Scones and Baby Cows and Fancy Cloaks and Other Vacation-y Things

We went to Boston for a convention, to Portland to eat every baked good we could find and to soak up the cool sea breezes, to Salem to buy witchy things and to be witchy people, to Connecticut to see Billy and fireworks and to eat the world’s best scones and chocolate chip cookies, and then home, to never go out to eat again and to, in fact, not go outside again at all. This post is all about our trip!

It’s a long one so let’s just jump into it, shall we?

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These kids got carried around Boston on the backs of any grown up willing to do it (almost exclusively Grandma Mary) because it was too hot (say the Texas boys!) and they didn’t want to move their legs. They did really like the baby ducks at the public garden though.

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Let me stop here and sing the praises of Grandma Mary, who traveled with us to Boston and let us abandon her with the children each and every time we wanted to. This is the first year since having kids that Andy and I got to do all of the convention activities without having to stop and head back to the hotel room to put kids to bed or put them to bed again after they woke up in the middle of the night. Mary did all of it! And she played approximately 400 games of Yahtzee with Henry too. It was so wonderful and freeing! Thank you for everything, Mary!

We went to the aquarium together on Friday afternoon because it was rainy and it seemed like our best option and every other family in the Boston area had the same idea. It was insane in there. Highlights included a 3D Imax movie about sharks and seeing a big giant sea turtle. Lowlights included walking anywhere for any reason because people filled every square inch of the space.

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A rare photo of Andy and I inside the National Puzzlers’ League convention, (we’re called Bonus and Expelliarmus while we’re there) taken by Randi Rosenblum. Here we’re working with one of our favorite people, Hathor, a lovely and charming beer goddess, on a packet of cartoon rebuses in the style of an old puzzle type from Games Magazine, created and drawn by Toonhead!, another one of our favorite people. If you’re interested in checking out the sorts of puzzles we tackle at NPL conventions, most of the puzzles from this year’s convention are available here. The Saturday night puzzle extravaganza was one of my very favorite parts of the convention this year. This year’s theme was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory(!) which meant lots of candy-related puzzles to solve. We had such a fun team and we worked together to solve every last puzzle and loved the whole thing. Here’s one of the extravaganza puzzles– the easiest one to link to and the most ear-wormy. I got to work on a cryptic crossword with Jeffurry, who I love, play Tablesaw’s hilarious 2000’s TV-version of Remote Control (do you remember that show on MTV?), solve Lambda’s Punana Split puzzle (a totally innocuous and fun wordplay mystery puzzle with a name that he warned us not to seek out in urban dictionary. I had to do it, so I’ll save you the googling, if you, like me, aren’t on the up-an-up on these things: punana can mean a funky vagina!), play Capital R’s brilliant Mystery Jeopardy and Saxifrage and Cazique’s also brilliant Last Minute Jeopardy, and lots of other things too, but no matter what I was doing, I reveled in that magical atmosphere that comes with being surrounded by 200 brilliant, creative, and kind people who we see once a year but who feel like a family.

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Cape Elizabeth. With the end of the NPL convention, we drove Grandma to the airport (we were all sad to see her go! the kids were morose the whole afternoon) and headed up to Portland, Maine. Which is, I guess, the greatest place in the world. It’s gorgeous! And temperate and lovely in the summertime and filled with good food too. Our first stop was to Cape Elizabeth, which has a lovely lighthouse that you can’t get close to without disobeying a lot of no parking signs. Andy and I are both ardent sign followers, so we didn’t get close and went to the nearby beach instead, which was thrillingly beautiful. Look at those rocks! They look like huge monstrous chunks of petrified wood. And the same kids who couldn’t walk a city block in Boston without breaking down in sobs ran for miles along the coast here.

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Fried Clams, Lobster Roll, a Burger, and a Fried Shrimp Boat at The Lobster Shack. We ordered these things more because it’s what one does while on the coast of Maine than because of actual inclination. In fact, I don’t love or even really like shrimp or clams or lobster. The texture, to me, ranges from objectionable to tolerable, and doesn’t ever move beyond that. This meal did nothing to change my opinion. I think everything was done reasonably well, but the lobster didn’t taste like much more than the glob of mayo on top of it, and the clams were just chewy fried things. And they’re so expensive. We paid $70 for this meal and I just don’t get what all the hype is about.

