Just because I have allergies and can't eat certain foods doesn't mean I don't have an opinion about how food should be consumed. In fact, because of my sensitivities, I'm particularly careful about how I approach feeding myself. It is a very delicate ritual and involves all sorts of complicated skills like fine motor coordination and knowing where your mouth is.
So first, one must hold the item up close to inspect for potential discoloration or foul smell.
Next, break down said item to smaller pieces to expedite ingestion.
Before actual consumption, a very important procedure must first be executed. It's very technical. We babies call it "squishing".
Amidst the smorgasbord of desserts that we had for dinner last night (yes, dessert for dinner- we figured, we're in the Bay Area, dare to live a little...), we made the (fortunate) mistake of taking a spoonful of the ice-cream before anything else. And because of that, dinner basically went downhill from there. Don't get me wrong, the pastries and cakes from Tartine and La Boulange de Hayes were perfectly delicious (a goat cheese and pear tart was particularly beguiling), and on any other day, this blog post might have been on any one of those lovely desserts. But everything paled in comparison to the liquid gold that is that perfect ice-cream. Words cannot capture the complex flavor that is Bi-Rite's salted caramel ice-cream: it is at once sweet, creamy, and voluptuous like the best ice-cream should be, but also salty, and just a tad bitter from the burnt caramel to give it a depth of flavor like no ice-cream has ever been, nor will be, in my book. I love it so much that I'm almost afraid to touch the tub that we have in the freezer because it'll mean that we'll eventually run out. After Jude and I had licked the bowl clean last night, we stared into the emptiness and were existentially torn over whether or not to take another spoonful. But one more spoonful now would mean one less spoonful the next time...
How am I ever going to eat another Klondike Bar now? And Häagen-Dazs, I laugh in your face. We have been forever and eternally spoiled for all ice-creams to come.
To see how this perfection is achieved, watch here.
I want to bottle up moments like these and keep them forever and ever...
[Oh, and Eric reminded me that I should probably set the context for the faces- I asked Sophie to kiss her Ponyo doll, and this is what I got :) Our trusty Nikon D90 was within arm's reach and I managed to catch the split-second sequence of the expression evolving.]
Once we have a house of our own and can give Sophie her own room, the first thing we're going to do-- after we paint the walls a pale robin egg blue with white trimmings-- is to set up her bookshelf. Right now, we have virtually no shelf space left even for our own books and Sophie's books are sadly either strewn over her play area or stacked up in a storage box. When that happens, Sophie's bookshelf will look quite close to Jane Mount's children’s books spine portraits. It features the artist’s own personal favorite children’s titles, and ones that we have in Sophie's library as well. The Velveteen Rabbit, Olivia, Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit, and of course Goodnight Moon, are among those that are included. Perfect for framing, these prints are sweet, sentimental, and a perfect way to honour storytime of today or yesterday.
It's remarkable how much Mount has captured just by painting the spines of books, and how distinctive they are. Some of my favorites literally jumped out at me when I first saw the picture, which makes you realize that spines are exactly what you use to identify books, whether at the library, bookstore, or on your own bookshelf.
You can pick the prints up here, they are all limited editions, for $20 for a 8” x 10”, $50 for a 11” x 14”, and $200 for the 16” x 20” editions.
I love that you give me the best raspberries ever. I love that you throw me up in the air and make me squeal with delight despite the prospect of grandma killing you if she found out. I love your snores that lull me to sleep. I love that you so gamely change my diaper outside even though I sometimes scream bloody murder at the most inopportune times and places (like at Target). I love that you read to me every night before I go to bed. I love your prickly 2-day shadow that tickles my belly. I love how you help Mama feed me, especially after she's given up because I've fed half my dinner to the floor. I love that you've sacrificed your baseball cap for me to chew on. I love your big hands that hold me so tightly and snugly. I love that you crawl around the house with me on all fours just so I don't feel bad for being the only person in the house who can't walk yet. I love how you tried to sneak me those Snapea snacks when you thought Mama wasn't looking. I love that when you bathe me, you let me play in the tub for just that minute longer. I love that you think my occasional tenacious crying is a sign of "character". I love that even though you only shop bargain for yourself, you are willing to pay full-price for things for me. I love how you understand that I love you even though I call the door knob "Da-da" as well.
I love that you promise to love me for the rest of your life. I promise to love you for the rest of mine.
