Saturday, December 06, 2008

Handmade gifts

In the past few weeks, we have received a number of beautiful, handmade gifts for our baby. Here are some photos of just a few of them (to the left are the burpcloths my friend Katie made for us--I stole her image of them because she's a better photographer than I am)! Thanks to Katie, Brubaby will be barfing in style.

And here's a long-awaited shot of the blanket I knitted, on a backdrop of the soft white blanket Mr. Incredible's mom stitched for us. This is a winter baby, and everyone seems determined to make sure that we get some good, warm cuddling in before the weather turns warm. I'm not into pastels, you see; hence the autumnal colors. Everyone thinks this means I'm having a boy. I think it means I don't like pastels. Either way, I'm really happy with the blanket--it's soft and washable and I can't wait to use it.

And here is the blanket [Great-] Aunt Mildred knitted for our baby. As a novice knitter, this crocheted blanket looks impossibly complicated to me, and we'll always think fondly of Aunt Mildred when we use it. She is, without a doubt, the cutest, sweetest Brethren in Christ little old lady I've ever met, and somehow I had the fortune of marrying into her extended family.

Okay, enough with blankets! This kid is going to be swaddled and bundled like crazy.

The wife of my cousin by marriage--yes, it's a little complicated--surprised us with this beautiful sweater, which she knitted herself. I love the design; it's so simple, almost with an Asian styling to it. She also knitted a little red flower, "to pretty it up" in case we have a girl!

And perhaps my favorite items are these onesies, made with love by dear Brandie. I love these little animal characters, with all their varied textures and buttons, and can't wait to dress my little one in Aunt Brandie's creations. Part of me loves these onesies--just like Katie's burpcloths--because both of these friends very recently got into sewing and threw themselves into making totally amazing, useful, creative items!

But I love them also because I know that, behind every stitch of all these gifts, there's so much love and time and prayer that's already being invested in our little one.

Thank you, everyone, for welcoming Brubaby so enthusiastically! Now if this baby will just make its appearance sometime soon, it can actually use these items. . . .

Welcome to Brubaby's room

During Thanksgiving week, we finished Brubaby's room. Not that he or she will be spending a whole lot of time in it for a little while, but it feels good to have it done. At least there's a place to put all of the baby stuff! Mr. Incredible worked hard on this room, with very little help from me--partly because of the fumes and partly because, by the time we were ready to paint, I was too big to be climbing up and down a ladder!

He gave up his study, moving his desk into the dining room; then, with his dad's help, he put new drywall up on the ceiling (it looked like the plaster would give way sometime soon). After our favorite local drywall finisher did the dusty, nasty work of taping and spackling--we hate that part--Mr. Incredible painted the room with the help of a generous neighbor. And then, almost on a whim, he decided to refinish the floor--a feat he accomplished in one day with a pretty cool tung oil-based product. The result is a nice, warm, natural finish that we're pleased with. We headed to Ikea last week for a fun rug, and now all we have to do is hang some pictures!

The chair was a random yard sale purchase that my mom made; it's surprisingly comfy!

















The baby's closet is already getting full.



















The crib also came from my parents.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

My buddy

Today, among many other things, I am thankful for a well-behaved, happy dog.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Brubaby hopes

Nobody is really ever ready to be a parent. I'm no exception. Seasoned veterans laugh at my first-time parent optimism, but pat me on the back for my lofty goals and say, "Well, if you think can do it, that's great."

I may not know for sure yet if I want a stroller, or which kind is the best for our lifestyle, or whether or not we'll do the whole co-sleeping thing (some people say that if your baby sleeps with you, it's a commitment through toddlerhood, and I am not cool with that). But I do know there are some things I want very much for my child, and I will do everything within my parental power to make them happen.

Christmastime wishes for our Christmas baby

Knowing God. Well, this one had to be first, didn't it? But before you skip over the blah spiritual-ese you're expecting, please know that I really mean it. I don't mean "going to church and being a good youth group-type kid." I mean having a relationship with the creator of the universe and really truly trusting God in ways that I have always struggled to do. I mean stripping the Christian faith of all the unnecessary, unhelpful, ungodly trappings that have accompanied it for two centuries and seeing God for who he really is.

Knowing that he or she is loved. Our small family – consisting of me and Mr. Incredible and Lewis the leaping hound – has already established a firm foundation of frequent affection, and I love that. We may be serious a lot of the time, but we always make time to cuddle, hug, and just be together. I hope that this affectionate environment communicates love to our little one, but I also hope Brubaby learns love from the choices we make as parents: when we don’t shower him or her with material things because we believe there are better gifts we can give our children and when we hold our child to higher standards because we love him or her enough to see the full potential he or she can reach. These are hard lessons to learn; my hope is that our child learns them as early as possible, so that he or she can understand that Mr. Incredible and I don’t just plan to make life miserable or different for our kids; our choices are motivated by love.

Loving people – and engaging with them honestly. I wish for my child that he or she will learn to treat people as people – their personal views, cultures, practices, political ideologies notwithstanding. There’s nothing I hate more, or find more divisive, than when people label me a certain way and reduce their understanding of me to a caricature. I try my best not to do this with other people, and I hope that my child will be able to see past labels and ideologies to the diverse and beautiful (and broken) human creatures underneath. But I also hope that my child inherits its father’s ability to engage with the worldviews around him or her, and distinguish between truth and fiction. I believe that this combination – being able to love and understand people, yet never being swayed by false arguments – is a significant key to peace. And I hope that our child will know, find, and share peace.

