Monday, November 02, 2009

Happiness, Aisle Six

I try to be a good person. I try to make the world a better place. But all my previous efforts in this area are looking pretty paltry lately.

In terms of people-made-happy versus time-and-effort-expended, nothing I've ever done has been as effective as taking Cleo to the grocery store. Even on days like today, when she has a runny nose and is wearing a mishmashy sort of outfit, color-wise, she can be depended on to delight at least seven separate people in the course of a twenty-minute visit to the grocery store. She wiggles with delight as I put her in the cart, and proceeds to point and wave excitedly at all the people we pass. She loves identifying all the foods, even if she's more enthusiastic than accurate. Any round fruit or vegetable between three and six inches in diameter is an "App-puh!", any white, yellow, or orange hunks are "cheeeee!", and any boxes that show beige-ish, squarish foods are "kack-uhrs!" Another shopper who appears at the end of the aisle is hooted and waved at like a long-lost friend, and many people get called Da-da (a mark of seriously high esteem). If a fellow shopper has app-uhs, cheeeee, or kack-uhrs in her cart, Cleo lets her know that they have a lot in common, and shall we have a chat about it, perhaps over a little snack?

I've seen people go from surly and harried to completely charmed and at ease within seconds. Some people are immune to the charms of a loud, slightly grubby baby screeching at them (can you imagine?) but most people walk away in better moods than they approached in. I like to imagine those people leaving the store, being more patient drivers, nicer to their co-workers, more likely to give to charity... Well, maybe I'm reaching. But I do sometimes think of Cleo as the butterfly that starts a hurricane, only with goodwill. So I don't feel bad these days if I forget something at the store and have to go back the next day. Every little bit helps, and the extra gas is just the cost of doing business as a milkman of human kindness.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Timeline, Yesterday

8:30 AM, at the park with Cleo: "Today's his birthday! I'll call tonight."

2:30 PM, driving home from a Hallowe'en party with a sleeping pumpkin: "Can't forget to call tonight!"

6:15 PM, feeding Cleo crackers: "I bet he'll be home from work soon. I should call in an hour or so."

3:30 AM, waking suddenly: "Crap."

Happy birthday, Pops! Hope you had a great day, even though only half your children managed to call you.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Dinner for a Baby

Good news, loyal readers! Another fairly boring post! I know, I'm a giver. You needn't thank me. I do it out of love. Here's a tasty, easy, healthy, quickish baby meal that's good freshly made, or straight out of the fridge.

Spinach and Cheese Pasta or Food Brick (hat tip to the inventor of Lunchblock)

1 pound uncooked smallish pasta shapes
1 pound frozen spinach--the good kind*
24 ounces marinara sauce
1 to 2 cups shredded cheese

Thaw the spinach and chop it up nice and small. If the pieces are too big, they'll be pick-out-able by a dextrous baby. If a dextrous baby does not eat your cooking, chop it any old way, but do chop it so it doesn't straggle off the fork in a pathetic way. Cook the pasta, drain it, and mix it with the sauce and spinach over medium heat. The pasta will absorb some of the liquid from the sauce, which is good. Once it's evenly mixed and very hot, turn the heat off and add the cheese. Stir briefly, then let it sit so the heat of the dish melts the cheese. If you keep stirring and heating, the cheese will glob up and get generally goopy. If you let it melt without harassing it, it'll stay evenly distributed and won't get rubbery. Once it's melted, you can serve and eat immediately, or you can proceed with the Food Brick portion of the recipe, which is this:

Pack it firmly into a leftover container. Refrigerate overnight, or until thoroughly congealed. Unmold it from the container, and if you packed in it tightly enough and used a suitably adhesive quantity of cheese, it will be a solid block which you can then slice into little hunks which make excellent, neat finger food for a toddler. Without the Food Brick portion of the recipe, this dish is messy enough that it might cause your co-parent, if you have one, to turn to you mid-meal, covered in sauce and cheese, and say, "Is there some other way people feed their children?"

*If you're a frozen vegetable comparison shopper, you'll know what I mean. In my neck of the woods, it's Stop & Shop "Nature's Promise" Cut-Leaf Spinach.

Barf City

The first time she threw up, it was helpful. A friend of mine, also with an eight-month-old, was wondering what the difference was between spitting up and throwing up, and Cleo obliged with a textbook example (markedly more forceful, more voluminous and more smelly than spit-up, if you're wondering). My friend went home reassured that her baby had never vomited, and Cleo and I went home with a bit more dirty laundry than we'd gone out with.

