second_pregnancy_syndrome

Second Pregnancy Syndrome

Second Pregnancy Syndrome (or SPS as I like to think of it) is definitely a thing.

During a first pregnancy, you’re in a honeymoon period. Whether you feel sick or fantastic, you’re constantly aware of your pregnancy.

You get weekly update emails from websites like babycenter.com or pregnantchicken.com (these were hilarious and a personal favorite).

When people ask you how far along you are, you can tell them exactly how many weeks and days.

You have time to lie around the house, feeling those little movements that make your heart glow, and do all the nesting you want.

Your baby room looks ah-maaaaa-zing, like something off of Pinterest.

When you get home from work, you can collapse into bed without a care in the world.

Fast Forward to Your Second Pregnancy

This is an entirely different ball game. And it’s not as much fun.

You may still feel sick, or perhaps you feel fantastic. But you’re definitely TIRED. The fatigue of the first trimester hits you like a mack truck coming full speed out of the fog.

You think, “Ok, I’ll lie down and take it easy.” But as soon as you lie down, a little voice says, “Mamaaaaaaa… Let’s plaaaaaaay…”

Oh Right. You have a Toddler.

Your first kid is likely somewhere between 20 months and 36 months old. This is a notoriously difficult age: the Terrible Twos.

Any kind of change is a huge drama to your toddler. And at this point, your toddler’s emotional brain is hugely over-developed. So everything is ALL ABOUT THE EMOTIONS. They’re overpowering. They’re overwhelming. They lead to meltdowns and tantrums at the drop of a hat.

You’ve got to manage a tantrum, or somehow go through the mechanics of your routine without being sick all over your kid, or falling asleep in your chair.

Second Pregnancy Syndrome Symptoms: Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That

The symptoms of Second Pregnancy Syndrome are as follows:

All that time you had during your first pregnancy? Gone.

Regular nap time? Dream on (unless you’re lucky and your toddler still naps).

Knowing exactly how far along you are? HA! “What? I’m pregnant? I’d have forgotten if I hadn’t just barfed in the kitchen sink.”

Reading weekly email updates comparing your foetus to fruit and vegetables? Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Doing your stretching, pregnancy exercises or labor breathing practice? See above.

Preparing that perfect baby room? Dang, this kid will be lucky if he/she gets a bed to sleep in!

Some Solutions for SPS

It’s not all bad news, though. There are ways to combat SPS, and to make life during a second pregnancy a little easier to handle.

1. Convert your toddler to a big girl/guy

Kids at this age love to be helpful, and to feel like they are trusted with responsibilities. Make your little one feel like a big girl/guy by asking for his/her help. Whether it’s help making breakfast, tidying up, getting dressed on their own like a big kid, or brushing their teeth, every little bit helps.

You can even take it a step further and potty train your kid. According to Jamie Glowacki (potty training expert and the “pied piper of poop”), 20-30 months is the ideal time to potty train your kid. We took that to heart and seized the opportunity to potty train and get one kid out of diapers before another one starts out with them.

We found that potty training our son gave him confidence, made him feel proud of himself, and spurred on his desire to be a “big guy.” He now climbs into his car seat on his own (hooray for not having to pick up 15kg of toddler while pregnant!), no longer sits in a booster seat, brushes his teeth on his own and gets himself dressed. All helpful.

2. Ask for help

No one is going to judge you for hiring a regular babysitter to watch your kid while you take a nap.

If your toddler isn’t in daycare, look into options. If you’re working and your toddler is in daycare, find a reliable babysitter who can come in on a regular basis to help out. Sometimes it helps just to have someone play with your kid while you throw some dinner together.

Get your partner involved. Work out a schedule whereby you can both be home at the same time in the evening (prime toddler meltdown hour), so you can work together to get that kid to bed before you collapse.

If you have family around, ask for help. Even if it’s your overbearing mother-in-law (I cannot speak from personal experience here, but I’ve heard they exist), bite the bullet and ask if she can watch your toddler for an afternoon a week, or maybe even do one overnight a week.

3. Remember to take care of yourself

This is the hardest one, and I’ve definitely failed at it.

Being diagnosed as dangerously anaemic reminded me that I need to eat better and take care of myself, not just my big guy.

Do what you can to eat well, and get plenty of rest. If possible, try and get in a gentle walk a few times a week. Getting outside will help both you and your toddler (and you can’t really do anything but gentle walking when you’re with a toddler).

It’s so much easier said than done, and I’m still struggling with this one. As moms, we often worry about everyone’s well-being but our own.

Remember: when you’re pregnant, it’s not just your well-being, but also that of your baby. So just do it: lie down for that nap instead of putting on a load of laundry. It’s good for you.

