Fool-Proof Coconut Banana Loaf (With A Top-Secret Ingredient!)

Today’s cooler temperatures and overcast skies made it feel like fall is just around the corner. And one of my favourite things about fall is baking: loaves, muffins, cookies, and cakes–all of the things that felt like too much effort during the hot summer months. I made my Grandma Murphy’s recipe for a coconut banana loaf for an afternoon snack today (freelancing has its perks).

This might look like a plain old ordinary banana loaf, but there’s a secret ingredient that transforms it into banana bread amazingness. And it’s not, surprisingly, the coconut. It’s the wonderful nutty nectar that is almond extract. Yum.

banana coconut bread

I always hate saying goodbye to summer, but there’s something so appealing about cozying up in chunky knits with a mug of piping hot coffee and a slice of homemade banana loaf. That being said, I’m happy to see that summer temperatures will be back before the weekend!

FOOL-PROOF BANANA COCONUT LOAF
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup melted butter
3 medium bananas, mashed
Splash of almond extract
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup medium grind coconut, shredded
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350F

Beat the eggs, then add sugar and melted butter and beat well. Stir in bananas and almond extract.

Measure the dry ingredients into another bowl and stir until well mixed. Spoon mixture into a greased loaf pan.

Bake for 55-60 minutes.

Easy-Peasy Peach Cream Pie

August. Is there a better month for eating? Not if you live in a part of the world where corn, beefsteak tomatoes, and peaches are available in abundance this time of year. Farmers markets and roadside stands are loaded with so much bright, beautiful produce you hardly need to actually cook anything.

easy peach pie

Of course fresh, juicy peaches are a satisfying dessert on their own, but it’s always a treat to taste them baked in a pie. My aunt has been making this peach cream pie for decades, and it never disappoints. It’s also easy, which is exactly how summer cooking should be. I promise you, this recipe is totally worth turning on the oven, even in this August heat.

easy peach cream pie

EASY-PEASY PEACH CREAM PIE
1 raw pie crust
6 fresh peaches, peeled and sliced
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 450°F

Place peach slices into the pie shell, cut side up. Combine remaining ingredients in a bowl and stir well. Pour mixture over peaches.

Bake at 450°F for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 325°F and bake for 30 minutes.

Baking tips: If your peaches aren’t super fresh, briefly pour boiling water over them to loosen the skin. If there is too much liquid in your pie shell, use a measuring cup to carefully remove the excess. Bake the pie on a cookie sheet in case the filling overflows.

6 Core Design Principles of “Baby Chic” Decor

Y’know that old saying “Where there’s a baby there’s baby stuff?” No? Oh. Maybe that’s because I just made it up. Anyway it should be an “old saying” because it’s true: Where there’s a baby there’s baby stuff. Babies are small and compact and take up very little space but their stuff is a whole other story.

When Dave and I bought our first house last March, I spent hours reading design blogs looking for decor inspiration. We’ve done lots of work on the house to make it feel like our own–we painted the walls and ceiling in every room (except the bathroom, which we hope to gut one day), tore up the smelly carpet on the second level and painted the floorboards white, and bought some new furniture. There’s still a long list of “to do’s,” but overall the place is getting closer and closer to how I imagined it would look.

Except…. except for all of the baby gear. While I was ecstatic about having a baby, plastic objects in loud primary colours weren’t exactly part of my decor daydreams. Maybe you can relate? If so, here are some tips for incorporating the core “design principles” of “baby chic” decor into your home.

1. Interlocking foam tiles double as an area rug in your living or family room. The colourful ones with animal faces are particularly “funky.”

Is it an area rug, or baby's play area? Super hard to tell right?!

Delightful area rug, or baby’s play mat? You tell me.

2. Mismatched dining chairs are all the rage and who says one of those chairs can’t be a infant’s highchair?

Pin-worthy, amiright?

Totttaalllyyyy Pin-worthy, amiright?

3. Embrace the industrial look by hanging a metal Jolly Jumper door clamp from an archway so baby can get her exercie on.

