We’ve been pretty much homebound the past couple of weeks, which is par for the course this time of year. Last weekend I had a round of preterm contractions that left us all a bit rattled and motivated; nothing will kick you into gear like thinking your little bundle might just arrive sooner than you expected! I should know by now that that’s a possibility since I had similar experiences with the girls. But, alas…
We don’t have so much as a bassinet, diapers, or baby wipes in the house – although I do have a laundry basket of clean, folded, newborn clothes tucked away in our closet. It’s strange because as much as I want to nest and prepare for our baby’s arrival, we still feel somewhat-not-at-home here, and that has made it hard for me to nest and for me to create a space and prepare for the baby. So, while we still have a completely bare nursery with wall to wall mauve carpeting, I allowed those six hours of contractions to motivate me to log in to our Amazon account and get the basics lined up. Slowly but surely the deliveries have started arriving and by the end of the week we’ll have our stash of newborn diapers, a new booster seat for Gigi so the babe has her carseat to ride home from the hospital in, and baby wipes. The basics will be covered, and we’ll figure out where to go from there as needed. Even though this is my third baby, in so many ways it feels like it’s my first.
Another cause for our current lay-low-lifestyle is that the kids have gotten knocked down by their first major cold of the season. High fevers, coughs, and sore throats call for spending lots of time in our pajamas, making chicken stock, binge watching Curious George, lots of essential oils rubbed on chests and backs, and early bedtimes.
In the midst of our quarantine, we managed to pull together a little Thanksgiving dinner for the four of us on Sunday, and so have been nibbling at leftover stuffing and apple cobbler into the start of the week. But today the Thanksgiving leftovers are gone, and I’m mapping out what to make for the remainder of the week. I have no idea what’s for dinner tonight, but I do know that we will be making a loaf of banana bread this afternoon, an activity that has brought me untold comfort in our few months here in England.
Finding little comforts is what I’m all about at the moment. The babies nursery might not be complete (today or ever), but there will be banana bread. Aside from the one proper cookbook that made the suitcase cut (Mastering the Art of French Cooking), only a few food memoirs came along for the journey. Most notably, and most in rotation, is Molly Wizenberg’s wonderful A Homemade Life. I’ve made her banana bread recipe at least a dozen times since we moved. The recipe calls for chocolate chips and crystallized ginger, and it’s great with both, one or the other, or without the edition of either which is how I find myself making it most of the time.
There’s something resourceful and comforting about making banana bread – even if you find yourself buying extra bananas just to let them turn overripe on the counter, or find yourself marking perfectly edible bananas with a marker with phrases like “Don’t eat me!” and “I’m for banana bread!”
I love the way that banana bread smells when it’s baking. I love the way that the recipe for it has become so familiar that I almost don’t have to look at it. I love that the ingredients are always on hand as long as you have those bananas at the ready. Mostly, I love that the girls love to make it with me and I feel so much like a “mom” when we are making it together, and even more like a “mom” when we’re sitting together eating warm, steaming, fragrant slices of it with glasses of cold milk in the middle of the afternoon… as we will be doing, yet again, about one hour and a half from now.
MOLLY WIZENBERG’S BANANA BREAD
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and then cooled slightly
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups mashed banana (from about 3 large ripe bananas)
1/4 cup well-stirred whole-milk plain yogurt (not low or nonfat)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Set a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat to 350F. Grease a standard-sized (about 9 by 5 inches) loaf pan with cooking spray or butter.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add the chocolate chips and crystallized ginger and whisk well to combine. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a fork. Add the mashed banana, yogurt, melted butter, and vanilla and stir to mix well. (The same fork works fine for this.)
Pour the banana mixture into the dry ingredients, and stir gently with a rubber spatula, scraping down the sides as needed, until just combined. Do not overmix. The batter with be thick and somewhat lumpy, but there should be no unincorporated flour. Scrape the batter into the loaf pan and smooth the top.
Bake into the loaf is a deep shade of golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 50 mins to 1 hour. If the loaf seems to be browning too quickly, tent with aluminum foil.
Cool the loaf in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Then tip out onto the rack, and let it cool completely before slicing – unless you absolutely can’t help yourself, in which case, dig in.
