The Hot Pot Blog

November 27, 2011

4 Months Old Haikus

Is Will already 4 months old?  Insane!  In honor of the occasion, a few tongue-in-cheek haikus!


Sleep: do or do not,

there is no try.  Ok do not?

Eleven P.M.



Where’s the Teeth?

Drool everywhere 

covers bibs, Mama shoulders, 

Baby needs Sophie.


Squwak! Squeal! Ooh! Ah! Ooh!

A-oooh! I see you! Raw-ahhh!

Baby speaks Dino.

A New Love for Toys

You lunge left, duck right

a blue elephant in sight.

Must put in mouth NOW.

Tummy Time

Legs kick and arms strain,

Big smile then frustration-

Backwards locomotion.

In short, this month we have a very “talkative” baby who is perpetually in motion and threatening to drown us in his saliva.  I love the way he wraps his arms around me when I pick him up now and he’s pretty much big enough to sit on my hip now.  Oh and he laughs!!!  Nothing is sweeter than baby giggles I think.  My new favorite age! 🙂

p..s. Baby leg/arm warmers rock our world…

November 24, 2011


My apologies, I can’t seem to write a post without including a picture of Will…

We spent yesterday in a blissful state of baby-watching and food-preparation and then food-eating and good-times-having.  I have a problem when it comes to the holidays.  I thought that with Will this year I would take it easy, I’d make a dessert for our compound potluck Thanksgiving and be done with it.

But then…well…yea…

I wish I  had photographic evidence but I made sweet potatoes, a fancy green beans recipe, roasted potatoes, roasted onions, pumpkin whoopie pies, chocolate cake and butterscotch sauce to serve 30 people.  Oops.

None of it could have happened without our ayi helping me wash everything and Chris helping with the cooking and baby-watching and of course I picked recipes that could all be prepped or finished the day before, but guys! It was just so much fun to cook like that again.

And while I’ll admit that I make green beans into a (healthy!) dish that you actually want to eat and I turn sweet potatoes into fluffy, streusel-topped clouds of goodness (butter! cream! cloves! oh my!), there was just so much good food made by everyone, I could hardly decide what to fill my plate with, it was all delicious.

And the company?  Fabulous.  7 families, 15 kids.  Babies, teenagers, grandparents.  Colleagues relaxing and talking everything but shop.  Charlie Brown playing in the background.  Kids circling the dessert table in anticipation then, later, running in giddy, sugar-fueled circles around on the rug.

Growing up we never had big, extended family Thanksgivings and, maybe as a result, I actually really like celebrating with friends and soon-to-be-friends.

There is something beautiful, something very Thanksgiving-y about a celebration of gratitude with a somewhat random group of people, slowing down to enjoy conversations you might have never had otherwise, sharing the recipes and the stories behind them, watching the kids play, and of course eating too much.

It was actually painful to carry Will afterwards, Chris and I had to keep handing him off to one another to relieve the pressure on our ginormous tummies.  The hazards of parenting on Thanksgiving.  Who knew?

But, in any case, it all made me feel very thankful.

Not just for the big things, like the fact that I have a wonderful husband, baby, a roof over my head, food to eat, health, etc.  I’m thankful for those things everyday.

But its also fun to think of the little things too sometimes.  So here goes my, non-exhaustive, 2011 list of little things I’m thankful for:

1. Probably a little weird but: I’m thankful for living on the west side of our building.  On the east side there is now a gigantic building that blocks the sky.  On the west side, we have a smaller building next door.  We don’t get much sun in Chengdu, but when we do, it floods our apartment in the late afternoon and I’m just so grateful for that.  I miss the sun so much so its nice to actually be able to enjoy it even if we are stuck inside when it shines.

2. Coffee.  I missed the awake juice so much for that year or so I quit drinking it.

3. My slippers.  I have perennially-cold extremities and so, a few weeks ago, Chris surprised me with new, fluffy, Minnetonka house shoes.  I’m seriously grateful every single morning I slip my feet into them.

4. My baby’s laugh.  He laughs for us everyday now.  It’s like crack.

5. Our ayi.  Without her, this whole new-mother thing would look a lot different.

6. My favorite da-shou mian place.  I don’t get there often but when I do, it’s always worth way more than the 6 kuai (1 dollar) I pay for the pleasure of those hand-cut noodles in spicy broth.

