Saturday, June 29, 2013

The bump so far

So, how am I adjusting to pregnancy so far? To tell you the truth, I almost feel like “adjusting” isn’t the right word, since things often happen so gradually that I just notice I’m different one day, without being able to pinpoint when it started. When did I start feeling so heavy? When did I start having trouble putting on my socks? When did my joints start hurting? When did I stop seeing my feet? I couldn’t tell you exactly when it happened, but that’s just the way my life is now. I have to admit that the big surprise to me is the pain. I was expecting “discomfort” in the last trimester, especially given that it’s summer, but it turns out that the constant pain (pelvic pain and a pinched nerve, in my case) is much worse than the general discomfort. I’m seeing a physiotherapist every week to help deal with this. Being in a pool helps tremendously, but getting out of the pool and getting hit by gravity full-on again is torture! My feet are so swollen that even my OB was impressed (and I saw him at 9:45 AM, mind you, so I still had some swelling to do before the day was over). I do keep gently bumping my belly into things, though, and I think that Katie on is right on (see It’s never what you expect or Things people should admit more often: Pregnancy is weird). I haven’t even been able to sleep through the night since I got pregnant, but it’s worse now because I can’t even sleep on my side anymore on account of the pelvic pain. To the point where I’ve naïvely thought that it would be easier after the baby’s born (which is ridiculous, because of course I’ll wake up more often, and it’ll take another few months for the pelvic pain to subside anyway). And despite all that, I’m still incredibly lucky to have a healthy pregnancy with no complications!

A month ago, at 33 weeks, I got my first “Wow, you look like you’re ready to pop!” from a complete stranger. I should have had a clever comeback ready, but I wasn’t fast enough. Instead, I just said something like, “Um, actually, I’m not due until July, so still almost two months to go, but… yeah.” I’ve also gotten “You’re bigger than Kate!”, meaning the Duchess of Cambridge. Thank you for stating the obvious. (I was bigger than her when neither one of us was pregnant, too, in case anyone is wondering. And I’m carrying a big baby.) I guess in theory she’s one of my seven annoying people I’ll meet when I’m pregnant, although I confess I’ve yet to find her annoying, ever. I’ve been lucky that no stranger has dared touched my baby bump, though, because I probably would start patting their stomach right back. It’s true that people in general, even if they mean well, do have a tendency to comment on how big you are regardless of your actual size, though, which is one of the reasons I don’t post too many pictures of myself on Facebook.

As far as preparations go, we’re pretty much ready with the essentials. The nursery is finished (upcoming post on that), I’ve got meals in the freezer (upcoming post on that, too). I’ve got a list of important phone numbers, my hospital bag is almost packed (for inspiration, see here, here or here). I’m going to be a minimalist and use a hospital-issued paper gown instead of a specialty maternity gown. My birth plan is written out, too, for what it’s worth – I’ve realized that while I would like a minimum of medical interventions, I’m not in control of what will happen, so being informed is really my best bet.

We’ve also seen the last “epic” film before D-Day – Man of Steel is totally worth it. Later this summer, I’m thinking we’ll skip Wolverine entirely and see if we’re up to a baby matinée (or an actual date night!) for Thor 2, though that’s entirely dependent on when Baby decides to show up. We also just celebrated our 5th anniversary with a fantastic dinner at Il Sogno, where I had the most amazing beef cheek ravioli with shaved black truffles in a cream sauce; I’d like to thank both the chef as well as the makers of Lactaid – plus the Engineer, of course, for being the best husband I could have asked for.

As far as baby-themed literature goes, I have to say I’m tired of all the publications that assume not only that the father-to-be is clueless, but also that the mother-to-be will do everything perfectly the first time. I don’t think it’s the case for us, and we’re not the only ones. I mean, sure, I’ll be hardwired to want to respond to our baby’s cries, but it doesn’t mean that my response would automatically be better than the Engineer’s. I honestly don’t even think I’ve changed any more diapers than he has, but I’m sure we’ll both learn very quickly. I don’t have all the answers already built-in and I can’t live up to the image of the perfect mother we see in magazines and on Pinterest. So here are five things that mothers want fathers to know, so we can keep that in mind.

And now I’ll go back to my knitting to see if I can finish that in time.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Batch of links

- I don’t know why I never got around to posting this before, but it turns out that people who eat chocolate regularly have lower BMI’s than those who don’t, even though they consume more calories overall. Which is what I’ll smugly say to anyone who questions my dark chocolate consumption (not that anyone has commented).

- I’m sure you’ve heard about Paula Deen’s misfortune at this point. She used the N-word and allegedly fantasized about hosting a “Southern plantation-style” wedding staffed by African-American waiters in demeaning uniforms (the latter charge bothers me more than the first, despite how much I abhor the word she used). As a result, just about every company with which she had ties has dropped her because apparently, the public perceives racism as worse than adultery or substance abuse, for example. While I would tend to agree, I don’t believe the answer is to make her disappear off the map, but to use this as an opportunity to address the larger issue of racism, particularly in the south. (And I’d also like to point out that it’s a bit hypocritical of Smithfield to sever ties with Ms. Deen, given the fact that they’re more controversial than she is.) But here’s a link to an open letter to Paula Deen written by a Southern, African-American, Jewish, gay food writer, inviting her to dialogue in an attempt to mend things. It is more nuanced than anything I’ve read up to this point, which is why I’m sharing it.

- And while we’re on the subject, did you know that people in general, including African-Americans AND medical personnel, tend to assume that African-Americans feel less pain than Caucasians in the same situations? How do we even begin to fix that?

- How long can you wait to have a baby? I often complain that the media have the bad habit of misinterpreting scientific data, but this takes the cake. You know how we’re always told that women can rarely get pregnant after 35? It turns out that’s based on birth records from the 18th century! Modern data is, thankfully, much more encouraging, though little known.

- Did you know there are betting pools regarding not just the sex of the royal baby, but its name, date of arrival, weight, and hair color? I’m glad there isn’t that much speculation about mine.

- A very interesting article about how hard it is for older women to find lingerie.

- I don’t know how much people heard about this issue outside of the States, but I think it bears repeating. Texas lawmakers introduced an anti-abortion bill in a late-night emergency session (so draconian that it would have closed down most abortion clinics in the state), and the reason they had to do it behind everyone’s back is because the majority of voters are against it. So enter our new heroine, Wendy Davis, who filibustered the bill by speaking for 13 hours straight (according to a very strict set of rules, I might add), and even then the bill was defeated only thanks to a citizens’ filibuster in the minutes after she was stopped from speaking and before the vote was taken, too late to count. I hate living someplace where basic rights could be violated so easily as if we were still in the Middle Ages, and I do wish Governor Rick Perry would mind his own damn business (he doesn’t have a uterus, so he doesn’t get to tell us what to do with ours). On the bright side, you might get a kick out of the reviews for Wendy Davis’ pink running shoes.

- The shocking effects of meth addiction, with before and after pictures. This needs to be taught in all high schools.

- And finally, an Egyptian statue in a Manchester museum has been spinning on itself when no one’s watching. A time-lapse video reveals that it’s probably vibrations from visitors’ footsteps that are causing it to rock in its base and move, but the effect remains incredibly creepy. You can read the article here and watch the video here. If it were up to me, I’d probably offer it a sacrifice of beer and a meat sandwich, just to be on the safe side!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Mango Puffs with Lemongrass-Coconut Pudding and Black Sesame

I tend to like Asian-inspired desserts with mango and coconut. I made Thai mango with coconut sticky rice not too long ago, but this recipe from Michael Natkin’s Herbivoracious was fabulous. I couldn’t find black sesame paste anywhere, so I ordered instant black sesame paste powder online and followed the directions, adding 1 cup of water to 1 packet of powder. I would say that it turned out way too liquid; if you go that route, only add boiling water to the powder by the tablespoonful until you get the desired consistency. I thought all the tastes went very well together, though the Engineer then revealed he’s not actually that fond of mangos. He enjoyed the coconut pudding and sesame paste in puff shells, though! I loved the whole thing. The pictures aren’t too great, because it was dark when I took them, but trust me when I say that this is good!

