A Chicken-Themed Birthday, Kohlrabi Kiki, and Why Benihana Sucks

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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It’s Uncle Dan! Putting gloves on little kids is the worst, but Dan tackled it with his characteristic enthusiasm.

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I grew this person in my very own uterus six years ago! And look at him now, scaling walls like a big giant kid.

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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.

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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!

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George is here to inspect your power plant.

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Everyone really nailed this picture. Thank you for an awesome weekend, Dan!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Henry designed this cake to look like his favorite chicken, Bronze. Her eggs really are blue/green!

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Wiener Wraps from Make the Bread, Buy the Butter are the cornerstone of any successful party. People also liked the macaroons and lemon bars.

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I’m a sleep-deprived crazy person with a large knife.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Thanks to Raven and Kyle for the smash hit bag of dried mealworms! And to my wonderful mom for taking so many fabulous pictures!

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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.

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We gotta get Henry some chunky tortoiseshell glasses. Love you, mama!

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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.

A Suite of Celebrations, the End of Whole 30, and a Disco Lion

Like me, you will probably find my revelations after finishing Whole 30 to be a little lackluster. I’m going to share them with you anyway. I painstakingly avoided grains, dairy, legumes, sugar, and alcohol for 30 days. Alcohol was the easy one ’cause I don’t like drinking anyway because alcohol in every form tastes bad to me. I have never acquired a taste for it and I don’t care to. I don’t like coffee or soda or anything besides water really, so the drinking part was easy. I am an unrelatable pod person. I do like food though. Going without grains and sugar proved to be the hardest part of the challenge, but not for the reasons I thought they would be. With the exception of a few meals, like the pork chop dinner I cocked up below, I loved everything I ate this month. I ate lots of bacon and nuts and avocados and crispy potatoes. I discovered how much I adore the flavors of tahini sauce with roasted sweet potatoes and at long last developed a taste for salads. And enjoying these meals meant that I didn’t crave the bread and pasta and tortillas I was avoiding. But I did miss the convenience of them. I had to put so much damn thought into everything I ate. I couldn’t just put some cheese in a tortilla or eat a bowl full of noodles tossed with butter and parmesan. I had to chop shit, and prep shit, and cook shit, all the time. As for sugar- I found it shockingly easy to say no. Again, the hardest part about going without it was the inconvenience. There is sugar in each and every thing you encounter in the eateries outside your own home, so grabbing lunch while you’re away from home is hard. Mostly, I avoided it, with the exception of our after-swim class trips to Chipotle where it was easy enough to follow the rules. I expected to feel full of energy, for my mind, free from the fog of sugar and white bread, to be agile and quick. To be able to write a damn blog post on time. I didn’t get this. I was the same person, sitting in front of more colorful plates of food. (Though I did take a not-so-secret savage joy in the holier-than-thou feeling of comparing my plate full of vegetables to Andy’s plate of meat and bread. My body is a temple. Look at all this fucking lettuce.)

I did the full 30 days, and at the end of the program, I methodically reintroduced the forbidden food groups, one category at a time, over a period of 10 days to see how these things have been secretly affecting my body. I felt fine, just the same, after each one. I don’t think I need to cut any of this stuff out of my diet. But I will cut back, and here’s why: I didn’t really miss them. I ate pork tacos with corn tortillas and tortilla chips to test out my body’s reaction to the reintroduction of non-gluten grains and felt like they didn’t add much to the experience. Now, a really good, freshly-fried, crisp and salty basket of chips with salsa at a good restaurant is something else entirely- I’d eat the hell out of that. But that taco filling would have been just as if not more delicious heaped on a soft roasted sweet potato or on a bed of crispy oven-roasted kale. Do I sound ridiculous? It’s true! In It Starts with Food, the creators of the Whole 30 write that you have a choice of eating something that makes you more healthy or something that makes you less healthy. Foods in the forbidden categories don’t offer you anything that you can’t get from another, healthier source, so when you can, skip ’em. That’s what I’m going to try to do going forward. I want to keep eating vegetables and not fall back into the pattern of planning meals that are centered around piles of simple, nutritionally-weak carbs. And I’m gonna eat a basket of crispy tortilla chips when I feel like it. Also chocolate.

