Eating For Two, Cooking For Four

One of the first things I noticed when I first became pregnant, was that my tastes were changing.

This happened when I was pregnant with Morganna, too, of course, but I don’t remember specifically how that all worked except for a few things: I wanted cheese all the time, I craved beets, which I normally hated, and I wanted to eat liverwurst, another less than beloved item, constantly.

This time around, I discovered a great many food aversions as my nausea deepened. Red meat, particularly beef, normally a beloved food, became a source of extreme repugnance. The smell of the meat as I cut it to stir fry was nearly unbearable; I found myself unable to eat it after a time, because the smell was so overwhelmingly foul that I simply could not bring myself to eat it. At those times, luckily, I had added tofu to the dishes, thinking that I would be better served to try and eat that, and luckily, I was correct. I would guzzle up the tofu, and leave the meat in the serving dish with a curled lip.

Pork became problematic, as well, though it fared better than beef. Cured pork products such as ham and bacon, were still good, as was sausage. Ma Po Tofu, made with minced pork and large cubes of tofu flavored with preserved vegetable, fermented black beans and broad bean chile paste, still tasted divine, though, again, I ate more of the tofu than the pork. Stir fried pork dishes were still good, so long as I added pressed tofu to them so that I could eat just a few pieces of pork, and finish filling up on tofu, vegetables and rice.

I realized a few days ago, that with this pregnancy, I seem to be returning to my childhood food preference patterns, and I find this curious; I cannot help but wonder if other women experience the same phenominon.

When I was a child, I still loved strong flavors–my mother often tells the story of how she let me teeth on cleaned, whole scallions, which I would gum happily, with green-tinted drool pouring down my chin. Apparently my breath was worthy of a dragon, but I was happier chewing on the onion than on a zweiback biscuit like other babies. (I still think that zweiback and arrowroot biscuits are wretched things. I cannot see how kids can bear them.) It just meant that Mom had to brush my teeth and gums a few extra times a day and use a bit of bleach to get the green stains out of my bibs and t-shirts….

But even as I grew, I always loved the strong flavors of onions, green onions, ramps, garlic, and sweet peppers. I was especially fond of olives and garlicky kosher dill pickles. I am told that I would gnaw on a whole one of those for hours before finally finishing it, with a great sigh of contentment. Strong cheeses were also a favorite, though it seems that even at an early age, I was allergic to bleu cheeses, which I loved even then. I remember getting powerfully sick off of some bleu cheese spread my mother let me eat at the age of two. My father thought it was just that it was too rich, however, later, we discovered that I am allergic to the mold that makes the cheese taste so wonderfully tangy.

There were other distinctive patterns to my eating. I loved most vegetables, if not cooked, then raw. My mother tended to overcook peas and broccoli, so I didn’t care for them cooked, but would eat them with relish raw. The same was true for turnips. Brussels sprouts I never learned to like, and unpickled beets were not favored (though pickled, they were quite good and I always loved their beautiful carmine color), but other than that, there was not a vegetable that I did not like. Green beans were a favorite, as were tomatoes, cooked and raw. Corn, particularly fresh from the stalk and uncooked or lightly boiled or roasted, was wonderful to me, a boon companion of long summer days. Carrots I would dig from the garden, wipe off the mud and eat out of hand, and lima beans, zucchini, yellow crookneck squash, eggplant, cauliflower, raw cabbage, hot peppers, kale, acorn squash, sweet potatoes, and dried beans such as pintos, navy, great northern and kidney beans were all eaten with great gusto.

The problem was, I didn’t much care for meat.

I would eat as little as I could get away with, with the exception of sausages, bacon or ham, chicken, turkey and fish–all of which I positively adored. But red meats I tended to dislike greatly, and would try to get out of eating, and if my parents didn’t watch me closely, I would end up feeding much of my portion to my faithful dog, Rufus, who sat by my side, ready to help me get rid of that incriminating dried out porkchop or greasy hamburger.

