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Family birthday photo

The best family photo we could get… The candle is blown out, we should be eating cake!

Today we celebrated Baby’s first birthday! As my cousin wrote me this week: a year with a kid goes by quickly, even when some of the days go by very slowly. So here we are. Year One gone already.

Since this day last year, I’ve watched Baby grow: from 8lbs to approx. 25 lbs, from 52 cm to approx. 71 cm. Watch out — she can reach what’s on the table now! She seems so big compared to this time last year, and yet she’s still so small.

She has six teeth and is taking her first steps. She went from dark hair to light hair. I remember wondering back then what she would look like in a year. I couldn’t imagine it, and now I can’t imagine her any other way.

I’ve also watched Baby develop into an alert, bright, curious, determined, energetic, lively, playful and social little person. It’s fun to be with her. Her giggle is infectious. She brings out the crazy in both her parents, especially her papa! And every day she does a bunch of quirky little things that make us both laugh.

Her fun these days is making music; squishing blueberries at breakfast; pulling anything with a string; playing with water; swings; books, especially turning the pages; riding in the bike trailer; and climbing over any obstacle, none of which are too big.

Baby making music

Baby making music with instruments received from maman and papa.

Baby exploring tunnel

Baby getting ready to crawl through her birthday tunnel.

It’s fascinating to watch Baby play and figure things out. The wheels in her brain are turning all the time. Sometimes I just sit and watch with quiet wonder.

We invited family for lunch to share the celebration. On the menu: gazpacho, slow-roasted salmon, a wild rice, corn and Swiss chard toss, goat cheese with fresh herbs, and peach blueberry cake with whipped cream. Even though it was quite an “adult” menu, it included some of her favourite foods: salmon, goat cheese, corn, rice, peaches and blueberries!

Baby eating birthday cake

Baby eating peach blueberry birthday cake. Yum!

Now Baby is asleep, and it’s time for us “new parents” to start our own BIRTHday ritual: bubbles after bedtime. As we get ready to raise our glasses, we’re reliving some of the moments surrounding Baby’s arrival and celebrating the day that changed and enriched our lives forever, being parents, and making it through the year with a bit more wear but no tear. Cheers to that!

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Fruit and banana yoghurt popsiclesEarlier this year, my mom gave me popsicle molds. The same ones she used for my brother and me when we were little. Nothing fancy, just the plain Tupperware kind.

Little did I realize then that they would be in regular use. Not surprisingly, especially with the recent heat, popsicles have become Baby’s daily afternoon snack. And I’m having fun coming up with recipes and flavour combinations! I think I’ve created my keeper though.

This recipe is healthy and versatile, using whatever fruit is in season. However, it works best with fruit that pairs well with and can stand up to banana. The banana mainly adds sweetness and creaminess, but also a touch of flavour. Think strawberry, blueberry, mango, raspberry… I find that stone fruit like peaches, apricots and plums don’t work well, even when they are super fragrant, same with melon. My two favourites, so far, have been blueberry and orange (using orange juice).

Baby eating popsicle

Baby eating her first popsicle at almost 10 months.

Recipe: Fruit, Banana and Yoghurt Popsicles

Makes approx 6 quarter-cup-size (60 mL) popsicles.

1 cup fruit (fresh or frozen), cut into smallish pieces, OR 1 cup fruit juice
1 two- to three-inch piece of banana
3/4 cup yoghurt
1 tsp vanilla
1-2 tsp maple syrup (depending on the sweetness of the fruit and your personal preference)

Combine all ingredients in a blender. Mix until smooth. Fill popsicle molds. Freeze. (Drink any remaining mix like a smoothie!)

Sometimes I add 1-2 tbsp hemp hearts to the mix before blending. They boost the protein of the finished product, and add some texture.

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Dad's dried apple slices

Dad’s dried apple slices. (The red apple in the picture is not one of my parents’ apples.)

