Broccoli Cake, Carnitas, Pumpkin Pavlova, and Eternal Resolutions

I’m a resolution-maker. I make them all year long, and I feel 100% committed to them, until I don’t, and then I abandon them and move on. This happened a lot in the past year. Last January, I gave up sugar. I didn’t eat it for about a month, I felt exactly the same, and then I slowly went back to my old ways. I resolved to read more books in 2015 and started a list of the ones I read in the Notes app on my phone. There are six books on that list and it hasn’t been updated since early April. Throughout the rest of the year I resolved to not eat rice (nope), stick to a food budget (nope), and be better about taking and sharing pictures of the kids (definite nope). So not great. But I have stuck to some of them. I resolved to revitalize my food blog and post regularly and I did it. We decided to give up screen time altogether and we did it and are still doing it happily. I took the kids camping, by myself, twice, and not only survived but had a blast doing it. And even though my own book list is pitiful, the list of novels I read with Henry this year is staggering. All the Fudge books (he loves when they tell each other to shut up), most of the Ramona books, tons of Roald Dahl, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh, and dozens of novels we selected at random at the library, including one with Poop Fountain in the title, which ended up being a lot better than I expected, one called George, which turned out to be about a fourth grader who is transgendered and was absolutely wonderful, and Wonder, which we’re reading right now and is beautiful and engrossing.

So even though I flake out on some, or a lot, of the resolutions I make, I still think there’s value in putting your list of goals out there. So here goes. This year, I want to try to be nicer. I say stupid, careless shit to people all the time. I want to try to keep things in perspective more and try just being quiet instead of saying something without thinking. I want to spend more time doing things with my hands, and less time on my phone (another incomplete resolution from last year). I have been much better about this but I still scroll idly through facebook far more than I wish I did. I want to knit, I want to watercolor, I want to whittle, I want to needle-felt. I want to do these things in the company of other adults who also like to do these things. I want to eat more vegetables, more raw foods, more salads. There are so many burgers, pizzas, and sandwiches that I’ve posted in the last few months and so few green things. I want to continue to work on being patient with the kids. I want to stop and appreciate them for who they are, meet them where they are, and help them with their struggles rather than just get angry and frustrated. And probably 40 other things that I’ll think up, try, and possibly abandon over the course of the year. So, yes! For one last hurrah, here are some pictures of burgers and pizza.

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Risotto Balls, Tomato Butter Sauce, Apple and Fennel Salad. I woke up in the morning with George at my side, and he was so sweet and peaceful and I was filled with love for him, so I told him. “George, I love you.” And he looked at me and said “You love me and I love you, but I’m pooping.”

I really meant it when I said I wasn’t going to make risotto again for a long time because I’m so sick of eating the stuff- it’s fuckin’ dinner porridge. (Side note: My friend Jeffrey showed me the greatest show on the internet, with two Australian lady-comics, where one’s a food intolerant and one’s an intolerable foodie and I love it more than anything. They call risotto hot wet rice in this episode, and they’re right, of course. This episode, where they quit sugar, is my very favorite one. Please watch all of them because I want to reference it all the time and nobody knows what I’m talking about. Oh yeah, it’s NSFW). But anyway! I do still love fried risotto balls dipped in tomato sauce, so we had that for dinner with all of the leftover risotto from last week. Since Henry was the only one who ate any, I made a ton of balls. Enough for all of us to eat for dinner, plus 15 more to freeze. It took forever and I don’t want to do that again for a long time either. We ate it with a sliced fennel and apple salad from The Kitchen Ecosystem, which I couldn’t find a recipe for online, but it’s exactly what it sounds like plus lemon juice and olive oil. It’s pretty good but didn’t mesh well with the risotto balls. I’m not sure what would go better- caesar salad maybe? Or no sides. Just a big heaping pile of fried balls.

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Ultra-Smashed Cheeseburgers. This photo looks like one of those in a series of what school lunches look like around the world. Look at what they’re feeding those poor school children in Greece, you might say. Also I way over-mayonnaised that bun. After the picture I scraped it off with the knife and left the knife balanced on my plate. George ignored his burger and chips but did repeatedly jab his tiny finger into my mayonnaise glob and ended up eating most of that, which is, let’s just say it, pretty gross.

We went back to Barkley Meadows, which is an amazing park that doesn’t show up on any of the map tools on my phone, but once you find it, you’ll love it. They have enormous pecan trees there, and there were hundreds of pecans all over the ground, so we spent a good amount of time gathering them in George’s knit hat. The hat got upturned and the nuts had to be re-gathered several times, but they did make it home, where I am very slowly and inexpertly cracking them.

