Continued from here.
I waddled out to the car and got into the front seat with an old beach towel wrapped around me. We weren't out of the driveway of the apartment complex before the on-call doctor, who wasn't one of mine, called on my cell phone. I had only met this doctor once, and I wasn't a big fan at that point (it was during that hospitalization back in February for gastroenteritis, during which he questioned my ability to check my own blood glucose or decide how much insulin I needed for myself, one thing that typically turns me off to a medical professional faster than anything else), but my three-doctor practice was covered every fourth night by this guy, and this, apparently, was the fourth night, so I didn't have much choice in the matter. "Come straight to registration, not the emergency room," he instructed me. "They'll be expecting you."
After I hung up with him, anyone I had promised to call when labor started began to call me back. I had the same conversation many times: "Oh my God! How do you feel?" "Fine." I didn't know what else to say. I felt fine. It didn't hurt. I was uncomfortable, but I'd been uncomfortable pretty much my whole life, and labor seemed to have little to do with it. My mother-in-law, who I have a hard time listening to under the best of circumstances, was describing in detail to me a salad she was eating, when I handed the phone to Dan. "You talk to her," I said. "I can't do this right now."
They were indeed waiting for me when I reached the hospital registration desk. Within five minutes, I was registered, tagged on both wrists with hospital bracelets, and in a wheelchair, being hustled back to the L&D unit. A tiny Asian woman in scrubs met me. "Whassamatta, Booboo?" she asked me. "You having contraction?"
"Um, I don't know, I don't think so," I said. "My water broke."
Suddenly, I wasn't. What if this was going to turn out to be some awkward incident that everyone (except me) would laugh about? "Um...I think?"
She asked me a few more questions, all of which I was very tentative about answering. I had never been in labor before; it only made sense to me that she would be much more effective in determining whether or not I was in labor, with all of her monitors and speculums and things, than I would be. I shrugged at her helplessly several times. All of this discomfort, I kept thinking, and I might not really be in labor?
"Okay," she said finally. "You go on into bathroom and put on gown, and we take a look." I pushed myself up out of the wheelchair, leaving behind the beach towel I'd had wrapped around me since we left home. I glanced at it: It was soaked. "Oh," said the nurse. "You in labor, Booboo."
I was, frankly, elated to hear it. I undressed and put on a gown, leaving my clothes behind in the bathroom--it was more work than I was really up to doing, at this point, to pick up after myself. I crawled up into the hospital bed. "I might need some kind of towel or something under me," I told the nurse. "My water broke, and it's leaking."
She tucked a giant waterproof pad under my butt. "There, you all set," she said. Nurses and other people were putting monitors on me, starting IV's, doing a pelvic exam. "You have a little mucous," said the little Asian nurse, who was manning the speculum. "You lose your mucous plug yet, Booboo?"
"No," I said. "Um, I was just coming from the doctor's office when it broke. They did a pelvic exam then too."
"Ohh," she said. "This not mucous. This KY Jelly!" She giggled. I did not find it nearly as funny as she did. She glanced at the monitor. "One centimeter," she said. "And you're having contractions every two minutes."
Really? Really? From nothing an hour ago to thirty contractions an hour and one centimeter dilated now? This was going to be a snap.
The doctor I didn't particularly care for came in, and he didn't seem to remember me, which was fine with me. As I always do in a medical setting, I immediately explained that I am diabetic, my control is excellent, I will be monitoring my blood sugar myself, although I'd be more than happy to check it for them anytime anyone wanted to know what it was, and I would be administering my own insulin. I do this simply because I liked to choose my own injection sites and give my own shots; the lancets that hospitals use for a blood sample for blood sugars are enormous and hurt way more than the ones I use and nurses like to give injections in the upper arm, which hurt more than the abdomen. This was something I'd written into my birth plan months before and that my own doctors had approved. "I have no problem with any of that," the OB said, surprising me a little. "Your water's broken, so you're not leaving here without having a baby," he said. "How's your pain?"
I considered. "Maybe a two out of ten." It really hurt a lot less than I thought it was going to.
"Okay," he said. "Well, let the nurse know if it gets worse."
The nursing shift was changing over, so the little Asian nurse was leaving and a younger (younger than me, I would guess) African-American nurse was coming in. One of the last things that the Asian nurse said to me was, "They're starting four C-sections down the hall in a few minutes. You want epidural, you want to do it now. Otherwise, there might not be an anesthesiologist for awhile."
Well, there was a thought that was gonna fester. How long was "awhile?" Until midnight? Sometime the next day? I might already have a baby by then. Having an unmedicated birth had been absolutely nowhere in my plans. What if the next contraction was the one where it really started to hurt? The nurses could give me pain medication by injection, but everyone who'd ever had a baby that I'd talked to said that shots didn't make the pain better, they just made them care less about it. There's nothing like the prospect of giving birth to bring out a woman's issues with control. "Okay," I said. "Let's go ahead and have the epidural then."
They sent Dan and my mother out of the room to do the epidural, leaving me alone with the young African-American nurse and the anesthesiologist. I don't remember why, but Dan said that it was a non-negotiable; they didn't give him or me a chance to argue. The nurse had me sit on the edge of the bed with my arms over her shoulders like I was hugging her. I don't like to hug strangers on my best of days; this wasn't my best of days and I was now uncomfortable in a multitude of ways. I was braced for a lot of pain when the anesthesiologist gave me the numbing shot before inserting the catheter. It didn't hurt really at all, just a quick hot jab and that was it. He was fiddling around behind me, his equipment laid out on the bed by my bare butt. "Okay," he said, "I can't get this catheter to go in. I'm going to have to flush out the space between two vertebrae with some saline solution. This is going to hurt a lot."
When a pain-management specialist warns you that something is going to hurt a lot, do yourself a favor and take him at his word. I am not a screamer and I think I have a pretty decent threshold for pain, since I'd endured a couple of unmedicated hours of pretty rapidly-progressing early labor without complaint so far, and worse pain than that before. I screamed involuntarily. A lot. There were noises coming out of me that I didn't recognize as being human; they reminded me of a night a couple of months earlier when we'd been sleeping with the window open and two wild animals--foxes, maybe--had had some kind of a death match right underneath our window. It felt like someone had plunged a red-hot knife into my spine and was twisting it. The hugging nurse rubbed my neck and said some things that I'm sure were meant to be soothing, but it was the kind of pain that would have, under circumstances when there wasn't a pointy wire dangerously close to my spinal cord, made me thrash around and kick whomever was causing it.