The second through fifth times were only helpful in that they convinced Cleo's doctor and parents that she had trouble digesting foods containing soy. But they were mainly stressful, messy, and exhausting for all concerned. She'd be surprised by the first barf, resigned to the second, and get progressively weaker and more pitiful every subsequent time (usually every ten minutes for a couple of hours, depending on how much soy she ate). It was rough for all concerned, but we have refined our baby rehydration techniques, which follow, in case they might be helpful to anyone else:

Ice chips will sometimes be taken when sips of pedialyte are refused; once pedialyte is voluntarily sipped, five swallows every two minutes are a good maximum (more can trigger more vomiting), and once it's been twenty minutes with no vomiting, ten swallows every two minutes, then increase again after another twenty minutes, etc. The relationship between hydration and alertness is direct and dramatic, which is scary when a baby's dehydrated, but quickly reassuring as they start to take fluids again. I hasten to add that this is based on one family's experience with one child, and may or may not be applicable to anyone else. If you find yourself with a dehydrated kid, follow your instincts and go to the doctor or the ER if that's what you feel is necessary.

We had her tested for allergies, and she's not allergic to soy foods, her gut just has a hard enough time digesting them that they get forcefully evicted about two hours after she eats. We've discovered that even small amounts of soy can set her off, and there are small amounts of soy in lots and lots and lots of packaged foods. Soybean oil doesn't have enough soy protein in it to cause her problems, nor does soy sauce (at least in small amounts--we're not doing any more research, thank you very much).

The day care center she goes to two mornings a week provides lunch for the kids, which is great, but they're understandably spooked by anything resembling a food allergy, so they gently recommended that we provide the grain/protein part of lunch for her. This is fine, but they (for good reasons) also ask that all food brought in be vegetarian and nut-free which limits our options a bit. No soy, no meat, and no nuts bring us to beans and cheese and eggs. And eggs bring us to egg whites, which seem to cause problems for Cleo's gut as well (less dramatic, other end, still not so nice), so we're down to beans, egg yolk and cheese, which is why I was delighted that she ate these:

Vegetable Fritters
egg yolk
wheat germ
cooked chopped vegetables
salt and pepper

Mix according to whim and inventory, fry like pancakes, serve to baby.

Other popular lunch items have been:
bean/cheese quesadilla: allowed to cool, cubed.
mac and cheese and peas
white bean puree on pitas
cream cheese sandwich
pasta, red sauce, spinach, generous amounts of cheese
beans, pasta and pesto

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Days These Days: 15 months old

She wakes up at five, and this is so much better than four, I take pity on her and bring her into bed for a crack-of-dawn snack and a little nap. She nurses on one side, looks up at me and says, "Mo!" as if I might forget, and then nurses on the other side. She sleeps between us until six-ish, when she rolls over, stands up, and says either "Dada!" or "Cheese!" depending on how hungry she is, I suppose. Her version of cheese sounds like "deezh!" or "jeezh!" or sometimes just "deee!" She loves cheese, and gets excited and asks for it whenever she hears a similar word: jeez, she's, peas, please, Jesus, etc.

Her dear Dada gets up with her at six and they do the dishes and clean the kitchen while I sleep in until the luxurious hour of 7:30-ish. Then we all eat breakfast together, and she waves and says "Ba-ba" to her dad. I check my email, she plays, and eventually she realizes that we are inside when we could be outside, and she reminds me that it's time to go "Outh!" She gets her hat, and we head into the back yard, where I rake leaves into piles and she helps me by spreading them around again. I work slightly faster than she does, so it's a net benefit to the yard, and keeps us both happy.

Naptime's around ten, and lasts for a precious thirty minutes. She wakes up and goes instantly from half-asleep and bleary to bright eyed and grinning and asking to see Dada. So we go upstairs to the office and say hi. Once she's changed, we go see friends or go to the park or the market. She loves her friend Ari, and asks to see him at least twice a day: "Ar-ruh? Ar-ruh?" We have lunch, and she eats either almost nothing or an astonishing volume. According to the parenting books, I'm supposed to cultivate an air of detachment about this. It is hard. But her average diet is varied and plentiful, and she gets bigger and heavier all the time, so it's all going well. She loves noodles, apples, rice, bananas, cheese, crackers, carrots, oranges and peas. If nothing else is available, she'll eat green beans, white beans, tomato, bread, egg yolk, vegetable fritters, chicken, and fish. She will spit out avocado every time, along with anything that's too big or too tough for a kid with only two teeth.

