Pancake morning

If someone – a friend, a neighbor, a random journalist interviewing me – were to ask me for my top two parenting tips (Parenting hacks! Click here for 5 hacks you’ll never believe work!), it would be:

  • Always cut the sticker sheets in half, or quads, or hell, sticker-by-sticker.
  • Never, ever ask a kid what they want to eat. You tell them what they’re eating.

I have been burned so many times by asking the dumpling what he wants for breakfast. Especially back in the hellacious 18-month-old toddler-hell-demon phase, when he seemed primed for a tantrum each morning day night 24/7. Because inevitably, he’d say something we didn’t have (sausage!) or something just flat-out unacceptable (cake!) and I’d have to break his poor heart that we didn’t/he couldn’t have that. Mean mommy.

Luckily, he seems to be past that for the most part (though, as a side story don’t get distracted Belle! side story at the bottom*). This morning, he refused all of my offerings though until he spotted the syrup in the pantry (and that should be my actual tip up there – never let them see in the pantry). He decided he wanted syrup! For breakfast!

“What are you going to put the syrup on?” I reasonably asked him.

He pondered this for a minute before very seriously answering me.

“Pancakes.”


Now let’s pause here for a second. This right here is the type of situation that makes my working arrangement invaluable to me. My job may not have a lot of upward movement in terms of responsibilities or job titles (I’ve been doing the same thing for six years at this point), but I don’t care. They pay me well and I literally can’t put a price on working from home half the week. Because if I had to go into the office this morning? I would have had to say no to impromptu pancakes. If I’d had to go in yesterday, I wouldn’t have been able to take the dumpling for a walk at 7:30. If I’d had to go in Tuesday, I wouldn’t have been able to witness the dumpling sing-shouting Twinkle Twinkle Little Star at the neighborhood park. It’s wonderful to have more time with him in the evening (especially when he was little and had a 7pm bedtime), but the mornings are where the real perks lie.

Most of the mornings, I don’t have to rush him out the door, trying to make sure I’m not late myself. And if there’s one thing every parent knows, it’s that rushing a preschooler means that everything will take twice as long as they staaaaaaaaallllllllll. Fact. Instead, our mornings are leisurely spent eating breakfast, reading books, or watching Daniel. We’re able to be flexible getting him out the door, depending on his moods, which makes everyone’s morning a thousand times easier. We can take a walk or run an errand (I’ve definitely taken him to the grocery store in his jammies when I discovered we were out of milk). And I don’t have to worry about getting myself presentable for work because I just need to be dressed. That’s it! No hour-long commute or putting on business casual clothes. No making sure I have everything I need for the day before heading out (and I can’t tell you how nice that was as a pumping mother). Our mornings are far less stressful, and most times downright pleasant, because I work from the house.


“Pancakes?” I said, skeptical at first, “… that does sound pretty good. Can you help me make them?”

“YES,” he enthusiastically answered me.

So we set about making pancakes. I measured ingredients, he poured them into our bowl. We stirred and stirred and stirred, taking turns (mama stir fast? he’d ask me when it was time for me to do the real whisking). We got them into the skillet to cook and debated who should flip them. He, of course, got the first batch and ate them at the counter while I continued to make pancakes. Once Luffy got his (and took them to eat at his computer in the living room), the dumpling decided that he wanted to eat on his chair in the living room. So he hopped down and took his plate to dada for help getting set up in his chair. He adorably chowed down, asking for milk or help cutting up pancakes. I stayed in the kitchen, devouring my own plate of pancakes while also finishing up cooking the batter (I like to freeze any leftovers so that I can pull them out when he requests them later). I also took care of the dishes and was charmed when the dumpling brought me his empty plate to wash.

From the living room, I heard this exchange:

“Did you tell mama thank you for making us pancakes?”

“Yes,” he answered, but that wasn’t accurate and Luffy knew it.

“Can you tell her again?”

[pitter patter of a running preschooler]

“I love you,” he tells me as he peers at me around his tower.

[sound of my heart melting]

“Awe, I love you too sweet boy. And you’re welcome for the pancakes.”


Side-story: While he doesn’t make wild requests anymore (most of the time), we do run through this hilarious conversation occasionally:

“Mama! I hungry, I want breakfast,” he’ll say to me, rubbing his presumably empty tummy.

