Is Your Fetus More of a Cheddar or a Blue?

How far along are you? Lentil (six weeks)? Lime (twelve weeks)? Leek (a whopping 38 weeks)?

Better question: do you find the goofy emails letting you know what piece of produce your fetus currently resembles to be as off-base as I do?  I mean, come on.  No way does my baby go from a rutabaga to a wimpy scallion in a week. Have you ever even seen a scallion, BabyCenter? A twenty-six week old fetus eats alliums like that for breakfast.

The produce-as-incubated chart seems nearly ubiquitous among us breeders.  It’s adorable at first (my little peanut! baby is a whole peach this week!), but I soon grew weary of the not-quite-accurate fruits and veg my growing baby was compared to. For one, there’s the wild discrepancy between individual pieces of produce themselves– I mean, are we talking a wee heirloom green zebra tomato, or a fertilizer-fed big honkin’ beefsteak? Plus, you know what’s better than head of lettuce?  A whole wheel of cheese.

Armed with the belief that cheese > all things, especially lettuce, and a pretty solid working knowledge of the weight of individual cheese wheels (or in the case of the early weeks, the weight of bits and bobs of cheese), I correlated estimated fetal weight by week with the weights of wheels of delicious, delicious cheese. So now you can tell people your growing babe is the size of a wheel of meaty, savory cow’s milk cheese, handcrafted by members of the (THE) vonTrapp family, rather than a sad Idaho Gold.

I started at eight weeks because before that, your embryo is basically a speck of casein protein floating amidst individual fat globules. Here, my friends, are your cheeses:

Week 8: Grain of Ricotta

Week 8: Grain of Ricotta

Photo Credit: Rebecca Siegel

Weighing in at a whole gram, your cheesy embryo is about the size of one of the grains of ricotta that gets stuck to the cheesecloth as you strain it– in other words, tiny, mild, and totally unripened.

Week 9: Cottage Cheese Curd

Hey, your embryo doesn’t have a tail anymore, weighs a couple of grams, but is now the size of a whole cottage cheese curd!

Week 10: Perle Mozzarella

Week 10: Mozzarella Perle

Photo Credit: Lioni Mozzarella

Kumquats are fine and all, but I’d rather have a bitty ball of mozzarella growing in my belly.

Week 11: Cheddar Cheese Curd

Week 11: Cheddar Curd

Photo Credit: Wisconsin Cheese Mart

Since your fetus has started to hiccup this week, it’s only right that it would be the size of a squeaky cheddar curd.

Week 12: Marinated Ciliegine

Photo Credit- Lioni Mozzarella

Photo Credit: Lioni Mozzarella

Sure, this ciliegine is basically the same cheese as the perle above, just coated in herbs, but fetal development at this stage doesn’t leave me with a lot to work with. Hey, herbs!

Week 13: Chunk of Parmigiano Reggiano

Week 13: Chunk of Parm

Photo Credit: Murray’s Cheese

Phew! As we leave the first trimester, we get to head into the good stuff, like the chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano that weighs about as much as a fetus at 13 weeks– nearly an ounce.

Week 14: Cabecou en Feuille

Week 14: Cabecou en Feuille

Photo Credit: Fromagerie Sciboz

A sweet little disc of goat cheese, dotted with peppercorns and wrapped in leaves macerated in a fruity eau-de-vie– that’s my idea of a solid week 14. Also, your fetus can pee this week.

Week 15: Vermont Creamery’s Bijou

Week 15: Bijou

Photo Credit: Vermont Creamery

Would you look at the rind on that! Delightful buttons of Vermont Creamery’s soft-ripened goat’s milk Bijou line up perfectly with 15 weeks of gestation. Since morning sickness is on its way out the door for most people at this stage, I highly recommend a Bijou or four to make up for lost cheese-eating time.

Week 16: Rivers Edge Chevre Up in Smoke

Photo Credit: Murray’s Cheese

Nuggets of dreamy goat cheese wrapped in maple leaves and spritzed with bourbon before smoking are the closest you’re going to get to either bourbon or smoking for a while, so celebrate your hundred-gram fetus with a round of Rivers Edge Chevre’s Up in Smoke.

Week 17: Prairie Fruits Farm Angel Food

Photo Credit: Murray’s Cheese

I very distinctly remember the first time I tasted this cheese, on the top of a butcher block in the classroom overlooking the counter at Murray’s Bleecker Street store. “YOU GUYS!” I am pretty sure I yelled, “THIS PASTE. You have to touch this paste. It– it– it– it quivers.” Also, this is maybe my favorite cheese description that I ever wrote:

Amidst the sprawling soybeans and copious cornfields of central Illinois, if you listen closely you can hear an occasional bleat or baa and can sometimes catch the scent of just-formed curd on a warm breeze. Here you’ll find Prairie Fruits Farm, owned by soil scientists Wes Jarrel and Leslie Cooperband, just a few miles away from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where people take farming so seriously that they built their library below ground so as not to block the on-campus corn plots from sunlight. Leslie and Wes take the care of their land and creation of their cheese just as seriously, as the first farmstead goat cheese makers in the state—and their attention to detail shows. The carefully hand-ladled curd lends the paste a supple, delicate texture, which slowly ripens to near liquidity, only just held in by a paper-thin white rind. Prairie Fruits’ herd of Nubian and LaMancha goats graze among the berry brambles and fruit trees, producing exceptional milk whose quality shines in the clean, lactic finish with a hint of milky sweetness. Honor its Midwestern roots with a lemony wheat beer.

If you listen closely, she says. Just formed curd, she says. Oh, boy.  Good thing this fetus in my belly is half-Illinoisian.

Week 18: Vermont Creamery Coupole

Photo Credit: Vermont Creamery

Photo Credit: Vermont Creamery

I’d say the delicate wrinkly rind on Vermont Creamery’s soft-ripened goat dome Coupole very nearly resembles the velvety, squishy skin of a newborn sprinkled with a fine layer of baby powder.  Except baby powder is a major no-no for newborns (and babies in utero, I’d imagine), and everything about Coupole and its clean, citric tang and subtle minerality is a definite yes-yes.