Here’s what we ate this week. And last week.

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Whole 30 Day 27: Pork Chop, Mashed Potatoes, Pot-Roasted Collards. I just ruined every element of this. I overcooked the pork chop, turning something beautiful into a tiresome wedge of styrofoam. I overcooked the collards too, which were dry and chewy. And the mashed potatoes were made with ghee and coconut milk and tasted weird. I guess I don’t like coconut milk in mashed potatoes.

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Whole 30 Day 28: Salmon with Mango and Avocado Salsa, Roasted Brussels Sprouts. We’ve had two avocado seeds sprouting on our window sill for months. I should say, one has sprouted leaves and grown roots that have coiled themselves in the glass, the other has done nothing. I need to put the unsprouted one in the compost and plant the sprouted one in a pot but I haven’t done either of those things. (Shouldn’t Whole 30 have supplied me with the energy to dive in and invest the four minutes it would take to do the right thing here? Alas.) Instead, the water in the glasses slowly evaporates until the glasses need to be hastily refilled. I’m still filling the glass with the unsprouted seed, because it’s easier to do that than to face the fact that this is not going to grow and needs to be dealt with.

I noticed that the glass with the sprouted seed was completely out of water when I went to take this picture, so I refilled it and then accidentally ran into George and spilled the dirty avocado cup water on that plate of salmon on the right. I ate it anyway and it was pretty damn good. I cooked the salmon the way Lopez-Alt recommends in The Food Lab and it was crispy and salty on the outside and soft and tender in the middle.

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Whole 30 Day 29: Orange and Smoked Paprika Braised Chicken, Roasted Broccoli with Marcona Almonds, Bacon-Fat Fried Mushrooms. This broccoli is one of the recipes I made for Food52. I wanted to make a recipe for roasted broccoli with a twist, and read through my cookbooks for inspiration. I found a smoked paprika vinaigrette in a Spanish cookbook and adapted it a bit for my recipe and added a handful of marcona almonds for crunch and because they’re Spanish and it felt appropriate. Someone commented on that recipe that it looked a lot like another recipe they had found somewhere for broccoli with smoked paprika and almonds, so hadn’t I in fact stolen this? Nope. Two different people put these ingredients together in two different dishes. I get so many comments like this on my Food52 recipes. “Doesn’t your chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting look a lot like Nigella Lawson’s?” Probably! Cuz they’re both chocolate cakes with cream cheese icing. But I didn’t know her recipe and I didn’t copy it. “Doesn’t your tabbouleh with leftover charoset look like the tabbouleh from Zahav?” I haven’t seen that book and I literally tossed leftover charoset into some tabbouleh on a whim and thought it tasted good. I don’t have a reason for sharing this here except that I just got that Zahav comment this week, and that lady tried to walk the line between accusing me of plagiarizing the recipe and complimenting me (“looking forward to trying your version too!”) and I just don’t get why people would spend their time trolling the recipes a home cook uploads to a random website. I’m not gonna reply to that comment though. I’m just gonna trash that lady here and move on.

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Whole 30 Day 30(!), Breakfast: Sweet Potato, Avocado, Bacon. I loved this.

We went to Chipotle again after swimming class (it was boat safety week and the kids got to ride boats in the pool and then get dumped out of boats in the pool and learn to swim back to them). The boys are physically incapable of standing calmly beside me in line through the ordering process. They rub their bodies against the curved corrugated sheet metal wall beside us, try to jump up on the counter, and run real fast between me and the cash register. We are the most exhausting people you know. This week we made it to the register but the guy who we were supposed to pay was off doing something else and the kids just could not handle it and were hurtling themselves at one another and the walls and being generally disruptive. I tried to separate them by guiding Henry over to my right side and George to my left and Henry tripped over his feet/nothing into a freewheeling cartoon fall backwards, so it definitely looked like I shoved my kid down. We paid and sat down and I talked about how much that had sucked. A slice of life for you!

