Friday, February 27, 2009

Results, sort of

So I called the doctor’s office to find out the results from Sweetsie’s lab work and the nurse told me that the test for wheat came back negative but the one for milk came back positive, “So she should avoid all milk,” she said, “and that means everything, including butter, buttermilk, casein, cheese, cream cottage cheese, curds, ghee, hydrolysates, lactoalbum, lactoglobulin, lactose, all forms of milk—malted, powdered, evaporated, condensed, goat’s—rennet casein, sour cream, whey, and yogurt.”

When I got off the phone, I freaked, phoned some friends and my mom, freaked some more, and then tried to forget about the fact that the whole bottom shelf of my refrigerator was filled with white foods (milk, cream, butter, cheese, yogurt) while I helped the kids with their chores and studies. But after sending them out to play, I took up the freaking out where I had left off. I decided that I had too many questions about the whole diagnosis, so I called the doctor and made an appointment to chat with him for later that afternoon.

The doctor, who I finally got to see after waiting for an hour (I’m really not at all resentful), said that he doesn’t really think she has a milk allergy. Excuse me? Do they blithely inform all their patients of false information? He said that the positive result was a weak positive, and therefore possibly a false positive. Once he realized that I wasn’t going to be satisfied with simple answers and that I knew a bit of information myself (“Whatever you’ve been reading is right on the money...”), we had a good conversation, brainstorming the problem from all angles.

The verdict is this: omit milk from her diet for two-plus weeks and then return to the office to reintroduce milk using lactaid milk to rule out the possibility of a lactose intolerance. If we don’t notice any difference in her energy levels/crankiness and/or she has no trouble drinking the milk, then he recommends that she see a GI specialist to run some tests for celiac disease (intolerance for gluten, not to be confused with a wheat allergy).

On the way home I stopped by the grocery store and purchased milks—soy, rice, and coconut—as well as some old bananas to add to her smoothies and some nuts and a bag of pretzels for her own special snacks when she can’t have what everyone else is having. (Re the spending freeze, for those of you ready to pounce: this is medical.) However, we’re not cutting out the milk until after we celebrate her birthday today (one day early due to some other weekend plans) because she’s requested Lucky Charms for breakfast and ice cream cones for dessert.

I’m only partially freaking out at this point. Maybe it’s not a milk allergy (though I’d definitely prefer a milk allergy to celiac disease), but on the other hand, if she shows marked improvement without the milk, then that would be good news, too. I hate to think that we’ve been pumping her with milk for the last five years and subsequently making her miserable.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

An afternoon in my kitchen

I had a horrible time in the kitchen yesterday afternoon. Everything went wrong. It all started with The Baby Nickel. He was tired and needed a nap (or maybe, I needed him to take a nap), but even after forty-five minutes of flopping about beside me on the bed (while I finished reading See You In A Hundred Years—a book that partly inspired and mostly irritated me), he didn’t go to sleep. I had hoped to write and was plenty annoyed about his wide-open blue eyes. They were pretty, but at that time of day I think he’s cuter with his eyes shut.

I came downstairs, made coffee, and decided to make Deb’s Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake, except I didn’t have any hazelnuts so I substituted pecans. The recipe said to toast the pecans, but I burned them. The second time around I scorched them.

The Baby Nickel and Sweetsie were hovering close by, trying to get as near me as possible, climbing stools, chattering away, picking up utensils and lifting lids, and generally disturbing my (what was becoming sparse) mental peace, but it wasn’t until I was dumping the second ruined batch of pecans into the compost, that I blew a gasket. I started yelling, I AM SO MAD. I CAN’T BELIEVE I DID THAT! GET AWAY FROM ME! And once I started I couldn’t stop, though I did have the presence of mind to clarify myself to my wary offspring: I AM NOT MAD AT YOU! I AM MAD AT MYSELF! EVERYONE GET AWAY FROM ME! OUT OF THE KITCHEN! GO! GET OUT OF HERE! Nickel backed up a little, hovering around the kitchen’s periphery, giggling nervously, and Sweetsie made a beeline to her bedroom where she listened to her tapes, sucked her thumb and twiddled her spit rag. (Later when I went up to apologize for my outburst, she turned her back and wouldn’t talk. I wonder how many therapy sessions she’ll need as a result of that little outburst of mine.)

The third time I tried to toast the pecans, they did not burn. But that was mostly because they didn’t even get toasted, just barely heated through, but by that point I didn’t care—they weren’t burned, and that was what mattered.

The cake, which should have been a fragrant, delicate affair, flopped. The half-pound of vanilla bean-infused butter, the cup (plus two more) of pecans, the six egg whites, were all for naught because I under-baked the cake. It tasted of pecan dough, densely saturated with butter. Edible, yes, but not what it should of been. (I wondered if I could crumble up the cake and toast it to make sweetened crumbs that could then be sprinkled over a fruit crisp, but decided I’d better not—I’d probably scorch them.) In the comment I left on Deb’s blog, I said that I was getting over my pissed-off mood and transitioning into my I’m-gonna-get-this-cake-right-if-it’s-the-last-thing-I-do mood.

I have approximately one cup of pecans left. Think I can do it?

Now, that same afternoon, back in the beginning before the screaming episode and when I was still humming to myself and stumbling gently over the little people that were stuck in my armpits, I started a batch of butterscotch ice cream. I like to multi-task. I also apparently like to multi-fail, because I scorched the butterscotch.

My humming stopped. I dumped the syrup into the compost (lucky chickens), washed out the kettle and, with lips pressed tight together, remade the butterscotch. The second time it turned out fine, but by then I was starting to toss out pecans like they were a penny a pound so I didn’t fully appreciate my little victory.

Sweetsie was still around when it came time to temper the egg yolks for the custard, and she cheerfully held the bowl steady as I whisked in the warmed cream, but she was long gone by the time I was straining the ice cream mixture into a small bowl set down in a bigger bowl filled with ice cubes. My hands were trembling as I poured the cold water over the ice to chill the cream, and when I finally lifted the chilled bowl of cream, hands still shaky and nerves shot, a vision of shattered glass and a butterscotch-splattered floor flitted before my eyes. (Try saying that last line five times fast.)

This vision of broken glass, lost food, and wasted time did not come out of nowhere. Last spring when my aunt and my mother were coming to visit, I dropped a half-gallon jar of chilled caramel custard (twelve egg yolks) on our tile floor. I took one look at the mess and backed away silently, they quietly turned and stumbled out of the kitchen, face pale and eyes vacant. Mr. Handsome cleaned up the mess.

But I didn’t drop the bowl this time, and after supper Mr. Handsome cranked the ice cream (while I communed with my computer, upstairs in my quiet bedroom) for our after-kids-are-in-bed snack. Then, while he stayed up to pay bills and listen to Obama’s address, I climbed the stairs and crawled under the covers, both defeated and victorious, and most definitely tired.