Week 19: Jasper Hill Farm Harbison

Did you register for three wheels of Jasper Hill Farm’s Harbison, a cow’s milk custard bomb encased in a mushroomy, living, breathing rind and bound with a belt of spruce cambium that imparts just enough of a woodsy aroma to make you feel like you went camping, but with hot showers?  No? Well, you have about twenty-one weeks to rectify that.

Week 20: Capriole Piper’s Pyramide

Photo Credit: Capriole Goat Cheese

Photo Credit: Capriole Goat Cheese

Let’s be real: we WISH our halfway-done fetuses looked as gorgeous as a Piper’s Pyramide (named after maker Judith Schad’s granddaughter, how perfect is that?!), a goat milk treasure boasting a fresh, lactic paste encased by a thin, velveteen rind that just softens the sprinkling of paprika cozying up to the creamline.  Crafted by Capriole Goat Cheese, just across the Indiana-Kentucky border from Louisville.

Week 21: Robiola di Capra en Foglie di Fico

Photo Credit: La Casera

Photo Credit: La Casera

Just as your baby is snugly encased in your growing belly, this Italian goat cheese ripens within the loving embrace of fresh fig leaves. And much like your wee one, this guy can pack a punch after weeks of ripening, transforming from a bright, tangy wheel to a molten dollop of vegetal goodness.  That last part doesn’t really translate to your baby, but you get what I’m saying.

Week 22: Reblochon

Reblochon is said to have originated as cheese made from the milk left in the cow to cheat the farmer’s landlord out of his full tax. You know the old game– milk the cow, but not all the way, pay the tax on the not-quite-full milking, go back and get yours in the form of that left-behind milk. Sticking it to the man tastes inherently better than not, which is why Reblochon is so completely delicious and pretty much illegal in the US (jk, it’s because of moisture content and import laws). Incidentally, 22 weeks is the developmental stage that most experts recommend that you begin reading socialist tracts to your developing baby, in lieu of consuming soft, unpasteurized cheeses produced in countries with single payer health care programs. As always, consult your doctor before making this or any other parenting decision.

Week 23: Jasper Hill Farm Moses Sleeper

Moses Sleeper, so completely lovely. Downy rind, buttery paste redolent of roasted cauliflower, creamy beyond measure.  Also, it has “sleep” in the name which lol babies and sleeping amirite?

Week 24: Jasper Hill Farm Winnimere

As if this list isn’t evidence enough, I, like much of the cheese world, have kiiiiiiind of a thing for the cheeses of Jasper Hill. Winnimere is the kind of cheese you want to eat, kiss, go swimming in, have raise your children, and be mayor of your town. Plus, the dang cheese is named WINNIE of all things and won the Best of Show award the very same year we took our Winnie to the American Cheese Society conference (ooooOOOOooooOOOOoooo spooky).

Week 25: Chaource

Photo Credit: Chaource

Photo Credit: Chaource

Chaource, a soft-ripened cow’s milk cheese from the eponymous French village, is a little like a small, spritely wheel of Brie decided to have a baby with a slice of cheesecake.  It also has a lot in common with babies! For example, it’s been made since at least the Middle Ages, just like babies, it’s soft and mild, just like babies, and is generally eaten when young, just like babies! Yum.

Week 26: VonTrapp Farmstead Oma

The hills are alive with the sound of the end of your second trimester coming to a crashing halt.  Hope you didn’t get used to all that lack-of-nausea and cute-baby-bump business– this fetus is about to start kickin’ you in the ribs, woo hoo! Placate the imminent heartburn with the savory, umami-laden meatiness of vonTrapp Farmstead Oma, carefully ripened by the experts at the Cellars at Jasper Hill. If you’re one of those people who likes to live dangerously and occasionally consume a portion of an alcoholic beverage during your final trimester, pair that Green Mountain goo-bomb (what did I just say?!) with a few sips of a Trappist ale like Orval.

Week 27: Tete de Moine

Photo Credit: Murray's Cheese

Photo Credit: Murray’s Cheese

This cheese is named “Head of Monk” and you serve it by putting it on the above wacky contraption and shaving tiny rosettes which is like giving a monk a haircut and then eating his hair and I don’t know what else I can possibly say about this except that it kind of tastes like Gruyere and also hey there third trimester.

Week 28: Brie Fermier

Photo Credit: Murray's Cheese

Photo Credit: Saveur

Brie seems ubiquitous in the States, but real Brie, that is, authentic Brie de Meaux, is actually illegal for sale or import into the US.  By law, name protected Brie must be made from raw milk, and for quality purposes cannot be ripened beyond the requisite 60 days required by US law for raw milk cheeses.  Have no fear! Excellent pasteurized versions exist, like this Brie Fermier, or farmstead Brie from Ferme de Jouvence– the Farm of Rejuvenation or literally, the Farm of Youth.  Youth!  Like a baby!

PS: Here is a photo of me feeding cheese from this same farm to my dear sweet niece when she was five months old without her mother’s knowledge. I am a terrible aunt.

zari camembert

Week 29: Consider Bardwell Manchester

Photo Credit: Murray's Cheese

Photo Credit: Murray’s Cheese

Consider Bardwell’s Manchester, a raw goat milk jewel from a bucolic farm that straddles the New York-Vermont state line, just might be the cheese that made my babies. That sounds weird, huh? It was the first cheese I bought at Murray’s before I’d moved to New York– the cheese that led me to apply there, which led me to a job there, etc., etc., and then I met my husband in a cheese cave, etc., etc., babies. (When visiting Consider Bardwell years ago, I thought I’d lost my engagement ring [OH MY GOD IS IT IN THE CHEESE VAT?!] but it was just in my pocket. Also on that trip I almost ran into a chicken crossing the road.) #coolstorybro

Week 30: Pecorino Foglie di Noce

Photo Credit: Murray's Cheese

Photo Credit: Murray’s Cheese

Birth and cheese are all about timing, and nowhere does this ring more true than with Pecorino Foglie di Noce from Emilia Romagna. The raw sheep milk cheese (aroma: fresh cut timber + wet stone + rain on a wool sweater) is aged in barrels of walnut leaves that must be gathered during a precise window, meaning the cheese can be aged but twice a year. Two times a year probably still seems like too many times for a mom gestating a baby, especially in her third trimester. Luckily, aged cheeses are packed with the protein and fats that a growing fetus needs!