As Sophie gets a little older and more able to focus her attention on one thing at a time (but only barely...), we've developed quite a regular book-reading routine. In the day, after lunch and before her afternoon nap, we spend about an hour going through the books I brought with us from home and the books we've taken out from the Santa Clara library. Often, Sophie just enjoys the autonomy of flipping the pages herself but sometimes, she seems to really be listening to my voice as I read to her. And then before bed, as I put her shoes and brace on (which is always an involved process), Jude sits her on his lap and goes through another stack of books we have by our bedside. These are books we know for sure she likes and that hold her attention so she won't get antsy and squirmy as I work on her brace. In particular, she's developed quite an affection for So Big!, a Sesame Street book my friend Julie got for me for my books baby shower. It wasn't a book I thought very much off initially (all those years of working with Sesame Street videos has made me a little averse to all things Elmo...) and I kept trying to read my beloved Eric Carle books to her. But our dear daughter already has a mind of her own and keeps going back to Elmo (she squawks until she gets what she wants); in particular, she likes it when I build up the suspense to the last page when Elmo pops up with his arms stretched across two pages- "Sooooo big!" Sometimes, she gets impatient when Jude reads the front matter and will grab the book from him and finger it to the last page all by herself just to see Elmo pop out. Which of course means that I've already had to mend the pop-up once because she loved it so much, she ripped it off the pages...
On top of that-- talk about a happy coincidence-- her wonderful nanny at daycare, Doris, has also been working with Sophie on raising her hands every time she asks, "How big is Sophie?" I didn't think Sophie would play along- I didn't think she was ready. I was so wrong.
(And her starring at the ceiling fan every morning over breakfast has clearly left its own indelible mark...)
So there-- Moms and Dads-- don't underestimate the power of books, or of consistent reinforcement. It's potent stuff. And never underestimate your baby- they're waaaaay smarter than you think.
Sophie is officially over fruit and veggie purees. Oh, she'll have them for breakfast when I mix in her multi-grain cereal (oats, spelt, and barley), but for a while now, apart from breakfast, she'll purse her lips, close her eyes, and resolutely turn her head away if I even venture to spoon some in her mouth.
And so I now find myself making almost grown-up meals for her as we start transitioning to table foods. The baby recipe books I have recommend baby-friendly casseroles like chicken with mixed veggies, and lentil stew, which I tried and Sophie took to them just fine. But as all Asian mothers know, the best baby food is rice porridge (jook), and Sophie loves it more than any other food we've given her, even her puffs. I've wondered why American moms don't make rice porridge for their babies as often- maybe because it's hard to make in large batches, doesn't keep long, and can't be conveniently frozen. And you can't just throw a bunch of ingredients into a pot and let it cook- well, at least I can't since I don't have a crock pot. To get the smooth consistency that Sophie likes, I have to constantly stir and mash the porridge and veggies as it simmers away and that can be painstaking for some.
But watching Sophie clean her bowl after every meal is worth the chopping, poaching, steaming, and stirring. It doesn't take me that long any more now that I've pretty much gotten it down to a science:
Basic porridge: 1/3 cups of white and brown rice (mixed) 6 2/3 cups of water (basically a 1:8 ratio of rice to water)
And to that, I add a variety of different finely diced veggies and protein. Sophie's favorites: - butternut squash, peas, and chicken (chicken tenderloins cut into small pieces, poached with the simmering porridge, then chopped finely) - carrot, potato, and salmon (steamed beforehand, flaked to remove any bones, then added to the cooked porridge), - sweet potato, broccoli, and whitefish (same as salmon).
Knowing that she loves something that as an adult, I still adore, warms the cockles of my heart. Nothing heals, comforts, soothes, and satisfies quite like a bowl of flavorful, nourishing jook and I'm so glad that Sophie shares that love.
I can say with a fair amount of certainty that we have a happy child. We do. And we're so grateful. I've seen children who seem perpetually sullen and whiny, who can't be pleased by anything or anyone; children who unhappily cling on to their parents and cry at the mere "hello" from a stranger.
Sophie, I'm happy to report, is not one of them.
