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!