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On the drive home from Cape Elizabeth we stopped at a farm and picked a basket of strawberries and bought some fresh shelling peas too, that Henry and I ate for breakfast the next morning. Then we went to another lighthouse, the Portland Head Light cuz it was there, and when in Maine and all that.

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And then we got to drive across a drawbridge when the bridge part was up to let a ship pass through! It was neat- we got out of the car and sat on the median and watched it pass very slowly by. Then we got back in the car and waited. We waited a super long time, long after the bridge had lowered back down, until it became clear that something had gone wrong. The barricades that should have lifted after the bridge went back down did not, so the cars couldn’t move. Lots of folks got out of there cars again to wait. Henry was pissed at the inconvenience of it all (we were headed home to do nothing). He yelled at the cars and the bridge and the world. Andy and I talked to him about circumstances that are completely out of your control, and how you might as well take it easy and enjoy yourself if you can but he wasn’t swallowing our garbage and remained furious until the problem was sorted out an hour later and we were on our way.

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Yosaku. This was a real shit show. And the straw that broke the camel’s back for eating dinners out with the kids. Henry did fine- he loved his gyoza so much and will eat all manner of eel rolls. But he also eats rice by picking up big sticky handfuls and working them into his gaping mouth. Which stresses me out in a fancy restaurant setting. But George was the one who couldn’t cope. He was so excited to eat Japanese food, but when we got there he was screamy and wanted to rub his chopsticks along the wooden slats separating our table from another one, the way an old-timey cartoon prisoner would drag a metal mug along the bars of his jail cell, and he insisted that he only wanted rice, nothing else, and spilled most of it on himself, but didn’t want more, and I had to take him out of the restaurant because he wouldn’t stop yelling, right when my food came out and I was hungry and I just hated every second of it. George is three, and it was the end of a long, full day, and it was just too much. But I was sad, because I had so many restaurants I wanted to try in Portland and I saw that it just wasn’t going to be possible to do it. So we ate as quickly as we could and drove home, where George promptly burst into tears because he was hungry. Blaaarrrgggh.

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The Holy Donut. The next morning we made a quick run into this donut shop and I ate the best donut the world has ever known. I picked the dark chocolate sea salt and it was moist and dark and salty and I loved it so so much. Henry and Andy both got the blueberry lemonade and George got the fresh lemon, and they were all good but mine was the best. I’m the Best. (That’s from a Lucy Cousins book that my friend Candace gave us, which she bought because she liked the dog’s shorts. They’re pretty great shorts and it’s a good book too!)

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We drove up to Freeport, Maine, and spent the rest of the day at Wolfe’s Neck Farm, which has everything that is good in this world. We got to get licked by a 10 day old cow, meet goats and sheep, walk through a lush vegetable garden and orchard, meet a baby skunk (too young to spray!), and canoe through the bay and up a windy little river. Also pizza and ice cream (espresso toffee!) and hot dogs with onion jam.

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Blue Spoon. After we got back from the farm, we fed the kids (we were staying at a lovely airbnb with a kitchen), did their bedtime routine, and while Andy was lying in bed with the boys, I went out and explored the neighborhood. I got us a bloody steak and a trio of dips with flatbread from the restaurant right next door and brought it home for a late, but delicious, dinner to share with Andy.

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This is what happens to Henry when you put him in the sun. Poor kid! He ate an olive roll a few minutes later and perked right up. You can see George’s incredible pecan financier if you look real close. They were from Standard Baking Co., which is across the street from the ferry terminal.

Helen had been urging us to go on a whale-watching expedition while we were in Maine, but I looked into it and tickets were $50/person and it was a 4 hour boat ride. I didn’t want to spend $200 and I didn’t know how the kids would do on a boat. I decided to just do a quick ferry ride to a nearby island instead- tickets were $7 for a 20 minute ride to Peaks Island, and it was perfect. Meanwhile, Helen called our mom to suggest that she buy us tickets on a whale-watching boat, so my mom called me and offered to do just that. I said no thanks, and explained about the ferry ride instead, so she said, if you see something later in your trip that you want to do, but don’t want to spend money on, let me know. Oh, I did. More on this later.

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Peaks Island. We spent the day at the beach, watching the tide creep ever higher. I saved a lady’s shoes from being washed out to sea, so you might say I’m a hero. Henry made 40 identical sand balls which he lined up in rows and then did not throw. George threw sand at a lot of rocks.

