birthday number 2, take two

Someone was quite eager to get started. Before daddy even lit the birthday candles, Rivers was rehearsing for his shining moment. Having waited patiently for over a week to devour his birthday tart, until his cold disappeared, he was certainly practiced in the art of extinguishing a flame with the first breath. Too perfected for his mama to capture the reflected glow of the candlelight and his efforts without a relight.

Maybe we’ll do trick candles next year to slow him down a bit.
Daddy allowed Rivers the honor to (attempt to) cut his birthday dessert. And with the pie cutter in hand, he created a smiley face instead. “Eyyyyyeeee. Heaaaa.”

A few weeks prior to Rivers’ birthday I was racking my brain with what to do for his cake. His daddy’s birthday is not even a full month prior. Two winter birthdays can put a bit of a damper on creativity, especially since there is relatively no fresh (local) fruit, and this season they both needed to be gluten-free.  Good thing I have two chocoholics in the family!

Sometimes I don’t know if Rivers fully understands me when I speak to him, but during a brainstorming moment I asked if he would like a peanut butter-chocolate tart. His entire face lit up, eyes widened. He nodded steadily and calmly, letting the weight of my question sink. That settled that.

 

short stories from a long summer

The Fourwoods are still here! Thank you so much for checking in with us through email, instagram and your comments here while we were away. Taking a couple of days from the internet turned into an unexpected two month hiatus.  The summer has been long and lovely. I’ve been writing elsewhere (unpublished), but have missed sharing our stories on the blog. AND hearing from you!

To break back into blogging I’m sharing a few highlights of the summer. Hope you enjoy.

How is everyone? Drop a line in the comments and/or share a link to your favorite summer story or adventure. I look forward to reading them.

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tantrum

Tantrum, Tears and a Thief

You absolutely adore her, yet that one day, that one particular hour, you wanted nothing more than to escape from the location where our friend chose to meet us, Cake Heaven. What kid wouldn’t want to be at cake heaven?  A pastry cook’s child, apparently. My every attempt to distract you with the dessert display was met with a complete meltdown. Literally, you looked like you were trying to seep right into the hardwood floor. It may be easier to hold water in my bare hands than to cradle you in that state.

One thing did make you smile, taking my hand and walking toward the entrance, waving gleefully to each doting, young waitress as you passed. You thought you’re making a get-away, but the plan was blasted to smithereens by the insufferable mother of yours. The same woman who somehow, with some sort of supernatural mama power, managed your robot legs into the openings of a wooden high chair and strapped you in, all while swiftly sweeping away objects from nearby surfaces.

Thank goodness the waitress had a keen sense of timing. Just as you were about to let out another shrill, a personal coconut custard pie arrived, topped with fresh blackberries and raspberries. You seemed unimpressed, but I knew to shove one bite straight into your trap. You were easily converted. The silence was short, but oh-so sweet.  Our friend appeared un-phased by your previous outburst and was impressed by your ability to pretend to utilize a grown-up size fork. Dessert didn’t last long, as soon as you scooped the final bite into your mouth you demanded the check and the three of us were out the door and meandering through a sad excuse for a park. It looked more like a glorified grassy median between roads, ironically sharing its name with the world’s most famous farmer, the one with his very own sing-along-song.

You were finally in your element, as close to nature as possible. A nature that included a drinking fountain, of which you found life’s greatest enjoyment on that hot summer day. Once you made me sufficiently wet I decided to toss you in the carrier, tie you to my chest and call it an evening. As if we hadn’t had enough drama and excitement already, it was only getting started. Not ten minutes later, we made our way to the eastern edge of the park and, right as we were ready to say our goodbyes, we heard a crash. It sounded just like someone trying to break a bag of ice. At least that’s what I first though, but my brain questioned why anyone would do that in such a tiny park, around so many cars. Ah, the cars, duh! Just a knee-high brick barrier and an arrangement of leafy shrubs separated us from a professional acrobatic thief, who was balancing on a blue BMX-style bicycle, while simultaneously diving into a ring of broken glass to retrieve a prize from the floor of the neighboring silver SUV.

Out of the window came a long, twiggy white man wearing a light gray hoody synched around his face. The thief shoved the prize into the belly pocket of his hoody and shot through the park, zigzagging on his bike, barely avoiding naive pedestrians. For the first time in our entire visit, you were silent, as if you understood the severity of the situation, or like your mama, you were shockingly impressed with the thief’s coordinating skill. It turned out the prize was an iPhone, and to think that the whole time you’d been playing with mine. I would have liked to see the thief try to pry it from your clenched, chubby clam hands.

