Saturday, October 21, 2006

More squashy goodness

A couple of people asked me for this recipe after Brian and I made it when we had friends over last month, so I thought I'd post it here. It comes (with a few minor changes) from Peter Berley's Fresh Food Fast, which I picked up in Cody's a couple of years ago. It's another seasonal, vegetarian cookbook that we've had good luck with. The recipes are usually pretty easy to follow, and he's combined everything into menus. He even offers a shopping list and a "game plan" for getting everything ready at the same time.

Braised Pinto Beans with Delicata Squash, Red Wine, and Tomatoes

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups thinly sliced onion
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 pound delicata squash, halved, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices*
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 15-ounce can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes with their juice
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 chipotle in adobo sauce, minced
1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
freshly ground black pepper

*You can use butternut squash as well, with good results, but you have to peel it first. Actually, I usually peel the delicata, too, because I like the softer texture you get without the skin.

1. Melt the butter in a large pan over high heat with the oil. Add the onion and salt and saute until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat, add the squash and garlic, and saute for 1 minute.

2. Stir in the pinto beans and the tomatoes, along with the wine, chipotle, and sage. Raise the heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the squash is tender but not falling apart--about 15 minutes.

3. Uncover the pan and cook for 1-2 minutes to thicken the sauce. Season with salt and pepper.

Berley suggests serving this over cheese-filled arepas (pupusas). As a lazy cook, I often just serve it with rice or tortillas. I also had good luck with an alternative version I prepared a couple of weeks ago: I used half the amount of onion, left out the beans, added an extra can of diced tomatoes, and tossed it with pasta.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


I have always been adamantly pro-choice. Depending on the discussion at hand, I will argue in favor of Judith Jarvis Thompson's violinist perspective, take the position that even if it is a life, it’s okay to terminate a pregnancy, and support the legalization of late-term abortions. I attended to March to Save Women's Lives on the Mall a couple of years ago, and I always write cranky letters to my conservative senators whenever NARAL or NOW sends me an email alert.

But while in some debates on social issues I find it nearly impossible to see the other side of the issue (How does letting gay people get married threaten the quality of others’ marriages exactly?), when it comes to the abortion debate I can see where the other side is coming from. After all, if I truly believed that abortion was murder of a human being, I would feel a moral obligation to work to make it illegal, too. I think it was my ability to see the other side of the abortion debate that made me briefly question my beliefs last year after I miscarried.

I’m not sure what brought the idea to mind initially. I was lying in bed in the middle of the day, looking out the window and listening to the hum of the air conditioner while I let my mind drift. Suddenly I found myself wondering: if I am grieving like this for a nine-week-old fetus, how can I argue that it wasn’t a life? How can I believe that it’s okay to end a pregnancy on purpose if I’m this sad to see this one end for no apparent reason?

It didn’t take long for the answer to occur to me. I knew that I wasn’t grieving the loss of a life. Not yet. I was grieving for the loss of the hopes that I had attached to my pregnancy. For the plans I had made for my baby's arrival in April. For the transformation of my life and my self that I had looked forward to so eagerly. I wasn't grieving for "Elvis" (um, I'm apparently into the stupid fetal nicknames), but for the baby I had hoped Elvis would one day become.

Reading Sundry's post earlier this week about how having a child has tranformed her thoughts on abortion made me realize that I am still thinking about these things. It comes to mind on occasion when I feel Sticky kick my liver or shift so that I can feel her back through my belly with my hand. And once I give birth and hold her for the first time, my perspective may change again. I don't believe I will change my position on the legalization of abortion. I simply believe that it will add another dimension to the way I think about it.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Winter squash risotto

I love winter squash. Along with honeycrisp apples, it helps make up for the lack of nectarines and fresh corn when the weather starts to change. I eat a lot of butternut and acorn squash during the winter months, and I was excited last week when I went into Whole Foods and saw that the delicata squash had arrived (I maybe need to get out more). It's a yellow-and-green-speckled, sort of cucumber-shaped winter squash that I had no idea existed until a couple of years ago. It's sweet like other winter squashes, roasts nicely, and has skin thin enough that you can actually eat it (although I usually peel it anyhow, because I like the smoother texture). It seems to have a very short season, so Brian and I cook with it a couple of times a week while it's around.

I made my favorite risotto with it on Sunday night, and after seeing a couple of squash recipe posts, I thought I'd post my own. Well, it's not really my own: this comes pretty much straight from Jack Bishop's A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen. We love Jack Bishop in our house. Brian even wrote him a fan email one time (and was very excited when he got a response).

