Friday, May 30, 2014

May Instagram Favorites

Can you believe it's almost June?  I sure can't.  But our wedding is just three months away, and I couldn't be more excited!

It's been a busy week here, so for today, I'll just share a few of my favorite photos from my Instagram in May.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Banana Caramel Cream Pie Cupcakes

As I often always do as Friday approaches, I start daydreaming about what I might bake that weekend.  Sometimes I plan my baking weeks in advance, and other times I change my mind three or four times before I settle on an idea, often to change it again when I get to the store and browse all the ingredients.

I simply have too many recipes in my head to ever be able to make them all.  If only I could get paid to create recipes, style photo shoots with vintage items I find at flea markets and antique stores and photograph all the pretty baked goods.  That's my absolute dream job right there.

As it is, though, all of you - not to mention my coworkers - get to benefit from my (currently) unpaid time and creativity.  Someday, though, maybe my dream will come true...

Speaking of vintage finds, I'm so in love with this little orange nutmeg tin and these rusted measuring cups.  I found them a few weeks ago at the Paris Street Flea Market in Denver on the first opening day.  And they were so worth my having to park a mile away to get there.

So as that particular weekend drew near, I said to Jamie, "How does a banana caramel cream pie cupcake sound?"

Without hesitation, he replied, "You had me until you said 'cupcake'."  He loves his pie.

But I just knew these cupcakes would be amazing and that he'd come around when he saw how beautiful I envisioned them to be.  And of course, tasted one.

And they didn't disappoint in the slightest.

One Year AgoIrish Whiskey Espresso Brownies
Two Years AgoPopcorn Peanut Cookies with Red Grapefruit Soda
Three Years AgoChocolate Caramel Croissant Bread Pudding

Baker's Note:
The whipped cream "frosting" is light and delicious, and stable as long as it's whipped stiffly enough and kept refrigerated.  It will soften and deflate a little if the cupcakes are left out of the refrigerator for too long.  If refrigeration isn't possible, fluffy buttercream frosting would also be fantastic on these!

If you have time to bake small, homemade cookies for these, go for it!  If not, there are any number of cookies to choose from at the store.  'Nilla Wafers are boring and predictable, although inexpensive, and shortbread or specialty cookies can be pricey.  A bag of small iced oatmeal cookies was only a few dollars, and a much more interesting choice than the wafer cookies.

Banana Caramel Cream Pie Cupcakes

banana custard:
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 ripe banana, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons corn starch
banana cupcakes:
  • 1 box white cake mix
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 2 ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
whipped cream topping:
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream, cold
  • 2/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup Dulce de Leche
  • coarse salt
  • small cookies

To make the custard, combine all ingredients in a blender until smooth and pour into a saucepan.  Over medium heat, bring the custard to a boil while whisking constantly, until very thick.  Remove from the heat, cover with plastic and chill thoroughly in the refrigerator.

For the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 350.  combine the dry ingredients in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Add the wet ingredients and mix for two minutes until well combined.  Divide the batter between 30 cupcake liners and bake for 18-20 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool completely on a wire rack, covered with a clean kitchen towel.

For the whipped cream, pour the cream into the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Whip the cream, gradually adding the powdered sugar, vanilla and nutmeg, until very thick and stiff.  Refrigerate until needed.

To assemble the cupcakes, use a cupcake corer to remove the center of each cupcake.  Fill with the chilled custard.  Pipe the whipped cream on top, drizzle with the Dulce de Leche (it's extremely thick - too thick to "drizzle" - so I squeezed it through a piping bag), sprinkle with a little salt and top with a cookie.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Yields 30 cupcakes

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream Bars

It was a moment of impulse - possibly the best impulse I've ever had - in which I created these chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream bars.  It's an idea I've been mulling over for a while, forcing myself to wait until it was warm enough to warrant filling our freezer full of frozen treats.

After the moment of realization struck that I had to make these now, I stopped at the store for ice cream on the way home from work, because impulse doesn't have the patience to wait for homemade ice cream.  Salted English Toffee Caramel.  One of Jamie's favorite ice cream flavors.

While the ice cream sat on the counter to soften up a bit, I mixed up cookie dough, the same egg-less cookie dough I made for the chocolate chip cookie dough truffles I made last winter.  With no eggs or leavening, this is cookie dough that's meant to be eaten as cookie dough and not baked cookies.