A delivery man in a bright orange DHL truck was shouting for someone in the park to “get ‘im,” but lost interest as soon as the traffic light changed. A man sitting on a bench, facing the SUV told us he saw nothing. Apparently the three of us were the only willing candidates to report the incident to the fast-talking, chain-smoking men in blue. The owner appeared some time later with a paralyzed expression, all while we answered questions and looked around at the aloof extras still seated at the park. Forever I’ll remember the day as that one time, thanks to you, and your tantrum that forced us to the park, we became bit players in a relatively low-key, real-life episode of Law and Order.

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I have many memories of July 4th; having grown up in the country, most of my recollections include family firework shows orchestrated by my uncle. Us, kids would nestle into the top of a rolled hay bale and applaud the glowing streaks that shrieked to the stars then exploded with a showering boom. Once the extravagant show finished, it would take the bullfrogs and crickets about ten minutes to gather the courage to fill the night with their song. The smell of gunpowder, grilled meat and beer would linger in the air until morning. That to me was what the Fourth of July was all about. That and wearing red, white and blue of course.  

I don’t consider myself a poet in any regard whatsoever, but I felt compelled to write a (sort of) lyrical piece based on my Fourth of July celebration this summer to capture the color and heart-lifting expression. It was as if I understood the holiday in its true meaning for the very first time. 

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The Color of July Fourth

Chilly night. Let’s go,
it’s alright.

Long strides and strolls
along the blushing horizon,
framed by lilac and indigo.

Patiently wait,
standing still.

Traffic slows.
Along a lonely bridge,
masks fixed for the show.

Remaining light
squelched with applause.

Screens rise in waves
capturing blurry reflections,
of glittering gold, jade
and crimson cheesing for the shot.

Orange faces glow, some
brown, black and pink.
Blue eyes, black eyes, and
eyes only seen behind
a primrose head scarf.

Children guarded
on the roofs of machines,
old in the street.
All transfixed.

Music blasting,
citrine blaze.

Everyone dancing. Moving
like the silver tide below their feet.

Harmony’s tone
lifts our chests.

Echoes of Freedom, a single voice
español العربية português Έλληνες
english 한국어 română हिन्दी

Gaia’s breath is too strong
for the fireworks to sound,
but it vibrates among the crowd.

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Watermelon Seeds

Watermelon Seeds

Maybe watermelon and sand doesn’t mix, but don’t tell the kid. He just thinks we’re loco, for the same reason we don’t eat the durable black seeds embedded in the melon’s porous, sticky flesh. Why would we? They’re not inedible, but certainly more trouble than they’re worth. Spitting them great distances is more amusing, especially when it becomes a contest between friends, or in our case, married people. We can’t explain that to the kid; he doesn’t get it yet, and trying to pick the seeds out of his slice is like taking candy from a baby. Who ever said that was easy, to take candy from a baby, never actually did it. Trying to steal anything from a baby is like trying to rob a bank when the alarm has already been pulled.

Those chubby fingers are working with such intensity to pick out each tiny seed, and cram them into the kid’s chipmunk cheeks. I fear I may lose a finger if I tried to stop the process. What can it hurt to leave the seeds, other than the kid’s intestines, temporarily, because we know he’s not actually chewing them and they’re not breaking down inside. Stomach acid is no match for their impenetrable outer shell. This is the kid who swallows raisins whole, and book covers, and keys, and possibly remote controls. (The search party is still out for the silver one missing since March.) Watermelon seeds are nothing.

We three quiet ourselves with individual slices. The kid periodically dips his into a bucket of salty sea water and then a small mound of sand, like a tortilla chip to salsa and guacamole. With each bite he begins to resemble Batman’s nemesis, the Joker, only with an added sandy beard. I look up and away from the charming, sticky scene to see a fin rise from the tide, not fifty feet from the shore. Two more follow, then the first again. We count seven total, gradually rising and falling with each breath along their swim. Their black silhouettes dance along the horizon with grace, and behind the parade is a rowboat with two seemly exhausted chasers. I only wish I had binoculars to see the exerting effort being made to catch the sea creatures. It’s an older couple, who presumably started out on some nonchalant day-trip along the outer coast, one that turned into a sighting and then a chase for more. It’s a comical, somewhat sad sight. They’re moving at a great speed, but paddling in a row-boat will only do so much. They’ll never catch the casual swimmers without something more aerodynamic.

