Lost Maples and Falling in Love with Cracker Barrel

We’re gonna just blow right past last month, okay? I tried to write a blog post before this one, with photos of all the best stuff we ate last month, and pumpkin patches and Halloween costumes and baby Ollie and adventures with my mom, and I just can’t. It’s too much ground to cover and I just missed it by not writing blog posts in the moment. October brought an onslaught of activities, good ones, but ones that required me to do/build/cook/create things in relentless waves, so it felt like I was just hurtling from one project to the next. This camping trip to Lost Maples was a beautiful break- an obligation-free three days where we hiked around and sat around and went to bed when it got dark outside. I came home feeling good and productive and utterly unwilling to try to put words to the the 40-picture blog post draft that was meant to recap everything we did last month. So, camping! Let’s just talk about camping.

[I had to get up to go pee after writing that mea culpa paragraph and there was a big cockroach in the bathroom and Andy isn’t home because he’s out seeing Thor: Ragnarok so I had to deal with it and tried to jam it to death with George’s potty, which I failed to do, so I went and got my sandal and smashed the thing and then I had to clean it up and so my entire worldview has changed between that first paragraph and all that will come after because everything is terrible. Also my new neighbors are having some sort of party in their garage which involves alternately shrieking and then singing Adele’s Hello in chorus. That’s apropos of nothing, but I thought you should know.]

Lost Maples was a lot less maple-y than I was expecting. There were maple trees there, but there were not big acres-full of endless maples in a panorama of fiery fall colors. We saw them here and there. They planted one on each of the 20 or so campsites, one of which we, callously, I was to learn, used to support one half our hammock. A park ranger stopped by to tell us that they did not allow folks to use maples to support hammocks, which made a lot of sense once I stopped and thought about it. I am a boorish city slicker.

While Andy and I set up camp, the kids explored the woods surrounding our site. George promptly climbed a tree and then fell halfway out of it, catching himself and hanging precariously from a branch. He screamed awfully, which he’s wont to do even when he’s not dangling from a tree limb, so Andy went and got him down while the mom at the neighboring campsite looked on, scandalized. Andy came back and said he thought he’d picked up on some judgment from the lady, which is fair, I guess.

Sloppy Joes. We finally got our fire going, having forgotten any form of fire-starter and finding only damp things for kindling, and used it to reheat a skillet-full of sloppy joes that I had cooked at home the night before.

Bonus shot, with foot. We ate it with Doritos because we are living our best lives, and when George saw me taking this picture he stood up on the bench and lifted his foot so it could be in the picture too. We may never know why.

It was pitch-black by six o’clock. We sat around the campfire after dinner- the kids roasted marshmallows and then we burned a mystical fire and watched that for a little while and then just called it a night. We read to the kids until they fell asleep and then I got to stay up reading Lonesome Dove, which maybe I love more than any book I’ve ever read. I haven’t finished it yet- I’ve still got a couple hundred pages to go- but it is my new favorite thing. I have never seen the mini-series, and after reading this far, I can’t really understand how they ever made one, because it’s all whores and grizzly death scenes, but maybe I’ll watch it when I finish the book. I love Gus so much. In spite of everything that has happened so far, I think it’s so funny and moving and captivating. I want to read lots more McMurtry books after this so will you tell me if you have a special favorite? Anyway, we all slept pretty well except for that time some unidentified night monster tried to chew its way through our tent so it could fall on my face. It was, thankfully, unsuccessful.

Sausage and Egg Breakfast Tacos. Our standard camping breakfast. The dry ice froze the sausage and carbonated the eggs (they got really frothy in the pan before they settled down and scrambled like you’d expect a healthy young egg to do) but everything worked out okay anyway.

There are miles of trails at Lost Maples. Andy and the kids expressed interest in doing the third of a mile, twenty minute long Maple Trail but, but, I said, what if we did the four hour looping trail that would start with the Maple Trail, take us up the 2,200 foot high cliffside past MONKEY ROCK, whatever that might turn out to be, and connected back to the parking lot where we left the car instead? No one but me was overly enthusiastic about this, but I was a relentless and dogged champion for the cause and I won, you guys, I won.

Henry and George’s Simon and Garfunkel-inspired album cover. They don’t actually have an album cover that looks like this, but they could have done. Also, Henry and George have the right relative heights and hairstyles, just saying. At the beginning of our trek, the kids insisted on climbing each and every rock they encountered, and which they mysteriously referred to as “whoppers.”

