Andy got a job and my uterus is okay! It has an extra-thick luxury lining, as it turns out, which doesn’t matter to anybody. Andy’s job is very exciting. It’s in south Austin, which will cut his commute in half, at least, and he’ll be working with great friends in a small studio doing video game programming on lots of cool, varied projects. I’m so happy for him. Bad news for him because he likes working and good news for me because I like having him home all the time is that he doesn’t start until May 2, so I get him for another week! And we got chickens! We moved the coop from our neighbors house to ours with the help of Dustin and Jordan, our burliest friends, on Sunday morning, paid them for their kindness with foot long chili cheese coneys from Sonic (I got chili cheese tots- kosher for Passover!), gathered together for our Passover Seder, and then wrangled the chickens from our neighbor’s yard after dinner. On Monday morning we woke up with the sun to try to finish the barely-started fence around the coop where we had stuffed the chickens the night before. I didn’t want to let them out of the coop until we had the chicken run finished because these birds can fly over a six foot fence and would flap their fat little bodies back over to my neighbor’s place a few houses down the street and then we’d have to wrangle them all over again. So Andy and I worked as fast as we could, the chickens squawking angrily at us from inside the coop the whole time, until we finally had the fence sealed up and could let them out. Henry is enamored with them. He collected six eggs from the nest boxes yesterday and kept opening the carton to gently cradle them in his hands, one at a time. This morning we checked again and he decided to just stand in the run with them for a while, thrilling as they took sips of water from the big bowl or buried their bellies in the dirt bath area. I’m happy to be back in the chicken farming business again too (she says, one day in). They’re fun animals and I love the backyard eggs. I am awkward and bad at saying meaningful things about life, but I did want to say thank you so much to all of you for your support last week when things felt scary and uncertain. It helped me so much, even though it turned out nothing was wrong in the first place, to feel so connected to all of you. Would it be weird to say I love you? Yes? I do, though. Here’s what we ate this week.
Classic Diner-Style Smashed Cheeseburgers with Fry Sauce. I got my blood work done. The lady called me back by yelling “Arr-yell-ee?” into the waiting room and I thought about correcting her on the way back but then thought it didn’t matter, but then the first question she asked me was to say my full name and birth date so I got to say it anyway without looking like a douche bag. She was a nice lady. So was Fabiola, the lady who did my pelvic ultrasound and trans-vaginal ultrasound, which is taken vis-a-vis the vagina by a large rod. The room was dark and quiet though, and I stared at the grid between the ceiling tiles and no kids were climbing on me so it wasn’t so bad. After that, I came home and we all went to the library, and then to the park, and then to Helen’s house to play a bit, and then home to play some more and I felt completely exhausted. Emotionally exhausted too. And I have very few emotions! Andy and I joke (sad jokes) that the kids are going to be emotionally stunted because the only ones we ever demonstrate are happy (sometimes!), frustrated (often), and angry (not gonna quantify this one). But I knew I must be emotionally exhausted because I almost cried, I thought about crying, while listening to Rogers and Hammerstein’s In My Own Little Corner, because isn’t it sad that the whole world doesn’t open its arms up to Cinderella except in her daydreams? I’m disgusted with my weepiness.
These burgers are legitimately the best I’ve ever made. They’re from The Food Lab. I was supposed to serve them with the toppings on the bottom and forgot, and doing so probably would have solved my only beef with them (a pun.), which was that the bun got soggy really quickly. If I had put the iceberg lettuce on the bottom, it probably would have acted as a barrier and kept the bun dry. Side note- I think this was the first time in my life I have ever purchased iceberg lettuce. Henry kept insisting that it was cabbage. Side note to the side note- the burger without cheese or fry sauce is Henry’s, and upon serving it to him he asked that the lettuce and tomato be removed as well. He enjoyed his dry burger, though! Moving on. I loved the fry sauce and the onions between the cheese and the burger- they steam a little in there and lose some intensity. It’s a great recipe.
Roasted Butternut Squash Curry with Garlic and Tomatoes, Naan. Fabiola said I’d have my ultrasound results in two days, and I didn’t want to spend any more time worrying about this stuff, so I decided to finally try to decorate a wall in our house that has been blank, save for literally 45 nail holes where I attempted and failed to install a gallery wall, for months. Andy offered to take the kids to parkour (the greatest gift of all time) and I planned to make dinner while they were out so I could burn the naan as much as I wanted and not have to worry about the smoke alarm scaring Henry, but first I went to Target to look at all the things I could buy for my decorating project. I spent forever there but didn’t buy anything, and then I had to race home to actually finish the naan before Andy got back at six, which was tricky. After the kids went to bed, I spent all night thinking about this wall, and texting about it with Helen. Helen was super supportive and talked with me about decorating minutiae for hours. I know, and she knew, that I was doing what Brene Brown (haven’t read the book because I found the back cover quotation to be a turn off, but I’m absorbing some of the messages through osmosis) calls “numbing out.” I took on a meaningless project and obsessed over it so I wouldn’t have to think about the probable huge tumor that was going to explode inside my body at any moment. But I don’t feel bad about it. I’d much rather do something, anything, than spend more time worrying about stuff I can’t control.