This afternoon things are looking up. I had a little scoop of the butterscotch ice cream, my extremities have ceased twitching, the kids are outside playing in the sunshine, and I think I may be ready to try that cake again soon.

Butterscotch Ice Cream
Adapted from Deb’s recipe at The Smitten Kitchen

I browsed a variety of websites before I made this ice cream, reading up on different recipes and techniques, and I learned that if you add a bit of alcohol to your ice cream (the alcohol in real vanilla will probably be enough to do the trick), it will stay soft for weeks instead of just a day or two. This recipe calls for two teaspoons of bourbon, and while I was concerned that the flavor would dominate, I do not taste the alcohol at all (and neither my children nor my husband complained). I also learned that you can prevent freezer burn by pressing a piece of plastic wrap over the top of your ice cream before you put a lid on the container.

The texture of this ice cream is ideal: firm, while at the same time softly scoop-able.

Oh, and one more thing: the difference between butterscotch and caramel is that caramel is made from white sugar while butterscotch is made from brown. (Does that mean that Grandma Baer’s popcorn recipe should actually be called “Butterscotch Popcorn”?)

1 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 teaspoons bourbon
3 ½ cups cream, divided
6 egg yolks

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and then add the brown sugar, stirring until the sugar has melted and the mixture is bubbly. Deb said this would take about four minutes, but I found it took longer. Whatever you do, be careful! If it smells burned, throw it out and start over; hopefully you won’t have to do it more than twice.

Remove the sugar-butter mixture from the heat and stir in one-half cup of cream. The syrup will bubble up and steam violently and you’ll singe your knuckles and yell, but it will all be okay. Keep stirring until the cream has been incorporated. (I still had a few lumps in my butterscotch, so I simply poured the syrup through a strainer to get rid of them.) Stir in the vanilla and bourbon and set aside.

In another saucepan, heat the remaining three cups of cream. Put the egg yolks in a small mixing bowl and break them up with a fork. Slowly add about a half-cup of the warmed cream to the yolks, stirring constantly. Then, gradually add the tempered yolks to the warm cream, stirring constantly. Heat the custard, still stirring, till it has thickened slightly and coats the back of the spoon. Do not boil.

Strain the custard into a bowl and place the bowl in an ice-water bath. Stir in the butterscotch. Occasionally stir the mixture as it cools, adding more ice as needed. Refrigerate the butterscotch cream until thoroughly chilled.

Freeze in an ice cream maker.

Reverse Cleaning

This morning the Baby Nickel dusted my hallway and bedroom with Gold Bond Powder, à la Amelia Bedelia.

I reacted accordingly, à la Mrs. Rogers.

He didn't even have a lemon meringue pie in the oven! I don't know what he was thinking.

I still love him anyway. I think.

(Okay, okay, I'm sure.)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A vintage treat

Not only did Grandma Baer, my mother’s mother, tell engrossing stories (here she regales Yo-Yo and Miss Becca Boo with some old-timey tale---probably the one about Johnny, the little boy who refused to eat his milk and bread),

she also made fabulous caramel popcorn. Each October she would make several batches of the popcorn, divide it up into small zip-lock bags, and hand it out to the trick-or-treaters that ventured down her driveway that wound through the woods and separated her ranch house from the road.

Even though my plain Mennonite grandmother handed out sweets to her disguised neighbor children, my own mother didn’t let me or my brothers celebrate Halloween. We weren’t allowed to go trick-or-treating, and more often then not we didn’t even hand out treats. One year we did hand out apples, and when one little neighbor girl reported back to me that her mother made her throw out the apple we gave them because it might have contained a razor, my mother was miffed. What good was a holiday that made people distrustful of others? (That was the same neighbor girl who ate a raw egg for twenty-five cents, on a dare that my mother gave her, an incident not at all connected with the imagined razor event—my mother is not a vengeful woman.) Instead, come the hallowed eve, we hunkered down in our dimly lit house, porch lights off, doing our best to give the impression that we weren’t home. Or we’d go visit friends.

However, despite my mother’s abhorrence of the holiday, one year she did permit us to go trick-or-treating, but just to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. I have a vague memory of my brothers and I standing on the concrete stoop outside Grandma’s front door, our only costume the brown paper bags (with cutout holes for our eyes and mouths) jammed down over our heads. When Grandpa opened the door, Grandma declared heartily, “Well, well! What have we here!” We scampered past them into the foyer where we traded our brown bag heads for the role of popcorn dispenser, shyly handing the bags of popcorn to the witches and princesses that rang their doorbell.

Grandma continued her popcorn giving tradition even after Grandpa died and she had moved into a condominium. She collected pretty tins from the thrift store where she volunteered, and at Christmastime she filled the tins with her popcorn and handed them out to all the family—the singles and college students received the smaller tins and the families received the larger tins.

Sometimes my mother, aunts, and I got a bit possessive over the tins, trying to lay claim to the prettiest ones. The last year Grandma handed out the popcorn, I received this tin (or did I filch it from someone else?), and though my aunt tried, she couldn’t convince me to relinquish it. Now it sits atop the hutch, holding my sparse collection of sewing tools.

The first Christmas after our wedding, Mr. Handsome and I followed Grandma's example and made numerous batches of caramel popcorn for hostess gifts. We bought several of the huge Christmas tins from Wal-mart, the kind that comes filled with three different kinds of chemical-laced popcorn—cheese, caramel, and plain—dumped their contents in the trash, washed the tins, and then refilled them with our own caramel popcorn. Even though it was a labor intensive gift, it provided many sweet snitching opportunities along with the mountains of sticky kettles and pans, so we didn’t fuss too much.


It is a cold and blustery Sunday afternoon and the children, cheeks aflame and noses streaming, are coming back inside after helping Mr. Handsome clean up the back field. While they were outside, I had munched through multiple bowls of the popcorn and finally, in an effort to maintain some semblance of self-control, had divvied out the last of the popcorn into bowls, reserving it for the children. Now, when the kids spy the bowls, they squeal with delight, snatch them up, and head straight for the fireplace, shucking coats and boots as they go.

“Can we have more after we finish this?” they ask.

“Sorry,” I say. “It’s all gone.”

“What happened to it?” they persist.

“Um, I ate it.” I smile pleasantly in an attempt to convince them that I had every right to eat more than my share (cooks privileges, you know). They heave grumbly sighs in my general direction, but their mouths are too pleasantly full to do any serious complaining.

As they finish, they bring their bowls back to the kitchen to deposit on the counter. I’m hunched at the computer typing all this up when Yo-Yo’s friend bluntly says, “Too bad you ate it all.”

I pretend to ignore him, but I think to myself, Yep, too bad, Sonny Boy. I want more, too.

Apparently, it doesn’t matter how little or how much of this popcorn you were able to consume—it always appears to be a nasty trick when this sweet treat is all gone.

Grandma Baer’s Caramel Popcorn

Recipe update, November 16, 2011: for extra delicious popcorn, decrease the amount of popcorn from 6 quarts to 5, and increase the butter by 2 tablespoons. Wow.

