Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Five weeks.

He's here. On February 17 at 4:23 AM via an emergency C-section, our son Murdo Scott MacKenzie II was born. He had a rough start into this world, entering two and a half weeks early with his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck and spending his first nine days in the neonatal intensive care unit for breathing issues,  jaundice and low blood sugar. But he is strong, and he made it home to us, and today he is five weeks old. 

He is the fourth Murdo in the MacKenzie family, including his dad, his grandpa (after whom he's named) and his great grandpa, but he is only the second Murdo Scott - making it very confusing for people when they assume he's named after his dad and I have to correct them. It's a conversation he'll be having the rest of his life, explaining to new friends that no, it's not his last name and no, don't call him Junior, but it's a strong, meaningful name that I hope he'll be proud of. 

Our life has changed, just like everyone said it would. They leave out the gritty details though, and at first I thought it was because they don't want to scare you, but now I know it's because there's no way to really understand until you're in it yourself. Until you're alone in a dark nursery at four in the morning with a screaming newborn after hours of nonstop feeding and changing and feeding and changing; or you're trying to prepare what was once a simple lunch in a past life but is pretty much an impossible feat now that you only have one working hand and a small human attached to the other; or you look at your husband on the other side of the couch as he holds and talks to your son and you realize you love the person he has become, the father he is becoming, more and more every day, just like you always knew you would. 

And him. My baby. He enjoys eating slowly and frequently. Silhouettes of house plants against a lit window grab his attention. Today he cooed for me - the first sounds I've heard from him that aren't cries or grunts. We're learning about each other slowly, all three of us, and trying to settle into a routine of sorts. My days are no longer defined by sleeping and waking hours. Instead, there are the dark morning hours when it's just me and baby Murdo, nursing and burping and watching "Gilmore Girls" on Netflix.  There are the daylight hours, when all three of us are up (we're fortunate that Murdo was able to take over a month off work for paternity leave), and there are visitors and doctors appointments and diaper changes and laundry and one real meal squeezed in for mom and dad - eaten together if we're lucky. And then the evening and late night hours, which can either be very good or very frustrating, very restful or very long, depending on how the baby is feeling that night. 

This morning I woke up at 5:30 to feed Murdo. After I placed him back in his sleeper, I went down to the den, the baby monitor in my robe pocket, and turned on the computer. I edited photos and began writing this blog post and for the first time in five weeks, I felt like I got back a piece of that past life that I thought had forever changed. It felt good. It feels good. To be his mother and to still be me. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

35 weeks.

This will probably be my last post before the baby is born, and in true "my-mind-is-a-jumbled-mess-right-now" form, I'm writing this post in the style of a bulleted brain dump.
  • It's snowing right now. We had a blizzard earlier this week, forcing me to stay indoors and work from home the past couple of days. Murdo and I took a late night walk around the block on Sunday night, when the blizzard was winding down, and we took in the sparkling white silence. Then, on Monday night, we got stuck pulling out of the driveway on the way to the grocery store, and our appreciation for the beauty of snow was quickly replaced with the reminder of how much snow sucks. Later, we got milkshakes, because everyone in the Chicago area right now deserves a milkshake. 
  • The crib is up! The stroller is assembled! Tiny outfits have been washed and dried and hung and folded! There is a little book case in the nursery already stuffed with copies of "Goodnight Moon," "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," "Pat the Bunny." We are far from finished getting ready, but I'm just happy knowing that if our little one gets here tomorrow (dear Baby, please don't decide to get here tomorrow!), at least he'll have a cozy place to sleep. 
  • As of today, I am 35.5 weeks along. I've developed a waddle. I'm seeing a physical therapist to deal with pelvic and back pain. I've ugly-cried at least twice in the past week -- once at work in front of my boss, and once into Murdo's chest in the middle of the nursery. My maternity pants are starting to get too tight. I want to eat more vegetables but I don't have the energy to cook them. I have four and half weeks left, and most of the time, I can't wait to not be pregnant anymore and to finally meet this kid and to start this new part of our lives. 
  • And then he rolls around in my belly, and I remember that there's a little person in there, and this is the closest he will ever be to me and the most I will ever be able to protect him, and every moment with him, from the seconds watching that faint little line appear on a stick until the day I die, should and will be cherished. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

On joining the club, and chicken tinola.