For the shells
1 (17-oz. to 20-oz.) package frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 large eggs beaten with 1 Tbsp. water

For the coconut pudding
1 stick lemongrass
1 (14-oz.) can coconut milk
3 Tbsp. sugar
kosher salt
3 Tbsp. cornstarch

To assemble
2 Tbsp. black sesame paste (I used way more and loved it!)
1 ripe mango, peeled and finely diced
toasted black sesame seeds

For the shells
Preheat the oven to 400 °F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

Unroll the puff pastry, allow to defrost for about 5 minutes, and cut out twelve 2 ½-inch circles (I made fifteen). You may need one or two sheets of the puff pastry, depending on the brand. Wrap any remaining puff pastry tightly in plastic wrap and put it back in the freezer for another use. Place the pastry circles on the baking sheet and brush them with the egg wash. Sprinkle generously with sugar. Bake until puffed and golden brown, about 12 minutes. Set aside to cool.

For the coconut pudding
Cut off and discard all but the bottom 3 inches of the lemongrass. Remove and discard the outer layer. Pound the lemongrass stalk to release the flavors, then chop it finely. Put the lemongrass, coconut milk, sugar and a pinch of salt in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Put the cornstarch in a small bowl. When the mixture is near a simmer, take a few tablespoons of it and whisk it into the cornstarch to form a slurry, then whisk that slurry into the saucepan. Whisking constantly, bring the mixture to a bare simmer and keep it there for 1 minute (you should see the pudding start to thicken, which was quick in my case). Remove from the heat and strain into a shallow bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, until cooled and thickened.

To assemble
Take one pastry shell and use a sharp paring knife to cut a circle out the top, leaving a 3/8-inch rim all the way around. Carefully lift the “lid” and reserve. Spoon in 1 tablespoon of the chilled pudding. Put ½ teaspoon of black sesame paste in the center of the pudding. Spoon on 2 tablespoons of the mango and sprinkle with the black sesame seeds. Repeat for the remaining shells (only before serving them, though, so they don’t get soggy). Top with the reserved lids and serve immediately.

Barbecued Pork with Aromatic Jasmine Rice

This is a recipe I got from Shauna James Ahern’s first book, Gluten-Free Girl. Looking at it on the shelf recently, I realized that it still had a bookmark sticking out, pointing to a recipe I never got around to making. So I decided to get to it, and I’m really glad I did. Despite the title, you don’t actually need a barbecue to make it (though I’m sure it would taste great if it were cooked on the grill rather than in the oven). The recipe makes a lot of sauce, but I made it with two pork tenderloins instead of one, to spread things out a bit more (one of those tenderloins is currently in the freezer). One big pork tenderloin, plus the quantities below, should give you 3-4 servings.

For the ketchup, I prefer the taste of Heinz to other brands, but I avoid HFCS, so I only buy Heinz Organic now. I thought the sauce was a little too vinegary, but the Engineer loved it just as is and fantasized about drinking it, so I’ll keep making it this way! I myself was particularly fond of the rice and might keep this recipe to serve it with other dishes, though I would consider putting the lemongrass and ginger in a cheesecloth bag just to make serving easier.

1 cup ketchup
1 cup rice wine vinegar (see note above)
1 cup GF oyster sauce (I used hoisin sauce)
5 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
½ bunch green onions, sliced thin
1 cup jasmine rice
1 ½ cups water
1 stalk lemongrass, bruised
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter (or margarine)
1 small nub of ginger, peeled and chopped in large chunks
¼ cup thinly sliced white onions
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. cracked black pepper
1 pork tenderloin, about 1 ½ lbs. (I used two loins)
1 tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. white pepper (I used black)

Preheat the oven to 450 °F.

In a saucepan, bring the ketchup, rice wine vinegar, oyster sauce, garlic cloves and green onions to a boil over medium0high heat. Turn the heat down to medium and let the sauce simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Strain the barbecue sauce and set it aside.

Meanwhile, put the rice, water, lemongrass, butter, ginger, white onions, salt and pepper into another saucepan and bring to a boil (this is where I’d consider tying the lemongrass and ginger in cheesecloth). Reduce to medium-low heat and cover tightly. Simmer for about 20 minutes or until all the water has been absorbed. Allow the rice to stand, off the burner, for 5 to 10 minutes, while you are preparing the pork (or, in my case, until the pork is ready).

Heat a sauté pan over high heat (the recipe doesn’t say, but I put some oil in there). Season the tenderloin with salt and pepper and sear it on all sides in the hot pan. When the tenderloin is seared, put the pan in the preheated oven and let it cook for 5 minutes. (So, obviously, this depends on how you like your pork. I let it cook much longer, though perhaps I didn’t sear it as much; I let it cook 25 minutes for this step and 10 minutes for the next one. A thicker tenderloin will require more time than a smaller one; trust your thermometer to know when it’s done.) Take the pan from the oven, remove the tenderloin for a moment, and strain the grease from the pan. Add a cup of barbecue sauce to the tenderloin and let it cook for 3 minutes more.

Slice up the pork and lay over a small mound of aromatic rice. Pour the remaining barbecue sauce over the pork.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Broccoli, Grape and Pasta Salad

I made a pretty good kale and chickpea salad with tahini dressing recently, with apples and dried cranberries, but upon looking at it, it seemed too similar to previous recipes I’ve posted to warrant a whole post. This broccoli pasta salad, though, deserves it. I reduced the amount of mayonnaise by half, because I refuse to use 1 cup of mayonnaise in anything, and it was delicious; the Engineer and I both approve. We had tons of salad, though, probably because I used the whole package of pasta without realizing the recipe called for half, so I can testify that while it is good with bacon, it is also very good without. You can also omit the nuts if you want, or use vegan mayonnaise without a problem.

1 cup chopped pecans
½ (16-oz.) package farfalle pasta or other short pasta (I used the whole bag!)
1 lb. fresh broccoli
½ cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
salt and pepper, to taste
1/3 cup diced red onion
2 cups seedless red grapes, halved
8 cooked bacon slices, crumbled

Preheat oven to 350 °F. Bake pecans in a single layer in a shallow pan 5 to 7 minutes or until lightly toasted and fragrant, stirring halfway through. (Honestly, I always do this in a pan on the stovetop.)

Prepare pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile, cut broccoli florets from stems, and separate florets into small pieces using tip of a paring knife. Peel away tough outer layer of stems, and finely chop stems.

Whisk together mayonnaise and next 3 ingredients in a large bowl; add broccoli, hot cooked pasta, and grapes, and stir to coat. Cover and chill 3 hours (I served it warm the first night, I think). Stir bacon and pecans into salad just before serving.