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For dinner on our last night, we ate up all the odds and ends that had accumulated in the fridge over our four days in Maine, with a bowl of noodles for George and a bowl of rice for Henry, who wanted simple, empty calories.

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The backyard at our airbnb! (The price listed now is more than double what we paid, I don’t know why. That kind of bums me out because I was fantasizing about going back to stay there again someday and this knowledge is going to add an unpleasant dose of reality to that daydream!). We didn’t go into the backyard until the last day of our stay, what a pity. The house was great, in a neighborhood full of amazing restaurants and shops (Otto, LB Kitchen, Lolita) and a great tiny market with fantastic breads and whoopie pies right across the street. On the table you can see the remains of George’s ball, which he picked out at a toy store next to the donut shop the day before. Within 24 hours it was deflated and several shades darker.

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Duckfat. Before leaving town, we had to stop for an early lunch at this place, which had been recommended to me by everyone I knew who had spent any time in Portland. Happily, George and Henry were super into it, and, it being 11 in the morning, had fresh reserves of manners and patience. They did beautifully and we all loved our lunch there so much. George ate a mountain of fries, Henry ordered the tomato and fennel soup, but ended up loving the pressed cuban sandwich that I had ordered to split with Andy, so we traded. Fine by me- that soup ended up being my favorite thing we ate there. The drink is a wild cherry phosphate, and we all shared an order of the gorgeous lemony doughnut holes with a salted duck caramel dipping sauce. Amazing, top to bottom.

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Then we went to Salem! I love this town- it was the one place from my old days at Boston University that I really wanted to go back to on this trip. And we got perfect weather for our two days there too- it was chilly and overcast and made the whole town feel spooky and wonderful. We walked around and went in witch-y shops. This one was so beautiful and had bundles of dried herbs hanging from the ceiling and artfully arranged bowls of animal bones and it felt legit, y’all. We walked around the farmers’ market and the boys both found sticks that looked like magic wands and we dipped them in a magic fountain to make them really really magical.

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There was a table for kids to make art at the farmers’ market- here’s Henry’s. I loved it!

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The Lobster Shanty. We ate at a lobster shack and a lobster shanty on our trip to New England, so I feel like we can officially say we’ve done the thing up right.

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Red’s Sandwich Shop. Have you ever seen a kid look more serious in front of a plate with a giant Mickey Mouse-shaped pancake?

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Doesn’t Henry really and truly look like he’s been caught mid-hex?

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Witch Pix. On our wanderings in Salem the day before, we had passed this place and I had been more than a little intrigued. I floated the idea of actually doing the thing to Andy, who was politely but emphatically not interested in spending money on witch glamour shots. Aha! I thought. This is the perfect time to call my mom. She agreed right away! And honestly these pictures are now one of my most prized possessions. We got 77 pictures, in front of three backdrops. The broomstick one had a wind machine! And the costume part was so fun too. I picked the simplest black dress and cape I could find, and then I turned around to find that Andy had chosen the most spectacular bedazzled velvet cloak in the shop. He came around on the pictures after all! I’m going to get a few framed and bring them out every year on Halloween for the rest of time and I’m just so so happy we got to do that. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for buying them for us! And thanks to Helen for pushing for the whale watching trip and inadvertently making this happen!

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Mianus River Gorge. Here’s where I make a joke about my anus. After Salem, we drove to Connecticut to see our friend Billy, whose family has an annual summertime party which Andy and I have been invited to every year since meeting Billy in college. We had never been able to attend, but this year, with the NPL convention in Boston the week before, the stars aligned so we could go. We had some time to kill that morning though, so we went for a long hike to run some energy out of the kids.

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Billy!! Billy has a twin brother named Larry. When we first got to the party, Larry (who also knows Andy because they worked at Microsoft together for a summer) ran up from behind and jumped on Andy’s back. Andy crumpled a bit but managed to stay standing. When Billy showed up an hour or so later he ran at top speed and jumped onto Andy, like a bear hurtling into a telephone pole. This time Andy promptly crashed to the ground. I’m saying this to illustrate to you that Billy is fun! And his family is too. We ate a lot of food and rode a little kayak around the pond in their backyard and stayed for the deservedly famous fireworks spectacular at the end of the night. There are dozens and dozens of huge fancy fireworks, set up to detonate in time with some of the most wildly patriotic tunes I have ever heard. The kids got glowsticks and cupcakes and we got to talk to our old pal Billy, so everyone had a real good time.