There are many more things I wish for my child, but those are the ones on my mind right now. Do I sound ridiculously idealistic? Are you seasoned parents laughing? Sorry; I can’t help but strive for the best – even though I know I will fail often, I think it’s still worth trying and training and praying.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Page 56

The past few days have been an exhausting blur; hence the blog silence. Just to keep things going, I'm posting this:

Blog exercise (thanks to a fellow blogger)
  1. Grab the nearest book.
  2. Open the book to page 56.
  3. Find the fifth sentence.
  4. Post the text of the sentence along with these instructions.
  5. Don't dig for your favorite book, the cool book, or the intellectual one: pick the CLOSEST.
Here it is:
There are some kinds of food that consumers cannot even buy anymore, as regional products vanish from the shelves.

Slow Food: The Case for Taste by Carlo Petrini
Deep. Concerning. What does your book say on page 56?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Creamy butternut pasta sauce

Squash has become almost an icon of American autumn. Yet, most of us are satisfied to arrange it artfully on the front steps and carve it into lanterns. I am definitely a fan of both of these uses, but I'm also a strong proponent of eating it.

Squash is full of the kinds of vitamins and minerals that most of us don't get enough of: vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E (antioxidants!); folic acid; and potassium. It's also quite filling and (in my opinion) incredibly yummy.

You do have to work a bit for that nutrition, though. But I promise, the creamy, garlicky pasta sauce I made with it today is totally worth the effort.

First you have to peel, chop, and de-seed the squash. This is the hardest part. Use a sharp knife and consider this an opportunity to get out your aggression for the day.

I like to separate the neck from the bulb -- this makes it easier to chop into segments.

Then it's time to roast it with garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper. It's pretty easy from there -- just purée it in the blender with some half-and-half.

Squash on the front steps is beautiful. But you have to admit, so is this.

















And this (the finished product). It'll go into the freezer for use on cheese or veggie ravioli, with a few walnuts sprinkled on top.

And when it's all over, it's time for a turkey provolone sandwich with cranberry mayo (compliments of Mr. Incredible).















Happy butternutting!

Butternut Squash Pasta Sauce

1 medium butternut squash (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. dried rubbed sage
coarse salt and ground pepper
5 garlic cloves, peel on
1 cup half-and-half

Preheat oven to 375°. Trim, peel, and de-seed squash. (Halve crosswise to separate bulb from neck, then halve both pieces lengthwise.) Cut into 2-inch chunks; transfer to a baking sheet.

Toss with oil and sage and season generously with salt and pepper. Scatter garlic around squash. Roast until squash is tender, about 40 minutes, tossing once halfway through.

Remove and discard garlic skins. Transfer squash and garlic to blender; purée. With motor running, add half-and-half and process until smooth. Add some water, if necessary, to achieve desired consistency. Continue to process until smooth.

Season again with salt and pepper to taste and freeze for a quick and delicious topping for ravioli or just plain pasta. Serve with chopped walnuts or pecans on top.
[Note: my butternuts, grown with love in Dillsburg, Pa., amounted to about 8 pounds together, so I quadrupled the recipe above. This yielded a lot of sauce, but it also means I have plenty on hand for those weeknight dinners when I have no time to make anything else.]

I need to branch out

Recently, I've been feeling like my world is a little smaller than it ought to be. Specifically, that I'm limiting myself in the many interesting websites, blogs, and online communities that I could be enjoying and learning from. I keep up with a few food blogs (most notably, Tea and Cookies), but I feel certain that there are lots of other blogs and websites out there that I'm missing out on. Today, I checked out A Chicken in Every Granny Cart and A Way to Garden, both interesting sites I just might find myself revisiting in the future.

But I was wondering if my loyal readers might be able to suggest some of their favorite blogs and sites, too? As you probably know, some of my main interests are food, gardening, travel, and writing -- but I am very interested in branching out. Suggest away!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Of apple butter and autumn-colored yarn

As September draws to a crisp, cool close, I’m happily overwhelmed by the rich colors of the season. From the pale green and red painted leaves—just starting to turn—to the glossy, deep brown of my apple butter, neatly contained in timeless glass jars with brassy-colored rims . . . these are my comfort colors.

Rich reddish-brown chestnuts with blackened ends scattered across a grey sidewalk—

The deep, vibrant coppers, teals, and browns of the chunky, hand-painted yarn I’m using to knit a baby blanket—

The quilted brown of my bedspread, next to the creams and whites of our bedroom carpet and curtains, against the dusky green of our walls—

The glossy, almost waxy orange of my solitary $1 pumpkin against the creamy tan of butternuts ready to be roasted and eaten—

These are a few of my favorite [fall] things.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Knitting my way to December

I went to bed last night feeling like I was mid-race; I had come a long way through my pregnancy, but still had a long way to go. Today I awoke solidly in my third trimester and energized by how little time there is left to a) get ready and b) enjoy this time of 24/7 intimacy with my little one.

Last night I also finished the sort of Gryffindor-inspired scarf I’ve been knitting for Mr. Incredible for the past 10 months or so . . . it was supposed to be a Christmas present last year. At least he’ll have it as soon as it gets cold in the next few weeks. He likes it, I think, with its CMU burgundy and grey stripes and homey fringe. I hope it’s not too big or bulky for him. But then, it was only my second knitting project ever, so if he doesn’t like it I’m sure I can make him a better one later.

