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28 July 2008

oh frabjous day!

lucy, eyes open and breathing sweetly

Oh, lovely people:

Here's the great news — little Lucy is out of ICU! We moved out yesterday afternoon, and I have never been so happy to see a door swing closed behind me. She's doing splendidly. She had her breathing tube removed on Saturday — we can finally see her entire face — and everything has been stable ever since. All her breathing levels and stats are solid, she's sleeping and pooping and doing all the things that babies do.

We're on the pediatric unit now, so we share a room with another family, and we get up in the middle of the night to soothe her. We've changed her diaper multiple times, rocked her to sleep to the rhythm of our heartbeats, and learned her cry in the middle of the night and predicted what she might need. We're finally feeling like parents.

She's an alive, healthy child. We believe she always was. She just gave us a scare, and then she got sucked into the medical vortex. We're determined, when we take her home, to just treat her like a baby and not be worried all the time.

And we're learning her personality. She sweet and feisty at the same time. She makes her needs known, which makes it fairly easy to soothe her. (We can't imagine this is going to last.) The past two days, she has opened her eyes wide and taken in everything, slowly. She's pensive, her right hand always resting on her chin, like Rodin's The Thinker. We can't gobble up enough of her little coos and gurgles. We're totally smitten.

The Chef and I are back to making senseless comments, reading the paper, and talking about other things besides the baby. We're cracking each other up. The cot we sleep on is tiny, but at least we have the chance to snuggle.

And it looks good for us getting back to our own bed soon. Lucy simply has to start eating more and more. They say as soon as she eats regularly and keeps gaining weight, they will take out her naso-gastral tube, the last one linger. That means that somewhere in the next few days, we can go home.

She'll be home with us soon.

We find it fitting that the last hoop our daughter has to jump through has to do with food.

She'll be fine. We're over the moon.

Thank you all, so much for all your emails and comments, your kindness with your own stories and hugs offered from around the world. Truly, we have read every comment to each other before we published. You buoyed us up when we were thrashing around, feeling as though we were drowning.

Thank you, so much, from the center of our expanding hearts. We felt the connection, the light offered, the genuine outpouring of wonderful words. You're part of her community, and I know she felt how many people were pulling for her.

Someday, this will all be a bad memory.

But for now, it's time to go stare at the baby.

love to you all,
shauna, danny, and lucy

25 July 2008

welcome, oh life. and learning how to breathe

Lucy's here

For months, we have planned to open the post announcing her birth with this Peanuts cartoon we found over a year ago. Tattered at the edges, and growing yellow from being on our refrigerator so long, this cartoon conveys how we feel about the birth of our daughter.

(Except the snottiness of that Lucy. We don't think she'll be like that one.)

All is right in the world, as long as Lucy is in it.

now we are a family

Our daughter was born on Monday, July 21st, at 4:40 pm. Lucy Marie Ahern (no longer just Little Bean) weighed 7 pounds 7.5 ounces, and measured 19 inches long.

Those are just numbers. No words will ever match the experience of hearing her cry for the first time, a barbaric yawp that echoed against the walls of the OR, a huge lusty cry that said, "I'm here. I am." We will never find the words to tell the story of holding her on my chest as I still lay on the gurney, my body being sewn closed, and seeing her wide open eyes slowly turn from one of us to the other, as we talked to her. She knew our voices, without a doubt. And no words can match the sweetness of a hospital room filled with loved ones, holding her in turns, and beaming with pride and happiness at the sight of her small face.

We became parents, as soon as we saw her, as soon as we heard her cry. Instantaneous, enormous, bouncing-off-all-the-walls love. No words for this love.

Oh god, we love Lucy.

Originally, we knew exactly how this post would go. We'd announce her, tell you all about her, and end by saying how happy we are to know her. Goodbye.

If only life were always so easily planned.

We knew we'd be singing lots of Beatles and John Lennon songs around her birth. The song playing as she entered the world? "I Will," a song deeply important to both of us. We both cried at that. But the lyrics that have rained insistently in my head these past few days? These lines from John's song, "Beautiful Boy":

Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans.

The Chef and I have spent the past three days in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, our arms sore from leaning on the hard plastic sides of the isolette, trying to will breath into our daughter.

We don't want to say too much here. We can't say too much. If I take the time to contemplate what has happened to us, what we have endured on so little sleep, how scared and in pain and trying to buoy ourselves up we have been — I'll start crying and not be able to go on.

It's like living in a different world, in constant twilight, saturated with numbers we never knew existed. We are with her, next to her side, as much as possible. The entire world focuses down to the way her toes curl against our fingers, the wheeze in her throat from the breathing tube, and waiting for her to grip our pinkies.

This time of constant twilight is almost unbearable. Almost, because we are bearing it. We have to bear it. For Lucy.