“Ok, let’s get you breakfast,” I’ll say, walking into the kitchen.

“Do you want yogurt?”

“No! I want breakfast.”

“Ok, how about crackers?” (meaning his Belvita crackers)

“No! I want breakfast!”

“Hmmm – a strawberry bar?”

“NO! I want breakfast!”

“Ok, what about an apple? Or applesauce?”

“NO mama, I want breakfast!”

“I know child! What do you want for breakfast?!” is what I always want to say in response to that sass. I abstain though. Go me.

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Le Petit Chef

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I started another exercise program. When Luffy and I were breaking down the exorbitant cost, I realized something a tad bit startling:

In order to “save” enough money for the cost, all I had to do was skip my favorite sushi dinner twice a month. That’s all. Twice a month, I had to choose to make dinner at home rather than get sushi and I’d have enough for the class. Which felt ridiculous, considering I was ranting about how expensive these classes are and yet I’d gladly (and without complaint) eat sushi three or four times a week. The thought woke me up to how expensive my favorite meal is, and how I don’t really consider the cost whenever I’m asking (again) for sushi.

So, kicked into motion by that thought and a sudden desire to be back in the kitchen again, I’ve found a few new recipes to try soon.

Sheet Pan Chicken Tikka – This was the first recipe up to bat. I made it last night just as Deb described and it was delicious. Luffy requested the chicken be cut into cubes first next time, to help maximize the flavor of the marinade. (I had worried about that particular complaint before I made this recipe because it is often his complaint when trying marinated meat recipes. He feels that the flavor is just on the surface and that most of the meat ends up bland. Fair complaint, to be honest.) Next time, I’ll think I’ll chop the chicken up first and try to let it marinade longer.

Buttermilk Roast Chicken – On the menu for Thursday night so that I can give it an overnight soaking. I’m definitely curious about this one – to see what Luffy thinks of it since he typically needs a kick-in-the-mouth flavor to even register a “flavor.” We’ve often joked that some of the flavors I grew up with – rosemary and lemon chicken for instance – are basically non-flavors to him. He can’t help it; it’s that Chinese cuisine he grew up with. I’m going to pair this with wild rice and a salad.

Pasta and Chickpeas – I’m particularly excited about this one, but mainly because I figured out when I could try it. You see, I doubt Luffy will be a fan of this. He doesn’t really care for chickpeas or meatless meals. I, on the other hand, love chickpeas and I do appreciate a meatless meal here and there. I’m curious to try this particular recipe because Deb basically says it’s magic. Plus TWENTY MINUTE DINNER – wut wut!! But what’s a girl to do? If her husband probably won’t like it and yet she really, really wants to try it?? But like, not enough to make it for lunch or something…. [drumroll please] ….. I’m making it next weekend when Luffy is out of town! I figured that it’s easy enough for me to make one-handed when the dumpling inevitably wants to watch me make it. Plus, he’ll probably appreciate the pasta and chickpeas. Probably. Maybe. Oh, who am I kidding, he probably won’t even touch it. The point is that I win because I MADE dinner for us all by myself.

So yeah, that’s what’s on our menu.

[Also, did you see the pattern there? I love Smitten Kitchen. Literally everything I’ve made from her website is delicious, and I’ve made a lot of stuff. Her favorite brownies are my go-to. I’ve made these. This was the dumpling’s first birthday cake. Luffy and I tried this sweet potato dinner. I’m dying for cooler temps so that I can throw this into our regular rotation again. I turned to her when I wanted to try my hand at hummus. I made these fritters up for the dumpling. She inspired me to throw zucchini into quesadillas. These recipes are just what comes to mind; I’m sure I’ve made more over the years. Love her and her site!]

Have your cake!

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I drunkenly offered to make a smash cake for a neighbor’s daughter’s first birthday party.

So Belle, how’s that going?

I am SO glad you asked! A week after my offer, our hosts invited us back to their house for more BBQ and swim time. (Holla!) I promised a test cake, so they could see what they were working with. (I imagine our neighbor was vacillating between being suuuuure that everything was going to work out, this-will-be-fine style, and panic at the thought that I’d produce some monstrosity and then how do you back out of that without hurting my poor, sweet, misguided feelings???? HOW?????)

