Friday, April 30, 2010

Date Night

Yesterday was the first morning since giving birth to The Sprout that I have woken up with a slight hangover.  Chef and I had our first date night in seven weeks and it was like being in the twilight zone.  It had been so long since I was only surrounded by adults and had hours of time just to waltz around town.  Chef let me pick how we would spend our evening.  I told him two words, "Dinner and a drink."

We first went to Indigo Alley.  It is a little bohemian wine and beer spot with this beautiful little courtyard that has the most incredible walls of jasmine.  The vine was on the verge of bloom, like at any second the thousands of white buds could burst open and envelope the world with its gorgeous potent scent.   I wonder if it bloomed this morning?

This weekend is Shrimp Festival here...Fernandina Beach is the birth place of the modern Shrimping industry and every year hundreds of thousands of people descend on our tiny island and downtown like locusts.  It is one of the larger art fairs in this region of the country, and shrimp is on the vending menu to say the least.  Sheri and Mike, owners of Indigo Alley, were readying themselves for the masses which  roll into town Thursday for the kick-off parade. 

Chef and I sauntered up to the bar and I ordered a glass of a Malbec Rose and he had some sort of specialty beer.   We spent an hour there, helping Sheri set up their little upstairs as dining space to accommodate the party...all the while brainstorming about a possible supper club concept.   It was one of the quainter moments of living in a small town, going into a little bar owned by friends and in our little downtown and spending a little time helping each other prepare for a festival.

Next we strolled down the street for dinner at Cafe Karibo, which is one of our favorite restaurants here. We had a great meal, and washed it down with a delicious Pino Noir from Portland, Oregon.  The chef there formerly cooked at Prune, one of our favorite restaurants in NYC.  How she ended up here I have no idea...but  I plan to find out! She unexpectedly sent out a slice of guava cake that was to die for.   "Just a little something I have been working on."  She said.  There is nothing better than unexpected dessert.

I was giddy after eating it, and after three glasses of wine...I suppose... starved of adult attention...I told her that I needed more lady friends and got her phone number.  It may have come across as an act of desperation, but she was very gracious about it.  As I finished my last glass of wine I looked at my watch.  It was not even 9 pm.  I told Chef that we had to stay out to a least 9:30.  As the words left my mouth I realized how lame that sounded...I am still in my 20s for crying out loud.

We decided go get another dessert at Espana...our other favorite restaurant on the island.  We settled down at a little table in their garden for a piece of Tres Leches cake and the most incredible flan.  Chef and Roberto, the owner of Espana have wine and dine competition...who can spoil the other the most when eating at each others restaurant.  It is a game in which I am glad to be Chef's point man.  Roberto filled our glasses twofold with a delicious port. Needless to stay as we left I was feeling a little tipsy.

Thus the hangover the following day.  Oh, Lil'Bit and The Sprout took no pity.  The Sprout crapped herself first thing in the morning...all up her back and then as I changed her she peed all over me, and our bedroom rug.  Lil' Bit started the day with a terrible case of the boo hoos and ended it with a busted lip.

But it was so worth it.  To eat in a restaurant and be able to hold a grown up conversation uninterrupted, and leave without a single bit of food smeared on my shirt, and to go to a bar for a drink, hell just to go to a bar period.   It was beautiful.  We didn't have to go to the big city for a great time, nope.  Our little po'dunk town did just wonderful.  Cheers to date night!  It is worth a thousand headaches!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Our Apologies Mr. Oliver

I begin this post with an apology to the adorable Mr. Jamie Oliver.  You did a fine job writing your carbonara recipe, the egg yolk bit was in there.  Chef and I are just so brain dead from newbornitis that even in reading a recipe three times we still will manage miss something.

So, continuing with last week...the reptile saga continues.  I wish our cats actually killed and ate the creatures they brought us as gifts.  I really do.  At about 3 am in the morning last Saturday night I noticed something strange on the floor next to my bed.  I didn't have my glasses on.  It was dark. I sat there as The Sprout nursed and I stared at it wondering what the hell it was...and then it moved.  It moved like only one creature in this world...a frog.  I thought to myself that perhaps I was hallucinating, and that maybe I should just pretend like I did not see it and go back to sleep.  But then I looked down at my baby girl and thought what if this big frog hops into her co-sleeper and slimes her in the night?  What kind of mother would that make me?

I took my book light off the bedside table and illuminated the amphibian.  Its big bulging tree frog eyes beamed back at me.  It was big enough to have to carry in both hands, which I did...out the front door and hurled it off our porch, washed my hands, and went back to bed.  The following morning, post Sunday brunch we had another two reptilian run ins at home...well more like one and a half.  A segment of snake...the tail end...which was really disturbing...almost more so than an actual snake, and a large lizard.  I just love Springtime in Florida.  

