Eat what I say, not what I’ve eaten!

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My children are currently on a hunger strike because of tonight’s dinner. I’ve cut back the starch portions of their plates in an attempt to force some healthier eating on them, but they’re as stubborn as I am, and the almond-meal-crusted chicken tenderloins, brown rice pasta, and fresh green beans have thrown them into a rare instance of collaboration, aka mutiny. I foresee a pre-bedtime emergency yogurt rationing.

I don’t know exactly where everything went wrong, but in spite of their first bites of Earth’s Best organic baby food and those early, enthusiastically devoured plates of whole wheat spaghetti and peas, my children have become enthralled with anything canned, boxed or bagged. Left up to them, we would cycle through Kraft mac and cheese, dinosaur-shaped chickenish nuggets, and anything Boyardee and his lackeys can shove into a tin. I’ve begun personifying the trash can in attempt to lessen the pain of throwing away three full plates of vegetables and grass-fed meat several nights a week. His name is Benny, and he, for one, appreciates my cooking. At least he doesn’t threaten to throw up if he has to eat another bite.

Each of my three blessings has their own tactic for consuming as little possible of my hellish, food-based meals. Billy the Kid had cruised through two months of second breakfasts and hot lunches before I received a bill from his school and had a talk with him about what Santa leaves for little boys who stealthily toss the contents of their lunch bags. He still gets sneaky when I take a nap with the girls on days he’s home with a cold. I came downstairs Monday afternoon to find him completely naked, an empty pudding container left on the table, a stool in front of the fridge, and two juice pop wrappers on the floor. I reigned in retribution upon noticing he had taken to heart our conversation about the necessity for a nudist to always carry, and sit on, a towel.

Sally the Slugger relies less on subterfuge. She just refuses to eat much of anything, answering her parents’ question, “how did we combine to produce a dainty individual,” on a daily basis. She schedules her requests for “something dee-licious” as far from actual meal times as possible. 2:30 PM: “I want a cupcake!” We have none. Tears and wails for the next 45 minutes reinforce my incompetence in the pastry maintenance department. This morning I stood up for myself and denied her demand for breakfast grilled cheeses. She’d been up since six and didn’t eat a crumb until lunch, which was…wait for it…grilled cheese. It’s as if some greater power has been watching me for my whole life with a raised brow, and it finally found the perfect vehicle by which to deliver my comeuppance.

My brood’s collective behavior triggers long-forgotten nuggets from my own childhood, like driving my poor mother straight out of her soft-spoken, calm demeanor with one too many refusals of anything other than bread and jam. That Frances story was the worst purchase she ever made, assuming it would head off fussy eating. It hadn’t occurred to me that I could live in a world of white bread and strawberry jelly, but Frances trail-blazed, and I followed her sticky, nutrient-void lead all the way into adulthood, trading fruit spread for cheese and broadening my horizons to include ham, Doritos, and sweet gherkin pickles. My palate eventually expanded to embrace even the grilled cheese, bacon and tomato with Dijon. While I can pull off a mean Duck a l’Orange and a stately crown roast of lamb, I’m happiest when shoveling chips into a sandwich and topping Bremner wafers with muenster.

The least abusive of my offspring, Linebacker Linda, tiny but unexpectedly muscular, is a protein queen. Smoked salmon, sushi, pepperoni and turkey last through one meal at our house, regardless of amount purchased. Yesterday I served lovely plates of diced melon (two kinds!), sliced apples, crustless PB&Js, and a few pieces of cut-up lox. Then a few more. Then the half-pound was gone, and Benny went to work on the rest of Linda’s untouched lunch. Thank God she loves her mama, because she could pummel me into a walking bruise with her meaty little fists and iron-filled cannelloni arms.

Tomorrow evening I’ll take a vacation from our own Hunger Games with a (home-made) pizza. I’ve earned a night off from the collective gripe. But if anyone gives me crap after cutting them off at two cups of Ovaltine in the morning, they’ll be eating my wrath in the form of gluten-free crust and faux cheese.

