I’m the asshole at swim class who didn’t clap for your kid. Somewhere along the line, the other parents of three-year-old Aquatots decided that we had to clap for every kid, every time they took a turn doing something in the water. We’re in week 15, you guys. There are three kids in the class who each do the same dozen or so exercises every week. I don’t want to clap that much! That’s too much. Usually I make a half-hearted attempt to join in anyway, because of society and obligations and all that, but not this week. This week, I walked into swim class hating everyone and everything, a sort of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, et cetera Day situation. A lady in Henry’s class asked me how I was doing and I got the impression she did it out of genuine concern. The clapping parents are in George’s class. One of the students is a little girl who always wears a red swim cap and shivers endearingly even though the room is kept at a constant sweltering temperature. I like her! Her parents, though, are bench hogs. They spread out on it, the two of them, with their drinks and a big duffle bag and you have to ask them to move it so you can sit down too. The other student, besides George I mean, is a little British boy with a sophisticated British name who swims vertically, like a seahorse. I like him okay too. His mom doesn’t hog the bench but I do quietly judge her for her over-the-top enthusiasm. The first day of class she kept miming to her husband, who was on the other side of the glass wall, with big grand gestures to look at the water! Their son was in the water! Anyway, the clapping and cheering started up as soon as the first kid swam the first six-foot length to the PVC island and I didn’t join in. The other parents noticed right away and clapped and cheered for each others’ kids but not for George. This also kind of made me mad because, if you believe in clapping for kids, shouldn’t you clap for all the kids? Even if, especially if, his own mother isn’t clapping for him? Afterward it occurred to me that maybe they didn’t clap for George out of respect for my choice not to clap. Or maybe they wanted to but felt it would look weird to clap for a kid when his mom wasn’t. Probably that’s what it was and I made everyone super uncomfortable with my non-compliance. It’s okay if you’re judging me right now. Are you wondering why I didn’t just clap for my kid? And for the British kid and the swim cap kid? I’ll tell you why I don’t. Number 1: it’s just too much clapping and it makes my hands itch and I don’t want to. Number 2: George doesn’t swim for me, and I don’t think he cares if I clap or don’t clap. He loves swimming, he loves his teacher and his class. He doesn’t need me to egg him on, nor does he need constant validation from me that he’s doing well. He tries hard the whole time without it and he laughs and he loves every minute of it.
So why was I in such a bad mood, you might ask. That’s gonna make me seem unlikable too, but I’ll tell you anyway. My parents (Gangie and Grandpa!) were in town for eight action-packed days in which we ate out at restaurants every day, sometimes twice a day, and between these restaurant misadventures we did a ton of other shit too. We went swimming, to the movies, to the wildflower center. The kids stayed up late and woke up early and every day their ability to cope with all of this exciting stuff so far outside our normal routine slipped a little bit more. Honestly, my ability to cope was slipping too. Probably the worst (and also most delicious!) restaurant experience of the trip was at Enoteca, a fancy little Italian spot on south Congress. The kids wouldn’t stay in their seats- they wanted to zoom around the table and play on the steps next to our table and touch all the bottles of wine on the wall behind us and I had to ask them dozens of times not to do all of these things, culminating in them blocking the narrow path between tables when a waitress, carrying a stack of dishes, tried to get through and the oblivious kids just stood there, pulling on each other and ignoring the chorus of voices begging them to move until I jumped to my feet and physically pulled them out of the way while the whole restaurant watched. But damn if that food isn’t delicious! I had an incredible salmon salad with a fava bean gremolata and ate most of George’s exquisite chocolate mousse. Anyway, this isn’t the kids’ fault, obviously! I put them in a situation in which they were pretty much doomed to fail. Hey kids, can you sit quietly in a chair for an hour while we eat salmon salads and asparagus soups and talk about boring things? No? I knew this and did it anyway so it’s on me. I did it over and over again all week long, always feeling stressed about it because I wanted to spend time with my family and it was the easiest way to make that happen. We had a really fun week with my parents, we got to eat a lot of delicious foods and do a lot of fun things and spend a lot of time with them, which I loved. We’ve just got some optimizations to do for next time so I don’t end the week stressed out and exhausted.
