Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Gingery carrot soup

I've been wrestling with a resurgence of morning sickness, which I think is related to the late-2nd-trimester heartburn that has reared its ugly head. As a result, I didn't want anything this morning that didn't have ginger in it. I raided the wilty produce in my kitchen and came up with this -- which is delicious.

You may use nicer produce, of course. I can't help but think that that would only be a step up.

Gingery Carrot Soup

about 3/4 pound slightly bendy carrots, scrubbed and lopped into large chunks
3 just-larger-than-golf-ball sized yellow potatoes, scrubbed and chunked
2 withered, overripe red jalapeno peppers, stemmed, seeded, and cut into chunks
2 inches of shriveled gingerroot, peeled, cut into fine slices
water just to cover vegetables
1 1/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon garam masala powder
1/2 teaspoon or so of salt (go gradually; your spice powder may already contain it)

Put vegetables, peppers, and gingerroot in a pot and just cover with water. Bring to a gentle boil until they smell wonderful. Pierce vegetables with a fork to test doneness: if they seem done throughout, drain off about 2/3 of the water and blend until smooth with a handheld blender. Add milk until texture is pleasing (you will probably have to do this as you blend), then add spice and salt to taste.

The seasonings approximate the flavor profile of palak paneer, which is my very favorite thing when I can face spinach. The ginger might be a little fiercer than you want unless you are really into fierce ginger; feel free to halve it! This quantity of jalapenos doesn't make the soup really fiery, just spicy -- halve them, too, if needed.

Monday, August 16, 2010

What to expect from "What to Expect When You're Expecting"

If you know anybody who is pregnant, please offer her the following advice:

Do not assume that the prenatal reference book with the most worrying factoids, statistics, and advice is the most accurate or complete one.

What I mean is, you don't want scary stuff in your house. Why? Because every symptom, every twinge, every stray thought has you running to your reference books and to google things, and you can scare yourself silly. Literally silly.

What to Expect
is an immensely popular book. It's a frequently revised book. It's not inaccurate (not exactly). But it presents its material in such a way that it normalizes panic and can reinforce a small concern into a tsunami-level freak-out. (So can most web searches, so be careful.)

You don't really want a book that is vague about warning signs, or tells you what symptoms might lead to miscarriage. Really. These books are designed to talk you into taking seriously the gravity of what you are doing, and the importance of care. But what they SHOULD be designed to do, for those of us who already take seriously our pregnancies, is to reassure the patient when a symptom is likely normal.

Enter a few probably-better books, recommended by my no-worries-focused birth forum on BabyCenter:

The Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy
Recommended by a BTDT (been there done that) mom with five kids, because it contains information she'd never seen before during her previous pregnancies, and because of its matter-of-fact presentation. I have not read this book, but Amazon reviewers like very much that it tells you when NOT to worry versus when TO worry in simple chart form:
"For example, if a woman has slight spotting during the first four weeks of pregnancy, the chart tells her to notify a doctor during her next hospital visit. But if she has any bleeding at all during weeks 29 to 32, the chart indicates that she should tell her doctor immediately." (from the Amazon description of the book)

Your mileage may vary, but this book might have saved my doctor's sanity during my first trimester, when I was calling, crying and terrified, every other week when WTE told me I was probably miscarrying.

Great ExpectAtions: Your All-in-one Pregnancy Resource
by Sandy Jones and Marcie Jones
This recommendation came from one of my favorite people on BabyCenter, who is sensible, calm, loving, and supportive, and who has a medical background. She likes it because she finds it to be all the things that I treasure in her... so I KNOW it's good. It also provides awesome new-parent information like the anatomy of a stroller -- AND the same authors wrote an early-childcare reference guide, too, so if you like it, there's more where that came from.

From the Hips: A Comprehensive, Open-Minded, Uncensored, Totally Honest Guide to Pregnancy, Birth, and Becoming a Parent by Rebecca Odes and Ceridwen Morris
This one is my personal recommendation. It's upbeat, non-judgmental (if you don't want to be berated about your controversial choices on hot topics such as cloth vs. disposable diapers, circumcising or not, breastfeeding or not, co-sleeping or not... this is probably your book), and presents facts simply and comprehensibly without dwelling on the creepy -- and without encouraging the reader to dwell on the creepy.

