Halvsies

Onion Leek Shallot Soup 1

Being pregnant is a lot like having an imaginary friend: No one really understands the relationship except you. At least, that’s what it feels like.

I guess I wouldn’t know for sure. My friends have always had visible legs and arms, and heartbeats. But seeing people nod and smile, then change the subject when I talk baby, it seems like a rational comparison. Baby kicks, and I think it’s the most fascinating thing in the world, even if I’ve announced the same thing 200 times already that day. Apparently, though, baby’s newfound ability to use my bladder as a trampoline—“Ohmigoddidyou…? Wait, of course you didn’t!”—just isn’t that interesting.

Conveniently enough, nature plans for women’s waistlines to explode at right about this stage in the relationship. Which means no matter how much crazy talk comes burbling out of my mouth, there’s a nice bump sitting about a foot below, a permanent basketball-sized excuse for anything I could possibly say or do. Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t come up with more outrageous things to say, just to use it while I got it.

So, yes. I haven’t talked about it much, but I’m getting quite pregnant. My shirts are getting pilly on my belly, where I’ve been rubbing them. And truth be told, I’m starting to slow down. You know how much I must like that.

About a week ago, I stopped some of the medicine I’ve been using for 3 or 4 years to control lupus-related joint inflammation. Wednesday, I had trouble using my right hand. It got all frozen up, there between the two big wrist joints, and plum refused to cooperate. (It’s really hard to pull maternity pants on with only one hand.)

Thursday, it was a little better, and my friend Bree taught me how to soak my wrists in hot water in the morning to loosen them up. By Friday, I seemed to be adjusting to the change.

But there, in that timeframe—three days of symptoms so similar to what they were when I was first diagnosed—my body reminded me that the wolf, she’s been so so quiet these last six months, but she’s still there. And now, more than ever, I need to listen. We need to listen.

Apparently, during pregnancy, one’s kidneys take quite a beating. You know, increased blood volume, etc. Mine, which are naturally a bit weeny because of lupus, are no exception. They’ve been working very hard, and they’re getting very cranky.

To be clear, there’s nothing really wrong yet. But the doctors are making me feel like a ticking time bomb. They’re using words like preeclampsia, and bed rest, and suffice it to say that these words aren’t the prettiest ones, coming out of my mouth or anyone else’s. I want to gather them up like spilled dried beans, and stuff them back into their plastic sack. Bind the twist tie good and tight. But words, unfortunately, don’t come in a resealable bag.

Monday, I started a new program. It’s called halvsies. I take whatever I’d normally do in a day, and cut it in half. And at 2 o’clock, my timer rings. From 2 to 6, I’m down. Sleeping. Reading. Staring at the ceiling. Anything that doesn’t require my feet to move one after the other on solid ground. Anything that keeps me resting. Anything that keeps me home for as many weeks as possible, doing things slowly but still doing things, instead of on bed rest in a hospital somewhere.

This bed rest thing is by no means a foregone conclusion. I don’t mean to be dramatic. But when I think about the mere possibility of lying in a bed and ordering breakfast off a menu that rotates weekly, I almost panic. I can deal with doctors; I have lots of practice. But if I have to eat overdone scrambled eggs, I might cry.

(For the record, this halvsies program does not apply to food. On that front, I’m doing doublies.)

Oh, wait. There’s a small correction. I said I started today, but really, I tried to start on Friday.

See, the problem with a week of painful wrist joints is that the refrigerator suffers. Some lettuce went bad. I didn’t feel like hacking into the rack of lamb I’d planned one night, so it’s still sitting there. I’d brought home great big yellow onions, six golden-skinned beauties, from the farmers’ market the weekend before, purchased for a whopping 75 cents each. I’d wanted to make something like French onion soup, but for a couple days, I just wasn’t using a knife.

Onion Leek Shallot Soup cheese

Friday, though. Friday, my wrists felt fine. The top of one of the onions was threatening to get a little grey and soggy, succumbing to the weather outside despite its cool, comfy home. I’d had a few nights out. I missed the kitchen. My parents were coming for the weekend, and I loved the idea of letting the soup sit in the fridge for a few days, so on Sunday night, we could just heat it up, scoop big ladlefuls of rich brown onion-laden broth into bowls, top them with croutons and copious quantities of gruyere, and broil them just until the cheese started to toast.

I thought I’d make a bit of a bargain with myself. I’d chop, after lunch, and get the soup started. (It’s a lot of chopping, if you’re not used to it, but nothing pleases me quite as much as filling an entire stockpot with feathery strips of onion. Give yourself 40 minutes, if you’re a slow chopper.) Then I’d plop myself on the couch and doze, waking up to stir or leaf through a New Yorker.

