31 May 2008

Birth Story -- Caution: Vulgar, Blunt, and Mildly Gory

Birth Story (not for the faint of heart)

Congratulations to jdm13 from livejournal who nailed it with her prediction stats.

Also, good guess, Braxto, who sent me a myspace message saying I would give birth on 30 May and then got the phone call that I'd popped.

5 days late, labour was an uncomplicated 13 hours, he has a decent amount of dark hair, weighed 6 lbs 13 oz, and he has slate blue eyes (which will change to brown or brownie-green soon enough). I swear no one in my family had blue eyes at birth (my mom says my little sister's were, although I totally thought they were black -- then again, I was 5 and that was 26 years ago), maybe it's Mark's anglo blood.

Anyway, labour kicked off at about 10 minutes to 2am (I told you I'd start going before I got a chance to get any sleep). Contractions were 8 minutes apart straight off the bat. After an hour, I phoned the hospital to ask when I should go in, they said to phone once contractions were 5 minutes apart. I thought I'd take a bath, but Mark had taken a shower and there wasn't a lot of hot water and even after 3 teakettles of hot water, the bath wasn't doing much for me and contractions were 5 minutes apart anyway. The hospital said to come on down, so we phoned an ambulance (you can do that in the country here) and by the time we arrived at the hospital (a) I was huffing on a little gas and air, which only took the very edge off contractions, but was great at keeping me focused (b) having contractions every 2-2.5 minutes. It was maybe a quarter to 7am at this point.

I'd been having reservations about giving birth in a hospital, but this was a great place -- my whole labour was midwife-led and no doctors were involved (they were on-hand in case of an emergency, but I only ever saw them in the hallway). The midwives were REALLY respectful of my birth plan and when shifts changed or new girls came in to assist or give other midwives a break, the more particular bits were pointed out (no episiotomy under any circumstances, no injection to help deliver placenta faster). The first thing they did was offer me a bath. My contractions were coming on hard and strong and -- okay, I wussed out on the original plan and took a morphine injection in the ass, okay!? I was shaking and mildly panicking from the strong and fast contractions. Anyway, they monitored the baby's heartbeat and the morphine (not to mention all my contractions throughout the labour) had no effect -- he was going strong.

Here's the thing about morphine -- like gas & air, it doesn't take the pain away at all, but takes the edge off it. I'm not sure it even took the edge off it in my case, but it helped calm me down from mild panic (I wasn't expecting the contractions to come on so hard and fast) to just gimping out over being in labour. Plus, it wore off in a couple hours. My next injection was due at noon and I didn't get one (although I would have taken one if offered). I was fully dilated by then and they had me try out a bunch of positions to get the baby further down the canal. The one I hated the most, left-side, worked the best. Those contractions were really painful and hurt my hips.

Eventually, it was time to push. Yeah, they really don't call it the ring of fire for nothin'. It was scary, but once his head started to poke out and they let me touch it (and that head of hair -- partially-birthed baby heads feel like boiled eggs), I started feeling a little more hopeful (I'd been pushing for a while -- it is exactly like taking a big shit). I was on my hands and knees when the head popped out and the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck twice so they had me flip over and sit up for the rest of the delivery. But really, once the head is out, it's all downhill. He looked a lot cuter than I thought he would. I'm not saying he's the cutest baby ever, but I've seen some downright scary newborns and I was expecting to have one of those. ;p

While Belly Baby and I did some skin-to-skin contact, the midwife helped deliver the placenta and Bertie took a big poop on me.

Other than that, my nipples are a little sore (the midwives say it's normal as I get used to breastfeeding and that he has a good latch), I have 2 VERY angry haemorrhoids, and a wiggling son who poops a lot.

24 May 2008

Crafty Preggo Post

No recipes in this post, although Mark and I did enjoy a delicious saffron risotto this afternoon.

Newborns don't have very good vision, but they do like high-contrast shapes and patterns. I figure my baby might like something interesting to look at, so I crocheted this for him. It's a little wonky on the upper-left, but he's a newborn and is hardly in a position to critique my handiwork.

It's the first blanket I've ever made! Now that I'm done, I can go into labour. ;p

Based on the patterns for a mobile from sleepingbaby.net.

Originally uploaded by chloe & mark nightingale
Fully pregnant. I'm due tomorrow. Not the most flattering photo, but I figure everyone's looking at my belly and not my face so I don't need to wear make-up today. ;D

23 May 2008

Sundried Tomato and Fresh Basil Risotto

Before we begin, there are 2 things you need to know about risotto: you need the right rice and you have to stir the bujeebus out of it constantly. Okay, I've posted a cheater's version that involves less stirring at the bottom of this post, but you do need the right kind of rice. The rice should be nice and chubby. Typically, you will use an arborio rice, but other risotto rices are vialone nano and carnaroli. But really, unless you are a rice connoisseur, stick to the rice that is labeled 'risotto' and you'll do just fine.

