Monday, November 22, 2010

A First-Trimester Love Letter

Dear Baby,

You do not know me yet, but I am your mommy. When you become aware of such things, you will hear my heart beating all around you. And when you are born, you and I will recognize each other, as if we had been friends a long time.

When you are out the in world, you will discover many things, not the least of which is that food is art and magic and divinity. Your daddy will present you with marvelous concoctions draped in wonderful things like roulades, sandwiched between days of peanut butter and jelly and Chef Boyardee. You will develop tastes, likes and dislikes, and will not be shy about letting your voice be heard.

But for now, the choices are all mine. I am doing everything I can to make it easy for you to grow in peace. Some things are simple -- giving up wine and lunchmeat is not a sacrifice. Others are harder. Sometimes I want to slather goat cheese on everything I eat and wash it down with a sugary forbidden Coke. When your daddy and I were out to dinner a few weeks ago, I waged a fierce battle in my head as I contemplated the consequences of the steak tartare. You won -- the delicious raw meat stayed in the kitchen.

I must apologize for all the crackers and dry cereal in the past six weeks, but as you approach the size of a peach and I near the second trimester, the days of Cheerio-popping are almost over, soon to be replaced by cravings for everything from milk to hot sauce. I promise to try and continue to make the right choices for you over the next six months, but as you will inevitably learn, sometimes you just need a McDonald's cheeseburger. Or two.

It's a strange and wonderful thing to never be alone, to know that every decision affects a sweet wee being floating in a dark and quiet world. Everything I eat grows your little brain and little eyelashes. Bananas and broccoli take on a new importance, and goat cheese, no matter how sublime, can be effortlessly shelved for 40 weeks.

Rest easy, Baby. Mommy will take care of everything.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Beware the Succubus Heavy Cream

Cream soups are my savior when I am home alone with the kids for the evening. If I have a cream soup, and chicken, and a starch, and some kind of vegetable, I feel like that resembles a complete meal and even hits most of the food groups. 

But the other night, as I was preparing to pop open a can of cream of mushroom soup to dollop over my chicken and rice, I was lured to the fridge by that devastating siren of the culinary world, that ingredient that is concurrently evil and divine, and my entire evening changed: It was a pint of heavy cream, rich and fattening and glorious. The cream soup went back in the cupboard, the fresh mushrooms emerged, and it was on.

This was the third time in a week we had cooked with heavy cream, and I could not entirely suppress a feeling of guilt that I was prematurely blocking my toddler's arteries. It was likely, I told myself, that heavy cream and fresh mushrooms have less preservatives than the soup. I argued myself down, and into the saucepan went a waterfall of cream, on top of slightly browned portobellos.

The key to a really beautiful white sauce, I have been taught, is to let the heavy cream reduce and thicken, all the while adding generous pats of butter (not margarine ... why bother?) and sprinkles of parmesan cheese. The butter melts and spirals yellow in the lightly bubbling cream, as the parmesan softens and diffuses flavor. After several minutes of patient stirring with a wooden spoon, and the addition of tomatoes or rosemary or more butter, the heavy cream has abandoned its original form and become a graceful blanket of sauce. 

Done right, such sauce is blissful. Tossed with chewy gnocchi or ladled over chicken and risotto, a perfect heavy cream sauce can transform my Monday night from "dinner is the only barrier between me and the couch" to "maybe I'll linger a little longer at the table and just lick my plate while no one's looking." 

And even more enticing is that the same heavy cream used to dress your pasta can be whisked, with sugar and vanilla, into pillows of whipped cream for your after-dinner treat. Versatile, impressive no matter what it adorns, heavy cream is a decadent gift to noodles and pies everywhere. It is enough to make me forgive the blocked arteries. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Food is an Instrument of Wedded Bliss

Four years ago this week, Chef Matt made an honest woman out of me at the magnificient Cathedral of St. Paul. The day flashed by in a flurry of taffeta and vows and tears and dancing, and I made a desperate attempt to take mental snapshots of everything that was not caught on camera, to file away for reminiscence's sake or for the rainy days of marriage.

Among a thousand other memories, what I remember most was a new husband who looked at me like he could not believe his luck. I was never one to think that I was a great catch for anyone, but that look was unequivocal in its meaning: You are a great catch for me. I still see that look sometimes, but as more time has separated the present from our wedding day, I see that belief more often in his actions than his eyes, which, to me, is even greater proof.

Everyone's marriage is perfect on that first day, when the joy is intoxicating and everything seems more beautiful under the influence of a white dress and a haze of champagne. You learn quickly that married life, even if it is wonderful, is not a fairy tale, that it demands hard work and compromise you never could have imagined while gazing at each other over a first dance.

Over time, the little actions show love far more earnestly than words at a wedding dinner, because they come amidst nasty bouts of the flu, stressful losses of jobs, empty checking accounts, and children who will not sleep. When my husband, who was prone to leaving cabinet doors open and a trail of socks across the bedroom floor, makes sure that the house is picked up before I get home from work, I know he loves me.

For us, our great love affair with food has only served to strengthen our great love affair with each other. Every time he cooks me up something special after I have had a long day, or saves me the last scoop of cookies and cream because he knows I love it, or thanks me for my suppertime concoctions even though they are rarely fancy, I know he loves me. Each anniversary, when he recreates our wedding dinner, I know that he does it not just for tradition's sake but also to demonstrate, through his great gift with food, that our love is alive and well.

I do not mean to be overly sentimental. But when the first week of November each year sweeps in with wedding flashbacks, I cannot help but remember that gush of emotion and the promise of great things to come. And the great things have certainly come, disguised as thoughtful pots of etouffee and late-night Blizzard runs in my third trimester and sincere compliments on my improvised lasagna. These are the actions of love in our house, and they abound.