Saturday, February 28, 2009

Crumpets and...Pancakes (again)!

Nothing like Ancient Greek pancakes to liven up Shrove Tuesday...

It's always so nice to discover a new eating establishment that rocks in your area, especially when you think the proverbial well-of-local-surprises is starting to run dry, and (bonus!) when that new establishment happens to serve delicious baked goods and tea. :)


I've been a big fan of Northcote Rd. in Clapham Junction for quite a while because they seem to have every conceivable specialty food store / food stall (I have a serious weakness for good butchers, fish and cheese mongers) that Putney and Wandsworth lack, but my love of the area was fully cemented when I took a little girly-time-jaunt down to a small establishment called Crumpet with a couple of fellow-pregnant women from my NCT class.


Why I Love Crumpet
& fully plan to lounge like a lizard there as much as possible




5. It was created especially for Moms, Moms-to-be, and kids of all (young) ages!
Crumpet is owned by a husband/wife team who are both local residents and local parents. They created Crumpet to fill a need they themselves had: a nice cafe with good food where parents can take their children without feeling awkward about bothering other people.

The ostensibly small shop is deceptively roomy and even includes an entire area devoted to stroller-pram-buggy-parking. They also have a play area at the back for toddlers, a changing table (a real one!) in the bathroom, and yet manage to maintain a few tables which hold their own in the "still a dignified adult category," where those of us still with child can escape the sometimes noisy world of real parenthood.

This is not, however, a place to come to quietly work on your laptop or listen to jazz while reading a book. The pitter-patter of little feet is pleasantly ubiquitous, and the staff are helpful and chatty.


4. They have a separate menu for BABY FOOD!
After reading my post on my Forecasted Adventures with baby food, you may have guessed "little he's" eating habits are high on the priority list as far as parenting goes. This explains why I was really delighted to notice that at Crumpet they have an entire menu devoted to baby and toddler food.

With things like"Max's Wicked Chicken," "Holly Bolly's Cheesy Cauli" (Cauliflower and Cheese puree) or "Cheeky Tally's Pretty Pink Fish Pie," I think I'll definitely be willing to make this a lunch outing once Ludovictus is eating solids. And if you're into the whole super-healthy-super-conscientous thing, you can sigh a sigh of rellief because everything on their menu is both home-cooked and organic.


3. They have their own teas!
I have loved tea all my life, but moving to the UK has required I have a newfound respect for the drinking and blending of it as an art. In the somewhat overcrowded tea market of the UK, there are too many choices: really cheap teas that are really good and really crappy as well as really expensive teas that are really good and really crappy. Sometimes, for the average person, it is difficult to decipher between any of them and I often feel that perhaps I am being conned into paying more just because it would seem that more expensive = better quality.

Well at Crumpet, all their tea is blended uniquely for them. They have a wide variety of teas which you can order in house or buy to take home and brew. And they are pretty reasonably priced and, after this week I can confidently say, yummy. It's somewhat relieving when life is simplified for you.


2. They serve clotted cream with their (very good) scones!
I hadn't intended to have scones when I arrived at Crumpet, but as soon as I saw their "Tea and Cake or Tea and Crumpets for a fiver" special, I was sold. You get a nice pot of tea and a slice of one of their homebaked cakes (which looked decent enough) or two of their really delicious, warm scones with a HEARTY helping of strawberry jam and my poison of choice - Cornish clotted cream.

Clotted cream deserves a post unto itself, so I'll keep this brief, but suffice it to say, it was the REAL stuff. I would make the trip back to this place for that alone.


1. The service was, unbelievably enough, really good.
Maybe I was just in a good mood. Maybe it was the jolly Italian guy behind the counter. Does it really matter? My only point here is that the service me and my two friends received was cordial, prompt and efficient. I was able to pay with my Amex (cha-ching!) and they even brought the food over to our table - and SMILED!

Fine, they accidentally brought a an extra pot of tea to the table. The scones came two minutes after the tea rather than with it. And they didn't offer me milk with my tea, which technically I guess is right since I ordered Earl Grey and you only take that with lemon, but I'm a blasphemous foreigner and like Earl Grey with milk so I was a little disappointed they were so by-the-book in that aspect.

But the fact that the cashier asked our due dates, joked self-deprecatingly about being a rambunctious child, and seemed jokingly offended when we asked if we had to bus our own tables was like, well, a shining beacon of light in an otherwise rather dim world of mediocre customer service.

* * *

Ancient Greek Pancake Update!

As promised, Matt and I celebrated Shrove Tuesday / Mardi Gras with pancakes. I was so ashamed about posting a recipe I hadn't myself tried that even after I whipped up a random but nevertheless delicious faux German supper of Wiener Schnitzel, pickled beets, and a very-quasi-sauerkraut (read: roast brussel sprouts in a vinegar-white wine sauce), I whipped up some of the really yummy and cool sounding Ancient Greek Pancakes from The Classical Cookbook.

Overall, Matt and I were both big fans. I added some sesame seeds into the batter on accident, but it actually turned out yummy that way. We were both really impressed with how much like fry-bread the "pancakes" were, and felt that the sesame seed - honey topping idea was really delicious. We made the full 4-pancake batter, and felt it was too much for two people because the cakes are so much heavier than crepes or American pancakes.


the thicker batter; an ancient pancake frying and a golden beauty

toastage of the sesame seeds - before and after

I personally think they would make for a delicious dessert if made into mini-pancakes (like a stack of 3-4 Silver Dollar sized ones) with some ice cream on the side. Might have to give that a try next time we have some people over for Greek food!