I look back to the kid, who is at this point helping himself to more watermelon. When did he learn to open Tupperware? I try to distract him by pointing toward the dolphins, but he couldn’t care less. Covered from head to toe in sand is no overstatement. The kid is literally coated in nature’s exfoliating scrub. Doubting whether a suit of sand is armor against UV rays, and considering how many times we’ve already washed and re-coated him with sunscreen, we douse him once more in sea water, leave Joker at the beach and return home with our kid.

 

a homemade wedding present

wedding-1Our beautiful friends tied the knot last week. The wedding was delicious, both in a visual and edible way. I could go on for an hour just talking about the food, and I didn’t even get to taste the second half of the multi-course dinner. Instead, my date and I learned a very valuable and hard lesson–

kids do not belong at weddings.

Okay, maybe some kids, but certainly not our ambitious toddler. Not now.

Another couple, also new parents, albeit newer than us, arrived without their bubbly seven month old. Intially we thought it was a bummer that they would leave her at home, but by the end of the night we figured they deserved an award them for being wiser parents.

There is a time and a place for adults only. A wedding with long white tablecloths, glass wear, a  crowded room with guests in short skirts and killer heels is definitely adult only atmosphere. Needless to say we did have a wonderful time and took home some priceless, dark, blurry photos of Rivers chowing down on a loaf of challah the size of his head.

As much as I love dressing up our little dude and treating him like a mini adult, I need to realize that sometimes it may be best to let go, put the kid in comfy pajamas and invite a friend to watch Caillou with him instead of lugging him around like an accessory. Jonathan and I are grown ups. We’ve earned adult-only get togethers. We don’t have to take our kid everywhere just because we’re parents now.

Now onto the wedding present…

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Our newlywed friends are moving from NYC to LA, and are celebrating their honeymoon along the way. This is so genius…

They shipped all of their belongings, including their adorable dachshunds with their families in California. For the next few weeks they will live on the road as they drive along the country to their final destination.

Knowing they will experience more than they’ll be able to remember, we designed this postcard/journal travel kit so that they can document their trip and send each other some love notes along the way. Postcards are tough to find these days, so we included some old (unused) ones to get them started and tools to make their own, including postage stamps.

The project turned out so cute that I’m determined to make one for us before our next adventure. I’ll have to get their feedback on how well it worked.

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Jonathan totally sewed the travel bag. I’m giving credit where it’s due. Do not get confused with me! I still can’t sew and definitely need a lesson in zippers before I tackle something nice enough to gift. Anyway, I was quite busy enough with my own simple sewing project for the wedding. Check out this little bow tie. Does the fabric look familiar? It’s extra from his quiltbowtie

austin texas t’s {family portrait}

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Remember that trip to Austin we took back in October? Remember that awesome friend who wrote this heartfelt poem about our visit? She is reason enough to move to the great city and now we look the part with Austin t-shirts.

What better motive for a family portrait than gift like this? Not that we need an excuse, but taking a family photo requires some planning.  …cuz one of us doesn’t always like to look directly at the camera.

So thank you, Meredith for this challenge.

austinfamily3Hi Dog.austinfamily4See the camera?austinfamily5It’s right there.austinfamily6See?austinfamily7Dog’s back.austinfamily2Oh hey.

the purple apron

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“Somehow I know we’ll meet again. Not sure quite where and I don’t know just when. You’re in my heart, so until then it’s time for saying goodbye.”
– Muppets Take Manhattan

We said goodbye this week, somewhat reluctantly, to good friends who are moving out of the concrete jungle, in pursuit of a green yard and closer proximity to family. I’ll admit I’m a bit envious

Ok, completely.

It’s tough raising a kid in a one bedroom with no yard and a 30 to 40 minute commute to the nearest patch of grass. I wish them the best and will miss them terribly. There is no other person on the planet with whom I can say our kids shared their first lunch date en utero. Silly, I know. But that mama would agree. My one-year-old, on the other hand, may have no clue that his friend is even gone. Coincidently they moved closer to my in-laws, so play dates will ensue, albeit rarely. It may take Rivers years to figure it out.

