cure for a cold night or a stuffy nose. But please, keep your stuffy noses to yourself, we’re staying healthy this year.

Note: I do not recommend leaving the soup out overnight. You will wake up in the morning and really kick yourself for this one. Plus it totally defeats the purpose of making a big batch.

Chicken Soup

For this soup you can purchase a ready made rotisserie chicken, or do what I did, roast a whole chicken early in the week, use the meat all week long and then make the soup with the leftover meat and carcass.

Ingredients

1 whole chicken, cooked
1 medium yellow onion
1 garlic clove, smashed
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried parsley
3 cups of diced carrots
4 cups chopped kale or spinach
2 cups pasta of you choice.

Directions

1. In a large soup pot cover chicken with water and bring to a boil. Turn down heat to a simmer and cook for 2 hours. Remove carcass and allow to cool slightly. Strain broth to remove any debris that may remain. Remove meat from carcass and add to broth.

2. In a large dutch oven cook onions until tender. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Add carrots and kale, allowing to cook for 5 minutes. Pour broth and chicken in vegetable mixture and simmer for 20 minutes. Add pasta and cook until tender.

Sea Salt Caramels

20130114-202913.jpgThis place. I look at this place with the most intense mixed emotions. Love, fear, nostalga, trepidation. My daughter arrived here, at four days old, whisked away in a tiny isolette, placed in a special nicu ambulance. We were prepared for surgery. This place, and these people gave my baby a chance. A chance to avoid surgery. A chance for her tiny little heart to grow strong enough to function without the aide of chemicals and machines. I barely knew the tiny girl who arrived here at four days old. I’d yet to hold her. She proved in the coming weeks that she was the strongest, most willful little thing.

20130114-203423.jpgAnd then there are the people. The doctors and nurses that inhabit these walls. That walk through these doors on a daily basis, to save children’s lives. Numerous times I found myself wondering if they had any idea what they do. The impact they have. My baby girls nurses taught me how to be a mom, showed me how to swaddle, how to check her fontanelles, and her capillary refill. Her doctors taught me to use a stethoscope, and read her heart rate on the EKG. Specialists helped me learn how to get her to eat, and eventually to breastfeed. Her primary nurses were the two most wonderful women, they became my friends, and my daughters favorites. They showed me different ways to soothe her, and made it all feel less overwhelming, and somehow normal.

20130114-203632.jpgThese people saved my daughters life. I owe them everything. I can’t even begin to express my gratitude to them. So I bring them food. I proudly walk back in, with my beautiful thriving baby and bring them snacks to attempt to show them how grateful I am. Food is my language and I hope that it translates.

Note: American Family Children’s Hospital is working on a much needed expansion, most of which my babe will use. If you are so inclined, it is a wonderful place to donate. You can learn more about the expansion here.

Sea Salt Caramels

While making these caramels I realized I left out the butter in the original recipe. I was afraid they would be rock hard when they set, but they are surprisingly soft and lush. I think I actually prefer the recipe without the butter, as having made numerous caramels over the years, the butter can separate and sit on top of the candy. This is a deceptively easy candy to make, one just needs a candy thermometer and patience while cutting and wrapping the candies.

Adapted from Martha Stewart

Makes approximately 120 caramels

Ingredients

Vegetable oil, for baking sheet
2 cups heavy cream
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Large grain sea salt, such as fleur de sel for sprinkling

Directions

1. Lightly brush bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch rimmed baking sheet with oil. Line with parchment, leaving a 2-inch overhang on long sides; lightly brush parchment with oil.

2, Bring cream, sugar, and corn syrup to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium-high; cook, stirring occasionally, until caramel reaches 248 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 15 minutes.

3. Immediately remove caramel from heat, and stir in salt and vanilla. Pour caramel onto baking sheet, and let cool. Once cooled, but still pliable(about an hour or two) sprinkle with sea salt. Let stand at least 8 hours and up to 1 day.

4. Lifting by parchment overhang, transfer caramel to a large cutting board. Using a lightly oiled knife, cut into 3/4-by-1 1/4-inch pieces; wrap each piece in waxed paper or cellophane.

Goals

20130110-163729.jpgI know, I know I’m supposed to write about food. Yet I digress. I’ve been thinking about the new year. About what it will hold for us, about what I want it to be. I’ve been thinking about resolutions, but I refuse to make any. Resolutions are for packed gyms in january, once again empty by march. No what I have been thinking about are goals. So many of them bouncing around my brain, I’ve decided to choose just one.

To live without fear.

I think without is a bold statement. With less is probably more accurate. You see I’ve always been a worrier. Ever since grade school, when I came home and my dad told me my grandma Ruth had died. This strange feeling came over me. I remember being in the car later on, looking out the window and truly realizing what “died” meant. It was a cloudy, frightening, anxious feeling. It was the first time I really remember being horribly afraid.

It’s stuck with me. I’ve lived out a lot of my years afraid(with the exception of my idiotically rebellious teenage years). Worrying about consequences, about the future and the past.

20130110-164007.jpgAnd now there’s this tiny girl. And I worry even more. About her health, her future, her beautiful little heart. I worry about going back to the hospital, her being so much more aware and how awful it might be for her. I worry when she sweats too much, or when she gets a little bluer when it’s cold.

I find myself playing out scenarios that have yet to happen in my head, trying to capture the what ifs so I’m prepared. I get stuck dwelling in the past, trying to remember how exactly things happened and feeling overwhelming guilt.

After being discharged from the hospital and they kept my little girl, we slept at home. For four nights. Four nights my baby was alone, in a tiny isolette, with no one who loved her nearby. I think about those nights and my chest feels heavy. I need to forgive myself for those nights, for taking care of my own broken body, to be strong enough for her later. It was a selfish decision, no matter how much it was the right one, it makes me feel hollow thinking about it.

Writing it down makes it seem more real. Somehow less of a fog. Makes the guilt feel a little less heavy. Forgiving myself is the first step in being less afraid. Mourning the loss of the experience I expected is the next.

My husband and I were talking the other day, about how much we did to prepare to be parents and to prepare to give birth. We read all the books, took the classes, wrote a plan… Nothing goes according to plan. My husband looked at me the other day and said “no one prepared us for the possibility that she might not live”. And that was it. We never thought that was something we had to worry about. Until it was.

20130110-164306.jpgBut she’s here now. And she’s growing faster then I could have ever imagined, and she’s beautiful and perfect in every way.

So this year I’m working on fear. Working on no longer being ruled by it. It’s funny, last year I was working on living life without worrying about finances. Now I could care less if I’m broke. My husband says its because I’ve replaced it with bigger fears. Don’t tell him, but my husband is right most of the time.

If I can be more present every day, I feel like these worries and fears will get squashed like the bugs they are. I know that they will never truly go away, after all pests just keep breeding more pests, but living in the moment, taking it all in will keep my mind from spiraling.

I realize I’ve gone off on quite a tangent here, and I hesitate on even posting this. With all the blogs I read, and everyone posting their New Years hopes and dreams it made me think. 2013 is going to be my best year yet, and I’m doing everything in my power to make that happen.