With that project finished, I think it’s time to start one for the baby. So today at lunchtime I’m going to see if I can hunt down the perfect pattern and yarn blend for Brubaby. Will it be a blanket? A hat? A sweater? Blankets are tempting, partly because I know I’ll use them, but also because they’re rectangular (the only shape I know how to knit so far). On the other hand, a hat might fit better into my budget; yarn ain’t cheap, friends, and blankets use thousands of yards of it.

Either way, I think knitting is the perfect way to start off the third trimester – hopefully, it will get me to slow down a bit, but also help me channel the nesting impulse. Besides, there’s nothing cuter to old ladies than pregnant women sitting around knitting, and I wouldn’t want to deprive old ladies of their rare moments of joy.

Off to the yarn store, then! And on with the last 12 weeks.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Nesting

I’m making apple butter this weekend. The apples – an entire paper grocery bag’s worth of Macintoshes – are sitting by the window in the dining room, filling the air with their crisp sweetness.

It feels good to be making apple butter again. Last year we couldn’t get ourselves and our ramshackle house together in time to make it happen, and as a result, it felt like we had cheated ourselves (and all the friends and family who enjoy our apple butter) out of the enjoyment of autumn. If I have energy, I may end up making a second batch this year; I can already see the jars flying off the shelf for gifts, leaving none for me!

I’ll return with an update on the aroma and the general apple butter-making experience later this week or next.

In other food news, Mr. Incredible and I have decided that jasmine rice is the only acceptable rice for Thai food. After getting a little tired of the super-cheap Goya white rice we’ve had in our pantry for eons and the brown basmati – which is great, but doesn’t go with everything – I sprang for a bag of jasmine rice the other day. We’ve been making a lot of Thai food recently – more often than Indian, which has been a staple in the past – so I thought it was fitting. Well, fitting is not the word. It’s sticky, but it holds its shape. Moist but not mooshy. Slightly translucent, but a rice of substance nonetheless. In other words, it’s perfect to receive that coconutty gravy with its range of meats and vegetables and aromatic basil garnish that we all know and love so well: Thai curry.

I’m still stocking the freezer and finding ways to cook the randomness it contains. Last night I added cottage pie to the growing premade meal section, and also discovered I have a few challenging items to use up: a pound of phyllo dough, a large bag of accumulated chicken bits intended for stock, a small tub of what I think is last fall’s tomato sauce, and several bags of pitted plums.

My last attempt at spanakopita was delicious but time-consuming and only used up half a pound of phyllo. I do, however, remember a recipe for modified baklava with pistachios, as well as one for a Greek spinach pie, which both call for the phyllo to be cut up and piled loosely on the top of the dish – not authentic, but a definite time-saver. And since I do most of my cooking after 8 p.m. now – the time of day when I feel most pregnant – that’s pretty appealing.

I guess I probably need to make some chicken stock, too, and I have a new way of dealing with the plums: coffeecake! It’s an unexpected combination, but the cooked, gooey tartness of the plums actually works well in this context. I foisted my first plum coffeecake experiment on our church sometime in August, and although no one had any idea what they were eating, it was a definite hit.

This obsession with canning and stocking is fairly typical for me at this time of year. Yet I can’t help but think that the impulse to stock up for the cold winter has been intensified this year, both by the realization that, as the semester goes on, our finances will likely get tighter and tighter, and that by the end of the semester, there’ll be another mouth to feed. So am I nesting? Perhaps . . . although I’d hate to admit that I am participating in a clichéd, hormone-induced rite of pregnancy. I’ve generally thought of nesting as a flurry of wallpapering and painting and rearranging the nursery, but I suppose it’s possible that nesting could take other forms, such as stocking up on food.

Pregnancy aside, this is definitely the time of year for squirreling away nuts for the long winter. What are you preserving, stocking, freezing, or saving for the cold months?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Stocking the freezer

Wow, it's been a long time -- and I still feel like I don't have a lot to say. What have I been up to these past weeks? Mostly just eating, sleeping, working, and cooking. No, seriously, that's about it.

But then, it is that time of year to gather all the ripe fruits and veggies and find some way to store them for the otherwise bland, hungry winter ahead. Here's what I've been stocking the freezer and the basement shelves with recently:
  • 21 jars of peaches (together, my mom and I canned 42 jars on a very hot Saturday in Pittsburgh)
  • Aromatic basil-tomato pasta sauce
  • Pureed pear baby food (the only thing I could think of to use up the abundance of pears that were ripening in our backyard)
  • Curried carrot soup
  • Creamy carrot soup (we like carrot soup, okay?)
  • Cheeseburger pie
  • Deep dish tacos
  • Several bags of corn, fresh off the cob
I'm hoping to make a nice batch of apple butter this year, and I may make some baby food with some of the exceedingly cheap and good-looking squash that's beginning to dominate the farmer's market. I'll probably continue to stock the freezer with a few more meals for those cold winter nights soon after the baby arrives. But other than that, I think I'm just about done making my winter provisions.

So even though my blog has been going through somewhat of a famine, it looks like the Brubakers won't starve this winter. :)

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Pittsburgh Left

No, it's not a political constituency. It's a way to drive. Found on the excellent user-maintained travel site wikitravel.org:

Visitors may want to be careful of the "Pittsburgh Left." At red light intersections, a driver wishing to turn left will do so as soon as the light turns green, regardless of whether another vehicle would normally continue straight through the intersection. While not done much by the younger generation, the Pittsburgh Left still has its adherents.