The afternoon nap is similarly brief, and at three o'clock is the changing of the guard. I go to my studio, and Dada takes over, and there's generally a trip to the park. At the park, or, in Cleo-ese, "guck! guck!" she climbs up and slides down the slide feet first, on her belly. Her ability to do this all by herself is directly related to the Dada school of park/kid management, i.e.: let 'er alone, she can do it. I admire this approach, but I find myself having to jam my hands into my armpits and hold myself back from hovering when it's my turn at the park.

At six, I come home and it's time for a wash and bed for Cleo. Our current baby-bathing technique is for one parent to shower, the other to hand in a naked, grubby baby, wait five minutes, and then remove and wrap in a towel a wet, clean baby, and bundle her off to be pajama-ed. Inexplicably, she loves this whole process, including being held right under the shower for a good rinse. Well, she tolerates that part. She loves everything else, especially the towel.

The current bedtime story list has grown: we're now up to (in strict order) Miss Mary Mack, Mr Brown Can Moo, The Little Book of Hugs, Yummy Yucky, and Goodnight Moon. Each of these has its own favorite phrase or page or illustration, and there is a lot of pointing and conversation and turning back and forth of pages.

Once sleep is firmly established (I've Been Working on the Railroad), it's time for grown-up dinner. This meal has been drifting downwards in quality recently, and hopefully we hit bottom the other night with frozen fish, frozen peas and carrots, and rice. But that's another story.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Temperature Fluctuations, Target Practice

We've taught Cleo that hot food has to cool off before she eats it, and she helps it along by blowing intently--sometimes on the hot food, sometimes off into the air, just as a supportive gesture, I guess.*

We have also taught her to love peas. Hooray. She eats them by the fistful, which is nice, considering her disdain for many other vegetables.

Both those things are good, but I hadn't realized that, combined, they create a situation. Say her mouth is full of cooled peas and her tray is full of hot peas. Yes. She has learned that she can make Mama laugh really really hard if she blows peas across the room like a little pellet gun.

*She has also started blowing when she steps out into the cold air. Which, although not a proven way to warm the planet, might bear some research. You have your farting cows, your belching gas-guzzlers, and your chilly toddlers. Someone get on that.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Impressive writing even if she weren't sleep deprived.

A woman named Evany had a baby ten weeks ago, and has now written one of the best descriptions I've ever read of life with a newborn (minus the love and wonder, which she covers elsewhere in her post):

"I feel like I’m constantly playing that game Concentration, where you have to puzzle together plastic shapes into their appropriate holes as time tick-tick-ticks away, and if you don’t finish in time the whole game flies apart and you leap six feet into the air and spend the rest of your shellshocked life in therapy. I’ll get maybe two minutes into a bath or a bowl of oatmeal when The Tyrant Awakes (“Baby Alive!” yell Marco and I) and it’s back to the mommy salt mine. And even when he does manage to sleep for longer than a handful of minutes, the downtime is tainted with the looming spectre of his potential awakening. I always have one ear cocked for baby yells, underscoring my long, house-bound days with a spicy mix of tension and intrigue."

I had kind of forgotten about that, and now I remember just enough to feel very grateful for a fourteen-month-old who sleeps in fairly predictable chunks.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Fritters! Hooray!

Here's the recipe. Story later (she likes it! Hooray!).

Cleocakes (or Frenchiefritters)

2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons flour
1/3 cup finely chopped cooked chicken
1/3 cup finely chopped cooked cabbage
salt, pepper, and curry powder to taste

Mix the flour and egg yolks until they're smooth. Add the chopped ingredients and seasonings, then fry like pancakes. This can, of course, be adapted to include any kind of leftovers and seasonings. I bet a sweet apple one would be delicious.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I am braced for angry emails

I don't usually touch on controversial subjects here because I have both affection and respect for my readers, who are an impressively diverse bunch. But a topic has come up in my life which is impossible to avoid. My mind has been changed, I have switched sides, and I wanted to let you all know how I came to my realization: the toilet paper should come off the bottom of the roll, not the top.

I had been an "over-the-topper" ever since I stayed at the Savoy in London twenty two years ago. That's how they did it there, and I figured if they thought it should be that way, well, they must have come to the right conclusion. It was also the first hotel I stayed in where they folded the end of the toilet paper into a dainty point, which I found exceedingly elegant. So while I never folded the end like they did, I did put it on the holder that way, with the sense that I was doing something right.

