Every time we go to the library I run, daringly, from my children to see if there are a few cookbooks I’ve heard of that I can snatch up quickly from the 640 row and return in time to stop Henry and George from throwing books at one another’s heads. Over the last few weeks, I’ve checked out a Nigella book, a Giada book, Honey and Co., Bar Tartine, My Paris Kitchen, and The Art of Simple Food. And none of them have interested me. I couldn’t find a single recipe in Honey and Co. or Bar Tartine that would work for my needs- it’s all restaurant food that was too fussy or time-consuming or had no components that would be appealing to my children. I had high hopes for My Paris Kitchen, after reading all the glowing reviews of it in The Piglet last year, and while I think I’d love it in the late fall or winter, I just can’t get on board with eating a ham-and-cream-sauce sandwich in August in Texas. (His writing is wonderful though- if you start reading one of the essays between the recipes, any one of them, I bet you won’t stop until you’ve finished it.) Nigella was easy enough, but it seemed like every recipe was built around big piles of meat or carbs. The Art of Simple Food was uninspiring. I do most of that stuff already. Also, I want the glossy pictures. The line drawings of red onion slices in the borders of the salad pages are simply too austere. My long string of cookbook failures ended last week though, though I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, with a sudden and surprising love affair with Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Easy. Yeah, there are a lot of pictures of GP, as they somewhat obnoxiously refer to her throughout the book, in chunky sweaters with her beautiful Ralph Lauren-esque children. But between those are 130 gorgeous recipes. The pictures are beautiful, the recipes are simple and clear, healthy but not too healthy, and the whole thing is inspiring. I’ve made eight recipes from the book so far, and all of them have been delicious, easy, healthier than my standard fare, and were enjoyed by my family too (scrambled eggs with parmesan and arugula, pita bread pizzas, sesame noodles, taquitos, zucchini cacio e pepe, chicken wonton soup, bo bun salad, and thai-style crab cakes). I have made pita bread pizzas, taquitos, and scrambled eggs without a recipe plenty of times, but I got better results than I usually do on my own by following GP’s techniques. And there are so many more recipes I want to try. There’s not a lot of love for Gwyneth in the foodie scene. At least, not in the snootier echelons of it. This food52 review implies that this book won’t teach you anything, won’t inspire you, and that only rabid fans desperate for a look at Gwyneth’s sweaters will buy this book. What a shame! I’m so glad to have found it.
I’m way behind in sharing the food we’ve eaten with you. I’m gonna go through this in a dead run, stopping only for the stories that stand out in my memory (yelling at a Target employee, a tragic story involving my face and a cup full of spit, etc) and then we’ll be all caught up and everything will be right with the world. Here’s what we ate in the last two weeks.
Mango Sushi. This is the day I yelled at the Target employee. It was the day after our camping trip and I needed dog food, groceries, and stuff from Target to make a little bag of gifts for Phinnie to open on the plane when she and Helen flew to Portland the next day. I had parked at the dog food store and walked with the kids down to Target- they play this game which they love and I find exhausting where they hide behind the concrete pillars holding up the strip mall’s awning and I have to say, “Wheeerrre’s George? Wheeerrrre’s Henry?” And then I see them and we all laugh and laugh. Them sincerely, me, not. Anyway, then we buy the stuff from Target and I push the cart as far as it will go before the wheels lock up and abandon the cart and carry the stuff back to the car. Except that when we walked out of Target, the cart full of my kids and our purchases, an employee was just finishing up clearing out the carts that had collected at the wheel-locking point. I knew it would be super rude for me to push the cart to that point after he had just cleared them, so I lifted the kids out of the cart, put the bags on my shoulders, spun the cart the other way and down the ramp and aligned it in front of the five other carts the guy had just assembled. I said, could you take this too? And he glared at me and said “Yeah. I guess.” In a super shitty way that I can’t convey in print. I was instantly furious. I said, “Forget it!” and I put the bags back in and pushed the cart, dragging the kids with me, to the cart corral place in the parking lot. And the dude followed me! Cuz he’s gonna take the cart of course he is. And he starts grabbing my bags to take them out so he can take the cart and I yelled, “Don’t touch my bags! I was trying to help you!” He didn’t say anything at all. I’m a disaster, pathetically worked up over this encounter, and I know it. I ran away with as much dignity as I could muster while pulling along two little kids and a bag full of Li’l Woodzeez and My Little Ponies. I was and am embarrassed to have been so desperately lame about this. I still haven’t worked out what a cooler person would have done in this situation though.
