16 April 2018

Doulas, Mortality and Racism

Did you read the cover story in yesterday's New York Times magazine? It's titled "Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis" and it is a compelling, and heartbreaking, and horrifically shocking tale of infant and maternal mortality in the US, in particular in black women and babies. Read it. Read it and get fired up. This is wrong. Here are a few excerpts:

Black infants in America are now more than twice as likely to die as white infants — 11.3 per 1,000 black babies, compared with 4.9 per 1,000 white babies, according to the most recent government data — a racial disparity that is actually wider than in 1850, 15 years before the end of slavery, when most black women were considered chattel. In one year, that racial gap adds up to more than 4,000 lost black babies. Education and income offer little protection. In fact, a black woman with an advanced degree is more likely to lose her baby than a white woman with less than an eighth-grade education.
The United States is one of only 13 countries in the world where the rate of maternal mortality — the death of a woman related to pregnancy or childbirth up to a year after the end of pregnancy — is now worse than it was 25 years ago. Each year, an estimated 700 to 900 maternal deaths occur in the United States…Black women are three to four times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as their white counterparts, according to the C.D.C.
The reasons for the black-white divide in both infant and maternal mortality have been debated by researchers and doctors for more than two decades. But recently there has been growing acceptance of what has largely been, for the medical establishment, a shocking idea: For black women in America, an inescapable atmosphere of societal and systemic racism can create a kind of toxic physiological stress, resulting in conditions — including hypertension and pre-eclampsia — that lead directly to higher rates of infant and maternal death. And that societal racism is further expressed in a pervasive, longstanding racial bias in health care — including the dismissal of legitimate concerns and symptoms — that can help explain poor birth outcomes even in the case of black women with the most advantages.

I don't know about you, but I am appalled. Part of me wants to quit my my job and become a doula, or an advocate for women's health, or a midwife, or something. Since none of that seems all that practical, I searched up the organizations mentioned in the Times article as working in this sphere. I'll make some donations; maybe you want to too. Because I like doing my due diligence, the link to the 990s for the non-profits is included.


BirthWaves provides families with doula services after the loss of their pregnancy or infant. Services will be provided by unbiased, nonjudgmental and caring individuals who are trained to offer bereavement support. BirthWaves does not discriminate based on race, religion, income or any other social or economic status.

Physicians for Reproductive Health

Physicians for Reproductive Health unites the medical community and concerned supporters. Together, we work to improve access to comprehensive reproductive health care, including contraception and abortion, especially to meet the health care needs of economically disadvantaged patients.

Sisters Keeper (Mother Health International)

Mother Health International (MHI) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to respond and provide relief to pregnant women and children in areas of disaster, war and extreme economic poverty. We are committed to reducing maternal, infant and child mortality rates by creating culturally competent and sustainable birth centers using the midwifery model of care. We currently work with midwives in areas where the burden of perinatal mortality is extremely high. In each country we have clinics staffed by traditional midwives who work side by side with local nurse midwives and visiting ‘resident’ midwives from around the world.

Sistersong (Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective)

Sistersong’s mission is to strengthen and amplify the collective voices of indigenous women and women of color to achieve reproductive justice by eradicating reproductive oppression and securing human rights.

The last organization isn't actually a non-profit; it's a collective. They do ask for donations, though, and they are the organization that helped Simone Landrum birth her last child, her third child and fourth pregnancy.

Birthmark Doulas

Birthmark Doula Collective is a birth justice organization dedicated to supporting, informing and advocating for pregnant and parenting people and their families in New Orleans.

Pregnant woman need appropriate health care, babies need to be born alive, and endemic racism has to stop.

21 March 2018

Abstemious Oatmeal

Sometimes you need a bowl of oatmeal. The addition of a bit of flaked coconut bulks it up without adding much in the way carbohydrates. It doesn't taste especially of coconut, and there's an appealing chewiness to the finished porridge.

Coconut Blueberry Oatmeal

1/2 cup water
1/4 cup rolled oats
2 T. coconut flakes, unsweetened
pinch of salt
1/3 cup fresh blueberries
2 T. 2% milk

Boil water in a little pot. Add oats, coconut, salt. Reduce heat and simmer for about 4 minutes. Add blueberries and cook for another minute or so; you want the berries warmed through and starting to pop. Serve with milk.

