Valentine’s Day

Luke and Jude went out for a walk on Valentine’s Day and brought these back:

IMG_0855and these:

IMG_0852It was obviously Jude’s idea so naturally I let him have the first cupcake. He loved it! Instant sugar-high.

IMG_0858So after we set him loose on the vacuum (still his #1 current obsession)

IMG_0846He spends a lot of waking hours crawling around pushing the vacuum:

IMG_0861Other stuff we’ve been up to has been in the kitchen. Natalie got me this rad new Cuisinart mixer for my Bday and Elizabeth got me a steamed pudding container so I decided to try out both.

IMG_0818After mixing, I put the lid on,

IMG_0819and let it steam away for an hour and a half.

IMG_0821Jude patiently hung out in the kitchen playing while I baked.

IMG_0820And his patience was rewarded:

IMG_0827Later in the week I made Brazilian Cheese Bread. It was delicious – hot and gooey. These were made possible thanks to a friend of ours dropping off the key ingredient  – tapioca flour.

IMG_0868The same friend also dropped off two new shirts for Jude –  a polo tee and a long sleeve shirt with a bow tie. Here he is in the adorable polo:

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It’s been really cold lately but the other day the sun came out and the temperature spiked.

IMG_0892It was a good thing as Jude and I had some business to take care of.

IMG_0895I bought his first car (second hand on-line) so we went to pick it up.

IMG_0896It also turns into a walker – pretty cool!

Social Weekend

We started off the weekend by going to Luke’s language school for an end of the semester party. We brought Jude along and he was a big hit.

IMG_6203Teachers and students gathered around to get a good look at Jude. A lot of people even took photos of him.

IMG_6200On Saturday we headed to another party. This time it was a birthday party for our friends’ twins who had just turned 1.

IMG_6231Jude was awake the whole time which was really fun.

IMG_8002We had a great time socializing with other parents, eating cake and watching the twins open their presents.

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After we were all pretty exhausted.

IMG_6214On Sunday morning Jude and I chatted with the Grandparents in America.

IMG_6235While Luke went on a hike with his language buddy.

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Later in the afternoon I went to put Jude down for a nap but someone else was already there.

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After some tears he finally settled and had a nice long nap. Long enough for me to finish up my weekend baking project – a lemon meringue pie. I made the crust on Saturday and the rest today.

IMG_6248It was fun to do some baking as its been awhile. But I’ve also come to realize I probably won’t ever bake as much as I used to again as I have something else I’d rather be doing now.

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Luke’s Birthday

Jude is 3 weeks old today.  Time has really flown by – he changes so much every day. My parents have just left after visiting for a week. It was wonderful to have them here spending time with their grandson. I will do a post on their visit but before I do I have to post about another special occasion – Luke’s birthday.

Having just had a baby certainly overshadowed the whole occasion. I usually put a lot of thought and planning into birthdays but having Jude on board meant I had to wing it today. In the morning I made Luke’s favorite, pancakes, while Jude sat happily in his bouncy chair. When Luke went out for a swim I quickly put some decorations up on the wall while holding Jude in one arm.

IMG_5902Later in the day, in between naps and Skype sessions, I was able to get most of dinner ready and the cake baked.

I put the finishing touches on the cake with Jude strapped to my chest.

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I made a banana cake with a chocolate frosting.

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We couldn’t find any matches to light the candles but we still sang and Luke pretended to blow out the candles.

After cake I fed Jude and then put him down to sleep in his crib. Goose and Fern babysat while Luke and I got to hang out a bit and reminisce over how much has changed since his last birthday.

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Full Term

I’m 37 weeks pregnant  – officially full term! My actual due date isn’t until April 28th but he could come anytime. He’s done all his major development and is now just adding weight. The past month has been all about preparing for his arrival.

IMG_4515We took birth classes to help us get ready for labor and delivery.

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Sterilized baby bottles.

IMG_4680Finished organizing the nursery.

IMG_4537Spent time together.

IMG_4666Ate pork tonkatsu,

IMG_4665and lots of mochi.

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Then spent time at the gym trying to burn some of it off.