We headed straight to Wheatsville, where they were out of the avocado sushi that I had promised Henry he could have. I thought, okay, I’ll just make some, but then they only had $2.29 organic avocados and come on! I stood there contemplating them for a while, and decided to buy one. When we got home, I cooked the sushi rice, got out the nori, and cut open this precious avocado, which turned out to be rotten through and through. Can’t anything go right in my life, I thought? I’m a hugely privileged asshole, yes, and I just wanted this fucking avocado to do its job. I made mango sushi instead and the kids loved it and we all moved on. From the sushi, I mean. I still spent a lot of time brooding over the Target cart guy.
Roasted Chicken, Stove Top Stuffing, Peas, Gravy. I’m a hypocrite in addition to being privileged. I won’t cook a beautiful croque monsieur from My Paris Kitchen because it’s too hot outside, but I will make a roasted chicken and a box of stove top doused in a gravy that’s 50% chicken fat. Oh but it was good!
Chocolate-Covered Frozen Banana Slices. You know, there’s not much to say here. I had a couple old bananas that sat in the 130 degree trunk of my car the whole weekend we were camping, and I had the ends of two melty chocolate bars that didn’t get used for s’mores and I put ’em together to make something way better than the sum of its parts, like a fucking banana wizard.
Red Beans and Rice, Chicken Salad. Christy dropped off a bag packed full of sausages that didn’t get eaten on the camping trip and needed to be used up right away, so I put a half dozen of them in some red beans and rice. Molly had a bunch of old chicken that needed to be eaten too, so okay, we ate a big chicken-y salad with mustard vinaigrette. There is nothing I can add that will make this story interesting.
Cherry Crisp. And then we ate this. Everybody loved it and everybody loved me because I made it.
Sausage and Mushroom Frittata. Green Grape Salad. I put the rest of the old sausages in a frittata. Grapes in a green salad doesn’t work.
Asparagus and Ham Strata. And this dinner was to use up old camping ham! And also 8 hot dog buns that were supposed to go with the sausages that we mostly didn’t eat. The kids wouldn’t touch it, so I had eight pounds of strata leftovers and no one to eat it. So much for minimizing waste- I fed the rest to the chickens.
When I was serving the kids dinner, I asked what they wanted to drink. Henry wanted milk, George wanted apple juice. I got them. I sat down. George immediately looked over longingly at Henry’s milk glass and said, “I was just wishing that Henry had milk, and I had milk.” And Henry, without missing a beat, said, “Well George, looks like you got half your wish.”
Enchiladas Suizas. We have enneagram once a month, and every time I underestimate how hard it’s going to be to put together a dinner for Andy and the kids and a snack to share at enneagram before I have to leave the house at 6:15. The kids won’t leave me alone, I’ve got to reassure Henry about the smoke detector a hundred times when I’m broiling the poblanos and tomatillos for the enchiladas, George eats all the monterrey jack I’ve grated, and I’ve got to go balls to the wall for the last half hour to get everything done, and every time I think, why did I chose this? Make Andy figure out dinner! Bring a pile of cheese to enneagram! But then next month I’ll do the same thing- convince myself that it will be easy and then be freshly surprised when it’s not. Fun fact: did you know the expression “balls to the wall” is not about testicles? It’s about pilots throttling levers, which itself sounds rather sexy, but is also not. Unless you want it to be. Choose your own adventure.
For the one of you that care (Tyger?), I felt like I improved on the soggy enchiladas from a couple of weeks ago. I ignored the step to bake the things for 25 minutes and instead warmed the sauce and filling, wrapped it all up, and put the pan under the broiler for a minute just to melt the cheese. It was a lot better this way, without tortillas that were soggy in some places, dried out in others.
Raspberry Buttermilk Cakes. I brought these little cakes to enneagram to celebrate Christy’s birthday, and also this vegan cold cucumber and avocado soup which I forgot to photograph. Happy Birthday, Christy! I sure do love you! Thanks for helping me learn how to be the best asshole I can be!
Sopa Rejia. That enchilada recipe makes at least double the sauce you actually need. I tossed it with pasta and more grated monterrey jack for a weirdly delicious dinner.
Peanut Butter Avocado Shake. Garbage. Two bananas, an avocado, peanut butter and milk does not produce a drinkable thing. The kids looked at me like I was out of my mind when I served it to them.
Molletes on Homemade Bolillos. These again!
Hash Browns, Scrambled Eggs with Arugula and Parmesan. My first Gwyneth recipe, everybody! Are you so clever that you’ve already figured out you can put parmesan and arugula in your scrambled eggs? Well bully for you. I needed to hear it from an internet lifestyle guru.
