A Lot of Bad News, Plus Grits and Meatballs and Ottolenghi

The virus. The boys woke up sick on Monday morning. Fevers, coughing. George refused to eat anything, wrapped his arms around my neck, and stayed there all day. Henry was not eating as heartily as he normally does but was doing much better than George. We played Scat (aka 31) while George slept in my lap. The next day, the fevers were worse, the coughing was worse. But we were still doing okay. We hung out in bed and read books for hours. Every night, George would come in to my room around midnight, wrap his arms around my neck, pinch and rub the skin on my elbows, and stay pressed against me for the rest of the night. On Wednesday morning, George woke up next to me and screamed out in terror. I soothed him, offered him milk. When he had calmed down, I asked why he had cried. He said, “Because I dreamed I was alone.” Also on Wednesday, Henry’s cough got so bad that he couldn’t eat without throwing up. I did not know this was a thing, but it very much is, at least in Henry’s case. We had several spectacular episodes of uncontrollable cough-vomiting. When they were still sick, still feverish, on Thursday, I called the doctor. They said to give the kids honey for their cough, to medicate fevers over 102 and to put a humidifier in their bedroom. We did all these things. The kids spent almost the entire day in bed with me.

The plumbing. In the midst of the vomiting and cleaning up the vomiting and the clinging and the exhaustion, we are remodeling our master bathroom. I mentioned this last week, along with the problem of the 700 pound bathtub that was sitting on top of a drain that the plumber broke. Well, we decided to go ahead and get rid of the tub and do a walk-in shower instead. We ordered a shower pan through the plumbers who said it would be in on Monday. It wasn’t, and it turns out that they didn’t know when they were gonna get it. Jordan, my brother-in-law and ace tile guy, was gonna tile everything this week, his last opportunity to do so before his semester starts on Monday. But all that hinged on getting the shower pan in. It finally came in on Thursday, and the plumbers turned up early on Friday morning to install it. The kids were barely functioning by then. I was reading them books in their bed and soothing George, who kept crying. After the plumbers had been here awhile, I went to see how things were going and looked at the shower pan. It was a big flimsy plastic thing with a bumpy texture on the bottom and sloped sides. It was decidedly not the tileable shower pan we had talked about. They hadn’t installed it yet, it was leaning against the wall, so the plumber stopped and called his boss, who said that they would have to charge me for the shower pan and what they had done so far- $1100. I didn’t have any fight in me- I was exhausted, but I said, I just can’t pay you for this shower pan. It is not what I asked for and I’ve lost more than a week waiting for it. They ended up taking it off, and I paid them $800 for the time they had been there that morning. I ordered the right kind of pan from Home Depot and we’ll install it ourselves when it gets here next week.

The foot. Also, the ear infection. On Thursday, George followed me out to the garbage can when I was taking out the trash because we were attached at the hip by this point. On the way back he stepped on something sharp and burst into tears. It bled and I grabbed a paper towel and put pressure on it until it stopped. I felt mad at George. This is horrible I know, but I did. I wanted to be able to take the trash out by myself. I wanted to not have any more problems that needed my immediate attention. If there’s something out in the world that shouldn’t be stepped on, George will find it and step on it. He steps in chicken poop every time we’re in the backyard, often twice, and I have to take him inside and wash his feet. So when he stepped on this thing, whatever it was, I stopped the bleeding, thought about bringing him to the sink and washing it, but decided to just put neosporin and a band aid on it. He didn’t put his heel down for the rest of the day. On Friday, he still wasn’t putting weight on his foot. We tried giving him a bath to see if the wound would open back up enough to let us see if there was a splinter or piece of glass or something inside, but it didn’t. Then I sterilized a needle and tried to use it to peek into the cut while Andy held George. This didn’t work because George didn’t like my ham-fisted attempts to poke needles into his feet. So I called the doctor’s office again. They said he would have to come in. So Andy came home to stay with bedridden Henry and George and I went to the doctor. As we were walking into the building George told me his ear hurt. It turns out George had an ear infection, the first of his life, and would need antibiotics. The foot wound was also infected, so the antibiotics would help with that too. We had to go downstairs to get x-rays of George’s foot. We did that. We went back upstairs where the doctor said they couldn’t see anything, but if George still wasn’t putting weight on his foot by Sunday we would have to go to the emergency room where he would be put under and they would cut open his tiny little wound and pull out whatever splintery thing was in there.