3/4 cup (12 tablespoons) butter
2 cups brown sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 quarts popped popcorn, unsalted and unbuttered
2 cups peanuts (optional)

Place the popcorn in a large mixing bowl and sprinkle the nuts (if using) on top. Do not stir. (The nuts have a better chance of getting coated with the caramel if you start out with them on top.)

Put the butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, and baking soda in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly, and then lower the heat until the mixture stays at a steady boil (more than a simmer, less than a rolling boil). Continue to stir constantly.

After five minutes of a steady gentle boil, remove the caramel from the heat, add the salt and vanilla, and stir well. Working quickly, drizzle the caramel over the popcorn,

tossing to coat as much popcorn as possible.

Divide the popcorn between two large, greased cookie sheets or glass 9 x 13 pans (one of my cookie sheets was too thin, so I tragically scorched half of the popcorn---next time I’ll be using the glass pans), and then hand over the sticky-bottomed mixing bowl and spoon to any children you may have hovering nearby.

Bake the pans of caramel popcorn at 250 degrees for one hour, stirring every fifteen minutes. Cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

I don't feel much like writing...

... because I have a cold that makes me feel droopy. I even skipped church council last night because of my high snot levels, and it’s really not at all like me to skip evening outings. Instead, eight-thirty found me snuggled under my down comforter, cup of camomile tea in hand, a video in the boob tube. I slept in till seven-thirty this morning.

I’m making vanilla bean ice cream—David Lebovitz’s recipe. The rich custard smells good, even through this thick cold.

Sweetsie drags herself around the house, fussing and sucking her thumb. She’s been doing this for as long as we’ve known her, and we’re finally beginning to wonder if she has more extensive allergies. Mr. Handsome took her to the specialist yesterday and had the jolly privilege of restraining her during her skin pricks and lab work. We’ll find out the results sometime next week.

Last week The Baby Nickel threw a rock and it accidentally hit Yo-Yo’s hand. (Apparently, Yo-Yo was digging around in the rock pile that Nickel was trying to add to, or something like that.) Anyway, Yo-Yo screamed bloody murder and didn’t let me look at his finger, choosing instead to bandage it up himself. After a week of being tightly bandaged, Yo-Yo started to complain that his hand was hurting worse. And it stunk. This morning, after I imparted a series of stern commands, Yo-Yo painstakingly removed the band-aids, piece by smelly piece. I made him soak it, and after he dried it, Yo-Yo looked at the finger and then freaked, “I need another band-aid! It’s leaking oil!” I scrutinized his finger, trying not to breath too deeply, and then stated bluntly, “That’s puss. Your finger is rotting.” Since then he has been rather docile about following my directions.

After his Saturday night bath, The Baby Nickel slipped on the tile floor and took a bite out of the toilet. Literally. There is a tooth-mark indentation on the toilet seat, and he knocked his top tooth loose. Sometimes after biting into a hard crust of bread or some granola, a look of shocked surprise and intense pain washes over his face. I'm hopeful the tooth will re-adhere, but I guess it's not the end of the world if it turns brown and falls out. At least that's what the experts say.

I didn’t get a picture of it, but last night Miss Becca Boo had me put her hair up into eight ponytails. Normally, she’s quite the ditz, floppy and spastic and random, and her new hair-do just served to intensify those personality traits. (An example of her zany sense of humor: the other night she ringed her mouth with applesauce, puckered up, and then said, with a snooty voice and her nose in the air, to Mr. Handsome, “Kiss me, Husband!”)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Taking all things into consideration

In my home, the Saturday before our monthly church potluck is fraught with wishy-washiness, last minute decisions, miniature anxiety attacks, and too much time spent in the kitchen. You would think that someone such as myself who loves to cook would be tickled pink to take food to a potluck, but if you thought that about me then you would be very wrong. The truth is that potlucks leave me in a mild state of panic.

There are so many things to take into consideration when preparing food to carry out because the normal cooking worries (not burning the food and making sure it actually tastes good) are amped up and combined with other potluck-specific worries, such as transportation, presentation, storage, and last minute assemblage. Furthermore, I want my potluck offering to use up some of my vast stores of food—no fancy ingredients that call for a special trip to the grocery store, please!—and not necessitate that I spend my whole Saturday sweating over the stove. And one more thing: It would be an added bonus if the dish would cause people to swoon in ecstasy and wonder aloud to their neighbor who in the world made such a fabulous dish, and then come scurrying over to my chair, pen in hand, to request the recipe. Yes, that would be nice.

The final bottom line (after all those other bottom lines) is that I want my food to be enjoyed and eaten. As Mr. Handsome says, when taking food to a potluck, the goal is to come back with an empty dish.

(If you read between the lines, you’ll realize that this is becoming an essay on my shortcomings as a cook: not only do I occasionally burn, or under-cook, my unseasoned and unattractively-slapped-together dishes, but I’m also stingy, selfish, and lazy. I am not a kitchen goddess. Sorry to burst your bubble.)

In any case, on the Saturday before our last Sunday potluck, I made a list of ideas as a way to combat my brain-freeze. Soups were out of the question, and I didn’t waste ink on all the little sides dishes, like carrot sticks and deviled eggs and loaves of bread, because everybody takes that type of food, me included, and I knew I could always fall back on those options in a pinch. No, I was searching for Solid Potluck Fare, and in the end it boiled down to two things: side dishes and casseroles.

So many times my casseroles are just second-rate dishes; in other words, leftover rice and chunks of meat tossed into a crock-pot and pronounced dinner. While I don’t mind eating that type of food, I can’t bring myself to combine food that tastes best served separately, or combined only a few moments before eating, and contribute it to a potluck. If I make a casserole, it needs to be a first-class combination that I wouldn’t want to eat any other way.

(I could, of course, make two dishes and then place them beside each other in the serving line, but there are two problems with that little arrangement. First, when people take the time to butter bread or scoop the barbequed meat into the dinner rolls, the line backs up. Second, and more importantly, when food is served separately you run the risk of people not putting the foods together properly, and when they find out that it was you that made that dry cake, they wrinkle their noses at your cooking abilities when really it was their own fault for not knowing that the Three Berry Sauce and the bowl of freshly whipped cream were meant to be served with that cake. I hate it when that happens.)

Some of the ideas that I included on my potluck list included spinach-cheese crepes (I hope to write about these later), baked hash brown potatoes, pesto dip and crackers, layered bean dip and chips, potato salad, baked corn, baked beans, baked Brie with bread, macaroni and cheese, and tortilla pie.

It was the tortilla pie that I ended up taking this last time around, and I was pleased with how simple it was to make and transport. I mixed up the filling on Saturday, and then on Sunday morning before church I made the crust and assembled and baked the pie. The servers only had to heat it up for about twenty minutes in the oven before slicing it and setting it on the table.

