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1.25.2013

A small revolution

You good, good people. Before I say another word, I want to thank you for your many comments, your e-mails, and the incredibly kind card - a real, three-dimensional paper card - that one of you sent to me at Delancey. Your kindness blew me away. I thought for a long time before deciding to write that last post, and I want to thank you for making me feel not only safe in deciding to do it, but very, very glad. I remember my doctor saying to me, one day in mid-December, that I would not only recover, but that someday soon, I might even have a hard time remembering exactly what postpartum depression felt like. Though he’s been my doctor for years, and though he knows us very well - he’s Brandon’s doctor, too, and June’s doctor, and he delivered June - in the privacy of my mind, I thought, Riiiiiiiiiiiight. Suuuuuuuure. Well! Turns out, being wrong is my new favorite thing.

In other news, June is a champion. She’s my new favorite person. She sleeps with her arms straight up by her ears, like she’s cheering very, very quietly about something, or like a gymnast who’s just stuck her landing. She thrashes around like a rodeo bronc when in the nude, and if you sing "Katy Too," by Johnny Cash, with the words "Baby June" subbed in for "Katy too," she will grin and stick her tongue out. This is because she has just discovered that she has a tongue. Every day is a small revolution.

I’ve been cooking more regularly, which is a great development, except that I haven’t been cooking particularly well. I have long had a special talent for making bland soups, and I guess it should be some kind of consolation that, with so much change in my life in the past year, this, at least, has remained consistent? On the upside, I’ve been roasting a lot of rutabagas, and I highly recommend that. And the other day, I made braised endive with prosciutto for the millionth time, and for the millionth time, it was excellent. And last night, after dinner, I fell down a rabbit hole of Bon Jovi videos, which has nothing to do with food but was also excellent. When I was eight years old, I had a Bop magazine poster of Jon Bon Jovi, shirtless and wearing a fringed scarf, on my bedroom wall. I think that explains everything.

I have a recipe for you today. Not the best photographs, but a recipe.


For years now, I’ve followed the site 3191 Miles Apart and the work of its co-creators Maria and Stephanie. Two years ago, they began publishing a quarterly, which is filled with photographs, recipes, projects, travel guides, and anything else they feel excited about, and it’s always beautiful and beautifully produced, printed on matte paper that feels nice in your hand. One night last weekend, while June was sleeping and Brandon was working, I climbed into bed with 3191 Quarterly No. 9 and promptly fell onto Stephanie’s recipe for oatcakes.



I should say that oatcakes are not actually cakes.  As Stephanie explains, they’re sort of a cross between a cookie, a cracker, and maybe a biscuit - a small, crunchy, nubbly thing that you could eat at pretty much any time of day.  The concept is Scottish, although I’m going to be totally blasphemous and uncouth and American and admit that I like Stephanie’s version better than the oatcakes I tried in Edinburgh. In my defense, my friends who live in Scotland - and one of them is Scottish by birth - didn’t love the oatcakes we ate that day either. No idea what the brand was, although I can tell you that we bought them at Mellis. Anyway.

I like to eat oatcakes with sharp cheddar, though you could also treat them more like a cookie and dunk them in a cup of tea.  This week I’ve been eating them with peanut butter and slices of apple, as a second breakfast. (I eat my first breakfast around 6:30 am, while sitting next to June on a blanket on the kitchen floor, singing "Baby June / Katy Too," and it’s gone long before lunchtime comes around.) They’re a little sweet and a little salty, and they somehow manage to come across as both wholesome and tempting.  Do any of you remember Carr’s Wheatolos?  Oatcakes don’t really taste like Wheatolos - maybe a cousin of the Wheatolo - but for me, they push the same buttons. God, I miss Wheatolos.