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Whole 30 Day 30, Dinner: Bulgogi Ginger Chicken, Grilled Vegetables, Thai Coconut Soup. Henry ate this chicken! He never eats chicken! And George ate the chicken!  And everybody loved the soup! This was a miracle dinner.

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Andy in a Rook Chair with Strawberries. We got to go to San Antonio without children to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary! Huzzah! It was glorious. (Huge thanks to Mary and Art for watching Henry and George!) My BFF’s mom, Candace, is a San Antonio pro and helped me plan our trip. We stayed at the St. Anthony Hotel which was posh and beautiful and reasonably priced. The room was modern and lovely and overlooked a big green park where we could see ballet dancers practicing for a free show that would take place there that night. The hotel staff knew it was our anniversary and sent up complimentary chocolate-covered strawberries and then sent up more while we were at dinner and put rose petals on the bed and, I kid you not, in the fucking toilet! So romantic.

We saw a matinee of Get Out, which was every bit as amazing as we had heard. Brilliant movie. I want to see it again. Several things went over my head and I only realized it after talking about it with Andy. Then we got to lie in bed and read! Luxury of all luxuries.

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Charcuterie from Cured: Apple Jalapeno Pork Rillettes, ‘Nduja, Duck Ham.  We ate dinner at Cured, which is one of the buzziest places to eat in San Antonio- the chef was recently nominated for a James Beard award. There are twenty or so things to choose from on the charcuterie list and it’s hard to whittle it down to three. Andy asked me if I knew what ‘nduja was, because it had no description on the menu, and I said it reminded me of a word that means chocolate/hazelnut spread but that that couldn’t be right. Turns out ‘nduja is a spicy spreadable salami (the chocolate hazelnut word I was thinking of was gianduja so I’m gonna go ahead and give myself partial credit). Anyway, we loved all of these, and the mustards and pickles and garnishes on the plates were great too.

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Wagyu Beef Filet with Sunchokes and Fiddlehead Ferns, from Cured. This was less successful, and at 42 whole US dollars, that’s kind of shitty. I asked for medium rare, and the inside of the steak was raw AF. It had like half an inch of pink under its nice brown crust and from there on it was just a pulsing hunk of uncooked beef. I ate the outside parts and left the fat raw cube on the plate. Our waiter asked me if I would like a box for it. I said no, thank you. The sunchokes and fiddlehead ferns were joyless. The fiddleheads were underseasoned and the sunchokes were just something to put in your mouth and chew. I knew the steak was undercooked when I cut that first bite and I should have sent it back but didn’t, so this one’s on me.

Other things I didn’t like. It’s loud in there. You have to sort of shout to hear the person sitting next to you but you have no trouble overhearing the stories from the rich forty-something drunk lady who thinks she’s hilarious at the table next to you. Also the raucous shouts from the drunk people on the other side of the restaurant. And all the diners are dressed kind of the same. Crisp tunic dresses with lots of dangly jewelry for the ladies and pastel checkered dress shirts with khakis for the guys. I guess the word I’m looking for is yuppie? And maybe I am one too but I don’t want to be in a room full of other yuppies, chewing on an under-cooked steak.

So! Cured. The charcuterie is good. Get that and sit outside where you can watch the world go by and not have to listen to the loud clanging of drunk yuppies.

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We left the restaurant and drove over to the King William neighborhood with all its historical markers and beautiful architecture for a long walk. It was perfect. The breeze was warm and the whole neighborhood smells like honeysuckle. The streets are lined with huge red oaks and pecan trees and ancient crepe myrtles with trunks so wide that you can’t wrap your arms around them.

That house that’s for sale is a great place to put that extra 2.7 million bucks you have stashed away. It’s really pretty.

