Tuesday, August 2, 2011

So you're thinking about having a baby...

First of all, let me assure you that nothing I have ever done has given me so much joy and delight. Having a baby to raise is magical: they are members of the family from day one, full of idiosyncrasy and intelligence, magical in their ability to apprehend the world around them for the first time and still really get it.

However, please don't assume that nothing will change. Here are a few honest truths.

1) Tell your partner you think you should see other people. Er, person. Small, demanding person that you will both love madly, derangedly, passionately. You will find yourself telling your child that s/he is your favorite person in the universe, right in front of your mate. You will kiss the bare skin of the baby a million times in the first month -- hundreds of times a day. You will dangle upon a toothless smile. This swoon of love is wonderful, but it will change your relationship with your partner; you will not have much time together, and if you do, you will speak in glowing tones about the new girl/guy in your life the whole time. Ouch. Look, this is truly nice, but you will find yourself getting misty about the times when you could spoon your lover's back and just listen to him/her breathe.

2) Your body will no longer be your own. Let alone the gross and magical things that happen to you while you are bringing the baby into the world, as I am sure you have thought about them -- and maybe you have come to terms with peeing yourself, etc. No. I am talking about all the other stuff. The hours spent expressing milk in one fashion or another. The long days without a shower or even sometimes brushing your teeth. Skin on skin, the baby's on yours, until you cannot stand another touch. Being poked, prodded, punched, slapped, pulled, tweaked, suckled, bitten, drooled on, sneezed on, vomited on. Having tiny handfuls of hair pulled out painfully or torn off. Not being able to wear your glasses without incurring a sharp, if clumsy, punch in the nose. Being used as furniture. Having your spider veins and moles picked at obsessively by an observant little ape with sharp fingers. Being kissed with a wide open and drooling maw. Getting slapped in the face with a drooly hand. Waiting to pee until you do actually pee yourself while bending down to change a diaper, all because you dare not disturb your progeny. Getting strong in the arms and back from lifting but flabby in the middle because you never go out anymore. Saying goodbye to sleep. Saying goodbye to your bed -- both for lovemaking (if you share a room with a bright-eyed light sleeper) and for sleep (since said light sleeper will often demand to cozy up with you, taking up the whole bed.)

3) You will change. What happened to the woman who couldn't abide irritating noisy toys, and who didn't want any plastic junk around? I seem to remember she never thought she'd eat anything that had been in another person's mouth. And she never, ever wanted to co-sleep with a child. She didn't like to be touched very much, because it made her skin sore. She was very clean about her person and thought she wouldn't let anybody ever, ever eat off her floor. She was definitely going to use cloth diapers all the time on her baby. She was going to make ALL the baby's food and was not going to humor picky eating. She hated the idea of a pacifier. She was going to give birth naturally, and to nurse the baby at her breast for two years. She knit, wrote fiction, made (and wore!) perfume, maintained her ties to the world. Her. Wow, where the hell did she go? Ah well, we don't need her. She didn't have a fucking clue what was going on in her world.

In her place, there's a woman in a milk-stained shirt and faded sweat pants, with unshaven legs and the distinct aroma of the unshowered. She has her ragged and torn hair up in a tight ponytail to avoid grabby hands: she looks like she trimmed her own bangs in desperation with nail scissors and the only product in them is baby drool and maybe a stray Cheerio. She's barefoot because she isn't going anywhere she doesn't have to go and because the bottoms of her shoes really aren't clean enough to bite, so they are exiled to the closet. Her toenail polish is chipped and has grown partly out; it's not that great a color anyway. Her knuckles are reddened and rough from washing up in hot water, and her nails are down to ragged stubs surrounded by hangnails, because they, too, are dry. Her unmoisturized arms are a solid mass of bruises, one with the very distinct impression of small toes.

She is grinning like a god-damned fool.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Bread, booze, and bragging...

My dad and stepmom just visited us, and it was a really nice visit, marred only by us catching a plague that seems Of Biblical Proportion because Pat is teaching four classes plus handling family visit and because Fletcher is 7 months old. They were here for Father's Day, and we had a terrific barbecue-get-together thing. My stepsister came too, bringing her three sweet little kids (who were very excited to meet Fletch) and so all my dad's kids were there. Yay!

For this event, my stepmom made a tasty dessert. I noticed it bore some resemblance to Paula Deen's "gooey butter cakes" and was just on point of asking about it when she presented me a handwritten, water-stained recipe.

"It's your Grandma Rose's 'Tea Brag,'" she told me. "Your grandmother, Grandma Rose, well, I guess she called it a 'Tea Brag,' I think that's right... I think she'd like for you to have it, and make it, her Tea Brag, this is her recipe anyway."

I love my stepmother. She does have occasional fits of batting at the English language like a cat with a toy or a bird trying to get out through a screen door, though, so I abandoned the momentary impression that she'd had a stroke and was trying to say "tea bag" for some reason. I gave her the ol' "do what now?"

She handed me the recipe. Sure enough, it was labeled "Tea Brag." Huh. I've heard of buckles, slumps, bettys, grunts, pandowdys, etc. but never a "brag".... but wait, back in the murky depths of my teenage holiday memories I remember Grandma calling this cake a "brag." Weird.

So I did what any sane person would do: I told Pat about it in the car and told him about its weird, rednecky ingredients miraculously forming a squishy sort of fruity cake. He shuddered in horror. He actively dislikes many of the ingredients and has the luxury of being snobby about cake, since I bake most of ours from scratch, and I have a knack for cake (unlike pie crust!).

And then he googled it with his iPhone. In moments he told me, "It's a BRACK. Tea brack. It's an Irish recipe."

Every recipe for Tea Brack that I found bears zero resemblance to Tea Brag, but I think it really is the inspiration. The thing is, the recipes for Tea Brack are so mad, so completely crazytown, that I had to make one.

I dug out my Irish cookbook (yes, I have one.) And that's just what I did -- I made Tea Brack. It's a boozy sort of fruitcake/bread pudding affair. Yes, make one. It's awesome in a kind of I Have Gone Mad And Will Now Cook With Booze-Soaked Prunes kind of way.

Anyway, for your delectation, here are both recipes. I am doing you the courtesy of halving the Tea Brack recipe because honestly, nobody needs two huge bread pans full of this stuff. A little goes a looooong way and having eaten one slice, I feel like I've had a reasonably stiff drink. Yikes.

Tea Brack, the way I made it (only halved because the original recipe lied to me and seriously, you do not want two of these the first time you make them)

ONE POUND of dried fruit, mixed of whatever. I used prunes, unsulfured apricots, dried cherries, raisins, and some dried cherries I had around from another project.
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 cup Irish whiskey (but I used Southern Comfort because I am a redneck and that's the whiskey I had)
1 cup strong black tea, preferably Irish Breakfast but I used double bergamot Earl Grey
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon "apple pie spice" (cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice evidently. I got lazy and used pumpkin pie spice -- which I had -- and a little extra cinnamon and nutmeg)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 eggs (you could probably just use two and use a wee bit more flour. I won't tell. The original recipe makes an ass-ton and uses 3 eggs, so I am doing you a favor here.)

Mix the fruit and sugar. Pour hot tea and room temperature whiskey over, and leave to soak overnight. I forgot to cut up the fruit into reasonable sized pieces, so after soaking, I tried to cut it up in the processor; this made the part I did this to resemble mincemeat or a coarse, lumpy puree, so I gave up and used half un-cut fruit and half minced soaked fruit. Don't be like me. Cut your fruit before you soak it, unless you forget and are like me after all.

Take time to giggle fiendishly about how preposterous this recipe is. Consider using just dried apples and uncrystallized candied ginger next time. Consider what all this dried fruit and booze will do to your insides. Stop considering.

Mix in eggs, flour, spice, and baking powder. Turn mixture into a well-greased 9 X 5" loaf pan (that's the big fat loaf pan -- seriously, I have four and only one is that big). Bake for an hour at 350.

