The Shared Banana Bread by Amy Cantu

The rain gods have blessed us with water falling from the sky, but with it comes the damp coldness and gray. The kids were bouncing around the house aimlessly, so I knew we needed to get our wits about us and come up with a rainy day project. Behold the four darkly spotted bananas sitting on the counter: It's time to fix this dark, dreary day with some homemade banana bread. My five-year-old did a happy dance around the kitchen, and my two-year-old immediately dunked his hands into the flour and flung it into the air yelling, "It rain! It rain!" Let the baking (and mess) begin! After mashing the bananas, (a.k.a. squishing banana pulp between tiny fingers,) the next best thing about making banana bread in our house is that everyone gets to pick a mix-in. The eldest begged for chocolate chips, but alas, we were out, so he grudgingly settled on shredded coconut. The younger one was adamant about "nuts! more and more and more nuts!" And me? A splash of bourbon please, because that's how I roll. The end result was a glorious, golden loaf of banana bread, generously studded with chopped walnuts and toasted coconut, with a whiff of bourbon, and warm, cozy house to fight off the cold day. We were all quite pleased with ourselves.

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Coconut Bourbon Banana Bread

The Shared Buddha Bowls by Amy Cantu

Everyone has this moment. I open up the fridge, and all I have are leftovers that I don't particularly want to eat. And so I pull them all out and look at them: roasted butternut squash, spinach, and mushrooms, (the accompanying roasted chicken finished off during the last meal). I poke a piece of butternut squash with a fork. I wonder if my family will notice eating it for a third time in a row. I imagine myself trying to eat them yet again. I really don't want to. I make this low growly-groan sound that everyone in my family recognizes as "CrAmy" (Cranky Amy), and I decide to make the best of it. Fifteen minute quinoa, tofu cubed and roasted in the oven in under 30 minutes, a peanut sauce whizzed up in the blender, and suddenly we have a Buddha Bowl that even my five-year-old THANKED me for cooking. In these moments, I feel as if I've stumbled upon a miracle, however small, because a delicious, quick, healthy meal made from leftovers is something to celebrate in my house.

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Autumn Harvest Buddha Bowls

The Shared Bakealong by Cynthia Raub

I have always been intimidated by baking. I find that I have the hardest time with measuring and weighing exact amounts, as I'm more of a heaping-scant-dash kind of cook. I also have severe time and personal management skills, which means I start things at the most inopportune time and/or completely forget that I was in the middle of something. And ya know what, I also am a "little more time shouldn't hurt" kind of person, too. I have left cakes in the oven for a few extra minutes to make sure they are baked through. They are definitely baked through. And very dry. Take it from me, these are all poor qualities to possess if you want to bake yummy things.

Making pizza dough for the first time was a revelation. The transformation of water and flour, (with a dash of patience,) was remarkable, and I felt like a magician. Ever since then, I have successfully baked rich profiteroles and golden, airy gougères. Somehow, baking a multitude of batches of pâte à choux dough has awoken the baker inside of me. I bought a two-pound package of yeast from Costco and a Pullman Loaf pan, and I am baking more than my family of four can consume. King Arthur's flours, customer service, and recipes are all infallible. (This is not a sponsored post). When they began their Bakealong social media campaign in August, I was immediately hooked. August's recipe was for Pane Bianco, (Italian for "white bread",) featuring the enduring and eternally perfect combination of cheese, garlic, tomato and basil. While this bread may look fancy or complicated, it was truly easy and FUN to make.