After assembling the ice cream bars, the hard part was waiting until the next day before I could cut and photograph them.

They made about the prettiest, most tempting ice cream bars I've ever seen, and I took a few too many shots because all of a sudden, they started melting from the heat of the sun streaming in the window next to my desk.  And just like that, my photo shoot was finished.

One Year AgoOur Sunrise Adventure and Morning in the Park
Two Years AgoCaramel Glazed Doughnuts filled with Chocolate Cream
Three Years AgoDate Swirl Almond Cookies

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream Bars

  • 1/2 gallon ice cream
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 bag (12 ounces) mini chocolate chips

Set out the ice cream to soften for about 20 minutes, and make the cookie dough in the meantime.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars for 4-5 minutes, scraping the bowl down a few times.  Beat in the vanilla, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and milk.  Add the flour a spoonful at a time, then the chocolate chips, and mix just until combined.

Take a large sheet of parchment paper and line the bottom of a 9x13 pan so that the paper hangs over the edge of both sides.  Scoop half the cookie dough onto the paper and use your hands to press the dough into an even layer, all the way to the edges.  Lift the paper by the overhang to remove the cookie dough from the pan and set aside.  Now place a second sheet of paper in the pan and press the rest of the dough into the bottom of the pan.  Spread the softened ice cream over the bottom layer of cookie dough.  Take the layer of dough you set aside and flip it over on top of the ice cream (paper side up).

Cover the pan with plastic and freeze overnight.  After the bars are thoroughly frozen, remove them from the pan by grabbing the paper overhang and lifting them out.  Peel the parchment paper off the top, flip the bars over onto a cutting board and peel the paper off the bottom.  Use a large sharp knife to cut into bars (I cut the whole block into thirds lengthwise and then ten across to get thirty small bars).  You can wrap each bar individually in plastic (work in batches, keeping most of them in the freezer while you wrap) and store in a container.

Yields 30 ice cream bars

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Thursday, May 22, 2014


Today we had a company outing to a Rockies game at Coors Field - my first time to see a game there - but the afternoon thunderstorms typical of spring in Colorado rained us out of the game.  It was an excuse to use my pretty polka dot umbrella, which I almost never get to use.

I love thunderstorms.  I love the rain.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Chocolate Chip Cookie Waffles

As I look out the window at this gorgeous day, I can hardly believe that just over a week ago there was a winter storm warning for most of the weekend while we were cozy in front of the fireplace in our pajamas.

I woke up early on Mother's Day and the morning was quiet and peaceful, still asleep under its fresh blanket of snow.  And just because, I made waffles for Jamie.  I teased him later that as I am the future mother of his children, he should have been making breakfast for me instead.

With butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and a touch of molasses, these waffles have all the goodness of a chocolate chip cookie.  I also added a little peanut butter, but thought it overwhelmed all the other flavors, so I've written the recipe without the peanut butter.

To clarify, these are not cookie dough or cookies cooked in a waffle iron.  What they are is a waffle that's crisp on the outside and fluffy inside, full of cookie flavor and just as good frozen and toasted later.  And chocolate chips just make everything better, don't you think?

One Year AgoChocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cheesecake with Salted Pecans, Caramel and Toffee
Two Years AgoBlue Milk for a Curly Haired Girl and Strawberry Vanilla Cream Cheese Muffins
Three Years AgoHomemade Ricotta

Chocolate Chip Cookie Waffles

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • 1 2/3 cups buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips, plus extra for garnish
  • pure maple syrup

In a large bowl, whisk together all ingredients (except the chocolate chips and syrup) until well combined.  Stir in the chocolate chips.

Cook the waffles according to the instructions on your waffle maker.  Sprinkle with extra chocolate chips and drizzle with syrup.

Yields about 10 waffles

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

    Monday, May 19, 2014

    Graduation Book Cake

    Do you remember that feeling of being 18 and knowing that your whole life is still ahead of you?  Your career is still to be determined, your love story still unwritten, your successes and failures and mistakes and triumphs still to be experienced.

    What I love about this graduation cake is how personal it is.  Every element has so much meaning - the books she loves, the sports she's played, the tv shows she watches, the awards she's won, as well as all those little inside jokes that only her own family knows and understands.