Sometimes things get lost in my cupboard. The dried apple slices made by my dad are one of those things. The other day I saw the bag peeking out from behind other bags and boxes, and, all of a sudden, I thought, “Perfect!”

I’ve seen the teething bagels and cookies at the store, but these apple slices are the perfect shape, size and texture to act as all-natural teething rings!

Apple tree blossoms

My parents’ apple tree blossoms, early May.

The apple tree was there when they bought the house more than 25 years ago. Although they brought apple and tree specimens to numerous botanists, no-one has been able to identify the type of apple. And the tree produces lots of them, year after year.

They are relatively big and round apples, rather tart, better for cooking and baking than for eating out of hand. My dad makes them into cider, apple sauce, dried apple slices, and gives them away. My mom stocks the freezer with sliced apples, and makes apple pie and apple crisp.

I get a regular supply of dried apple slices. My dad makes them crisp rather than soft like most store-bought ones. And they have flavour, unlike most store-bought ones!

Baby chewing on a dried apple slice

Baby chewing on a dried apple slice.

Baby loves them! They keep her busy for a while. She tears at the rings with her two little teeth and then sucks on them until they are soft. It makes me happy to think that Baby is getting all that love and goodness from my parents’ backyard.

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Veggie Patch Propaganda

Baby promoting growing your own vegetables with seedlings in the background

She already knows where the good stuff is going to come from!

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Baby eating solids using baby-led weaning approach

Two hands are better than one!

Baby participated in family meals even before she turned six months old. She would sit in her chair at the table and we would entertain her with toys, words and funny faces. Once she hit the six-month mark, it was clear that she was more interested in what was on our plates than in her toys. I think she liked eating from her first taste, but that’s no surprise…

Imagine how exciting the world of food is to a little person: experiencing so many new things through touch – with both hands and mouth – and then taste, getting flavour feedback with every bite. Baby has already had many culinary adventures:

Apple | Arctic Char | Asparagus | Avocado | Banana | Banana Pancake | Beef | Beef Chili | Beet | Blueberry | Broccoli | Cantaloupe | Caraway | Carrot | Cauliflower | Celery Root | Cheddar | Chewy | Chicken | Chives | Cinnamon | Creamy | Crisp | Crumbly | Cumin | Curry Chicken | Dried Apricot | Dried Prune | Dry | Duck | Egg | Fennel | Feta | Firm | Ginger | Grainy | Green Bean | Green Pepper | Goulash | Hemp Hearts | Honeydew Melon | Juicy | Kidney Beans | Kiwi | Leek Quiche | Lentil Chili | Lumpy | Mango | Millet | Minted Peas | Mushy | Oatmeal | Orange | Papaya | Parmesan | Parsnip | Pea Risotto | Pear | Pickled Beet | Pickled Ramp | Pineapple | Pork | Potato | Quinoa | Raspberry | Red Pepper | Rice | Rice Cake | Salmon | Salsify | Slippery | Smoked Gouda Omelet | Smooth | Soft | Sour | Spinach | Strawberry | Sweet | Sweet Potato | Swiss Chard | Tender | Tomato Sauce | Tongue (yes, she makes her Papa proud) | Turkey | Wet |Yoghurt

Our meals always include Baby and are fun and stress-free! We introduced solids using the baby-led weaning approach. We offer Baby a variety of foods she can handle herself, carrot stick-style. She decides what she wants to “eat” and how much. I write “eat,” because at this point it’s all about exploring tastes and textures. Her main source of nutrition is still breastmilk and will continue to be for a while yet.

We try to give Baby some of what we are eating, usually supplementing with steamed vegetables or fruit. When we’re eating something that she can’t handle with her hands, then we’ll mush it up a bit or mix it with something else, e.g. chili with avocado, and offer it to her on a spoon. She takes the spoon if she wants it and guides it to her mouth. She rarely misses her mouth, but she doesn’t always open wide enough to get the whole spoonful in. She’s also still learning how to use her tongue and lips to clean off the spoon. Inevitably food ends up on her face! It’s impressive to see how her self-feeding skills, dexterity and hand-eye coordination have developed in just two months.

