What to Drink When You’re Expecting Part II

As I mentioned in my last post, it’s challenging being a pregnant wine-lover. While very light drinking – especially after the first trimester – is probably not going to harm the baby, science still cannot tell us how little alcohol it takes to cause damage, and that’s just not something I’m willing to risk. My guilt wouldn’t let me anyway: I sneak thimble-sized sips of wine or beer from my husband every now and then, and I still panic a tiny bit. It’s just not worth it to me, although once I’m in my 8th or 9th month I may be so uncomfortable I’ll be willing to risk a glass of wine once a month. 🙂

However, there’s still “in the mean time.” It’s now June, and I am in my 21st week, or about  month 5. Still 4 more months of good behavior in store.

More than enjoying a glass of wine on its own, I have missed wine the most when I’ve had a very rich meaty or cheesy dinner and I don’t have those precious few sips of wine to wash it down and ease the digestion of fat. It makes a huge difference now in my ability to digest and enjoy a meal. Certain dishes like rich, buttery, cheesy pastas or marbled cuts of beef with velvety sauces are unbearable now without a glass of wine!

One night not too long ago, I went out to eat with my girl friend and in the spirit of yea-I’m-celebrating-with-my-out-of-town-friend-I-should-live-it-up I ordered macaroni with three cheeses and kielbasa sausage (makes me sick just to read that now!). What the heck, I thought. I never order this sort of thing, it will be a treat. The dish came, and it was wonderful and addicting, but then I began to fear the power of all that oily cheese and butter and the havoc it would soon wreak on my GI tract. There is a reason I never order this sort of thing without wine! What have I done, I thought to myself with the same disgust and self-loathing of someone who’d just signed up to run a marathon through Death Valley on a July noon. We were about to go see a movie after dinner… would I miss most of it because my body insisted I stare at bathroom wall art work instead?

But then I remembered what I could do! Although I didn’t have a tasty glass of wine with which to complement my mac and cheese, I recalled hearing about Italians from Modena, the region famed for prized aged balsamic vinegars. I had bought a fine bottle for my dad as a birthday present, and remember reading the tag on the bottle that listed how the people of Modena enjoyed their vinegar: over strawberries, over parmesan cheese, or – gasp! – even by the spoonful after a meal. Huh, that’s nifty, and makes sense, I had thought to myself. Vinegar is highly acidic and breaks down fat molecules, thus helping you digest. Taking a spoonful of rich balsamic vinegar after a meal is like a tonic or digestive aid, more medicinal in purpose, but if you select a sweet, dessert-y balsamic, it’s more pleasant than a harsh, cheap, low quality vinegar. The Latin and Greek roots of the word balsamic even mean “balsam-like” or “restorative” or “curative.”

With this snap revelation from Bacchus the Italian wine god, I asked our server if he could bring me some balsamic vinegar. After his first failed attempt of bringing me malt vinegar (the kind Brits put on their fish & chips – not something to slurp on its own!), he did manage to find some better balsamic and brought it to the table (someone got an education in vinegar that night). My friend had an empty condiment cup from her nacho toppings, so we emptied it and I filled it like a shot glass and slammed that baby down without too much puckering.

Praise the Lord, I had no issues! That shot of vinegar did the trick in helping me digest some mighty rich food. I think it probably worked better than a glass of wine because of how much concentrated acidity is in balsamic vinegar as opposed to a single glass of wine. Who knew, huh?

The restaurant balsamic was OK, but definitely not the finer, aged, gourmet kind you can savor on its own, with its dark, rich, syrupy smooth sweetness. Sometimes those bottles will run you $30, $40, $50 even, depending on how long it has been aged, and also the name brand.

If you want a fabulous, authenic, aged balsamico from Modena, with great texture and smooth, complex aromatics, have I got a sweet little secret! It’s even less than $20. You must think I’m crazy, right? Ha, check this out….

The sweet little secret is Barrel Aged Balsamic Vinegar from Tsillan Cellars in Lake

Nectar of the gods, aged balsamic vinegar. Photo by Brenna Arnesen.

Nectar of the gods, aged balsamic vinegar. Photo by Brenna Arnesen.

Chelan, WA. You know it must be good if we’ve downed most of the bottle, right? We bought this 8.45 oz. bottle for only $12 when we were wine tasting at Tsillan (pronounced Shuh-lan) Cellars last summer. This balsamic vinegar is from Modena, Italy and “is aged up to 18 years in wood casks. Its sweet yet subtle character makes it the most famous vinegar in the culinary world.”

Tsillan Cellars is a gorgeous Tuscan-style villa overlooking the lake. I could totally die happy there. I’ll definitely blog about some of their other wines down the road. For now, trust me when I say that they make fantastic wines and an astonishingly awesome balsamic. I don’t see this vinegar for sale on their website, so you may just have to plan a trip out to Lake Chelan soon for some wine tasting. Darn! 🙂

This vinegar is scrumptious on its own (I’ve enjoyed a couple spoonfuls since being preggo) or mixed with a fine olive oil to drizzle onto roasted veggies or in which to dip big hunks of rustic rosemary bread. For a special treat, drizzle over strawberries, vanilla ice cream, and mint with a sprinkle of turbinado sugar. Or, for an even more ridiculously special treat, stuff some medjool dates with bleu cheese, wrap with bacon, and roast in the oven until cooked through, dark and crispy, then drizzle balsamic over the top. Freaking. Unbelievable.

There’s something mysterious yet appealing about balsamic vinegar’s whole “sweet and sour” routine. It’s complex and satisfying, which is apparently something preggos crave a lot, like pickles and ice cream. Don’t worry, I haven’t gotten to that stage yet, at least not eating them together. Balsamic vinegar is a whole new paradigm, like parenthood.