I almost gave up on the idea of the epidural, but he'd gotten the catheter into place and almost immediately I began to feel the effects. All of a sudden, it was as though my hips were gone. Then my thighs. Then my knees and eventually, within a few minutes, my feet were gone too. They let Dan and my mother come back into the room, and the nurse came back to put in a Foley catheter. I wasn't thrilled with the idea--for some reason, that one small indignity seemed like just a bridge too far. She did point out, logically, that the Foley was something of a must when you couldn't feel anything from the waist down, including the urge to pee, and lacked the muscle control to prevent yourself from doing it involuntarily. I tried not to think about the weird set of plastic giant-tweezer-looking things she came at me with, or the Betadine, or the rubber tubing. "Is it going to hurt?" I asked her apprehensively.
She took a seat down between my feet. "It probably would," she admitted cheerfully, "if you could feel anything. You can't feel anything, can you?"
"No," I admitted, feeling stupid. It's just that if anything was going to be as painful as the epidural had been, I was willing to pretty well give up on any of what might be coming next, including the part where I pushed out a baby.
Like every other L&D nurse that I encountered that day, she was efficient and pleasant while taking care of that particular task, and when she was done, offered me a little binger shot of some kind of pain reliever to give the epidural a head-start. The epidural had a pretty good head-start all by itself, but at this point, the thought of experimenting with narcotics was sounding moderately intriguing to me, so I agreed. She put a shot of something in my I.V., and within seconds, my head was so pleasingly fuzzy I could barely keep track of where I was. "I like the epidural man," I told Dan. "I think we should send him a Christmas card this year. Or maybe buy him a new station wagon." The room was swimming around me. "Maybe I'll take a nap," I told him and my mother. "This might be a long night."
To be continued...
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Continued from here.
I am officially, by the most conservative of estimates, 30 weeks pregnant today. That means that in less than 10 weeks, The New Girl will be putting in an appearance.
I am officially beginning to freak out, in several different ways. I was so totally gobsmacked to be pregnant, finally, last fall, and to be pregnant under such an unbelievable amount of financial and personal stress, that, to be honest, I had a very difficult time accepting the idea that I was pregnant at all, despite my constant morning sickness, despite my official status as a run-on sentence (translation: my missing period. Get it? God, I'm funny), despite my bone-crushing fatigue that had me asleep on the couch by 8 o'clock every night, despite the multiple pregnancy tests that came up positive.
Everything seemed to happen to me all at once--I got a new job, our car was stolen, the holidays that ended up being so thoroughly dismal, Max going back to school full-time--to a degree that I didn't feel totally able to process the fact that I was finally pregnant with the baby we'd wanted so much for so long. So I didn't. We didn't make any plans to move out of this tiny condo that would be the perfect size for one or maybe two people, but is exhaustingly cramped for two people plus a three-year-old. We didn't buy a crib. We didn't buy anything at all, really, until after we found out we were having a girl--a fact, incidentally, which only served to make the entire thing more unbelievable. Partially this was just practicality--why buy a bunch of new baby clothes for a second boy? We've already got one boy and a whole lifetime's worth of clothes, and if it's a girl, we'll need different stuff anyway. But partially, it was my reaction to being pregnant at all.
I have ten weeks to do 40 weeks worth of worrying, and have come cruising out of denial mode into full-on WTF??? mode. I'm worried about a million things this time that last time never even crossed my mind. In an effort to talk myself through the crippling anxiety I am feeling, I am currently trying anything I can think of.
It occurs to me that I have never actually written down Max's birth story, which is practically unheard-of on a Mommy blog, which, more or less, is what this is. It's one of the first things I go looking for when I'm reading some other mother's blog for the first time, reassured by the fact that none of the weird, painful, awkward, embarassing, uncomfortable, startling things that happened to me were really that weird, painful, awkward, embarassing, uncomfortable, or startling.
So, in an effort to quiet some of the worrying that I am finding myself trying to cram into ten weeks worth of pregnancy, I'm going to spend the next few whatevers telling Max's birth story in a reminder that sometimes things just happen in an average, totally expected, not at all premeditated way, which, overall, was my experience with Max.
On June 18, 2005, I was 38 weeks and 3 days pregnant with Max. A few days earlier, I had gotten a call from my OB, Dr. Bushrod (a hilarious name for an OB-GYN, I think) saying that she wanted to induce me on June 21st, as she'd be going out of town and wanted the baby to be born on her watch. While I am technically a high-risk pregnancy, due to being a type I diabetic, it was as uneventful a pregnancy as anyone could have hoped for, save for one short hospitalization at 22 weeks due to getting a gastrointestinal bug that made me as sick as I've ever been in my life, requiring several days of IV fluids and an anti-emetic that is still by far my drug of choice. I'd had no problems with high blood pressure or anything else, and the baby was responding well to the multiple tests I was having every week. I was having an ideal pregnancy, even for someone whose didn't have health issues that could turn pregnancy into a nightmare.
My parents arrived by car with, among other things, the frozen top layer of our wedding cake that afternoon. Our first wedding anniversary was July 17th, and I was looking forward to finally getting a slice of that cake. On my wedding day, I'd been too busy running around, talking to people, to ever eat more than just that one bite that Dan had fed me for photos. Their plan was for my stepfather to fly back to Kalamazoo on the 20th, leaving my mother here for the first several weeks to help out, then fly back in early July to drive home with her again, with Dan's parents arriving that afternoon for 9 days.
The night before my stepfather flew back to Kalamazoo we went out and picked up take-out barbecue, then took it home to eat it. It was punishingly hot already, and I was spending most of my time either on the couch, complaining, or in the apartment complex's swimming pool. Most of the time I was there, I complained too. My mother baked me a blueberry buckle, which is a really yummy yellow coffee cake studded with blueberries and topped with a brown sugar strusel topping, which I was eating entirely too much of, mostly because it seemed to be one of the few things that didn't require me to chase it with a handful of Tums.
The next day, June 20th, we drove Tom to Dulles, which is, inexplicably, the airport which my parents prefer to fly to and from whenever they visit, which I don't understand--it's the least convenient and farthest away from us. We'd only been there once, and I didn't know the way--nor did I particularly care. I was riding along only because I was tired of complaining inside my own apartment, and also, because Dan didn't like to be that far away from me, and he was going along.