No recipe for me, no recipe for you. Also, shut it, Susan Sarandon.

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“For everything we do, we know you do so much more.” Really, Susan Sarandon? How dare you and the condescending advertisers at Tylenol assume I need you to compliment my parenting. In fact, your patronizing flattery negates any other fact-based praise I’ve accumulated on a given day, as if I’m one of millions of exhausted and undervalued automatons who are just waiting for a tender nugget like this commercial to render them into blubbering piles of catharsis, weeping tears of gratitude at this overdue appreciation from the makers of an innocuous little pain reducer that kills just under 1000 customers each year.

Come to my house and clean a tiny bathroom used by five people at the end of each day, and you’ll have a better idea of the “so much more.” Deal with the ominous dark shadow in the middle of the suddenly abandoned indoor  rice “sand box” as the world’s most emotionally needy cat averts eye-contact in spite of his smug post-movement victory swagger, and you’ll start to get a picture of “so much more.” Maintain a soupcon of composure while a six-year-old yells at you, “don’t clean my boogie wall!”, restart a bath for two after one proudly announces “I peed!”, even though you gave her the international sign for “don’t tell,” then cook a nice healthy dinner for your trash can, and I won’t become so terribly homicidal when you deign to understand “so much more.”

I’m one week into the detox, and I don’t have a lot of extra sympathy, empathy, or filter just now. The five pounds I’ve lost appear to be where I was keeping my cheer, and I’ve been falling asleep the past few nights to the most heart-breaking of pastry dreams. In last night’s semblance of a narrative, France had just banned the chocolate croissant, concluding it’s the culprit behind the general shunning of anti-smoking legislature.

While I’m looking more forward than not to the Cabernet-marinated roast in the oven from this morning’s trip to Trader Joe’s, I can hardly bring myself to expel the effort of boiling a big pot of water for the slated brown rice spaghetti. I assume if I chuck in a bunch of sautéed vegetables and some sunflower seeds, I might get a few bites down before excusing myself to the kitchen for a decompressing round of dishes Frisbee.

Now I’m off to transfer the guinea pig out of his playpen, against which the previously mentioned cat is nonchalantly leaning, pushing one end further and further toward the other, in what I assume is an attempt to make a piggy waffle tartar, but first I’ll mention a barely relevant lesson I learned this morning. Billy the Kid, now six and with a vigilant eye on everyone’s business, told me he wants me to go back to normal eating. I asked him why, and he responded that watching me drink my shakes makes him think about what it would be like, and he doesn’t want to think about what it would be like. There you have it. Empathy might pass as an altruistic emotion, but from the mouths of babes, and as Johnson & Johnson reminds us, it’s really just a marketing tactic.

Someone’s Hungry.

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I’m on a cleanse. A surprisingly stringent clean-eating detox from sugar, caffeine, gluten, and a bunch of other delicious things. Today is day four. Things look grim. Sentences are short.

The Why: reconnected with old high-school friend who’s a consultant for the company that makes the detox products, facebook post called for bootcamp recruits, I was feeling pudgy. An email and a phone call later I found myself looking optimistically at thirty days without coffee, bread, sugar, most fruit, and a commitment to eat only organic produce and grass-fed meat. It’s January, after all; the parties season is over and I bore quickly. As noted, I’ve thickened a bit over the holidays and have been feeling rather sludgy. Why not take on a complete lifestyle change I know nothing about? My main concern was having to clean my blender so frequently.

Right now my main concern is not emptying the half-gallon bucket of organic almonds I’m cradling like a newborn directly into my mouth with the aid of a shovel and a mallet. My next greatest concern is that I can’t put off my second trip to Trader Joe’s any longer. I am the only person I know who loathes the Trader Joe experience, and would like to sit down with Trader Joe, cousin Trader Giotto, brother-in law Trader Jose and third cousin once removed Trader Ming, and make them justify the layout of their space, which gives the impression that Rodney Dangerfield raced through the store in a naked, meth-induced rage while strewing about the contents of three enormous duffel bags.