My eyes were opened this weekend when I took Cleo into the bathroom with me. In the past, she's been content to play with the bath mat or a small toy, but this time the toilet paper attracted her attention. She batted at it with a downward swipe, and it obligingly let loose a whole stream of lovely white paper. She was delighted, and gearing up to do it again when I distracted her with a plastic cup placed on the edge of the sink and asked her if she could reach it.

This kid cannot resist a challenge. The paper, while amusing, had been done. That cup, however, was the Everest of the moment. I admit that I feel a smug sense of victory when I outsmart her like this, until I remember that she's only 14 months old, I am 408 months old, and it would be a sad state of affairs if I couldn't. While she was reaching for the cup, I quickly re-rolled the paper and switched it around. The cup attained, she turned back to the paper and gave it another downward swipe. It spun around its little bar, but nothing more exciting than that, since the end was being held in by the spin, not unfurled as it had been before. She did the infant version of a little oh-well shrug, and went back to her old buddy the bath mat.

My eyes were opened, and my mind was changed. In a house with cats or babies, or anyone else that's likely to find paper-unfurling entertaining, the paper should come off the bottom of the roll. It is possible, of course, to unfurl the paper by swiping at the roll with an upwards motion, but that's just not as natural a gesture (try it), and so while not impossible, unfurling becomes less likely. In a house with no infants or cats (or, say, a fancy hotel populated largely by adult humans), this rule does not apply, and you can use whatever logic you like to decide which way is preferable. But those of you who live with small, curious creatures, your way is clear.

PS: Confidential to S. in Cazenovia: If you would like to leave a comment, look below the end of the essay, down there where it says "0 comments." Click on it, and a window should open which allows you to type to your heart's content. Then, where it says "choose an identity" you can select "anonymous" and then click "publish your comment." Or, you can just call me! It's always nice to hear your voice!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Hot, Tired, Hungry

Since the Era of The Kid (EK) began, my time in the kitchen has shrunk. We get to the end of the day, the baby's in bed, the most urgent chores have been done, and we have about 45 minutes to cook and eat before our foreheads start drooping table-ward. But I hadn't realized exactly how much things had changed until recently.

The other day, feeling that the man of the house deserved an extra-good dinner (I don't remember now what feat of domestic heroics he had performed--they tend to run together these days), I made one of his old favorites from the Era Before the Kid: Pasta with Kale, Sausages and White Beans. This is a fairly straightforward recipe, and I used to make it all the time, EBK. But going back to it after more than a year, I couldn't believe how long everything took. You par-cook the sausages, then slice them thinly at an angle, then brown the sausage slices (on both sides!), then take the sausage out of the pan again, then deglaze, then saute the garlic, then put the poor beleaguered sausage back in, along with the kale, which had previously been blanched and chopped, and the beans, which are easy. Good god. Now I know what I did with my time before Cleo was born. Apparently, I spent the last ten years cooking dinner.

But, by this spring, I had pretty much come to terms with the new normal, and had some good standbys: pizza, curry, chili, soup, and pasta-with-stuff, all of which could be cooked mostly if not all the way ahead, and so I could make a bunch of dinners at once. This routine worked well all the way through a cool, rainy early summer, but then the weather changed. The last few weeks have been hot and humid and sticky and horrible, and while we've coped fairly well during the day (wading pool, one window AC unit, and, if all else fails, The Horrible Mall), dinner is a challenge. I don't mind eating something warm for dinner, but I draw the line at standing by the stove while it gets that way. All my best summer recipes are from EBK, and so involve a lot of labor and/or a lot of farmers' marketing. So I'm at a loss. This is not one of those times when I recount a dilemma and then recount my solution. No, this is one of those times when I say, "Help! What do you make for dinner when it's hot, you're exhausted, and you have 20 minutes until plate/table contact?" Extra credit if you chime in in the next two hours, and you suggest something that uses only ingredients currently in my fridge.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Quinoa Salad

This is a magical recipe. It's not only tasty, it's also vegan, gluten-free, delicious with meat, great by itself, very healthy, can be made ahead (but doesn't have to be), is good at any temperature, and is pretty cheap given how marvelous it is. If you're still not convinced, know that it's also pretty, with its flecks of red and green and gold. Its only drawback is that it takes a little bit of work--but just tedious work, nothing finicky. This makes a lot--maybe 10 servings as a side dish? Great leftovers, great packed lunches, great for a crowd, so I always make a lot.

