Bionic Mamas

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


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Thoughts from the road

Greetings from somewhere in Pennsylvania. I can’t be more specific, as the Bean has commandeered the GPS device (which actually is a GPS for motorcycle use), it’s too mountainous for our phones to be speaking to us, and I have allowed technology to get the better of my map skills. Oh, here: mile 253.2 of Interstate 80. Some peculiarly specific mile markers around these parts. Somebody’s brother-in-law has a sweet contract.

Jackalope is sitting in a giant pile of chocolate cookies. And yet fussing! Not my genes, I tell you what.

We are en route to Chicago, where Sugar has pictures in a group show, and then to the the Sugar Family Manse in midMichigan. (Chicago friends, how I wish we could visit you! We will be under house arrest at the Sugar Family Pied-a-Terre, which is to say her late grandmother’s house on the far, far, far South Side.) We are driving because, well, money. It’s good to have a car, though. This would be a real drag on foot with the granny cart.

Summer, man. It’s a pretty good season.

Item: You know those free tourism magazines at rest stops? They have weird depths.

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Item: We have continued the beach trips. The Bean is getting more comfortable with the water, in his incremental way. He likes me to carry him out into the water while Jackalope naps, and lately he will sometimes release his legs enough to kick wildly, as long as I grip his upper body to me. His friend S, who is a very strong and brave swimmer, dives into the waves around us while they both laugh. She has the sunniest nature, and they are an age when it does not seem to yet have occurred to them to let their differences in skills and constitution get in the way of their fun.

Item: It is now Saturday, and we are in Chicago. The opening was a real pleasure — in a fancy Mies Van de Rohe building and everything. Jackalope marched me directly to the cheese table, and the Bean got a Sprite after he and I examined all of the architecture students’ models. Most of the gallery guests were (like Sugar) alumni of the Institute of Design and true to type, brain-wise, to judge from their satisfied reactions to the Bean’s vigorous use of his name card to swipe them out of the gallery as they exited the porch. Systems people understand each other.

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Also pleasant was visiting with Sugar’s first cousin and his family, which includes two girls, 9 and 5. Isn’t it funny how babies born three months apart are radically different until age 15 months or so, at which point they are functionally the same age? Neighbors of ours have a daughter eight months younger than the Bean, who suddenly became his age when he was three and a half. Likewise, the five-year-old cousin, who was older than the Bean at Christmas, is now his age. The nine-year-old remains amazingly cool. The Bean sat on the sofa next to her, saying hi. Hi, she replied, and returned to her book. They talked dot-to-dots later. Jackalope was beside herself.

Item: Remind me not to let my kids play with the ostensibly nice neighbor here, who helps keep up the lawn and makes generally friendly offers of, for instance, letting the kids come swim in his pool, followed by announcing that the girls — who are FIVE and NINE — don’t have to wear bathing suits. Actually, no need to remind me. I think I’ll remember. Between this and Swamplandia!, which I just finished and recommend highly, I am nauseatingly reminded of the dangers of girlhood, in particular the way you are never quite sure which things are dangers and which are jokes and which might become dangers if you don’t treat them as jokes and the way you are certain it’s your fault for not getting it.

Item: Apparently, Chicago has ended the social promotion of street trees. I assume this is a Rahm Emmanuel thing.

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Item: On the topic of failure, I give the Ohio Turnpike website an F minus minus for their lyrical bullshit description of the history of Indian Meadows, the location of a service plaza in the eastern part of the state. It’s named for the redmen who lived there, you see, prior to the white men who, “unlike the red-skinned farmers, […] learned to conserve the soil.” European conquest was pretty much the least healthy thing to happen to the soil since glaciers, but in fairness, it is responsible for bringing to these lands the Gift of Sbarro.