Pregnancy Is A Waiting Game

Hooray! I’m 37 weeks pregnant! For those who don’t count pregnancy in weeks, that means I’m 8 and a half months pregnant, or 2.5 weeks away from my due date. As of 37 weeks, this baby is officially full-term, meaning he could come ANY MINUTE.

Any minute.

Any minute now…

Has it been a minute?

WHY ISN’T MY WATER BREAKING OMG??!!

First and Second Trimesters: A Breeze!

thebraininjane.com 34 weeks pregnant
Believe it or not, at this point things weren’t too hard.

When you’ve had a pregnancy as easy as mine (I swear, I was BUILT FOR THIS), trimesters one and two are a breeze.

If it hadn’t been for my getting slowly fatter (and knocking over wine glasses with my belly), I could have forgotten I was pregnant. It wasn’t until I started feeling the baby’s movements that I could really believe it.

Even at the start of the third trimester, things weren’t that hard. Yeah, I’d get winded quickly, and I was starting to feel quite a bit bulkier. But nothing compares to the past week or so.

Third Trimester: The Waiting Game

Suddenly, I feel like I have BALLOONED. Standing for long periods of time is uncomfortable, but so is sitting because all my vital organs have been shoved up into my ribcage, making my lungs feel a bit crowded.

pregnancy is a waiting game
I may be smiling but I’m struggling to breathe.

Normally an active person, getting out of the house has been difficult. The weather doesn’t help (thank you, Montreal), and the fear of slipping on the sheets of ice that cover the sidewalks makes my ventures tentative and short.

So what to do? Low on energy, feeling huge and lumbering, I spend a lot of my days indoors, knitting, reading, sewing, finishing off the last things on my to-do list.

But mostly, I feel like I’m just waiting. Yup, pregnancy is a waiting game.

The Worst Is Not Knowing When

People wait for their delayed flights at LaGuardia Airport in New York
This is what the last weeks of pregnancy feel like.

I’m an organized person. I like to plan things out and get my logistics in order. I’m not obsessive or anything, but I am not the best at improvising (unless, of course, I have planned to improvise…).

Waiting for this baby to come is like waiting on a delayed flight. You know your flight will be leaving at some point–it’s inevitable–, but you don’t know when. You don’t want to wander too far from the waiting area at the gate in case they make an announcement, but the all-knowing voice over the loudspeaker isn’t giving you any information. It seems that only God knows when your plane will start boarding.

At this point, only God knows when this baby will decide to get the party started. Braxton-Hicks contractions are like the movements of the airline personnel up at the gate desk: you think something is getting started, but then it’s always a false alarm.

And so I wait.

What to Do? Be Ready.

The only thing that I can do is try as best as possible to get on with life, and be ready. My organized self has prepared as much as possible. Here’s a helpful list of what you can do to be ready:

  • Have your hospital bag packed. You can find some useful lists of stuff here and here.
  • Get hubby to pack a bag! Several friends have pointed out that they completely forgot to prepare PJs or anything for Dad.
  • You need a hospital bag for baby, too!
  • Cook up some food and freeze it. I hear you’ll be glad you did this when you get home from the hospital.
  • Keep your phone charged and have your charger with you ALWAYS.
  • Carry around a maxi pad. Okay, this may sound weird, but what if you’re out and your water breaks? It can happen in a gush, but it can also happen in a trickle, so have a maxi pad ready on hand, just in case.
  • Download a new ebook, some podcasts or episodes on your phone or tablet, for distraction purposes during long hours of labor.
  • Have all your documents, birth plan, ID, etc., ready to go.

Other than that, the only thing you can do is distract yourself. I’ve decided to do so by hosting a dinner party. Because, what could go wrong, right?

What It’s All About

Honestly, what it all boils down to is this: I’m really excited to meet this kid. I’m impatient to see his face, to hear his voice and to get to know him with my Chico.

That’s what makes this waiting game so difficult. Delicious anticipation.

pregnancy-miscarriage-support

Let’s Talk About Miscarriage

This story has a happy ending, I promise!

After suffering a miscarriage myself at the end of 2013 (accursed year), I am currently happily expecting our first baby. Fingers crossed that all continues to go well.

This topic, though, is something that needs to be talked about. So, here goes.

pregnancy-miscarriage-support
Image sourced from BabyCenter.ca

(For the record, I am not a doctor and I am using my personal experience and trustworthy online resources and written materials to compile the information for this article. If you suspect you might be having a miscarriage, contact your doctor immediately.)

My Miscarriage

I was probably 8 weeks pregnant last December when my pregnancy ended, but I didn’t know about it until about a week later.