Ham, Cheese, and Leek Scones, Wedge Salad. The next morning George had his first teeth cleaning at the dentist’s office, and he was so dear in that big chair- so serious and polite- that my heart broke a little with his smallness. Then we met Helen at Target and I bought a few things for the decorating project and we played in the toy aisles for 40 minutes and then we went to Taco Bell. The kids have been to one, but it’s been a long time. Henry asked for a bean burrito and ate the whole thing, so I asked him if he’d liked it. He said “not especially, but I didn’t want it to go to waste.” Fair enough. George asked for a crunchy taco and then ate my seven-layer burrito instead, so I ate his taco. I have refused to eat anything with meat in it from Taco Bell since I was in high school but parenthood changes a person. I thought the taco was incredibly delicious. George napped on the way home and was up past midnight (the horror). In between these things the kids spent a long time catching fireflies in the backyard and we ate this completely bizarre dinner of wedge-shaped items. Ham, cheese, and leek scones from the Violet Bakery Cookbook, which are pretty good but contain two fulls cups of yogurt which gives them a tangy quality I didn’t love. I’ve got a half-dozen of them in the freezer to eat at some point. The wedge salad was to use up the iceberg lettuce from our burgers and was from The Food Lab. It was so hard to eat, but it tasted pretty good if you could get a bit of each component balanced on your fork and into your mouth. We all struggled with this. Yes, I did serve the kids giant wedge salads. They ate the bacon but left just about everything else.
Sloppy Joes. Thursday! Mary day! I still hadn’t heard about my ultrasound and I had finished decorating that wall so my brain needed to know the answer or find something else to fixate on. I called the doctor’s office and the lady said they hadn’t received the results yet, but that she’d call and then call me back. I left the kids with Mary and went out to lunch with my friend Erin and ate delicious sushi and talked about all the people we used to hate at work- it was the best. And then it was after noon, and my doctor’s office closes at noon on Thursdays so I figured I wouldn’t hear anything until the next day. I came home and ground 6.5 pounds of venison with my meat grinder (thanks, Helen and Jordan!) for Mary, who paid me in still more venison and by watching my kids for hundreds of hours for no pay. I was pressed for time for dinner after going shopping for Passover food and had hamburger buns to use up after our burger dinner, so I just made sloppy joes with lots of ketchup and brown sugar. They were a hit, obviously.
I cooked a lot of stuff on Friday but forgot to take a single picture of anything. I made those awesome granola bars, a big pot of Mexican rice, and brought stuff to make quesadillas to Joanna’s house at Blue Earth Farm, where we got to watch three happy grunting little piglets eat papaya and watch their honey bees gather nectar from the millions of wildflowers that cover their ten acres of land- it’s a gorgeous place. I asked Helen and Joanna whether it was rude or not for me to show up at someone else’s place with a full lunch. Does it look like I think the host could not or would not feed us? We thought maybe it did. Still, everyone liked the rice! While we were there, I thought I would call my doctor’s office again, and that’s when I noticed a missed call and message from Thursday- how did I miss this?! It was my gynocologist, calling to say that everything looked just fine, that my uterine lining was thick but that’s ok, that weirdness with my cycle (I won’t get into this on my food blog where I have already discussed trans-vaginal ultrasound rods) could probably be explained because I’m still nursing George and that gums up the works. I felt instantly relieved and instantly judgmental of myself for getting so carried away with worry over nothing. Still, I was so grateful for the good news.
Matzo Brei. I’ve had a giant 5 pound box of matzo in my kitchen for the last three weeks, and every morning I’ve looked at it and thought about making matzo brei for breakfast, but I made myself wait for the first morning of Passover because I didn’t want to be sick of it before the week of eating matzo started. Oh but it is delicious! Like Jewish migas. I like the savory version with tons and tons of black pepper.
Chicken Salad with Mango, Purple Basil, and Ginger. Helen and Jordan came over at lunch time so Helen could polish all the silver for Passover the next day, and I served all the leftovers in the fridge for lunch because I needed room in there for the foods for our Seder. So I put leftover sloppy joes, leftover potato/sausage/kale casserole (I made this on Friday along with the million other things I forgot to photograph), and this chicken salad out on the table. I didn’t have stuff to make a standard chicken salad, so Helen encouraged me to just throw everything that needed to be used up into the mix. Top of the list was an old withered mango and some dried-out scallions. I chopped up purple basil and grated some ginger and mixed all that stuff together with mayonnaise, lime, and curry seasoning. Are you horrified? I thought it was really good. I ate it for dinner too.