Tapioca crémeux et compotée de pruneaux au thé

Cette recette est adaptée du livre 100 recettes pour toi mon cœur, publié par les Éditions Transcontinental en collaboration avec la Fondation de l’Institut de Cardiologie de Montréal. J’ai essayé quatre des recettes du livre, et il m’en reste encore sept que je voudrais faire, alors c’est quand même un livre appétissant. Cependant, les trois premières ont été décevantes. Le pain aux bananes est bon, mais pas meilleur que n’importe quelle autre recette déjà essayée. Les crêpes Suzette santé étaient en fait très bonnes, bien que pas traditionnelles (bleuets, menthe et amandes en plus de l’orange), mais j’en ai eu moins que promis, et elles étaient trop épaisses pour être pliées (est-ce toujours le cas pour vous aussi quand vous faites des crêpes?). Enfin, la tarte aux bleuets et à la crème de fleur d’oranger était la plus décevante. Elle a été créée par Giovanni Apollo, chef du restaurant Apollo à Montréal. Selon les images, il faut utiliser un moule à tarte à fond amovible de 9 pouces de diamètre, mais la recette ne parle pas du fond amovible. Le vrai problème est que les quantités de crème à la fleur d’oranger sont beaucoup trop importantes pour ce moule! Il faudrait les diviser au moins par deux. (Le moule a débordé, j’en avais quatre ramequins pleins et il m’en restait encore!) Cependant, vu le temps de cuisson, la réponse ne se trouve pas non plus avec un moule à tarte normal. Je suis entrée en contact avec la maison d’édition pour rapporter l’erreur, en espérant obtenir les bonnes quantités, mais on m’a dit que bien qu’il s’agisse en effet d’une erreur, je dois faire mes propres expériences pour trouver les bonnes quantités! J’ai voulu savoir si le chef avait son mot à dire là-dessus, et on m’a répondu qu’il n’était pas joignable. Mes propres tentatives de le joindre n’ont rien donné non plus. Donc la base de la recette est bonne, mais elle n’aurait pas dû être publiable telle quelle. Comme quoi ce n’est pas parce qu’on engage un chef vedette que les recettes sont automatiquement à la hauteur…

J’ai ensuite essayé la compotée de pruneaux au thé avec tapioca crémeux (créée par Danny St-Pierre, du restaurant Auguste à Sherbrooke). Tout d’abord, ce que je n’aime pas, c’est que la recette annonce d’emblée que les quantités de compotée de pruneaux seront beaucoup trop importantes pour le dessert, et qu’on peut utiliser le reste comme confiture (moi, je les ai mangées avec du yogourt sans lactose). Il me semble que ça se ferait, écrire des quantités appropriées dans un livre de recettes… En tout cas! J’ai dû la faire avec du pouding tapioca instantané, car je n’avais pas de tapioca traditionnel, mais j’y ai quand même ajouté de la pâte de vanille. Au lieu de thé Earl Grey, j’ai pris deux sachets de thé noir aux groseilles, et j’ai coupé les pruneaux en morceaux. J’ai vraiment beaucoup aimé ça malgré tout!

Pour le pouding au tapioca
3 tasses de lait 2 % sans lactose, divisé
1/3 tasse de petites perles de tapioca
1 gousse de vanille
1/3 tasse de sucre
2 gros jaunes d’œufs
¼ c. à thé de sel fin

Pour la compotée de pruneaux
2 tasses d’eau bouillante
1 sachet de thé Earl Grey
16 pruneaux dénoyautés (que je recommande de couper en morceaux)
¼ tasse de sucre fin

Pour le pouding au tapioca
Dans une casserole à fond épais, combiner 2 ¼ tasses de lait et les perles de tapioca. Faire tremper 1 heure.

Ouvrir la gousse de vanille en deux sur la longueur. Gratter l’intérieur pour recueillir les graines de vaille. Réserver le tout.

Dans un bol, fouetter ensemble 1/3 tasse de sucre et les jaunes d’œufs jusqu’à ce que le mélange commence à blanchir.

Combiner le reste du lait et tous les ingrédients du pouding au tapioca dans la casserole. À feu doux, cuire à frémissement pendant 30 minutes en brassant souvent. Retirer la gousse de vanille et répartir le mélange de tapioca dans 8 petits pots ou verrines.

Pour la compotée de pruneaux
Dans une casserole, combiner l’eau bouillante et le thé. Faire infuser 5 minutes. Retirer le sachet, ajouter les pruneaux et ¼ tasse de sucre, puis cuire 15 minutes à feu doux.

Faire refroidir les pruneaux. Garnir chaque pouding de 1 c. à soupe de ce bon nectar (j’en ai mis bien plus).

Friday, June 21, 2013

Spaghettis avec sauce à l'ail et à l'huile d'olive

Une autre recette de pâtes super simple – qui saurait s’en plaindre? L’Ingénieur et moi étions tous les deux étonnés non seulement de la rapidité de la recette, mais d’à quel point c’était bon! J’ai utilisé des spaghettis aux tomates (c’est la nouvelle tendance, les légumes dans les pâtes, et je trouve ça génial). La quantité d’ail semble impressionnante, mais puisqu’il cuit dans l’huile, son goût est atténué. C’est vraiment bon! La recette était à l’origine dans Coup de Pouce.

½ tasse d’huile d’olive de bonne qualité
8 gousses d’ail coupées en tranches fines
1 pincée de flocons de piment fort (ou jusqu’à 1 c. à thé si vous aimez ça)
½ tasse de fromage pecorino romano, râpé finement
1/3 tasse de persil italien frais, haché finement (j’en ai mis moins)
¼ c. à thé de sel
½ c. à thé de poivre noir du moulin
1 lb. de spaghettis

Faire cuire les spaghettis selon les instructions sur l’emballage.

Dans une petite casserole, chauffer l’huile à feu moyen. Ajouter l’ail et les flocons de piment fort et cuire pendant environ 1 minute ou jusqu’à ce que le mélange dégage son arôme. Retirer la casserole du feu et laisser refroidir.

Ajouter le fromage, le persil, le sel et le poivre à l’huile refroidie et mélanger. Ajouter aux pâtes chaudes au moment de servir.

Batch of links

- Kenji does it again: 7 myths about cooking steak that need to be debunked. I learned several things in this article!

- An awesome video of kids experiencing their first taste of a particular food. My favorite is the little girl tasting an olive for the first time. I can’t wait to see what our baby will think of different foods! (The only reaction I got so far was some swift and violent movement, comparable to the Harlem Shake, the one time I had spicy food in New Orleans. And maybe this makes me a bad mother, but I thought it was highly amusing!)

- Another article about children being bullied for their food allergies. I feel like I’ve read about this several times in the past few weeks. While bullying in and of itself is a huge problem, in this case the main issue seems to be that the bullies don’t realize that their victim could, in fact, die. So I think solving this problem will take more than interventions about bullying, it will take education about food allergies in general.

- A new study found that GMO-fed pigs were sicker than non-GMO-fed pigs. While the study may have some flaws (see here and here for more details), it highlights the need for more studies on the subject, using stricter science, so we can finally get conclusive proof one way or another about the effects of GMOs on humans.

- Ideas for how to use grains of paradise (because when you have the rest of the jar left over after making apple pie, you need some help).

- Joss Whedon’s new movie, Much Ado About Nothing, is getting good reviews. Too bad there are no showings in San Antonio…

- Why can’t Montreal have a bilingual radio station? This is a very interesting read.

- Do you think racial profiling is exaggerated? You probably won’t after you watch this video.

- One blogger’s answer to a major company as to why she won’t work for free. No kidding!

- For laughs: My Imaginary Well-Dressed Toddler Daughter, because the commentary on little Quinoa is hilarious! Like Catalog Living for toddler fashion…

- And classical sculptures dressed as hipsters.

Batch of links - Pregnancy humor

- 10 ways to piss off a pregnant woman: so true, so true. (And from the mom-to-be’s POV.)

- 9 things you should know before interacting with a pregnant woman. Again: so true, so true.

- Hello stranger on the street, could you please tell me how to take care of my baby?

- Yes, I’m pregnant and I’m eating that.

- I read all the baby sleep books and I’ve totally got this covered. Maybe.

- How to be a perfect parent in 5 easy steps… or probably never. This article contains a nifty chart titled “Proof that you are fucking up your offspring no matter what”.

- Top 10 “Oh, now I get it” moments.

- Your baby is not a toy. Maybe, but that looks like so much fun!

- Reasons my son is crying. Because we’ll need to laugh about it in a few years.

- A dad is making posters out of the bizarre things he’s said to his children (which I’m sure only seem bizarre when taken out of context).

- Another dad writes parenting thoughts on Post-it notes. Here are the top 50 from year one and the top 20 from year two.

