When my sister and I were little, my mom taught us a Hebrew song that you sing while holding hands and dancing in a circle, and I never really knew what the words were but I sang along anyway, “ee-nay-mah-tow.” I still love it though, and sing it to the boys sometimes, with my own made up word-sounds in place of the real Hebrew. So, earlier this month, I was digging through the music books piled in our piano bench because one of the kids I sponsored for Christmas listed piano books on his wishlist and we had several that had never been used. Among all those books, I found one that I think Helen got for me years ago called A Harvest of Jewish Song, which I had never really looked through before. I found a bookmark in it and opened it up to the song Hine Ma Tov! It has the real lyrics and the real melody and I’ve spent the past few weeks learning how to play it! I can only play the top part so far though, and I really wanted to play it for Helen on the last night of Hanukkah, so Andy learned the bottom part for me and we can now play it (slowly) as a duet! To steal a phrase from Pop Culture Happy Hour, it is one of the things making me happy this month. Also in that category: watching The Great British Baking Show for the first time (Andy and I just started season 3), reading (I just got my hands on a copy of The Son and before that Molly loaned me and I devoured Little Fires Everywhere), going to the movies after the kids go to bed (Molly and I saw Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, which the more I thought about, the more I did not like, and Lady Bird, which has my whole heart and brought me back to what it felt like to be a teenager more than anything I have ever experienced. The main character, like myself, was a theatre nerd who graduated in 2002. We also had very similar, painfully similar, first crushes. Anyway, it’s great!), and basking in the warm glow of my new nephew, Ollie, who is almost three months now and just the best little sack of warm pudding! Oh and also, I finished the very last of my Christmas shopping today!
Those are the happy things! There is also a list of things that are stressing me the fuck out. Not writing a blog post is on that list. So is not writing a presentation about writing blog posts, which I am supposed to present to a group of 150 retired professionals at UT in February. Gonna really have to step up my blogging game before that to not feel like a total fraud. I have also been neglecting my correspondence with some dear friends and procrastinating on several important projects for Yawp and not eating enough fruits and vegetables. There’s not enough hours in the day for all these things (except for the fruits and vegetables thing, I could probably squeeze that in), after Henry and George (who I love very much!) have gorged themselves on 14 of my 17 waking hours and right now I’m prioritizing the Great British Baking Show and learning how to play the right-hand part of an old Jewish circle song.
Here’s what we did this month!
My kids are weird and I feel that I can best convey that weirdness to you by way of this photograph.
Hungarian Goulash. You don’t stir large globs of sour cream into this stew at the end and somehow it still manages to be exactly what you want from a goulash- tender meat, perfect potatoes, and a silky, paprika-y broth. It’s that Lopez-Alt magic!
Rose and Grace Mini Farm. Here’s some big news for you from the past month. There is a little farm in Austin where you and your children can dress up bunnies. You can brush their fur in their own little apartments, adorn them with bows and costumes, and push them in strollers or wear them in bunny backpacks. The rest of the farm is just as enchanting. There’s a petting zoo and a beautiful playground and a menagerie and a birthday party room and a dance party room. Let’s just all agree to have all future birthday parties at this place, okay?
Cold Sesame Noodles with Celery Salad, Fried Brussels Sprouts with Fish Sauce Vinaigrette. Everybody loved these noodles from Melissa Clark’s fab Dinner cookbook. The brussels sprouts are a dish I made obsessively, over and over for months, until I got completely sick of them and didn’t make them for a year or more. They were so delicious, and the kids loved them too, but, and I’ll warn you before I go on that this is completely repulsive, they made me burp burps that smelled like brussels sprouts and I super hated that. Was it a weird thing about my body chemisty that day? Or will they do that to me again if I make them again? I didn’t like that and I think I’ll probably stop making them for another year or so. I apologize for sharing that with you.
Abbie’s Weird Citrus Curd. Abbie has a tangerine tree that grows copious amounts of a fruit that tastes nothing like tangerines and tastes everything like lemons. Except the skin, which tastes a little like wet dog. She let me steal a bunch and I used them to make lemon curd and it worked. I used the not-tangerine juice and the zest of a regular lemon and that’s my whole story about that.
Grilled Chicken, Apple Panzanella. Another Abbie-related recipe! This is a panzanella she developed in the early days of Food52. I like to toss the bread cubes with olive oil and salt and pepper and roast them until they get crispy before tossing them with the vinaigrette and other things. We have slipped out of the habit of getting together to cook stuff, but that changes in the new year- we’re gonna start it off with a bang because Joanna and Javi gave me a whole pig head and Abbie is my top number one pick for persons who I would like to prepare a pig head with. I’ll keep you updated on that.