Item: Guess how many hours we’d been with the Midwestern family before the first non-sequitur remark about the racist/awful South?  (Yes, the South is plenty racist.  It is not, however, uniquely racist, and the comfortable assumption on the part of white folks in the rest of the country that it is the home of all bad things perpetuates racism that doesn’t fly a confederate flag (which frankly, has far more power to harm than most of those flag-wavers) and gets on my last nerve.)

Item: My mental health still blows. A very brave friend with very significant head-demons recently noted that she can do all kinds of hard and scary things, yet have a panic attack at the idea of leaving her apartment. We made a list of panic attack triggers, the things our brains have evidently determined to be so dangerous that Attention Must Be Paid. My list included grapes, cinnamon, and bottled iced tea. Also guacamole and every medicine in pill form. Lo, how the mighty Better Living Through Chemistry have fallen! I can’t take an Advil without wondering if I am swallowing cyanide; I wish I were joking. The world seems so thin, so easily broken. I don’t know what’s become of me.

Item: I am, for the record, actively looking for a therapist. Criteria: does CBT, takes my insurance, is older than I am. I have some issues surrounding talking parental death stuff with chipper young people. Possibly unfair, but there you are.

Item: So far I haven’t even gotten anyone to call me back. This does not make me think good thoughts about the profession or humanity in general.

Item: The other things I think would help are sleeping more and creating things. I haven’t figured out how to manage either. Getting hungry makes everything radically worse. Looks like I will be dumpling-shaped for the foreseeable future, as eating my feelings seems far healthier than acting on them.

Uh, item: Not everything is misery. Jackalope is talking up a storm, which is my favorite, “LET’S HAVE ALL THE BABIES” aspect of child development. She calls her brother “Bam” or “The Bam” and our cat, Orson, “Ohrsine,” in a very French way. She can say “paleontologist,” but somehow not “yes.” “I see you, [person or item]” is a frequent announcement along with “wanna [x],” and “no biting,” usually right after biting me. She eats everything with gusto, followed by hurling it around the room with equal vigor.

She has in no way given up the idea that she should be allowed to nurse for any or all of a day’s 24 hours, despite my having officially stopped nursing on demand six months ago, and she’s come up with the most fiendishly clever way to ask: what’s the one thing a child of mine could request that I will always, but always, drop everything to help them with? That’s right: “wanna nap.”

Item: I have fallen for that a lot of times.

Item: The Bean is no less a marvel. He is tall and tan and proves to have a deep love of capoeira. Brooklyn being Brooklyn, we found a group that does lessons for four-year-olds and will give it a try in the fall. He is not a huge fan of the car, but has learned from our road trip with my Aunt Explorer the joys of chewing gum and washing the windows, which take the edge off.

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“GUM! No gum,” says Jackalope. No gum for babies.

He remarked the other day how funny it is that everyone in our family has the same color skin, an observation whose logical basis I credit to his magical pre-school of the past year. He’s off to public pre-K in the fall, and even though I think that is the right choice — it’s free and around the corner and full time — it’s hard for all of us not to feel wistful. (He could technically go to his old school for another year, at great expense even for a part-time schedule, but he is demonstrably ready for more class time.) The local school is good, certainly fine for pre-K, but I have to take deep breaths when I think of my baby in a building where police officers run the front entrance. Plus the uniform is ugly, no matter how egalitarian in principle. I had a dream the other night that it was the picture for an article about ugly things.

Update: while I was nattering on, we got ready to leave Chicago for the Sugar’s childhood home in rural Michigan. Then the phone rang with the news that her father’s little brother, who, like the rest of the siblings, lives in suburban Chicago, had had a stroke. So we weren’t going anymore. Then, in the morning, his sister the nurse said no more visitors, as he tries to pull his feeding tube out to talk every time he recognizes anyone. So suddenly we were going again, with Sugar’s parents planning to come back in a week. (It is about a four-hour drive.) Everyone is being very sensible and stoic and Midwestern.