The produce section’s open floor plan translates into shopping cart traffic chaos, but you’re still safer there than if you’re stuck in bumper to bumper cart traffic within “the grid.” Two and a half actual aisles constructed out of various shelving materials, wood planks, metal woven baskets, wooden barrels and wicker containers aplenty offer the most nerve-wracking, cart-inching, categorically confusing dry goods shopping experience possible. Organic dark-chocolate-covered boysenberries wink ironically at their neighboring bags of quinoa and flax, and an open freezer counter casts a pallid and not at all tempting glow from beneath. I almost lost my handbag, so to speak, when I finally reached the four-foot wide designated rice shelf, and found they were out of brown rice. It’s enough that I’m expected to wash it, I don’t need the main carb of my daily plate (YES, PLATE) to be difficult to obtain. I’ll see you in hell, eventually, Trader Joe, but for now I’ll see you next week.

The daily plan involves a shake and some tea for breakfast, then either the same shake or a meal for lunch. Here’s the catch. “Meal” doesn’t mean a nice grilled tomato, bacon and cheese with some Cape Cod chips, or a small spread of muenster cheese, pepperoni, club crackers, pickles and grapes. No, “meal” means that half of the plate’s real estate is flat-out lost to non-starchy vegetables. A quarter of the plate should be a fist-sized portion of lean protein, which gives you an idea of the plate size we’re dealing with from the start. The last quarter of the plate is 2/3 high-fiber carbs and low-glycemic fruits, and 1/3 healthy fats. So much fun that I opt for the lunch shake and a bonus handful of almonds. What’s that sound? Pay no attention, it’s just my fury. I can’t seem to overcome a block involving the allowed grains, so I’ve been going full-fruit (rather, full-green apple) on that section. Healthy fats really just means nuts, so I’ve been getting by for the first few days with the following salad, accompanied of course, by my meat fist, as my sole solid meal.

The Healthiest Salad I’ve Ever Eaten

All organic:
One substantial handful of spring mix
1 diced green apple (organic green apples are tiny)
1 small of handful almonds, cut in half
1 small handful of diced veggie mix (carrots, peppers, radishes, cabbage, jicama, broccoli)
1 to 2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 to 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper

Mix the greens together with the salt, pepper, lemon juice and olive oil until all leaves are coated. Add other ingredients and toss. Appreciate that this is only for thirty days, and that this particular lack of enthusiasm is the feeling of getting a little healthier. Enjoy!

Aside from my irritability and general snark toward the diet part, I’m keeping with it because I’ve noticed a significant change in my energy-level, and I’ve already lost a pound, not surprisingly. I’m blessed and cursed with an innate one-day-at-a-time outlook, so I’m always aware that tomorrow may find me in my van, parked outside Market Basket, with half a dozen of their store-baked blueberry muffins and a carton of buttermilk.

Wouldn’t you like to go to bed so that Mama can eat out of the pan?

Plated-Only-for-Show Apple Crisp

Day three of Mr. P’s absence finds a bleak Peña household, indeed. I hide in the office for a few stolen puffs off my unnecessarily long cigarette, and count eighty minutes until the first round of bedding, and one hundred forty until the last. Someone wearing sneakers and underpants is stomping on something metallic, and someone else is whimpering, but not out of pain. I don’t wonder why. Because in one hundred forty minutes, I will covertly prepare my second apple crisp of the season, and then I will eat the entire thing. Last week I found the best apple crisp recipe ever — I’d stake my life on it — and my glee is only barely dampened by the awareness that a third of my existence has passed without its weekly consumption. The “crisp” is like the perfect oatmeal cookie: virtually no chew, caramel undertones, and just enough salt if made with salted butter. I used Cortlands for my first pass, but opted this time for Grannies, as the Cortlands shrunk so much I wound up with more crisp than apple. I expect, however, the good green lady will stand up loudly and proudly.