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Pita Pizzas. We had a shit day on Wednesday. I don’t know what the deal is- disruption in our normal routine, too much sugar from Christmas, or what, but Henry was a real bear, and Andy and I had no patience and we all spent the day angry with each other. We also spent the day completely rearranging and cleaning the house, and that part felt amazing. We haven’t watched TV or played video games in a couple months now, and still, our living room consisted of a couch facing a big TV that no one was watching. I thought that was stupid, so my sister helped me brainstorm a better layout and we moved everything around, so now there’s a rocking chair and a big white shelf with semi-attractively arranged kids toys where the TV cabinet and television used to be. I love it. And we put the TV in the room with Andy’s computer and took most of the kid stuff out of there, so it’s way more like an office/entertainment room for Andy, which he really likes too.

As part of our big clean-up project, we decided to finally address the problem of our gross-smelling ornaments. I don’t know what happened exactly, but somewhere along the line, our Christmas tree ornaments picked up a noxious BO smell. Maybe it was just one smelly ornament that infected the others. Maybe we all secretly smell and only notice it on the ornaments. Who knows. But every year we open our two ornament boxes and the smell hits you in the face. And we put them on our lovely fresh-cut pine-y tree and the pine smell is completely replaced by a BO smell. Andy said we didn’t have to be chained to a BO tree for the rest of our lives. That we should try to clean the ornaments and if that didn’t work we should throw them away. So I tried to clean them. I washed the soft ones in the washing machine, I made a pile of ones that absolutely could not be washed and we smelled each one individually to see which ones could stay, and the rest I tossed into the top rack of the dishwasher, filled the thing with detergent, and ran it. This was unsuccessful. For one thing, they still smelled bad after they came out of the dishwasher. For the other, worse thing, I stained the inside of the dishwasher, and basically every ornament, a brilliant pink. The paint came off two shiny red styrofoam apple ornaments I’d put in there and coated every surface with an impenetrable spray of paint. We salvaged what we could and threw the rest away. But I’m reminded of my failure every time I open the dishwasher and see those cheerful pink racks. Here’s hoping that we’ll at least have a BO-free tree to show for our efforts in 2016!

Andy reminded me that on this day one year ago we had to take George to the hospital after he fell off our piano bench and snapped his collarbone in half, so our day was comparatively a lot better than that one!

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New Year’s Eve Dinner: Crispy Roast Pork, Black Beans, Mexican Rice, Guacamole, Red Chile Chicken Tamales. New Year’s Eve started off the same way as Wednesday, with everyone pissy and grumpy with each other. It rapidly improved for me, though, because Andy took the kids out of the house to run a million errands and I got to stay home and make spicy pavlovas and a pecan brittle and a six-hour roasted pork shoulder AND clean the house, which is an honest-to-God genuine pleasure to do if the kids aren’t around to immediately undo the work you’ve done. My sister and her family and Andy’s sister and her family came over in the afternoon and it was completely wonderful. All the kids have been getting along, for the most part, and it is a joy to watch them play. And a bigger joy to not have to watch them play. We sat around the table for dinner and the kids ate and then disappeared. We found them all coloring pictures quietly in Henry’s room. I mean, what? I was really happy with how the food turned out too. The pork was the best. I shredded the thing according to the recipe and left all the fat in the pan with the shredded pork and popped it back in the low oven to stay hot and to crisp up a bit like carnitas and it was everything I hoped it would be.

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Pumpkin Pavlova with Pecan Brittle. This photo is bad, and you can see my pants and a filthy chair cushion and a blob of guacamole on a plate, but the dessert was wonderful. The pavlovas, the big meringue disks, are livened up with a generous sprinkling of wintery spices and ground ginger, the filling is made of whipped cream and pumpkin puree (the comments on the recipe seemed to indicate that you should ignore the recipe and whip the cream and then fold in the pumpkin, because otherwise the stuff might not whip up, so that’s what I did and it worked beautifully) and you sprinkle both layers with a finely-chopped sweet and salty pecan brittle, which I made from the pecans we collected at the park. My brother-in-law Javi described the dessert as a pumpkin pie that you had inflated with air, so it has about 1/10 the amount of pumpkin. It’s true. If you don’t love pumpkin pie, like me, you should give this a go. It’s really fun.

The kids mostly don’t love fireworks. Sparklers are a big hit though. Henry will only hold a sparkler when it’s gasping it’s last breaths, because otherwise it’s too loud and scary. George, on the other hand, was all in. He twirled around with all the sparklers, almost set my hair on fire, and then held all the roman candles too. Other than that, we just got some fountain-type fireworks because they’re little and quiet and pretty. Andy bought one giant fountain for our big finish, which turned out to send big, sort-of real fireworks up into the sky, which was fun for the first couple shots. But then it fell over and spun around and shot the rest at us and we ran away terrified. No one got hurt, and it was exciting, so it was a suitable big finish to a fun day.

