Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Quotable Maria

Doesn't Maria's determined, yet far-off expression remind you of a romantic poet?   Check this out 
A few memorable lines:

While using the creamer from her tea set to pour imaginary water over Louisa's head:
  "I am bath-tizing Weeza!"

During our afternoon snack, Maria sums up the perks of being older:
"Loulou eats paper and I eat cake"

After seeing that the toilet still looks rather dirty despite my efforts:
"Mommy, you need to try cleaning the toilet again."

Donnie's beard is a little on the long side:
"Daddy, your face needs a haircut."

Upon going into the bathroom:
 "Oh-my-gosh, it is tinksy in here!"

Though Maria's rearrangement of s diphthongs probably won't be with us much longer, "Tinksy" is on its way to being a permanent part of the family vocabulary. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Let Them Eat Cake

Maria, playing with salt dough.  Her apron was a gift that Donnie bought during his trip to Assisi. He bought a matching one for me :)

Maria has a long-standing interest in cake. Not that she has eaten many cakes in her life (until recently). We think it began last summer when she saw an older neighbor girl making "cakes" in the sandbox by our building.  Whatever it was that sparked the interest, eating cake and making cake have been recurring subjects in Maria's imaginative play.  When my parents gave Donnie some Ideal Blox, for his birthday back in November, she commandeered them and made pyramid cakes. Later in the winter, she stripped off her legwarmers to make legwarmer cakes.  Our experiments with playdough and salt dough all led to more cakes.  Some kids makes cities.  Maria makes cakes.

So it was that in late May, while scouring the shelves of our lovely, but expensive local toy store for Maria's birthday gift, I latched onto this little set.   The set includes of three mini-discs stackers, where the discs represent cake layers. The child experiments with different ordering of the layers to come up with new confections. The layers are wood and felt, but the end results resemble the exquisite creations on display at the patisseries in town.  The set seemed a little pricey for a bit of play food, but I justified the expense, saying that not only would this be a beloved toy, but a souvenir of France.

The purchase was a good one.  Maria has enjoyed this toy and still comes to me, holding out one of her creations, "Mommy, a cake for you."

Maria's birthday cake set, along with play baked goods made from salt dough

In this way, Maria had been thinking of cake and building "cakes", but her interest in real baking took off during our visit to the US.  Maria and Muschi made muffins almost every morning, to the delight of all. And once we transferred over to the Sheehys, Maria "helped" Meme and Colleen in several baking projects.

Returning to France, we've been met with a series of unseasonably cold, wet days. Baking has turned out to be a great way of keeping Maria occupied and everyone in good spirits. We've made cookies. We've made several rounds of rhubarb cake.  One afternoon, we made salt dough and rounded out Maria's  inventory of play food by adding croissants, a baguette, a boule, and a number of brioche buns.  For me and my little toaster oven, this qualifies as a streak.

And then, last week, I began reading Bringing Up Bebe, a book that has been making the rounds in the Anglophone playgroup we attend.  Bringing Up Bebe explores the differences between French and Anglo-American parenting styles, and highlights the positive aspects of the French approach.  It was with  pleasure that I learned that family baking sessions are a weekly or bi-weekly ritual for French families.  The author sees baking as one of the ways French families encourage their children to develop patience and self control:

All this baking doesn't just make lot of cakes. It also teaches kids how to control themselves. With its orderly measuring and sequencing of ingredients, baking is a perfect lesson in patience. So is the fact that Franch families don't devour the cake as soon as it comes out of the oven, as I would do. They typically bake in the morning or early afternoon, then wait and eat the cake or muffins as a gouter --the French afternoon snack.

The gouter (pronounced "goo-tay") is a facet of French life that we'd already come to enjoy.   It's less of what we tend to think of as a snack--which in my mind has a rather informal connotation.  It's more of an established mini-meal, at least for children.  It's my understanding the gouter is when many of the luxuriant, flour-rich sweets come into play: cookies, cakes, crepes, chocolate-stuffed croissants, pastries, madelines, etc.   Boxes of cookies come printed with chirpy serving recommendations:  "four cookies + half a mango + a cup of milk = a balanced gouter!"

I love that in French eating culture has a special, ritualized place for this type foods, where they take center stage and are not tacked on the end of a complicated meal.  If the French are any indication, giving cake its due place on the weekly menu--if not daily menu--seems to encourage moderation.

So I'm delighted to find that Maria and I have happened upon a pastime that ties in with an aspect of French dining culture.  I'm looking forward to trying the carrot cake we baked yesterday during today's gouter.  Yes, it's lovely to eat cake.  Now the challenge is not over-doing it...

Maria enjoying her apricot and rhubarb yogurt cake
Pamela Druckerman writes that the first cake French children learn to bake is gateau au yaourt, or Yogurt cake.  Yogurt is added, then the empty yoghurt tub is used in lieu of a measuring cup.  The recipe is simple and forgiving--very nice for young children.  We've made it once, adding fresh apricots and chopped rhubarb to the basic batter.   

Gateau au Yaourt (Yogurt Cake) from Pamela Druckerman's Bringing Up Bebe

2 tubs plain whole-milk yogurt (the individual portion-sized tubs, about 175 g/ 6oz)
2 eggs
2 tubs sugar (or just one, depending on how sweet you like it)
1 tsp vanilla essence
just under 1 tub vegetable oil
4 tubs plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Use vegetable oil to grease a 9-inch round pan (or a loaf tin).

