Eloise coloring

One doesn't get a sense of Eloise's personality from reading this blog, but believe me, she is bright and vibrant. Coloring is her absolute favorite activity, if it wasn't clear from the video!



Lotus Lilies, Charles Courtney Curran, 1888.
After we got home from school today, I was busy in the kitchen making lunch, when I heard Eloise gasping for air. She and Amelia were playing in the living room, and Millie had hid under a laundry basket. Eloise must have thought she disappeared, because she went absolutely hysterical. By the time I got there, she was purple and falling over. I picked her up and tried to calm her enough to breathe. It became clear she was having a full blown spasm, but the ambubag was not at hand. So I covered her nose and mouth with my mouth and blew hard to open her airway. It worked, she took a breath and passed out in my arms. She was passed out for a few minutes on my chest, but she was breathing. She woke up after a little while, and now she is acting fine...

I thought these days were over, so today's episode took me particularly unprepared. We are all recovered, but I tell you, this motherhood thing....

If you've been following our family over the past two years, you will know our troubles have been pretty bad. Many of the trials that loom far away like silent storm clouds for most, have engulfed our family with loud claps of thunder. Things have finally improved since Eloise had her magical Nissen Fundoplication last December, but every once in a while we have monstrous events like today's.

However, I will say that being forced to face so many fears makes one fearless. That opens whole new realms of possibility. I used to be much more self conscious about things I didn't know. Books I hadn't read. Artists I never heard of. I am much more open to new information, and experiencing and learning all sorts of new things. Its a strange gift, but its one of the few that have come with this whole ordeal.

Last night I went rollerskating for the very first time.


Emily Winfield Martin

I have a new favorite artist, whose prints now adorns our stairwell. The illustrations reminded me so much of my girls, I knew they would be perfect in our house. I adore the way they turned out when I framed them!


Duccio Babkallah

Duccio di Buoninsegna, Madonna and Child, ca. 1300, tempera and gold on wood, Metropolitan Museum of Art. Just a note, the irregular gaps in the bottom of the frame are where the candles have burned away over many, many years of religious worship.
I follow recipes as I imagine Hermione Granger follows spell books. However, as of late, after I have mastered a recipe, I have been dabbling at making it my own, to delicious results. This post is a recipe for my own variation of the traditional Babkallah bread, and I'm crazy about it. So what's with the Duccio painting? Well, I debuted my bread at our annual graduate school reunion dinner party, and it turns out my dear friend Elliott loves Babkallah, and I was so pleased I had spontaneously brought him one of his favorite desserts. Elliott has just completed his year long internship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and if he could take home one painting, it would be the above Duccio painting. So in our house, this recipe is called in Elliott's honor:
Duccio Babkallah

1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 tsp yeast
4 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup pastry flour

1 dime-sized droplet of almond emulsion*
1 package almond paste*
3/4 cup finely chopped almonds
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup melted butter

Warm the milk in the microwave until just warm, maybe 30 seconds. Slowly whisk in the yeast. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes. Stir the flours, salt and sugar together in a medium-sized bowl. Mix the milk mixture with the egg yolks, vanilla and butter.
Letting the yeast do its magic!
My favorite vanilla bean paste. So scrumptious! 
I'm crazy about this pastry flour, Bob's Red Mill Fine Pastry Flour. It makes everything better, and makes the dough for the babkallah a little extra stretchy, and ultimately lighter.

Mix the wet and dry ingredients, stir until it starts to stick together. Put your arms into it! Stir that sucker!
This will be your beautiful little ball of doughy glory. Spray a bowl with a little Pam, cover well, and let it sit for 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours in a warm place.

While you're waiting for the dough, here's the directions for the filling:
Your almonds need to be finely chopped, or the bread will fall apart. 
With a non-stick rolling pin, roll out the almond paste as thin as you can without breaking it apart. Partition three equal portions with a sharp knife.
Thin almond paste dries out quickly, and you don't want that fate to befall your paste! So cover it tightly with saran wrap. 
When your dough is ready, partition it also into three parts. Gently roll one part of the dough at a time into a long, flat ovals. 
Place one of the almond paste sections in the center of your oval dough, and roll them together. You can't tell from the photo very well, but you can see where the paste has been rolled into the dough. 
Spread the filling onto the dough, but leave a little space around the edges so it rolls easily. Roll the dough lengthwise tightly, and pinch the dough to keep it together. Place it on a parchment-lined baking sheet, seam side down. Do the same to the rest of the dough, paste and filling.
This is the most fun part, braid the dough together! You may need to pinch the ends with wetted fingers, and turn them under. Let this braided beauty for another 1 1/2 -2 hours, covered so it doesn't dry. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and when the dough is ready, if you'd like you can use a brush and gently cover the bread with an egg wash - an egg yolk mixed with a tablespoon of water.

Bake it 35-45 minutes. Let it cool completely, slice, and revel in the deliciousness you created!
Tell me that doesn't look delicious?! Because it IS.

