21 December 2010
19 November 2010
Now she smiles, particularly every time I stick my tongue out at her; she coos, oohs, and gurgles; and she stares at her mobiles and the ceiling fan for long stretches of time.
She's getting big, but she's still tiny enough to snuggle up in the Moby wrap and sleep. And make perfect strangers say "Awwww."
14 November 2010
Our Julia is named after two Julias in my family. The first was my great grandmother - Julia Wesson Taylor - my Mema's mother.
She was named after her grandmother (the first Julia) though she's most commonly known as Judy. Just as my Mema wanted to name her daughter after her mother, I wanted to name my daughter after my mother ... my mother who is strong and warm, smart and insightful, humble and wise. Truly one of the wisest people I know.
Which brings us to the next namesake, another figure who embodies wisdom - Minerva.
Minerva was the Roman goddess of poetry, medicine, wisdom, weaving, crafts, magic, music - or, as we like to tell people, the goddess of all the best stuff. She was the Roman corollary to the Greek goddess Athena, also the goddess of wisdom, and both were represented by owls, symbols of wisdom. (And, as luck would have it, Julia Minerva's mother already had an obsession with owls resulting in two charming owl pillows and an owl onesie for the baby, long before we knew who this baby was.) I have to give credit where it's due here; it was Sergio who suggested that we use this name. I had some misgivings at first, the nature of which I can hardly recall now, now that our aptly named Julia Minerva is here.
Last week at church, we told Canon Sue that our baby's name was "Julia Minerva" and she remarked on the legacy of wisdom that we've bestowed on her. I know Canon Sue was referring to the Minerva name, but I think we've laid it on thick with the two Julias in her history, too. Not just an ancient goddess, but some real life strong, wise women in my family, too. Hope it's not too much to live up to, Julia, but is just enough to inspire.
31 October 2010
Calabaza en Tacha (also called "candied pumpkin" in English, which is way less fun to say) is a Day of the Dead recipe, which, I think, makes it translate well to a Halloween recipe. But it would also be a nice substitute for those cloyingly sweet yams with the marshmallows on top at Thanksgiving. (And, in fact, I am told you can make this with sweet potatoes, too - Camote en Tacha - which, to someone who likes a little sweet potato with her brown sugar, as Sergio used to joke, sounds divine.)
It's a simple recipe - pumpkin cooked with cinnamon, orange juice and zest, water and piloncillo, a Mexican brown sugar with molasses that comes in a lovely shaped cone. Piloncillo isn't usually hard to find these days and, if it is, it's worth the effort to get; it has such a distinct flavor. In a pinch, you can substitute brown sugar and molasses for the piloncillo, but only if you must. Christy said that the traditional preparation method is to pierce the pumpkin with several large holes and to cook it whole. But there are simpler and faster cooking recipes than that. Here are links to a few ...
How to Make Day of the Dead Calabaza en Tacha
Calabaza en Tacha Day of the Dead Recipes
Earlier today, I asked Sergio what Calabaza en Tacha meant. He said, "Well, calabaza means pumpkin," - um, yeah, I know that already, Sergio: I did take Spanish 1 back in high school - "and en tacha ... I don't know what that means." We debated it further tonight at dinner with Christy and family - but never arrived at an answer - while enjoying our calabaza the traditional way: served cold in a bowl of milk. I thought that was a strange-sounding combo at first, but the creamy milk balances out the super sweet syrup ... it's definitely not strange. It's perfect.
30 October 2010
(Minli made a sign for Julia that says 'I'm Hungry')
19 October 2010
I can't believe it's been one month. This has been the longest and shortest month of my life. She is totally different now than she was one month ago today - and yet she is still so precious, so small, and so sweet.
And just as much as I did that day that I first laid eyes on her, I love her more than I could have imagined.
She is amazing.
07 October 2010
This is an all time favorite of mine. The first time I made it I thought rosemary in a cake was strange. Now, I have made it so often and love it so much, that when I simply smell rosemary, at the farmers market, I immediately think of this cake. Not roasted potatoes or some savory application of the herb, but rather this sweet and sugar-coated cake.
I don't make it without occasion because it's big and I could eat the whole thing myself - but shouldn't. So while Julia's grandparents were visiting and lots of family were over at our place - and since I'd gotten a nice batch of rosemary in our CSA share - I decided to make this last week.