Us on a bench! I had taken a photo for a lady earlier in the hike, and then she walked past us while we were sitting on this bench and said, “that’s a good picture- do you have a phone?” And she took this photo for us, which I thought was very kind and thoughtful!

I guess this is another Simon and Garfunkel-inspired album cover. A real one, this time.

Bow down before your new monkey overlord. We found monkey rock! And it did not disappoint. Isn’t that the monkey-est rock you ever saw?

About halfway through the hike, things got real. We had to climb up a lot of steep hills and George, who had walked the whole way so far, began to wring his hands at the difficulty of the whole thing. We told him we’d stop as often as he needed to for breaks, but that we were not going to carry him on this hike, because we were also tired and we didn’t want to. Here’s Henry on one such break, while we tried to encourage George with a pep talk and plied him with the M&Ms out of the trail mix bag.

The scenic overlook! We made it! The shots in this post were carefully curated to not show the absolute swarms of other people on the trails with us. There were so many other people, whole giant extended families hiking together while listening to Journey on some sort of portable stereo. So we were less remote and disconnected from society than this sprawling wilderness picture might imply. And look at that mist! It was real moist up there.

I just thought it was pretty.

We found a fern-y waterfall on the other side of the mountain! (It’s not actually a mountain, I just don’t know what else to call it, because calling it a hill feels demoralizing). The heavy mist stole the puffiness from our hair.

We also found a puddle and threw some rocks at it. Also, my kids are filthy.

There’s the fall foliage! It was on the ground.

Jambalaya. After our hike, we headed back to the campsite to laze around for the rest of the sunlit hours. We built a fire and had an early dinner of jambalaya, which Henry said was his favorite part of the whole weekend. We ended the evening with another marshmallow/mystical fire/early bedtime extravaganza and it was warmer that night, so we all slept a little better than we had the night before.

Such a good sport! I think Andy is too practical a person to ever truly and deeply enjoy camping, because why would you drive away from your bed and your food and your shower to sleep in the woods on the dirt? But he never complains and is very kind and helpful and I sure do love him for indulging me in this.

The Holiday Sampler n’ Cinnamon Biscuit Breakfast at Cracker Barrel. None of us had ever eaten at a Cracker Barrel, even though there’s one very near to us in Buda, so we stopped to eat at one in Kerrville on the way home the next morning. Honestly, I fucking loved it. We all did. Look at all the things they give you for breakfast! Every breakfast menu item, I am not joking, comes with a side of biscuits and gravy! Isn’t that equal parts insane and delightful?! This holiday sampler also came with a cinnamon drop biscuit with a double-coating of icing and that was amazing too. Also you get three kinds of meats and two eggs and a slab of hashbrown casserole and a bowl of grits and a dish of fried apples. And it’s 8 damn dollars! And the kids menu is legit. George got a lovely big pancake with his own tiny bottle of maple syrup and Henry got a plate of country fried shrimp with cocktail sauce and a hushpuppy (“It tastes like a risotto ball without the risotto!”) and a side of dumplings. Dumplings! And there are fun games on the kid’s menu too. The waitresses were all real folksy and there’s a general store-style gift shop that sells moon pies and goo goo clusters and giant novelty versions of candy bars, and just the whole thing, top to bottom, was glorious. Have I dropped a little in your esteem? It’s okay. I’ll comfort myself with sweet sweet cinnamon biscuits.

So, you guys, we’re back on track. I wrote a blog post and we’re forgetting about all the other stuff that came before this, and I promise to share some pictures of my glorious fatty new nephew in the next one! Also, please give me all the McMurtry recommendations and Cracker Barrel feedback you have. Thank you! Good bye!

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Baby Oliver! Plus Ball Sagas and Tooth Horror Stories and Some Really Good Soup

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Look, you guys. Look at this big beautiful baby that my sister grew in her very own body. His name is Oliver, he is two weeks old, and I want to insert my whole face into his neck fat. That neck fat goes around to the back too, he’s got a little neck fat roll back there! Oliver, or Ollie, as his older and wiser sister Phinnie insists he be called, is a darling baby. He loves to be held and he dislikes farting. I’m so happy to get to live vicariously through my sister and hold this gorgeous baby from time to time but not have to do the staying up all night while simultaneously recovering from the messy process of getting the kid out of your body in the first place. Call your mom and thank her, cuz this shit is the worst. (Thank you, mom!) But worth it! Cuz, babies.