Lucy stops breathing sometimes. My new definition of terror? Sitting strapped in a hospital bed at 3:30 in the morning, watching our daughter being raced to the nurses' station, alarms going off, a stampede of feet running toward her. And I can't get up and follow her because I just underwent a c-section only twelve hours before.

Oh lord, it's like hell.

But we're still finding the light in this. We're both convinced that we have lessons to learn, and so does she. She's a strong little cuss, stubborn and feisty. She does NOT like having blood drawn or procedures done to her. She fights. She squirms. I love it. One of the nurses said to us, "That's good. Sick kids don't fight. They just lie there. Tell her to keep fighting us."

She will.

(The Chef and I have that fight in us as well. If you saw me, you wouldn't believe I underwent major surgery four days ago. I'm walking, standing, moving things around, no real pain, just a dull ache. Right after the nurses took our daughter to the ICU, I called in my nurse and said, "Okay, get me up and walking. I need to recover, now." I understand those news stories now, the ones about women lifting up cars to save their kids. The body's capable of amazing things.)

The nurses have been phenomenal. Compassionate and direct, taking care of us as well as her. Whenever a nurse says something kind, or asks how we are doing, or does something efficiently for Lucy and makes her feel better, we just burst into tears, almost. And the Chef always turns to me and says, "I LOVE that person."

But still, we are here, living on the bounty of food that our dear friends bring us, only a few hours of sleep fitfully tossed on a hospital cot together, and deep abiding hope. We believe.

We thought about waiting to post until everything was hunky-dory. That might be soon. We seem to be through the worst of it.

That first night, I was convinced she was dying. It's bound to be better than that. On Tuesday, she had more tests than any human should. Imagine a lumbar puncture at two days old, two EEGs, two MRIs, blood drawn multiple times, chest x-rays. But those tests eliminated almost all of the scary stuff.

This morning, all the tests seem to bear out our common sense. For whatever reason, little Lucy just doesn't know to breathe regularly yet. Perhaps she came out a little too early. Maybe she just needs to learn her way. Who comes out perfect anyway?

Last night, we began feeding her. After living on sugar water for three days, she finally took in the first food she had eaten since she landed in the ICU. Milk my body made, loving put into a tube by the two of us.

And today, finally, we had the chance to hold her. Skin to skin, heartbeat under her ear. When she lay on one of us for half an hour or an hour at a time, she never once had a difficulty with breathing. We were teaching her.

But still, we don't know. Something horrendous could come up tomorrow. We could still be here for days. Perhaps the Chef's entire tw0-week paternity leave will be spent in this hospital room.

We're here. And perhaps more than any other experience in our lives, we are learning to lean into the moments as they come, and find the light. Tomorrow does not matter. What matters is right now, when she is sleeping peacefully, the two of us watching her in her crib.

She's here. That's all we need.

Lucy just after birth

I keep thinking of this moment just after her birth. Still covered in gunk, she cried out her arrival. I am here. I am.

She knew how to breathe in that moment, and for the next twelve hours after that. She will, again.

Breathe, Lucy Marie. We want to show you the world. And you are already loved, by so many people who have never met you.

Breathe, Little Bean. Breathe.

17 July 2008

a gluten-free pregnancy

a gluten-free pregnancy

Last night, the Chef and I sat in our backyard, near midnight. We sat with plates balanced on our knees and nibbled at our dinner: cold roast chicken; a bacon-roasted corn-goat cheese salad; sweet wine-dark cherries. To the side, in the grass, sat saucers of chocolate-banana cake. Moonlight loomed around us.

We had already debriefed the day on the car ride home from the restaurant. Now, I turned to him and said, “What are some of your favorite memories of this last year?”

Where do we start? What a year it has been. My first book being published. Book publicity trips. A honeymoon in Italy. Time in his home town. Two more book deals. And of course, finding out in the dead of winter that we were going to be having a baby in the blaze of summer.

But, as our memories tumbled out, we realized they weren’t the big moments. Most often, they weren’t the moments I have written about here. Some stories are public, and others are private. When we first fell in love, everything felt like a story for this site, at times. (Well, not everything.) But as our relationship has deepened, and we have known each other for longer, we leave more and more off the site. The focus is the food again, not us.

So those memories we spilled out — a glass of wine on the piazza in Montefalco; a conversation at the dinner table in Breckenridge; a moment of vulnerability between us that turned into something raw and real — will stay with us on that moonlit grass.

Mostly, as we laughed and marveled at how full our lives have been, we stopped frequently, and looked at each other. “Can you believe it has been a full year?”

After we finished our meal — the cake the same recipe we used last July 16th — we stood up and held each other, in front of the Buddha in the bathtub. Spontaneously, I took off his ring, and he took off mine. I looked in his eyes and said words for only him, and he did the same. Under the moon, we agreed to marry each other all over again.

“Happy Anniversary, my love.”

And then he slapped my butt, we grabbed plates from the grass, and we went inside.

Just as we cannot believe that it has already been a year (and only a year) since we were married, we cannot believe that next week we will meet our child.