The only downside was that the recipe says to serve the pie with sour cream and salsa. I toyed with the idea of spreading the condiments on top of the pie, first the sour cream and then the brilliant red salsa, but I was afraid the crust would turn soggy, so I scooped my homemade sour cream and salsa into their respective pint jars, labeled them, and hoped for the best.

While nobody fell at my feet pleading for the recipe, I heard rumors that some favorable sentiments were expressed. And the pie plate came back empty.

Tortilla Pie
Adapted from recipes given to me by my girlfriends Erika and Shannon.

For a vegetarian version, simply omit the ground beef and increase the amount of beans.

This recipe makes a large amount of filling, way more than you need for one pie. Any leftover filling may been frozen in quart-sized containers—one quart of filling makes a nine-inch pie. To use the frozen filling, simply thaw it at room temperature and proceed with the directions for assembling the pie.

The measurements are estimates. If you want a meatier pie, decrease the amount of beans. Likewise, if you want a spicier pie, amp up the chili powder or toss in some jalapeño peppers.

For the filling:
1 pound ground beef
1 onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
2-4 teaspoons chili powder
1-3 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3-4 cups cooked beans (black, red, pinto, etc.)
1-2 cups salsa
1 cup frozen corn

Brown the ground beef with the onion and pepper. Add the next six ingredients (down through the corn) and stir well. Remove the pan from the heat.

To assemble a 9-inch pie:
about three cups of grated cheese (Monterey Jack, Colby, cheddar)
3 large flour tortillas or 6-8 small corn tortillas
1 quart of the meat and bean filling
1 double, unbaked, 9-inch pie crust

Line the pie plate with the bottom crust. Spread a third of the meat filling over the bottom, sprinkle on some of the cheese, and lay a tortilla on the cheese. Repeat the layering process two more times. Place lots of cheese on top of the last tortilla, then lay the top crust over the pie (it will make a rather high mound, but it will cook down as it bakes) and cut slits into it so that the steam can escape. Crimp the edges and bake the pie at 350 degrees for about 50 minutes.

Serve hot. Garnish, if desired, with salsa, sour cream, guacamole, black olives, and cilantro.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Cleaning up bad attitudes

It was time for our morning reading and Yo-Yo and Miss Becca Boo wouldn’t stop picking at each other. After repeatedly telling them to be quiet and then slamming my fist on the table and using my “megaphone voice” (my sister-in-law’s term), I finally recalled what my girlfriend Linell told me that her mother did when Linell and her sister wouldn’t stop bickering: window washing.

I stomped off to the bathroom and came back with two wet rags and a sheet of newspaper for each child. “Yo-Yo, you’re to do the outside and Becca Boo, you do the inside. You are going to wash windows until you can get along and I don’t care how long it takes you. I have a lot of dirty windows.”

They were laughing before they even started, and they finished in about four minutes.

The rest of our reading time progressed smoothly.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Slow thinking

Just last week I noticed that my food dehydrator has a setting for “Living Foods”. Huh, I thunk to me-self. What could that be? Crickets? It wasn’t until a few more minutes of absent-minded puzzling that it hit me: Yogurt! By gum, that setting is for yogurt!

I never said I was the smartest babe in the woods.

I first experimented with one quart jar of prepared warm milk. It set up into a lovely yogurt in only three hours. The second time I made yogurt, I doubled the amount (two quart jars, not a half-gallon jar), and once again it worked like a charm.

Do you realize what this means, people? It means that I can make at least four, maybe six, quarts of yogurt in only about four hours! All this time I have been putzing along, turning out a single quart of yogurt at a time, sometimes making as many as four different batches in a week.

My life has been simplified and it only took me a year to figure that out.

Crickets, huh.


Update, For Lily Girl:

The dehydrator actually has a setting for "living foods" (105 degrees) and for "yogurt" (115 degrees). I totally missed seeing the setting for yogurt and it wasn't until I saw the setting for living foods that I realized I could make yogurt in the dehydrator. Like I said, I'm rather slow.

The dehydrator functions in two ways: it
uses electricity to raise the compartment's temperature, and it has a fan that blows around the hot air, helping to dry out the food. Even though the fan is blowing while I'm incubating the yogurt, it is not drying out the yogurt because the jars are tightly lidded. It is the hot air part of the dehydrator that is at work, slowly "cooking" the yogurt. Does that make better sense?

And by the way, I think I could easily fit eight quart jars in the dehydrator, and maybe even use half-gallon jars, too. It's a fabulous machine.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Togetherness Glorified

I was going to do a post about something profound, like the benefits of composting or how to get your kids to love each other, but then I took a bite of Mocha Pudding Cake and gained a new appreciation for the word “profound”. Glory be!

I didn’t think I was one to favor pudding cakes. I enjoy cakes and I enjoy puddings, but I couldn’t see the point of putting them together in the same dish. It reminded me of those adulterated jars of swirled peanut butter and grape jelly that you find in the grocery store. Peanut butter is good and jelly is good, but in my opinion they are meant to be stored separately and smeared together just minutes before eating.

Such was my thinking about cake and pudding. Until now.

In the spirit of full disclosure I must admit that my sentiments about cakes and pudding were totally unfounded as I don’t think I had ever even tasted a pudding cake before today, thus proving that I am not above passing judgment on things of which I know nothing. While confessing to my cake-n-pudding close-mindedness might, under normal conditions, be just slightly embarrassing, it’s not at all difficult at this moment, probably due to the splendid creamy rich warm feeling that is zipping through my veins.

Oh my word! I just put it together! You know how in Charlie and The Chocolate Factory when they are all floating down the chocolate river in the pink candy boat and Wonka reaches over the side and scoops up some of the liquid chocolate and gives it to Charlie and his grandpa to drink?

"Charlie put the mug to his lips, and as the rich warm creamy chocolate ran down his throat into his empty tummy, his whole body from head to toe began to tingle with pleasure, and a feeling of intense happiness spread over him."

I find it practically providential that, even before making the connection between Wonka’s liquid chocolate river and this cake, I used the very same adjectives. I’m telling you, this cake verges on the magical. For real.

Goodness, I do have a buzz. It’s a bit unnerving how this cake has loosened my tongue (and fingertips). I better quit writing before I start blithering about things more consequential than food.

Mocha Pudding Cake
From Nicole's blog, Brewed Daily

I used decaffeinated coffee (and made it extra strong) so I could freely eat this cake anytime, night or day.

Choose your cake-eating companions wisely because you never know what secrets might come pouring out of your mouth once the chocolate hits your blood stream.

Update, February 10, 2015: I made this today and think it's awful. Flat-tasting and blah. Perhaps because there is hardly any fat in it? I like the concept of a pudding cake, but this is one doesn't cut it. At least not anymore.

3/4 cup flour
2/3 cup sugar
½ cup powdered cocoa, divided
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
½ cup milk
3 tablespoons oil
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cup hot coffee

In an ungreased square 8-inch pan, stir together the flour, white sugar, 1/4 cup cocoa, salt, and baking powder. Add the milk and oil, stir till combined, and smooth out the batter.

