Monday, June 29, 2015

Dear Zahara: 24 Months

Dear Zahara,

It seems impossible, but you are two years old today. The last two years have been the fastest, hardest, funniest, craziest time in our lives, and we wouldn't trade it for the world.

It is so fun watching you navigate the world through your imagination and curiosity. We've entered the "what is that" phase of toddlerhood. So far I don't mind answering that question as many times as you ask. I love seeing you piece bits of information together to form new concepts. It amazes me how much you understand about the way the world works.

You love using your imagination to play pretend. We dress up like superheroes, have tea parties, and take care of our "babies." You love giving your stuffed animals new diapers and bottles, and shushing or singing to them if they are "crying." Less adorably, you like to pretend to be a baby yourself and will often whine or cry until I pretend to give you a bottle. That game isn't my favorite.

You're very interested in anything that mummy and daddy are doing. You especially love cooking with us and pretending to put on makeup with mummy. We really have to watch everything we say because you hear it all! You'll often repeat back phrases that we weren't even aware we said. Most often you'll boss the kitties around by shouting phrases like, "girls, be nice," "no fighting," and "Zuzu, off the table!" These are all classic things mummy says to our cats.

If you could, you'd spend all day at our neighborhood park on the swings. Every day as soon as you get home from daycare, all you want to do is get on your tricycle and go to the park. That's our favorite story time. You'll usually ask for a particular story--pirate, mermaid, and astronaut are top requests.

Zahara, every day you truly live up to the meaning of your name: bringer of light. We love being your parents--especially when you tell us that we're your friends. Right back at you kid!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Fun and Funky Japanese Dinner

Have you ever heard of izakaya restaurants? I hadn't. They are sort of like a Japanese tapas restaurant in that you order a few small plates at a time over several rounds. Last night we went with some friends to Daikaya Izakaya in Washington, DC and it was phenomenal!

Terrible lighting; great friends

The atmosphere in Dikaya Izakaya is funky and cool--totally befitting the type of food and drinks they serve. Dishes were weird, sometimes scary, but always absolutely delicious. Between Dan and I, we ate six small plates plus a dessert. I was pleasantly full, but not stuffed.

We started our culinary tour with some drinks. Now, this is a nice place, so when we saw sake bombs on the menu, we were sure there was some twist. Sure enough, it was a mixture of Japanese beer and ginger beer with a sphere of sake that exploded when it hit your tongue. Much less messy than the traditional version. It was too gingery for me, but it was a cool concept.

Our first round of food brought a salt-grilled mackerel with grated chili and daikon, and a crazy dish called chawanmushi that was one of my favorites of the evening. Chawanmushi is a steamed egg and dashi custard with shiitake mushroom sauce and parmesan cheese. The texture was incredible--almost like a panna cotta. Very smooth and creamy. The mushrooms lent tons of umami to the dish while the parmesan added the perfect amount of salt. I could have eaten five of these dishes.


Next we had the grilled avocado and tuna poke. The avocado was so simple and so perfect. The poke was really interesting too. It had big chunks of macadamia nuts, bits of seaweed and was drizzled with sesame oil. I loved it.

Here's the sign of a great restaurant. Based on online reviews, our friends ordered the pork and Brussels sprouts skewers, which they said were every bit as delicious as promised. When we told the waiter we don't eat pork, he brought us a new vegetarian menu and told us about each item that could be made into a veggie version. We ordered the Brussels sprouts minus the pork, and they absolutely lived up to the hype. So good!

Our last savory dish was one of my favorites of the night: the cod roe spaghetti. I was pretty scared of this one, but thought I'd give it a try. It was perfect. Creamy, salty, a little crunchy from the roe---just really complex and interesting.

Often the fancier the restaurant, the more disappointing the dessert. For someone with a huge sweet tooth like mine, that's not a great end to an evening. Thankfully, Dikaya Izakaya did not fall into that trap. Our chocolate ice cream with miso-banana caramel was the perfect end to the meal.

Chocolate ice cream with Japanese custard in the background

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Family Fun in Boston

I am so proud of my sister in-law Amy, who just graduated from Framingham State University! This is a huge accomplishment for anyone, but I'm particularly proud of Amy who did it all on her own. Of course she had love and support from her friends and family, but it must have been tough when her parents moved to Florida last year and she stayed in Massachusetts to finish school. Not only did she survive, she thrived! She even made Dean's list her final semester!

Dan, Zahara and I flew up to watch Amy walk across the stage last month. This was the first time we've been to Boston since Dan's parents moved. Dan still has a lot of family in town and we were able to stay with his cousins Paul and Yana. It was great spending time with them and their little boy Sasha. We don't get to do it nearly enough.

Sasha, who just turned three, is all boy. He loves running, throwing, kicking, jumping and getting dirty. It was so fun watching him and Zahara play. Paul and Yana have an amazing house in the middle of the woods where the kids were able to run and chase each other. My favorite moments were when Zoey was running after Sasha begging him for a kiss.

We also got to spend some quality time with Paul's brother Jim, his wife Nathalie and their two-year-old Nina. The last time all three cousins got-together was when Zoey was only a few months old. To see the three of them play together was absolutely amazing. We went to a farm which was a huge hit. The kids especially loved the chickens and the hay ride.

Jim and Nathalie had us over to their house for a play date while Sasha and Yana went home for a nap. The girls ate some ice cream, read some stories and had a mostly-tantrum-free time. I mean, they are two years old after all.

A few miles outside Paul and Yana's town is the best ice cream place I've been to outside of Italy: Uhlman's Ice Cream. It is so creamy and indulgent. Dan took me there ten years ago when we were first dating. I am so happy it lived up to my memories of it. We even let Zahara have some, and man, did she love it!

I wish we had more time to spend with the rest of the family, but I'm so glad we got to bond with our cousins. I really hope we can make this a regular affair.