17 March 2018

How To Stave Off Ennui

Last weekend, I had the great joy of a weekend away with my sister and her wife and my brother's wife, at a fancy schmancy spa. We spent our time laughing and eating and dancing and lounging. We hydrated the connective tissue of our spines; we practiced NIA; we took an African drumming class. Some of us did athletic things like Tabata and kick boxing; one of us went outside and went snowshoeing. We were buffed and rubbed and oiled and wrapped; we luxoriated in the dry sauna and inhaled in the steam room and soaked in the hot tubs, naked because we've finally shed our modesty as more cumbersome than necessary. We tried water aerobics with a side of in-pool yoga, we tried restorative yoga complete with Tibetan singing bowls vibrating against our hips. And when we weren't spa-ing, we sat in the room with the view and fireplace and read books and did crosswords and drank strong black coffee and fruity herbal tea.

The day we arrived, there was a jigsaw puzzle on a green felt table near the fireplace, complete. My sister and I looked at it, and looked at one another, and looked at it again, and took it apart. Surely it was time to for us to (re)start the puzzle. And what a puzzle it was. No ordinary cardboard puzzle this, it was made from meticulously cut plywood, about a half centimeter thick. The pieces slipped together with precision, it wasn't a rectangle, and the whole puzzle was embued with a sense of wit.

A piece shaped liked a hummingbird fit its beak into the yellow center of a flower.

A piece cut into a pair of cherries hides in the cherries of the puzzle image.

Other guests joined in - we’d come back past after a meal and find a few more bits snugged together. The singing bowl lady took full credit for having suggested the puzzle - “they used to have these crappy cardboard puzzles, I told them they needed an upgrade”. And there is no question that this precise and lovely wooden puzzle is an upgrade from your run-of-the-mill jigsaw. Discreetly tucked next to the puzzle was a little pile of promotional materials - from that we learned that the puzzle come from a company called Stave. And the prices? BREATHTAKING.

Honestly, there are puzzles on their website that cost as much as a small car. This is seriously crazy. The best analogy I can muster is that they are to regular puzzles what flying in a private jet is to the sardine tin ignominy of commercial coach. Both ways are going to get you to Chicago, but do you really want to spend scads of money on the luxe leather-lined jet that takes off on your schedule? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

It was a fun diversion though, given that it wasn’t my dime.

10 March 2018

This is why we read the print edition.

Because seriously? You never would have spotted this on-line.

The New York Times 
Saturday, the 10th of March, 2018
Sports section, page B11

11 February 2018


You know how one thing leads to another?

A couple of weeks ago, I was scrabbling around on the internet investigating cauliflower pizza - where instead of a yeast dough made with flour and water and yeast and a drizzle of olive oil, you somehow mash cauliflower into a disk and pretend it's a crust. I landed on a recipe on the WaPo site, which was not uninteresting for a couple of reasons. 1) It turns out that you can actually buy the premade cauliflower crusts from a company called, ha ha ha, Cali'flour Foods, which is good because it is a pain-in-the-ass to make it yourself. 2) The guy tweaked his version of the cauliflower crust by riffing on a recipe from a cookbook I'd never heard of: “Eat More Greens” by Zita Steyn.

So I took the book out of the library. It's a little woo-woo, but there were enough things in it that looked interesting, so it's currently sitting on my dining room table with a handful of post-it notes flagging said interesting-looking things. Like a barley and mustard green risotto, and a cauliflower couscous, and a lentil salad with avocado and roasted tomatoes and spinach, and HOLY SHIT dukka!

Years ago, really a long time ago, I acquired both of Laurie Colwin's memoir cookbooks: Home Cooking and More Home Cooking. I love them. She was a terrific writer who had a dab hand in the kitchen and some of my absolute favorite things to eat are from her. The Nantucket cranberry pie is hers. So is the Cider jelly. And for years I've been circling around her recipe for dukka, never really needing to make it, but really wanting to. After all, Colwin calls it Condiment and says "I must confess that I eat it right out of the jar". And later she offers it to her sister, who is subsequently caught eating it out of the jar with a spoon.

Finding dukka in another cookbook was all the encouragement I needed. I even had a handful of hazelnuts in the freezer. Before I started, I dug up a third version of dukka, one from Claudia Roden, which Laurie Colwin alludes to off-handedly because it seems like Colwin actually got her recipe from Jane Grigson's daughter Sophie. (Tracing recipes back is worse than genealogy.) (Besides, dukka is clearly one of those things on which every family in Egypt has their own idiosyncratic take.) Armed with three recipes, I went to work.

And, dear reader, it was GOOD.

It's good on a spoon out of the jar.

It's good sprinkled on some plain boiled farro.

It's good dressing up steamed broccoli.

It's good on a fried egg.

I haven't tried it on avocado yet, but I think that'll be my lunch tomorrow.