In a small bowl mix together the brown sugar and remaining 1/4 cup cocoa. Sprinkle it over the cake. Add the vanilla to the hot coffee and pour over the top the batter. Do not stir.

Bake at 375 degrees for 25-35 minutes. Serve warm, with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

If you are in danger of scarfing down more than is appropriate, store the cake in the jelly cupboard where it will (mostly) be out of sight.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

My Me-Me List

Okay, okay! Enough already! I’ve been tagged multiple times on Facebook for the “25 Things About Me” meme (as if there could possibly be anything left to know about me). I ignored it at first, but the tagging continued, so I finally dealt with my fate and googled “meme” because I’m a real dummy about these things and didn’t even know how to pronounce the word. My instinct told me it rhymed with “dream” (and I was right), but then I started wondering if it might possibly be pronounced “me-me”, which would make a lot of sense since it’s, um, to put it politely, a literary navel-gazing endeavor. And then it occurred to me: What, pray tell, is this blog?

Thus, I will commence to write my Me-Me List. If you read this, and if you are following me (by that I’m not talking about comprehending me, but rather the blogspot gadget dubbed “Following”, of which I have thirteen dear hearts), consider yourself tagged. (And if you're not one of my followers and still want to play, then I'm tagging you, too. See, aren't I being nice---so inclusive and all?)

1. I had a pacifier when I was little, and then I became a thumb-thucker.

2. I always wanted my parents to become foster parents, but they said no. However, when I went off to college, what did they do but go ahead and get themselves certified, and subsequently take in several children. Then my brother and his wife did emergency foster care for a number of years (doing foster care seemed to be becoming a family project). And, Mr. Handsome and I did foster care for the typical two-year stint (starting when The Baby N was two months old) before we crashed and burned and told the agency to close our file. Then I went on anti-depressants.

3. While in the 7th grade I participated in a spelling bee. My word was “auction” and I spelled it a-c-t-i-o-n. I still can’t spell worth a hoot.

4. Mr. Handsome has ADHD. Yo-Yo Boy has ADHD. I’m pretty sure that Miss Becca Boo and Sweetsie have ADHD (just kidding . . . mostly), but we’re trying not to think about that yet. This statement appears to be about the other people in my family and not about me (whom this meme is about) but if you know anything at all about ADHD, you’ll know that I’m revealing an awful lot about myself by telling you this: I live with people who have ADHD and I love them dearly. I deserve medals. But, truth be told, they deserve the medals even more than I do. NO! Not because they live with me, but because they have to live with themselves... Oh, never mind.

5. I never did not know how babies were made, thanks to my progressive, open-minded, wise parents.

6. I was salutatorian of my high school class of about 170 people. My mother coached me to say “I got As” rather than “I got straight As” when people inquired after my report card—she said it sounded less cocky. (She also kept reminding me to smile because otherwise I appeared snobby.) There’s not much worth to all those As though, because the truth is that I memorized depressingly much and learned depressingly little. Mr. Handsome is frequently amazed at how little common knowledge I have in my possession.

7. Three out of four of my births have been natural deliveries, and I’ve also had surgery with three out of four of those births. Figure that one out.

8. One time when I was in my early teenage years and was sick with bronchitis, my little brother was feeding me food with a fork and decided to, just for fun, jerk the fork as it was going into my mouth. The three little puss-filled prong marks in the back of my throat just served to enhance my general feeling of ill-health.

9. I’ve never had braces, and I didn’t even have a filling until I was in college. I had reading glasses for a few years in high school and college, but then my eyesight improved enough that I didn’t need to wear them anymore.

10. I got my period when I was ten, and my father brought me a single red rose to mark the milestone.

11. For ten years of my life I struggled with a mild form of an eating disorder that I’ve dubbed “Pre-Anorexia”. At one point I weighed 118 pounds (I’m nearly 5' 9") and I lost my period for several months. What cured me was living in Nicaragua away from all the media and models and having a baby.

12. I’ve never been drunk, never done drugs, never smoked (minus a cigar that I puffed on), and the only man I ever kissed was Mr. Handsome.

13. I was in a hurricane that killed thousands of people.

14. My high school friends called me “The Oatmeal Child” because of my rosy complexion and healthy packed lunches. I was also called “The Reporter” because I asked so many questions. Once my chemistry teacher threw a piece of chalk at me because I was grilling him too hard and he got frustrated.

15. I majored in Congregational Ministries and minored in Spanish and ESL (English as a Second Language). If I were to eventually go back to school to learn a profession, you know, one that paid, education and counseling are two that I might consider. I’d also love to travel to Europe to learn how to make artisan breads. Maybe I’ll have a little café some day. Then again, the café would probably end up running my life and I don’t like anything to run my life besides myself, so scratch that idea.

16. I always sleep with my back to Mr. Handsome, ever hopeful for a back rub. Our night-time routine starts with me saying, “Will you give me a back rub?” Mr. H, “No.” Me, wheedling, “Pleeeease?” Mr. Handsome, “No!” So then I say nothing and hold my breath. After a few seconds, he sighs deeply, rolls over on his side with a defeated groan, and starts rubbing my neck. I purr.

17. I was thrown from a horse when I was fifteen years old and got knocked out, briefly, which I thought was really cool. I got to have an ambulance ride, get my shirt cut off me, and then spent the night in the hospital. When I came home, I went up to my room to rest and mom brought me buttered bread with applesauce on top.

18. I reached the 100-pound mark when I was ten years old. I was a big kid.

19. I’ve been a camp counselor, a Voluntary Service worker (for one summer), an MCCer (Mennonite Central Committee) for three years in Nicaragua, ESL teacher, and a tutor at the university I attended. While in high school I worked at the lunch counter of a dinner named The Royal, collecting ten-cent tips and a couple unwanted smacks on the butt. Other, less significant money-making endeavors: moving lawns, babysitting, selling homemade cakes and pie crusts and breads, and raising white mice to sell for scientific research. I've never had a real job, ie. a full-time job with benefits.

20. I have never seen actual footage of the World Trade Towers collapsing; the photographs were traumatic enough for me.

21. I admire these characteristics in other people (and work at them in myself): open-mindedness, the willingness to be vulnerable, generosity, and good listening skills.

22. I am a Christian and a Mennonite. I was baptized (by my grandfather) when I was fifteen (or was it sixteen?). I felt like I was too young to be making church decisions and asked the pastor if I could be baptized without becoming a church member but my request was denied. I figured I could just abstain from the church voting, so I went ahead and got baptized anyway.

23. Question to Self: If I could choose to do one skill and know that I would do it well, what would I choose? Answer to Self: I would love to act. It’s the dramatic, artistic side of me coming out, I think. That, plus the desire to be articulate and coherent around crowds of people. The wow factor (applause, yay!) would be pretty fun, too.