I even hated steak with a great passion, which confused many of my relatives. I made exceptions for pork or beef pot roasts, so long as a great deal of gravy was involved–which should give a clue to the problem. I didn’t like dried out, overcooked meat–but I didn’t know that at the time. At the time, I just knew that it had no flavor compared to vegetables, and it just wasn’t worth taking up space on my plate when I could have more vegetables if I didn’t have to eat meat.

I liked grain products, too–especially whole wheat bread, and I loved rice. Mom only made Minute Rice, which is not that good, but I loved it anyway, and ate it with glee, especially when I had it with bits of leftover pot roast shredded on top with some gravy. That was my favorite leftover dinner. Pasta was great, especially Mom’s homemade chicken and noodles with mashed potatoes. Spaghetti was great, too, but I never liked the meat sauce Mom made. Too much meat, not enough tomato, so I ate the pasta and left most of the sauce behind–a habit which caused quarrels at the dinner table.

Meat was such an issue in our house that my mother finally took me to the doctor when I was about six or seven, to ask him what was wrong with me that I didn’t like to eat enough meat. (Of course, her idea of “enough” was a bit daft–my mother learned to cook by watching her mother who cooked for farmworkers, fieldhands, and a husband and children who had worked a full day on the farm. So, my mother’s idea of proper portions was skewed. I ate a lot at Grandma’s, it is true, but then, I was running, playing and working in the garden for hours, so I burned off calories and needed to eat more. At home, I was more sedentary than that and ate less.)

Dr. Staat was an old country doctor, with a handlebar mustache, little round spectacles and a pocketwatch in his suit under his lab coat. He looked like a character from a Mark Twain story, he was so old-fashioned, and he was very quiet.

While he examined me, (an examination which included him sticking a finger in my mouth and having me bite down to see if my teeth were strong) he asked my mother what the problem was, and she told him, “She never likes to eat meat. I always have to fuss at her to finish it, and half the time she’s stubborn and won’t eat it anyway, and I make her sit at the table until it is done, and she still won’t eat it.”

He nodded, went, “hmm” and then said, “So what -does- she eat? Candy?”

Mom said, “Well, she does eat candy, but not habitually–we don’t keep it around. But she does like bread, and she loves rice, though I have no idea why, and she likes vegetables.”

He turned a critical eye upon me. “Vegetables?” he said. “What vegetables do you eat, little one?”

I dutifully began listing vegetables, my favorites first, in a singsong voice. “Green beans, tomatoes, carrots, corn, spinach, pinto beans, potatoes, navy beans, lima beans, kidney beans, onions, pickles, cucumbers, squash, sweet potatoes….”

He held up a hand to interrupt me. “How do you eat them?” he asked.

“Cooked or raw, but I like ‘em best from the garden. I don’t like canned corn, ” I confided. “It tastes funny.”

He nodded. “What is your favorite fruit?”

“Sour cherries!” I said, bouncing. “And blackberries, and strawberries, and grapefruit and oranges and I like to eat lemons, too, but Mamma thinks that is bad for me.”

He looked at my mother sidelone and looked back at me.

“Why don’t you like meat?”

“It tastes funny. It’s dry or greasy and I don’t a lot of it. But I like bacon, and ham, and chicken and fish is my favorite thing in the world.”

“What kind of fish?”

“Trout. Or bluegill or catfish. Anything we catch out of the pond at Grandma’s is good.”

“Do you drink your milk?” he asked.

I nodded avidly. “Every meal.”

“Do you drink pop?”

I shook my head, “Not very much, no.”

“Do you eat cheese?” he asked, as he folded up his stethascope and put it into the patch pocket of his lab coat.

I bounced witih enthusiasm. “I love cheese. Daddy gives me good cheese when he buys it. I’d eat cheese for every meal if I could.”

He nodded and turned his attention to my mother, as he sat back down behind the massive oak desk.