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Friday, February 27, 2009

My Heart Belongs to Mimsy. For Now.

newborn mim with her rat-ified aunt

Another unexpected but welcomed change that came along while newly pregnant, was finding out that I was also about to be an aunt. This piece of news was a surprise, but filled with plenty of happiness and excitement for my quickly-growing kid sister. If only I lived a little closer to her, the two babies would have ready-made playmates and cousins all rolled into one!

I remember the thrill of seeing the ultrasounds, and generally hearing about all the things I'd shortly be going through ahead of time. When I first arrived in Texas, a few days before Thanksgiving, I even got to feel the little brat squirming around in Carla's belly. That was pretty neat, but nothing prepared me for the utter excitement of finding out Carla was expecting a gir
l!

Caaa & Mom at her baby shower last September

Our family is full of girls, which guaranteed that everyone would not only fawn over the little-she, but get to feel the matriarchy was once again being passed on. Plus, if you know Carla and her husband, the speculation as to the baby's physical appearance was something approaching that of Suri Cruise or Shiloh Jolie-Pitt.



the celebrities


the real star

Lucky for Caaa, Ava Sophia (who I like to call Mim, Mimsy or Mimsica, depending on my mood) came nowhere near disappointing, and actually beat the competition out if you ask me. My mom and sister joke that I held her more than Carla at times during the first weeks of her life. If you had a niece as cute and happy as her, you'd want to as well.

Mother's say nothing prepares you for the overwhelming, all-encompassing love you feel the first time you see your child. If that's true, then it's also true that nobody ever even talks about the love you feel as a first-time aunt. As soon as I walked into that hospital room last November and saw her, I knew: My Heart Belonged to Mimsy. In a way it had never belonged to anyone before.

Once he got to meet her, I think Uncle Matt felt the same way.

At that point, Ludovictus was still relatively unwilling to make his presence known in terms of uteran kicking power, so it was a little hard to feel as strong of a connection with him as I did with the fiendishly cute, squirming and breathing, little Mim. (I have to admit, I wondered at my own maternal instinct!) But actually, seeing Caaa go through the first couple of months of life with Mimsy and getting to share in the diapers, the picking of clothes, the dancing and dallying with the midget, made me even more excited and desperate for April to come around. In the meantime, I also got to use the new creation as a guinea pig for my new baby gear.

Baby Bjorn, how I love thee...

The only thing in the world that can even approach the beauty and excitement that comes with waiting for your own progeny to arrive into the world is seeing someone you love have a baby too. And then spoiling the heck out of that baby until yours comes along (and probably thereafter anyway). :)


crashing my baby shower in style at 2 weeks old

she's a charmer

cracking up


quite the little person


Happy Chinese Year of the Ox!

the lovely little family


So yes, my heart belongs to Mimsy. Definitely. But just until this little guy comes along:



Happy 34 weeks! :)
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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Forecasted Adventures in Baby Food



When I found out I was expecting, one of the first things that rushed to my mind, was: I can't wait to feed my baby! Quickly followed by: I need to get one of those baby food mills.

My mom had one when we were kids, and I have fond memories of watching her create all sorts of "real" baby foods for my sister in it. REAL chicken soup. REAL pureed vegetables. REAL food. None of this God-knows-what's-in-it-pureed-whatchamacallit.

To be fair, I should really qualify that statement by saying that I
do like baby food - the store bought kind. I can't help but find the idea of some of the combinations personally pretty appealing (and I did, on occasion, buy it for myself for the heck of it). Nowadays I find the supermarket shelves stocked with the most interesting, all-organic, all-natural combinations in the niftiest of packaging. Besides the fact that each of these gourmet little baby food containers will set you back the price of an adult meal, they sound like a great idea.

But, as an adolescent, I always thought I'd choose lots of fifty-cent, Gerber roast-beefy things for some reason. Sadly, I think those are in the "graduates" categories, so I'm going to do a lot of idea shifting before I'm allowed to actually feed my own child anything other than milk.


* * *

We are a family of hoarders. It has taken 20-something years and Oprah's special feature on "Hoarders" for me to realize it, but it's true (however mild the case). It was, therefore, always a dangerous proposition for my mother, Caaa and I to attempt to clean out our family garage last spring rather than hiring professionals. Nevertheless, we were determined to complete the gargantuan task - as if it were a rite of passage - for the last time in order to put the house on the market and move on once and for all.


While digging through boxes of toys, books, craft supplies and old t-shirts, I came across the long-loved, long-used food mill my mother used to make our baby food more than a quarter century ago, bright orange carrying case and all.


Despite not being pregnant, I quickly hoarded it into my pile of "things I really don't need and should probably be thrown away but I'm keeping anyhow" to save it from going, along with a million other deserving things, to the Goodwill store. I also, just for good measure and to follow unofficial protocol, screamed "I call the baby food mill!" in good hoarder style. My mom and sister didn't even raise their heads.


Once I had transported said food mill all the way from Texas to London, I took it out and lovingly prepared to wash and store it in wait for my, as of then, unconceived child. Sadly, as soon as I took it out, I realized there was a very important piece missing: the metal mill. I rushed to the phone to call my mom, who, after digging through her kitchen "random crap" drawer nonchalantly said "Oh yeah, I have that." Great. Well, at least I had time. I wasn't even pregnant.


Approximately 6 months later, when my mother announced she would be throwing me, almost five months pregnant, a baby shower, I came across an exciting find. Target sold the same baby mills - but they were new and complete! I also signed up for a couple of other useful baby-feeding tidbits. Here are a few of my favorites:



The Gadgets
The infamous (but new) food mill! Ah, the creations that will be...

