LB and the Sea

M went into the office Thursday, so Little Bear and I spent the day as a duo. It was mainly uneventful. I haven’t actually had too much time alone with LB yet. I mean, I’m up with him at least once a night by myself, but hours-long stretches are rare. M has been telecommuting more than usual since Bear’s birth. At first, I wasn’t sure how I would handle the first days without him, but  it was easier than I expected. Something about having fewer choices made me calmer. You wouldn’t think that one of the few choices being plonking LB in his crib to cry while I take a shower would bring me Zen, but it does. When it’s just the two of us, I gotta do what I gotta do. We are all starting to adjust to (modified) normal life again, and juggling tasks is one of them. LB is maturing every day and is increasingly able to occupy himself. As much as I dislike hearing him upset, it’s exciting to go fetch him after washing dishes and discover that the tears have dried and he’s staring at himself in his little mirror. It’s like watching his brain wrinkle day by day.

When M got home, he wanted, as he does sometimes, to go to the beach. With one thing and another, it didn’t happen. So I cooked a seafood dish instead.

And two days later, our little Yankee baby saw the ocean for the first time.

Crab and Ricotta Manicotti

Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis’ Everyday Pasta

This was rich, decadent, and pretty easy to throw together. Finally, cooking felt normal and graceful again. What a relief.

My only changes were using claw meat instead of lump (which is so expensive!), dried basil instead of fresh, and shredded Italian cheese blend instead of Parmesan (which I did have but didn’t want to take the time to grate). I used eleven manicotti, but I probably could have used ten and stuffed them fuller. This recipe makes 4 cups of sauce, I ended up with over a cup extra, even after nearly submerging the manicotti. Be aware of that, as I didn’t rescale the recipe here.

  • 1 box manicotti pasta (about 12 shells)
  • 1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
  • ¾ cup shredded mixed Italian cheeses, plus ¼ cup for sprinkling
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons dried basil
  • 1 pound crabmeat, lump if you’re splurging, picked over for shells
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • butter, for the pan
  • For the Béchamel:
    • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
    • ½ cup all-purpose flour
    • 4 cups whole milk
    • ½ teaspoon salt
    • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
    • ¼ teaspoons ground nutmeg

Make the Béchamel: Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the milk a bit at a time, whisking constantly, until thickened and smooth. Do not boil. Remove from the heat and add the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. (You can make the sauce up to 3 days in advance. Let it cool before storing, covered, in the fridge.)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the manicotti and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Drain.

In a mixing bowl, combine the ricotta, ¾ cup of the shredded cheese, the egg yolk, basil, crab, salt, and pepper.

Fill the manicotti with the crab-cheese mixture and arrange in the baking dish. Pour the Béchamel over the manicotti, making sure to coat the pasta and filling the dish about halfway up the sides. You will probably have plenty of extra sauce. Sprinkle with the rest of the cheese. Bake until sauce is bubbling and the top is browning lightly, about 20 minutes. Serve right away, spooning sauce over the plated manicotti if needed.

Miscellany

This week’s collection of preoccupations:

Games I can’t play for awhile (Sims 4, The Order: 1886).

Since I can’t play those (or Minecraft, or Skyrim, or most games requiring two hands), Sims 3.

The annoying way my student loan processing keeps bouncing between providers whether I like it or not. (Really, the system is broken. If I could do it all over again, I would seriously consider taking the apprenticeship route into a trade.)

Teaching Little Bear (eventually) how to argue. M, as the resident philosopher, is in charge of this. I first need to improve my ability to be wrong with good grace.

Finding an affordable alternative to custom engraved stationery. Right now, I’m thinking blank cards/envelopes and custom stamps.

After a peculiar late-pregnancy obsession with white nail polish, abruptly finding my perfect shade in Zoya’s Snow White. Now I just have to be patient until I have enough time to actually use it.

Etiquette. Maybe to an old-fashioned degree of formality, probably because I’ve been watching “Jeeves & Wooster” and reading a lot of Agatha Christie. I’m currently reading this book to indulge this interest. (Before anyone asks, yes, I have heard that “Downton Abbey” is a great show. No, I do not watch it.)

The new iPhone 5s. But since my current phone mostly works, and my current laptop works less and less, I’m keeping my eye on the ultimate costly goal.

Wisdom from Daddy

Desperate Housewife

Theo and sorting laundry

I like keeping house.

No, seriously, I do. You might not see it right away, as my laziness often trumps my willingness to take the time. But when I do get off the couch and pick up the duster, I get really into it. I like the routine of it, the pleasure that arrives when a surface goes from dusty to gleaming. I like taking care of my family’s environment. I collect cleaning supplies and tools like some women do beauty products. My library holds more than one tome on housekeeping, including an entire book devoted to laundry. I love the sense of satisfaction and calm that results from housework. I am really, really missing that right now.

