Wednesday, May 21, 2008


In the mood for a banana split? Of course you are. Not interested in all the dishes that would dirty? No way, right? Here's the solution:
Right hand: banana (peeled the monkey way, of course).
Left hand: ice cream sandwich.
Alternate bites. There you go.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Crock Pot Pulled Pork and Old-Fashioned Coleslaw

My appetite has returned, and it's highly suggestible. A photo, an aside in a novel, a whiff of a restaurant's exhaust fan, and I can develop a craving. Usually these cravings are easily satisfied, but I recently made the mistake of reading a book that included a reference to barbecue. I grew up in the South, so I know what barbecue is supposed to taste like, but I live in the North, so access to the real thing is a problem. There is a neighborhood barbecue restaurant, from which my sound judgment had kept me until now, but the craving would not be denied. We went there for lunch.

The good news is, whoever is choosing the meat and running the smoker isn't doing a bad job, but that's where the good news ends. The "pulled pork" sandwich that I ordered was more of a "chunked pork" sandwich. And the chunks, instead of being bathed in thin, savory, vinegary juice, were dry. There was a bottle of thick, homemade-looking sauce on the table, but after tasting it, I realized that they must have run out of the real thing and borrowed some mysterious condiment from the Indian restaurant next door. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't anything that should go on barbecue. So there wasn't even any liquid to help my sandwich stay a sandwich. Big hunks of dry meat ejected themselves from the back end of the bun at every bite. I ended up using a fork. And the coleslaw, which I had been relying on to prevent the meal from being a complete loss, was... pasty. It had an indefinable textural wrongness to it that, well, I can't define. All I can say is that although it looked likely enough, it tasted almost, but not quite, entirely unlike coleslaw.

Not only was my craving unsatisfied, I now had a taste to get out of my mouth and an experience to rinse out of my brain. Since pork is cheaper than airplane tickets, I figured I should try something I've never done: making barbecue at home. I realized I should try this when I saw a big hunk in the back of the pork case in the grocery store: a picnic shoulder. It was bigger than my head and its thick skin still had a few little pig hairs sticking out if it. The real deal, and only a buck a pound. So I brought it home, figuring I'd find a recipe for pulled pork somewhere.

I consulted cookbooks and the internet, looking for the common threads. Unfortunately, the common thread was "things you don't have in the house." You might say that I'm interested in efficiency, or you might say I'm lazy. Either way you'd be right. I didn't want to get involved in a project involving smokers or brine or wood chips or, heck, even another trip to the grocery store. All I really wanted was one good sandwich, and I was only willing to go so far in order to get it. So I read enough recipes to get a feel for Pulled Pork Theory, and then got as close as I could with what I had around.

And it was good. Well, I liked it, and the four Yankees I shared it with liked it too, but what do they know. All I can say is, it seems reasonably close to the barbecue (or pulled pork) that they used to serve in my elementary school cafeteria, and that you can still get at little places all over the Upland South.

No Browning, No Chopping, No Smoking, No Shopping Crock Pot Pulled Pork
Serves 8-10. Takes at least a whole day, if not two.

1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons dried minced garlic
2 teaspoons smoked chili powder
1 tablespoon dried chopped onion
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 picnic shoulder of pork, bone-in, skin-on, hairs optional (8.5 lbs)

to taste, at the end:
honey or sugar
more salt
more chili powder
more vinegar

Mix everything but the pork in the bottom of a large crock pot. Set the pork on top of the sauce. Let it cook on high for 8 to 10 hours (I set it for 8, and it looked like it could have gone longer). Once it's done, you can either set the meat and sauce in the fridge overnight and deal with it tomorrow, or you can get to it. Either way, you'll want to remove the fat from the sauce and set it aside (don't throw it away yet). Remove and discard the skin and attached big hunks of fat from the meat. Get rid of the bone(s) and any obvious tendon-type things. Put the sauce and the hunks of meat in a saucepan, and if the sauce is too thin and soupy, bring it to a simmer to reduce it. As it cooks, stir. If the meat is cooked enough, it'll will break down into shreds as you stir. Taste and adjust seasoning. You might need more sweetness, more salt, more spice, or more vinegar. As you taste and add, also evaluate how rich it is. Add in as much of the reserved fat as you like. Aim for just enough so it doesn't taste thin, but not so much that it becomes actively greasy.

If you're trying to replicate that (well, my) Southern barbecue experience, serve it with coleslaw on squishy rolls that compress down to almost nothing as you squeeze your sandwich. They're not substantial enough to interfere with the relationship between the hot juicy barbecue and the cool crisp slaw, but they still do a fine job of holding everything together and absorbing whatever juice isn't busy dripping off your elbows. If you're from some other part of the country and had a culturally deprived childhood, you might enjoy it on a bread of more substance. I'll allow it.

*Bread Update*
The first round of buns was from the regular grocery store. I didn't scrutinize the ingredients, but I bet they had all kinds of hydrogenated and high-fructose ingredients. They were great: nice and squishy when dry, chewy even when soaked, and just bready enough.

The next round was from the fancy store, where they don't use any of that fake stuff. They were awful. Dry and stiff when dry, gluey when soaked. Almost bad enough to keep me from having a barbecue sandwich every day for the last four days. Almost. So beware! If you're a no-crappy-ingredients stickler, don't even try to go the squishy-bread route. You'd be better off with a nice yuppie bread.