Baby food freezing storage trays.... don't have these yet, but I will!

My favorite foods as a child were: broccoli, liver, mushrooms, and chicken skin. This probably explains a lot to some of you who know my generally adventurous eating habits. With that in mind, I set out to find some appropriately interesting baby-food-making literature.


The Books

After reading countless reviews, random pregnant-peoples' blogs, and flipping through them myself, these are the two books I registered for. While I intend to follow my mom's and grandmother's style (giving the baby slightly blander versions of regular adult foods - mostly Mexican) with regards to feeding Ludovictus, I do also welcome (as in my own diet) more Americanized and standardized recipes which I can also use to vary the kiddo's diet and "keep it real."

One of these (the first) is a relatively unoffensive omnivorous book of traditional baby foods. A strong believer in the consumption of meat and veg, I am fiendishly anticipating the day when I'll get to cook the likes of "Braised Beef with carrot, parsnip and sweet potato" or "Filet of cod with spinach in a cheese sauce" for my little-he. Not to mention, I think I might make the "Apricot, apple, pear and vanilla" for myself before then!




The second, while slightly more uppety and gourmet in its organic leanings, also offers some highly sophisticated international choices for the small creatures. How can you
not love a book with recipes for "Happy Hummus" "Olive Spread" and "Dilly Ricotta Dip"???




Naturally, there are still (according to my calculations) at least 30-35 weeks (given that he is born on time) before I am legitimately allowed to start feeding my child solid foods.

While it is tempting, taking my grandmother's old-school approach of "getting them early" by shoving bits of tortilla and refried beans in the kid's mouth as soon as he is old enough to smile, probably isn't a good idea. But then, each child is different right? Matt's mom swears the reason Matt is so healthy (and stopped crying his head off all the time) is that she started supplementing his milk meals by straw-feeding him baby cereal at the ripe old age of 2 weeks.

Come to think of it, that does explain why he gets so cranky when dinner is late. :)

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

We got our stroller! --err, pram! um, buggy, puschair thing?!

And they drink "latte" too. :)

Once I figured out the whole healthcare aspect of being pregnant, everything else seemed like it would be pretty straightforward. It's easy to buy baby clothes, easy to choose the crib (cot?!) you like, easy to pluck freakish little stuffed animals from every child's store you wander into.
But there was one thing I found particularly stressful - especially in the London culture of "Yummy Mummies" and "latte-drinking-black-wearing-uber-chic-urban-babies," which is fierce and eagle-eyed enough to make even me cower a little bit - : choosing a stroller.

Or pram.


Or buggy.


Or pushchair.


Whatever the heck they call them here, I'm sticking with stroller. It just makes more sense to me (I'm a strollin' kinda gal) and doesn't sound like something you'd need to use in an insane asylum (please see the last alternative name above).
I think these little miniature, manually operated, luxury transportation devices deserve their own post for a couple of reasons, but mostly because they took me on the longest, bumpiest non-mobile ride of my life with regards to baby purchases.

* * *

My Long Long (SatNav-less) Ride Through the Land of Strollers
this is probably way too opinionated to be at all helpful

5. Which one is this again?
From what I can tell, since the time Matt and I were children, the number, types, styles and varieties of strollers out there and available to the common parent has more than exponentially grown. (It's just not bad enough that you have to choose between 10 different diaper brands, or 6 different burp cloth types.) In plain English: there are so freakin' many of them it makes your head spin.

At first I was naive enough to try looking online to get a sense of
what was out there. What a joke! Not only do you not get a good sense of size, smoothness, ease of folding, etc. - you can't see what color the thing really is. Not to mention, it's hard to decipher which brand provides quality vs. which brand provides bragging rights without seeing the other people looking at the things.

In a futile attempt to be politically correct and modern, I asked (well, technically "demanded"), that Matt make this his one task to decide on. I wanted him to choose the "travel system," having convinced myself it would appeal to his manly sense of practicality, that he
would be just as concerned as me with finding the perfect, light-weight, fashionable stroller to push his baby boy in. Let me tell you, even if he had been (which I don't think he was), I wouldn't have let him.

The moment my mom and I walked into the stroller section at
Peter Jones (one of my favorite places in London), nobody was making the decision but me. Sadly, even then, I was still too overwhelmed by all the choices to really make up my mind for another 4-5 months.


4. Logistically speaking, a nightmare.
Let's see, after I'd decided I did NOT want a Graco, Silver Cross, Quinny, Stokke, Combi, Phil & Ted's or Mamas and Papas, the pram department was a little easier to navigate. But before I could navigate the store, I had to figure out how to navigate my own house and neighborhood.

We have three flights of stairs inside our flat, and approximately 6-8 extremely
steep stone steps leading up to our front door. Plus we live a little over 1/2 mile from the nearest tube stop.

Imagine, if you will, a pleasantly plump, recently un-pregnant Brenda, standing at the front steps, trying to hold a newborn baby, a diaper bag, a purse AND a stroller while climbing the aforementioned 6-8 extremely steep stone steps leading up to the inconveniently narrow landing to enter the house. Not a pretty picture for anyone, especially not the man-child, but definitely not for any of the many valuable objects also held in her two hands either.

If it isn't going up the stairs, then it's going down: getting on the Tube, leaving the house, etc.. And if it isn't stairs, it's narrow people-filled corridors in shops, supermarkets, and buses, not to mention the Tube, once you've actually managed to get to the train.

Many of my suburban American friends (and family
members) looked at me slightly confused when I tried to explain this dilemma.