After our walk we drove up north to a strip mall at the edge of the city to play Geeks Who Drink at a Big Lebowski-themed bar. We had fun and did pretty well too, in spite of our desperately poor showing in the pop music round. We came in third place out of seven teams, 10 points off the lead, and got style points for being the only team to know the answers to questions about Margaret Atwood and mezuzahs.

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More Free Strawberries! I ate a few for a pre-breakfast snack.

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Here’s that disco lion I promised you. It’s at Rebelle, the restaurant in the St. Anthony hotel. We ate breakfast here and the food was incredible. Every bit of it was delicious. The restaurant is completely insane though. We ate there at 10:30, surrounded by other vacationers staying at the hotel and families with young children who had just come from church and the whole time, the restaurant blared thumpin’ club jams. The decor too is so so silly. The walls and accent pillows are glittery with literal glitter. There’s a disco lion! Andy said it was like a Vegas casino trying to do a New Orleans theme. These things might not be so weird for a Saturday night dinner but are downright jarring for a Sunday breakfast. If they opened some curtains and changed the playlist, this place would be brilliant. Even as it is, I’d go back in a hot minute to eat breakfast there again- the food was so good.

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When I look at this picture I imagine a little tiny person who is standing on my upper right bicuspid and runs across my top row of teeth and then jumps over to Andy’s mouth and runs across his teeth too. It’s a lot of teeth for one picture.

I’ve been married to Andy for ten years now and with him for 17! I love his brain. Did you know he’s really smart? He’s really smart. I love the way he looks in a pair of super tight pants. I love how patient he is, and how kind, and peaceful. I am so grateful to have grown up with him and changed with him and had kids with him and to get to hang out with him every day. He’s the best one.

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Andy’s Birthday Dinner: Chicken Parmesan with Mashed Potatoes, Garlic Bread, and an Obligatory Green Thing for Him, Walnut-Crusted Chicken with Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes and Roasted Asparagus for Me.

No hot dogs! I offered. What Andy wanted more than anything for his birthday was to not do anything special for his birthday. This falls well outside my normal MO for birthdays, but I did my best. I made him a simple dinner that I knew he liked, bought a tub of ice cream for dessert, and a bottle of Mexican coke so he could drink it with some whiskey and that’s what he did. Oh also we watched Hell or High Water, which we loved.

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Lamp Meatballs with Tahini Sauce, Avgolemono. I’m creeping up on 3,000 words for this post so I’m gonna brief about these next few things. I have nothing to say about this except that we liked the meatballs and didn’t love the soup.

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Coconut Pork Tacos with Black Beans and Avocado, Chips and Salsa. Like I said at the top of this post. I didn’t care about the chips or that corn tortilla at all. The salsa is a Mrs. Renfro’s one I got for free for buying a bag of chips and it tasted oppressively sugary to me, though maybe that’s the Whole 30 sugar-deprivation talking. The corn tortilla didn’t add anything to my enjoyment of the pork and in fact muted its flavors. It was better out of the tortilla, eaten with a fork.

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Passover Seder. Sweet and Sour Brisket, Latkes, Charred Brussels Sprouts, Matzo Ball Soup. We had a little family Seder this year, but we still did the ritual (you can see some of the 10 drops of wine on the edge of the soup bowl, dropped in remembrance of those who suffered through the ten plagues) and we still ate on my Granny’s wedding china. Henry surprised me by singing the blessing in Hebrew the next day. He has heard it twice a year for his whole 5 years and I was shocked that it had settled so firmly in his brain.

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Coco-Almond Thumbprints with Chocolate Ganache and Morello Cherry Jam. I made a little gluten-free cookie for dessert. This is from Dorie’s Cookies, which I had requested from the library months ago and which became available the week I finished Whole 30. Looking through all the gorgeous treats left me a little breathless. I want to make all of them, which does not fit with the plan to eat treats only occasionally. It’s tucked safely away on my cookbook shelf for now.