Batch of links - Maternity photos

I can’t resist to a round-up of awkward pregnancy photos. Some pregnancy photo shoots are tasteful and really beautiful, too, but there are so many weird ones out there that it’s really worth taking a look, just for laughs. (We’re not planning on having a professional photo shoot ourselves, but we are taking pictures of my growing belly for posterity anyway. I’m not even sure the Engineer knows what a pregnancy photo shoot is.)

First, check out this link and that linkon the blog Pregnant Chicken; they’re the first ones I saw when I started hearing about the concept of awkward pregnancy photos (though I was no stranger to awkward family photos). Then there’s this link with bigger pictures and this link with 50 pictures and that one with 50 pictures as well (that last one does have a lot of repeats, but enough funny news ones that I’m sharing the link anyway).

There are also adoption “pregnancy” photo shoots, which you can look for on Pinterest, but I wanted to link to the one that started it all: this awesome post from, featuring Alana of A Public House (both in the links on the right, because I’ve been reading them for years). It isn’t awkward, just incredibly funny and à propos. I’m also partial to this one.

I would also like the share links to some excellent and original pregnancy photo shoots. Let’s start with an underwater shoot by Kevin Beasley that I really like. There are also series of photos, like these silhouettes or this shirt showing the progression of the baby bump, or series showing the size of the baby using a fruit or vegetable for comparison, like you can see here by scrolling down. I also love the idea of writing down milestones, dates and anecdotes on a chalkboard, as seen on the blog Little Baby Garvin, also by scrolling down. (By the way, you can also do this with babies, like here or here! My friend Jen also had a good series with her daughter, posed every month next to a giant teddy bear she got as a gift at birth, so it showed her growth next to the same reference point. Others have done it with a laundry basket or an armchair, and I plan to use Darwin for scale!) Given that my calligraphy skills aren’t that great, though, what I really would have liked to do if I had the right setup to take pictures is something like this maternity series by Lexia Frank, which I think is fabulous. If anyone out there is newly pregnant, consider the app CineMama, which comes with a grid to keep pictures consistent and turns them into a time-lapse movie.

And while we’re talking about pictures, here’s a hilarious thing to do someday: recreate old family photos - you should take a look at Young Me / Now Mewhen you have some time to spare!

Unique, mais pas bizarre

J’avais l’intention de rédiger un billet sur les prénoms bien plus tôt – quand on cherchait encore des prénoms, en fait. Les prénoms de Bébé sont trouvés depuis belle lurette, mais je me dis que certains liens pourraient quand même être utiles ou vous faire rire, alors voici. (Je suis en mode « J’écris tous les billets de bébé que je voulais écrire, parce que finalement, la date approche ». Je suis relativement prête, même après avoir lu ça, ou en tout cas, aussi prête qu’on peut l’être quand c’est le premier bébé.)

Tout d’abord, j’observe que la plupart des parents veulent un prénom qui soit unique et original sans toutefois être bizarre, un nom qui convienne autant à un enfant qu’à un adulte. C’est sûr, tout le monde a des goûts différents, mais en gros, tous les parents que je connais ont l’air de penser dans les mêmes termes. Nous avions aussi une difficulté que bien des gens n’ont pas : nous voulions un prénom qui fonctionne à la fois en anglais et en français, puisque Bébé grandira avec les deux langues. Donc on éliminait les noms qui s’écrivent différemment dans les deux langues, mais aussi ceux avec des accents en français. Automatiquement, adieu Éric, Michaël, Chloé et Zoë, adieu Nic(h)olas et Nat(h)alie. On oublie tout de suite les prénoms composés, les traits d’union, les cédilles et les apostrophes, qui sont incompatibles avec le système américain (permis de conduire, numéro de sécurité sociale, etc.). Il fallait également que le prénom puisse être prononcé facilement dans les deux langues. Les Américains ont déjà toute la misère du monde avec Amélie, même quand je l’écris sans accent et que j’indique l’équivalence avec Amelia… Donc j’ai dû laisser tomber Magali, que j’aimais beaucoup, mais qu’un anglophone ne saurait pas prononcer (j’entendais déjà ma belle-mère, anglophone, le dire à sa manière, « MAH-ga-lee », et ça m’horripilait). Et on a voulu dans la mesure du possible éviter les prénoms portés par des personnes proches de nous, donc pas de Jason, de Sophie ni de Caroline (dont j’aime beaucoup plus la prononciation française qu’anglaise de toute façon), ainsi que les prénoms de gens qui nous font penser à quelqu’un avec une connotation négative (je m’abstiens des exemples, mais les profs d’école sauront tout de suite de quoi je parle). On a aussi laissé tomber plusieurs prénoms féminins finissant en A, à cause de la tendance québécoise à mal prononcer la dernière syllabe (comme Sarah qui devient Sar-âh). Et personnellement, je déteste les prénoms officiels qui sont en fait des surnoms, chose courante chez les francophones donnant des prénoms anglophones à leurs enfants (comme Steve ou Maggie, pour ne nommer que ceux-là). Pas non plus de surnoms courants que nous n’aimons pas. Et il fallait bien sûr un prénom qui s’harmonise avec le nom de famille de l’Ingénieur (donc pas Charlotte, dans notre cas, même si j’aimais le nom) et qui ne donne pas d’initiales malencontreuses. Ah oui, il fallait aussi que la signification du nom soit acceptable. Pas nécessairement inspirante ni grandement significative, mais pas quelque chose du genre « déesse du vent » ou « tête malformée »!

Bien que certaines cultures aient des traditions pour nommer leurs enfants, nous n’en avions pas vraiment, mis à part le nombre de prénoms. L’Ingénieur est anglophone et est donc habitué à deux noms, le premier prénom plus le « middle name »; en anglais, les deux sont utilisés, et il n’est pas rare que l’enfant finisse par choisir son deuxième prénom comme nom courant. En français, par contre, on a habituellement trois noms (j’en ai quatre, mais c’est une exception); tous les prénoms figurent sur l’acte de naissance, mais deux des prénoms ne sont jamais utilisés par la suite, et c’est le prénom usuel qui l’emporte. Nous avons décidé de donner trois prénoms à nos enfants, suivant la tradition francophone, et s’il faut absolument un seul « middle name » pour les inscrire à l’école, par exemple, nous utiliserons le deuxième prénom. Nos choix sont quand même assez simples et harmonieux pour être respectés (en théorie), et c’est ça l’important. Ma sœur et moi savons toutefois ce que c’est d’avoir un prénom (simple pour un francophone) qui n’est pas respecté même par certains membres de notre famille, comme la dame de ce billet, mais je pense qu’il n’y a rien à faire de ce côté-là tant que les membres de la famille en question n’ont pas décidé qu’apprendre notre nom est une priorité, et ça, ce n’est pas nous qui pouvons le changer pour eux (on s’entend que rendu là, ce n’est plus juste une question de nom de toute façon).

En fait, c’est que les parents se mettent beaucoup de pression pour trouver un bon prénom. Et selon une statistique que j’ai lue (via Real Simple, mais tirée de Baby Center), 11 % des parents finissent par regretter le prénom qu’ils ont donné à leur enfant! Sans compter que les gens portant des prénoms simples et facilement prononçables reçoivent des promotions plus souvent et font plus d’argent que les autres, en moyenne… L’Internet est plein d’articles comme 10 manières dont le prénom de votre enfant peut gâcher sa vie. Il y avait sur l’importance des prénoms un article de Pascale Montpetit, publié en français dans The Gazette le 27 septembre 2003, que je voulais partager, mais je ne le trouve en ligne nulle part… Elle y parlait entre autres des attentes créées par un prénom et de sa grand-maman Colombe qui, elle, portait bien son nom.