It's based on a recipe from the 1997 Joy of Cooking, but over its years in our kitchen it has evolved quite a lot. So change it at will, and let me know if you discover any particularly crackerjack variations.

1.5 cups quinoa
1 large clove garlic, minced
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon cumin
2 15-ounce cans garbanzo beans
2 red peppers
1 vidalia onion
1 cup sun dried (or roasted) tomatoes
1 bunch parsley
1/2 cup pine nuts
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
red pepper flakes to taste
salt to taste

First, cook the quinoa in 3 cups water (I use the rice cooker). While it's cooking, here's your list of tasks:

Mince the garlic.
Mix garlic, olive oil, and cumin in a large (huge) bowl.
Add each ingredient to the bowl as it's ready:
Rinse and drain the garbanzo beans.
Dice the red pepper and onion.
Finely chop the sun-dried tomatoes.
Finely chop the parsley.
Toast the pine nuts.
Stir in the vinegar, pepper flakes, and salt.
Add the cooked quinoa.
Mix, eat now or later.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


It's been a busy summer. Cleo would now walk everywhere if only we would let her (out the door! straight off the front porch steps, Wile E Coyote style! down the street after the garbage truck!). She also has a single tooth and a burgeoning vocabulary, which I will lovingly list, in order of appearance:

Dada: Dada
Mama: Mama
dado: [sweet] potato
nana: banana
buh: ball
buh: book
buh: block
buh: baby

Yeah, maybe a few of those are a reach. However, there's no disputing that she is the master of the urgent point-and-grunt, her main way of telling us that she wants more food/our keys/to go on a walk/to send a text message to all her little baby friends so they can plot their mass escape.

In addition to baby development, there's been a lot of traveling (for all of us) and teaching (for me). Which brings me to the item that made me break my silence here: pastry. 

One of my students this summer brought Bismarcks to our last class. I was unfamiliar with both the pastry (insanely delicious) and the name (curious). So, being like a dog with a peanut-butter-filled bone when presented with curious information, I googled. And, dear reader, came up with the blog that I would aspire to write were I a Pastry Master: Joe Pastry

He is funny, informative, well-organized, comprehensive. What are you waiting for? Go be amused and/or learn something.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

First Word!

It's official: potato. Alright, it sounds more like "day-doh" and what she really means to say is sweet potato (her habitual breakfast) but, hey, we'll take it.

The girl loves sweet potatoes so much that not only does she ask for them by name, she waves excitedly as they approach her mouth. Do we think she's the sweetest and cutest and best baby ever? Yeah, okay. I guess we pretty much do. 

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Worst. Day. Ever.

Not for me, thankfully, since I have thirty three years worth of days that a day has to be worse than to get top billing, but for Cleo. Got that? A bad day in the life of the kid, poor thing. 

Being a beginning walker is a little like being a beginning anything: lots of missteps, lots of uncomfortable lessons, lots of learning the same thing over and over in slightly different ways. How Not to Fall Face-First Onto The Floor she has down pat, but she has a ways to go on How Not to Fall Face-First Into A Pesky Chair-Leg. She put out her arms to catch herself, but the chair leg got right through her defenses and whacked her hard on the cheekbone. Now she has the kind of bruise that indicates a good story in her recent past. A real you-should-see-the-other-guy blooming up in blue and purple. The holler that this face-whack produced was one of those slow-building eardrum-busters, impressive in both length, tone, and volume. She was a little subdued the rest of the day, so I'm not sure what we were thinking when we did what we did at lunchtime (the foreboding music starts here).

Months ago, I had to go away for a whole day, and instead of blowing through our supply of frozen breastmilk, we decided that she could have some formula. Some soy formula, since she does not like (will not drink, no way, no how) the dairy-based stuff. She sucked down two or three bottles, and by the time I got home, she had been throwing up for an hour already. We weren't sure it was the formula, since there was also stomach bug going around, so we tried it again a few weeks later. Same story: barf, barf, barf, doctor visit. The doctor was unconvinced that this was soy-related-barfing, and suggested that we try it again. At that point, my response was a polite version of, "Hah! Right! As if!" But yesterday, after a vomit-free few months, it seemed like a reasonable (and doctor-recommended, after all) thing to do. We gave her three small bites of soy-based veggie burger. Two hours later, the answer arrived: Soy=No Good For Cleo. That answer kept arriving every ten minutes for two and a half hours, and left poor Cleo limp and sad, and her parents sad and covered in, well, you know. We got enough fluids back into her that she could get reassuringly cranky, and we all slept fitfully. 