I think Mr. Incredible could add a few more irritating Pittsburgh driving habits and traffic patterns to this entry, but here's another one that is oh-so-true:

Another traffic irregularity that often confuses outside drivers is the "left only" lane. You can be driving straight down the road and suddenly the lane you are in becomes a "Left Turn Only" lane, although you did not change lanes. This is common in other cities in the right lane but not the left. However, there is no rule for when this will happen in Pittsburgh, and it can happen in right lanes also, so drivers tend to drift back and forth from left lane to right without signaling. If you are new to the city keep an eye on the signs leading up to each intersection.


I know things like this really irk many people -- and I'll admit they get me sometimes, too -- but for the most part I guess I accept them as some of the last vestiges of local flavor. It's getting so you can go just about anywhere and find a KFC but there's no local café in sight. And everybody in the country wears pretty much the same clothes and buys their housewares at Target.

So, as annoying as it is, I salute the Pittsburgh Left for its uncompromising disregard for homogeneity.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Predictable

I walk out the back door at 7:44 a.m. and wind around the house, my bag swinging from my shoulder, heavy with the same items as yesterday: lunch, water bottle, cell phone, wallet. A weed that for some reason I’ve never bothered to pull or spray with Roundup hangs in an arc over the sidewalk next to the house, swaying slightly in the breeze but not in any danger of dying, despite its lack of soil. I step on it, like I do every day, hoping that this will cripple the plant and lead to its eventual decline. I should bend down and pull it up, but I don’t have the time I have to catch the 8:53 bus.

Down the steps, then, and up the street I go. A neighbor is bending over, fussing about her flower beds, like she was yesterday, with her butt in the air and no regard for what passersby might think. Another neighbor, dressed in blue scrubs and bearing a stainless steel coffee mug, heads for his car. Right on time.

I turn into the alley. Two blocks ahead, a 77F bus heads up Stanton Avenue.

Clunk. Someone drops trash in the dumpster from the third floor of some notoriously run-down apartments.

“71A Downtown” says the recorded message as a bus opens its doors on Negley Avenue one block over. The disembodied voice echoes through the alley just as it does every ten minutes.

I’ve reached Stanton Avenue. A man in a grey business suit and light pink shirt stands at the corner, pacing slowly in his whiter-than-white sneakers and dragging heavily on his cigarette as he waits for the bus. His square face reminds me of a pale, pissed off Lawrence Fishburne every morning.

The bus arrives. A woman with the most curiously sprayed and sculpted hairstyle gets off the bus, her pointed features sending the same message as always: leave me alone. I flash my blue bus pass and the driver, a cheery, middle-aged woman with a youthful haircut, smiles and pushes a fare button. In the first row, a man rises to give me the window seat next to him.

“Good morning!” he says. “And how are we doing today?”

“Pretty well. How about you?” I respond, settling my bag on my lap and pulling out my book.

“Nice weather we’re having,” he remarks.

“Yes, yes it is,” I reply, diving headfirst into my novel to avoid further conversation. I’ve already heard everything he has to say: Babyland is being renovated, the city should really do something about this or that building, that program on Randy Pausch last night was really “touching” and the Mayor is an imbecile. I wish it weren’t true, but there’s nothing new under his sun.

The regulars get on and off at their respective stops. A tall woman with foamy black hair boards in Friendship, wearing her button-front denim skirt, plastic-rimmed glasses from the 80s and toting a small workout bag. She sits down, her legs a little too far apart for other riders’ comfort (especially considering the short, button-front skirt) and takes out her Hebrew scriptures, a thick rubber-banded packet of tattered, unbound pages. She meditates on each page for several minutes as the bus draws nearer to our destination, flipping each sheet over and placing it at the back of the stack before continuing on.

“Liberty and 10th,” the disembodied voice of the bus calls out, announcing my stop. It’s 8:16.

I rise, thank the driver, and head out into the sea of familiar faces going the same directions with the same expressions as yesterday hoping that today will bring something fresh, something new their way.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Raw beauty

These photos were snapped in a distinct window of time -- an hour after the afternoon showers stopped, minutes after these beauties were plucked from their vines, and seconds before they were thrown on the grill and into the pot to become next winter's pasta sauce.

Photos: Mr. & Mrs. Incredible

More photographic proof {22 weeks}

I suppose it's still possible, at this point, to think that maybe I've just been making too many visits to Dozen Cupcakes. But the truth is becoming more obvious every day.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Becoming reality

For several months, I've wondered how long it would take for the reality of this new person to truly set in. Considering that I've been sporting quite the beer belly for two or three months now, you'd think I would have absorbed this truth by now. But this surreal feeling has lasted for a surprising amount of time -- until recently.

It was thrilling, of course, to hear the baby's heartbeat -- a sound that's now becoming familiar enough to me that I take comfort in its tiny, rapid rhythm.

But somehow, that wasn't enough to make it completely real to me. It wasn't enough because I couldn't share it on an everyday basis with anyone else; I could only heartbeat once a month at my appointments with the help of the midwife and a little doppler machine.

All that changed a few weeks ago. Tiny flutters that felt like goldfish doing light acrobatics gave way to palpable nudges and kicks that said in the only way the baby could, "Hi Mom, here I am."

Soon after, I had my ultrasound, providing visual proof that this little alien does, in fact, have a busy exercise regimen.