Oatcakes
Adapted slightly from Stephanie Congdon Barnes and 3191 Quarterly No. 9

1 ½ cups (150 grams) rolled oats
1 cup (140 grams) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (60 grams) packed brown sugar
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. fine salt
1 stick (113 grams) cold unsalted butter, diced
¼ cup (60 ml) full-fat plain yogurt
Whole milk, if needed

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt, whisking to blend. Add the butter, and use your fingers, pressing and squeezing, to work it into the oat mixture until it resembles a coarse meal. Stir in the yogurt until a soft dough forms. (If your yogurt is on the thick side, you may need to add a tablespoon or so of milk, just enough to bring the dough together.) The dough should be a little crumbly. Lightly flour a work surface, and turn the dough out onto it, rolling or patting it to a ¼-inch thickness. (I found that the dough was a little too sticky to roll cleanly, but it worked out alright.) Using a 2-inch round cookie cutter, stamp out oatcakes, and transfer them to the prepared sheet pans. (A bench scraper comes in handy for transferring the oatcakes to the sheet pans and cleaning the counter afterward. I found that I could comfortably fit about 15 oatcakes on one pan and the remainder on the second.) (I am really into parentheses today.) It’s okay to gather and re-roll any scraps of dough.

Bake the oatcakes for about 15 minutes, or until they are golden brown around the edges. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely, and then store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Yield: about 25 oatcakes

P.S. Thank you, Stephanie, for allowing me to reprint your recipe. It’s a keeper.
P.P.S. This essay by Zadie Smith is wonderful (via Brian Ferry).

1.05.2013

Ah ha

My father wasn’t a writer, or not in the vocational sense, but he liked to play with words, and I grew up thinking of him as someone who wrote. He never made a big deal of it; writing was just something he did sometimes, a few quick lines on one of the index cards that he always kept in his shirt pocket. I haven’t seen a lot of his work - only a goofy poem he once jotted for me on a notepad from a medical conference he went to, and some haikus that we found in his bathroom drawer after he died. Many years ago, in a context that I now don’t remember, my mother told me that Burg tended to write most when he was feeling down, and not so much when he was happy. I don’t know if he would explain it that way, and I can’t ask him, but it resonated with me at the time. Probably because I was a teenager then, and I was doing my own share of mopey writing - mostly about the tall, long-haired kid who was a senior in my high school when I was a freshman, who played in a moody band with a clever name and reportedly smoked a truly staggering amount of weed but, I was certain, could be reformed into a fine, upstanding boyfriend if only, if only, IF ONLY I could manage to open my mouth and try speaking to him. There was a lot of woe going on, a lot of longing. I had a lot of feelings. In any case, I remember that conversation with my mother, and I remember thinking, Ah ha! That’s it! I too write the most, and the best, when I’m unhappy. That’s the trick...


Of course, that was sort of an unhelpful realization, and after some years passed and I stopped being a teenager (FINALLY), I began to see that it was not only unhelpful, but also untrue.  I discovered other ways to approach writing and other things to write about. I think we can all be grateful for that. Though I do wonder what happened to the tall, long-haired kid.  He’s totally unGoogleable, and you know I’ve tried. He’s also now almost forty.


Anyway, what I’m trying to say, and I swear that I really am going somewhere here, is: I don’t like being unhappy, and I don’t like writing about being unhappy. It’s boring, and it makes me tired. But about three weeks ago, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression, and I don’t see a way to not write about it. It began in the form of insomnia, and it took me a while to recognize it, because it was more complicated than I thought depression would be: I wasn’t sad so much as I was overwhelmed. Statistically, something like one in ten mothers get postpartum depression, but few seem to talk about it - or at least, few that I’ve found. When I was diagnosed, and when I was first trying to make sense of it, what I wanted most was to talk with another woman who had been through it and come out the other side, someone who could reassure me with full confidence that it wouldn’t be a permanent condition. I knew that logically, intellectually, but THE HORMONES, they pull the wool over your eyes, and the wool, whoa, it is heavy. You spend nine months growing a real live human baby in your abdomen, and then you push that baby out, and then you feed that baby milk that your body somehow makes, and though we mammals have been doing it for as long as we mammals have existed, it is big, weird, screwy stuff. It makes you have more feelings than you did when you were fifteen, and they feel very real. And in my case, the case of postpartum depression, they don’t go away when they should, and instead, they build.

I am grateful to have been able to ask for help, and I’m relieved that the help is actually helping. I am grateful for Brandon, and I am grateful for June. And though I would certainly rather just la la la pretend that it never happened, I want to write this down, on the off chance that you or someone you know needs to hear it. I am grateful that I can now reassure myself that this isn’t a permanent condition, that I now believe it.


Whew.