I am trying to put last week behind me and forge ahead.  The Sprout is a month old already.  It is hard to believe that much time has passed...I mean where has April gone?  Chef and I were deliberating over that question recently, as well as another...

What would be considered a contemporary equivalent to The Joy of Cooking?  Not that The Joy of Cooking is any less relevant than the year 1931 when Irma Rombauer self published the tome...but  what cookbook published in recent years contains a similar broad comprehensive collection of  indispensable recipes and techniques.  We looked at our own collection of cookbooks and came up with two titles The New Basics Cookbook and The New Best Recipe.

If you don't have these at home, you should.  The New Basics Cookbook is very simple to follow, and full of basic information everyone should know when it comes to what cheeses go with what wines and what every kitchen should have as far as tools go, the different types of cuts of meats and varieties of fish and how best to prepare them, as well as lots of standard recipes.

The New Best Recipe from Cooks Illustrated is an essential go to cookbook for a great recipe. Each of the 1000 recipes is the result of a multitude of trial runs resulting in the best formula.  It is a huge book, encyclopedic, which means it wields a certain authority when splayed open on the kitchen counter, yet it is straightforward and well written.  I have just really begun to explore this big daddy cookbook and let me tell really has everything you need to know about most anything you want to cook, from how to boil a perfect egg to how to make Pad Thai.  Last week, I made banana bread, pictured above, from this book and it was pretty perfect.  Chef helped Lil' Bit whip up her first ever batch of chocolate chip cookies...and they were some of the best I have ever had. 

On another note...Happy Earth Day!  This weekend go to your farmer's market and buy some locally grown goodies to celebrate!

Friday, April 16, 2010

No Joe

This morning I walked into my kitchen to find there was no more coffee.  This may seem trivial, but at this time in my life there are two rituals I perform every morning which allow me to project sanity for the rest of the day:  I take a really hot shower, and I drink a cup of coffee...sometimes simultaneously.  I know, I know...I am breastfeeding.  But I just drink one small cup after I nurse to clear the cobwebs, as Chef would say.

I have grown utterly dependent on these two daily rituals.  The shower because I spend my nights awash in bodily fluids...spit up, urine, cappuccino diapers, and terrible postpartum night sweats.  Let me tell you, the combination makes for a wonderful musk in the morning.  The coffee because The Sprout sucks me dry every two hours starting at 1 am onwards...and lately she has been thinking 4:30 am is time for breakfast and then she stares at me grunting and flailing until 6:30 am.  Lil' Bit wakes up soon thereafter.  Needless to say, coffee is imperative.

So, this morn before Lil' Bit woke up, I strapped The Sprout into her swing, told Chef to keep his ears open for the girls (his eyes were not even open at this point), and I took off to the local coffee shop to buy an Americano and a pound of fresh roasted beans.  There I learned that the lighter the roast of coffee the more caffeine.  You would think it the other way around for some reason...but no.  So, I ordered a medium roast of Brazilian beans with the hope to get more bang for my one little cup of Joe.

At the coffee shop I saw my new neighbor from Wisconsin.  We exchanged pleasantries and then he told me that in the future he wanted to build a privacy wall between our houses. "Something vines could grow on, and something to keep our dogs in."  He said it as nice as can be, he is from the Midwest mind you.  I left wondering if perhaps he had seen me wandering the house with my breast hanging out of my shirt, or maybe he just wants to do a little nude sunbathing.  Who knows?  I told him it was a fantastic idea and that he should go for it.

On the way home, it felt good listening to NPR in the car, instead of Jimmy Crack Corn on repeat.  It felt good stuffing my face with a blueberry muffin while slugging my Americano with the windows down.  It felt good to get out of the house first thing in the morning without any little tidbits in tow. It was a small moment, that at any other time in my life I would have taken for granted.  Kids seem to have that effect on time.

Last night Chef and I made Jamie Oliver's Zucchini Carbonara out of this cookbook. 

It is an incredible cookbook...I totally recommend it to anyone who loves rustic seasonal food.  I love its folk design, and he even goes into some detail about how to grow and store many of the ingredients.

Once finished, the pasta was amazing, but there was a problem with the recipe that could have been catastrophic. There was a typo in the recipe that totally screws the whole dish.  Adding the eggs to a carbonara sauce is tricky business because you don't want them to scramble, and after warning you of this in the recipe Mr. Oliver forgot to tell you when and how to add the eggs to the sauce!  It is rare Chef is home on week days to help me cook...but Thank God he was there to save the day...once again, my knight in shining armor.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Babies, Snakes & Casserole

Wow. That one word sums up the past three weeks of my life.  My daughter arrived on St. Patrick's Day at 7:17 pm, beautiful and healthy.  To say The Sprout has a healthy appetite is an understatement.  She eats like an animal.  She is an animal...a grunting and squawking baby human. The act of giving birth the old fashioned way, followed up by marathon breast feeding is the ultimate mammalian reality check, particularly during the months of Spring.  I have never been so aware of new life during the season of Spring before this March, and it is kind of nice.  Beautiful actually.

