July 2011

I hear it all the time, and it is so true.  This is truly a very fun age.

  • Talk, talk, talking.  This month has been all about the words.  Miles seems to add about 2-3 new ones a day.  The most used word is not surprisingly, mama.  Of note: family members “May” and “Vra” (grandma);  last week’s “beer”; his extensive janitorial vocabulary that includes not only “bucket”, but “mop”, “broom”, and “trash”; some form of “blender”; a range of foods from “fish” to “blueberries”; and a collection of sound effects including “knock, knock”, “DONG!”, and “BOOM!”.  Signing is still going strong, but I think he will soon realize it is not an effective means of communication with 99.9% of the population, as his friends are not too responsive when he stands in front of them signing *more, food, please* to try and get some snacks off them (little beggar).
  • Jump up and Jam.  Miles has been working on his jumps.  He gets zero air at this point, but its cute to watch him drive his momentum up over and over.  He still loves dancing, which reminds me I have a video to share with you.  I tried getting him to be more comfortable in the water by putting water wings on him in the pool, and was only effective in scaring him off.
  • Eat your veggies.  Miles certainly eats enough, if evaluated by the input/output method.  However, the variety he readily consumed prior to his first birthday has slowly dwindled to a small list, none of which are leafy and green.  Current favorites: blueberries (by a landslide), salmon, avocado, chicken, tortillas, olives (the saltier the better, and not soaked in gin, yet), watermelon, peaches and cheese.  He is also drinking a ton: milk, juice, water, shakes – making cloth diapering less interesting when I have to change him every 45 minutes.
  • I’m not even going to mention sleep.  He is transitioning to just one nap a day and we flew halfway around the world.  He gets some sleep every day, and it appears to be enough to fuel his highly active lifestyle.
  • Relentless.  I guess you can also call it endless curiosity.  This is one of Miles’ personality traits that has come through loud and clear.  He will not let something go.  If he wants in he is GOING TO GET IN!  No matter how long it takes.  And he will go back to the same things he is not supposed to be in over and over and over.  Hoping I suppose to wear us out. It works.
  • He loves reading and playing.  If mom is around he will constantly ask for up, up, but does pretty good playing independently without that temptation around.  He can open most doors and locks (including bathroom doors and childproofing locks), and is learning to move furniture for a better climbing vantage.  He has been teething his 8th tooth for about 6 weeks, and it should come through any day now, away from home like all the others.  He is loving babies these days, especially pictures of mom and dad with a baby (him), which I hope is good news for the little one on the way!  If you ask “where’s Miles?”, he solemnly points to himself and says “Mies”.

Back in spring, I read lots of food blogs and recipes featuring spring’s star, asparagus.  (Given the relationship I was having with food at the time, I’m surprised I could stomach reading these, let alone build up this kind of craving for something healthy)  The trend this year seemed to be risotto, and I drooled over several varieties that went unrealized during the season.  Then, spring was over, I started eating again, and everyone online was talking about strawberries, blueberries and peaches.  Missed that one.

Or maybe not.  The beauty of living on a tropical island is there are never any vegetables in season, since we have no season.  Asparagus (from somewhere) is available all the time.  Sorry to you this is a bit late, and now you have to endure seasons without it (maybe asparagus is just coming in season in Alaska?), but I can tell you it was worth waiting for.  One common thread I saw among the risottos was using asparagus steaming water for the liquid to amp up the flavor, so I incorporated that here.  I use barley instead of the typical arborio rice for a couple reasons.  One, apparently arborio is illegal* here, so its not available.  Two, using barley takes that very annoying step of constant stirring out of making risotto, making it very momma-friendly, and very summer-friendly; just pop by every 5-8 min and add another scoop of broth.  You can use this method for any kind of risotto, although the whole grain-ness of barley pairs best with strong veggie flavors.  Maybe carrot/chard?  Or mushroom/leek?