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Pane Bianco

The Shared Chocolate Birthday Cake by Amy Cantu

I'm just going to start with this apology, rather than end with it, (so you know what you're getting into and can just skip to the recipe link at the bottom of the page if you want): I'm sorry, but my eldest son turned five, and I melted into this puddle of sad, emotional mush. On the morning of his birthday, he crawled into bed with me, and I cuddled his no-longer-tiny body as tightly as I could. "Mom, I can't breathe!" "Oh, sorry." "I still can't breathe!" I sighed deeply and loosened my death grip. I ran my fingers through his thick straight hair, (what mine used to feel like before losing half my hair after each pregnancy—a testimony to the many changes and ahem, sacrifices it takes to be a mom.) I intertwined my fingers with his; thank goodness, his hands were still tiny in my adult-sized ones. He's still small, still a child. I inhaled and took in his little boy scent that no bath could ever completely erase—earthy like the dirt he spends all day digging, a little salty from all the endless running around, and sweet, the way that only a child can smell to his mom. Silently, I thought about the first time I held his tiny, fragile body in my arms. I remembered the twisted face he made the first time he tried mashed avocados, how proud I felt the first time he completed a puzzle on his own (boy-genius!), his determination to line up and sort all of his cars by size and color, and most recently, his favorite piece of trivia: Did you know that the longest flight is from Columbia to Singapore?! "Happy birthday, Sweet Pea!" I whispered to keep my voice from cracking. He turned to me with a wide grin and exclaimed, "Today we make cake! Any cake I want! Chocolate with chocolate frosting AND SPRINKLES!" He was standing on the bed now, waving his arms above his head, and shouting. "I want to pick all the things to put on top of it, OK?! And cupcakes too!" My wistful reflection came to an abrupt halt, and I cocked my head to the side, "You want to bake a cake AND cupcakes today?" "Yep! It's my birthday!" I couldn't deny him anything in that moment, and so we did.

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Chocolate Birthday Cake with Chocolate Frosting (Perfect for a layer cake, cupcakes, or a bit of both!)

The Shared Packed Lunch by Cynthia Raub

Today was Olivia's first day of Junior Kindergarten at her beloved cooperative preschool. She has attended for two years as a preschooler and is now advancing to the next class that prepares her for kindergarten. Since her first preschool year, she would constantly ask when it would be her turn to be with the big kids in "JK". I'd giggle and tell her that she had to wait two more years. Last year I told her, "Only one more year . . . " and now the day is here. Somehow, I'm still unprepared for this year to start. We've been counting down the years and this summer we had counted down the days. Our family has made incredible friends and developed a strong sense of community with the children and parents at our school. I don't want to get too far ahead of myself, but I'm especially emotional that the year has begun because that means the year will end. That will mean my children are a year older, everyone will move onto their new schools and my friendships with invested and like-minded parents will be a little more difficult to maintain. But also, this year will be filled with the special traditions and milestones we have been looking forward to for the past two years.

This year is extra special for Olivia and me because this is the first time she will bring her own lunch to school. During meals throughout the summer, Olivia would exclaim that she LOOOOVED something she's eating and asked if I would pack it for her lunch in her new class. Together, we started a journal of all of her food ideas. This lunchbox of Orecchiette with Roasted Broccoli was first on her list, and she paired it with strawberries and nectarines. I added the small Nutella sandwich with sprinkles as a surprise for this special day, (she drew it in the picture and called it her "dream lunch"- how could I not oblige this small request?) Much like the special traditions the preschool has held for 70+ years, I hope both my girls will want to continue to collaborate with me on their school lunches for the years to come.

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Orecchiette with Roasted Broccoli

The Shared Cheese Puffs by Cynthia Raub

I am a low-key Francophile. I chose French to learn in high school because I loved croissants. Don't get me wrong, I also looooove burritos, but I was feeling angsty and emotional and croissants just seemed more complex and romantic than burritos. (Side note: I've grown since then and now I can get very romantic and emotional about burritos.) But high school French class was the genesis of my love for everything French - from the language, history of art, food, culture and even SPORTS?!?! (Tour de France). I met my husband when we both worked in a French bistro, and it was love at first cornichon!

Gougeres, (also known as cheese puffs,) are SO French: sophisticated, technical but simple, and delicious with champagne. These have been in heavy rotation in my kitchen for the past two months since I first made gougere's sister, the profiterole, (which is a sweet version filled with pastry cream or split open with a scoop of ice cream). They are a breeze to make. They are impressive and are perfect for any occasion. I originally made the profiteroles for a bake sale. Since then, I have made savory and addictive gougeres with a friend for a pot luck, to accompany dinner in our bread basket, and even for a casual afternoon wine tasting with friends. See? Versatile, delicious, and addictive. I'm convinced that once anyone has this in their cooking repertoire, it will become an instant classic that will never fail you.