The insurance. On Saturday, both kids were still so sick, and still had high fevers. But Andy was home! It felt glorious to go out. I went to the farmer’s market and bought every vegetable. I went to Blue Earth Farm and bought meat. When I got home Andy said, “I got some more bad news.” And I said that we had already done all the things. Everything was already bad. Wrong again! A letter had been delivered to notify us of changes to our insurance plan. The changes listed? “Plan dropped.” Effective two weeks ago. Our insurance is (was, I guess) Cobra-ed through Andy’s old job. His new job is with a small business start-up thing and doesn’t provide healthcare- the other employees are able to have health insurance because of Obamacare. To keep things simple in the midst of the job change, Andy had decided just to Cobra for 18 months and then buy healthcare through ACA when that ran out. So we don’t know exactly what happened, but maybe Andy’s old company dropped their insurance plan, probably to move to another one? No one informed us that this would happen, and in fact, the company they contract with to handle their health insurance plans charged us for January. Andy’s gonna call on Tuesday, when the Humana office is open again, to see if we have any options here, but things don’t look good. The timing is unbelievable. That this would happen on the heels of the one week this year where we’ve been to the doctor for sick kids, got x-rays and antibiotics, had a forehead wound glued shut with what I’m sure is a very fancy and expensive glue, and had the prospect of a visit to the emergency room for toddler foot surgery on the horizon boggles the mind.

And now it’s Sunday, and things are looking just a little bit better. George’s temperature is back to normal and, since late Saturday afternoon, he is walking on his hurt foot again. So no emergency room! I hope! Henry still has a mild fever, but he ate two bowls of rice for dinner tonight and a three small squares of a milk chocolate and toffee bar that was part of a spectacular gift basket that my sister dropped off for us. His coughing jags are still really bad though. The doctor said the cough may linger for two to three weeks, poor kid. Andy is sick. And using his free time to research Obamacare plans. Thank god for the pre-existing conditions clause! My type-1 diabetic husband would be in really dangerous waters right now without it. I have called my senators to note this.

Here’s what we ate this week. What Andy and I ate this week, I should say, because the kids have subsisted on little bites of nothing here and there. Also, I stopped cooking on Thursday because it was all just too much. Also also, Andy, beautiful human that he is, let me escape to a cookbook gathering at my friend Abbie’s house where I got to eat several magnificent dishes from Ottolenghi’s cookbooks while not cleaning up vomit.

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Roast Chicken. Henry used up all my butcher’s twine last year during his booby trap obsession. I never remember to buy it so I shove bamboo skewers through the legs instead, which tears the skin and makes the thing look a little gruesome but sort of gets the job done.

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Roast Chicken, Garlic Cheese Grits, Pot-Roasted Collard Greens. It’s too dark to see them, but these grits are brilliant. The recipe is from the Big Bad Breakfast cookbook, which my sister Helen gave me for my birthday, and I want to make and eat them again right now and every day after that.

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Wonton Soup with Heritage Ground Pork. This is a Gwyneth P. recipe. That’s a little rhyme for you. Except her recipe uses ground chicken, which I replaced with delightfully fatty pork, and she has you cut the wonton wrappers into noodles, which sink to the bottom of the pot and stick together in big clumps. So I just put the meatballs in the wrappers instead. This wasn’t any better. The meatball part is great, the wonton part was soggy and bland and unpleasant. It is maybe the brand that I bought? Or maybe I cooked it too long? The meat and the broth and the vegetables are delicious though. I’m gonna keep making this but skip the wontons, or add rice noodles or something instead.