It's for the baby, honest...

That looks normal, I guess.

4. Save money on living room furniture by replacing an armchair with an bouncy chair.

babybouncychair

You could put a boring adult chair in this spot, but the “baby La-Z-Boy” (as I like to call it) is “quirky” and “unexpected.”

5. Store toys and books in decorative baskets in each room–your baby will enjoy them and adult guests can entertain themselves if the conversation gets boring.

Could anything be more cheerful?

If a smiling caterpillar doesn’t bring you joy, your heart is clearly made of stone.

6. I never realized how much character an ExerSaucer adds to a kitchen. Everyone should get one, baby or no baby.

exersaucer

I would’ve preferred a kitchen island with granite countertops, but, actually, the barnyard motif works.

Whenever I feel like I’m going to scream because there’s a folded stroller base in my dining room or a Bumbo chair in the bathroom, I just look at my dreamy, perfectly-turned-out “home” on Pinterest and feel instantly calmer. After a minute of fantasizing about living in a house that is so tidy (and without a single Fisher Price item in sight), I remember that these styled interiors look pretty in pictures, but in reality, it’s nice to have a home that feels lived in–a place where a family goes about their real, hectic, and often messy lives together, baby-gear clutter and all. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Embracing Change In 2015

2014 was a monumental year. A house in June. A baby in July. A layoff notice for Dave in November. If there’s one thing I learned over the past year it’s that the only constant in life is change. 2015 will bring more changes as Dave pursues a freelance career, I look for a new job and we figure out childcare options for our daughter. (Getting into daycare in Toronto is tougher than being granted membership to the elite Soho House.) I have to admit I’m a wee bit anxious about how it will all unfold.

embracingchange

Dave and I with our daughter Olivia–the most wondrous change in our lives to date.

One thing that hasn’t changed over the past few decades is my compulsive journalling. (I know this feels like a jarring segue, but it will all come together in the end, I promse). I’ve kept a diary since I was a little girl and I can still remember my first one, complete with a lock on the cover to keep my cherished secrets safe from snoopers. I distinctly remember writing a note on the title page of the diary; it was a warning, really, addressed to my younger brother, threatening some sort of bodily harm or public humiliation if, in the event that he managed to break the lock on the diary, he so much as thought about reading any further. My back-up security measures proved unnecessary–my brother had far more interesting things to do with his time than read my trivial girlhood ramblings.

diaries

That original diary disappeared long ago, but I recently reconnected with a large Tupperware container full of diaries that my mom was kindly storing in her basement. The earliest one is from seventh grade. It has a picture of Anne of Green Gables on the front, and, while my overuse of the exclamation mark is cringeworthy, my penmanship is excellent, if I do say so myself. There must be ten diaries in that storage bin, page upon page of ink documenting the various dramas in my life from high school, through university and grad school, and right up to the fall of 2008 when I met Dave.

Of course, when you find a bin of journals, it’s impossible not to skim through them. (One of my favourite entries is a barely-legible note that I scribbled after too many beers in which I basically plead with the universe to let me one day marry Dave.) As I read through some of my old writing, I gleaned a valuable lesson: every time I’ve been on the threshold of change, I’ve felt afraid. Fear was present as I entered high school and worried that I would become a punk-rock-druggie-teen-mom-drop-out. It crawled into my suitcase as I prepared to leave the comfort of my mom’s house in Windsor for campus life and frat parties and dense literary journals in Kingston. Moving to Toronto for grad school, starting new jobs, falling in love–whenever I’m on the cusp of change, fear is never far behind. But it’s helpful to read my old journals and realize that I’ve pushed through the fear and accomplished things that I wanted to in my life, despite the knots in my stomach or that wretched voice in my head saying, “What makes you think you can do this?” It’s nice to look back and know you can handle the changes that come your way.