"But the so-and-so stroller rides like a dream."

"But the so-and-so stroller isn't really THAT heavy."
"But the so-and-so stroller folds up really easily once you take the wheel off!"


Yeah, that's all really, really great...when you have a car! Because when you have a car, you don't have to carry crap everywhere. You have a place to leave your child while you fold the
stroller (as opposed to, well, the floor, which would be my only option). You also have this really great thing called a "trunk" (or "boot" if you're British), where you can fold and put the stroller without having to lug it up even ONE flight of stairs. Not to mention, you don't have to deal (most of the time) with the exciting travails of public transport.

Public Transport-Related Mini-rant:
Last week I actually saw a fat, crochety, old woman curse at a new mother on the bus because of her "stupid giant pram" getting in the way of the aforementioned fat butt's sitting space. I was beyond myself. It was all I could do to stop myself from saying: Gee, Ma'am, couldn't it be that she ALSO has a right to take up a little (albeit LESS THAN YOU) space on this here public bus? Or is your butt just contributing that much more to the world than her un-obese-we-are-the- world-we-are-the-children human child?
I didn't say it. But I wanted to.


More to the point: I needed something light, bright, easy to fold, long lasting, manoeuvreable -
svelte.

Everything fat-butt lady
wasn't, my stroller needed to be.


3.
The "Poshness" Factor (a.k.a. "Why aren't you getting a Bugaboo?").
I didn't realize how oblivious to my surroundings I'd been until I became pregnant.

Suddenly, everyone has a baby. Everyone has this brand or that of this gadget or those things. Take a walk down King's Rd. in Chelsea one day and you'll be shocked at the amount of new,
high-tech and really, ridiculously expensive kid gear you'll see. Everything from designer baby clothes to designer diaper bags, to more full-time nannies than you can imagine.

Happily, the proverbial rat race for coolest urban baby doesn't really interest me. (Ludo's already got
that won, hands down anyway. :)) But seriously, though, especially once you start meeting other pregnant women your age (or slightly older, as is usually the case with me - I am, of course you know, a child bride and child mother compared to most big city dwelling females), it's hard not to get roped into the "what kind of ____ are you getting?" game.

After about the 27.39th time someone asked me why I didn't want to get a Bugaboo, I decided to just start acting like I hadn't heard them. It's much easier that way, because explaining practical
reasons doesn't seem to get you anywhere.

It's just a fact of life, so you move on and try to keep perspective on the things that really matter.



2.
And then there were two: Maclaren and Bugaboo.
Not that there's an outright rivalry between the two brands, but they sure do seem to
compete head-to-head for the top position as "Posh Pram" in London.

You can't avoid crashing into at least two of them at any major department store in the middle
of the day. You can't walk by John Lewis without seeing someone propping a Cameleon or Bee into a cab. And you can't really miss some of Maclaren's more artsy-fartsy print designs, even if you wanted to.


Yikes.

I had eliminated most of the other brands based on the non-fatt-butt-lady criteria listed above. And when it came down to it, both of these brands offer beaut
iful, light-weight, long-lasting strollers, but they were still extremely different in my mind:

One of them seemed to fall into the camp of the understated. It reasonably, and in a British accent said to me, "I work well. I'm kind of expensive, but not so much that you'll have to take out a second mortgage. And I have the test of time on my side because people keep me - for years and children to come."

The other seemed to scream, well, everything. "Look at me! I'm expensive! I'm really bright!
I'm the coolest new-mom toy out there right now! And I'm Dutch - which by default makes me cooler than some stuffy English brand! Buy me or you're a real loser!"

And generally, my advice would be that if a stroller screams at you in any way, but especially a self-absorbed snooty way, you'd better not buy it.


Well that and if it's like twice as expensive as the other one, requires two hands to fold, is relatively bulky in comparison, and seems to constantly be listed on second-hand stroller sites, proving (in my mind) that it really isn't that long-lasting (not in a material sense) because people generally seem to want to get rid of it the moment they have a second child. The other, by comparison, is rarely being resold, sells-out online and at department stores immediately, and is good until the kid is like 4 years old.

My mind was made up. "Posh," or not.



1. "Our child is not a frog, Brenda."

Ah, the Maclaren Techno XLR. The new dream. My child's first form of non-human transportation.

I felt like I was buying a car for the first time (maybe because I've never done it?).
But seriously, this thing is a sweet, sweet ride. What other vehicle automatically comes with not one but two complimentary, fully, lifetime guaranteed dedicated chauffeurs who will also feed and love you unconditionally as well as push you anywhere you need to go? Granted, there's no leather seats on this one, but suede and a sun-roof ought to be good enough for a newborn, right?

From the moment we chose it, I became obsessed with finding the right color. Sadly, in this regard, the XLR is limited.

But I narrowed it down to two at first:
soft blue and coffee brown or soft blue and navy;
not the most exciting of choices, but somehow aesthetically pleasing



Until, of course, I came across this:

This picture does not do the green justice;
think lily-pad mixed with sweet peas mixed with crazy one-eyed monster

While I have mentioned my penchant for green before, I think pregnancy has exacerbated the obsession. My child already owns more green clothing and stuffed animals than humanly necessary or appropriate. And when I showed this picture to Matt, he repeated what he's been saying for the past four or five months already: "Brenda, our child is not a frog."

It's now sitting in all its green and brown glory in our hallway, where I stare at it, mess with it and stroke it lovingly, in turns.


Well, so what? :)
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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

PS: Happy Pancake Day (or Day of the Kaken, as Matt would call it)!