So, if you’re like me, an abstaining preggo who may get herself in trouble from time to time with rich dinners, make it your Mary Poppins mantra that “Just a spoonful of balsamic vinegar helps the indigestion subside… in the most delightful way!” 🙂

© Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine, 2012 – Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Orzo-Mint Salad with Prosciutto, Figs, Pecans, and Goat Cheese

Fig: the name doesn’t quite befit this beautiful fruit, does it? Use black California Mission figs in a refreshing summer salad. ©iStockphoto.com/Ivan Mateev

Figs! When fig season is upon us, I freak out and buy as many as possible (short of troubling my digestive system), because we don’t really know how long it will last and how long they will be in the store (kind of like life, so seize the day and enjoy!).

Figs are so good for you! Did you know that figs are a great source of fiber and are highly alkaline? Alkaline means they reduce the acidity in your body, making it a hostile environment for cancer.

Here are some fun fig facts, for my fellow figophiles.

This pasta salad is yummy-licious! A friend of mine told me she made an orzo pasta with pecans, figs and mint a few years ago. I loved her idea but I upped the ante by rounding it out with some ham and cheese.

This pasta would be great with a white wine, maybe a Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, or Pinot Grigio. See? There’s my wine reference!

Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Market are the grocery stores I know of that carry the fresh California Black Mission figs regularly.

In fact, during the summer, you should be able to buy this meal completely at Trader Joe’s.

You will need:
Extra virgin olive oil
Aged balsamic vinegar (I used lavender)
Salt and pepper
One 16 oz. package Orzo pasta (a full package is a lot, use half if you like)
One box fresh black California Mission figs, sliced into bite sizes (dry is not acceptable)
One package prosciutto, chopped (optional)
One 5 oz. log goat cheese, crumbled
One package unsalted dry roasted pecan pieces
Fresh mint leaves (to taste)

Prepare the orzo according to package instructions. Drain, run some cold water over the pasta to cool it off. Once the pot is cooled off, put the cooled pasta back in the pot and drizzle and toss with oil & vinegar. Add the figs, goat cheese, pecans, prosciutto (if any) and mint leaves. Mix well. Season to taste with salt & pepper.

If orzo pasta ain’t yo thang, substitute with cooked rice, couscous, or quinoa.

© Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Butternut Squash Quesadillas

Ooey, gooey, melty, yummy, they’re calling your name! Photo by Brenna Arnesen.

It’s time, ladies and germs, for another respite from vino… off on a culinary excursion! Whet your appetites, it’s gonna be really good! 🙂

I love to cook, and I love the final, tasty fruits of my efforts even more. Apart from learning basics like spaghetti and scrambled eggs from my mom, I learned how to cook real meals using recipes. Rachael Ray and her pink cookbook
get huge props for helping me beef up my skills to master chef status, especially when I lived on my own before getting married. I still tend to prefer using recipes when making meals, but as I gain more confidence, and the realization that not all recipes make perfect sense, I bravely make my own modifications and start trusting my own burgeoning culinary instincts… which is super important for every cook.

I’m maturing as a cook because lately, more than in previous years, I am now making up my own recipes. This is a huge step for a girl who is a cookbook maven (they are piled by my couch all the time for leisurely perusing and inspiration) and who has stuck to recipes much like a religious dedication to algebraic equations. I didn’t veer far from cookbooks, partly because I wanted to train myself by learning to follow a recipe verbatim and educating myself on process and terminology. But now I’m taking creative risks in the kitchen, and this is helping not only my cooking, but my whole outlook on life. Every time I cook, even though I’m using the same ingredients, it’s a new experience and new result every time. That’s the art of cooking.

One of the best ways to let your creative juices flow and have fun in the kitchen is to invent your own recipe. Not out of thin air, mind you, out of the inspiration you’ve gleaned from any fantastic eateries you have frequented. It only makes sense to borrow from the best and riff on them in your home kitchen. Most restaurants have their menus posted on their websites in PDF format, so you can refer back to the ingredients, or you can jot them down/take a picture with your phone when you’re dining there.

One such recipe I vowed to recreate at home and did — successfully, and even upped the nutrient quotient! — is butternut squash quesadillas from The Matador. Just uttering the phrase “butternut squash” puts me in a very happy place, so much so that I will order whatever item that is on the menu that has been blessedly paired with the saintly squash. It’s one of my favorite foods, obviously.

And this has become a new favorite recipe — made in a cinch, loaded with fiber and nutrients, and heartily filling. I just added the black beans and kale. You can find precut butternut squash at Trader Joe’s and if you would rather save time than money, this is well worth it. Of course, it’s not hard to prep an actual squash, but again, this requires planning ahead.

Purchase the quantities you need… this recipe paints in broad brushstrokes.

Butternut Squash Quesadillas
Tortillas
Sweet Onions
Kale
Can of black beans (try to make your own if you can, or scope out low sodium beans)
Cooked butternut squash chunks, perhaps a 12 oz. bag from Trader Joe’s
Goat cheese
Shredded pepperjack cheese

Slice or dice the onions (your call) and caramelize in olive oil (high heat first, then lower heat to saute). Add pieces of kale and saute. Add the cooked squash chunks and the rinsed black beans and warm through with the other ingredients. Move your filling to a separate dish. Take two flour tortillas; on one spread some of the filling and then crumble over some goat cheese and pepperjack cheese to your taste. Top with the second tortilla to make a frickin’ rad quesadilla, plop in a medium warm skillet to melt the cheese and heat through the middle, then flip to finish off the cooking.

Buen provecho, mis amigos!

© Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.