Hi everyone, there’s going to be a lot of changes to the site happening this week, so it may or may not be completely accessible in a day or two. Everything should be up and running – hopefully! – by the Friday or Saturday, so please check back in then. Have a great week.
When I asked Little Boy what he wanted to give Papa as a birthday present, he thought for a few minutes and then said resolutely, Pretzels.
We had pretzels for his birthday party in May, and it is apparently the Thing when it comes to birthdays. So Husband got pretzels for his birthday as well as a few other things. I’m sure I’m not the only woman out there who struggles for present ideas when it comes to birthday and anniversary time. Thank God Husband likes good food.
Every year for his birthday dinner, I try to make something special, something we don’t normally eat, something that takes a bit more effort than the normal 30-minute dinner. One year it was a multiple-course Thai feast (pre-children, obviously). Another year it was a roast dinner, and last year we went out to for a fun night at a Turkish restaurant. This year we celebrated at home with visiting friends, and then for fun I made the same meal a week later when his real birthday present arrived in the mail.
If you’re looking for a new cookbook, this is a solid investment. This book by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi has recipes of the food from their well-known London cafes and restaurants. A dear friend in Geneva gifted it to me, and everything I’ve made out of it has been excellent, and the best part is that the recipes are simple and straightforward. The salad and vegetable section is what I’ve used the most, and most of the recipes call for simply roasted veggies and then a wonderful salad dressing on top. The most commonly used ingredients are garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and sea salt (there is a ton of garlic in most recipes). My other reason for loving the cookbook is that they credit the individual chefs and people who create the recipes. Most big name chefs – and authors – don’t produce their own work but it’s created for them in the hands of recipe developers, ghost writers and the like, and it’s a commonly-known “fact” of the industry. I love people who are able to give credit where it is due – to the people who do the hard creation work.
This meal is everything I love about food – easy preparation for stellar results. The chicken takes maybe 10 minutes to prepare, and the rest of the time is spent in the oven, cooking. The veggies take more work because you have to do some chopping and dressing-mixing, but other than that, it is so simple. Perfect kind of meal when there’s a toddler and baby to attend to (and the toddler can help putting veggies on a roasting tray).
Roast Chicken with saffron, hazelnuts and honey (from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, p 123)
This gives something simple like roast chicken pieces a special flavour – crunchy hazelnuts, sweet honey, a bit of tang from the lemon and the hints of rosewater throughout give it decidedly Middle Eastern feel. It is so easy and tasty.
1 large organic or free-range chicken, divided into quarters; breast and wing, leg and thigh (I used all thighs)
2 onions, roughly chopped (I used one)
4 TBSP olive oil
1 tsp ground ginger (I doubled it)
1 tsp ground cinnamon (I doubled it)
a generous pinch of saffron strands (skipped this)
juice of 1 lemon
4 TBSP cold water
2 tsp coarse sea salt
1 tsp black pepper
100g unskinned hazelnuts
2 TBSP rosewater
2 spring onions, roughly chopped
- In a large bowl, mix the chicken pieces with the onions, olive oil, ginger, cinnamon, saffron, lemon juice, water, salt and pepper. Leave to marinate for at least an hour, or overnight in the fridge. (For the first round, I left it to marinate overnight, for the second round, for three hours. There was virtually no difference. Also, I didn’t use saffron, so I skipped the water.)
- Preheat the oven to 190C. Spread the hazelnuts out on an oven tray and roast for 10 minutes until lightly browned. Chop roughly and set aside.
- Transfer the chicken and marinade to a roasting tray large enough to accommodate everything comfortably. Arrange the chicken pieces skin-side up and put the tray in the oven for about 35 minutes.
- While the chicken is roasting, mix the honey, rosewater, and nuts together to make a rough paste. Remove the chicken from the oven, spoon a generous amount of the nut paste on to each piece and spread it to cover. Return to the oven for 5-10 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the nuts are golden brown.