That’s called a sceptic miscarriage, or when your pregnancy stops but your body does not expel the fetus. You eventually develop an infection in the uterus, the symptoms of which can be fever (yup, had that), body aches (yup), chills (yup) and other unpleasantness.

After a trip to the emergency room and a night in hospital, the doctor performed a D&C (a suction dilation and curettage) and within 24 hours I was ready to go home. Heartbroken.

What is a Miscarriage?

A miscarriage is when a pregnancy ends before the 20th week. According to the Mayo Clinic online resources, this happens in about 15 to 20 per cent of pregnancies.

Basically, that’s why you hear you’re not supposed to announce a pregnancy until you’ve made it through the first trimester (or 14 weeks). The risk of miscarriage drops dramatically after that point.

In addition to a sceptic miscarriage mentioned above, there are several kinds of miscarriages:

  • Threatened miscarriage: Where you’re bleeding but your cervix hasn’t dilated. With rest, these often don’t actually result in a full miscarriage.
  • Inevitable miscarriage: You’re bleeding, contracting, the cervix is dilated and there’s no way it’s not happening. Bummer.
  • Incomplete miscarriage: You’ve lost some of the tissue, but some is left behind in the uterus.
  • Missed miscarriage: Placental and embryonic tissue is still in the uterus but the embryo has died (or never actually existed).
  • Complete miscarriage: You’ve passed all the pregnancy tissues and everything is cleared out of the uterus.

Source: Harms, Roger, M.D. & Wick, Myra, M.D., Ph.D (eds) 2011, Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy, Good Books, Intercourse, PA.

Your Choices of Treatment

In my case, I was offered two choices: I could do the D&C (as mentioned above) in the hospital, or I could take a pill at home that would cause my body to expel the fetus at home.

For the D&C, you are put under general anesthetic and uses a machine to gently suction the pregnancy tissue out of the uterus.

The medical treatment may involve an oral pill that will cause you to expel the pregnancy tissue later (probably at home). I had heard of people choosing this option and it sounded absolutely horrifying to me. That’s why I opted for the surgical procedure.

Normally, your care provider will outline the risks of each procedure to help you make your decision.

Miscarriage is NOT. YOUR. FAULT.

Yes, there are certain risk factors that increase the likelihood of miscarriage. These are:

  • Age: If you’re older than 35, you have a higher risk of miscarriage. Apparently, the age of the father can also influence the likelihood of miscarriage.
  • More than two previous miscarriages. If you’ve had two or more miscarriages, your chances of having another increase.
  • Smoking, drinking and doing drugs. This one is pretty obvious, I should think.

Source: Idem.

What is important to remember, though, is that unless you are abusing your body horribly with drugs and alcohol, having a miscarriage is absolutely not your fault.

Usually, pregnancies end in miscarriage because the fetus is simply not viable. It’s not caused by having sex, exercising, or lifting heavy items. And, unless it’s a case of toxoplasmosis, it’s probably not caused by anything you eat (even those “forbidden foods”).

Remember, too, that unless there are other physical issues, most women who have a miscarriage go on to have healthy pregnancies and babies.

Seeking Support

BabyCenter.com and .ca offers resources for expectant mothers who have suffered a miscarriage. You will find any number of online forums where women (and their partners) share their experiences and offer words of support and comfort.

Chances are, too, that you know someone who has had a miscarriage. Talking about it with family and friends helped me to grieve, but also to understand that what I had experienced is (sadly) quite normal. Surrounding me were women of all ages who had had the same experience (for some, it was more than once).

They shared their stories of heartbreak, but also encouraged me with their stories of joy about how a healthy baby almost always followed a miscarriage.

Your healthcare provider can also recommend resources for you. If you find you are deeply grieving, you may want to speak with a mental health professional. There is no shame in this, and it is, in fact, a smart and proactive move to seek out assistance.

You’re Not Alone

The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone. Your partner is likely suffering and grieving along with you. Grieve together, and give each other all the time and support you can.

  • Don’t be afraid to cry, even in front of or with your partner
  • Plan something you can look forward to: for my Chico and me it was our honeymoon
  • Seek counseling together

However you cope, try to give yourselves something to look forward to together as a couple. Eventually, as the grief and disappointment fade, hope and optimism will return and you may feel ready to try again.

Feel free to contact me on the About TheBrainInJane page if you have questions, or to write in the comments below.

easy-way-to-polish-shoes

4 Household Tricks to Make Life Easier

I’ve recently learned a few household tricks that have made life so much easier for me. Here are my 4 favorite life hacks:

1. Fruit Fly Trap

Summertime, and the living is easy. Unless, of course, you’re a fruit fly. Then you’ve got about a day of mature adult life and it’s a mad scramble to reproduce.

