birthday blues and summer days

Our poor kiddo has been under the weather this week. The worst of it perfectly corresponded with his birthday, and as an added bonus he shared it with me.  Plenty of rest, vitamins and elderberry syrup and we are already on the road to recovery.

To put some sunshine back into our healing bodies, I began looking through photos from the summer and came across this Making-of a Hashtache Breakfast. Sometime last year we began project of creating food faces with hash mustaches and presenting them to Rivers for his Monday breakfast.  Just a once a week creative game. To see more, search #hashtachemonday on Instagram.

The best part of the hashtache breakfast is listening to this guy talk to me about what’s on his plate and then watching him destroy and/or eat it. 

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{2014} looking back

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This is New York City, the view from my (former) home subway stop. Having lived in the same apartment for all 3.5 years of my stay, I saw this view in every season, and being a pastry cook meant I saw it at all (odd) hours of the day and night.

This particular day was early autumn, Sunday, and one of the first actually cold mornings of the season. It was about 6:30am when my sister in-law, Bathsheba, and I ventured out on an experience that only crazy people or real foodies (or real crazy foodie people) would do. We left the warmth and comfort of our beds to wait in line for hours, shivering and holding our pee so that we could taste the original, the infamous, the one and only cronut09.14-NYCskyline209.14-bathshebaThis girl is kind of badass in every way, but waiting in the cold for hours just to taste a pricey weird dessert, well…she’s also a girl after my own heart.

09.14-cronutbox09.14-BashCronut09.14-cuttingcronutThe cronut flavor changes each month, so we actually ended up meeting a few other NYC residents who were returning to try October’s Pumpkin Spice. There are no other choices, it’s just whatever flavor the bakery makes that month.

The boys showed up in time for doors to open and the dessert purchasing to begin to eat. As we finished our indulgent breakfast an older woman approached our table and whispered, “Was it worth it?”  Still taking it all in, I immediately replied ” I don’t know.” She turned to a man by her side and said something about being glad they didn’t have to wait. Anyone can just walk into the bakery if they’re ordering anything besides cronuts.

Now that it’s been a few months, and I’ve been able to try some of the “imitation” cronuts out there, my answer has changed. It was totally worth it! The cronut from the Dominique Ansel Bakery had a very distinct flavor (beyond the pumpkin spice), and the experience of putting forth effort and then waiting patiently for a treat makes it that much more special to savor. Just my thoughts.

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After dessert, we walked from SOHO to Chinatown for a much needed savory lunch, at a vegetarian dim sum place that we’d had on our list to try for almost as long as we’d been in NYC. Why? Because “good fortune” and “unicorn” were featured on the menu. And it was delicious!

Lesson learned. Never put off vegetarian dim sum, ever.

09.14-BW-HoldingHands09.14-BW-SOHO 09.14-BW-Rivers209.14-BW-Chinatown 09.14-BW-RiversCronuts, dim sum and an afternoon of flirting with the friendliest waitresses on the planet was too much for this kid.

One of my favorite days ever!

 

{food face photography} green goop

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I’m really enjoying this little series of Food Face Photography with Rivers. He is a bit pickier during mealtime, showing me exactly what he doesn’t want by swatting it to the floor in the most serene, carefree manner. I can’t even get upset, because he looks up at me in such a matter-of-fact way, as if to say, “I’m sorry, was that wrong?”

This is when I cook his absolute favorite, sweet potato, and any additions that usually hit the hardwood. I blend them so that they can’t be separated.

He takes a bite.

From his expression I can tell that he recognizes the flavor of the sweet potato, his reliable friend. But wait, there is something more to it. I haven’t tricked him. I tell him the truth. Though in his eyes, my matter-of-fact blah blah blah must sound something like, “I’m sorry, was that wrong?”

food face photography: first pb & j

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“Hey go.”