- Transfer the chicken to a serving dish and garnish with the chopped spring onions.
Roasted butternut squash with burnt aubergine and pomegranate molasses (from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, p 46)
1 large butternut squash
4 TBSP olive oil
1 TBSP pumpkin seeds
1 TBSP sunflower seeds
1 TBSP black sesame seeds or white if you don’t have black (skipped it)
1 tsp nigella seeds (skipped it)
10g sliced almonds (skipped it)
10g basil leaves
coarse sea salt and black pepper
1 medium aubergine
150g Greek yoghurt at room temperature
2 TBSP olive oil
1 1/2 tsp pomegranate molasses (gifted to me by a dear friend who was in Turkey)
3 TBSP lemon juice
1 TBSP coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 garlic clove, crushed
- Preheat the oven to 220C. Trim the top and bottom off the butternut squash and cut it in half lengthways. Remove the seeds using a small knife or a spoon. Cut each half into wedges 2-3cm thick. Arrange the wedges in a roasting tray, standing them up with the skin underneath if possible. Brush with half the olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper (I just drizzled the oil on top). Pleace in the oven for 25-30 minutes by which time the wedges should be tender and slightly browned. Leave to cool.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 180C. Scatter the seeds and almonds on a roasting tray and toast for 8-10 minutes, until lightly browned. Leave to cool.
- For the sauce, place the aubergine directly on a moderate flame on a gas hob (you might want to cover the hob top with foil before you begin). Burn the aubergine for 12-15 minutes, until the skin dries and cracks and smoky aromas are released. Turn it around occasionally, using metal tongs. Remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly. (Alternatively, you can place the aubergine under a very hot grill for about an hour, turning it around occasionally; continue until well shriveled on the outside, even if it bursts.) I skipped this step altogether, opting to turn the lone aubergine I had into it’s own salad instead of including it in the sauce, and the sauce was fine without it.
- Make a long cut through the aubergine. Using a spoon, scoop out the soft flesh while avoiding most of the burnt skin. Drain in a colander for 10 minutes, then transfer to a board and roughly chop.
- In a mixing bowl stir together the aubergine flesh, yoghurt, oil, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, parsley and garlic. Taste and season with salt and pepper. It should be sweetly sharp and highly flavoursome. (And it really is even without the aubergine – this sauce, dressing, whatever you want to call it, is amazing.)
- Arrange the squash wedges on a serving platter, piling them up on top of each other. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil, sprinkle the nuts and seeds over and garnish with the basil. Serve the sauce on the side.
Thanks friends for coming along with me for 31 days in October. For those of you who started reading the blog because of the series, I hope you enjoyed it, and I hope you stick around. I had no idea where I would end up when I started writing, but it has been a challenging, exciting, healing process the whole way through, so thank you for “listening.” I have a feeling I’ll be bringing this series back every now and then in the months to come with a few more Notes every so often.
I used a random winner generator for the Desperate giveaway, and the winner is Nayantara, so I will get you that book as soon as it comes via Amazon. Thanks to all who participated.
There will be quite a few blog changes coming up in the next week or so, but I hope to resume posting about the normal topics and of course some new recipes. Kale is in our supermarket for a few weeks so get ready to be inundated with easy kale, kale smoothies and kale brownies. Just kidding about the brownies.
It’s a cold, rainy Geneva day – if one can call 4am “day” – and my pink ballet flats with flowers stitched on top are letting water in. I pull my arms around the 37-week-old child inside, wait for the taxi and wonder if today is the day that we will meet our new son.
Three years ago I stood on a sunny, warm pavement in front of 14 Chemin Malombre, a newlywed with a van full of IKEA furniture and heart full of baggage. Two years ago I paced our apartment floor for six hours of pain, walked down six flights of stairs, into a taxi that took me to the hospital where 50 minutes later I held my crying firstborn having absolutely no idea how to care for and love a baby.