Before the busy week with my parents, I was deep in the throes of planning, shopping for, and implementing Henry’s chicken-themed sixth birthday party. This meant late nights cooking, making a pinata in loving memory of our dead chicken Noodles (Henry’s idea), writing a chicken trivia game, and wrapping presents for the winners of the Chicken Shit Bingo game. Before that, we were in Houston, visiting Uncle Dan and eating at Benihana (this turned out to be a really poor decision on my part). And in addition to this stuff, Henry started the math curriculum in Khan Academy and devoured grades K-5, we practiced piano every day (Hoffman Academy offers free online piano lessons and they are wonderful!), we joined the pilot program for a magical new Unschooler’s gathering place, and I stopped breastfeeding George. More on all this stuff below, but briefly, because I’ve used up a lot of words on this intro section and I’ve got to save room to tell you about why you shouldn’t drop everything and drive to Houston to visit a Benihana restaurant.
Here’s what we ate this week. And the two weeks before it.
Chicken Meatloaf with Tad’s Potatoes and Roasted Broccoli. I had a bag of month-old potatoes in the pantry. They were soft when I squeezed them and covered in sprouts and I had the bag raised over the compost bucket, poised to empty them into it, when I remembered a food52 recipe that specifically calls for super-old potatoes. So I rubbed all the sprouts off and cut them open (and was surprised to find that they looked totally fine inside despite their squishy-ness) and made Tad’s potatoes. If you’ve got a crusty old potato bag in your pantry, I recommend you do the same! They’re great.
Bo Bun Salad with Bulgogi Ginger Chicken. I made this chicken a few weeks ago and the kids devoured it, and I thought, yes! I have a healthy dinner that everyone will eat happily! But this is of course not true. Those times when both kids eat a thing you want them to eat are as beautifully impermanent as snowflakes. One or the other or both of them are not going to eat that shit again.
Chicken Tikka Masala, Green Beans with Mustard Seeds and Ginger. I ate mine without rice cuz that’s the whole 30 thing to do (I chose to embrace the two cups of heavy cream in the curry). Speaking of whole 30- I’m still eating way less simple carbs than I was before doing it, and mostly trying to eat whole 30 stuff for breakfast and lunch, with a little bit of bread or dairy thrown in at dinner. I like sugary things just as much as I did before. I ate all the reese’s peanut butter cups out of the kids’ easter basket because it’s May now and they were still sitting there. And I threw whole 30 (almost) completely out the window the week my parents were here and at Henry’s birthday party. It was a wiener wrap/sour cream enchilada extravaganza! I felt fine, the same. My skin looks worse though.
Pork Belly Lettuce Wraps with Pickled Cucumber, Shallot, and Fresno Chile. For some reason, cooking pork belly seemed intimidatingly restaurant-y to me. It’s not! This recipe was no big deal (I used the roasting technique from the linked recipe and ignored the chutney part) and the result was rich and melty and crispy and succulent. I really liked it with some quick-pickled vegetables to cut through all that porky richness. Other pork belly recipes I want to try: pork belly carnitas, this roasted pork belly with a hoisin-mushroom sauce, and a Balinese pork belly from Diana Henry’s Simple cookbook.
Roasted Chicken and Sweet Potato Salad with Olives, Tomatoes, and Tahini Sauce. I’m still eating this salad all the time. I think it’s perfect- every bite a symphony. I’ve been shady on the details of the tahini sauce so I’ll put it down in writing here. Mix some approximation of the following in a mason jar: 3 tablespoons tahini, 3 tablespoons water, juice of half a lemon, one small garlic clove (finely grated or minced), and a hefty pinch of kosher salt. If the sauce is too thin, add a little more tahini. If it’s too thick, add a little bit of water. Leftover sauce will thicken up in the fridge, so you’ll probably need to add a splash of water to it and shake again before using. Put it on everything, but especially on roasted sweet potatoes and shawarma.
This is Kiki. George made her out of a beet and a kohlrabi at the children’s museum in Houston. I’d rather do just about anything than go to the Austin children’s museum on a Saturday (too many children, not enough resources) but the Houston one was great.