Today she's a bruised and subdued baby, but no serious harm was done. There are thunder clouds gathering over that benighted doctor's head, though, as the wrath of A Mother Who Has Been Proved Right prepares to descend upon him. 

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Good Morning

It's 5:45 in the morning. I'm blearily checking email and generally farting around online while Cleo sings to her two-headed duck and says, "Ba ba buh buh nuh nuh nuh naaaaa" to her wooden cup. Soon I will be awake enough to make some toast for myself and a vile yogurt/prune concoction for her. But for now, I have to share a link with you. I'm a loyal reader of Antonia at Whoopee, and this is why: she misses the sea.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Days These Days

It seems impossibly dull to recount right now, but I know that in three months, three years, three decades, I'll look back and wonder, "What were all those days like? Was she ever really a baby?" So, for my future self, for Cleo some day, and (possibly) much to your bored eye-rolling today, here's a typical day these days:

4:30: The baby monitor lets us know she's awake and none too happy about it. One or the other of us mumbles, "Snot five yet. Less juss wait till five. Swhat tha book said." She settles after a few minutes.

5:00: Using her Atomic Superbaby Clock, accurate to within thirty seconds, she wakes again, hollers again, and The Sainted Dada stumbles in, changes her, and delivers her to Mama, who can only bring herself to open one eye at a time. After her first meal of the day, Cleo is carefully watched for signs of nodding back off. This hasn't happened in weeks, but we fondly remember the days of sleeping until seven.

5:30: Up. Sometimes one parent sleeps in, sometimes the other, but the official version of events starts the day now, for everyone. Once Cleo hears full sentences come out of our mouths, some containing the magic word "up," she gets the full body wiggles and starts her monologue: "Dadadadadada. Pah. Pah. Pah." We're pretty sure by now that Dadadada means Dada, but we have no idea what the significance of "pah" is. All we know is that if we say it to her, it always results in her whipping her head around and fixing us with her full attention. Maybe it means "We're going to take you for a walk in the sling, but first some Cheerios and maybe a visit from a puppy."

6:00: Solid food for all! As we have breakfast, we spoon mushy stuff of various colors into Cleo's mouth. These days, sweet potatoes, peas, prunes, pears, oatmeal, and carrots are in heavy rotation, complemented by bits of cheese, yogurt, egg yolk, pineapple (a new hit), and the perrenial favorite: Something From Mama's Plate.

8:30: First nap. The naptime routine consists of a book (Everywhere Babies? Goodnight Gorilla?), a new diaper and a snack, then a pacifier and into the crib for a rest. This nap, and all of Cleo's naps, is about half an hour long. I have friends who casually drop mentions of their babies' two hour or three hour naps, but I'm pretty sure they're just messing with me. Impossible, right? Right?

9:00-3:00: What do we do all day? Damned if I know. There is rolling around on the floor, there are trips to the market, there's coffee with other mom-and-babe duos, there is standing up, sitting down, crawling around, and putting things in the mouth. Popular games include "Mama goes awaaaaay, sooooo far awaaaaay [crawl slowly backwards].... Mama's coming to get you! Mama's coming to get you [grab, tickle, tickle, roll around]" and "Cleo does a handstand!" Both result in shrieks, giggles, and multi-generational laughter. Lunch is in there somewhere, as well as a midday nap.

3:00: Dada time. Having started work at 6:30, Dada is now done for the day. The idea is that now Mama gets some work done, and this does happen some of the time, but other days, the afternoon disappears into a haze of dinner preparation, showering, email, bill-paying, and staring blankly into space (emphasis on items three and five). Sometimes Cleo has another nap, sometimes not.

6:00: Baby bedtime. Bedtime routine is much like naptime routine, with more books (Hop on Pop, Yummy Yucky, and Goodnight Moon), and a few more rounds of "I've Been Working on the Railroad" before she's happy to be put down.

7:00: Grownup dinner. These days, it's often the same thing a few nights in a row: curry or homemade pizza or tortellini with vegetables. The theory is that I can cook once, and we can eat three times, and one of my great pieces of good fortune is that The Washer of All Dishes doesn't mind at all. It's rewarding to cook for someone who manages to be so accepting of repetition and mediocrity, while also being appreciative of a good variety of delicious food when it happens.