I knew that becoming a mother would be like joining a club of sorts, with an initiation of birthing a human and a common lifetime goal of not killing the kid, but I don't think I knew the extent of it until I started creating a baby registry. You guys, parenthood isn't just a club -- it's an alien universe with its own special language (terms like "babywearing," "nipple confusion" and "Woombie" are common in everyday conversation), transportation devices (infant seat, umbrella stroller or complete travel system with one-handed folding capabilities?) and food beliefs (breastfed, formula fed, baby-led weaning...). And of course, each baby item comes along with personal horror stories ranging from "this product is mildly annoying" to "my baby almost died using this." Yikes.

I'm also learning that over thinking and overwhelming often go hand in hand. So while I'm welcoming any advice that moms have to offer, I'm trying to remember that this baby isn't coming into the world perfectly accessorized -- that there will be some trial and error and tears and triumphs, and in order to really decide between the Maya Wrap and the Ergo and the Baby Bjorn, I'm just going to have to strap the kid to my chest and see what happens. 

While the baby registry has me backing away slowly, one thing that I can't help but want to dive right into is feeding the kid. I'm already fantasizing about family dinners around the kitchen table, where Mom, Dad and Kid each have their own individual French bread pizza customized to their liking (pepperoni for Dad, fresh tomato for Mom, and hopefully something somewhat nutritious for Kid). Introducing him to Filipino foods like pancit, adobo, lumpia. Helping him discover how he likes his eggs cooked. Creating memories rooted in the flavors of his childhood. 

I watched this great video about Ashley's blog Not Without Salt (scroll to the bottom of Ashley's post to watch) and her approach to cooking as it relates to her family. In it she says: 

"I can't be everything for these little people, but what I can do is give them a good meal and help facilitate these memories around different tastes and different smells and different moments, and we can spend time cooking together in the kitchen. And to me that seems simple, but it's so much, and I recognize that it is a gift for them." 

Then I read an article in the latest Saveur (after Murdo read it and told me he thought I would like it because of how it tied together childhood memories and food, and because there was a reference to the goodness that is slow cooked bone marrow -- he knows me so well) about a woman going through a divorce and finding happiness, if only just for a brief moment, in a favorite dish her mother cooked all day, just for her.

I can't help but hope that my own child will find comfort in the food we make for him. That the smell of garlic sizzling in hot oil will always remind him of home, and that he'll make a special place in his heart for his dad's grilled cheese sandwiches. And when he's feeling sick or sad, a piping hot bowl of chicken tinola would be enough to lift his spirits. 

Chicken Tinola
Filipino chicken tinola is traditionally made with papaya, although I grew up eating it with chayote, a small, mild-flavored green squash that can be found at an Asian produce market. My grocery store didn't have chayote squash on the particular weekend I was craving this dish, so I substituted broccoli, which my mom would often do as well.

My mom's method involves bone-in chicken parts, and instead of broth, she uses (clean) water reserved from the final (typically third or fourth) rinse of the jasmine rice with which the tinola is served. For convenience sake, I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs and canned chicken broth. I also added a handful of frozen spinach, because when you're growing a little human, you can probably never have enough green vegetables.

Also, at my parents' house we typically eat tinola as pictured above, with the broth and goodies poured over a pile of white rice. But you can also pour the broth into a bowl and just a few spoonfuls of rice (or no rice at all) for more of a chicken soup. 

With all these adaptations to the original recipe, this might not even look like authentic tinola. It certainly didn't look like my mom's. But it tasted like home, and that's all that matters to me.

2 tablespoons canola oil
3 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
1 inch of fresh ginger root, peeled and minced
1 small onion, sliced
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, sliced
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 14-oz can chicken broth
1 cup water
1 big bunch of broccoli, cut into florets (or 3 medium chayote squash, peeled and cut into large pieces)
Handful of fresh or frozen spinach (if frozen, thaw under running water and squeeze dry) - optional
Cooked white or brown rice, for serving

Heat oil in a pot over medium-high heat. Add garlic, ginger and onion, and cook a few minutes until fragrant and the onions are soft and translucent. Add the chicken and cook a few minutes more, then add the fish sauce. Season with ground black pepper and cook the chicken, stirring and flipping until slightly browned and the juices run clear. Add broth and water. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and add the broccoli. Cook until the broccoli is soft but not mushy, or cooked to your desired texture. (If using chayote, cook until tender when pierced with a fork.) Add the spinach, if using, and heat through until wilted. 

Serve over rice. Makes about 4 servings.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

4 Years. With Pork Meatball Banh Mi and a Gender Reveal.

Murdo and I got married four years ago today, on a private lake in Michigan. After we said our vows, we celebrated in a big white tent with 150 of our closest friends and family.