We drove to Houston on Friday night to spend the weekend with Andy’s brother, Dan. (Relevant to your interests, Dan has a food blog called Meat Eats with Rizz where he reviews fast food grotesqueries). Uncle Dan pulled out all the stops for Henry and George, starting with a late night at his house watching the Rockets game and playing Texas Hold ‘Em.
It’s Uncle Dan! Putting gloves on little kids is the worst, but Dan tackled it with his characteristic enthusiasm.
I grew this person in my very own uterus six years ago! And look at him now, scaling walls like a big giant kid.
I was wrong to be excited about Benihana, I know that now. It was not good. The place felt sad, mostly deserted in the middle of downtown Houston on a Saturday afternoon. We were seated at a table that faced the dark and empty half of the restaurant. The family that shared that big table around the griddle with us was disenchanted from the jump- they talked loudly on their cell phones while our chef was doing her shtick and complained that there wasn’t ranch dressing for the salads. For their part, my kids could barely lift their heads from the table to watch the chef try and fail to set that onion volcano on fire with her faulty lighter. She tried for what felt like several agonizing minutes to get it to work before abandoning her post and coming back with a functioning lighter. When the ranch-less salads came, I ate mine happily. I’d eat that carrot-ginger dressing anywhere on (almost) anything. I had almost finished my salad, chomping away carelessly, when I turned over one of the cherry tomatoes in my bowl and found that it was moldy AF on the underside. Fucking thing sucks. When the waiter came to clear my bowl I said, quietly, “hey- I thought I should tell you that one of my tomatoes is moldy.” His response: “Oh, would you like another one?” Uh, no thanks, man. Then they forgot about my order. I had chosen the lunch boat from the sushi kitchen like a damn amateur, which meant that it wasn’t cooked by the chef at the griddle and therefore did not exist. They brought it out when everyone else had finished eating. I felt a little sketchy about eating raw fish from a place that served moldy tomatoes but I did it anyway and it was okay! The tuna sashimi had that opalescent battery-acid-in-a-puddle-of-water sheen but it tasted fine and I didn’t get food poisoning, so we’ll put that one in the win column. The boys ate their rice and Henry devoured his eel roll but left everything else (a pile of frozen corn that had been defrosted on the griddle and their meat entrees- steak for George and shrimp for Henry) untouched. I asked Henry why he didn’t want his shrimp, which he loves and gets so rarely and he said he liked the flavor but that it was too hard to chew. George’s steak was also real chewy. And all of these things cost one million dollars. It’s so expensive! So yeah, don’t eat here. Save a couple of bills by dousing one of your own onions with vodka and setting it on fire with your bic lighter and then eat a bowl of rice with soy sauce and call it a day.
The fun didn’t stop there, though, oh no! We went to a Sugar Land Skeeters game (yes, their mascot is a mosquito) and sat in the grass and ate frito-less frito pies and drank $4.50 bottles of water. The game was a hit and so was the ballpark- they had a suite of inflatable bouncy games for the kids, plus a beautiful carousel, a huge playground and a splash pad. Also! Also! The thrillingly-American innovation of Cheetos Popcorn, in which the popcorn is rolled around in cheese powder and then tossed with actual Cheetos. We left early because we were cold and tired. I do not know who won the game. Come to think of it, I don’t remember who they played. Moving on!
George is here to inspect your power plant.
Everyone really nailed this picture. Thank you for an awesome weekend, Dan!
Meatballs, Tomato Sauce, Sweet Potato Noodles. Boiled spiralized sweet potato noodles are the saddest. They are watery and mushy and a piss-poor replacement for the real thing. Spiralized sweet potato that you’ve sauteed in the same pan you used to fry some meatballs, so they go all sweet and soft with crisped edges and little bits of crunchy meatball mixed in here are there are another thing entirely.
Stone Ground Grits with Sheet Pan Sausages, Onions, and Peppers. This is a hot hit. Slice up some smoked sausage, toss it with a chopped red onion, a chopped red bell pepper, olive oil and kosher salt and pepper. Spread it on a sheet pan and roast for 35-45 minutes at 400 degrees and then pile it on top of a bowl of these perfect grits- rich from milk and chicken stock, and flavored with parmesan and a little bit of freshly grated garlic.
