I sat here, watching the cursor blink, every night for the past week. Mostly I’d end up drifting over to the open facebook tab instead of writing anything, watching those autoplay videos of someone’s fast-forwarded hands cooking something elaborate with crescent rolls and pre-grated cheese. But also reading all the news. The Trump-related revelations this week have felt deliciously rich and satisfying, like a well-chilled chocolate mousse that’s bitter and fatty and melts on your lips. I have savored every bit of it. But, yeah, I didn’t feel like writing. I felt like I’d even forgotten how. How do you start? What do you talk about? In a flash of inspiration, I thought I’d check out two of my favorite blogs, Ben and Birdy and Tipsy Baker, to see how the pros do it. It made me feel better. I love them both- they’re funny and informative and inspiring and I read through the backlog of posts I’d missed with a big smile on my face. But they’re not doing anything groundbreaking- they’re just saying some shit and moving on. I can do that! I don’t need to write something brilliant or amazing. It can just be me saying some shit and moving on.
Speaking of Ben and Birdy- the author, Catherine Newman, is always hawking things. But it’s the best kind of hawking because they’re all things I want. She writes about great novels to read, the best watercolors to keep in your purse, the board games her family has loved playing. They all funnel perfectly into the lifestyle I aspire to live- one where I read great books instead of looking at facebook, and watercolor the sky outside my window instead of looking at facebook some more. To that end, I had to buy the Journal Sparks book she reviewed here. It’s full of amazing journal prompts to get you writing and observing and painting every day, and it is so inspiring. I’ve gotta find a journal with pages thick enough to watercolor in, but when I do, some of the pages in my journal will be: what’s blooming in my yard each month, with line drawings that have been water colored; paintings of the sky, with dates and times; funny things Henry says; funny things George says; drawings of landscape ideas for my front and side gardens; a dream journal with details looked up in a dream encyclopedia and recorded (I dreamed this week that a tree outside our house was on fire and I put it out, but the fire kept spreading to under the house, which seems symbolic of something? It does seem an apt metaphor for every damn day with the kids); restaurant and road trip destinations I want to visit; paintings of whole 30 foods I enjoy eating, so I can look at them when I want to feel hungry for more healthful foods; snippets of overheard conversations. There are lots of ideas for stand-alone journal prompts, but I’m more drawn to ones like these, that you add to slowly over time. It’s a beautiful book.
The kids have felt extra tricky over the last two weeks, like trees on fire. I said to my sister, and have really felt this way most days, that I’m so tired of parenting. I still want to have my kids. I love my kids. But I want to not have to say parent-y things to them every 30 seconds. Every time I walk out of the room lately, George starts screaming because Henry has done something shitty or, in some cases, done nothing at all, and I have to come back and remind them about using their words instead of screaming or hitting or kicking, or throwing shit (not literal. yet.) at each other. Repeat 200 times. The first 100 times, I am patient. I explain calmly that we can’t treat each other like this, we have to be respectful. Tell George you don’t want to play that right now. Tell Henry that you can’t see the pages of the book he’s reading. Don’t scream, don’t kick. My patience erodes over the course of the day. When the screaming starts up for the 101st time, I am 13 feet tall. My voice is deep and growly. My hands are monstrous curving claws, and saliva drips from my pointed teeth. When I am my best monster, I tell Henry, in that low and terrible voice, to go to his room. When I am my worst, I yell at him with the might of those 13 feet behind me. It doesn’t help, obviously. I feel worse and Henry definitely feels worse and, when I calm down, I apologize for yelling. And then we repeat the same stuff the next day. I guess we’re just all behaving badly.
Here’s what we ate this week and last week.
Sloppy Joes. Shit, y’all. These are a hit. I made em because I had some old Hawaiian rolls left over from Henry’s birthday that had been sitting on the counter for a week and a half. I thought, what can I put in those rolls? The answer was: some sloppy meat. I made it with a pound of ground pork instead of the 18 lbs of beef the recipe calls for. It was plenty and it was delicious.
JJ’s Arcade. Molly and Dustin gave us all tickets to see this show for Henry’s birthday and the kids loved it and we loved it. It’s based on this heart-swelling youtube video. The kids were pretty psyched to get to play with the cardboard arcade games after the show.