We got lost on our way back from Dulles. It's easier to do than you'd think, especially if you need to stop for gas, and, like my mother, you manage to do so in the least likely spot on earth. I sat crankily in the back seat of the car, wishing like hell that I wasn't pregnant. Somehow, we ended up in the middle of downtown D.C., on Constitution, while my mother gazed around and remarked repeatedly about how exciting it must be to actually live here. I wanted to punch her in the face.
Dan managed to get us back to 295 southbound, which took us through several not-great neighborhoods and along a rather heavily potholed route. In the back of my mother's Jeep, I kept picturing the contents of my uterus bouncing off my cervix every time she hit a bump. "Sorry!" she kept calling out merrily. "Doing okay back there?" I grunted at her, picturing the flat spot on my kid's head, that I was sure would result from his skull being bounced off my pelvis for two hours.
We went to my last doctor's appointment, where I shed my pants and gave my OB one final look at my cervix. "Still closed," she said. "Maybe a little shorter than earlier this week. No contractions or anything?" she asked.
"How would I know?" I asked. I'd never had a contraction, not so much as a Braxton-Hicks contraction, that I'd been aware of.
She laughed. "You'd know," she said darkly. "We'll see you tomorrow night at the hospital for induction." I felt like I was joining the army. I put my enormous maternity pants back on and waddled back to the waiting room.
We'd been waiting for the crib that we wanted to be in stock at Sears Essentials in Clinton, Maryland, for several weeks. On the way home from the doctor's, which was in the professional building next to the hospital, I asked Mom to stop at Sears so that we could pick it up.
Dan and I made arrangements for the boxed crib to be brought from the back of the store to the front, which required several walking trips through the store. Mom lost interest and wandered off to look at baby clothes. Finally, we were walking from the back of the store to the front one last time, me waddling several steps behind Dan, who'd never really learned to adjust his walking speed (typically, I walk much faster than him, because my legs are longer) to accommodate my pregnancy. Dan was talking, not really aware that I'd fallen behind him by several steps, as is his wont, and I was not really listening to him, thinking to myself, God, I'm just so effing uncomfortable, I'm so tired of feeling so totally uncomfortable, and what is this thing that's happening now, this is fucking miserable, I just wish it would stop--when all of a sudden, it did stop. Instantly. At the same instant that it stopped, I felt what can only be described as a hot, wet bomb going off in my crotch. It didn't hurt--in fact, it relieved some of the intense pressure I was feeling, so it actually felt pretty good--but an instant later, I felt something warm and wet running down the inside of both legs.
I stopped instantly where I was, and just about that time, Dan realized I wasn't walking with him. "Dan," I said. "My water broke."
Dan looked at my feet, then at me. "Are you sure?" He was looking for the puddle that he assumed I would instantly be standing in. But all I could really feel was a trickle--like I'd had to pee really badly, and I'd sneezed, or laughed hysterically.
"Yes," I said. I'd never been so sure of anything. It wasn't a feeling you could mistake for any other feeling in the world. I could feel my underwear and pants becoming increasingly wet.
Dan and I stood there for a couple of seconds, staring at each other. "What should I do?" I said. I was afraid to move.
"I don't know," he said. "Where's your mother?"
Just then, she stuck her head out from one of the aisles. "What's going on?" she asked.
"My water broke," I said.
"Oh," she said. "Oh! I'll buy a beach towel."
It was good thinking on her part. We were only a couple of miles from the hospital at that point, and the logical thing would have been for us to just get in the car and drive back. Logic, however, was not my strong suit at this point. My pants were wet, I had a bag packed at home, waiting to go to the hospital, I wanted my own pillows and things, and I thought it would be silly to go to the hospital with a crib in the back of the car. "Take me home," I ordered. "I want my stuff."
Dan and Mom didn't try that hard to argue with me. Instead, they shuffled me into the front seat of the car and drove me home, where I was beginning to feel increasingly uncomfortable. I called my doctor's office, which had closed in the twenty minutes since we left, and I left a message with the answering service, as the recording instructed me to do. "I'm one of their patients," I explained. "My water just broke." It felt like a huge relief to say so: even though I was anxious about when things would start to hurt, or I would start throwing up (which I hate to do), or things would otherwise increase in unpleasantness, I was relieved to think that there was a light at the end of the endless tunnel of pregnancy, one that hadn't even appeared when they'd given me a date for induction. The answering service said that the doctor would call me back. I felt remarkably calm and collected at this point, feeling mostly just that sense of relief that it was all almost over.
I went into the bathroom to change my pants, which was beginning to seem like more trouble than it had been worth. The pair I'd been wearing were soaked, of course, and they were the only pair of maternity shorts I owned. I'd also been wearing my most comfortable pair of underwear. I somehow managed to peel both of these off, despite the fact that I was increasingly uncomfortable, although not really in pain, and drag on another pair of jeans. The amniotic fluid wasn't a steady stream--just an occasional gush when I changed positionts or the baby moved. I found a heavy-duty maxi pad under the sink and pasted it into my maternity underwear and hoped it would suffice for the trip back to the hospital, managed to stand up and drag my pants up past my hips.
As I did, there was another gush of amniotic fluid and it was clear that any precautions I'd taken against having to go out in wet pants were going to be fruitless. I absolutely did not have it in me to change my pants again. I threw the bathroom door open. "Fuck this," I said to my mother and Dan. "Get me a towel to wrap around my waist and let's just go."
To be continued...
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
No, I don't have any pictures to show you. The lighting in my kitchen is appallingly bad and my camera is not a good enough one that it can make up for the bad lighting.
If you are just landing here, here is the recipe.
King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour--I just happened to grab that before I found the all-purpose flour. I doubt that it makes a difference in this case.
Yeast: I used a very generous 1/4 teaspoon. Heaping, almost. I didn't have instant yeast, as called for in the recipe, so I made a couple of adjustments: that little extra bit of rapid rise, for example, and also adding about 1/8 teaspoon of sugar.
One of the blogs I saw (I think it may have been Smitten Kitchen, actually) suggests that 1/3 teaspoon of rapid rise yeast is the way to go. I may try that next time.
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
Water: 1 5/8 cups of warm water.
I whisked the yeast, sugar, and water together in a big bowl this morning around 9. That's not a step that's called for in the recipe, but because the recipe also doesn't call for sugar and I wasn't using instant yeast, I wanted to give it a little head start.
