The March of Dimes…is making…

The March of Dimes…is making a new push to dispel (pregnancy-related) nutritional misinformation and replace it with advice based on solid scientific evidence. Jane Brody reports for the New York Times that "some of the advice may come as a distressing surprise to women, who may be fond of foods or drinks that could endanger their pregnancy." A lot of what she says in the article makes sense, but some of the prohibitions are ones I've never encountered, and the reasoning behind many seems to be missing. Guess this is a timely subject these days.

Catch up

What's Your Food Personality: Picky or Adventurous? is the Food & Wine article I was a part of, that I mentioned a couple weeks ago.

Several folks (thanks folks!) sent along that missing link to the Confit Byaldi recipe that Remy makes for Ego in the climax of Ratatouille.

And for those interested in things of the baby nature, Ollie is three weeks old today. Amazing, I can't believe it. He seems to be a blend of his parents so far, and takes after me in the gesticulation department. He always seems to be kicking his legs and flailing his arms about. He is also a tremendous eater, something I hope continues when we transition to solid food. He is a joy to behold.

How I ate while pregnant

Rational analysis doesn’t hold sway with the pregnancy police, says Steven Shaw in a great Op-Ed in the New York Times about sushi consumption and pregnancy. His point? The prohibition against raw fish during pregnancy is unnecessary. I ate sushi while I was pregnant, and lots of other things I wasn't supposed to eat, and I'm happy to see someone ask some reasonable questions about what women consume while pregnant since the current thinking seems excessive to me. Shaw writes:

"Why take any risk?" they ask. The medical establishment and the culture at large have twisted logic around to the point where any risk, no matter how infinitesimal, is too much. So powerful is this Puritanical impulse that, once a health objection is raised, however irrational the recommended behavior, it’s considered irresponsible to behave any other way.

And let me tell you, the guilt that seeps in from the "Puritanical impulse" is powerful. Then there's the "It's only nine months" argument, like it's not that long to sacrifice. Actually, it's like nine and a half, (or nearly ten if your baby is late like mine!) and that's a very long time to be in a worked-up state about what you can and cannot ingest. Believe me when I tell you the pressure to ensure everything you eat isn't going to kill or permanently damage your unborn child is intense. I quietly struggled with that as I wrote about things for this site, especially when I wrote about changing recommendations for fish consumption (tuna good, tuna bad, tuna OK) and chemicals in food and salmonella in lettuce and peanut butter.

After a couple months, I came up with an approach that worked really well for me for the duration of my pregnancy. (Usual disclaimer applies: I am not a doctor, and if you're pregnant you should speak with yours before following any of my advice, etc.) First, I did a lot of research about every prohibition. What was the reason for it? And what was the risk and the consequence? I found that you could divvy up the guidelines into two groups: illnesses that crossed the placental barrier and affected the fetus, and those that didn't. To put it another way, would eating something make me any sicker because I was pregnant than if I weren't? Or would the outcome be the same?

Recommendations say to avoid deli meat or raw milk products because they can become contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium that causes listeriosis. Listeriosis is serious, though very rare — 2,500 cases a year in the US, but something like 80% occur in pregnant women. It can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, or premature delivery in pregnant women. So by my reckoning, any food that could cause listeriosis was on my avoidance list because the consequences were severe. So I skipped deli meat and raw cheese and most soft cheese and NYC street hot dogs during the course of my pregnancy.

But sushi and shellfish and many other prohibited items only make you sick the same way they make you sick if you're not pregnant. Yes, you might have a lowered immunity, so you might be more likely to get ill, but the result won't directly impact the fetus. If you get a parasite from sushi, the baby won't get a parasite. And so that was my guiding rule. I ate raw oysters several times (much to many people's horror) and suffered no ill effects. Of course, I ate them in season, from reputable restaurants, and I didn't push my luck by doing it weekly.

I stopped eating soft-boiled eggs every day simply because the odds of getting salmonella increased with every day I had an undercooked egg. But I did occasionally have undercooked eggs. And I ate medium-rare meat. But I ate it, again, at reputable restaurants where I could be confident of its quality, or I prepared it myself. Getting salmonella would suck, but it runs its course in a few days. Worst case, you take antibiotics and you get better.