Sisters, sisters, there were never such devoted sisters! Molly took this picture of me and Helen (thank you, Molly!) and danced around a bit trying to get the glare off my glasses but it wasn’t in the cards. Our seder was supposed to start at 4, and at 3 we had the table outside, beautifully set by Helen, with a delightful tablescape on the kids end with Moses parting the red sea and a parade of lego people and Jake and the Neverland pirate characters walking through it. We were feeling so relaxed and competent- ahead of schedule for the first time ever- when it started pouring. We had to rush outside, move all the millions of plates and cups and silverware off the tables, carry them inside, dry everything off as best we could, and reset the table. We looked like frantic, sweaty, crazy people when our guests arrived. Luckily they already know that we are frantic, sweaty, and crazy so we didn’t have to try to pull ourselves together. We left the soaking wet tablecloths in place but otherwise, you wouldn’t have known that anything weird had happened.
The Seder Plate. We didn’t grow up celebrating Passover. I remember doing it twice- once when I was little and once when I was in high school. And we never went to temple, so all the knowledge Helen and I have acquired for this stuff comes from the internet and an old paper haggadah for fourth through seventh graders at the Edgar F. Magnin Religious School at the Wilshire Boulevard Temple. I don’t know exactly how this found its way into our hands, but it’s great. Even so, it’s too long for our mostly atheistic/agnostic tastes, so Helen has been whittling it down, adding and removing bits as we explore how we feel about them. This year we sang the four questions for the first time, partially in Hebrew, with the goal to sing the whole thing in Hebrew next year. I sing the candle blessing at the beginning, but would be utterly ashamed to do so in front of a practicing Jew because I’m certain I’m saying the words wrong. In an effort to keep the kids engaged, Helen made a Passover bingo game, where they had to listen for key words. She put a “Jews are Free!” space in the middle, which I thought was a nice touch! The winner got a head start in searching for the afikomen- a hidden piece of matzo that the kids have to find before the dinner can end. I love the meal, and all the rituals, and I felt like we got it mostly right this year. I’ve got to spend more time on the internet reading about the Seder plate though, because every time I struggle with what to say about everything. “The egg symbolizes new life? And rebirth? But it’s burnt to show this is hard?” That was about the best I could do.
Passover Charoset. I so wish I could find this recipe online for you- I looked around for a while and came up empty-handed. But if you’re serious about raising your charoset game, check out The New Persian Kitchen from your local library and make this Iranian Passover charoset- it’s the best I’ve had. Its got apples and dates and honey and pomegranate molasses and almonds, walnuts, pistachios, and spices. It’s glorious.
Braised Brisket with Rhubarb and Honey, Green Beans with Ginger and Mustard Seeds, Latkes with Applesauce and Sour Cream. Yeah, I burned some of the latkes. I’m a consummate hostess, so I took the burniest ones for myself. Look at my Granny’s wedding china! My parents shipped it to Texas for me in time for Passover, and Helen polished them (the edges are sterling silver, you guys) and I was so happy to get to use them. See at the top of the plate? Partially obscured by burned latkes and a blob of sour cream? That’s my grandparents monogram- Susan and Israel Zide. Isn’t that the loveliest thing you ever heard? The green beans are Indian, but I thought they went with the meal pretty well anyway. And the brisket is my very very favorite. The linked recipe monkeys with the details a bit, but is almost the same. The smell of the meat braising in the rhubarb sauce is one of my top 10 favorite kitchen smells. Unfortunately I forgot to put the spice rub on the brisket on Friday, which meant it couldn’t go into the oven until almost 10pm on Saturday, which meant it wasn’t done cooking until 1:40am on Sunday, and wasn’t cool enough to go in the fridge until 3am. Andy stayed up and did it for me so I wouldn’t have to (swoon) but it meant missing out on some of the prime smelling time. Oh and no one else in the world eats latkes for Passover- they’re a Hanukkah food- but we love them so much that we do it anyway. Also, you’re not supposed to eat meat and dairy on the same plate, but we do that anyway too. I don’t change the Passover menu plan much from year to year and I’m pretty sure I made these exact comments last year.
Koloocheh, Chocolate-Covered Caramelized Matzo Crunch, Macaroons. These cookies are made with wacky flours- fava bean (I subbed garbanzo flour), coconut flour, and tapioca starch. Because these are not really grains, I figured these cookies didn’t count as chametz, but I’m not sure what a Jewish scholar would say about that. We all tasted a bit of the batter from the bowl and it was so bean-y and chalky that I had the taste in my mouth for the next 15 minutes. They were much better after being baked, but they were light years better with real flour (or Cup4Cup) instead of the bean dust. The chocolate caramel matzo (aka matzo crack) is universally adored and I’m obsessed with these macaroons from the Violet Bakery, as I’m sure you’ve gleaned from my repeated mentions of them.
This really is the best holiday. I love getting to do this ceremony with my friends and family, who are funny and kind and thoughtful and a joy to have around the table. I love the division of labor where I get to be in charge of the meal and Helen takes control of the table-setting and the ritual and ceremony. Everything comes together, even if it rains on your fancy tablescape and you have to leave the dinner early to go wrangle your new chickens from your neighbors house. Happy Passover, y’all.