7.  Baby hats with  bear ears on top.  Whoever decided to blur the line between baby clothes and baby costume is a genius.

8. My 50mm 1.8 lens.  So many pictures of Will we wouldn’t have without it. I never take it off my camera anymore.

9. My husband’s sense of humor.  Will is an amazingly easy baby in most respects but he’s still got his quirks and Chris keeps us laughing even when we’re pacing the living room at 11pm for the tenth night in a row.

10.  Chengdu as a first post.  I’ve learned so much here, how to separate employment from personal self-worth, how to speak a little Chinese, how to cook pretty much everything from scratch, how to take photos in really really low light, how to stay upbeat without sunshine for months on end (truly a feat you can’t understand until you’ve lived it I think) and more.  I think this place is a good mix of hard and easy for a foreigner.  The people here are soo nice and the city is easy to get around and the Sichuanese food is so good.  Its easy to take those things for granted but they are important.

11. Good internet access.  What would I do if I couldn’t look up recipes, read the news, find new project ideas, and skype with my parents to show them Will?  I honestly have no idea…

12. Will’s new noises, he “talks” so much and he gets so happy when people “talk” back to him

13. Our community.  So many nice people both with the Consulate and outside of it.

14. Knowing our Christmas trip to Thailand is only 30 days away

15. Knowing our friends in Bangkok are ok

16. Hot water.  Its getting to be that time of year where I don’t know what I’d do without it

17. Our oven, we are lucky to have one, not many people do here

18. Our neighbors, there is something so cozy about literally being able to walk across the hall to borrow a cup of sugar.

19. Christmas cups at Starbucks.  Having a Starbucks here in Chengdu.  I can’t help it, Starbucks helped put me through college, both through employment and beverages.  The red cups remind me of those fun (and tiring!) days of balancing work and school, the snow falling outside our warm bustling store, and trudging over to the 24-hour library after a closing shift to study for finals, caffeinated-beverage firmly in hand.

20. Mail days.  Its hard to describe how awesome mail from home is while living overseas.

21. My husband’s great office and colleagues, Chinese and American.  It’s wonderful to have a spouse who comes home from work happy most days.

22. Current favorite songs like this [youtube=] and this [youtube=] .  I love dancing Will around the room to them.


November 20, 2011

Something Like Stroganoff (A Recipe)

Have you ever had mushroom or beef stroganoff for reals?

Yea, me neither.

But stroganoff is one of those dishes that I feel like I should have had and that I very much like in theory.  Beef, noodles, probably some paprika and sour cream, what’s not to love?

Plus the weather is getting cooler and the nights are getting darker and for that reason Chris and I have been craving all manners of warm, heavy, comfort food.  And paprika.  For me, nothing says heavy, warm, comfort food like a generous dash of paprika.  And stroganoff has stuff like paprika in it right?

Oh, and we also had a kilo of plain, imported yogurt in the fridge because when you find plain, imported yogurt at the grocery store, in quantity, and for a price that won’t make you broke, YOU BUY IT without pausing to think “huh, what are we going to do with 2.2 pounds of yogurt?”

Now we know.  We will make stroganoff-ish, and we will make it healthy-ish.  And it will make the coming of winter seem not so dismal a prospect.  A kilo is a lot of yogurt friends but you’ll be happy to know this recipe put a big dent in our stash (So too did the olive oil and orange cake-yum).

I skipped the beef here and used mushrooms instead.  If you have vegetable broth, you can easily make this dish vegetarian.  I used chicken broth myself.  Inspiration came from this blog post, but I changed things up a bit.  I dawdled as I cooked, enjoying a rare long baby nap, but if you are pressed for time, this dish could easily come together in under 30 minutes if you cook the onions until just soft rather than caramelized.  I’m on a caramelization kick right now.  Don’t even get me started on how good French Onion Soup gets when you caramelize the onions for 3.5 hours…

Mushroom Stroganoff-ish


1 onion, sliced

3-5 cloves garlic, minced

1 T butter

1 T olive oil

Pinch of sugar

1/2 jin mushrooms, buttons, baby bellas, “xiang gu” as we have here, are all good, sliced.  I believe a jin is 1.1 pounds, so somewhere in the ball park of 8 oz of mushrooms will be plenty

