I’m taking my neighbor’s chickens after all. They’re all super old, but still laying for the time being. But I’m sure I’m going to have to find a way to get rid of seven non-laying chickens in the next year. And one of them is a creepy naked neck. That’s a real breed! I had a lot of good reasons for not taking these chickens, but I talked myself out of all of them. The main reason I want them is that my neighbor is giving me his coop, his 14x24x7 foot chicken run to go around the coop, a cool feeder box he built that lets the chickens step on a pedal to open the lid to eat their food so wild birds don’t come in and steal all of it, and lots of other chicken accessories. If I said no to this, to me it would mean never having chickens again, because it will never be easier or cheaper to get them than this. Andy’s not excited but the kids really are. I want to raise chicks too, to replace this batch of chickens when they stop producing. So big plans. I’m gonna be back in the high-life, knee-deep in eggs and chicken shit.
Speaking of ill-advised plans…The National Puzzlers’ League convention that we go to every year is being held in Salt Lake City this July. I had hoped that we would be able to drive instead of fly, and take a long leisurely road trip through New Mexico and Arizona to see the grand canyon, up through Utah’s big parks, and then back down again through Rocky Mountain NP after the convention, but Andy’s job is going to keep him busy in July and he can’t take off more than a week. I gave up the idea. But then he said that plane tickets to SLC are pretty expensive. So for the amount it would cost to fly us all up there, I (just me!) could drive the kids up there in four days, driving six hours a day and camping out every night. And then keep driving after the convention up to Portland to see my parents and Oregon in the summertime. After which we would have to drive and camp out for five days to get back to Texas. Andy said it would be his idea of a nightmare, that the kids would be miserable in the car after an hour and a half. He’s usually right about these things, but the idea of this adventure, of camping out in new places across the country, has a hold on me. Imma think on it. Here’s what we ate this week.
Chapatis. Aka roti. I was surprised to discover that making chapatis is exactly the same as making tortillas. Same ingredients, same technique. The only difference here is that you use equal parts whole wheat and white flours. The process for both is monotonous and stressful at the same time. Roll a ball into a circle, lay it in a hot skillet, re-flour your board, start rolling out another ball, stop to flip the chapati in the skillet over, keep rolling the half-rolled ball on the counter, remove the one in the skillet, toss in the new one, repeat times 15. If a kid needs something in the middle of this process, the whole delicate balance is thrown off. A chapati stays in the pan a few seconds too long and scorches, and then the next chapati sticks and burns too and it’s hard to get the rhythm back. So kids, leave your mother alone when she’s making flatbread.
Daily Dal, Green Beans with Mustard Seeds and Ginger, Chapati, Rice with Garden Peas. Every Tuesday, I spend two and a half hours in the active play room of a little kids gym. I follow George around, and Henry when he joins us after parkour, play a little and stop them from swatting kids in the face, but mostly I do three things: 1. Manage the balls from the ball pit. This includes replacing balls that have been thrown from the pit and abandoned and also re-spherifying crumpled balls. 2. Judge other people. There’s a lady who comes in every week with two older girls, who she mostly ignores while she takes selfies in the corner (#MyGymActivePlayRoom). Sometimes she puts down her phone to take a few jumps on the trampoline, which has clearly posted rules that state that no adults are allowed on the trampoline, you guys. So I judge. 3. Look at myself in the floor-to-ceiling mirrors that line one wall of the play space and hate the way the waistline of my jeans cuts into my belly fat while simultaneously sliding down my body and needing to be hiked up every few seconds. The takeaways from these observations are that Tuesdays are boring and I am an uptight and obnoxious rule-follower.
We came home and I made dal, which was pretty good, rice, which was whatever, reheated the chapati I made earlier in the day, and stir-fried these green beans which were shockingly, outrageously wonderful. The sesame seeds, mustard seeds, and ginger combine with the tomato paste to make delicious little clumps that cling to the blistered green beans and make the dish taste meaty and savory and completely exciting. I ate them cold for breakfast the next morning and loved them that way too.
Our first strawberry. It was sour AF, but look how pretty! An aside: Henry has been enjoying muddling berries in a glass with a little sugar and then mixing in some plain yogurt for breakfast. This day was blueberries, as you can clearly tell from his pajama sleeves. It’s a messy business.
Chai Masala Spice Mix and The Perfect Masala Chai. The spice mix was a gift for my chai-loving friend Christy, but I stole a few teaspoons for myself before giving it to her. You mix water and milk in a pot with a couple of tea bags (highly-caffeinated Earl Grey in my case because it was all I had) and 1/2 a teaspoon of the spice mix. George downed his mug quickly, but I didn’t even have time to worry that the caffeine might keep him up because he immediately climbed up onto the kitchen stool, perched on the hard wooden seat in child’s pose, and fell asleep, naked, for 45 minutes. It’s a soothing tea.