Asparagus-Mushroom Barley Risotto

  • 1/2 lb asparagus
  • 4 cups water
  • 8 oz button mushrooms, chopped small
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup pearled barley**
  • 1/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
  • salt & pepper
  1. Snap asparagus stalks at their lowest breaking point.  Add the bottoms and all the water to a medium sized pot.  Put the tender tops in a steamer basket on top of the stalks/water, don’t worry if they submerge a bit.  Simmer over high heat until tops are cooked but still crunchy, just a couple minutes.  Remove steamer basket and cool tops until you can chop into bite-sized pieces.  Keep asparagus water and stalks covered and standing by, turning on the heat occasionally to keep very warm (but not boiling).
  2. Heat butter and oil in a smaller saucepan.  Add mushrooms and cook for about 5 minutes until completely softened.  Add barley and swirl for a good minute.  Turn the heat to medium-low.
  3. Add a ladle of the asparagus water to the pot, stir to combine.  Allow to cook about 5 minutes, until mostly absorbed.  Add another ladle, stir, wait 5 minutes.  Repeat for about an hour, until barley has opened its outer shell and softens.  It will still have a good amount of chew, but will be chewable.  If you run out of asparagus water, start using plain hot water.  Risotto should be pretty loose at this point, like a stew.
  4. Stir in the steamed, cut asparagus tops.  While stirring constantly, sprinkle in cheese.  Taste to adjust seasoning.
*Apparently, rice is a controlled commodity in Malaysia and importing Italian arborio is not OK, as a friend found out when she tried to smuggle in a couple pounds in her suitcase from England.  Somehow, you can get imported Japanese and Thai rice, though.
**There are a couple different kinds of barley, which one you use will affect the cooking time wildly.  I got the one from the organic store that still had the outer bran attached.  It took a really long time to cook.  I know in the states you can get the more “instant” one that will take only about 20 minutes.

A weekend away, just me and Tim.  We drove (back) down the coast 2.5 hours and boarded a private twin outboard ferry for the “one island, one resort” of Pangkor Laut.  I’ll spare you all the romantic details, but this place was swanky.  It wouldn’t even appear on our radar if they didn’t offer some incredible Malaysian-resident deals (which we apply for!).  The beach was amazing, the spa experience not to be missed (more resident discounts), and the company and ability to actually have a relaxed meal with conversation totally enjoyable.  Recommended!

And here is a post-dated update about our recent trip to Borneo.

A couple weeks ago, I attended a baby shower for a friend at a gorgeous restored colonial house.  It was a wonderful afternoon tea, made all the better by the fact that we all left our toddlers at home.  In the car ride there, I warned my future tea-mates to look out, I was ready to destroy some scones.  They all made a big deal of not wanting to sit next to me and risk the communal contents of the triple-tiered tower to a raging craver pregnant lady.  Turned out, I was still experiencing sweets-aversion and only got through 1.5 tiny scones before turning to the smoked salmon sandwiches and chicken pies.

Three weeks later, and after dreaming of cupcakes, I woke up one morning with a very specific craving for cherry almond scones.  Luckily I had the means to make that happen.  These scones are not too sweet, not too fatty and, like all scones, best right out of the oven.  If you can’t polish off the whole batch at one sitting (not too hard to do, I might add), form the scones on a piece of parchment paper or silpat and freeze.  Then store in a freezer bag until the next craving hits, put into the oven completely rock hard, add 5 minutes to the cooking time and enjoy again.

Cherry Almond Scones (adapted from The Baking Pan)

  • 2/3 cup dried cherries
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract
  • 2 Tbsp milk
  1. Heat oven to 425F.  Line baking sheet with parchment or silpat.
  2. Soak cherries in 1/2 cup boiling water for 5 minutes, drain well.
  3. Whisk together flour, powder, soda, salt, sugar and almonds.
  4. Ice cold from the fridge, grate butter directly into the flour mixture.  Using your hands, lightly coat the butter with flour and make sure its evenly distributed.
  5. In another bowl, mix yogurt, yolk and extract.  Add yogurt mixture and cherries to flour and use a spatula to fold together.  It won’t be too stiff or dry, make sure all flour is incorporated.
  6. Drop scone-sized piles of batter onto the parchment, and bake 15-20 minutes, until nice and golden on the craggy peaks. Cool slightly and glaze with almond glaze if desired.  Eat hot.
  7. To make glaze, combine powdered sugar, extract and milk and whisk until smooth.

