Alchemy

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One of the strangest but most helpful Parenting EpiphaniesTM I’ve had is when I realized that parenting and cooking often give me the same kinds of anxiety because they are both a kind of alchemy.

Sure, there are basic recipes and best practices and knowledge handed down from generation to generation. But every set of ingredients is unique, and the oven at your place might not act like the oven at Barbara’s, because Barbara blackmailed her husband into buying her a super fancy new one, so who’s to say that a recipe is going to turn out the same way given all the variables.

And that gives me great anxiety because that is a very large responsibility. You can kill people with a badly cooked meal, or at least make them very sorry they ate your food.

So to fight cooking anxiety you just have to do it. Just find some dumb, basic recipes and follow them until you learn why you do the things in the order you do them. It starts to make a kind of sense, and you get to know your appliances better so you can make smalltalk with them while you wait for your toast to brown.

Parenting is similar. You read the recipes but you basically just have to get in there and get your hands dirty. Over and over again, with the same recipe, until you could make it blindfolded. Sometimes it will turn out great and sometimes you’ll forget to put the foil over the pork while it roasted, and you’ll chew it twice as long. You will still be grateful for the food.

P.S. Tonight I made country-style pork ribs and my kiddo went to bed very happy. #twofer

Week eighteen

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I had a hormonal hissy-fit yesterday while making a third batch of test cupcakes. I had piped in the colored filler and was ready to top them all off with the canned frosting I bought a week ago, when I realized the can was deliriously lighter than it had been the last time I had used a mere week ago on my first test batch. The top was messy and full of icing, and I couldn’t find three of the five piping tips. I knew my dearly beloved boyfriend had used the icing for something, but I didn’t realize just how much he had used until I piped two cupcakes’ worth of icing and poof! the container was spent. There were 10 more cupcakes to go and I just fucking lost it. Yelling, slamming cabinets, throwing the canister down, woe-is-me-ing — the whole dramatic crazypants bit. It just felt so incredibly insulting and defeating to have busted ass and run around town all day getting the ingredients and tools needed to finally make these mothereffing cupcakes work, and then to run out of got-danged frosting THAT I JUST JUST BOUGHT, without being able to finish the batch. I don’t know what dear boyfriend has been putting frosting on. He told me something very lewd but I am almost positive he was kidding. Almost.

Anyway, it was my first double-over-in-heaving-sobs moment since very early on in this pregnancy, when I was bona fide batshit crazy for about a month and a half. I’m not beating myself up about it too much, though, because, you know, feh. And I hope this will serve as a “I am just going to get crazier so please think before you do ANYTHING that might annoy me” warning to darling boyfriend, who really should fortify himself against the hurricane of insanity that is about to come ashore.

As for what non-pastries are cookin’, this week I should be sheltering a baby that’s as long as a bell pepper or a sweet potato, depending on which food metaphor-producing newsletter you prefer to believe. It is very difficult for me to imagine something that size inside of me (no jokes, please), but I suppose I see how it could fit in there and be relatively unobtrusive. I just have to accept that my organs are no longer contained solely within what I’m used to thinking of as my torso, which is a real loopy thing to think about.

Since that first unmistakable bloop, I’ve felt faint twinges and flutters here and there, but not much where I thought, I know what THAT is. More question marks than exclamations so far. But something’s happening in there.

Today we had a big, important ultrasound. Sweet potato was cooperative (more or less), and we found out the sex. I have to keep mum until Monday night, when we’ll be going to Saltillo to visit my family and bring them each a sex-reveal-cupcake-o-gram. I am getting tired of saying “gender-reveal cupcakes” because it’s actually the sex we will know (gender is so much more complicated than the bits between your legs), but every time I talk about the cupcakes, I don’t feel like getting into that discussion. Tamara suggested I just start calling them Sex Reveal — Gender Is a Social Construct — Cupcakes, which I think is a great idea.

Today’s ultrasound found that I’m measuring almost right on track — about three days ahead. Sweet potato is a hefty 8 ounces (average for 18th week is nearly 7 ounces), and I’m pretty sure it’s because that big ol’ head is housing a big ol’ smart brain, which is slightly heavier than a less smart brain, because knowledge is very heavy. Probably.

