Italian Birthday Feast

So one of our best friends had her birthday last night. She originally wanted to go to the North End with us and the baby for dinner. Eh, not too easy with a baby. So we decided to make her an Italian feast. It was delicious.

My wife grew up learning to cook in her family’s Italian restaurant, so making good Italian food is a source of pride and joy in our household. When we went to Italy last summer, we took a cooking class and made these wonderful things:

They are spinach and ricotta filled fresh ravioli. Amazing!

Here are some things we did to make it special. We set the table nicely, put flowers on the table, and made sure there was good Italian wine. Instead of a million courses, we had two, but that was still more than usual.

We started with an amazing antipasto. It included chunks of good provolone, marinated artichokes, sun dried tomatoes, homemade roasted red pepper with lots of garlic, and roasted green beans and mushrooms. It we served on a bed of lettuce with an amazing balsamic vinaigrette.  There was also bruschetta with an amazing white bean dip (recipe here).

Yum. That was probably enough food, but I also made pasta puttannesca.

Now. We made puttannesca our first year having Christmas together with my family. It was amazing. I swore up and down the recipe was from the Moosewood cookbook. So I made it again last night. It was not as good as I remembered.

Here is the recipe as I would make it next time:

1 1-lb. can of good crushed tomatoes

10-12 cloves of garlic, sliced

15-20 Kalamata olives sliced

2 tablespoons of capers

Salt, black pepper, and crushed red pepper to taste

1 lb. linguine

Parmesan for the top

First, I started the pasta water since water takes forever to boil.

Then, I chopped up the garlic and the olives:

Next, cook the garlic for awhile by itself with some olive oil (on low heat, make sure you don’t burn it). Then throw in the olives, capers, and your seasonings and cook for a little while longer. Then add the can of tomatoes.

Bring to a boil on medium heat and then lower the heat to simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes.

When the pasta is done drain it and put it into the pan with the sauce. Mix until the pasta is coated.

Serve right away topped with Parmesan.

Italians tend to eat pasta that doesn’t have too much sauce on it and I think that is one of the things that went wrong with how I made it last night. It called for a can of tomato paste which made the sauce too tomato-y and made too much sauce. You could probably use the amount of sauce that is made with the recipe for a pound and a half of pasta. Also, with so few ingredients, quality is key. Make sure you cheese, olives, capers, tomatoes etc are of the best quality.

We ended the night with decaf coffee from Zabars and fresh cannolis from the North End. Amazing. A great way to celebrate someone we love!

-Rachel

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“Feeding rooms” and more breastfeeding in public

So we went to a big brand new baby store in the area today. I find those places overwhelming but we needed something (cause every baby needs a thanksgiving outfit, right?) and my wife loves shopping. It had a lot of nice stuff as well as the usually obnoxious “boys” and “girls” sections and so much stuff that we don’t need that is marketed to new parent anxieties. But what I want to talk about is the feeding room, which is code for a private and separate breastfeeding room.

Many of these big baby stores have these room as do many malls. On the one hand how nice and thoughtful, right? The rooms usually have comfortable chairs and are bright and cheerful. For breastfeeding parents who don’t feel comfortable in public what a nice option.

BUT, rooms like this segregate breastfeeding moms and further enforce the message that we need to hide. I refuse to go into these rooms to feed my daughter. I realize this can be a complicated choice for some moms. I totally respect women who make the choice to use those rooms. But I choose not to. And I want to change things so that women can feel comfortable breastfeeding in public.

I had to breastfeed while we were there and I sat at a chair at the front of the store and fed her. I hate being told to hide when feeding her. It means I can’t participate in whatever is going on. Lately, because she is very distractible, I’ve had to go in a quiet room when we are at friends houses or our bedroom if we have company. But that is because of where she is at not because I feel I need to hide. My job as a mom is not to make other people comfortable by hiding my body. My job is to care for and feed my daughter whenever and wherever I need to. And maybe to teach her some self esteem and body confidence along the way.
-Rachel

I Love Cardamom

I love cardamom. I made the Cardamom Coffee Cake muffins last week (see my blog from last week) and then came across a recipe in Bon Appetite for Cardamom Crescents. I have also tried to make Cardamom bread from Saveur twice, once a disaster, once a success. So I thought I would have a day of Cardamom making (and throw some potato chowder into the slow cooker).