No one wants fruit flies reproducing on their produce, though! Here’s a great trick I learned for trapping the nasty little buggers so they don’t swarm your fruit.

homemade-fruit-fly-trap
A simple trap for those pesky fruit flies.

What you’ll need:

  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Dish soap
  • Piece of paper
  • Jar (preferably larger than the one pictured here)

Pour about half a cup of apple cider vinegar into your jar, then squeeze a couple squirts of dish soap into it and stir it up. Yum! Then, fold your piece of paper into a cone shape and stick it into the jar so that it’s not touching the liquid.

The apple cider vinegar will attract the nasty little fruit flies and the dish soap will ENTRAP them when they try to take a drink of the forbidden liquid! Then, even if they do manage to fly out of vinegar, the cone-shaped paper will make it harder for them to escape the jar.

Voilà, no more fruit flies.

2. The Lazy Woman’s Shoe Polish

My dad has this amazing shoe polishing kit, full of different-colored polishes for all their pairs of shoes. He’ll pull it out on a Saturday afternoon, set down some newspaper, put on an old apron, sit on a stool, and get to work polishing and buffing his and my mother’s shoes to a gorgeous shine.

I’m far too lazy for that. Plus, it’s hard to find the right color of polish these days.

When my Chico bought me a leather bag for Christmas (yes, you can be jealous), he asked for some care tips from the guy at the store.

The gentleman said the best way to both clean and polish leather is to buff it with a plain old moisturizer.

easy-way-to-polish-shoes
My favorite boots always shine! This Norwegian stuff seems to do the trick.

I find it works about as well as polishing, and my shoes are always bright and shiny.

Note: I would always re-waterproof your shoes after you buff them with moisturizer.

3. Use Boiling Water on Berry Stains

This is a classic old household trick that so many people have forgotten!

Berry stains come out with boiling water. Berries include blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, mulberries… Whatever! But, most importantly, this also includes the killer: red wine.

Spilled some red wine on your white shirt? No problem! Boil up some water in your electric kettle (because everyone has one of those, right??), place a pyrex measuring cup inside the shirt under the stain (because you don’t want to pour the wine stain through one side of the shirt to the other) and simply pour boiling water over it.

It’ll turn a kind of gray color at first, but if you keep pouring it on it will fade slowly. Be sure not to let your pyrex cup overflow, though! And don’t burn yourself!

Bonus: Bloodstains come out with a good soak in ice water. If you cut yourself shaving, gentlemen, just grab some ice cubes from the freezer and place the shirt in a container. Soak it with the ice cubes and very cold water and the blood stain should come out in a cold water wash.

4. Water Stains on a Wood Table

Now, to be honest I haven’t tried this one. But my grandmother has and she said it worked like a charm.

Take water stains out of your wood table with a drop of mayonnaise. Yes, mayonnaise!

Just put some on a paper towel and rub in a circular motion over the water stains. My grandmother said you’ll have to switch out for a clean paper towel to dry up the mayonnaise, but it should take out a relatively fresh water stain.

I doubt it’s very effective on old water rings. That’s what coasters are for, people.

Share Your Household Tricks!

Call ’em what you want: tricks, tips, life hacks. But share them! I’m curious to know, for instance, if an aspirin at the bottom of a vase of flowers really helps keep them fresh. Tell me!

 

 

Homemade_Nutella_Recipe

Homemade Nutella Recipe: Say Good-Bye to Palm Oil

Homemade_Nutella_RecipeDo you love Nutella but feel guilty about consuming such obscene amounts of palm oil?

OF COURSE YOU DO. Everyone does. How can you not love Nutella?

This week I discovered this homemade Nutella recipe by Lollie Rock posted on mamansquidechirent.com (loose translation: momswhorock.com). Since it is in French, and since I discovered a helpful trick to make this recipe easier, I thought I’d share with you guys.

Homemade Nutella Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of hazelnuts, skinned and toasted (see below for a great trick!)
  • 1/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup of powdered sugar
  • 3/4 tsp of vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp of salt
  • 3 tbsp of hazelnut oil

Directions:

After skinning and toasting your hazelnuts, toss them in your mixer. You’ll want a good mixer to be sure that you get a nice, smooth consistency (unlike mine which resulted in a somewhat granular–but not unpleasant!–Nutella). Blend them until they have a smooth, buttery consistency. (Alternatively, save yourself some time and find hazelnut butter at the store).

Next, add the rest of your ingredients one by one, mixing each in thoroughly before adding the next. Starting with the hazelnut oil will help keep things nice and moist.

Mix thoroughly. If you find your Nutella is too dry or grainy, add a touch more hazelnut oil until it gets the consistency you want. Don’t worry about the amount of oil: you’ll never get as much in there as in the real thing.

