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Control.

24.March 2018

Fridge

I’ve been thinking about my fridge. Not an inspiring opening, I realize, but hear me out.

For the last year I’ve been preoccupied. Last April I got pregnant and spent the next ten months simultaneously increasingly uncomfortable and excited for the baby’s arrival. I was anxiously awaiting and also petrified about everything it entailed, from the birth itself to the rest of my life as a mother. All the while the realization hit me that everything I was feeling was absolutely unique and individual, but also part of an absolutely common experience among parents of all kinds.

I was caught off guard by the bodily experience of being pregnant, as silly as that sounds. As my belly stretched and grew, my back swayed, my hips screamed with pain, my shoulders ached under the weight of suddenly heavier breasts, I spent incalculable energy on the effort not to vomit. My body was still my body, but was suddenly also someone else’s and also completely changed. More disconcerting than the bodily changes themselves was the lack of control I suddenly felt over my body and, equally surprising, my relationship to food.

This happened in a lot of ways and in fits and starts. To begin, a large part of my food routine each summer is coaxing a few vegetables from my garden (with admittedly mixed results) and planning meals around what is ripe on any given day. When earth-shaking nausea took hold in April and didn’t depart until the end of June, I had spent much of the gardening season on the couch, trying not to gag. I didn’t really mind, because I also didn’t want to eat anything much at all.

When the nausea lifted, I only had a couple of weeks, which we spent traveling, before the shattering pelvis and hip pain began. That pain and pregnancy’s progressive exhaustion kept me from any fall gardening and off my feet for any length of time, including the time necessary to cook much more than a pot of pasta.

As soon as I began to come to terms with that pain and found some of the much-vaunted second trimester energy, I was (barely, and frustratingly inconclusively) diagnosed with gestational diabetes, which threw me into a tailspin. I was told to worry about my diet and try to control blood sugar numbers that actually weren’t really out of control by following dietary advice that was geared to food that came in packages with a nutrition label.

During all of this, my family came to visit several times and my mom took over the kitchen entirely, which was immensely helpful and welcome (especially, I suspect, to my long-suffering partner, whose diet is also swayed by my whims, gluts and cooking droughts). While she visited, our fridge and freezer brimmed over with delicious treats and frozen meals, most of which even met most of the requirements of my newly limited menu. My mother cooked her way through the anxiety of waiting for the baby to arrive and through the excess energy of new-grandparent-hood, entirely filling the kitchen with all kinds of delicious things. After my family left, our friends took over, delivering meals to us three times a week.

In short, I effectively stopped cooking for almost a year, until just recently.

At which point I realized I didn’t know my kitchen any more. I had no idea what supplies we had, what the state of the spice drawer was, where anything was. I forgot many of the quirks of our stove and oven and lost track of how to cook more than one thing at a time. Baking remains a foggy memory.

And yet, I’ve been talking for a year about how I was going to get my kitchen (and blogging!) mojo back during maternity leave, as if this semester away from teaching was simply going to stretch out, endless and glistening, time just waiting to be filled by creative pursuits and the remembrance of hobbies past. I had no idea that when you begin breastfeeding a baby, you also start the stopwatch that counts down to the next feeding, and that you might only end up with a half hour in between cycles of feeding, burping, changing diapers, playing, and rocking (begging) to sleep.

So much for day-long pastry projects and wide-ranging research into exotic cuisines that require extensive online spice shopping.

What does all of this have to do with my fridge? Between the alienation from food generally, the explosion of baby paraphernalia in the house, and the extreme disjointedness of time in my daily life at the moment, we’re living in a reign of chaos. Our house may not look overly chaotic (again, thank you, husband), but there is chaos at the heart of laundry, sleeping, leaving the house to do anything, the garden (help!), but, – for me, most of all – the kitchen. We aren’t planning meals in advance, groceries are going to waste, leftovers languish uneaten, and we even have a sizable pile of orphaned Blue Apron* ingredients from many times we haven’t even had the wherewithal to use those kits in time. And all of this makes me feel not like me.