MOLLY WIZENBERG’S BANANA BREAD
We’ve spent these past couple of weeks being really quiet, embracing the chilly weather, then embracing the strange balmy weather, and now embracing the pouring rain. I’ve spent a fair amount of time sipping tea and editing photos from our trip to France. I feel overwhelmed with gratitude that we got to have this trip as a family. One of the main reasons that we took this leap abroad was that it would allow us the proximity to travel; to take our kids to some of our favorite places, and to discover new places together. France is most certainly high on our list of favorite places – not to mention favorite people and favorite food! Perhaps it has something to do with it being the first place that either Kyle or I ever set foot in Europe. It holds such a special place for the two of us… now for the four (soon to be five) of us.
We began our trip on the coast of France. We took the train from London to Paris, met my cousin, and spent the night at his home before loading into the car for a (surprisingly relaxing) five hour drive to their vacation home in Meschers-sur-Gironde. When my cousin had sent me a note the week before our trip telling me to make sure and pack the girls’ swimsuits and sandals I thought he must be confused since my only beach experiences in October and November required multiple layers of wool socks and long underwear!
As we drove Southwest from Paris the chilly, foggy grey gave way to sunshine, and by the time we found ourselves meandering down country lanes we had the windows cracked and were marveling at the greenery and gardens along the lanes. Within moments of having parked the car at the beach, the girls had embraced their cousins, had their pants rolled up (or ditched completely), and had hopped straight into the surf!
The morning after we arrived, we walked down to the market in town where we bought fish, vegetables, fruit, cheeses, and salted butter. The produce was just beautiful: dirt-encrusted mushrooms, translucent grapes, verdant spinach, fragrant clementines! The girls and I each got an apple and we walked, eating our apples, to the local bakery for baguettes, and, of course, a daily selection of croissants. We spent the rest of that first day at the beach, soaking in the sunshine, the crisp air, and the wonderful sound of the waves and the kids playing in the water.
The following day was spent exploring a nearby beach, and I made every effort to take it all in, hoping that I could absorb enough sunshine and butter to get me through the grey winter that I knew was just around the corner. Gigi and Lulu ran around non-stop with their cousins, they climbed to the top of the lighthouse in Coubre with Kyle and my cousin while I trekked alone over the dunes to the beach – since climbing to the top of a two hundred foot tall lighthouse didn’t seem advisable at all for this stage of pregnancy. A while later, they all joined me for sandcastle building and playing in the water. Kyle and walked along the beach as the sun set and everything felt so good, so positive.
October gave way to November and we spent the first day of the month picnicking on the hilltops and exploring the bunkers of Pointe de Suzac. In the afternoon my cousin took his kids to see their Grandmother, so we were on our own. We loaded up a small bag with beach toys, and walked through the crunchy leaves, down the path to the Plage de Nonnes. I mostly just sat on the towel feeling very pregnant and very happy while Kyle and Gigi worked away at the most elaborate sandcastle. I had no idea Kyle had these sandcastle building skills, but now that I know I imagine they will be called upon again and again on future beach adventures.
The following morning we shook as much sand as we could from our clothes and shoes, and loaded up the car to drive back to the city. We’d decided to venture into the heart of Paris to stay at the apartment of another wonderful friend, Cécile, who is like an Aunt to us. We hadn’t been planning on staying in the city, but we couldn’t resist taking the girls in to experience it.
I remember hearing an interview with Gwyneth Paltrow where she talked about her Dad taking her to Paris for the first time because he wanted her first trip to Paris to be with the one man who is going to love her for the rest of her life. I was lucky enough to visit and see Paris for the first time with my Dad, and that trip and time with him is one of my greatest treasures. We emerged from the metro and onto the dark street, and hurried towards the Champ de Mars. We made it around the corner and into place just in time to see the tower light up and glitter. I felt so overwhelmed that my daughters were getting to see Paris through our eyes, holding our hands, held close and loved so deeply by their Dad, just the way I had gotten to on my first trip.
We headed straight from the Eiffel Tower to Cécile’s apartment, and the moment we walked in I felt a wave of comfort, familiarity, and warmth. The girls and I made ourselves at home while Kyle popped down to the Rue Cler for a rotisserie chicken, a baguette and some cheese, and a few vegetables that would make up our dinner. Once the kids were asleep, Kyle and I mapped out our next few days in our favorite city.