Online sources will tell you that this is nicer when underbaked a bit. They fucking lie. It will be mooshy even when it is properly done. Bake it for the full hour. Hell, give it another 5 minutes. Maybe more. Keep an eye on it, it's trying to get away with something.

Allow to cool on a rack in tin for a few minutes before turning out onto rack and cooling some more.

Serve a nice boozy slice slightly warm with butter on top. Ahhh. Weird. But tasty.

Tea Brag
, as written by my stepmom, following Grandma Rose's recipe

Butter 9 X 13 bake dish
Pour in 1 can cherry pie mix
Pour over 1 can crushed pineapple
Next sprinkle 1 yellow cake mix over fruit & "mix" slightly [I love the quotes here]
Sprinkle some coconut over mix
Layer chopped nuts
Drizzle 1/2 c melted margarine over entire mixture
Bake 325 until done = 35 minutes

Believe it or not, this turns out pretty festive. Tasty but very sweet and gooey and sort of undefined. I'll leave my feelings for margarine and cake mix out of it, and Pat's feelings about coconut and nuts in cake... really, you should make one some time when you are feeling lazy and sweet-toothy and have to make dessert for a crowd. It's fancy. Faaaaaancy.

Anyway, enjoy! :)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Seasonally inappropriate corn casserole

So because I do an incredible lot of baking in summer, because evidently my inner thermostat or common sense sensor is broken, I was making a cake. And it overflowed the pie pan it is prepared in. And even though I thought that this pan was bigger than the one that had previously PERFECTLY held the same recipe, it was smaller and I don't fail like this often. But it overflowed and sent berries and cake and sugar onto the floor of my oven and it burned like blazes. (As an experienced baker, I am embarrassed. Seppuku with a pie wedge will probably follow.) So...

I tried an oven cleaning tip I picked up on the Internet. Now, Sally Homemaker, I am not. But I got tired of setting off the fire alarm every time I bake anything above 350 degrees -- which, as you recall, is often in the summer (partially because I know I can open doors and windows to let the smoke and fumes out in summer, whereas in freezing weather it is less practical) -- so I looked up oven cleaning tips. A year ago. And continued to just unplug the alarm and fling it across the room when it went off every time I baked, until the boil-over.

The fire alarm issue was the result of me setting the oven on fire three Thanksgivings ago when I made candied bacon to top a dish. Candied bacon is delicious, but it's baked atop parchment paper. I unfortunately stuck it in the oven right after turning off the broiler (which cooks above Fahrenheit 451) and boy, does pork fat and brown sugar and paper burn bright! Got to show Pat you can put out kitchen fires with baking soda, so I managed to impress him despite rookie firestarter behavior. Hat trick!

So back to the boilover. It was foul and left a thick burned mass reminiscent of those awful Fourth of July "fireworks" "snakes" that just smell bad and grow and grow. Yuck. It necessitated action.

Here's the thing: put baking soda on it and keep baking. Later, scrape out the majority. Mix baking soda and water, put in a cheap garden mister and mist the oven just before every time you preheat. It'll pull the burnt grunge and ash off the walls and you can just mop it out later with a damp sponge. No elbow grease, baby!

Having accomplished this and still astonished at the efficiency of the operation, I decided to make corn casserole. It's rednecky wonderful and I jazzed it up a bit to pretend it's Mexican because I am pretty sure Pat preferred the quesadilla option for dinner and was just being polite.

Rednecky Pretend It's Mexican Corn Casserole

*1 1/2 sleeves saltines, because you know you bought a box to eat chocolate frosting on, but you don't have any more frosting and, you know, buying more for stale crackers would make you totally hate yourself
*2 cans cream style corn, which you totally have in the cupboard even though you have no idea why the hell you keep buying it
*half a can of evaporated milk, same shopping drill as the corn
*one small can of minced green New Mexico chiles, because you're guilty about the quesadillas after all
*a pitiful looking hunk of cheese, grated, to give a quesadilla feel to the thing (yeah, sure it will!) and because fuck it, the original recipe I learned in the 70s used a lot of butter and cheese won't make this worse for me. Hell, corn was considered a vegetable instead of a starch back then! Cats were dogs! It was madness!
*a heavy pinch of cumin seeds to make it more Mexican-ier
*a heavy shake of black pepper because corn loves pepper
*shortening, because I don't grease pans with anything else

Grease your casserole dish. Poke some small pinholes in your saltine sleeves, and crush saltines beyond recognition. Mix corn, chiles, cumin, pepper, and corn. Layer cracker crumbs with corn mixture several times (first layer will be crackers). Drizzle some evaporated milk over the top. You can dot this with butter if you want. Bake at 400 in your newly cleaned oven until crusty and set; believe it or not, this really will kind of set up without an egg, but you can add one if you want insurance. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Fourteen days

Fourteen days ago, Fletcher figured out how to crawl.... sort of.
Seven days ago, Fletcher figured out how to crawl better.
Five days ago, Fletcher figured out how to sit up from a lying position.
Four days ago, Fletcher figured out how to stand up unassisted.
Yesterday, Fletcher figured out how to say "Mama!" and "Daddy!" He may have been doing it for a while, but he is understandable now.
And he finally figured out, over the last couple days, how to eat non-pureed soft foods. He enjoyed tastes of cake, chili cheese fries, and beer cheese yesterday (and let me tell you, that's an awesome food day for mom, too.)

Life happens fast. So fast!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Healthy philosophy

I don't know why my brain has been sifting the aphorisms that serve as linchpins of my personal philosophy, but it has. These little gems may or may not form anything coherent when assembled, but they add up to a bit of my own operating manual. And hey, after reading a handful of them, you may understand why I'm incoherent myself.

A lot of these seem to be about anger management. Weird! I didn't know I thought about it so much.

If you quit something you've committed to, be sure you leave on a high note. You'll be likelier to feel as if you're really finished, and you won't be making a mistake. If you quit on a bad day, you might cheat yourself out of some good ones. I got this one from a pumping/breastfeeding forum the other day and thought it was brilliant.

My darling Grandma Red told me this when I was a kid, and it has stuck with me. If a spat can be settled before you sleep on it, it doesn't simmer in your consciousness all night and leave resentment in its wake. This piece of advice has led to a lot of late-night letter-writing and exhausting postmortem conversations, but I believe it has also saved me from some long-lasting anger issues. And it allows you to wake up fresh and happy in the morning.

Another Grandma Red-ism. Punching down the dough, shaping the warm elastic mixture, watching it rise, breathing the heavenly smell of homemade bread... it's therapy. It's a plus that you end up with a lovingly produced, special, homey gift to offer your loved ones; you can literally turn your negative feelings into positive ones as you work through them in productive, contemplative labor. Just be sure that this isn't the only time you make bread!

I think I lifted the phrase "cuddle a grudge" from a science fiction writer -- Robert Heinlein or David Gerrold, maybe. The thing is, a grudge doesn't do you any good. Cherish the best in your life, not the worst -- feel free to dismiss grudges before they taint your outlook.

When I told Grandma Red that I was getting married, she was the only person who was unabashedly delighted. Our parents thought we were too young and it showed. She sat down with me and held my hand, and gave me a good talking-to including lots of advice. I told her how delightful it was that she was happy about the upcoming nuptials rather than shocked because of our age, and she said, "Honey, it is true that you are young. You probably have some growing up to do, both of you. But if you grow together and not apart, your marriage will only be the stronger." So we share hobbies, run errands together instead of separately when possible, share social activism and volunteer together, and hang out together a lot. Guess what? It works. We're incredibly codependent and some friends treat us as if we're indistinguishable -- we're not, but we do have a lot in common (just as the Emperor had foreseen.)

EXERCISE IF YOU ARE FEELING DOWN (e.g. "Go outside!" or "Let the sun in!")
It works. If you're having a blue day, get out into the sunshine. Our brains are wired such that natural colors center us and make us feel better. It's convenient... guess where there are lots of natural colors? Outside! Go outside, take a walk, do some exercise or chores, and your body will feel better... and so will your brain, and mood. At the very least, you smelled some fresh air and got yourself a little endorphin high.