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Blueberry Scones, Cinn-ful Cinnamon Scones, Chubby Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies. I have never in my life and probably never will again be handed a box full of things this delicious. A longtime food52 friend and personal hero, Liz (mrslarkin), lives right around the corner from Billy’s parents. Round those parts, she’s known as the Scone Lady, and for good reason- the scones she brought us- wild blueberry and cinn-ful cinnamon, were absolutely the best scones I’d ever eaten. So rich and moist and crunchy and soft and all the best things in the world in one sugar-encrusted triangular package. My mouth is watering now, thinking about them, and I’ve got the urge to leave the house to try to find a sack of frozen wild blueberries so I can make them and eat them post haste. The cinnamon scones, with a drizzle of icing on top, were every bit as delicious. And the chocolate chip cookies! Fuck, y’all. I think they’re the best I’ve ever had. I love that Violet Bakery version, that uses all egg yolks, but I think these were even better. I’m making them on Saturday for a bake sale that you should definitely come to. (I’m also making salted caramel almond bars!) Anyway, these treats sustained us during the long drive from Connecticut back to Boston and there were enough left over to serve as our very early breakfast in the airport the next day. Tiny George loved the giant chocolate chip cookies so much that he ate two of them. I am the model of a selfless mother.

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Liz met us at the Stamford Museum and Nature Center and I got to bask in her loveliness while we ate farmers’ market snacks and walked around the grounds of the farm, looking at pigs and woolly cows and giant horses. Henry, who is notoriously reserved when meeting new people, fell completely in love with Liz. He held her hand and shared every thought that came into his head with her. Thank you for coming out to meet us Liz! And for bringing your perfect scones and cookies too- we love you!

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And then we flew home and never went out to eat again. (For real, check out that sweet-ass cloak on Andy, though!) See you all next post, when it’s back to the reality of Texas in the summertime.

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All the Food from All the Parties

We’re getting ready to set off for our big summer vacation to New England. The first stop is Boston, for the annual National Puzzlers’ League Convention. Andy’s mom is flying with us to watch the kids while we’re convention-ing, and nobody drinks my milk anymore and they mostly sleep through the night now, so this is pretty damn exciting. Convention stuff happens at night, so we’ll explore the city by day and then do lots of trivia games and solve anagrams till the wee hours of the morning. If you live in or near Boston and you like wordplay games, you should come visit us! After that, we’ll rent a car and drive to Portland, Maine to a little beach house. We’ll eat lobster rolls and look at lighthouses and do whatever else people do in Maine. Then we’re headed to Salem, one of my very favorite places (I’m a wannabe witch, after all), and then to Connecticut to see our friend Billy and eat Mrs. Larkin’s scones. It’s gonna be pretty sweet. Do you have places that you’d recommend that we visit while we’re in Massachusetts, Maine, or Connecticut? If you do, will you let me know? I have done precious little planning for this trip.

Anyway! I wanted to stop in here before we left to share photos (all taken by my sister, Helen!) of three parties we’ve held in the last couple of weeks. I gotta get on a place in 45 minutes though, so I’m gonna have to be brief. Here we go!

Party No. 1: Summer Solstice.

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Caprese Salad with Spicy Goat Cheese. I saw this in a Good Housekeeping mag at my mother in law’s house and thought it sounded fantastic. I loved it.

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Bean and Corn Salad. My mom made this while we were in Portland and I thought it was so great- I’ve made it several times since coming home. Fun story: I took it to a Father’s Day cookout and then accidentally left the leftovers in a cooler on the floor for 24 hours. I found it as I was putting dinner together the next day and moved it next to the bowl of scraps for the chickens, and then got distracted because Otto came over and I had to talk to him about our damn broody chicken, and asked Andy to finish putting the dinner stuff on the table. He assumed that old corn salad was part of our dinner and George devoured it. When I came back in I was horrified and said George couldn’t eat anymore because it could make him sick. He was outraged and stayed mad at me for most of the rest of the evening. I made him some more the next day. Anyway, it’s a good salad.