We started our first day with a visit to the Marché Bastille, which has to be one of the most inviting and fun things to do in Paris. We sampled everything: tart passionfruit, sweet proscuitto, subtle persimmons, piping hot Nutella crêpes, spicy radishes, bitter espresso, crunchy cherry tomatoes. We could have spent the entire day their eating everything in sight, but we already had lunch mapped out, so we reluctantly pulled ourselves away from the market and made our way on foot deeper into Le Marais, by way of the Place des Vosges, to L’As du Fallafel where we placed our order, and hopped eagerly in line to wait for our food. Once we had our falafels and frites in hand, we walked back down the street the way we’d come and popped into a small park, quickly found ourselves benches to sit on, and proceeded to tuck into the overabundance of food we’d just purchased. After lunch we made our way to and through Notre Dame by way of Berthillon, and then over to the Shakespeare and Co. bookstore. Then it was home to the apartment for a simple dinner of bread, cheese, and all the goodies we’d bought at the market.
The following morning was the first and only day of rain during our whole trip, we bundled up in our layers, caught raindrops on our tongues, and then warmed up inside the Musée d’Orsay with Cécile, strolling somewhat quickly through the various exhibits in order to see what we could see while the kids were still enjoying it. We had every intention of spending the day on the go again, so after the museum we parted ways with Cécile and began to make our way towards the Louvre. We made it as far and the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel. We stopped under it for shelter from the freezing rain, and ate sandwiches we’d brought with us. We saw the buses heading back towards the apartment driving by every ten minutes, and decided that going back to warm up would be wiser than dragging our shivering selves all over the city.
After a nice midday rest, the afternoon turned a bit warmer so we rallied and walked to Eiffel Tower with the kids, stopping for a hot chocolate along the way. We began to make our way towards the metro with the kids to take a train out to my Aunt and Unlce’s house, but by that point it was raining again, and the kids were in full melt-down mode. We stood on the train platform, already having bought tickets, and decided that we needed to just go home and get them in bed. We walked home by the lit up Eiffel Tower, gave the kids a quick, warm bath, and had them sleeping soundly by 7:30pm.
The following day was our last lovely day in the city before we would be heading back to England. We started the day with a walk across my favorite bridge, Pont Alexandre III, where the girls and I each made a wish and tossed a cent into Seine, and I told them about the time during our honeymoon when I’d made a wish for a family to love in that very spot on that very bridge. We strolled through Jardin des Tuileries, past the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel that had kept us dry the day before, and admired the Louvre from the outside (cause, honestly, the idea of taking kids into that museum sounds like a nightmare). We walked and had a “make up” brunch with my Aunt and Unlce at Le Pain de Quotideien before taking the girls to buy macarons, which we ate in the sunshine while watching kids push their boats around at the Jardin du Luxembourg.
After an evening spent with Cécile and her partner, Jean-Marie, we climbed into bed in the apartment for the last time on this special trip. “I want to stay in this cozy apartment for twenty more days!”, Lulu declared, and we all agreed with her. We made our way home the following morning, sad that the wonderful vacation was over, excited to cozy up for the winter and get ready to welcome our baby, and incredibly grateful for the whole experience.
The weekend before last we took a trip to Oxford to visit and stay with new friends for a night. We ate delicious food at their house, wandered through the streets of Oxford, visited the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, played at the park, and ate pizza (and those who aren’t pregnant (everyone but me) drank beer) at Beerd. Twenty four hours in Oxford was definitely not enough, and I’m looking forward to going back to see and experience more; it’s a city with so much history and character.
Over the weekend in Oxford, Lulu kept asking me where we were going, “Are we going home? Are we going to Grandma and Grandpa’s house – the one with the swimming pool? I want to go home to our blue house!” When we did get home here to our house, Lulu climbed out of the taxi and wailed, “Nooooooo. I said not this house! I’m tooooo saaaaaad!” Then she attempted to force herself back into the taxi, presumably to be driven her back across the Atlantic ocean, and across the entirety of the United States to “Grandma and Grandpa’s house – the one with the swimming pool” in Seattle.