I chopped. I stirred. I fell asleep with onions caramelizing, two rooms away, which I never would have done a few months ago. They never burned, or even came close. I got to cook and take the most horrible-tasting medicine: rest.

Friday night, I had the sense not to double down. We went out to dinner, at a lovely casual French place on Capitol Hill that doesn’t take reservations and has a terrible waiting area. I called, announced I was six months pregnant, and asked what the wait was like. They saved us a table.

We did have a busy weekend. But each day, I slept, undisturbed, and each day, my body thanked me for it.

When we finally took the soup out, it seemed to say the same thing: Thank you for letting me rest. I needed that. It tasted greener than typical French onion soup, with all those leeks, but it had the same gooey meltability, the same chewiness on top, the same deep warmth. This breed of soup calms the heart.

Onion Leek Shallot Soup side

Afterward, we picked crusty cheese bits off the outer edges of our bowls, and made fun of each other, and I had the energy to play games and stay up past 9 p.m. (but not much).

It’s going to be bittersweet, this last trimester, I can tell. But me? I’ll do my best to prove this pregnancy normal. I won’t be cooking every night. We’ll probably invite people over for dinner a lot less frequently. I won’t be here on Hogwash quite as often, because halvsies for me means halvsies for you, too.

But Jim will cook. (I love it when Jim cooks. It’s the next best thing to holding the spoon myself.) He’ll reheat soups, and we’ll eat them at the kitchen counter, right off my favorite pot holders, like we did last night. I’ll make lists of how to help myself, instead of lists of more things to do. We’ll get even more excited about baby coming, together.

And with a little luck and a lot more rest, that will still mean May.

Onion Leek Shallot Soup close

Onion, Leek & Shallot Soup (PDF)

You can use all boxed beef stock, of course, but if you can find good homemade veal and beef stocks, the soup’s broth will take on a deeper flavor and more velvety texture. When I feel like splurging, I buy good stock at Seattle farmers’ markets or at Picnic.

To make it a full meal, all this soup needs is a simple green salad.

TIME: 5 hours, start to finish
MAKES: 6 servings

1/4 cup olive oil
6 large yellow onions (about 6 pounds), peeled
2 large shallots
4 small leeks (about 1/2 pound), halved, cleaned, and cut into thin half moons
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 cups dry red wine
4 cups beef stock or broth
4 cups veal stock (or more beef broth)
6 slices good, crusty bread, toasted and broken into pieces
1/2 pound Gruyere cheese, grated

Heat a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the oil, then start slicing the onions, first in half with the grain, and then into 1/4” slices with the grain, adding to the pot as you go. Slice the shallots the same way, and add them, too, along with the leeks. When all the onions have been added, season them with salt and pepper, stir to blend, and cook for 30 minutes, stirring every five minutes or so while the onions begin to cook down.

Add the garlic, and reduce the heat to your stove’s lowest temperature. Cook the onions and shallots for another 3 to 4 hours, stirring every 30 minutes or so, or until the onions are a deep golden brown. (Timing will depend on your stove and the vessel you’re using. The important thing is the color, though, so don’t rush it. If the onions begin to burn or stick to the bottom a bit before they’re done, add a little water to the pan or adjust the heat, as necessary. You’ll need to stir more frequently toward the end.)

When the onions are good and brown, add the wine and broth, bring to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes to an hour. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let cool to room temperature and refrigerate overnight, if possible.

Before serving, preheat the broiler. Fill ovenproof bowls with (reheated) soup and top with the toast pieces. Divide the cheese into six parts and pile on top of the toasts. Place the bowls on a baking sheet, and broil about 3” from the heating unit for just a minute or two, or until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Serve hot (and be careful with those bowls).

Onion Leek Shallot Soup assembling

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20 Comments

Filed under appetizers, Beef, French, lupus, recipe, soup

20 responses to “Halvsies

  1. It sounds like this is the perfect time to find a journalism student who wants to do food writing and make them your kitchen slave, ummm, I mean “intern.”

    They can help you with the physical elements of the cooking, especially the knife work, setting up the photos, etc. In return, you give them a bit of an education in cooking and how to write about it, maybe even a guest post on the blog.

    Good luck.

  2. KT

    Great post – thanks for sharing, Jess. I’m impressed with your resolve to go halvesies with life – a skill many of us could benefit from learning. Take care, and blessings on you and your little one!

  3. This was beautifully written – just every bit of it.

    I think taking time to rest, even if hard, is so smart! We should all do this more often, pregnant or not! Wishing you all the best, and more days full of delicious meals.

  4. ts

    IF it comes to hospital time, most now give you a menu to order from – and you can eat whatever they have, whenever. Doesn’t mean the cold overcooked scrambled eggs won’t taste like old sausage grease.