How did this all go so fast?

I have been blessed. I have loved being pregnant, including the bouts of nausea, the gas up in my ribs, the waddling toward the end, the swollen feet. Because I waited so long to be pregnant, I decided to notice every moment, to live within it with as much peace as I could.

This has been the most extraordinary journey of my life.

Now, the journey’s almost done. I’m going to let go of being pregnant, fling my arms open wide, so that I can hold Little Bean, and not the possibility any longer.

As you can imagine, after the baby is born next week, we’ll be taking some time off from this website. I’ll tell you more about this later.

But before I go — since so many of you have asked — I thought I’d write a bit about what I have found helpful through this process. Most of the books and gadgets associated with pregnancy and newborns seem silly to me. So much plastic and singing tinny recordings. I’m not going to advocate diaper genies or special creams to you.

As with everything else important in my life, my healthy happy pregnancy has been about other people and the matter of mind.

I have been part of a team through the last nine months.

No woman is ever pregnant alone. It requires someone else participating to take her there. But what has annoyed me most about the majority of the pregnancy books I consulted through this process is that the father just disappears. It’s as though his duty is to impregnate the woman, and then stay away until the kid comes out and needs the first diaper changed. Everything is about the woman.

But when I say to people that a baby is coming, I always say “We’re having a baby.” Everything has been about the we, not me. About the baby, not the mother. Not only me and the Chef, but this third person sitting in my belly. I have not felt alone in my body for months. The relationship between the Chef and me has shifted because of this. We’re partners more than ever, two people working for a common cause. We have been through this together.

I read a quote from Angelina Jolie on the cover of a magazine while I stood in line at the grocery store, something along the lines of “I have a partner who happens to regard being pregnant as very, very sexy, and that helps me to feel sexy.” Yes, that’s true. I feel pretty blessed. It doesn’t take Brad Pitt to make you feel that way.

But feeling sexy — and I have felt that way: ripe and voluptuous, truly a woman — pales in comparison to the feeling when the Chef calls me from the restaurant to talk to Little Bean. I put the cell phone near my belly, and he talks to LB. Every single time he sings or babbles or makes silly jokes, the baby kicks. Every time.

And his belly has grown bigger through the process. He’s clearly pregnant too.

Yes, I realize that the physical experience of being pregnant is mine. But I do not believe that this is all about me, a celebration of womanhood, with my oafish spouse standing off to the side. Instead, we are a team, two people whose love made a third human being.

I’ll never stop being amazed about going through this process with him.

I have an amazing family.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a strong relationship with her parents before becoming pregnant. But if you are fighting with your parents, your sibling, your in-laws? Try to find a way to forge a new relationship with them. You’ll need them.

My parents and I have been at ease with each other for years. I adore them. But through this process, they have been delighted at every turn. And in particular, the conversations with my mother through all these months have connected us even more firmly. When she was pregnant with me, there were no ultrasounds or pre-natal tests. She had to go on faith, sheer indomitable will, that I would be fine. And she was only twenty when she was pregnant with me. Good god. I have known that all my life, but now that I am pregnant, I feel for that kid she was, more deeply than ever.

And protest though we did about the money they wanted to spend, the Chef and I certainly appreciated the trip to Target they splurged on when we needed the basic items. Thanks, you two.

The Chef’s parents have been equally excited and beside themselves. Talking with them has made me feel more solidly part of their family. And he and I both cried the morning a big box arrived on the front porch. His mom and dad shipped the rocking chair they had owned for forty years, the one she had rocked the Chef in when he was a child. They sent it to us for Little Bean.

No gift registry ever lists that.

This huge, loving community.

If it takes a village to raise a child, we live in the best village in the world.

Both the Chef and I have been blown away by the comments on this site, the emails that have poured in, the gifts that have arrived by surprise at his restaurant. It’s one thing to feel the support of friends, but to think that there are perfect strangers all across the world who wish us well with the birth of our child? We feel surrounded by love.

And our friends? Oh, our friends. Thank you, all of you, in Seattle and beyond, who have given us boxes of baby clothes, enough educational toys to last Little Bean for two years, beloved books, adorable hats, and everything we need. We’re pretty thrilled that almost everything baby-related in our house (aside from that shopping trip with Mom and Dad) is recycled and already loved.

Mostly, it’s the stories we have heard, about the rough first few weeks, the delight of the first smile, hilarious mishaps, and a love so big that the heart threatens to burst. When we share our stories, we share ourselves.

We’re also damned lucky to have friends who love food, as well as us. The first two weeks after Little Bean’s birth — the Chef is taking two weeks off from the restaurant for us all to be together — we have a different set of friends bringing us meals, snacks, and fresh produce from the farmers’ market. That is such an enormous gift. (And thank you, Molly, for organizing this.)

We feel so loved. And we’re opening all of that to Little Bean.

I trust my body.