How to skin and toast hazelnuts like Julia Child

I read somewhere that the best way to skin and roast hazelnuts is to put them in the oven at 175°C (350°F) for 15 minutes, then rub them in a tea towel to get the skins off.

I also read that this technique is only partially effective. So I did some googling and found this article from mybakingaddiction.com that revealed a secret shown to Julia Child: boil the hazelnuts in 2 cups of water and 3 tablespoons (you read that right!) of baking soda.

Here’s how it works:

Boil: 2 cups of water. Add: 3 tbsp of baking soda. Pour in your hazelnuts. The water will turn black and will foam up. Boil for 3 minutes (or thereabouts). In the meantime, prepare a bowl of ice water.

Pick out one hazelnut to test. Drop it in ice water and if the skin slips off easily, drop the rest in. Then simply slip the skins off the rest of the hazelnuts one by one, and place them on a tea towel to pat dry.

Toast in the oven at 175°C (or 350°F) for 15 minutes. Your kitchen will smell lovely.

Here is a video of Alice Medrich showing this technique to Julia Child (with a great hazelnut biscotti recipe to boot!):

Bonus info: Why you should avoid palm oil

The production of palm oil is linked to the destruction of rainforest in Indonesia, further endangering species like the orangutan. Visit the World Wildlife Fund’s website for more information about palm oil and why you should avoid it.

Evolution_of_one_hour_of_exercise

The Evolution of One Hour of Exercise

Or, “How amnesia helps keep me in shape.”

Evolution_of_one_hour_of_exercise

9:00am

Alright! I’m outside and it feels great! I’m pumped! I’ve got my gear and my tunes and I’m READY!

9:05am

Man, I didn’t realize it was going to rain this morning. Boy am I glad I have this awesome gear to keep me warm!

9:07am

There’s a bit of a wind today, isn’t there? I’ll be turning around in 23 minutes, it’ll be at my back then.

9:12am

Okay, breathing’s getting a bit harder. But it feels great!

9:17am

Breathing is even harder. It doesn’t feel so good anymore. In fact, my lungs are burning.

9:20am

Has this hill always been this steep?! Or is this new? They’ve changed this park layout, right? Holy crap I’m sweating.

9:25am

How long have I been doing this? Maybe I should stop and drink some water.

9:29am

No, I can’t stop! It’s been almost half an hour, I can keep it up!

9:32am

Oh God every breath is agony!

9:35am

WHERE IS ALL THIS RAIN COMING FROM?

9:36am

Wait, the wind has changed! It’s in my face again!

9:38am

My sweat-soaked clothes are starting to freeze in this biting wind. My fingers are red and swollen. I can’t feel my face.

9:41am

How are my legs still moving? It’s like they have a will of their own and their objective is to DESTROY ME.

9:44am

NOT. BREATHING. LUNGS. ACHING. FOR. OXYGEN.

9:45am

Whose freaking bright freaking idea was this to freaking exercise in this weather? I hate this place. I hate this weather. I hate my legs. I hate my lungs.

9:47am

I hate my gear. It sucks. My feet hurt.

9:48am

I hate my tunes. They’re not distracting me from the pain!

9:50am

Is that my house? Am I home yet?

9:51am

NINE MORE MINUTES TO GO, NOOOOOO I CAN’T DO IT!!!

9:53am

How many croissants can I eat after having run this far?

9:55am

Breathing seems to be unnecessary for survival because apparently I’m still alive.

9:56am

Oh God I can smell my own sweat!

9:57am

Just a few… more… feet… home…

9:58am

That’s my door! I can see it!

9:59am

Left, right, left, right, left, right, left, right…

9:59:59am

Just crawl up the front steps, woman, then you can collapse.

10:00am

I MADE IT!!!! *Collapse in a heap*

10:07am

Regain consciousness.

10:10am

Facebook status update: “Went for a run this morning. It felt great! Can’t wait to go again tomorrow!”

 

 

Calvin & Hobbes Resolutions

The Case Against New Year’s Resolutions

Statistics New Year's Resolutions

Like many folks out there, you may have written up your list of 2014 resolutions: New Year’s resolutions that will shake up your life, make you a better person and generally bring you luck and success.

Also, like most people (according to the website StatisticBrain.com), you will probably fail to stick to your resolutions. In fact, only about 8% of people actually achieve their New Year’s goals.

But hey, that’s okay! Why? Because making resolutions is a completely unproductive way to go about initiating change in ourselves! Here’s why:

1. New Year’s Resolutions Are Unrealistic

Most of the New Year’s goals we set are based on a desire to become an idealized version of ourselves.