George won a back-scratcher which he promptly applied some next-level thinking to.
Fried Fish Sandwich. My neighbor, Otto, brought me some white bass that his friend Eldon had caught and cleaned the day before, cuz he’s a real nice guy. His friend Eldon is nice too. An old-fashioned gentlemanly sort of nice that you don’t see too often. For a tangible example, he reminds me of one of the farm hands in The Wizard of Oz who are kind to Dorothy and have a dreamy twinkly-eyed quality to them. I thought about making some grilled fish tacos with it but opted for fried fish slathered in a mayonnaise sauce served sandwiched between griddled buns. I had leftover batter so I used the dregs to make some onion rings.
Old-School Baked Ziti. The next day was Otto’s birthday. I knew his favorite food was casseroles, specifically lasagna-type casseroles, so I made this for him.
Raspberry Buttermilk Cake. And also this cake. It looks like I stubbed out three cigarettes in the middle, but that’s just what candles look like from an aerial view.
Maybe I shouldn’t tell you this story? I’m gonna go ahead and do it, but I’m trusting you to keep it quiet, and to not breathe a word of it to our across-the-street neighbor, Kate. Otto is what you might call a tinkerer. He makes things, all sorts of things. His own box fans from rescued air conditioner parts, a working cannon that can drive a ball bearing through a telephone pole, a homemade Jacob’s ladder- those sorts of things. For his birthday, he invited us to bring the kids down to see a pyrotechnic display. He filled a series of balloons up with propane, taped them to a metal pole, rigged up a gun-powder fuse, and blew them up. It made a big movie explosion-style fireball that roared up into the sky. We loved it. Then Otto said he had some leftover fireworks, so we set those off too. A smoke bomb, some spinny-things, a fountain, and then, the big finale, two artillery shells. Shortly after that, a helicopter flew overhead. This isn’t unusual, because we live really close to a hospital with a landing pad. But then it kept circling back around. You see where this is going- we found out on Nextdoor that Kate, and several other people in the neighborhood, thought they had heard two gun shots. Kate called the police who sent over a helicopter super fucking quickly. So the moral of that story is: don’t set off fireworks in the city of Austin on non-firework-y holidays. And if you do, stop as soon as you hear a helicopter.
Crispy Smashed Potatoes, Roasted Green Beans, Roast Chicken. Hey, here’s another thing about Eldon! These green beans and potatoes are from his garden! I blanched and then roasted the green beans in a 450 oven on a sheet pan with a chopped spring onion and they were the best ever. Maybe it’s just because they were fresh from a garden, but the technique worked well too. They were soft and tender, and sweet from the onion, with little bits of roasty crispness too.
Chicken Shawarma, Cucumber Salad, Pita Chips, Tahini Sauce. Gonna eat this every day.
BLTs, Butter-Braised Purple Potatoes, Corn on the Cob. First BLT of the season! The purple potatoes are also from Eldon’s garden. Between the fish and the produce, this guy fed us all week.
Chorizo, Crispy Potatoes, and Spinach. Another whole 30 favorite trotted out for an easy dinner.
Mother’s Day Lunch: Salad with Crispy-Skinned Salmon, Roasted Potatoes, Haricot Verts, Bacon, Avocado, and Tomatoes. Plus Tortellini Pesto Pasta Salad, Garlic Cheddar Biscuits, and Berries. I made way too much food. My mother’s day gift, as usual, included Andy taking the kids somewhere so I could spend time by myself. It is the best. I used my precious alone time to paint the bathroom, hallway, and dining room while listening to all the episodes of S-Town. That was on Saturday. On Sunday, the boys surprised me with delightful cards that Andy helped them make and super fancy chocolates and salted butter caramels from Chocolaterie Tessa. He did real good. We spent the rest of the day eating a big lunch and then swimming for hours at Grandma Mary’s house. A good time all around.
Halal Corner: P7 Meat over Hummus Plate with Gyro. I didn’t feel like cooking after all that, so we got takeout from Halal Corner instead. The hummus is soft and rich like ice cream and they put salty meat on top so it is the best dinner you can buy from anywhere.