Sometimes, I read accounts of pregnancy and childbirth from women online in forums, and I feel like I’m reading the collected complaints of victims.

I’m not sick or injured. I’m pregnant.

Sure, there have been aches and pains: badly stretched belly muscles; headaches; nausea; searing gas; and overworked inner thighs that make me feel like I have been riding horses for days. That doesn’t even include the desperate need to nap, the swollen feet, or the waddling.

But this process has made me love my body even more than I did before. Deep in my bones, I know why I have this body, why I am a woman. And it just seems to me that every strange new sensation is a chance to remind me that I am growing a human being in my belly.

My perceptions of my body have stretched along with the skin on my belly. For most of my life, I struggled with my self-image, like most of us. Most of us women are held hostage by our ideas about our bodies. Luckily, I had come to terms with myself, and the body I have, before I became pregnant. I let go. That’s a large part of the reason I have loved this so much, I know. But if you feel held hostage by your body, you’re going to feel held hostage by pregnancy too.

And then there’s the fear. Sure, the first trimester, I fought the urge to turn every little flutter into a disaster in the making. But after the fail-safe point passed, I have relaxed into my body. Instinctually, I have felt that the more at ease I am, the more Little Bean will feel at home in my body. So I have thrown away the notion that every single little ache and pain is either a sign that something is going wrong, or that I am suffering.

It’s surrender. And saying yes.

Every one of us arrived on the planet through this process. I think our bodies are stronger than we believe.

I have not eaten gluten.

Being diagnosed with celiac sprue over three years ago not only paved the way for me to become pregnant, but it also made eating well through pregnancy an easy task.

I have heard this story from many of you: once we are diagnosed and stop eating gluten, the body seems to need about nine months to heal before a baby can be conceived. Isn’t that funny? We have to give birth to our new selves before we can make room for another self. But it works.

Undiagnosed celiac is the leading cause of unexplained infertility. If you’re trying to become pregnant, you might want to look into this.

Once I became pregnant, I never once ate gluten, deliberately. I haven’t “cheated” once since I was diagnosed. And after three years of experience, and even more caution on behalf of the baby, I didn’t get any gluten by mistake.

Except once.

We were at a friend’s birthday picnic on the Fourth of July. We were all sprawled on the grass, talking and laughing, eating casually. Someone pointed to a bag of potato chips, which I really haven’t eaten much during these past nine months. Thankfully, they were made by Frito-Lay, who have taken the trouble to identify gluten-free products on their website. I knew from that, and from reading the back of the package that I could have the thin slivers of potato and salty fat goodness. A few moments later, someone suggested the sweet chili Doritos. I took them into my mouth without thinking.

It was only the next day I looked them up online and found out they contain soy sauce.

The weirdest part is that it took me until the next day to realize I had gotten some gluten. Normally, I’m the canary in the coal mine, the one who can tell within ten minutes if any gluten has crossed my lips. I blotch bright red, I suffer from an instant headache, my intestines start to hurt, and I’m in the grip of it right away.

But this time, I didn’t feel anything off until the results of it left me in the bathroom for hours on end. What happened?

Apparently, during pregnancy, our immune systems relax. Otherwise, our bodies would reject the baby. And so, it became clear to me that I can’t tell immediately if I’m getting gluten.

And some of us, I know from hearing, decide to eat gluten while pregnant, because we don’t feel that bad.

Ooh, I wouldn’t.

The internal damage continues on. From what I have read, one or two accidental doses of gluten won’t damage the baby. (However, I’m not a doctor, and I don’t know for sure.) But an entire pregnancy of eating gluten? No damn good.

I have eaten better than ever in my life.

I’m also really grateful that I found out that I cannot eat gluten long before I became pregnant because I have learned so much about food in the past three years.

Years ago, I ate my share of junk food, preservative-stuffed snacks, and meals out of a box. I’ve been there, and I don’t want to go back.

Just after I was diagnosed with celiac, I decided to regard the food I ate as a way of feeding myself, and healing myself.

I don’t need to write it all again. Check out the archives of this site, the Monday ingredient posts, the exuberant discoveries of new grains and vegetables if you want to know more. Over this time, I have fallen in love with real food.

That’s why, for the most part, when I have experienced cravings during this pregnancy, I have craved grass-fed beef, cold organic milk, bitter arugula, and sharp local cheeses. I’m not saying that to sound sanctimonious. That’s honestly what my body has wanted.

(There was the two weeks of needing a Tootsie Roll every day. And you know what? I listened to my body.)

There have been times this past month when I have stood at the farmers’ market or the grocery store, and thought “Oh, go ahead. You’re pregnant. Get something crazy.” I searched, and reached for candy bars wanting to want them. I thought about milkshakes and big packages of snacky salty food. But when I really allowed myself whatever I wanted, I found myself stretching out my hands for a pound of Rainier cherries.

mint and lemon water

For example, I can’t stand the thought of soda pop right now. My idea of beverage heaven?