1/4 C soy sauce

1.5 C chicken (or vegetable) broth

1.5 C plain yogurt

3 T flour

1/2 t ground nutmeg

2t+ paprika

3 T or more of dried parsley

Salt, pepper, red pepper flakes to taste

Pasta for 3-4 portions, egg noodles would be best but anything goes, I tried the leftovers with quinoa with fantastically delicious results


1. In a heavy saucepan or pot, combine butter and olive oil over medium to low heat.

2. When butter melts, add onions and garlic.  Saute until onions begin to caramelize, sprinkle with a pinch of sugar and stir occasionally until onions are golden brown, about 20 minutes

3. Add mushrooms and stir to incorporate.  Turn up heat and add soy sauce and chicken broth.

4. Allow mushroom mix to come to a boil and reduce until liquid is reduced to about 1/3.  You should see a little liquid around your mushrooms and more when you stir, don’t boil dry.

5. While mushroom mix is reducing, combine yogurt, flour, nutmeg, paprika, parsley, and pepper in a small bowl.  Taste and adjust seasonings until you like it and then set aside.

6. Boil pasta to desired dente-ness

7. Add yogurt mix to mushrooms and allow to simmer for at least 5 minutes, stirring regularly.  The longer you let it go, the thicker the sauce.  Taste and season with salt, pepper, red pepper flakes.

8. Portion pasta onto plates and top with sauce.  Garnish with fresh parsley if you have it.

November 16, 2011

Making Some Changes…

I started this blog a few years ago, on a whim.

I wanted a diary of sorts, a place I could record all of the wonderful memories my boyfriend and I were making living in DC, hiking in the Shenandoah, and cooking up feasts.

I didn’t really think about people actually reading it when I started it.  Nor did I think about how long I might be blogging or what it might turn into.

But things changed, and quickly!

My boyfriend turned into my fiance and soon, my husband.  We joined the Foreign Service (I say “we” because while he is the employee, its sort of a family affair isn’t it?).  We moved to China.  We had a baby.

And the things I had to write about, the things I felt compelled to write about, changed.  Recipes gave way to commentary on daily life in China, gave way to baby posts, gave way to more recipes and so on.  Even the name of the site, Hot Pot, will become less relevant within the next year.

This blog has plowed on, spinning into an ever larger pile of writing mush and odds and ends, and, to your credit, my lovely readers have endured the lack of focus admirably.

But when I look at all of the drafts on my dashboard, I can’t help but feel like I’m sitting in the middle of a giant junk closet filled with messy, random things and I’m trying to decide which little trinkets to keep, give, or throw away.

And that’s another thing.  When I started writing, there were exactly 2 people reading: Chris and I.  Now there are more, not tons but enough so that I no longer feel so anonymous, and knowing my audience always gives me pause before I sit down to write.  This might sound surprising coming from someone with a public blog, but I’m actually something of a private person in some ways, and I never envisioned sharing my life diary-style with hundreds of people.  My life just isn’t interesting enough for that!  And I just don’t have the patience to document it all.  Some people do and I oh-so-admire them but it just isn’t my style.

I’m all about sharing snippets and I don’t mind writing about real, even challenging issues in my life, but only after I’ve had time to process them privately and polish my prose before I post.  (How’s that for some alliteration by the way?)

In D.C., I worked and I wrote for my job, about things that had nothing to do with cooking and babies and Chinese wet markets.  I love writing about babies and recipes, but I also like doing that other kind of writing and I need an outlet for it-especially as I ponder finding some hopefully-writing-related employment when we leave China.  Hot Pot, unfortunately, in its current form, does not seem to be the place to do it though.

Which is all to say that I’m going to be making some changes.  They will likely happen slowly given that I’ve got a delightfully squirmy little baby boy on my hands, but eventually, I’ll get there.  I’m envisioning a different kind of site.  One in which I have a space for more journalistic-style pieces and interviews with interesting people I meet and photos and such.

But I don’t want just the heavy stuff, I still want space for cute pictures and stories about Will, our travelogues and our cooking.  I think those things will all have a place too, but perhaps in a more organized form than just one landing page with everything piled on haphazardly.

Until I get the new site all sorted out, I’ll keep posting here with my usual random “-squirrel!!” lack of focus.  But if you have any ideas or suggestions, either in terms of layout or content, what sorts of posts you would like to see on the new site, let me know, I’d love to hear it.

There’s a baby stretching and yawning and cooing his way out of his morning nap right now so I’d best be going, but thanks for reading.