Sweet Corn and Roasted Cherry Tomato Quiche, Kale Salad with Strawberries and Toasted Sesame Seeds. The kale in the garden was riddled with holes, so I knew to prepare myself for what I was going to find on the underside of the leaves when I washed them for this salad. Still, it was horrifying. So many caterpillars. But I was so cool about it. I pursed my lips and went about my business, tearing off the part, or parts, of the leaf that held a caterpillar, or a weird web-y thing, or a cluster of lustrous eggs and dropped them in the compost bucket, as breezily as I could. I would occasionally be surprised by a caterpillar hiding under a curl in the leaf. At one such encounter I said, “Oh golly!” which was embarrassing, because even though nobody was around to hear me, I now have to live with the knowledge that I’m a person who says ‘oh golly’ when confronted with a small caterpillar.
The quiche, from the Violet Bakery Cookbook, was so lovely to assemble. Roasting the tomatoes with thyme, piling them into the flaky crust with corn, sharp cheddar, herbs, and custard. But somehow the whole thing felt like less than the sum of its parts. I’ll steal the technique where you egg wash the entire crust in the last 15 minutes of blind-baking, but otherwise I probably won’t reach for this cookbook when I want to make a quiche.
Corn, Tomato, and Avocado Salad, Avocado Toast. Some of my unschooling mom friends are starting the Whole 30 this week. I was invited to join them but knew immediately that I wouldn’t. I want the whole colorful spectrum of foods, from the shiny blush on our first rosy strawberry to the garish orange dust on a crisp Dorito. But even so, I feel like I’ve been eating too much sugar and carby stuff with not enough fresh fruits and vegetables and proteins to balance it out. This was my lunch when the kids wanted pasta with tomato sauce. After I ate it, I stopped myself from also eating George’s untouched pasta, which is a thing that I do. Because it’s there. I’m on the one-lunch-instead-of-two diet.
Tartine’s Country Bread. Reading through this bread recipe took years off my life, but in actual practice it was fairly straightforward. Except for the part where you keep your oven at 500 degrees for two hours. When the first loaf came out of the oven (before you wipe out the pot and return it to the oven to preheat again for the second loaf) I flushed with pride in a feeling not unlike being handed your new baby for the first time. This loaf is so pretty! And huge. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but these loaves are bigger than a human head. A big human head.
I got to skip the week-long process of making your own starter because my friend Abbie gave me one, huzzah! She also gave me a beautiful recipe for no-knead sourdough bread that looked awesome, but it called for beer, which we never keep in the house because no one here likes it. I looked at Central Market to see how cheaply I could get one beer, and they had a big weird German one for $2.79, which seemed like too much to spend on a loaf of homemade bread, which would otherwise be made for pennies. Or probably quarters based on how much flour you use, but still! It’s super cheap.
Creamy Broccoli-Parmesan Soup, Sourdough. This soup comes from The Food Lab cookbook, and it is a knock-out. The soup, not the cookbook. The cookbook is so dense as to be almost off-putting. I’ve been flipping through it for about a week, and while I learn something new every time I open it (there are so many fun science lessons inside) I have had a hard time picking a recipe to get started. I feel like a big part of this is that the recipe sections feel old-fashioned. Breakfasts are heavy egg and meat affairs. Main courses are big cuts of meat, with additional chapters for vegetable side dishes and salads to go with your big hunks of meat. The whole thing, at first/second/third glance feels heavy and unhealthy. But I think focusing on this might be missing the point of the cookbook, which, aside from an old-fashioned sort of recipe collection, is ground-breaking. I made three recipes from it this week (you’ll see two more below) and each one was a treasure. The recipes are flawlessly written, and in each of the three cases resulted in the very best version of whatever it was I was making I had ever had, and each has taught me a fun and innovative new technique that can be used in many other applications.
I have a broccoli parmesan and lemon soup that I love from food52, so I thought it would be fun to try Lopez-Alt’s version for comparison. His wins, hands down. He adds 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda to the pot, which raises the pH of the stock/milk cooking liquid, which in turn breaks down the pectin in the cells of the broccoli so it gets soft in a third of the time (20 minutes!) of my old favorite recipe. I pureed it in two batches in the blender, skipped the step where you push it through a sieve, and we devoured it.