*If you aren't as nutty about almonds as I am, you can skip these additions!


a balancing winter routine

After Shinsai, Peony, Sake Bottle, Tray, Teapot and cup, late 19th century, color woodcut surimono
January through March are Utah's ugliest months. Old, blackened snow fills the corners of parking lots, inversion fills the air with pollution. Just walking outside makes my eyes water and my nose clogs. I wait longingly for the sun to make its return. This winter I have been struck by how the cold months balance the warm ones in every way, and I have taken a more Buddhist approach to winter survival tactics this year.  
In the summer my hands callous and toughen from pulling weeds and digging in the dirt, my skin burns under the sun, and my feet become rough from running around barefoot. As a conscious balancing act, this winter I am caring for my skin and hair, and concentrate on general wellness. I've taken to this evening routine twice a week:
  • Hot yoga. I sing the warm praises to yoga of a novice acolyte. The heat opens your pores and seeps into your joints, loosens your muscles and increases your flexibility. Its delicious.
  • Coconut oil. The air in Utah is as dry as a bone. A bone forgotten in the desert. The winter makes it so much worse. This winter I tried coconut oil, and I tell you folks, it works. Before I go to yoga, I rub coconut oil on all my driest spots, and run it through my hair. I practice directly under the heater, and I swear I can feel the coconut oil giving my skin and hair a drink.
  • Take a long, warm shower. Lather away all that sweat and oil, and give your legs a shave. Let your hair air dry.
  • Slip into your most scrumptious lingerie, and make yourself a cup of herbal tea with honey. My favorites are bramblewine berry and sweet wild orange.
The whole routine takes and hour and a half, and you will feel like a new woman.
Mary Cassatt, The Cup of Tea, 1880-1

Edward Penfield, Girl holding tea pot and cup on tray, between 1884-1925, watercolor 



Henri Matisse, The Blue Window, 1913
We have another month of medical madness ahead of us - Hazel has her adenoids out, and Eloise will have another hospital stay for her J-tube removal. All of it takes so much logistical planning on my part, and requires a lot of time to prepare. But all I can seem to think about is the terrorist attacks in Paris. Its hard to concentrate. I have been so upset, its all so disturbing and terribly sad. It feels like a friend has come under siege.

The distress I have felt has been balanced by no small amount of anger directed at the American media. I have heard so many statements that start: "Nothing can excuse what those men did, but if you put into context colonialism/immigration/social immobility..." I even heard it was the fault of the French, because they haven't done enough to integrate with Muslim culture. And I listen to liberal media, folks! I shiver to think what the far right is saying...
Anonymous, Claude Debussy at the piano in the home of Ernest Chausson, in Luzancy, 1893
I just have to get this out in written form, because I have minimal adult contact during the day, and those who I do see don't necessarily want to go into foreign or religious politics with me. First of all, colonialism. Yep, I've read the orientalist theories and read colonial history. Many atrocities and horrors were wrought upon the Middle East and Africa and beyond, but it happened a long time ago. Not even our great-great grandparents' generation. Today's generations in France have as little to do with those decisions, or having to make reparations for them, than a croughnut has to do with a croissant. So stop throwing that into the discussion, peeps.
Secondly, no one should expect social mobility in a culture if they don't speak the language, don't appreciate or accept the culture, or leave their former culture behind on some level. From my experience, and I say this without any hatred or prejudice, the Muslim community seems particularly reticent to conform to any Western society. That's fine, but one can only expect to succeed to a certain degree in a foreign land without conforming to their system.

Thirdly, this will sound very Mormon-y of me, but hey I am Mormon. I don't think Islamic religious ideals, the Qu'ran, social immobility, or any other factor has as much to do with the extreme violence as the breakdown of family. The Kouachi brothers were orphans, raised in the foster care system. It seems to me that when a void as big as losing both parents exists in someone's life, something has to fill it. They are accountable for what they choose to fill it with, be it a gang, radicalism, drugs, whatever. Children need mothers, they need love, direction, stability, boundaries. It breaks my heart to think of young boys or girls finding those needs filled by those who would manipulate and abuse their flexible minds...

Paris has seen many radical extremists, but many of them propelled society forward. That can't be said this time.
Honoré Daumier, Épouvantée de l'héritage no. 280 of the series Actualités published in l'Album de siège, 1871. Political cartoon.

My Cup of Tea

Sometimes we have a tea party when we do our homework. That may seem like an affectation, but it's a strategy. On a normal afternoon, I am wrangling two five-year-olds and one nearly 4-year-old, while the one-year-old is asleep. It's extremely difficult to get them to calm down and concentrate. But if it is a tea party, with miniature, genuine China teacups brimming with aromatic orange sweet tea, they are much more interested in sitting down and being careful with their movements. I would much rather say, "Slow down a little, look out for your little cup of tea" rather than, "Would you please sit down and concentrate?"
Heaven knows a good herbal tea does this mother a lot of good on a cold January afternoon!