Athenian Jug from about 480BC;
harpies stealing food from a blind Phineus.
A perfect example of what Lenten sacrifices can drive you to.



Almost forgot to mention:

Happy Fat Tuesday / Shrove Tuesday / Mardi Gras / Day before Ash Wednesday /
Carnevale!

Great time of year to be feeling Catholic / Christian guilt and dredge up some reasons to give up this, that, or the other thing. I'm still not sure what / if I'm giving up anything this year (by the looks of this post, I should give up back-slashes), but I'm sure you'll hear all about it if I do.

I would encourage everyone to cook pancakes (of any nationality) for dinner tonight to celebrate in true British style! And if you're not up for that, then at least put on some beads and shake it up in your living room for five minutes. (Notice how I assume you have about as much of a life as I do :) )

I wish I were back in Venice playing drinking games with cheap red wine on the Piazza San Marco...Alas, alack.

Never mind my nostalgic dalliances...though Venice is an Italian city, like Rome, which was the epicenter of all Classical activity, only after Athens, which reminds me of Ancient Greece, my favorite subject ever (besides food)...
Ok, ok, I'll get to the point!

In honor of pancake day, I'm going to post a very special recipe (one that I haven't actually tried myself, which is a little shady on my part / goes against the grain of what I usually post) which I found this weekend with Matt while perusing the lesser-used members of my London cookbook collection.

About a year ago we bought a REALLY cool cookbook at the British Museum (yep, the one with the amazing and controversial Elgin Marbles): The Classical Cookbook by Andrew Dalby and Sally Grainger.



It's a cookbook described as "History to devour" because it contains recipes from the ancient wrold. We have still never used it, but while flipping through it, several things caught our eyes.

We were particularly intrigued by the page that boasted a recipe for pancakes. They sound a little heavier than what American or British pancakes are like, but the addition of honey and sesame seeds was enough to make me want to slap on a diadem and lounge while eating a bunch of grapes! Even if you don't sympathize, at the very least, it's a cool way to celebrate pancake day and another good excuse to break out the Whole Wheat Flour...

Here it is - I am bound to try it now - let me know if you do too!

* * *

Pancakes with Honey and Sesame Seeds
from The Classical Cookbook

Serves Four

Ingredients:

4oz (1 cup / 120g) Flour (come on Whole wheat!)
8fl oz (1 cup / 225ml) water
2 Tbsps (60g) clear honey
Oil for frying (I would go with olive oil here, since it is a Greek recipe)
1 tbsp (15g) toasted sesame seeds


Procedure:

1. Mix the flour, water and 1 tbsp honey together into a batter.

2. Heat 2 tbsps oil in a frying pan and pour a quarter of the mixture into the fat. When it has set, turn it two or three times to give an even color.

3. Cook 3 more pancakes in the same way.

Serve all 4 pancakes hot with the remainder of the honey pour over and sprinkled with sesame seeds!


Check this page out for other's experiences with this recipe and stay tuned for my own impressions!
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Stitch & Bi-otch: Brenda's Pregnancy Rage vs. The Girl at the Yarn Shop



I think I've mentioned before that one day a week I attend a local knitting group, a "stitch & bitch," if you will. It's something to look forward to. And it sure beats getting advice from the knitting videos at youtube.com (which are all kinda freaky sounding) when I can't figure out what I've done to end up with three arms on my sweater.

I especially like my knitting group (despite being the youngest, least experienced, and least knitting obsessed person there) because it is what I would call "low-key." British old ladies tend to be very mild in their manners (even when they're insulting you) and that does excitable, little old me a lot of good. The other perk about the knitting group is that it is held at a local yarn shop. Literally down the street from me, the place is tiny and run by two American women who also tend to be (surprisingly) mellow. Too bad I can't say the same for their staff. Moving on...

I'm not particularly productive at the knitting group; neither is anyone else as far as I can tell. We all get caught up gossiping and chatting and end up having to unravel whatever we've done by the end of the session anyway. But it's good company and good fun. And the conversation topics in and of themselves provide amusement


Common Discussion Topics at the Knitting Group Sessions
some of the few occasions in life when Brenda is actually silent


These really cracked me up.


1. The cafe down the street and its selection for "soup of the day": nobody (except me) at the group likes anything "spicy." The other day there was complaint of "the strange soup with coconut in it" (read: Thai coconut prawn soup - yum!) and why the owner couldn't just keep making that nice "potato and leek" or "broccoli and Stilton" instead.

2. Recent surgeries or health ailments of the present company or other not-present members of the group: someone had a hip surgery recently and we get updated on that in minute detail. Somebody else had a nasty fall and has to go back for an x-ray to make sure her solicitor can get her the correct compensation.


3. The most recent / most exciting Knitting or Yarn or Craft fairs members have been to: people travel literally across the country to go to yarn fairs. I was pretty shocked to hear about this (and the crazy things they will go through to get there - 3 different trains, a walk through a forest in the dead of the night...), but when you listen to how much they know and enjoy them, I guess it isn't really ALL that surprising.

4. The size of one's 'stash' & how much husbands hate them: I guess 'stash' refers to the extra yarn you keep laying around the house in case the occasion strikes you. My stash literally consists of about 6 balls of yarn I have picked up when on sale at Wal-Mart. Last week I learned that one of the ladies at the group knows someone who actually rents a separate garage for her stash. Others regaled me with stories of stuffing parts of their stash into Moroccan Pouffs (like the one in our living room...hmmm) or hidden compartments in their attics to avoid hubby finding the extra fine
cashmere they'd splurged on. Oh the cunning!


a lovely Moroccan Pouffe, not unlike ours

5. London's Yarn & Haberdashery establishments & how well they rate compared to each other: There is one lady in the group who can literally tell you the brand, type and colors of almost any yarn available at any yarn or haberdashery shop in London. She also seems to know all the owners, their stories, their partners (in the UK that doesn't necessarily mean you're gay), and why they stock what they stock. She provides a full and supposedly unbiased account of each and how they rate compared to the shop we're presently located at. Makes for fun knitting gossip.