    When I was asked to make a graduation cake, I knew right away that this book cake would be my inspiration.  I love the way the books encircling the cake look, and thought they would be the perfect way to pay tribute to her experiences and accomplishments in her life so far, with the fondant replica of a building at MIT to represent her future college years there.  And while I love the look of old, ornate books, my vision for this cake design was one that was less ornate and a little more bright and modern for a young girl heading off to college.

    It was 1996, and I was 17 when I graduated high school, a year younger than most of the other seniors, and completely unprepared for the years that lay ahead.  I still remember the day I left for college with such clarity - I was wearing my baggy ripped jeans (which I had ripped intentionally, of course) and an over-sized men's flannel shirt.  My favorite outfit at the time.  My hair was boyishly short, growing out from an untimely bad haircut.

    I hugged Akasha, my white Persian cat, and tried not to cry, but couldn't stop the tears from flowing as I climbed into the pickup truck with my high school friends Sam and Troy and we drove away, leaving home behind.

    That first semester of Freshman year I wore myself ragged, working almost 30 hours a week as a breakfast and lunch cook in the college cafeteria to pay for my college loans and then falling asleep in the library studying for courses I hated for a business administration major that I had no interest in.

    When I came home for Christmas, I was sick and exhausted and couldn't face the thought of going back, so I took the next semester off to work and figure out what I wanted to study.  I decided on print journalism, but after a semester of that, switched yet again to Creative Writing with a minor in English Lit.  I was quite happy with my writing classes, but my college experience in general wasn't the happiest time in my life, and I was thrilled to graduate and put those years behind me.

    I'm envious of those who know from a young age exactly what they want to do, want to be, what they're good at, what they love, what makes them feel fulfilled.  But the good news is, it's never too late, is it?  We can decide at any time to change the course of our lives and pursue what fills us with joy.

    I made the books, trees and building from fondant, using edible markers for the detail and writing.

    One Year AgoPretty Things, and a Chocolate Cherry Smoothie
    Two Years AgoLemon Blackberry Muffins and the Picnic Bug
    Three Years AgoChile Lime Salmon Tacos

    Friday, May 16, 2014


    These little wooden people were a gift from one of my students while I was teaching in China, and I've always loved them.  When I returned to the US, I decided they had to come home with me and now they live on my bookcase.  They should feel loved to have such an honored place to spend their days.

    It's been years since I've gone into a thrift store (aside from antique stores), and while looking for something specific, I happened to see this pretty blue purse for $5.  I love that it looks a little retro.

    I saw a recipe online for salmon dip, and immediately after work, bought a package of smoked salmon to make the dip for that evening.  It was so fantastic, and I want to eat this dip every day.

    Sometimes, convenience wins over homemade, and we made dessert with these little store bought mini angel food cakes.  The sauce, though, is homemade strawberry rhubarb sauce, and I spooned strawberry rhubarb cream - leftover from last weekend's pie - on top.

    I'm so happy it's Friday and the sun is shining!

    One Year Ago:  Gender Reveal Cupcakes
    Two Years Ago:  The Colors of Spice and the Secret in the Sauce
    Three Years Ago: Jiaozi and Cold Noodles

    Wednesday, May 14, 2014

    Strawberry Rhubarb Swirl Pound Cake and Ice Cream

    Today is a special day - it's my blog's third birthday!  Some days it feels a little unreal that I've been doing this for three years now, or that I somehow continue to find the time and energy and inspiration to create new recipes and posts two or three times a week.  But 569 posts later, here I am, with more ideas listed on my notepad app than I quite know what to do with.

    I want to thank all of you, though, for reading my posts and trying my recipes.  I love being able to share in these experiences with people who enjoy cooking and baking as much as I do.  I like to make people happy, and talking about desserts always makes me happy.

    It wasn't until I started writing this post that I realized I made very similar recipes exactly one year ago for my 2nd-year post: a Strawberries and Custard Icebox Cake and Rhubarb Ice Cream.

    Maybe it's because it's that time of year again, or maybe it's because strawberries and rhubarb are just so amazing together, but I'm not sorry to use them over again for a perfectly delightful pairing of sweet and tart.