IMG_4699Did some  baking and put it in the freezer for easy postpartum snacks and meals.

IMG_4606Hung out with the cats.

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Took lots of photos of them,

IMG_4573and of course, of my gigantic belly.

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Cooking Up A Storm

The weather in Taipei has been very strange. Last week, for most of the week, the weather was hot. On Friday it was really warm all day and then around late afternoon the sky started changing color and we could feel the storm brewing. This didn’t stop us from getting out for some exercise. We headed down to the riverfront on our bikes and once at the bike trail, Luke got off and ran while I trailed behind him on my bike.

IMG_4171He ran for what seemed like forever.

IMG_4172Thankfully I had my headphones so was able to catch up on ‘This American Life’ podcasts.

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After the run we came home and after making a batch of healthy-ish cookies, we went out for pizza. The cookies, which had oatmeal and carrots in them, turned out really well. I will definitely make them again and possibly add some walnuts next time.

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Oatmeal Raisin Carrot Cookies

Ingredients

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup grated carrot
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 cup raisins

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Place the raisins in a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside.
3. In the bowl combine the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar. Using hand blender, blend approximately 2 – 3 minutes, on medium speed. Add the egg, and mix until fully incorporated. At this point you will need to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Stir in the vanilla.
4. In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Add to the butter and egg mixture, and mix until just combined.
5. Strain the water from the raisins, ensuring that you remove most of it. Add the carrots, rolled oats, and raisins dough and stir.
6. Using a  melon-baller or small spoon, scoop each cookie and place it on an ungreased baking sheet 4 inches apart. Flatten each cookie slightly with a spoon. Place the baking sheet into the oven on the middle rack and bake for 10 – 12 minutes.  Cool for 15 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack. Cookies can be stored in the fridge or the freezer.

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Our Saturday turned out to be really busy filled with a few social engagements. So busy that we didn’t really get to have a proper dinner. So Sunday we both woke up pretty hungry. I was going to make pancakes but then I started thinking about scones and so decided to make them instead. Served with fruit and hard-boiled eggs and of course coffee.

I used an old recipe of mine: Cinnamon Sugar Scones

IMG_4200I rolled them out and baked them on my Silpat, (which I got for Christmas from my parents and absolutely love) and they turned out beautifully.

IMG_4202Sunday afternoon I went out for some bread and stopped in a department store close by. I was browsing in the kitchen appliance section when I noticed they were having a big sale on Kitchen Aid appliances. I have had my eye on a 3.5 cup Kitchen Aid food processor for a long time and finally it was at a price I could happily justify!

I tried it out as soon as I got home. First I used it to make dinner – chopping first an onion, then carrots, then peanuts, then coriander for my chicken lettuce wraps. And after dinner I used it to make us dessert. A recipe I have long been itching to try – Banana Soft Serve.

IMG_4228Basically you chop up a few frozen bananas, throw them in the food processor, and puree for 3-5 mins. Done.

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I went a step further and melted some chocolate and poured over top. Words cannot explain how delicious and how much like ice cream this simple concoction tastes.

IMG_4231And finally my belly at 32 weeks.

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For a bit of fun, here is my belly at 17 weeks. Incredible!

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Cuddly Cats and Two Recipes

While we were in the States we boarded Goose and Fern at this awesome place called ‘Cats N Life’ in Taipei. The facilities are very nice – super clean, and a good size . But the best feature about the place was that they had web cams in each of the cat rooms where you could watch your cats in real-time. How cool is that? So while we were away I would check in on them several times a day.

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It really set my mind at ease to be able to see them on demand 24/7 and know they were okay. I still missed them like crazy but I think the time together on their own actually brought them closer together. Since we’ve been back they’ve been super affectionate to one another. Here are some of my favorite moments:

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Apart from snapping a million photos of cats I’ve also been in the kitchen making lots of tasty things. Luke and I both recently had a hankering for lasagna. There is a very small  selection of italian ingredients available in Taipei supermarkets and of what you can find they are all super $$$. But I figured lasagna, a meal that would last us several dinners was worth the splurge.