I immediately had a plan in mind. I’d bake a simple butter cake and use an oversized cookie cutter to get 4.5″ diameter circles out of it. I’d then stack those (either three or four, wasn’t sure) and fill it with pink frosting. I’d then frost the outside of the cake with white frosting and decorate with gold and pink sprinkles. Easy as pie cake. I went to a craft store and found some amazing gold sprinkles and these neat pink sugar rock things. It’s hard to describe, but they’re beautiful. I also picked up some piping tips and a new piping bag, with the hope of at least piping a border.

I baked up the cake in advance (and the great part about only using a portion is that I was able to taste test first – it was delicious) and made the frosting/decorated the cake the day of. It turned out really, really well and our neighbors were very pleased with the final result. So yay! And whew!

And then, my big mouth got me again (and I can’t even blame champagne this time!). I was discussing my plans with her and mentioned that I had a lot of cake leftover. This led to me divulging that I wanted to try my hand at cake pops. Which I did, the following week. And they were super cute and delicious. And since they had seemed so excited by the idea, I took a half dozen to the neighbors just for fun. And they loved them. And that’s how I’m making a smash cake and about three dozen cake pops for Sunday.

WISH ME LUCK AND THEN SEND WINE.

Hello Dinner

Luffy and I are trying out one of those meal delivery services this week. As they all do, it promises convenient, delicious meals. I’ve been curious about them (Blue Apron, Terra Fresh, Hello Fresh, etc) ever since they started getting popular. It sounds amazing, right?! All the ingredients to create your own chef-quality dinners delivered right to your door! So when we received a coupon for half off our first delivery (and since Luffy was up for it), I signed us up for a trial run!

So far, I’ve made two of the three meals (what can I say? it’s a bit hard for me to go from picking up food to primarily cooking dinner). And they’ve been tasty! Here’s what I’ve discovered so far (albeit with a limited sample of two dinners):

The Good:

  • Prep time – Probably the first time I’ve ever encountered a recipe that says 30 minutes and means it. None of this oh, but you’ll get faster the more times you prepare it or how on point are your knife skills?? These recipes say 30 minutes and mean 30 minutes, start to finish. They do require you to multi-task, which a more experienced cook will feel more comfortable with, but they do at least lay it out for you (and tell you when you can/should reuse pans).
  • Taste – I will admit that we chose (via powers of the lucky coupon draw) one of the more simple services. The recipes are fairly basic and there are a decided lack of “exotic” recipes. However, they do taste good. So far, we’ve had a version of sweet-and-sour chicken, over rice and green beans, and ‘bangers and mash,’ with homemade mashed potatoes and oven-roasted tomatoes. Each recipe has been tasty.
  • Sense of accomplishment – It probably sounds weird, but it feels good to get back into the kitchen. We’re to the point that we’re tired of eating out (except for sushi currently – I’m obsessed with sushi – sorry honey $$$$$) and I hate that. Eating out should be a treat! It should be fun and something to look forward to. At least that’s how I was raised. So this service gave me the umph to get back into the kitchen again, with new recipes in hand. I’d never actually made mashed potatoes from scratch. Tomorrow I’m making burgers, which is also new for me. It’s fun to experiment with new things and to see what techniques I can add to my set of skills.

The not-so-good (aka, why we won’t use a service like this on a long-term basis):

  • Cost – Look, I know that you’re primarily paying for the convenience of (a) not meal planning and (b) not grocery shopping, but still. Together, Luffy and I actually (usually) enjoy our weekly grocery shopping excursion. We like making the occasional trip to the Asian grocer. Luffy seems unperturbed by going to multiple grocery stores in a single outing (though I usually draw the line at two, he’d happily go to three or four for the right products) and willingly makes multiple trips during the week. All that to say that we’re probably not the best of candidates for this “convenience charge.” Our current plan roughly breaks down to $10/person/meal and I can say, without a doubt, that I can procure all of the ingredients for far cheaper than that. Oh, but Belle, they say, you don’t have to buy all of those ingredients that you’ll never use again and will waste away in your pantry/fridge! Perhaps. Maybe with one of the ritzier services. However, I have all of the pantry staples on-hand for all three of our meals. So that doesn’t quite justify the cost either.
  • Portions – Look, Luffy is a big man. He’s 6’5″ and he could put away two Chipotle burritos in a sitting in college. So when they send me less than half a pound of chicken breast for a two-person meal kit, well that’s just not going to cut it.

