Life this February

February has been an incredibly rich month for us. Rich in new experiences, like enduring the most excruciating pain of giving birth and realizing the most profound love upon meeting our daughter for the first time.


It's been lots of first - bringing Jo home, getting the hang of breastfeeding, our sleepy ritual of waking up at night to feed our sweetheart. Her first pediatrician appointment, introducing her to her fur siblings, and watching her get a smidgen bigger every day (which is equal parts reassuring and heartbreaking). Throw in a "little" meltdown here and there (hers and mine) to balance things out for good measure, and what might begin to sound like a saccharine tale of firsts starts to look a bit more real, no? Still, the honest truth is that I'd take screaming and crying any day if it means knowing this girl - we're completely in love with our Jo.


Through the end of Spring, I'll be on maternity leave, and M will be able to work half days for Jo's first two weeks. We've got until the end of this coming week, and then he's back to his full schedule. I'm still figuring out Jo and my schedule and routine, which is pretty routine-less. Feeding, diaper changing, soothing, and losing time staring into her tiny little features and soul have taken over completely.


It's fair to say that my days don't feel familiar. My daily rituals are on the back-burner. I'm not able to begin exercising for a few weeks (because, stitches), and work isn't on my daily plate. To be honest, I could do a little work here and there, but I'm giving myself permission to not think about work *at all* for the entire month of March. I'm not sure I can remember the last time I ever did this and we budgeted to make it possible. Come April, I'll dive into the details associated with re-opening my practice. But for right now, it's a firm boundary - unless I have an overwhelming urge to read about emotional healing, all things therapy stand patiently at a proverbial door (also - lingering guilt for not working has been banished to the underworld). So, for right now, when Jo is napping, I've been in the kitchen and art studio (actually, the art studio for the first day, today).


Here are ten favorite (and worthy of repetition) creations from our few weeks of being home.

10. "Sopa Casera" - at least that's what we're calling it around here. A homemade chicken and beef stew (though M's going to give it another go with pork), made insanely good by the addition of cloves and a separately made carrot soup. Not fancy and much simpler to make than it sounds, this soup is like a grounded bowlful of home. Plus, while it wasn't necessarily designed to stave off iron deficiency (necessary for a breastfeeding, tender Mom), it has the benefit of doing so. Recipe to come.


9. A spring smoothie - coincidentally the color of our neighborhood's first crocuses. This recipe is from Gwyneth Paltrow's "The Clean Plate," and includes: 1/2 c frozen cauliflower, 1/2 c blueberries, 3/4 c almond milk, 1 TBSP almond butter, and the juice of 1/2 a lime. I tweaked it with a little protein powder and drank it alongside a chocolate chip cookie as an afternoon snack. After this smoothie, I feel like I'm ready to jump on the cauliflower train that's been so popular in health circles lately. I guess I'm a latecomer to food trends. What can I say, I tend to be suspicious!


8. Bread, times 2. Marcio is determined to bake a loaf that tastes so good we prefer our own baked bread to loaves we might buy elsewhere. I'm on board. We found this video the most helpful of all videos we researched, borrowed this book from the library, and have been learning lots about the "basics" of bread-making. Overall, bread-making has been a practice in frustration tolerance for M and he's taking all of my unsolicited remarks about the creative process in stride.


When it comes to bread, M is a little more "lets make one we like," while I'm a bit more "lets borrow a bunch of library books, comb through all of the tips to find consistencies, and tinker until we achieve perfection!" We're meeting somewhere in the middle. So far, the most helpful hints we've learned are:

  1. use a kitchen scale

  2. before mixing, keep salt and yeast on opposite sides of your mixing bowl (apparently salt kills yeast)

  3. add a bit of honey to your first few loaves (apparently yeast loves sugar. It's a cheat, but we do this to achieve a little success and motivation to continue before we lean into pre-ferments)

  4. and last, schedule your bread-making to account for a long (12+ hours) first rise.

These tips-for-beginners have helped us move from bread that has a very dense consistency, to bread that is much lighter and fluffier (though not as airy as we're going for). Next weekend, we're going to do away with the sugar and tackle a few pre-ferments. More on that later.


7. Molly Baz's Earl Grey Yogurt Cake - except, edited to be just a tad "healthier" (really, I just cut the granulated sugar in half). It's a seriously good cake, with a delicate bergamot flavor and a moist crumb. I might riff on it a bit more to really make it our own (I'm thinking - substitute coconut sugar to play with a brown sugar/caramel-like flavor, consider replacing some of the AP flour with almond meal to adjust the crumb, consider adding lavender or orange zest, and top with a tangy Grand Marnier syrup).


But, for right now I think the original recipe with reduced sugar is probably the best way to go. We've had it for breakfast, snack, dessert and served it at a brunch we had with family this past weekend, where it was a hit. Just take it from my brother-in-law, Ted, who is not at all afraid to tell us like it is: "Katie, you've made some weird shit, but this is really good."