    The ice cream is a simple vanilla custard ice cream base, and for the fruit swirl, I cooked rhubarb and strawberries with a little sugar just until the fruit was soft, but still chunky.  I love how the fruit looks folded into the creamy ice cream, pink and pretty and fresh.  How badly do you want to dip a spoon into this ice cream?

    Pound cake is one of my favorite desserts ever, which is saying something.  This particular pound cake recipe is a family recipe passed down through my Danish relatives, from an Uncle Andy who I never knew, seeing as how this was quite a few generations back when he served as a guard to the Danish king and was, apparently, quite the baker when he was off duty.

    The cake is decadently rich, buttery, sweet and dense - as a pound cake should be.  It's moist inside with just the right amount of textural contrast from the golden brown crust.

    After cooking the fruit, I pureed it in the blender and swirled it into the cake batter before baking.  It seems a happy accident that it swirled as perfectly as it did.

    The sugary glaze isn't all that necessary, but I like tart lemon glaze on pound cake, and the pink color sure looked pretty, too.

    "The thing about this form of communication is that you're more likely to talk about nothing than something.  But I just want to say that all this nothing has meant more to me than so many...

    So thanks."

    - You've Got Mail

    One Year AgoStrawberries and Custard Icebox Cake and Rhubarb Ice Cream
    Two Years AgoReflections on my First Year of Blogging, and a Peanut Butter and Jelly Tart
    Three Years AgoThe First Post - Margherita Pizza

    Strawberry Rhubarb Ice Cream

    ice cream:
    • 2 cups heavy cream
    • 2 cups whole milk
    • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
    • 5 egg yolks
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla
    • 2 cups diced rhubarb
    • 2 cups diced strawberries
    • 1/4 cup granulated sugar

    Make the Ice Cream Base:
    In a large saucepan, combine the cream and milk.  Bring to a gentle simmer over medium-low heat, but don't bring it to a rapid boil.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the sugar with the egg yolks.  When the cream mixture is hot but not boiling, drizzle about 1 cup of the hot cream into the eggs and sugar mixture, whisking constantly, to temper the eggs.  Pour all of the egg mixture back into the saucepan with the cream.

    Cook the custard gently over medium low heat, stirring constantly until thickened slightly, about 7-10 minutes.  Remove from the heat and whisk in the vanilla.

    Pour custard through a mesh strainer into a bowl.  Cover with a lid or plastic wrap, and refrigerate, preferably overnight, but at least until very well chilled.  The custard will thicken more as it chills.

    Make the Fruit Swirl:
    In a clean saucepan, combine the rhubarb, strawberries and sugar.  Over medium low heat, simmer just until the rhubarb softens.  Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, then strain to get rid of any excess liquid.

    Churn the chilled custard according to the instructions on your ice cream maker, then transfer to a container, fold in the fruit, and freeze until firm, about 4-6 hours.

    Yields about 2 quarts.

    Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

    Strawberry Rhubarb Swirl Pound Cake

    • 1/4 pound rhubarb, diced
    • 1/4 pound strawberries, hulled and quartered
    • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
    • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
    • 1 tablespoon water
    • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
    • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
    • 3 cups granulated sugar
    • 6 eggs, room temperature
    • 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste, or seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean
    • 3 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
    • 4 tablespoons granulated sugar
    • zest and juice of 1 small lemon
    • 10-12 tablespoons powdered sugar
    • a few drops of pink food coloring

    Make the Fruit Swirl:
    In a saucepan, combine the rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and water.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until soft, then simmer on low heat for about 20 minutes.  Scrape mixture into a blender and puree until very smooth.  Refrigerate while you mix the cake batter.

    Bake the Cake:
    Preheat the oven to 325.  Spray a Bundt pan thoroughly with non-stick baking spray.

    With an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter, cream cheese and sugar for 4-5 minutes, scraping the bowl down as needed, until very light and fluffy.

    Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for 2 minutes before adding another egg.  Beat in the vanilla.

    Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg in a separate bowl, and add by spoonfuls to the batter, just until combined.

    Spoon half the batter into the pan and drizzle with half the strawberry rhubarb sauce.  Add the rest of the batter and sauce.  Use a knife to gently swirl the sauce into the batter.  Bake the cake for 75-90 minutes, until a deep golden brown on top, and a skewer inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs.  A deep crack on the surface of the crust is normal.  Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes while you make the glaze.

