Easy Carrot Cupcakes (plus baby friendly version)

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I usually like to make a carrot cake during easter time and this year I wanted to make sure my 9 month old could enjoy something a little special, even though we don’t give him any sugar yet. So, I made these cupcakes for us and for my little guy and they were a big hit!

Ingredients:

Cake:

2 cups shredded carrots

1.5 cup flour

1.5 teaspoon baking powder

.5 teaspoon baking soda

.75 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

.5 teaspoon ground ginger

.25 teaspoon ground nutmeg

.75 cup vegetable oil

3 eggs

1 cup brown sugar

.5 cup apple puree (from boiled apples)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Raisins

Icing: 3 cups powdered sugar

100 grams cream cheese

1 tablespoon water or juice

food coloring (optional)

Instructions: Preheat the oven to 180 degrees (Celcius). Grate carrots and whisk together with oil, apple sauce, eggs, vanilla & sugar (reserve a little of the oil and all the sugar to add back later if you want a few baby friendly ones too). Mix dry ingredients, leaving out the salt if you want to make some baby ones. Pour dry ingredients into carrot mixture and whisk together until well blended. If making baby muffins, scoop some mixture out for that (to which you can add chopped raisins) then blend the sugar with the reserved oil and add that to the mixture (optionally, you can add raisins to the batter). Pour mixture into muffin cups and bake for around 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. To make the icing, just mix all the ingredients together and of course don’t put it on the baby ones🙂 Enjoy!

Balancing one’s self

Growing up in a southern baptist community has a variety of psychological perks that one must sort out long into adulthood, not the least to which I know many who can relate is guilt. As a child and early into adulthood, I found myself quite at ease with the idea of one having a healthy mental trigger that is set to go off should one veer out of line too far. I haven’t always followed the rules that the trigger would mean to enforce, but have luckily always had a stern conscious waiting for me at the end of my misbehaviours to give me a good harsh guilt hangover. In fact, I have often considered the opposite problems that one could face if not burdened with this beast called guilt and have happily resolved that I would prefer to keep my demons than the ugly, inconsiderate and possibly even criminal alternatives.

However, despite not wishing to err in the opposite excessive direction, I find that an introspection into this idea of guilt is all too important during various phases of life. Parenthood is the first phase where it has become so important to me that I must explore it before I feel the impact of ignoring it could be worse than the result of leaving it alone.

What plunged me into finally reflecting on this properly is an incident that occurred last weekend. At 06:45, my darling 8 month old night sleeper woke up and was ready for breakfast. Fortunate as we were that he had once again slept through the night, I was still way too sleepy from staying up late having a Downton Abbey marathon with my hubby (I know, we are wild). My gallant husband proposed that he take our little guy down for breakfast while I snooze a bit more. I hesitantly accepted as I have now become so familiar with my self induced guilt that I try to take preventative measures by never allowing others to do things for me, not realizing that I don’t need to be there for my child’s every single move. But my husband is ever so convincing so I indulged.

At 08:15 I finally crawled out of bed and moseyed down to find my two perfect gentlemen chilling in the living room with some jazz music on, candles lit, and coffee being prepared to come up to serve me in bed. What a charmed life I live, I thought. And then my husband cheerfully informed me that our son had just crawled for the first time.

A typhoon of emotions swept over me, partially fueled by my lack of caffeine and the pent up insecurities over how my baby only cries “mama” when he is upset or hungry, yet chants “dada” when he is excited or having fun, and spilled into anger at myself that I had missed this great milestone despite spending almost every waking hour with this person for his entire existence. And before I could stop my emotional snowball, I become jealous towards my husband for having been part of something I wasn’t, and my jealousy was laced with a tinge of martyrdom which is a strange feeling I have long feared experiencing. Very soon after, like clockwork, the guilt set in. I felt guilty immediately for sleeping that extra hour. I beat myself up over that for a bit and then felt guilty for not being happy for my husband being able to experience this precious moment, alone with our child. Until finally, after a few minutes of clearing my head with a coffee, I snapped back into my peaceful self and returned to a less emotionally clouded mindset about the whole situation.

I lead a privileged life. Not a day goes by where I do not look around me and wonder how I have become so fortunate. But becoming a mother requires one to live in the moment, enjoying each day exactly for what it is, not what it is not. It also calls for one to become healthily selfless. It starts when you get pregnant, but it doesn’t end when you finish delivering and nursing the baby. My son is emotionally dependant on me in a different way than he is dependant on my husband. And even though this might sound obvious, due to the egalitarian positives that our generation and culture are afforded, there are times where one can lose sight of this traditional archetype and begin to misunderstand it. Shouldn’t I feel honored that my innocent child sees me as his rock when he is weak, even if it means being the one he cries to more than the one he laughs at? It is as important to fight feelings of martyrdom when being “selfless” as it is to fight feelings of guilt when being “selfish”. In addition to living in the moment, I strive to find a balance of self that lies in between the two extremes.