24. I was in a minor earthquake in Guatemala. It scared me senseless. The ground was not supposed to move under my feet like that! It didn’t help that I had been sleeping buck-naked alongside my likewise buck-naked husband and he couldn’t find his glasses and we were locked into our concrete tomb and couldn’t find the keys because the power went out and it was pitch black. All we could do, and we (at least Mr. Handsome) did this calmly, was to wrap a blanket around ourselves and huddle in the bathroom doorway.

25. I can’t handle scary movies.

Whew, what a relief to no longer be “It”. Give me some You-You’s to read, please. My feet are propped up and the (figurative cup of) coffee is by my side. Your turn. Strut your stuff. Treat me. Me.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Facing facts

I think I might as well face the facts: I don’t like chocolate biscotti. I always thought I just hadn’t yet found a good recipe, but a couple weeks ago I made what should be, and I think is, a fine chocolate biscotti and I just don’t care for it.

Which would make sense, I suppose, if I stopped to think about it for a minute. I’m not one for certain types of other chocolate baked goods such as chocolate graham crackers, cocoa puffs (can that even be counted as a “baked good”?), chocolate donuts (are they supposed to be so dry?), and chocolate cookies, so this failure of mine to adore chocolate biscotti does fit into the big picture.

I do like Oreos.

I was quite excited when I found this chocolate biscotti recipe in Cooking Light Magazine (November 2008). The recipe called for grinding up some bittersweet chocolate with sugar, adding some cocoa powder and some instant espresso granules, toasted hazelnuts (I used almonds), and dried sour cherries that first got a leisurely soaking in some warmed-up red wine. I also threw in some mini-chocolate chips.

The result was ... dark. There really is no better word to describe them. Daaaark. Or maybe, "Dah-k, dah-lin’." Actually, it's more like a gravely growl: "Sexy and, grrrr, darrrk," Then again, it could be a simple exclamation: DarK!

You would think they would be a dark chocolate lover’s dream come true, and I am a lover of dark chocolate, but they just didn’t cut it for me. And then it occurred to me: could it be that this was my problem? Maybe I wasn’t woman enough. Maybe I was an unsophisticated, bumpkinly, naive eater-of-chocolate. No! This couldn’t be so! My anxiety levels rose. Every time I glanced in their general direction, the darkly brooking, tall biscotti stared back at me as they postured cooly, lounging against the sides of their boxy glass jar. I ducked my head in shame and looked the other way towards lemon and pumpkin, less intimidating creatures.

Until yesterday. Yesterday I dished myself a scoop of leftover (stale) homemade vanilla ice cream and crumbled a piece of biscotti over top. I tasted, and—Oh my. Dark crunch met cool smooth and promptly became bosom buddies. I had seconds.

While I’m still a bit awkward in the presence of this biscotti, all is not lost. In other words, I won’t feed the sexy fellows to the chickens, but at the same time I don’t think I should be solely responsible for eating the remaining dozen or so pieces of biscotti, plus the vanilla ice cream that is required to wash them down. So if you would like some, I will give them to you.

And if you want the recipe I’ll give that to you, too. Or maybe you have a chocolate biscotti recipe that you think just might win me over? I’d be delighted to try it.


Some people adorn their diningroom table with floral centerpieces.

We decorate with Naked Barbie.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Before church

I need to get this off my (flat) chest before I go to church tomorrow. It’s a recipe for potatoes that is so incredibly delicious it’s a crime for me to keep it to myself. If I were Catholic I would have already gone to confession and said multiple Hail Mary’s for the sin of Extensive Recipe Withholding.

I told my mother, the queen of potato gluttons, about the recipe and after waiting all week for me to post about it, she finally called me up on the phone yesterday, demanding I give it to her immediately. But then she ended up not making it that night after all because my father took her out to see Frost Nixon and they ate cereal at home before going out and then they ate McDonalds’s on the way home, and while the movie was good, I know she would’ve like these potatoes better. She’ll get to them, though, so I’m not worried.

But I am kind of worried about the rest of you. I know everyone has their own set of likes and dislikes and no one should be bullied into eating a certain dish, and it’s not a good idea to bully people in general, but I don’t think it’s too great a sin to cajole someone into please, pretty please, trying something new. It’s not like I’m sitting across from you at the dinning room table, fork in clenched fist, trying to jam a wedge of potato down your throat. For crying out loud, I’m on the other side of your computer screen and you can shut me down anytime you like.

So that’s why I’m kind of worried. You might click away before you even read this whole post. Or you might read it and then decide not to try the recipe. Which would really be quite dreadfully sad considering it is such a good recipe and all.

Do you want to know how good it is? Do you need proof? Yes? Then read on. (If you’re already sold, you can skip the following six paragraphs and cut straight to the recipe.)

Late last Saturday afternoon after I finished tossing the potatoes in their garlicky dressing, I speared one potato wedge with a fork, slipped on my Crocks, and ran out to the barn where Mr. Handsome was working on an ongoing project called Bringing Order Out of Chaos. I brandished the fork in his face and said, “Try this.” He opened his mouth obediently and started chewing. And then he said “Wow.”

Folks, first of all, Mr. Handsome does not say “wow” about food. He just doesn’t. Second, he hates it when I wave speared food in his face—hates it, hates it, hates it—and as a result, he has made it his custom to act as nonplused as possible after chewing said food because he doesn’t want to encourage the forced taste-testing episodes.

But get this, not only did he say “wow”, he also smiled (and he does not make a practice of smiling just for the heck of it), and then, as though that weren’t enough, he asked me what was in the sauce. He was genuinely interested!

I flew back inside to my kitchen nest, happy as a jay bird, and devoured a couple plates of the potatoes myself. Sweetsie ate a bowlful, and Miss Becca Boo and her friend shared a bowl of the potatoes, and then another one or maybe three. (The boys weren’t home, so I can’t say yet if it has the family’s unanimous seal of approval.)

When Mr. Handsome finally came inside, he had so many helpings that he finally quit dishing the potatoes onto his plate and just started eating directly out of the serving dish, a flowered, blue ceramic bowl that we got for our wedding.

Are you convinced? Have you fetched a pan of potatoes and a head of garlic? Alrighty then. Here’s the keeper.

Potatoes with Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette
Adapted from Cooking Light Magazine, November 2008

The original recipe calls for small new red potatoes, but all the knobbly little spuds rolling around at the bottom of your potato bin will work just fine. I used small Fingerlings and just pretended they were new red potatoes.

3 pounds small potatoes, washed and quartered like fries
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
7 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 tablespoon onion, minced (or 3 tablespoons minced chives)
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Mix 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil with ½ teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and then toss with the potatoes and garlic. Lay the vegetables on a large cookie sheet and bake in a 400 degree oven for 40-60 minutes, stirring after 35 minutes. The potatoes should be crispy brown on at least one side and fork-tender.