6. Ravelry: Little did I know, but there is a huge, not-so-underground (wool doesn't keep well in the damp) subculture devoted entirely to knitting and crocheting. Ravelry is Facebook for knitters. I have to admit, I actually joined. It's pretty cool but I hardly use it, despite the fact that they are so hardcore that they actually have a waitlist for you to receive your "you can now join ravelry" invitation. People conduct entire lives on this community. The ladies at my group all have at least a couple of blogs they follow devotedly, and discuss the personnages and their projects as if they were intimate friends. Wait, maybe they are?!

* * *

Anyway, last week I went to the knitting group as usual (though I had been absent for a couple of weeks and therefore probably looked more heavily pregnant than previously). As I am planning to start my next knitting project soon, I needed to buy the appropriate knitting needles to go with.

For those of you unfamiliar, the US and the UK use different sizing methods for the needles (surprise, surprise). The US uses a by-number size (1,2,3,4 etc.) and the UK does it by millimeters (1mm, 1.5 mm etc.). This can sometimes cause confusion when said conversation takes place between - ENTIRELY HYPOTHETICALLY - a heavily pregnant, naturally feisty American ex-pat requesting needles and a British Colonial Singaporean Ex-Pat, who seems to fancy herself entirely British due to historical occurrences beyond her control, selling needles.

I said size 8. She said 4mm. I said, sure. She said, great. I paid (after not being allowed to use my Amex card - pet peeve #27,000.39 about the UK) with a tenner and went upstairs to the knitting group where the new packet of needles sat on the table unused and unopened for the duration of the group.

At the end, entirely by chance, I thought - hey, I should get rid of the packaging before putting away my new needles! Because they are nice needles, they come encased in a plastic sheath - a vagina if you will permit me the use of a bizarre Latin word - which is closed only by the barcode sticker. Generally speaking, I would carefully peel the barcode sticker and take my needles out (yes, I am that anal), but I was in somewhat of a rush so I just took my scissors and chopped the top of the sheath off. That's when I looked at the needles carefully for the first time and realized that size 4mm needles are actually size 6 needles in the US, not 8, like I'd requested. Then, in slow motion, I threw my fists to the sky and cursed the Gods, all the while shocking and scaring the nice old ladies around me.

"Oh, just pop downstairs and exchange them," said one of the nice ladies, having regained her composure. It sounded so simple.


Problematic Pregnancy-Rage Filled Encounter
you've been warned

I had the best intentions. Really, I did. Matt will attest to the fact that since being pregnant my patience (which is pathetic at the best, non-pregnant of times) has basically ceased to exist. I go from fine to completely-utterly-incapacitatedly-rage-filled in under two seconds (it used to take at least 2 minutes). Clearly Singaporean-British-wanna-be yarn girl has not had much experience with pregnant ladies because she did not make any effort to tone down her "I'm British and therefore offer you ZERO customer service" attitude, even after seeing the belly and hearing my American accent. Come on, she was just asking for it.

When I nicely (I really was nice at first) explained the situation and asked if we could just exchange the needles as clearly the error had not been mine and she had just misread the size chart, she stared at me, horrified and twitching in an "I made a mistake?!" short-circuit kind of way that only people who are extremely uptight and therefore never imagine they could be wrong do. Then, she basically said "No."

This all happened in under two seconds. Coincidence, really, the timing.

My face turned red. I gripped the needles tightly.

"Well, I'm not paying for another set. I asked for size 8 needles."

"You damaged the packaging. I can't exchange them."

"Can't we just peel the barcode off of the other package and then carefully place this one on it with the needles I have? They have never been used and I used scissors to cut the barcode so it isn't damaged."

*heavy, gruffy sigh / annoyed breathing noise combined with eye-roll from the yarn girl*

*seriously dangerous eyebrow raise from silently-raging pregnant lady*


She walked over to the drawer and pulled out the right needles, still breathing heavily. After trying - half-heartedly, might I add - to pull off the barcode, she suddenly slammed them down in frustration and said "No, we can't do it. It just won't work."

I yanked the needles away and said "Yes, we can. I WILL DO IT."

I then proceeded to replace the barcode and needles and exchange them for the right size ones. All the while, the girl is rolling her eyes, continuing to twitch and breath heavily in an "I can't believe you did this" kind of way.

Correct needles now in hand, in a last-ditch effort to be amenable, I said (and believe me, this took ALL the restraint in the world), "Well, thank you so much for doing this. I appreciate it."

No answer.

"I hope that's ok?"

She looked up at me, angry, "Well I guess it's gonna HAVE to be now isn't it?"

*fireworks - fireworks - fireworks*
(that's the only way I can accurately describe what went on in my brain at this point)

Suddenly alarmed, "I mean, it was my fault for getting the wrong needles."

It's a good thing, a very good thing she added that last mea culpa. I honestly cannot say that I know what I would have done if she hadn't. And because I'm a brat, and pregnant to boot, I would have maintained the entire time that none of it was an overreaction. Ah the perks. :)

* * *

PS: The thing is, she really was wrong. She WAS.