November 13, 2011

This Kid…

…there are no words really.

I just wanted to say that I like kissing his feet and I like the way he focuses so intently when he’s sitting in his new chair, playing with his rattle.  I like the giant wide-mouth grin he gives me when I take him in my arms.  I like the way his legs kick with excitement whenever we show him the “baby in the mirror.”   I like the funny new noises he makes and the way he sometimes raises one eyebrow at us in an absurdly sweet all-knowing sort of way.

Some days are long.

Some days it seems like I do nothing but rock the kid to sleep with little success.

Sometimes he cries and he only wants his mama and it makes me sad because I want him to let his dad comfort him too.

Sometimes I wonder what my record is for number of clothing items covered in spit-up/pee/poop in one day.

Sometimes I think babies may be a marketing ploy by the battery industry to remain relevant in an increasingly wall-charging world.

But most of the time, I just think he’s awesome.  Life is good.

November 9, 2011

Thanksgiving Pizza (aka pumpkin, figs, walnuts, blue cheese, dough-what’s not to love?)

I have a feeling I’m about to get very long-winded here.  Bear with me.

No, this isn’t Thanksgiving pizza of the sort you order because the would-be-centerpiece-to-the-meal ends up a blackened poultry carcass covered in fire extinguisher foam.

No, this is the kind of pizza you make if you were trying to skip the turkey all together and just wanted all of the essence of Thanksgiving-in pizza pie form.

It’s also the kind of pizza you might make if you are a sucker for buying irresistibly luscious-looking figs from a street vendor before remembering, oh yea, I don’t even really like figs that much.  But all of a sudden, there you are.  A sleeping baby on your chest and 25 kuai worth of figs in your hands.

The first thought that popped into my head was a flat bread.  You know, that totally cliche (but delicious) figs-caramelized-onions-bacon-blue-cheese flat bread thing that was trendy at restaurants about 10 years ago.

But I felt like going for something a little more out-there.

So, while bouncing a baby who-omg-after being put to bed by his father EVERY SINGLE NIGHT OF HIS LIFE has decided that he can not, will not go to sleep unless it is 11pm and he’s in Mama’s arms, I thought about how to make my not-restaurant-cliche-pizza and what sort of sauce could possibly elevate the dish.

And then I remembered a pumpkin pizza our good friends at Mike’s Pizza Kitchen have started whipping up recently with garlic and goat cheese and onions and cashews.  It’s more Sichuanese than Thanksgiving, but it proves the concept of pumpkin on pizza works.

Then I remembered the delicious pumpkin experiment I made last weekend in which I first roasted some pumpkin with brown sugar then dumped it in a pot with sauteed onions and chicken broth, then added all manners of Thanksgiving-y spices like ginger and nutmeg and cloves and I ended up with Thanksgiving…mush.  I was aiming for soup but what I got was an outstandingly delicious thick puree that I had no clue what to do with.

But then I bought some figs, made some pizza dough, and voila!  The beginnings of Thanksgiving on a pizza.

And then I went a little crazy on the concept.  I made some balsamic glaze (aka I boiled the sh*t out of some vinegar until it turned into syrup), I caramelized some onions, I browned some sausage, I bought some surprisingly good Chinese blue cheese, and some of the delicious (and deliciously affordable) walnuts that are available at every fruit stand right now.

And then, we experimented.

Turns out Thanksgiving pumpkin mush with figs and walnuts, copious amounts of caramelized onions, a drizzle of balsamic and a dash of blue cheese is…..good.  Really good.

The pumpkin is savory in this case, and deliciously so.  The sweetness of the figs and the onions balances the salty pungency of the blue cheese.  The balsamic cuts the richness and the walnuts, oh the walnuts.  Don’t think of leaving those out.  They add crunch but also a delicious toasty-bitter finish that pulls the whole thing together.

There’s a lot going on here but it works.  And if you don’t feel either a) uber sophisticated or b) totally satiated and ready to watch an afternoon of football and a parade afterwards, then well, I just don’t know what to do with you.

Thanksgiving Pizza (makes 2 pizzas)

Ok, so it could be argued that some dried cranberries and turkey sausage would make this a real Thanksgiving pizza, but I’m going to let myself off on the technicality of DUDE THIS IS PUMPKIN ON A PIZZA.  And the fact that it tastes really, really, really good.  But, if you try it with dried cranberries and turkey sausage, do let me know how it goes.