Then I dumped in the flour, and, on top of the flour, the salt. Salt retards the action of yeast, which is why I dumped it on top. I have no idea if that made a difference at all.
I stirred it all together with a wooden spoon. The dough looked rough and shaggy, like the recipe says it should. I didn't find a picture of the what the dough should look like until later tonight, but when I did, it looked just like what I had made. So, I'm happy.
I let the dough rise without disturbing it for 12 hours. That seems to be the minimum rise time described by nearly every account on every website I looked at. At 9 tonight, the dough looked swollen, bubbly, and by all accounts, a great deal like it was supposed to. I was comfortable with punching it down at this point.
A small aside: I didn't actually punch it down. I dumped it out onto a very clean, well-floured countertop, and with wet hands (the flour/water ratio seems to be important here) I gave it a couple of turns, then tucked the ends under to make a (basically) smooth ball of dough.
I did the 15-minute rest that the Bittman recipe recommends. Not every website mentions this rest. I didn't know if it was important or not, but I did err on the side of caution in this case. Usually I prefer to err on the side of error. We'll see how this all plays out. Anyway--rested on the counter, lightly covered with plastic wrap.
I put the bread down for the second rise on a clean, well-floured cotton flour sack towel. They cost about $6 for five of them, and we bought a bunch of them when Max was a baby. He had reflux and a regular burp cloth was more like something for him to projectile-vomit past than an effective parenting tool. I covered it with another well-floured towel. As it turned out, flouring this towel wasn't really necessary, as the bowl I used was deep and the dough never rose that high. I did worry a little about the dough drying out and getting that funky skin on it as it rose, but it didn't.
I let it rise for a full 2 hours. At the 1 hour mark, I had Dan wash the Dutch oven. As I mentioned before, ours is used so often that it's rarely clean. At the half-hour mark, I cranked the oven to 450, wrapped the plastic handle on the lid in several layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil (the manufacturer says it's safe without it; again, erring on the side of caution) and slid the pot and lid into the oven to preheat.
Half an hour later, my kitchen smells odd. I should clean the oven more often.
I slide the pot out of the oven (using potholders! Big, thick ones. I think it's almost as important to have faith in your potholders as your spouse, and to not have that faith betrayed. You'll never again trust either a cheating spouse or a half-assed potholder; ask anyone who's had either) and take off the lid. The pot, which went into the oven dry, releases a puff of slightly odd-smelling steam. Okaaay.
This dough is extremely sticky. Following one blogger's advice, I put a big square of parchment paper over the mouth of the pot, then go to dump the bread onto the parchment, where, it is my hope, that it will all collapse into the pot. Not so: the dough is firmly stuck to the bottom towel, the one I had faithfully floured so thoroughly. I coax/peel/squish the dough off the towel and onto the parchment, carefully not burning myself on the extremely hot pot. Lid on, and into the oven.
"Is everything okay in there?" Dan asks as I shut the oven door. "Those are some...interesting smells." I love the smell of napalm in the morning. I set the timer for 30 minutes, and after some consideration (our oven does run a little hot) I back the temperature down to 425 and contemplate how to get all of the stuck-on dough off the towel without it destroying our washing machine. It's a question for another day.
The funky smell has faded from the kitchen by the time the timer goes off. I take the lid off the pot for the first time, not sure what I'll find. This part is embarassing to me. When I see what's in the pot, I actually utter the following phrase out loud:
Lightly golden brown all over, slightly craggy and rustic-looking, yet expertly rounded, the half-baked loaf of bread is like something out of a very good, very expensive bakery. This is the appearance I had in mind when I got it into my head to bake bread: something that would impress the shit out of people. The last time I got this feeling was the first time I held Max after he was born: I can't believe I did this. It's what passes for cautious optimism around here. For the first time since changing my major from photojournalism to print journalism at the end of my freshman year of college, I regret not being a more skilled photographer.
At the 14-minute mark, I go back to the kitchen, take out a wire cooling rack, and set it on the counter. I open the oven door and make a noise I don't quite recognize--probably because I don't watch a lot of porn. The bread is...it's everything I hoped it would be. The crust is crackling and deeply golden.
My only regret, so far, besides not flouring the towel sufficiently, is that I have to wait until tomorrow morning to cut into this thing.
This morning, I walk into the kitchen and lift the towel I've draped over the loaf--it offers no protection whatsoever, but it makes me feel better for some reason. The crust has retained every ounce of its crisp character. It looks...just like bread should look when it's exactly right. It's a thing of beauty. I use a serrated knife to pierce the crust, and before I've even sliced a piece off, I can feel that the crumb is light, tender, airy, and yet substantial. Again, what it should look like when it's exactly right. Into the toaster it goes.
And I eat the toast with butter. It's the best loaf of bread I've ever made, by a long shot. It is not a perfect loaf of bread. It is just a tiny bit salty. While I'd never describe the inside as "gummy," like a few people have, the interior does have a certain...dampness, but not in an unpleasant way. I'm not sure how to describe it. Flavorwise, it's incredibly deep, developed, intensely yeasty. The flavor that long slow rise imparts is like seeing color TV for the first time. It changes how I feel about bread.
As far as what I'd compare it to: maybe a good ciabatta bread. Wonderbread it ain't. I think it would make an incredible sandwich, maybe one with cold leftover roast pork loin sliced thin, a little caramelized onion relish, grainy mustard; or smoked deli turkey, very thinly sliced granny smith apple, sharp cheddar, butter lettuce, and mayonnaise. I'm telling you, I could start a sandwich revolution. I also think it would make some seriously special garlic bread.
So, next time (which will probably be today, because I am just this kind of person), I will step the yeast up to 1/3 of a teaspoon and leave out the sugar. I will dial the salt back to 1 1/8 tsp. I will do the second rise on parchment. I will probably do 1/2 bread flour and 1/2 all purpose, just to see what the difference is.
At some point in the future, I'd like to acquire an oval dutch oven (mine is round) in a 3 1/2 quart or 4 quart size, to make more loaf-shaped loaves. I am very fond the one I have, but a smaller, more narrow one might make sense. I'd also like to try some add-ins: maybe kalamata olives and fresh rosemary, sun-dried tomatoes and basil, fresh thyme and grated romano cheese.
The bread is a very-nearly-unqualified success.