“Mrs. Fisher,” he sighed. “There is nothing wrong with her. She is healthy, she is obviously eating adequately, as she is not underweight, nor malnourished. She shows no signs of illness, her teeth are strong, her eyes are clear, her skin is healthy and her hair,” he nodded at my waist-length blonde hair, “is obviously healthy.”

“Well then,” my mother argued, “won’t she eat meat?”

Dr. Staat took off his glasses and pinched his nose between his thumb and forefinger. “Because she doesn’t like it much, that is why.” He shrugged his shoulders, and began cleaning his spectacles with a handkerchief he pulled from his vest pocket. “She doesn’t dislike all meat, just mostly red meat. There is nothing wrong with that–most Americans probably eat too much meat anyway. Besides, she gets plenty of protein from other sources, like milk, cheese and beans.” He put the spectacles back on, and leaned forward, piercing my mother with a stern glance.

“Do you know how many mothers come in here with children who refuse to eat vegetables at all, and beg me to tell them what to do?”

Mom shook her head, struck dumb.

“Hundreds. Count yourself lucky that your child likes so many vegetables, and eats them happily. It obviously has helped make her healthy. Now, go on and leave her alone about meat,” he said with a dismissive guesture. “She will start eating it when she is hungry for it and when she needs it, like when she has a growth spurt. Until then, leave her alone, count your blessings, and keep feeding her vegetables, especially raw ones. They have the most vitamins.” As she rose to go, taking my hand in hers, he offered this parting bit of wisdom, “I think you may also be overcooking your meat–and that is why she finds it distasteful. Perhaps you should try not cooking it so long.”

Dr. Staat knew what he was talking about. By the time my teen years came about and I was growing into the big-boned frame I have now, I took up eating meat, even if it wasn’t cooked very well. Though, if there were dried beans and meat at the same meal, I would eat more beans and less meat.

It seems that I am returning to this pattern, which is a bit of a problem, because both Morganna and Zak prefer meat.

My compromise position, is to eat primarily vegetarian foods when we eat out, and to cook dishes with a great deal of both meat and vegetables in them. They can eat most of the meat, and some of the vegetables, while I eat most of the vegetables, and some of the meat.

Last night, for example, I made a stir fry that featured a bit of pork loin, and two vegetables we had in abundance in the fridge: baby carrots and lacinato kale.

I flavored it with shallots, ginger, garlic, scallions, chiles and fermented black beans, and added a bit of light soy sauce, and Shao Hsing wine and sesame oil for flavor and color.

If I had some pressed tofu in the fridges, I would have added that, for I was craving it, but we were out of it. As it turned out, the meal was quite flavorful and all three of us enjoyed it. What kale they did not eat, I finished, and we all ate carrots happily. They ate most of the pork, and I had some, enough, and we were all made happy.

I think that the next few months of cooking will be a big adventure as I learn to balance the cravings of my body–which I am a big believer in following, so long as they are for wholesome foods–and the needs of the rest of my family. Right now, I am all about dried beans, while both Zak and Morganna will tire of them easily. That is no matter–I can fix a pot of them for myself, and eat them for breakfast and lunch, freeing up dinnertime for meals that we can all agree on harmoniously.

Here’s the recipe for the supper we had last night; it was quite satisfying, though it is an example of simply inventing a stir-fry out of whatever is in the fridge.

Pork with Kale and Carrots

Ingredients:

3/4 pound pork loin, trimmed and thinly sliced against the grain into pieces about 1″ by 1/2″, 1/4″ thick
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 1/2 tablespoons Shao Hsing wine
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 large shallot, sliced thinly
4 large scallions, white parts sliced thinly on the diagonal, and green parts cut into 1″ lengths–keep them separate
2 ripe jalapenos, sliced thinly on the diagonal
1″ cube fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon fermented black beans, mashed lightly
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thinly
1 1/2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon chicken or vegetable stock or broth
1/2 pound baby carrots, peeled and thinly sliced on the diagonal
1/2 pound lacinato kale, washed and sliced into 3/4″ wide ribbons
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil

Method:

Mix together pork, cornstarch and wine, allow to marinate at least twenty minutes.