Baby self-feeding with a spoon

The shopping cart serves as an impromptu high chair for Baby as she feeds herself a yoghurt and hemp heart sample with a spoon. Note evidence of her parents' "good" eating habits in the cart: chips... although I wholeheartedly agree with what it says on the bag: "food should taste good."

One of my challenges is how to maximize flavour before seasoning with salt or adding sugar. My criteria for her food is that I have to want to eat it too, so it has to taste good! Meanwhile my espresso and Chinese tea cups are getting a second life… They are the perfect size for baby portions!

Mini banana pancakes for baby

Mini banana pancakes for Baby.

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Celebrating Baby's 6-month milestone with Orange Celebration Cake.

Celebrating Baby's 6-month milestone with Orange Celebration Cake. Oops, forgot to light the candle! Chalk another one up to mommy brain.

Usually I pay no attention to half-birthdays, but I think a baby’s first year is different. The 6-month milestone is worthy of celebration for both Baby – even though she won’t get to eat any cake – and the new parents – who will happily eat Baby’s piece.

Baby has come a long way: from practically helpless to a bright baby ready to discover anything within reach and a bit beyond. At birth, her main (and most amazing) skill was knowing where and how to get food. Today she is sitting quite well on her own (with an occasional topple), grabbing objects accurately and passing them from hand to hand, communicating in her own way with a range of sounds, and starting to explore solid food. She’s gone from 3.9 kg and 52 cm out of the womb to approx. 9 kg and 71 cm in six months!

Meanwhile, the new parents have survived the first six months relatively well. We’ve tackled the steep learning curve, adapted our lives, overcome a lack of sleep (not to say we don’t still suffer from it), created strong (and stronger) bonds, laughed and cried. Of course these things are all ongoing, but it’s a lot all at once at the beginning. I think we can be proud of how we’ve managed. We certainly enjoy the company of our happy, thriving baby!

The moment has come to broaden the focus of this blog. I realize that being a mother is an important part of who I am and influences the way I look at things. Motherhood is giving me a new angle from which to experience, and write about, the activities I enjoy.

I’ve decided to rename my blog “Thrive” to better reflect this broader focus (without changing the URL for now). I want my family and me to thrive through healthy, happy eating and togetherness in the kitchen, in the garden and wherever life may take us. I aim for my garden to thrive and provide us with fresh foods we can feel good about eating.

All that to say: I’m baking cake to celebrate!

Orange Celebration Cake is one of my favourites. I have no idea where the recipe came from, just that it was part of my mom’s collection and has been in mine for at least 15 years. Its bright and refreshing flavor and naturally sunshiny colour is particularly appropriate for this time of year.

Recipe: Orange Celebration Cake (Orange Cake with Orange Curd Filling)

Orange Celebration Cake: orange cake with orange curd filling.Baking this cake perks me right up. The aroma that pervades the house while it’s baking (and after) is wonderful and warming. It really sets the mood for celebration! I recommend making this cake the day before you plan to serve it, so the orange aroma has the time to “open up.” Quantities in weight – scale required!

150 g butter
zest of 2 oranges, preferably untreated or organic otherwise washed with a mild soap
175 g sugar
3 eggs
300 g flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 pinch salt
250 mL orange juice

Orange Curd Filling:
125 g sugar
5 tbsp flour
500 mL orange juice
4 egg yolks
50 g butter

Preheat oven to 350° F. Line a 9-inch cake pan with parchment paper and grease the sides.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. In large bowl, cream butter. Add sugar and orange zest. Continue beating until light and fluffy. Beat in one egg at a time.

Mix in flour mixture and orange juice, alternating between the two: flour – orange juice – flour – orange juice – flour. Be careful not to overmix.