2 balls of pizza dough (approximately 6 oz) Because I live in the ‘Du and Mike doesn’t sell raw pizza dough yet (hint, hint), I make mine from scratch.  Should you live somewhere with access to store-bought, by all means, buy all means…

1 quarter cup Thanksgiving Mash You could cut up some pumpkin, roast it, then puree it with some spices and chicken broth and onions OR you could probably use some pumpkin pie filling or canned pumpkin and doctor it up to achieve something more savory than sweet.  It’s totally your call…

1 onion roughly chopped and caramelized You can caramelize your onions a few days in advance if you like.  Just go low and slow, add a little bit of sugar, a little bit of salt, a little bit of water to keep things from sticking to the bottom of the pot, and cook for 40 minutes to an hour, stirring every once in awhile.

1 Tablespoon balsamic glaze or balsamic vineagar

5 figs, skinned and sliced

1/4 (scant) Cup blue cheese, crumbled (less is more here)

1/4 Cup-1/2 Cup Walnuts, roughly chopped


1. Preheat your oven to 500 degrees.  If you have a pizza stone, put it in when you turn on the oven.

2. Dip you hands in flour and stretch your pizza dough across the back of a cornmeal-sprinkled baking sheet (or pizza-slider-thingy if you are fancy) to approximately 12 inches in diameter.

3. Using the back of a spoon, gently spread a thin layer of pumpkin/Thanksgiving mash across dough.  If your oven gets hot enough to handle dollops of sauce without creating a pocket of raw dough underneath, by all means, dollop!

4. Lightly drizzle balsamic over pumpkin sauce.

5. Sprinkle nuts, onions, fig pieces all around.

6. Top with a bit of blue cheese, a little goes a long way.

7. Either transfer your pizza to your pre-heated pizza stone or put baking sheet in the oven.  Bake for 8-10 minutes until crust appears done, cheese is melted, and toppings are bubbling and sizzling.

November 6, 2011

Getting Dinner on the Table With a Baby Bear in the House

Since we’ve come back to Chengdu with Will, Chris and I have done something of a 180 in terms of cooking.  We used to abhor meal-planning and we were as likely to spend 3 hours making an elaborate meal together as we were to look in the fridge, throw up our hands, and high-tail it to a nearby restaurant for dinner.

Now though we eat at home every night and, with Will still doing a bit of fussing in the evenings, we’re all a lot happier when we know what’s for dinner ahead of time, can make it, enjoy it, and get Will into his pjs by 7…even if he doesn’t actually conk out until 11.  Yeesh, anyways!

It’s taken some getting used to but we’re hitting a pretty good stride now I think and so I thought I’d share what we’re doing and how it works for us.

The big caveat here, of course, is that we live in China where we can afford to have a part-time house-keeper and where I can afford to stay home.  Our ayi rocks our world and I have no idea what we’d do without her.  Obviously, the process of keeping house and getting homemade meals on the table every night with a little baby in the house looks a lot different when there is someone else around to keep the floors clean and help with the laundry.

On the flip side though, of course, living in China means that we don’t have access to all of the food conveniences we had in the States.  Buying vegetables is a time-consuming chore.  If we want good bread, we bake it ourselves.  If we want yogurt, we make it ourselves.  If we want salad, we wash the lettuce three times in soapy water and bleach and then rinse it rather than being able to reach for a bag of the pre-washed stuff.  There are time-saving and time-eating trade-offs to both situations I think, but its just something to note.

Since Chris and I are horribly indecisive and spontaneous people, I try to keep things pretty flexible.  I aim to have 4 or 5 ideas for meals by Monday morning and produce for them all by Tuesday morning.  I try to pick recipes that either come together really quickly or that can be made ahead of time and put in the fridge for later.  That way, there is always something to eat and always ingredients to cook with, but Chris and I can decide night-by-night what we are actually in the mood for.  On the weekends, with both of us home, we enjoy a little more freedom to shop together and then cook things that take a bit more time.

When I used to try to meal-plan, I’d get overwhelmed by all of the options and all of the things I wanted to try.  Now, being limited a bit by what I can get done with the baby before Chris gets home, it’s almost easier.

First I give myself a few parameters:

1. Veggies-there must be a high proportion of vegetables or leafy greens to all dishes or we are also eating a salad on the side.

