We are nearing the end of May (how is that even possible?!) which also means our big season of birthdays is over. Phew. It starts with mine in March, then we celebrate Gabe in April and both boys in May. Ivy is already counting down the days for her September birthday.
This year we celebrated Baron’s in a big way with a fundraiser for mosquito nets. I think I mentioned this here before or maybe in our newsletter but back in November Baron had the idea of using his birthday as an opportunity to raise money. After reading that the deadliest animal on earth is actually the mosquito he decided to raise money for mosquito nets. Over the course of this fundraiser we had the chance to meet the president of World Concern who told us first hand the life-saving benefits these nets would have on countries who are riddled with mosquito-born illnesses. She looked Baron right in the eye and told him, “you are not just buying mosquito nets, you are saving lives.” Meanwhile, I was a puddle in the corner. We also visited the Institute for Systems Biology to learn about all their incredible research being done as they work tirelessly to find a cure for Malaria.
After his big birthday fundraising bash we managed to raise over 8,000! Which means through World Concern we can purchase 8,267 mosquito nets to be distributed to communities around the world in need. Now that’s how you celebrate an 11th birthday.
We don’t have many traditions around our birthdays but I love the simple ones we do have. A few streamers cascade in the doorway of the birthday boy or girl’s room stealthily hung while they sleep. They each choose a special (read: sugary) cereal to enjoy on the morning of their birthday and they get to plan the menu for their birthday dinner. This year Baron requested Lasagna with caesar salad and a Peanut Butter Rice Krispie Treat cake for dessert. For his birthday, Roman, who usually goes for Chorizo Macaroni and Cheese, requested sliders (I made Banh Mi sliders) and Billionaire Bars for dessert.
Have you heard of Millionaire Bars? They are basically like homemade Twix bars. But our kicked up version, which we’re calling Billionaire Bars, have a base of chocolate chip cookies in lieu of shortbread. The cookie base is capped with a creamy caramel and topped with bittersweet chocolate and a dusting of flaky salt in an attempt to tame all that sweet. While the family chorus sang happy birthday to Roman I stacked the bars tall on a plate then topped it with a flaming ‘6’ candle and told everyone to tilt their head upside down to imagine the ‘9’ that should have crowned the stack.
Caramel making can induce a bit of stress as it does require precision. Relieve these fears by getting yourself an instant read thermometer. I am a fan of the thermapen but really any will do. In the video you’ll notice that I test the caramel by using a glass of cold water. This is how grandma made candy and it basically gives you a little peak at the caramels constituency once cool but caramel moves through the stages of soft ball to hard ball quickly and continues to cook even after you’ve turned off the heat so again I think the most accurate and easiest way is to use a thermometer.
Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease a 9x13 baking dish.
In a small saucepan melt the butter. Continue to simmer until the milk solids rise to the top then gently sink as they caramelize. The butter will shift in color and smell nutty.
In a large bowl combine the sugars and stir in the browned butter. Stir in the eggs, and vanilla, then the flour, baking soda and sea salt until everything is well combined. Stir in the chocolate.
Add the batter to the baking dish then press in with the back of a spatula or wooden spoon. If it starts to stick I like to lightly wet my hands with just a touch of water then press in the dough. Finish with the flake salt then bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the edges are deeply golden and the middle is set.
While the base cools prepare the caramel.
Combine the sugar, golden syrup and water in a large saucepan. Stir gently to combine then wash off the sides of the pan using water and your clean hands to feel if any sugar remains on the side. If stray bits of sugar fall into the caramel it can cause the caramel to crystallize so it’s important to make sure all the sugar is in the bottom of the pan mixed with the water.
Place the lid on the pan and put over high heat. Having the lid on during the first few minutes of boiling creates condensation that further helps to wash away any sugar that may be left on the sides of the pan. After 5 minutes remove the lid and let the caramel continue to boil until it reaches 300 degrees F. If some of the caramel starts to color you can gently swirl the pot to combine.
Add the cream, butter and salt once it has reached 300 degrees F and then continue to cook until the caramel reaches 248 degrees F. At that point remove the pan from the heat and pour over the chocolate chip cookie base.