Heat wok on high heat until it smokes. Add canola oil. Allow to heat another thirty seconds and add all aromatics -except- garlic. Stir fry, tossing quickly, until the ginger and shallots brown slightly–about forty five seconds to a minute. Add garlic, and continue stir frying for about a half minute.

Add pork, reserving any liquid marinade still in bowl. Lay out on bottom of the wok in a single layer, and allow to brown undisturbed for about thirty seconds to a minute–depending on how hot your stove is. When you smell the meat begin to brown, start stir frying it. When most of the pink is gone, add the soy sauce and broth, and deglaze any marinade that has stuck to the sides or bottom of the wok.

Add carrots and stir fry until all of the pink is gone from the meat. Add kale and the reserved liquid marinade, and keep stir frying until the kale deepens in color and wilts slightly.

Drizzle with sesame oil, and give a few more turns of the wok shovel to mix it in completely. Take off heat, scrape into a heated serving platter and serve immediately with steamed rice.

17 Comments

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  1. Hey Barbara,

    Your mother should be grateful that she didn’t have ME to contend with. I literally would eat nothing byt pb&j and the toppings off of pizza for several years as a child. I continued to be pretty finicky until high school. After I had been in college for a time my parents doubted I was actually their child because of my inifinitely expanded palate including indian, sushi, and many new veggies. Now I’m the one that nags my parents about not eating enough vegetables. (smirk)

    I also wanted to share an article that I thought would be right up your alley.
    http://www.alternet.org/envirohealth/35084/ There is nothing terribly new and shocking in that article but it is a nice sumation of America’s eating industry and it plugs an interesting book I intend to search out.

    Oh one last thing. Good call on following the healthy pregnancy urges. My mother had a Ho-Ho fetish when she was pregnant with me. Bad news. But then of course after I was born she gave me hives from eating strawberries and then breast feeding me. Go figure. Thankfully I am not allergic to them now.

    Cheers

    Benjamin

    Comment by Benjamin — April 20, 2006 #

  2. wow, i thought i was the only one year old chewing on raw onions and stuff like that… i even taught myself to open the fridge and dragged out a salami to gnaw on it although the salt burned the skin around my mouth. i never really liked meat as a child and fortunately for me my mom adapted to the situation buying vegetarian cookbooks and changing her cooking style so that i wouldn’t be forced to eat meat while the rest of the family still did. eventually i became vegetarian although i didn’t even know the term at that time. and today i still am and i still love to bite into tomatoes as though they were apples.

    Comment by iris — April 20, 2006 #

  3. Pregnancy eating: Each of my 4 brought me different cravings and different aversions, but the one thing they all had in common was a strong desire for ocean fish. My first one had me finding relief from the morning sickness with root beer. My last one had me unable to even smell coffee, and I love coffee. (I also couldn’t stand the smell of my husband’s after-shave – he finally just used witch hazel for the last 6 months.) Another thing they all had in common was a desire for red meat immediately after delivery – so strong that my husband brought me cooked steaks to the recovery room for the last three. And side orders of blue cheese dressing! Maybe someday scientists will really study these cravings and aversions.

    Comment by Diane — April 20, 2006 #

  4. Hi Barb! I’m sure you are the best person to answer this ques. of mine. I always use Soya Sauce and sometime Teriyaki for my stir-frys. Now I want to try Hoisin sauce, but am too scared of buying a big bottle of it and throwing it out if I hate it.

    Could you try and tell me how it kinda tastes? I know its a stupid ques. but I’d to get an idea at least before I take the plunge. Is it salty like Soya sauce or is it sweet? Also, could you point me to good chicken recipe featuring it?