But best of all -- completely shattering any residual surreal feelings I might have had -- was sharing those little kicks with Mr. Incredible. It was only a shadow of how we'll feel when we can hold this baby in our arms, but it was amazing to share with the person who's going to join me in loving and guiding it toward adulthood.

And it makes me really, really grateful that I'm not doing this alone.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Words I still can't spell

I was a Pennsylvania state semifinalist in the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee -- twice. In fact, that's how I met my husband, way back in the day.

But some words still elude me, such as:

  • broccoli (or is it brocolli? When I write my grocery lists, I always have to write them both, then cross out the incorrect spelling!)

  • Caribbean (something you'd think I'd only rarely have to spell, but still. I just don't know if it's Carribean or Caribbean.)

What are your troublesome words?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Our little alien

We had our first ultrasound yesterday and were happy to discover that we are the proud parents of a bony alien who has (as far as they can tell) a healthy heart and a full set of intact body parts. It was amazing to see our little one on the screen and watch him or her swim around to get away from the annoying pressure that the technician was putting on my belly. As much as I wanted to get a good look at the baby, I had to cheer for it that it was so skilled at evading the ultrasound.

Here are some glamour shots.









Monday, July 21, 2008

So we never got to Paris

There were a lot of things I thought I'd do before I had kids. Well, either that or I thought I'd have kids right away after getting married. As it is I'm learning to live with an entirely different reality -- one that fills me with joy and expectation but also reminds me of all the stuff we won't be able to do when our little one comes. (Stuff I probably don't need to do anyway.) All that thinking reminds me of an old song by Out of the Grey:

So we never got to Paris

Young lovers, without much
Save each other, isn't that enough
Paint the future, a little day by day
Making plans with no regard for what might come our way

This cup fills up so quickly
There's so much on our plate
Between the living and the learning
Some things must wait

So we never got to Paris
And found the café of our dreams
But our table holds a whole world of memories
No, we never went to Venice
And strolled the streets alone
But we built our worlds together and we got the best of both

There's still wonder in our eyes
But we see each other in a different light
Yet the future isn't always clear
Now the question is where do we go from here

This cup fills up so quickly
There's too much on our plate
Between the living and the dying
Some things must wait

So we never got to Paris
And found the café of our dreams
But our table holds a whole world of memories
No, we never went to Venice
And strolled the streets alone
But we built our worlds together and we got the best of both

This cup fills up so quickly
There's too much on our plate
Between the living and the dying
Some things must wait

So we never got to Paris
And found the café of our dreams
But our table holds a whole wide world of memories
No, we never went to Venice
And strolled the streets alone
But we built our worlds together and we got the best

We may never get to Paris
And find the café of our dreams
But our table still will hold a world of memories
If we never get to Venice
And roam the streets alone
We'll hold our worlds together and we'll keep the best of both
And before you think I've given up on Paris (or, in my case, Scotland, Ireland, and Scandinavia), I'm well aware that there is such a thing as grandparents who will watch the kids for a week, and there's also a wonderful time in most people's lives when they are neither old nor terribly involved with their kids: their late 40s and their 50s. So don't think I'm giving up all together; we may not have lots of stamps in our passports, but we are a loving family and we've got many more years to spend together.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Making room for food

I don’t know if I can shop at the grocery store anymore. It’s been a several-year-long process, so this supermarket aversion hasn’t come as a complete shock. But with my current lifestyle, it doesn’t make things very easy, either.

But then, ease is probably what created the supermarkets and the food industry that stocks them and our culture’s perceived need for this time-saving, cost-saving middleman. Ease needs to be shifted down a few rungs on my food priority list.

Mr. Incredible, who has a five-ingredients-or-fewer rule when it comes to bread, joins me in this quest to find and buy food that nourishes and delights—but that doesn’t completely break the bank. Which is more and more of a problem considering the way food prices are rising these days.

Nevertheless, we’re determined in our household to make time to shop for, prepare, and savor healthy, tasty food. And as much as possible, we’ll find room in our budget for good food, too.

People at work are always asking me how I manage to bring in healthy leftovers each day, when they eat out for lunch three to four days a week. My answer? Sometimes, cooking is all I get done in an evening. Meaning I don’t necessarily have their social life or keep up with the TV lineup like they do.

Take tonight, for instance: there’s red lentil and cauliflower coconut curry to prepare (the cauliflower and cabbage must be used ASAP!) and then I’ll have to get a head start on the cottage pie I’m preparing for dinner at a friend’s house tomorrow (there’s no way I’d be able to get it done tomorrow between work and the time we have to leave). Just like in college, when I would gear myself up for a late night of paper-writing, I prepare myself mentally to devote the larger portion of my evening to food. And surprising as it may seem, I rarely regret these cooking marathons. (I just have to remember to drink a lot of water and sit down while I chop these days, otherwise my pregnant back and feet will regret it tomorrow.)

So what’s the problem with the supermarket and why can’t I just buy healthy, yummy stuff there? They do carry produce, after all.

Most of the products at the store are highly processed, something that I’m becoming more and more aware of as I read more labels, and I’m just not sure if this frankenfood is good for me. Even foods that seem fairly straightforward and pure are messed with; that is, they have additives and conditioners and dyes and preservatives (not to mention residual pesticides and antibiotics)—all kinds of things that would be absent if I prepared these foods myself at home.

Even the produce is making me wary. Grocery store tomatoes are the perfect example of produce that’s made for easy transportation and long shelf life, apparently without much thought to taste (or nutrition, actually).

