Spies: Just as Disorganized as the Rest of Us

Yesterday was quite a week. Let’s play:

Dizzying Highs, Terrifying Lows

how to play: read through the list of descriptors, then use them to fill the spaces in the sentences below. There is one descriptor per space.

  • extremely worrying
  • terrifyingly fast
  • threat-level-orange
  • proudly (which was weird, because it should have been ‘calmly’ or ‘reassuringly’)
  • epic
  • sweet

We had an ___________________ finding of a likely heart defect at Max’s well-child check, which resulted in a  ______  referral to the cardiologist for an appointment later that morning.

Meanwhile in the waiting room, Frida got mildly exasperated with my inability to recognize her sign for ‘ball’ (hands held out in front of chest as if holding a ball; her demonstration was textbook but ineffective against my _______ degree of distraction,) while looking at a soccer ball in a picture book, and said ‘BA! BA!’

The cardiologist did the tiniest little EKG and cardiac ultrasound, and said that the heart noise was caused, not by a gaping hole in the aortal wall, but by a narrowing of the pulmonary artery. He ________ explained that this was the absolute number one best thing that could cause the heart noise, that it didn’t need treatment and should resolve on its own.

Once we got home, and after six days of nothing but pee, Max had an ____ poop.This game should have been called ______ relief.

Answer: the spaces can be filled with the adjectives in the order listed. You should not be ashamed if you got the order wrong, or ended up with an extra adjective; we think that Max’s poops are pretty sweet, too. 

In other news, Frida, who has added ‘opening drawers in filing cabinets so old we thought they were rusted shut’ to the list of skills that already includes ‘fake laughing during pretend cell phone calls’, just came out of the office with a handful of Russian money, a banking card from Ireland, and a selection of USB sticks. Um, Tobias?! As MimiSmartypants once said, our half-assed baby-proofing had better hurry up and grow the rest of its ass.


Onion Flesh? That Doesn’t Sound Right

Tiny baby Frida is out at the park with her Oma, and even tinier baby Max is sleeping, so I’m logged onto the interwebs in an attempt to find a cabbage roll recipe that is so good that it makes me stand up, go into the kitchen, and start chopping onions. (I should mention that the onions in question are the last-of-the-storage-onion variety: papery, often rotten at their core, and, at 1.5 inches in diameter, possessors of a truly unrewarding skin to flesh ratio.) I keep looking up recipes for meatballs and tomato sauce, and thinking that I’ll use them to build my cabbage rolls. And then I think, ‘Hey, when’s the last time I had good meatballs in good tomato sauce and thought, ‘Boy these could really use some overcooked cabbage’?’ Never, that’s when. Here’s my solution: make the best meatballs I can make, make a decent tomato sauce to serve with them, and do something else with the cabbage.


A thing that happens sometimes: you buy someone a present at a fancy store, and maybe you’re a little embarrassed about having spent so much but you think they’ll probably like it, but then you get out of the fancy, good-smelling, tastefully lit store and you realize that this present is not going to seem so nice without the attractive salespeople and the expensive-sounding background music. This present could easily be confused with a plain present bought for a reasonable price at a plain store.


There’s a fantastically aggressive cooking magazine called ‘The Art of Eating’ that combines good writing, thoroughly researched articles, and items of genuine interest with a measure of pretension so profound I’m surprised it allows me the honour of reading it. I love the magazine’s articles about caviar and the best olive oils (the magazine’s tip: they suffer from shipping, so the best olive oils cannot be purchased in the U.S.) (No, I’m not kidding. It actually said that. It’s like telling someone that their baby is ugly: it might be true, but you’re not helping anyone by saying it out loud.) The magazine has an attendant cookbook that features several recipes for snails, a section on hopelessly complicated small-batch charcuterie, and many delicious-sounding, few-ingredient, straightforward recipes for ingredients that I can actually find (oh, yes, I can lay my hands on cultured butter and excellent olive oil and hundreds of kinds of Italian sausages – I live in Europe – but when I get a craving for a Butterfinger I am fucked.)

Here’s the recipe that I will make with my cabbage:

  • boil 1 pound of potatoes in unsalted water, drain
  • boil 3 pounds of cabbage in salted water until completely tender, drain
  • with a food mill or food processor, reduce the cabbage and potatoes to a near-puree
  • stir cabbage and potatoes together with 3/4 cup of butter and salt to taste
  • serve hot

Sounds awesome, right? No. It sounds like the intern at the Cabbage Council needed something to fill up the monthly newsletter. (Oh, Betsy, that’s ridiculous. You know that newsletter’s quarterly at best.) But imagine the recipe beautifully typeset on heavy paper with 4-color printing, and imagine that the recipe has a French name like Chouée. Sounding better? Now imagine that the recipe doesn’t exhort me to use best-quality butter, it simply assumes that I will. I’m sold!

