I’ve been reading Catastrophic Happiness: Finding Joy in Childhood’s Messy Years, by Catherine Newman. I have never left a comment on her blog, but I am a superfan. I think she writes about life with young children better than anyone. If you haven’t, read this essay, which is the prologue of her new book. An excerpt:
One day, the children will eat neither pennies nor crayons nor great, gulping handfuls of sand like they have a powerful thirst for sand, sand, only sand. They will no longer choke on lint and disks of hot dog or fall down the stairs, their heads making the exact, sickening, hollow-melon thump that you knew they would make, when you knew they would fall down the stairs. They will still fall out of trees and off of trampolines. They will still scrape their elbows and knees and foreheads, and you will still be called upon to tend to these injuries. And you will be happy to, because they so rarely need you to kneel in front of them any more, to kiss them tenderly, here, and also here. Rest assured, though, that there will be ongoing opportunity for the knelling likelihood of doom and destruction. Ticks will attach their parasitic selves to the children’s scalps and groins; rashes and fevers and mysterious illnesses will seize everyone, and you will still go on a Googling rampage of “mild sore throat itchiness coma death.” The kids will still barf with surprising frequency—but competently, into tidy buckets, rather than in a spraying impersonation of a vomit-filled Super-Soaker on the drunk frat boy setting.
Oh, I love it! I want to write like her. And, honestly, I want to live like her. Look at this cool rug she made on a giant loom at an art camp for grown-ups! I feel like we write about the same subject matter, but she is observant and has a great memory (how do you remember all of the endlessly-quotable-but-easily-forgettable things little kids say?) and a sentimental side that I mostly don’t have. Are these skills that can be learned? Acquired? Faked? I aim to try. Here’s what we ate this week.
Crispy Thai Pork with Cucumber Salad. George, sitting on a fat vinyl mat in the active play room at parkour, looked up at a baby crawling nearby and said loudly, “That baby is white.” I said, “what?” He said, “That baby is white.” I said, “what?” again, and the white baby’s mom said, “White?” And George said, “Yes, white.” We all agreed that he was white, and I think there was also a silent agreement that I must be a weirdo racist person who points out white people to my toddler. In my defense, this baby was really, really white- ghostly pale skin with hair the color of cream you’ve beaten an egg yolk into. But I can’t say that to the mom- I think my kid is just noticing how freakishly pale your baby is. So instead, my supposed racism just followed me around the room the rest of the afternoon.
I had made a menu plan for the week that relied on me going to the store. But I didn’t go to the store, so I had to improvise. I was going to use the package of ground pork to make pastellitos, an empanada-like thing in the Hot Bread Kitchen cookbook, but was missing a tomato and raisins and the four hours I would have needed to make beans to go with it. Instead, I realized that I had almost all the items on hand to make this crispy thai pork I’m sure you’re sick of hearing about. The cucumber salad was made with the leftover cucumber spears from our solstice crudite platter. I stood each little wedge up on the cutting board and more or less failed to slice them thinly. You’re meant to serve the pork and rice and cucumber salad as tacos, wrapped up in fat, buttery lettuce leaves, but I only had an old package of baby kale, so I just put a pile of that on top of my rice instead. Everyone else opted to skip this step and just eat meat and rice. And that’s okay! This way, I get to sit up tall and look around smugly because I’m the healthiest person at the table, with my fistful of kale.
Roasted Tamarind Chicken with Honey and Red Chili, Mint and Yogurt Chutney, Naan. We spent three of our mid-day hours in my friend Amanda’s parents’ pool. It is spectacular. Beautifully landscaped and all in bloom (firecracker ferns, pride of barbados, red yucca, big blooming pots of plumeria) with soft-cushioned furniture under a shady pergola. They also have a diving board, and it was immediately obvious that the idea of jumping off of it into the deep end both thrilled and terrified Henry. He wears a ‘puddle jumper’ in the water- a floaty thing that wraps around his arms and across his chest and makes it virtually impossible to knock him over, like some precocious red-haired buoy, but still he approached the diving board with intense skepticism.We spent probably twenty minutes (a long time) coaching him through the various ways he might get from the diving board into the water, and with every passing minute you could see the frustration grow on his face. I was frustrated too and said that no one was forcing him to do this, that he could just give up and try again later if he wanted to, which made the corners of his mouth turn down miserably and big tears come to his eyes. Okay, so we had to find a way. I heaved my body onto a giant, dense, foam crab that George had been riding around the pool, floated to the middle of the deep end, and held out my arms. Henry jumped and I caught him, his beefy little arms crushing my own, but I managed to keep his head above water. We then did this forty more times, Henry beaming all the while.