I realize that we’ve only had two meals (of hundreds), so I’m probably not qualified to opine, but clearly that didn’t stop me. I think we’ll enjoy the service every once in a while (if I can stay on top of the skip-a-week options!), but we’ll stick with buying our own groceries.

Toddler

I’m not sure what happened over the past week or so, but my dumpling suddenly looks more like a little boy than a baby. I can’t even pinpoint the change really because his little chubby cheeks are still there. As are his miles-long lashes. And his arm roll (yes singular, for my child is a string bean) and belly. His ham-bones are still nommable. And yet, when I look at him, I see a little toddler. He’s growing so much. Luffy took a picture of me holding a sleeping dumpling at the airport (on our flight there). I was shocked to see it and to see how big he looked laying on me.

He’s standing now, unassisted. He hasn’t quite figured out the walking (unassisted) thing yet, but he’ll merrily zoom around using a push toy. He cruises along the furniture, begging for food with his irresistible outreached hand. He points and gestures and emphasizes that he wants to go there and there and over there! He gives the best hugs now – have I told you? I’ve been saying for ages that he’s not a cuddler and all of a sudden he wants hugs. A few of nights ago, I sat down with him to listen to Luffy read to us and rather than bounce around, like he normally does, he turned into me and climbed up to rest his head on my shoulder. My heart swelled and I held him tightly, figuring it was a one time occurrence but he’s done it every night since.

He chuckles now, too. We’ve only ever known his laughs when we tickle him (which are hilarious because they’re silent until he can’t hold it in any longer and he just squeals), but now he’ll chuckle at things he finds amusing. A toy, Jas, his dada, whatever tickles his fancy.

We’re getting a glimpse (or should I say foreshadowing?) of the quintessential toddler tantrum – belly down, feet and fists pounding the floor. Except we’re also seeing his personality shine through. He’s far too cautious and careful to traditionally tantrum by throwing himself to the floor and beating it with his fists and feet. Rather, he delicately lowers himself down, and sort of flutters his feet and hands above the floor. While I assume that at some point he’ll hurtle himself down with all the potent fury a three-year-old can muster and I’ll groan because gah, right now it’s pretty darn cute.

He eats like a champ, when he’s hungry, chowing down on everything from cut-up grapes to whole crackers. His favorites are meat (chicken and pork in particular, though he loved Thanksgiving turkey) and clementines. He doesn’t seem to be a big fan of bread or bread-like things (muffins, pancakes, etc) or vegetables (to be fair here, he only has four teeth, it’s a little hard to enjoy most veggies with just four teeth), but he’ll happily put away some pizza. We make sure he gets his veggies via pouch and I was inordinately proud when he disliked a fruit-only pouch I tried to distract him with on the plane. I tried it myself, found it far too sweet and figured he did too. (Side tangent, it drives me crazy how difficult it is to find pouches (or baby food, for that matter) made of predominantly vegetables. Like, I don’t need help getting him to eat strawberries or bananas, I need help with green beans and broccoli! Whyyyyyy is this so challenging?) He’s a pro with pouches now and will come crawling for his Apple-Raspberry-Spinach-GreekYogurt-Oat or Banana-Kiwi-Kale-Barley-GreekYogurt. He likes to mix it up.

I didn’t really sit down to memorialize everything he’s doing now, but it’s so challenging when he’s so active and adorable. I realized the other day, scrolling through my photos, that we actually don’t have many photos of him now. Not stills anyways. We have videos. Mini clips of him doing something – eating with a spoon, standing, giving a hug, begging for food*, cruising with a push toy. In fact, most of the still shots I’ve captured of him recently are blurry as he was busy heading off to the next thing. It really put into perspective (a) how boring babies are initially and (b) how much he’s grown in just a year. I really can’t wait to see what he’ll learn next.