Here’s my plan.

1. When I buy a present at the fancy store, I will have them wrap it so that the recipient gets at least a little of the fancy fun when they rip into the tastefully beribboned package.

2. I will display my copy of The Art of Eating cookbook so that tonight’s diners can read the Chouée recipe’s elegantly pompous introduction before they dig into their cabbage-and-potatoes.


Our accomplishments last week:

  • On Monday, Max had his first bath! (On Tuesday he got his second bath. You can imagine the poopsplosion that preceded it. We are not a family that bathes its children daily.)
  • On Thursday, I swam continuously for almost half an hour! (That’s how long it takes me to swim a kilometer these days. Still, it felt terrific to get some exercise.)
  • On Friday, Frida pooped in the potty! (And also once on the floor of the bathroom. We are very proud.)
  • Also on Friday, Max lost his umbilical cord! (Tobias found it and put it on the kitchen table. We don’t really know what to do with it, so it’s still there.)

Accomplishments this week:

  • Tobias is back at work, and everyone’s still alive!
  • I went to the grocery all by myself, kid-free thanks to the wonderful babysitter! (Who called as I was grabbing a basket and consulting my list to report that Max had woken up and was hungry. I started leaking milk instantaneously and was soaked by the time I’d turned around and joggled the two blocks back to the flat. Luckily, the four flights of stairs are a breeze when your baby is wailing in hunger at the top of them.)
  • I went to the grocery by myself again! And bought groceries!

With those groceries I made two huge pots of soup. It’s still winter here in Hamburg, and visiting hours are open at Chez Rosenbaum (now featuring twice the cuddly cuteness!), so it’s nice to have something warm to serve guests without cooking for each one individually. This first soup is basically a beet slush with five spice powder. I didn’t have the powder, but I did have the five spices, a mortar and pestle, and an abundance of misplaced confidence in my ability to pulverize star anise by hand. (If you’re dropping by this week, watch out for chunks!) The soup was interesting by itself and is upgraded to actually quite good by a dollop of creme fraiche. The recipe is here; if you make it I recommend doubling the ginger and tripling the five spice powder. Also, ignore the instructions about microwaving the beets – just add them to the pot with the stock and cook the whole thing for 25 minutes. And it’s fine to use twice as many beets as the recipe calls for. Basically, the recipe provides a name and license to add Chinese spices to beets. You take it from there.

The other soup was one of those projects where each step is super easy so you do them all, and then you realize that you have actually cooked something pretty delicious and pretty impressive even if the kitchen is bombed. It’s a carrot soup with cumin, served with chopped parsley, crispy garbanzo beans (a matter of 10 minutes in the oven with some olive oil and salt,) pita chips (ditto, except only 5 minutes), and lemon-tahini sauce (mix lemon juice and tahini. Done.) The hardest part was cleaning and chopping the parsley, so I didn’t do it – I pinched a small handful off the bunch in the crisper and gave it a quick visual inspection for clumps of mud before sprinkling it on our bowls of soup. The combination of orange soup and multiple toppings is quite fetching, and the toppings can all be made ahead of time and doled out over the course of a few days (although by day two the soup will be served with chewy garbanzo beans, rather than crispy. Still delicious.)

I fear that I will not be updating regularly in the near future, as Frida is eager to get outside one of these days and Max is going to realize that crying is more fun than sleeping, so it is time for me to share my favorite kitchen trick: The Recipe Split, or, How to Maximize Impact While Minimizing Dishes, or, It’s Not Really a Great New Revolutionary Cooking Concept But It’s All I’ve Got Don’t Blame Me I’m Exhausted Jesus Christ I Have Two Kids in Diapers What Do You Want From Me. It goes like this: when you get to the last few steps of a recipe, look for ways to split it into two or more batches with different flavors/decorations/outcomes. For instance, when I make chocolate pudding, I eat some plain, add toasted coconut to the second serving, and add peppermint oil to the third. This way, I don’t get sick of chocolate pudding, even if I make it every day! Calcium, people, calcium. When making any kind of roll/bagel/toasted pita chip, I bust out the poppy seeds and the white sesame seeds and the black sesame seeds and the dried onions and the coarse salt do a few rolls/bagels/chips of each. They look dynamite in a basket together. Muffins: once you’ve filled half the muffins cups, stir something else, like frozen berries, into the rest of the batter. Pancakes? Add banana slices and pecans to the last round. Dip? Divide it into two bowls, and add a little smoky hot sauce to one. I don’t care what kind of dip it is, it’s fun to have a spicy option and a regular option.