This lemon-mint water that my friend Francoise made for me last week. She simply threw in ice cubes, tap water, several slivers of lemons, and a few sprigs of mint from her garden. Gorgeous.

I’ve made it since with sparkling water, ice cubes made of coconut juice, ice cubes of strawberry puree, and lemon verbena. They’re all wonderful. And they all feed us.

A few gadgets and creams aren’t bad.

Here are a few of the books and bobbles that have helped me through this most:

Bella Band

On an obstetrician visit, the doctor lifted up my shirt to hear the baby's heart and saw my white band beneath it. "You know, if I had been smart, I would have invented this years ago and retired."

I laughed. Seriously. I could not have made it through this without this slight restraint, a way to hold my belly muscles in close, instead of stretching painfully outward.

Breville BJE510XL Ikon 900-Watt Variable-Speed Juice Extractor

About month four or five, I just didn't like vegetables. It was the end of winter, and I couldn't stand one more root vegetable. I learned quickly that the only way I would get the produce nutrients I needed was to buy a juicer. This one rocks. So does apple, ginger, carrot juice, first thing in the morning.

Leachco Snoogle Total Body Pillow

Oh gad, without this long pillow in the shape of a question mark? I imagine there would have been far more sleepless nights for this pregnant woman. But being able to clutch it, and rest my belly upon it, from month four on, has meant that I have slept through nearly every night without a problem.

(And I can't wait until I can put it away and snuggle up to the Chef again instead.)

Queen Helene Organic Fair Trade Certified Cocoa Butter Body Crème

Look, let's face it. Nothing can stop stretch marks. I already had some before I got pregnant, so maybe my belly simply grew into them, plus more. But I never grew new ones. That's probably genetic. Or maybe it's because I didn't gain too much weight.

I'm not sure this cocoa butter prevented them. Unlike the exorbitant creams that promise miracles, this lovely organic, fair-trade cream doesn't claim anything. It just smells good on the skin and feels good too.

It's also the least expensive of the bunch. I'm using it forever, now.

Your Pregnancy Week by Week

This was the most scientific of the books, the least fluffy, the most helpful. It' s wonderful to think what might be happening in my body at each week. This one told me.

The Girlfriends' Guide to Pregnancy

Parts of this are pretty silly. But at least it had a sense of humor. And a real voice. Unlike most of the other books.

The Mother of All Pregnancy Books: The Ultimate Guide to Conception, Birth, and Everything In Between

This book is clear-eyed, kind, and doesn't inspire hysteria, as so many pregnancy books do. I felt good reading it, like an adult had written it for a fellow adult.

Your Baby and Child: From Birth to Age Five by Penelope Leach

About my sixth month of being pregnant, I realized I could read about the nature of pregnancy forever. But the point is not to be pregnant, but to have the child. I started reading books about newborns and children. This one is so damned lovely and based on common sense that I can't wait to read more and more as Little Bean grows.

“let all go dear….so comes love.”

Over these nine months, I have learned one lesson most clearly: let go of my expectations. They stand in the way of true joy.

How many of you who have been pregnant were convinced that by the baby came, the house would be perfectly organized, the finances arranged perfectly, the nursery bright and gleaming, everything in its place, and every single surface dusted? I’ve never cared much about creating a sterile field in our house. But about two months ago, the nesting instinct kicked in and went off like a time bomb in my brain.

I imagined that perfect house, ready for a magazine spread. But professional work kept piling up, I found I needed more time for private writing, and I needed to see friends for lunch and walks. Pair that with a rapidly de-escalating energy level, and much of what I wrote out on lists simply didn’t get done.

I have a feeling Little Bean really won’t care.

What’s going to make me relaxed? Crossing everything off the list, even if it meant me being exhausted and running the Chef ragged on his mornings off? Or letting go of some of those silly expectations and allowing the fact that the baby will live in the same house we live in?

I have learned to say yes to that too. It took me longer to come to that calm conclusion than I would have hoped. But I have let go.

Here’s the big one.

When I had the giant fibroid tumor removed, five years ago, by the doctor who saved my uterus, she told me in the follow-up visit: “Because of the huge vertical incision we had to make, if you ever get pregnant, you’ll have to have a c-section.” Thrilled that I was still capable of becoming pregnant, I nodded and thought nothing of it.

Maybe it’s because I knew this long before I even met the Chef, but I have never found this hard to accept. I’m convinced it’s a miracle that I have him in my life, that I’m pregnant at 41 with such ease after such struggle, and that Little Bean is almost here.

But it saddens me, deeply, to read other women talking about c-sections, as though they settled for a secondary birth when the surgeon cut them open and pulled out a baby. It’s rampant, this feeling that “natural” childbirth is the only way, and anything else is only a pale comparison.