Society has no shortage of ideas for women about how we are to be. We should be nurturing to others yet prioritize ourselves. We should value our careers and “lean in”, but also focus on our families and not “live to work”. We are especially encouraged these days that it is okay to be a little selfish, taking care of ourselves first so we can be better caretakers of others. And for me this is an exercise which involves learning to release myself from the shackles of guilt that is part of my traditional upbringing. But in the same vein, we should also focus on becoming comfortable with the idea that it is still okay to be traditionally selfless sometimes. I hesitate to give way to those feelings at times due to fear of becoming like many women whose selflessness comes with a veneer of martyrdom. It is as if martyrdom is guilt’s older sister and instead of growing up together with her, as I did with guilt, she was an older example that I can only relate to by being afraid of becoming like. The older generation’s attitude of martyrdom was probably a result of having less charmed circumstances as we, since historically, men have not supported women in the home as much as they do today. But instead of being afraid to be selfless at times for fear of treading into martyrdom territory, it is important to embrace the luxury we have of being able to take care of others in the same way we push out feelings of guilt to make room for taking care of ourselves. It’s exciting to be part of the generation who can venture down the road of parenthood with the support needed to allow me to not only have my selfish moments, but also my selfless ones. And I hope to exercise both of my liberties without the weight of guilt or the vexation of martyrdom.

SoulMad Restart

It has been over a year since I updated the blog with new recipes. It is not because I have stopped cooking. In fact, I cook almost every day. I have just stopped prioritizing writing as I have been taking care of my son, who was born in June. But now, I am starting again and hope to be able to mix in more “Soul” pieces about life in Denmark as a mother with the “Mad” (food) pieces that I will still add from time to time.

Life in the Middle

I am sitting in my “lounge” writing this, freshly showered, with natural, but beautifully chic make up freshly applied, sipping a freshly brewed coffee with foamed milk while my adorable baby sleeps in upstairs. Yesterday morning I had to reflect for a minute on how many days I had been wearing the same outfit. My husband, who with his omniscient man powers deduced that his wife was getting the winter blues being trapped in the house with a baby in the Scandinavian, dark rainy winter sms’d me to see if I would meet him at a shopping center after he got off work, knowing that this would motivate me to shower and get out of my funk, all while save him from the risks associated with telling one’s wife that she should eventually shave her legs even though it is winter time.

I sprung into newly motivated action during my little one’s next nap, taking a long shower, shaving, applying deliciously scented organic lotion before getting dressed and beginning the daunting daily task of feeding, dressing my baby in 3 layers, and topping them off with the ubiquitous Danish winter time baby outfit called a “flying suit” (which is a must for every baby in the village of Denmark), only to have him poop just as I was slipping my shoes on.

After going back upstairs in my winter gear, working up a sweat while changing and re-dressing him, and finally making it out the door, I had to begin the task of loading up the baby carriage with the normal baby gear, covering it with water protection, trying to get little man’s mittens on which is an exercise which requires its own dedicated meditation time, all while he made his ever present, not quite crying, but threatening to cry, whiny chant of “eh….eh… eh, eh”. I then walked swiftly and deliberately to the metro, remaining calm and collected reflecting on how nice I have it compared to so many in Denmark who don’t have their own garage, who live on the 5th floor with no elevator, who may not have the money to afford the nice baby stroller or all the cool parenting gear we have, trying to ignore the “torsne” (“melting falling snow”? – yes, the Vikings have more words for snow than we have in English, but fewer words for modern discoveries, like “nipples” which they call “breast warts”) that was zooming into my face in a painfully piercing way, when I realized I had left the car seat, which I also needed to load up onto my gypsy wagon so we could come home from the mall together in my husband’s luxurious car.

Then it all began, I cursed Denmark to myself all the way back to the house. Why have I chosen to give up my American life, where each person in the family having a car is normal, and central air conditioning cools our homes in the summer, and going out to dinner or ordering take out several times a week is affordable? Instead, I have voluntarily moved to this place, where I have to pay 48% of my salary to the government to provide services to all the people, one of such government treats being “baby money” which my husband and I don’t even get a normal share of because we apparently “make too much” and therefore don’t get to receive as much of a percentage of the tax benefit back proportionate to the taxes we pay because it’s just not fair to the other people who have, erm, not worked as hard as we to get where we are and are spending just a few more years of their 30s following their hearts to not sell their soul to the corporate work force because then poor babies would be selling their little hipster selves out.