A Non-Exhaustive List of Stuff I Want to Cook Before The New Girl Comes and it's All I Can Do to Just Stand Upright
I recently discovered Smitten Kitchen and have added it to my ever-expanding repetoire of food blogs that I read. Go there, right now, and browse through her recipes. They're amazing, really, and so are her photos.
I love to read about food and cooking. It's sort of like porn--there's a lot of descriptions and pictures of things that may or may not turn me on and serve as inspiration, but are probably not literally appropriate or good for me, and that I'll never even attempt to do.
That's not what I'm putting on this list. I'm putting things on this list that I am actually going to do. In a frighteningly short amount of time, my life is going to become increasingly more complicated and I won't have time or space or wherewithall to do a lot of them.
The first item on the list is Mark Bittman's No-Knead Bread. It has gotten quite a lot of exposure on the internet and lots of foodies have been making it with some great results. I love making bread, it makes me feel productive and frugal and also, I love bread. I've also made some disasterous bread, the latest of which should be idiot-proof but is no match for me: America's Test Kitchen's Rustic Country Bread. This bread bakes up big and flat and heavy every single time I make it. It's not inedible, but it's not what I have in mind, and no amount of fiddling that I do fixes it. So I have the no-knead bread beginning its long, slow rise this morning in my pantry in the hopes of making a basic yet delicious loaf of bread that's not leaden and dull, or full of fat like this one (to be fair, that last link is to some really incredibly delicious bread, but it's also far more complicated than I think a loaf of white sandwich bread should be to make yourself, and also requires things like a lot of whole milk and melted, cooled butter.)
If you'd like to make bread too, try the no-knead recipe with me. You need a big, heavy, cast-iron pot with a lid. I have one similar to this one. I bought it at Target, but it's no longer available. This seems to be the closest thing to it. If you don't own this pot, or a similar one to it, and you're balking at the price, let me just reassure you that you will use this pot a lot. Ours is rarely clean because we use it so often. You can also spend a whole lot more on a similar pot from Le Crueset or other expensive sources, if you really want to, but the differences are pretty minimal. If you want some other kind of bread to make, try this one instead. It's delicious, although it's a bird of a whole different color.
The next thing I want to make is Smitten Kitchen's 44-clove garlic soup. I know what you're thinking: Casa Nonhipster must have a vampire infestation. Really, though, one of the greatest things about garlic is that it has multiple personalities. It can be punchy and edgy or sweet and mellow, and in either incarnation, it speaks to me. Right now is the perfect time for comfort food like this soup. The weather's in the 50's; it's sorta like spring here, but not really. Spring is the perfect time for garlic. Well, really, anytime's a good time for garlic. Except, maybe, for a date. Or a job interview.
Want some more garlic-flavored inspiration? Start with Ree's garlic cheese bread. Incidentally, if you're not reading The Pioneer Woman Cooks, you're missing some of the best food writing on the internet, not to mention some of the most unrepentantly silly. Another reason to like her: she does a great job of illustrating her recipes, so you get to learn great, smart, basic techniques like the easiest way to chop an onion (seriously! So easy!) and see how things look in progress. Also, this is one of my favorite dishes ever. Do yourself a favor and buy yourself some really great extra virgin olive oil. I recommend Lucini, which is a brand that's available in a lot of grocery stores. There is a lot of terrible olive oil out there, and so a lot of people don't really understand what a life-changing experience the right olive oil can be. Don't cook with it--it degrades the oil and all that amazing flavor is wasted. Dip your bread in it, use it in salad dressings, drizzle it over hot pasta. Better yet, look for a specialty food store that holds tastings of olive oils.
If some other kind of soup sounds more to your liking, one of my favorite things ever is French onion soup. This is the little black dress of food, in my mind: simple, classic, timeless, always appropriate, elegant and flawless. America's Test Kitchen does this really well; this is their updated recipe via Cookography. I won't bother with a recipe beside this one; none I've ever seen is as good as this one, but I will say that when the onions are in the oven, I would stir them a little more often than the recipe recommends, maybe every half-hour or so. This time frame beats the pants off the hours and hours of standing over the stove, stirring pounds of sliced onions, in my mind.
Third on my list: Chicken-fried steak. Larry McMurtry, one of my mother's favorite authors, once said "Only a rank degenerate would drive 1,500 miles across Texas without eating a chicken-fried steak." I'm thinking that only a rank degenerate would go through this entire pregnancy without eating a chicken-fried steak, and I am just a regular degenerate, not the other kind. I have made chicken-fried steak before. It's not for the faint of heart. It's hard work, messy, with a lot of steps, and it's the kind of thing that makes you feel totally satisfied and yet bad about yourself afterwards. It's so easy to do badly, and yet when you put your back into it, it's almost equally easy to do well. We're not talking about rocket science here: it's a cheap cut of beef, tenderized with a meat pounder, dredged through seasoned breading, fried, and served with cream gravy and mashed potatoes. It is a thing of beauty, a very basic and yet totally irresistable thing of beauty.
I'm don't remember which recipe I've used in the past, or if I used one at all. This time around, I might try Homesick Texan's recipe. I really wish there was a recipe for chicken-fried steak on Pioneer Woman Cooks; this is cowboy food and who knows better how to feed a cowboy than a cowboy's wife? Sadly, there isn't one. America's Test Kitchen, which serves as the Holy Grail of food in my house, may have a recipe. I'm not going to get up and go look right now though, because I am currently sitting in one of the few comfortable positions that this pregnancy affords me. But before this baby comes, I will have homemade chicken fried steak, cream gravy, homemade mashed potatoes, and glazed carrots with brown sugar, pecans, and bacon. And a salad. Because, as I'm sure you can tell, I am all about the healthy eating.
If you feel like frying things, I am coming over to your house. Just kidding. No I'm not. Yes I am. But no I'm not. Anyway, if you feel like frying things, one of my very favorite food bloggers, Kim from The Yummy Mummy Cooks Gourmet recently made fried calamari. She also made these chicken fingers. I am also very partial to this firecracker fried chicken from Cook's Country, although it's really pretty complicated and messy. What's neither complicated nor messy: fried artichoke hearts, something I don't have a recipe for except for this: drain a can of artichoke hearts thoroughly. Season about a cup of all-purpose flour with a teaspoon of salt, a half-teaspoon of black pepper, and a little cayenne, and toss the artichoke hearts in the flour until well-coated. Heat a generous half-cup of vegetable oil in whatever pan you typically use for frying--I like a deep cast-iron skillet because it holds the heat well and you can fit a lot of food in it--over medium-high heat until the oil is shimmering. Carefully drop in about eight artichoke hearts, and use tongs to move them around until they are golden-brown on all sides. Remove from the oil and let drain on a plate lined with paper for a few minutes. Sprinkle with kosher salt and, if you like, finely grated parmesan cheese. These are pure wonderful. See if you can actually make it out of the kitchen with these, or if you just stand there at the counter and eat the whole batch yourself. Don't worry. I won't tell.