This was my best one yet. Usually I make it with whole wheat flour because that's often all that I have around. But for this one I used local Heartland Mills unbleached, unenriched all purpose flour. And I have to tell you that while there is nothing truly wrong with the whole wheat version, there is definitely something very right about the white flour version. This cake had perfect pound cake density and the crack along the top was just right. It rose well in the oven and each slice held together beautifully.
from Nigella Lawson's Feast
makes approximately 10 slices
1 eating apple (approx. 6oz in weight)
1 small sprig and 2 medium-long sprigs of rosemary (you could just use one long sprig - but I always use two)
1 teaspoon superfine sugar
juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon butter
FOR THE CAKE BATTER
2 sticks butter
3/4 cup plus 1 Tablespoon superfine sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
Peel, core, and roughly chop the apple and put into a saucepan with the small sprig of rosemary, the teaspoon of sugar, the lemon zest and juice, and butter. Cover the pan and cook on a low heat for 4-8 minutes until the apple is soft. How long this takes really depends on the variety of apple you're using. Leave to cook, and fish out the rosemary sprig when it is cold.
Preheat the oven to 325. Line a 1 lb loaf pan with a loaf liner, or butter and line the bottom with parchment paper.
Put the cooled apple into a food processor and blitz to a pulp. Then add the butter, sugar, eggs, flour, and baking powder and process to a smooth batter. Spoon and scrape into the loaf pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle the surface with the remaining tablespoon of sugar and then lay the long sprig(s) of rosemary along the center of the cake. On baking, the rosemary sheds its oil to leave a scented path down the middle of the cake.
Bake the cake for 50 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean, then leave to cool on a rack. Slip the paper-lined cake out of the pan once it is cool.
29 September 2010
Contractions started early on Saturday morning – 8 days before my due date. Since I’d convinced myself that this baby was going to be late, I wasn’t even sure they were real contractions. But they were getting me out of bed every hour. Sergio woke up and we made a plan for the day – eat a lot, stay home, call the family, and make applesauce. I had bought 20 pounds of apples at the market the night before and – thinking I had a full week before the baby would arrive – was planning on making a big batch of apple sauce. Before I could even think about getting the water bath canner down, my contractions got bad enough that I decided I couldn’t handle it and should try to sleep as much as possible. I called my mom and told her to go ahead and come – but told her I wasn’t sure if this was false labor or not. When I got off the phone, Sergio told me, “I don’t think this is false labor – if it were false, you’d be making apple sauce.”
By the time mom arrived, it had already been 15 hours since those first waking pangs. But I couldn’t have told you then how long it’d been. I was trying my hardest to ignore the clock; I thought that knowing how long I’d been laboring would only make it worse. If I could trick myself into collapsing all notions of time, maybe I’d be less prone to fatigue. Maybe that worked; maybe not. But the bathtub worked – for sure. As did the exercise ball. Both of those helped soothe the pain when the contractions had gotten so strong I could no longer rest.
Sergio was all abuzz all day – fixing me breakfast and a smoothie, prepping the bag for the hospital, installing the car seat, helping me with distractions at first, then helping with the contractions when they got stronger. He could hardly sit still.
As the day progressed, the weather turned weird – a storm came through and turned the sky green. I was sitting on the exercise ball in my living room, enduring a contraction while loud claps of thunder echoed outside. It was exactly the surreal backdrop that the day called for. I couldn’t believe it was all really happening. I couldn’t believe I was really living the thing I’d been preparing for so much. I couldn’t believe the baby was coming. I couldn’t believe I was finally going to find out if it’s a boy or girl. I couldn’t believe it was still a week before my due date. I couldn’t believe the pain! There was so much to process…
After one final call to the midwife,
we decided it was time to head to the hospital. It was about 10 pm. The downpour of the afternoon and evening had tapered off and we took the chance to make a run for it before the storm picked up again. At the hospital, Sergio signed all the paper work while I worked my way deeper and deeper into the trance that sustained me through the rest of the process. I had already begun heading towards “planet birth” – by the time I was admitted and set up in the labor room, I had fully migrated to this other world and I wasn’t coming back for a long time.
I had to switch to some new mantras and visualization techniques as things got harder, faster, more intense (such weak words to describe what I was feeling). I gave up on the gentle, peaceful rowing visual and the kindergarten-ish mantra of “Can’t go under it; can’t go around it; can’t go over it; have to go through it,” that had worked so well at home. I had been doing a great job of focusing on the things that felt good – how relieved I felt in the fading seconds of each contraction, knowing relief was on its way – how good I felt when I could rest and relax between the contractions – how good it felt when my mom or Sergio applied pressure on my back. At first I could work past the pain if I fixated on what felt good. But by the time I got to the hospital, it was a new game and the pain had eclipsed all other sensations. So, I switched to a new visual – each contraction was a big knot and the first half, the rise, of each contraction was me trying to loosen the knot; the second half, the fall, of each contraction was me pulling the knot apart. I began some new moaning and groaning techniques – continued the horse lips or ‘raspberries’ that Ina Mae Gaskin recommends, made some cow noises and low growls, did some sing-song moaning, sometimes singing in tune with the jets of the giant tub, sometimes humming a descending string of notes over and over again. For a while I tried to will the contractions to let go of me – or maybe I was willing myself to let go of the contractions, to let go of my body enough to not feel the pain – I just chanted “let go, let go, let go, let go…” This worked for a while … but eventually I devolved into mantras like “No no no no no…” and “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.” When it was time to push the only mantra that was left was very frank, clear-cut, and firm: “Pain equals baby.”
