Bionic Mamas

you're not losing a vagina, you're gaining a son


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Red Beans And Ricely Yours

Happy Spring, Internets.  It is about damn time.

Lots has been happening here.  And yet, when I think about what to write to you, it’s hard to know what is of consequence.  The days are just packed, as Calvin said once. Jackalope got her first cold, and as much as I rail against the rhetoric, I was very grateful for those breastfed antibodies.  The Bean was much sicker.  He and I made pickles, before all that hit, and they are tasty.  Jackalope sleeps well, except when she doesn’t.  She’s outgrowing everything, and we can’t find some of the cuter things I saved.

The Bean has lately become enamored of rhymes.  Jackalope is starting to coo and chatter at us.  And, to paraphrase Frances’s father, a girl looks up to her big brother.  So imagine her delight when he sat by her swing this weekend and began listing -oo words — zoo, boo, shoe, and so on — while she cooed and oo’ed back at him.  I don’t know how straight, fertile people don’t end up with a dozen of these creatures.  They are so very charming.  I am saved from ruin by not being able to decide to have more purely on a whim.

Today (and yesterday) we went to my favorite playground, made of large trees that fell in Sandy and other major storms of the past few years.  I haven’t been there since October, and it is nice to be back.  (Fun trivia fact: we had planned to go there the first weekend in November, to take pictures for a Christmas card.  And then my mom died.  So.  And with the grief and the travel and the end of the semester and more travel and the being huge and uncomfortable and the wretched winter weather, this is the first I’ve been able to get it together to drag us all there.)  Have a few pictures.

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Pastoral with tongue.

 

Also today friends of ours whose daughter is ~3 months younger than The Bean had their boy.  He is huge and healthy and we are glad he is here.  I plan to make them a batch of red beans and rice when they are home from the hospital, so I thought I’d write the recipe down here.  It is Monday, after all, the traditional day for these things. And laundry, but c’mon, did you see the size of that blooming crab apple? Laundry will wait.

My recipe is basically this one, with some minor changes.  I like more vegetables than the original, slightly different spices.  His beignet recipe is also worth your time.  I’m not a big one for measuring, so this is vague.  His is very much more professionally put together.  You should read it, especially if you like precision more than tangents.  The other differences are that I don’t use tasso, because I never have any, and I do throw in some pork neck bones, which are delicious and very, very cheap.

I find this works well in a slow cooker, too, with one very important caveat: if you use dry red kidney beans, YOU MUST BOIL THEM FIRST.  Either 30 minutes at the start of soaking or 10 minutes in fresh water after they have soaked overnight.  They contain high levels of a toxin called phytohaemagglutinin, and it is not your friend.  Boiling breaks it down, but slow cookers do not get hot enough to reliably do so; apparently there was quite an epidemic of sick whole foods folks when slow cookers first became popular in the bean-crazed ’70s.  I prefer to use small red beans, which are more traditional and don’t have this problem.  Then again, these days I’m such a lousy hippie that I often used canned beans to begin with.  Don’t tell, but I don’t really notice the difference. Our slow cooker is huge, so I generally double the recipe if I do it that way.

  • A few Tbs Butter
  • 1-2 onions, chopped
  • 1 Bell Pepper, chopped
  • 2-3 ribs Celery, Chopped
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • ~1 Tb dry thyme
  • ~1/2 t garlic power
  • dash of cayenne
  • ~1 Tb majoram
  • Dry basil, if you feel like it. Not too much.
  • 2 links Andouille Sausage, diced
  • 1/2 lb. Small Red Beans (soaked overnight) or 2 cans or whatever I can scare up without going to the store
  • 2-3 pork neck bones. Nothing wrong with a little more.
  • 3 cloves Garlic, Minced
  • 3 1/2 Cups Chicken Stock/water — less if you are using a slow cooker.  If I don’t have stock on hand, I use some “better than bullion” paste.  This stuff is handy as heck.
  • 3 Fresh Bay Leaves
  • Good splash of Red Wine Vinegar, somewhere between a Tb and a 1/4 c
  • 1/2-1 Cup Tomato Sauce — or a couple of Tbs of tomato paste or leftover pizza sauce or just a bunch of tomatoes
  • Handful of flat-leafed Parsley, Finely Chopped, plus more to serve
  • 2-3 Green Onions, sliced, plus more to serve
  • Long- or Medium-grain rice
  1. Combine the trinity — that’s onion, green pepper, and celery.  Melt the butter — as much as necessary — in a large, heavy pan with a lid, over a medium-high flame.  Add half the trinity, the andouille, and the spices.  Cook until the vegetables get some color.  (Do this step in a separate pan if you are using a slow cooker; you can do everything else in the slow cooker itself.)
  2. If you are using the slow cooker, just dump everything in except the vinegar, tomato, green onions, and parsley.  NB: You probably don’t need that much liquid, since not much will evaporate; just put in enough to mostly cover things. If you are doing this on the stove, you can either put everything in at this point, or you can put just the beans and neck bones in and cook for a few minutes first.
  3. Once everything is in, bring to a boil if on the stove top, then lower the heat to medium low and cover.  Cook 2-2.5 hours, stirring occasionally.  Keep an eye on the liquid level.  If you are using a slow cooker, use a medium-high setting for 4-6 hours.
  4. Thirty minutes before serving time, when the pork is falling easily from the bones:
  • Pull the bones out, clean the meat off of them, and put the meat back in the pot.  Feel free to skip this step if you are lazy.
  • Add tomato, parsely, and green onions.
  • Add vinegar.  Isn’t that nice?  Vinegar with beans is a magic trick I learned from this recipe.
  • Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.
  • Cook your rice.