Dad's Pregnant Too: Expectant fathers, expectant mothers, new dads and new moms share advice, tips and stories about all the surprises, questions and joys ahead...
by Harlan Cohen
This book is hilarious, reassuring, and informative. I got it for Pat when I found that he was reading just the "just for Dad" sections of WTE, and am incredibly glad that I did. First of all, he loved it. It knows its audience -- new daddies -- and it's written well to answer their questions and address their concerns. Secondly, it's brilliantly informative: Pat has been able to answer my questions about what is going on in my body, even when my other books and searches, and my obsessive personality, hadn't discovered the answers. And lastly, it brainwashed him -- for the better -- which I wouldn't have asked for but I ain't looking a gift horse in the mouth. The morning after I got this book I woke up to a sparkling clean toilet and bathroom. When I thanked him, Pat told me, "My book says that if you have to throw up, you shouldn't have to do it in a skanky toilet." Awwwww. Isn't that sweet?

I am sure there are more out there, but I know about these and felt like passin' on what I knew to you. And there we go. :)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

West African peanut stew

We had an exhausting but wonderful day, and I felt like making something nourishing and festive, but simple. I decided on my old standby, West African Peanut Stew.

It's SO perfect, even in the summer heat. Maybe especially in the summer heat. Give it a try -- it's customizable, so it should please almost everyone who likes peanuts.

Peanut Stew

2 to 3 cups water or low-sodium broth (tonight I used chicken)
2 cups protein of choice (tonight I poached a little bit of chicken in the broth, then added raw soaked chickpeas to make up the rest of the quantity -- they cooked in the broth)
1 small onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 small bell pepper, minced (optional but totally authentic)
Vegetables as desired: tonight it was about a cup of cauliflower florets and about 2/3 cup of sliced carrots, but green beans really shine in this soup
about a cup and a half of juicy diced tomatoes -- canned are fine
about a cup of peanut butter -- I prefer unsweetened and chunky, but go with your heart here
about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon red chili flakes (or cayenne to taste)
salt to correct seasoning, if needed (I never do)
juice of a lemon to correct acidity, if you feel it needs it (I did tonight)
chopped cilantro leaves, if you like them and want the color contrast (I did tonight)
cooked couscous or rice to serve alongside or under

If your protein of choice isn't cooked, poach it until it is. Cut into bite size and set aside to add later.

Put onions, garlic, and any hardy veg that you would like to be soft into broth and simmer until done to your liking. Add other vegetables in time to get them done to taste.

About two minutes from having the veg done, add the tomatoes, peanut butter, reserved proteins, and spices. Simmer, stirring, until peanut butter loosens and thickens the sauce into a uniformly creamy gravy. I really like a silicone spatula for this because it keeps the mixture from sticking at all to the pan.

Taste and correct seasonings as you please. Dish will be mildly spicy, with gentle acidity playing peek-a-boo behind velvety peanut butter flavor. Serve alongside or atop your couscous or rice (or millet, or whatever.)

Feel that all is well in the world, and you have gotten a hearty dose of protein and vegetables and whole grain (if you use brown rice or whole wheat couscous, which are actually much better than refined versions with this dish) with all that peanut oil.

Oh! And don't be afraid to scale this down, or to scale down the amount of peanut butter, if you are cooking for fewer than four big eaters, or if you don't want so much fat in... it does fine if you free-form it.

That's it! Enjoy!

Edited to add: I think the leftovers lose a lot in translation: the flavors get too muddied and homogenous. Pat told me he'd knife-fight me for them, and he doesn't seem to share my opinion. Soooooo... I'd recommend making less of this if you have less people, but Pat would probably make a big batch and eat all the leftovers. Your mileage may vary.

Friday, August 6, 2010


It's my 22nd anniversary. I cannot imagine being without Pat, who has been my other half since 1983 or 1984. We became fast friends in our freshman year of high school and started going out together in our sophomore year. But it's all passed in the blink of an eye, and at the same time, a long, golden summertime.

I am 25ish weeks pregnant with my first baby, who wiggles constantly, letting me know he is there and ever so active. We got to see his face during the ultrasound earlier this week, and he looks like his daddy. He is big and healthy. (Really big, actually -- but my dad and brother are 6'7" and 6'8" respectively, so that's not terribly surprising. Also I am taking algal DHA, which makes big babies. I'm SURE they'll test my blood sugar, but those are thoughts for another post.)

I am 40 years old and, though I have never felt my age, I have never felt better.

Today we are spending the day in a whirl of home improvement, apple-farm visiting, beach walking, and diaper sewing (I suckered Pat into cutting out fabric for me.) Tomorrow, we'll take a leisurely walk at the waterfall at which we were married, and will go to a nearby tourist trap to eat gluttonously and wander around gazing at each other.

Life is good, and filled with love. Hope your day is just as glowing.