I like keeping house.
No, seriously, I do. You might not see it right away, as my laziness often trumps my willingness to take the time. But when I do get off the couch and pick up the duster, I get really into it. I like the routine of it, the pleasure that arrives when a surface goes from dusty to gleaming. I like taking care of my family’s environment. I collect cleaning supplies and tools like some women do beauty products. My library holds more than one tome on housekeeping, including an entire book devoted to laundry. I love the sense of satisfaction and calm that results from housework. I am really, really missing that right now.
I recently passed my six-week postpartum check. Exciting things like sex and exercise are back on the table, yet all I want to do is scrub the bathroom and unpack the rest of the boxes in the library. We moved when I was in the throes of second-trimester energy and upbeat attitude. We got about halfway unpacked before I started to flag. It didn’t help that I was also absorbed in moving locations at work. I hit a physical (and, let’s face it, mental) wall right as we cleared the nursery of boxes and started filling it with baby furniture. And that is where the unpacking has stayed. It is driving me crazy.
Happily, I’m starting to see opportunities where I couldn’t before. I’m (a bit) less exhausted, so when Little Bear dozes off, I jump up and wash a few dishes or fold some laundry. He is more easily amused by himself, so I’ve even managed to sneak off long enough to do some ironing and baking. M and I have made a pact to tackle one room, as completely as possible, each weekend. This will have the apartment as shipshape as I’d hoped by the time I return to work. That is a very good thing. The tidier my environment, the calmer my mind. And I assume I will need to jump off from as calm a point as possible as I adjust to leaving a three-month-old infant with strangers every day.
As a home-related aside, my cooking skills are taking a slight dive now that I’m out of practice. I used to handle much of the cooking most nights. Apart from a month or so in the second trimester, I’ve been too nauseated, too tired, and/or too busy to cook since last November. For me, that is a long stretch, and even when I couldn’t quite bear the thought of cooking, I missed it. However, I’ve been disappointed with most of my efforts since LB’s arrival. Either they did not quite turn out as I’d hoped or, more often, I’ve felt awkward and clumsy while putting them together. Oddly, this was not the case the other afternoon, when a fussy Bear wanted to be held. I’m not going to go into the right-or-wrongness of preparing dinner while cradling a baby in one arm. I am certain that plenty of well-intentioned souls would happily lambaste me for so doing, and I am equally certain that most of my fellow mothers have done something similar at some desperate point. I was both proud of my dexterity and resolved never to exercise it in that fashion again.
Anyway, the dinner turned out pretty well.
One-Hand Squash Lasagna
This is a case of cook as I say, not as I cooked. My process involved a fair amount of (physically necessary) half-assery that would never be present in an actual recipe. Also, next time I will probably melt the mozzarella into the béchamel sauce to make the whole dish creamier.
[Disclaimer: I did set LB in his crib and endure his cries so I could use both hands to chop the sage and to finish the layering. It was just too much.]
- extra-virgin olive oil, for the dish
- 15 ounces part-skim ricotta cheese
- 15 ounces canned pumpkin purée, or other squash purée
- 10 ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
- 1½ teaspoons ground nutmeg, or to taste
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh sage
- fine sea salt
- freshly ground white pepper, for aesthetic purposes, or black pepper
- 10 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
- 8 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic, or to taste
- 2 cups low-fat milk
- 18 no-boil lasagna noodles
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Oil a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and set it on a rimmed baking sheet to contain any sauce that may bubble over.
In a medium mixing bowl, stir the ricotta, pumpkin, spinach, nutmeg, most of the sage (reserve some to sprinkle on top), and salt and pepper to taste until blended. Set aside. Roughly mix the mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses in a small mixing bowl and set aside.
Melt the butter and oil in a 1-quart saucepan over medium-low heat. Turn the heat to low and whisk in the flour and garlic. Cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture turns tan. Add the milk a bit at a time, still whisking constantly. Cook until the consistency is nearly thick enough for your liking, then season lightly with salt and pepper and remove from the heat. As you assemble the lasagna, you may need to whisk sometimes to keep a skin from forming.
Ladle ½ cup of the sauce into the bottom of the baking dish. Lay 3 lasagna noodles on top and spread with ⅓ of the pumpkin-ricotta mixture. Lay another 3 noodles, then ladle in another ½ cup of sauce and sprinkle with ⅓ of the mixed cheeses. Repeat the noodles-pumpkin-noodles-sauce/cheese pattern twice more. Sprinkle the top layer of cheese with the remaining sage and salt and pepper as desired.
Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the cheese is golden and the sauce is bubbling. Let sit ten minutes, then serve.
Getting ahead: You can assemble the lasagna a day or two before baking and store, covered, in the fridge. Set it out about thirty minutes before baking to let it come somewhat toward room temperature. You may need to lengthen the baking time a bit. Also, I assume it freezes well after baking, or we’ve wasted half a giant lasagna.