Change is hard for most humans. It’s scary wandering into unknown territory. How will we know which creatures are our friends, or which berries are poisonous? There have been times in my life when I tried to resist change–I metaphorically laced up my boxing gloves and tried to make it slink back to the ring corner, bloodied and bruised, because I liked things just as they were, thank you very much. But you can’t bully change. So you might as well embrace it, along with the growth that it inevitably brings. Or at least, that’s what I’m going to try to do as I ring in this new year and find myself once again (and as always) on the cusp of great change.

Happy New Year!

How To Prepare For Date Night, Mama-Styles

Stilettos. Eyeliner. Breast pads. Oh, how date-night essentials change when you’ve got a baby.

Last week Dave and I went on a date for the first time since Olivia was born. We figured it was high time we got gussied up for a romantic night on the town. Plus, Grandma and Grandpa offered to babysit.

Like all things in my life, my date-night primping routine isn’t the same since becoming a mom. What used to be an indulgent ritual of applying makeup, listening to Robyn (and taking dance breaks, of course) and sipping a glass of wine has now become a harried process full of interruptions to feed, soothe, change and entertain my four-month-old daughter. I started getting ready for our date around noon and, by the time we left the house around 6:00, I had managed to put on a (non-nursing) bra, straighten my hair and slap on some lipstick. It might not seem like much, but compared to my go-to uniform of a messy ponytail and sweatpants, I looked downright glamorous.

date night with a baby

Sad but true: It seems the last time we got our photo taken while out on a date was on our honeymoon… in 2012.

Here are a few tips for any new moms planning to venture out on a date night soon:

1. Make sure you have time to apply eyeliner to both eyelids before you draw your first line.

2. Mask the chemically scent of diaper cream and baby wipes that has seeped into your pores with a light spritz of perfume.

3. If you’ll be out for more than a couple hours, stuff your bra with breast pads to avoid the embarrassing effects of leaky boobs.

4. Triple-check your hair for spit-up before leaving the house.

5. Pack a purse. Sure, your diaper bag makes for a cute purse during the day, but nothing ruins a killer date-night outfit like a travel change pad and a week’s worth of Pampers.

6. After months of pregnancy and breastfeeding, your alcohol tolerance has likely plummeted, so, as tempting as it may be, you might want to pass on that second glass of wine.

Luckily, the one thing that hasn’t changed about date night with a baby is that it’s still a perfect way to connect with your partner without distractions from whatever’s on the TV, or the nagging chime of the dryer indicating there’s more laundry to fold. And the really awesome part of date night as parents is that when it’s over, you can tiptoe into the nursery together and gaze at your little babe asleep in her crib, feeling grateful that you had some time away, but also so very happy to be home.

Remembering My Dad With A Heart Full Of Thanks

I can still remember our goodbye. It was the Saturday night of Thanksgiving weekend, 1997. I was in grade ten and, while I usually spent Saturday nights out causing trouble with friends (just kidding–I was totally square), for whatever reason I stayed in that night. My parents had invited friends over for the evening, one of the first times they entertained in their new house–a house I resented because it was in the suburbs and far from the friends (and historical charm) of our old neighbourhood. We met on the tiled landing in the foyer, where the home’s two staircases intersected: he was going to the lower level, and I was heading to my bedroom on the main floor. It was dark outside. The guests had all gone home. The hallway light was on above our heads, casting a warm yellow glow over the scene. We hugged as he said, “Good night. I love you.”

“I love you, too.” I said. “G’night.”

By morning he was gone.

A lot of memories of my dad have faded in the seventeen years since he passed away. After his death, grief, fear and pain hijacked my entire being, but some conscious part of me had the good sense to file away our final moments together. I cling to this memory like a cherished childhood blankie–it may be tattered and frayed around the edges (maybe he was the one going upstairs?) but its essence remains intact. It’s comforting to know that we had what, in hindsight, feels like a proper good-bye, even though we thought it was only good night.

dadMy dad has missed a lot of important events in my life. Father-daughter driving lessons. Graduations. My wedding day. But the most significant event that he missed was the birth of my daughter earlier this year. She would have been his first grandchild. I couldn’t help but think of my dad, as I held this tiny girl in my arms just as he had once held me. Having a child of my own gave me a new understanding of the love he must have felt for my brother and me, and it makes me sad that he was robbed of the joy of watching his children grow up. Of seeing his daughter with a daughter of her own. I know he would have loved Olivia to bits, and I think he would’ve gotten a kick out of being a grandfather.