5. Serve in large bowls, a pile of rice with the beans on top.  Garnish with parsley, green onions, and hot sauce, if you like.  A little extra vinegar is sometimes nice.  Watch out for little tiny pork bones.

 

Welcome to the outside world, Seabass!  We will feed your mama up on this, and with any luck, her milk will be extra tasty.

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A Tiny Cake For A Half-Birthday

When Sugar and I got married — the big party time, not the legal time — we tried to make a registry that wasn’t careless with money. We asked for things we were sure we would use, and we looked for good deals. Not everything on the list was dirt-cheap, but there were plenty of inexpensive things we really, really wanted; after all, we are usually broke when doing wedding shopping, ourselves.

One thing we particularly wanted was some new loaf pans. We had two, scavenged, I think, from Sugar’s mother’s kitchen. I suspect they were nonstick once, because I have no other explanation for the streaks of dark brown paint amid a few decades’ worth of scrapes. We found some decent, non-nonstick ones from a kitchen store with an easy website, at a reasonable price. Someone bought them for us! Oh, the loaves of bread we looked forward to!

When the pans arrived, our dreams…shrank. As it turns out, the price was so reasonable because the pans were very, very small. Mini loaf pans, in fact. Reading comprehension fail.

Happily, mini loaf pans — ours are about 3 by 5 1/2 inches — are the perfect size for tiny birthday cakes, and tiny birthday cakes are just the right size for family celebrations: big enough for all three of us to have a slice twice, small enough that the cake doesn’t have a chance to get stale. (I know there are other solutions to that problem, but oddly, sometimes I don’t feel like gorging myself on dessert. Meat is another matter. So are French fries.)

Sometimes I make proper icing and divide the cake horizontally into layers, as with the Bean’s first birthday.

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For his half birthday, I did not plan ahead, so there wasn’t time for the cake to cool enough to be iced. The Bean tends to mostly eat the icing, but it occurred to me that if the cake were chocolate, he might eat some of the part containing actual nutrients (eggs, flour, milk). (Yes, his diet is such that I am serving him cake for nutrients. A topic for another time.) I cobbled together this recipe mostly by reducing this one (minus the espresso because we have sleep problems enough with this child), with a few ideas from this one. I’m not often pleased with chocolate cake, which can be dry and more “brown” than “chocolate,” but this was lovely. We served it with whipped cream, and it was devoured, nutrients and all.

Half-Birthday Cake

2.5 Tablespoons butter (1/3 stick)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 egg
Scant 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter the sides and bottom of a mini loaf pan (~3×5 1/2″).

Cream butter and sugar. Add, mixing after each addition, salt, vanilla, baking powder, and cocoa powder. Add egg, and mix to a crumbly texture. Add flour and buttermilk, in alternation, and mix well.

Pour into greased pan. Bake at 350 for approximately 35 minutes, until a chopstick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Or a broom straw, if you’re traditional like that.

Serve with whipped cream, or whatever sounds good.

For a full-sized loaf pan, multiply ingredient amounts by three, except vanilla (2 teaspoons) and baking powder (1/2 teaspoon). The original recipe calls for plain milk, so that will work in a pinch.

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Southern Comfort Food

Happy Monday, internets. I hope you are well.

I am well but nervous. I’ve done a pretty good job, I think, at just relaxing and practicing belief and all that jazz vis-a-vis this month without medical reassurance of this probable pregnancy. It would be untrue to say I haven’t fretted at all, but most days, I’ve been okay. Fertile people do this all the time! And they are fine! But today is the day.