So I went about collecting the various components to make lasagna – pasta sheets, sauce, mozzarella cheese, and spinach. The one thing I was unable to locate (a key ingredient) was ricotta cheese. Instead of giving up I turned my mind to thinking about substitutes. I opened our fridge and staring back at me was a block of firm tofu. Voila! My ‘ricotta cheese’! It turned out delicious, the ricotta was not missed at all.

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Amazing Tofu Spinach Lasagna

Ingredients 

-1/2 (12 ounce) package uncooked lasagne noodles

-1 (12 ounce) block firm tofu

-2 eggs

-1/4 cup milk

-1 big jar spaghetti sauce (or about 2 cups homemade)

-1 tablespoon dried mixed italian herbs

-2 cups shredded mozzarella

-1 generous bunch of spinach (cooked,  drained, and chopped)

-salt/pepper to taste

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C)

2. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add lasagna and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain.

3. Place about 1/2 cup of the spaghetti sauce in a separate bowl.

4. In a medium bowl combine tofu, eggs, salt, pepper, milk, remaining spaghetti sauce, parsley, 1 cup of mozzarella cheese, and cooked spinach.

5. Spread half of the reserved spaghetti sauce in the bottom of a 9×13 inch baking dish.

6. Alternate lasagna noodles with the sauce mixture, ending with noodles.

7. Spread the remaining reserved spaghetti sauce on top and sprinkle with remaining mozzarella.

8. Bake in preheated oven for 25 to 35 minutes.

The other delicious thing I made this week was this:

IMG_3740It’s an Almond Cake using marzipan (which I love). Marzipan is usually an extremely  pricey ingredient here so I avoid recipes that use it. But I was at IKEA the other day to my surprise they were selling blocks of marzipan for $2! I’m kicking myself now for only grabbing one.

Anyhow, for the cake I followed this recipe (minus the almond garnish on top). It turned out beautifully and was gone within a day!

January: the Month of Birthdays

January is a month full of birthdays. In addition to mine, there my is Dad’s, Luke’s Mum (her 50th, in fact!), his sister Pearl’s and his brother Ben’s. I can also count at least six of our friends who celebrated bdays. January is clearly a popular month to be born.

My 29th birthday was on January 19th. On the day I woke up and baked myself a cake. Luke offered to bake or buy me one, but I insisted on doing it myself. The reason being there was a cake recipe I was itching to try out.

IMG_3630It’s a Neapolitan cake and, like the ice cream, consists of three layers of cake: chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. So I baked each individual layer.

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Spread strawberry jam between each layer and then frosted it with a cream cheese frosting.

IMG_3632Yes, it tasted as good as it looks.

That evening Luke and I had reservations at a steakhouse. This was my first Birthday in over 15 years that I was no longer a vegetarian so I was really keen to try a really nice steakhouse. So after some research we decided on No. 168 Prime Steakhouse. Next door to the restaurant is a large shopping mall, complete with a giant ferris wheel. We arrived a bit early so walked around before our reservations.

IMG_3597Once inside the restaurant we were immediately shown to our seats and the hostess, noticing that I was pregnant, brought me a pillow to place behind my back! After scoping out the menu we decided to go for the set menus, which included an appetizer, soup, main dish, side dish, dessert, and coffee or tea. There was a good 5 or 6 different choices for each item which made it difficult to choose. Luke also ordered wine pairings for his courses.

Here’s a glimpse of what we had.

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IMG_3611The food was out of this world delicious. I was blown away by the steak. I was so happy that I decided to start eating meat again, I really have been missing out!

While we were eating our desserts the staff brought around a special Birthday dessert plate. We were already so full but managed to take a few bites.

IMG_3617It was a pretty special evening – my last birthday before the baby and before the big   3-0!

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Before Christmas

Sometimes no matter how much you plan life doesn’t always follow that plan. Our trip to the USA was a great example of this.