There are a lot of people to blame for my supermarket frustrations: there’s me, of course—the compulsive label reader and lover of really good-tasting, fresh food. And there’s the delicious legacy of our families’ home gardens and family meals. But then there’s also Barbara Kingsolver, whose book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle has made me a believer in eating close to home, for reasons that range from nutrition to family life to economics. And this summer, Michael Pollan has caused me a great deal of irritation as I browse the supermarket shelves and see so-called health claims calling to me from foods that may not even be food, let alone healthy. His book In Defense of Food has been a daily source of discussion in our household for its critical view of what most of us has accepted as nutrition.

But this awakening has caused me more than just frustration. It’s also caused me to see my food as more than fuel. I’ve been pushed to reevaluate my priorities and decide just how much organic local potatoes and free-range eggs mean to me and the health of my family. As it turns out, they mean quite a lot; I just have to decide what to cut out of my life now in order to make room for them. And I’ve been reminded that food is more than just its nutrients. Really good food—really well prepared—constitutes a social event, an act of gratitude toward God and his creation, and a labor of love.

And when you think of it that way, suddenly the supermarket doesn’t seem so super.

-----

By the way, if you're still looking for something to read this summer, I highly recommend both of the books below.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

How we spread the surprising news


A crossword for my grandma (this is her first great-grandchild)



A canister of tea for the veteran grandma (this is her fourth)









When my parents were pregnant with me, they announced it to my grandma using a mustard yellow sweatshirt that said "It's just ducky being a grandma" (in fuzzy iron-on black letters, of course -- it was 1982).




We thought it was a good enough tradition to continue.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The unexpected (but very welcome) guest

Hospitality has always been important to me. And as I’ve gotten older and a little more secure in who I am, I’ve come to enjoy unexpected guests almost more than the planned variety. As I said to my dad, after he stowed away in my in-laws’ car for the journey to Pittsburgh to surprise me with his presence, “I’m glad you didn’t tell me you were coming, because then I would have worried too much about where you would sleep and the condition of the house. This way, I can’t do anything about it; I just get to enjoy having you here.”

That was pretty much how it felt that Monday morning in April when I shakily handed the pregnancy test to Mr. Incredible. It was as if an unexpected guest—a fairly long-term one, too— was already at the door, knocking. And although there was a healthy measure of fear and surprise at this discovery, we were also relieved of the stress of planning the right time and getting everything in order to start “trying.” Because, after all, our guest had already moved in. All we could do—all we had to do—was to welcome our new tenant and enjoy the time we have to spend together.

So here we are in the middle of week 16, just about 24 more weeks to go. I will admit, this guest has made him or herself right at home in ways that are a little difficult to deal with. The special dietary restrictions and the significant increase in the amount of food we need to purchase have taken some getting used to. And the hormone-drenched environment he or she needs to thrive have left me feeling sick and tired for longer than I’d like.

But despite these inconveniences, I can’t wait to get to know this little one better—to finally see the face and hands and kicking legs of the thing that’s growing inside me. With a due date of December 19, it’s made the Christmas countdown (and, for Mr. Incredible, the countdown to the end of the fall semester) a little more to look forward to.

The early pregnancy stuff is behind us now. We’ve told our friends, family, and coworkers; I’ve packed up my regular clothes in favor of empire waists (and no waists at all); and the shock and nausea are beginning to subside. We’re settling into this stage with a surprising amount of contentment and joy, and we hope you’ll join us in our anticipation.

Coming soon: photo documentation of how we told our parents the good news.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Everybody wants to be an executioner.

Or so it seems from all the marketing copy I’ve been reading and editing lately. When asked what they do best, companies continually answer:

We execute.

When asked what differentiates their company from the rest; what they excel in, they say:

Execution.

What concerns me about this is that, if you take their meaning to be that they “get things done” and that they “excel in the implementation of their solutions to customers’ problems,” that’s not really something to brag about, is it? That kind of execution barely keeps you in business, let alone propelling your company to the front of the pack.

Therefore I must consider: are these companies doing some side jobs for the mob?

I know that’s not what these companies mean, but seriously – come up with something original to do, and an original way to express what you do, or I will assume that you’re whacking people in the back room.

On a lighter note, all this talk of execution makes me think of the almost-fate of Bartholomew Cubbins, the 500-hat-wearer of Seuss fame. Check out the book if you’re bored; it’s one of my childhood favorites.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Of Pop-Tarts and split infinitives

I am not a Pop-Tart eater. What’s more, if I were to consume a Pop-Tart, I would certainly not choose the frosted variety with hot pink sprinkles. But in order to satisfy a post-lunch need for carbs (which I should have predicted, since I brought salad for lunch), I ate one today. Two, actually, since they come two to a pack.

Now, I’m a fan of Brian Regan and his legendary rant regarding Pop-Tart instructions. How stupid do you have to be, truly, if you need to read the instructions in order to toast your Pop-Tart properly?

But today I found that, in my relative inexperience with this fruit-filled toaster pastry, I needed to read the instructions. Remember, these were frosted. Given that we have both a traditional vertical toaster – designed for speed and even browning of toast and bagels – and a sophisticated-looking toaster oven – perfect for reheating pizza, melting cheese on bread, and other messier jobs, but very slow – I was left with a choice.

Do I wait six minutes for the toaster oven to barely warm these processed strawberry treats? Or do I choose the fast track, inserting them on their sides into the toaster (all the while praying the icing doesn’t melt, gunking up and possibly shorting out the appliance)?