Côté sites web, j’ai beaucoup aimé Baby Genie, qui suggère des noms sonnant bien avec notre nom de famille, et Nymbler, qui suggère des noms qu’on pourrait aimer en se basant sur des préférences qu’on entre. Par exemple, on peut dire : « J’aime les noms Magali, Charlotte, Caroline et Sophie », et Nymbler génère Lyla, Isabelle, Grace et Emilie pour des filles ainsi que Charles, Henry, Oliver et Adrian pour des garçons. On peut chercher par sexe, et ensuite classer des noms parmi « Favoris » ou « À bannir ». J’aime aussi Baby Wizard, qui offre des outils comme celui-ci pour voir l’évolution de la popularité d’un prénom au fil du temps, ou celui-là pour voir où un prénom est le plus/le moins populaire.

Je ne suis pas beaucoup les tendances en matière de prénoms. Une statistique intéressante, quand même : saviez-vous par exemple que parmi les prénoms anglophones, la majorité se terminaient par les mêmes lettres depuis près de 100 ans, mais qu’il y a actuellement de gros changements dans cette tendance? J’ignore où ça s’en va, mais ça n’a pas influencé notre choix. Vu que j’ai un blogue de bouffe, j’aurais pu trouver des noms gourmets à mes enfants (comme Rosemary, Sage ou Saffron), mais aucun ne me tentait assez! J’ai lu les articles avec, par exemple, les pires prénoms anglophones actuels (voir les commentaires aussi), ou ceux choisis par des vedettes (toujours divertissants, ceux-là, surtout le nom de la fille de Kanye West et de Kim Kardashian). J’ai vraiment adoré le billet de Lucie avec ses commentaires sur d’anciens prénoms québécois, qui est hilarant! Je partage aussi deux articles écrits par Natalie Hanson sur Nameberry (ici et ), parce que d’une part c’est quelqu’un qui a vraiment analysé les prénoms qu’elle a donné à ses enfants, et d’autre part, les petits Hanson ont des prénoms uniques, mais pas inventés, pas du genre à faire rire d’eux à l’école, alors j’aurais pu y trouver de l’inspiration (ça n’a pas été le cas, mais j’aime son raisonnement quand même).

Les opinions diffèrent au sujet des noms courants, c’est-à-dire ceux qui se retrouvent dans le palmarès des noms les plus fréquents. L’Ingénieur et moi voulions éviter cela, alors nous avons choisi un nom masculin qui est 15e jusqu’à maintenant cette année (c’était le nom du grand-père paternel de l’Ingénieur, et on l’avait choisi avant même d’être mariés) et un prénom féminin qui est 414e, aux États-Unis dans les deux cas. Nous avons depuis appris qu’au Québec, le prénom masculin était 62e l’année dernière, mais le prénom féminin était le 5e au palmarès… Je n’aurais jamais pensé voir une telle différence! D’autant plus qu’un de mes cousins, qui attend une fille à une semaine d’intervalle de nous, a annoncé en mars qu’il a choisi ce prénom également! L’Ingénieur et moi en avons bien sûr discuté à la suite de cette annonce, même si nos prénoms étaient choisis depuis l’année dernière, mais nous croyons en fait que les noms que nous avons choisis sont plus classiques que courants et nous maintenons nos choix, fille ou pas. Alors voilà, on verra les petits malins qui deviennent nos noms grâce à ces indices…

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Fun Cake

Hold on to your hats, people, because this is one fantastic cake (recipe originally from Bon Appétit). I absolutely loved it! The chocolate cake itself is moist and flavorful, rich without being too heavy, and would even be good on its own or with another icing. The Engineer, who likes to drink milk with good desserts, said, “It’s like there isn’t enough milk in the world for this cake. It’s awesome.” This is one we’ll definitely make again!

My icing was a little runnier than I expected, but I attribute this to the Texas heat. I could have put it in the fridge a bit before spreading it, but it wasn’t absolutely necessary. I actually ran out of cane sugar while making the icing, too, so I topped it up with coconut sugar, but it was delicious.

For the chocolate cake
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
¾ cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp. kosher salt (I used a scant 1 tsp. table salt)
1 tsp. baking soda
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups water
½ cup finely chopped semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (3 ½ oz.)

For the peanut butter buttercream
½ cup sugar
¼ cup egg whites (from about 2 large eggs)
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
¼ cup creamy peanut butter
6 Tbsp. (¾ stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes (you could also use frozen margarine)
kosher salt
¼ cup chopped semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (about 1 ¾ oz.)
¼ cup chopped unsalted, dry-roasted peanuts

For the chocolate cake
Preheat oven to 350 °F. Coat bottom and sides of an 8-inch square pan with nonstick spray; line bottom of pan with parchment paper. Whisk flour and next 4 ingredients in a large bowl. Add oil, vanilla, and water; whisk until smooth. Fold in chopped chocolate. Scrape into prepared pan; smooth top. Bake until a tester comes out clean when inserted into center, 35–40 minutes. Let cool completely in pan on a wire rack.

For the peanut butter buttercream
Combine sugar and egg whites in a medium metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Whisk constantly until sugar dissolves and mixture is hot to the touch, 3–4 minutes. Remove from heat; using an electric mixer, beat on high speed until cool and thick, 5–6 minutes. Beat in vanilla, then peanut butter. With mixer running, add butter a few pieces at a time, beating to blend between additions. Season with salt.

Run a thin knife around pan to release cake. Invert cake onto a serving plate. Spread peanut butter buttercream over top. Garnish with chopped chocolate and peanuts.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Entendu chez nous

Tant qu’à faire un billet « tranche de vie », je vais commencer par partager des photos des dernières créations culinaires de l’Ingénieur. Il a terminé son projet avec Baking Illustrated, et je n’ai jamais eu le temps d’en parler! Les barres étaient les derniers desserts du livre, et laissez-moi vous dire que ses barres au citron et celles à la framboise étaient divines! L’Ingénieur s’attaque maintenant à un autre livre de recettes pour faire à souper une fois par semaine, un répit bien apprécié ces temps-ci…

Alors voilà, je voulais partager quelques conversations entendues chez nous récemment, parce que je les ai trouvées drôles. Tout d’abord, notre chien, Darwin, souffre d’allergies par chez nous (nous avons commandé une analyse sanguine et avons découvert qu’il est allergique entre autres au gazon, aux pissenlits, aux moisissures, enfin, à plein de trucs environnementaux du sud du Texas). Nous lui donnons des piqûres pour le désensibiliser à ses allergènes, selon un traitement sous la supervision de son vétérinaire, mais c’est un travail de longue haleine dont les résultats ne sont pas garantis. Donc, l’Ingénieur et moi parlions de Darwin et d’allergies en général, quand…
L’Ingénieur – Qu’est-ce qu’on fait si le bébé est allergique à Darwin?
Amélie Lactose-Free – Ben… Je suppose qu’il devrait aller vivre avec Chère Sœur et Cher Beau-Frère.
L’Ingénieur – Le bébé ou Darwin?
Amélie Lactose-Free – On verra en temps et lieu.

Mes pieds sont très enflés ces temps-ci. Ça a commencé il y a environ un mois, et je sais bien que c’est tout à fait normal au troisième trimestre d’une grossesse, surtout l’été. Mais autant ma bedaine semble m’appartenir, parce qu’elle grossit très progressivement et que j’ai eu le temps de m’y habituer, autant mes pieds semblent appartenir à quelqu’un d’autre. À une femme obèse, plus précisément. Ou aux Pierreafeu, ou à Fiona dans Shrek. La peau finit par être tirée au maximum, avec des tissus gonflés à bloc par-dessous à partir des mollets (autant dire que je n’ai plus de chevilles, j’ai ce que les anglophones nomment des cankles). Même mon obstétricien s’est exclamé : « Wow, t’as les pieds enflés! » en me voyant à 9 h 45 le matin, alors qu’il me restait toute la journée pour continuer à enfler. C’est dire! On a dû aller m’acheter des sandales et des gougounes, deux fois plutôt qu’unes, parce que plus rien ne me faisait. (Pour celles qui ont les pieds sensibles comme moi, je recommande d’essayer les gougounes Nike Solarsoft II et les Clarks Skiff Cayman, en une taille plus grande qu’à l’habitude dans les deux cas.) C’en est ridicule, alors on en rit. Toujours est-il que l’Ingénieur et moi regardions mes pieds avec consternation un beau soir…
Amélie Lactose-Free – Ne porte pas attention à mes pieds d’obèse.
L’Ingénieur (conscient des limites) – En effet, ils ont perdu un peu de leur définition.