Another Grandma Red-ism, which she annoyed me by uttering every time she babysat me when I was sick. She's shoo me out of bed, make me wash my face and do my hair and put on lipstick under the pretext that I'd feel better if I did. It always irritated me that it really did work. Now, I rarely wear cosmetics other than lotion and colorless lip balm, but even those help. Something about the physical activity of getting ready, or about knowing that you are presentable, makes you feel nice. When my doula brought me lotion and lip balm, and my mom brought me new nighties, when I was in labor and hooked up to IVs and stuff -- boy, did I feel better. Even better when the nurses finally let me up to shower after 3 days.

I used to be very into meditation and believed I was nourishing my spirit and body by inhaling "prana," which I visualize as little spirit krill that live in air. Now I believe in deep breathing for other reasons as well: oxygenation, stress relief, a way to buy a few moments of thinking time before making a decision or undertaking something risky. It also significantly affects my blood pressure -- for the better.

I go round and round with this one. On the one hand, I detest the neutering of expression in order to speak no evil; an otherwise excellent former boss was incapable of saying things plainly. She couldn't say anything negative, even when the situation was very clear cut -- and wouldn't tolerate it in her employees. We weren't permitted to say something was a mistake when it could be termed a "teachable moment" and so on. But... if you pep-talk yourself, think positively, and husband your energies, you will be happier and more effective. So there's something to this -- just try not to extend it so far that you sound like a cultist.

This, I am NOT conflicted about. I have a guilty pleasure: reading an online advice column twice a week (and the ensuing wrangle in the comments section). Facebook is to etiquette as wedding photography is to small claims court... people fight about it all the time. It all boils down to the Golden Rule; don't be a jerk. This is more important than ever in the era of social media and remotely stored persistence of commentary.

When you go out, feel like you look good. Wear colors you like, bright ones if you dare. People always compliment me when I'm dressed in my loudest colors and I am just learning that I should listen to them. (Also, having a baby means I've turned up in lots and lots of pictures... and I've discovered which clothes make me look like a feature on People of Wal-Mart. I am trying to get rid of those outfits.)

I found this on a cooking blog and promptly forgot where I got it, but it's marvelous. I wish I could say who had said it first, but it's too good not to share because I can't reference it. Are you ready? Don't save the good wine for later. Don't save the fancy olives. Eat them, drink them, don't try to have your cake and eat it too (but later.) Eat your freakin' cake already! Miserly behavior (other than saving money) is crazy, hoarding activity. Take joy in the little pleasures that present themselves to you in life. Likewise, wear your expensive perfume, and your fancy clothes, and eat off of the good dishes.

A Zen cooking show taught me this. Take a break from multitasking and just do one thing. Meditative, mindful activity is well-spent activity. It is restorative to the mind and fills the soul.

Another nudge toward mindful living, hailing from the first years of our birding hobby. For reasons I won't go into here, we call goslings "geeshes." They are the epitome of tranquility -- eager, bright-eyed, never stressed or worried. If you're looking at them, put yourself in the same frame of mind. If you're not looking at them, why not? Google makes birdwatching easy. :) But it doesn't have to be geeshes, it can be baby ocelots, anteaters, or humans. The women's magazines often run blurbs saying that to look at cute images helps increase workers' productivity -- and I think it's because we dismiss all the drama and fuss that makes us ineffective when we reorient toward that innocent, loving, unworried state we see in young animals and humans.

And, as always, let me nudge you toward the Parable of the Bitter Tea in the Principia Discordia. Diluting something bad leaves you with something weaker -- and still bad. Start afresh when you need to; you'll be glad you did. Just, you know, don't quit on a bad day. :)

Sunday, April 24, 2011


There really are a couple blog entries between these recipes, but they're invisible. You see, I never finished them or hit "publish." So I'll get them out in the next few days.

In the meantime, Happy Easter, or whatever spring holiday woke you up with a smile on your face. :)

But make this within the next few days or you'll be sad that you took so long to do so once you finally get around to it. Seriously. Do you have eggs, milk, honey, and flour? Make this.

Don't be scared to pull out the fancy honey for this either. You can really taste it.

This delicious dish is like a baked custard mated with a Yorkshire Pudding, right on the nexus of milk & honey. It IS milk and honey held together with eggs and just enough flour to allow it to puff and brown on the edges.

Finnish Pancake

3 eggs
2 1/8 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
scant 1/4 cup honey
3/4 cup flour
3 tablespoons butter
(You could optionally flavor this with vanilla extract or beans, or with nutmeg, but why? The honey is soooo good in this.)

Heat oven to 425 and put your 10' iron skillet in it to heat up. In the meantime, beat the eggs until homogeneous, then mix the eggs, milk, salt, and honey until well amalgamated. Beat in the flour until no lumps remain.

Remove the skillet from the oven and drop the butter into it. It will melt and foam. Swirl pan so that the sides are buttered too and the whole bottom of the pan has been slicked with foamy butter. Pour in the custard mixture and put it all back into the oven.

Leave it alone until it is puffed, browned on the curled edges, and set in the middle (a knife inserted in the center will come out "clean.") There will be a little lake of butter on top, so be careful.

Serve immediately, because it looks most impressive that way, with additional honey and fresh fruit piled atop it. But you won't be able to eat it until it cools just slightly, because it has the immediate aspect of lava.

Should serve 3 or 4, but the two of us ate it all by ourselves (again.)

Oh. My.

Emily, so far as I know, honey is all right for an expectant mama. But remember that baby can't have any until he or she is a year old for fear of botulism toxin. This will be an issue. Fletcher wanted to remind me today that this should properly serve 3 or 4 people, and one of them is HIM.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Recipe contest over at Food 52!

I saw a contest on Food 52, one of my favorite recipe sites and food communities, for "your best dumplings," and could not resist getting involved. Chochoyotes! Oh yes, chochoyotes!

So I entered: Cheesy chochoyotes with chicken and enchilada sauce is the recipe, and my name there is Literary Equivalent. Please don't be shy about stopping in to vote for me, if you tried the recipe a couple weeks ago when I posted it on this blog and liked it.

I changed the default cheese to cotija. Why? Because I am obsessed with cotija cheese now. Here's another quick recipe for you, if you're not skurred of carbs...


1 largish or 2 small Yukon gold potato for each diner
2 teaspoons salted butter for each diner
coarse salt and coarsely ground black pepper to taste
1/2 to 1 ounce cotija cheese for each diner

1. Get up early and decide that you don't want to cook anything complicated. Wash and pierce potatoes and microwave on "potato" setting until done. (You could oven-bake these for even more omnomnom, I think.)
2. Discover that what you thought was plain yogurt is actually a pink-and-black science experiment, and that you don't have hummus right now. Split potatoes and put butter and salt and pepper on them to taste. Don't forget to grumble about not having hummus.
3. Remember that you have cotija cheese in the fridge that you meant to use in more esquites. Wonder why you haven't made more esquites, as they were so delicious when you did. When cheese turns out to be fresh, add to potatoes.
4. Eat. OH MY GOD. How is cotija cheese so good on potatoes?
5. End up buying more cotija cheese just to eat on potatoes.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Baby love

At the risk of overloading some of you with baby baby baby all the time, I thought I'd share some cuteness.

Fletcher is "eating" "solid" "food" now. Against my halfhearted objections*, he started with a binding starch (organic brown rice cereal) and, of course, was bound up by it. Then we tried carrots, avocadoes (not terribly popular, but maybe that was because I didn't puree it as silky as the other things), and peaches. So far everything is from scratch.

Another of baby merriment:

Daddy singing "Who Let The Dogs Out," which gets a laugh - Every. Single. Time. (Even if Mommy sings it.) This one's relatively recent.

* Objections only stated half-heartedly and overruled by his pediatrician, who gave us a VERY traditional timetable for introducing foods: cereal, then veg (yellow, then green), then fruit, then, much later, proteins. Frankly, this is at odds with the latest in pediatric nutrition. And it's silly to think that they won't want vegetables if they've had the sweet taste of fruit; breastmilk is lots and lots sweeter than any fruit I've tasted. (Think Yoohoo without the chocolate flavor.)