Helen surprised me with a gift of Made in India, the cookbook I had a torrid love affair with a few months ago, and then had to return to the library. I am so so excited that it is back in my life again. I had planned one dinner (a pistachio and yogurt chicken curry) but still hadn’t made it to the store, so I switched gears and made this instead, which I had all the ingredients for, thanks to a big jar of tamarind puree I bought to make spaghetti squash pad thai months and months ago. The naan didn’t puff up as nicely as it did the first time I made it, but was still soft and delicious (I slathered each piece in melted butter and sprinkled them with kosher salt), and made a great wrap with the chicken and chutney. Henry opted to eat only naan dipped in a bowlful of the honey chicken juices, and George ate half a piece of naan. That was dinner.
Molletes. I had a lot of errands to run on Thursday, including the trip to the grocery store I’d been putting off and trips to two different libraries. Our regular one, where a hold was about to expire on The Food of Oman (Tipsy Baker’s post made me really want to check it out), and to a library in east Austin so I could borrow a copy of Truly Mexican. I needed to make huge quantities of Mexican rice for a party over the weekend and the recipe appears to have disappeared off the face of the internet. I was struggling to go through the 1000 steps needed to get the kids in the car. (Really it’s only two steps- get everyone dressed and peed- but each of these simple jobs break down into dozens of sub tasks. Is this a day where a kid absolutely must pick out their own shirt? Can I get clean underwear on George before he escapes into the backyard to catch another reluctant chicken? No. And now I have to wash chicken poop off of his bare foot, even though his new easy-to-slip-on shoes are kept at the ready by the back door, which I bought after Henry cut his foot in the chicken coop last week and I thought it might prove to be evidence in favor of me not being criminally negligent, should this ever come to trial. And then my mother in law, Mary, walked in like a beacon of light. I didn’t think she was going to be able to come, and what sudden and intense joy to realize I could just walk out of the house by my own self and drive away. I went to the libraries and to the grocery store, and even stopped by thrift land and bought myself some tank tops, all with a huge smile on my face at the ease of it all. After Mary left in the early evening, I made molletes, I got the kids cleaned up and pajama-ed, brushed their teeth, reminded them to pee, washed the dishes, and we were all in bed reading Harry Potter by the time Andy got home from toastmasters. I fucking did it. It turns out all I need to be a competent parent is a six-hour break in the middle of the day where Mary watches the kids and I do whatever the hell I want.
At the end of a long day. The kids look like sweaty little zombies. Also, look that poor chicken in the eye and don’t look away. Isn’t it haunting?
Tartine’s Country Bread. The recipe for this bread, I’ve mentioned before, is terrifying. It took a period of careful study and several re-readings and visualizations before I understood what it was asking. But once you understand what the hell they’re talking about, it’s not hard. Just long. This is sounding too penis-y. You have to make a leaven 12 hours before you want to start baking, then test if it has fermented enough by dropping a spoonful into a glass of water to see if it floats. If it does, you mix up the dough and begin a three-hour folding process. Then the dough rises another three hours. Meanwhile you’ve gotten your loud-noise-phobic five-year-old set up in the backyard with your phone and headphones and the They Might Be Giants’ Here Comes Science album, preheated your oven and a big pot to 500 degrees, baked the first loaf, and then re-preheated the pot for another 30 minutes and baked the second loaf. Then, on Saturday, you’ll drive down to Buda, through terrible traffic, to the party you were baking the bread for, and remember as you exit the highway that you’ve left the breads at home, wrapped in tin foil and crammed into your freezer.
