Before I start a new project I have almost total confidence that it will go well. This goes for big, life-spanning projects like choosing to homeschool our children down to small silly projects like sewing a black witch’s skirt without a pattern. This is a foolish sort of quality to have in some ways, but it also affords me the courage to tackle projects that other people might decide would be too difficult (though that often turns out to be the case). In the case of the skirt, I pictured it perfectly in my head but found myself, two hours later, in an unwearable monstrosity, having wasted several yards of thick black cloth. Lately, with homeschooling, I feel like I’m surrounded by tatters of black fabric with no clear idea about how to make it look like the shape I’d envisioned. I read this stupid article, on Business Insider of all places, about 9 things parents of successful kids have in common. And I know it’s stupid (how do they define success? is it purely financial? based solely on earning a college degree?) and poorly written too, but I felt down about not having more of the traits they listed. The first trait on the list is teaching your kids social skills so they can cooperate and be helpful with peers. We talk about manners all the time, but my kids could not accurately be described as cooperative or helpful. Is this because they’re 4 and 2 and boys that age aren’t really ready to be these things? Is it because that’s just who they are? Or is it because they haven’t attended nursery school and had the chance to practice cooperating with peers every day for 8 hours, and at home I give them a choice and freedom and flexibility in nearly everything that we do? Does doing it my way mean that they’ll never have the great social skills this article says they’ll need to be successful? And does it matter if they don’t? I’m plagued by a million questions and a level of self-doubt that I’m honestly unaccustomed to. Scholastically, I have no worries at all. Thanks to their papa’s good genes, Henry already has a better understanding of math than I do. With no formal lessons of any kind Henry is adding, subtracting, and multiplying. He learned how to add zeros when multiplying big numbers and in the car this week he said out of nowhere “one million times one thousand equals one billion” and then earlier today, “one thousand hundredths of a second equals 10 seconds.” I just blinked at him and said- is that right? I honestly didn’t know. And he said “yes, because one hundred hundredths of a second equals one second.” And so. I have no resolution to my worries to write here. I am worried that keeping the kids out of school is doing them a disservice in some ways. I think it’s absolutely the right path in other ways- I’ve read too much Holt and Gray and Gatto and Llewellyn to have much faith in the system of compulsory education that tells kids exactly what, when, and how they’ll learn- but I wish I could give them the best parts of everything. Does that make me sound selfish? Now I can worry about that too. Bah! Let’s just talk about food now- it’s so much easier.
Easiest Alfredo with Broccoli. I was going to write that food pictures on my blog with a black background would be a little clue as to how much I had my shit together on any given day. If I had dinner made by 6:30 (when Andy gets home from work) then I had enough sunlight left to take a picture on the kitchen hutch. When I didn’t, as in this dinner, which we didn’t eat until after 7 because I had no idea what to make and backed myself into a corner that only pasta could solve, I had to take the picture on our dining room table, lit by a halogen floor lamp. But now that DST has ended and the sun is setting at a miserable 5:43, black table-background is gonna be the new normal. Let’s choose to think of it as a symbolic representation of the days getting shorter. The pasta is easy and delicious. If you have cream, butter, and parmesan in the house you can make it, and it cooks in less time than it takes to boil the pasta.
We spent the afternoon at a lovely farm for an unschooler meetup, swimming naked in a kiddie pool (not me), bumping past cows and guinea hens on a hayride, and learning how to play passive-aggressively on a see-saw (it’s possible!). We ate our lunch outside, next to the loading/unloading zone for the hayride. I had brought all the leftovers from Helen’s party for lunch: cheeses, crackers, fruit, crudites, yogurt, and an almost-empty package of Double Stuf Oreos. When a group of kids got off the hay wagon after their ride and saw the package of cookies, they swarmed and asked politely and with big smiles if they could have an Oreo. I was happy to share, lest I eat them all myself, and gave one out to each kid who asked for one. The parent of one of these kids walked by a few minutes later and said, “Well, that’s her first Oreo!” I felt like such an ass. The mom was really nice about it, but still. I’m the trashy lady that brings sacks of poison sugar-disks to children who normally enjoy one crisp pear for dessert. To her credit, the little girl in question took one small nibble of the Oreo and then abandoned it, so hopefully the damage was minimal.