I recently passed my six-week postpartum check. Exciting things like sex and exercise are back on the table, yet all I want to do is scrub the bathroom and unpack the rest of the boxes in the library. We moved when I was in the throes of second-trimester energy and upbeat attitude. We got about halfway unpacked before I started to flag. It didn’t help that I was also absorbed in moving locations at work. I hit a physical (and, let’s face it, mental) wall right as we cleared the nursery of boxes and started filling it with baby furniture. And that is where the unpacking has stayed. It is driving me crazy.

Happily, I’m starting to see opportunities where I couldn’t before. I’m (a bit) less exhausted, so when Little Bear dozes off, I jump up and wash a few dishes or fold some laundry. He is more easily amused by himself, so I’ve even managed to sneak off long enough to do some ironing and baking. M and I have made a pact to tackle one room, as completely as possible, each weekend. This will have the apartment as shipshape as I’d hoped by the time I return to work. That is a very good thing. The tidier my environment, the calmer my mind. And I assume I will need to jump off from as calm a point as possible as I adjust to leaving a three-month-old infant with strangers every day.

As a home-related aside, my cooking skills are taking a slight dive now that I’m out of practice. I used to handle much of the cooking most nights. Apart from a month or so in the second trimester, I’ve been too nauseated, too tired, and/or too busy to cook since last November. For me, that is a long stretch, and even when I couldn’t quite bear the thought of cooking, I missed it. However, I’ve been disappointed with most of my efforts since LB’s arrival. Either they did not quite turn out as I’d hoped or, more often, I’ve felt awkward and clumsy while putting them together. Oddly, this was not the case the other afternoon, when a fussy Bear wanted to be held. I’m not going to go into the right-or-wrongness of preparing dinner while cradling a baby in one arm. I am certain that plenty of well-intentioned souls would happily lambaste me for so doing, and I am equally certain that most of my fellow mothers have done something similar at some desperate point. I was both proud of my dexterity and resolved never to exercise it in that fashion again.

Anyway, the dinner turned out pretty well.

One-Hand Squash Lasagna

Yes, those are LB’s toes sneaking into frame.

One-Hand Squash Lasagna

This is a case of cook as I say, not as I cooked. My process involved a fair amount of (physically necessary) half-assery that would never be present in an actual recipe. Also, next time I will probably melt the mozzarella into the béchamel sauce to make the whole dish creamier.

[Disclaimer: I did set LB in his crib and endure his cries so I could use both hands to chop the sage and to finish the layering. It was just too much.]

  • extra-virgin olive oil, for the dish
  • 15 ounces part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 15 ounces canned pumpkin purée, or other squash purée
  • 10 ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 1½ teaspoons ground nutmeg, or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh sage
  • fine sea salt
  • freshly ground white pepper, for aesthetic purposes, or black pepper
  • 10 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 8 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic, or to taste
  • 2 cups low-fat milk
  • 18 no-boil lasagna noodles

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Oil a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and set it on a rimmed baking sheet to contain any sauce that may bubble over.

In a medium mixing bowl, stir the ricotta, pumpkin, spinach, nutmeg, most of the sage (reserve some to sprinkle on top), and salt and pepper to taste until blended. Set aside. Roughly mix the mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses in a small mixing bowl and set aside.

Melt the butter and oil in a 1-quart saucepan over medium-low heat. Turn the heat to low and whisk in the flour and garlic. Cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture turns tan. Add the milk a bit at a time, still whisking constantly. Cook until the consistency is nearly thick enough for your liking, then season lightly with salt and pepper and remove from the heat. As you assemble the lasagna, you may need to whisk sometimes to keep a skin from forming.

Ladle ½ cup of the sauce into the bottom of the baking dish. Lay 3 lasagna noodles on top and spread with ⅓ of the pumpkin-ricotta mixture. Lay another 3 noodles, then ladle in another ½ cup of sauce and sprinkle with ⅓ of the mixed cheeses. Repeat the noodles-pumpkin-noodles-sauce/cheese pattern twice more. Sprinkle the top layer of cheese with the remaining sage and salt and pepper as desired.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the cheese is golden and the sauce is bubbling. Let sit ten minutes, then serve.

Getting ahead: You can assemble the lasagna a day or two before baking and store, covered, in the fridge. Set it out about thirty minutes before baking to let it come somewhat toward room temperature. You may need to lengthen the baking time a bit. Also, I assume it freezes well after baking, or we’ve wasted half a giant lasagna.