I also devolved into a sort of dark place, which surprised me. At varying points in the hardest times of the night, I took turns hating everyone I know who has had a baby recently – I hated the friends who have done this naturally, the friends who chose to get c-sections, the ones who had no choice but to get a c-section, the one that had no choice but to deliver naturally, the woman whose first labor was only 6 hours, the one who only had to push eight times, the woman who endured a long labor, etc. This feeling was so strange. Prior to my labor, I would have expected that the experiences of others would have been motivating or empowering or encouraging. And maybe they were in the beginning. This was how I’d prepared – I’d sought after everyone else’s birth stories and indiscriminately absorbed every possible scenario, and that was good for me then. But when it came time for my own story, none of those people could help me any more. So maybe it wasn’t that I hated them, it was just that there was nothing left for them to do for me. I had to let them each go – one by one. The deeper I got, the more I had to accept that the only one who could do this was me.
The other thing that surprised me is that I never hated Sergio – he was diligent, firm, and positive in his support and, somehow, not annoying. So much of what I’d read said that you’d likely get frustrated with your support people. Not so with me.
I was mostly so far entranced that at certain times I could barely tell who I was reaching out to for help – whose hand I was holding – who was washing my face with a cool rag – who was feeding me ice. It could have been the man from the moon for all I knew. I was nothing but a big writhing sensory receptor by then – very little cognition.
I really wonder if – when I’d begun the contractions at 4 am on Saturday morning – you’d told me it was going to take 28 hours, I’d have been able to go through with it. I’m not sure I could have. Although my mom says I could have. I don’t know if it was the pain that got to me in the end as much as it was the fatigue. I was so desperate for sleep and contractions are a very rude way to wake up, especially when you’ve only been asleep for 5 minutes. By the time I started pushing I was scraping the bottom of the barrel and running on fumes right at the very time I needed to do the hardest work of my life. I was so exhausted during one particularly long break (“long” as in like 7 whole minutes) between contractions that I fell asleep so quickly and deeply that I snored (so they told me later). I was totally wrung dry.
And perhaps literally wrung dry, too, as I had nothing left with which to even cry. I spent about an hour pushing – one hour, approximately 8 separate contractions, 3 different positions, a lot of strange noises, pain like nothing I’d ever imagined, and such slow progress. Or at least it felt slow to me. How could something so excruciating not get the job done? Every push was the hardest, most painful experience of my life and each one was harder than the last. Finally – FINALLY – after what seemed like eons, the head came out. Suddenly, time sped up and in just a sliver of a fraction of a split nanosecond the whole body was out. Sergio caught the baby and with the midwives’ and nurses’ help, put it on my belly. It was writhing and wailing already and with the umbilical cord lying between its legs, I thought it was a boy. Until Sergio investigated and said, “We have a Julia!” And I couldn’t believe it. She was a dream come true.
I wanted to cry buckets from all the relief and joy I felt. But I couldn’t. All I could do was moan and howl with happiness, delight and disbelief. I wanted her close to me and to see her face and to inspect her perfection – as soon as Sergio cut the cord, they brought her up to my chest. When she eventually stopped crying, her eyes were wide open, looking all around as if to say, “What in the world is all this!?” Mom was standing over my shoulder saying that I’d had that same expression when I was born. And I just stared right back at her and said over and over again, I can’t believe you were a girl this whole time.
In the days after delivery I found those wells of tears that had finally filled up again. I was on a euphoric high for the first 12 hours – then I cried when they took my baby to the NICU. Then I was euphoric again when they let me see her. Then I felt stable again. Then one morning in the NICU, with no prompting whatsoever, I hit a gusher. Something triggered one tear and the next thing I know I’m bawling. All the stored up emotion made manifest at once.
Every day since the delivery my memory of the experience has changed. At first when I thought about it, I felt only fatigue, and when postpartum contractions and cramping would remind me of the pain, I would shudder at the memory, in a post-traumatic stress disorder sort of way. But with each day that passes, I feel more pride, relief, and joy, and I remember less pain. With each day, I find myself wanting to relive every moment of those 28 hours, believe it or not – to relive precisely how Julia came into the world. And with each day that I spend with Julia, I still can’t believe that I did it, and that she’s here, and that she’s ours.