All the organs are there and we’ve got a nice, complete spine. Sweet potato was pretty lethargic during most of the exam — the tech said (s)he was probably dozing — but started squirming there toward the end with a few more vigorous pokes. We saw that little heart just pumping away (143 beats a minute, yes I asked) under that translucent skin. I cannot explain how unbelievably weird and amazing it is to see that. I looked over to see Ray beaming at the display monitor. I think it gets more and more real for him the more we get to glimpse what’s going on in there.

I am so relieved to finally be able to use pronouns (even if I will be avoiding using them online for a few days) and to think about practical things like nursery stuff and registries and names and preschool and college plans and whatnot. Oh god, it’s all happening really fast, but sort of in slow motion right now.

So excited.

Baking for dummies

beer bread

Some people have a way in the kitchen, a familiarity with ingredients and appliances and tools that lets them look into a pantry, look at the clock, and figure out that they can take a little of this, a little of that, and a pinch of that and make something that will go in the oven for half an hour and then, when it cools, will be transferred from pan to mouth to gut, thus keeping the human body fueled and humming along without major incident. I am twenty-eight years old, putting my arm cozily around twenty-nine, and this concept amazes me. I have no deep caveman connection to the laws of physics that govern the ways ingredients play together with heat and movement and time. It might as well be alchemy to me (I suspect a lot of good cooks, with the exception of Alton Brown, might admit that it is alchemy most days). I have tried to learn — halfheartedly, I’ll admit — and I’ve gotten a few culinary tricks down pat with lots of practice (and lots of trips back to look at the recipe to make sure I’m doing it right), but by and large the world of food preparation remains this big amazing mystery to me.

All of this is a big self-indulgent runup to this: Last night I tried to make very simple beer bread whose recipe I found on one of my favorite local recipe-rich blogs. Flour + whole wheat flour + baking powder + brown sugar + beer. Not a whole lot of ways to muck that up, but in my meticulous attention to detail measuring the flour and baking powder, I completely forgot the brown sugar. And then I got so worried when I had added all the beer and the dough seemed too dry to “pour” into the pan, like the recipe requested. So I added more beer. For semantics! Rookie mistake! The end result was a loaf that looked pretty yummy but tasted bland and dry despite its internal doughiness that just didn’t want to cook. Booo!

I’ve tossed the refuse outside for the birds and will attempt round two some time this week. Hey, sit back. You’re on the edge of your seat! I bet that’s uncomfortable.

Day 256: Latin Kings

Day 256: Latin Kings

We had a potluck for which we cooked foods that generally fly south of the border. It was magnificent. I made Cuban picadillo, which wasn’t terrible (yay!), although next time I’ll need to figure out a better way to serve it (mix it with rice or offer bread or something).

[Project 365]

Day 145: Flame

Day 145: Flame

Good food, good folks.

[Project 365]

Day 135: BBQ Fest

Day 135: BBQ Fest

(This entry originally posted Friday at The Memphis Blog)

The World Championship Barbecue Cooking contest is heating up in every literal way possible. I moseyed down there for lunch today to visit my friend and co-worker Mike (below, at right), CA plateroom/prepress man and the brains behind Sow Luau, and sweated buckets in the sun. But it’s a beautiful day so I can’t complain too much. I got some free food (a hamburger, a hot wing, and some bacon-wrapped deer meat) outta the deal. Alas, I didn’t get to sample any barbecue during my brief trip to BBQ Fest (CRUEL IRONY*!). Mike’s team’s shoulders were still in the cooler, getting ready for their big moment.

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Mike was kind enough to give me the tour of the Sow Luau homestead, which is adorned with hilarious and awesome themed pig heads on sticks out front, made by an artist friend of Mike’s. They get a new head every year and you can tell just from the collection that they’ve been doing this for a long long time (since 1982, to be exact).

I learned that they do a good deal of their cookin’ on a contraption made out of two old bath tubs adorned with pieces from a winning trophy. True story. The lengths of ingenuity people will go to to cook pork just the right way. It’s inspiring.

I have to tell you, the way people go all out on their booths is pretty dang impressive. Clever and funny names abound. I wish I’d had more time to hang around, but, well, we’ve got a paper to put out.

Mike keeps prodding me to take some days off so I can really experience BBQ Fest next year. I’m seriously considering it.

Anyway, for this year, keep up with the action on Twitter, and if you go and want to tweet, use the #mimbbq hash tag so we can see keep up with you’re saying. Also check out The CA’s blog, which is full of neat-o behind-the-scenes stuff.

* The first person to point out that this isn’t actually irony will get smacked upside the head.

[Project 365]