But first, why do I love cardamom so much. First, its amazing and delicious. But its also nostalgic. When I was in progressive hippy school back in the day, we went on many overnight trips. In 5th grade I distinctly remember going on a trip to one of my classmates’ beach house in Santa Cruz. The teacher made chai. I don’t know how related to actual traditional chai it was, but it was made with lots of whole milk, sugar, and spices. I think it was the first time I had a sweet warm drink that wasn’t hot chocolate. I remember the smell of the tea, and when I smell cardamom I am taken back to that time. I think it rained the whole time we were there, in typical California fashion, and that smell is comforting and cozy for me. When I smell cardamom, I want to curl up in a warm bathrobe, drink tea, and eat something with that smell. And I have recently discovered some wonderful options. They all go well with tea, too.

Cardamom Crescents

Cardamom Crescent Recipe.

If I were to make these again I would pay closer attention to how I shape the cookies. I thought they would flatten out more when in the oven. But once I dusted them with the second round of powdered sugar, they looked pretty. And they taste SO good. Like I bought them at a bakery or something.

Braided Cardamom Bread

Cardamom Bread Recipe.

When I decided to embrace domesticity I decided I wanted to learn how to make bread. This is one of the first ones that I tried, and oh boy was it discouraging. The first time I made this bread I followed the recipe and it didn’t all fit in the Kitchen Aid bowl! I sort of mixed it and let it sit there (it looked like brains) and of course it didn’t rise. So the next time I made it I split all the ingredients in half. It worked better that time. Still, a challenging bread to make. I was hoping this time, with more baking and bread making experience under my belt, it would go better. And it was almost a success. I had the right amount of everything (split the egg by using one whole egg and one egg white).. the dough looked good, rose well, and I braided it beautifully.

I took it out of the oven after 25 minutes and it looked like this. Okay, I need to work on my egg wash and making it even but looks good and baked, right?

Then I cut the end and tasted it after it cooled down and it looked like this. And it tasted delicious.

Perfect right? Then I cut it in the middle, and it was doughy! I hadn’t cooked it enough. So my wife picked through it when she got home and we ate the leftovers.

So sad. Next time I’m going to cook it on lower heat and for a little longer. Overall the day of cardamom cooking was fun and definitely a learning experience. These are both great recipes if you want to try them.

-Rachel

Thinking About Choices

I didn’t know what to write about today. I won’t be doing much cooking/baking writing for awhile since we have so many leftovers and I am banned from the kitchen till we eat them.

Then I heard this on WBUR this morning:

http://commonhealth.wbur.org/2011/11/top-maternity-hospitals-in-mass-stop-early-elective-deliveries/

And I knew what to write about. This piece talks about how many hospitals in MA are going to stop allowing women to elect to have scheduled c-sections prior to 39 weeks. There is research saying that it is unhealthy for babies before 39 weeks. But one mother in the piece says that this policy is taking away women’s choices and that pregnancy is so stressful. She says that women’s bodies are already out of control at that point in pregnancy and that this policy further takes away control from women. Also, just a note, we are not talking about early c-sections/inductions that happen for the mother or baby’s health. We are talking about convenience birth scheduling.

I have so many feelings and reactions to this that it is going to involve many posts. But lets start off with thinking about women’s choices and how they make them and why they make them. I strongly believe that women should be able to make whatever choices they need to make about their bodies and their lives. The problem with early elective c-sections/inductions is that women are making that choice inside a system that is horribly oppressive and deprives them of complete information (about their baby’s health, about birth options, etc). They are making that choice because they have no paid maternity leave. They are making that choice because their doctors don’t give them all the information about the health of their babies if they have them early. And they are making that choice because they not supported!

I am struck by how the woman in this report talks about how she feels like she is not in control of her body and there is a lot of pressure at the end of pregnancy. I know that many women feel ready for their baby to be born early. Pregnancy is exhausting! But the problem is the baby is not ready. So instead of having major surgery, we need to find ways to support women during this difficult time. Pregnancy is hard and birth is terrifying (another post later on why that is). Doctors should offer women support instead of casually suggesting that they could just have their baby early.

Also, and this is where it gets complicated, the babies themselves play an important role in the labor process and they decide when they are ready to come out. This is not to say that the baby’s “rights” are more important than a woman’s in any way, but I think we are so disconnected from a) how birth actually works and b) the babies in our bodies, that we forget the role they play in the birth process. My labor started 8 days after my due date and lasted for 73 hours. My daughter took the time she needed to stay in my belly and to eventually come out. And we were both so healthy when she was born.