We had a BBQ here for 4th of July, and were nearly the only Americans to attend.  I invited everyone to wear red, white and blue.  With the exception of India, this matched everyone else’s flag too (Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Turkey, who had to add blue).

See that furry grey thing next to my furry blond thing?  That’s Sleepy, a stuffed hand puppet elephant I impulse bought in the checkout line of Jo-Anne Fabrics for 50% off last time we were at home.  He’s Miles’ bedfellow.  Miles knows Sleepy is lazy and likes to stay in bed all day (unless he’s naughty and escapes with the help of his partner in crime).  Miles likes to give Sleepy a kiss and wave good night.  Miles can find Sleepy’s eyes and ears, but gets confused on the nose and teeth.  When its time for Miles to hit the hay, he lifts one arm for Sleepy to tuck under and snuggle, then he’s usually down for the count.  I don’t know if I’m fostering an unhealthy relationship here and if Sleepy will be going to college with Miles 16 years down the road, but it sure is cute for now.

I remember the first time I had ratatouille; it was one side of the an amazing meal we had in Denmark.  My entire family was there, and the meal was prepared in the bright sunny kitchen of Angel’s best friend’s host family, by the bright sunny host mom.  This was solstice time in Denmark, and we ate on the patio.  It was also the peak of produce season there, and I remember marveling at the gorgeous veg from the market and admiring the time and effort our host took in preparing them.  The potatoes: tiny and each one was peeled.  The ratatouille: each vegetable was at first deep fried separately then drained on paper towel, starting with eggplant though zucchini and pepper, then the whole thing was stewed with the tomatoes until we ate hours later.  This was slow food, but as the sun didn’t set until around 2am, we had time to linger over drinks while the dads hung out around the grill.

Since that day, ratatouille has been on my rotation.  At the time, I was horrified at the amount of oil that went into deep frying everything, especially the eggplant, which drinks it up like a sponge.  I modified and did more of a stew served over polenta, mostly satisfied with the results, but never living up to the deep flavors of that first time.  Even if the eggplant is salted and drained, it’s sometimes hard to get rid of that bitter tone, which seeps into the sauce.  Then I realized my favorite eggplant is either fried (as in chinese cooking, or parmesan) or roasted (mmmmm).  The slightly charred and caramelized effects of roasting work well with the other ratatat ingredients as well, and this version adds a whole lot of flavor from the roasted garlic.  I took a hint from the Danish mom and separate the veg on a big tray so you can remove them as they cook.  Quantities will vary, depending on what was fertilizing your garden.  If you don’t want to turn on the oven in the middle of July, I can imagine doing this on the grill would be equally lovely.

Roasted Ratatouille

  • 1 large eggplant, in 1″ cubes
  • 1 large zucchini, in 1″ cubes
  • 2 yellow (or red) bell peppers, in 1″ squares
  • 1.5 lbs cherry tomatoes
  • 2 red onions, unpeeled, in wedges
  • 1/2 bulb garlic, unpeeled, in cloves
  • olive oil
  • salt & pepper
  • handful fresh basil leaves
  • splash red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp capers (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 425F.  Line at two trays with foil.
  2. In a large bowl, toss eggplant with olive oil, salt and pepper; spread onto a section of the tray.  Repeat with the zucchini and peppers.  On your second tray, spread the cherry tomatoes, rolled around in whatever oil is left in your bowl.  Drop the onions and garlic in among the tomatoes.
  3. Roast 20-40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes and removing veg to the oil bowl when they are cooked.  When the tomatoes and garlic are done, keep them separate.  Smash the tomatoes and squeeze in the roasted garlic paste.  Add capers, vinegar, and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Mix tomato dressing over the roasted vegetables.  Fold in basil.  Serve warm, room temp or cold.  I served it next to some vermicelli aglio olio for a pre-race meal for Tim. Yum!