If only she'd used one of these.


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Monday, February 23, 2009

Most Recent Long-Overdue Realization: "Wow. I'm Gonna Be a Mom."

The whole themed-week thing worked for me. I'm hoping it worked for you too, because I think I might do it a little more often between now and the eventual and inevitable demise of this blog in the distant but nevertheless somewhat foreseeable future.

* * *

As clichéd as this may sound, it has taken me a whole 33 weeks to have what I like to call my most recent long-overdue realization: "Wow," I thought to myself in the middle of the night sometime last week "I'm gonna be a 'Mom'."

It is unbelievably, in fact shockingly, easy to live with a little human growing inside your belly for nearly eight months without this fact actually "hitting" you. You acknowledge him, love him, talk to him and even refer to him more often than most people would like, and yet, throughout all of that, you can draw this thin, wavering, fragile, but existent, line between the reality you know and have always known and the one that is about to take over for...well, forever. There are a million things that go on that can trigger the realization either sooner or later, but no matter how late or how early, I guess it has to come. And when it does, it is overwhelming. Exciting. Scary. All-encompassing. Moreso than being pregnant. Moreso than having a giant belly or having to give up your entire wardrobe and a slew of your favorite foods and drinks.

In some ways, as much as I hate to admit it, once it does hit, you have to fight a feeling of quickly growing panic and paranoia that, I think, any good parent-to-be should feel at some point. But
nobody really admits this, and much less tells you about it aside from making the occasional remark about "how much your life is going to change." That doesn't even begin to prepare you for realizing it yourself. Much less actually having a baby (I suspect).

Despite the many frightening, different, unfamiliar and somewhat daunting things that stare you unwaveringly in the face once things 'click,' it is a miracle of nature that you (or at least "I") manage to find even MORE reasons why you are happy, excited, eager, and even downright impatient about jumping in the proverbial parental saddle (after a full-recovery and some much-needed pampering, of course).

In honor of this realization, its miraculous nature, and the further and comparatively wildly vast realization that came with it (that no matter how unique or outstanding or extraordinary we pretend to be, the emotional universal human experience is actually pretty, um, universal), I'm dedicating this week's entries to my impending transformation into a parental unit and a bunch of random things relating to the official "pre-transformation period," also known as pregnancy. :)

* * *



Memorable Moments Leading Up to My Long Overdue Realization
in no particular order, unless you're a follower of Freud

5. Why do I suddenly hate seafood markets?
There I was, the picture of summer-vacation-relaxation, in a sun dress, walking along dreamily on an Athenian street sipping my prerequisite Greek Frappe (aka the best way to drink instant coffee) and talking Matt's ear off, as usual, when my eye first caught the endless stalls of fruit ahead of me.


Suddenly I'm dragging Matt through the aisles of one of Athen's largest open-air markets, just
around the corner from our hotel. After the fruit, came the meat. Huge slabs of beef, whole pigs, countless examples of offal (and why we, onomotopoeically, call it that) lay before me. Butchers and their blood-stained aprons hack away unmercifully with cleavers that belong only in horror movies and foreign markets. I was fine. I love butchers. I love meat. I love open-air, un-air-conditioned markets.

Walking toward the next set of stalls, I get a glimpse of my favorite part of any food selling establishment: the fishmongers. I love to eat fish. I love the word monger. A match made in heaven.

Then suddenly, t h e b r e e z e b l o w s.

And I do something I NEVER do in a fishmarket - I gag. Big time.

And when I gag, especially more than once (which, in this case, is an understatement) two things
always happen: 1. Matt laughs and 2. I almost throw up.

I was seized with a feeling of total and utter hopelessness. The meat around me suddenly began to smell rancid. The Frappe taste only made it worse. And there was no way out without having to pass at least ten more stalls of stinky, nasty sea-y stuff. What was with my sense of smell?! I have allergies - I can't smell anything!


Athenian Meat Market & the goodly Frappe; before the gagging episode

It was then and there, at that amazingly putrid moment of vomity madness, that Ludovictus first made his presence known. :)


4. Malaysian Chicken Delight - don't go there.
Continuing with the theme of being sick, I should mention that I am one of the blessed and the lucky who was almost not sick at all during her pregnancy. The following is an account of one of two incidents during which the pregnancy thing got the best of my stomach:

Never act excited about a dish you've never tasted while talking to the restaurant's owner about it if you're pregnant. In fact, just don't try anything you're not completely sure you'll love. Because you just never know.

The little Malaysian lady who owns and works at the Chinese place down the street from us really
did assure me that I would LOVE the Malaysian Chicken. Having read the description, I was pretty sure I would love it too (what's not to love about chicken cooked in a shrimp paste sauce with vegetables?). But the moment I took the first bite, I knew I could not have been wronger. The chicken tasted flat-out ROTTEN. Like it was a hundred-year-old chicken that had been fermenting underground and then sauteed in shrimp paste and put on my plate.

Matt tasted it and thought it was a little weird too, but then he tasted it again when I told him I sw
ore the flesh was literally decomposing and said he actually liked it.

I then had to suffer through the rest of the meal picking at the bell peppers on the plate and secretly eating Matt's beef and broccoli while the woman's head was turned. She kept coming over and singing the praises of the chicken and telling me what she would order for me NEXT TIME. It wa
s all I could do to hold it together and not gag in her face (I did, however, gag several times at the table - much to Matt's amusement).

I was less than 3 months pregnant then, and we have not been back to that restaurant ever since.