There are moments like that all the time, but last week was better than the one before, and this week is better than last. We are doing our best to make things feel cozier at the house, make some friends, and to get everyone’s needs met. The kids need a lot these days, some of it in the form of extra snuggles; some of it in the form of space; some of it in the form of crisp toast smeared with Nutella. Although Kyle and I can’t provide them with every thing they need to get through this ongoing transition, we are the only people who can make this move, this adventure, a positive experience for them – both by example of our own attitudes and efforts, and also by extending ourselves beyond what we think we’re capable of in terms of parenting, partnering, and everything in-between.
We can’t take away the fact that they miss their friends and community so much more deeply and profoundly than we could have anticipated, nor can we make every moment exciting and magical, but we can take opportunities to waltz with them while we wait for delayed trains, do our best to navigate the varied emotions they’re experiencing, and to provide them with comfort and a restorative day to day routine.
We bought a used car this week, which will make a world of difference in the “day to days”. Needless to say, two months without a car has lead to major cabin fever – even for a homebody like me! We are excited to explore the area more, and start planning all those little trips to nearby villages we’ve been dreaming about. This last weekend we all threw on our coats and boots (except for Lulu who insisted on wearing summer-appropriate footwear) and headed to a local farm shop. The opportunity to get out and see a bit of the surrounding area lifted all of our spirits… even if Gigi found the near-the-end-of-season cabbage and cauliflower patches to be a bit pungent, and Lulu discovered her first dead bird (with a mix of fascination and disgust).
I came across this quote recently that I keep reflecting on…
“Life is amazing. And then it’s awful. And then it’s amazing again. And in between the amazing and awful it’s ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and relax and exhale during the ordinary. That’s just living heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life. And it’s breathtakingly beautiful.” -L.R. Knost
Since we’ve moved most things have seemed to either be amazing or awful. It gives a lot of value to the importance of the “ordinary, mundane, and routine”. In our case, during this particular season, that means attempting to cultivate a daily routine with grace and gratitude. A routine that includes homeschool lessons, laundry to be washed and then systematically strewn across radiators and drying racks (we don’t have a dryer), rainy afternoon baths, and planning and cooking our daily meals.
Cooking, the kind of cooking I like to do, requires a bit of planning and forethought: remembering to soak the beans overnight for soup, making something from nothing when we have a nearly empty fridge, or jotting down a menu that I know the kids will love. In some moments it’s true excitement to cook, in others it’s my road map to getting through the days and a way of punctuating the week ahead.
One of my favorite things to cook here this fall has been soups. The ingredients are easy to come by, I love making stock on drizzly days when we’re stuck at home, and soup is one of the ultimate comfort foods. When piping hot soup is ladled into bowls, topped with wisps of Parmesan that practically disintegrate as they hit the broth, and often has a plate of golden, fragrant garlic bread to accompany it, everything seems like it’s going to be okay.
White Bean Soup isn’t something I made often back in the States. At “home” I gravitated towards soups like Posole and Ramen, but I’ve had a hard time finding the ingredients for those here, so I started dreaming about soups that felt more… European. French Onion Soup is a favorite, but I haven’t yet found a good bakery! Butternut Squash Soup sounds wonderful, but I don’t have a blender or food processor! Slowly, my culinary imagination found its way to White Bean Soup in an effort to make something hearty, healthy-ish, and comforting, but also wanting to make a dinner that was easy, inexpensive, and rustic (and one that requires very little in the way of kitchen equipment).
This soup begins, as so many good things do, with bacon. Lardons aren’t something you can always find easily in the States, but here they take the place of sliced bacon. The fat is rendered from the bacon and they are cooked most of the way through before being set aside; a bit of the bacon fat and a bit of olive oil are an inviting pool for the onion, garlic, carrots, celery to sauté in. Herbs, homemade broth, and creamy Cannellini beans round out this basic base. A Parmesan rind can be added too if you have one on hand in your refrigerator or freezer – a Parmesan rind adds an astonishing amount of flavor and depth!
The soup bubbles slowly away for an hour or so until the beans give way and are tender, but still al dente. Just before it heads to the table, the bacon is heated and crisped up, chopped kale is pan fried until crisp, and these, along with a hearty shaving of Parmesan and a few turns of fresh pepper, top the soup. At the end of any day, whether it be an amazing, awful, or mundane one, this soup is certain to warm you through, and hopefully provide a bit of both nourishment and comfort on a chilly evening.