The next thing on my list is a potato galette. I'll probably use the recipe from Fine Cooking.com. I love how this is almost like a potato gratin, but more constructed, and almost like pommes Anna, but less fussy and with the added elements of shallots, rosemary, and cheese. I don't own a tart pan, because I don't bake a whole lot, but I do own a nice non-stick 9-inch cake pan that I'll probably employ for this use. When I was in college, my friend Ryan invited me to his home in Western New York for fall break one year, and his mother made this amazing dish that they referred to as "yummy potatoes," and indeed, they were incredibly yummy. This galette reminds me a little of that, only less rich and creamy and over-the-top.
If you've now got potatoes on the brain, let me steer you back to Ree's place (Ha!! Steer! Ree, who lives on a cattle ranch! Get it? Steer?!! Oh...forget it.) and these twice-baked potatoes. Also at Pioneer Woman Cooks: these roasted potatoes from her friend Kay.
Like the title says, this list in no way represents every single thing I want to cook between now and the end of June, when The New Girl will put in an expected appearance. But creating a new human being seems to have stoked my creative fires a little, and I'm wanting to stretch my culinary muscles a little, make and consume things that I don't get a lot of. Maybe this is how my nesting instinct is manifesting itself this time around. At any rate, I promise to update you on what I make, how it turns out, and in general, what happens around here. I may not have a lot of money, time, or patience, but I do have a lot of fun.
Monday, April 20, 2009
I like sandwiches.
I have no idea when in my life I determined that a sandwich was a thing of beauty, but I have loved sandwiches from way back. Seriously, what is better than a sandwich? When it's done right, it's an amalgamation of textures and a marriage of tastes that are so much greater than the sum of their parts.
One of the first meals I fed my husband that really sealed the deal for him was a meatball sub. The process of making these subs was involved--hollowing out individual French loaves, then toasting and grinding the bread from the hollowing-out into fresh bread crumbs. Mixing the bread crumbs with ground beef, eggs, parmesan cheese, garlic, fresh herbs, salt and pepper, then forming and baking enormous (think nearly-baseball-sized) meatballs on racks in the oven. Simmering the meatballs in homemade tomato sauce, then nestling them lovingly in the hollowed-out bread with sauce, smoked provelone cheese, and then broiling them to create sandwiches, perfect, golden, toasty sandwiches. You may think this sounds like a lot of fuss to go through for a guy who I hadn't dated for more than a few weeks; in my opinion, a great sandwich is never too much effort. Also, I was 27 at the time; I was starting to feel the pressure to go ahead and land myself a husband. Anyway, as you can tell, it was worth it.
I've met very few sandwiches I haven't liked. When I was younger, my mother used to make sandwiches from sliced, salted radishes with cream cheese on wheat bread. Delicious. One of my favorite scenes from a movie, any movie, is the movie "Spanglish," when Adam Sandler, who plays a chef, comes home from work late at night and makes himself a sandwich in his own kitchen: a decadent and slightly over-the-top concoction created by Thomas Keller, chef of Napa Valley's restaurant French Laundry for the movie's creator, consisting of toasted rustic country bread, mayonnaise, thick-cut bacon, butter lettuce, tomatoes, Monterey Jack cheese, and a fried egg. Watching the single-minded dedication that his character puts into it is inspirational, especially when you consider that after a night in a restaurant kitchen, the reward of getting to sit down and eat that sandwich made it all worthwhile. One of the best things about moving home to Kalamazoo, Michigan, will be being close to Main Street Pub, the restaurant where Dan proposed to me, where they make an open-faced sandwich--its name escapes me at the moment--of toasted rye bread, ham, turkey, tomato slices, cheddar, and homemade blue cheese dressing, all broiled together. A friend of ours used to manage the Pub, and he told us once he had invented that sandwich as a hangover cure for the restaurant staff.
I've written about sandwiches before--plenty. Mostly here; also here (that Thomas Keller thing), and here. I want to know about your favorite sandwich. My favorite sandwich is hummus, very thinly sliced red onions, cucumbers, chopped kalamata olives, diced very ripe tomatoes, crumbled feta cheese and sliced avocado on a good-quality flour tortilla, wrapped up like a burrito, and sliced in half. When the tomatoes are really good, like in about August, I like a BLT too, with a few leaves of basil and some sliced fresh mozzerella, on good toasted bread with mayonnaise.
What's your perfect sandwich? It can be anything; use your imagination. A sandwich is way more than just a couple of slices of deli meat slapped between bread; the only way to screw up a sandwich, in my opinion, is to fall down on the job and assume that a sandwich is boring. Leave me your favorite sandwich in the comments.
Friday, April 17, 2009
Scholiast: “n. a commentator on ancient or classical literature”
Um, who are the Morans? I think my parents' next-door neighbors last name is Moran, but I'm pretty sure one of them is a retired teacher and the other is a research scientist.
Oh well, whatever. Yeah, Morans! Get a brain! And Go!Thing three: For the record, "teabagging" means something else. And I'm pretty sure that Republicans don't do it. Unless you're Senator Larry Craig. But I couldn't find a picture of that. Also, this is a family establishment, you sicko.
Y'know what? I'm starting to think the Republican party doesn't even need an opposition party. They're doing just fine on their own. Also, they're practically writing the jokes for me.
So. We have this condo. It's a two-story condo, basically, with a large loft where Dan and I have our bedroom/office/space. There's a ledge that extends off the loft, across the dining room wall, above the door to Max's room, which is just wide enough to store decorative things on, basically. It's not accessible--there's a railing--which is to say that it's where all the crap that we don't want Max tearing apart ends up, because he can't possibly reach it and wouldn't even try, since he's not allowed in the loft without permission.