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Grilled Chicken with Herbes de Provence. My brother Caleb makes the most incredible grilled chicken. I tried to replicate it once I got home and I feel like I got pretty close. Here’s what I did. Make the rub: mix 1/4 of brown sugar, 1 tablespoon of kosher salt, 2 tablespoons of herbes de provence (without lavender, unless you like that sort of thing), 1/2 tablespoon of garlic powder, and a lot of freshly ground black pepper. Rub this all over 6 pounds of skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs and drumsticks, then grill over indirect heat for an hour, until the fat has rendered and dripped off and the chicken skin looks thin and roasty.

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Cold Cucumber and Avocado Soup with Mango Salsa. I love this summer soup- you throw some shit in a blender and call it a day.

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Lemonade Jello. The kids live for this stuff. I just buy a jug of lemonade and follow the instructions on a box of gelatin to make it extra jiggly.

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These two love each other like siblings and also fight like siblings. George had a real hard time sharing anything with Phinnie during our party, but they made up by the time we were ready to build a big fire and eat some s’mores.

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Squee! She is the dearest. I clench my teeth every time I look at her. Someone ought to tell her that stick is gonna be hopeless for roasting marshmallows though.

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We made flower mandalas with flowers Joanna brought!

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We burned sage and then threw fat pinches of mugwort and vervain into the fire to send dark and evil things far away from us.

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When Andy got home, we went to the Liz Carpenter fountain so the kids could stay up late on the Solstice and took so many pictures and they were all pretty bad. Here’s one of em!

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And here’s another! I have no pictures with Andy- we’ve gotta work on that.

Party No. 2: Going Away Dinner for Amanda.

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Emma hosted the dinner at her beautiful house in East Austin. Since Amanda is forever bringing us gorgeous bouquets of her homegrown flowers, we decided we’d all try our hands at making some for her. Here is my large and gangly one on top of Emma’s pretty oven.

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Helen made this one!

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Emma grew these tomatoes! And she gave us all sack-fulls on our way out the door.

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Christy made these! I probably should’ve swapped the tomato picture and this one, but I’ve only got ten minutes left to write so let’s just move on.

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Helen’s Tomato, Peach, and Burrata Salad with a Fig Balsamic Drizzle. I ate fully half of this platter.

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Marcarpone and Sweet Corn Lasagna. I had this for the first time at Amanda’s house and loved it so much. It’s a perfect summertime potluck offering, I think.

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Some ladies and some food.

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Someone’s dinner.

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Christy’s Dark Chocolate Raspberry Torte. This is an almost-flourless chocolate cake, topped with the richest, creamiest chocolate mousse, topped with whipped cream and raspberries. It is everything good in the world.

I’m still in denial about Amanda leaving. I’m going to miss you so much, friend!

Party No.3: A Birthday Party for Christy.

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The Almost-Birthday Girl! We had this party way early, because it was the only day that worked for everyone. Helen and I had a number of elaborate ideas for what we wanted to do for Christy’s birthday, but then we talked to her and she said she just wanted to go swimming at Garrison (a shitty city pool near my house) and eat some snacks on some towels. This didn’t fit into Helen’s and my vision board (we didn’t actually make a vision board) and we hated the idea. But then Helen had the idea to ask Amanda if she could ask her parents to let us use their pool for the party. Genius! There pool is a paradise- surrounded by lush palms and pride of barbados, and with a gorgeous Grecian pavillion with lovely furniture and a fireplace next to the pool. They said yes! Helen said “what a nice party Amanda is throwing for Christy!”

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Cheese Plate with Amanda’s Tomato Jam. Christy loves Pure Luck goat cheese, and it was even more incredible topped with tomato jam made from Emma’s tomatoes and Amanda’s homegrown onions.

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Peach and Nectarine Salad with Candied Pecans and Goat Cheese. This salad is supposed to have a lavendar syrup, which Christy loves, but then I couldn’t find any at central market, so I infused the syrup with herbes de provence instead.

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Helen’s Crudites Platter. Hey, broccoli! I’ve got nothing to say here.

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Ceviche Accessories.

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Flounder Ceviche with Pineapple and Ginger. I ate this for breakfast and lunch the next day. It’s so easy and it feels so fancy and tropical. I leave out the Peruvian chile stuff and just add a diced jalapeno and some pineapple.

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Gluten Free Brownies. I’m out of time to write! We have to leave for the airport. So brownies!

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Violet Bakery’s Chocolate Chip Cookies. My favorite egg yolk chocolate chip cookies.