3000 words.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Twinkie Cake, for my mom. And talking about mom.

That's right, folks, I signed contracts to become an insurance agent -- not an employee, but a business owner and agent in her own right. While that may not get me out of the "I can afford dry beans and ramen, but not together" situation I am in now within the next few weeks or months, it is an exciting path for the future. If you know Californians in need of insurance advice or quotes, for Heaven's sake, send them to me.

Life has been crazy. I have hardly sat down in the last 10 days or so unless it was because a baby demanded that I lie down JUST SO beside him and NOT MOVE until he was really, really asleep. Unexpected little events (and big, expected ones, like a friend's memorial service) have been popping every day.

On Friday, I realized that I had neglected to ask anyone to babysit while I went to my friend's memorial. I called Mom, but she told me she was busy, having been invited to a special event (a gambling tournament!) She said she'd rather babysit Fletch, but I told her to GO to her event and let me find another sitter. My good buddy and doula April said yes, but while I was on the phone with her (only 10 minutes!) I got 3 call-backs from Mom. When I finally caught her call, she told me breathlessly and in tears that she had canceled her event and please, please, please to let her babysit. So I did what any good daughter would do...

I scolded her gently and made her call her concierge to get re-added. And I offered her a couple hours with the baby if she wanted them in the morning, when we were getting ready. I had to: she was weeping and wailing that I had only just started letting her babysit (untrue: she babysat while we did Christmas shopping when Fletch was under a month old) and now she had messed it up (apparently by making me an idiot who doesn't call for childcare until the night before an important event she has known about for a month... I mean, c'mon.)

When we went by her place, she did what she usually does: offered us every object that had touched the baby without raising his objection -- blankets, toys, pillows... and... the laundry basket. (I reassured her that he would see them again at her home.)

The laundry basket, you ask?

The laundry basket. She had made a nest in it of blankets and toys, and had propped him up to sit in and watch TV with her. Evidently it was popular with the little guy, but there are no pictures to prove it. (Yet!)

I love my mom. She loves us to distraction, and/but is highly impractical and sometimes unrealistic. It always seems to involve laundry baskets.

Case in point, when we lived in Chicago and she found out that we lived in a walk-up with an outdoor stairwell to the laundry room, and that it was often snowy and icy in Chicago, she designed and recommended in great detail a system of ropes, pulleys, and laundry baskets, so that I didn't have to risk slipping on the icy stairs while moving my laundry and groceries up- and downstairs. Never mind that we didn't own the building and our super probably wouldn't like the changes (let alone the landlord!) -- she insisted that it was a building improvement that our neighbors would deeply appreciate.


I hear the Rube Goldberg music from a dozen cartoons in my head when she starts talking. But I love this weird personality feature, and I love my mom.

So, for mom... Twinkie Cake.

Despite my culinary hate-on for White Stuff (that greasy hydrogenated-shortening-based filling inside Twinkies, Oreos, and their ilk), I come from a family of avowed junk food junkies. My mom particularly likes knock-offs of Twinkies ("Banana Twins" in particular, but any knock-off will do) and all other things fakey-banana-ey, such as banana Runts, banana Laffy Taffy, and those evil orange Circus Peanuts candies -- but only if they have been left in a car's glove box in the hot sun until they properly approach the texture of pemmican. Last week, I decided to surprise her/cheer her up by making a Twinkie Cake. So... I invented one for her.

This recipe could be as simple as "make your favorite white cake, yellow cake, or pound cake recipe -- from scratch only please, cake mixes are for chumps -- and add a teaspoon of banana flavoring and a half teaspoon of vanilla extract in lieu of whatever flavorings it normally calls for. Frost with homemade vanilla icing." Because Twinkies are just banana cake encasing a creamy white filling, it will taste authentic. Neat, huh?

I, however, did NOT use my favorite cake recipe. I experimented with one of those too-good-to-be-true recipes I found online with like 4 ingredients. The cake was excellently textured, but dry and firm. It would make an excellent cake for decoration, but I'm going to fall back to one of my favorites in the future.

Here is the cake as I made it last week. It can be better, but it was pretty good, really; I just like my cakes spongy and moister than this turned out to be.

Oh, and you could totally customize this into a Dreamsicle cake instead by using orange flavoring and maybe by adding in (or subbing-in for part of the liquid) some thawed frozen orange juice concentrate.

Twinkie Cake
(adapted from Scott Osman's Simple White Cake and Pioneer Woman's That's The Best Frosting I Ever Had.

(The addition of more sugar and oil, and/or the addition of two egg yolks and omission of a whole egg, would make this cake a lot moister. Just sayin'.)

1 1/2 cups white sugar (you could make this two cups)
3/4 cup butter (you could make this one cup)
3 eggs (or 2 eggs plus 2 yolks)
1 1/2 teaspoons banana flavoring
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (do not do as I did and sub in cake flour!)
2 1/2 generous teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup milk

Cream sugar and butter together for a pathologically long time. It helps to have a stand mixer and an irascible four-month-old; walk off to deal with the baby's complaints and forget to turn off the machine for 5-10 minutes. Come back and add the eggs/yolks, one at a time, and mix until light and well incorporated. Beat in flavorings and then add dry ingredients. Mix in milk and spread batter (which should be thick) into greased and floured 13 X 9 inch pan. Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes or until a pick inserted in the middle comes up dry. Don't overbake.

Let cake cool and frost with a batch of Pioneer Woman's finest. Do me a favor, though, and use superfine sugar (the baker's special stuff) instead of normal white sugar for this frosting recipe. You can cream butter and sugar together for a million years and still have grit if the sugar isn't superfine. (NOT powdered, that's the wrong stuff.)

This is tooth-achingly sweet, but perfect for your Twinkie junkies.

Love you guys. Let me know if you find something amazing to do with a laundry basket this week. ;)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Chicken and cheesy chochoyotes

Okay, YUM.

This is mostly enchilada sauce, but who cares? Delicious. This will serve two very generously.

First, put a whole chicken breast (both halves) into the oven to bake. I baked mine about 20-25 minutes at 350, after salting and peppering liberally, in a nonstick-sprayed pie plate.

Then, mix 1 cup of masa harina with 3/4 cup water, a healthy sprinkle of garlic powder and/or cumin, a pinch of salt, and a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Knead and let rest 30 minutes

Cut about an ounce or two of cheese (I used sharp cheddar) into little cubelets.

Enchilada sauce:

2 T butter
1 onion, cut in thin half-moons
3 cloves garlic, smashed and sliced or chopped
4 T flour
1 big chipotle chili (dried), ground to smithereens in a coffee grinder
1 T ancho chili powder
1/2 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cumin seeds
the liquid that drains off the chicken while it bakes
3 cups water
1 small (15-oz.) can of diced tomatoes
salt to taste

Melt butter and brown onion lightly in it until golden. Add garlic and flour, and stir until the roux has turned softly golden. Add spices and liquid and simmer, stirring frequently, until rich and delicious. Turn down to a bare simmer.

Make little balls of the masa mixture enclosing nuggets of cheese. Scatter into enchilada sauce and cover, simmering for 5 minutes or so. Add sliced breasts of chicken, scatter more cheese on top if desired, and simmer another 5-10 minutes.

This makes enough for two HUGE portions plus leftover sauce. You could serve four if you doubled the chicken and masa dumplings, with the same amount of sauce (no need to double it!)


Milk-makin' Muffins

These are not health food, but they do provide healthy nutrients and are loaded with lactogenics.

1/4 cup ground flaxseeds
3/4 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 cups oat flour (or grind them yourself in the blender)
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
1 1/2 cups mashed bananas, very ripe
3 T melted butter
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp rum flavoring
a few grates of nutmeg

Blend dry ingredients and wet ingredients, separately, then mix until just blended. Fold in nuts and chocolate chips. Put into well greased muffin tin and bake for 18-20 minutes at 400 degrees. These are really tasty.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Lactogenic foods...