His best buddy left just a few weeks short of her birthday, so I scrambled to make an early gift. Coming down with stomach flu didn’t help, but Jonathan came to the rescue and gave me a sewing lesson as we created this little purple apron. (Glad one of us knows how to sew!) It’s incredible how tiny kids really are at this age. A couple feet of scrap fabric, a good guide and an evening was all I needed. It’s probably the nicest thing I’ve ever completed with a sewing machine, which has greatly inspired me. I started a list of projects. Perhaps I can create something other than faulty baby hats this year.

I asked Jonathan to snap a couple photos for my records, to keep myself motivated. I expected a few flat images, maybe some details. Nope. I got my own little chef modeling the apron. Kid approved.

©fourwoodthinkingapron2 Such seriousness. Already has a top chef attitude.

some things never change

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Ten, nine, eight, seven…

We’re counting down the hours before papa’s return. To be more precise I am counting down the hours. Upon informing Rivers that his father would soon be home he replied by shaking his little noggin and humming “Nonononono.”

He provides the same answer when I ask for a kiss. In this entire year I’ve yet to receive one, but I’m quite sure he made kissing noises to my girlfriend, as she left our apartment yesterday afternoon. I’d never seen our child so ecstatic about a visitor. He’s usually quite friendly, but he practically leapt from my arms before she was even through the door. He always loves to see her, so her presence in combination with the last day of our papa-less week made him all the more exuberant.

I realized this week more than another that it’s okay we don’t live close to grandparents. It would be much easier surely. But our NYC family (friends) know when and how to provide support too. I’m so thankful for individuals who dropped by, or allowed us to crash their place for a few hours. Every recess from each other made our time together all the more special.

As Rivers takes his finally nap, before his bearded playmate appears, I’m enjoying a hot cup of jasmine and finishing a little story that seems all too fitting. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Twenty Days with Julian & Little Bunny by Papa. A short journal of the author’s time with his five-year-old son while his wife and daughters were visiting grandparents. It’s such an honest account and demonstrates the complex and simultaneous feelings of gratefulness and annoyance that come with being a parent. A hundred and sixty-odd years later, some things haven’t changed. Probably they never will. 

 

 

 

 

Hamantaschen

©fourwoodthinkingWhat to do when your best friend has a fever and playdate is cancelled? Stay home and bake cookies with mama, that’s what.

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Jonathan has been out of the house this week on a much-needed trip to visit his parents. Most of his time will be spent in a hospital, which is no place for an antsy baby who considers a floor an all-you-can-eat buffet. Until next Thursday I am a single stay-at-home parent. I would be lying if I said it’s been all sunshine and rainbows thus far. The kid knows senses something is different. Any time I use the word “no” Rivers crawls around the house calling for daddy. The cat is no better, the way he scrambles up and down the stairs and moans uncontrollably at the front door. These two are almost like two peas in a pod.

Instead of a smile, I received a questionable stare the first morning I greeted Rivers. Usually his papa does a morning routine with the potty and diaper change before Rivers is handed off to nurse. On day one he pointed to the empty space in my bed, “Dada?” Since dada hasn’t returned yet Rivers is understandably more protective over me.  Having a bodyguard is wearing me out though. On day two I went to the bedroom for a pair of socks and woke up twenty minutes later to the little guy slapping my face with baby wipes. It troubles me that I have no memory of laying down. I just crashed like a fallen tree.

By day three we were in a rhythm. When he went down for an afternoon nap I decided to forget the chores and do something for myself. Write part of a blog post or start making cookies? I’m nowhere near finished with my Tassajara Bread Book challenge, but this seemed like a good day for familiar comfort sweets.

Hamantuschen are easy to find in NYC. Their triangular shape is basically everywhere, but nothing beats an old family recipe. This is my mom’s recipe, passed down from grandmothers.  Generally hamantaschen (Haman’s Hat) is made for the Jewish holiday of Purim, but we made them for almost every holiday when I was a kid. These require a bit more work than a scoop cookie dough, but I promise the slightly sweet dough is fail-proof. The rest is just fun. The trick to a perfect triangular hat is not to overfill the center and the firmly pinch the corners until they stick.

These are going to be so much fun to make in the future with Mr. Little Hands. Until then he can watch from the sideline and tell me all about the dreams he had while napping.