One of the hardest things to do when my charming husband is away is grocery shopping. Since Mr. P usually gets home from work around 7, I make two dinners on the nights I can face it. The first happens at 5:00 and has several minimally-seasoned components, never touching each other, and no more than one is cooked. The second dinner is the kind of food real people eat, and if the brood is still awake they sit with us and look suspiciously at their auxiliary meal. But after meeting the needs of three all day long, I’m happy to opt out of real-person classification if it means I can call it a night. So today, instead of getting food from which I could make myself a real-person dinner, in my solitude I bought a bag of Granny Smiths, a brick of Muenster, and a shrimp cocktail ring. The second and third items will be my appetizers while I wait out the half hour of baking time for my dinner of delicious shame.

Since I’m admitting to my gluttony, I’ll take a moment to justify it with a list of things that have triggered tantrums or breakdowns over the last thirteen hours. Getting dressed X3. Putting on shoes X6. Not being “the picker” during TV time X∞. Not being allowed to wear Halloween costume to bed X3. Being out of cinnamon bread and having to make due with strawberry waffles X2. Having Band-Aid party discovered and ended X3. Crayon issues X4. One-offs include having to get out of the bath, denial of shirt removal in public, denial of pants removal in public, and the cat not being in the mood for pets. I’ve only raised my voice twice so far, which is twice more than I’d like, but I’m going to take a B+ for the day. Academically, that grade would drive a dagger into my heart. But in the world of best-intentions parenting, I can sleep at night with anything above a C.

Thank heavens I was drunk.

Chicken and Rice Beware

I was overjoyed to find that BJ’s stocks wine glasses this morning, saving me a separate trip with the Sisters Sledge. Two trips, actually, since the smallest quantity available was twelve, and half the box is now in my basement. It’s difficult to judge an item’s size in a warehouse club, and upon unpacking the first half dozen, I realized that I could fit both my fists in the cup area of a glass. Perhaps it should have been obvious that the majority of people who pick up twelve wine glasses with their pallet of paper towel would prefer them to hold as much as possible, but these come close to novelty scale. I’m not much of wine drinker myself, yet the chalices are so impressive that I’ve got one filled up right now with Riesling. It doesn’t seem that the meniscus has budged over the last half hour, though the children have become much more bearable and the overhead lights are really beginning to grate.

Braced with enough of a buzz to risk a failure in the kitchen, this evening I took on a recipe for Chicken and Rice Casserole that I’ve been considering for the past year, but that’s always struck me as a little too weird. Mrs. Peña becomes dangerously fearless, however, with a little of the grape coursing through her veins, so even as the aroma of garlic wafting from the oven carries a little too much char for my taste, I’m not worried. An entire large pizza is rather appetizing right now, anyway.

Oh, Simply Recipes. Although I knew this day would come, the smack across my face still brings tears to my eyes. Why would you subject rice to such treatment? If aiming for a consistency between aspic and tapioca, one usually turns to cornstarch instead. And why would you do that to garlic? Eating this is like kissing a man who just ate scampi and chased it with a shot of foot. And where, for the love of all things holy, is that cloying sweetness coming from? I re-sampled my sour cream to verify that it hadn’t gone off, but now I wish I just assumed it had, since the alternative is that this tastes good to someone.

My grandmother had a way of writing someone off that sent shivers down the spines of those who witnessed her ruling. While I’m not adequately furious with Simply Recipes to “leave them to God,” another culinary fiasco on their heads and I might have to become a Catholic.