Oliver was born on a Tuesday, which, according to a rhyme that my mom knows, means that he is “full of grace.” This seems right. He is a kind and gentle spirit, I think. Relatedly, George was born on a Wednesday which means he is “full of woe” so I think there’s really something to this poem because he’s perpetually hurting himself in mind-boggling ways. Welcome to the world, and to the family, baby Oliver! We are so glad you’re here and we’re all excited to learn and grow with you.

Ollie is clearly the big news around here, but here’s some other stuff. I’ve been off Facebook for a month. I still hop on and dick around in there for no reason sometimes, when I’m looking for ways to procrastinate doing a task I don’t want to do, but there isn’t much to see and I hop off again pretty quickly. But it does still feel like I’m in the process of learning to live a life where I’m not constantly on my phone. I’m not there yet. Almost every night, after I read to the kids, I go for a long walk. I take my dear old dog, Adelaide, out with me for the first little jaunt of it, but she gets really tired really fast, trailing slowly behind me at the end of the leash, pretending to stop and smell the ground every four feet or so. So I just walk with her for about twenty minutes, then drop her off at home and continue on for another 40 minutes or so. I love walking at night and listening to podcasts (my favorites are Pod Save America and Pop Culture Happy Hour) and looking at all the houses in my neighborhood. I do not like men who insinuate themselves into this process. Every time I have strayed from my neighborhood on these walks, into the nearby strip mall, or onto Stassney or South First for a block to get to another part of the neighborhood, some stupid guy has bothered me. With cat calls or honking at me or, in one case, actually stopping his stupid mustang in the middle of the road to yell, ‘need a ride?’. No, fucker. I need you all to leave me alone so I can listen to my podcast. (Shitty) people say all the time that women who dress a certain way are asking for or inviting this behavior. But honestly, I am barely recognizable as female on these walks. It’s dark. My hair is up. I’m wearing a t-shirt and jeans. And they still bother me. Probably the same people who comment on women’s wardrobe choices will also say that a woman shouldn’t walk around alone at night, because that’s inviting this behavior too. That’s just not fair. I’m going to keep walking at night, but I’m mostly going to try to avoid the big busy streets near me. I shouldn’t have to do that though, and I wanted to go on record here to say that.

Other things. I turned 34 and I made some scones and a beastly loaf of bread and the best soup in the world to celebrate. I’ve spent a lot of time with my sister and brother-in-law Jordan and Phinnie and my mom. I’ve cooked. I’ve been in too many Walmarts. And I’ve coerced Andy into wearing a unicorn wig and joining me at a real-live party for grown up humans. Here we go.

Mrs-MFing-Larkin’s Blueberry Scones! These scones were one of the best things I ate in the past year and were a no-brainer birthday breakfast. They are glorious.

Sushi at Kome. With my mom and George! Isn’t my mom adorable? George too. (Andy and Henry were at Henry’s weekly math class). My mom and I split one hundred pieces of sushi and George got this fantastic $6 kids meal that had so many delicious things, including 2 pieces of fried chicken and 2 sweet and sour meatballs and a potato croquette. He only ate the rice and drank the tiny yogurt drink though, so I brought everything else home and ate it for lunch at Yawp the next day.

Obscene-looking but delicious and easy Milk Bread. I don’t know what the hell happened here- the recipe said it made two loaves of bread, so I put half the dough in a loaf pan and formed the other half into rolls. The loaf pan half exploded out of the pan into the grotesque form you see before you, but every bit of it was light and fluffy and rich and wonderful. We ate the whole loaf for dinner and I froze the rolls for later.

Creamy Tomato-Fennel Soup. My birthday dinner. And this soup! Remember that soup I loved at Duckfat when we were on vacation in Maine this summer? Well I went poking around for the recipe online and found that one of my two very favorite food bloggers had shared the recipe for it this winter! It turns out that the secret to what makes this soup incredible is a staggering full quart of heavy cream. Cooking fennel with onion and a lot of fennel seeds adds to the magic too, but I think it’s the ratio of cream to tomato that makes it so great. I have made it as written several times and I’ve also made a Whole 30 version by omitting the wine and (tiny amount of) sugar and replacing the heavy cream with coconut cream- it was really really delicious also. If you like creamy tomato soups and fennel and fat, I heartily encourage you to try this recipe. I love it so much.