Ramen with Crispy Pork Belly and Marinated Soft-Boiled Eggs. I did not make the broth with the trotters and the dozens of other ingredients in the linked recipe. I made my normal chicken broth, and stirred miso and tamari into it and called it a day. The pork belly recipe is a great one to have in your back pocket, because unlike most pork belly recipes, it doesn’t take 24+ hours. You rub the pork with salt and herbs and stab the fat hundreds of times with a bamboo skewer. Then you blast it in a 450 oven for an hour and a half and you’re left with a much smaller piece of meat sitting in a pool of it’s own fat, but it’s perfect- the skin is crackly and salty and the meat is tender.
Roasted Sausage with Fennel and Broccoli. This was the surprise hit of the week- it’s so damn easy, and everybody loved it. I made the sausage by mixing some salt and garlic and spices into a pound of ground pork but you could use a pound of any sausage you want. Andy and the kids ate theirs on top of farfalle with butter and parmesan and I ate mine as is- it’s so much more than the sum of it’s parts.
Sesame Noodles with Butter-Fried Scallions and an Egg. Christy’s daughter Ella made me this beautiful bowl of noodles- she is a poetic and noble land mermaid. I’m gonna have to steal this recipe from her- its brown rice noodles doused in sesame oil and tamari, topped with a crispy-edged, runny-yolked fried egg, fried scallions, fresh scallions, chopped peanuts, and furikake.
Beirut Lebanese Food Trailer: Beef Shawarma, Tabbouleh, Fattoush, Baba Ganoush, Falafel Pita Wrap. My friend Amanda and I got to go out, just the two of us, without kids, for the first time in years. We shotgunned some shawarma and then went to a garden talk and tour at Pam Penick’s house. The talk was about her new book, The Water-Saving Garden, and I left feeling inspired. She has a beautiful metal stock tank pond and I have an empty stock tank in the back yard waiting to be turned into a pond. She pined after those gigantic metal cisterns you see on the sides of green houses and I have a 15,000 (at least) gallon stone cistern buried under a metal cover in my back yard, unused. I’ve gotta reroute my rain gutter to feed into it and get someone (Otto said he would do it) to climb down there to see if the pump at the bottom still works. There are cockroaches and toads in there and I’m not going down there for anything. Also, she grows a lot of plants successfully in the shade that I didn’t think you could, and I want to brainstorm ideas for using those plants in my front yard. I loved it all, and I loved getting to learn this stuff with my friend.
Mango and Avocado Sushi, Miso-Glazed Roasted Eggplant. The kids and I were busy doing something, I don’t remember what, Friday morning when I looked up at the clock and saw that swim class started in 20 minutes. I threw the kids into their swimsuits and we raced to class. We made it, but I forgot towels, so I had to borrow some giant t-shirts from the front desk to dry off the kids after class. A kid in Henry’s class showed up late and then for all the world acted like he had forgotten how to swim. He’d get out into the middle of the pool and panic and cling to the teacher. This went on for a while until he burst into tears, ran to his mom and vomited into her hands. I’ve been that mom. Julia, the coach, says it happens all the time. In fact, she said, the day before a kid had shit in the pool, the power had gone out, and another kid had thrown up within the course of a single hour. We all washed our hands really well after class. Oh yeah! We ate sushi for dinner.
Gluten-Free Blackberry and Peach Pies for Joanna’s Birthday. (With this crust recipe). I love Joanna! She asked for pie for her birthday and I thought, I love you so much I’m going to make you TWO PIES. Here they are, in the trunk of my car, hot from the oven. The hot pie juice sloshed out and ran onto the quilt, but it doesn’t matter. Our old dog Rupert (RIP even though you bit people’s faces) had already chewed a big hole in the middle of this one. Happy Birthday, Sister!
I’m gonna do a preemptive list of things I might want to talk about in next week’s blog in case I’m feeling uninspired again next Sunday: the kids watching other kids play tablets at Yawp for three hours; how Amanda Soule is able to have five kids and run a business and a farm and still sew and knit all the damn time; the end of my life as a breastfeeding lady (I assume I have big feelings about this buried somewhere deep inside myself); how desperately I need to rewrite my About page on this site, and replace the bizarrely tiny photos, one of which is a selfie Andy and I took with my iMac circa 2006. And surely I’ll be able to show you photos of my finished stock tank pond and pages from that journal that I’m going to buy and write and paint in. Those things are totally happening.
See you next week!