Calvin & Hobbes ResolutionsAccording to a quick Google search, the most common New Year’s resolutions are to lose weight, get in shape, learn something new, quit smoking, and eat better (or diet). Usually, by the month of February these good intentions have been forgotten and we’ve reverted to old habits. As a result, we probably feel bad about ourselves.

That’s because, in the absence of real motivation, desire or need to improve our quality of life, these resolutions reflect a want to look and feel the way society says we should.

Losing weight, for instance, is a long, involved and often trying process (trust me, I went through it in 2012). It’s easy to think, “Sure, I can lose 10 lbs this year,” but without real motivation or a reason to work for that goal, it’s unlikely that we’ll actually get there.

If you really want to make a resolution, think long and hard about what it should be, and how willing you are to actually work for it.

2. We Make Too Many Resolutions at Once

I LOVE making lists! I make them all the time! Packing lists, grocery lists, to do lists, lists of the reasons I’m awesome, etc…

But the one time (and perhaps the only time because lists are the best) when a list is inappropriate is when it comes to your New Year’s goals.

Honestly, do you really think you can learn a new language, read 500 books, quit smoking AND lose 20 lbs all in one year?! Yeah, there may be people out there who could, and they’re called over-achievers and they probably have no social lives.

But most of us regular Joes can barely handle one of those commitments, let alone all of them. So tone it down a notch and stick to one thing that you can really focus on. For instance, learning to knit! (It’s just a thought…)

3. Resolutions Are Overwhelming

According to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, part of the reason we fail at our New Year’s resolutions is because we set ourselves abstract goals.

Absurdly Unattainable New Year's ResolutionsDuhigg writes that the most effective way to think about resolutions is to frame them as baby steps for us to take to improve or change our habits. By making small, manageable modifications to our behavior, we should be able to achieve the larger goals we set for ourselves.

Thinking of a resolution as project can help. Last year, my project was to design and launch my own website. I did some research and determined the baby steps I needed to take to get to that point. Voilà! You are gazing upon the result! (Thanks!)

***

Like giving up something for Lent, New Year’s resolutions are fashionable and like most things à la mode, they’re often meaningless. Don’t set yourself up for failure by making these classic mistakes. Set yourself a realistic goal, then outline the baby steps you need to take to get there.

This year, I want to take a creative writing class. My first baby step? A simple Google search…

 

What I Have Just Cooked is Pure Deliciousness

Ladies and gentlemen, I have just made the most divinely delicious dish.

“Surely, you exaggerate!” you say?

I do not.  And don’t call me Shirley.

(I guess that joke only works when spoken.  Oh well.  Moving on.)

Tonight I made sofrito, a basic Spanish fry-up of onion and other veggies, including grated tomato.  This base is then incorporated into all kinds of dishes.  Tonight, I made it into an arroz con ternera, or rice with veal.

Chef José Andrés
“Made in Espain!”

My Chico and I have been thoroughly enjoying José Andrés’ “Made in Spain” (pronounced “made in espain” of course).  We don’t get PBS, but we have been watching his program online, here.  Inspired by his show about Castilla-la Mancha, I decided to delight Chico this evening by preparing the dish José Andrés makes on this show.  Here’s how I did it:

Ingredients:

  • 500g veal ragout (José Andrés used rabbit, but I was fresh out)
  • plenty of olive oil (preferably Spanish!)
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 green pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 large clove garlic (whole and still in its skin)
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • paprika
  • saffron (if you don’t have it, as I didn’t, you can use turmeric, but use it sparingly)
  • 2 large tomatoes, grated (don’t include the skins)
  • mushrooms (about 225g – you can use whatever kind you like)
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup medium-grain rice

Method

  1. Season the veal.  Heat a large pot (preferably not non-stick, I used my largest le Creuset pot) and add a generous amount of olive oil to the pan.  Make sure it’s nice and hot.  Carefully add the veal ragout pieces to the pan and brown on all sides.  Remove from the pan and leave all the lovely juices behind in the pot.
  2. If necessary, add a some oil to the pan until the bottom is well coated.  Let it heat up.  When hot, toss in the onion, green pepper, garlic clove (smashed, but not chopped) and bay leaf.  Let it cook slowly for 20-25 minutes, stirring frequently.
  3. Meanwhile, grate the tomatoes into a bowl.
  4. When the onion & green pepper are nice and soft, add good heaping teaspoon of paprika and a pinch of saffron or turmeric and stir it around quickly (careful: the spices can burn very quickly, so be sure to mix them in well). Then toss in the tomatoes.  At this point I also added a splash of white wine for flavor, but that’s optional.
  5. Cook until the liquid has reduced and the mixture is a nice, deep red.
  6. Add the mushrooms and cook for about 5 minutes until they’re soft.
  7. Add the meat back into the pot and stir it around.  Cook for 1 to 2 minutes.
  8. Add the 4 cups of water and bring the whole thing to a boil.  Add salt to taste, then cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
  9. Throw in the cup of rice and stir it in well.  Keep stirring for about 5 minutes, until it simmers again.  Then cover, and cook on very low heat for another 15 minutes.