While the potatoes are roasting, mix together the remaining 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, 3/4 teaspoon salt, the onions, vinegar, and mustard. When the vegetables are done roasting, let them cool for ten minutes. Squeeze the garlic pulp our of its skins and add the paste to the dressing. Stir well.

Transfer the roasted potatoes to a serving bowl and drizzle the vinaigrette over top, tossing to coat. Serve immediately.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The whole lemon

I gotta show you this lemon tart I made today.

I totally bombed it, appearance-wise. The tart crust I used (not the recommended recipe because I was feeling ever so slightly petulant) slouched down to the bottom edges of the pan, like a cool-dude teenager’s baggy, low-riding, boxer-showing jeans. I decided to just dump the filling on top of the crust anyhow, and of course it boiled over and down just as I expected it would, and the edges burned some, but aside from that, it passed our taste-tests with flying colors. Yo-Yo Boy said that maybe he would ask for a bunch of lemon tarts for his birthday cake. And his pants are still firmly anchored above his hips.

The recipe comes from Deb over at Smitten Kitchen. I’m in love with her blog! I can’t believe I’ve been web-literate (not to be confused with web-fluent) for this many months and just now found it. She’s in the same boat, or at least in the same cove, as Orangette, and that is some pretty high praise, coming from me, a smitten Orangette fan.

Anyways, this is an amazing recipe, not just because of the flavor and the simplicity, but because the recipe calls for blending up an entire lemon, minus the seeds, in a food processor with some sugar. The resulting bits of chewy, candy-like lemon rind stud the creamy tart, and pack a punch flavor-wise. Is that not totally fantastic? Like, wassup, dude, this is some cool piece of sweet!

Obviously, it doesn’t take much to make my day. Just give me a lemon and a food processor and all signs of pubescent petulance vaporize, poof.

Now if I could just comfortably button my disconcertingly hip–huggin’ jeans...

Lemon Tart
From The Smitten Kitchen, and she, in turn, got it from Dorie Greenspan.

For the crust:
Use the recipe that Deb recommends (I’ll be trying it next time around), or your favorite tart crust, or even an everyday pie crust. Or, skip the crust all together and pour the lemon custard into little ramekins, set the ramekins in a pan of hot water, and bake them as you would a custard, till brown on top and the middle no longer jiggles (though keep in mind that after you eat the little non-middle-jiggling custard, your middle will be jigglin’).

I just tasted the little ramekin of lemon filling (I had a some leftover after pouring the majority of the filling into my slouching-crust bottom) and it kind of divided as it baked, with the top and edges turning extra chewy with bits of crystallized sugar, and the bottom staying mostly creamy-smooth. So on second thought, though it would probably be quite tasty with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or some whipped cream, my preference is for a tart with a bottom crust, even a slovenly one.

Partially pre-bake the tart crust. (I took that bit of instruction to mean that I was to bake the crust till it was set and turning brown on the bottom, and since that part turned out fine, I think I was correct in how I took that to mean. Are you still with me?)

For the filling:
Wash and dry a lemon, slice it thinly, and remove the seeds. Place the sliced lemon in your food processor along with 1 ½ cups sugar. Pulse until well blended, sandy in some places and creamy in others. (I licked some of the lemony sugar off my thumb, and it crossed my mind that this would be a fabulous mixture to have on hand come summer for stirring into sweaty, tall glasses of iced tea.)

In a separate bowl, whisk together an egg, another egg yolk, 1 ½ tablespoons of cornstarch, the lemon-sugar, and a stick of butter that has been melted and then cooled.

Pour the lemon filling into the tart crust and bake at 325 degrees for 20 minutes, and then increase the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes. Cool to room temperature and serve.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A bedroom birth

The Baby Nickel turned three today.

The festivities (and subsequent tears, as extreme happiness usually goes hand-in-hand with disappointment and frustration, at least in my little part of the world) are over and I have a few minutes to write before conking out myself.

The Baby Nickel's birth was a unique and extra-special experience---he was born at home, upstairs in my bedroom---and because of this, I was able to claim his birth and own it in ways that I hadn’t been able to with the previous three births. Excepts from his roughly-written birth story are as follows (it’s a long story, so I hope it doesn’t overwhelm you):


For the first thirty-seven weeks of my pregnancy I planned to have a regular hospital birth with the midwives from a local practice that does hospital deliveries. I had met with Midwife A, the most open-minded of the midwives, for the majority of my appointments, and it was with her that I discussed some of my new ideas. We planned to waive rights to the eye ointment, the Hepatitis B vaccine, and the bilirubin, and to try to only get two (instead of five) heel pricks for the glucose test if the baby was over eight and a half pounds. Also, I told Midwife A that my ideal would be to just come into the hospital and listen to my body and not have internals and only minimal monitoring of the baby’s heartbeat. I just wanted to give birth at my own pace and without anyone telling me how to do it. She was affirming of my ideas.

But I met with Midwife D for the 37-week appointment and after asking me if I had any special plans for the birth (I briefly told her), she launched into a speech about how I can’t have my fantasy birth, and how they are responsible for me and have to do regular checks. They needed to make sure labor progressed well, and my labors weren’t necessarily fast, she said. I was so upset that I couldn’t say a word. My labor with Sweetsie lasted all of three hours and five minutes—that wasn’t fast? I didn’t want a fantasy birth, just a birth that was treated as natural and not a crisis, unless it became one! Then Midwife D checked the positioning of the baby. I had been thinking that the baby was breech and D thought it was, too. I burst into tears. She said they would do an ultra-sound right away to find out. Turns out, the baby was in the head-down position, way low, his spine right along my belly—the ideal position for giving birth. I left the office not knowing whether or not I wanted to jump for joy or punch somebody.

So I started scheming ways to not have to be in the hospital for very long. We thought that maybe I could go into town and labor in someone’s house up until the last minute and then rush to the hospital—that way we wouldn’t have to deal with all the interventions. Or could I lock myself in the hospital bathroom and not come out till I was ready? I was detailing all my plans to my girlfriend Kris one day, and she said, “If you’re waiting till the last minute, why not just have the baby at home?” Now there was a thought to chew on!

I got a hold of Midwife T, and she said she would take me on. She lived over the mountains, an hour and a half away, but she didn’t seem too concerned about the distance, and besides, her helper for our area was Assistant M, and she lived in our town...

Mr. Handsome and I got down to the business of reading up on home birth. The more I read, the more I became comfortable with it. Mr. Handsome was the same. And once we met Midwife T, we both felt comfortable. It was decided. The next day I called the midwives and told them I was transferring so I could have a home birth, and requested my medical records.

We continued to read everything we could get our hands on. We hadn’t decided if the kids would be present or not, but Miss Becca Boo kept saying she wanted to be there (she wanted to see the little hands and feet and the placenta—she called it the “centa”) and Yo-Yo Boy mostly said he wanted to come in afterwards to hold the slippery baby. Either way, we knew they might hear and see things, so we prepared them the best we could. I found videos of natural birth that I watched with them, and we poured over the photographs in the birthing books. We talked about their births and looked at the photo albums. It would be my mother’s job to stay with them, so I knew they wouldn’t be stuck watching a scary situation.