©fourwoodthinking

Hamantaschen 
Makes about 35, 3-inch cookies

2 eggs
1/2 c. canola oil
1/2 c. + 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 3/4 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 c. fruit preserve, poppy seed paste or nut filling

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Lightly oil baking sheets or prepare with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, beat together eggs, oil, sugar and vanilla.

In another large bowl, sift together flour, salt and baking powder.  Stir wet ingredients into the dry, until a stiff dough forms.  Gently knead dough, if needed, to fully incorporate ingredients. If dough is too sticky to roll out, refrigerate 10-15 minutes.

On a clean and lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 1/8-inch thickness.  Cut dough into 3-inch rounds.

Drop 1 teaspoon of filling in the center of each round. Shape into a triangle by folding one side at a time or by pinching the three corners.  Bake 20 minutes or until edges are golden brown.

©fourwoodthinking

If these last two photos look vaguely familiar to some of you, good. My camera battery unexpectedly expired, so I pulled these from my old food blog.

cheers to a first birthday

bearmountain1-2bearmountain6tassajara-bananabreadbearmountain3 bearmountain2bearmountain7One year olds, they have no concept of birthdays. What do you do? High-five your partner, pop open the champagne and toast your mimosa glasses to a job well done, I guess. We have a party planned next week, so for the actual day we decided to celebrate quietly.

Flurries fell, then rain, then flurries again. Following my cookbook challenge, I baked banana bread in an effort to warm up the kitchen. Just as we retrieved our sweet treat, the sun broke through the pale sky and we high-tailed it outdoors before the weather changed its mind again. The bread was still steaming as I sliced and packed.

About an hour outside of New York City, the mountains are in reach and there isn’t a skyscraper as far as the eye can see. We took a little walk, spied ice blocks moving along the river, crinkled forgotten leaves and breathed the frigid fresh air until our noses turned red, indicating it was time to return indoors.

cookbook challenge begins with millet bread

©fourwoodthinkingFor years I have been making the same bread recipe, altering only the sweetener and occasional substituting rye flour in place of whole wheat. For the holidays I make challah, but that’s about the extent of my bread-making at the home front. Now, after a few months at the bakery, I’ve become quite the brioche queen. Making about eighteen quarts of dough each day and leaning to roll buns with both hands simultaneously gave me a boost of confidence. I’m home now and ready to tackle a personal goal of working through the Tassajara Bread Book.

It’s about time! I’ve been talking about doing this challenge since we first purchased the book. Upon further reading I realize why I never took on another recipe. We don’t usually have millet lying around the pantry, or cornmeal, or potatoes. Yeah, I know…potatoes are usually staples right? I haven’t been able to properly digest them since pregnancy, so they’re a rare sight anymore. One of my favorite NYC food gems was Pomme Frites. Fresh, fat fries served with the most creative sauces imaginable. My favorite, the pomegranate teriyaki mayo. It’s the best. I know. I’ve tried them all. I warned everyone I ever took and no one listened until after they made their choice and then compared it to mine. The place is still open and busy I’m sure, but the last time I could stomach such a quantity of starch was the day before I found out I was pregnant. My last hurrah.

I decided not to work my way through the bread book in any particular order. There is a considerable number of breakfast breads and desserts, so it makes sense to bounce around the recipes to keep a balance of sweets and staples on the table throughout the process.

First one done, millet bread. Millet is one of the easiest whole grains to digest, so it seemed like a more suitable starting point than potato bread. Unlike the basic yeast bread, the millet is soaked with some of the dough’s liquid beforehand and then added in later. I worried the dough wouldn’t rise well with only half the liquid and a frigid kitchen. I never realize how chilly our apartment is until I try to proof bread or ferment yogurt. It doesn’t always work, but often time can be our friend when temperature is not.  We were caught in traffic upon returning from errands, so the dough’s last rise was about two hours longer than intended! It worked to our advantage. The flavor is rich and the texture is fun and crunchy. Rivers likes to pull out the millet with his itty-bitty fingers before indulging. It’s a cute site. All in all a success.

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piddling

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We’ve been piddling around the house, avoiding the chill outdoors, gorging ourselves with cookies (thanks mom!), stitching old projects and taking pictures when the sun actually peeks through the kitchen window.

Pssst, we’re also getting the house ready for a very special upcoming celebration. One that involves cake and a single candle.