Colwin includes cinnamon; I skipped that. Steyn uses dried mint and nigella seeds; I skipped them. Steyn also uses ground coriander; I stuck with whole. Roden keeps it simple: hazelnuts, coriander seeds, sesame seeds, cumin seeds, salt and pepper.

I went with Roden's ingredients but made a smaller batch.

Dukka (or Dukkha or Dukkah or Do'a or Duqqa) (or Condiment)

1 cup whole hazelnuts
1/4 cup sesame seeds
2 T. coriander seeds
1 1/2 T. cumin seeds
1 1/2 t. kosher salt
1/2 t. ground black pepper

Toast the hazelnuts in a skillet. Dump them onto a kitchen towel and rub them around to get some of the skins off. Put the skinned (or semi-skinned) nuts in a food processor. Now, toast the remaining seeds until the sesame seeds are staring to color and the cumin and coriander are fragrant. Add to the food processor, along with the salt and pepper. Buzz a few times until nicely chopped, but not pureed. Eat at will.

The moral of the story? When the dukka itch gets you, scratch it.

09 February 2018

I really don't know what I was looking for

But Amazon helpfully sent me a list of books I might want "based on [my] browsing history.


Can we connect the dots?

The Pocket Pastafarian Quatrains
by Jon Smith

Did we know that there was an "epic poem of the eternal struggle for enlightenment, the Pastafarian Quatrains" much less a pocket edition? No, we did not. I do sort of need a new Flying Spaghetti Monster for the back of my car though.

The Communist Manifesto
by David Harvey

I may call myself a lefty-commie-pinko, but I haven't been buying books in support of that facile soundbite. Unless Amazon knows that I took that silly test on Facebook the other day, and was told that my "political views are Hardcore Left-Wing". But more interesting is that Amazon's email claims that The Communist Manifesto is by one David Harvey, when everyone knows that it's by Marx and Engels. What is Amazon trying to prove here?

The Selfish Gene: 40th Anniversary Edition
by Richard Dawkins

I got nothing. All of my genes are altruistic.

Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables
by by Joshua McFadden and Martha Holmberg

Yes! I love vegetables! I love cookbooks! This makes perfect sense! Maybe I'll take it out of the library. Sorry, Amazon.

08 February 2018

Yogurt Eggs

I fell hard for Julia Turshen's yogurt eggs when the recipe showed up on Food52. It's delightful - more interesting than a plain fried egg, and about 30 seconds more work. This morning, I didn't have any fresh herbs, so I sprinkled the end result with a bit of smoked paprika.

Yogurt Eggs, adapted from Turshen

2 eggs
1 T. olive oil
1/4 cup whole milk yogurt
1 T. lemon juice
pinch of salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
dash of smoked paprika

Mix yogurt and lemon juice in a small bowl, and season with salt and pepper. Smear mix onto your dinner plate. (Or skip the bowl and mix the yogurt and lemon juice right on the plate you're going to eat off of - less photogenic, but one less dish to wash.) Fry eggs in olive oil. Slip eggs onto yogurt, and if there's any oil left in the pan, drizzle it over the eggs. Garnish with salt, pepper and smoked paprika. Eat, all by yourself, and feel virtuous and hedonistic all at the same time.

01 February 2018

Crunchy Granola

The granola that I grew up on was basically this Crunchy Granola, and always called Crunchy Granola, not just granola - although over time, I've edited the nuts and seeds content. In an effort to understand the nutrition profile of a homemade granola, I made a batch today, and weighed every ingredient, and ran it all through a nutrition calculator.

Crunchy Granola, 2018 edition

2 cups / 241 g oatmeal
1/2 cup / 34 g wheat germ
large pinch / 1 g salt
1/3 cup / 34 g almonds
2 T. / 18 g pepitas
2 T. / 20 g flaxseed
2 T. / 15 g sesame seeds
1/3 cup / 24 g dried coconut flakes
1/4 cup / 40 g coconut oil
1/4 cup / 53 g honey
2 T. / 12 g psyllium husk

Using the microwave, melt the coconut oil and honey together in a small pyrex cup. Stir into the dry ingredients, massage well to distribute the honey and coconut oil evenly, and bake in a roasting pan at 350ºF for about 30 minutes, stirring every so often. [Volume measurements of the coconut oil and honey are approximate - I eyeballed them.]

Makes 4 cups - or 16 1/4 cup servings.

03 January 2018

Blackberries and Fresh Milk

If you ride the subway, you know about Poetry In Motion - a public service project of the MTA wherein poetry replaces advertisements.

This morning, I was amused to find an advertisement masquerading as poetry, indeed referring to those "other subway poems.

I particularly like the fact that the sleeping man is obscuring the logo of the advertiser.

Poetry, for the win!