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Leftover Garlic Cheese Grits with Ham and Arugula. For breakfast I reheated the leftover grits and stirred in some chopped ham and a handful of arugula and loved it so much. Does the look of it gross you out? On the heals of all my vomit and foot blood talk?

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Garlic and Ginger Meatball Salad with Cashew Tamari Dressing. I had more meat than wontons, so I put about a cup of the gingery meatball mixture from our wonton soup night in a ramekin in the fridge and fried it up for my lunch the next day. I loved this! Every salad should have meatballs.

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French-Style Yogurt Cake with Lemon. This is where everything went to shit. Wednesday. I made this cake after reading about it in A Homemade Life. It sounded charming, with the recipe measurements based on the size of little French yogurt jars. Are you jaded and find this idea disgustingly twee? I half do and half don’t. I didn’t love this cake though. Instead of adding the oil to the wet ingredients and then folding in the dry ingredients like every other cake recipe, you mix the wet and dry and then stir in the oil last, which means that you have to stir the cake a lot, over-mixing it to get the oil to blend in, which in turn leads to a cake that has a slightly heavy, almost rubbery texture. Why do this? Also, I wanted it to be a lemon cake, and it’s not. It’s a yogurt cake. The lemon syrup I poured on top didn’t soak in very far, so the top of the cake tastes like lemon and the rest of the cake tastes like nothing.

The worst part was that when I served the cake to the boys, along with cups of tea with lemon and honey for their sore throats, Henry took a big gulp of tea and then threw up all over the table, on the watercolors we had done, on the deck of cards we had played scat with, and on the plates and cups and forks in a stunning reenactment of the rainbow birthday cake debacle.

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Shaved Fennel Salad with Asian Pear and Parmesan. I cleaned up everything and then sat on the window seat in the kitchen and didn’t say anything for a while. Just sat. Then I made this salad, also from A Homemade Life, along with some chicken salad sandwiches from leftover shredded chicken. The salad is like the one in the link, except it has thinly sliced Asian pears instead of mushrooms. It’s delicious and easy.

I stopped cooking on Thursday and Friday. The kids needed constant tending and the only other meal I had planned was one the kids would love (farro with lots of green olives and roasted butternut squash with sage pesto) and that Andy would not love (olives and squash). So with the kids not eating I’d essentially be cooking that just for me. No thanks. Andy got us burritos from Wheatsville on Thursday. The kids asked for and then couldn’t eat avocado sushi. On Friday, desperate to get the kids interested in eating again, I asked them what they would want if they could eat anything. Henry wanted Mexican rice, George wanted pizza. Andy got both on his way home, and both kids managed a few bites of their chosen items.

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Avocado Sushi, Roasted Baby Bok Choy + Roasted Tiny Green Bug That I’m Pretty Sure Was The Hard Crunchy Thing I Bit Down On. I tried again with the avocado sushi, this time homemade, and really delicious, cooked from a recipe in Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art, which is wonderful. The bok choy at the farmer’s market was so adorably tiny. I washed them, cut them in half and found them to be full of dirt, and washed them again. While cutting one in half I discovered a little green spotted beetle, alive and well. I shook it into the compost bucket to be carried outside later. Or I thought I did but must not have because I chomped down on what felt like a crunchy roasted green spotted beetle. I kept chewing, swallowed, and ate the rest of my half of the bok choy which proves conclusively that I am a full-grown adult.

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Mixed Cauliflowers with Golden Raisins, Ricotta, and Capers.

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Burrata with Blood Orange, Coriander Seeds, and Lavender Oil.

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Chicken Livers with Red Wine, Smoky Bacon, and Cherries.

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Chicken Thighs with Burnt Miso Butterscotch and Pomegranate and Walnut Salsa.

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Orange Polenta Cake.