Sour Cherry Pies. My neighbor, one of the ones we rarely talk to, smoked a big giant brisket and gave us a huge slab of it, just to be neighborly! His generosity inspired me to be a good neighbor too, so I made him a thank you pie, made our new across-the-street neighbors a welcome pie, and made half a dozen mini pies for Michael, a neighbor who had assembled the most amazing Halloween treat bags for Henry and George and whom I had not properly thanked, and another half dozen for Otto who does kind and generous stuff for us all the time. This was Thanksgiving week and Central Market was sold out of their frozen sour cherries, so I had to find an alternative. I ended up using 8 jars of Trader Joe’s dark morello cherries in light syrup (drained) and it worked out beautifully. The neighbors liked the pies! The new neighbors gave us a bottle of wine to say thank you and the lady who lives there wrote a very nice note to go with the wine, in which she said that it was “glitterally the best pie” she’d ever had which was doubly nice 1) because she liked my pie and 2) because she introduced me to the word glitterally, which would be just the thing for all sorts of situations.
George tests out the salted caramel sauce.
Thanksgiving with my sister! Half the plate is potatoes. It was too much. We had the most lovely low-key Thanksgiving. Andy and Jordan brought the kids to the playground while Helen and I took turns cooking and holding Ollie (NB: we did not cook Ollie). Then we watched Addams Family Values which is my favorite tangentially Thanksgiving-themed movie (you get that super great turkey song, but there’s also lots of family togetherness), then we ate a lot of food.
Pumpkin Gingersnap Cheesecake with Salted Caramel Sauce. While cooking this cheesecake:
Me: Oh no! My cheesecake’s cracking!
George: Should we throw this one out and start again?
Me: Oh no, it’s okay. It’ll still taste good, it just has a little crack in it.
George: I’d call that a big crack.
But it *did* still taste good. I had originally planned to make this cheesecake, but then idly scrolled down to the comments before starting and got freaked out by all the negative ones and went dashing around the internet for a replacement and settled on this one from the Pioneer Woman who got it from a Williams Sonoma cookbook. I almost always crack my cheesecakes.
Roasted Cauliflower, Grape, and Cheddar Salad, Roasted Delicata Squash with Tahini and Lime. This was the meal where I snapped out of my meat+carbs+sugar rut. I made a meatloaf for dinner, cuz it’s a non-rice, non-pasta meal that the kids will eat, so I’ve been making it kind of a lot. But after I put it in the oven I acknowledged the fact that I super did not want to eat it. I wanted a pretty vegetable thing instead. So I got out my Ottolenghi cookbooks and looked through them for recipes I could make with what I had on hand. I came up with these two things. In preparing the squash dish, you have to supreme a lime, and while I was doing it I realized how very long it had been since I had supremed anything. Which sounds stupid, doesn’t it? But to me the memory of doing that brought home for me that I have not been cooking for pleasure very much anymore. I have slipped into cooking the same boring, reliably-eaten things, and it lit a fire in me to try harder. I loved my dinner, the rest of the family ate these vegetables with meatloaf, and that night, I spent an hour combing through Serious Eats to save new dinner ideas to my Pinterest board. I came up with an exciting menu plan for that week too! But Henry got a stomach bug the next day and I just made boring stuff after all.
Santa and His New Lady at Budafest. George, a big proponent of and believer in all things magical, decided that yes he would like to sit on Santa’s lap this year. He practiced his Christmas list while we waited in line, and when it was his turn, he rattled it off carefully and completely: “two bags of weapons, a balloon, peanuts, purple scissors, and turquoise nail polish.” No, he is not picky on the nature of the bags nor of the specific weapons inside them. Yes, he does want peanuts, even though he does not like them, so he can cut the shells open with his new purple scissors. I think we lost Santa at the nail polish request, but he’ll just have to deal with that one. Speaking of rigid expectations for who should wear what, someone put a white wig on this 38 year old Mrs. Clause, please!
Molly spent five of her hard-earned American dollars so we could pose, giddily, for a picture with this very fine owl. It went to charity or something, and we got literally 40 different photos of us with an owl so I think it’s safe to say it was money well-spent.