    Did you read the serial in the NYTimes Magazine that just ended – The Girl in the Green Raincoat? She was on bedrest at home – and everyone brought her lovely food. It wouldn’t be fiction in your case.

    Be well, get plenty of rest, and know we will do with fewer posts, much as we will miss your writing.

  5. Ewwww ewww eww, old sausage grease. Gross.

    I was reading TGITGR at the beginning – will have to go through and see her solve the mystery!

    Thanks, all.

  6. Oh, do take care of yourself. Am happy to hear you are doing halvsies – if you need to make it quarteries, I would do that, too. Taking care of yourself now will totally make it worth in a few months when you will no longer be allowed uninterrupted sleep and rest. Look at it as preparation, perhaps?

  7. Jo H

    Hang in there and take it easy. You are ENTITLED to some R&R, or Halvsies.
    I enjoy your recipes and blog–but want you to do what you need to do NOW to stay healthy.
    Best wishes.

  8. Bree

    Oh, Jess. Halvsies sounds like a brilliant plan. And now that it’s out there in print, we can all hold you to it. :) I’m glad the wrists are feeling better and that the hot soak helped. Please let me know if you need anything–you’ve run soup and cookies over to me when I needed them, it’s high time to return the favor. Don’t worry, I won’t try to cook. My cooking is worse than hospital food! ;) Tell that wolf to sit and stay or my husband will shoot her. :) Love you.

  9. I knew I wouldnt be the only one here to say DO CUT BACK. We will all be glad to have a little less hogwash or Jess, in order for net benefits to accrue! I wonder if you have to be told to be cut back to one quarter in order for you to comply with a half..if you get what I mean. Anyway go out there babe and stay in there!! xxxx

  10. Jess,

    I have been reading for a couple of years, but have never commented. I just learned that we have a mutual friend/acquaintance as well, Seth J. (he and my husband were in the same research group). One of my New Year’s resolutions is to actually comment on all the blogs I read and this post moved me to do so. First of all, thank you for all of the inspiring recipes.

    I have moderate/severe rheumatoid arthritis (RA). RA is certainly not the same as lupus, but there are quite a few similarities in terms of symptoms and medications. I have a two year old son and another baby due in April. Please feel free to email me if you ever need to “talk” to someone who has been through an auto-immune disease and pregnancy/breastfeeding/parenting. In particular, I have quite a bit of info on breastfeeding with an auto-immune disease if that is something you think you can and want to do.

    The halvsies idea is very smart. I might have to implement something similar for myself soon. Happy gestating.

  11. Angela

    As someone who did the whole bed rest, doctor, hospital multiple times, risk for preeclampsia thing, your halvsies idea is brilliant. Trust me (and many other new moms can testify to this) going into motherhood well rested is always a great idea.

    The soup recipe looks delicious. I think we need to give a try here at our house.

  12. Gina – Of course! Seth! Funny how worlds collide. Thanks so much for the offer, I’ll email you off-blog. I have another friend here with RA who is pregnant, too, and it’s so so great to have a bit of a support group…thanks.

    Thanks, Angela! Calms me, a little.

    FYI, doc’s results looked a little better this week…

  13. Marisol

    I just found your blog, which someone sent to me because I also have lupus and am in my 3rd trimester of pregnancy. I love the halvsies idea, and it helps me feel better about leaving work midday yesterday b/c of fatigue. Keep on listening to your body and the other little body inside you. Good luck with the home stretch and the birth!! I’m sure i’ll keep checking back in – in addition to lupus-y stuff, my husband does our cooking and he would like the recipes.

  14. So glad we found each other, Marisol! Take care of yourself, too!

  15. Take care of yourself and your baby, thats what is really important. And have a Happy Valentine’s Day!

  16. Take care, Jess! I’m going to second the intern idea. I got one when I broke my hand last year and it helped a lot. It’s still work, since you have to write up the recipes for them to cook, but it might help you get through halvsies easier and save your hands that extra strain.
    For other reasons I pretty much did halvsies my last trimester, too (when they started throwing “preeclampsia” around, I listened too, which was quite out of character). Lacking the term, however, I resorted to just referring to “my nap” and scheduling around that. :)

  17. Pingback: Skirt Theory « hogwash

  18. Kristy

    I love your blog. I have been hooked since I read your inauguration day post. Your writing is beautiful. I have a 7 month old and I remember thinking when I was pregnant that there was a conspiracy to cover up the true trials or being “with child”. At first, I thought I was providing a service to my childless girlfriends by filling them in on the day to day challenges. But it’s not just the bad, it’s the beautiful, too. You just want to share it all! Anyway, good for you for talking about it and for taking it easy, too. I know it’s sooo hard to do! Thanks for the great recipes, too.

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  20. Thanks for the recipe! I look forward to using it soon for my kids :)

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