The bitterness creeps in. And as I harden my face, start chewing on my own gums and space out momentarily to board the metro with all the other poor winter commuters, I don’t even engage with the other hardened souls elbowing their way past me onto the metro to race in front elderly and fragile people to get the last fold up seat on our temporary tube trip.

On the way home from a very relaxing and enjoyable time at a sub par mall where we ended our visit with a totally overpriced and crappy dinner at an “American Diner” where we ate so we wouldn’t feel bad for having a baby who yells incessantly with us, I realized that living in Denmark is yet another example where life is all about managing trade offs. I am so happy with my life here 95% of the time, yet since it is a choice I have made, when even very momentary unhappiness sets in, it is accompanied with doubt, anger and fear that I have made the wrong choice. The feeling is one of guilt to myself, for it is I who have made the choice of moving here, instead of it just being my fate, which would be much easier to manage.

I carried these thoughts with me as I performed my nightly ritual of being my baby’s human pacifier until he falls asleep while surfing facebook. Admittedly, I am a sucker for reading the parenting blogs, mostly written by mothers that I find on my news feed that friends have “liked” or are trending, etc. And, when the night feedings get lonely and I need mind numbing reading materials accessible in the dark on my phone to help me stay awake, I even venture into the comment section to read people’s opinions about what those articles or blogs say.

And that’s where I see the anger. I see the thoughts that come over us in our weakest moments that we usefully train ourselves to push away, spilling out into the comment sections. The expressers of even the mildest opinions become targets of name-calling, bigotry, and hatred. The impassioned outrage I felt earlier in the snow becomes personified in these comments as the aggressors project their darkest and most emotional fears and doubts onto poor undeserving writers instead of biting their tongues, dealing with their own demons and maintaining a sense of courtesy that is still mostly adhered to in the physical world.

It isn’t that surprising that republicans and democrats who used to possibly engage in heated debates at cocktail parties or on school campuses tear each other down a little more harshly in this unfiltered world where accountability is less immediately than in the less virtual world. It is feasible, although not without disappointment, that religious debates get more passionate without the chains of expectations surrounding civilized discourse to hold them back. But what I cannot wrap my head around is why we have let this forum of instant anger expression remove all of our filters that previously caught reactionary absurdness.

To give a specific example that hits close to home is within the area of motherhood. Sure, mothers have been judging each other as long as women have felt insecure. But in the past, just as I would not have randomly gone off on a Danish person in the park simply because I was temporarily annoyed with living in Denmark yesterday, women would have had the self respect to take a look at themselves when experiencing jealousy or insecurity and instead of lashing out at the other mothers, talk shit about them privately to their friends, like civilized adults.

And what is most noteworthy about this trend, is that it is normally the ones being positive about their mothering experience, who get the worst of the anger. I read a blog last night where a girl simply writes about how surprisingly great she found motherhood to be, especially after all of the horror stories she heard while pregnant. The article really resonated with me, as I have had a similar experience. Yet the author was attacked in the comments for showing off and not taking the feelings of mothers who haven’t had it so good into consideration. It is a double standard that the commenters on such articles expect the author of a written monologue to have the couth expected in a dialogue when they are the ones who have that very luxury and do not exercise it.

In real life, as I go from coffee date to mother group to mommy & baby yoga, to another coffee date, I note my fellow mothers’ frustrations and take care not to “rub it in” that I have in fact showered most days, and that I have had no problems with breast feeding, nor that I have lost all of my baby weight without even trying. When a close fellow mother of mine confides in me that the baby is coming between her and her husband or when another confides that her husband has hinted that she needs to lose weight, I use my human skills of social grooming and don’t respond with “well, that’s too bad, my husband is awesome with our son and thinks I’m super sexy; here, would you like a bite of my fried chicken? It goes well with your depression”. No, because in real life, we use our friendly filters. We don’t lash out at people with our selfish comments the way that social media allows us to do online; we naturally exercise empathy.

As women who chose to have children, we are all in the same boat. We are not a group that should be at odds with each other over petty differences, but rather, we are a natural support structure that comes in quite handy when going through what is a beautiful combination of the most difficult and most wonderful thing that will ever happen to us. Let’s stop and think next time we wish to vent our frustrations by insulting others. Just as one wouldn’t go off on a poor innocent local because they are not happy about the weather, let’s be kind to one another even if we don’t parent our children the same way or feel the same way about motherhood as each other. And while we are at it, if everyone could stop hating on skinny people, that would be great.