Next week, on a particular day we don’t want to share here yet, the Chef and I will walk hand in hand into the hospital, calmly check in, settle into our room, listen to music we love, talk to the doctors, and talk with Little Bean about what this birth experience might be like. And then we’ll walk to the OR and meet our child.

This feels so calm and intentional to me. No drama. No trauma. Sure, there will be recovery from surgery, but that’s small price to pay for a child to be born. And besides, I don’t have to go through labor.

People have been asking lately, “When’s the baby due?” When I say the day, and they seem surprised we know the exact date, I say, “Oh, it’s a planned c-section.”

It still amazes me that everyone has one of two reactions: I’m sorry, or why?

Why? Do I really have to explain to the bank teller my medical history? When I say it’s medically necessary, people are mollified, no longer about to lecture me about the better way to be born. But why should I have to explain that?

And I’m sorry? I refuse to believe, with every fiber of my being, that my child is having a stunted or muffled birth. Little Bean will be in the world. That’s all that matters to us.

This isn’t about my birth experience. It’s about a baby being born.

“What in this world is perfect?”

Silence on the site.

Next week, when we are ready, we’ll make an announcement, sharing our joy with the world. We’ll let you know that Little Bean is here and healthy (one hopes). We’ll tell you who Little Bean is. And share photos.

And then after, no more photos of Little Bean on this site.

We hope you’ll understand why. This little one isn’t even in the world yet. Little Bean isn’t capable of choosing to be an internet presence. In these times, with some of the nastiness of the internet, we have decided it’s right to keep the child to ourselves.

I’m sure I’ll be writing how being a mother has changed me. It already has. But this won’t be a mommy blog. This is still a food site. Food is the deepest inspiration here. Stories related to food and the kid? You bet. Constant reflections on being parents? Not here.

After Little Bean arrives, we’ll be taking at least a month’s hiatus from the site. We need time to learn our family, to revel in exhaustion and stare at the baby. We need time to figure out who we are in the midst of this enormous change, without having to document it.

But not everything will be dormant. There will be thrice-weekly posts on Gluten-Free Girl Recommends. (psst…. I’ve written them ahead of time.) And here, dear friends whom you have read about many times — Sharon, Tita, Nina, and Brandon — will be doing guests posts, about food and love and pizza, on Thursdays.

We’ll be back when we can, when it feels right.


So that’s it. For now. When I write again, Little Bean will be in the world.

We can’t wait for everything in our lives to be changed by this.

Yes, please.

The Ponds

I’d like to leave with the Mary Oliver poem that has been running through my head for months, and particularly right now. This is where I found the line “But what in this world is perfect?”

What day doesn’t need a reminder that imperfections are nothing, the light everything?

And it sure feels like a kind way to raise a child.

"Every year
the lilies
are so perfect
I can hardly believe

their lapped light crowding
the black,
mid-summer ponds.
Nobody could count all of them --

the muskrats swimming
among the pads and the grasses
can reach out
their muscular arms and touch

only so many, they are that
rife and wild.
But what in this world
is perfect?

I bend closer and see
how this one is clearly lopsided --
and that one wears an orange blight --
and this one is a glossy cheek

half nibbled away --
and that one is a slumped purse
full of its own
unstoppable decay.

Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled --
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing --
that the light is everything -- that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do."


14 July 2008

snap peas

snap peas

Sharon is visiting us this weekend. The lovely, amazing Sharon, who has been with me for over 25 years of my life. She and the Chef and I have been eating well, and often, for the past two days. Grilled peaches with basil butter. Chickpea and octopus salad. Dinner at the Dahlia Lounge. Roasted potatoes with zucchini flowers from the garden.

We're not going hungry around here.

We are short of time. Little Bean arrives next week. (Next week!) Sharon leaves tomorrow. (Dammit.) Frankly, we have movies to watch and Wii tennis to play. (But not golf, because Sharon might throw the remote against the wall in frustration.) I just don't have time for a post.

But I do like snap peas. And they're here. Finally, after a long cold spring, all the produce is here at once. It's easy to be overwhelmed by the bounty, so we have been trying to eat every single summer fruit and vegetable in two days.

These are snack food for me, plain and simple, like popcorn or potato chips, or peanuts grown in Eastern Washington and cracked open on a paper towel. Do they need any other adornment?

What do you make with snap peas?

10 July 2008

sometimes mistakes lead to the best bites

little jam tarts

I am always inspired by the comments that accrue at the bottom of the Monday ingredients posts.

When I first began this little Monday project, to show a single ingredient, in season, and ask you how you like to eat that food, I had no idea how much you might like it. Some weeks, I still think, "Popcorn? Isn't that pretty boring? How much will people have to say about popcorn?" And then, after a day or two, I realize, you really like popcorn. I mean, you really, really like popcorn! (Or Savoy cabbage or cherries.)

It's not really a wonder. It's food. Food is how we connect, with our hands and our stories. Sit over the table with someone and try not to know that person better by the end of the meal. Impossible. I adore the way you pour forth your ideas for meals and midnight snacks with each ingredient. I feel like I know the people who gather here just a bit better by the end of each week.