7:30-9:30: I spend these hours doing more time-frittering non-accomplishment, all the while telling myself to go to bed already, since five AM is just getting closer every minute.

11:00: Operating on the principle that, "it's dinnertime somewhere," Cleo has her first nighttime meal. I stumble down the hall, feed her, and she generally goes right back to sleep. Occasionally I'll hear people or cars outside, and my first thought is, "What are they up to in the middle of the night?" And then I remember that I didn't always go to bed at nine, and they might not either.

3:00: It's dinnertime somewhere else! Cleo's second meal. I realize that feeding a ten-month-old twice every night might seem excessive to some, but it's so much better than the five times of just a couple months ago, it seems perfectly reasonable to me (although that might be the Stockholm syndrome talking).

And Cleo's a very active baby, so I admit that I like those nighttime feedings, when she lies quietly in my arms, my big heavy baby, and then goes back to sleep cuddled against my shoulder. During the day she's a bundle of muscle and activity, always on the move, and she seems like what she is: a strong, agile baby who's small for her age. But at night, when she's sleepy, she seems to double in size and weight, and I remember the days when she was a much smaller sack of potatoes sleeping on my chest.

4:30: And we begin again.

Monday, April 27, 2009


There was a baby squirrel hopping around the yard this morning: cute, but worryingly small. It was clearly an escapee, and I tried using my special mamamojo (that's a thing, right?) to let its mother know that she had a runaway. No concerned adult squirrel appeared, and the little one kept cavorting, inexpertly climbing trees, tripping over sticks, and gamboling in the leaf litter.

Cleo and I watched from the window. Or, rather, I watched the squirrel and sent urgent telepathic messages to its mother, and Cleo kept her eye firmly on the cup of dry Cheerios on the table. She has recently graduated from "baby puffs" (essentially less substantial, more expensive Cheerios) to the real deal, and she's smitten with the little round things. If she's in her high chair and I set one in front of her, she'll delicately pick it up, pinkie extended, and transfer it to her wide-open mouth. If I present a whole little pile, she'll fill her fists and try to cram both hands, all her fingers, and multiple Cheerios into her mouth at once. The concept of one-at-a-time apparently requires thinking above the pay grade of a nine-month-old.

Once her mouth contains at least one Cheerio, she thoughtfully gums it while she manipulates any strays with an intense focus. Some of her Cheerio projects include:
Testing Gravity
Feeding Mama
Down The Shirtfront
Down The Shirtback
Sticking a Damp One Behind The Ear
And testing hypotheses like: "I will be able to eat a Cheerio and suck on my pacifier at the same time"

Inevitably, a few will get away from her (even when she's not Testing Gravity). Once they hit the floor, they change status and become Floorios. This does not necessarily render them unfit for comsumption. On the contrary, thanks to a well-timed article in the New York Times, I welcome the chance for a serendipitous immune challenge. And she seems to like discovering a Floorio even better than being given a Cheerio.

Which brings us full circle. You know how squirrels hide food all over the place in the fall, and then spend the winter digging up stuff and eating it? Don't you wonder if they remember where they've buried all their nuts so they can find them later, or if they just bury willy-nilly, and trust that they'll somehow find food when they need it? Well, Cleo certainly seems to be operating by the latter principle. She makes an effort to scatter her treasure as widely as possible, and then her whole day is just a series of exciting, surprise snacks.

I eventually lost sight of the baby squirrel this morning, but I hope it found its way home, or failing that, that it at least happened upon some of the Groundios that litter our yard.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Cleo Songbook, Month Seven

The key to Cleo's taste in music is: quantity, not quality. She'll tolerate almost any length of car trip, even when she's fussy, as long as the singing flows without ceasing. This works out very well for me, since I'm not much of a singer, but boy do I have stamina. The best songs (besides the evil "Song That Never Ends") for singing forever are ones that combine a singable tune and a structure that lends itself to stream-of-consciousness lyrics. Some songs that have proved effective:

-She'll Be Coming 'Round The Mountain, since she'll also be doing any number of other things that have the right number of syllables, like:
She'll be driving to the market.
She'll be wearing her sunglasses.
She'll be flipping off the jerkwads.
She'll be hunting for some parking.
She'll be scaring off the pigeons.
She'll be turning off the engine.
(this is the grocery store version, as you may have gathered)

-The Wheels On The Bus, since there can be a lot more things on the bus than you might have thought...
The jocks on the bus go "Dude, that's sweet!"
The kids on the bus say "Yo, wassup?"
The grandmas on the bus say "What's that, sonny?"
The girls on the bus say "That's my phone!"