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Kid on a Demon Horse. We went back to Sherwood Forest Faire on Saturday and this was the only picture I took. George looks a little haunted. We all had a great time, even though we utterly failed in our objective to get Andy a real-life ren faire costume which was to have been his birthday present. They didn’t have his size, nor the exact sort of thing we were looking for. So we came home and researched it and bought him a doublet and peasant shirt and some sweet-ass bracers online.

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Passover Leftovers Salad: Chopped Brisket, Latkes, and Brussels Sprouts with Horseradish Dressing. I loved that the dressing used up the leftover prepared horseradish from the Seder plate and the leftover sour cream from the latkes.

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Charred Spring Vegetables with Creamy Scallion Dressing and Hushpuppy Croutons. We celebrated Easter too, of course. We had a little egg hunt at home and then drove down to Buda to eat an Easter lunch at Grandma Mary’s and Grandpa Art’s house. I had warned the boys that the eggs and candy would be hidden around the house when they woke up, and that the first person to wake up had to wait for the other person before they collected eggs, and that they had to make sure to divide the stuff fairly. They woke up so early and Andy and I laid in bed and listened to them peacefully and equitably divide the spoils. I was so proud of them.

I brought this dish from Deep Run Roots to go with Art’s grilled chicken and sausage. The hushpuppy croutons mostly disintegrated when they hit the oil. I got a few big chunks and put those on top of the grilled asparagus and scallions and left all the tiny fried crumbs in a pan on the side. Henry appropriated that pan and devoured them. The rest was good too.

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Another Salad with Sweet Potatoes and Tahini Sauce. Also a nest of bacon. Variations on this salad have replaced quesadillas as my go-to dinner when I don’t know what else to make. Two key elements have made this salad a crave-able thing for me. One is that tahini sauce, which is rich and creamy but still light and slightly acidic. It is a dressing I haven’t gotten tired of. The other element is these salad greens. I can get them in a tub at Wheatsville and they’re sold with the roots still attached, so the greens stay crisp and fresh for a long time. I loathe the slimy bullshit lettuce that comes in the giant tub for $6 where the purple lettuce and the spinach have liquefied and adhered themselves to the the other leaves in the tub before you have a chance to crack the thing open. This lettuce is a huge step up and more cost-effective because you can eat the whole tub before it goes bad and you have to throw half of it out.

I’ll take my half-paragraph diatribe about lettuce as a cue to stop here. Happy Easter! Happy Passover! I’m going to bed.

Ceviche, Chorizo, Chili, a Giant Dog Head, and Still More Whole 30 Meals

I took a hypnobirthing course when I was pregnant with Henry, and I was all in. I listened to the CD before bed every night, and I labored for 39 hours with the mindset that I didn’t have to do a damn thing but breathe the baby down and it would be easy and painless. It sucked so much. It wasn’t easy or painless and I threw up a bunch of lemon lime gatorade and pushed for two straight hours to try to get it over with already. I felt seriously let down by hypnobirthing, because I felt like I’d done everything by the book and it had not gone anything like they said it would. But, I thought, I can’t tell anyone that, because maybe I did do something wrong, and hypnobirthing would work as advertised for someone who did it just so. So I kept my mouth shut. A friend did hypnobirthing too a year later and had the same experience as me (that it was shit) and gently asked why I hadn’t said anything to her about it, cuz that would’ve been helpful. I explained that I didn’t want my bad experience to stop someone from trying something that might work out just great for them. But hell, it’s nice to be informed isn’t it? So with that in mind, here’s my personal experience with the Whole 30 tiger blood. I didn’t get it. I’ve got four more days in the program and I think it’s safe to say it’s not coming. I feel good, but pretty damn far from energetic. I’m really happy to be eating well- I like looking at my colorful plates of food and I like watching my kids embrace these changes. I have liked the challenge of eating so far out of my comfort zone, and I think I have lost some weight. But it hasn’t been a panacea. My cycle is still horribly erratic and I’m still often tired. This doesn’t mean for a second that I wouldn’t recommend Whole 30 to you. I’m so glad I did it and it will absolutely change the way I eat going forward. I just don’t know that I’d go in with the impression that you’re going to spend the second half of the month as a super-human version of yourself.