2. Mostly out of convenience, but also because we like Mama Earth, we limit meat to twice, maybe three times a week.

3. The meal should be fairly easy to prep and require less than about 30 minutes of hands-on cook time, or I should be able to make all of the components in advance, at my own pace.

For instance, tonight I’m making some fig and caramelized onion pizzas with a balsamic “sauce.”  It would be complicated except that I made the pizza dough last night after dinner, reduced the balsamic vinegar before Will woke up with morning, and caramelized the onions for an hour while playing with Will by cooking them over very low heat, stirring for 30 seconds only every 10 minutes or so, and adding some water to keep them from burning when I knew I wouldn’t be able to get in the kitchen to check on them for a bit.  Now, all we need to do tonight is slice some figs, crumble some cheese, and bake.

4. To limit the amount of time I spend combing through recipes, I usually settle for one pasta dish, one soup or stew, one Chinese dish, one very simple night involving bread and salads, and one random something or other.  Random could be anything from “taco Tuesday” to Tandoori chicken.  Every other week or so we’ll skip cooking on Friday night and order pizza.  It’s a nice kick off to the weekend.

Cooking for two people, I don’t worry about side dishes beyond having some bread and some salad on the table.  As long as there are veggies and we are getting some protein from somewhere, that’s all we need. And while I’ll often look on Epicurious or other websites for recipes, I usually use them more as inspiration than as a step-by-step guide, making all sorts of substitutions and changes based on what ingredients I can get and how much time I have.

So what does dinner and dinner prep look like in our house?  Here’s a quick example from last week:

Tuesday Morning:

Even if I have a whole week’s worth of meals planned on Monday, we usually just use whatever we bought over the weekend to cook, so Tuesday morning I figure out what vegetables we need for the week and I either go shopping or I give our ayi a shopping list of produce to buy for all of them at one time.  Whether she goes shopping or I go shopping depends a lot on the air quality and Will.  If it’s yucky out, I keep Will inside with me.  If its not so bad, I’ll drag Will to the wet market with me and do the shopping myself.

When our ayi gets home with all of the produce, either she or I washes some of it and put the rest in the fridge.  Sometimes she’ll also help me chop everything up when she knows I’m going to be doing a lot of cooking at one time and Will is not napping well.

Tuesday Afternoon:

It’s rare for me to get more than 20 minutes at a time in the kitchen so I try to always have a list in my head of quick tasks I can get done during those tiny windows.  I’ll use one to start a loaf of bread.  I’ll use another to get a pot of soup started.  Sometimes I’ll use another to roast some vegetables or even just set up my mise en place for that night’s dinner.  It’s always faster cooking when you’ve got everything out and organized in front of you.  If I can, I’ll usually use try to work on two meals at a time since it’s more efficient that way.  I’ll work on a pasta sauce while I’m baking bread or I’ll have a stew simmering while I cook some quinoa.

Sometime around 3 or 4 I’ll check in with Chris to see what we’re feeling for dinner.  Since I try to make a lot of stuff that can be done ahead of time or done very quickly, it doesn’t matter so much what we decide on, as long as its one of the 4 or 5 options we have ingredients for.  Tonight we decide to make a quick pasta with spinach, pine nuts, and mushrooms in an anchovy and garlic “sauce” so my only prep for the night is to rehydrate some dried mushrooms and wash and clean some spinach.  I also start a loaf of bread in the 15 minutes I get while Will naps.

Tuesday Night: Chris gets home from work around 5:30, changes his clothes, gives Will a hug, and we all head into the kitchen together.

We’ve tried putting Will to bed at every hour between 5pm and 11pm and while we can get him to take a little evening nap sometimes, he never falls asleep for good until around 10 or 11pm.  Apparently both Chris and I did the same thing until we were about 6 months old so we do what we can to try to get him to fall asleep earlier but we don’t sweat it too much.  Anyways.

Usually one of us will cook while the other one is on Will duty.  If I’m cooking, Chris will go get Will ready for bed and then come into the kitchen with him so we can talk while I cook and he cuddles Will.  Other nights, I take care of Will while Chris cooks.  It’s split pretty 50-50.

We usually have dinner on the table by 6:30 at the latest.  We put Will in his little bouncer on top of the table in his pjs so that he can eat with us.  Even though he’s too little to contribute or even eat any of the food, its still nice to have a family dinner.  Tonight’s pasta dish is a success in that it uses up some of the massive supply of Chinese pine-nuts that we have in our freezer and we like the flavor profile they add.  We definitely used the wrong kind of mushrooms though so we’ll keep in this dish in the rotation but change it up a little bit probably.

