Thursday, May 29, 2014

Dear Zahara: 11 Months

Dear Zahara,

Happy 11th month birthday! Can you believe next month you will be one year old?! Where has time gone? You are certainly a totally different person than you were even a few months ago. Your personality is developing and you continue to bring joy to those around you. You are incredibly social; playful; curious; intelligent; and strong.


One of your favorite things to do is wave at people. It doesn't matter if they are already friends of yours, or new friends you haven't yet made. Your adorable smile and wave are infectious. People can't help but wave back.


You are so good at understanding what is happening around you now. You will clap and wave on command, and are even starting to give kisses. You recognize books we read and have started anticipating what comes next. Daddy was reading you a book that you and I read a lot and you "roared" at a page with a lion on it! If we ask you what sound an owl makes, you respond with "whooo." You are just so clever.


I love our daily dance parties. You dance along to music all day long, but are especially active when you're sitting in your high chair. You have mummy and daddy's enthusiasm for food.


Thank you for being such a wonderful baby! We love you!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Baby Led Weaning: Fish Cakes

 Zahara has always been a good eater, but as she grows, we can barely keep up with her appetite! She is eating three meals a day now with some snacks in between, and is still breastfeeding. Though she's eating bite-sized portions, I still find myself struggling to make a variety of healthy and interesting foods for her. Thank-goodness for Pinterest.

I've mentioned before that we're doing the baby-led weaning approach. It is working really well for us. I love that I can give Zoey a little bit of whatever we're eating when we travel or are eating out. At home we still share vegetables, meat, fish, pasta, etc., but I often cook things just for her too. Here is one of our current favorites: fish cakes.

It's made with canned tuna fish and hummus and is ready in a couple of minutes. It is so easy and cheap! It makes quite a few cakes, so I put half in the fridge and freeze the rest for another time. These are so good I find myself sneaking a bite or two.

Fish Cakes
Original recipe from here

Ingredients:
  • 12 tablespoons hummus (store bought, or home-made)
  • 12 tablespoons canned tuna
  • cilantro, basil or any herb
  • 8 teaspoons flour (give-or-take a teaspoon)
  • pinch of black pepper
  • dash of lemon juice

Directions:
  • Add equal amounts hummus and tuna to a bowl. (One can of tuna is around 12 tablespoons)
  • Chop herbs and add to bowl. Add a pinch of pepper and a dash of lemon juice.
  • Add flour, a few teaspoons at a time, and mix thoroughly. Add enough flour to make a thick paste.
  • Heat oil in a large skillet. Form small patties and fry on medium heat in batches. Try not to crowd the pan.
  • Cook until lightly brown on both sides.




Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Grown-Up Ramen Noodle Soup

Like most college students, I went through a big ramen noodle phase in my youth. I could buy ten packs for a dollar (!) and eat like a queen for a week. Did I want soup? Did I want noodles? The world was my oyster.


Now that I'm a grown-up though, ramen noodle soup isn't the first menu item that comes to mind. A few years ago, when I was still living in Washington, DC, a ramen noodle bar opened in my neighborhood. I was pretty sceptical about it--especially since one bowl of soup cost $11!!--but Ren's Ramen completely won me over. The soup was incredibly flavorful; the noodles were flown in fresh from Japan; and the marinated egg was out of this world. Since I'm around 3,000 miles from Ren's, I decided to try and make it at home. You know what? It's pretty darn close!


The base of the soup is dashi, a Japanese fish stock. If you have access to instant dashi you can use that. I don't have any here, so I found a recipe to make my own. It is so cheap and only takes 20 minutes. I'm not sure I'll ever buy instant dashi again.

Ramen Noodle Soup with Marinated Soft-Boiled Egg
Original recipes from here, here here and here

Dashi
Makes 12 cups (6 large servings)

Ingredients:
  • 12 cups water
  • 1.5 ounces kombu (dried seaweed)
  • 1.5 cups loosely packed katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes)
Directions:
  • Place water and kombu in a large pot and let the kombu soak for 15 minutes. Place the pot over medium heat. Right before the water starts to boil (watch for bubbles starting to break around the edge of the pot), remove the pot from the heat and scatter the katsuobushi over the surface of the water.
  • After 4 minutes, when the katsuobushi has sunk to bottom, strain the stock through a fine-mesh strainer.
  • Use immediately, or store in the fridge in a sealed container.