I am lying on a bed in Urgences (emergency), contracting every five minutes, and it feels fine. There is no way they will keep me here, I think to myself, I am not in labor. It’s early, these contractions are too weak, unless I’ve forgotten what contractions feel like.
But they keep me, I lie on my right side in the cold room, trying to cover my feet with useless hospital blankets. I close my eyes, trying to fall back asleep. Husband eventually arrives after our babysitter went to our apartment to look after Little Boy. We talk, laugh, just sit there and wonder how long this is all going to take.
I’m clearly much stronger this time around. Labor is really not painful at all, I marvel to myself and to him. I don’t even need any of my pain management strategies.
She walks into the delivery room like a warm breeze. She’s beautiful, my doctor, with wild, grey-brown, curly hair, she’s in top shape, I love listening to her Spanish accent. There’s the cervix check – the fifth, and there were at least two more to come.
I’m going to break your water now, and then we’ll see what happens, she says. I know from the way she is talking that she thinks it will go very quickly, but I know from what my body is saying that it won’t be happening any time soon.
It’s warm, amniotic fluid, I don’t remember that from the first time around when my water broke while I was throwing up into the toilet an hour before Little Boy was born, warm like a cup of tea falling from a counter top where it stood 30 minutes after the water boiled, falling down without anything to stop it. It’s gushing over the birthing ball where I sit, leaning on the bed, as I rotate my hips on top, hoping this means dilation of some sort.
We can see trees outside, all green, the sky is blue now, our room is eerily silent except for Husband, me, and the sound of the rubber ball squishing against the floor.
He pulls my worn blue Bible out of the hospital bag he packed before leaving our apartment this morning and starts flipping through it. He turns to Isaiah, and his eyes fall on chapter 66. He starts reading.
Before she was in labor, she gave birth, before her pain came upon her, she delivered a son.
This is incredible, Husband says.
“…For as soon as Zion was in labor, she brought forth her children. Shall I bring to the point of labor and not cause birth?” says the Lord.
Neither of us knew the passage, but in one moment, God is standing in this white room like my own personal midwife, holding my face is his hands and saying, Did you think you would go through all of this difficulty for nothing? Did you think the three years of sorrow and pain would just keep going? Were you wondering if anything could come out of this? Would I, the one who took you through labor, not cause birth?
And I know it in my heart, I will give birth to a son, but I also know that today I will give birth to something else.
This is the day when the three-year season of pain and difficulty ends; this is the day my new season of life is born.
I can hear her voice through the speakerphone in the delivery room, midwife to my left, Husband on my right and in a strange way I’m still captivated by the Spanish accent, You can get an epidural, the oxytocin will make your contractions more effeeeeeshyent, you haven’t failed, the sentences are running together, another contraction is coming, I can’t listen anymore.
It is 4pm, two hours now since she broke my water, 12 hours since I’ve been in the hospital, and 15 hours since the weak contractions first began. Labor is not progressing, the words no woman ever wants to hear. My cervix has been checked at least five times, a procedure I started hating after the first check in Urgences at 4am, and every time there are tiny movements toward effacement, but I’m not even dilated. In my head I’m trying to tell myself, Hours upon hours upon hours more of this, even though my body is saying, Please make the pain stop, please leave me alone.
And I see it, the days and the nights, the long days the even longer nights of waiting these last three years of waiting and waiting and waiting for something to change. A movie with scenes from the past three years of loss plays, of Husband coming home and me saying, I’ve had a moment, a revelation, I feel great now, everything will be different, and then it would last for a little bit and then fade away. The sadness returning, the heaviness still there.
It was a season of getting on with it, of getting up multiple times at night when I didn’t feel like it, of caring for people when I needed care myself, of feeding others when I needed food, of aching loneliness.
And there is no epidural that can take away that pain. There is no oxytocin that can make the process go faster. Sometimes you have to wait the season out, live in it and find ways to survive in it.
I ask her for a few more hours, Can we see what happens in two hours and can I make a decision then? She says of course, there is even a hint of laughter in her voice.