    Make the Glaze:
    In a saucepan, combine the sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest.  Over medium low heat, whisk the mixture until the sugar is dissolved.  Whisk in the powdered sugar and the food coloring.

    Turn the hot cake out onto a serving plate and drizzle with the hot glaze, letting it run down the sides.  Cool completely before cutting.

    Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

    Tuesday, May 13, 2014

    Chicken Soup in Coconut Cardamom Broth

    I'm hopeful that the last cold snap is behind us and that spring is here for real now.  After Sunday's snow storm, we still have a few patches of snow here and there, but the sun is peeking out from the clouds and the sky is blue.  It's almost summer.

    But for what I hope was the last bit of chilly weather, during which I crave comforting meals like hearty soups, I made this delicious chicken soup in a creamy coconut milk broth seasoned with cardamom and star anise.

    This soup was just what the weather called for.

    Chicken Soup in Coconut Cardamom Broth

    • 2 tablespoons coconut or olive oil
    • 1/2 sweet yellow onion, diced
    • 1 stalk celery, diced
    • 1 carrot, diced
    • 3 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
    • salt and pepper
    • 1 teaspoon cardamom
    • 1 can (14 ounces) unsweetened, full-fat coconut milk
    • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (preferably homemade)
    • 3 medium red potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
    • 4 boneless chicken thighs (or breasts), cooked and shredded
    • star anise
    • handful of fresh baby spinach leaves
    • 1/3 cup cream

    Heat a stock pot over medium heat, then add the oil.  Add the onion, celery, carrot, garlic and ginger to the hot oil, with a pinch of salt and pepper; cook for about 5-7 minutes until softened, stirring occasionally.  Stir in the cardamom and cook for another minute.  Add the coconut milk, broth, potatoes, chicken and a few star anise.  Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer over low heat for about an hour.  Use a spoon to skim off and discard any chicken fat that rises to the surface.

    Before serving, taste and add more salt and pepper, if needed.  Stir in spinach and cream.

    Yields 4-6 servings

    Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

      Saturday, May 10, 2014

      Blush and Bashful Petals Cake for Mother's Day

      "My colors are Blush and Bashful."

      "Your colors are Pink and Pink!"

      "I like pink.  Pink is my signature color."

      The scene from Steel Magnolias where the women are discussing the wedding colors while getting their hair done came to mind while I was decorating this cake, and the name Blush and Bashful Petals Cake just seemed to fit.

      The cake is dark chocolate and is frosted with fluffy strawberry almond cream cheese buttercream.  It's for a ladies' get-away this weekend for one of the women turning 50, but I thought it would be a beautiful Mother's Day cake, too.  It's exactly the sort of cake my mom would love.  She loves pink, too.

      For this Mother's Day, I want to tell a little story.  I published this particular story a few years ago, but it's one of my favorite memories and worth re-telling...

      One hot and humid summer day in South Carolina, a little girl with curly braids, streaked blond from the sun, was playing with her Barbies on the brick porch in front of her house.  A garden hose at the top of the porch created a refreshing waterfall cascading down the steps into a plastic bowl (that's a swimming pool in Barbie world) so that the Barbies could splash around in the cool water.  Her Strawberry Shortcake doll got to play, too, the water bringing out the sweet, strawberry scent of her freckled skin and red hair.

      The girl looked out across the yard where her older sister was playing with a friend by the dogwood tree in the corner, next to the ditch.  It was her favorite tree, except for maybe the one in the backyard with the rope swing, where she liked to sit under the shade of its flowering branches, read books, brush and braid her dolls' hair and snuggle with her cat, Oreo.  Sometimes Oreo would do naughty things like bring a dead rabbit or a bird home, and then she would purr and rub against the girl's ankles, wanting praise for her successful day of hunting.  Oreo couldn't understand why that made the girl cry.

      She had already asked her sister if she could play with them, after all, they did everything together.  Shared a room with twin beds covered in gray and white cat bedspreads with matching curtains, whispered secrets under the covers when they were supposed to be asleep, designed clothes for their Barbies from scraps of fabric their mom gave them, convinced their little brother to let them dress him up in their baby clothes and brush his wavy brown hair.  Although, eventually he started getting impatient with the game of being their living doll, and the girl was forced to pay him a nickel in exchange for playing with his hair.  It got too expensive for her, so she gave up on the game.