Vous savez en quoi une femme enceinte de presque 8 mois est semblable à un bambin? Elle veut le faire toute seule.
L’Ingénieur – Chérie, veux-tu que je t’aide à mettre tes chaussures?
Amélie Lactose-Free – Non, je suis capable toute seule!
C’est vrai, quoi, je peux mettre mes bas toute seule (sauf quand je ne peux pas; enfin, j’ai eu toute la misère du monde à enfiler mes bas de contention hier matin, et j’avais les pieds enflés hier soir quand même). C’est vraiment taxant de devoir mettre mes chaussures, d’où un autre avantage aux gougounes (je peux même rester debout pour les enfiler). Je peux enfiler et enlever mon pantalon moi-même, non pas sans peine, mais je peux.

J’ai aussi lu les deux tomes des Chroniques d’une mère indigne de Caroline Allard (et je dois avouer que je ne la trouve pas si indigne, la mère, ce qui veut probablement dire que je suis très indigne moi-même). Conclusion, même si je ne le dis pas toujours tout haut, j’ai souvent la phrase fétiche de Bébé en tête : « J’ai le droit. J’ai BESOIN. » Ah, comme la journée a été longue et fatigante, je me dis. Tiens, je vais manger un biscuit de plus, et du chocolat ensuite. J’ai le droit. J’ai BESOIN. Ou tiens, je vais mettre l’air climatisé même s’il ne fait pas encore très chaud dehors, parce que moi j’ai chaud; tant pis pour les économies d’énergie. J’ai le droit. J’ai BESOIN.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Egg and Spinach Tarts, with Bacon and Cheese

While this recipe was originally meant as a brunch dish, we decided it was good for dinner, too. My tart pans are 5” wide, not 3” as in the original recipe, but after rerolling the dough to get more out of it, I did get 6 tarts, though I added cheese to the filling. I changed the recipe a little to make it lactose-free and easier (like cooking the spinach in leftover bacon fat instead of putting olive oil in another pan). In our case, one tart with a side salad would be a light dinner, but 2 tarts per person is also a reasonable serving. I knew this was the type of thing the Engineer would like, and he did indeed make his happy face, which I hadn’t gotten in a while, so I’m very happy about that.

For the crust
1 ½ cups flour
¼ tsp. salt
9 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter
1 egg yolk
2-3 Tbsp. ice water

For the filling
4 slices bacon
1 bunch spinach
1 egg
½ cup lactose-free whole milk
½ cup lactose-free Gouda cheese, grated (or a little more)
6 eggs (1 egg per each tartlet mold)
salt to taste

You know how to make pie dough, right? Just mix the dry ingredients in the food processor, then add the butter (and in this case, the egg yolk) and process until the mixture resembles coarse sand, then add the water and process until the dough holds together. The dough should then be refrigerated before you roll it out. Cut out circles to fit you tart pans (my pans were 5” in diameter, so 6” circles did the trick).

To prebake the dough, prick it with a fork, put pie weights on it if you have them, and place on a low rack in a 350 °F-oven for 15 minutes (the original recipe said 400 °F, but I found the tarts got too dark, although that does depend on how thick your dough is). At this point, I recommend unmolding the dough, because it got harder to do it once the tarts were filled and cooked; just place the crusts on a foil-lined baking sheet. Leave the oven on at 350 °F.

Cook the bacon in a pan until it is crisp; once cool enough to handle, crumble it. Using the same pan, cook the spinach in the bacon fat until it is wilted.

In a small bowl, whisk together 1 egg with the lactose-free milk.

In each tart pan, put some bacon, spinach, and cheese. Top with the milk mixture. Make a small nest in the middle of each of the tarts (I found this easier) and crack an egg over each tart. Season with salt and pepper. Bake the egg tarts for 20 to 30 minutes (I cooked mine for 20 minutes in the center of the oven, then 5 minutes on the very top rack), until tart shell is golden brown and the eggs are almost set or set, depending on your preference (the Engineer liked that ours were just set). Let cool for 10 minutes on wire rack before serving.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Batch of links

- Did you know that over the past several thousands of years, the fruits and vegetables we eat have become less and less nutritious? Though I’m happy to see that arugula remains a good choice.

- When he was in the fourth grade, Zachary Maxwell made a documentary about his school cafeteria’s lunches. It’s really interesting to see that even in a school that boasts healthy menus put together by celebrity chefs, what is advertised is often far from what is actually served, with nary a vegetable in sight… No wonder he called the documentary “Yuck”!

- I talked about different ways that toxins can get in our diet last week, which is why 12 ways to avoid hidden BPA, by the David Suzuki Foundation, is so scary. Canada banned it a few years ago, but the FDA hasn’t done it. Sadly, BPA isn’t the only the only worrisome chemical in plastics

- I hadn’t mentioned it at the time, but in April, the Today Show made absolute fools of themselves with this segment on eating gluten-free. Well, they made fools of themselves in front of the people who are actually educated about this, but I assume much of the general population doesn’t know any better and believed what they heard. (Like, “people with ciliac [sic] disease can’t have much gluten” – um, try none whatsoever!; or “it’s like a gluten allergy” – actually, it’s an autoimmune disorder). But then a week ago, they did this, implying that men who avoid gluten aren’t desirable – what, not making oneself sick is a turn-off, now? Would it be too much to ask that big TV shows, with big budgets and large audiences, actually get their facts straight?

- Guess who’s getting some press in Food & Wine these days? None other than my favorite band, Hanson. In honor of the band’s 21 years of existence, they’ve produced their own beer, which is coming out this fall and is called Mmmhops (well, might as well capitalize on past success, no?). Proceeds will go to the Red Cross tornado relief efforts in Oklahoma. There’s also a good interview here. I think it’s funny that for the past several years, they’ve been getting more press for their charity work than their upcoming music!

- I’m not usually a big fan of poetry, but Maya Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman is just that, phenomenal.

- And finally, because it’s summer: here’s an important article about what it looks like when someone is drowning (hint: it’s not the wild flailing you see in movies). Did you know that adults are present in nearly half of all children drowning deaths, sometimes watching at it happens and never realizing the child is in trouble? It’s really important to know what to look for.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Baby gear

I reiterate that while this will not turn into a mommy blog, I will be talking about various aspects of motherhood on occasion. How can I not? This blog has always been about my life as well as food, and soon a big part of my life will involve caring for a tiny human being. I decided to give you a recap of our thought process as we were selecting big-ticket baby items, as obviously a lot more thought goes into those than into burp cloths and onesies. Some of these choices coincide with certain types of parenting, like attachment parenting. I must admit that at this point, I do not really have a favorite style of parenting, and I am not endorsing or disparaging any style either. I’m reading a lot and looking at what my peers are doing and what health care professionals are recommending, with the intention of cherry-picking what I find useful in various parenting philosophies and combining it with good old fashioned common sense. I am not writing this post to start any debates; I’m simply hoping that our end choices, along with our criteria, might help someone else who is looking for product recommendations. Since our friends and relatives are in Canada and we are in Texas, we could not count on any hand-me-downs and had to start from scratch – obviously, some of our choices would have been different otherwise. Keep in mind that I haven’t given birth yet, so I can’t tell you firsthand how well these items are actually working for us (and some of them are still on our baby registry, not in our possession yet), though I do intend to report back at a later date.

