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News & Summer Eating

Snack Plate | Delightful Crumb

This is a photo of what I like to call a snack plate. Don’t worry—I won’t insult your intelligence by giving you a recipe for this. But it does represent my current ability to think about food, and as a result, I will be offering links and ideas today, not a formal recipe.

But first, and relatedly, a very big thing I’ve not yet mentioned here: I’m pregnant! Baby is due at the end of August, and we are so excited to meet him.

Unsurprisingly, there is much to say about this. At first I waited because it was new and I was anxious, unwilling to write anything in a public forum until baby was nearly fully baked. And then I kept waiting, because it’s so hard to neatly compose my thoughts about pregnancy, about bringing a little life into the world, about doing all of this during a pandemic. I have a journal packed with reflections, of course, but that’s very different than trying to wrap up some musings in a neat package.

Further, one of many strange things about pregnancy and having a baby and becoming a mother is that while all of this is entirely, mind-bendingly new to me, it’s not new. My observations have a small shot at being profound, maybe, but this experience—though wild and overwhelming and all-consuming—is not unique in the slightest. What can I possibly say that hasn’t been said? It feels this way, but deep down, I’m not actually concerned about re-covering familiar territory. If this blog reflects nothing else, I think it makes very clear that I believe firmly in talking about the everyday. And however constant, and despite the noise, there’s still more to be said, and things that ought to be re-said, about pregnancy and childbirth.

Also: being pregnant in a pandemic is not for the faint of heart. This experience is at least a little bit new, certainly for my generation. At the beginning, probably because the first of the lockdowns corresponded with me beginning to tell people beyond my innermost circle that I was pregnant, the specificity of my experience felt very solitary. I know that’s illogical; of course there have been many of us, spread across the world and the trimesters, in the midst of this same thing the whole time. But at first, pregnancy didn’t even pop up in the coronavirus conversation; I was left looking for pregnant in the list of “vulnerable populations” mentioned in articles, wondering about the difference between immunocompromised and this version of immunocompromised, worrying about everything we didn’t (don’t) know.

We are days from hitting our one-year mark of Chicago residency, but I still feel so new. I had only a handful of months under my belt before morning sickness started me on the self-isolation train a neat 10 weeks before the rest of the country joined in. I thought I didn’t have all that many expectations around pregnancy, but it turns out I had a few: going to appointments with my husband, seeing the entire faces of my healthcare providers, finding a prenatal yoga class, going out to dinner with Ben as my belly grew, walking with friends, having an acquaintance notice that I was pregnant (not just slightly fatter), needing at least one professional-looking pair of maternity pants. I keep mourning these everyday losses, over and over again.

These things are rather small in the grand scheme—really, all I want is a healthy baby and for everyone to wear a mask and for COVID to go the way of the mumps. And if I step back and think about it, I realize that my baby was always going to be born now, that this was always going to be my first pregnancy experience. A combination of logistical and biological and spiritual factors made it so. But on certain days, the small sorrows feel enormous. The important truth here is that everyone has their own matrix of complications and experiences that color this season for them—whether life stage, previous plans, health risks, vulnerable family members, work requirements, job loss, multi-layered isolation and/or things I’ve not even imagined. And this is always the case, even when we’re not in a crisis.

So I am over here in the home stretch, caring for very little but getting this teeny babe out into the world with us, as strange and volatile and unsafe as it might seem out here some days. Because here—well, it’s where we are. As Frederick Buechner put it, Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.

Meanwhile, as I worry about whether we have all of the things we need and try to learn how to swaddle sans an actual baby and experience the very real thing called nesting and make my best effort to get my work done before baby arrives, I am trying to eat. (This is a “food blog,” after all, so I thought I should bring it up.) I’m quite proud of the fact that I posted actual food here all throughout this pregnancy, things I actually made and ate, but this has been the strangest relationship I’ve had with food for years. I have a new and deep respect for chefs and servers and recipe developers and anyone else working full-time in food who has done so throughout a pregnancy. There was a Grub Street Diet profile at some point in the last eight months written by a pregnant person who—understandably, if you ask me—mentioned the whole pregnancy thing a couple of times. I read the comments (I know, bad idea), and people ripped her apart. But really, what ARE the pregnant food lovers eating??? It is so weird to have preferences change on a dime. So many foods were off the table during my first trimester—anything sweet or spicy or rich, to name just a few characteristics I’d generally attribute to delicious things. When the all-day (aka morning) sickness passed, I gradually got back to a normal diet, but this was all while adjusting to very different seasonality here in the Midwest, then navigating grocery and market shopping in a pandemic. Now, as of recent weeks, I’m just less interested in food, with a shorter and shorter list of things actually sounding appealing and an extremely limited interest in cooking. This feels both tragic and totally out of my hands.

Now, don’t get me wrong: overall, I feel great and have so little to complain about in terms of comfort and ability to be active and health in this pregnancy. But as someone who loves food, this part is just strange. I have, however, managed to continue eating, and here are a few things I’m into right now.

Bread, in general, has been a real star. (Isn’t it always?!) In addition to purchased (Middlebrow!) and homemade (we took a serious shortcut and bought our starter from Spinning J), I highly recommend Michael Solomonv’s pita bread from Zahav. Ben makes an excellent focaccia à la Marc Vetri, which we’ve been turning into stellar sandwiches on day two (include: vegetables of multiple textures; something creamy like mozzarella, avocado and/or hummus; something saucy like an herbed yogurt and/or mayo situation). Also pizza, of course.

Summer salads are just the thing when you are exhausted and/or too hot and/or feeling lazy, and they go very nicely with the aforementioned bread. Here’s my general template, and please make sure to do something involving watermelon and feta this summer, and with tomatoes and peaches/nectarines once they peak in your region (see the above template and/or the internet). Also in the simple-ways-with-vegetables category, I turn to roasted eggplant with goat cheese and this caper-raisin vinaigrette over zucchini, both on last weekend’s menu. And, as noted, I love a good snack plate; let this be a reminder that assembling is cooking, too. (California expats/everyone—you can order those gorgeous dried fruits and nuts straight from Inzana Ranch as if you never stopped going to the Grand Lake Farmers Market at all, sob!)

On the baked good front, my mom made me a batch of Megan Gordon’s breakfast cookies earlier this summer, and I still have a few in the freezer. They are delicious. I enlisted Ben to bake Heidi Swanson’s oatcakes earlier this week, which are as good as I remembered. We have made a couple of crumbles, though I always hate to part with the gorgeous berries and stone fruits, which I just want to eat out of hand. I am, however, going to make an exception for the blueberry boy bait from Smitten Kitchen.

I am currently very into granita, especially because it is a billion humid degrees out there, and maybe I’ll put together a recipe for next month to share that goodness with you. (Which also means that I, personally, have to make it, because the truth is that Ben has been making that, too. He’s a teacher with the summer off! He’s not pregnant! So don’t worry, this isn’t turning into a things-my-husband-made-for-me blog. Which might be fun but, let’s face it, overly precious and would primarily feature [delicious] carbohydrates.) But meanwhile, you can also find a lot of renditions out on the internet or a solid template in Samin Nosrat’s excellent book. Fruits! Coconut! Coffee! So easy and so gloriously cold.

And so, my tired self shall leave you with just those links this week. Enjoy! Make what you want! Stay cool and calm! I’ll be back (maybe) with one more recipe before baby comes.


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