Just in case you fear that this is turning into a lifestyle blog, I’ll remind you that two separate individual humans have pooped on me today.

Online Shopping

As I prepare for what I am dramatically referring to as single motherhood (wherein I am solely responsible for my two children for up to 10 hours at a time, 2 days per week, and up to 6 hours at a time 3 days per week,) I am researching grocery delivery. Granted, there is a well-stocked fruit and vegetable stand a mere 400 meters from my front door, and a sojourn to the excellent cheese shop takes roughly 40 steps, but there’s something about carrying two kids plus groceries (and in the absence of any noticeably useful abdominal muscles,) up 90 stairs that does not appeal. I’ve narrowed the field down to two organic farms that provide mixed boxes of seasonal produce delivered weekly to your front door. One of the farms also offers:

  • 57 kinds of yogurt. Fifty-seven, not including their selection of kefir, quark, cottage cheese, and flavored buttermilk.
  • Pasteurized milk, lightly pasteurized milk, super-pasteurized milk, raw milk, goat milk, and something called ‘4-season’ milk that changes taste based on what the cows are eating. I think I’ll wait until the season that doesn’t include nasty grey February to try the seasonal milk.
  • Sheep milk yogurt. I think I’ll wait until I’m not me to try sheep milk yogurt. Shudder.
  • A product that translates, per GoogleTranslate, to ‘Dick Pierce Resistant 3.7% Fat Milk’. It is described as ‘Fresh, slightly tart, tingly! A tasty refreshment, who already knew our great-grandparents.’ Oh, really? Grandma Goldie, care to share?! God, I love GoogleTranslate. Upon further reflection, it is not at all a surprise that my great-grandmother was resistant to penile piercing. It is a surprise, however, that this resistance came from milk, rather than an ingrained sense of propriety and/or a healthy aversion to creating new routes for infection during the pre-penicillin era.

And all that in the dairy section alone! There’s also:

  • children’s mustard (mild, sweet)
  • easter meat (not, as it turns out, rabbit!)
  • Hobbits sausage (not made of Hobbits, unless Hobbits are made of soy)
  • vegetable assortments selected especially for nursing mothers (apparently they’ve heard about my gas situation)
  • beer (lots and lots of beer)
  • an astonishing selection of vegan sausages, including some in a jar and some meant to resemble bologna.

All this, and the ability to order online so that I don’t have to say out loud that I want someone else to carry my cans of garbanzo beans up the stairs? Despite the vegan sausages, I’m sold! Check out their website, which, translated, tells us that ‘spring is coming, but still very cautious, but inexorably.’

Warning: 100% Text

It’s not always going to be like this, you know. Twice-weekly blog posts, near-daily showers, sit-down meals with the husband. Soon, the man of the house will go back to work and the baby will realize that sleep doesn’t have to take 23 out of every 24 hours. I’ll be focused on not forgetting to brush both sides of my teeth rather than trying to remember if I’ve flossed more often than my dentist recommends. In the meantime, I’ve been wading through my cooking to-do list: arcane recipes for specialized ingredients taking up space in the back of the pantry, down-home American foods that have sounded good for months, and fussy little conceits that I know I won’t again have time for until the sunset of this decade. Highlights include super-spicy posole (Mexican pork stew made with the dried hominy my sister sent as part of a spectacular Xmas care package,) and some golf-ball-sized roast beef sliders made with fresh horseradish mixed with shredded apple and served on buns topped with a combination of grated Romano cheese, black sesame seeds, and black Hawaiian lava salt. The black sesame seeds are incredibly flavorful, and they look devastatingly chic with the black salt. Hmm, the language purist might note that no one was, in fact, devastated by the chicness of the sesame/salt combo. Let the record show that the reader may, at will, substitute <fucking awesome> for <devastatingly chic>. Word nerd. Or: word, nerd.