This is the beginning of a longer conversation about pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, culture, support, and the institutionalization of women’s bodies. I would love to hear your thoughts, comments, and experiences.

-Rachel

Also, for a longer and pretty good conversation about this policy, check out Radio Boston: http://radioboston.wbur.org/2011/11/14/early-deliveries

Broth, Brussels, and Baking

Warning: This post is recipe heavy. But don’t worry, there are lots of pictures.

Broth

So I have always wanted to cook with my own vegetable broth, I have just never had the time/energy to make my own. But when I made soup the other day (http://wp.me/p1Y51C-U) it occurred to me that it would be much better with homemade vegetable broth. The slow cooker makes it so easy to make broth. I turned it on before bed and when I woke up there was my broth. All I had to do was strain it. Easy as pie!

Picture of the vegetable broth before bed.

Brussels

We are saving most of the broth to make the Potato Leek soup again, but here is the first thing we (and by we I mean my lovely wife) made with it. This recipe is adapted from the Saveur magazine website (more on how much I love Saveur later). It is always interesting to make things vegetarian, especially when the recipe calls for far rendering

20111111-204423.jpg

Penne with Brussels Sprouts, Cranberries, and Caramelized Onion:

2 tbls olive oil

3 oz. of morningstar bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

2 cups Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved

1 medium onion, sliced

1/4 dry white cooking wine (the original recipe called for vermouth, but unless you already have it sitting around, you can just use white wine)

1 cup vegetable broth (made at home in the slow cooker!)

1/2 cup dried cranberries (we ran out and used some raisins in addition to the cranberries, delicious)

6 oz. of penne (original recipe called for fettuccine, but it was great with penne)

2 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated

Salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat 1 tbls of the oil in a large heavy bottom skillet (we used our beautiful orange dutch oven). Add the bacon and cook until crispy. Set bacon aside.

2. Add the other tbls of oil turn the heat to medium-high. Put the Brussels sprouts in, cut-side down and cook until they are brown. Then add the onion and toss to combine. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent. Add the broth, wine, and cranberries and bring to a fast simmer. Cover, reduce heat to medium, and cook until the sprouts are soft.

3. Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente and reserve 1/4 cup of the cooking water. Transfer the pasta to the skillet and toss continuously over medium-high heat for 1-2 minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed (if its too dry, that is what the reserved cooking water is for.) Season with salt and pepper and serve with the Parmesan and bacon on top. Delicious

Baking

We have been feeding the baby greek yogurt, but clearly she eats it slowly so I figured I had to do something with the leftover yogurt. I went to my trusty Moosewood cookbook and found a ridiculous recipe for Cardamom Coffee Cake. However, it is supposed to be made in a budnt pan, which we don’t have. So I thought I would cut the recipe in half and try to make muffins. A great success.

Here is the recipe as I made it: Cardamom Coffee Cake Muffins (makes 12)

2 sticks of butter (OMG so much butter, delicious!)

1 cup packed brown sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 cups flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 1/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1 1/2 tsp powdered cardamom

1 cup yogurt (she says you can also use sour cream or buttermilk)

Nut mixture:

1/8 cup of brown sugar (I eyeballed it in a 1/4 cup measuring cup, cause who has a 1/8 measuring cup?)

1 1/5 tsp cinnamon

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

1. Preheat oven to 350 and fill muffin tin with paper liners.

2. In a large mixing bowl (I used the Kitchen Aid) beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Then add the vanilla.

3. In a separate bowl, mix together dry ingredients (not including the nut mixture).

4. Add the flour mixture, 1/3 of it at a time, alternating with the yogurt. Stir just enough to blend after each addition. Do not overmix. At this point I stopped using the Kitchen Aid, took the bowl off the stand, and mixed with a wooden spoon.

5. Combine the nut mixture. I used the magic bullet!

6. In the muffin tin, fill each tin half full with the batter, then a layer of the nut mixture, then the rest of the batter on top. They will be full to the brim. Spread flat (as best you can).

7. Bake for 30 minutes. Make sure a knife comes out completely clean to check if they are done. Let cool.

In the muffin tin and out. See the layer of the nut mixture? Yummy!