I'm experiencing the normal hormonal shift-back-to-normal and subsequent milk production drop that everyone seems to do around the fourth month postpartum, so I have been looking into lactogenic foods.

There are lots of terrific recipes (well, versions of the same terrific recipe or two) out there for lactogenic sweets: Lactation Cookies and Lactation Muffins. But what if I don't want to gorge on sweets?

Many cultures, particularly Asian cultures if the Internet is representative of the global population, have special foods (often soups) for new mothers. Many of those foods are explicitly intended to increase milk supply. In my own experience, chicken soup, sweet potatoes, oatmeal, and beer have been widely recommended.

But what if I want to buck tradition and just make something to eat that might help me? Fine. I'll make up my own recipes. And maybe someday I'll name them something that doesn't sound totally gross. :)

EVERY single item in this soup is considered lactogenic. Ta-daaaah!

Lovely Lactogenic Lentil Soup

1/2 large sweet potato, cut into small dice
1 cup red lentils
2 1/2 cups water
3 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
3 tablespoons ginger, minced fine or grated
a couple pinches of sea salt
2 tablespoons tahini
3 tablespoons nutritional yeast (which IS deactivated brewers' yeast IINM)
1 15-oz can coconut milk (I like Chaokoh)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons garam masala (okay fine, not every ingredient of garam masala is lactogenic, but more are than aren't.)
pumpkin seeds for sprinkling atop

Simmer sweet potato and lentils in water (or I suppose you could use chicken broth or veggie broth) until soft, adding garlic and ginger when lentils begin to get soft. Add coconut milk and seasonings, and adjust seasoning to taste. You could puree this and it'd be prettier; I intended to but ended up liking it chunky.

This soup would benefit from sprinklings of cilantro and lime juice, but since I was doing an art-project recipe of ALL lactogenic offerings, I left them out. Next time I will add a touch of acid, probably lime juice. If I have cilantro, I will probably add it, too.

Scatter pumpkin seeds atop for healthy minerals and enjoy!

I can't vouch for how effective this is, yet, but it is certainly tastier than the oatmeal I had the other day featuring nutritional yeast, barley malt syrup, flax, and poppy seeds. Yecch! I like all those ingredients, just... not together. So I went back to the drawing board, and was rewarded with some unseasonably rich soup, as above.

Monday, March 14, 2011

When I was a tween and young teen, my mother and I embarked upon a quest for our Holy Grail of perfumes. We had both been wearing vanilla extract dabbed on our wrists and behind our ears. Then, I think because of an industry reaction to popularized rumors/urban legends of high school kids drinking vanilla extract as a quasi-legal cocktail (ha! At those prices?!), vanilla extract got very sticky from added glycerin and such.

Love's (the people who make Baby Soft) helped us out by making a short-lived seasonal fragrance, French Vanilla. It was glorious -- just the aura of an ice-cream parlor or a bakery. There was an ice-cream cone on the label, and it came only in spray canisters that produced a fine mist. It was a stocking stuffer for me, but after she smelled it, Mom couldn't resist borrowing it every time she went out. We bought more. We bought out all the stock in our local drugstores and K-Mart, in fact.

And then it disappeared from the shelves. I started wearing some violet fragrance that good friends now assure me was vile, and Mom retreated to her Babe.

We counted down the months until Christmas, hoping it would be released again. We'd buy a case!

It was never produced again. (Now I know that changing safety regulations made it impossible to produce -- it supposedly had dangerous levels of coumarin or something like that.) We mourned and every year for at least a decade, we checked the shelves.

And we went our separate ways, perfume-wise.

You see, I remained a foodie perfumista with a definite sweet tooth. Mom has violent body chemistry that turns most such fragrances into an unpleasantly bitter, urine-tinged plastic scent -- and she likes her fragrances complex and greenly floral. Cacharel's Anais Anais was the only one we agreed on in my teen years.

The next fragrance to rock BOTH of our worlds was Skin Musk.

My mom came home one day and told me, with eyes aglow, about this beautiful, confident, sexy woman she had followed around until she'd worked up the courage to ask her what she was wearing. The woman just smiled and whispered, "just Skin." And my mom said her response had been, "well, your skin smells better than mine."

I wanted instantly to be this kind of powerhouse of feminine power, or to date her. I could see her in my mind's eye, just as Mom had described her: her flawless ebony complexion, her thrilling whisper, her enigmatic words, her feline gaze, her perfect fashion from demure coiffure to expensive pumps.

But we had no fucking idea what she was talking about.

Lo and behold, it was maybe two months later that I stumbled across a little disc-shaped bottle at the drugstore. It was sold sealed, there was no tester, and it had the word "Skin" stenciled on it. I bought it unsniffed, and found, somewhat to my chagrin, that it was a perfume oil so strong it had to be massaged into the skin in only the minutest quantities so as not to leave a visible slick.

I didn't know how to cope with a perfume oil. Perfume came as a spray, in my world. In fact, I was a five-or-six-sprayer, and prone to big ugly sharp-toothed 80s florals like Diana von Furstenburg's Tatiana. And I had big hair feathered back and wore blue eyeshadow. Yes, I was a child of the eighties.

The idea of a scent that had to be caressed intimately into the tender, ritual sites for perfuming oneself was intoxicating. Wrists, behind the ears, the hollow of the throat, the inside of the elbow, the cleavage, the navel, and -- because I had read about it as a lovely place to apply perfume so that the scent wafted up softly all day -- the tops of the feet. To apply the fragrance was almost foreplay.

And it was a sexy scent, aptly named. Skin. Oh, my.

The scent itself is rich and deceptively simple: a thumping base chord of sandalwood, vanilla, and powdery nitro-musks, all intertwined, with a coriander-inflected floral opening so understated that it melted into the base. It didn't evolve on my skin so much as colonize it, remaining faithful and true all day. It rises like humidity after a hot summer rain from the skin. And I guess it shouldn't be a surprise that it's a skin-scent that clings close to the wearer, enveloping her in a robe of fragrance, rather than a big bright spray. (That said, other people who share an elevator with the wearer will definitely smell her!)

There's a lot of moaning in perfumista circles about the reformulation of this fragrance -- and about a lot of fragrances. People blame Parfums de Coeur, who bought the scent from Bonne Bell, for mucking with it. The fact of the matter is that it was an 80s musk fragrance, and, as such, it HAD to be reformulated because its main component was outlawed. But I personally think the reformulation of Skin was masterful, and that it lost relatively little of its original nitro-musk personality when it was converted to a synth-musk. (This may be because I, like over a quarter of the population, am anosmic to a huge preponderance of musk scents -- I may simply not care about the relevant feature of the perfume.)

To me, this scent is and always was about sandalwood. And the sandalwood it recalls to my mind is a gorgeous, intricately carved vintage sandalwood fan my grandmother gave me, each of its sticks pierced elaborately and growing more resonantly fragrant with each passing year. The musk elevates the sandalwood for deeper scrutiny, like the silk thread binding together the sticks and forming the jade-green tassel that adorns it. The powdery-tonka and vanilla scents are ubiquitous boudoir scents for me, as I was (and always will be, in my secret heart) the kind of gourmand girly-girl who hoards body powder and extract bottles and chunks of soft amber in little wooden boxes.

The scent now comes in a range of styles, from the body-spray metal canister that reminds me mournfully of my lost French Vanilla scent to the little glass disc that I first treasured. My favorite way to put this scent on is still the oil; the scent is truest and most beautiful in that format, and the ritual of soft, short caresses in tender corners of the anatomy is intimately beguiling.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


I smell like sour milk, I have a stain on my third top of the day (hence the previous comment), and I am hot and cranky and tired. Fletch has a cold or something, and is most definitely teething, and has been a tiny, bald slave-driver. Pat caught the cold and is just as exhausted as I am, maybe more. But life is good overall and I have not disappeared forever.