The harsh light of this particular morning finds me doubtful that this casserole merits such scathing criticism as above. More likely, my gripe tank couldn’t withstand the pressure of one more minor disappointment and, as it burst, spewed forth the rantings of a tipsy perfectionist. Further, Mr. P enjoyed two servings as I withheld my commentary, having eaten earlier, and his verdict was an enthusiastic “delicious!” Keep in mind, though, that I married a smart man.

I hear it’s fantastic, if you’re into that sort of thing.

The Best Vegetarian Chili I Never Tasted

I love a challenge. I hosted a baby shower for the radiant and ever-gracious Jess D last Sunday, and it was a rare occasion to find more vegetarians and vegans on the guest list than otherwise. Regretfully, I may have harbored a tinge of culinary resentment toward the sans-meat crowd back when I had endless, uninterrupted prep time before parties to spend on crown roasts, sushi, and various fowl. But now that I average two diaper changes while waiting for my morning coffee to percolate, I’m grateful whenever the time-consuming task of meat preparation is rendered null.

Obviously, my tried and true Vegetarian Appeasement made the spread, but I needed one more vegetarian entree, having been physically unable to hold back from applying the bacon topping to You Ain’t Leavin’ Mac & Cheese. Somehow, I was able to locate the recipe for a meatless chili I made six Labor Days ago, combing through search results on Epicurious until I found one with a familiar, ridiculously long list of ingredients.

‘Vores of all walks claimed to enjoy the chili, but one should never take guests’ compliments as honest criticism. I’ll admit that I don’t eat chili of any kind, ever, so I had no idea what was going on in those bowls. However, Mr. P revisited the leftovers twice, legitimizing it as an official victory.

I find it inordinately satisfying to approach meals I prepare and events I host as competitions with myself. None of my children put up a fair fight at anything other than Candy Land, and I no longer work in an office environment (where competitive baking is always encouraged), so I have no choice but to set my own bar progressively higher in order to routinely best past selves. A disconcerting side effect of my approach to staying sharp has been my inner monologue’s shift to a dialogue, with definite manager and underling roles.

In addition to barking orders at my underling and maintaining a high level of hustle in the kitchen, my manager enforces our unnecessarily rigorous weekly schedule, ensures everyone is dressed and fed by eight, and gets us all strapped in the car and on our way by nine. My underling wonders if my manager has been overbooking us lately, but the former doesn’t get a say. Fortunately for my underling, my manager (who’s also in charge of menu planning) is a voracious carnivore, and while this chili is now a standard in our vegetarian repertoire, we’re still not eating it.

And to All, a Loosened Belt

A Delicious Christmas Dinner to All…

This year is the second of my recent decade-to-lifelong election/takeover as Christmas Dinner Host; thank you again for being so gracious about the whole thing, Mrs. S! In the case that you, too, are preparing the yuletide feast, but have yet to finalize your menu, allow me to suggest one that seamlessly combines New England tradition with festive flair, and reinforces that your children never prefer their future spouses’ cooking to your own. Speaking of children, while they are often delightful, we don’t consider them actual people when determining food quantities, especially turkey poundage. That leaves my diner total at ten, requiring a twenty-pound turkey to ensure enough white meat for all with a few leftovers to sustain Mr. P during his annual Christmas night toy bender.

20-Pound Butter-Basted Roast Turkey with Giblet Gravy*

The Wood Sisters’ Pork Stuffing

Whipped Russet Potatoes*

Mashed Butternut Squash with Honey and Crushed Red Pepper*

Fo Show Green Beans (Green Beans with Toasted Almond Butter)

Red Pearl Onions Tossed in a Balsamic-Brown Sugar Glaze*

Orange Scented Cranberry Sauce

Dessert will be a gingerbread train cake with an individual car for each plate, and of course we’ll have a wasply assortment of spirits ranging from wine and sherry to gin and rum as liven-uppers for the nog and cider.

*The recipes for the unlinked dishes involve little more than their descriptions, and I’ll trust you to use your judgement when determining quantities. After all, if you weren’t confident in your potato whipping or onion boiling skills, you wouldn’t have any business hosting the most stately of annual feasts.