Winter Squash Risotto

2 T olive oil
6 T butter
4 cups broth
1 onion, diced small
1.5 cups arborio rice
1 cup white wine
2.5 pounds winter squash*
1 T sage, minced**
freshly grated nutmeg***
1/2 cup grated parmesan, plus extra for the table

*I like delicata, butternut, and acorn squash, in that order.
**I actually used rosemary the other night because it was what I had. It was fine, but sage is better.
***You don't need much. I did 3 turns of my nutmeg grinder. If you don't have whole nutmeg, a dash of ground would probably do.

1. Preparing the squash: Preheat the oven to 450. Melt 3 T butter. Slice squash in half lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds and strings (reserve the seeds and strings). Place the squash on a baking sheet, brush with the melted butter, and sprinkle with salt. Roast the squash in the middle of the oven until they are soft. (It took me about 45 minutes to roast delicatas the other night.) When the squash are cool enough to handle, scoop the flesh from the skin, mash with a fork, and set aside.

2. Preparing the broth: Place the broth and the reserved squash innards in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil and let simmer for about 20 minutes. Strain the broth into a measuring cup and discard the the seeds and strings. Return the broth to the pan along with about 2 cups of water (you'll need about 6 cups of liquid total). Cover and keep warm.

3. Preparing the rice: Melt 2T butter in a large, heavy pot, along with the olive oil. Saute the onion until it is translucent and soft, but don't let it brown. Add the rice and saute for a minute or two, coating the rice in the oil. Pour in the wine and stir until most of it is evaporated or absorbed. Begin adding the broth, about 1/2 to 1 cup at a time, stirring often and waiting for each cup to be mostly absorbed before adding more. After adding about 5 cups, taste the rice to see if it's soft enough. If not continue adding broth until it is.

4. Putting it all together: Add the rest of the butter, the cheese, the squash, the sage, and the nutmeg to the pan. Stir until the butter and the cheese are melted in and the squash is thoroughly mixed in.

5. Serve, sprinkled with more parmesan, and enjoy the praise of the people you are feeding.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Travel journal: Chicago

When we were in New York back in April, Brian wondered out loud what it would take for us to have a relaxing vacation. He had a point: most of the time when we go places, we are constantly on the move, trying to fit as much in as possible, because we are usually only in a given city for a couple of days. But last weekend we figured out a solution: I am much less likely to crack the "we are going to have fun and see everything or else" whip when I'm knocked up.

We arrived in Chicago a little later than planned, as our flight was delayed for nearly three hours. We studied the farecard machine at the Midway El station for just a few seconds before a young woman offered us instructions. She assured us that we could share a farecard, which made no sense to me, given that everyone needs his or her own on Metro and BART, but we took her at her word, and found that she was right. I guess she hasn't figured out yet that it's fun to lie to tourists. (Not that I actually tell tourists lies. I at least try to be nice and helpful.)

Since we were late getting in, we checked into our hotel and decided to walk around in Millenium Park, which was nearby. I was fascinated by the "bean" and the Frank Gehry-designed amphitheatre and bridge.

We stopped in Grant Park to rest for a short while, and then headed back toward the El to go to Giordano's, for what a friend had assured me was some of the best pizza in Chicago. We wandered around feeling a little lost until we figured out that the El is actually a subway on the red line, and looking in the air for tracks wasn't going to help. The pizza was indeed excellent, especially because we had to wait 90 minutes for a table. Watching the guys behind the counter assemble pizzas for that long helped build up our appetites. After dinner, we headed back to the hotel, having given up any hope of keeping me awake enough to enjoy going out and listening to jazz.

The next morning we checked out the Art Institute. I have been somewhat afraid of art museums ever since Brian and I spent a day in Madrid trying to take in the entire Prado. Now I know I need to have an agenda, so we did a self-guided tour outlined in a tour book someone at work had given me, which made the museum much more manageable. The tour gave us the highlights, taking us first through the impressionists, and then into the surrealists. I've always thought Dali was pretty creepy, but I discovered that Tanguay is even more so. My favorite of his was "The Rapidity of Sleep"--not because I liked the work itself, but because the card beside the painting's only description beyond the artist, title, and date read, "The relationship to the title of the painting is unknown." I liked the work of Joseph Cornell, and an exhibit that used a lot of text, by a modern artist whose name I've forgotten. The tour book led us to a dead end, which turned out to be a good thing. If it had led us directly to Georgia O'Keeffe, as it was supposed to, we would have missed the Picasso rooms and the Jose Guadalupe Posada exhibit. There was definitely more that I wanted to see, but museum fatigue was setting in.