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Dr. Bobby! Huge thanks to Bobby and Crisitina for letting us have the most beautiful pool party! They mowed and watered and cleaned the pool area and were just wonderful.

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Amanda’s Flowers. Supplemented with flowers and herbs from Joanna’s garden. Aren’t they wonderful? Everything was so pretty and perfect and we got to swim without our children for hours. I think it’s the first time I’ve been swimming without the children since I had them and it was glorious. Happy Birthday, Christy! We loved celebrating you!

And that’s it! I super have to go. I’d love to hear if you have ideas for places to eat and things to see and do in Boston, Maine, or Connecticut, please and thank you! Happy summer, friends!

How to Look Surly in a Strawberry Field: A Reminiscence of our Trip to Portland

The boys and I fled the hellish landscape of summer in Austin, Texas and flew to Portland, Oregon to visit Gangie and Grandpa. It was 60 degrees and rainy and glorious. The trip was wonderful. We went to the beach, went strawberry-picking, met the biggest celebrity in the kids’ lives right now, hung out with Cousin Jack and Uncle Caleb, built fires in the fireplace, and watched a lot of squirrels eating hazelnuts on the back patio. (During one of these mornings, sitting by the fire looking out into the backyard, Henry said “I hope another squirrel shows up so we can see another lively session of Squirrel.”) It was also hard, like everything is with young children. An example: The two hour time change was really bad for George’s emotional state. It meant that he pretty much broke down around dinner every night from complete and total exhaustion. On the last night we were there, George had a long, loud meltdown around bedtime because his leg was hurting him (suddenly and mysteriously). He screamed and screamed. I gathered up the last ragged shreds of my sympathy and patience and talked to him about it. I gently propped him on the toilet so he could pee. I held him while I put on his pajamas so he wouldn’t have to put any weight on his leg. Finally, he calmed down enough that Henry and I could have a conversation about balancing on one leg, so I showed them the tree pose I had been working on in a 30 day yoga challenge (that Andy’s doing with me!). George got excited about this and tried it too, jumping off the bed and balancing on, you guessed it, the very leg he had been wailing about for the last 20 minutes. I pointed this out and he laughed and said, “Oh! Yeah!” I swear, they do this shit just to fuck with your head. In spite of this incident and dozens (hundreds?) more like it, we had a great trip. We adventured during the day, ate lots of good food, read Matilda from cover-to-cover, spent time with people we love and generally lived it up. After the kids went to bed every night, I did my daily yoga routine, talked to Andy on the phone about how hard the kids were that day and how far he’d gotten on the very long to-do list I had left him (I’m kidding! We talked about other things too.), and then hung out with my parents. We talked about politics and all the movies I haven’t seen and should see, watched John Oliver, and listened to Vincenzo Galilei’s The Well-Tempered Lute. It was a pleasure to get to hang out with my mom and dad without having to be a parent at the same time.

Here’s what we ate (and did) in Portland.

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In flight meal. Plastic knives turned out to be the hot hit of our plane ride out to Portland. George got one with his fruit and cheese tray. I also got a fruit and cheese tray because it came with Beecher’s Flagship cheese and Tillamook cheddar and a chocolate truffle. It also came with grapes that were okay and apples that were not. They had soaked them in a bucket of bleach or something to keep them from turning brown. And they succeeded in that, but not in what should have been the primary goal of serving people slices of things that taste like apples and not things that taste like old bleach buckets. Anyway, George was thrilled to discover that his snack box contained a plastic knife and he set to cutting things (grapes, cheese, crackers, what have you) with gusto. Henry’s red curry chicken and rice bowl didn’t come with a knife, so I gave him mine and a pile of grapes to cut, and this project kept them happily occupied for a glorious 30 minutes.

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Westmoreland Park. Henry and George begged to visit this park on our first day in Oregon, and they desperately needed to run around after our travel day, so we went. Henry delighted in moving the big smooth tree branches from one side of the playground to the other and George spent a lot of time throwing sand at the ground. The heart wants what it wants.