She will smile at anyone who will give her the time of day, whether it's the cashier at Trader Joe's (who did not smile back) or the little boy in the swing next to her at the park (who did). She will allow anyone to carry her- as long as they smile at her first. She smiles when she wakes up in the morning, and she smiles when she's getting dressed for bed. She's smiles when she sees me peek at her when we play crawl-and-seek, and she smiles when she sees Jude walk through the door when he comes home. She smiles as she rediscovers an old toy she's missed playing with (like Chicky), and she smiles as she explores something for the first time (even if it's a brown paper bag). She smiles when she knows she's done something good and we clap in approval (like not crawl into the kitchen when we tell her not to), and she even smiles when she's about to do something she knows we won't like (like crawl into the bathroom even when we tell her not to). She smiles when she sees herself in the mirror, and smiles when she sees us smiling at her in the mirror. She smiles when she hears the sound of Skype dialing a number, and smiles even more when she sees her grandparents, aunts and uncle appear on the screen. If I had a dollar for every time Sophie smiled, she'll be comfortably paying for her own diapers in smiles alone :)
I'm not sure if we're responsible in any direct way for her sunny disposition-- how does one *teach* a baby to be happy?-- but we'd like to think that we have at least a small part to play when we respond to her smiles with smiles of our own, laugh at her laughs, and talk with her constantly even when it seems silly (some guy at Trader Joe's looked at me funny today when I "asked" Sophie if I should get lemonade or pomegranate juice. She gave me a look that seemed to say, "Why choose?" and so I got both.) I think she knows she's the center of our world and that she will always have our attention. And as a 10 month-old, I guess knowing your parents love you more than anything else in the world is enough to make you smile at everything :)
So we're pretty much settled in our new apartment and it's beginning to feel a little more like a semi-permanent home rather than a transient hotel. Everything's unpacked and things are in places where they're supposed to be. Sophie seems completely adjusted to the new place- fearlessly crawling everywhere (full carpeting helps), exploring the different rooms and constantly trying to infiltrate the kitchen, the one place that (she knows- I'd like to think...) is out of bounds to her.
We're also exploring our neighborhood a little more and coming to realize that the area we live in is pretty awesome for foodies like us :) A minute away is literally the best ramen Jude and I've had yet- Orenchi Ramen where I surprised Jude with for his birthday dinner a couple of nights ago. It was a Yelp find and we were blown away by how amazingly flavorful it was- the broth was rich, almost smoky, and stick-to-the gut awesome. Really. A hole-in-the-wall, it tastes like how I've always imagined ramen should taste like but have never really had. And if the reviews are to be believed, Orenchi bests even the finest ramen joints in San Francisco, so much so that Jude wants to go back tonight :)
Then there is My Cooking Papa, a recommendation from our friend Jonas, who's originally from Hong Kong. For our readers in Singapore, it's like a Crystal Jade and tastes just as good if not better! Authentic shui-kau soup, seafood hor fun, and Chinese roast meats- it was like we were home home :) And they're so friendly and accommodating to Sophie :) The best thing? Four minutes from our apartment!
Three minutes the other direction is Paris Baguette, a place we've always believed Ann Arbor needs. It combines what we love about Asian bakeries (fresh cream fruit sponge cake and baked bean buns) with the best of European patisseries (delicious breads and pastries). I got Jude his birthday cake from there and I think it made him very happy :)
In terms of grocery stores, there's a great Korean supermarket we discovered our second day here where we can get Asian cuts of meat and our Asian veggies- big, clean, and fresh, it's a far cry from the slightly ghetto Asian supermarkets we're used to. For Sophie's organic produce, we find the Whole Foods here a little pricier than back home actually-- and not nearly as friendly-- and have decided to start shopping at Sprouts instead. The layout leaves a little to be desired but the fruits and veggies are fresh and we can even buy their meats and seafood without feeling like I'm shelling out our month's paycheck for the bill.
So yes, we can't complain about where we live- it took me a while to get used to the apartment and general outlying area but it's grown on me. Having interesting (and not too expensive) places to eat and get our food has become even more important now that 1) Sophie's starting to want to eat more table food and 2) I don't have my own kitchen equipment or a full pantry with which to cook and so eating out's just the easier option. Not that we mind exploring and finding new food gems, of course :)
It was a big day for Sophie yesterday- she saw the Pacific Ocean. In fact, we walked right up to it. And I think our daughter expressed the appropriate sense of awe, wonder, and amazement befitting the occasion.
I could almost see in her face and into her little mind as she took in this whole new thing she was not just looking at, but experiencing with all her senses- that seemingly infinite expanse of water, the sound of rolling, crashing waves, the ocean breeze in her face, and that salty scent in the air. It was majestic, gorgeous, and awe-inspiring, and Sophie quietly and carefully took it all in. I'd like to think that today, her parents helped her create a whole new category of images in her mind- one that isn't confined merely to people, streets, or the inside of buildings; but one that is larger, grander, and more profound.
Welcome to a bigger World, Sophie. It's waiting for you.
It started out as one of those days when I felt like Supermom. It's Jude's first day at Yahoo! and I had grand plans for how Sophie and I were going to spend the day while Daddy's at work- I bought some organic blueberries and made whole wheat toast for breakfast; we had a playdate at a nearby park with the Santa Clara mommy group for after her morning nap; and later in the afternoon, I thought it'll be nice to check out the Sunnyvale Public Library that's supposed to have a really good children's section.