After diner Chris will do the dishes and wash any other produce that needs washing for the next day while I go on Will duty again, reading him some stories and cuddling in hopes that maybe tonight will be the night he falls asleep before 10.  Spoiler alert: it isn’t.

After Chris is done with dishes we talk dessert.  I like to have at least the option of dessert everyday so I usually bake on the weekends, freezing cookie dough, brownies, etc, to be used during the week.  A lot of nights, we’ll pull 2 cookie dough balls out of the freezer and pop them in the oven.  Warm gooey cookies straight from the oven with a glass of milk-yum.

And that’s how we do it.  It’s pretty simple.

A few other notes:

Stews and soups are my new favorite thing because as long as I can get 20 minutes to prep things and throw them in a pot, I can stir with Will on my hip, taste-test, and voila! Dinner! Lunch! And it always tastes even better the next day! And it can be frozen and saved for another, even crazier day!

Quinoa is another new favorite thing, at least for lunch.  Did you know quinoa contains the sort of perfect balance of carbs and proteins that vegetarians need to eat together in order to be healthy?  We are soooo not vegetarian but we eat like veggies most days so I’m always looking to make sure we’re getting enough protein.  Quinoa is perfect because I can make up a big batch early in the week, reheat it, add some seasonings and some veggies and I’ve got a super quick, healthy meal, even when I’ve only got 5 minutes to eat.  I’ve even used it like oatmeal, adding brown sugar and some dried fruit.  Yum.

Making sourdough every few days also fits well into my “20 minute chunks” strategy.  We eat a lot of bread in our house and I just prefer that we have the homemade good stuff made with only flour, water, salt, and whatever yeasty organisms are living in my starter.  I spread the process over a few days.  One day I make the firm starter, the next day I knead the dough and let it rise then put it in the fridge.  The next day or the day after I bake.  A few days ago I made a monster loaf that I had been letting ferment in the fridge for over five days.  Chris says its the best loaf he’s had yet so maybe that’s a good trick.  I’ll do a big sourdough post soon.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but I always make extra food and freeze it.  If I make soup, I make enough for 2 or 3 different meals and put the extra on a flat pan in 1 or 2 labeled plastic bags in the freezer.  After a few hours, they are frozen solid and, by laying them flat, I save freezer space and, when we need them, the thin, flat package de-thaws much faster.  The other night we made a big batch of Chinese pancakes for a meal I like to call “Chinese Tacos.”  We froze 3 extra batches to have later on.  Some nights you just don’t feel like cooking you know?  Having a well-stocked freezer keeps us happy on those nights.

So yea, surprisingly, Chris and I are still eating good food now that we have Will.  We’re possibly eating even better food now that we’re planning ahead rather than settling on pasta or take-out every other night.  Who knows what it will be like when there are more than one baby Dumm’s underfoot or when I go back to work, but at that point, I’m hoping we can start following the Dash and Bella example a little bit?

What are your strategies for getting dinner on the table?

November 2, 2011

Dear Three-Month-Old Will


Our little baldy.  Someday he’ll be a little boy with lots of hair and I will miss his baby-bald days-but I’ll admit he looks a little creepy in this photo-but in a really cute, happy, kind of way right???

To: William Maxwell (other aliases: Will, Grunty, Thumper, Toothless Wonder, Will-da-beast, Milk Monster, Will-o-saurus Rex, Master of the Universe, My Beautiful Baby)

From: Your Mama, (other aliases: Boobs, 2nd best diaper changer (after Daddy), Person with the Yummy Shoulder, Person who keeps going “yum, yum, yum” whilst kissing your cheeks, Lady who keeps making you do that darn tummy time)

Re: Your 3 month “birthday” (just a few days late)

I’m not sure how many of these monthly memos you will get, my little man.  Its not that Mama doesn’t love to write about you, gush about you, attempt to gobble up your plump cheeks and munch on your wee little baby toes 24/7.  I do.  It’s just you feel so dynamic to me, so ever-changing, always growing, that its hard to describe who you are and what you are like in this moment without feeling like I’m doing an injustice to who you will be and all of the new things you are bound to learn in the next.