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Gazpacho with Jeff and Wanda. Jeff is my cousin, I think? But so far removed I couldn’t tell you what cousin number he is. He and his wife Wanda sold their house and have been traveling the country in an RV for almost a year and I met them for the first time in November (election day, may it live in infamy, to be exact) when they were traveling through Austin. We caught them again as they passed through Portland. They had just eaten, but like all good Jewish mothers, my mom forced them to try the gazpacho. I’m sure they didn’t regret it- it’s a very lovely soup! Bon voyage, Jeff and Wanda! Hope to see you back in Austin again soon, under less-apocalyptic conditions.

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Broccoli Salad and Chipotle-Rubbed Pork Chops. My mom made me all of my favorite foods while we were there. Gazpacho, mole, and this broccoli salad which always tastes better when she makes it. The only thing missing was Dump Cake. Next time, mom!

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Push Ups in the Hospital. My mom had a pre-op appointment for her lithotripsy procedure so we tagged along and had the most exciting ever waiting-in-a-hospital experience. The receptionist gave us free passes to ride the Portland Aerial Tram, which thrilled the kids and made my stomach feel queasy. And then they ate push ups. And then we washed push up slime off faces and rode the elevators a lot and then we left and went strawberry picking.

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Strawberry Picking on Sauvie Island. It was supposed to be blueberry picking, but then we got to the blueberry farm and no one was there, so we called and they said blueberries wouldn’t be ready until June 20. Their website is full of lies. Happily, strawberries were still in season and plentiful and we found a nearby strawberry farm instead. We took several of these photos but George looks exactly this maniacal with his pruning shear in each of them, so here you go. My mom looks cute!

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Get you some crazy hair and tortoise shell glasses and you can be in our picture too.

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Now you can officially say you have had a strawberry brandished at you like a weapon.

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It’s sort of creepy, right?

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I’ve heard stories about kids making themselves sick from eating too many berries while berry-picking, but not these two. They were all business. Doesn’t my mom look like a French peasant woman picking strawberries in her big sweater?

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We picked hood and shuksan strawberries, and they were both outrageously good. The hoods are sweeter, the shuksans are more complex and strawberry-y. The ones we get in Texas, shipped here from California, are big and dense and white inside. These were so soft and plump that your teeth slipped right through them. Sweet and slippery and wonderful.

It was drizzly while we were there- the dark storm clouds made it feel magical.

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Have you ever seen two kids look surlier in a field of beautiful ripe strawberries?

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Now here’s how you take a picture in a strawberry field! Nice one, mom!

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We also picked peonies! Oregon is ridiculous.

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Strawberry Pie. We didn’t have any cornstarch, so the inside of this pie was like a molten strawberry slurry, all loose and runny. Tasted great, though.

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Cousin Jack! My brother, Caleb and his son Jack met us on an overnight journey to Astoria, on the Oregon coast. We started our trip with lunch at the Buoy Beer Company. Jack entertained the boys every second he was with us- he is a phenomenal kid. At lunch, Caleb marveled at how much George had grown since he saw him last in December. While Caleb and my parents and I were talking, George sat across the table from me, ate his lunch, and talked to Jack. Six months ago, George spent the whole trip in my arms or on my lap. Isn’t it funny that this change happened so quickly, and I’m totally oblivious to it? Why does it still feel like things are hard when they’re so much easier than they used to be?

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We had dinner reservations for three hours after we sat down for lunch, so I just ate some hummus. It was so lovely, though!

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Then we swam in the hotel pool for the whole time between lunch and dinner. Uncle Caleb did the lion’s share of entertaining the kids in there- thanks, Brother!

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Bridgewater Bistro. Then we went to dinner and ordered everything on the menu. I had an oyster shooter for the first time (I loved it!) and pickled herring for the first time too (and didn’t love it. It was just cold and wet and boring). My favorite thing was a crab and avocado toast.

This was Day 4 away from Andy, and the kids were really starting to wear on me. Henry had stumbled into the habit of making near-constant mouth noises. I complained about it to Helen and then sent her this video in which Henry demonstrates said noises. Posting here for no real reason. If you do not like mouth noises, I cannot recommend this video.

George also wanted to make a mouth noise video, so here’s this one too. Shoutout to Phinnie!

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The next morning we started the day off bright and early at the amazing Columbia River Maritime Museum. We got to watch a 3D movie about hurricanes and climb aboard an old coastguard boat that was docked outside. Did you know that the place where the Columbia River meets the Pacific ocean is one of the most dangerous bar crossings on the planet? Something like 2000 ships have sunk there, the waves can be up to 40 feet high, and it’s where the US coastguard trains and tests new recruits. Also, they have this real big anchor. Worth a trip!