My Baby’s Village

It has been a big year for me. After marrying the love of my life last year we decided to try to have a baby and this summer, just as the longest day of the year celebrations were being held, the longest and hardest workout of my life bore the fruit of the most powerful and emotional experience of my life thus far…the birth of my son. Unlike many women who know for most of their lives that they would like to be a mother “some day”, I was never quite sure. Even when I made the decision with my husband to try to conceive, we did it very pragmatically, knowing as with everything else in our lives, we would commit to our life changing decision wholeheartedly if I were to get pregnant and make the most out of it.

So after I found out I was pregnant, I decided to do some research. How else would I know how to take care of a baby? The whole instinct thing that everyone told me I would have, seemed a bit far fetched; that was surely reserved for the women who naturally switched to baby talk with other people’s babies. I wanted to be sure I was prepared, so I developed a project plan on how I intended to feed and treat my baby to ensure he gets a proper start to life in spite of his mother’s lack of natural talent.

Before I even knew our child’s gender, the advice started rolling in. Some of it was solicited, most wasn’t, but if there is one thing I discovered while preparing to bring a life into the world, it was that people, both women and men, love to tell you their stories about childbirth and raising a child. It is unlike anything I have ever experienced. It happened in all corners of my life, in the office, at parties, among friends, and most surprisingly, in the street, with complete strangers. There is something about reproduction that seriously resonates with many people more than anything else. Therefore, as my pregnancy progressed, I came to realize that people will be giving their opinions about every aspect of this, whether I like it or not.

Some of the advice I genuinely cherished. The friends who explained to me the horrors of breastfeeding, complete with uncensored nipple survival tales; the ones who gave tips on international travel with an infant based on their personal experiences were invaluable and far too limited. But take a wild guess how a generation x/millennial “cuspian”, career driven, expat woman appreciated all of the unsolicited advice.

I pushed it away. In fact, I will unashamedly admit, on rare occasion, after my new best friend was born, I purposefully refused to implement what was probably sound advice, just because it was delivered from someone too passionately and wasn’t my idea. I just needed people to back off. My insecurities of parenting had worn thinner since I had endured 3 days of labor with no meds, and suddenly I was overcompensating in the other direction by being too confident that no one knows why my baby is crying better than I.

Until one fateful day in the village of Copenhagen. It was just becoming winter in Denmark and I had decided to venture out with my baby on this crisp August day with his new woolen viking hat on, which covers his head and neck, leaving only a hole for his adorable mandatorily exposed facial parts. We started strolling and within minutes he started crying. This was not just his normal whimper; it was a real and unique cry. He was annoyed in a way which I was not familiar with. Just as the stress started setting in and I began to worry, how am I going to quell his cries without exposing my breasts in this frigid air when a random old man en route to the bodega comes up to me to ask “Hvad er han sĂĄ sur over”? (What is he so “sour” or upset about?) This was the last thing I needed…an inquisitive audience. And not just any audience, but a random old day drinker who doesn’t speak English. I calmly replied in my best Danish that I am not sure hoping that he would just move along. But I had no such luck. He lingered at the pram investigating the situation by hovering over my shoulder while I tried to soothe my little monster. And then, he nicely pointed out that my son’s new Viking hat is on inside out. I shrugged off this advice as obviously irrelevant, but begrudgingly decided to flip it around almost as a side detail since that was clearly not why my son was crying. And then he stopped. My baby stopped crying immediately after flipping the hat around. I couldn’t hide behind my mother knows best cocky attitude anymore and thanked the man wholeheartedly for helping me help my offspring.

I learned an important lesson that day. Did I begin enjoying having random people tell me how to raise my child? No. However, as I notice the old Danish ladies, with experience as mothers, aunts, grandmothers and great grandmothers politely suggesting to young mothers that their babies might be too cold, or the elderly gentleman on the bus speculating out loud that your baby might be crying because he is hungry (even though you just fed him), I began to realize…maybe they’re right. Maybe they’re not. It doesn’t actually matter. They are trying to contribute to society and the wellbeing of the children and babies they encounter therein. I can take their advice or leave it, but essentially there is no harm to it being offered in a polite and well meaning way with the wellbeing of their fellow human in mind.

In my most recent encounter, a retired fellow came up to me in the supermarket and gently grabbed my arm. He calmly yet emotionally advised me to cherish these days I get to spend with my baby, to make the most of them. He wanted me to know that they are some of the sweetest days of life and that he misses those days that he had long ago. It was sad and moving, but more importantly, it was a timely reminder to focus less on the melancholy that the endless laundry and dining room cleaning brings and more on the heartbeat skip inspiring beaming smile my little man gives me when I have only been away a few minutes to throw in that load of laundry.

