“we don’t pay enough attention to those things that can be catastrophic for women.”

I cried at my desk this afternoon while reading NPR and Pro Publica’s absolutely heartbreaking piece about maternal mortality. In case you don’t have the time or the stomach to read the entire article, the key findings of their investigation are:

  • More American women are dying of pregnancy-related complications than any other developed country. Only in the U.S. has the rate of women who die been rising.
  • There’s a hodgepodge of hospital protocols for dealing with potentially fatal complications, allowing for treatable complications to become lethal.
  • Hospitals — including those with intensive care units for newborns — can be woefully unprepared for a maternal emergency.
  • Federal and state funding show only 6 percent of block grants for “maternal and child health” actually go to the health of mothers.
  • In the U.S, some doctors entering the growing specialty of maternal-fetal medicine were able to complete that training without ever spending time in a labor-delivery unit.

These findings are presented in the context of the death of a mother – herself a neonatal intensive care unit nurse – in childbirth as her horrified husband – a trauma doctor – tried to convince the attending doctors and nurses that something was very wrong and needed immediate attention.

I read this and cried as all of the scared, scary memories of late pregnancy and childbirth flooded back. How I was convinced that I was experiencing symptoms of preeclampsia which were dismissed by my doctor (but validated by test results). How I was pressured into scheduling a c-section that I didn’t want (and not given any information about alternatives). How there are things that I flat-out don’t remember – like the first time I held my son – because I was so sick after delivery, sick to the point that my partner wouldn’t leave my side, despite our plan being that the baby would always be with one of us. Begging for someone to look at an intense pain in my shoulder that made sleep impossible. Weird questions from the nurse who gave me my first post-surgery sponge bath. My swollen feet squishing like wet socks as I slowly made my way up and down the hall pushing the plastic bassinet where my son slept.

And then I remembered the article about the moral imperative behind my colleague Isabel’s work as a doula to families of color that I’d read earlier in the week and felt proud and angry all over again. Proud of my colleague and friend’s work advocating for the needs of mothers, babies, and families through pregnancy, childbirth, and new parenting. Proud that groups like hers exist to provide support for communities that are underserved by or that slip through the cracks of our healthcare system.

But then angry that it is necessary for doulas and birth worker groups and crowdfunding campaigns to do this kind of work, to pick up the slack, to compensate (and make amends) for our broken social safety net in our broken country. Angry that our system stands to actually get much worse if the AHCA actually happens.

Angry that even with my excessive privilege as a white, middle-class, able-bodied, educated, outspoken, financially secure, and fully insured woman living in a city where I have access to excellent health care, adequate public transportation, and a social safety net, the difficulties that I experienced during my (relatively very easy) pregnancy and my son’s birth clearly still affect me – so how much worse must it be for mothers and families that lack the resources to obtain adequate (primary or supplementary) care, or who experience complications or trauma or loss, or who get one of those doctors who received more training on fetal care than on maternal care, or – as in the example that opens the interview with Isabel – have internalized that the way they are being treated is just the way it is.

This Week’s Reads (Friday, May 5, 2017)

Let’s All Stop Apologizing for the Delayed Response in Our Emails – Science of Us
This is so relatable. I’ve read a few articles in the last few months that have highlighted ways that women’s use of language unconsciously or subconsciously expresses deference. There’s even a browser extension for it. This article takes a different, but still relevant, tack, encouraging us to reframe that ‘delayed’ response as being sent within a reasonable time frame – it also suggests several tools that will help you prioritize your email to (hopefully) minimize the number of apologies. I’ve been using Inbox for this reason for a few months. Of course, it doesn’t help with (or excuse) the long personal emails that have lingered in my inbox for literally years – but it does help me knock out, prioritize, and snooze the ones that require action, especially when that action doesn’t have to be right now.

7 Tips for Donating Old Books Without Being a Jerk – Lit Reactor
I get rid of books every time I move. I used to have hundreds and hundreds, which meant that I used to move hundreds and hundreds nearly every year. I’m tired of moving paper around, and besides, I work in a library that holds millions of books, with access to many millions more. This article is helping me think about ways of getting rid of my unwanted books without burdening someone else. Also, this app is super duper.

How to Build New Habits by Taking Advantage of Old Ones – James Clear
I started hacking my morning routine (after, ahem, establishing a morning routine) when I was 21 and working the first in a series of mediocre desk jobs. I was super proud of the fact that I’d gotten my morning down to approximately 35 minutes from bed to door, including a shower, breakfast, and tea. Actually, now that I think about it, I started doing this earlier – maybe in high school – though then it was less about how much I could cram in, and more about how late I could stay in bed.

Having a small child obviously disrupted the perfect flow of my long-hacked morning routines; however, it turns out that small children thrive on routine, so this blog post has me thinking about ways to scaffold new things into the flow of our mornings, particularly once we move.

The Invisibility of Middle-Aged Women – Lit Hub
This was simultaneously wonderful and sad, and made me think of the women in my life as we approach (or are well past) the markers of middle age: “In a world where women are almost always defined by their relationships (daughter, sister, lover, wife, mother, grandmother) it strikes me as important to shed a light on the woman herself. What is she without all these shoes she has to fill? Well, she’s an existence and she’s an existence that either disturbs her surroundings—or is in the danger of retreating from them: like mist.”