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Broccoli Cake with Roasted Butternut Wedges. Andy’s mom came over on New Year’s Day and watched the kids while Andy and I spent several hours cleaning out the garage, which had become treacherous to walk through. We had amassed over a hundred egg cartons, a habit leftover from keeping chickens, I guess, dozens of paint cans, 30 or so giant reusable dirt bags, because I never remember to bring them when I go to buy shovel-it-yourself dirt and I just buy more, and heaping piles of scrap wood. Add this to all the wheel-y/roll-y things for the kids and it was getting to be an issue. It’s so nice now- you can walk unimpeded from the car to the house and I just feel like twirling in the open space every time I do.

I cleaned out the fridge too, which was full of semi-rotten produce, and I had to toss the purple cauliflower I bought two weeks ago because it had some weird black growth on it. So cauliflower cake became broccoli cake. This thing is like a cross between a savory, eggy cake and a quiche. It wasn’t my favorite thing, and it took a while to make so never again. 

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S’mores. After dinner we did the last of the morning glory sparklers from the night before, built another fire, and roasted s’mores. It was a fun moment of family togetherness after a couple of days of not feeling so connected to each other. Andy and I were the only ones who ate s’mores, actually. The kids prefer plain roasted marshmallows, weird, and preferred to eat them inside too.

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Thai Coconut Soup. We didn’t have plans on Saturday, but at the last minute my sister called and said she was heading up to north Austin for a free demo class at Heartsong Music, a fun parent/kid music class that I’ve heard great things about but that costs a trillion dollars. We got the last two spots and drove up there and it was really fun. One little girl was there with 5 adult family members and was completely miserable- she screamed through most of the class. George was quiet and reserved at first, but warmed up when we got to do scarf dancing around the room. Henry loved it all, start to finish, except for an egg-shaking song that went on forever. Later that evening, Andy and I were trying to remember how a song about a cobbler had gone and we found we’d completely forgotten it. Henry chimed in and sang the whole thing for us, and I said “Wow, Henry, you have a great memory!” and he said, “Why?”, and I said “Because you could remember all the words to that song- I never could have come up with that!,” and he said, shocked, “But we heard that today!” Even so, kid. It’s a fun song though. You chant the words while banging one fist on top of the other in time to the beat.

There’s a cobbler down the street,
Mending shoes for little feet.
With a bang and a bang
And a bang, bang, bang.
With a bang and a bang
And a bang, bang, bang.

Mending shoes the whole day long,
Mending shoes to make them strong.
With a bang and a bang
And a bang, bang, bang.
With a bang and a bang
And a bang, bang, bang.

After the music class, we ate a late lunch at Tarka, a nearby Indian restaurant, so we weren’t all that hungry by the time dinner rolled around. We just ate bowls of this, the most perfect soup in the world. Everyone loved it.

The coming week brings something very exciting- we’re going to Portland, Oregon! My sister’s family is going too and we’re all staying with my parents for a week. I get to see my brothers’ families and my beautiful nephews. We’re going to take the kids to the place where they filmed The Shining and they’ll get to see snow for the very first time. We’re going to go to an amazing science museum and on a trip to Multnomah Falls, where we’ll see a gorgeous frozen waterfall. We’ll eat good food and be all together for the first time in a very long time and I’m so excited. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to post on time next week, but I’ll be back to share the stories I accumulate as soon as possible. Happy New Year, dear readers! And thank you.

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4 thoughts on “Broccoli Cake, Carnitas, Pumpkin Pavlova, and Eternal Resolutions

  1. Mary Alexandra Agner January 3, 2016 / 9:49 pm

    Oh, I hope you all have a wonderful wonderful time! And happy new year!

  2. Gangie January 3, 2016 / 11:47 pm

    Wonderful post this week. It’s so funny. I love those boys!

  3. Ben Smith (@BenMSmith) January 4, 2016 / 8:43 pm

    Another awesome web video recommendation that’s vaguely food-related: this British series The Supersizers Go… It’s one of the hosts of Great British Bake-Off and a food critic living (and more importantly, eating) the way Britain did in various time periods (everything from the Edwardian and Victorian eras through WWII rationing and the 1980s). It’s super funny and surprisingly informative about how the various ways we’ve eaten in the past affected our health and lifespan.

    I didn’t really do any resolutions this year, but I’m going to try and challenge myself to bake more things that are out of my comfort zone. I’m awesome at cookies and can whip together a batch of Dark Chocolate Sea-Salt Brownies in no time, but trickier cakes and (especially) breads and yeasted-dough related things haven’t really been my strong suit. I just did a test run of a chiffon cake I’m making for Palindrome’s pre-hunt party that turned out pretty well (although I need to balance some of the flavors), so hopefully I’m off to a good start already!

  4. nannydeb January 5, 2016 / 2:42 pm

    Happy New Year and have a fabulous vacation!

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