Reading at Yawp! Henry has been devouring books. He’s on book nine of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. I haven’t read them, but judging by what Henry has shared with me, this Wimpy Kid seems like a real asshole. Henry loves them though, and said that he thinks that every book in the series should “get that award they give to the best chapter books.” He’s also read a whole lot of Magic Tree House books, the first Harry Potter book, and many others, all in the past month. Honestly, I feel like even if the only homeschooling-y thing I ever did for Henry was to bring him to the library, he’d do just fine.

Rosh Hashanah. We celebrated by eating some apples and honey as the sun went down, and then, inspired by the candlelight, we went around the table and told scary stories, and then we all blew our candles out at the same time and said “happy halloween!” which wasn’t entirely appropriate for the holiday, but it was George’s idea and it made him happy so we did it.

Lunch at The Leaning Pear. In the weeks leading up to Ollie’s birth, we tried a few things to kickstart Helen’s labor, including walking around in the sun in Wimberley. We loved our lunch at The Leaning Pear, and I fell in love with a little shop we stumbled into called Ceremony Botanicals which felt really Instagram-y but in a good way. And we walked by the water and threw bread crumbs in that represented our mistakes and fears from the past year and watched them drift away (a Rosh Hashanah tradition). Good times. Ollie didn’t get the memo that day, though.

He lost the other one too! This one came out when I was getting Henry dressed for bed and I pulled his shirt over his head and his very loose tooth got caught on it (horror of horrors!) and was yanked right out. The second front tooth came out when he bit into a pickled plum onigiri before math class last week. He didn’t swallow it.

Helen had contractions all weekend, and we were all on high alert, waiting for them to get closer together (they were about seven minutes apart for long stretches of time) but it didn’t happen. They kept her up all night but Ollie was still way high up and Helen wasn’t dilating. This was so much like what happened with Phinnie’s birth- Helen had days of contractions, worked and worked and tried to move Phinnie down with spinning babies, and in the end had to have an emergency c-section because nothing was working and Phinnie needed to come out. So after two days of contractions that weren’t intense enough to move Ollie down but were intense enough to make it so Helen couldn’t sleep at night, she called it and we went to the hospital and Ollie was born. To keep things as normal as possible for Phinnie after the birth, Jordan took her home at night and stayed with her, and so I got to spend three nights in the hospital with Helen and Ollie. I loved it! I’m so glad I got to spend that time with both of them. I never got to spend time like that with Phinnie when she was a baby because George was still a baby himself, but this time around George is a big capable 4 year old! And it was fun to spend the night with my sister, even if she was recovering from surgery, cuz she’s funny and we never get to hang out like that anymore! I’m proud of you, sister. You’re an amazing mom.

Grilled Chicken, Bruschetta, Okra Fries. One paragraph it’s c-sections and the next it’s chicken cuz that’s just how the pictures come out of my phone. The chicken is my favorite way to grill chicken. Bruschetta is a perfect side, because you can grill the bread and then rub it with garlic and douse it in olive oil and salt and pepper while the chicken is resting, and the okra fries are crisp and salty and not slimy at all. They’re so good that it’s even worth clicking the link for the recipe, even though that will take you to Rachael Ray’s website which also sports an auto-play video. Anyway, here’s this chicken recipe, which is based on how I think my brother Caleb does it:

Grilled Chicken Legs with Herbs de Provence and Brown Sugar

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons herbs de provence without lavender (or any combination of dried rosemary, thyme, sage, and fennel seeds to equal 2 tablespoons)
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 pounds chicken leg quarters

Preparation

Prepare your grill for indirect grilling- if you have a charcoal grill, put the burning charcoal on one half of the grill and open all vents, for a gas grill, heat one half of the grill with a medium-high flame. Make the rub: mix the sugar, salt, herbs, garlic powder, and ground pepper in a bowl. On a cutting board, separate the thighs from the drumsticks by cutting along the line of fat that runs between them on the skinless side. Rub the sugar/herb mixture all over the chicken pieces. When the grill is hot, position the chicken pieces on the unheated half of the grill, open all vents, and cook over indirect heat for an hour, until the fat has rendered and dripped off and the chicken skin looks thin and roasty. You can move the chicken to the hot side of the grill to crisp it up a bit for a minute or two. Remove from the heat and let rest 10 minutes before serving.