On the evening of the second, a Thursday, Mr. Handsome and I went on a cleaning rampage. It was typical nesting, though Mr. Handsome was the one with the sense of urgency. The only sign we had that I might go into labor was that a bunch of storms were coming up and the pressure was falling. I had been having too much fun over the past few days experimenting with my sourdough bread to really care when the baby came, and I was feeling really good, physically—none of the sciatic nerve or varicose pain I had with Sweetsie’s pregnancy. So, I filled the buckets and washed out the mop and Mr. Handsome mopped the whole house.

When I laid down at ten o’clock I had a couple contractions, but that was normal. I soon fell asleep. I woke back up at midnight with mild contractions, but more problematic was my intense hunger. So we both went downstairs and had granola and juice. For some reason Mr. Handsome was wired, and he kept insisting that I was going to have the baby that night. So we made up both the guest beds. Then he started rounding up all the stuff that still needed to go up to our room. I looked up the emergency numbers that we hadn’t yet written down. We put candles in my room. I put the wine and champagne to chill and got out the lasagna from the freezer for whoever to bake the next day. Then I decided to soak in the tub, drink a glass of wine, and read for a bit. The contractions were getting harder, and after each one I wondered if we ought to call someone, but then there would be four to eight minutes till the next one, by the end of which I was wondering if I would have any more contractions and if it maybe was false labor. I just wished my water would break so I would know it was for real.

Then I had a bad contraction and yelled for Mr. Handsome. He came bouncing in, all giddy, but he quickly sobered up when he saw I was crying. I demanded he go call Midwife T. I was terrified I was making her drive over the mountains for nothing, but I don’t cry with false labor. That was at two am. About fifteen minutes later we called Mom and Dad. And then my brother C and his wife M. And finally, at around three something, we called Assistant M. I sat on the living room floor and labored. I tried to read in between contractions, but soon I didn’t have enough concentration for anything besides just resting or talking.

When people started arriving, my contractions started to fade. There was too much pressure. I felt like I had to have really good contractions to prove I was really in labor, but they weren’t always that hard. I couldn’t hear my body (and I was really wishing that my water would break to speed things up), so I went upstairs where I lit candles and started pacing. The contractions came every three to five minutes, but I was still worried that it wasn’t real labor. The midwife arrived, listened to the heartbeat, gave me some tips on breathing, and went downstairs to read.

Miss Becca Boo soon woke up and Mr. Handsome went to tell her that I was having the baby today. She came in and sat on his lap, and while I had a contraction he whispered to her, explaining what was happening. She was all smiles, and then scampered off downstairs. When Yo-Yo Boy woke up, Mr. Handsome went to get him and told him he could come in to see me. I think Yo-Yo maybe came down the hall, but he paused outside the door and didn’t come in; he was either too shy or else scared. But I heard him yell down the stairs, “Becca, Mama’s going to have the baby today!”

It was so special to be having a baby in my own room, listening to Mom bang around the kitchen, the kids chattering, the drone of my brother reading stories out loud. Life was going on all around me, and in the very place where we lived and slept and ate, I was giving birth. It was so natural and right. (They later told me that when I got loud, the adults would raise their voices to try to muffle the sounds. But once when my brother was reading, Yo-Yo shushed him and they all listened to me. Then Yo-Yo said, “Mama’s having a baby.” There was no fear or anxiousness about it—just a matter-of-factness. Exactly what I had hoped for.)

The contractions were getting harder, but I felt in control and not at all fearful. I was surprised by how much I liked the quiet and dark. I had never experienced it in the other births, and it relaxed me.

One time I reached for Mr. Handsome’s hand and he gave it to me from the wrong direction (Mom had sent up a plate of eggs and he was eating them on the sofa) and when I went to turn it around, I wacked him in the head instead. I could tell he was furious—I started to laugh but couldn’t because of the contraction. Pretty tricky to try to breath and laugh at the same time!

By then I was laboring, my right hand holding on to Mr. Handsome’s hand and my left holding Sister-in-law M’s. Breathing in I would rise up, and breathing out I would sink my head to the ground. I felt like a good Muslim, except for the fact that I was facing South-West instead of East. Mr. Handsome kept telling me to slow my breathing but I was starting to have trouble staying on top of the contractions when they peaked. I started rocking back on my heels and bellowing during the peaks. I knew I couldn’t do it much longer, and I was mad that my water still hadn’t broken. The midwife suggested that I try to push a little with a contraction to see if it would break the water. She asked several times if she could check me and I finally said yes. She did a quick internal and reported that the head was right there. I rocked back on my heels, pushed, and my water broke.

Then everything was chaos. Mr. Handsome was hauling me up on my feet and turning me around so I was in a standing squat. I didn’t know if I was supposed to push or what. The midwife was so quiet that I couldn’t hear any instructions and I yelled, “SOMEONE TELL ME WHAT TO DO!!!” (There may have also been a few profanities. Maybe.) The midwife mumbled something about me doing fine and then asked Mr. Handsome, “Are you hanging in there alright?” I felt like screaming at her, “DON’T ASK HIM HOW HE’S DOING. I’M THE ONE HAVING THE BABY!” But I just kept my mouth shut and exhaled through my nose, hard.

My sister-in-law went to the door to call for Miss Becca Boo. The midwife told me to give another little push. I did, and the head was out; I looked down and saw it. I saw M’s face when she turned around, big-eyed surprise. I gave another small push and the baby slipped the rest of the way out, the midwife unlooping the cord around his body as he came. (She later told me that when his head came out he had his hand on his cheek, so she pinched his fingers, trying to make them go back in, but it didn’t work. So I tore.) He pooped a huge pile as he came out, and he got it all over the towels and my leg. He gave one cry, and she passed him to me and Mr. Handsome lowered me to the ground. We both saw the sex at the same time. “It’s a boy,” I exclaimed, but Mr. Handsome said it much more excitedly and loudly, “It’s a boy!” Then I realized how much he had wanted a second son. It was 8:25 am, three minutes after my water broke.

Yo-Yo Boy came in then and climbed up on the bed next to Miss Becca Boo where they laid on their bellies to watch the goings-on. Mom brought Sweetsie in, but she started crying and asking to hold the baby, so Mom had to take her back out.

The first thing I noticed was his swollen, huge face. And his enormous hands; Mom called them Gorilla Hands. I tried to nurse him, but he wouldn’t latch on at all. And he didn’t open his eyes—I didn’t see them for six hours. So much for not putting the eye ointment on and having a more alert baby! I sat on the floor for about ten minutes before they lifted me onto the bed. After about twenty minutes Miss Becca Boo cut the cord with Mr. Handsome’s help.


The rest of the story didn’t go quite as planned, but I’ll not go into that here. Suffice it to say, The Baby Nickel was born at home, and for that special experience I am forever grateful.