      They were both scared of the way their clothes looked hanging in the closet at night; for some reason there were no doors on the closet, and the clothes looked like whispy, white ghosts in the moonlight.  They were afraid of the oven light, glowing like a lone, red eye at the end of the hallway when they got up at night to go to the bathroom.  The hardwood floor was a danger zone, and they'd hop from the bed, to the braided rug, to the carpet in the hallway to avoid stepping on it.  And they shared a love of teasing their cousin during sleepovers by putting a rubber snake under her pillow.  But their favorite trick was pushing their twin beds together so the three of them could sleep together, then making their cousin take the middle so that she would fall in the crack between the mattresses.

      And when the girl's older sister started kindergarten, she was broken-hearted at being left behind.  She didn't realize how thrilling it would be someday to have their bedroom to herself when her sister left for college, even though that thrill was shadowed by her sister's absence.

      So on this particular day, she couldn't understand why, after asking to play with them, her sister told her, "No."  No reason given, no fight predicating the request, nothing she had done to annoy her.  Just no.

      After watching them dejectedly from the porch for a few minutes, she wandered into the house, the air-conditioning hitting her face like a cool breeze, teasing the curly strands of hair clinging to her damp neck.  She moped around the front room, watching her mom sew seam after seam at her sewing desk.  Her mom was always sewing for her business, and the gentle whir of the machine, the snip of scissors on thread, silk and lace and cotton sliding across the desk and the hiss of steam escaping the iron were comforting sounds.  Comforting in their sameness.  Comforting in always knowing where to find her mom and in always knowing what she would be doing.

      Sometimes she got to try the clothes on, too, if her mom was sewing for another little girl her age, so that she could make sure they would fit correctly.  And with the leftover pale blue satin fabric from one of her sewing jobs, her mom had made her a dress that made her feel like a princess with its lace-covered buttons and tiny puffed sleeves.

      After she and her brother and sister were all in school, her mom got her nail technician license and started working part-time during the day, which was very upsetting to her, even though her mom still took them to school each morning and picked them up every afternoon.

      "I want to know that you're home when I'm in school, doing mommy things!" she told her with a tremor in her voice.  "What if I need you and you're not there?"

      She remembered the week when she had the chicken pox, how her mom had taken care of her, rubbing her itchy spots with Vitamin E oil, placing cool, damp washcloths on her feverish forehead and bringing her all the Cherry 7-Up and cinnamon toast she wanted, and thought melodramatically that from now on, she'd probably have to take care of herself.

      Her mom looked up from her sewing, recognizing the pouty lower lip that the little girl had mastered so well.  The tears brimming under her eyelashes were real, though.

      They went into the kitchen with its knotty wood-paneled walls, and she sat down at the table while her mom got her a glass of cold milk.  She loved that kitchen, with its perfectly positioned counter that provided a great space for a fort between the counter and the back of the couch.  She loved that her mom didn't get impatient with blankets draped over that space and pillows and books strewn underneath.

      Sometimes she got to help her mom mix up one of her favorite desserts, raisin spice cookie bars with cream cheese icing, although she needed a stool to reach the bowl.  Her little brother got his baths in the kitchen sink.  A few of the drawers and cupboard doors had yellow frowny-face stickers on them, which meant dangerous things like knives or cleaning supplies were inside, and they weren't to open those cupboards.  And on her first day of kindergarten, her mom gave her clues which led her to finding her new, pink and blue Smurfette lunchbox hidden inside one of the cupboards.

      Her mom brought her the glass of milk with a straw, and she was surprised and excited to see that it was tinted with blue food coloring, an extra special touch.

      "Why is it blue?" she asked.

      "Blue milk for my blue little girl," her mom said.

      And that made her smile.

      Her sister and friend came inside, hot from playing outside and wanting something cold to drink.

      "Wow, can we have blue milk, too?" they asked, as soon as they saw her glass.

      "No," my mom told them.  "Today, that's just for Heather."

      My mom with my sister (age 3) and me (age 1) at the beach in 1979

      One Year Ago:   Toasted Coconut Ice Cream
      Two Years AgoStrawberry Orange Creamsicles on a Chilly Rainy Day