Well so much for Supermom- lo and behold, after chomping down 3 blueberries, Sophie started scratching the back of her neck and before I knew it, she was breaking out in hives again! I had looked up blueberries last night to see if it was an allergenic food and apparently, it isn't because it's technically not a real berry like raspberries or strawberries but more like cranberries and grapes. Well, whatever kind of berry it is, it's the kind Sophie's allergic to. I swipe her out of her high chair and run to see if we had any Benadryl with us but between the whole massive recall situation and us moving, we didn't. *drats* And so I bundled her into the car and drove to the nearest Walgreens to get a bottle. Sophie was fine through it all- jabbering and singing away as always and not really showing any other symptoms except the hives and scratching. So there I was, driving into the Walgreens plaza, feeling like a bad enough Mom already, when as I took Sophie out of the car seat and locked all the doors (our rental car does not have automatic doors), what do I do to make an already dramatic morning even more epically tragic? Lock my keys inside of course. After I had dutifully checked that I locked all the doors before walking away. So there I am, carrying my hivey daughter who's still in her PJs, wallet and cellphone in hand (thank god!), standing in the middle of Santa Clara, thousands of miles away from home and her pediatrician, and locked out of our rental car. Yes, go ahead, Mom of the Year Award, yup, that's me.
And you think that's the end, think again. I buy her bottle of Benadryl, feed her a dose, and then proceed to call AAA for roadside assistance. And what do I find out? That only Jude's name is on the membership and that unless he's with me, they won't come out to help us. I thought I was going to lose it... I was barely hanging it in there and basically told Mr John Doe on the phone that he needed to help us because this was as near to an emergency as could be without having to call 911. I didn't want to call Jude to worry him on his first day and just wanted to get Sophie home, plain and simple. I think the panic and anxiety in my voice was palpable over the phone and Mr John Doe very nicely acquiesced and made a one-time exception. Through this all, I couldn't have been more proud of Sophie- I can't imagine that have blotchy hives all over your face and neck could have been very comfortable but she was calm and could be, smiling at everyone at Walgreens, didn't fuss while her mom was having a meltdown, and patiently waited while the AAA truck came to save the day.
The punkin's in bed and sleeping soundly now and her hives seem to have faded so all is good. I still feel like a horrible mother though and on days like this, I wonder why anyone would think it was a good idea for me to have children... Lessons learned today: 1) When in doubt, don't feed your child blueberries; 2) Always have your cellphone with you; 3) Buy a car that you actually need keys to lock; and 4) If you keep your daughter in her PJs while you're having a near nervous breakdown, people are more likely to be sympathetic and help you (thank you Marge, the nice lady at Walgreens for being so sweet and kind about us hanging out in there waiting for AAA!)
It was one of those perfect days- we gave in to the lure of the city and took a drive up to San Francisco again yesterday to meet up with our old friend Rachael for a picnic in Dolores Park. The weather was gorgeous-- all sunshine, cool breeze, and blue skies-- and hanging out with Rachael made it even more awesome :) She lives in Oakland, just north of San Francisco, and knew just where to take us to grab some yummy grub for our picnic. Bi Rite Market is just the sort of place I'd move in and stay forever- fresh produce, an amazing array of deli and fresh meats, cheeses, handcrafted sandwiches, thoughtfully prepared foods all crammed into a small homey unit. Armed with a couple of Vietnamese sandwiches, some cherries, potato salad, and a mozzarella and sundried tomato salad, we trooped over to Dolores Park across the street and pretty much sat in the sun for close to two hours. While we caught up with Rachael, Sophie had a field day crawling everywhere, gate-crashing various other picnickers' blankets, smiling openly at complete strangers, and stuffing her little face full of whatever grass she could grab. She was just about the happiest little camper around :)
So much so that she completely passed out in the Ergo carrier when we walked around the Mission District after. Bellies full with lunch and delicious soft-serve ice-cream from the Bi Rite Creamery (salted caramel to be exact), we hopped in and out of a whole host of place you'd only find in a big city- a "pirate shop" (which is really a front for 826 Valencia, Dave Eggers' writing center for teens), a curiosities shop for little kids, and several vintage and used bookstores.
Apart from Singapore being home and us having spent so much time in Chicago, we've lived in few other cities. San Francisco is very different from either of them (and also very different from New York where we've only been a couple of times)- more eclectic, quirkier, and kookier, I want to say. We'll have more opportunities to see more of the city than the Valencia/Guerrero/18th area that we seem to keep going back to, and we're looking forward to that in so many ways :)