And the enthusiasm! I do hope that many of you have made dishes inspired by the lyrical descriptions that others have left of their pasta with anchovies and lemons, or picking strawberries with their grandmothers. Along with all these connections, the Monday comments compel me to make food.

This Monday, you were especially generous with your ideas about red currants. Red currant jelly with garlic and onions for pork. Red currant clafoutis. Vanilla custard with red currant syrup. And good old jam. Ah, my mind whirled and twirled with ideas.

But, being nine months pregnant and about to pop, I don't have as much energy for hours in the kitchen as I did before. And, frankly, not enough red currants to make each of those suggestions turn into dishes.

I was, however, most intrigued by the several people who suggested I make rote grutze. Since I had never heard of it before, I wanted to try. Just like the frikadeller I made back in the spring, foods that I have never eaten, which loom as traditions in other places, make me want to enter the kitchen, singing.

Of course, spending some time online, researching and reading people's thrilled accountings of eating this German summer berry pudding made me even more excited. Food as connection. Food as conversation. Food as conversion, from one culture to another.

So I entered the kitchen this afternoon, ready to cook. Long nap behind me? Check. Belly band in place to hold up my abdominal muscles? Yes. All the windows open so I could stand the place at the front of the stove? Essential.

I picked gorgeous red currants from their branches, sliced up strawberries, rescued the raspberries at the back of the fridge which were about to become blowsy. Good old potato masher in hand, I pureed them all together. And then set them in a pan on the stove.

Among the many recipes I had read, I noticed many mentioned a slurry made of cornstarch. Aha! This is gluten-free. I stirred up a liberal amount of cornstarch and some red wine and stirred. Whenever I work with cornstarch, I'm struck by how crunchy it is, how it thickens everything around it as it stiffens.

You'd think I'd know, then, to not put too much slurry in. But as the fruits (sugared and touched with a bit of lime juice) started to gather together, I couldn't resist a few more drips, and then a tablespoon.

Soon, it had all become thick as jam. Delicious? Oh yes. Tart, with just enough sweetness, the red currants lending an unusual bloom to the usual fruits. I could have eaten many spoonfuls.

But was it rote grutze? I don't know. Reading can only teach you so much. It seemed too thick to me. After I chilled it awhile, I realized it really had become jam. Should I take a picture of it and call it rote grutze for this site?

Nah. I remembered a suggestion someone had made on The New York Times, on Mark Bittman's blog, about picnic ideas. She made little pie crusts in muffin tins, and filled them with jam. Another person's story inspired me to stay in the kitchen.

And so there I was, nine months pregnant and ready to pop, making pie dough on a hot Seattle afternoon? Am I crazy? You bet. But it was worth it.

Within fifteen minutes, I had the little jam tarts you see above. After I took the photo, I made sure to save at least half of them for the Chef when he returns home tonight. It was an effort.

rote grutze with goat's milk yogurt

And the rest of the pudding/rote grutze/mistake with a lovely taste? I just thinned it down with some seltzer water, and settled some goat's milk yogurt on top. Sweet, lovely berries of summer, with a tangy hit of milkiness. Little Bean kicked for half an hour after I stopped eating.

So I don't have a real recipe for you today. Recipes are starting to feel too prescriptive to me anyway. It's so much more rewarding to play in the kitchen, listening to my instincts, and creating something good even when what I expected did not transpire.

It feels like this process is what parenting might be like. Enthusiastic suggestions, references to recipes from people who have gone before, exuberance and listening, and then deciding for ourselves. We're bound to make a hundred mistakes, a week. But are they really mistakes when we learn, and create new moments?

We'll find out soon.

07 July 2008

red currants

red currants

This morning, I woke up early. Not too early — I'm lucky. This late in the pregnancy, I'm still sleeping through the night, without a hiccup. (Thank you, Little Bean.) Instead, this was somewhere after seven. The Chef slept, and I didn't want to disturb him. So I tip-toed from the bedroom toward the kitchen, intending to make coffee.

Instead, the light in the backyard stopped me. Without a discernible spring this year, Seattle seemed to creep toward fullness and everything green. Here it was, early in the morning, and the entire backyard gleamed with light. It was the kind of light that made me want to forget the coffee and start doing laundry instead, just so I could hang it on the clothesline.

And then, through the gauzy golden sunlight, I spied something ruby jewel in color. Dozens of little globes, gliding out from the green. The red currants had finally blossomed into fruit, the fruit had finally burgeoned, and the burgeoning fruits were now vibrant red. The red currants were ready.

The birds were dive bombing the bushes. I knew there wouldn't be many left soon.

Spontaneously, I grabbed a metal bowl and walked slowly outside. (I may be sleeping, but there isn't much moving fast these days.) With the warm air on my belly (none of my t-shirts cover the entire prodigious belly anymore), I moved toward the bushes. I parted the leaves and spotted dozens of little clusters, waiting to be picked.