Innovation-Free Coleslaw
Serves 8-10

1 savoy cabbage, finely sliced or shredded
1 small onion, finely chopped
3-4 carrots, grated
1.5 cups Hellman's mayonnaise
1/4 cup vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp ground pepper
salt to taste

Mix. Let sit 2 hours or up to overnight.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Month Seven: Part Three

It was hard to tell, on my scratchy cell phone, whether the nurse had said, "You are not diabetic" or "You are now diabetic." I decided to go with positive thinking, and said, "Yay!" figuring she'd probably just ask why I was so excited to be diabetic if that was indeed the case.

Luckily, not. Not diabetic. I have medical permission to go eat doughnuts. And I will celebrate that permission with a nice apple and some lovely almond butter.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Month Seven: Part Two

I have the one-hour glucose test to screen for gestational diabetes today. It involves drinking a sugary substance, waiting an hour, and then having your blood sugar checked. I've heard that the test can make you feel horrible and the drink is disgusting, so I wanted a little more information. As usual, I turned to the internet. And I'm finally wising up. Instead of googling "glucose test disgusting", I googled "glucose test not that bad." And what do you know, there are people for whom it's not that bad! And that's all I need to know about it before I have to do it.

5/1 (later...)
And the verdict is... not that bad! Really! The drink was not tasty, not something I'd order in a restaurant, but do-able. It was about a cup of very very sweet, slightly syrupy, slightly carbonated soda. And if it made me feel weird at all, the weirdness was indistinguishable from my base level of pregnancy weirdness, so I couldn't tell. Apparently some places have flavors, but this was just Sugar Flavor, and a real waste of calories as far as I'm concerned. I understand the need for ingesting a specific, measured amount of sugar for this test. But in this age of standardization and international corporations, why couldn't the standard measure be a certain number of glazed doughnuts? I'm sure that Dunkin makes his "donuts" pretty standard everywhere. They could've given me a choice between drinking their stuff and bringing a sticky dozen with me to my appointment. One for the midwife, one for the lab tech, one for the nurse, one for the receptionist, eight for me. Maybe I'll bring that up the next time I'm in the office.

Blood sugar affects mood, right? Pregnant women tend to worry, right? So, a pregnant woman with screwy blood sugar is likely to be both irritable and anxious already. As such, the call from the nurse, with the news that the glucose screening test has been soundly and decisively flunked, is not likely to result in a measured, reasonable response. It's much more likely to result in some tears, a certain amount of slamming things around, and possibly also a smattering of oaths. Like this one: crap. And this one [censored]. And this one: [extra censored]. And then back to: crap. But don't worry. I held off swearing until I hung up the phone.

This flunk doesn't mean I have gestational diabetes, it just means I probably do. It also means I have to take another, more serious, test next week (no food for 11 hours, followed by a blood draw and a big glass of that awesome drink-that-isn't-doughnuts, followed by three more hours of fasting and a few more blood draws). I feel jittery and weak if I don't eat for two hours. How is fourteen hours of fasting going to feel? Again: crap.

If I were feeling more like myself, I'm sure I could take this development in stride and just do what I had to do without making a big deal of it. But I'm not, so I'm not. I'm having a hard time eating again today, and it's driving me crazy to be both hungry and unable to swallow anything without really concentrating. Tiny bites help, as do crunchy fruits and vegetables, but it's hard to get a lot of sustenance out of nibbling radishes and grapes.

Well, if I do have gestational diabetes, maybe it explains all this energy level and appetite nonsense. If I start eating three (!) eggs for breakfast every day, maybe I'll finally get that pregnant energy surge everyone talks about.


Month Seven: Part One

There are a bunch of things that have been floating around in my head lately, waiting for me to recall them, compose them into actual stories, and post them here. I'm kind of skipping that middle step.

He sings and plays with his head leaning against my belly. He's worked out how to play a Fugazi song on the piano, but he makes up new, less suicidey lyrics for the baby. We both love it when she kicks her father in the head.

Worrying about the baby. I hope she's doing well. I wish she could call, email, send a photo. All we get is the sound of her heartbeat once a month, and movements that could equally well be described as happy acrobatics or pained seizures, for all I can tell. Only in retrospect can they be described as perfectly normal and good.

At the end of the day, I get tired from being so damn pregnant all the time. So, lie down to rest. Think about how tiring parenthood will be. Wonder how we will ever manage. Despair. Realize that this depressing thought never occurs to me when I'm not collapsed on the couch. Realize it might be okay.

Two nights ago, I dreamed I had twins. A dark-haired girl and a fair-haired boy. Last night I dreamed I had a little boy named Ali, with milk chocolate skin and dark chocolate hair. In my dream, we didn't wonder much about how he could be such a dark child of such pasty parents. He was a happy, giggly little guy, who could stand by the time he was two days old.

I still half think that I can take off this pregnancy like a fat suit, just for a few hours, just for a sec. There is no more flopping down on the couch. There is no jumping up when my sweetheart gets home. It takes a while to lower myself onto the pre-arranged pillows, and it takes even longer to get up again.

He says, "Why don't you talk about me much on your blog? It sounds like you're doing this all on your own; like you're going to be a single mother." Alright then, let me turn down the griping and sarcasm and make a full report and a clean breast: he is patient and loving and can make me laugh even when I'm irritable and filled with heartburn. Also, he is strong and brave and good and makes dinner when I give up. All these things are true.