Week 31: Fourme d’Ambert

Photo Credit: Murray's Cheese

Photo Credit: Murray’s Cheese

Fourme d’Ambert, an amiable cow’s milk blue from central France, is delightfully pleasant, but its real outstanding quality in this context is that it could almost certainly be smushed into the shape of a baby and secured on your chest in a Baby Bjorn should you ever need to smuggle a few pounds of blue cheese into a Music Together class.

Week 32: Tomme Crayeuse

Cheeky mongers like to call this cheese “Tom Cruise” but I refuse because I think that’s mean to this cheese. It’s like lions mane mushrooms cooked for a million hours in a broth made exclusively of Kewpie mayo + alfafa + loam. In other words, some healthy pregnancy cravings + pica.

Week 33: Meadow Creek Grayson

Photo Credit: Murray's Cheese

Photo Credit: Murray’s Cheese

Meadow Creek Grayson can be funkier than a Diaper Genie, more yellow than a wicked case of jaundice, and more umami-laden than breastmilk (I’ve heard). It’s all raw milk all the time, given kindly by sweet Jersey mama cows in Galax, Virginia, so it’s the perfect post-baby gift for those moms who abstained from the good stuff for 40ish weeks. (Note: BabyCenter says your 33 week fetus is about the same size as a pineapple, which is just about the only thing that sounds like it’s more painful to give birth to than a human.)

Week 34: Quadrello di Bufala

Photo Credit: Murray's Cheese

Photo Credit: Murray’s Cheese

<Insert joke about how a pregnant lady is like a water buffalo here.> <Eat lots of Quadrello di Bufala to quell the pain of getting decked by a 34-weeks-pregnant lady after comparing her to a large ruminant.>

Week 35: Jasper Hill Farm Bayley Hazen Blue

Vermonter blue cheese fetuses are outnumbered by cows, love all things maple, can tolerate several dozen feet of snow and subzero temperatures, and are really good at forestry. Also, not unlike Jasper Hill’s Bayley Hazen Blue, they pair well with dark chocolate or roasted fennel.

Week 36: Chiriboga Blue

Photo Credit: Murray's Cheese

Photo Credit: Murray’s Cheese

With its dense fudgy texture and mild savory flavor, Chiriboga Blue seems like the result of some sort of alchemic fusion of a whole cheesecake, many sticks of butter, and a smattering of blue cheese.  Which, hey, you’re nine months pregnant, you can probably just go ahead and indulge in those things, too.

Week 37: Manchego

Photo Credit: Murray's Cheese

Photo Credit: Murray’s Cheese

Nutty (like a new parent with sleep deprivation), gamey (like the pajamas you will wear for a week straight during said sleep deprivation), and utterly delicious (like that sweet sweet new baby smell), Manchego– like puppies, kittens, and wrinkly little babes– is a crowd-pleaser for a reason. Pair with a handful of Marcona almonds for the fat, protein, and minerals a growing baby needs, and with fruity membrillo for the sweet kick mom most certainly deserves.

Week 38: Salva Cremasco

Photo Credit: Murray's Cheese

Photo Credit: Murray’s Cheese

A curdy center paste that smacks of buttermilk, a dank, mushroomy creamline, and the gnarliest rind of them all– a few wedges of this passed round to the L&D staff is bound to get you the primo IV placement.

Week 39: Gorgonzola Cremificato

Photo Credit: Murray's Cheese

Photo Credit: Murray’s Cheese

Oh, sweet decadence: mild Gorgonzola Dolce taken up a notch with the addition of heavy cream. Pretty fluffy and delicately cheesy, just like a newborn!

Week 40: Beenleigh Blue

Photo Credit: Neals Yard Dairy

Photo Credit: Neals Yard Dairy

Ever-elusive: Beenleigh Blue and babies born on their due date.  Oh sure, I’ve heard about them, I’ve met them.  I’ve tasted and sold Beenleigh Blue before, too, and I think I’ve seen it since then. I can just barely conjure up its fudgy texture, seaside bouquet, tempered sweetness. But they mostly exist in whispers and message boards and Google searches and the experiences of others.

Week 41: Uplands Pleasant Ridge Reserve

Photo Credit: Uplands Cheese

Photo Credit: Uplands Cheese

Considering that I had Winnie at 41 weeks, Georgie two days shy of 41 weeks, and they’rewas pretty much perfect, I think this pairing of Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese in Dodgeville, Wisconsin–all  fruity brightness, toasted pecans, and fresh hay– with 41 weeks of gestation sounds just right. I’m kicking myself for not packing a hunk of this and a bottle of vin jaune in my hospital bag.

Week 42: The World’s Largest Cheese!

Photo Credit: NYWF64.com

Photo Credit: NYWF64.com

Get it? Because jokes about how huge your baby is when you’re postdate are hilarious, right?

Hey, that’s it.  All the weeks! Now I just need to have another baby so I can pose with each of these wheels under my shirt week by week. That won’t be weird at all!

Hello again, Maine

Golden, dreamy September, I remember you.  Your days were longer than your ol’ pal December’s (heyyy there pineal gland— joke’s on you!).