Thursday brought more than just a fun new soup. If you’ve seen me, out and about in the world, and have taken stock in the way I clothe myself, it won’t surprise you to learn that I haven’t bought new underwear in approximately five years. I’m still wearing pairs from Victoria’s Secret, which I haven’t been to since sometime in college, 10 or more years ago. Anyway, I bought six new pairs and feel like a new woman. I have no reason to share this story with you other than as a friendly reminder that buying new underwear is a thing you can do, in case you forgot.
Banana Buttermilk Bread. We had this bread for a tea time snack with Auntie Helen and Christy, along with some of that chai tea from earlier. I loved the crackly sugar top and the teaspoon of rum in the batter but otherwise felt like this was too sodden and dense. There are six bananas in this loaf. Six bananas! Also a ton of oil and yogurt (subbed in for the buttermilk). Also, I undercooked it and it sunk in the middle under the weight of the half-banana you put on top of the batter. So it’s all my fault, really. Moving on.
Chana Masala, Roasted Purple Cauliflower with Cumin, Turmeric, and Lemon, Hot Flaky Paratha. The cauliflower in the upper right corner started out purple, so it’s not as ruined as it looks, but it was still hopelessly overcooked and shriveled. I left it in the oven way too long because I underestimated how long it would take me to make the hot flaky parathas. I love that name. I wish everything was hot and flaky. The paratha is just a chapati that has been drizzled with oil and folded over on itself several times to create those hot flaky layers that puff and crackle when you cook them. There’s a recipe in the book (these things were all from Made in India) for cinnamon-scented lamb stuffed into parathas which has to happen. The chana masala, scooped up with the paratha and topped with yogurt, was the best. I have fallen hard for this cookbook and feel like I need it in my life, in my arms always. Aside from the daily dal, which was merely good, I have loved everything I have made from it. The Violet Bakery Cookbook doesn’t have quite as high a success rate, but there are some recipes (egg yolk chocolate chip cookies, macaroons, and strawberry scones) that I’ll make again and again, and many more I still want to try.
Diner-Style Ham and Cheese Omelet. The best omelet of all time, courtesy of The Food Lab. You whisk the eggs and salt them and let them sit for 15 minutes, in which time they turn a dark orange color and look totally weird. But this step means that your eggs won’t be watery after you cook them. Also you fill the thing with four ounces of ham, which feels positively luxurious. This recipe, like the soup one, is clear and concise and ended with a perfect product.
Grilled Skirt Steak Fajitas, Black Beans, Guacamole. I’ve said a lot already and still have more to say, so I’m just gonna say that these were great. You mix some of the marinade with the skillet of peppers and onions which is smart, right? I liked it. If you’re feeling cheated because of the short nature of this paragraph, please feel free to take the time you would otherwise spend reading more about meat marinades and enjoy this random youtube video.
Cinnamon Buns. A sugary birthday breakfast for Andy! Andy does not care about birthdays, least of all his, which is totally foreign to me. I want every birthday to be big and exciting and special. Andy wanted to eat a hot dog and do nothing. So I tried to take the Ron Swanson approach to birthdays for Andy- I made him these cinnamon buns, which are sort of weird cuz it’s a biscuit dough instead of a soft yeasted bread, but are still soft and cinnamon-y inside and get the job done – and then I took the kids to the park for a few hours so he could play a video game and enjoy some alone time, which is the best gift you can give any parent, right? At the park, Henry delighted in asking every adult to guess how old he was and what his name was and how old his parents were and how old his brother was. Some of the times he was ignored while parents tended to their own children, but one guy pushing his daughter on a swing engaged with him. When Henry said he was 4 and 11/12ths the guy asked if Henry would be starting kindergarten soon, to which he replied that he was never going to go to school. I explained that we were homeschoolers, unschoolers, and the guy asked why we picked that. This is such an awkward conversation to have and I still haven’t found a good response to this question. Anything I say could be construed as a value judgment on the parents who choose to send their kids to traditional schools, or the jobs that traditional schools do, and I don’t want to sound like I think I’m better than anyone or that this choice is the best choice for everyone- I’m not and it isn’t. Can I just say I want my kids to be able to have a say in what they learn and when they learn it? Or does that sound judge-y too?
Birthday Hot Dogs with Canned Chili. Longtime readers will remember that Andy picked hot dogs for his birthday dinner last year. We upgraded the hot dog by adding a loose pool of Wolf brand chili to the top but downgraded the drink, from a whiskey and coke to water.
Lemon Drizzle Loaf. Andy and I looked through lots of cookbooks together to find the perfect birthday dessert before settling on this lemon cake from the Violet Bakery Cookbook. It came out beautifully and paired pretty nicely with the chili dogs. Happy birthday, my love!