My parents are in town (Gangie and Grandpa, we call ’em!), my niece turned two, I dressed up like a swamp monster, my sister and her husband are looking for their first house and I’ve been going along for the ride to offer helpful comments about the relative plushness of carpets and whether or not our children will plunge to their deaths from the second floor balconies, and I’m reading a book that is not related to, but not entirely dissimilar from, Twilight and is therefore hard to put down. All this to say, I’m having a hard time feeling motivated to write a blog post. It’s so many things! But I also want to get back on track and I do like writing these things, once I can get past the overwhelming desire to not write them, and I’m overdue anyway so I’m doing it. Here’s what we ate this week. And last week.
Bo Bun Salad. This is the first of many recipes I made from Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbook, It’s All Easy, this week. And there’s a lot of hate for this recipe online. Reviewers have hated the number of ingredients (25, sort of- the marinade for the chicken and the dressing have a lot of the same ingredients), the eccentricity of the ingredients (Armenian cucumbers, coconut sugar), and that you have to have a spiralizer. But if you’re really embracing the “It’s All Easy” mindset, you could chill the hell out and make this recipe work for you. I didn’t have coconut sugar, so I used regular sugar. This is okay! I did, by pure happenstance, have Armenian cucumbers on hand because the boys and I saw them while we were loading up on a lunch of olives and baklava (this was really our lunch) at Phoenicia, and these cucumbers were too cute and cheap to pass up. But just use a regular cucumber and move on with your life! You don’t own a spiralizer? Use you vegetable peeler to make long ribbons, or skip the zucchini noodles all together. I didn’t want to buy a cabbage for this recipe so I didn’t. And it was so delicious! The dressing is fish sauce and lime and maple syrup and ginger and is so good that George drank the small pool of it at the bottom of his bowl. It’s funny that Gwyneth gets hate for her recipes being too easy and streamlined from the fancy blogs and hate for them using weird ingredients and equipment from newspaper blogs and other people who don’t seem to like to cook but are inexplicably reviewing a cookbook.
Chicken Wonton Soup. The food52 review of this recipe notes that the strips of wonton you drop in the soup along with the meatballs (saving you the trouble of forming real wontons), “sank to the bottom of our soup bowls in a gummy clump.” This happened to me too, but I happen to like gummy clumps of noodles and I loved the rest of the soup too. And it took 20 minutes.
Zucchini Cacio e Pepe. I made this for myself as a first lunch before going out to meet friends for a second lunch at Midway Food Park. It was delicious, but I think the only way I could happily sit down to a plate of zucchini for a meal is when I know I’m on the cusp of eating another meal. This just doesn’t count as a proper plate of food to me, even with the generous ratios of parmesan cheese and olive oil to squash strings. Why a first lunch? The only food truck that is reliably open at Midway is a lobster roll truck, and my kids want nothing to do with it, so I had to make them lunch before we went. And it’s expensive and I didn’t want to buy a bunch of food that wasn’t going to get eaten. So we ate at home and then went out and ate fistfuls of mini cheesecakes from a cheesecake truck and tater tots I stole from Helen.
Venison Frito Pie. I follow recipes for dinner way more than I improvise, but chili is one place where I almost always wing it. It’s just the perfect vehicle for the odds and ends of leftover beans and weird bits of meat. This batch turned out so well. Andy brought the leftovers for lunch and texted me to say that it was one of the most satisfying lunches he’d had in a long time. Which was sweet! But also made me sad, since I’m the one making all the other unsatisfying lunches! You don’t feel satisfied with a thin broth dotted with six tiny chicken meatballs and some gummy clumps of wonton wrappers, Andy? Frito pies all day, every day.
Leftover Berry Crisp. I was the happy recipient of a berry and pecan fruit salad left over from a potluck. I turned it into a crisp, because it’s what I do when I have berries in the fridge. You know this though, because I’ve linked to this fruit crisp recipe 17 times already this year.