April Eats

April was a blur, and when I sat down to make notes in my cookbook last night, I felt a little dejected because I didn’t remember cooking that much. But flipping through Naturally Nourished, I realized that I actually did make quite a number of new recipes despite being crazy busy.

April’s list is in chronological order because my brain doesn’t have the capacity to rank things right now. All recipes from Naturally Nourished unless otherwise noted.

1 and 2. Smoked Lentil Tacos with homemade tortillas – Isabelle Eats
These tacos were a big time winner in our vegan-mostly household. I increased the recipe by 50% thinking it would give us some leftovers for lunches, so we ended up with a crazy amount of lentils – enough for dinner for 3, 3 days’ worth of lunches (in Mason jar salads), and 2 cups for the freezer. I didn’t make any of the accouterments recommended in the recipe, opting for store-made pineapple salsa from Mariano’s (which was just OK).

This was also my first attempt at homemade tortillas. As you can see, they weren’t the prettiest, but they were way easier than expected. (We won’t talk about the second attempt.)

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3. Grilled Eggplant and Mushrooms with Saucy Almond Butter Noodles
Except that we roasted the eggplant and mushrooms along with a large amount of broccoli for the toddler, and used whole wheat linguini (instead of rice noodles) because that’s what we had on hand, and sometimes I just can’t justify $3+ for a single ingredient for a recipe I haven’t tried before.

The combination of an interesting vegetable + noodles + a creamy sauce is basically always a winner, though for eggplant and almond butter, I expect we’ll fall back on this Minimalist Baker recipe.

4. Snappy Spring Salad with Lemon-Mint Date Sauce
The recipe linked above isn’t exactly the same as in the book, but it’s close enough – particularly the dressing. This was fast, simple, and refreshing. I expect we’ll be making similar salads all summer.

5. Grilled Caesar Salad with Tempeh and Chickpea Croutons
So when you read “grilled Caesar”, I’m guessing you thought “grilled ______ Caesar”, as in whatever is ON the Caesar was grilled, not the salad itself. Well, you’d be wrong – and you probably understand why N was super skeptical when I told him what was for dinner. I asked him to trust me, and cited as evidence of the concept a really wonderful grilled salad I’d previously enjoyed at Jolly Pumpkin. (When oh when are you coming to Chicago, JP?!)

This salad was a revelation. I baked a block of tempeh to round it out into a full meal, but you could just as easily add your protein of choice. Another one for the summertime roster.

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6. Fantastic Falafel Waffles
I keep trying to make healthier takes on falafel at home, and they keep not working. Ironically, so does Sarah Britton. I don’t know whether it was the recipe or my waffle maker, but these quite simply did not waffle. I ended up frying them – and tossing my waffle iron after one too many recipe fails. They were good, probably better than the previous attempt, but I think I’ll leave falafel to the pros from now on.

7 and 8. Rainbow Hummus Bowl with Simple Mint Pea Dip
I don’t know that I would call this a recipe, per se, but I like the idea of the Rainbow Hummus Bowl – a bunch of crunchy veggies served on top of, rather than underneath, the dressing or sauce. After a run but before an afternoon excursion, I blended up a batch of Simple Mint Pea dip, then spread a generous layer across the bottom of our prettier plates, topping each plate with several different kinds of veggies. We spread the rest of the pea dip on crackers. It was all delicious.

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9. Cool It Noodle Salad with Radishes and Peas
(Another close enough link above.) I had the ratio of noodles-to-veggies all wrong, but that was sort of what I wanted, though I’ll (at least try) to get it right next time. A good amount of crunch, but with a fresh dressing.

10. North African Sun-Dried Tomato Soup
And then there was a solid 10 days where work was stupidly busy, and we were in and out of town, and by the time I surfaced, it was the end of the month, and the nice weather had disappeared, and our apartment had been rented out, and a recipe put on the list earlier in the month seemed just right. I didn’t want to spend $7 on a jar of harissa (see above re: single ingredients), so used the last of the cayenne and paprika in our cabinet. We were out of couscous, so I substituted a handful of slivered almonds in the topping, inspired by romesco sauce. The soup was flavorful and spicy, but the topping – olives, lemon zest, parsley, and the almonds – really stole the show. (Please note that the chickpeas weren’t organized in any way – they popped to the surface like this all on their own.)

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So, not a bad month of cooking after all – and more than enough new recipes to carry me through May, since our ability to cook will be limited by the fact that we’re moving to a new apartment at the end of the month.

I will miss the wonderful natural light in the kitchen, but have gotten inspired by all of the minimalist kitchens in the IKEA catalog, and am excited to see how we can do more with less – in the kitchen, and in general.