Pineapple, Greens, and Tofu with Roasted Chile-Coconut Dressing. I brought this salad to enneagram, partially so I wouldn’t be the girl who always brings desserts and fried things, but also because I have had deep, unquenchable cravings for any foods made with fistfuls of basil and cilantro and mint. Anyway, enneagram this month was about your ‘passions’, which is sort of code for the main thing that’s shitty about you. I’m paraphrasing of course. It is a very good thing that I am not the person in charge of leading these discussions. Anyway, each of the nine numbers on the ennegram has one of the seven deadly sins associated with it. For the smart asses out there, yes, they added two things to the list of seven- fear and deceit. My number’s sin, or passion, is ‘lust.’ They’re quick to point out that this is not a sexual lust (says you, enneagram book!), but a thirst for intensity and control. I can relate. You’re not supposed to let your passions drive you, and for every number there’s a sort of concept you’re encouraged to embrace to counter it. Eights are supposed to counter our lust with innocence. This was one of those times in enneagram class where everyone else immediately understands what they’re meant to do and I just sit there blinking dumbly and completely failing to get how one would embrace innocence instead of lust. Does it mean, that in the midst of intensely driving after all the things I’m aiming for, I ought to instead go lie down in the grass and look for bunny shapes among the clouds? This is unappealing for two reasons. 1) I like to drive after things intensely and 2) there is a lot of chicken feces in our grass. I guess my main problem here is that I don’t get what is fundamentally wrong with knowing what you want to do and doing it. And I also don’t know what it means to be innocent instead. If the problem with lust is that it means I’m always calling the shots and I’m shutting out other people’s voices and needs, I get that. But wouldn’t a better counter force for that be ‘compromise’ or ‘listening’ or something? I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. I really hope it doesn’t sound like I’m making fun of this process. I honestly love the whole thing- the work, the people, the potluck(!)- and I’m confident that one day this innocence thing will make sense to me, and then my life will be all the better for it. But that day is not today.
Rice Crispy Treats, Gluten Free. Joanna and Javi had a farm party to welcome folks to their new 10 acre farm in Buda, Blue Earth Farm. I wanted to help with desserts because I love this family, and because Joanna and Javi have done so so much for us, and because I love desserts. So I made a few gluten free treats and also very gluten-ful bread and also way way too much Mexican rice. I always overestimate how much food people are going to eat. So, I multiplied the rice recipe in that Truly Mexican cookbook by eight. 16 cups of rice, 8 pounds of tomatoes, and so on and so on. The rice filled two 8 quart dutch ovens. This is too much rice. Maybe a third of it got eaten. Maybe. I took one of the pots home and the kids have been thrilled to have a neverending supply of the stuff. I mention this here because I didn’t take a picture of it and because I have nothing to say about rice crispy treats, except that they are tasty.
Raspberry Cheesecakes. These were a bit of a pain in the ass because the recipe makes 36 (it’s from Martha Stewart’s Cupcake book, and I couldn’t find the recipe online), and I only had two cupcake tins. And because you have to cook them in a water bath, which means you have to bake them in three batches. unless you are living the dream in a kitchen that has three muffin tins, three roasting pans, and an oven large enough to accommodate all of them. Worth it, though.
Chocolate Cupcakes with Fluffy Vanilla Frosting. The cupcakes I always make. Four of them toppled off this board in the drive down to Buda, and landed face down on the blanket. When we got home I really considered eating one of the dirty car cupcakes, but then put them in the compost bucket and immediately regretted it. I want one right now.
Bread and Honey. That bread that I forgot in the freezer was going to be used as a vehicle for party guests to sample Joanna’s gorgeous springtime wildflower honey. So after we got to the party and unloaded the other treats and the metric ton of rice, Andy drove back to Austin and brought them back for me. My hero!
The party was so much fun. The sky was grey and windy, and there were soft showers every once in a while. You can see the land for miles around, all of it green and lush and filled with flowers, and the sky looks bigger too. We watched the pigs roll around in the grass and the bees buzzing busily around their hives. We built farms out of legos for the lego competition and Andy won the farm trivia competition. We ate lots of tacos and tamales and treats and talked to lots of amazing people. And then George fell asleep on the way home and stayed asleep after Andy carried him into bed- the cherry on top of a really fun day.
Zucchini and Rice Noodles with Coconut Peanut Sauce. I also made frozen corn dogs for dinner, because I knew Andy would prefer it to this meal of cold vegetable noodles and the kids are complete enigmas and more choices are always better. Henry ate three bowls of this stuff, George ate an entire corn dog (following an emotional breakdown because he wanted to eat the corn dog while it was frozen and could not understand why I was putting it in the oven) and the floppy rounds of zucchini leftover from the spiralizer, and Andy ate two corn dogs but ended up much preferring these noodles. So yay!
Catherine Newman would finish up her essay with something heartfelt and lovely, but I’m too tired to try. So instead I’ll say nothing, with aspirations to do better next week. See you then!