News of the week:

  • Tobias surprised me with a gorgeously sleek heavy walnut serving tray as a glad-you-both-lived-through-the-birth present. Its wood matches our dining room table perfectly, and its width is exactly calibrated to hold our dishes but also to let you get through our doorways without banging your knuckles. Even so, I was completely surprised to find out that Tobias made the tray with his own two hands. Who knew the man had woodworking skills? Museum-quality woodworking skills? Also, who knew the man had like 20 hours of free time to spend at a wood shop crafting a gorgeous serving tray? Apparently the DIY carpentry guild is just around the corner, but, still, 20 hours? WHERE DID YOU GET THEM?
  • Frida is loving the sign language this month. She’s recently mastered the signs for grapes, bicycle, fish, bird, where is it? and potty in addition to the more utilitarian signs for all done, all gone, help, more, hungry, etc. She has been telling little jokes like the following: is eating a piece of bread, then throws it on the floor. Acting surprised, signs, ‘where is it?’ and ‘help’ to get you to look for the bread on the ground. In one’s own child during a moment of leisure, this is adorable; less so in other circumstances.
  • I hate the word potty, and resent having to repeat it ninety times a day during our intro-to-toilet-training phase. I would prefer to say poop and pee, but I respect the work of my BabySign forebearers and will use their patented system, patronizingly cute train-based imagery and all. The potty sign is a closed fist with the thumb tucked between the index and middle finger, with the whole fist wagged back and forth. This is the sign that Frida made when Tobias, with his light British accent thanks to a formative year in Dublin, talked about going to yesterday’s childbirthclass reunion party. Ha ha. Potty party. Can’t wait until she starts talking!
  • I’ve been living in Germany for almost three years now, and it’s starting to show: I made a batch of pecan sticky buns for breakfast, and they were almost (but not quite) inedibly sweet. The first bite was a shock to the system, and after a second serving I decided that they aren’t worth making again: too much sugar, too much refined flour, not delicious enough to be worth it. Especially when I calculated the grams of sugar per two rolls versus the grams of sugar in a can of condensed milk. Hmm, let’s see, would I like to clean sticky dough off the countertops, then clean burned sugar off the floor of the oven, or would I prefer to open a can and grab a spoon? It’s a wonder anyone bakes anymore.

T minus the end of paternity leave: one week. Damn it. I’d better get started on those petit fours.


What time is it? It’s time for our Second Annual Hospital Food Review! This year, we’re reviewing the offerings of the Universitats Klinikum Eppendorf (UKE). As with last year’s review, we will sample three meals per day for four days. Points will be given for taste, options, presentation, and volume. Points will be taken away for inducing nausea or gas in either the reviewer or her just-born babe.

Overall Grade: B+
When Adjusted for Being a Hospital Rather Than a Fabulous Hotel: A++
What to order: that’s right, I said order. From a menu. A menu with three pages of options! The last hospital I reviewed had trays prepared with my name on them (Frau Rosenbaum – cracks me up every time!) This meant that noting that your pre-laid breakfast contained margarine rather than butter could be quickly followed by a ‘does this hospital gown and huge, wobbly belly make me look fat?’ moment; in contrast, being allowed to order butter plus cheese plus salami on my evening sandwich makes me sure that I am cutting quite an airy figure in my gown. (By airy, of course, I mean gassy.)
What to order after realizing that lunch is the only hot meal, and that all other meals are sandwiches: the meatloaf with onion gravy and a side of creamed vegetables, or the polenta with vegetable ragu. Both were surprisingly good, but then I’m a sucker for a sprig of parsley on top.
What other elements of the hospital experience contribute to overall enjoyment of the food: wood floors, large windows, super-duper adjustable bed, a remote control for the heat settings on the dryer of the toilet’s built-in bidet (awesome!), and every kind of physical therapist, lactation specialist, and general medical helper immediately available, well-trained, and cheerfully willing to grapple with any problem.
What other elements of the hospital experience deteriorate your enjoyment of those listed above: the combination of many years spent in the vaugely mid-Western U.S., a shared room (no matter how polite the roommate), and a wicked case of gas. By wicked, I mean probably tolerable given some privacy and/or a sphincter not controlled by 1950’s social niceties, but in practice so bad that it made me cry out in pain, which in turn brought a team of the helpers running to my aid.
Let’s change the subject to other items my guts have produced lately:

















Max Rosenbaum, born 8:27am February 28, 2013. 4,000 grams (8.8 pounds), 51 cm (20 inches), mostly head.

Oh my lord, you two, get cuter!










Suddenly, there are a lot of us.


A day later, and after having learned the ever-so-adorable sign for baby (miming a rocking motion with hands clasped together in the front,) Frida looks a bit more pleased about the turn of events:

Frida's excited about the little guy. Also, about our matching haircuts.



Before: more hair, but we’re missing something… MAX!




We didn’t name him Otto. He seems more like a Max. As with Frida Rosenbaum, there is no middle name. Just Max. It’s enough, we think.