The Art Institute was supposed to be followed up by lunch and then a self-guided historic architecture tour. Instead, it was followed by lunch and a nap back at the hotel. After I'd recovered some of my energy, we walked around the Magnificent Mile area and then headed up to the Hancock Center for drinks in the lounge at sunset. The views from the 96th floor were amazing. We watched the sky and lake fade through colors more lovely than anything we'd seen at the museum that morning, as lights began to twinkle below us and night took over the city. Finally we headed out, venturing up to Devon Avenue for curry, which involved taking a bus that we didn't have a schedule for--just the tour book's word that it would get us to the right place. It actually worked out quite well (better than their suggestion for finding the O'Keeffe paintings), with the bus arriving after only a short wait, and a large group of Indians or Pakistanis who we followed when they all got off at the same stop. We picked Udupi Palace, because it was all vegetarian and had the same name as a restaurant we like in Takoma Park. It turned out that the two are actually owned by the same people. At least that meant we knew we would like the food. (It was very spicy and good, and totally and completely worth the heartburn it gave me.) Brian took pity on his poor, pregnant wife, and we took a cab back downtown to the hotel.

We spent the next day in more museums. The plan for our trip had been to do one museum per day, but since the delayed flight on Saturday had messed with that, we decided to go to two on Monday, since Monday was supposed to be cool and gloomy. It actually turned out to be cool and sunny, but plans can only be changed so many times, and I was not going to go all the way to Chicago and not see Sue, and Brian wasn't going to miss out on the museum of the Chicago Historical Society.

It actually turned out to be good to go to the Field Museum on a Monday. I knew it was a discount day, but I didn't know that "discount" meant "free." After four years in Washington, I find myself rather appalled to have to spend actual money to get into a museum, so the discount was a nice surprise. We checked out Sue, and then wandered through case after case of birds. Because it was free, I didn't feel bad about giving up after those two exhibits, but we did spend a little bit of time checking out the mammals.

For lunch we went to Gino's East, which was another friend's favorite pizza place when she lived in Chicago. I actually liked their pizza a little bit better than Giordano's--I think the crust was a little crisper, which was nice. And every available surface was covered in graffiti. That was fun to look at for a little while, but I really thought people should have been more creative than just writing their names. I was relieved that the bus ride up to Gino's from the museum was so long and that it took 40 minutes to make the pizza. I was exhausted.

The tour book failed us one more time on the trip. It assured us that on Mondays the Chicago Historical Society museum was free and open until eight. Well, it was free, but it apparently closes at 4:30. We learned that at about 4:25, when the staff started clearing us out. I wish we'd had more time to see other exhibits, but just the sections we saw about the Chicago Board of Trade, the fire, the Haymarket Riots, the race riots, and the Democratic National Convention were interesting.

Leaving earlier than we planned meant we had time to stop and sit down for a bit before a brisk walk back to the train, so we could get our bags from the hotel and head back to the airport. Where our plane was, fortunately, on time.

Pictures from the trip are online here.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Sugar rush

I was warned that the glucose tolerance test wasn't fun. Most of my friends complained about the sweet drink that they were required to drink. No one, though, thought to warn me about the sugar high you can get from gulping down 50 grams of glucose in about 2 minutes. More specifically, they didn't warn me about how it feels to have all that sugar wear off 45 minutes later.

So the routine test for gestational diabetes at my prenatal appointment on Tuesday was a bit of a surprise. I actually liked the drink: it just tasted like flat orange pop...or flat orange pop with a couple extra teaspoons of sugar mixed in. Then I had to wait for an hour to have my blood drawn. The first part of the hour went quickly because I was called upstairs for my check-up. But when I returned to the waiting room to sit, I realized I couldn't concentrate on my book at all. I was tired, hungry, queasy, dizzy. At least I got to make the office staff laugh by being (apparently) the only woman in the history of the practice to ask for another glucose drink. (I was sure that more sugar was the only thing that would make me feel better ever again.) They denied me, but the PBJ I'd brought along with me for after the blood draw did the trick.