I had to restrain myself from plucking them all from the vine. Some of them needed further ripening.

In the morning sun, the currants tasted warm and sweet, with a little tang of sourness at the back of the tongue. (Could it be true? That I actually tasted a tiny flash of horseradish?) They were wonderfully unusual, entirely present, there.

When the Chef woke up, I led him first to the kitchen, to show him the bowl full of red currants from our backyard.

Here's my dilemma. I've never done anything with red currants before. Certainly, we can simply eat them. But it feels like we need a recipe, some mixing and melding in celebration of this morning.

So, what is your favorite way to work with red currants?

03 July 2008

eating handfuls at a time

tiny wooden vegetables

I find that I’m not eating many meals these days.

Oh, I’m eating. Every few hours, Little Bean wriggles in my belly, sometimes in quite a concerted fashion, and I know it’s time for food. I’m happy to comply, with shreds of fresh mozzarella with herbed sea salt, or a handful or Rainier cherries, or a wild greens salad with chevre and sunflower seeds. Whatever my body tells me I want to eat, I’m reaching for it.

It’s just the full-meal deal that eludes me now. I don’t remember the last time I sat down to a multi-course meal, or even an appetizer and a dessert.

There’s a rather large baby sitting on my stomach right now. (And my bladder, but that’s a different discussion.) And the presence of Little Bean effectively blots out my hunger. The gnawing, ravenous feeling of having not eaten in hours? The keening that calls for great food and quite a lot of it? That has all but disappeared around here.

It feels a little strange.

When I was suffering from the worst throes of celiac, and was eating gluten without knowing the damage it was doing to me, I completely lost my appetite. My stomach sent out a consistent flat-line signal. Nothing going on there. And then I was repulsed by food. I had never experienced anything like it in my life. I hated it.

These last few weeks of pregnancy don’t feel like that. I’m still actively enjoying the food I eat. The spicy lamb tibs I scooped into injera bread at lunch with my friend Karen and her mother today? I tasted every prickling of jalapenos, the spicy red sauce, the chew of each piece of lamb. For hours, I felt deeply satisfied. Little Bean did a happy dance in my belly afterwards too.

I’m still in love with food. Especially now that I know that what I eat feeds our Little Bean.

But I just don’t have the active stomach space once open to me that I once did.

Since the summer has fully arrived — complete this morning with the rare Seattle lightning storm — I’m only interested in ingredients. Blueberries off the bush, strawberries stolen away from their stems and popped into my mouth, whole milk yogurt with watermelon cubes. A single pork sausage, roasted in the oven, sizzling, and ready for my fork. Nibbles of cheese. Sugar snap peas eaten raw.

It feels strange to be working on recipes for the cookbook when I have no interest — in this heated condition — to be blending and pureeing and sautéing. Just give me food.

But isn’t this what summer feels like anyway? We strip down to our essential selves, suits and ties flung away, the tank tops emerging from our drawers. An outfit that would have seemed shocking in January — shorts, sandals, short-sleeve t-shirt — feels boringly normal now. We show so much skin that we become inured to the allure of sun upon it.

With all this sun, the zucchini plant in our garden has grown to monstrous proportions, reaching toward the sky with its thorny stems and enormous leaves. Each time I look out the back door to check on its progress, I shake my head in amazement. Soon, we’ll have squash blossoms stuffed with goat cheese. And after Little Bean arrives, we’ll probably have such a plethora of zucchini that we’ll sigh and wish that we had a little less.

Everything wants to live this time of the year.

With all this bounty, who needs meals?

brown rice with tomatoes and tuna


If I must, I can be persuaded to put fresh vegetables and other ingredients into an assemblage and call it a meal. This is a play on a dish my dear friend Meri made for me years ago, after I had abdominal surgery and only wanted soft, healthy foods. Good brown rice, fresh tomatoes, and tuna. The textures blend into a lovely soft chew, nothing sharp or unexpected. It always left me satisfied.

Tuna’s controversial in general these days, but particularly with pregnant women. The mercury levels are enough to give anyone pause. Some women swear off tuna entirely. My choice? There are times that the lean protein really appeals to me. And so I’ve eaten maybe the equivalent of three cans of tuna over the course of the entire pregnancy. And each of them was high-quality tuna, caught in a sustainable fashion. All things in moderation feels the right way for me.

I’m not going to give you a recipe here. That feels ridiculous. Just the ingredients.

Cooked brown jasmine rice
Sliced avocado
Light-meat tuna, drained of its juices, and dressed with a light vinaigrette (lemon juice)
Fresh mozzarella, shredded into bites
Ripe heirloom tomatoes, tossed with olive oil and sea salt
Sunflower seeds

Assemble these together in any fashion you wish. If you choose the finest ingredients, in season, that you can find, you won’t need anything else besides this.