So yes, the baby is here and now that I have grown accustomed to utter sleep deprivation...I can see a  dim light through the hormone fog and I felt like I could post a bit.  Much has happened in the past three weeks, visits from family and friends all here to greet The Sprout and spend time with Lil' Bit.  Chef has had a crazy work schedule with staff changes and the holiday weekend, so it was fantastic to have the extra helping hands of loved ones for those first few weeks as I recovered from childbirth.  Although, with Lil' Bit gone toddler wild I use the word "recover" in the loosest definition of the word.

Thursday was nuts.  Thursday encompasses my past three weeks into one day of totally craziness, and I would like to share it with you.  Maybe you can relate, maybe not. 

It began at 3 am with The Sprout wanting to eat.  This means much more than it sounds.  I have to nurse her for 20 minutes as a minimum, and burp her or hold her up right for at least 10 minutes. During that time she usually poops, which sounds remarkably like some one is making cappuccino. I am going to save you the gory details, but lets just say it takes 45 minutes to about an hour each feeding/pooping/burping session and I must repeat this process every 2 to 3 hours throughout the day and night for the next three months.

At 7:30 am Lil' Bit woke up calling my name.  "Mommmmy."   Game on.  We had breakfast and got dressed.  I packed up both kids into the car and we took off to meet Chef's brother and family to go pick oranges at Sandy Point Grove for 29 South. I strapped The Sprout onto my chest and set forth.  We went to "the club" for lunch. Lil' Bit went for a dip in the pool. I managed to scarf down half a sandwich before you know who was hungry again.  By 1:30 pm we made it home and Lil' Bit went down for her nap.  I gave the newborn a bath and she fell asleep as well.  Silence fell upon the house.  Lovely silence.

Oh how I wished I could have stretched out with a book and relax.  I had been going strong for 11 hours at this point, but No.  I had to break the precious silence to call the health insurance company to add The Sprout.  UGH.  After finally decoding their automated system on the phone,  I was put on hold.  I started some laundry.  One thing is for sure...there is more pink in my life than I could have ever wished.

I finally spoke to a human being who told me I had to put the request in writing, sign it and fax it to them.  So I set to task.  I typed up a letter and fax cover sheet on the computer and then on my way to the kitchen where the fax machine is I happened upon a snake in my house.  The second in a week.

A young black racer, or common garden snake was poised to strike, coiled with his head reared up dead center in the middle of my entry room. There was no way for me to get to the kitchen without possibly disturbing it.   Thank god my girls were sleeping.  I fled back to the bedroom and called Chef.  He was in a meeting and ignored my call.  So I texted him.  "Please Call...there is a snake in the house! Helllp!" 

"Do not let the snake out of your sight.  I don't want to loose it in the house."  He said to me when he called back.  "I am on my way."

I had planned to spend that brief hour blogging, but now I was on serpent surveillance.   I sat down on the stairs and watched the snake move into my dining room. I watched the damn cat (who brought the snake in) lay there and stare at the snake.  I thought to myself as I sat there, "Why don't I shoo it out with a broom, why am I waiting for Chef?"  But the thought of the snake spazzing out and racing into my bedroom where my newborn was asleep was too much for me to deal with alone.  So I spent my only solo time in 11 hours with a snake. Chef arrived with a forked stick and removed the reptile from our home.

The air conditioning man showed up 20 minutes later just as Lil' Bit woke up from her nap.  The AC broke.  Did I mention that?  Luckily it is spring, not dead of summer, so we opened the house up.  Chef went back to work.  It was 5:30 pm and I had not so much as thought about dinner.  Running now at 14 and 1/2 hours the last thing I felt like doing was cooking and cleaning.  Then I remembered...the casserole!

My dearest friend Kate had spent the previous weekend cooking, cleaning, and caring for Lil' Bit.  She was fantastic and while she was here she made a few meals to put in the freezer just for days like the one I had just survived.   Pictured above is Orzo, Shrimp, and Pea Casserole, and as managed to wrestle it out of the freezer with one hand and The Sprout in the other I thought to myself how lucky I am to have such thoughtful people in my life. 

I popped the cassarole in the oven.  Sat down on the couch, opened the new Vanity Fair, The Sprout latched on while Lil' Bit sucked on an ice cube watching Sesame Street.  It was the end of the day, and I looked at my two girls and just sat in awe.  I am 29 with two beautiful kids. Wow. 

We ate dinner at 7 pm and it was delicious.  Chef came home and the day came to an end.

Whew. With the arrival of our new daughter life is full.  Wonderfully full.