Chorizo with Crispy Potatoes and Kale. This is the recipe that got me through Whole 30. I recently typed up the chorizo recipe for Joanna cuz I think her ground pork makes the most wonderful chorizo, so I’m gonna share that here too. It’s adapted (to work with a pound of ground pork) from John Currence’s Big Bad Breakfast cookbook.

Chorizo

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons minced yellow onion
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 tablespoon ancho chile powder
  • 1 tablespoon hot Mexican-style chile powder
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preparation

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, mixing well to make sure the spices are evenly distributed.

Chorizo can be cooked fresh or rolled into a log in plastic wrap and frozen for later use. Chorizo is most frequently used cooked “loose” and scrambled into eggs, put in tacos or burritos, etc.

The ball saga. George has a friend at Yawp who sometimes brings a big giant rubber ball. She generously shares it with George every time, but he pines after one of his own. He asked for one for his birthday, in fact, and I totally forgot about it. He did too, I think, until the next time his friend brought her ball to Yawp, and then his lust for a giant ball of his own came back stronger than ever. So we went to Target the next day to look for one- they didn’t have any. So I went to a godforsaken Walmart and they didn’t have any, so I went to another Walmart and they didn’t have any. So I gave up and went home. The next day, at a third Walmart, this time in Kyle near Helen’s house, we struck gold. George had been hoping for a purple ball and they had several, so we picked out the biggest, tautest purple ball we could find. We took it home and he bounced it on the floor and the fucking thing popped instantly and spectacularly, exploding into two distinct hemispheres of flacid rubber. So I went back to the Walmart in Kyle the next day and got another purple ball, less big and less taut than the first, and as of this writing it’s still intact. In conclusion, I have nothing to say, this is just how I spend my time, I guess.

Not what I wear on my walks around the neighborhood at night. My friend Jen Meaux had a birthday party where we were all encouraged to dress up as Jen Meaux. There are very few people who could have a birthday party like this, because most people, myself included, dress in roughly the same boring shit every day. Not Jen, though! She’s got wigs of every color! She owns several pairs of hot pants! We should all aspire to dress like Jen and it was super fun to get to do it for an evening. I am really bad at selfies, so while Andy was at a game night with work friends the night before Jen’s party, I put this outfit together and then spent half an hour trying to take a picture of myself wearing it to text to my mom and Helen. This photo represents the very height of that enterprise.

Here’s me and Molly, pantsless, with the real Jen in the middle, who is wearing pants and looking fabulous as always. I didn’t smile for my picture because my work in front of the mirror the night before had convinced me that I look like a big toothy maniac when I smile, but now that I see this picture I think it’s sad that I didn’t. Better to be a toothy maniac than to look like you’re not happy to be somewhere in a pink wig with Harley Quinn hot pants. Next time!

I simply had to share this photo of Dustin and Andy, who gamely also dressed up as different versions of Jen. Andy reminded me more of Lucius Malfoy than the unicorn we were going for. Dustin is heartbreaking-ly endearing with his bowl haircut wig and oversized glasses. They’re good guys.

 

Old-School Baked Ziti. And here’s some ziti I made, cuz if I didn’t put one more picture in this post, the thumbnail image when I share this on Facebook would be of Andy the unicorn and he’s already met me more than halfway by agreeing to dress this way and put proof of it on the internet. It’s good ziti, even if it’s actually rigatoni.

That’s it! It’s back to babies and podcasts and watching TV with Andy (are you watching The Good Place? I hated the beginning of the first season because it seemed simple and stupid but things pick up quickly after that and now I love it so much!) and walking around at night while female and all the other parts of life’s rich tapestry. Thanks for reading, friends.