Also: I do not know the sex of our baby, nor do I want to. Until the birth, I will sometimes refer to the baby as “him,” sometimes as “her.” I’m alternating genders in this post, but don’t get confused.

Co-sleeping bassinette
Alright, so co-sleeping is thought of as part of attachment parenting, but that’s not why it appeals to me. Let me clarify first that I personally do not believe in having an infant in the same bed as the parents. I’m familiar with the research that says a mother (not under the influence of alcohol or medication) will be aware enough of the baby, even in her sleep, to avoid harming him in any way (though the same can’t be said about the father). But I also remember reading stories in the news every once in a while stating that a 3-week-old baby died after one of his parents rolled over on him, or one a few months old dying after becoming wedged between the mattress and headboard of the parents’ bed. While accidents like these are rare, I’m aware that they happen and I have no intention of taking any risks.

That being said, the idea of having a bassinette in the parents’ room, probably attached to the bed in such a way that the baby sleeps safely in his own space but is within arm’s reach of the mother, seems perfect. First, it offers distinct, measurable advantages to the baby, such as a lower risk of SIDS and an easier time falling/staying asleep. Second, from my perspective as a new mother, it seems like it will greatly simplify my life. It will allow me to breastfeed at night without even having to get up, and to soothe the baby back to sleep just by reaching over. I realize that I will still probably have to sit up to burp the baby or try another breastfeeding position, and to get up several times anyway (changing the baby, rocking the baby or walking with him around the house when nothing else seems to do, or just to use the washroom myself). That being said, it seems so much more convenient than getting up and going to the nursery every single time the baby fusses that I can’t imagine doing it another way.

As far as I can tell, there are four basic models of co-sleeping bassinettes in the modern Western world. One, the Culla Belly, is only sold in Italy (and sadly does not look nearly as nice as its prototype), so never mind that. Then there are two types of wooden co-sleeping bassinettes, which look good enough to fit in with grown-up décor: the Baby Bunk (U.S.-made) and the Baby Bay (German-made with a U.S. distributor). Both can be repurposed as kid benches, and if you buy two Baby Bays, you can even turn them into a play pen or a seat-and-desk combo. The low-tech website of the Baby Bunk makes me wary, however, and I prefer the look and the rounded edges of the Baby Bay. The fourth option is the Arm’s Reach, which has several different models and is by far the most popular in North America, though it screams “baby furniture.”

While aesthetically I have a strong preference for the Baby Bay, we’ve actually decided to go with the Arm’s Reach Mini Convertible Co-Sleeper. The Arm’s Reach has the advantage of providing a little ledge around the baby’s mattress, so that there is no risk of his fingers or arm becoming stuck between his mattress and the parents’ mattress. Plus, the Arm’s Reach is cheaper, especially on Amazon (especially considering that it comes with a mattress, which the Baby Bay sells separately), is portable and turns into a (admittedly small) playpen. We chose the Mini Convertible over the Original because the latter seemed very unwieldy (I’d have to scoot down to the foot of the bed to get up, which is a hassle at best, and I really don’t see myself doing that days after giving birth). The Original does have a second, lower mattress position, which allows you to use it for about an extra two months, plus it turns into a toddler bed, while you can only use the Mini Convertible for four months or so. This actually suits us, though, as there will come a point when the Engineer and I will want to regain our intimacy and have the baby in his own room, which might come before four months anyway! Our plan right now is to use the crib in the nursery for daytime naps at first, and to transition the baby into the crib full-time as he or before he outgrows the bassinette, at which point we will turn the bassinette into a playpen. If we decide not to attach it to the bed at all, it also works as a stand-alone bassinette, so we won’t be wasting any money. Plus, it can always be used as a travel bed with the mattress in the playpen position, though it doesn’t look as comfortable as dedicated travel beds.

Stroller / Car seat
Picking a stroller is harder than it seems. We don’t want something too big, as we’re aware that once folded, it can easily take up the entire trunk of the car. While we might get a little umbrella stroller eventually, that’s just not adequate for a newborn, so we had to look at more options. Right off the bat, we don’t jog, so all those kick-ass sports strollers are out. We also don’t have to worry about snow. Plus, we’re not high-tech enough to want something like the new Origami stroller, as impressive as it is! We wondered about the usefulness of strollers that can carry two children at once, and really liked the configuration of the Britax B-Ready and, especially, the Joovy Caboose Ultralight and the Graco Ready2Grow. Ultimately, though, we decided that dual strollers might be too bulky, and we’re not all that sure we will need it (instead of having an infant stroller and an umbrella stroller, for example), but we’ll cross that bridge if/when we get there.

We decided that a “travel system” is what we wanted. I’m still learning the lingo, but a travel system has an infant car seat that you can click into place either onto a base in your car or directly onto the stroller. That way, you can move from one place to another without having to wake the baby or reinstall him in a different carrier, a plus in any situation! You can also get two bases for the car seat if you have two cars, allowing you to travel with the baby in either car without having to reinstall the car seat each time. A stroller/car seat combo also makes our life easier by letting us pick only one system.

The idea of having a convertible car seat (one that fits either an infant or a toddler, ideally still in rear-facing position for the latter) was very attractive, but that’s harder to pull off with a travel system. We figured that since we would like two kids, we’ll still have use for an infant seat by the time the oldest child is in a toddler seat, so we will need two seats anyway. We might as well have a seat for infants and later get one for toddlers. A note about car seats: any new seat is safe for your baby (though some experts say that an infant seat is better than a convertible seat for newborns). Don’t buy them used, and get a new one if your current model is more than five years old or has been in a car accident.

So we looked at several brands of travel systems, and liked models by MacLaren, as well as Bugaboo and Peg Pérego (though we’re not made of money), but in the end we chose the Graco 3-in-1 ClickConnect Stroller in gender-neutral Onyx (along with the Graco SnugRide ClickConnect 40 Infant Car Seat). It’s in a reasonable price range, and we loved it when we test-drove it in a brick-and-mortar store. It turns easily, the car seat or bigger child seat is easy to click into place or remove, and you can even fold the stroller using only one hand. Plus, I love that you can install the baby either facing you or facing the front! There is a patch you can open in the shade of the carriage to check on the baby if she is facing away, but for an infant, I’m more comfortable actually being able to see her as I’m walking. I’m sure we’ll get good use out of this on family walks with the dog, some evening when it isn’t too warm after dinner.

Again, not that I’m praising attachment parenting, but this seems like a no-brainer to me for its practicality. Plus, I really like the idea of having the baby so close to me. I walk Darwin by myself every morning, and I keep him on a short leash because he pulls a lot. I therefore won’t be able to walk him properly with a stroller if I’m the only adult present, but if the baby is in a carrier, then both my hands are free, so holding a short leash is no problem. It will also be practical around the house if I need to be doing something but can’t put the baby down. (I might change my tune once summer temperatures hit, but we’ll see. By the way, if you need a maternity coat for winter and/or a baby-wearing coat, consider the M Coat, which you can use even after having kids.)

We wanted to buy only one carrier, so the slings and wraps were out (including the Moby Wrap) because they are not safe for newborns – at least not when the sling is used in the hammock position, and otherwise it does not always offer enough neck/head support. I did have this image of going through airport security with the baby in a wrap sling that would have been just one piece of fabric, no metal ring (I could just breeze right through the metal detector), but then I realized that I’d need to bring a baby car seat with me anyway for transportation once at our destination, so the idea of having the baby on me plus only one carry-on is out anyway, logistically speaking. (Although, after reading this, I might opt for a carrier at the airport and just make sure I have a safe car seat waiting at the other end!)