After our inaugural trip to Portland, Maine, this summer, we were itching to get back up north.  On our way out of town in June, we stopped in at the inimitable Rabelais Books and picked up some incredible tomes/life-advice/lunch recs/suggestion to attend the Common Ground Fair, produced by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

And that is how, being not a farmer nor much of a gardener nor a Mainer, I ended up as a card-carrying member of MOFGA.

Not all that sure what we were getting ourselves into (I signed us up for talks on working cattle in a woodlot, goat hoof trimming, backyard grain growing, foraging wild plants, and a whole heap of cider chats), we packed up our camping gear, bundled up the babe, and hit the road.

We planned on hitting the road a little later in the day, and so we booked an Airbnb for our first night, rather than trying to set up a campsite late at night.  We lucked into a spot in an old farmhouse on a working farm, where Winnie met goats, chickens, a couple of calves, some horses, pigs, and her favorite— the turkeys!

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It turned out that our hosts were pals with fermentation guru Sandor Katz (known to our hosts as Sandy, because duh), and that Katz wrote a good portion of his wildly important (get it?!) fermentation book at the farm.  MAYBE EVEN IN THE ROOM WHERE WE STAYED, Y’ALL.  Also, there was a composting toilet (which made Mike unspeakably happy, marital surprise number 37), the first of MANY on our trip (traveling surprise number 426).

We sat in the most delightful traffic jam of my life (somehow the folks on their way to see blacksmithing demos and friction fire classes were way less aggro than Brooklyn drivers), inching down winding roads tucked in fields of wildflowers (the number of Priuses sent it into twee overdrive) before parking the car and starting the picturesque walk into the fair through a low-impact common woodlot (also there were really cute composting toilet outhouses on this walk—no joke).

I’m pretty much living my life on the lookout for draft animals, so this was no big stretch:

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Just outside the path through the woodlot stood a coffee cart that served one kind of coffee (hot, no decaf, correct), brewed using a stockpot of boiling water set on a burner built into the cart, ground by hand over the cart’s tire, and brewed via no-fuss no-frills pourover system.  Not pictured: the ring of mismatched chairs next to the cart with a sign defining them as the “Euro-style café”.

In case you’re wondering, Coffeeman is relegated to the area just outside of the fair, as the fair only allows the sale of goods grown and produced in Maine.  A coffee climate, it is not, and man cannot live by roasted dandelion root and hot cider alone.

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A note:  naturally, since we were headed out on a vacation with tons of natural light, a cute kid, and furry animals, we forgot the camera at home.  You’re going to have to trudge through over-filtered iPhone snaps, and for that I am truly sorry.

Winnie was over the moon with all of the snacks and plants and grass in which to run around in.  Also, kid can rock a double layer of fleece like no one I know.

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Given that I was deep in Cider Week planning mode, the weekend was heavy on apples, so as to assuage my guilt for working remotely from a foresty wonderland.

See!  Tiny tots working the apple press.  Watch those little fingers, kiddos, and drink that stuff before it’s bubbly.

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One of the major highlights of the weekend was meeting the legendary preservation pomologist (how’s that for a job title?) John Bunker.  I had heard whispers of Bunker as the “apple hunter”, identifying wild and rare apple varieties found growing in backyards, on abandoned farm plots, and the like.

Bunker’s booth at the fair was incredible— a visual illustration of the biodiversity present in apples, alongside what must be the world’s greatest wanted posters.*  People approached the apple hunter with apples bundled in handkerchiefs, noting they had just bought some land downeast and had noticed the gangly fruit borne on what appeared to be apple trees— had John seen this kind before?  After a visual inspection and a taste, of course, he pegged the variety, and grew the greenhorns’ knowledge base a little more.

*Each of those four words links to a different wanted apple poster, which you can’t tell with this quirky layout, sorry!

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Winnie was most excited about animals at a distance, particularly large ruminants, at whom she was more than happy to shout “MOOOOOO!  BAAAA!  NEIGH! MEGGHRRRHHHGG (goat)!” from about 10 yards away, but whose size rendered her speechless any closer.

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But when it came to poultry, of course, Winnie was game.

(I’m sorry.)

This gal loves her chickens.  She squatted down beside these ladies for at least 20 minutes, quietly bock-bocking in conversation, monitoring the behavior of other young ones around their pen, and then requesting that we visit the rest of the chickens, turkeys, and ducks inside the poultry barn (this request went like, “mo’ bock bock, mommy? mo’? mo’?”)

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We stopped off to buy provisions near our campsite in Freeport (aside: we camped at a spot called Desert of Maine, which is basically like a historical monument to the dangers of monocropping and overgrazing), and while I got a forgotten prescription refilled (WTG, mom), Mike spent some pretty quality time with our babe.

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Our little campsite with our little camper:

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Thing we knew about our baby before we went to Maine: gal loves beans.  Thing we did not know about our baby before we went to Maine: OH MY GOD DOES THIS GIRL EVER LOVE BEANS.

On our way to the fair the next day, we stopped at Rolly’s Diner in Auburn, a really delightful diner with a colorful early-bird crowd and the Platonic ideal of diner food with some French Canadian flair thrown in.  We ordered Winnie pancakes with Maine blueberries and Maine maple syrup (because duh) but she wasn’t interested because I had something far better on my plate— a cup piled high with steaming baked beans.  Winnie finished the entire thing before moving on to a few pancake nibbles.

Throughout the weekend, Mike and I were continually impressed with the food culture of Maine, and not just in a new-American-farm-to-table sort of way (though certainly there are excellent pockets of that culture) but also with the foodways of Maine.  The iron cauldrons full of simmering beans then buried in a stone-lined pit under glowing coals, a tradition known as beanhole, was among the most heart-and-gut-warming of the weekend.  The next day, a couple of burly dudes dug those pots out, hoisted them up, and began dishing out tiny, hot cups of porky, maple sweetened beans.