*We are firmly in the stage of what-are-you-eating-there-mom???? As soon as either Luffy or I sit down with a snack or meal, he must know and sample what we’re having. He’s also very good about asking for food. Apparently, he knows exactly where his puffs are kept at daycare and will routinely gesture up to the cabinet throughout the day, just to see if one of his teachers will succumb to the adorableness and give him some puffs.

Passing Judgement

I have a secret to tell you…. You know those food pouches that are all the craze now? The little ones for infants and toddlers?

Well, I used to proclaim them the next fast food-esque convenience item and swore I would never give one to my kid(s). It’s not that I judged parents for using them, although I sort of kind of did. For me, it was more about wanting my kids to eat actual veggies – eat the whole pea rather than pea puree. I wouldn’t mask my child’s veggies under a blanket of sweet fruits. By God, they would know they were eating broccoli and they would enjoy it! They wouldn’t need it drenched in apple “concentrate” which is probably just a nice way of saying sugar.

Even after having a child, I still stuck to this ideal. I deemed pouches on the same level as purees, but with an added heaping of parental laziness. While not fully on-board with Baby Led Weaning for some safety reasons, I did hope that we’d pass through purees pretty quickly and move on to “real” food. And we did!

But now…. now I see the flaw in my reasoning and the brilliance behind pouches. You see, my child has graduated to “real” food and enjoys everything from avocado to chicken. Although he ate pureed veggies exceedingly well (his daycare teachers always commented that they’d never seen a more enthusiastic child over green beans), he’s gotten to the point where he wants to feed himself. He does not want your spoon – NO. He’ll take the spoon from you! Even gets it to his mouth most of the time. It doesn’t have any food on it by that point, but hey, baby steps.

And so I gave him actual veggies like I always said I would – peas and green beans and carrots steamed to within an inch of their lives so that he’d be able to gum them to death. And he ate them! Well, I mean, like four or five before getting bored. Close enough. So I sent them to daycare in place of his purees. And he did not eat them. Wouldn’t even touch them. Fail.

I went back to the grocery store in search of I’m not even sure what. Magical veggies. Veggies with the consistency of watermelon or grapes. Veggies that I would be able to throw in his daycare lunch bag because I already spend a half hour each morning prepping the rest of his food. Actually, I started in the applesauce aisle because the dumpling had been having a few – ahem – digestive issues that could be helped with applesauce. Except last time we tried his beloved applesauce, via spoon, he didn’t want it. And there, next to the cups of syrupy fruit and jars of applesauce, were pouches of applesauce. I even found one (several!) that met my no-sugar-added criterion. Hey! Belle’s brain went, maybe if he can feed it to himself, he’ll actually eat it. 

…..

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is when the brilliance of pouches hit me. It’s not parental laziness and definitely not about convenience (although the fact that they are easy and convenient are decisive pros), it’s about getting your child to actually eat some, any, veggies. The dumpling will happily eat 4 ounces of pureed garden veggies (which, by Gerber’s count contains 92 peas, 2/3 of a carrot, and 3/4 of a spinach leaf). If I sit him down in his high chair to eat, he might eat ten peas. Maybe? On a good day? If the stars align?

So where do I turn when he refuses the spoon because baby principles but won’t eat the same amount by hand? Pouches, my friend. Pouches.

I know! I know! Experienced parents are rolling their eyes at my naivety. I’d missed the whole piece of the puzzle that he would simply eat more vegetables via puree than he would whole. He’s got a short attention span and better things to do, apparently. That doesn’t mean I’ll stop giving him whole veggies to practice with. It just means that I can use the pouches on occasion to make sure he’s getting all the vitamins and fiber his little body needs. And yeah, I’m still a stickler for veggies. Even with the container purees, I only purchased vegetable or vegetable heavy varieties. I still compared fiber and sugar content and scanned the ingredient lists. But I’m happy to have found a solution for now.

Ducks as been-there-done-that parents pelt me with half-eaten pouches.

Somewhat sleepless in Seattle

Hello again! Luffy and I made it back and the dumpling did wonderfully, sans parents.