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Henry loved his lunch at the Buoy Beer Company so much (mac and cheese with shoestring sweet potato fries) that he begged to go back again the next day. As luck would have it, we made it there right at the start of the Astoria Pride parade, which was huge and colorful and so fun, so we watched that before we ate. Good on you, Astoria!

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We couldn’t drive all that way without a trip to the beach! So we drove around and found the water at Fort Stevens State Park. The kids had passed out in the back seat on the drive from the restaurant to the beach, and I thought about just driving back to Portland to take advantage of the peace and quiet, but woke em up instead. I’m glad I did.

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We wrapped our hands around a lot of dirty feathers and got bowled over a number of times by an excitable loose dog (who we caught and helped return to his semi-shitty and ungrateful owner) and had an all around good time.

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On the way out of Astoria we stopped by Josephson’s Smoked Fish shop because, smoked fish. You’re looking at $20 worth of salmon here- hot smoked wine maple and cracked pepper chinook salmon. It was glorious.

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Chicken with Mole. Another favorite mom recipe! Isn’t she a delightful human being?

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Plum Tree Jam. Man, we packed so much into our short visit! We went to the downtown farmers market to meet Miranda, of Plum Tree Jam, formerly of Food52. She edited my molecular gastronomy feast articles 5 years ago and we’ve been facebook friends ever since. When I learned she made small batch jams in Portland, with local berry varieties I had never tasted, I knew I had to check it out. We got to try everything, but the big favorite was this loganberry- it’s glorious. Thanks, Miranda!

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Caleb’s Famous Grilled Chicken, Salad, Chips, Mom’s Black Bean and Corn Salsa, and Bacon-y Stewed Kale. Then we went to Caleb’s house to watch the NBA finals (sure, okay!) and eat Caleb’s chicken (I care deeply and passionately about this). Since coming back to Austin, I have made something trying to approximate Caleb’s chicken twice and this black bean salad twice. They’re both fantastic. Recipes soon.

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WE GOT TO MEET JOSEPH HOFFMAN. The kids have been taking online piano lessons from the Hoffman Academy for months and absolutely adore the man in the videos. Poking around the site one day, I noticed that his real-life academy is in Portland and mentioned that to my mom. She called and set up a meeting with Joseph Hoffman himself. She’s a superhero. It was so so fun to see the kids’ faces when they met him. And he was super nice and took so much time with them. They each got to play a song for him, they got to check out the studio where he records the lessons they watch, and he performed the full version of the song that you hear at the beginning of every lesson. It was raining while we were there, and we got rained on walking between his office and studio and George spontaneously burst out with a song we learned from his piano lessons: “Rain come wet me, sun come dry me, keep away, everyone, don’t come nigh me” and Mr. Hoffman joined in and sang along with him and it was So. Sweet. I love this guy and this program so much. The videos are free. You can also pay a monthly fee and get wonderful supplemental materials. We do this for Henry and will do it for George when he gets a little older.

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And one picture with the adults too because we also like Mr. Hoffman.

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My Dad! And Lowriders to the Center of the Earth. Great book and great dad! My favorite thing my kids did with my dad this trip was when they all took turns playing his lap steel. My favorite thing that I did with my dad was getting to talk about movies after the kids went to bed. He lent me Winter’s Bone because he thought I would dig the scene where the maternal figure teaches the little kids to kill and eat a squirrel. This guy really knows me.

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A Very Paleo Chili. Served with non-paleo toppings. Caleb and Jack joined us for dinner on our last night in town and the kids did a little bit of light LARPing in the living room.

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Sour Raspberry Crisp. Then we ate a raspberry crisp made with some early raspberries that we picked up at the farmers market- they needed lots of sugar.

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And that was our trip! Thanks, mom and dad for a beautiful time. Thanks, Caleb and Jack for making so much time for us too. Thanks, Oregon, for giving me a chance to wear a sweatshirt in June and for providing us with a whole box full of totally perfect strawberries.

Next week, I’ve got lots of good food to share from lots of good parties (of the going away, summer solstice, and birthday varieties), updates on how Andy and I have been doing a pretty great job of making time for each other, and more adventures with Henry and George. Also journaling. And yawp-ing. And preparing for a big summer vacation trip. Happy summer, everyone!