Pastelitos, Picnic Treats. I managed to get five knees from four separate people into this picture. We saw the Zilker Hillside Theatre’s summer musical, Shrek, last Thursday. My friend Molly and I have gathered on this hillside to watch the summer musical every year that we’ve both been in Austin since we were little kids. Usually her mom is there too, and brings us pigs in blankets to eat, but she couldn’t come this year. I missed you, Candace! And the pigs in blankets! Anyway, it has been really hard the last four or so years, because the kids were little and difficult to talk into sitting quietly on a blanket in 98 degree heat for four hours while people sing and dance in front of you. But this year was really pretty damn good. We got there early and had time to go jump in the frigid water of Barton Springs before the show. Andy played Pokemon Go with the kids on the walk to and from the water, which meant that they didn’t complain about having to go on a hike. I hadn’t been shopping in a while but managed to cobble together a few things to share, including these pastelitos (A Dominican empanada) with the rest of the package of venison I used for the chili the day before, and Molly and Dustin brought tons of fresh fruit and olives and brownies and dips and things that made it really feel like a party. And then the kids sat and watched the show! When we got home and the kids were in bed, Andy said that, while at no point did he think, wow! this is a really wonderful time!, that the overall experience of going out and doing something outside of our routine had made him feel happier and more alive. I couldn’t agree more.
Eggplant and Ground Turkey Stir-Fry. The kids were both extremely skeptical when they saw the mountain of diced eggplant that went into this recipe, but everybody loved the finished dish. Henry asked where the recipe was from, and when I said it was another one from Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbook he said, “She can’t miss!” He’s the dearest.
Socca with Burrata and Shaved Veggies. This was good, but not my favorite It’s All Easy recipe. And the kids hated it. Even though I put tomato sauce and burrata on their fried chickpea pancakes to make something that looked very much like pizza, they both turned up their noses at it. Also, it’s really hard to shave asparagus spears and I don’t want to do it again.
Cardamom and Orange Fig Newtons. It’s that time of year again- our neighbor came over with 4 pounds of figs from the tree in her backyard. We have an unspoken agreement that whenever she brings me figs, I’ll give her half of the batch of fig newtons I make with them and a dozen eggs. I love these cookies, and they really do get better the next day. This recipe is perfect if you have access to a fig tree, because it’s one of the few fig newton recipes I’ve seen that uses fresh figs instead of dried ones.
Black Bean Soup. This was good, in spite of looking like dirty dishwater. The kids mostly ignored the soup in favor of eating mounds of fried tortilla strips.
Soft Polenta with Roasted Asparagus and Crispy Salami. Someone who’s good at polenta, please tell me- how do I get soft polenta to stay soft? I want it to be like grits, or mashed potatoes, but every time I’ve made it it congeals into a block as it cools. This did that. It was soft and supple when I spooned it onto the plates, but firm by the time we took the plates to the table and ate our first bites. I still liked it, and I definitely liked the toppings of roasted asparagus and crispy salted meat and a runny egg, but it felt like I had messed up the polenta.
Pinthouse Pizza and Homemade Garden Salad. I made a salad and some lemon bars, and Molly and Dustin bought pizza. Dustin and Andy chased the kids up and down the street outside their house while Molly and I talked about bras. I’m going to stop wearing nursing bras, you guys! After 5 years of nursing on demand, I was feeling overwhelming aversion to the whole thing. George was still nursing all the time and I just started hating it. I decided that I had to put limits on it- he now has milk before bed and first thing in the morning, and every other time he asks I say no. Even in the middle of the night. If he wakes up and asks for milk I say, “Can we snuggle instead?” He’s been really understanding about it. Honestly I feel ready to be completely done, but I didn’t want to cut George off cold turkey. Both because he loves the stuff and because I think my boobs would get engorged and that’s the worst. Anyway, it means I can wear real life bras again, and shirts and dresses that I don’t have to be able to pull a boob out of and this is so so liberating.
Sandwiches. My parents came to town! The last couple of times we’ve flown to Portland, my mom has had a big bowl of tuna salad ready in case we want sandwiches after the long flight. I figured this amounted to a tradition, so made a big bowl of tuna myself, along with a platter of other stuff to put on sandwiches, to welcome them. Henry tends to keep his cards close to his chest (or is it vest? it’s chest, right?) but when he saw me expand the table and add the little booster seat for Phinnie he said, is Auntie coming too? And I said “Auntie, and Phinnie, and Gangie, and Grandpa, and maybe Jordan are coming for dinner.” When Henry said, “Oh! I’m so excited!” I was surprised, because for years he has barely tolerated dinner guests, no matter who they are, and asked him why he was excited. He said, “Because I really love them.” This is probably the sort of thing most kids say all the time, but to hear it from the mouth of my dear surly Henry really made my day. I was so happy to have them gathered around the table too.