Cherry Cake, Silver Lynels, a Facebook Liberation, and George’s Fourth Birthday

All my mornings start with George. He climbs out of his bed with Henry and into my bed with Andy, where I spoon him for 20 minutes or so and peel his cupped hand off of my elbow, which he has touched and rubbed so much in his four years of life, I don’t know why, that I can’t bear to be touched there anymore. When George feels sufficiently cuddled, he rolls out of bed, walks over to Andy’s side, and says he’s ready to get up. Andy takes him out of the room and closes the door behind him and I stay in bed for 20 or 30 minutes more. Sometimes I use this precious time to try to go back to sleep, but most often, I just pick up my phone and look at Facebook. I scroll through everything I haven’t seen yet and like and love things and then I get up. Throughout the rest of the whole long day, whenever I have any spare moment of time, even if it’s just a minute while I’m between steps in a recipe or stopped at a red light, my hand reaches for my phone and my thumb moves to the Facebook app and I scroll some more. When the kids are in bed and I’m done for the day, I lie on the couch and scroll some more, for a lot longer this time, before getting up to do whatever it is I have to do that night, and then I go to bed and scroll some more, staying up even after Andy has turned off the light to keep scrolling. In my case, this doesn’t feel like time well-spent. I almost never feel like I’ve gotten anything out of all this scrolling. I know this but I can’t stop. It’s an addiction or a compulsion or a habit or all three.

So, at George’s birthday party (I’ll get to this, I swear it’s what this post is really about!), our dear friend Raven talked to Andy about how she took Facebook off her phone and how liberating it was. Andy relayed this to me, so I reached out to her to talk about it. She said she was only on Facebook for 30ish minutes a day but that when she quit she felt like she had so much more time because it took up so much mental space even outside those 30 minutes. She was able to do more and think more and was just generally a lot happier. I don’t know how much time I spend on Facebook, but I’m guessing it’s an order of magnitude greater than 30 minutes when you add it all up. And I don’t want to spend this much time on something that isn’t making me happy. So Raven talked me through figuring out how to stop. I couldn’t just remove Facebook from my phone, because I’m an admin for the Austin Unschoolers group, and I need to follow what’s happening in the Austin Yawp group too. So I unfollowed every single person, organization, and entity outside of those two groups. To do this on your phone you click on Settings -> News Feed Preferences -> Unfollow people to hide their posts. And then you click on every single circle on that page. It was sad unfollowing some people but mostly it was overwhelming to see the astronomically long list of people and pages I have added to my feed over the years. It took many minutes to click on each and every one of those circles. I did all this a week and a half ago and I can honestly say it’s been amazing. For many days after, and maybe even still a little now, ten days later, I felt that compulsion to reach for my phone during each and every spare second of downtime. So I’ve stopped and recognized what I’m feeling and I’ve put something else in my hand instead- a broom to sweep the floor, a book to read a page or two- anything. When I stop at red lights I don’t pick up my phone, I look around. Or talk to my children. I got all my news from Facebook, which is a little embarrassing to admit, but now, instead of that, I listen to Pod Save America. I’ve been taking long walks with my dog at night, after the kids are asleep, and I listen to these funny, smart guys talk about what has happened in the last few days and what it means. I feel better informed than I was before and less sedentary, and both of those things make me happier. I get on Facebook a couple of times a day now, I check my notifications and I look at Austin Unschoolers stuff and then I’m out, cuz there’s nothing else to look at. It’s a little shitty, but I’m still going to get on Facebook to share these posts. If you want to boycott me cuz I’m asking you to look at my stuff and not looking at your stuff, that’s totally fair. I am doing that.

Raven also turned me on to the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up book, which I went out and bought from Half-Price Books the day after the great unfollowing episode. I feel like it goes hand-in-hand with the Facebook liberation. I’m working on simplifying and reducing my digital clutter and also the actual shit in my house. We have a huge amount of shit. I started with my clothes yesterday and I think I did an okay job on that, but there are still lots and lots of steps to go. But it’s exciting and I’m happy to be doing it.

Anyway, let’s get to the man of the hour- George turned four last week! Here’s how we celebrated this fantastic little person. Many many thanks to Helen and Jordan for taking all the pictures at George’s birthday party!

 

His face here is everything.

George wanted a Legend of Zelda-themed birthday party, and his requests were many and detailed. He wanted a monster cake, but he wanted it to be a cherry cake, not like the chocolate-y looking monster cake in Breath of the Wild.