I am nervous for all the reasons you’d expect, gentle readers. I am afraid I am not really pregnant. I am afraid I’m being pregnant wrong. I am afraid this doctor, whom I have not met before (the known nice one wasn’t available for this appointment because of our travel schedule) will yell at me. I’m afraid I will get bad news in front of the Bean and never stop crying.

A friend has offered to watch the Bean, but I’m afraid to take her up on it because it will surely mess up her own toddler’s evening schedule and then she will hate me.

At times like these, nothing will do like the comfort of food.  I did not want to eat at all, but some small, beleaguered zone of rationality in my brain informed me, repeatedly, that this was a very bad idea. It moved my body around the kitchen until iced tea was in my glass, new water in the kettle to refresh the supply, grits* and eggs were boiling in their pans. The fretful majority of my grey matter distracted me into overcooking the egg (I favor a five-minute one with grits), but the rest survived. A little leftover salsa verde from this weekend’s trip to the Red Hook ballfields made everything go down easy; bland food gives my stomach too little to think about, and it starts making up problems.

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And so, onward. Eight hours to go.

*I do not appreciate whatever Yankee wiseguy programmed Autocorrect on this phone to replace “grits” with “gross.”


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Items From Our Catalogue

Item: This post is coming to you from my dismal office, as I wait an hour for the next bus to ferry me to the train station, the first step of my 2+ hour commute. It will be even longer tonight, because I missed the early bus. I had (somewhat irresponsibly) let class out early so I could catch it, and then I spaced out and missed it anyway. Is this “pregnancy brain” (gag) or ordinary incompetence?

Item:
I have become too lazy/dull/generally pathetic to participate in my own meme. Will this be in the DSM-5?

Item: You should check out (and submit to, in all senses of the word) starhillgirl’s very fun new tumblr blog, Lunch. Make your lunch famous on the internet! I’m going to pull a fast one and call my Thanksgiving Sandwich entry my Come And Eat post for this time.

Item:
I made half as much sweet potato pudding this year, since Sugar had requested a savory sweet potato dish. I should have made more pudding — it was gone in a day, and I only got one sandwich out of it. The savory option is currently dying a quiet death in the back of the fridge.

Item: All that frantic eating seems to have led to another growth spurt. Internets, I am certifiably enormous. I am back to running into things every five minutes. I am in denial about the fact that turning sidewise to slip by objects or people has become comic in the extreme. (Imagine it — I, not un-wide, approach a narrow passage. I pause, turn 90 degrees, thus rendering myself twice as wide, and proceed to shove my way through.) I would say picture to follow, but I think we can all agree that said picture is more likely to actually happen if I don’t make any promises.

Item: While spending a very nice weekend with friends outside of Boston — and the fact that I can call the weekend very nice, despite how much of it was spent dealing with a teething toddler, a sudden lack of heat and hot water, and an obstreperous landlord ought to give you some idea how wonderful these friends are — I discovered that I could cleverly heft my (considerable) self out of their comfortable but very low armchair by pushing down on its arms and hovering my butt in the air such that my legs swung perfectly underneath me. I was very proud of being strong (and short) enough to manage the feat and performed it more than necessary.

Item:
Pride ever goeth before costcochondritis, as it turns out.

Item:
This is plenty bad, but how much worse it would be without Dr. Russian, who was on call last night when I left a tearful message with the answering service, after a day of increasing agony. “Take the percocet!” quoth she. Good doctor, that.


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Remember This Game

Hello from the calm before the cooking storm, chez Bionique. My mother is here, which has forced us to begin to make inroads in the junk filling the “spare” room (of course, no room can ever be truly spare in a New York apartment), at least to the extent that the aerobed can be jammed in there. Tomorrow, I will wear myself out cooking Thanksgiving dinner, as I love to do. I am still trying to decide which sweet potatoes to make: Sugar prefers them savory (being sufficiently sweet enough on her own, I reckon), but while I like them savory, I LOVE cold leftovers of sweet potato pudding, gobbled on its own or as a dense layer in the “Thanksgiving sandwich” I look forward to all year. (A Thanksgiving sandwich is turkey, sweet potato pudding, cranberry sauce, gravy, and any other leftovers you care to stick in there, all cold.)