For this month though, let’s try, shall we?

Things You Love:

1. Eating your hands

2. Standing up (with lots of help of course)

3. Sitting up (with a little less help)

4. Smiling and almost-but-not-quite-laughing at the baby in the mirror

5. Smiling at EVERYONE who looks at you

6. Boobs

7. The “Ants Go Marching” and “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” songs

8. Swatting and grabbing the animals hanging over your activity mat, then trying to eat them.

9. The Subway book by Christoph Niemann.  I think its all of the high contrast colors and black and white.  Who knew it would be the first book you actually paid attention to?

10. Staring at your Dad’s Tin-Tin in Shanghai print in the kitchen

11. Did I mention you love eating your hands?

Things You Are On the Fence About:

1. Your Sophie-you’ve started chomping down on her face recently, but otherwise you remain unimpressed

2. Sleeping in places that aren’t mommy or daddy’s arms-you remain skeptical of their virtue

3. Tummy-time, now that you can push up so well on your arms and rest on your forearms for longer periods of time, it ain’t the torture it once was apparently, but we won’t go all the way to calling it “fun” yet

4. Bath time remains a mixed bag for you but you do have a thing for getting your hands washed.

Things We Love Right Now:

1. The way your face absolutely lights up in the morning when we retrieve you from our crib.  Your crib is shoved right up against my side of the bed; but, judging by the reaction we get when we pick you up for the first time in the morning, you’d think we’d left you in Antartica for the night.  Hence, the crazy arm-waving and smiling that makes my day.  It’s as if you are saying “OMG, its YOU!!  You are STILL here!  I thought you were gone FOREVER!”

2. The smiles we get when we rub your cheeks.

3. The way you occasionally try to nurse on your daddy’s nose

4. The way you nuzzle your way as deep into the crook of my arm as possible when you are trying to fall asleep.  Its like an endless abyss of coziness to you it seems.

5. Looking down at your totally zonked-out, content face while you nap in my arms.  Everyday I wake up hoping today will be the day you nap for a solid couple of hours on your own and everyday I find myself sitting with one arm falling asleep holding you while I use the other to peck out emails.  It will be nice to have some more time to get things done during the day when you finally master the napping-in-your-crib-and-not-on-me thing, but I think I will miss our snuggles.  Lately you’ve been getting good at falling asleep on the couch with me just holding your hands.  I like that.  It’s a nice compromise.  You can keep doing that until you learn how to roll over stomach-to-back, ok?  Then you really need to learn how to nap in your crib.

6. The way you like to be carried around, pushing off my chest with your strong little muscles and your head on a perpetual swivel trying to take in every little thing around you.

7. Your sweet baby breath

8. Your munchable toes

9. Your insanely kissable cheeks.  Gah! Those cheeks!  I think I kiss them at least 100 times a day-each.

10. The way we can see you beginning to really notice and try to understand your surroundings.  It’s so fun to see what fascinates you these days.

11.  Your goofiness.  I think you get it from your dad but sometimes the way you smile, the way you react to us, you have sort of a goofy way about you and we love it.

Other Items of Note:

1. You still have blue eyes for now

2. You still have no hair, at least none that is very visible.

3. We keep needing to buy you more hats.  See item number 2.

4. As of your 3 month birthday, you weighed 11 pounds and 11 oz.

5.  You are still kind of a skinny baby but you have HUGE feet.  I just had to order you new 6-12 month socks because you’ve outgrown everything smaller.

6. You’ve now lived in China for over half of your life.

7. Perhaps buying baby REI cargo pants was a total waste of your dad’s REI gift card from last Christmas but, on you, they are actually probably the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.

8. Your Mama has gotten really good at understanding baby-related Sichuan-hua and reassuring the worried grandmother types that yes you are warm enough and no, you don’t need a snowsuit when its 65 degrees out.

9. You collect a truly mind-boggling amount of lint between your fingers.  Seriously, how do you do that??

10. We are convinced you are brilliant but we’ll admit you still accidentally smack yourself in the face sometimes when you’re really tired.  It’s kind of cute and funny.

11. We no longer really remember what our lives were like before you but nor do we care.  We can’t imagine our lives being anywhere near as wonderful then as they are now.

12. We now think our childless friends are the ones missing out instead of the other way around.

13. Your sleeping on my arm as I type this post, little one, and we hope you know that we love you so, very, very, very much.


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