Also, just a note. If you happen to make chocolate cookies, and you have leftovers, and you happen to have some mint chocolate chip ice cream in the fridge, and your wife is a genius, you should make these:


Nudes and Breastfeeding

So naked women are exciting, yes?

Today we went to the Museum of Fine Arts. I was excited to see the exhibit “Degas and the Nude,” not because I particularly love Degas, but because I am always interested to see whats going on at the MFA and, as a Gender and Women’s studies minor (go Obbie GAWS!) am interested in exploring the idea of the naked female body as an object. I was curious to see if the exhibit would engage in the complexity (or straightforward misogyny) of men painting random female bodies for the viewer. There were some interesting pieces of women in brothels, but all the text predominately talked about the different techniques Degas used, not the subject matter. I left feeling a little blah, that I don’t like Degas very much, and that there wasn’t anything particularly evocative about the exhibit. To be fair, the babe cried a lot and so we were somewhat distracted. It was also pretty crowded, which always turns me off.

What I did become aware of was how many children were at the exhibit. Some 5-6 year old children, but also many children in their early teens, of all genders. Now, I look forward to when I can bring our baby to a museum and engage with her about all that she sees, whether it is complicated, oppressive, or otherwise. And I want to raise her in a household where being naked is normal and there is no shame around it. However, I realize this is not the world in which many children are raised and I’m guessing that many of these parents would not allow their children to see nudity in another context.

Which lead me to thinking about breastfeeding in public (to be fair, most things lead to that topic for me these days). The most awkwardness I have ever encountered around breastfeeding has been around families who have teen/preteen children, where the parents feel uncomfortable having their children see a woman breastfeeding. It’s interesting to think about how these paintings are actually quite erotic, but because they are “art” they are seen as acceptable. But when I breastfeed, a totally non-sexual act, it makes people uncomfortable because I am a real person in a public space (is that why they are uncomfortable?).

However, there is something intimate about feeding my child. And as I write this, I realize that I am perhaps supporting that idea that sexuality should remain hidden and that the only reason it is okay that I breastfeed in public is because it is non-sexual. Hmmm. I guess I just wish that women’s bodies and sexualities were allowed to be in the open in a way that isn’t objectifying. So while I shouldn’t have to hide when I need to feed my child, people shouldn’t have to hide and shame their sexuality either.

Check.

-Rachel

One of Degas’ more interesting nudes. I love the hair.

To knead or not to knead

So we still had leftover buttermilk so I wanted to try buttermilk bread again. Instead of going to a cookbook I did a search online and came across this recipe from someone’s blog:

http://seddy5.typepad.com/blog/2010/11/oatmeal-buttermilk-bread.html

I love all the pictures and I love the constant reassurance that it is okay that the dough is sticky. This was so helpful to me (my major bread problem is adding flour and adding flour and then adding too much flour… teehee.) The first rise took a long time. I think our house is too cold for bread to rise, so I turned the oven on to warm up the kitchen.

The baking was a little funny, as the first loaf got brown on top before it was done on the bottom. So with the second loaf, I switched it to the bottom rack earlier than I had with the first loaf. It got a little burned on the bottom, but I think will be baked better throughout.

Here is the final result:

The bread is delicious. A little sweet and hearty. I had a PB & J on it last night. Amazing.

Now today’s topic of discussion: Using a Kitchen Aid to knead bread. Two things, it feels like cheating and the bowl never feels big enough. On point number one, there is something so romantic and domestic and I-feel-like-my-grandma-y about the idea of truly deeply kneading a loaf of bread. And with the right kind of dough (not today’s sticky mess) it can feel very satisfying. I love the feel of the dough when it gets smooth, the ache in your arms, and the way the dough changes. However, it is exhausting and so much work and takes a long time, which I don’t have if the baby is getting fussy. The kitchen mixer is just SO much easier. I love that I can just leave it while it does all the work and magic, there is your dough. However, for many recipes, I feel like our bowl isn’t big enough. The dough constantly seems to be pouring over the sides. Today, it ended up working out, but other times I have had to take out half the dough and do part of the kneading by hand or take turns in the mixer. Frustrating. I liked today’s recipe because it told me specifically how to do the kneading in the mixer.

Other kitchen adventures in the past few days:

4 dozen chocolate chip cookies (I love the recipe on the nestle tollhouse bag).

Tuscan white beans with sage and garlic (from the Gourmet Vegetarian Slow Cooker). Here they are before I turned on the slow cooker. Delicious.