6. Carrot, Sweet Potato, Ginger Soup. This soup is made of roasted carrots, boiled sweet potatoes, olive oil, chicken stock, aromatics, and warming spices. That's it! It's delicious, easy (especially if you have an immersion blender), and chock-full of nutritious bright orange veggies. To top the soup (because pureed soups are best when topped with something), I drizzled a little garlic-infused oil (a gift my sister recently brought back from Italy), sautéed sweet peppers, shallots, and garlic in olive oil, and some fresh parsley. We ate left over chicken legs on the side. Again, recipe to come.



5. Rosemary Red Snapper over Bucatini and Spring Vegetables - I love fish. But I'm not obsessed with sea food. In fact, I'm a bit cautious when it comes to unfamiliar fish, which is odd considering I grew up so close to the ocean and ate fish often. It's just that, when I don't have a frame of reference for an unfamiliar fish's taste, I'm always concerned that it'll taste "fishy" (I know...). It took Marcio cooking panfried catfish four times over the course of a month for me to stop making a face (there's just something about the creepy-looking whiskered fish that turns me off). At this point, I love to eat catfish, but it was a process. Likewise with Snapper. I didn't grow up eating it, so I never buy it. What can I say - it's expensive, it's often sold as a whole fish (which I find intimidating as compared to cooking a filet), and I'm unsure of the taste. But when the snapper was on sale last week, and M came up with this recipe, it was love at first bite. Again, recipe to come.


4. Black Bean Brownies - For the first time in 9 months, I found myself craving a "healthified" dessert. After craving sweets like crazy throughout my pregnancy (never a semi-healthy sweet - always a real doughnut/brownie/pie/you-name-it RIGHT NOW), it feels good to feel closer to my normal balanced (or at least semi-balanced?) self.


Anyway, this is by far the BEST black bean brownie recipe I've ever had. Their rich fudgy-ness competes with typical brownies. I love to eat them as an afternoon snack with coffee. If you're in the market for a healthified treat, go with this one (as it can take a lot of trial and error to strike gold with this type of thing). They won't disappoint!


3. Pre-painting sketches. I know this blog has been almost entirely food-focused thus far (not unlike those who are writing it), but now that Jo is out and about, I no longer have to avoid oil paints. So I'm diving back into the art studio. It's funny how time away can cause you to forget realities inherent in your personal creative process.


I felt inspired and was so excited to get back in the studio that I forgot to prepare myself for my own expectations (and their evil twin: disappointment). I can't articulate exactly why this experience caught me off guard, considering I've experienced it umpteen times! You'd think I would have anticipated it. Nope. Shrug. However, I will say: I find it reassuring to experience Perspective's swift arrival.


Note to self: "Always remember: an expectation is a vision, and if we're wise we'll remember that it's not a destination that we can expect one painting to get us to (that's a lot of pressure to put on one painting). It's something that we can approach by way of 5, 10, or maybe many more paintings. In the meantime, abandoning your work because of frustration will get you to a familiar place = one in which you create nothing. Solution? Be gentle with yourself. Be compassionate and forgiving, remember that life is a series of tragi-comedic moments (big and small), remember that outcomes are so much less important than what the process of getting to that particular outcome teaches you. Last: just get on with your work. It's as simple as that - make the time, accept the process, and keep going."



2. My imperfect painting. Inspired by photos that my incredibly talented best friend took at Watch Hill. I do like the subtle texture, and I appreciate the reminder that returning to any medium after a hiatus is a humbling experience.


1. And last, but certainly not least. Our little sweetheart: Josephine. Meet Jo, as we call her, a whopping 20 days old today. Considering that this is a list of February creations, I'll make a point to say that I wouldn't call her a creation so much as a sweet being that we feel very lucky to have met on the 16th of this month. We love her more than words can describe, feel so excited to continue to get to know her, and feel grateful that we get to be her parents.


When I think about projects and posting to Tea Dinner, I have this fantasy of cooking with Jo in the kitchen. I think about teaching her and encouraging her creativity. I think about her revisiting this little corner of the internet to find the recipes that will help her slip into her parents shoes and feel at home when she is puttering in her own kitchen one day. I think about her browsing through past moments, captured with humble words and her mom's Iphone camera, ephemeral moments that bring her back to a place that feels familiar and safe. Funny how we fantasize in this way, right? I don't even know whether she'll be a homebody like me who enjoys puttering around the house and cooking! Ultimately, it doesn't matter. I think what matters most about fantasies like these is simply the fact that they are the product of love.


This may be too cheesy a note to end on. But, that's alright. I'm full of cheese these days.


Thank you for reading and stay tuned for those recipes I promised!

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