Here’s what we ate this week.

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Whole 30 Day 21, Lunch: Zucchini Noodles with Creamy Avocado Pesto. (Warning that the name of the linked blog is rage-inducing. Eat Yourself Skinny! Gah! Give us all eating disorders, why don’t you?) I was super hungry when I made this for lunch and I was 0% excited to eat it. I almost hated this bowl, all green and vegetal and from the blog with a shitty name. And then I took a bite and I loved it so much. The pesto is delicious, and the zucchini noodles were good too. Noodle-y! I ate my bowlful in a hot minute and was still hungry, and had lots of that pesto leftover, so I reheated some sweet potato wedges leftover from our burger dinner the night before, and dipped those in the pesto. I liked this even better than the zucchini noodle/pesto arrangement. Over the course of my Whole 30 month, Henry has fallen deeply in love with sweet potatoes. So I offered him a bite of a sweet potato I had dipped in the pesto. He tried it, a little wary of the green sauce, and said, “this is spectacular.” So we shared the rest. Definitely gonna make this again.

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Whole 30 Day 21, Dinner: Sausage and Cabbage Stir-Fry with Chives. In a treat yo self moment, I subscribed to Bon Appetit, which cost $6 for 11 issues. And they say print media is dying. It’s fun! And it’s given me two good ideas already. This stir-fry, which was delicious and easy and which made enough that I could eat it for breakfast for a few more days (which I ate happily, not begrudgingly).  And the kids loved it too! The other good, no, let’s say brilliant idea, came from the last page of my first issue, in an interview with Tracy Morgan. They asked him what his favorite restaurant is and he said Benihana, where he always orders the hibachi shrimp. Shrimp? Rice? Sushi? Fire and theatrics? It occurred to me that taking the kids to a Benihana might be the greatest thing I ever do for them as a parent. Alas, there isn’t a Benihana in Austin. There are four in Houston though, and we’ll be there later this month to visit Uncle Dan, so this hibachi shrimp dream could become a reality.

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Whole 30 Day 22, Lunch: Cheesesteak without the Cheese or Bread or Mayonnaise, from Proof in Buda. Adventures in eating out on whole 30 have been limited to Chipotle on Fridays after swim class, where I get a romaine salad with carnitas (you can get their chorizo too, I think, but the rest of the meats have rice bran oil in them), pico de gallo, and guacamole. It’s delicious and it’s something I don’t have to cook so I’m all about it, even if I’m putting myself at risk for e-coli or whatever disease Chipotle is always giving people. This week I added Proof to my short list of restaurant expenditures this month. I felt like a jackass asking so many questions about the menu, but the lady was really nice about it. She recommended this cheese-less cheesesteak/warm roast beef on a plate, and I took it. In hindsight, I should have asked for a side of greens or something but honestly, this was good. I ate one of the clementines I keep in my purse at all times after and went on with my life.

I was in Buda to dig up firecracker ferns from Amanda’s parents backyard. They are millions of dollars at the nursery, but free when you dig them up out of someone’s backyard. I got 14 of em! And Amanda brought me bulbine and cedar sage from her yard too, so it was a red letter day for free plants and warm roast beef.

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Whole 30 Day 22, Dinner: Okonomiyaki, Coconut Cauliflower Rice. I made a few changes to this non-whole 30 recipe- it calls for panko bread crumbs to bind the cakes,  so I boiled and mashed a potato and mixed that in instead, and I added a hell of a lot of chopped crispy bacon to the mix, and then fried the cakes in the bacon fat. These were delicious! I splashed them with coconut aminos instead of the sweet and hot mayo in the linked recipe and loved them better than the original version (we can give credit to the bacon for this). But the potato was really fun too. I happily ate the leftovers for breakfast the next day. The cauliflower rice was the worst thing. Is cauliflower rice just terrible in general or did I do this wrong? Maybe I pulsed it in the food processor too long? It was not one bit like rice but was like shitty steamed cauliflower debris. I would never choose this. I’d rather roast a sheet pan of cauliflower and have it get nutty and crispy and eat that on the side instead of this sad imitation of rice.