Voilà!  You have just made a delicious Spanish meal!  If you can get your hands on saffron, it’s worth it (though it is hella expensive).  If not, like I said the turmeric can work.

Chico gave it rave reviews and even made a face like the one José Andrés makes.  It was awesome.

¡Buen provecho!

The Turkey That Almost Wasn't

The Turkey That Almost Wasn’t

In my first post, Lessons from my Kitchen, I mentioned a spectacular near-disaster on Thanksgiving 2012, and promised to write about it at a later date.  That date has come, my friends.  I am now here to tell you about the The Turkey That Almost Wasn’t of Thanksgiving 2012.

It was my first Thanksgiving meal.  Not the first one I’d eaten, mind you, but the first one I was hosting and cooking myself.  And boy, was I organized.  Thanksgiving in Canada is celebrated on the first Monday in October, and on the Tuesday before, I called up my local supermarket to order a small fresh turkey to be picked up on Monday morning.  “Oui madame!”  No problem.  The following day, I called back to confirm the order and to make sure they had specified “fresh” not “frozen.”  “Mais oui, oui madame, aucun problème.”  Brilliant!  And so I set to cooking.

Over the next few days I made applesauce, cranberry sauce, pumpkin muffins, prepared stuffing, and a lentil and sweet potato casserole for my one vegetarian guest.  It was a frenzied few days of cooking, and on Sunday evening I picked up the phone to call the supermarket and ask what time the turkey would be ready for pick up.  “Oh, around 9:00am, madame.”  Perfect.

Monday morning, Thanksgiving day.  My guests are coming at 1:00pm.  It’s ten minutes past nine and I’m at the butcher counter of my local IGA.

IGA butcher: “Mais madame, nous n’avons pas de dindes fraîches!”  (“But madam, we don’t have any fresh turkeys!”)  “In fact, we’re not getting any deliveries today!  The only turkeys we have are these frozen ones over here.”

Let us pause for a moment and picture a look of horror, mixed with rage and incredulity.  Got it?  Good.  Moving on.

Me: “WHATDOYOUMEANYOUDON’THAVEMYTURKEYIORDEREDITLASTWEEKIWANTTOSPEAKWITHTHEMANAGER!!!” and so on.  While waiting for the manager to find a solution, I have located a butcher shop not too far from my home and have managed to secure a 6kg (13lbs) turkey–the smallest available.

Manager: “Madame, we will have someone go fetch your turkey and bring it special delivery.  It should be here by 11:00.”  Fine.  I cancel the 6kg turkey with the other butcher shop, go home, put my apple crisp in the oven, call my friends and reschedule for later in the day.  They’re very understanding.

Eleven o’clock has me back at the supermarket, all anticipation.

IGA butcher: “Voici votre dinde, madame!”  Here is your turkey.  And he hands me a frozen turkey.

Let’s pull up that face again, shall we?  Good.

Me: “Qu’est-ce que vous voulez que je fasse avec ceci, monsieur?  J’ai des invités CET APRES-MIDI!!”  What do you want me to do with this, sir?  I have guests THIS AFTERNOON!!!

IGA idiot–ah, I mean butcher: “Ah well, you should have ordered it ahead of time, madame!”  This is where I practically lost it.

Me: “I DID order my turkey last week.  I called once to order and the next day to confirm.  Go.  Find.  My.  Order.  Sheet.”

While he’s in the back, I manage to contact that other butcher shop again.  “Sure, we still have the turkey.  Of course we can hold it for you.  But for no more than half an hour, ma’am.”  The disgraced IGA butcher comes out from the back looking horribly sheepish, holding a sheet of paper in his hand.

Him: “I found your order, madame.  It got lost under some papers and was never filled.  I am terribly sorry.”

It is at this point that my rage becomes too much for me, and instead of yelling, I look at him with huge eyes which well up with tears, which then start streaming down my face.  He sees this, wrings his hands and says, “Shit.”  That’s right, buddy.  You made me cry.

Quickly wiping away my tears, I race back up the hill, toting my grocery cart behind me.  Huffing and puffing, I realize by the time I get 1/4 of the way to the other shop that I will never make it in time.  Thinking quickly, I hop on a public bicycle, throw my ungainly cart over the handle bars and go peddling across the Plateau like a madwoman, my cart teetering and my jacket flapping open behind me in the wind.

Several illegal traffic maneuvers later, I’m at the Portuguese butcher shop.