Refrigerate to cool.
For the chocolate glaze add the chocolate and the butter to a microwave safe bowl. Microwave at 30 second intervals, stirring well in between each eating, until completely melted. Pour this over the cooled caramel and spread into an even layer. Top with the flake salt. Refrigerate until the chocolate is firm then slice and serve.
The topic of motherhood is in the air. Just in the last week both my friends Sara and Meganwrote about the subject so beautifully. I’m thrilled to see our community approaching the subject with a graceful honesty and vulnerability. Both of them have toddlers, a stage I’m relieved to be out of, but I remember feeling the exact same way they describe in their stunning essays: Overwhelmed, exhausted, out of control, angry, scared, and alone.
It’s for these sweet friends and for all of you reading these words who may be in that stage where you are overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy and exhaustion that I continue this series on motherhood.
What I needed to hear.
Be a better boss.
My 8 year old falls into a deep pit of despair come Sunday nights. He is not loving school (that’s putting it mildly) so when the reality of a fresh week hits him suddenly there are stomach aches and headaches and tears and the need for pep talks and snuggles.
I started to notice that I was basically throwing the adult version of his Sunday night fits. “Why?” I thought. I’m an adult, I get to set my schedule, I’m doing work that I enjoy, and I have a healthy family. What’s wrong with that?
I realized what I was dreading was my overly critical boss who berates me all day. My boss will say things like, “Ugh. You’re already behind because you slept in. Your kids have nothing to put in their lunch – I mean, really, how unorganized can you get? When are you EVER going to do laundry? Your inbox is a disaster. Have you seen your children’s shoes? They are falling apart – you need to buy them new shoes. See that pile of clothes in your bedroom? Most people use a closet not the floor!.” It goes on and on and on. That inner critical boss berates my every action and I hadn’t realized how exhausting it was until I started dreading starting the week.
Something clicked in me and I decided that I needed to be a better boss to myself. I woke up one morning and starting applauding myself for even the simplest of tasks. Seriously, it was a bit ridiculous but something needed to change. “Good job for getting out of bed this morning, Ashley! I know that wasn’t easy. Great job on that coffee this morning. Hey, way to teach your children independence by having them make their own lunch and do their own laundry. I’m proud of you for ignoring that mess and choosing to sit and snuggle your child instead.” There was a lot of reframing and lot of taking note of the simple accomplishments that happened throughout the day.
By the end of the day I was still filled with energy (rare), I was happy, excited and felt really damn good about myself. Starting the days after I upped my boss game felt like a gift, not a burden. I was eager to cheer myself on.
Then I started to notice another beautiful effect – I became less critical and more of a cheerleader to my family. If they put their dish away after breakfast I noticed it rather than the cup they left behind. I congratulated them for doing their homework, being ready for baseball practice on time, remembering their jacket and for just being awesome.
It began with simply reframing, then I started to see other reasons for cheering and then with the boldness I felt from being cheered on I started to take bigger leaps, I did more around the house, and felt empowered to just do more. Berating and judgement and a critical attitude made me want to curl in a ball in the corner and cry but the cheers (even though they were just from me) made me feel like I could do anything.
Now let me be real honest and say this takes intention. Even as I’m writing this I’m realizing that I’ve been a really crappy boss lately. I’ve let myself get weighed down by all the things I tell myself I’m not doing well enough. But I’ve seen and felt the difference in the cheers and am determined to be my own cheerleader in my days because life is hard and we all can use more applause.
Good job to you for taking a quiet moment and reading this.
Taking care of yourself is the opposite of being selfish when you have little people to raise.
I kissed their heads with coffee in hand and an audio book queued up then headed to the car on a road trip for one. Not every day finds me in between perfectly formed rows of blueberry blossoms with bees dipping into the petals providing a low vibrating hum like the bass line for the birds singing the melody. Wandering the fields I felt tightness leave my shoulders and creativity wiggling its way into the creaks and crevices where stress and anxiety had taken root. I came home from that day lighter, inspired and eager to tell my family all about it.