Currently, there are a few plastic bags holding outgrown/discarded/otherwise unsuitable clothes until we have time to make a run to the Salvation Army, Max's old bouncy seat, and the frame backpack carrier stored up there, as well as a couple of baskets with most of my yarn stash.
Our cat, who I long ago determined was incurably criminally insane, likes to climb through the railing and onto the ledge, where she can peer imperiously down at us, with an expression of "you stupid effing people. I hate you" on her face. Right now, there's not a lot of space up there for her, but she can peer imperiously down at us from pretty much anywhere on the loft, really. She doesn't need to be on the damn ledge.
Today, she climbed out onto the ledge, on top of the plastic bags, and through one of the legholes of the backpack in an effort to peer at us. Since the backpack and the bouncy seat are balanced somewhat precariously on top of four plastic bags, I was thinking this was probably a pretty stupid idea, but I live with a pre-schooler and a giant man-child, so a pretty stupid idea doesn't rank that far up on my list of Things I Need To Prevent From Happening.
Of course, unsurprisingly, the backpack and the bouncy seat began to slide down the stack of plastic bags. It's not an enormous drop--maybe twelve feet--from the ledge, but I wouldn't want to fall twelve feet, and I suspect my cat doesn't either. Nevertheless, that is precisely what happened--bouncy seat, backpack, and incurably criminally insane cat stuck inside the backpack all slid down the bags and fell off the ledge. There wasn't a thing Dan or I could possibly have done to prevent it, since we were both standing in the living room at the time.
The cat crawled out of the tangle of backpack and bouncy seat, looking totally humiliated and frustrated. She saw us both looking at her, and--no lie--sat down in the bouncy seat, stretched out, and gave us the imperious peer she'd been planning to bestow on us from the ledge. "I wanted to sit here," she said calmly. "I just wanted it downstairs, not on the fucking ledge, you morons."
Saturday, April 11, 2009
When he was about 14 months old, Max took a big face-planting fall off the arm of the couch, headfirst into the back of a chair that was sitting nearby, onto the floor. It was truly one of the most awful moments of my entire life, that split second of stunned silence between crash and screaming. It's the first time I can remember him having really hurt himself--he'd had stomachaches and other minor ailments before, and he'd certainly been uncomfortable, I'm sure--but he'd never really been hurt before. In the second it took me to get to him on the floor and flip him over, looking for blood or broken teeth or anything visibly terribly wrong with him, I burst into tears too. Dan was in the kitchen correcting papers at the time, and I screamed for him. He came running, I sat on the floor holding Max and wailing, Max flailed wildly and cried, and once he determined that there wasn't anything really wrong with any of us, Dan sat on the floor next to us and comforted his crying wife and son.
He wasn't hurt, luckily. Max is like a cat: it seems to me like he should have gone through all of his nine lives ten or twelve times over by now. I've read more near-misses and horror stories recently: babies who've rolled off their parents' bed onto a hardwood floor, toddlers who've miraculously been caught by a passing stranger as they've fallen from a third-story window, and of course, like nearly every blogging and Twittering mother on the planet, I was shocked and horrified to read earlier this week about little Maddie Spohr.
It's gotten warm here over the last few weeks, and for several hours in the afternoons most days, we've opened the windows, and Max has taken a particular and somewhat peculiar joy in pressing his face against the window screen in his room and screaming out the window at the top of his lungs. Yes, I'm aware that my kid is a bit of a total weirdo, but at any rate, no. We live on the third floor, and there will be absolutely no pressing of our heads against a window screen. The screaming I can live without, but the real issue is the visual I have of the screen giving way and Max falling headfirst out of the window, three stories, into the parking lot below. It's one of the few infractions of the rules that has earned Max a spanking: we only spank for things that could seriously hurt him or someone else.
I can't prevent every header that Max is determined to take off the couch. I just can't. This kid is three and a half. Sometimes they have to fall down, just to check to see if gravity is working. I get that. I can (and do) keep the machetes and heroin and porn out of his grasp (yeah, the heroin and porn are all mine; hands off, kid), but I can't eliminate every sharp corner and edge and forehead-level-everything from our house. And furthermore, I don't want to. He is, after all, three and a half. At some point, you should learn not to walk headfirst into things.
When he was six months old, Max was exposed to whooping cough from a ten-month-old who had not been immunized according to the CDC's childhood vaccination schedule, or, as it turned out, according to any medically-recognized vaccination schedule at all. Max had just received his third dose of the DTaP vaccine when he was exposed, but I was concerned enough to call his pediatrician immediately. I was further concerned a few days later, when I learned that the older baby had, sadly, died. Max has a wonderful pediatrician, a brilliant clinician and an extremely capable woman who's never pooh-poohed my concerns, no matter how outrageous they may have sounded to her, and the first thing she said to me was, "You've done the right thing calling." She immediately looked at his vaccination records to see that he was fully up-to-date, saw that he was, and said, "My immediate thought is that he should be completely fine, but keep a close eye on him over the next two weeks." Done and done, I thought. I was a stay-at-home mother at that point; I had not a whole lot else to do besides keep a close eye on him.
Max never developed so much as a sniffle. In checking with the local health department, I learned that six cases of pertussus were reported in conjunction with the baby who died; all were children who were on "alternative" or "delayed" vaccination schedules. They never ascertained exactly how many people were exposed to pertussus; but no fully-vaccinated children or adults reported becoming ill.
Let me repeat that, because I think it's significant: no vaccinated children or adults reported becoming ill. There has been a lot of talk about vaccination lately; Heather Armstrong at Dooce is a lightning rod for most internet-based parenting controversy and this is no different.
My feelings about vaccination is pretty straightforward: I have and will continue to vaccinate my children on schedule against anything that they have vaccinations for, including measles, mumps, rubella, diptheria, pertussus, polio, varicella, hepatitis A and B, rotavirus, Haemophilus influenzae type b, pneumococcal, influenza, meningococcal, and HPV. These are, by all reliable accounts, medically safe and proven to prevent, not cause, life-threatening and devastating diseases, anecdotal evidence notwithstanding.
I could not be more sympathetic to the parents of children who suffer from autism-spectrum disorders. I have a nephew who's suffering terrible social, developmental, and learning delays due to an autism-spectrum disorder. As a parent of an energetic and precocious pre-schooler, I am struck multiple times a day by how much of a challenge a totally normal kid is; I simply cannot fathom the depth and breadth of challenging a delayed child.
