Thursday, September 26, 2013

Long Days

I hear the whispers outside the room in which I'm sleeping.  They float through my subconscious even as my body pleads, No, no, no it's not time to wake up yet, please no.
"Mommy, can I wake Cakey up yet?"
"What time is it?"
"Almost 6."
"Okay, but be gentle."

Tap tap tap.  I feel her feather hand on my shoulder and crack my eyes open to see her smiling face.  "Hi, Sage," I whisper sleepily.  She grins and flings herself in for a hug while I try to pull myself upright.  She is so grown up in daylight hours, eloquent and mature, and achingly in between childhood and adolescence, but at 6 AM on Thursday mornings, she is my sweet warm buddy again, crawling into my lap and telling me in excited whispers about her school's hiking and overnight trip she's going on today and do I want oatmeal for breakfast and how was my clinical yesterday and should we wake up June so she can see me too?

Half an hour later, June is still not awake.  I sneak into her room, where she is splayed across her mattress, naked except for her wedgied pink underpants, blankets tangled about her feet.  I stroke her back softly, whisper, "Juney-Bee, wake up..."  She turns toward me blearily, her hair in her face.
"Mommy?" she asks.
"No, sweetie, it's Cakey."
"Cakey??!  Is it really you?"  Her sleepy eyes wide open now, she pushes her bangs away, sees it's really me and scrambles her hot little monkey body into my lap and wraps all four impossibly long limbs around my torso and squeezes till my eyes tear up.  She lays her head into my chest and sighs.  "I'm so happy you're here, Cakey.  I love you."
"I love you too, sweetness.  I'm so glad you're mine."

We eat oatmeal at the table and the chatter washes over me while I pour milk and slice apples and we talk about what to wear for school picture day and hiking trips and their mother, a former boss, and now a friend, smiles at me over their heads while I mouth, Thank you for all of this, and she only laughs and shakes her head and wraps me in another hug.

It's a long drive to Massachusetts every Wednesday afternoon for a clinical shift in a tiny community sexual health center whose two exam rooms are each big enough to touch all four walls while you stand in the middle.  I cram myself by the door while my midwife preceptor wedges herself behind the exam table and moves mountains for her patients and teaches them about birth control.  I leave with my face hurting from smiling and my stomach rumbling its emptiness.  I drive to the home of the only nanny family I still keep in touch with, where I bask in the light of being loved and needed and welcomed and family, even while I miss my own family so much it hurts.  I drive the two hours home, shower in a flurry, drive to work and prop my eyelids open for the rest of the day, momentarily panicking when I remember I have a midterm on Monday, a test on Tuesday, an assignment due Wednesday, and a mountain of work before clinical next week.

But today I got to wake up to my two favorite girls and for now that is more than enough.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Cake Fail

I follow a blog called The Bitten Word that does what I could only dream of doing - actually cooking the recipes from their monthly supply of food magazines.  Now, granted, the only food magazine I subscribe to is Cook's Illustrated, which comes every two months and definitely lends itself to well-intentioned stockpiling on the bookshelf with promises to myself of, "I will definitely make that someday."  Anyway, the folks at The Bitten Word issue a yearly challenge to help them cook every recipe out of the September issue of Bon Appetit.  I signed up this year, and was issued the task of making this: buttermilk cake with sour milk jam and gin-poached cherries (whew).

All my ingredients.
It was less than impressive.

It incorporated several elements of baking that I find vexing - like the need to go to Whole Foods for a strange and expensive ingredient (juniper berries?), the finished product requiring complex assembly, the use of three (3) separate complete elements, and a wholeheartedly unrealistic amount of time spent doing active work (not, say, cooling something on the counter or baking something in the oven).  So, not only was it a great deal of work, but it tasted gross.  This saddened me.  But!  (There's always a but.)  I had fun making something that I never would have made otherwise, and the cake part itself tasted delicious.

First, I planned.  I got most of the stuff I needed on a grocery run - in the process acquiring more dairy than our fridge has held in months: buttermilk, whole milk, and creme fraiche.  Then, I traded picking up a friend at her mechanic for a cup of leftover gin she had since I didn't want to buy a whole bottle.  (Meanwhile thinking to myself, isn't a cup of gin, like, a LOT of gin??).  Finally, I resigned myself to going to Whole Foods after class one day to buy a four-dollar jar of dried whole juniper berries.  I will be personally indebted to anyone who finds another recipe with which I can use any more of the (barely touched) bottle of juniper berries, by the way.

The cake part, like I said, was delicious and simple enough.  Just a yellow cake batter, using buttermilk, which gave it a lovely soft crumb and a delicately sweet flavor.  Scrumptious.

Then, I spent 45 minutes cooking down milk and sugar into a syrup of such sickening sweetness that even mixing it into 8 ounces of creme fraiche didn't make it not taste like a cavity.

Finally, I followed the recipe exactly and attempted to make a gin, sugar, juniper berry, and dried tart cherry syrup thing to also put with the cake.  Total fail.  There was nothing syrupy about it, and the cherries were macerated within minutes.  I took one taste after cooking it for at least twice the amount of time called for (in an attempt to reduce the vast volume of liquid) and it was like taking a shot of gin in a spoon.  I'm not in college anymore, so this made me gag.

The finished product.
I took one bite of it all together, threw the sour milk "jam" and the alcoholic cherries in the trash, said a silent apology to the friend whose gin I'd wasted, and ate a piece of the cake with my hands.  Whomp whomp.  I'm very curious to see what others who made this recipe thought of it!  And I was at least happy to note that my instincts when looking at this recipe (looks complicated, and, is that seriously going to taste good...?) were spot on.

Anyone else had some recent cooking adventures they'd like to share?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Summer's End

Summer has abruptly and unceremoniously come to an end.  On my run the other day, I realized with a start that my bright sneakers were shuffling through dry leaves and there was a hint of woodsmoke in the air.  Unequivocally, fall.  It's still 85 degrees during the days here sometimes, but the chill of the evenings and early mornings are insisting, nope, fall.  I love it.  I also hate fall, but as we've discussed, I'm a fan of strong things in opposition.

This guy built a web across our entire front porch.
Basking in his grandparents' love and attention.
Tomato chutney, freshly canned.
I miss this.
School has started again and it's a heady mix of Oh my good god, how can I possibly keep up with this insane workload? and Babies! Bellies! Fetal heart tones! Leopold's maneuvers! Holy jeebers, I can't believe we're actually learning all of this!

It feels both surreal and like the most natural thing in the world, all at the same time.