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Whole 30 Day 23: Peruvian Ceviche, Fried Plantains with Mint Mojo. I’d been craving ceviche, something I had never made at home, and was happy to learn that it’s super easy. The kids were weirded out by my pile of tiny fish cubes. And then I gave the end cuts with the black swordfish skin to our dog and she choked them down so fast that she had to have one of her great hacking coughs which I think further put the kids off the idea of calling this dinner. They had toaster waffles and sausages instead. For the ceviche, I skipped the aji amarillo stuff because I didn’t have it and it turned out just fine with the lime and ginger and avocado. Next time I think I’ll add some diced mango or pineapple too. Just thinking out loud here. The fried plantains are good with anything.

Like the dog, I choked down my mouthfuls of dinner because I was running late for my last session of our 12-month enneagram class.  This is my second year of meeting once-a-month with a hilarious, compassionate, and insightful group of women to talk with one another about our struggles and triumphs on the road to being better people. At the end of the session, Christy handed out lists of things each number (that’s your enneagram personality type) can do to help themselves grow (Thank you for these lists, Shannon!). The list for my number (eight- the boss, the challenger) reads like a succinct account of my personal failings. 1. Practice waiting and listening before taking action as a way to moderate your impatience and impulsivity. (Yeah, I’m bad at listening. And also at being patient. Noted.) 3. Pay more attention to the impact your intensity has on others. ( o_O ) 5. When you find yourself getting extremely angry at someone or some injustice, allow yourself to breathe deeply and quiet your body and mind instead of reflexively starting to fight. (You don’t know me, list writer! No, but seriously, I have no idea how to do the thing where you breathe yourself calm when you’re angry. This is not a thing I have ever successfully done. When I have tried it, my brain chimes in with all of its well-reasoned arguments that justify my anger.) I will give myself props for two items on this list, though: 6. Write down and review insights about yourself as a way of opposing self-forgetfulness and denial (thanks, blog!) and 8. Practice delaying gratification and stimulation (thanks kids for the millions of opportunities you create for me to practice this one every damn day). Next month we’re starting a mini-series on boundaries, which should be useful because I’ve got lousy ones. In the meantime, I’m gonna practice that calm breathing thing and listening to you.

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Dinner for a Friend with a Big Ole Baby: Chicken Shawarma, Cucumber and Tomato Salad, Tahini Sauce, Hummus and Bell Peppers, Roasted Sweet Potato Rounds, plus pita bread and pita chips, not pictured. You guys, this big ole baby is so big. He was born really big (almost 12 lbs! in a homebirth no less!) but it also took me three-ish months to get it together and bring a postpartum meal to my friend, so he was even bigger. I don’t want another baby of my own but I enjoyed the shit out of holding this guy. He’s laugh-y and smile-y and he chews on your shirt in a very nice way. I got to sit and hold him and hear about his very exciting birth story and it was so great.

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Dessert/Breakfast for a Friend with a Big Ole Baby: Chocolate Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing, Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins. It can’t all be healthy shit- you gotta have some easily-consumable sugary carb things too. That’s the only way to get through the first few months with a new baby, that’s science.

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Whole 30 Day 24: Chicken Shawarma with Tahini Sauce and Roasted Sweet Potatoes. I made a double batch of the healthy shit so I could eat all of these things too. Sweet potatoes with tahini sauce has jumped to the top of my list of the most delicious things. Also, when the juices from this shawarma, oily and golden from turmeric, mix with the tahini sauce, they create a powerful super-sauce that’s left on the plate even after you’ve dragged your last lettuce leaf through it, so you have to soak the tines of your fork in it and slurp it off and repeat until your tablemates implore you to stop.