Gabe used to have to push me out of the house when the kids were little. I feel incessantly guilty for needing as much time away from them as I did. My introversion wasn’t so apparent until I had children and then suddenly I realized how much I needed quiet. Guilt overwhelmed me as I looked at other mothers who seemed to handle long days with their children just fine. I should suck it up and deal with it, I told myself. Slowly I started to learn what I needed and then ask for it.
Sometimes in the evening I would take myself to a coffee shop and just sit. I remember one evening in particular I sat in the chair with a pen and a blank page and the words just started falling and then so did the tears. Tears of complete and utter joy because in that quiet moment I could hear myself. I found me again. It was a little reset button and then the next day with the diapers, tears, tantrums and dishes felt a little more doable.
We all care for ourselves differently but the need for it is the same. I require a LOT of quiet. I know that now and have given up feeling guilty about it and just appreciating and owning up to that part of me. People always told me about the importance of self care and yet it felt so trite, cliché and in that season, impossible. So I imagine my words here might feel the same. But what I needed to hear back then is that taking care of myself and my needs is actually a selfless act, not selfish, as it enables me to take better care of my family. Know yourself, know your needs, and ask for what you need. Can you think of a better lesson to teach your children?
This recipe is the result of that day of caring for myself with a trip out of the city. I visited Bow Hill Blueberry farm to learn more about their process and products and in this little escape I took deep breaths and came back buzzing like those bees in the blossoms.
Susan greeted me in their shop on the farm and immediately led me out into the fields. She and her husband Harley purchased the farm in 2011 but the farm itself began in 1947 making it the oldest blueberry farm in Skagit County. It’s now a bustling organic blueberry farm growing many different varieties each having their own distinct characteristics.
For those who don’t get the pleasure of experiencing the farm and picking the berries as I do (we’ll see you there in July and August!), they’ve now made their products available to ship nationwide.On the day I visited the berries were far from being ready to pick but the shot of cold blueberry juice I drank tasted just like eating blueberries in the middle of the summer.
This recipe, which happens to be an ideal candidate for Mother’s Day breakfast, uses Bow Hill’s Organic Heirloom Blueberry Powder blended with honey to make a stunningly purple, antioxidant rich sweetener for this simple yogurt bowl. As with all of their products, the blueberry powder is grown and made directly on the farm. They create the powder using the byproduct of the juice making process so what you are left with is all the nutrient dense richness found in the blueberry skins concentrated into a powder that is high in fiber, Manganese, Iron, and Vitamin C.
Beyond the blueberry honey we’re using our powder to boost smoothies, vinaigrettes, and baked goods. I also just whipped up a stunning blueberry salt which adds the most lovely purple color to everything it touches.
The granola crisps were inspired by a recipe in Tartine Everyday. We all love the clusters in granola so basically we’ve just made a giant batch of clusters. I’ve been snacking on them all week. The egg white helps bind the oats and seeds and gives that snappy, crisp texture. Feel free to use whatever seeds and nuts you happen to have on hand.
2 cup oats
1/2 cup almonds
1/4 cup pepitas
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 tablespoons flax seeds
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons butter (or coconut oil), melted
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup blueberry honey (recipe below)
1 egg white
2 tablespoons sugar
Preheat your oven to 325°F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
In the bowl of a food processor combine the oats, almonds, and pepitas. Pulse several times to break down the almonds a bit. Add the sesame seeds, vanilla, butter, cinnamon, salt, and honey then pulse until just combined.
In a bowl whisk together the egg white with the sugar. Stir in the oat mixture until well mixed.
Dump this mixture onto the sheet pan then press down using a rubber spatula to form a rough rectangle about 1/4-inch thick or so. Bake until deeply golden, about 45 minutes. Let it cool and if it doesn’t feel entirely crispy then return it to the oven to bake for another 5 to 10 minutes.
Serve these in a bowl with yogurt, fresh blueberries, and a good bit of blueberry honey.
1/2 cup / 6 ounces honey
1 1/2 tablespoons Bow Hill Blueberry powder
Mix together the honey with the blueberry powder. Keeps for a long long time so go ahead and make a lot of it. It’s so beautiful you’ll want to put it on everything.