Uncle Little Brother is the family clown, the one who cheerfully submits to being the butt of the joke while making you a Manhattan, who somehow knows the perfect presents for the kids at Christmas, who in the pictures of the (large) family as children is always the one mysteriously in a cowboy costume or dressed for a children’s theatre production of Guys And Dolls, in the deep woods of northern Wisconsin. They say he is likely to recover, and I hope they are right.

Item: We are now in Sugar’s tiny hometown, in the house she grew up in, which is somehow also the very cleanest artists’ studio you ever saw. I’ve gotten used to the place over the years and forgotten how cool it is. I’d take a better picture, but I am sitting with a not-sleeping Bean. Update: too dark. You’ll have to take my word for it. Paintings, prints, sculptures everywhere, yet somehow extremely clean. Lots of books. A large cat named Teddy.

Here is the living room:

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The air conditioning is broken, but after freezing my tail off at the Chicago house, my thin, Southern blood is finally coming in handy.

Update: a mighty thunderstorm. The green wet smell of summer camp insomnia.

Item: This is honest to God the sign at the edge of town. The town is too small for a stop light and recently removed its downtown flashing yellow, so you see how this kind of thing could get to emergency levels.

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Item: MIL and I went to the new butcher shop at the edge of town — this is big news, as Carl’s grocery closed some time ago, leaving the town with zero food stores that aren’t a gas station. The new place sells great steaks, fifteen kinds of bratwurst (blueberry???), a smattering of produce, and a surprising array of bulk spices. They will also butcher your deer. Savvy business move, which I attribute to the owner’s wife working at the bank. The staff uniform is a camo hunting cap, which matches the wallpaper near the coolers; transactions are observed by a small black bear, a caribou, assorted fish, a fox, several whitetail, and some others I have forgotten. I have taken an immediate liking to the place. Good steaks, too.

Item: It turns out matching pajamas are crazy-cute. “We’re twins!!” says the Bean.

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Item: I am supposed to go take a nap. Cheers for now.


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Geography Lessons

Or: Things I Learned By Getting A Car

1. Brooklyn is a beach town.

Queens, too.  Oh, and Staten Island. Brighton Beach/Coney Island and the Rockaways are accessible by public transit, yes, but by car they are ~45 minutes and I don’t have to schlep the stuff for three people plus, to one degree or another, those actual people using only my body.  And then we are at the beach.  The beach, I tell you!

Since moving to New York ten years ago, I’ve made a handful of day trips to the beach.  Fewer than ten, probably.  In the first six days after getting the fuel pump replaced (ahem), we went four times.  We’re planning to go tomorrow.

Brooklyn Beach

2. Children like the beach better than overcrowded apartments.

Again, who knew?  Jackalope and the Bean do pretty well together, but, well, siblings gonna sibling.  Turns out putting them in smaller cages doesn’t help.  At the beach, well, I have two buckets and there’s more than enough sand for everybody.

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4. My apartment likes it better when we are at the beach.

We had to stay in last Tuesday morning.  There was marker all over the sofa before 9 am.

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Not the culprit, for the record.

3. Mamas like the beach better, too.

Partly this is because of the relative tranquility and because, duh, who doesn’t love the beach?  Some of it is harder to pin down.  Why should sand and salt and an environment where I really do need to be sure no one is drowning at any given moment make me feel so much more substantial, more tied to the world of the living?  I can’t tell you why, but at the beach I’m not thinking about whether this shortened breath, that mild headache is the beginning of the end.  It makes a pleasant change.

4. There is no Facebook at the beach.

Or next to none, anyway, as my phone battery is trifling and see above about real environmental dangers.

5. It turns out I spend too much time on Facebook.

I knew that, on one level, that “pay attention to your children/wife” level. What I did not realize is how much the click and click and click was increasing my anxiety. UGH. Facebook is a silly place, yes, but it’s also how I keep in touch with the world of adults and friends and complete sentences and big ideas. I just started a group for discussing anti-racist parenting, for instance. Also cat videos.