Admittedly, this is partly because as soon as I walked out the front door, I turned my head and vomited all over the sidewalk. I don't know if the owner saw, but I know that the group of people standing outside the bar next door did. And so did the two guys who ran past us to avoid the further vomiting the entire way home. They must have found it odd that Matt was actually laughing at me. Bastard.


3. Wait, a MIDWIFE?
As much as it pains me to admit this, there are a couple of reasons I am glad we have lived in the UK this long. One of them is the chance to find at least one reason not to hate the NHS (National Health Service). Well, oddly, I still haven't done that, but I do have a newfound appreciation for British healthcare in one aspect: childbirth.

I was less than thrilled when, newly pregnant and eager to get started on prenatal care, every hospital I called kept talking about seeing a "midwife." A midwife? Where the hell are the doctors? Aren't midwives those hippie-chick, tree-hugging freaks who hate pain killers and try to lure you into having your child at home where the dangerous process of childbirth could quickly spiral out of control and find you and your newborn dead in the arms of your hyperventilating husband?

Well, I guess if you've grown up in the US that's definitely how you might see it. I sure did. Matt got the lion's share of my rants in this regard, until I finally started to find out more and realized that actually, no, midwives are not freaks - they are trained medical professionals. And they are used in all the hospitals here when it comes to childbirth - OBGYNs are only in the picture if your pregnancy is high-risk (because that's what they specialize in - special births like c-sections and inductions). Otherwise, midwives know all they need to know for normal births.

Normal births! What a concept! You mean people can give birth naturally without being induced, without getting an epidural, without needing twenty IVs stuck in their arms and in a room that's quiet and comfy with just their husband and midwife? Shocking, isn't it? (Well, it was to me.)


Enter The Birth Centre and Pippa my midwife. What relief and what excitement! Whatever I need to do for my safety and that of the baby, I will do, but for now, I can't tell you how excited I am about the possibility of having my baby in such a comfortable, professional, personal place...

They have nothing to do with the NHS. Just thought I'd make that clear. I'm still not over my hatred.


2. "I hope those prawns aren't for YOU."


Just after coming home from the US after Christmas, I ventured to the grocery store to shop for
something I now consider a luxury given its scarcity in the UK: fresh, uncooked, unpeeled shrimp.
Of course, they call them prawns here. And they seem to consider it odd that you ever want them unpeeled or uncooked. Or without copious amounts of mayonnaise mixed into them. But we'll save "The Shrimp Cocktail Rant" for another (rainier) day.

I was still in that awkward "I don't think I look pregnant but I clearly do" stage. People were giving me the knowing looks, the knowing smiles, the works. I'm not gonna lie - I kinda liked it. But these little pleasantries were taken to a new level when I made it to the fish counter and ordered 500g of prawns only to have the gentleman serving me pointedly stare and say, "I hope those prawns aren't for YOU."

*begin time freeze for explanation*


He meant well. He really did. British people, weirdly, are all told by their doctors, or rather, midwives, and every other person whose ever known a pregnant person or been pregnant themselves, that prawns (and all seafood) are bad for you in pregnancy. I really don't get this at ALL. The medical explanation is that you're not supposed to have undercooked seafood. But who the hell eats raw shrimp!? Anyway, he meant well.

*end time freeze for explanation*

I actually just smiled at him - even let out an incredulous giggle - and said, "Well, yes, they are actually." To which he responded with feigned indifference and yet obvious shock at my
lack of concern for the unborn, with a shrug.


1. Second Class Citizenship Ahoy!
One of the best parts of being pregnant thus far has been watching Matt. He has gone from being a normal, happy but only somewhat interested father-to-be to a suddenly freaked-out-what-the-hell-is-that-moving-in-your-stomach guy to an excited, picky-name-picking paternal force.

The other night he had to go out to a business dinner where he apparently had the occasion to speak to some recent new-dads. The gist of their sage
advice to him, man-to-man, was this:

*insert Matt's comically disconcerted face here*

"They said, 'Get ready to become a second-class citizen in your own house.'"

I laughed.

Is that harsh? :)


* * *

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Life Coaches (Part II) & a little spring in my step


Not sure who this is, but he/she/it definitely takes his place this month...

What is with the continued theme of douche-baggery with regards to anything relating to Life Coaches?

And, more to the point, what is with me randomly running into this stuff and feeling compelled to post it?

* * *

On a highly unrelated but predictably random note...

Woke up and it felt like spring today. Not sure why, not sure how, but it's 20 degrees warmer, the birds are singing, and the church bells harkening in what promises to be a good, lounge-like weekend with, I hope, plenty of blue skies. (All the perfect reasons to break out the Hovis and make some French Toast! - stay tuned for that post!)

As we were walking home from our favorite local Thai restaurant last night, Matt and I noticed that at least three of the trees on our street have flower buds on them. Identifiable, bona fide flower buds. And a couple are even blooming. There's nothing like London in the springtime and the anticipation of it all is, well even I have to admit, almost too much to take.

Just had to say that.
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Friday, February 20, 2009

Childlike Glee.

That's what I'm currently experiencing for two reasons:

1. Because I just received these little
goodies in the mail, which means...



...now I can start on my next project - preciousness "inYARNate" for Ludovictus:

Debbie Bliss' Shawl-Collared Jacket


2. Because my dear friend Nancy the Psychologist-by-day- Knitter-Extraordinaire-by-night surprised me with a beautiful handmade gift for Ludovictus in the mail a couple of days ago!

There's nothing quite like receiving a thoughtful package to rejuvenate your faith in humanity as essentially good. :)

Midge hat and blanket à la Nancy


Oh yeah, Happy 33 Weeks!


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