WHITE BEAN SOUP WITH CRISP BACON AND KALE
1/2 lb. lardons, or bacon roughly chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
2 ribs celery, diced
1 dried bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon dried herbs de provence
6 cups chicken stock, plus an additional 2 cups as needed
3/4 lb. dried Cannellini beans (or 3 14.5oz cans, drained and rinsed)
6 cups coarsely chopped kale
Parmesan rind (optional)
extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
In a non-stick skillet par-cook the bacon – removing it just before it’s completely crisp. Use a slotted spoon to remove the bacon, setting it on a paper towel lined plate to drain.
Pour about 1 tablespoon of the bacon grease into a large soup pot, adding an addition splash of olive oil. Discard the remainder of the bacon grease, and set the skillet aside for use later.
With the heat at medium, add the onion to the pot and sauté for 7-8 minutes, until the onion is translucent and just beginning to color around the edges. Season with a pinch of salt and fresh pepper.
Add in the garlic and sauté for about one minute, until the garlic is warm and fragrant. Add in the carrot, celery, herbs, onion powder, nutmeg, a bit of salt and pepper, and sauté for a few minutes until fragrant. Add the beans, Parmesan rind, and stock.
Bring to simmer and allow to cook for an hour or so, until the beans are creamy and tender but still have a little bite. Season the soup to taste with salt and pepper. Discard the bay leaf and the Parmesan rind.
Ladle the soup into serving bowls.
Reheat the non-stick skillet and add in the par-cooked bacon, this time allowing it to crisp completely. Divide the bacon evenly among the bowls of soup. Leave any bacon grease in the pan.
If needed, add a little olive oil to the pan. With the skillet heat on high, toss in the kale, season with a little salt and pepper, and cook until crisp (like kale chips). Divide the crisp kale among the bowls of soup, top with a bit of grated Parmesan, and a few turns of fresh pepper.
Serves 6 adults.
We’re settling back into our daily routine after a couple of seriously up and down weeks. The girls both started ballet, I had my first midwife appointment, we’ve been enjoying lots of drizzly days at home, and sunny days at the local park and digging up worms in the backyard. I’ve been baking lots of banana bread, roasting chicken, making stock and soup, and experimenting with all things that can be cooked in a cast iron skillet. I’ve taken tips from two of my favorite ladies, Amanda and Bethany, and am working on making our house a cozy semblance of a home. Amanda has great posts about keeping your house tidy, cozy, and wonderfully inviting. Bethany has great tips about establishing routines, and for homeschooling. Their blogs have been monumentally helpful for me these past few weeks as I attempt to create a little life here.
We wrapped up September with a trip to the emergency room, which really rattled me. Lulu fell and hit her eyebrow on the coffee table when Kyle was out of town. I was on my own with the girls and had no idea what to do… I mean, I knew what we needed to do (not our first adventure with sutures), but had no idea how to do it. After some fumbling, we called a taxi and the three of us made our way to the closest ER (A&E here in England) where we spent the next four hours amongst equally sad and sorry folks waiting to be patched up and treated.
The thing that buoyed me up through the anxiety and desperate aloneness of the experience was our taxi driver. He made the evening so much better by offering his advice on where to go, drastically undercharging us for his services, coming all the way back to the hospital to pick us up hours later, and giving me a big hug when he dropped us back at home. His kindness made all the difference in the world that evening; it didn’t, however, prevent Lulu’s cut from opening back up overnight.
Rather than going back to the ER, I opted to do a little DIY patching up. Honestly, I couldn’t stand the thought, both logistically and emotionally, of going back for another round at the ER. I had a good cry, gave the kids a good bath, and then headed to the local pharmacy and store to buy supplies to glue Lulu back together myself. I didn’t feel very strong or capable throughout the ordeal, but looking back I can see that the girls and I did a pretty damn good job getting through it together as a little band of brave musketeers.
Kyle returned home to a much wearier and more worried wife than he’d left, but we rallied to celebrate his 35th birthday with a quiet family dinner that included brownies from a box, the season six finale of The Great British Bake Off, and putting together our plans for a trip to Sweden the following weekend. After the trials getting utilities set up, having Lulu patched up, and wading our way through the homesickness, we were ready to bust out of England for an adventure.
So, off we jetted to Stockholm to properly celebrate Kyle’s birthday, visit with my brother who’s been living there, meet up with Swedish friends, and wander through the city for a few days. This is our second trip to Stockholm, and it was just as magical the second time around. Stockholm is such a beautiful, inviting, magical city – it’s quickly coming to rival Paris for my favorite European city.