Choosing life on the edge – and a swifter return to my desk – I went vertical. As I waited and watched, planning the Pop-Tarts’ emergency exit from the toaster should it become necessary, I wondered why the package did not stipulate the orientation of the toaster pastry. Surely others like me have wondered if it is safe to toast them on their sides.

But what I learned today is that Pop-Tart manufacturers have designed icing that defies heat, resisting meltage, even at the high temperatures that render the filling too hot to eat. This leads me to believe that it is not truly icing, but some form of sweet, marginally edible ceramic substance that allows morons to keep their vertical toasters in clean and working order.

On a completely unrelated grammatical note, I also cemented my personal views on split infinitives. I know they’re messy – even, as many people would note, wrong – but they’re far more musical and dramatic than their grammatically correct counterparts.

Which is why, when it comes to Pop-Tarts or anything else, my goal is to boldly go where no man has gone before. “To go boldly ” just doesn’t cut it.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

When I bite into a York Peppermint Pattie

I get the sensation.

It's a well-known fact that peppermint patties are my candy of choice. And why wouldn't they be? Refreshing mint -- which actually is a necessity after some meals -- enrobed in chocolate. In recent years, York Peppermint Patties have also been shown (on their packaging, at least) to be "a lowfat food" and "dark chocolate covered," which certainly gives them a couple more points in my book.

After a lifetime of loving peppermint patties, the candy now has for me associations of memory and emotions that even further endear me to it.

When I was a kid, Hershey Foods (which unfortunately does own York) ran these amazingly cheesy, yet evocative, commercials along the theme of "When I bite into a York Peppermint Pattie, I get the sensation," featuring normal, everyday people who get the sensation of skiing in the Alps just from a piece of minty chocolate (even though they're actually just standing on their coffee table, pretending to feel the rush of an Alpine avalanche).

My grandma apparently shares my love of peppermint patties -- or at least, the commercials -- and I will never forget her impersonation of that commercial. Yes, she did jump up on the coffee table, and yes, we worried about her mental and physical health. But oh, did we ever laugh.

For my bridal shower, my best friend made sure to have both peppermint patties and Starburst -- my two favorites -- in abundance. And when my husband wants to give me a little encouragement, he brings one home for me to enjoy. In some ways, it's not so much about the candy itself as it is about your loved ones knowing and caring about the little things that make you happy.

I've been a little disappointed over the years, as I've noticed the sugar content rising . . . frankly, we don't need it, and it only contributes to tooth decay and weird aftertastes.

But overall, the peppermint pattie has moved into the 21st century unchanged. It still arrives in that retro foil wrapper with the simple design that takes you back to the 40s.

I'm not sure I believe that peppermint patties are truly a "lowfat food" or that they really contain two percent of my recommended daily intake of iron . . . but they do give me the sensation, I'll give 'em that.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Country roads / take me home

You’d think, living in the middle of one of the most backwoods cities in the country, that I’d have just about enough of the country here in Pittsburgh. Also, considering that our fair city is one of the most tree-lined in the nation, I really do have a lot to be grateful for when it comes to shade and freshly made oxygen balancing out the oppression of the urban jungle.


But somehow, it just ain’t enough for this country girl. On our way home to Dillsburg last weekend to visit with friends and family, Lewis the mutt and Mr. Incredible just about got drunk on fresh spring air flowing through the car as we passed into Central Pennsylvania (it smelled good to me, too, but I was the designated driver and had to control myself).


We love our neighbors, the diversity of the people around us, the many events and opportunities the city offers (especially for foodies like us) . . . but this is what we miss:


The willow tree in our old backyard. It was probably destined to die sometime soon anyway, but the way it swayed in the breeze, thrashed in thunderstorms and provided a 15-foot diameter of dappled shade—I will never stop missing that.


Driving down the road in the dark. The city never sleeps, so they say, for which I’m grateful, when I’m a pedestrian after dark. But on the other hand, it never really gets dark. There’s something seductive about driving down a main country road in the dark: it makes you want to run away with the person you love and follow whatever crazy dreams you’ve always had, but never acted on.


Having a yard where our dog can run around and poop. That’s probably enough explanation for that topic.


Seasons in the country. We have spring in the city, yes, and it is stunning in its own way, as flowering trees and shrubs lend extra grace to century-old architecture that you’d never find in the country. But spring in the country means that when the trees begin to leaf out, you see masses—even mountains—of bright green tips against dark bark. And when trees bloom, there are clouds of white and pink blossoms filling the sky. You can’t miss it, and you can’t help being overcome by the drama of country seasons.


That’s probably only the short list of what we miss. We also miss our friends and our family . . . although in some cases, moving away has only shown us how strong our relationships are.


We’ll move back to the country someday to start our commune (any takers? I’m serious), and when we do I’m sure we’ll miss the comforts of city life, like only filling up our gas tank once a month, only needing one car, not having a yard to mow and living on the same block as our friends from church. We’ll miss Trader Joe’s and the other three grocery stores within a mile and a half of our house. And the convenience of the farmer’s market.


But overall, when we move away from the city, I’m pretty sure that those country roads are going to take us home to the place where we belong.


(Not West Virginia, though. I hope.)

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Bare legs on a cool spring day

It is a joy to put on a flouncy skirt on the first of May;
To revel in the freedom of bare feet in soft flat shoes—
No tights, no nylons, no pants—
No constraints.