I expected it to be easy, if I’m honest, everyone says that a second delivery is easier and quicker than the first, and my first was easy and fairly quick at seven hours. I was so strong through the first one, so in control, no screaming, no crying, I was totally into it, like a well-trained athlete completing her event and being handed a gold medal at the end.
And I remember seeing Little Boy for the first time in the hands of the midwives. Two closed fists raised in the air, legs spread wide, face twisted in an angry howl. Strong, fierce, independent.
Little Boy was born of my strength, but today I know Baby will be born of my weakness.*
God’s back in the white room again and talking to me out of Isaiah 66.
Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river…I will comfort you, you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. You shall see and your heart shall rejoice; your bones shall flourish like grass, and the hand of the Lord shall be known to his servants.
Words that burn in my soul, the promises I hold in my heart, I will extend peace, I will comfort, your heart shall rejoice, your bones shall flourish. And I say yes to all of this, with Husband’s hand in mine, I say, Yes, to this season, I receive it with eager, open hands.
You have to help me decide, you can’t sit this one out, I’m your wife and this is your son, I turn to Husband, and we go back and forth, to get the epidural or not, to take the oxytocin or not.
Let’s ask God for a sign, he says, and so I do. If there is no change after the next round, I will take the epidural first, then the oxytocin.
We leave the delivery room and head for the stairs, walking up and up and up and down and down and down, focusing my mind on the sound of the pink ballet flats slapping against the concrete.
Another cervix check, and I feel so tense and tight, anticipating the discomfort and pain but not the surprise on the midwife’s face or her words, There’s a leeetle change.
Still not fully effaced but only millimeters away, we have our sign.
We go back to the stairs, climbing up at the start of the contraction into peak intensity and heading down when the pain is on its way out. Up and down. Up and down.
After a day’s worth of cervix checks, I start to feel a second pain after the pain of the contraction subsides, it’s my cervix telling me where it is and that it’s not feeling so great. I force myself to labor in a way to make it hurt even more because more pain means my cervix is opening, I need the baby’s head to push hard down on it to force dilation, pain means transition, pain means something will happen, I know this because it was the story of my life, just when I thought I couldn’t take any more, more would come, and each dose of more difficulty, each wave of disappointment and pain was water against my rough patches, wearing me down, thinning me out, carving away at me on the inside, enlarging me. More pain brought more space, more life, more grace.
Everyone says – I say – the only way to get through the pain of labor is to somehow stay on top of it through pain management exercises and sheer willpower, and that’s what I did with my first.
But now I’m back in the delivery room and so out of control there is no way to get close to being over the pain, I am pulled under, deep into contractions that have me on my feet reeling around the room with groans and shrieks and hands slapping on the counters. It’s in these moments of desperate pain that I hear the words from an Ann Voskamp blog post I almost memorized from reading so much when I was pregnant with my first.
“You’re a bag of sand and there’s a hole in your toe — and the sand just keeps trickling out.
Just let everything that comes on, trickle on through. Don’t hold on… Just breathe and let go.”
– Ann Voskamp, How To Breathe Through the Hard Times
I’m standing between the counter with all the official equipment and the bed when I hear the words, and realize all my muscles are pulled tight, so I let go and the force of the next contraction empties my bladder on the ballet flats, and then I can feel him, the small lump in the small of my back, moving.
You have to call the midwife NOW, it’s time to push, I tell Husband, RIGHTNOW, trying to convey the urgency even though I can’t believe it.
I run – well, it felt like running – to the side of the bed, hold on to it and start pushing through my contractions. Husband’s on the other side telling me I can do it, the midwife in charge walks in looking bewildered, You need to push??
She checked me just an hour ago, and I wasn’t even dilated.
And I say something like, yes it feels like that but I suppose I don’t know for absolute certain, and as much as I told myself I would never push without finding out if I was completely dilated, I knew I was going to keep pushing.