Shaved Ice. This place is in the parking lot of a bowling alley and is so much better than you would expect from that description. They have corn hole! (Which is a game, not a shaved ice flavor). And a whole suite of “gourmet” flavors, including Thai Iced Tea, Mango Lassi, and Cucumber Lime. I got a Moscow Mule one, which did not contain vodka but did have real ginger root and lime syrups and tasted amazing.
Carrot Salad, Sheet Pan Sauasage, Onions, and Peppers. This lady calls this “carrot pasta with a creamy zesty garlic sauce” and doesn’t that sound like its a pile of warm carrot strings in a gloppy alfredo sauce? It’s nothing like that. It’s fresh and light and has ginger and tahini and very little garlic. Everybody loves Elgin sausage, cut up and roasted in a 400 degree oven with peppers and onions for 30-40 minutes, until the sausage is nice and crispy.
Pineapple Cilantro Smoothie. This comes from a “three day detox” menu on GOOP. I think we’re all in agreement that this is a little bit stupid, because your liver, kidney, and intestinal tract remove the toxins from your body, not your smoothies. Still, it was delicious. It was leaps and bounds better than the funky avocado banana slurry from a couple of days ago. It seemed weird to put vanilla extract in a smoothie with arugula and cilantro, but once again, it would appear Gwyneth has it all figured out.
The Couch No One Wanted. Andy and I brought this back into the house last week, defeated. The Salvation Army was supposed to come and pick it up, but I saw the truck pull up, examine the couch, and then drive away. Then two separate craigslist mouthbreathers said they would come pick it up and then didn’t. So now we’re gonna have this thing for the rest of our lives.
Pinepple, Greens, and Tofu Salad, Sesame Noodles. I used the rest of the pineapple and coconut milk from my rich-person green smoothie to make my favorite salad. We ate it with sesame noodles from It’s All Easy. They were easy! And you top them with your own homemade furikake mix, which isn’t authentic but is a fun topping. Unless you’re a kid who wants unadulterated noodles free from the fishy taint of seaweed flakes.
At dinner every night, Andy reads us five food trivia questions from a blog he follows. This night it was five questions about food/state puns. When Andy showed us a picture of Oklahoma crafted out of some pasty substance, Henry worked out that it was Oklahummus before I did. It was a nice intersection of Henry doing well at something that’s a combination of me (food!) and Andy (puzzles/brains).
Black Bean Taquitos, Cilantro Lime Salad. Helen, who I usually hang out with at least three times a week, was in Portland for a week visiting my parents (the boys and I get to go at the end of September! In honeycrisp season you guys!!) and I missed her! I celebrated her return by making her a lunch of the taquitos and avocado and cheese salad. These are all Helen foods.
Cats and Dogs. George rediscovered the costume bin and was delighted to find that he fits into this cat costume, which I made for Henry when he was two. He asked if he could wear it for Halloween and I was happy to oblige. He was probably gonna have to wear it anyway, so I’m happy he’s going to do so willingly.
Thai-Style Crab Cakes, Lemongrass Sauce, Cucumber Salad. I felt real fancy putting a tub of crab and a jar of vegenaise into my cart at the grocery store. I’m just like Gwyneth! If Gwyneth never washed her hair and wore the same jean shorts every day.
Samosas with Cilantro Chutney, Cauliflower, Cashew, and Pea Curry, Naan. I made all the Indian food! It was so good. My favorite were the samosas and that spectacular cilantro chutney. I could drink the stuff.
Henry and I read Harry Potter every night before bed. We’ve just finished book five and he loves them so much. He spends much of his downtime flipping through the books we’ve read so far, memorizing the chapter names and lengths. An unschooling friend mentioned that she was in chapter five of book two and Henry said, oh, The Whomping Willow! And he was right. I looked it up later. Anyway, usually while I’m reading, he’s bouncing around on the bed next to me. On this night, he was moving around the bed and standing by the ladder up to his bunk bed playing with a little Play-Doh ice cream cup. The next thing I know, a liquid has splashed into my eyes and hair and all down my neck. I leaped up, horrified, rubbing my eyes. “What is this liquid?! Is this water?! Please, is this stuff water?!” It was spit. A whole cup full of spit that Henry had collected. To his credit, he was mortified. He apologized profusely and hid behind the curtains. I decided to call it a night though.
I wrote too much, but at least we’re officially caught up again. See you next week, friends!