That our opportunity to explore Stockholm meant three days with my brother which included warm, much needed hugs, and his offer to babysit the girls for a few hours so Kyle and I could go on a date to walk through Galma stan and grab dinner, was just the cherry on top of a wonderful weekend. We mostly just wandered around without too much of an agenda, which is my favorite way to travel, but we did spent a whole day playing at Skansen and Rosendals Trädgård.
After Stockholm we hopped on a cross-country train to Gothenburg where Kyle was slated to make a collaboration brew with a Swedish brewery. Kyle worked one full day, and the girls and I ventured out of the city to explore Styrsö, one of the islands that makes up the Gothenburg Archipeligo. We had a wonderful day and I seriously impressed myself. Normally it’s Kyle who navigates the trams, buses, subways, ferries, maps, and schedules – especially in foreign countries! But I got the kids down the hill from our airbnb rental (which, given that I was 28 weeks pregnant and there were a lot of stairs, a loaded stroller, and two freezing cold kids, is worth noting), onto the tram, then into H&M to buy warm hats and mittens for the girls, then onto the next tram, then onto the bus, then off of the bus (which, given that Lulu chose that moment to have an epic tantrum, is worth noting), then onto the ferry!
We had no objective other than to wander around the island, enjoying the sun and changing leaves. Our first stop was a small cafe where I got myself a steaming mug of Earl Grey tea, and double scoop ice creams for the girls (offered up for free by the cafe owner – no doubt in order to both please the gals, and to dwindle their ice cream supply before the even chillier Swedish weather kicks in). Kids will eat ice cream with gusto in any weather! Or at least kids will eat half of their ice cream with gusto in any weather until their lips go numb. Then they’ll abandon their ice cream to play at the park. Which is what we did for the next two hours.
I just let them play while I watched the water, the wind in the trees, and let that lovely Swedish red of the houses fill my vision. I felt so grateful for getting to be there on that little island, on a beautiful fall day, with my wonderful ice-cream-enthusiast-tantrum-throwing-adventurous girls, and a babe hiccuping away in my belly. We walked around a bit before making our way back to the ferry, back onto the bus, the tram, to the grocery store, to the next tram, back up the path and the huge flight of stairs, where we took a quick shower and ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner.
Even though this move has been less than smooth, and even though the transition into this new life has been so much more challenging than we anticipated, and even though there’s been (many) moments when I’ve wanted to scramble backwards to our old, familiar life, I’m grateful for it. Every time something is hard I try to remember how much we are learning from it, and every time something feels easy I have extra gratitude for that ease.
Moving to a foreign country, even an English speaking foreign country, is full of challenges and is… uncomfortable. There are so many reasons that we made this move, but one of the main ones for me was that I felt the need to get out of my comfort zone, to hit the refresh button, and to challenge myself. That doesn’t mean that I’m necessary handling all the challenges and discomfort with grace and composure, or anything closely resembling grace, or composure. But I am navigating it, and that’s something. I’m learning to celebrate my capabilities, and to recognize when I need to ask (or beg) for help.
One thing we discovered from our trip to Sweden, is that one of the main benefits of this move is our freedom and the ability to travel to so many wonderful places. We came back from Sweden with the realization that getting up, out of the house, and into Great Britain and Europe is our main M.O. during this time abroad. This weekend we spent a day in London, touring around, and eating a lot. Next up, a trip to Oxford to stay with new friends, and we’re planning our first (of many) trips to visit family in France! My Amazon cart is loaded with travel guides, and everything we need for a top notch first aid kit, we are armed with UK healthcare cards that cover us for emergency room visits abroad, and our passports are ready to be filled with stamps.
Shortly before we moved, we had my 20 week ultrasound, known to many of you parents and parents-to-be as the anatomy scan. This is the BIG ultrasound. The one where the tech or doctor will ask, “Would you like to know the gender or your baby?” I had been very undecided about finding out – leaning towards not, but Kyle knew he wanted to know. Combined with two votes from the girls, his vote won out and we answered, “Yes.” Within moments the doctor asked, “Do you have a name picked out for him?” HIM! A BOY! To be completely honest, I’m still trying to wrap my head around it, and that was a full month ago! It’s not that I thought it would be a girl, it’s just that having a boy feels very… unreal. For a while there I was coasting along on other people’s excitement, but now I’m getting genuinely excited about having a son!