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When we walked by the smoldering coals earlier in the weekend, we explained to Winnie that beans would be buried there, and while she slept through the unearthing, she woke up immediately after we got our hands on those sweet, sweet beans.

She was so overwhelmed when she woke up with the prospect of beans (and also, daylight, consciousness, the rain, etc) that she immediately burst into tears and sobbed for a solid three minutes before silently digging into her beans with singular focus.

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What an adorable little weirdo.

There were tons of families and educational resources in each section of the fair, and I fell in love with these books:

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Mike and I will always be cheese people, forever and ever, and it turns out so will the folks at the Common Ground Fair.  We stood in a long, snaking line to gain entrance to the “cheese tent” and saw tons of incredible fresh and fermented dairy products all over.  We were particularly enamored with the Balfour Farm cultured cream and yogurts (we fed Winnie cultured cream in place of yogurt for a week, which was really hard because I had to taste it and make sure it was, ya know, up to par every time I made her breakfast), as well every single cheese from Tide Mill Creamery, whose sweet little bloomies boasted delicate, paper thin rinds encasing a supple, custardy paste with all the cruciferous funk of Camembert, but clean-clean-clean as could be on the finish.  With every bite I blurted out, “Seriously.  Seriously, Mike.  Seriously,” which I can only assume means they were seriously, seriously delicious.

Also of note: Thirty Acre Farm’s lacto-fermented veggies, which might be the best fermented thing I’ve ever put in my mouth, which is saying something since the best things I put in my mouth are always fermented.  So, you know, lots of competition.

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We left the fair laden down with gallons of maple syrup, pounds upon pounds upon pounds of wild blueberries, several kinds of sauerkraut, several cheeses, raw milk and fresh cider, and a bunch of books.  Also, we all knew a lot more about blacksmithing than we did when we arrived.

The Monday after the fair, we decided to hang around in Portland for the day to catch Rowan Jacobsen chat about the biodiversity of apples and his book Apples of Uncommon Character at Space Gallery.  During the day, I worked from a coffee shop in Downtown Portland while Mike and Winnie packed up the campsite.

I took a break for oysters, naturally.

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We managed to squeeze in a few other meals and tooling around, and we took Winnie to the Portland Public Library to play, while I worked in the afternoon. If you know me, you know I LOVE PUBLIC LIBRARIES SO MUCH and the Portland Public Library is like, top five public libraries of my life and THAT INCLUDES PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARIES IT IS THAT GREAT.  Here are some other spots we loved on this trip and last that I didn’t manage to work into either of the Maine posts:

Pai Men Miyake— Killer ramen, great beer selection, prices that reminded us that we weren’t in New York anymore, in the best way possible.

Urban Farm Fermentory— Delightful kombucha, cider, and mead, housed in a super cool food collaboration center.

Novare Res Bier Cafe— I cannot overstate how great this spot is, from the incredible bottle list to the well-curated rotating draft list to the massive outdoor deck to the CORNHOLE housed on said deck.  I took more than one conference call on that deck, and they were the best conference calls of my life.

Fore Street— EVERYTHING HERE IS THE BEST.  Really, every bite I took was like a standing ovation to Maine’s farmers and fishermen.

The Standard Baking Co.— The bakery outpost of Fore Street, above. Chewy, crackly-crusted loaves and decadent baked goods, so obviously you should live here.

Portland Farmers Market— Right, so, of course the most populous city in the state whose food culture I’ve been raving about has a great farmers market.  Also, year round!

Rosemont Market— It’s not a vacation for Mike and me unless we manage to visit some grocery stores, so Rosemont was on our must-do list.  We loved these little markets around town.

Maine Beer Company— Obviously.

The Holy Donut— Maine potato donuts with flavors like Allen’s Coffee Brandy, Dark Chocolate Sea Salt, and Ginger Glazed Sweet Potato.

J’s Oyster— The day we visited J’s Oyster (which is literally on the harbor, as in, you can probably see the lobster that’s about to go on your plate swimming in the ocean when you walk up) they were being featured in a lobster roll throwdown on the Steve Harvey show.  Boy, you haven’t lived until you’ve heard a bunch of Mainers say “Harvey”— excuse me, HAAAA-vey— about three dozen times.

Susan’s Fish And Chips— I want to eat everything fried from here all day, every day, but that would require way more cardio than I am currently willing to commit to.  But oh, those fried clams.

Treehouse Toys— Fantastic selection of what I’d deem “play focused” toys— that is, toys that require that children play with them rather than doing the playing on their own (in other words, lots of pretend play, puzzles, instruments, puppets, and then like).  Mike and I were both really impressed with the merchandising, and Winnie was really impressed with the fact that a thing called a toy store exists.

Portland Head Light/Fort Williams Park— On our first trip, we stayed in South Portland, just down the road from Cape Elizabeth and the Portland Head Light.  Fort Williams Park is gorgeous, and the head light is so picturesque.  We were stuffed when we arrived, and thus missed out on Bite Into Maine, the lobster roll food truck located in the park, but we heard raves about it for the remainder of the trip, so I consider it to be a major life regret.

Anyway, we’ll be back again, southern Maine— before the lupines bloom next, I’d say.

Winifred, the Goat Baby

For my birthday/Labor Day, we went camping in Maryland, headed to DC to check out the National Zoo, Museum of the American Indian, and the National Gallery, and drove out to Charlottesville, VA, to visit Winnie’s grandparents, drink cider, and sleep in (the beauty of grandparents!).  We also met some goats at Caromont Farm while on the Meet Yer Eats farm tour and I have to say, Winnie has a pretty spot-on goat call.  Makes her momma proud.