He’s so good at sharing food. Should you decline he’ll gobble up the entire piece as quickly as possible to show you what you’re missing, or fling it to the floor without batting an eye. Ah, life with a toddler. There is nothing else like it, except maybe life with a puppy. Because, let’s be real, if I don’t clean up the floor before he gets down, he will. Nom nom.

 

food face photography

foodface-huhfoodface-fork foodface-seriousfoodface-hurrayfoodface-angryfoodface-duckfacefoodface-smile1 foodface-smile3 foodface-smile4Eat and socializing. The dinner table is about the only place I can photograph my little one without being barraged for the camera. I can’t sneak a picture of him doing anything else without distracting him and inciting a fight. All the photos turn out fuzzy anyway, as if I were trying to capture Bigfoot on film. Unlike the mysterious Bigfoot, I can entice this little fuzzy creature with food. He’s like his mama.

Check out the “artwork” in the back.

 

 

Birdie {Energy} Bites

©fourwoodthinking

All this snow reminds me of making pine cone bird feeders as a kid. We have plenty of millet and sesame seeds from my Tassajara Bread Book challenge, so why not? ( I should update you on that.) The fat pigeons guarding the sidewalks get plenty of scraps, but I thought this could be a simple project to do with the little dude. Easy enough, spread peanut butter over the cones then roll them in seeds.

Ha! Then common sense kicked in.

Rivers can’t keep anything out of his mouth. My little man is practically a hungry baby bird himself. He will eat an entire adult-sized portion of oatmeal, then turn around, mouth wide, begging for a bite of mine. So why not just cut the pine cone and the birds altogether and just feed the baby? We used similar ingredients and rolled them into balls. They make great travel snacks.

Of course my little birdie can’t get enough! Even his peanut butter crazed dadda sneaks into the container. The method is pretty simple and very flexible as far as ingredient substitutions. Just keep in mind that the pieces will need to be rolled larger if your subbing larger ingredients, such as rice cereal or sunflower seeds.

©fourwoodthinking

Birdie (Energy) Bites
{Vegan, Gluten-free, Sugar-free}
Makes 30-35, 1 teaspoon-size pieces

1/2 cup nut butter
1/4 cup freshly ground flaxseed
1/4 cup ground buckwheat or ground oats, or a combination
2 teaspoons maple syrup or honey
3 Tablespoons millet, divided
3 Tablespoons black sesame seeds, divided
cinnamon to taste, optional

In a medium bowl, mix together nut butter, flaxseed, buckwheat, syrup, 1 Tablespoon of millet and 1 tablespoon sesame seeds. Also mix in cinnamon if using.

In a shallow bowl, toss together the remaining  2 Tablespoons of each, millet and sesame seeds.

Scoop and roll pieces to the size desired. (I roll 1/2 teaspoon for the Smallest’s hands)

Roll or toss each ball in the bowl of seeds until the outside is covered. If the pieces are very sticky or melty, chill for 5-10 minutes. Eat at room temperature or chilled.

©fourwoodthinking©fourwoodthinking©fourwoodthinking

valentine’s day treat: apple {rose} tart

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Valentine’s day is one of my favorite holidays. Okay, I love most holidays. Any excuse to decorate the house and make a large feast and plenty of sweets. Valentine’s day is great because it’s such a distraction from the bitter winter weather. Unfortunately it arrives so soon after Rivers’ big day and the lunar new year that it has become a very neglected holiday these past two years. Last year, busy with a newborn, it past completely undetected.

This season I managed a tart, but only by chance. The pear tart from the Tassajara Bread Book was the next on the list of my personal cookbook challenge. I’m trying to complete every recipe in the book by…a undetermined date. I open it whenever we need bread or something new to excite our tastebuds.