    Ramen Soup
    Ingredients:
    • 6 dried ramen noodle bricks
    • 3/4 cup frozen corn kernels
    • 1/2 cup shitake mushrooms (sliced)
    • 1/2 cup canned bamboo shoots (sliced)
    • Soy sauce to taste
    • 4 tablespoons yellow miso paste
    • green onions to taste
    Directions:
    • Bring dashi (see above) to a boil in a large pot. Add soy sauce to taste.
    • Add ramen noodles, corn and mushrooms and cook for 3 minutes, or until noodles are done.
    • Remove from heat and stir in the miso. Taste and add more soy sauce or miso as needed.
    • Add bean sprouts and green onions. Top with a marinated soft-boiled egg (see below).

    Marinated Soft-Boiled Egg
    Ingredients:
    • 2/3 cup water
    • 2/3 cup sake
    • 1/3 cup soy sauce
    • 1/3 cup mirin
    • 1/3 cup sugar
    • 6 eggs
    Directions:
    • Combine water, sake, soy sauce, mirin and sugar. Whisk well and set aside.
    • Tap the bottom of each egg to make a small crack through the shell, but do not rupture the inner membrane. This makes it easier to peel the shell.
    • Add cold tap water to a medium pot until you have 1 inch of water above the top of the eggs.
    • Bring the pot to a boil over high heat.
    • Cook for exactly 4 minutes for a slightly runny center, then turn off the heat.
    • Remove the eggs and put them into a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking.
    • Peel the eggs and place in an airtight container. Pour marinade over eggs, making sure all are covered, and leave for at least four hours.



      For a perfect, grown-up version of ramen noodle soup, put it all in one bowl and dig in!


      Sunday, May 18, 2014

      Quick Trip to Germany

      A couple of weeks ago Dan had a work trip in Germany and Zahara and I decided to join him. I had a commitment back in the UK before Dan's trip was done though, so Zoey and I only went for a couple of days while Dan stayed on and worked.

      St. Goar

      We stayed in a town called Mainz on the Rhine river. The town is small, but very cute, and we came at a great time. Not only was the weather fantastic, but the Mainz wine festival was taking place right outside our hotel. There were around one hundred vendors selling local wines. I am normally not a big fan of white wine, but these were incredible. Served chilled, the wines were crisp and fruity. I took Zahara to bed while Dan stayed out with our friend Brock. Combined they tried more than 10 wines, and he said all were fantastic.


      We also happened to be in Mainz when old town was holding an open house of sorts. There was live music; cheese and wine; and a fashion show. I love stumbling upon random parties.


      We spent a whole day touring the Rhine by train and ferry. We took the train from Mainz to St. Goar; the ferry to Bacharach; and the train back to Mainz. We followed a Rick Steves' tour in a book we borrowed from the library. I definitely recommend a day on the Rhine--especially if you're  as lucky with the weather as we were. It could not have been a nicer day.

      St. Goar was even smaller than Mainz, but it had some amazing views. We hiked to the top of the hill to the castle. We decided not to go in (we've seen quite a few castles by now!), but we loved the view.


      We had just enough time to stop for a tea and cake before heading off to the ferry.


      During the hour-long ferry, we were treated to stunning views and a bit of commentary over a loud-speaker, but we mostly turned to Rick Steves to tell us what we were looking at. For such a small part of the river, there sure were a lot of castles. Interestingly, in the middle ages, each castle's owner was a robber baron of sorts. Owners would each tax boats crossing the river, making a fortune for themselves. People were so sick of this river robbery that they began advocating for a unified state, which would ease the amount of taxes they paid for crossing the river.