In which I reference the fact that I teach about cheese and also lactate

Read this first: New Study Finds Link Between Breastfeeding, Always Knowing What’s Right For Everyone

Mike and I have made our careers in milk— carefully fermented milk, actually— and we’ve learned a lot about the molecular structure of milk and about the lactation cycles of various ruminants.  I’ve read books about what makes a good milker, about how to assess an udder, about the volume and butterfat content of differing breeds of cows and goats.  I’ve made pie charts and bar graphs and cleverly captioned pictures of babies to illustrate how and why an animal comes into milk, and what makes certain milk good for cheese.  I’ve attended multiple hours-long lectures identifying defects in milk.  None of this was lost on me as my due date grew closer and the fact that I, a human, a grown woman with opposable thumbs and language skills, was going to make all of the food my baby would need for a whole six months.  FROM MY BODY.  So weird and so, so awesome.

I was so excited to breastfeed, and I wanted to do everything I could to make it happen.  Not everyone can, or wants to, breastfeed, but I desperately wanted to, and I am so glad I dug into that conviction early on, because it wasn’t without some struggle.  Just after she was born, Winnie went straight on my chest, and began nursing within minutes (my mind is still blown by how these teeny babes are wired for survival— check out this Breast Crawl video to see how many feeding skills they have at just moments old!).  The lactation consultant happened to be doing her rounds right as I was moving from the birthing room to the maternity room our first day, and she helped boost my confidence and gave me some pointers, and our daytime nursing staff was such an amazing source of support, as well.  Things shifted our second night.  I’m going to qualify this story by noting that our hospital was, on the whole, great, that our doctors were amazing, most of our nurses incredible, and the staff was kind and competent— also, we were new parents, and sleep deprived, and also I had just gone through the craziest exertion of my life.  That said, I think my understanding of what happened was pretty accurate, so here it is.

Our first day with Winnie was bliss, and our first night was, well, a different kind of bliss, one in which she woke up about every half hour to an hour to feed.  As I learned in our lactation class the next morning, this kind of cluster feeding was a totally normal way for a baby to help stimulate milk production and fill her teeny tiny belly with colostrum on the regular. A second lactation consultant came by to say hello that afternoon, and assured me everything was normal, and that Winnie’s latch was great, and that I was producing plenty for my little babe.  But it was concerning to hear those cries so often, not to mention exhausting. I must have made some comment to the night nurse about being concerned about my milk coming in, or my nursing skills, or something, because the second night, things started to go awry.  She started offering lots of unsolicited advice about my nursing practice (like, for example, not to allow Winnie to use me “as a pacifier”— always a favorite little phrase, since I’m pretty sure pacifiers are basically straight up nipple knockoffs). She started asking if I could hand express “anything” and asked me to do so until she “felt better about” my level of production (this is fewer than 48 hours postpartum).  She brought me a breast pump and showed me how to use it, to stimulate milk production.  I became concerned that I was only pumping a few drops, that my milk hadn’t come in (spoiler alert: it was TOTALLY NORMAL that it hadn’t come in, and it would, WITH GUSTO, the next day.)  I was pumping, and fretting, while Winnie napped on Mike’s chest, during which time I probably should have been getting some sleep, as well.

At around midnight, about 36 hours after Winnie was born, this same nurse came to take Winnie for her Hep B vaccine (which I had fully encouraged).  Winnie had been laying on Mike’s chest doing skin-to-skin under a blanket.  While moms’ bodies regulate temperature pretty perfectly for newborns, dads’ bodies can sometimes overheat— something we learned later, from about three different providers in the retelling of this story.  When Winnie was taken to receive her vaccine, her temperature was elevated (it was still under 100.4).  The nurse calmly explained this to us, and I explained that she had been toasting up under a blanket with dad, and asked if she could take the temperature again.  And here’s where things got weird.  She wouldn’t take the temperature again, and told us that she thought that Winnie was dehydrated, based on her temperature, and that because she believed Winnie to be dehydrated, she recommended we start formula right away.  I asked if there were any other indicators of dehydration (all the while I’m choking back tears and trying not to beat myself up for not taking care of my child, my hours old child!).  ”She’s lost a lot of weight,” she said.  This was news to me.  ”Really?!  How much?” I asked. “An ounce,” she said, “which is almost 7% of her body weight.”  That is, in case you were wondering, TOTALLY NORMAL.  And I knew that, because I had discussed this with my doctors before her birth, and read my books, and knew my shit— not in the way, of course, that a health care professional does, but such that I felt pretty okay advocating for myself and my child.  I should be clear, too, that I get her concern— I know that an elevated temperature in a newborn is a Big Deal, which is why my whole heart sank when she first mentioned Win’s temp.  But as the conversation progressed, my alarm bells started to go off, the first of my parental gut feelings became clear, and I dug in my heels (respectfully, and with every intention of re-evaluating my position.)

So back to our discussion about birth weight— really interesting stuff.  I replied that it was my understanding that anything under 10% weight loss was within normal in the first few days, and that didn’t seem like a reason for concern or an indicator of dehydration.  She countered that the AAP had recently revised their stance, and that newborn weight loss over 7% was no longer considered normal.  Huh.  That’s interesting, and also completely false.  Seven percent weight loss remains the average neonatal weight loss, meaning Winnie was actually below average.  Were there any other indicators of dehydration? Winnie was active, had plenty of wet diapers, I was producing, if not the buckets of milk she thought I should be, at least SOMETHING, and Winnie was nursing vigorously.  It was clear to all of us that we were at an impasse.  Mike was becoming increasingly frustrated.  I was exhausted and upset, feeling as though I had failed so soon.  The nurse repeated her recommendation to start formula, and told us that if we didn’t, and if Winnie’s temperature continued, that she would likely end up in the NICU.  I would like to think that her motivation for saying this was purely professional, from a place of concern— but my gut told me that we were locked in a power struggle, and that throwing out the NICU was a scare tactic.

I asked if we could wait and see, if we could continue to monitor Winnie’s temperature, and I assured her that we would take action should her elevated temperature continue.  ”Well, we’re going to have to take her temperature every hour then,” she said.  Great.  Please do!  Lord knows I love me some data.