Me: “I’m here for the 6kg turkey.”

Butcher: “Six kilos?  Ma’am, this bird is at least eight!”

My jaw hits the counter.

Me: “Eight kilos???  (That’s 17.5lbs) What am I going to do with all this turkey??”

Butcher: “How many guests are you having?”

Me: “Three.”

Uproarious laughter from the butcher and the man behind me in line.

Me: “And one’s a vegetarian.”

I thought I had nearly killed them, they were laughing so hard.

When he recovered, the butcher very kindly cleaned and emptied the bird, and gave me a quick lesson on trussing it.  The man behind me in line said, “Don’t stuff it.  It’ll take too long to cook.  Put your stuffing in a casserole dish and warm it for the last 30 minutes.”  What a kind, kind man.

I wish for the sake of a good visual I could say that I threw the bird back on the handlebars of the bike and biked home, but it was just too heavy and my cart was too awkward.  But I did rush home with an ENORMOUS bird in my grocery cart.  (Did I mention that the oven was preheating back at the house this whole time?  Yeah, there’s that.)

I got home, trussed it up, seasoned it, brushed it with my mother’s marinade and threw it into the oven.  That’s when I called my mom on Skype and emptied my tear ducts out of sheer frustration.  But now that the damn thing was in the oven, the humor of the situation was already dawning on me.  My mom was kind enough to restrain herself from completely guffawing, but she couldn’t help let a few giggles escape.  By the time she finished giving me her last advice, we were both giggling.

At 5:00pm the turkey came out of the oven, and after having to practically rip apart the aluminum roasting pan it was in (and nearly giving myself a hernia in the process), it was ready to present to my guests in all its glory.

The Turkey That Almost Wasn't
The Turkey That Almost Wasn’t

The turkey and all the side dishes were absolutely scrumptious.  As were the leftovers Chico and I ate for the next three months.

Beating Boredom

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Don’t they look bored??

Boredom, or as the French call it ennui, is a hard thing to beat.  If you are trapped, as I am, in a horizontal position for several days at a time, you may want to find some other method of entertaining yourself than watching endless videos on YouTube (though have you guys seen the video of Henri, the cat having an existential crisis??  HILARIOUS!).  While these can be fun, spending hours on the internet can make one feel like a waste of space.  So here are TheBrainInJane’s five tips for keeping the creative juices flowing and beating bed-ridden boredom.

1. Manual Labor!

If you are confined to your bed through illness or temporary physical disability, take advantage of the time you’ve been given to make something!  Everyone knows that a handmade gift is a gift from the heart, so if you once learned how to knit, crochet, quilt, or make those friendship bracelets we all wore in middle school, create something!  If you’re really sick, perhaps woodworking wouldn’t be the best option here, but you’d be amazed how therapeutic making something with your hands can be.  Turn on the TV, pull out the cross stitching or what have you, and have at it!

2. Scrapbooking!

Remember how your mother used to make photo albums of your family vacations?  If you’ve ever had the pleasure of going through an old family album, you know how wonderful these keepsakes are.  If you have a Mac, iPhoto has great tools for making photo albums and slideshows.  Applications like Flickr and Snapfish also allow you to design your own albums.  If you’ve got all your photos stored on your computer, how often do you browse through them and enjoy them?  Beat boredom by building your album of memories.

3. Write!

Why do you think I’m writing this blog post right now, folks?  That’s right: I’M BORED.  But writing this is forcing me to think of (hopefully) interesting content, and that’s setting the little gray cells a-tingling.  If you don’t have a blog, think of the last restaurant you went to and write a review on UrbanSpoon or TripAdvisor.  Or think of the last book you read and write a helpful review on Amazon (but don’t be *that guy* and throw in any spoilers).  OR, and this is even better, get out pen and paper and write a letter to a friend!  Letter writing is the COOLEST, and people are always touched to get letters.  Trust me.  I love getting letters.  HINT, HINT.

4. Give Yourself a Manicure.

That one’s not just for the ladies.  Some of you dudes could really use manicures.  I’m not even kidding.  Man grooming is not a sin, people!

5. Call/Skype Someone.

I’ve Skyped five times today!  Okay, admittedly three of those times were with the same person (I love you, Mom), but it was lovely nonetheless!  Talking with someone else about their day can help you get your mind off of just how much it sucks to be bed-ridden.  Ask a friend what they’re up to, or how they’re getting on.  Listening to someone else’s stories, raves and rants can strengthen your friendship, give you some great stories to tell at cocktail parties (omitting any sensitive details, of course) and generally brighten your day.

Those are my beating boredom tips!  Now that I’ve written this, I’m going to break out the crochet hook and put on a Jane Austen movie.  Because Jane Austen always helps.