Also, another culinary trick: when using fresh lemon, before you slice, place the lemon on a clean surface (say, your counter or cutting board), whack it really hard with the palm of your hand, and roll it back and forth a few times. This will squish up the lemony innards and make it easier to juice.

If you don't like sundried tomatoes or fresh basil, there are many variations on the traditional risotto, a few of which will be covered at the end of the recipe. As long as you get the gist of how risotto works, you should be able to make your own variations with no trouble.

Vegetable Stock: Boil 1/2-1 chopped onions, 1-2 large carrots, a few stalks of celery (and leaves -- this is a good way to use the leaves and heart of celery if you are the sort who doesn't like to eat them raw), and 1/2-1 tsp of a dried mixed herb blend (such as Italian herbs, herbs de province, generic herb blend, etc.) in 4-ish cups of water for 30-60 minutes. I'm being vague here because stock is ready when it start looking more colourful and rich and the herbs have started to mingle and it smells ready. I'll go over that in a future post about soups and stews.

Note: In this case, you will just be using the broth from the soup so set aside the veg for another project or keep a little broth with the veg, add a little tomato paste, drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil, salt & pepper to taste, and you have yourself a little tomato and veg stew. Bonus!

Sundried Tomato and Fresh Basil Prep: Chop up a wee handful of sundried tomatoes (I use scissors) and dump them in a small bowl or mug. Cover in boiling water and set aside to soak. Chop 1-2 tbsp (or more if you are really into it) of fresh basil leaves (again, I use scissors for the chopping) and dump them on top of the sundried tomatoes (do not stir, do not drain -- we are using the liquid from this in the rice because it is tasty).

Melt a couple knobs of margarine in the bottom of a pan on the higher end of low or the lower end of medium heat. Add your risotto rice and stir to coat. Add one ladle of vegetable stock (sans vegetables, like I said, we just want the broth) at a time, stirring until the stock is absorbed. This is going to take a while and your arm might get sore. Take a quick break from stirring to squeeze some lemon juice into the rice. Get back to ladling the stock and stirring the rice. The rice mixture should start to look creamy and begin to have a porridge-like consistency. Take a look at a grain of rice from the pan. Is the middle still white? If so, you aren't finished. Ladle, stir, repeat.
When your rice looks like it's almost finished, add the soaked sundried tomato and fresh basil mixture (liquid and all), a couple more knobs of margarine, another couple squeezes of lemon juice, and salt to taste. Stir well.

Portion out into bowls or plates and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil before serving.

A few notes -- if you don't fancy stirring your arm off, there is a way to cheat. Cook the rice in a little water or stock until it's al dente (there will still be a sliver of white in the middle of the rice grains and they will be 'firm to the bite') and then do the ladle & stirring trick until you're almost finished and follow the rest of the recipe from there.

This is not a low-fat recipe, but my goodness, is it delicious! If you wish to lower the fat content, use less margarine, drizzle with less olive oil, and use a teeny little bit more stock to make it wetter/creamier.

As an alternative to sundried tomato and fresh basil, you may wish to try [lemon zest, onion, and garlic] (add extra lemon juice to this recipe), [mushroom], [saffron and onion], [parsley and lemon zest] (add extra lemon juice to this recipe, too), etc. -- you get the idea.

15 May 2008

Basic Barley Salad & Olive Oil Lecture

Before I begin, I have something to say about extra virgin olive oil. It doesn't matter if it's from Spain or Italy or Greece, but it has to be a first cold press. It has to say first cold press or first cold extraction on the bottle. It has to. Yes, it may be more expensive, but there is a serious difference in flavour. I could tell the difference blindfolded. No, rly. Srsly. There's a faint bitterness to non-first cold presses and the little fruity or peppery nuances are lost.
Now, buy the cheap extra virgin olive oil of you're going to cook with it -- people say not to heat it ever, but a cheap cooked extra virgin olive oil lends more flavour to a dish than a cheap regular old olive oil and the bitterness isn't noticeable once it's cooked.
But if you are going to pour an olive oil over something and not cook it, say, when you're doing a nice drizzle over a risotto or a soup or bread or salad, it has to be a first cold press! Also, keep away from light and heat.