Stuffed Cabbage

stuffed cabbage photo

Although cabbage is a very commonly used vegetable in the South, we typically only fry it with bacon or use it to make cole slaw. However, when I moved to Europe, after trying some delicious spanish chicken soup with garbanzos and cabbage, I started finding myself craving this “poor man’s food” in more complex ways which, despite being an incredibly budget friendly vegetable, can bring a lot of flavour to many soups and stews.

In Denmark, you can often find pointed cabbage, which I had never tried back home, and I think it brings even more flavor to the classic dishes for which I love to use cabbage. I put this particular dish together with inspiration from the Middle East and Eastern Europe, and it really hits the spot on a cold Danish evening.

You can get creative with the spices and the ingredients you combine with the meat mixture, but basically want to make sure it meshes togeteher well enough to hold when being baked within the cabbage leaf. And if you are short of time, you can bake it in any kind of tomato sauce that you have on hand as the dish is very versatile. I recommend serving this with rice or mashed potatoes, since it is nice to have something to soak up the sauce. 

Ingredients:

Cabbage Rolls

16 large cabbage leaves

500 grams minced meat (half pork/half beef)

200 ml cooked white rice

85 grams greek yogurt

3 tablespoons  chopped raisins

2 t salt

1 egg

2 T butter

1 finely chopped onion

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 t (sød) paprika

1 t allspice

Freshly ground black pepper

Tomato Sauce:

1 can whole cherry tomatoes with sauce

.25 liter chicken stock

35 grams tomato paste

1 t salt

3 bay leaves

Freshly ground black pepper

1 pinch red pepper flakes (optional)

Instructions:

Boil cabbage leaves in a salted pot of water for 4 minutes. Mix meat through egg in a large bowl. Sautee onions and garlic in butter until soft, then add the rest of the spices to the mixture while stirring for two minutes.  Add onion mixture to the meat mixture.

Lay out the cabbage leaves and place a scoop of meat mixture inside, rolling them up and over in a neat cylinder, lining close together in a baking dish.

In a saucepan, heat the tomatoes (cut through once each) and their sauce along with broth and tomato paste, salt pepper and bay leaves and red pepper flakes.

Pour sauce over cabbage rolls and cover pan with foil. Bake at 190 degrees for an hour. Remove foil and return to oven for 30 minutes more.

Holiday Cocktail Wieners: A Southern “Delicacy”

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Although from the picture, you might think that this gargantuan pot of tiny hotdogs is more suited for the morning after New Year’s Eve to gracefully nurse your hangover away with their greasy, syrupy goodness after a long night of mixing way too many types of alcohol; in fact, this recipe is a really quick, easy and inexpensive treat to have on hand for your New Year’s party, if you are not doing a more formal Danish style “sit down dinner”.  Indeed, this recipe is not elaborate or fancy, but if you can keep them warm, preferably in a crock pot or even on the stove top, you would really be surprised how content these little sausages in a spicy and sweet sauce will make your guests at a laid back cocktail party, as many hosting such events offer only room temperature treats such as chips and nuts and after a few hours people usually start craving something more substantial. Of course, if you are having a formal cocktail party, I would certainly opt for something else, but if you are having guests over to drink, socialize and have fun and want to have snacks all around to keep people’s stomachs in a somewhat coated shape in order to keep the party lasting long into the morning, then this is the recipe for you.

Ingredients:

1 Kilogram cocktail sausages

1 400 g Jar Red currant Jam (ribsgele)

1 350 g Jar “stærk” Dijon mustard

225 ml orange juice

Directions:

Mix the orange juice and jam together over the stove and whisk over medium heat until thoroughly blended together.  Gradually whisk in the mustard until the sauce is smooth.  Add the sausages and cook over medium heat until warm (a few minutes). Pour into a crock pot if you have one and turn on medium, keeping it on the counter throughout the evening for your guests. The sausages will taste better the longer they are soaking in the sauce.  If you don’t have a crock pot, then you can just keep them on the stove, on a low heat and just remember to stir occasionally and to turn the heat off if you are going to be drinking a lot or be too distracted to keep an eye on it; they will be okay in the pot for up to 4 hours after turning off the heat, but the sauce will thicken.  This recipe is a tradition for all holiday parties in the South of the US and most make it with grape jelly. However, the ribs jam gives it a tarter flavor which pairs well with the sharp mustard.