With all my "reckless" pregnancy eating, I did get sick once. The culprit? Chicken enchiladas from the local Mexican place. That was in my sixth month, and I didn't eat chicken enchiladas again. But I never once heard warnings to keep away from chicken enchiladas. Every pregnant woman needs to find her own balance, and it's not going to be the same for each. For me the anxiety of worrying about what I ate was worse than actually eating it. Early on, I was so worked up I wasn't gaining enough weight. And that's a much worse consequence for a developing fetus.

Why take any risk? Because life is risky. Are you going to stop driving because you're pregnant? Are you going to stop leaving the house? I found my balance between enjoying food and tolerating risk, and it included the occasional Wellfleet on the half-shell. It's easy to get overwhelmed by all the recommendations, and to live in fear of every bite of food you put into your mouth. But that makes for a very stressful, anxious, long nine (plus) months. And that certainly isn't good for the fetus.

Some quick links and notes

Me in August Food and Wine magazineI'm in the August Food & Wine magazine in an article about adventurous and picky eaters. I was one of the adventurous ones, and the pull quote they printed with my picture says, "I'll try anything once, even blubber!" Everyone was asking what would be the grossest thing I'd consider eating, and it seemed like blubber at the time. In retrospect I'm not so sure I want to try it. The article doesn't seem to be online yet, but I imagine it will appear shortly.

The recipe for the ratatouille that Remy prepares for Ego in the film of the same name is online at the New York Times. I saw it before, but can't seem to find it now. Also it seems like the byaldi in the recipe for "Roasted Guinea Fowl en Crèpinette de Byaldi with Pan Jus" from Thomas Keller's The French Laundry Cookbook is similar (the same?) as the one in the Times.

I probably won't post a lot of baby pictures here, so if you're interested in keeping up with Ollie, check out the Ollie Kottke page on Flickr. That will give you all the photos you could ever want.

Ok, back to baby feeding, watching, and loving.

Welcome Ollie Kottke

Ollie Kottke

Introducing Ollie Peter Kottke! Our son was born on July 3rd, all 7 lbs, 2 oz. and 20 inches of him. As you can see from the photo, we've both been resting a lot ever since. Things will be slow around here for a while as I settle in with my newest favorite fella. I can't tell you how cute he is, especially when he starts to cry and his bottom lip quivers and he makes this "whuh whuh whuh" sound. All of the sudden, nothing in the whole world seems as exciting as watching Ollie as he sleeps. Restaurants? Farmers markets? Food? Blogs? The web? The entire outside world? Nope, not as wonderful as our new little boy.

Behind the scenes at Tokyo's…

Behind the scenes at Tokyo's Tsukiji, the world's biggest seafood market. Interesting long article from Vanity Fair about the action at the market, especially when it comes to the highly-valuable bluefin tuna. The bluefin is migratory, and during the summer the best come from off the shores of northeastern United States. When I lived on Cape Cod, I remember fisherman hoping to catch bluefin during the season because a single fish could net $50,000. And that was nearly fifteen years ago.

So, did you see…


So, did you see Ratatouille over the weekend? What did you think? I went again on Saturday and enjoyed it just as much the second time around, especially because I noticed many more details this time, like the cuts and burns on all the cooks’ arms and the skull stylings of Ego’s typewriter. It sure made me want to go to Paris too! And if the movie wasn’t enough for you, YouTube’s got some great stuff to check out, including this really cool interview with Pixar folks about Cooking up CG Food, explaining how they made all the food in the movie look so realistic and yummy. Here’s the YouTube Ratatouille page with all the videos.

Origin labeling on meat


Lobbyists and members of Congress have managed to hold off the enforcement of a five-year-old law that required country-of-origin labeling on meat and produce as well as fish. Of course stores could do this voluntarily. I regularly see New Zealand lamb at my local Whole Foods. But "critics say meatpackers simply do not want consumers to know that an increasing amount of hamburger meat and produce is being imported." Hamburger meat!? Yikes. Ground beef is especially susceptible to contamination1, even from the local market, so it's important to purchase it from a reliable source. It seems critical to know if that source is another country, given recent Mad Cow scares, Chinese food contamination issues, humane treatment concerns, and locavorian intentions. Consumers deserve the right to make an informed decision.

1 With a steak, bacterial contamination remains on the outside of the meat, so cooking kills it off even if the interior of the steak is still medium rare. With ground beef, the bacteria get all churned up inside, hence the recommendation to cook ground beef to well done. When you purchase ground beef (rather than grind it at home), it's likely to be made up of meat from many different cows, increasing the likelihood that one was contaminated. If one's contaminated, the whole batch of ground beef is now contaminated.