I use this brand called San Leandro that I discovered at Morrison's. A 50 cl/16.9 fl. oz bottle costs less than £4 and it really is delicious.
I had a friend living in Italy with his aunt and uncle who made their own olive oil and posted me a litre and it was AMAZING, but my friend moved to Korea (hi, Eddie!), so I no longer have access to it's amazing peppery deliciousness. When Mark and I visited two of our friends in Spain (Andalusia -- Sevilla to be exact and remind me to post a delicious garbanzo tapa recipe that I ate along the way), even the olive oil in plastic bottles there was amazing. (Coincidentally, or not, the aforementioned San Leandro is Andalusian, too.)

And now on to the recipe.

I've had a serious thing for barley ever since I was a little girl. We sang a song in school about eating oats and barley with your uncle Charlie. My uncle Chuck heard about the song and, amused, showed up with a bag of barley the next time he came to visit.
I love the texture of barley -- it's so chewy. It does take absolutely ages to cook, but I think it's worth it. Plus, barley is a fun word to say. Barley. Barley. Barley!
This is my barley answer to the pasta salad.

Basic Barley Salad

Cook, drain, and rinse barley (a cup or so per serving), mix with finely chopped green olives, celery, and onion (a tbsp or so each per serving). Add lemon juice, cider vinegar, and extra virgin olive oil (I use equal parts, say a tbsp or so each per serving, but some people prefer 1 part each of lemon juice and cider vinegar to 2 parts olive oil). Salt & pepper to taste. Give it all a big stir, cover, and refrigerate overnight. I know you want to eat it right away, but it tastes so much better after you let all the bits and pieces mingle, trust me. Toss and serve. Eat.

14 May 2008

Crochet Interview

Oh, hey! I've been interviewed by Kiba The Diva as part of her crochet Designer Interview series. Designer! Doesn't that make me sound cool?

So anyway, here is the linky link:

I know some of you are all thinking, speaking of crochet, Chloe, what the heck have you been crocheting lately? Well, I've been crocheting an eye-scorching black & white blanket for the ol' bun in the oven. They say newborns can't see very far or very much and, other than faces, they are all, "hey, check this out!" when they see stimulating black and white patterns. So the blanket will probably not be visually appealing to you, unless you are a newborn, in which case, what are you doing on the internet?!

Marvellous Mashed Potatoes

One year when I was living in Portland, Oregon, a bunch of my friends from college were living in Seattle (we all went to college in Pennsylvania, so it was loads of fun that we all ended up in the Pacific Northwest) and threw a HUGE Thanksgiving party. I brought a Tofurkey and helped with the pies and mashed potatoes. The lovely Laurel is responsible for enlightening me on making mashed potatoes and the ones we made that night were the best we'd ever eaten. Here's my version of that recipe.

Marvellous Mashed Potatoes:

  1. Wash and cut (do not peel) red-skin potatoes, boil in water until soft.
  2. In separate pan, fry finely chopped mushrooms and onions in olive oil -- toss in a tablespoon or two of an Italian herb blend (skip this if you are going to add fresh chives -- my preference -- or any fresh herbs) and some garlic (if you're so inclined).
  3. Drain potatoes (you don't have to drain them completely), mash (you can use a potato masher, but that thanksgiving, we used the beaters from a hand-mixer).
  4. Stir in contents of pan, [soy yogurt, soy sour cream, or unsweetened soymilk -- I prefer it with the soy yogurt], [non-hydrogenated margarine or olive oil -- I prefer olive oil], salt, pepper, and paprika (we used some orange-coloured spice mix with poppy seeds from the Market Spice at Pike Place in Seattle, and of course, I can't remember the name of it, but paprika is a fine substitution when, like me, you don't live in Seattle).
  5. Add chopped fresh chives or chopped fresh herbs (along the lines of basil, oregano, etc.) and give everything one last stir before serving.

12 May 2008

The Good Salad That Should Not Be (Pear Cabbage)

Well, kids, you get a bonus recipe today. Earlier this week, I read a variation of this salad in the book Classic Vegetarian Recipes (Parragon, 1999). Today, I realised we're running low on food, but happened to have everything this salad requires. It is LOADS more delicious than I thought it would be!!

The Good Salad That Should Not Be
  1. Finely shred equal parts red cabbage and carrot.
  2. Make a dressing from 1 part wholegrain mustard, cider vinegar, and red wine, 2 parts extra virgin olive oil, and some chopped fresh chives.
  3. Toss carrot and cabbage with the dressing, top with sliced pear.
  4. Eat, and be shocked at how surprisingly delicious it is!!