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Ultra-Crisp Bacon Fat Roasted Potatoes. This is from the Food Lab and it’s sort of like the linked recipe and I really can’t focus on what I wanted to say about these things, if anything, cuz my big ole dog has her face six inches from mine and she’s breathing her hot dog breath in a rapid-clip haa-ha-haa-ha-haa-ha. I’m gonna take her picture now and upload it right here between the crispy potatoes and the chorizo kale thing so you can really feel what it’s like to be me right now, at 11:32 on a Monday night.

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A real good-lookin’ lady.

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Whole 30 Day 25, Lunch: Crispy Chorizo, Potatoes, and Kale. On to the kale. I’ve made this a bunch this month and I’m still not sick of it. It’s fast and filling and it tastes good. This plus that tuna salad with tomatoes and parsley and kalamata olives are my Whole30 MVPs. I don’t watch sports.

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Whole 30 Day 25, Dinner: Chili. I’m just gonna tuck a little corner of roasted sweet potato rounds into all my meals going forward. I love them. We were supposed to spend the day at Sherwood Forest Faire but a big fun storm blew in so we stayed home and did mostly nothing while the hours ticked slowly by instead.

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Dove Springs. I also have a sweet-ass slo-mo video of the kids throwing rocks into the water. I figured only the grandmas would be interested in seeing that though so, grandmas- hit me up!

Our hike back up from the creek was fraught with peril. On the way down, Henry had noticed that some of the plants lining the path had little bumps on them (from disease or insects, I don’t know) and kind of freaked out about it, but we made it to the water and had a gay old time throwing rocks and finding fossils. When we were ready to hike back up, Henry said he was so worried about those bumpy plants. I thought this was very silly, but I didn’t say so, and instead offered that he could put his hands on my back and close his eyes and walk past the plants without having to look at them. This was a terrible idea because Henry, who is semi-uncoordinated with the ability to see and is understandably less so with his eyes closed, stepped on and kicked my heels in a most painful fashion until finally I stopped and said, hey, you’re hurting me, and also, we’re past the worst of it and the path is wide enough now that you don’t have to touch any of the bumpy plants anymore. Henry disagreed. He still very much did not want to see these plants, and I very much did not want to be kicked anymore, so he walked in front of me with his hands over his eyes, screaming. I, more and more frustrated, tried to get him to uncover his eyes, because you can’t hike with your eyes closed, and that only freaked him out more and he fell right into one of the bumpy plants and that did it. He screamed louder the whole rest of the ascent until I turned on him and yelled, “you have got to stop screaming! someone is going to think a little kid is lost or hurt down here!” This didn’t help either, so we just got to the car as quickly as we could and that was our hike.

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Whole 30 Day 26: Ginger and Scallion Meatball Salad with Herbs and Fried Shallots. I made the meatballs from this recipe from It’s All Easy (Gwyneth!) with pork instead of chicken and coconut aminos instead of soy sauce and put them on top of an approximation of the bo bun salad from the same book- which meant all the green stuff I had plus the lime/fish sauce/ginger/garlic dressing and a pile of fried shallots. Really good. Henry and George opted to have noodles with olive oil and parmesan instead, and slurped them up happily, but then Henry asked to try a meatball, and then ate bites of greens and carrots and meatball all together. I asked him which meal he preferred- the salad or the pasta, and he picked the salad. He and George loved the lime-y fish sauce dressing and took turns spooning up the little pool of the stuff that was left in the bottom of my bowl. It’s really been wonderful to see how my kids have responded to my whole 30 month. Henry especially has been eager to try what I’m having- I think it helps that everything looks so colorful and interesting- and has surprised us both by mostly liking it. It’s so easy to settle into a rut of making things for dinner that I know the kids will eat- lots of bread and rice and pasta and taco things- I did it almost without realizing it. Sitting down at the table with a big plate of fresh and vibrant green things feels rebellious, in a wonderful way. I’m taking the time and effort to do something for myself, and I sure am hoping that it will change the way my whole family eats, for the better.