Weather you celebrate the holidays with faith, aesthetic, or a combination of both, I wish all of you a transplendent meal, and a quiet moment afterwards to consider how delightful it is to be you.

Angry Cooking

Angry Chicken

I decided to shelve a 986-word rant regarding my threshold for inconsideration and incompetence across all age groups having possibly been crossed. It turned out that being stood-up for a blind play date with all three kids at Funworld, and my resulting expulsion from a playgroup I’d never been to, did not, in fact, kill me. Nor did the overly audible comment from a woman behind me in line at the Hallmark store as I waited to have an ornament boxed so I could quickly remove my whiny children from the public sphere. Please don’t bother getting irked on my behalf at her declaration of “I don’t understand people who have more kids than they can handle.” In exchange for her helpful insight, I provided her with something to work on with her therapist for the next several years. And Sally the Entitled’s incessant reproachment of my parenting still hasn’t plateaued, but fortunately, I have an abundance of faith in myself, and rubes, barbs, and gripes haven’t debilitated me. On the contrary, my fury-induced blood pressure spikes result in waves of some of my best cooking.

It was a rare occasion yesterday afternoon when, although I had adequate hustle and elan to cook something delicious, I considered the prospect of a trip to the market as appealing as participating in organized running. I may send Simply Recipes a Christmas gift; I had chicken, mushrooms, and tomatoes, and not much else, but the resulting Chicken, Mushrooms, and Tomatoes with Port Wine caused an elated Mr. P to unconsciously hum quietly until he admirably gave up just before the bite that would have killed the evening.

I’m sure you’re aware of my penchant for a well-executed cream sauce, but this is a refreshingly dairy-free combination of shallot and mushroom, and the tomato manages to restrain itself to a supporting role. The final reduction is spectacular, and even better when drizzled over whatever accompanies your chicken; in retrospect I would have gone with rice, as my choice of egg noodles proved to be a slippery one.

So even though the end of my tether is in clear sight, the pairing of productive, passionate ire with a reliable site for new recipes culminates in several days of Michelin-worthy dinners at Chez Peña, before my wrath cools back down to mild irritability and Mr. P resigns himself with grace and dignity to another long stretch of family-restaurant-tier cooking. But not tonight. Tonight, I summon my last sputters of anger for Sherry-Dijon London Broil with caramelized shallots and rice pilaf.

Tidings of Spendy Cheer!

Once again, it’s time to stifle our own material desires for a month and go shopping solely for others. If you’re lucky (I most certainly am), the ultimate recipients of your selections are individuals you at least like and preferably adore, and gifting any of the following items will leave you nestled in good graces for another 365 days. If there are any special people in your life for whom Christmas is your opportunity to passive-aggressively send a snarky message, the suggestions below would be completely inappropriate, and you’d be better off bestowing a certificate for laser hair removal, a Proactive regimen, or a basket brimming with Dr. Scholl’s products. But for the good boys and girls on your list, especially those with any culinary flair, here are a few items certain to delight and enchant.

Chef’n Strawberry Huller $7.95, Williams-Sonoma
I usually avoid single-purpose kitchen tools, having a small kitchen and CCD (Compulsive Chucking Disorder), but if you know someone who loves serving food in other food, this is a must. I’m not sure with what you’d stuff the strawberries, or how you’d get them to stand upright for serving, but the recipient won’t even think of these quandaries until well after you’ve received a glowing thank you note.

Rösle Garlic Press $39.00, Williams-Sonoma
Is forty dollars too much to spend on a garlic press? Not if it’s the Carl Lewis of garlic presses. The perforated bin flips out for easy cleaning, and you don’t have to peel your cloves before pressing. I do anyway, having received my press from gift-giver extraordinaire, Mr. S, but knowing that it’s unnecessary gives me a tingle of smugness.