Last night, I declared war on chaos and began breaking a trail back to my kitchen mojo through the thicket of rotting kale, rubber nipples, week-old takeout, and jars of unidentifiable jam.

Reader, I cleaned the fridge.

Not that I expect it will last and not that I even enjoy having such a sterile-looking, relatively empty refrigerator, but knowing that everything in there is edible and knowing roughly where things are makes the prospect of actually using that appliance, not to mention the others in my sad, neglected galley, much less daunting.

So, I’m coming back in some small way. Don’t expect long posts like this every day (or even month, realistically), but also don’t expect new-parent maniac recipes for SUPER TIMESAVING CHEETO CASSEROLE ALL YOUR KIDS WILL LOVE, because although I may have less time and attention than I used to have, what I’ve realized is that, at my core, I’m still me.

I’m still me, even if my entire world has shifted on its axle and even if my priorities aren’t the same and even if I’m going to have to put off mastering laminated pastry at least until my kid can hold up his own head.

With all that said, here’s an un-recipe presented in the grand tradition of my recent (ha!) tomato desperation post. The other night I caught myself off guard by feeling both inspired, physically able, and momentarily without childcare responsibilities and took to the kitchen! The result was this Bon Appetit recipe (with pork tenderloin instead of chicken thighs) and a Brussels sprout salad that will live in my memory until I have the chance to make it again.

Surprise Inspiration Warm Brussels Sprout Salad

(This is a blatant copycat of a dish I love at a restaurant I find deeply mediocre and so won’t name here.)

  • What I did was prep the Brussels sprouts (bought at Costco** for cheap, hurrah!) by cutting off the ends and then slicing them crosswise very thinly. I imagine a mandolin would make quick work of this, but I just used a knife.
  • Then I tossed them with olive oil, salt, and pepper and roasted them in an oven at 425 until they were caramelized and getting crispy. I think it was around 20 minutes, but don’t hold me to that. I also stirred them around every once in a while (maybe twice), to make sure they were cooking something like evenly.
  • Meanwhile I had my lovely husband-cum-sous-chef grate a bunch of (cheap, delicious Costco) Parmesan. Probably half a cup. I whisked half of that (so, a quarter-ish cup) together with olive oil and a bunch of black pepper until it looked fairly liquidy and emulsified to make a dressing.
  • Now, the bacon. I chopped up four slices of bacon and cooked it until crispy (but not burned for once in my life!) and drained it on a paper towel. I put a tiny bit of the bacon fat in the Parmesan dressing and whisked it again.
  • When the Brussels sprouts were done and crispy, I took them out of the oven and let them cool for a minute, then tossed them with the parmesan dressing and bacon and a pretty generous drizzle of really thick balsamic vinegar. The taste you’re going for is simultaneously sprout, salty, sweet and acidic. I found it needed a bunch of pepper and more vinegar than I expected to balance out the salt and fat of the parmesan and bacon together.
  • Finally, I put it all in a pretty bowl I bought on vacation in Ireland, topped it with the remaining parmesan and forgot to take a picture for you all. (It wasn’t that pretty anyway.)

************************

*Look forward to a blog post later about my tortured relationship with Blue Apron.

**Look forward to a blog post later about my tortured relationship with Costco.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 25.March 2018 20:08

    Dearest, all of this hits home. The fog of pregnancy and having a newborn at home is crazy. I am glad to hear you gave yourself space and permission to step out of the kitchen, and happy to hear you’re clawing your way back to yourself too. I felt like those small moments like cleaning the fridge (for me it was a 45-minute, child-free grocery shopping trip with the nursing timer on count-down) are the ones that make you feel more like yourself again. After a while, they also spread out their nursings – it gets better! I am sending you so many hugs, and wish I could just come over and care for your baby while you reacquaint yourself with your kitchen again.

  2. Jamie Jones permalink
    26.March 2018 12:18

    You’re back!!! And with perhaps the best post ever? I’ll be making that brussel sprout dish this week.

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