Tiny Chicken Pot Pies. I wanted to caption this “a million fucking pot pies!” in reference to Lindsay Bluth Fünke’s diamond cream, but then I couldn’t find a gif for that to explain it to people who did not watch Arrested Development obsessively so I’ve chosen to awkwardly explain it to you here instead, because every time I looked down at this tray, “a million fucking pot pies!” is the line that went through my head.
I needed to make a pot luck dish for Andy’s Toastmaster Christmas party and I knew I wanted to make some sort of one-bite savory pastry and I had all the stuff for chicken pot pie on hand and so I went for it. It took me a long time but I loved making them and super-loved eating them.
Henry’s snowman is my favorite thing in this world. Don’t you just want to punch it in the face?
It snowed here!
Yes, he’s barefoot.
George kicked this pile of day-after snow for a literal (glitteral? probably not the time) 30 minutes. At some point, a couple teenage boys rode into the park with a mountain bike and skateboard, to practice going down some big rocky hills, and Henry and George wandered over to engage them in a snowball fight. My first instinct was to stop them. To say, hey, those kids are too cool and busy to have a snowball fight with you. But instead I didn’t say anything and decided to just sit on the outskirts and let the interaction unfold without my meddling. I am so glad I did. The teenage boys ended up being great with kids and hilarious and wonderful and they had an epic snowball fight with my boys that lasted for a very long time. George and Henry left the playground rosy-cheeked and beaming with pride that they held their own in a snowball fight with big teen-aged kids. Thank you, random teenagers! I love that you did that!
Sea Salt Chocolate Chip Cookies. I made a big batch of these cookies, which keep very well, to mail to my brothers on the west coast and brought the surplus cookies with me to Molly’s house, where Food52ers and friends-of-Abbie gathered for our annual stocking-stuffing/gift pile-amassing party in support of the Girl Scouts Beyond Bars troop.
Zahav’s Hummus with Pita and Olives. I also made this hummus, because I’d been looking for an excuse to try it and getting together with fancy food lady-friends seemed as good an excuse as any. The recipe is different from standard hummus in a few important ways- you soak the chickpeas in baking soda water and then cook them until they’re falling apart in more baking soda water (this took less than an hour for me). Then you mix them with a tahini sauce that includes a full cup of tahini. You do this in the blender, not the food processor, until it is “ultracreamy and fluffy” which the recipe cautions may take “upward of about 2 minutes” but which took me, with my crappy blender, closer to 10. It did eventually get fluffy though! And it was smooth and lovely without having to peel the skins off the cooked chickpeas.
Look at all these fun stocking stuffers! My contribution was definitely the shittiest- I brought two bag fulls of Halloween candy that Henry and George had donated to the cause from their own ridiculous stashes. I did go through the candy to remove anything that was specifically branded for Halloween and I also stored the chocolate candy separately from the fruity candy so that they didn’t end up tasting like each other. But, yeah, it doesn’t compare to toe socks or a fluffy feather-tipped pen!
We bought gifts for the 22 girls in the GSBB program and for their siblings as well. One of the things I love so much about getting to do this is that we get wishlists from the kids so we know exactly what they would love to get for Christmas, we know their clothing sizes and shoe sizes and favorite colors and favorite snacks and it really feels like we get to make some of their dreams come true.
This year, one of the Girl Scouts had a baby. Her wishlist items were money for food and diapers and our collective hearts broke for her. Having a baby is so hard, was so hard for me, as a full grown adult with money for diapers and all the other stuff you might need or want for a baby. Abbie, that beautiful creature, came up with the idea that all the sponsors contribute to a sort of virtual baby shower, so we could stock this new baby up with diapers and wipes and other necessities. She reached out to her friends across the country, who sent in their own donations, including a beautiful hand-made baby quilt, made especially for this new baby. In the end, we were able to fill a cubicle with donations for her, books and clothes and a car seat and a diaper bag and a pack ‘n play and gift cards and so much more. I hope it helps this girl scout and her family breathe a little easier in these first few months. Thank you to Abbie for your brilliant idea and to everyone who contributed to make the idea a reality.
Here are some of the many incredible women who participated in this year’s gift drive! Thank you to Molly for hosting once again! Thank you all for your generosity and kindness! And a big thank you to Helen for taking our picture! Plus the other pictures from Molly’s house! You make hummus look real good, sister.
Let’s close it up with two other rando things that made me happy this month. The first is something I overheard George saying to himself while standing in front of the pantry looking for a snack:
“I don’t want a snack and I don’t want a meal. I want something between thick and delicate.” He ended up settling on a griddled and buttered tortilla.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a Great British Baking Show to watch. Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy All the Things!