Other than that, the appointment was good and easy. I am measuring about 29 weeks, which at 28 weeks is just fine with me. Sticky apparently had an early growth spurt, because at 22 weeks I was measuring 26 weeks. She's leveled off since then:at 24 weeks I was at 28. I guess we're leveling off now, and I'm not actually going to have an 18-pound baby. My blood pressure is lower than it was when I first got pregnant and I've gained less weight than I thought (when I started outgrowing some of my maternity clothes, I was worried), but still a healthy amount. As of now, I will have visits every two weeks instead of every four. That will be reassuring: I like to go in as often as possible to hear the fast little heartbeat.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Grandma Ruth's birthday

When I wrote the date, I realized that today would be my Grandma Ruth's birthday. I'm glad I remembered, because it brought back such good memories of a wonderful grandma.

The way I always describe Grandma Ruth to people is to explain what happened the day after my birthday when I turned 9 or 10. I received a new scooter for my birthday that year. It was lavender and had hand brakes. I don't know if my parents gave it to me or if Grandma did. But I remember that after school on my birthday, Grandma Ruth came over for birthday dinner and we took turns riding my scooter up and down the sidewalk up front. But the real memory is from the next day, when someone at school asked if I had had a party for my birthday. I told them that we'd had dinner and cake and ice cream, and that Grandma Ruth and I had played on my new scooter. "Your grandma? Rode a scooter? Grandmas don't ride scooters," someone said. And I was baffled, because of course grandmas could ride scooters. What kind of boring grandmas did this person have?

Grandma Ruth was our main babysitter growing up. She played with us, read us stories, and tucked us into bed. More than once I got out of bed and went to tell her I had a bad dream or I was scared, even if I wasn't, because I knew that she would come into my bedroom and rub my back until I fell asleep.

She made apple pie with lots of cinnamon for Thanksgiving, and ham with scalloped potatoes for dinner on Christmas Eve. I have a memory of standing on a chair in her kitchen helping to make cookies.

She played golf and liked the color red. She collected giraffes--everything from stuffed toys to jewelry to prints to dish towels. When we were little, my brother and sister and I made a game of counting how many giraffes were in Grandma's house. The number was well into the hundreds. When I was in Buenos Aires last year, I bought a wooden carving of a giraffe, thinking of it as a gift for Grandma.

She worked at the police station in our town. Sometimes my mom would take us down to visit her there after school. She always had lemon drops on her desk. I can't eat a lemon drop without remembering her.

When I was in middle school and my mom went back to work, I spent the afternoons at Grandma's house doing homework and watching television until my mom could pick me up. Grandma was working (right down the street), so most days I didn't see her. Until she got sick and had to stop working. Then she would be there in the afternoons. We would have Reese's peanut butter cups and A&W root beer for a snack. I remember that we would sit and talk, but I don't remember any of our conversations.

I remember that she got sicker and sicker. That instead of being in the rocking chair or at the kitchen table, she would be in bed when I got there. That eventually we would go visit her, but I wasn't spending afternoons there. That the house was full of people--relatives, friends, hospice workers. That I took home a stuffed giraffe a few weeks before she died.

She died just after Valentine's Day in 1992.

I wish Brian could have met her. I wish I could see her holding my baby this winter.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Hero worship

I saw Pete Seeger last night.

A couple of months ago I was looking at the Birchmere's fall lineup and saw "Woody Guthrie Tribute" on the list for October with Pete Seeger first on the list of performers. I didn't stop to see if I recognized any of the other artists. I just bought tickets. Pete Seeger. I mean, like, really: PETE SEEGER.

I suppose it could have been a let down. After all, after all the years of listening to his music and reading about him, my expectations might have been inflated beyond what any reality could live up to. I mean, his voice could have been shaky. He could have seemed small. He could have been somethng other than what I had imagined. But I think what amazed me most was how familiar everything seemed. There was Pete Seeger up on stage in a green shirt, looking tall and healthy, his banjo hanging from his right shoulder. His voice sounded just like it does on the records. After the intermission when he was answering questions about Woody Guthrie posed to him by Joe Uehlein, I knew his voice and his speech patterns.

The other artists were good too. Even though I'd never heard most of them before, some of their names were familiar. They were all talented musicians, and I will probably pick up an album by Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irions at some point. And because it was a Guthrie tribute I knew most of the songs. But, like most people in the audience, I was there to see Pete. I'd never seen him live before, and since he's 87 and not touring much, I figured this was my chance. It really was the perfect way to see him--surrounded by other singers who complemented his singing and playing style.

And then at the end everyone on stage and in the audience sang "This Land is Your Land," with Pete calling out the words to the verses in front of the song. Absolutely perfect.


We're off to Chicago for a weekend of pizza and dinosaurs!