It is a shock to walk outside in a flouncy skirt on the first of May;
Though it’ll be seventy-one later it’s forty-three now—
Only eleven degrees between freezing and spring—
I must be nuts.

It is a relief to feel warm rain on a flouncy skirt on the first of May;
It soothes the leg hairs that have grown 1/8 inch in the cold air—
Drops falling slowly and warm puddles forming promise a warmer day—
I can’t wait.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Buzzword alert

One of the business buzzwords I’ve been seeing a lot of lately is “turnkey.” Usually found in the context of “offering turnkey solutions to fit your company’s needs,” it’s one of those great words that people must think sounds easy and smart without actually meaning or promising too much.

But with my particularly odd eye, all I can ever think when I see this word is “turkey.” Somehow my eye skips over the “n” to reveal the true silliness of it all.

Today I challenge you to offer turkey solutions for all your clients. They'll thank you, I'm sure.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

There are some things that money can't buy.

Vanana yogurt (that we bought by accident when we wanted plain) = $2.99

Strawberry granola bars = $1.99

The cashier at Trader Joe’s thinking you’re a cute couple because you and your husband delight in smelling the bag of potatoes while in the checkout line = Priceless.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Juxtaposition

We country folk tend to think that there is no wildlife in the city (except, of course, for pigeons, squirrels and rabbits and they don’t count because people feed them processed, greasy food in the park—they’re just mooching off the urban system). But as I write this, an immense bird is soaring between skyscrapers, diving then recovering altitude and swooshing past the office windows, barely missing the cold, hard steel of our building with its daring wings. As I look out again, I see that there are now several hawks (at least, I think they are hawks) soaring through this part of downtown.

Just this morning a fellow bus rider, who lives in the neighborhood of Morningside, informed me he had deer in his backyard this morning, and last fall Mr. Incredible and Lewis caught a long glimpse of a beautiful buck in our neighborhood. (In fact, deer present quite a problem for the City of Pittsburgh from time to time, when they leave the safety of the city’s expansive parks and venture out onto busy streets and highways. Every Pittsburgher has one of these stories to tell, of the day they were driving down __________ Blvd. and had to slam on their brakes because deer were crossing.)

Driving through the Strip District at rush hour one morning, I spotted an even weirder sight: two wild turkeys waddling and gobbling along the Amtrak rails, looking very much at home.

So perhaps we country folk are a little naïve when it comes to how easily nature can be crowded out of a space. From what I can see—turkeys amongst railroad tracks, deer prancing in the median strip, and osprey skydiving downtown—these wild animals will make do with any space we give them, no matter how humble. They are built for survival.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The normalization of the dangling participle

In my ardent, never-ending quest to become a better writer, I was reading an article today about grammatical errors to avoid. The title of the article was "Five Grammatical Errors That Make You Look Dumb," which, now that I think about it, was a strange article for me to be reading. After all, I don't think I was actually afraid that I commit these errors; maybe I was looking for another error to catch people on. I hope that's not the case, because that's sick.

The author made an interesting assertion about dangling modifiers. He cited two examples:

After rotting in the cellar for weeks, my brother brought up some oranges.

...

Featuring plug-in circuit boards, we can strongly endorse this server’s flexibility and growth potential

And then he wrote,

The problem with both of the above is that the participial phrase that begins the sentence is not intended to modify what follows next in the sentence. However, readers mentally expect it to work that way, so your opening phrase should always modify what immediately follows. If it doesn’t, you’ve left the participle dangling, as well as your readers. (emphasis mine)

Here's the thing: I'm not so sure that's true. I see these dangling modifiers all over the place. Granted, they are not prevalent in official, published material, so at least part of the English-speaking population is expecting the second part of the sentence to follow the first. But I think there are a lot of people who don't see there's a connection between the two, as if the first part of the sentence is just giving a certain amount of background information and the second part is providing an entirely different piece of information; as if what comes after the comma is not referenced by what goes before it.

Just another example of the widening and erosion of the English language . . . what a great language it is, but how ambiguous it's getting these days!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Deuces are wild!

Found in a great old sci-fi novel by Arthur C. Clarke bought at City Books on the South Side.

The welcome package

I’ve been wanting to post this photos for a couple of weeks now . . . here are some photos of the welcome package I received from Brady Communications, where I now work. See why I feel so good about this?


Monday, April 07, 2008

Risotto, a simile, and some news

My life is like a saucepan of risotto:
I stir and add broth, scrape the bottom of the pan,
Stir again, add more broth, scrape, scrape, sccrrAAAape
For what seems like an eternity.
(Forty minutes, in fact, of continuous stirring.)

And in the end I get a steaming, glutinous mass
Of short, stubby rice
With tender, golden onions
And bright green zucchini punctuating the creamy globs—
In short, a culinary masterpiece, the ultimate comfort food.

And nobody but me can understand why I would go to the bother of stirring, stirring, scraping
A saucepan of globby rice.

In other news, I have a new job, which I started today and I like very much. I am a writer (yes, I'm getting paid for it again!) for Brady Communications, a design firm in downtown Pittsburgh.

Disclaimer (Mr Wonderful insists I put this here): I did not take this picture. Someone has clearly aerated this bowl of risotto, and although it looks prettier than mine, I am confident mine was far more satisfying.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Confession:

I'm not very good at using escalators. Despite the fact that I use escalators at least twice a day, I can never quite time my steps so that I glide with the left, then plant with the right as I step onto the platform.

I'm also not so great at keeping my blog updated. But I promise I'll work on it.