Chloe's Magical Marinara

If there's one thing about grocery store spaghetti sauce that bugs me most of all it's that nearly all the brands available contain sugar. Marinara sauce is not a dessert. I do not think the flavours of tomatoes and onions and such are enhanced with sugar. Did I mention I don't think tomato sauces should contain sugar?!
My magical marinara sauce does not contain sugar and, well, I was never humble, it's better than grocery store brands. It's delicious. It's fabulous. I use it as a pizza sauce, too. Would you guys be interested in home-made pizza crust recipes or home-made pasta recipes? Ooh, and flavoured vinegars (that's an easy one).

Before we continue, I should mention I recently purchased a spiral-bound 1975 edition of Joy of Cooking. It's not so much a collection of recipes (although there are over a thousand recipes in the tome) as it is a book of cooking techniques. It describes, in a warm and engaging narrative, individual ingredients, how to store them, how to tell if they are fresh, ways to cook them. It describes cooking processes -- everything from frying to steaming to boiling to baking to canning. It describes different meals, snacks, serving ideas. It gives example menus for different meals and occasions. It has a section on cocktails.

I have read various reviews and they seem to agree that the older editions are better. In fact, there's a rather recent version that took out most of the narrative sections (including the section on canning) and included several bogus recipes, causing such a kerfluffle that a subsequent edition based more on the older editions was released in rather a hurry. Or something like that. In any case, my edition is fab and I got it from the US on ebay for just a couple bucks. There are loads of good old used copies available and they tend to sell for very low. This book is totally worth the investment, even if you live outside the US like me and have to pay extra for shipping.

Where was I going with that? Oh yeah, I'm taking a leaf from that book and I may start writing my recipes out in that style, where the ingredients are in bold face and optional ingredients are in parenthesis. But I'm not going to do that right now. Just a heads-up.

I have recently read that tomatoes are one of the few foods that may be healthier and more nutritious after cooking. It had something to do with the lycopene.

Magical Marinara:
  • Tinned Tomatoes (if they are not chopped, you will need to chop them yourself)
  • Finely-chopped Onion
  • Smooshed and finely chopped clove of garlic (more or less to taste)
  • [Optional: mushroom, zucchini, peppers, etc.]
  • [Optional: tomato paste/concentrate if you want to really up the tomatoey-goodness or if you are in a bit of a hurry and don't want to wait until more of the liquid boils out]
  • Olive Oil (I use an extra-virgin olive oil)
  • Red Wine (a couple glugs -- don't use a sweet wine like concord, but most any red wine will do -- it doesn't have to be a fancy wine since you're cooking the bujeebus out of it and the other strong flavours will cover any nuances in that good vintage) [and/or a glug or two of cider vinegar]
  • Italian Herb Seasoning (tbsp or so) [OR a few generous dashes of dried basil, a dash of oregano, dash marjoram, dash rosemary (finely crushed is best in this case unless you want to add a sprig of fresh rosemary and remove it afterward), bay leaf (remove afterward)]
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • [Optional: fresh basil, to be added at the end, sliced olives (any kind will do), capers, chili peppers or flakes, etc.]

Fry the onions and garlic [and any other veggies] in oil on low until the onions are clear. Stir in everything else (you might not even need the salt) except the optional fresh basil, olives, and/or capers. Simmer for 5-15 minutes or until sauce has thickened (it will look saucy, not soupy) and seasonings have mingled (you can kind of tell when things are done by smelling them -- once the seasonings get a chance to work their way in, they start to smell really good and the whole dish gets a bit more fragrant). [Throw in the olives and/or capers when everything looks almost, but not quite, done.]

Add a glug of extra virgin olive oil at the end if you want -- I like it that way. Garnish with chopped fresh basil (optional, but tasty!).

04 May 2008

Pregnancy Update

I've made a preggo photo set so you can see the progress of my magical expanding belly.

The shirt says, "If my mom calls, I'm not here."

I'm popping out of the bottom of my maternity shirts. I weigh 132 lbs -- as much as my husband (I've gained 34 pounds so far). Week 38 started yesterday. You can really see how much the baby has 'dropped' in this pic!

I think I've had a pretty easy pregnancy so far. I had morning sickness for 5 weeks in the first trimester and issues with my magical expanding ribcage (it felt like my ribs were about to rip apart) until the baby dropped, but I haven't even had backpain or heartburn. Hopefully, my labour will be as easy as my pregnancy has been!

I have everything I need for the baby, now I just need the baby! Babies are a good excuse for crafts -- I made burp cloths out of old towels and crib sheets out of my old sheets. I might crochet some wool soakers (I could post a pattern when I perfect them, too) and sew my own fitted cloth diapers!

Anyway, everybody stay in touch and I will keep you posted on the baby progress. Maybe you can all start nagging me for a new issue of Galvanic Mag after I pop! ;D