I have been spinning some gorgeous fiber (a blend of merino wool, soy silk, and bamboo IIRC) dyed in deep greens, blues, and purples. It's fun to spin in multicolors; the cop that is building up is irregular and streaky, forming a sort of unreliable colorway with some twists of color-on-color. I don't know what I'm going to ply it with to keep up the drama. Maybe a metallic thread, maybe mercerized cotton, maybe some black bamboo or golden soy silk. Fletch allows me this hobby: he is mesmerized by the drawing out of the bright twist of fiber and the steady descent of the whorl, and loves to watch me wind the singles onto the spindle.

What else? Oh, I have acquired some Skin Musk so that I can review it for Heather... and will post that review when next I have time to think (and don't smell too much like milk to process aromas.)

Hugs all 'round.

To those of you who are childless by choice and humor my obsession with my baby anyway, thank you. You don't know how it touches me to see you casually demonstrate that you know his name, or to hear from you on unrelated issues, even as I know I may've grown a little more boring. I love you guys more than ever.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Things you will want for your newborn

I know that posts saying "you cannot live without this thing" are silly, but these are my favorite baby items. Have a friend's baby shower coming up? Expecting? Please consider adding these to your list. No joke. And no compensation is being received for my endorsements; this is a spontaneous "OMG I love this stuff" post.

The names for these items are mine, but I will try to direct you to where you can find 'em.

The $2 Garanimals ball from Wal-Mart:
here's some discussion.

Babies can hold on to this and enjoy trying to cram it in their mouths. No joke, this is a huge favorite of Fletch's and has been since he was less than a month old. I keep a spare, because he has been able since he was 2 months old to chuck the darn thing out of his carrier and into the stratosphere, evidently. There's a $5 version that includes rattles and garishly clashing colors, which is wonderful once baby is big enough (by 3 months.) I hear you may be able to find these listed as "O-balls." That fact alone should make you run out and buy one. Or two, for when the baby throws one out of the carrier and you have to say "oh, balls." (And these are great cat toys as well.)

The Fisher-Price Miracle Seahorse: link here

This thing is the snooze button that works on babies. If baby is restless and you need 5 minutes more sleep, or to run heat up some milk, or to pee before you change the diaper -- touch its tummy and the glow and music will keep baby soothed for those 5 minutes. I am amazed. It's like magic. Supposedly, it will keep being fun for him until he's 3 or so. Gosh, I hope so.

The Donut:
link here

This is like a bean bag custom tailored to your baby's shape, only it's firm. They can't use it long -- Fletch outgrew his at about 13 lbs. because he learned to slouch dangerously. But it's terrific for their comfort while hanging out watching the parental units chillin' by the TV.

That Thing Uncle Dave Got Him For Christmas:
link here

It's a teether. It's a rattle. It's very grabbable. It's a little heavy until your youngster is 3 1/2 or 4 months old, but then... oh, then, THEN it starts to hold their attention. And it's interesting for the parental units to noodle around with, too. Seriously, look at it! How cool is this thing?!

Baby Einstein Gift Set: link here

Grandpa and Grandma LouAnn got him this extravagant set for Christmas. Well, not EXACTLY this set, but a similar set (Baby Einstein seems to swap out hot toys for other hot toys). Every toy in the set is quality and made with a baby in mind. However, the specific toys you really want from the set (so far) are the goofy, cartoonish-looking red bird that plays beautifully recorded birdsongs when you squeeze its tummy, and the hard plastic light-up radio thing with the caterpillar on the handle, which plays numerous kid-able songs that you WON'T hear on every other noisy-toy you own. Wonderful, and Fletch finds everything in the set worthwhile.

Sophie the Giraffe: link here

Everybody has this toy. It should be issued with babies. That's because it's inoffensive: it doesn't stink, it makes a squeak but it's a PLEASING squeak, and it can be chewed, loved, and washed a million times. Fletch has been able to clutch this since Grandma gave it to him for Christmas. It's adorable, too, however soulless the eyes may look on first glance.

Big Fuzzy Blanket:
link here

Got this as a hand-me-down from sister Alicia. It's soooooooo soft and big and fuzzy and lovely. Don't let the word "chamois" fool you -- it's butter-soft polyester velvety stuff and feels like a dream. Do babies care how soft their blankets are? Possibly, possibly not, but this is the ultimate snuggle lure for grandparents. I wish I had one in grown-up size. I'd never leave the couch. But this one is big enough to throw over my shoulder and breasts AND cover Fletch with nicely when we nurse.

Tommee Tippee Bottles:
link here

If you bottle-feed the baby, let it be with one of these. Honestly, these are outstanding. The one down side is that the shape makes it difficult to get the cream residue out of the bottle when washing it, so it requires extra elbow-grease to get it clean. But you won't care. It's so nice for baby.

Simplisse Breast Pumps: link to the electric double pump here

Full disclosure: I have a Medela Pump-In-Style. It's a workhorse. And I hate it. It tugs at me and I feel bruised after a pumping session. That said, I produce enough milk with it to have to donate the surplus... so how bad can it be?! However, after a power outage that left me engorged and sleepless, I decided to get a manual pump. I bought a Simplisse one because its ad copy is irresistible. AND I LOVE IT. The pump feels like a baby's mouth and face: soft, very gentle suction if any, and stimulating enough to encourage natural let-down. Using this thing once every few days has trained my breasts to let down milk so well that my production, even with the Medela, has boomed. I wish I had the double electric. Some users don't have much luck with it and they say it's loud as hell, but it's still very tempting to an exclusively-pumping mom like me.

Microfleece Sleep Sacks: link to one such is here

Babies aren't allowed to have blankets when they sleep, which means you aren't allowed to have your house much below 70 degrees at night. Ugh. Yuck. Even so, baby will get cold unless well zipped into a wearable blanket. Here it is, the safety snuggie for little bears. Great stuff! There's also the elasticized-bottom t-shirt fabric version, which is adorable on babies but neither warm enough nor un-kickable-offable enough for Fletch. Fleece fleece fleece.

That's all I can think of. Anyway, here you go! Baby goods!

Chochoyotes, and hi there!

Gosh. I haven't fallen off the surface of the Earth, I really haven't. Days have been a blur of insurance training, baby care, Netflix (Blackadder! Scrubs! Battlestar Galactica!), and assisting Pat with the circus that has been his business life of late. Seriously, I should have a top hat. Or at least a whip and chair.

Speaking of top hat, look at what my friend Scott did! Front page of the NY Times, baby! He was protesting the latest in union-crushing legislation at the Wisconsin capital. I think this is the most wonderful picture.

I've got homemade corned beef (thanks to Ruhlman's Ratio for the recipe) simmering in the crock pot and the house smells amazing.

Have you discovered chochoyotes? I made some chile verde the other day, and these went into the pot. Nothing could be easier, and they are kind of like matzoh balls made from tamale dough. Yes.


1 cup masa harina
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup water

Mix the above (plus any spices you can't live without) and knead with your hands until the mixture clings together in a ball like nixtamal should. Then pinch off tablespoonish-sized lumps and roll between your moistened hands. Drop into simmering soup and let simmer for 5-10 minutes. Enjoy!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Group guest post at Perfume-Smellin' Things - and happy Valentine's Day!

Go read it for the charming commentary of my peers -- you've heard most of what I have to say, I think. There's a prize draw, too.

I just taped up the cooler to send out to the Mother's Milk Bank and am waiting for FedEx to come pick it up. Fletch and I are donating 37 bags of breastmilk, totaling 277.2 ounces (17.3 pounds!). When the freezer fills up again, we'll donate again. Happy Valentine's Day, little babies in need!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

You should make this.

David Leite's Milk Mayonnaise is amazing. Silky smooth like a tofu mayo, and completely a tabula rasa for adding scrumptious flavorings. I'm going to go a little crazy with this. An immersion blender is a must.

You're welcome.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Chypres, and guest posts

Group guest post yesterday at Perfume-Smellin' Things - go check it out! There's a drawing, too.

We divvied up the fragrance families for this post. Because I was checking email infrequently, I ended up being more-or-less assigned a family: chypre. (I did have a choice, but it was limited to things I mostly don't wear.) Unfortunately, I found myself neither tremendously knowledgeable nor very excited about any scent in particular.