A Media Interlude

We have been devouring Hotel Beau Séjour on Netflix after seeing it recommended in a friend’s post requesting new dramas for binge-watching. The show is in Flemish, so it’s a rare opportunity for N to watch TV in his native language, and for me to light up when I recognize the odd word or funny translation. I’m a crime drama junkie, so this was right up my alley, but we’ve both been totally drawn into the mystery. We’ve been watching 1-2 episodes per night as bedtime allows, but when an episode ended on a particularly crazy cliffhanger the other night, we had no choice but to get more snacks and a second glass of wine and settle in for another hour.

Also, can we talk about The Young Pope? N warned me that “not much happened” in the first couple of episodes, so I expected it to just be background noise for knitting, and was surprised to find myself riveted. It’s beautiful to watch, with interesting  and dramatic cinematography. Jude Law is subtle and compelling. Don’t watch it expecting arguments for or against Catholicism – watch it for a visually rich and “surprisingly serious meditation on loneliness and faith.”

March Eats (and drinks!)

We gave up restaurant dining* for Lent, so you’d think I would have a bunch of new recipes to share here! Instead, we’ve gotten into a comfortable groove with some of the favorites from the last two months – we’ve made the 1-pot curry a couple of times – multiple times in a week, in fact, because the recipe doesn’t use up an entire can of curry paste, and since it only lasts about a week in the fridge (and we love it so), we’ll make it again within a few days. We have roasted vegetables with awesome sauce** and a starch (generally quinoa or brown rice) on the regular. And we’ve been making chococado pudding** a couple of times per week. N has also mastered an amazing and simple marinara that serves as the base of an excellent puttanesca, though we’re both burned out on pasta at the moment.

So while it’s been a good month for cooking, it hasn’t been a great month for cooking new things.

1. Chocolate Cake with Date Frosting – My New Roots
I don’t get to bake very often – it’s better for us to not have treats in the house – but I like to use N’s birthday to make something sort of over-the-top. The My New Roots cookbook has a recipe for just such a cake, with layers of chocolate and blood orange and deep chocolate frosting. N (wisely) decided he didn’t need an entire cake, so I scaled down the chocolate cake recipe to make four cupcakes – the right amount for us after a treat-filled weekend. The blog post linked above is frankly more over-the-top than the cake itself, which, while delicious, was a little too wholesome for my birthday cake tastes – but this wasn’t my cake, and N was delighted, so we’ll mark this one a success.

2. New Brunswick – Serious Eats
While prepping last month’s Jeweled Rice, I kept thinking how nicely the aromatics would pair with whiskey. While the fresh mint and orange zest were gone long before we restocked the liquor shelf, I made use of other things we had on hand to try a few new cocktails. The New Brunswick made efficient use of the pink grapefruit that had been lingering on our counter – and is my new drink obsession, as it is a nice balance of sweet and tart.

3. Wild Rice Salad – My New Roots
This seemed really promising, but the soaked wild rice was just…weird. Normally I’m a fan of dishes that mix textures, but this wasn’t one of them. It was a little too creamy with not enough crunch.

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4. Baked Tofu
OK, this isn’t really a recipe so much as it is a different technique. I’ve never been super happy with my attempts to prepare tofu at home – sometimes the flavor is good, but the texture is almost always too soft for my liking. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve baked tofu a couple of times, and it’s SO MUCH BETTER. Baking cubed extra-firm tofu for 400F for 30-40 minutes yields chewy – maybe even a little crispy – cubes that are perfect for throwing in a salad or serving with roasted vegetables and awesome sauce. I’m super happy to have figured this out, and will be baking tofu like this ALL THE TIME going forward.

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* We gave up restaurant dining for Lent with a couple of caveats. First, N’s birthday always falls during Lent, which means that he almost always has to make an exception to whatever he’s given up in order to enjoy his birthday. This year was no exception to that rule – we went to Dusek’s and had a really wonderful dinner, though not quite as spectacular as my birthday dinner in January. Second, I had a few days of work travel about halfway through Lent, and while I could have technically avoided restaurants, trying new foods in different cities is one of my favorite things about travel. Third, we exempted meals/dishes that were already paid for via gift cards or other freebies since the intent was to save money. Finally, we exempted grocery store takeout since that’s often a weeknight sanity-saver on nights when we have to run errands and won’t otherwise have time to cook.

** I somehow haven’t talked about awesome sauce OR chococado pudding here. I will remedy that in another post.

This Week’s Reads (March 17, 2017)

A few engrossing things unrelated to politics this week.

‘London Bridge is down’: the secret plan for the days after the Queen’s death – The Guardian
A long and interesting read about the arrangements for the eventual death of Queen Elizabeth II in an era of British decline.

The Invention of ‘Heterosexuality’ – BBC
An interesting discussion of the construction of heterosexuality as a “normal”.

The Young Pope
A TV diversion! We finished The Young Pope this week. I picked up about halfway through the show, mostly as background noise while knitting, but found myself engrossed. After reading The Onion’s recaps, I want to go back and rewatch for all of the details I missed (and that whole business with the kangaroo).

Sarah & Duck
Another TV diversion, this one for littles and their parents. Sarah and her duck friend, Duck, have gentle and imaginative adventures, like setting up a shallot circus, or visiting a hotel for ducks. It’s hard to say who in our household is most excited to watch more.