Julia and me, at home
23 September 2010
She is perfect. The delivery was a success (a long, arduous success). And we are so, so happy.
Happy and baffled, I think. I keep trying to find the word to describe how I feel about her. It is like love. Only much more primal, more profound.
And I still can't believe it's a girl. She had everybody fooled. But she was a girl the whole time.
She came a week before her due date or, as I like to call it, right on time. I can't imagine having had to wait another week to meet my Julia.
10 September 2010
Not that I need to know for any practical reason - Sergio and I wouldn't be behaving any differently if we knew it was a boy or a girl. Quite the contrary, it's nice not to know the baby's gender in order to keep polarized gender stereotypes at bay for as long as possible. We are not pink-or-blue type people. And yet I still just reeeeaaaalllly want to know if this kid is a boy or a girl.
There are ... 'alternative' methods of ascertaining (with no certainty) the baby's gender and I have heard of all of them: if it kicks on the left, if it kicks on the right ... if you have a waist, if you don't have a waist ... if you carry it high, if you carry it low, etc. All of these measures - plus the Chinese calendar plus the spoon-or-knife-under-the-cushion test plus the grab-the-napkin-off-the-plate method - point towards this being a boy. But then ... the Facebook poll consensus was girl. And Sergio dreamt it was a girl. My mom called it "she" and "her" exclusively for the first several months. Maddox, my art director's son, who has guessed correctly on a few babies recently, has told me twice it'll be a girl. My editor thinks it's a girl. But then ... most of the farmers I buy from regularly have voted boy. (Although, there was one, farmer, whose name is Paul, who said girl and then the farmer next to him said, "Paul, how many kids you got?" and Paul said, "Two," and the second farmer said, authoritatively, "I have seven. I think it's a boy.") Even a perfect stranger in the hallway at work the other day, who asked me the popular question, said, "I didn't find out what I was having either and everyone told me it'd be a boy, but it was a girl. Don't listen to them." But at this point I am listening to no one and everyone alike.
And what about me? What are mama's predictions? I'm sorry to say I've got nothing. I kept waiting for my own instinct to kick in. A hunch or dream - something - anything. All I got were three dreams which amount to inconclusive results: in one dream it was a girl (and I took a picture of her with my mom, her namesake, and asked Sergio if he'd posted it on Facebook yet), in another dream it was a boy (who was already a toddler in the dream), and in the third dream they told me it was a girl but when they handed her to me she was wearing boy clothing. One vote for each plus a vote for transvestite. Not sure where that leaves me.
The funniest thing about this obsession is that it will absolutely vanish into thin air (I suppose) when the baby arrives and when we begin to fall in love with him/her as the him/her he/she has been all along. The other day, Sergio found a picture of our niece Nina from when she was just a day or so old. She was born five weeks early and even at that premature stage she already looked so Nina-esque. Which means our baby - by now a few weeks past the 35-week mark - already looks like what it's going to look like - and yet we don't even know if it's a boy or a girl.
Right now I feel the need to hold both possibilities in tandem - I have to imagine it both ways simultaneously and I find that difficult. But in just a matter of weeks, one of these parallel realities will shift into obscurity - into a funny footnote about this little being. A footnote like how if Sergio had been a girl he'd be Erica or if I had been a boy I'd be Taylor. Which we are not and which we never were. Just as surely as we are Sergio and Emily, this baby is already a fully formed __?__; we just don't know it yet.
06 September 2010
Except that the first recipe for gnocchi that I found said something really encouraging like "everything could go wrong," and that made me feel a little bit daunted. Like maybe I should stick to making something I know - just roast those potatoes and be done with it. But Sergio - always more fearless in the kitchen than me - said, "No, let's make the gnocchi. It'll be fine!" And you know what? He was right?
This was the recipe that he found. Super simple. Only two ingredients. Totally accessible. And it totally worked. Granted, it was a lot of work from start to finish - so many steps for so few ingredients. But so fun at each stage of the process.
Our cute little gnocchis were maybe a little soft and with our whole wheat pasta they were definitely heartier than others. But I was really pleased that they didn't turn out too dense, as some gnocchi are prone to do, landing in one's belly with a resounding thud.
These little "lumps" (the meaning of the Italian word "gnocchi") took well to the pesto sauce we made with lots of last year's frozen pesto ice cubes. With a sprinkling of 'deconstructed pesto' on top (parmesan, salt, pine nuts, and fresh basil), our first-run, whole-wheat, mostly-local Labor Day gnocchi was complete!
31 August 2010
birthday lunch at Spin and birthday dessert at Glacé. And yes, I have two ice creams in my hand and no, one of them is not Sergio's. One is an affogato to share with Mom and Dad. If you've had Glacé's affogato you won't question this at all.