And what a finish! Abbie hosted an Ottolenghi cookbook celebration and I got to eat all of these things! The two salads, made by Abbie and Molly (yes, ladies?) were spectacular. I loved the cauliflower so much and it was very much like one that I loved from the now shuttered St. Philip restaurant, which provided the perfect segue for my food gossip about the misdeeds of the former head chef, Philip Speer, whom I described as a train wreck, before learning that one of the ladies in Abbie’s kitchen is a family friend of his. She was so nice about it and said that Philip had gone to rehab and turned things around and is now teaching about addiction and substance abuse in the service industry. I was mortified. But it’s a good lesson to not be a dick and tell gossip-y stories about people. Not just because you might be talking to a friend of that person, but because it’s a shitty thing to do. I have so much to teach the world. Moving on. The chicken liver recipe had a trillion steps and so many ingredients, and expensive ones too, and which I will never make for these reasons but which I enjoyed the hell out of today. I would have kept eating it until everything was gone if I wasn’t just jam-packed with social grace. The chicken with burnt miso was a huge hit too. You get to spread miso on a sheet pan and burn it, then whiz it up in a food processor to make a rich dark delicious paste. You spread this on top of pan-fried chicken thighs, broil it until it’s bubbly, and serve it with a pomegranate walnut salsa. Everyone loved it and thought it would be perfect dinner party fare. It’s beautiful, excitingly new, delicious, and not all that complicated. And lastly, Barbara made this show stopping polenta cake, which was like nothing I’ve ever eaten, in a good way. It had a delicious crusty, crumbly bottom, a middle that felt almost like custard, and a top of jammy, caramel-y orange slices. There is still good in this world after all!

Stay healthy, friends. Don’t insult local pastry chefs. Make your kids wear shoes when they go outside. Talk about shower pans more than you think you need to. Make sure the bugs really have crawled out of your bok choy. Call your mother. That’s all I got.

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9 thoughts on “A Lot of Bad News, Plus Grits and Meatballs and Ottolenghi

  1. Abbie January 16, 2017 / 12:13 pm

    HAPPY MONDAY! I forgot to put pine nuts on the cauliflower, they are still in the freezer 🙂
    We need Ottelenghi p2 In Which We Make The Ravioli And The Fennel

    • arielleclementine January 17, 2017 / 2:00 am

      I am so excited about this Abbie! Yes! Ottolenghi all day every day. Also, was that polenta you had out from one of his books too? Is it fried and served with an avocado yogurt? Saw that on his website and thought it looked pretty rad. Thank you for hosting!!

  2. Barbara January 16, 2017 / 1:49 pm

    I hope you have a better week! Ottolenghi p2 yay! I will make another dessert (or maybe I will make that cake again, with lemon! because it was so good).

    • arielleclementine January 17, 2017 / 1:58 am

      Yes! I am fully invested in that goat cheese ravioli. And yes please to any and all versions of that cake you’re willing to make!

  3. Gangie January 16, 2017 / 3:26 pm

    What a week! Thank goodness the worst is over! Hopefully all will be resolved this week.

    • arielleclementine January 17, 2017 / 1:57 am

      Man I hope so too. We’love see what happens when the insurance office is open again tomorrow!

  4. Laura G Barnett January 16, 2017 / 8:34 pm

    Oh, my dear! such a week for you and family. You all got through it, and I hope the rest of the month brings joys and contentment to all of you. Yes, call your mother. Plumbing problems suck, big time. Good luck.

    • arielleclementine January 17, 2017 / 1:56 am

      Thank you, dear Laura! The kids really seem to be feeling better and eating real food again, so I’m hopeful for a happier week for everyone, George’s fury about brushing his teeth tonight aside! Love you 💜

  5. Elaine January 17, 2017 / 12:23 pm

    One thing I learned from cooking school is that even the cooking school cookbook had mistakes, and if a recipe has something that looks wrong, ignore it and do it the way you know how. Not that you’ll ever try the cake recipe again because of the vomit memories, but it sounds like a standard old-fashioned sour cream pound cake. Another thing is cooking components separately when different methods bring out their best. The won tons probably want to be salted and peppered and steamed separately in a basket or else poached in heavily salted water, and then have the broth ladled over them for service. If you do the Chinese spaghetti and meatball soup you started out with, cook the noodles separately in heavily salted water and toss them with a little oil to hold them for service.

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