    Thanks a ton! :o)

    Comment by Meena — April 20, 2006 #

  5. WOW. How did I miss that you are pregnant? Congratulations!

    I also reverted a bit to childhood favourites when I was pregnant with Kieran, but that was in the first trimester when I had morning sickness. Sliced processed chicken breast meat on white bread with mayonnaise. And yes, pickles. Later, though, I became obsessed with garlic and ginger – which would fit in just fine with your cooking!

    Comment by Meg — April 21, 2006 #

  6. Hey! That was both of my pregnancies! I had serious aversions to meat. I’ll never forget the time we went out to dinner because I was craving a steak. That big juicy steak arrived, I took one bite, and literally turned green. For both preganncies we ate a lot of stir-frys, salads, and kabobs. All things that are simple to make meatless.

    Of course, now neither of my kids care much for meat. :-)

    Comment by Erika — April 21, 2006 #

  7. You might be the first person I’ve heard whose mother also made this. Starch-a-rama. I used to joke that she should serve it sprinkled with rice. But I can’t lie, with those chewy frozen or homemade noodles, it’s absolutely delicious. And oh, oh so filling.

    Comment by Bomboniera — April 21, 2006 #

  8. Boo. I messed up my formatting. That comment was *supposed* to be in response to this:

    “Pasta was great, especially Mom’s homemade chicken and noodles with mashed potatoes.”

    Comment by Bomboniera — April 21, 2006 #

  9. Iris–I have always eaten tomatoes like apples. In the summer when my Uncle John and I worked in the garden, he would carry a small salt shaker in his pocket, and when we got hot and thirsty and tired, we’d each pick a couple of tomatoes, sit down on the dock of the pond, put our feet in the water, and eat tomatoes. He’d take out the salt, and the trick was to take a bite, and -then- put a bit of salt on the open flesh of the tomato.

    We’d eat them, tomato juice and seeds running down our chins and arms, then rinse off in the pond before going back to work–which was usually picking beans, hoeing the second crop of baby kale and cabbages (we sowed a second crop in the midsummer, so in late summer, they would be coming up and we’d need to do the hot work of chopping the weeds down with a hoe) or rebuilding fencelines to keep the cows out of the corn.

    No tomatoes ever tasted better than the ones we polished the red clay dust from on our shirts, and ate when we were so hot we thought we’d faint. Nothing, in fact, tasted better than that, and nothing cooled us off faster–it was probably our bodies craving the salts and electrolytes lost in sweat. But, I like to think it was magical flavor of the tomatoes themselves that did it. They were wonderful.

    Diane–I don’t know how easy it would be study the cravings–they are so variable between woman to woman. And it seems so insignificant, that I doubt anyone would find them interesting enough to really look at them.

    I wonder, cross-culturally, how cravings and aversions work in pregnancy?

    I wonder if one could find similar patterns in women regardless of where in the world they are? Or, if they are somehow culturally dependant?

    An interesting thought.

    Meena–hoisin sauce is sweet–to my taste now, it is too sweet, but others, like Zak, love it. I like it in small amounts. It will not go bad in the fridge, though, I will tell you that.

    It is both sweet and dark, somewhat salty, but not very. For a recipe that uses it, try my kung pao chicken–it uses a small amount of it, in imitation of the kung pao made by a restaurant here in Athens. The recipe is here: http://www.tigersandstrawberries.com/2005/02/08/kung-pao-creation-myth/

    Meg–the announcement is in the post Ch-ch-Changes….I ate a lot of salami sandwiches in the first trimester on whole wheat bread, with a bit of provolone cheese, lots of romaine lettuce and some mayo and dijon mustard. For whatever reason, the salty-spicy meat did not cause my nausea to well up and threaten to overtake me.

    I just find it odd that I am so meat-avoidant–usually I crave meat like crazy when I need the iron and protein.., but not now. Weird.

    Though, I was craving liver something fierce two weeks ago and finally gave in and had pate.