There are tons of carriers out there, so this list is by no means exhaustive. I considered the Ergobaby and the Mei Tai (including the Baby Hawk), which I think are the most popular brands at this point. The Ergobaby looked like a bit of a hassle with its insert for newborns, and the Mei Tai made me fear I’d tie it on improperly. I briefly looked at Baby Björn carriers, but the variety of models was confusing, and while they are quality carriers, overall they were less versatile than what I wanted, and quite expensive. I then looked at two lesser-known brands, the Boba and the Beco. Both are sold at virtually the same price-point, both are award-winners, both can be used up to toddlerhood, and both get 4 ½ star ratings on That being said, the Boba website has very scarce information, whereas the Beco website has a detailed description along with a clear instructional video, so that’s what we went with. Plus, you can use it in four positions: front carry with baby facing in (a safe position for a newborn), front carry with baby facing out, back carry and hip carry. So we’ve decided to go with the Beco Gemini; it’s made with organic cotton and can be used for nursing as well.

High chair
We didn’t get too worked up about this one. I was initially smitten by the Transformer-like models offered by Peg Pérego, like the Tatamia (it’s a chair! it’s a recliner! it’s a swing!), but honestly, we probably don’t need anything that complicated. I then thought about Ikea’s Antilop high chair, which at $20 and made from easy-to-clean plastic, seemed like a bargain. But the Engineer wondered whether it would be comfortable for the baby (a valid concern); he wanted something versatile enough to grow with the baby a little, and he was adamant that he wanted casters. So we ended up choosing the Graco Blossom 4-in-1 Seating System. The seat is actually easy to wipe clean, and it does look comfortable. The casters are awesome, and it’s easy to use. Plus, it grows with the baby: it fits an infant (with a recliner seat), then a toddler, then it turns into a booster seat and a child seat. The height is adjustable, too. It seems like a really good choice for us, so that’s what’s going on the registry. (That being said, when we spend two months in Montreal for the summer and can’t take that chair with us, we’ll probably just get the Ikea chair for the apartment.)

For travelling, I think products like Phils&Ted’s Lobster Highchair are really neat, but I ended up just sewing one of these; we’ll see if it suffices.

Baby monitor
This can be a big expense if you let it. As a paranoid first-time parent, my plan was to get a baby monitor that would alert me if the baby stopped breathing, like the Snuza or the Angelcare with a pad. However, after reading about the number of false alarms, the fact that babies can actually stop breathing for 20 seconds at a time in normal safe circumstances, and some studies stating that use of these devices has not reduced the number of infant deaths from SIDS, I have let the Engineer convince me that a standard audio monitor will be sufficient. (Obviously, this might be different for someone whose baby is premature, has a medical condition, or if there is a family history of SIDS.) We’re going with the Angelcare Baby Sound Monitor, but honestly, so many of them look just fine that I’d really hesitate to recommend one over another. (That being said, I hear good things about video monitors, too.)

Cloth diapers
More and more people these days opt for cloth diapers, for various reasons (it’s more eco-friendly, better for baby’s skin, easier on the wallet in the long run, etc., not to mention fewer “blowouts”). I’m writing about these here because buying cloth diapers is a big up-front investment, even though it will save you money in the long run (especially if you reuse them for a second child). Just so we’re all on the same page right away, because I know otherwise this is an issue for some people: cloth diapers have come a long way in the past decades, and I don’t know of anyone today who uses a rectangular piece of fabric folded up and held on the baby by two safety pins. (And I only bring this up because I HAVE spoken to people who assumed this is what I was getting myself into when I said I would be cloth-diapering! I think the closest you’d come would be prefold diaper + snappi + cover, which is also the least expensive option.) What I found most overwhelming is the sheer number of different models out there to choose from. How do I know what I want, what will fit my baby best, what will work for my lifestyle?

I found some explanatory pages useful, like this one on The Eco-Friendly Family, which has not only illustrations along with the explanations, but also a really helpful demonstration video so you can actually see various diapers in action, so to speak. (For a more professional, albeit not nearly as complete or useful, video, check out this CBS one.) This is particularly convenient if you don’t have a service from which you can rent diapers in the beginning until you figure out what you like for your baby, though of course you can always get a selection of used diapers and go from there (try Re-Diaper or Craigslist, for example). If all else fails, try entering your criteria here to see what’s available to you, and read reviews here. To find out more, I also like the blog All About Cloth Diapers, especially the page New to cloth diapers?, which has a lot of resources.

In the end, I think every family might have a different preference, and every preference could be compatible with various brands and models. For us, all-in-one diapers make the most sense at this point, keeping in mind that one can always add prefolds or inserts for extra absorbency if needed, or disposable liners for easier clean-up. One-size diapers also seem like they’d be best, just because of how long they can be used, although they may not work for a newborn. There are many kinds of diapers sized for newborns, like Peachy Baby or G Diapers, but we feel that’ll be too big of an investment, since we don’t know how long we’ll need them for. Plus, we actually intend to use disposable diapers for the first few weeks (or however long it takes for baby to fit in one-size diapers), partly to ease into the routine and partly because I’d rather not have to wash meconium off brand-new diapers. We also plan to use disposables whenever we go out, as I’d prefer not to carry around dirty diapers in a wet bag, or if I’ve miscalculated how long I could go without washing a load of diapers. I say disposables, but if the price is right, we’d ideally get something compostable and/or biodegradable. To get back to the cloth diapers, what we’ve decided to go with are the Bum Genius Elemental All-In-One One-Size Diapers with Snaps, given how many positive reviews we’ve read (like this one) or heard first-hand. We’re thinking of getting 24 diapers, with the intention of laundering every other day – I will report back to let you know how that’s working for us.

We’re also opting for washcloths instead of wipes, for all the same reasons as we’re opting for cloth diapers (though once again, we’ll use wipes in the diaper bag). Those can just be washed along with the diapers. Someone calculated the cost of cloth vs. disposable, including washing, and you could still save about $1,500 for the first child (and probably $2,000 for the second if you reuse the same diapers). I lucked out and found washcloths at an awesome price, so I’m very happy about that.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Sand Dollar Cookies

This cookie recipe is from last summer’s LCBO magazine. It had been languishing in my recipe folder because it looked like a lot of work, what with placing the almond slivers on each cookie, but I decided to go for it. It’s actually pretty simple, and much less time-consuming than I had thought. I did have a funny moment, though, because of what I call pregnancy brain. You know how they used to have ads that said, “This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs”? Well, this is your brain on pregnancy hormones: don’t be surprised if you realize at the end that one lonely cookie was left almond-less! It was delicious nonetheless. I got a total of 20 cookies, which disappeared very quickly.

1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. baking soda
½ cup. unsalted butter, at room temperature (I used cold margarine)
½ cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
½ cup slivered almonds

Preheat oven to 325 °F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or lightly spray or oil.

Measure flour into a small bowl. Sprinkle with salt and baking soda. Stir to evenly distribute.

In a medium bowl, use a wooden spoon or mixer to beat butter with sugar for 2 minutes. Add egg, vanilla and almond extract. Beat until evenly mixed. Stir in flour mixture just until no white streaks remain.

Scoop up about 1 Tbsp. of dough. Using well-floured hands, roll into a ball about 1 inch ( 2.5 cm) wide. Place on the baking sheet. Repeat, placing them about 2 inches (5 cm) apart. Dip the flat bottom of a wide glass in flour. Shake off the excess flour and press down on the cookies until they are no more than ¼ inch (5 mm) thick. To create a natural looking uneven edge, dip the end of a knife or chopstick into flour and make several indents, about ¼ inch (5 mm) deep, in the edge of each cookie. Using floured fingers gently tap down cookies to even out their thickness. Press 5 slivered almonds in a spoke design around the center of each cookie.

Bake in the center of the preheated oven until pale golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Use a spatula to remove cookies to a rack to cool. Repeat with remaining dough (if you have any – all of my cookies fit on one sheet). Cooled cookies stored in a sealed container at room temperature will keep well at least 4 days.