Hey, here’s another spoiler alert: guess who had a normal temperature for the next, say, eight months or so?  Yep.  And I marathon nursed that night, determined to make this thing work.  At this point, I knew I could.  I have absolutely nothing against formula, and I know that there are plenty of mothers for whom breastfeeding isn’t possible or desired.  But that wasn’t the case for me, and no-way-no-how was anyone getting in my way.

The next morning, I was dead-tired, but I felt renewed and strong.  I saw a third (third!!) lactation consultant, spoke with her about the events of the previous evening, and recounted them to my OB-GYN, as well.  Both providers were shocked, apologetic, and completely understood my frustration.  My no-nonsense, data-driven, evidence-based OB looked me straight in the eye and told me I had learned a valuable lesson in going with my gut.

I had never been so excited to be home as I was when we arrived home with Winnie.  We slept and nursed and slept and nursed for the next few days.  We made it over that hump in the hospital, but nursing was by no means a breeze from there on out.  We struggled with latch, with cracks and bleeding, but by week three, we were through the worst of it, and in the groove.

At four months, I went back to work, and my heart ached.  I cried through every pumping session, looking at pictures of my baby girl.  Because of the demands my job at the time, my pumping sessions started to dwindle, as did my supply.  I was determined not to let my work interfere with my ability to feed my child, and so, when I couldn’t get away during the day to pump as often as I would need to, I would set a series of alarms at night, waking every two hours to pump overnight to make sure Winnie had enough breastmilk to take with her the next day. It was terrible, but in the end, maintaining my supply was absolutely worth it.

I left that job, thinking about all of the time I would save not commuting, not setting up a pump and washing bottles, and instead putting my babe to my breast when she was thirsty.  Of course, working from home with a child in said home was nearly impossible, so Win stayed with her awesome caretaker/surrogate grandmother/auntie Norma a few days a week, and stopped taking a bottle on her own.  She went to daycare, too, when Norma was away, and while she had a great time, she just didn’t want (my) milk while she was away.  So pumping was done, forever and ever (and maybe too soon, like the three times I’ve forgotten that I’m a nursing mom and found myself in a public bathroom hand expressing milk into a wad of one-ply Kimberly Clark).

Now, of course, I’m nursing a toddler, and those whispers of “If they can ask for it, that’s just weird!” or “If they’re walking and talking, they’re too old!” ring in my ears.  I know that the World Health Organization recommends nursing until the age of two, and that Winnie and I are in charge of this decision and no one else, but I can’t help but feel a little self-conscious when Winnie lisps, “NURSE, PLEASSSSSE!” at the playground and tugs at my shirt.  It’s fine, it’s Brooklyn, it’s my child for goodness sake, but there are lots of messages surrounding this relationship— “you MUST breastfeed your child— all good mothers do, of course—but not too much!  And not where others can see/be aware of it, unless you have tiny boobs and your baby loves eating under a blanket.  Never “whip” or “flop” or let anything just “hang out”, okay? Maybe just stay home?  And definitely wean before it gets too weird, you know, for others— you don’t want him attached to the boob in college do you?”

At 15 months, Winnie nurses morning, night, and lots in between when we’re together, and maybe three times a day when we’re not.  She drinks from a cup, eats EVERYTHING we put in front of her, and has an independent streak that I, as a grown woman, envy.  We’re both fine with the whole lot of it, and I can’t even express how euphoric I still get with each successful latch and contented sigh (that’s got to be oxytocin or something, right?). That said, if none of this nursing had ever happened—if Winnie had been on formula from the get-go, or a few months after the get-go, or whenever— we still would have built that bond.  I love nursing my daughter, but more than that I love feeding her, holding her, sustaining her, reassuring her that between the three of us in our little family, we’ll take care of each other.

So weird, and so, so awesome.

Dear Winifred

Dear Winifred,

Oh, boy— has mama got a lot to say to you!  We just got home from our first trip as a family, to Madison, Wisconsin, for the American Cheese Society conference, where mama spoke on a panel and took a big long test and where you slept through nearly every educational session that mama and daddy wanted to attend, and then to central Illinois, to visit your great grandparents, great aunts and uncles, cousins, and dear friends.  You, little one, were a hit.

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I’ll get to the details of the trip later, hopefully, but for now I want to be sure to remember all of the changes that you’ve gone through over the last two months.  These last few days, especially, I’ve marveled at the baby before me, who certainly resembles the sweet babe I held in my arms in the late morning of June 8th, but who seems so much bigger, so much more alert, so much EVERYTHING that I can barely stand it.

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You find new ways every day of telling your dad and I who you are.  You are strong and assertive and never afraid to ask for help.  You so full of joy, so in love with this world, so comfortable in our family.  You are completely and totally YOU, in everything you do.

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You sleep at night for many hours at a time, something I’m afraid to even write.  I don’t sleep those hours.  I can’t.  You change so much every day that my night is spent tossing and turning processing it all, mourning the day that has passed as a day we’ll never have again and expectantly awaiting the next, new day as a day even more full of joy and revelation that the last.

While we were traveling, you pushed your bedtime later and later each night so that you could stay up and giggle on the bed with both mama and daddy looking over you, and by the time we were headed back to Madison to fly home, you had stayed up until midnight central time (one in the morning at home!).  I was worried; since you had been such a good sleeper, we didn’t really have a bedtime routine to speak of.  You would let me know sometime around 9 or 10 that you were hungry, we’d nurse, dad would burp you and you’d either fall asleep right away, or lay down in your crib quietly while we went about wrapping up our night, in and out of your room, watching West Wing episodes and talking about our days on the bed a few feet from your crib.  Soon, you would drift off to sleep, indifferent to the sounds around you.  How were we going to move your bedtime earlier if you had been putting your own self to sleep?  I avoided making a decision about sleep philosophy (Ferber cry-it-out isn’t my style, but I want you do have the skills to sleep on your own) because who needs a philosophy to watch her baby drift off to sleep on her own?  I didn’t need to worry— in the days since we’ve been home, you’ve adjusted your sleep all on your own, falling asleep an hour or so earlier each night, and sleeping throughout the night each time.  You, my dear, are a miracle.