Little Spaghetti Frittatas. I have spent a large portion of my life looking down on frittatas as quiche’s inferior, crustless cousin. Why would you ever opt to have one when you could pile all the same stuff into a flaky pie crust? But then I read about how Tamar Adler uses leftover pasta in her frittatas and vowed to give it a try. I did, and didn’t love it. Not Tamar’s fault. I think I overcooked it in my lust for a crispy noodle-bottom. I didn’t want to try again, though- I’d rather just eat leftover noodles. Then my friend Amanda brought little muffin-sized frittatas to a playdate, which she had made by mixing leftover tuna noodle casserole with beaten egg, sausage, and greens. They were delicious! And I loved the little size! I mixed our leftover broccoli alfredo with beaten eggs, a splash of milk, crumbled aged cheddar, and a huge handful of chopped parsley. Whisking the parsley into the beaten eggs in a metal bowl made me feel like Giada De Laurentiis, which is to say, it felt good. I baked the frittatas in a 350 oven for about 10 minutes, then broiled them to get a little color on top. I thought they were wonderful! And they’re perfect to refrigerate and reheat a few at a time for breakfast or a snack. Cleaning the pan was a nightmare though. And I had greased it with so much olive oil! Worth it, though. NB: I went looking for a link to Tamar Adler’s recipe for pasta frittata, because she writes so beautifully and it would’ve inspired you to frittat-ize your leftovers, which would be delicious because you wouldn’t overcook it like I did, and found only this video which is short and silly and doesn’t have the information I wanted but did succeed in riling me up because she leaves her refrigerator doors open the whole time. Close the damn door!
Ground Beef Tostadas. We had plans to crash our friend Amanda’s neighborhood Halloween party, to which you were supposed to bring a snack to share. George slept in after a late night and I didn’t have time to make a snack and also shower, but that’s an easy choice for me- snack wins every time. I made banana mini muffins and had to shove the pan in the trunk of our car so they could cool down on the drive. It was a fun party- there was a cookie decorating station with all the fanciest Halloween sprinkles. I was secretly so pleased when Henry and George didn’t eat more than a few bites of their cookies because it meant I would get them. Also they had that punch made with orange sherbet that George also didn’t finish so I got some of that too. Now that I type this it seems a little sad that I didn’t just get myself some of the snacks I wanted and instead scavaged the stuff my kids discarded. I think it was because we were already imposters who don’t live in that neighborhood crashing the party and I didn’t also want to be the mom who helped herself to a heaping plate of all the kid snacks. Maybe this is a self-esteem issue and after a few years of hard work I’ll be able to drink big frothy cups of sherbet punch without worrying about who might be judging me for it.
Dinner was delicious. I’m sure I don’t need to sell you on the merits of a crispy corn tortilla topped with taco meat.
Chickpea, Kale, and Sausage Soup, Five-Fold Challah. More of that magic bread. I didn’t give it the 24 hour rest in the refrigerator this time either, and I don’t know if I’ll ever have enough willpower or foresight to make the recipe as written because it’s so great even without that step. I’m definitely the kind of person who would fail that marshmallow test they give to little kids to see if they are successful sorts who can recognize the benefits of delayed gratification. Or I would be if they used something less disgusting than marshmallows. Much like my outdated opinion on frittatas < quiche, I had the same opinion on chunky soups being way worse than creamy ones. I never make a chunky soup. But I had kale, sausage, an open quart jar of tomato puree, and some leftover chickpeas and needed something we could eat with bread and this soup looked like the perfect solution. I had the warm bread on the table, the soup ready to ladle, and candles lit before Andy’s six-thirty arrival. We waited 10 minutes and I hadn’t heard from Andy, not even a text message! I felt myself getting angry. Then I remembered it was Thursday, which meant he was at biweekly post-work Toastmasters’ meeting and felt dumb for forgetting and glad that I didn’t have to be mad or worried that he was late. Anyway- the soup. I loved it! Henry sopped up all the broth with the soft challah, and George didn’t touch it because he hadn’t napped and was ready for bed. It made a ton so I’ve got leftovers in the freezer to reheat another day.