      Once we arrived in Bacharach we met up with my friend, former co-worker, and guest-blogger, Chelsea. She's currently living in Germany and was only a couple of hours away so she drove in to meet us. It was so wonderful to see her again! She had never been to Bacharach before either, so we had fun exploring. While there, I had one of the best meals ever. Germans are really big into eating seasonally, and it was white asparagus season. That may not inspire much excitement in you, and it didn't in me either until I had white asparagus* with smoked salmon in a hollandaise sauce. Unfortunately, we were too busy stuffing our faces to take any pictures, but it was incredible.




      What a fun-filled couple of days!

      *Did you know that white asparagus is essentially green asparagus that is deprived of light? Farmers have to cover the stalk with dirt as it grows so that only the tip is exposed. It is highly manual work, which explains why the asparagus is so much more expensive. The taste isn't even close though. It's so buttery and smooth.


      Thursday, May 15, 2014

      Packing for a Baby

      It's no secret that Dan and I love traveling, and we're bringing Zahara along for the ride. Thankfully, she's a great traveler and really enjoys seeing new places and meeting new people. She's one of the most social babies I've ever seen!

      Making friends in Istanbul

      We are often asked for tips and tricks about traveling with a baby. It's actually not so bad. It is definitely different from traveling pre-baby, when you could just pop in some headphones and watch a movie on the plane. Flights aren't as relaxing, and packing takes a bit more time, but with a little preparation trips can still be low-stress and lots of fun.

      Obviously, different trips require different items, but here are a few staples.

      One Week Vacation Packing List:
      Clothes:
      7 short-sleeve onsies
      7 shirts and pants/dresses
      7 socks
      4 pajamas
      sleep sack
      sun hat/winter hat
      jacket
      a headband

      Essentials:
      25-30 diapers (4/day)*
      wipes
      2 small muslins
      nursing cover

      Entertainment:
      1 book
      1 toy (Captain Calamari is our favorite)

      Transportation:
      Ergobaby (baby carrier)
      car seat (if needed)

      Miscellaneous/Medicines: [small travel size]
      sunscreen
      baby Calpol (Tylenol)
      diaper cream 
      medical history
      baby nail clippers
      comb

      Food:
      Cheerios

      If we are traveling somewhere with a small kitchen, or at least a fridge, I'll often bring some cooked food for her. Easy options are roasted carrots, home-made broccoli muffins and clementines.

      We rarely travel with our stroller any more. I find it much easier to navigate new cities with the baby carrier. My suitcase is almost always a large backpack. I can toss that on my back, Zahara on my front and I'm ready to go.


      Usually hotels or apartments will have a travel cot for Zoey to sleep in. It usually works really well, but rarely Zahara will have to sleep in our bed with us.

      This packing list has served us well so far; Zahara is on track to see 13 countries by the time she's a year old! What did I miss? Anything you can't travel without?

      *If we are bringing a car seat, I can stash diapers in the car seat bag. If we aren't bringing a car seat, I'll buy diapers when I get to my destination. It is cheaper than checking a bag.

      Wednesday, May 14, 2014

      Eurovision Party

      Last weekend my friend Kathleen hosted a Eurovision watching party. Before moving to England I had never heard of Eurovision before, but it is a huge deal here. Once a year more than thirty countries come together to compete in a singing competition. Each country has one entrant, which can be a solo act, a duet or a group. 




      The competition started in 1956, making it one of the longest-running shows in history. Over the years, some big names have competed--Abba, Celine Dion and Julio Iglesias, just to name a few. Interestingly, Eurovision was how ABBA was discovered. They won in 1974 with their song Waterloo. Mostly, though, the acts are really kitschy with cheesy costumes and staging. I absolutely love it!



      Kathleen invited people over to watch the finals. We each represented a country by bringing food and drink associated with that country. As the host, she chose England and made a lovely Victoria sponge cake and sausage rolls. Irish stew and soda bread represented Ireland. A delicious almond cake was Ukraine's offering. Dan and I made falafel to represent Israel. Yes, Israel competes in Eurovision. Weird.