Kyle and I had attended the appointment without Gigi and Lulu because, as exciting as finding out the gender can be, the rest of the anatomy scan is rather boring in relation… especially if you’re not the parent of the baby. Seeing the spine, heart, fingers, kidneys, and toes can be intriguing and wonderful when it’s your baby, but this somehow doesn’t translate with it’s your sibling.
We’d decided that having some surprise for our family would be fun, so I set out to make a gender reveal cake to share the exciting news with the girls. I’d bought both pink and blue food coloring, and had all of the ingredients lined up and ready to be whipped into a “surprise, you’re going to have a brother/sister!” cake. After we came home from our appointment, Kyle took the girls off to play at the park so that I had plenty of time to cook, cool, and frost a bright blue cake… or, to be more accurate, a four layer blue ombré buttermilk and champagne cake frosted with crème fraîche frosting flecked with pink and blue chips. I got the idea of the chips from my friend Ashley, who has a brilliant version of a rainbow chip cake in her cookbook and on her blog.
Gigi had been “wishing for a brother”, while Lulu would empathically declare that it was “a girl who’s name was going to be Pippi Longstocking/Cinderella”. When Kyle and the girls returned home from the park we got right to the point, enjoying a slice of the cake for snack. Before we cut into the cake I explained, for Lulu’s sake, that the cake was either going to be PINK! or it was going to be BLUE! and what each of those colors would mean. Lulu said, “Actually, it’s going to be pink or pink.” Luckily, at the last moment, as Kyle had the knife poised to slice through the creamy frosting, into the delicate, blue layers, Lulu changed her allegiance and decided she’d like to a have a brother, too.
The kids were ecstatic, although Lulu informed us that she was more excited about the cake than the baby (fair enough), that this baby is a boy. While there’s still a part of me that wishes I could have been surprised too, it’s been so much fun knowing that we’ll be welcoming a little boy into our family. With all the major changes going on in the months since learning I was pregnant, and that will be continuing up until he’s born, it’s actually been really nice to know the gender. Getting to surprise the girls was a wonderful way to celebrate, and I’ll take any excuse to bake a cake.
This particular cake has four layers each increasing slightly in color, so the bottom layer is pale blue, and the top is a dark, bright blue, and the layers are flecked with blue white chocolate chips. The cake batter is made with buttermilk, and spiked with champagne to make it really celebratory, as well as making the cake itself light and delicate. The alcohol from the champagne is cooked out, leaving behind a wonderful wine-y flavor that is perfect for an expecting mom to enjoy.
The cakes are frosted with a sweet, tart, creamy frosting that borders on rich buttercream, but is slightly lightened by the addition of crème fraîche. The frosting is also studded with colored chips. You could substitute the crème fraîche for room temperature cream cheese (8oz. should do it) if you don’t feel like making crème fraîche, can’t find it, or would simply prefer a slightly more traditional frosting. The frosting with it’s bright chips and playfulness, is the perfect compliment to a rather sophisticated cake. It’s enough to feed several friends and family members, so if you’re planning any sort of gender reveal celebration, it would be plenty of cake to share with a room full of people squealing, “IT’S A _____!!!!!”.
A quick note on the food coloring. The amount of coloring that you use will depend on a number of factors: the brand, the type (liquid vs. gel), and the depth of color you’d like. Gel coloring goes a long way and is much richer, but requires some forethought to get a hold of. I used Wilton brand blue and magenta gel coloring for this cake – which I found at Safeway, but there are loads of different brands, higher quality kinds, and hundreds of great colors available online.
OMBRE GENDER REVEAL CAKE
pink (or magenta) food coloring or coloring gel OR blue food coloring or coloring gel
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature (plus more for greasing the cake pans)
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups cake flour
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup Champagne or sparkling wine
1 cup buttermilk
4 oz pink OR blue chips
canola or vegetable oil spray
1 cup crème fraîche (or you could substitute with 8oz of room temperature cream cheese), at room temperature
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
7 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 oz pink chips
4 oz blue chips
Pink and Blue Chips Ingredients.