Sweet Potato Black Bean Bowl. I’m forever trying to pass off the combination of black beans and sweet potatoes as dinner, but Henry, George, and Andy remain skeptical. For this go around, I thought it would be helpful if everyone had a little ownership in the dish, so I put all the components on the table so they could assemble their bowl with exactly what they wanted. For Andy that meant everything but sweet potato, for Henry it meant beans and sour cream, for George it meant nothing, again, because he was screaming so loudly after no nap and an exciting day that I had to leave the table, nurse him to sleep, and then return to the table to finish my dinner which was delicious with all of the components. We ate it with tortilla chips to take the healthiness-level down a notch.
This was a day of massive flooding in Austin which I am very grateful to say was exciting (and not scary) from where we sit, a comfortable distance from nearby Williamson Creek. We sat by the open windows and watched the water raging in little rivers between the driveway and the street and along the length of our backyard. When the rain finally let up late that morning we walked around and explored the transformed landscape. Our neighbors lost a giant branch on a front yard tree, but it didn’t hit anything. Our metal stock tank was halfway full which meant we got close to a foot of rain during the storm. We walked down to the creek and talked to all the other people who had gathered there to witness the spectacle- it was brown and churning, almost as high as the level of the bridge that stretches over it, and wide enough to cover the fences of the backyards that line its banks. Texas doesn’t do anything by halves- we’re all in on the drought until it’s time for a storm with 10 or so inches of rain.
Molasses Crinkle Cookie Sandwiches with Apple Cider Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting. This is my attempt at a Bobby Flay-style recipe title. I had apple cider mulling on the stove during Helen’s party last week. When I walked back to it at the end of the party I was delighted to find that it had reduced to a slippery pool of caramel, which tasted tart and spicy from the dried orange and sweet warm cinnamon, anise, and allspice berries that had infused it. Henry had already asked to make molasses crinkles (his favorite cookie), so we decided to make a cream cheese frosting, mix in the apple cider caramel, and use it to make the best autumn cookie sandwiches of all time. I’m aware that typing that last sentence puts me in the running for the most privileged asshole on the planet. Who has a favorite autumn cookie sandwich? Me. I do.
This is in the running for my favorite photo of all time. And oh, I am so happy to get to experience trick-or-treating again! I love the whole thing- the early nervousness about walking up to the door. Waiting to see if someone will answer, and the excitement when someone does. George was all in from the jump- he straight up walked into the houses of the first couple of doors we knocked on. Henry was on a mission- he rushed to be the front kid at every door and he somehow ended up with almost half a pound more than everyone else, in spite of them all going to all the same houses. Yes, we weighed the candy. I love getting to see who lives in the houses we walk by all the time. I think it’s lovely and weird that Halloween is the only time all year that we knock on our neighbors’ doors. And also the candy. It’s all gold, really.
Sheet Pan Nachos. We spent all Halloween day at my sister and brother-in-law’s house for a little movie-watching, tarot-reading party. I ate piles of delicious snacks the whole time I was there- crock pot queso, chocolate cake, popcorn, cookies, candy, chips, everything. So I was more than prepared to skip dinner. But then we were all still up at nine o’clock and it turned out everyone was hungry. Sheet pan nachos to the rescue! These were inspired by Last Night’s Dinner’s post of some truly epic looking nachos earlier in the week. That was her alfredo up at the top of this post too. I think no one does comfort food better than LND, so whenever the weather turns cold, or ahem, not boiling hot, her recipes are the ones I think of first.
And that’s the week, y’all. We’ve been through a lot haven’t we? Biblical floods, hopes and fears about raising our children well, sheet pan nachos. I hope next week brings more nachos and less of the other stuff. Until then!