Besides sweet potatoes of one or more kinds, we’ll have turkey (we are not vegetarians, only lesbians), cornbread and pecan dressing, biscuit, maybe some mashed potatoes (lest we die of carb deficiency at table), a few pies, a non-wheat dessert (the surprisingly lovely almond cake from IKEA? candied pecans and baked apples?) and whatever other oddments occur to me in the next 24 hours. (Gravy, ice cream for the pies, and other such condiments are implied, of course; and cheese, bread, nuts, and pear paste to build the appetite. Can’t be too careful.)

The Dane-stralian family will be bringing green beans, cranberry sauce, and their very scrumptious nearly-3-year-old. I’ve been a boorish hostess and made it clear that no orange nonsense is welcome in cranberry sauce at my house, thank ye. Another friend is bringing a mushroom dish that apparently cooks for nine hours. I reckon we won’t be TOO hungry after.

Meanwhile, what are YOU making (or eating) for Thanksgiving?

I thought perhaps it might be nice to play our old Come And Eat game this weekend, with posts about what you eat at Thanksgiving dinner or what you eat instead or what you do with the leftovers — or what have you, my dear, benighted, unAmerican friends. (I admit that those of you with antipodean addresses are likely too high on the coming of spring to need a big feast to cheer you on, but the rest of y’all in northern climes must be dreading the dark, too. Nothing like a few thousand calories shoveled down in a single sitting to take the sting out of the coming of winter and/or prepare you for hibernation.)

So. Come And Eat, would you? Sign up below with the address of your food post, any time this weekend. Please paste the address of a particular post, not just your whole blog, so folks know where to comment.


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Come and Eat: Oil Can What?

Okay, I’ve put this off long enough, eh? So please, Come and Eat.

Tonight, I’d like to introduce you to the collection:

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(bigger here)

This isn’t every can of olive oil we’ve ever purchased together, but it’s close. Yes, that means we moved most of these halfway across the country. Because I am crazy. And because I had a vision of one day having a huge outdoor wedding party, with these as flower vases. (But mostly because I am crazy.)

The collection started when we lived in Chicago, on the far north side near the Indian neighborhood. We’d go to a certain discount grocery store out on Devon, where vegetables and spices and rice were cheap, and buy whatever oil they happened to have that time. Sometimes it was pretty good. Sometimes …not so much. The worst was “El Toro” — third from the right here — but its can is one of my favorites, along with Alafia and La Regina. It makes me think of Ferdinand. Seriously terrible taste, though. Not recommended.

For years, I had no answer to the question everyone who sees the cans asks: which one was the best? You might have noticed that I like to think about (and talk about) food a great deal, so it was somewhat embarrassing to admit that, as long as the oil I eat every day in nearly every meal isn’t El-Toro-wretched, apparently I pay it no mind. Regular con-a-sewer, right here.

Then I found Fortuna. I bought it at DiPalo’s, on Grand Street in Little Italy, and it you live in New York and don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s high time you got off the computer and found out. (Be sure to stop by Alleva Dairy for some cheese while you’re there. I bought the can on the far right there, just after we came to the city. I signed my credit card slip on top of a huge wheel of cheese.) I wanted to buy the cooler looking can — red and blue and very 70’s — but the woman at the counter was having none of it. She all but forced me to buy the Fortuna, and was she ever right. It’s a truly lovely oil, light and flowery. A little of that drizzled on some chickpeas and all’s right with the world. Heavenly days.

So now I have a problem. Do I continue my tradition of buying a different can every time? It’s getting harder. I have to go farther and farther afield to find ones I haven’t bought before — astute observers will note one brand appears twice, mostly out of desperation. Or do I recognize that I have found the perfect oil and settle in for a long and delicious run of monotonous appearances?

And what the heck flowers am I going to find tall enough to put in these cans anyway?

So, what are you up to this week? Paste the address of a post about a food or meal into Mr. Linky. Please paste the address of a particular post, not just your whole blog, so folks know where to comment. (And as always, please put a * by your name if your post features babies/pregnancy.)


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Come And Eat: Beignets and Goat Tacos on Mothers’ Day

Hello, internets. Did you make it through Mothers’ Day? I hope so. I’ve read several thought-provoking posts on the subject in the last few days — check out this or this or this. I’ve also been feeling grateful that Mothers’ Day isn’t a big deal in my family — my mother had forgotten it was Mothers’ Day until I called — which I think makes it a less fraught day for me this year than it might be. (Or maybe it’s just that I’m hopeful that next year will be different, thanks to the approaching IVF. I feel lucky to have that hope.)

In reading others’ posts on the subject, though, I began to wonder if part of the reason Mothers’ and Fathers’ Days aren’t big in my family is because my parents are IFers, too. Maybe they, too, got sick and tired of the holidays in the years they were trying to conceive. Maybe they chose to withdraw from them to protect themselves. Maybe the whole experience made them too aware that there’s nothing fair about who does and doesn’t get to celebrate those days.