This is the Fat Chicken Noodles pinata you’ve been looking for. My mom spent a literal five hours gluing tissue paper feathers to this chicken’s back half the day before the party and I finished it up round about midnight that night.
Chocolate Chick Cupcakes for the gluten- and dairy-free set. Helen found the idea for these guys for me and Andy went out and bought the orange food coloring for the beaks and feet after dyeing frosting with the juice of a grated carrot failed utterly and completely.
Henry designed this cake to look like his favorite chicken, Bronze. Her eggs really are blue/green!
Wiener Wraps from Make the Bread, Buy the Butter are the cornerstone of any successful party. People also liked the macaroons and lemon bars.
I’m a sleep-deprived crazy person with a large knife.
Helen and Jordan are going to have a baby boy!! I am completely thrilled, and not just because it means I get to unload several large tubs of baby boy clothes on my sister. This little baby is going to be the best-dressed, best-coiffed rockabilly baby boy you’ve ever seen, I know it already. He will be fat and happy and I’ll get to hold him and tuck his round baby head under my chin and I am far enough removed from the infancies of my own children to be genuinely excited about all of this. Thanks to Helen and Jordan for agreeing to have their big reveal at Henry’s party (instead of the weekend we were in Houston like they were originally planning) so we could be a part of it.
Speaking of things I need to thank Helen and Jordan for, they made us this sweet-ass Chicken Shit Bingo game! And thanks to Josie for letting us borrow her chicks so we didn’t have to put our full-grown persnickety chickens with their decidedly less-cute shits into this big box! Everyone’s a winner with chicken shit bingo, cuz if there’s one thing chickens are good at, it’s shitting.
The thanks continue! Thanks to Mary for making dozens of homemade cascarones after I failed to purchase any during the Easter season and then kept forgetting to save the eggs I cracked for recipes. I think these were the highlight of the party.
My dad! And the soon-to-be-father-of-two, Uncle Jordan! My dad was a big help with party prep too- he read to the kids and watched Laurel and Hardy with them so I could cook all the things. And Jordan too- he drove that giant cardboard box up from Kyle on the windiest day of the year and then reassembled the thing on our front yard, all so some birds could shit in it. That’s a good uncle.
And my birthday boy! Henry, here is my love letter to you. You are intense and passionate. When you get an idea, like to write down the notes of a song in solfege, you run to do it and don’t stop until it’s done. Do you know how rare this is, Henry? Both having the inspiration to make something that is all your own and to follow through with it to completion? You have a natural and easy grasp on so much- calculating the areas of rectangles and subtracting mixed fractions faster than I can, reading novels in the backseat while we run errands- and this is thrilling to watch. But just as exciting is your perseverance when something doesn’t come easily- when you work through your frustration and heartache to do the thing the right way, the way you know it should be done. In the last year, I have seen your compassion grow in leaps and bounds. I have seen you drop everything and console your brother when he falls, I have seen you come to us for connection when something goes wrong. I love you so much. I am in awe of you and of all that you are. Happy birthday, baby.
Thanks to Raven and Kyle for the smash hit bag of dried mealworms! And to my wonderful mom for taking so many fabulous pictures!
With the party behind us, we spent the week doing a non-stop parade of fun things with Gangie and Grandpa. George and Henry both got cold in the hotel pool so they burrowed under a mountain of towels with their own bags of Chipotle tortilla chips and munched on them quietly in the damp warmth.
We gotta get Henry some chunky tortoiseshell glasses. Love you, mama!
At the Salt Lick. This is as good a picture as any to wrap up this blog post because it contains both Henry, the man of the hour, and Phinnie, who enriches any photo/environment she finds herself in. And also Dora, who’s pretty great too.
I mean, I guess I’m done now. I didn’t talk about how and why I stopped breastfeeding George, which would be easy enough to do here (why: because I was super sick of it. how: I asked him to stop and he agreed to) if I didn’t think the end of this six-year run of nursing my children deserved some analysis of my feelings, which it probably does. So we’ll leave that for another time, cuz I already wrote about my sister having a baby boy and Henry being so goddamn beautiful and I don’t have the energy to feel any more feelings here. Thanks for listening, friends.