-And finally, the tune of My Country 'Tis Of Thee (Or God Save The Present Monarch), which for some reason lends itself beautifully to the singing out loud of random road signs (try it, it's fun):

My country 'tis of thee
sweet land of liberty
stop light ahead.
Providence twenty miles
Fall River Exit four
from ev'ry mountainside
Pete's Lube and Gas.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Bulk Soup

Soup is usually an opportunity to improvise. It gets concocted out of a little of this, a little of that, and whatever odds and ends seem compatible and need using up. All in the pot, simmer til done, eat, and move on with a cleaner fridge and a fuller belly. My dad is an expert at this kind of soup improvisation. If asked what's in one of his creations, he'll just smile and say, "Have some first. Then I'll tell you." Secret ingredients of his that I can recall include jam, old salad, and ketchup. But the soup pot always manages to transform the mixture into a meal worthy of the family, if not reliably something you'd want to trot out in front of guests.

But the other day, faced with the prospect of a tablefull of wintertime lunch guests, I needed a more predictable soup. Far be it from me to follow someone else's recipe, I started from scratch. I was out of homemade broth (thanks to an intestinal bug that made the rounds), and I didn't have the patience to make a whole new batch that would be used up in one meal. And I wanted something easy. So I started with the tricks I knew worked: sausage (it's pre-seasoned, pre-cleaned, and contains enough fat to carry a soupsworth of flavors), dried garlic and onion (optional, of course), browning, long simmering, and the magic of the overnight wait.

About that overnight wait: soup and soup-like foods are always better the next day, after the flavors have had time to swim around each other for a while, so it only makes sense to harness the power of that phenomenon and serve day-old soup to guests. The problem arises when you have a lot of guests and not a lot of space in the fridge. So in the recipe below, only part of the soup sits overnight: the ingredients that have the most to give (sausage, onion, garlic, spices) and the most to gain (beans, potatoes,) by the wait.

Sausage and White Bean Soup
serves 8-10
cooking time: 2 days (mostly waiting and simmering)

2 pounds sweet Italian sausage links (or 2 pounds bulk sausage)
3 cans cannellini beans, drained
4 white potatoes, diced
one or two bunches of kale or collards (you could use frozen)
1 tablespoon dried onion flakes
2 teaspoons chopped dried garlic
3 boxes low-salt chicken broth (or 12 cups homemade)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
sherry or white wine, to taste

The day before you want to serve the soup, brown the sausage links well on all sides. Once they're cooked through, chop them up into small bite sized chunks. If you have time and the inclination, brown the chunks again. In a large pot, combine the beans, sausage, potatoes, onion, garlic, red pepper, and one box (or four cups) of the broth. Simmer for an hour or so. Refrigerate overnight.

The next day, de-stem and steam the greens and chop them (do this neatly to avoid long stringy green bits trailing from people's soup spoons). Heat the bean/sausage mixture in a large pot and add the rest of the broth and the chopped greens. Let the soup simmer for at least two hours, if not four. There is nothing in this soup that can be over-cooked. You want the greens to go from bright green and springy to dull green and tired to dark greenish-gray and thoroughly limp. The potatoes and beans should fall into mush at the lightest touch. The sausage should be but a shadow of its former self, having given its all for the good of the broth.

Once the soup seems good and cooked, and you want to eat it soon, start tasting and adjusting. With all the simmering, it may have lost a good amount of liquid, and may benefit from the addition of water. Depending on how salty the broth and sausages were, the soup may need dilution even if it didn't get cooked down much. And it will likely need some acidity to perk it up a little. I tend to add wine or dry sherry, but vinegar would do it too. If you want it spicier, a little hot sauce would help.

And a word about volume... Thanks to our one-cup measure which works nicely as a ladle, I happen to know that this recipe, as made by me this week, made a little more than twenty cups of soup, and two cups make a nice serving size, with bread and salad and dessert.

Saturday, January 03, 2009


She wears her pants pulled up to mid-chest. She has learned (today!) that her plastic chain makes a lovely noise when she thrashes it back and forth with some vigor.

She looks like nothing so much as a fat, bald conductor, leading the orchestra with great concentration and a slightly furrowed brow.