Every October 12, we remember my dad. We remember his warm smile, his gentle demeanour, his wisdom, his compassion, his goofy sense of humour, his giant, loving heart. There really was no else like him. This Thanksgiving weekend, I am so grateful for the time that I got to spend with my dad. I am also so incredibly thankful for Olivia and the fact that some part of my dad, however minuscule or magnificent it may be, lives on in her.

Spit Up is the New Black: My First 3 Months of Motherhood

The truth is, I loved her before I even laid eyes on her. Before she appeared on the ultrasound monitor as a tiny white speck. Before we heard the intoxicating sound of her heart thump-thumping at 150 beats per minute. Before we knew she was a she. I loved her even then.

But all of that was the equivalent of a summer-camp crush compared to the to the tidal wave of love that washed over me when I finally met her. Olivia. Our daughter. The love of our lives.

She came into the world at 1:44am on July 2, 2014–a beautiful, squawking, seven-pound bundle of joy with cherry-red lips and a very full bladder: she peed on me as the doctor held her above my belly to let Dave cut the umbilical cord. Ha! The girl knows how to make an entrance. When I held her tiny newborn body against mine for the first time, it felt like my heart was a volcano erupting warm rivers of love and gratitude all over the delivery room, out into the hallways of Mount Sinai Hospital, and through the streets of the entire city.

The first six weeks of motherhood were a dizzying whirlwind of diaper changes, round-the-clock feedings and sleepless nights. I’m not going to lie: it was utterly exhausting. How come no one talks about how much time a mom spends nursing her newborn? Sure, all of the books I read told me that babies need to eat eight to twelve times per day but I was thinking each feeding would be ten minutes, max. I’m here to set the record straight: if you plan to breastfeed at some point in your life, prepare to be a 24-hour all-baby-can-eat milk buffet. Feedings sometimes took up to an hour, which basically equals eight hours a day (or more), which basically amounts to a full-time job.

Getting out of the house with a newborn is an adventure in and of itself. It’s staggering that infants–such tiny little creatures–have so much gear. Every outing requires an intense round of mental gymnastics as you sort out what you’ll need (a car seat, a stroller, a carrier–all three?) and making sure you know how each item works before you leave. You don’t want to cause a traffic jam in the mall parking lot because you don’t know how to collapse the stroller. (Hint, though: most of this stuff is only a quick Google away.)

Things got easier around the two-month mark. She started sleeping for longer stretches and she was happy to take a bottle. “I get to make dinner?!” I exclaimed the first time that Dave came home from work and fed her from a bottle in the evening. I had never embraced the task of preparing a meal with such enthusiasm. Dicing onions and heating olive oil in a frying pan helped me connect with my pre-baby self, someone that felt a little lost to me during the first few weeks of motherhood.

I love being a mom (I love being her mom), but it took time to adjust to this new role. All aspects of my life changed overnight, including my marriage (date night… what’s that?!); my social life (while 5 p.m. once kicked off “happy hour” and after-work drinks with friends, it now signals the beginning of what the experts call “the witching hour,” a three-hour period in the evenings when babies are particularly fussy); and my exercise routine (my running shoes haven’t seen the light of day since I don’t even know when).

Sometimes I still I miss the days when I had the freedom to do these things whenever I pleased. A simpler time when I didn’t spend most of the day with a nursing pillow strapped around my naked torso. But then I catch a smile on our daughter’s adorable face, or hear her sweet coos and giggles, or smell her delicious baby scent, and all of that longing disappears. I’ll be reacquainted with my sneakers soon enough. For now, I’m savouring every sleep-deprived moment with this beautiful little soul.