We went to Washington (Seattle area), primarily for a concert Saturday night. It was a whirlwind weekend of eating and drinking and driving (but definitely not in that order). We arrived Friday around noon and promptly dove headfirst into soup dumplings at Din Tai Fung a restaurant I feel positive I’ve mentioned before. Since it was our first vacation since having a child, we ordered a bottle of champagne to celebrate VACATION!!! It was real good. We spent the afternoon doing touristy things and traipsing up and down the downtown area enough to (hopefully) burn off all those soup dumplings.

On Saturday, we got waffles (WAFFLES!!!) and crepes, killing time until our noon check out. We then drove about two hours east of Seattle, to a tiny town in which we were staying. The concert was being held at a venue that is literally in the middle of nowhere (the Gorge Amphitheater). Our little town was only about 40 minutes from the amphitheater, so once we checked in and freshened up, we headed back out. The amphitheater itself is gorgeous, overlooking the Columbia river. The weather was cool, getting downright cold once the sun went down. I quickly realized that we only really know how to do outdoor festivals in Texas. Between three of us, we brought three 20oz bottles of water, as well as one refillable Camelbak. We were supposed to have two, but our friend forgot his. We also bought sunscreen and dressed in layers that we could “take off” as needed. …… Yeah. I was ridiculously cold by the end of the night even though I thought I’d dressed warmly. I realized that I should have brought a blanket after watching very nearly every other festival-goer huddling under a blanket at different points in the evening. We only finished two of those bottles of water and, though we filled it as soon as we got there, we didn’t even touch the Camelbak (probably because it wasn’t a thousand degrees out and thus we weren’t losing water through sweat as fast as we could replace it). And I completely forgot the sunscreen that we purchased expressly for the concert. Eh, we didn’t need it.

The concert itself was incredible. Just beyond words. And over too quickly, as wonderful things tend to do. We made it back to our hotel around 1 in the morning, which is when we discovered that my driver’s license (which I’d needed to get into the concert) was missing. Sigh

So this is where our story devolves into my usual absurdness.

Luffy realized Saturday night in the wee hours of Sunday morning that my ID wasn’t in his pocket anymore. Being one in the morning, we decided to search more thoroughly after some sleep, but found nothing the next morning. As I was about to try to get on a plane, I managed to dig out a copy of my passport from my email. TSA was actually really nice about the whole thing. I provided the copy of my passport, along with a debit card and my health insurance card, and essentially got an expedited though thorough passage through security. They went through my bags and gave me a pat-down, but they let me on the plane! Woohoo!

Monday I went to the DPS. That was rather uneventful, even fortuitous in a way. I happened to lose my license close enough to its expiration date (this November) that they just renewed it at the same time. So helpful! Plus, I’ve hated the picture on that license since I got it four years ago and got to take a new one. Double yay!

But then – on my way to lunch with Luffy I picked up two nails in my tire. I went out to the garage Tuesday morning to discover a pancake for a tire, completely derailing my plans of having Luffy pick me up from our mechanic after I dropped it off for patching. We were unsuccessful in pulling the flat tire off to replace it with the spare (the lug nuts were practically cemented on there) and had to cash in a free AAA tow. In more not-so-great news, the leak couldn’t be patched because the nails were too close together. We had to replace the tire. Now, I’ve honestly gotten nails in my tires maybe a handful of times before 2017. Right before the dumpling arrived last year, we replaced all four tires on my vehicle because they were due and we figured we might as well knock that task out before the baby arrived. Since then I’ve managed to have two, TWO, unfixable flats necessitating the replacement of a practically new tire. I’m sort of wondering if the driving gods are mad at me or something.

So that was fun. We picked it up yesterday and handed over the keys to Luffy’s car because he had three mechanical issues pop up yesterday. THREE. Like he’s trying to one-up me or something. Sheesh. Sit back down, this here’s my blog.

So yeah, that’s been us over the past few days. Lots of tedious adulting. Today is picture day at the dumpling’s daycare and I can’t wait to view the proofs. Last time he had picture day, we got several gems back including one alarmingly (or hilariously??) similar to this meme:

Good work son! You’ve got a knack for expressing your disregard for the whole school picture thing. Already getting a head start on years of this fool business.


A last aside – the dumpling is sporting a new tooth! One of his top center erupted while we were gone! He’s now enamored with grinding the top and bottom together, but I’m hoping he gets over it.