Gently combine the yogurt, eggs, sugar, vanilla and oil. In a separate bowl, mix flour and baking powder. Add dry ingredients to wet ingreidents; mix gently until combined--don't over-mix!
You can add 2 tubs fozen berries, a tub of chocolate hcips, or any flavouring you like. Cook for 35 minutes, then 5 minutes more if it doesn't pass the knife test. It should be almost crispy on the outside, but springy on the inside. Let it cool. The cake is delicious served with tea and a dollop of creme fraiche.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Face It/ 7 Quick Takes (Vol. 1)

A friend once proposed a rival site to Facebook, called Face It. People would only post when they were having a bad day and wanted commiseration. No vacation photos or cute children's antics allowed. Face It posts are written in that spirit. They are "complaining songs" to put it in the parlance of Winnie-the-Pooh.

Beloved Readers, Please regard this as an epistle from the Land o' Jetlag. I'm also joining in on the 7 Quick Takes Friday link party over at Conversion Diary.

We're back in France after our month-long sojourn in the U.S. Actually, The girls and I are back in France. Donnie is in Scotland, hopefully buying a kilt--wait, no--I mean making friends in the Computational Topology Community and marching forward in the vanguard of Science.

June has 3o days. We realized this last Saturday, as we made our way to baggage claim after our overnight flight from the US. I had Maria riding on my back in the ergo carrier with Louisa in my arms. Donnie was lugging our formidable array of carry-ons. Maria was exhausted after sleeping only one hour during the flight, and intermittently broke forth in great, reverberating wails that carried through the terminal.

Don: So, I guess I coming back here tomorrow.

We had had it in our heads that Donnie would have two days at home before flying off to the Topology conference. We forgot that, though our flight was leaving the 29th, we'd be landing on the 30th, and....you got it....June has only 30 days.

Our summer calendar is honeycombed with workshops and conferences, when Donnie will be away. It's important at this stage in Donnie's career that he get out there and meet people, and it's a great blessing that his work provides the travel budget for him to do this. But we do miss him. With this latest trip in particular, I'm gritting my teeth, waiting for his return.


Indepedence Day was low-key. I dressed the girls in their patriotic Osh-Kosh-B'Gosh outfits (thank you Auntie Ci-Ci!) and we visited my Aussie friend Marisa and her baby, Chloe. Chloe was also dressed in red, white, and blue, which was surprising and rather touching. Marisa fed us wonderful rhubarb cake (made from home-grown rhubarb), which in my mind, stood-in for the traditional strawberry short-cake.

In the afternoon, I googled "patriotic videos for kids" and ended up showing Maria the Peanuts Mayflower Voyagers on Youtube. Not seasonally appropriate, but once I found it, I couldn't bring myself to navigate away. We went on to watch several other Peanuts videos. Maria was enthusiastic about "Noopsy" (yes, the rearrangement of s diphthongs is still with us--but wouldn't "Noopsy" be a great name for a cartoon dog?).

Perhaps it's that Maria is now old enough to appreciate holidays; perhaps it's that being in France has me feeling tenderly about my nation's traditions, but I have a distinct feeling of having missed the boat. After reading this wonderful post on how to celebrate the 4th of July, I'm hoping for some meaty Independence Day celebrations in years to come.


Louisa reached a number of major milestones during our time in the States. She learned a proper belly-off-the-ground crawl. She also learned to pull to a stand. She's faster and stronger and grabbier than when we left.

Now that we are back in the confines of our small apartment, Maria is not so pleased with her sister's new level of mobility. A while back, we told Maria that she should keep her books away from Louisa so that Louisa wouldn't chew on them. It seems Maria took our words as a kind of mandate. She goes into alarm mode when the baby nears her books, yelling "I need some help!" (That phrase has become a great catch-all for Maria. ) Or she takes matters into her own hands, and tries to push or pull Louisa away. We've had some talks about how the baby's safety is important than that of the books.

So far, we've been incredibly lucky in how well the girls get along with one another. I don't see this lasting long (fingers crossed), but I think it's funny that Maria is so protective of her books.

As the first sentence of this post suggests, Jetlag has been a big thing this week. I didn't manage to get Maria to kindergarten even once because we've all been sleeping in so late. The girls have actually (sort-of) been going to bed at reasonable time. They're sleeping late because they've been skipping naps.

I've been staying up into the wee hours trolling blogs, reading Agatha Christie, and doing other things that fall into the category of "quasi-worthwhile." My Jetlag has been exacerbated by Donnie's absence. It's always harder to settle without the mate close by.

The thing about being up at night, is that it's easy to mistake the cause of the wakefulness. Is it jetlag that has me blogging at this time of night or some manic, unfulfilled desire? What am I doing with my life anyway? Commence existential crisis.

I'm rather good at ascribing deep emotional causes to my physiological states. Let me give you an example. Once, I was in the kitchen preparing a meal, and I suddenly began to feel all teary. I ransacked my brain. Was I sad? Was I anxious? Was this a tide of suppressed pain brimming over my subconscious, at last making itself known? I pulled all kinds grievances out of the closet of my mind, and tried them on for size. It wasn't until after I'd gotten myself into a foul mood, that I looked down and saw that I had been cutting an onion.

Even being aware of this tendency, I still fall pray to it, and the creeping neurosis of the early morning hours.

BABIES. Two of them!

That is, two of my greatest friends from childhood are each having a baby, both due in December.

I found this out is on Sunday evening, and then didn't fall asleep until 7:30 am. Joyful news to be sure--but in my tired, yet woefully awake brain, the good news underscored the how far I am from my two friends, and how long it has been since I shared in their day-to-day life. It seemed vaguely tragic that they could be a third of the way through their pregnancies already.

Blubb. Blubbbbb.

This goes to show you...If you find yourself awake with Jetlag, go ahead and watch a movie or two. Otherwise you'll take the best possible piece of news and find something to get all mopey and sad about.

But seriously----BABIES!

On that wonderful note, goodnight!