Lemon Bars, Magical, Marvelous, Memorable Cookies. By some miracle a few lemon bars survived to see the dawning of the day after they were baked. We polished them off, along with some of my very favorite ‘kitchen sink’ cookies- these have potato chips and gingersnap granola and cashews and chopped dark chocolate in them- after dinner.
Noble Pig. We spent the next day celebrating Phinnie’s second birthday! She is so darling. We started the day with a trip to the Austin Aquarium, which was actually pretty fun. I guess I wasn’t expecting to like it, either because I’d heard that it was operated by the same people who treated animals questionably in a Portland-area aquarium, or because I just don’t get excited about looking at fish. So it was a pleasant surprise. I got to feel the rubbery mouth of some bat rays, we got to sit in a room swirling with parakeets and laugh as one landed on Henry’s head, and the boys got glitter tattoos from a lady in a revealing foam-y mermaid costume. Phinnie seemed to love every minute of it, thrilling at the idea that we were there for her, that this was Phinnie’s special day. She didn’t care for that mermaid though. We ate lunch at the Noble Pig because it’s close to the aquarium and is the greatest restaurant in the world, and then, later, we all ate dinner at The Macaroni Grill. I hadn’t been to one since I was in high school. Back then, it was the cream of the crop in my mental rolodex of places I liked to eat. That big block of bread, with a salty parmesan butter on top, the waiters signing their names upside-down with a flourish, I liked it all. And honestly, I liked it this time too. The pasta was perfectly cooked. The meatballs were good. It was so wonderful to get to spend the day celebrating Phinnie!
Cobb Salad. The next day we all drove down to Kyle to look at houses in Plum Creek, the neighborhood where Helen and Jordan want to buy their first home. We looked at seven of them, making asses of ourselves in front of the realtor by getting super excited when a house had a ‘cupboard under the stairs’ and making fun of people who had big flashy pictures of themselves above their fireplaces. Or when the first painting you saw when you walked in the door was of the Confederate army carrying the rebel flag. Or when people cemented floor tiles together and called it a counter top. Our houses definitely wouldn’t stand up to the scrutiny of outside eyes but that didn’t make judging these people any less delightful. At the end of the day, Helen and Jordan picked out two houses that they loved- both beautiful two-story houses close to the park and pool, with enough room to have an office for Jordan and a homeschooling room for Phinnie. Both sellers hinted that they were really motivated to sell, and we were all really hopeful that the house hunt would be over just that easily. Over the course of the next day, we talked about their offers, reviewed the drafts of the proposed contract, ate cobb salad, and waited to hear back. The news wasn’t good. Both sets of sellers suck and we hate them for being greedy and not acknowledging that their peel-and-stick faux wood vinyl floors and fogged up windows with torn screens should bring the cost of the house down to at least the neighborhood of the comp houses. We gave up and made a new list of houses to look at.
And then we stopped thinking about houses for a few hours to celebrate Phinnie some more with a birthday party! And it rained, in August, and was glorious. Isn’t she the best person in the world?
I came dressed as a princess, but at Helen’s suggestion (and with a face full of her green airbrush makeup) slipped off halfway through the party to change into a Mossy the Swamp Monster costume, a character Phinnie has been curiously enraptured with from Sofia the First. I had to speak in a British accent, which I find almost impossible, but Phinnie was really excited about the whole thing all the same. She called me Yay Yay at first, what she always calls me, but then went along with the gag when we insisted I was actually Mossy. She definitely didn’t want to take a picture with me though. Fair.
We made sand art, bobbed for apples, played a coin toss game, and ate a lot of food, all of which I forgot to take pictures of. It was so much fun.
Then we all ate heaping scoops of a fantastically over-the-top ice cream cake. Get this, y’all. There’s a layer of brownies, then a layer of cookies, then a layer of chocolate ice cream, then vanilla, then an oreo/cream cheese combo, then purple whipped cream. We all marveled at this feat of engineering. And then the kids hit each other with balloons for a while.
After the party we went back to Plum Creek to look at more houses, and this time, we’re really hoping, we found the one. It is one story, so we got to skip the discussions about whether or not the kids could fall from one story to the next. It has big beautiful trees, and a lovely front porch and the inside is immaculate. No ugly counters, no vinyl floors, no fogged up windows. And it’s inexplicably cheaper too! It’s got it all. The offer was submitted tonight and we’re all crossing our fingers that it works out. I’ll keep you posted!
Happy Monday, you guys!