      Victoria Sponge Cake

      I really loved several of the acts, and absolutely hated others. Dan loved Poland's semi-pornographic act, as did most of the UK. I enjoyed Belarus' song called "Cheesecake." I also liked Switzerland's really weird song.



      The most controversial act of all was Austria's Conchita Wurst. Known as the "bearded lady," she certainly caused a stir. I was expecting her to be a joke act, but actually, her song was beautiful. I could see it as a James Bond theme. It has that kind of sound. To everyone's surprise, she won the contest!


      Thanks Kathleen for hosting such a fun night!

      P.S. There are a couple of videos in this post that may not show up on mobile devices. You can see them on my website though.

      Sunday, May 11, 2014

      My First Mother's Day

      Once again Dan proved that he is the world's best husband. Today he went above and beyond to celebrate my first Mother's Day*.


      Dan took Zahara in the morning while I relaxed in bed. Then he made me an outstanding breakfast of eggs benedict with smoked salmon; french toast; and a berry salad. 


      He bought me fresh flowers and gave me a gift card to the Turkish Baths in town! I feel like I won the husband lottery. 


      So, that's how we celebrated my first mother's day. Not too, bad, right? A girl could get used to this.

      *Technically I kind of celebrated British Mother's Day, though Dan made it clear that it was not "our" holiday. 

      Friday, May 2, 2014

      More From Paris

      There is so much to see in Paris that in a week you can barely skim the surface. Nevertheless, we made the most of our time and saw many of the top attractions. Here are some places that can't be missed:

      The Louvre:
      Last time I was in Paris I spent 8 hours in the Louvre. Since I was by myself, I didn't have to consider anyone else's interests and was able to take my time exploring the masterpieces--and I still didn't see even a fraction of the museum! This time, Dan and my mom took Zoey while my dad and I relaxed. You don't have to spend a full day there, but while in Paris you have to go visit Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo.


      View of the Louvre from the Tuileries Gardens

      Luxembourg and Tuileries Gardens
      One of my favorite places in Paris is the Luxembourg Gardens. The park is huge and features sculptures, water fountains, tennis courts, a playground and tons of lush grass. It is also the home of the French Senate. On a sunny day, there is no better place to be. A close second though is the Tuilieres Gardens. Located just outside the Louvre and with a great view of the Eiffel Tower, it's a lovely place to relax.



      Notre Dame
      This is one of the most beautiful cathedrals I've seen. It absolutely amazes me that it was built in the middle ages before heavy machinery was invented. And, did you know that many of the people who built the Notre Dame worked for free? They did it as a labor of love. Thanks to Rick Steve's audio tour for that titbit.


      We managed to find ourselves touring the cathedral right in the middle of Palm Sunday mass. It was a little awkward taking photos while hundreds of people were praying, but we tried to remain respectful.


      Eiffel Tower
      You'll see the tower from lots of parts of Paris, but it is worth a visit to see it close-up--especially at night when it's all lit up. Starting at dusk (9 pm when we were there in April), the tower is a sparkly beacon. It stays alight all night, but sparkles for five minutes on the hour until 1 am. It makes a great backdrop for romantic or family photos. So iconic. I personally don't think it's worth it to go to the top though. It's a great view up there, but obviously you won't see the one thing that clearly identifies the city as Paris--the tower!




      Arc de Triumph and Champs Elysees
      The Arc itself is pretty, but not overwhelmingly interesting. We didn't go to the top, but I imagine those are some spectacular views. We did enjoy window shopping along the Champs Elysees though. Louis Vuitton, Mercedes and Cartier all have stores on this famous boulevard. We stopped midway for a delicious matzah sandwich that we brought from the apartment.


      Passover lunch on Champs Elysees

      I also highly recommend the Musee d'Orsay and Versailles. If you have time, the Rodin Museum; Sainte-Chapelle Cathedral; and the small but effective Deportation Memorial are all fantastic. But really, the best thing to do in Paris is just walk around and take in the atmosphere. It is one of my all-time favorite cities, and I am so glad I was able to see it with my family.

      Sainte-Chapelle

      Read more about our time in Paris:
      Sights in the City of Lights
      Passover in Paris