The author, Edward Esope Brown, is very laid back about his recipes so I figured subbing apple roses in place of sliced pear layers is not enough of a deviation that I can’t check it off the list. I followed the crust recipe, mostly. It had to be par baked instead of baked with the fruit. Making apple roses requires cooking (or dehydrating in a syrup) prior to rolling. I tossed a handful of white cheddar on the bottom, positioned the roses, brushed them lightly with a simple caramel glaze then baked the whole tart about 15 minutes, until the cheese melted. Rivers insisted on helping me, which realistically resulted in him fixing my hair while he was wrapped on my back. Occasionally he requested  bites of apple between tugs and knot-making or stretched his neck over my shoulder to inspect my work. What a life.

apple-rose-pie1Cored and cut into thin slices. Toss in sugar or syrup and optional spices.
{cinnamon, clove, cardamom, fennel seed etc}
Cook until soft and flexible.

apple-rose-pie2apple-rose-pie3Roll two pieces together then add larger slices until the desired size.

apple-rose-pie5Dig in like a cave woman, or …you know, use a knife a cut out a perfect pie piece.

Cocoa-Orange Zebra Cake

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A thin orange frame protects a diptych of my youngest brother on his first birthday. To the right he curiously eyes a blue cupcake, arms outstretched. In the left photograph the cupcake has disappeared, leaving its sugary evidence smeared entirely across my brother’s face. Eyes closed and grinning from ear to ear, his neck is stretched to the camera’s face. The victor’s pose.

The first smash is priceless, which is why I urged myself to make Rivers’ first cake worthwhile. My son’s first birthday cake took six months to make, give or take a couple weeks. That sounds gross right? Okay, the brainstorming began six months ago, then there was the long testing phase in conjunction with note-taking and mathematics. I believe I did more math homework than actual baking.

I could have made life easier by simply making my tried-and-true chocolate cake recipe, only adding a dash of orange zest for “seasonal” flair. (Florida’s seasonal flair. Had I stuck to local and seasonal we would have ended up with snow cones.) Pastry is my passion, thus my gift, my labor of love to my son in celebration of his first year with us.

{A quick note about the cake}
It is definitely vegan and sugar-free, but not sweetener-free. There is plenty of maple syrup. I’ve experimented with cutting the sweetener further than this recipe, but found the results lacking richness. Fruit puree made the texture a little gummy. Like Goldie Locks, I think this one is just right. The texture is soft and light with a flavor reminiscent of Terry’s Chocolate Orange. Enjoy!

Cocoa-Orange Zebra Cake
{Vegan & Sugar-free}
Yields 2, 6-inch cakes

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1 cup canola oil or melted coconut oil
1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup + 2 Tablespoon nut milk
2 Tablespoons orange zest (about two large navel oranges)

Oil and flour cake pans, then line the bottoms with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350˚F.

In a large bowl, sift together flours, baking powder and salt. Divide the flour evenly into two bowls. Sift cocoa powder into one.

In a medium bowl, whisk together syrup, oil, vanilla and 1 cup nut milk. Combine the syrup mixture with the dry ingredients, half in one, half in the other. Mix the remaining 2 Tablespoons nut milk into the cocoa batter. Stir zest into the other. Batter should be smooth and very runny.

Spoon about 3-4 Tablespoons of orange batter into the center of each cake pan. Repeat with the cocoa batter, making a bull’s eye over the orange. Alternate the batters and repeat this step until no batter remains. The smaller each spoonful, the more stripes in the cake. (I got antsy and used large spoonfuls for the photo below)

Bake for 35-45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center. Cool completely before removing from the pan.

Cake should be delicate, soft and moist. Best chilled before cutting and assembling layers.

Fudgy Cocoa Frosting
{Vegan & Sugar-Free}
Yields about 3 cups
2 cups unsweetened and unsalted almond butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
3/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons pure maple syrup
3 Tablespoons pure vanilla extract
1/3-1/2 cup nut milk
1 1/2-2 teaspoons orange zest (optional)

Whisk all ingredients together until smooth and creamy. If the mixture is too dry, add additional nut milk, 1 Tablespoon at a time until desired consistency. Frosting will thicken somewhat when refrigerated, so additional nut milk may be needed before use.

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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.