12 oz white chocolate chips
pink (or magenta) food coloring or coloring gel
blue food coloring or coloring gel
Pink and Blue Chip Directions.
Lay out a large sheet of parchment paper.
Split the white chocolate chips into two glass microwave safe bowls. One bowl will have 8 oz of chips, the other will have 4 oz. You’ll color the 8 oz pink if you’re having a girl, blue if it’s a boy – and the 4 oz will be colored for the gender you’re NOT having. You’ll need to work quickly once the chocolate is melted because it will start to set right away.
Start with the bowl filled with the 8 oz of white chocolate chips. Microwave in 5-10 second spurts, stirring the chocolate after each spurt in the microwave until it’s just melted – being careful not to overheat it. Quickly stir in the desired amount of food coloring (matching the gender of your baby) until thoroughly combined, and spread out the melted, colored chocolate into a thin layer on the parchment paper and allow it to cool.
Next melt the 4 oz of white chocolate chips following the same method, but this batch will be the opposite color (the color matching the gender that you’re NOT having). Spread out the melted, colored chocolate into a thin layer on the parchment paper and allow it to cool.
Once the chocolate has cooled and set, chop it up into small chip-size pieces, keeping the colors separated. Set aside 4 oz from the 8 oz batch, these will be folded into the cake batter. Combine the remaining 4oz of pink and 4 oz of blue, tossing to mix. Set aside.
Prepare two 9” round cake pans by greasing them with butter and lining the bottoms with parchment paper. Lightly flour the sides of the pans after the parchment is pressed into place. Preheat the oven to 350oF.
Sift together the flour, cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a bowl. Set aside.
In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment cream together the sugar and the butter until the mixture is pale in color, and fluffy in texture.
With the mixer running on low, add the eggs, one a time, allowing each to fully mix in before adding the next. Scrape down the sides if needed.
Add the vanilla.
Add 1 cup of the dry ingredients, allow to combine.
Add the buttermilk, allow to combine.
Add another cup of the dry ingredients, allow to combine. Add the Champagne, allow to combine.
Finally, add the remainder of the dry ingredients, allow to combine, being careful not to over-mix.
Use a kitchen scale (or measuring cup) measure out four equal parts of the batter, dividing the batter into four bowls. Color each bowl in increasing shades of blue, starting with the palest one and working your way up in saturation.
Pour two of the batters into the two prepared cake pans. Smooth the batter evenly in the pan. Place the pans in the oven on the middle rack and bake, rotating them 180o once halfway through baking, for 20-25 minutes. They’re done when the center is set, and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean except for a couple crumbs.
Transfer the cake pans to cooling racks and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes. Line two cooling racks with parchment paper, and lightly spray the paper with canola or vegetable oil, before carefully inverting the cakes onto the cooling racks. I place the greased parchment and cooling rack on top of the cake pan before flipping the whole lot over to release the cake from the pan.
Re-grease and line the pans before filling with the remaining two batters, baking, and cooling the final cake layers as directed above.
Allow to cakes to cool completely before assembling your cake. While the cakes are cooling, prepare your frosting.
In a stand mixer combine the butter and crème fraîche, churning them together to combine as much as possible, slowly increasing the speed to avoid splattering. The nature of the crème fraîche won’t allow them to thoroughly combine, but once the powdered sugar is added it will come together. Turn the mixer off, add in all of the powdered sugar, and slowly increase the speed until the frosting is a light, pale white, and is fluffy and airy. Reduce the speed to low, add the vanilla, and the combined pink and blue chips. Mix until thoroughly combined.
Line your platter with four sections of parchment leaving a space the middle for the cake to go. Place a small dollop of frosting in the center of the platter to hold the cake in place. Place the first (lightest) layer of cake down in the center of the platter. Using an offset spatula, place about half a cup of the frosting in the center of the cake, slowly spreading outward towards the edges. Remove excess frosting, ensuring that it’s level, before adding the second (slightly darker) layer of cake.
Repeat the frosting and layering method until you get to the top (darkest) layer. Place this final layer on upside down so you have a nice, flat surface on the top of your cake. Place lots of frosting on top of the cake, spreading out with the offset spatula and over the edges, down the sides, to completely frost the cake. Take a moment to ensure that
every bit is covered so as not to spoil the surprise color inside! Carefully remove the four sections of parchment from the platter.
Enjoy the cake with loved ones!