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Gougeres (Cheese Puffs)

The Shared Shrimp Tacos by Amy Cantu

It's late. We had just spent three days hoofing it all over Disneyland, (24,600 steps per day, if you're counting,) in extreme heat. We had just arrived in San Diego to visit Grandma Sheryl and Grandpa Bob. My husband pulled into the driveway and began unloading what always turns out to be too much stuff from the trunk of the car, while I gingerly carry each child into the house as quietly as I can. We're exhausted. I feel the blisters on my feet with each step and my legs ache. As I groggily pull open the refrigerator, I start making a mental grocery list of all the things I needed to get from the store before heading to bed, so the kids would have have something that they would eat in the morning. Suddenly I hear angels singing, as I squint through the bright light of the refrigerator. I rubbed my eyes and wondered if I was hallucinating. Grandma Sheryl and Grandpa Bob had us covered - milk, fruit, iced coffee, waffles, bagels, sandwich supplies, and animal crackers - they had stocked up for us, so we wouldn't have to rush to a grocery store to feed ourselves or the kids! Angels!

I know in-laws get a bad rap sometimes, but I won the lottery with mine. Both sets of my in-laws welcome in our family zoo and are always eager to take the kids off my hands and usher me away to take a nap. (How do they know that I ALWAYS need a nap??? Do I look that bad . . . no one answer that. I'm just grateful.) They are early risers, so somebody (not me or my husband!) is always up when our first child wakes at 5:30 a.m. Did I mention angels? They are ANGELS! And so, after a couple days of lounging around with my feet up and calling out, "I don't know, kids, go ask Grandma or Grandpa!" I thought maybe I should repay some of this kindness with a family meal of Mango-Shrimp Tacos with Honey-Lime Slaw. These tacos are special enough to seem like a treat, but easy enough to pull together on a weeknight or just to say, "Thank you for being totally awesome!"

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Mango-Shrimp Tacos with Honey-Lime Slaw

The Shared Care Package by Cynthia Raub

As a young woman in my teens and early twenties, I felt invincible - my precocious mind and impertinent tongue kept my fragile ego safe from others. Deflection was a badge of honor, and I was proud of my acerbic wit - it caught people off guard and made them laugh, all while teetering on the edge of being inappropriate. This was all fun and fine as it was just part of my "charm" (for better or worse). But as my life's issues and problems began to morph from juvenile judgements and thinking way too much about other people and how they lived their lives, I started being more concerned and proactive about the life I wanted to live and who I wanted to be. 

An important part if this new growth and self-awareness came from a friendship with my college BFF. She was an fascinating open book: self-aware, vulnerable, honest in both her confidence and her insecurities. We would talk and she would share her feelings unabashedly, I would listen and say "yeah." She would ask if I could commiserate: have I ever felt self conscious like this? Have I ever felt angry like that? "No, not really . . . " I'd confidently say, unable to scratch the surface of my vulnerability.

Soon enough, she stopped sharing and she began responding to my questions in the same way I had answered her. She became a little unavailable and short of depth, providing fewer opportunities for us to connect. It didn't take me too long to realize what had happened and how or why things had changed. I realized that because she shared so much with me, I felt close to her. But because I didn't reciprocate, she didn't feel quite the same for me. I desperately began to share more with her in an attempt to halt her retreat. Slowly but surely, I realized that my self depreciation and honesty was a beacon: it was safe and called to others to approach with less apprehension. My relationships became fortified, I began to shed my prickly exterior - allowing others to poke around. Believe it or not, I still have a tremendous amount of self-work I need to do, but this awareness would not be possible without the realizations I had with this friendship. 

This dear friend recently became the mother she was always meant to be. I'm so excited for her family and this next stage of life! I hope, deeply, to be a beacon of commiseration through this amazing and overwhelming time for her. When mommy and baby were discharged from the hospital, I brought her this food-filled care package to welcome the new family of three home - lots of yummy treats and snacks to nosh on while they navigate their first week home. 

Follow us to one of the recipes:

Chicken Salad