    Erika–we had steak last night. Usually, I adore the ribeyes we buy from Bluescreek Farms. Yes, they are fatty, but they are also meaty, and they have the wonderful strong flavor of grass-fed beef. But, last night, the fat was way too much for me–it was so bad that Zak actually ended up trimming the fat away from the meat for me, because the look and smell of it was too much.

    It has now been decided that until I am finished being pregnant, when I eat steak, it will be filet. No fat, still a great beefy flavor because it is pasture raised and no weird connective tissue related to fat.

    I felt like a three year old, I had such trouble with it. On the other hand, I ate all of the asparagus and one and a half large roasted sweet potatoes….no problem there!

    Bomboniera–that starch on starch chicken with noodles dish–it is Bavarian in origin. Most folks in the US who eat that are from the Midwest–where a large proportion of Germans settled. Here it is Midwest farm food–in Germany–I am told it is primarily a Bavarian dish–hand cut noodles with stewed chicken and mashed potatoes.

    The Amish make it, too, of course–but then, they, too, are German in descent.

    It is one of my favorite comfort foods, so much so that I think I am going to have to make some tonight….because I hear the chicken, noodles and potatoes calling me…..

    Comment by Barbara — April 21, 2006 #

  10. I’m not a big meat eater in any sense of the word. If I have any animal products they are usually fish or chicken with a bit of pork.

    When I was pregnant, I went through a phase where I was craving beef, of all things. It was strange.

    Although one day Richard was making beef jerky and I thought I was going to be sick. *shudder*

    Towards the end of the pregnancy, I lived on Cream of Wheat. Every morning for breakfast I’d have a nice steaming bowl.

    Comment by Jenn — April 21, 2006 #

  11. everyone in our family overcooks broccoli. shhhh.

    Comment by ashley — April 21, 2006 #

  12. Benjamin–thank you for that link–I had meant to mention it before. I am going to be reviewing that book (when it arrives here) next month during the Eat Local Challenge in May. Zak had sent me the link previously, and I am interested to see that Pollan makes my same point about veganism that I have been meaning to write down for months, but will probably do the essay next month–that it is not as sustainable as many vegans would like to think.

    Anyway–thank you–and yes–I am trying hard to keep with the healthy food and stay way from the unhealthy, while exercising religiously. Mostly, I walk a lot and frequently, though I am also going to get an exercise bike for those weeks when Athens is deluged in rain for days–like now.

    Ashley–I know. It is an Appalachian thang. Overcooked green beans are the norm, but when cooked country style with lots of bacon or a ham hock, and if you drink the juice–you get some of the vitamins in it.

    But overcooked broccoli–ugh. I cannot bear it.

    Comment by Barbara — April 21, 2006 #

  13. Well dang, you’re still using a lot of words. So, whatever you’re going is surely going well.

    But do you have to resort to tofu?

    Biggles

    Comment by Dr. Biggles — April 21, 2006 #

  14. I know, Biggles–I talk a lot.

    You know, I really do like tofu. And I suspect that my preference for it right now is a temporary thing.

    Though you will be happy to know that I ate a good amount of chicken today–stewed with noodles in wonderful sherry-laced broth with carrots, over mashed potatoes. Still, mostly starch, but there was protein in the chicken (and it was moist and tasty) and the broth, too.

    Fear not. I don’t see myself becoming a true vegetarian anytime soon.

    Comment by Barbara — April 21, 2006 #

  15. I regret to say that when I was pregnant I had a craving for hot dogs–I ate one for lunch at least every other day. Happily, my daughters turned out well nonetheless.

    Comment by lucette — April 23, 2006 #

  16. That looks so great!

    Comment by Ulla — April 24, 2006 #

  17. Lucette–a good hot dog is a beautiful thing. A bad one–well, not so much. But, I do like a good hot dog, with mustard, onions, and saurkraut on it. Or, with mustard, onions, chili sauce and slaw. Wow!

    Damn.

    Now I want a hot dog.

    Ulla–it is an easy dish, too. Glad you like the looks of it!

    Comment by Barbara — April 26, 2006 #

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