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In the last few weeks, I’ve often woken up to find you laying quietly in your crib, tossing your legs and hips from side to side, cooing to yourself, occasionally letting out a shrieking giggle over something hilarious you’ve just thought up.  When you see my face appear before yours, your eyes light up, your smile grows wider, and you giggle again.  That, or you wake up hollering at my sleepy self because your diaper is wet and you are ravenous, but in those circumstances, that’s to be expected.

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You have so much to say these days, all, oooohs and aaaaaahs in different tones, with a few consonant sounds thrown in just to trick me into thinking you’re some sort of loquacious savant.  You love to have conversations back and forth, and I love when you go on and on and on as though you’re speaking in complete sentences in your own completely adorable language.

You’ve taken to trying to use your tongue when you speak, too, sticking it this way and that while you chirp and coo, and you’ve discovered that your mouth is a pretty good detective tool for figuring out all of the nooks and crannies of your hands, the Ergo straps, and mommy’s tank top, shoulder, arm, face, etc.  You’ve been blowing spit bubbles at strangers, in between shooting them pensive looks and the occasional side eye.  I love you, you serious goofball.

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You, more than any baby I’ve ever met, loathe a wet diaper, so much that you sometimes cry in anticipation before it’s wet (don’t worry, you’re totally healthy— we even ventured to your pediatrician in Tribeca on a weekend just to be sure!).  You don’t suffer fools or anything else, for that matter— you’re clear in your communication with us, and as we’ve gotten better at understanding what it is you need, our days have only gotten sweeter.  I follow your cues for nearly everything— when to nurse you, when to change you, when you need that rattling cow like you’ve never needed anything before— but I’m also finding that my intuition and my own cues are pretty keen, too.  I need to be the one to remind you to rest your active brain, to make sure you have access to things you want to learn but also remember that you will learn and interact with anything and everything in front of you, even to the point of frustration and exhaustion.  We’re learning each other, and I’m learning myself.

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Before you were born, I researched and examined all kinds of parenting techniques for the early months and years.  I made decisions about what we would introduce you to and when, how we would foster your gross motor skills development, your independence, our bonds.  Then you came, and it turns out that you know everything about you.  You know how to grow every day.  You know how to learn.  You know exactly how to develop.  My plans were nice and all, but you’ve got this- you’re a pro, completely capable of being a baby all on your very own.

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You are fascinated with your hands, exploring them at every chance you get.  You’ll hold your fist in front of your face, completely still, and stare and stare.  You wave your hands around following them with your eyes and chirping.  You slurp on your fingers as you finish nursing, or wiggle them under your pacifier to let me know you’d rather soothe yourself.  You rub your hands together like a scheming baby villain of the cutest sort.  You grab your blanket or shirt and pull it out away from you, just to see what you can do with that grip.  Best of all, you’ve started using your hands to find your mama and daddy, grabbing dad’s glasses or mama’s collar, setting your hand on my belly while I change your diaper, wrapping your arms around us when you sleep on our chests, and gently gripping and releasing my finger rhythmically while you drift off to sleep.

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I’ve shocked myself with what a relaxed parent I can be— she of the weekly calls to her OB, the stress and the worry, the pathological anxiety.  We go with the flow most days, and you catch a nap in your carrier on a walk, nurse in the backseat of the car while I snack on blackberries, catch a little sun on your legs for a few minutes while we walk.  I mentioned to Bridie, the pediatric nurse practitioner we see, that we had chosen that particular pediatric practice because your mama tends to be a bit of a hypochondriac worrywart (and they make a point to not foster unnecessary fear), and she was shocked at my characterization of myself.  Or maybe she was being nice, but I like to think you’ve mellowed me out, little one.

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I don’t have a clue who you look like more, your daddy or me.  You’re a little like a chameleon, taking on the characteristics of whoever happens to be snuggling you at the time.  When you sleep, I can so clearly see your daddy’s calm in you.  When you laugh, I can see my own enthusiasm.  When you furrow your brow or straighten your mouth in quiet concentration, I see the both of us, along with our families back through the generations— my own grandmother and great grandmother, even your four-greats grandmother, Martha McCasson, whose portrait at my grandparents house always made me stand up a little straighter.  You are your own person, my dear, an aggregation of all who came before you transformed into something, someone, entirely new.

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Your nap ought to be coming to an end now- in any case, we’re both due for a walk, a little sunshine, and some snuggles in the carrier.  I love you, little one, and I am so grateful for you.

xoxo,

Mama

PS: I’m so sorry, but these are too good not to share. (Yes, that’s totally turnover in your hair, and yes, I’m pretty sure your dad polished it off before clearing you of crumbs.)

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Gigande Bean

Today Mike and I went for a follow-up ultrasound at Beth Israel, where we plan to deliver.  At our last ultrasound, Sweet Bean was practicing her best wiggle-worm, and the doctor couldn’t get the heart images she wanted, so we needed to follow up today to make sure that tiny heart was doing all it should be— and it is!  Both the doctor and the technician remarked that she looked perfect, and Mike and I quite agree.  There’s something magical about seeing her every vertebrae and her little knees and all of the little bits we’ll be able to hold and snuggle soon.

She’s a whopping pound and five ounces now, or just a smidge smaller than a ripe wheel of Jasper Hill Farm Winnimere.

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Lovely Winnie photo from Murray’s Cheese

Once we had deduced Bean’s size in cheese form (much more natural to us than vegetables) we proceeded to list all of the cheesy stages she would go through, from Garrotxa to Fourme d’Ambert to Berkswell to Manchego.  These are your parents, Gigande Bean— your cheesy, cheesy parents— and you’re pretty much stuck with us forever.  xoxo.