Cherry Cake. I spent a lot of time on the internet reading a lot of different cherry cake recipes before settling on this one. Most of them just involve mixing a jar of maraschino cherries with a boxed cake mix, which seems kind of dumb, because if you were gonna use a boxed cake mix you could just pick the cherry cake mix and save a step. But this recipe was the real deal, plus it used a lot of egg whites, which meant I could make lemon bars too cuz I’d have a lot of egg yolks. The cake was a huge hit- everyone really liked it and I’d heartily recommend it if you’re looking for a cherry cake. Don’t skip the cherry extract- it’s essential. I used a bottle of cherry flavoring I found at Central Market.

The rest of the food, some of which is pictured here, was based directly off the foodstuffs in the Breath of the Wild video game. I made plain onigiri and onigiri stuffed with flaked smoked salmon. As you can see, the salmon ones were popular. There’s a pool of doraemon furikake in the middle of the cutting board so people could dip their rice balls into it.

Kale chips are kind of a cruel thing to serve at a party because then everyone has little green flecks stuck in their teeth. I did it anyway. This is dino kale rubbed with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and roasted for about 10 minutes at 400 degrees.

Herbed Beef Skewers with Horseradish Cream. Link eats meat skewers and mushroom skewers in the game, so we had both.

These lemon bars, from The Everyday Baker, are one of George’s favorites.

Perfect Pork Chops. I didn’t take the time to plate this prettily but that didn’t matter- it disappeared quickly. Joanna turned me onto this pork chop recipe and it will change your life. You dry brine and air dry the chops before you slow roast them in the oven and then give them a final sear in a hot pan, or in my case, over a hot grill. They’re tender and juicy and perfectly seasoned. Really good.

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Doesn’t this beautiful baby look right into your soul? His mom is getting some chuchu jelly, aka homemade jiggly lemonade jello.

We did a real basic obstacle course of sorts, inspired by my friend Amanda (who always does them for her kids’ parties and in fact made them up for us when we were kids). The kids leapt off the great plateau, jumped over the lava, threw a bomb to knock over a brick wall, and finally shot an arrow at a balloon, collecting rupees along the way.

We did use a crossbow at my four-year-old’s birthday party. The kids were shockingly good at hitting the balloon targets.

George got an impromptu yo-yo lesson from Kyle, who is legitimately incredible at it. I love this photo so much.

Another of George’s detailed requests- a silver lynel pinata. I spilled hot glue on my thumb while making this thing and my instinct was to press all the fingers on my left hand together so I burned all of them.

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I’m probably the only person who wants to look at a half dozen pictures of kids hitting a pinata, but I’m putting them here anyway. I like the myriad styles of attack these kids used.

I’m so grateful to Helen for taking this video- it captures one of the most endearing things about George. He get’s this pursed-lip bashful smile when he feels proud about something, and I just feel like a weepy mess watching his face transform as he looks around the room at all the people singing to him.

Thanks to everyone for coming out to celebrate George!

Andy took the day off for George’s actual birthday and we told him he could do whatever he wanted during the day. We said, we can go get ice cream! Go to the trampoline place! Eat pancakes! Anything you want! He said, “for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, can I have a ham sandwich?” Whatever you say, kid!

After his breakfast ham sandwich we played around with his birthday presents and then went to Pinballz for lunch. It was locked and looked abandoned when we got there, but it was supposed to be open, so Andy called and the guy who answered was like, uh, yeah, we’re open. Aren’t we? He was inside and came and unlocked the doors for us. I guess there had been a problem with the city (can we call Buda a city?) turning off their water? Anyway, we had the run of the place and it was really fun.

George ate one slice of pizza and lots of Andy’s fries instead of his second ham sandwich.

Then we did this for a long time.

Cuban Sandwiches. I ran it by George first, and he approved, so we all had fancy ham sandwiches for dinner. When I cut the meat off the pork chops for the birthday party, I left lots of little bits sticking to the bones, so I had put those in the fridge to save for later. I pulled those bits off and shredded them and combined them with George’s favorite honey ham, swiss cheese, yellow mustard, and pickles and squashed it all together in a panini press. Even sandwich-hating Henry loved them.

George wanted ice cream with cherries for his birthday dessert, so we had a sundae bar. He put a literal dozen cherries on his ice cream.

Happy fourth birthday, George! I love your creativity, your imagination, your elegant and unique way of speaking, and all those early morning cuddles. You’re a beautiful person and I am so grateful for the art and passion you have brought to our lives. Many happy returns, dear George!