Pour batter into cake pan. Bake 30-40 minutes or until golden brown and cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool before removing from pan. Slice cake in half horizontally. Prepare filling.

Orange Curd Filling:

Combine flour and sugar in a saucepan. Whisk in orange juice making sure there are no lumps. Mix in egg yolks. Start heating mixture over medium-low. Add butter once the mixture has warmed up a bit. Continue heating while whisking continuously until the mixture thickens to the consistency of runny jam.

Four layers of orange curd filling.

The four layers of orange curd filling, each one set separately, are visible before replacing the top half of the cake.

Carefully pour one quarter of the orange curd onto the bottom half of the cake and spread to close to the edge. Allow to set slightly (a couple of minutes). Repeat until all the filling is on the bottom half of the cake. Allow to cool and set completely (approx. 30 minutes) before placing the other half of the cake on top. Filling the cake in four steps will prevent the orange curd from oozing out when you replace the top half of the cake and let you make a generously filled cake.

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Baby Chef

Pursuing one of my favourite pastimes with Baby.

Since Baby arrived my priorities, aside from taking care of her, have been getting exercise and fresh air and eating right. Just like Baby, I get grumpy and tired if I don’t eat regularly and properly. Also, it’s no secret that I love to eat and cooking is one of my favourite activities.

No surprise then that before having Baby, I was already thinking about how to nourish myself once she arrived, knowing that I’d be regularly occupied with her and, for a while at least, less mobile. The arrangement we came up with worked well and we’ve continued to prepare and enjoy satisfying meals!

For the first three weeks after her birth, the deal was that David, who was off from work, was responsible for food and making sure I ate properly. He did the cooking and didn’t even use any of the meals we’d prepared in advance. Then my mom visited for two weeks and took over the kitchen. She spoiled us with her excellent cooking and baking. She actually added to our freezer stores.

We’ve even tried some new recipes, all of which are keepers:

Last week, we started our new routine of weekly menus. It starts with a meal plan – a tried and tested tool! – using what we have on hand. We cook at least one weekday meal on Sunday, making sure there’s enough for at least two lunches (a hearty soup is easiest). Then we dip into our freezer stores for one meal per week and gratefully accept grandmaman’s offer to cook dinner on Thursdays.

The days we cook fresh, the meal is prepared bit-by-bit whenever I have a moment throughout the day.  By the time David gets home from work, it’s ready to cook. Often I’ll do the cooking myself, because it gives me a break from Baby – as much as I love her, I welcome a break by that time of day! – and the satisfaction of doing something I enjoy. We’re not cooking superheros though, and have also resorted to take-out several times in the last seven weeks.

Last night this tart, a fall favourite,  followed a meal of homemade soup. Making it was a three-day affair: I made the dough and lined the cake pan the first day, blind baked it the second, and finished the tart on the third. That’s not unusual these days – whatever it takes to get it done!

Recipe: Alsatian Apple Cream Tart

Alsatian Apple Cream Tart1 recipe pastry dough
4 apples, peeled, cored and cut into eighths (use apples that will hold their form during baking; I used Cortlands)
2 tbsp lemon juice
4 tbsp sugar
1 cup cream (either 15% or 35%; the latter will give a richer, creamier result)
3 egg yolks (I’ve also made it with 2 whole eggs; using yolks will give a richer, creamier result)
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup raisins
1 pinch salt

Heat oven to 375°F. Grease a 9″ cake pan.

Prepare the pastry dough. Roll it out to 1/4″ thick and line the cake pan. Weigh it down and blind bake it for 10-15 minutes. Remove weights and continue baking for another 10 minutes until lightly coloured. Remove from oven. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.

In a bowl, toss apple slices with lemon juice and two tablespoons of the sugar. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, combine cream, egg (yolks), vanilla, raisins, the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar, and salt.

Arrange apple slices on tart shell. Pour cream mixture over apples. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until apples are done. Allow to cool slightly before removing from cake pan.

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