Monday, September 22, 2008

Baby 1 / Cindy's Good Intentions Zip

Sylvia passed the six-month mark a couple weeks ago, and I've just started introducing her to food. It's very exciting. So far we've done rice cereal, which she gobbled up. Bananas, ditto. Pears, couldn't get enough. This weekend it was time to move to carrots. Whoo-hoo.

With each of the kids I've had the best intentions of making their baby food, but twice now I've bowed to the gods of Gerber. Third time's a charm, though, as just the thought of weighing down my Ecobags with dozens of little jars of food and then piling them willy-nilly in the pantry wore me out. So this weekend I made Sylvie some food.

First I toted my Ecobags to the store and bought organic apples and carrots and an ice cube tray. Then I peeled, cored, chopped, and cooked the apples with a couple tablespoons of water. I froze all of this in little applesauce cubes to use later in the week. Next I peeled, chopped, and steamed a few carrots, added some of steam water back in, and used a pureed her up a nice little dinner. The extra I froze in little carrot cubes for later in the week.

Come dinner, she got one taste of the carrots and gave me a betrayed look. She added insult to injury by shaking her head side to side a few times as if to clear her head, then screwing up her face as if she'd smelled something foul. I tried again. Oh, I couldn't, she seemed to say. I'm simply stuffed.

Feeling deflated by her lack of hunger, I picked up a plastic container of Gerber bananas. She kicked her feet vigorously, made the happy squeaky sound, and opened her mouth like a famished baby bird. Then proceeded to eat the whole thing container and part of another.

The next day I tried the carrots again. Same diva routine. More packaged bananas.

Meaning it might be time for a talk. While she was born at a lower birth weight than her brothers, she's heading in a different direction: She gained 20 percentile points on girth between her four-month and six-month checkups. If she's not willing to eat her vegetables, I'm not seeing her lose the one physical trait she clearly inherited from me: The Morrow thighs.

(For what it's worth, I'm consulting a great little book called Top 100 Baby Purees for making her baby food. Although I'm guessing Sylvie will have little interest in any of the recipes until we proceed to the dessert section.)

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Antiquarian Cookbooks for Your Viewing Pleasure!

I discovered the coolest site via the Angry Chicken blog. The Michigan State University Library and MSU Museum has scanned several dozen antiquarian cookbooks from its collection. So you can check out 200-year-old recipes perfect for everything from the chocaholic to the convalescent. I'm loving the 1830 copy of The Frugal Housewife, as well as Fannie Farmer's Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent.

If you have a huge chunk of time on your hands -- cuz trust me, it's a time-suck -- check out Feeding America.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Pre-Book Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Why haven’t I read this book? I don’t know. It’s been on the bestseller lists, both in hard cover and paperback, since it published more than a year ago. And I love reading about food and sustainability and sticking it to the Processed Food Man.

When this book first came out, in Spring 2007, I was intrigued. In it, novelist and essayist Barbara Kingsolver and her family spend a year growing their own food or only eating local. The reviews I’d read were glowing, and the brief essays I’d read by Kingsolver in other publications, including a Mother Jones article about modern organic farming and the politics involved, were stellar. At the time it published, though, I was feeling too cheap to spring for the hardcover edition. So I held out.

And then a department assistant I adored announced she and her fiancé were moving to the West Coast. As a thank-you gift, she gave me this book, even though we’d never talked about it. So I started reading.

Almost immediately I found myself pregnant and sickly, and I truthfully couldn’t care less about eating local. So the book’s been sitting in my living room pile of unread books for a about a year. Recently I'd started eyeing it again.

Yesterday my mother-in-law called and in the conversation asked if I’d read this book. She'd read it and loved it, and thought I’d enjoy it as well. “Funny you should ask,” I said, relaying how I had a copy and had gotten sidelined.

Then last night I checked my high school alumni site and found that the sister of my best-friend- in-high-school had left me a message. Judy, my friend’s sister, was the type to screech like a school girl if she broke a nail. I remember one time when she stepped in dog mess and moaned and complained incessantly; I thought we might have to get her new shoes. So it was a surprise to learn that she’s now living on acreage, raising bees and selling honey at the local farmer’s market, and dreaming of moving her family to a true farm with working animals. After I read her profile and pulled myself off the floor, I sent her an article by my beloved Michael Pollan about what could be causing the decrease in honeybees. Since then, we've written back and forth a little about sustainability and food choices. Last night she sent a message asking if I’d read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and praising the zucchini chocolate chip cookie recipe.

So one random gifting and two unrelated recommendations in the same day lead me to believe that the sustainability gods are telling me I need to read this book. I picked it back up before bed and got through about four marvelous pages before konking out -- a result of Sylvia being up four times the night before, not a boring text. I can’t wait to get back to it tonight.

Has anyone read it? Thoughts? Any other food writing of note?


Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Random Musings on the Lost Art of the Cocktail Hour

I just finished re-reading Madeleine L'Engle's Two-Part Invention about her 40-year marriage to Hugh Franklin that ended with his death from cancer. I first discovered the book 15 years ago and consumed volumes of L'Engle after finding it. This copy is extra special to me because I had her sign it at a conference that she headlined. "For Cindy," reads the inscription, "Beautiful Inventions."

I've since learned that much of what was written as fact in the book might have been fairly fictionalized, but it's still a striking book. I've enjoyed re-reading it. Even if I initially picked it up for a rather trite reason: I was trying to find her description of their family's evening ritual. (Turns out, I must have remembered that description from A Circle of Quiet, because it's not in this book.) Every evening when her and Hugh Franklin's three kids were old enough to be civil but young enough to live at home, the family would have quiet hour before dinner. Hugh and Madeleine would each have a martini and talk about the day or world events. If their children wanted to participate in adult conversation, they could join in. If they didn't, they could make themselves scarce.

With our kids being six, three, and zero, I spend most of my time with them being talked at incessantly about Webkinz and Power Rangers and what Santa's on tap to bring in four months. Sylvia is mute, but still manages to stir up a fuss if she's a mite peckish or is tired of the bouncy seat or is stuck in mid-rollover. It will be a long time before Phil and I can incorporate a civil cocktail hour into our day, but I do aspire to it. From my vantage point, a properly executed cocktail hour serves a purpose in shifting focus from work to family.

One of the most beautiful and articulate descriptions of cocktail hour I've found comes from Rachel Fudge in her essay "The Art and Science of Cocktail Hour," which is included in this great book of food writing. Rachel, whose parents enjoy a similar ritual to the Franklin-L'Engles, writes, "The underlying function of the cocktail hour is to create a smooth transition from work to relaxation, from hectic to tranquil." Who wouldn't love that? A quiet drink prepared thoughtfully and sipped meditatively is a far cry from what cocktail hour has evolved into: Happy Hour. That phrase fills me with thoughts of being trapped in the industrial windowless bar of a W Hotel, the beautiful people drinking layered or lime-green drinks, a television blaring sports, electronica playing too loudly to be comfortably talked over. The art of the cocktail has been hijacked in the past generation. Let's bring it back.

If I can continue my rant, when it comes to cocktails, size does matter. A "drink" is measured as 1-1/2 ounces. That's it. Like everything, however, cocktails have been supersized to the point of insult. I used to own a vintage set of cocktail glasses that held maybe 4 ounces; I got rid of them in the purge that preceded our move to Brooklyn. Ten years later, I still mourn those glasses at least once a month. Phil and I went on a quest to find remotely normal sized martini glasses several years ago, and the smallest we could find was 7 ounces. Or, for my poor math, the equivalent of four and a half drinks. It's obscene. A cocktail -- especially one that consists solely of alcohol -- should be like a perfect, cold little jewel, not a Big Gulp that has to be sloshed through and leaves its drinker feeling tipsy and bloated.

My cocktail of choice for a decade and a half has been the basic gin martini, not a drink to be taken lightly. I was first introduced to this classic by my friend Martha in a small Indiana bar called Syd's. Martha has always been mature for her age, and she ordered her drink, and then sat with her cardigan draped over her shoulders, chasing the air conditioner chill, and relaying the intricacies of a sketch she'd recently heard on A Prairie Home Companion. I figured what the hey and ordered a martini, too. It was a fun night, and we followed our martinis with Syd's famous burgers and fried pickles. I've never looked back.

For my money, I'm a purist when it comes to the martini. I agree with the sentiment that you can make a lovely drink with vodka and vermouth, but it's no martini. For me, it needs to consist of ice-cold gin, a smidgen of vermouth, perhaps a bit of olive juice, and a big olive skewered on one of various cocktail picks that seem to reproduce nightly in our dining room. Shaken, not stirred, and poured into the glass quickly before any of the ice in the shaker can melt.

While I love stories of extra-dry martini rituals, like FDR making his martinis by filling the shaker with gin and then glancing at the vermouth bottle across the room, I am not militant about the exact amount of vermouth to go in the glass. (I used to have a Smith and Hawken plant mister I used for misting the glass with vermouth, but I realized how effected it was. And the vermouth rusted out the workings, anyway, so it became unworkable.) I periodically like to skip the olive juice and trade in the olive for a lemon twist, but I think it's more because I like to show off now that I've learned to make the twist.

These days it's hard to believe that I'll ever be able to go to the bathroom alone, read an entire article in the Sunday morning paper without fielding half a dozen requests, or get a straight seven hours of sleep. And it's nearly inconceivable that Phil and I some day will be able to implement a quiet time before dinner when we can ease from hectic to tranquil. But I'm holding onto the dream.
Bottoms up.


Monday, September 01, 2008

I'm Ba-a-a-a-ack

I put this blog on hold about nine months ago due to you-know-who:

I'm finally well past both the pregnant sleepies and the new baby fog and starting to think about cooking again.

So let's get this party started.