The things people dislike about Facebook — the way it provokes envy, for instance, or a sense that one isn’t living correctly — aren’t the problem. The problem is the very act of watching those notification numbers light up red, feeling compelled to check them, again and again and now again. I love it, and apparently it’s terrible for me. UGH.

Luckily, there is the beach to take my mind off it.


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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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Tummy Time

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One of those days when it feels like my chief accomplishment is, “almost dropped the baby BUT DIDN’T.” Not a bad day, you understand, but man, didn’t I used to do things?

But, then again, just before bed time, when we flipped Jackalope over and she began to squirm and grunt in protest, the Bean cried out, “we can do tummy time together!” So there’s that.


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Sunday Snapshots

Morning.

No coffee, or rather, no milk, which means no coffee for me, given present esophageal conditions. Sugar and the Bean get dressed, count down the minutes until the local grocery store opens, and return victorious, bless them.

~ ~ ~

Sugar and the Bean make pancakes. Banana for me and Sugar, chocolate chip for the Bean, because calories he will eat > calories he will not eat. (He didn’t eat much yesterday and was up repeatedly in the night, until applesauce and milk finally applied at 4:30 in the morning.) He eats a whole one, cut in squares! He asks for another, a dinosaur this time. I do my best with a paring knife.

Dinosaur pancake

He smiles. “No, I don’t want a dinosaur. I want a square instead.”

~ ~ ~

It’s my father’s birthday. He was going to come to the East Coast for a meeting next weekend and spend a day with us, but my mother is too sick to be left alone. It will be easier for us not to have him, as Sugar’s mother is coming that weekend, but I am still disappointed. And envious.

~ ~ ~

I unaccountably find myself crying over some dumb article about baby shower etiquette. Rude to plan one for yourself, they say. Unless someone offers, have everyone over for a cookout to meet the new baby, instead.

Point of order, I don’t want a shower, exactly. We don’t need much stuff. (Another chair. Maybe a few cute things that can belong just to this baby.) I don’t need to be treated like a princess or a well-maintained incubator or whatever. I wanted to be pregnant and I like being pregnant; I don’t think gestating makes me more special than those who aren’t. But it is work, especially while keeping the the Bean alive and my students more or less on track. And given how much of my work feels invisible at all times (see: daily parenting, adjunct professing), I admit a small desire to be noticed, just for a minute.

Sugar thinks we should just invite people over for champagne as a combination un-shower and early birthday party for her, since we are usually traveling for Christmas on her birthday. I seriously doubt any of our friends will actually care about the etiquette of such an event, especially if there is champagne.

I think the real reason the article got to me is that it presupposes a place in a social structure that doesn’t exist in our lives. We don’t have local family. (Well, one aunt I love and never see.) We don’t live near our hometowns or our high school and college friends. We don’t (and I’m not sorry) have a place in the cavalcade of heteronormativity these rules presupposes. I don’t regret the decisions that have led us here, but sometimes feeling different is too close to feeling wrong.

Moreover, I remain envious to an unflattering extent of people who are well enough to host parties two weeks postpartum.

~ ~ ~

The Bean naps today. Not for all that long, but it is sweet watching him fall asleep. For once.

~ ~ ~

In the afternoon, Sugar makes bread. The Bean is appalled.

“Punch down the bread?? That would be terrible!”

Yeah, Sugar. No hitting.

~ ~ ~

I vacuum the bedroom. It’s getting harder to do that sort of thing; I am not what you might call gainly. But it is worth it for the Bean’s praise upon inspection: “This looks beautiful to me!”


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Matroyshka Monday

I know “Mother Charmed By Own Child” is hardly breaking news, but I can’t help that swollen feeling my heart gets when the Bean asks to play with my matroyshka dolls. I love how careful he (ahem, usually) is with them, even when they do exciting things like drive buses. And I love that my boy, whose vehicular obsessions lead many people to reassure me that his gender expression matches his genitalia, so equally loves these dolls (and OMG dollhouses). Just like his mama, on both counts.

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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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