I was due to fly out a week before Luke and meet my parents in Arizona for a short getaway but ended up having to miss it and re-schedule my flight due to something coming up here in Taipei. Once I finally made it, and Luke had joined me, we planned to spend a few nights in Chicago but snowstorms across the North East led to a number of flight disruptions and our flight was cancelled not once, but TWICE (even after we switched airlines and purchased a new ticket with an airline who hadn’t made any other cancellations). We spent 12 hours at the Cleveland Airport trying to get to Chicago. Had we known, renting a car and driving would have been the better option. The last thing to throw our plans up in the air happened on Christmas Day when my Grandma had to be rushed into the hospital. She had caught pneumonia before I arrived and on Christmas Day my Mom found her in a not so good state so had to bring her in. This meant that my parents spent all day at the hospital curtailing our original plans of visiting Grandma and then coming home in the afternoon for Christmas dinner and presents. Well, we still had dinner and presents but it all happened much later after my parents had returned from the hospital around 9pm. So it wasn’t the holiday we had planned for but we still had a great time just being together.

So I’ll recap my trip in three posts- Before Christmas, Christmas, and Baby Shower. And after I have finished those, I will do one on New Zealand (where I was for a week after the States).

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The week before Christmas was busy.

It was filled with visits with Grandma.

IMG_7519Playing patty cake with Grandma.

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A Cavs game.

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They lost but we still had a great time.

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IMG_7541A trip to the Farmparks to see a Christmas Light display and check out farm animals.

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The light display was so-so but this global warming snowman was pretty clever.

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Luke and I went to a sports park where he tried out baseball for the first time (and did awesome!).

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We also braved the cold and went snowshoeing a few times.IMG_7583

IMG_7591We balanced out all this activity with some eating, including:

Pie at Bakers Square:

IMG_3171And Arby’s Roast Beef sandwiches

IMG_3204Natalie and I also managed to find time to bake up an assortment of Christmas cookies:

IMG_3208And of course, we did a lot of Christmas shopping. And apart from the whole day we spent at Cleveland Hopkins Airport it was a great week.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

We’ve been on a chocolate kick for the last few weeks. It all started when I bought a Costco-sized container of cocoa powder. Now every baked good I set out to make ends up having a chocolate component. For example, we’ve been munching our way through chocolate cupcakes, chocolate Mexican wedding cookies, and fudge.

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But perhaps a standout recipe out of all the things I’ve made were these Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups.

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Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups (like Reese’s but healthier)

Bottom layer ingredients:

-2 TBS melted coconut oil

-4 TBS smooth peanut butter

Bottom layer directions:

Stir coconut oil and peanut butter until smooth. Set 10 mini muffin paper liners onto a tray or plate and pour 1 Tablespoon of the mixture into each liner. Place in freezer on flat surface. Freeze for at least 1 hour.

Top layer ingredients:

-2 TBS melted coconut oil

-4 TBS smooth peanut butter

-1/4 cup cocoa powder

-1 tsp. stevia (or 1 TBS sugar)

Top layer directions:

Stir ingredients together until smooth. Remove the bottom layer from freezer and pour 1 Tablespoon of the chocolate mixture into each liner on top of the peanut butter. Place back into freezer for at least 20 minutes and then enjoy.

If you don’t eat them all at once you can store the remaining cups in the freezer.

Baking and a Birthday Party

Lots of baking went on this weekend.

A loaf of fresh bread was made and had with homemade carrot soup. Sadly, I lost photos of the bread and soup due to an unfortunate event involving my iPhone, kitten, and a glass of water. Many dollars later, it’s working again.

I had a big can of crushed pineapple so made a very low-fat pineapple cake with a very not low-fat frosting.

Luke claimed he liked it but I thought it was just average.

On Sunday I was up early to set out on a mission to bake 36 cupcakes for a one year old’s birthday party. It took me a lot longer than I thought – especially the icing and decorating. But I was happy with the results.

This was the final batch – I had taken over the majority earlier in the day to make sure they were what they wanted. So after wrapping a gift for the birthday boy I headed over to the party.

There was lots of yummy food.

The Bday Boy loved the gift we got him – Eric Carle’s Hungry Caterpillar book, with a finger puppet caterpillar. We were in hysterics watching his reaction to it!

I got home just in time for some sunny floor time with the cats.

(Something I realized later was that the protective film over my phone was still on the back and over the camera – hence why these photos looks like they were taken underwater).