Stainless Steel Breading Pans, Set of 3 $34.95, Williams-Sonoma
If I have to use two dinner plates and a shallow bowl to flour, egg, and bread my schnitzel once more, I may wash my hands of the whole thing. This would be a hint to anyone who’d like to get something for their humble content provider. A little costly to buy for oneself, these are priced to be gifts, so let’s remind ourselves why we came to the mall in the first place.

Kaiser Stainless Steel Cookie Press Set $49.95, Chef Tools
Best to keep this one in the immediate family, so that you can enjoy the fruits of the giftee’s labor, again and again.

Small Treat Boxes $3.29/3, Wilton
Anyone who goes the homemade route at Christmas with coworkers, friends and family would be beside themselves to receive a few dozen of these bad larries. Never again will they have to shop at dollar stores for the least atrociously decorated tins, and now they can throw away that intimidating Incoming/Outgoing Tupperware log.

AK Bullet Ice Tray $6.99, Amazon
I don’t often go in for novelty cookware, even though the Tardis Cookie Jar would work so well with my kitchen’s blue and yellow color scheme, but ten dollars is absolutely worth being able to ask your companion if they’d be so kind as to pop a couple of caps in your Diet Coke.

Sorry, Chef Ramsey, they can’t all be “the most magnificent.”

TMI Chicken Soup

The first day of Mr. P’s long awaited nine-day Thanksgiving break found all five Peñas sick as dogs. We, the house-bound four, had been chewing on this particular bug for twenty-four hours, initially tipped off by Billy the Kid’s impressive reverse-vacuum all over my bedspread, while Mr. P efficiently wrapped up all loose ends at work on Friday before succumbing to the inevitable, compounded by the standard general start-of-vacation collapse. By the time I dragged the king comforter out of the dryer two hours after its ordeal, I was in full denial of my own doom. I was not ill. By Saturday afternoon, I was still the most functional, but only because I refuse to negotiate with disease, my ability to ignore discomfort having increased tenfold after carrying twins with a perforated appendix.

Note to potential and current gestators: if you point to the side of your enormous pregnant belly and tell your doctor, “this hurts and I can’t eat,” don’t downplay the pain and nausea, or you’ll receive the standard “why don’t we take a look after the baby comes.” I’m betting that liability near-miss still keeps a certain OB/GYN up at night. I’d heard of women being sick while in labor, but getting off an operating table seconds after receiving an epidural and seconds before a c-section, throwing up, and remounting just as all feeling drained from my legs reassured me that I possess excellent time management and multi-tasking skills. Unfortunately, it also detracted from focusing on the miracle of life and whatnot. Had my concerns been addressed, however, I might not have come out the other end fifty pounds lighter and then I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy creeping out Mr. P with my ultra-slender “tween starlet calves” for a month before returning to my preferred state of sturdiness.

Back to the present, with a mere low-grade fever and repulsiveness confined mostly to my head, the task of making chicken soup with rice fell to me. When visiting Epicurious, I prefer to to limit my options to recipes that boast four entire forks, but three and a half are apparently the mediocre standard in this case, so I settled on one that conformed to Mr.P’s request for “not weird.”  I found the absence of onion unsettling, so I threw in half a chopped yellow, and combined a tablespoon each of fresh thyme and parsley, scoffing at the direction to limit myself to one or the other. Then I salted and peppered the dickens out of it.

I regard chicken soup as a food of necessity, and since one can’t taste much of it when one needs it the most, and wouldn’t make it if one didn’t need it, it doesn’t really matter that this one is exceptional to a fully functioning palate. The rice leaves relatively little broth, but just enough to avoid the dreaded bisque effect. The carrots and celery remain brisk and cheerful, having just cooked through upon serving, and lend an appealing primavera quality that’s often appetizing to an invalid. I suppose Epicurious’ three-and-a-half-forks rating is, indeed, appropriate; even at it’s best, chicken soup is still just chicken soup.

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