When strangers aren't commenting on how much weight I've gained, they're expressing concern that I haven't gained enough. In a single 24-hour period I was grilled at a party by an acquaintance who repeatedly asked whether the doctor was sure I wasn't having twins due to my enormous size - only to have an older woman accost me in an elevator hours later about whether the doctor was certain my baby was healthy because I hadn't gained enough weight.
All rules of etiquette are abandoned when a pregnant woman is involved. How else can you explain the dinner with former colleagues at which my growing bust size was a topic of conversation? Or the cocktail party where a woman I just met asked to see my rear end so she could make a proper prediction of whether I was having a boy or girl?
The constant public commentary is not limited to just a pregnant woman's size. As soon as you begin to show, be prepared to have all aspects of your health open to scrutiny.
Get in line at Starbucks and strangers glare at you as though you are about to inject liquid nitrogen directly into your veins. No matter that medical experts say moderate levels of caffeine are safe during pregnancy, that coffee cup is as good as a bull's-eye on a mom-to-be.
My modest (and largely decaffeinated) coffee-drinking during pregnancy has been met with disapproving head shakes, shared glances between moms, and even a lecture from a close friend that began: "If that's a risk you're willing to take for your unborn child. . . . " The fact that my doctor continues to give my baby glowing health reports is beside the point.
While the link between regular alcohol consumption and birth defects has long been documented, no studies show the effect of an occasional glass of wine, and some doctors believe it's likely safe after the first trimester. Still, don't even think of entering a bar - regardless of whether your intent is to have a soda and french fries - unless you're prepared to have dozens of eyeballs on you all night awaiting an emergency intervention.
In fact, beware of even cooking with wine or other alcohol unless you're prepared for judgment. I raised many an eyebrow after making a favorite dish of beef and onions stewed in beer, even though most of the beer evaporates in the heat and the small amount used is divided among several servings.
Aside from caffeine and alcohol, pregnant foodies have to sacrifice a whole host of delicacies ranging from sushi to pat to smoked seafood, like lox. Some warnings are logical, like avoiding raw beef, shellfish, and eggs due to the risk of food poisoning, which could affect even those who aren't pregnant. Others seem overly hysterical.
For example, pregnant women are told to avoid soft cheeses, such as blue cheese, goat cheese, feta, Brie, and Camembert, because they may contain bacteria called listeria. Yet the vast majority of cheese sold legally in the United States is made with pasteurized milk and is thus safe to eat.
Aside from high-end imports, if you read the labels on the cheese sold at your local grocery store, it's unlikely you'll come across many, if any, unpasteurized varieties. Still, most pregnant women I know live in fear of feta.
Or take spicy foods. One of the most well-accepted bits of folklore surrounding pregnancy is that eating spicy food can induce labor. Although no scientific research supports this claim, even the Hawaiian chicken vendor at my local farmers market expresses concern every time I place my order for extra hot sauce.
There's no doubt that in spite of the health lectures, the alarmingly personal questions, and unsolicited (and invariably conflicting) advice, pregnancy is a special time for a woman.
Still, I'd be lying if I didn't admit to occasionally fantasizing about responding to the next person who greets me with "You're huge!" by saying, "Yes, and so are you - what's your excuse?" while sauntering off with my steaming latte and Brie sandwich.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
3 cups thinly sliced onions
3 tablespoons neutral oil,
like corn or grapeseed
2 to 2 1/2 pounds boneless
beef chuck, brisket, or round cut into 1 1/2-inch
Salt and black pepper to
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
leaves or 1/2 teaspoon
1 teaspoon fresh oregano
1 bottle (about 1 1/2 cups)
Guinness stout or other
dark, bitter beer
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard,
or to taste
Chopped fresh parsley
leaves for garnish
1. Put the onion in a large flameproof casserole or deep skillet with a lid and cover it; place over medium heat and cook, checking and stirring every few minutes, until the onion is dry and almost sticking to the pan, about 15 minutes. At that point, add 2 tablespoons of the oil and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion becomes a brown, soft mass, another 15 minutes or so. Remove with a slotted spoon and add the remaining oil to the skillet.
2. Raise the heat to medium-high and brown the meat on all sides, sprinkling it with salt and pepper as it browns. When the meat is brown, add the garlic and cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds. Return the onion to the pan, along with the herbs and beer. Bring to a boil, then adjust the heat so the mixture simmers; cover.
3. Cook, checking occasionally to make sure the mixture does not dry out (unlikely, but if it does, add more beer), for about an hour, or until the meat is quite tender. Uncover the pan; the mixture should be stewy but not soupy; if it is, raise the heat and boil out some of the liquid. Stir in the mustard, then taste and adjust the seasoning. Garnish and serve or cool, cover, and refrigerate.
- Adapted from Mark Bittman's The Best Recipes in the World
Note: Like many stews, this is equally good, or even better, when refrigerated and reheated the next day. Try it served over buttered noodles or with plain boiled potatoes.
Per serving (based on 6): 510 calories, 29 grams protein, 11 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams sugar, 36 grams fat, 104 milligrams cholesterol, 154 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.
Grilled Brie, Apple, and Arugula Sandwiches
Makes 2 servings
2 demi-baguettes (or a standard baguette cut into
four 6-inch slices)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter,
3 ounces firm Brie
1/2 apple, cored and cut into
1/2 cup arugula
1. Slice each baguette nearly in half, keeping one side hinged to help hold the sandwich together. Slather both sides of bread generously with butter. If you're feeling health-conscious, skip this step. But know that your sandwich will suffer.
2. Cut the Brie into long, thin wedges and layer so no bread remains "naked." Divide apple slices on top.
3. Cook sandwiches in a panini press. Or, if you don't have a panini press, heat a grill pan over moderately high heat. Melt remaining butter in the pan.
4. Cook sandwiches on the grill pan; simply take a heavy frying pan and stack it on top of the sandwich, pressing down occasionally and turning over once, until bread is golden brown and cheese is melted, about 5 to 7 minutes total.
5. Tuck arugula into sandwiches, and dig in.
- From Malina Brown
Per serving: 489 calories, 18 grams protein, 57 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams sugar, 21 grams fat, 59 milligrams cholesterol, 879 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.