Here's the deal: you'd recognize any other chypre as such after sniffing one and knowing what it was. They're classic "old lady" perfume: not heady, resinous, and spicy-sensuous like most Oriental perfumes, but complex, floral, and ladylike. There is a chypre accord that enlivens any fragrance in this family: top notes of citrus, a (usually blended or rose) floral middle, and a woody base with oakmoss, and possibly patchouli or musk.

This is not a combination for me. I don't like a lot of florals on my skin, because they take on narcotic, noxious, sickly-sweet overtones and have a lasting power that recalls the half-life of plutonium. Patchouli and musk make me cranky; oakmoss smells naughty, but male-type naughty, on my skin, and it wears me instead of the other way around. And every citrus smells like armpit on my skin. The result, on my skin, is "unwashed old lady who's been rolling around with a dockworker" and that doesn't spell success.

Chypres are not, in themself, disgusting. Pat loves them and finds them to be the epitome of femininity. The way L'Oreal lipstick smelled in the 80s? Chypre. Your grandmother's prettiest perfume -- the one she wore to church when she got all dolled up in her brooch and high heels? Yep. How you imagine Jayne Mansfield smelled? Probably a chypre.

So I hitched myself up by the bootstraps and decided to learn to love this genre. In so doing, I sniffed a lot of chypres that were new to me. I found one, "Hasu-No-Hana" by Grossmith, that is beautiful on me. It's a big scent -- like the archetypal great-grand-dame of chypres, "Mitsouko." But it's sexy and loaded with va-va-voom and if I'm going to wear something that isn't me, I might as well roleplay a bombshell. And hey, it's a fragrance from 1888 that has been reanimated by Roja Dove, a perfumer whose fragrances have fairly universally been masterpieces in my estimation.

Honorable mentions were Keiko Mecheri's "Iris Poupre," which is truthfully more about the rounded, rich iris root fragrance and less about the chypre; Parfumes MDCI "Vepres Siciliennes," which is like the floating scent of blossoms on the breeze, but which eventually gave me a headache as it remained rather top-heavy and piercing; and Domenico Caraceni's 1913 Eau de Toilette, which was angular, a little masculine, and sweetly fresh. Dizzy-making and too-heady or just I-found-'em-forgettable chypres included PG's "Querelle," PdN's "New York" (which I loved at first but turned to melted plastic and hot asphalt on my skin within a half hour and Would. Not. Wash. Off.), Tremlett's "Royals Heroes," and Tauer's "Une Rose Chypree" (predictably -- I hate rose on my skin) which were too rich for me, and Montale's "Chypre Vanille," which went on sexy but eventually made me very unhappy through its overgenerous patchouli and oakmoss and vanilla, and wouldn't scrub off even with laundry soap.

The big offender, which I hate passionately and would hiss at like a cat if I encountered it in the wild, is Vero Profumo's "Rubj." That's a shame: I really wanted to love it and I liked its kicky opening. But within moments it had turned into a horror show on my skin but painted a vivid picture: the overall cardboard-and-mixed-spices of an Asian grocery, the nag champa and cherry incense from a head shop, L'Oreal lipstick (back when it smelled like grandma's purse), and SWEATY MAN CROTCH. And it would not go away, and would not go away. I got it on the outside of the sample vial and now I can't handle it because aieee, it will never go away!

Also in the course of my journey of discovery into chypres, I decided to make one for my brother's birthday, just to get to know the style. But an eccentric one. I used lime, bergamot, and tangerine at the top (with other things, of course), lemongrass at the heart, and oakmoss and amber at the base to compose a chypre accord -- and it was wonderfully do-able! And then I loaded it with lemon, licorice, and leather scents (at top, middle, and base respectively) to give it substance and uniqueness.

I like it best of all. And Robert likes it, too, which is the best part.

Anyway, thought I'd rant a bit about what I've been sniffing, before I clear the sample vials off my desk. I'm listening to Fletch chatting with Pat over the baby monitor and am going to go get some snuggle time. Happy Saturday!

P.S. I really love "Mitsouko," but I didn't want to be lazy and phone in my usual choice -- I enjoyed the chance to do my homework and learn a little! I just wish I had never touched the vial of "Rubj." :)

Monday, January 31, 2011

Five years


Five years ago, I was in graduate school. I had just been on a Christmas cruise to Mexico with my mother, brothers, sister-in-law, and husband. It was my mom's first vacation in about a decade and the first time she hadn't taken a business call in more than 24 hours (maybe in more than 12) in all that time, and we enjoyed karaoke and running amok. It was the best time.

When I got back, my nose went to the grindstone trying to attract more committee members to my dissertation committee -- as had been my project for the previous five or six years. But by this time, I knew the situation was desperate; my chair was looking for a polished proposal and wasn't offering much helpful advice, and I'd been turned down by almost everyone who shared research interests with me. They were "too busy" or "on sabbatical" or "doing fieldwork" or "just didn't see the overlap."

In early autumn of 2006, my chair quit my committee, claiming no interest in my project. (That had been amply evident by her level of participation, but other profs were also disinterested in taking up where she left off.) I begged her to stay on-project, to just read what I had written for her. She would not. I broke down and cried in her office. I told her I had given up everything (children!) to pursue my career and that her departure from my committee would spell the end of my career, since I was well aware that I could not replace her. She told me to take up yoga or something. She told me she was concerned about my ... health. (She looked me pointedly up and down; I am fat, and since I was having a bad rosacea flare and had, at the time, pneumonia, I was red and wheezing after the three flights of stairs to her office.)

I alternated sleepless job-hunting, slumping in despair, and despondent WoW marathons for the next couple months. I didn't want to start over; I was too damn old and I had already given up absolutely everything I wanted (children!) for the dead end in which I'd invested myself. To start over would be to postpone fulfillment (children!) for several more years -- years that would claim my fertility.


Four years and a couple months ago, we visited home for Christmas. I had been horribly stressed beforehand because I had not yet told my family that I had dropped out of grad school. But when I took my mom aside and sobbingly confessed that I was considering it, she was so supportive. Proud of me despite my crippling sense of failure. Loving. It was all I could do to keep her off the phone and to keep her from trying to take my ex-chair to court somehow. I told her I wanted to come live close to her and my brother again, and could she keep her ear to the ground to see if suitable jobs were available? Because they certainly were not available in Chicago... at least I had bad luck landing permanent work.

I was no sooner home than I got a phone call from Mom. Mom's good friend Stacy had an entry-level position opening. I applied, and Stacy was eager to have me aboard. She was simply worried that the entry-level salary wouldn't be sufficient. I told her that it was not, but if there was opportunity for advancement, I was in.

Four years ago tomorrow, I began working for Stacy. Her office was wonderful -- over a dozen of the loveliest people anywhere, working hard together. I caught on quickly and, three months later, was promoted into the most difficult position in the agency. I loved the work.

Shortly thereafter, Pat finally threw in the towel and joined me in abandoning graduate school. It hit him even harder than it had hit me, the sense of failure and despondency. His committee was absolutely unsupportive even face-to-face, and long-distance, it was impossible to proceed. He blamed me, but didn't mean to.

On our 19th anniversary, we went to the beach and watched people and birds and the waves, and we talked -- the tail end of one of those exhausting arguments where you just nibble at one another verbally for days and days, "talking it through" because there's nothing to fight about. I was bitter and hysterical. He was bitter and annoyed. And then, everything melted away; we managed to spark the wavelength that united us. We cleared the air about our negative feelings about leaving U of C and how we felt about one another's roles in the process. We were so wrung out we were clean and clear-headed. We finally internalized the lesson that life could be a journey and that we hadn't failed, we'd simply changed paths. I finally confessed that I'd hated the program for a really long time; I loved the work but hated the politics. He told me he felt the same way, but felt he had so much invested in it that he didn't want to walk away.

I wiped hamburger grease off my lips and put my head on his shoulder, holding his hand. I watched a toddler playing in the waves and told him that I felt the same way when we decided to put off having kids, and then decided against having them. All I had ever wanted to be before we were married (aside from some kind of Utopian commune leader, because I was a very New Age teenager and we were married right out of high school) was a mommy. And I didn't even know how I felt about having "made" that decision by enduring the slow and endless grind of grad school, forever deferring all decisions about our real future. Did we want kids? How would we know?