Activity all around us, I hear her in the background on speakerphone with my doctor who is kind of yelling and they have switched from French to Spanish, and Spanish sounds much better than French when there is high drama involved. Two other midwives materialise, green paper on the floor, I’m thinking I should get on the bed, but no one seems to care, so I push anyway.
This is it, ICANFEELHIMCROWNING, I tell them, wondering why I’m having to tell people what is happening, mystified as to why no one seems to be doing anything more dramatic than just standing there and waiting. With Little Boy, the midwives told me when to stop pushing, when to keep going, they told me everything, and I followed their instructions.
Today, I work with my body. I know when to stop pushing, when I need to pant, when the head emerges, then the body, the rush of water and blood and it’s finished. My son is crying, my husband is crying, and me?
I’m standing by the side of the bed, still holding the mattress and sheets, my legs are shaking.
Shaken but standing. Holding on because I will not let go of You.
The midwives hand him to me, a shivering, huddled ball of white-coated flesh, head touching his knees. He was born three weeks early and a tiny ball with skin like tissue paper.
He curls into my chest, like he’s trying to go back inside, and after three years, I know today that this is what I must look like to God.
The girl who tried so hard to be strong and together and on top of it and in control, she’s finally where He wants her. Out of control, hands wide open to receive grace, strength all gone, I’m here in all my glorious weakness saying, Take me, please take me, feed me real food, give me back my life.
So one season gives way to the next, life comes out of death, sadness flees and joy abounds, I was tested and tried, a crushing burden laid on my back, there was fire and water, but I am resurrected again, You have brought me to a place of abundance.
*I take this phrase from my friend Kristen Frantz’s own birth story – I’ve tried to come up with a better one myself, but her line that I read years before I had my own children so perfectly captures my own experience.
I’ll announce the winner of the Desperate book giveaway tomorrow. This post is Day 31 of 31 Days of blogging in October. I am writing this month about my first season of motherhood, sharing stories and lessons that stayed with me from that time. (New to this series? Start here and follow the links to each day’s post.)
There’s a post I tried to write to publish today, but it’s not going to happen if I want to get some sleep. And I want to get some sleep. Instead here are a few of my favourite parenting articles. Enjoy.
No, a mother duck plucks each feather out from the heart of her bosom.
She lines the nest with bits of herself — the best of herself.
A mother cups her brood not with leftovers — but with her own sacrifice.
This is the year of yes, to look in the mirror and say, “Yes, He made you this way and it is very good! Yes, you can try! Yes, be creative! Yes, laugh and yes, give it a whirl, and yes, it’s really okay, don’t be afraid!”
This is the year of yes, to kneel down and peer into eager faces and say, “Yes, you can, yes, that’s an ingenious idea, yes, make that, yes, yes, yes!”
We have great plans, grand ideas of mothering and care-taking and preparing a child for life, and at the end of many days we just feel like we’ve left it in pieces. What’s here for them to take is not near enough, we say. And we cry because we wish we had done it better.
We wish our fingers always zipped and buttoned the completed gown instead of staring at the remainders of our dreams for them.
Yes, boys – right to my end, I will be your witness.
God as my witness, I will be your witness, and you can climb and you can take risks and you can go east and you can go west and distance never stopped love from being a witness.
Go ahead, sign me up to witness the launchings and the beginnings, witness the dares you take, the challenges you rise to, the heartbreak you don’t want anyone else to see and the crazy you wish you could hide. The Lord looked down, from heaven He viewed the earth in all it’s crazy and God sees it all – and He sees to it all – and He doesn’t turn away. God is your witness: You are seen and known.
Thanks to all of you who have followed this 31 Days series. I’ll conclude tomorrow and announce the giveaway winner.
This post is Day 30 of 31 Days of blogging in October. I am writing this month about my first season of motherhood, sharing stories and lessons that stayed with me from that time. (New to this series? Start here and follow the links to each day’s post.)