When I was a child and my mother would refer to how it took her a long time to get pregnant, I shrugged it off — obviously it didn’t work quickly because the perfect combination of sperm and egg to make Wondrous Me doesn’t just happen every day. I didn’t think about how the wait might have made them frustrated or sad, because obviously it all worked out, right? It’s only now, as I face some set-backs of my own (and so far for not nearly as long as my mother faced them, and with more medical help than she had available — though she took what she could get: Clomid baby right here), that I begin to understand my mother a little better.

Which is, after all, a good thing to do on Mothers’ Day.

Now. Please Come and Eat:

We started the morning with the kind of breakfast that you have to plan the night before: homemade beignets. We used this recipe, from a New Orleans cooking blog that hasn’t lead me astray yet, and this week we learned from the tough mistakes of last week (yes, we will be big as houses soon, but HAPPY houses) and went easy on the kneading. I mixed up the dough on Saturday night, Sugar kneaded it just enough, and it sat in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, Sugar rolled it out and cut the beignets, and after they rose again, I fried them in sunflower oil.

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The blessed thing about beignets is that the recipe makes far more than we can eat ourselves. They allow us to enjoy the blessings of generosity. Last week and this, we packed up a bag of them for the Plant Whisperer, who spends this time of year raising operating funds for our community garden by luring everyone who walks within 6 blocks of the place in the gates and convincing them, in a mesmerizing display of virtuosity and salesmanship, to buy armloads of vegetable starts and blooming perennials and whatever else we’ve dug out of our beds for her to sell. The Plant Whisperer is no glutton, so it is especially gratifying to watch her devour food we’ve made.

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We also carried a bag to the friend who lent us his car to look for a place to have our wedding party. We traded the newspaper-wrapped pile of powered sugar and dough for his keys, and drove out to the ocean at Fort Tilden, where we saw feral roses, a tiny crab, and the homey and welcoming Studio 7 of the Rockaway Artists’ Alliance. It was very cold and the wind was fierce and exhausting. We did not find picnic shelters or anything else convincing in the way of a party-venue (though Studio 7 would be a great spot), but we did find a beach we’d like to return to in summer. And so ended the planned part of our day and our eating.

Since the friend of Automotive Generosity assured us he didn’t need the car before midnight, we decided to bite the bullet and go buy the IKEA dining room chairs we’d been considering, despite the fact that the best color had been discontinued. Our current dining room chairs, found in Chicago alley several years ago, are vintage charmers, with turquoise vinyl upholstery and elegant chrome legs. Under the vinyl, the wooden seats are giving out, such that a slight shift in body weight can cause the legs to suddenly give way, tossing the erstwhile-seated guest floorward. The back legs extend too far back for our small apartment, and I’ve never felt the same about them since breaking my toe on one. We were hungry, but IKEA has cheap and acceptable food.

IKEA Brooklyn is in the remote neighborhood called Red Hook, known for its giant grocery store, its semi-decrepit shipping works, and for the best Central American food in the city, cooked by the vendors who come to the soccer fields there every summer weekend, selling elotes and pupusas and agua fresca to the Latin American families who come to play and watch the soccer games, and to people like us, who just like to eat well. We make the walk — except for the shuttle buses and water taxis IKEA now runs, public transit to the area is dismal — through the heat, over the stinking Gowanus canal, and under the rumbling Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in the summer time, but as it’s several unpleasant miles from our neighborhood, we don’t go as often as I’d be happy to eat the tacos and huaraches and ceviche sold there. I’m embarrassed to admit that we may not have gone at all last year, but I thought as I drove through the gnarls of traffic under the BQE that I’d have to do better this year, despite the sweaty, gritty walk, make a point of coming once the vendors arrived in June.

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In the old days, before the city made them replace the tarps with trucks

at the huarache stand
At the huarache stand.

And then, like a dream, they were there: despite the cold and the wind, the vendors’ trucks were lined up at the park, dispensing quesadillas and horchata and my favorite of all: goat tacos.

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And the goat was sweet and tender, Sugar’s tacos al pastor complex in their spices, and the watermelon agua fresca divine. A meal of grace: something you can’t possibly plan for or make happen or even deserve, that you get to have anyway.

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So…what are you eating this week? Paste the address of your food-related post in here, and we’ll all come over to eat! (Please place a * after your name if your post is about pregnancy or children, for the sake of any in the ALI community who are presently in The Bad Place.)