He watched the toddler, smiling. "You know what? I think I do."

I made him promise to take his time and think about it. But he didn't need time. He wanted children and he wanted them NOW. It took ME three days to decide I thought I wanted kids too.

A couple weeks later, I was at my annual ob/gyn appointment and mentioned casually to my doctor that I thought we might want to have kids. The doctor whisked away my IUD with the merest by-your-leave and told me to go get pregnant. Just like that. So that was how decisions worked in the real world!


It only took us three months to get pregnant. We told everyone. My mom was aglow. My dad was beside himself with delight. My brother looked at me as if I were sacred. My boss bubbled. Pat and I were giddy. But in the first week after the New Year, I lost the baby.

I have never cried like I cried then. I knew, just knew, that it would be hard.

I missed only one work day.

We miscarried five more times in the next two and a half years. We got pregnant easily, but couldn't keep it. I submitted to infertility treatments that seemed designed to wring out our pocketbooks rather than to increase our family. Sex became stressful. When pregnant, I would go hours without drinking anything because to pee was to have to check my panties for blood again; when not pregnant, I was thinking about how to get pregnant. It was unspeakable.

My senior co-worker's callousness started to get to me from right after the first miscarriage. She started watching me obsessively, asking nosy questions and lecturing me when I contacted Pat during my workday (on breaks); she felt I was out of line to use the phone or email to do so. The real tone-setter was when she threw a fit because I had a doctor's appointment two days after I lost the baby -- which would have been the first prenatal check-up. "Well, you don't need to keep it -- you're not pregnant NOW." (The doctor wanted to do an ultrasound to be sure I didn't need a D&C.) She wanted to take the day off in my place, so that she could give her dog some attention, as he had begun to escape her yard frequently as a result of neglect (requiring her to take off of work without warning to go track him down.)

I went to my boss. She was sympathetic and got me a little space from this co-worker (who had chewed through four unhappy assistants before me). But the bottom line was that the co-worker held all the cards and Stacy would not, or could not, do the only thing that would improve the toxic situation: disciplining or firing her.

When Pat surprised me with a 20th anniversary cruise to Alaska, it irritated my office manager and my boss that I had been absent so much. I had already used my nebulous quantity of work days on doctors' appointments and fighting colds without medication (lest I be pregnant and endanger the pregnancy with cold meds). I took vacation without pay, but it damaged my relationship with the office manager that the days off were not negotiable and that there was limited advance notice. Ah well. The vacation probably made me a thousand times more productive, and saved my sanity -- a shining moment of beauty and love, marred only by the depressing knowledge that I'd be ovulating sometime during the trip.


Two years ago, I continued to loathe my senior co-worker and to miscarry often. My job began to haunt me day and night. When the co-worker asked me to commit fraud, after a few stunningly fraudulent moments of her own, I gave up on ever coming to terms with her.

We quit trying to conceive and started enjoying sex, and our life together, again. We decided to adopt a baby. We researched it, traveled to information sessions, decided on an agency. We started thinking about the home study. We wisely decided to wait a few months before beginning the process so that we could relax a little, let go of our remaining grief about the whole infertility thing, and focus on each other. We felt wonderful and we started being enthusiastic again about life.

One and a half years ago, I quit the job. In this job market, it was an insane move -- but it made me happy and it made Pat happy, because I was so oppressed by the office situation. At any other time I might have weathered it, but under so much stress, no.

But I was happy again!

Right around Valentine's Day, we conceived. I didn't know. I had taken up new hobbies -- knitting (baby hats, for the eventual adoptee), spinning yarn, making sausage.

In April, I drove to the discount grocery in another nearby city to buy meat for sausage (hey, yes, their prices and products were THAT GOOD if you were buying 8 lbs. of meat). On the way, I decided that I was going to ask Pat for another year before we tried to begin the adoption process. Longer to get my perfumery business off the ground. Longer to become solvent. Longer to treasure just my darling partner. Even if we were never selected by a birthmother as parents for her baby, we'd be okay. We had each other; nothing had been diminished.

When I got to the store, I had a dizzy spell and lurched against the car. My breasts were sore.

I shopped. I came home, realizing that I felt nauseous. I knew I was pregnant. But I was coldly furious. I would be damned in hell if I would buy another pregnancy test -- I never wanted them in my home again.

A little voice in my head said, "you might still have OPKs laying around, and they work as ghetto pregnancy tests."

When I got home, I peed on an OPK. It turned two-lines-pink before I sat it on the counter. Positive-positive-positive. So I was pregnant. REALLY pregnant.

I jittered until Pat came home. I wasn't going to tell him, but when he got home I blurted it out before he had time to set down his keys, trying to keep my tone casual. "I just got a positive pregnancy test using an OPK. We're going to need a really ineffective pregnancy test to shoot this down with."

He was cool about it, but as unhappy as I was. We neither one wanted to weather another miscarriage. We didn't want a positive. We went to the store and bought the bluntest instrument of a pregnancy test we could -- a comparatively insensitive test with a text response, "PREGNANT" or "NOT PREGNANT." Unfuckupable. Uninterpretable. Unlikely to pop a false positive from hormonal fluctuation.

Before I had set it down on the counter, it, too, said "POSITIVE." I crumpled. We cried. We called my doctor. It was Friday afternoon (as it always is if you get a positive pregnancy test, by the way -- no joke, six out of six times). He told me to go get a lab test in 3 days. We waited to miscarry and cried in jags all weekend.

On Monday, I was still pregnant.

And at the end of the first (endless) trimester, I was still pregnant.

And at the end of the second (twitchy) trimester, I was still pregnant.

And at the end of the third (lightning-yet-bullet-time) trimester... I had Fletcher.

Heart's desire.

At last, at last. And someone who will join us on our journey, however far it takes us from our planned paths.

Today I embraced a new job opportunity and filled out an application to be a reserve agent for the same insurance company for which I was a CSR; here's hoping it embraces me back.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Dessert to dream on: brandied figs in tea syrup

I got this idea from a cookbook, but noodled with it a bit and will probably noodle with it more. It's not that it's not perfect as/is, it's that I can't leave well enough alone. You know how it is.

Brandied Figs in Earl Grey Tea Syrup

3 cups of Earl Grey tea (normal strength or strong, but not bitter)
1 to 1 1/2 pounds dried figs (I used VERY dry calimyrnas, because that's what I had)
1 cup sugar
peel of one or two tangerines, in large, easy-to-remove pieces
3 or 4 inch cinnamon stick
1/4 vanilla bean
1/2 cup decent brandy

Add cinnamon, vanilla, and fruit peel to tea. Simmer figs in spiced tea until they are swollen, plump, and tender. Remove figs with slotted spoon to sterilized jars or your serving bowls (figs will be dark and dramatic -- color-coordinate accordingly). Add sugar to spiced tea and simmer mixture for a few minutes or until it behaves like syrup should, thickening slightly and coating your spoon. Remove from heat and add brandy. Pour brandied syrup over figs.

Serve over something not too sweet, with something crunchy alongside, four or five figs and a healthy belt of syrup to a person. I recommend Greek yogurt and waffle cookies or other dainty, wafer-like crispy cookies. But I am considering saturating a pancake or two with the syrup. Truly, this is swoony good and oh-so-sophisticated and, if you have it cold in the fridge, you can put it together last-moment without breaking a sweat and then socialize while you're still as glamorous and seductive and unruffled as Nigella.

One of these days, soon, I'll bundle homemade white cheese or ricotta into crepes and top it with this stuff. Magic.

I think this would be totally tits made with prunes instead of figs, but the deep-dark flavors are necessary with the tea and brandy, so I haven't thought further than figs and prunes. If you want something lemony light, for God's sake go make Emily's wonderful pudding cake. I've made it a half dozen times or more and every time, people just about faint.

(Hail Eris.)