Today, where that big white tent once stood, there is a house. A house that Murdo's parents built -- are still building -- into a new Michigan home, where summer weekends in Michigan as we once knew them will change from long days and nights of drinking on the deck, drinking on the boat, drinking around the fire, to early mornings with kiddos running around, barefoot and sticky-faced, ready for a day of swimming and wiffle ball and hot dogs and chasing fireflies and making s'mores. It will take some adjusting, to say the least, but just like we knew four years ago that the step we were taking was so, so right, we know that this next step -- this leap, really -- is right, too.

In the eating-for-two department, I'm happy to report that my taste for vegetables has returned (and with it, Murdo's complaints about the smell of steamed broccoli), I no longer crave the feel of my mouth burning from spice after every bite of food, and I now have enough energy to plan meals, go grocery shopping and cook dinner again. Woohoo! Let's eat pork meatball sandwiches!

Specifically, pork meatball banh mi sandwiches. I had my first banh mi sandwich a few years ago, from a Vietnamese restaurant in Wicker Park that no longer exists. Since then, I have been on the hunt for a good banh mi sandwich in the suburbs. I found a place close by that's good but not great. Then I found this recipe that's really good, that I've made twice, the leftovers quickly polished off. The last go around I realized that these meatballs would freeze beautifully (because I foresee the "Freezer Friendly" meal becoming my best friend very soon), and if you're not in the mood for a sandwich, I've found that tossing all the innards with some rice and a healthy squirt of sriracha makes an excellent lunch. 

Also: IT'S A BOY.* 

Pork Meatball Bahn Mi Sandwiches (from Bon Appetit)
For me, what makes the banh mi is the combination of flavorful Asian-style meat with the crunchy, quick-pickled vegetables, sprigs of fresh cilantro and creamy, spicy sriracha mayo. I say "Asian-style" meat because I think any kind of salty meat with Asian flavors will work. I've been meaning to try making it with these pork skewers, and I bet even Korean BBQ would be good (like bulgogi or galbi). 

These pork meatballs, though. They took me about an hour to prepare, cook and assemble into sandwiches, which is a little longer than I like to be making dinner on a weeknight, but they're simple and delicious enough that I've added this recipe to the regular rotation. Even better would be making them ahead of time and keeping them in the fridge or freezer until ready to eat.  

Sriracha Mayo
2/3 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon sriracha

Stir together mayo and sriracha, and add more sriracha to your taste. Set aside in the fridge.

Quick Pickled Vegetables
2 cups carrots, cut into thin matchsticks(I used bagged pre-shredded carrots from Trader Joe's)
2 cups radishes, cut into thin matchsticks
1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt

Combine ingredients in a medium bowl, and let stand at room temperature for an hour, tossing occasionally. 

1 lb ground pork
1/4 cup fresh basil, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
3 green onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon sriracha
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
salt and pepper

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Using your hands, gently mix all of the ingredients in a bowl. Use a tablespoon to scoop meat, and roll the mixture into about 1-inch meatballs. Arrange on baking sheet. I ended up with about 30 meatballs. If you're not cooking them right away, cover and chill until ready to cook.

1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
1 French baguette, cut into 6-inch long pieces (or however long you want your sandwich to be)
Thinly sliced jalapeno
Fresh cilantro sprigs

Heat the sesame oil in a large skillet or cast iron skillet over medium high heat. In batches (don't overcrowd!), add meatballs and, turning often, saute until brown on all sides and completely cooked through, about 15 minutes. I used a meat thermometer to make sure they were an internal temperature of 160 F. Transfer cooked meatballs to a clean plate and repeat with remaining meatballs, adding more oil to skillet if needed. 

Cut each baguette piece horizontally, either completely in half or left with a hinge, whichever you prefer. Pull out enough bread to leave a 1/2-inch thick shell, or to a thickness you want. (Pulling out the bread is a genius move that I just discovered! More room for innards!) 

Spread sriracha mayo on the bread, then fill your sandwich with meatballs (I used 4-5), jalapenos, pickled veggies and cilantro. Add an extra squirt of sriracha for even more kick. 

Now eat! Baby Boy is hungry! :)

*Because we're impatient, we paid out-of-pocket to find out the sex of the baby at one of those 3D ultrasound places that will tell you baby's sex as early as 15 weeks. So while most expecting parents find out at their 20-week ultrasound at the doctor's office, we found out at 16. As of today, I'm 16 weeks and 6 days, And this little guy just keeps on growing!