When Max fell head-first off the couch, I immediately blamed myself. I was sitting right next to him; why didn't I grab him? Why did I let him climb the arm of the couch? What was I thinking? He could have broken his skull, his neck. I could be sitting here holding his dead body right now! What is the matter with me? That's why I cried, not because of him getting hurt. I cried because it was my fault he fell.
You spend nine months, minimum, anticipating and growing this tiny little human being, and they hand them to you, and they're perfect, a total stranger to you, but still somehow exactly what you were expecting. When this perfect little person turns out not to be perfect, of course there must be a reason for it. Of course. Of course parents struggle to find some reason that the train has come off the tracks in such a thoroughly hideous way.
Vaccines are taking the heat for things that they're just not responsible for, and as a result, there are individuals out there who are making the decision not to vaccinate. As a result of that decision, diseases that should be practically extinct on this continent are making a comeback, and my kids are being exposed to things like whooping cough. Here's a news story from today, about patients who've been exposed to measles in a local hospital.
I know it's not pleasant, the idea of your baby getting a shot. But at the risk of sounding intolerant, the mothers that tell me, "I'll never vaccinate my precious children, I can't imagine making them get a shot," well, don't get pissed at me or anything, but I'm going to be forced to push you in front of a bus. That's what's known as thinning the herd where I come from.
The same goes for parents who tell me, "I won't vaccinate my children--everyone else does, and they'll never be exposed to anything for that reason." Well, your thinking is flawed, and you clearly don't have much of a grasp on, you know, science, but whatever. Do me a favor and don't let your kid come within twenty yards of my kid, okay? They probably don't wash their hands either.
And for the parents that cite the anecdotal evidence of vaccinations causing developmental delays, I don't know what to tell you, except that I'm afraid of my son falling down. I'm afraid of him falling off the couch, I'm afraid of him falling off the bed, I'm afraid of him falling out the window, I'm afraid of him falling off his bike and off the playground equipment and from the loft in our condo and down the stairs. I'm scared to death of the feeling of helplessly watching him fall, the anticipation of the sound of him colliding with a hard surface, the sight of my own hands reaching toward him just a second too late. I'm afraid of that moment of silence before he starts to cry, of that moment going on and on and on, holding my breath while I wait for him to start to cry, and what will happen if I never hear him cry again, how I'd ever be able to stand it.
But I know he will fall down. I know he will. I know he'll hurt himself, probably, at some point seriously. I did. When I was about Max's age--younger, maybe--I fell skiing and sprained my ankle badly, an ankle I've reinjured numerous times since then, probably due in part to the injury that I sustained when I was three. Kids do that. It happens. You take risks, calculated risks. You spank them for leaning on the window screen on the third floor, but you cheer when they ride away from you on their bikes. You stop them from jumping on the bed, but not from jumping down the last two stairs.
I am vaccinating my children because I feel that it's not only the responsible thing to do for them, but it's also the responsible thing to do for my community. I can't depend on other people to be responsible, so I do my part. Herd immunity is something everyone has to contribute to; I do my part by contributing, and I will continue to do so. I have no good evidence that vaccinations cause anything other than immunization.
Sure, go ahead and don't vaccinate your kid. But don't tell me I'm harming mine by vaccinating him. Don't tell me I'm putting him at risk. I'm not stupid and this is the calculated risk I'm taking: the slim possibility of vaccine reactions versus the much-less-slim possibility of devastating neurological damage or death due to a preventable illness. I get it, okay? You take risks as a parent. This is the devil I know versus the devil I don't.
And do me a favor: if you're not going vaccinate your kid, keep him away from mine. I wasn't kidding about that.
Monday, April 6, 2009
Today is the first day of my reincarnation as a stay-at-home mother. It only sort-of counts, since Dan is on Spring Break this week and home with us, but I am making a concerted effort to not talk about how much it sucks--indeed, I am trying to make it not suck at all in fact--and so, instead I'll talk about some other things.
Twitter: I am loving Twitter. I am forced to be pithy, witty, and, because my mother follows me on Twitter, I am also forced to be appropriate. Neither of these things come naturally to me, so it's a little like having enrolled myself in boot camp. I still hope my mother doesn't know about this blog, because if she does, I will have to stop talking about her behind her back.
"Chuck": Is anyone watching this show? It is funny and sorta edgy in a good way (executive producer is McG, of the first "Charlie's Angels" movie, the one without Demi Moore, the one that didn't suck) and smart and and tech-y, and the girls in it literally kick ass. Go to www.thewb.com and watch the first season of it, then to www.hulu.com and watch the most recent seven or eight episodes of it, then try to catch up with the other episodes of it, and you'll see some really swell guest stars, like Michael Duncan Clarke and Nicole Ritchie and the guy who played the heroin-addict rock star on "Lost" whose name I can't remember; I think he got killed off awhile ago but I quit watching "Lost" because, oh my crap, I seriously can't follow that show at all. Nothing has ever made me feel quite as stupid as "Lost," except maybe "Philosphy and Religion of the Modern Western World," a course I took as part of my honors humanities semester in college. I somehow managed to get in to college; this course made me think I wasn't smart enough to have finished kindergarten.
Bargain Lunch: I bought two cans of Progresso Tomato-Basil soup (10 for $10 at Safeway this weekend) and a bag of Barilla Three-Cheese Tortellini ($2.49.) I cooked and drained the pasta, then stirred it into the soup over medium heat. I added a little chopped fresh basil, freshly ground black pepper, a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, and a little parmesan cheese I found in the back of the fridge when I was cleaning it out this weekend. I have two meals, easily, for $4.49 plus the cost of whatever I already had on hand, and it's rich and filling and delicious. I also think it would be delicious with some chopped pepperoni thrown in there, but if we had any pepperoni in the house, I would just be sitting on the couch eating it. Obviously.
Doughnuts: I recently discovered Laurel Tavern Doughnuts, a tiny little doughnut joint in our town. It is run by an Asian family who only makes about six varieties of doughnut, but they are so incredibly good I may not ever go to Krispy Kreme again. These doughnuts are seriously made out of...I don't know. Angel feathers and pictures of kittens and puppies, I guess. They are light, perfectly crisp, tender, and completely perfect in every way imaginable, and I could eat probably eight of them at a sitting, especially the blueberry doughnuts. That's right, you heard me. We've been there twice in three days. They're also cheaper than Krispy Kreme by half.
Naptime: Does this require an explanation?