Crunchy Tacos, Blueberry Muffins, and Real Guns that Shoot Fake Houses

I have fallen suddenly and deeply in love with Dvorak’s American String Quartet. It reminds me of tall pine forests and big black trains driving around the bottoms of mountains and soaring birds and leaves changing color in the fall and I think it is completely wonderful. I shared it with Andy last night- we listened to it while we cleaned up the kitchen after the kids went to bed. He said it was nice and that he liked it and I was crushed. I cried. Honestly. I wanted him to love it like I love it and he didn’t. Our failure to connect over this song brought the weight of a lingering sadness I’ve felt about our relationship after children down on me. Maybe this seems like a ridiculous leap to make, just because of Andy’s lukewarm reaction to a song, but that’s where I went with it. I’m so bad at naming my feelings, and even worse at understanding why I’m feeling them so it took me a lot of time to sort all this out. But here’s the core of it- I’m missing the luxurious amount of time I got to spend with Andy before kids. We could talk about nothing, uninterrupted, as long as we wanted to. We could watch bad TV or go to pub trivia or try a new restaurant. Now, we spend the kids’ waking hours doing shit for the kids and the kids’ sleeping hours doing all the stuff we didn’t get done during the day because we were doing shit for the kids. There’s not a lot of time leftover for idly enjoying one another’s company. I miss that connection. Andy held me while I cried about this longing and said he felt the same way. We talked the whole night and made plans to make more time for each other. Maybe that means ignoring the children more (easier said than done) or meeting for lunch dates on Thursdays when Andy’s mom watches the kids- either way our time together has been the lowest priority for too long and I miss it too much to keep going like this. We’ve gotta keep working on it.

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My Brother, My Brother and Me, Live in Austin. This is gonna sound crazy after reading my griping in the intro, but Andy and I got to go on not one, but two dates two weekends ago. His very favorite podcast brothers were in town to tape two live shows, and we got front row seats to both of them, thanks to Andy’s parents being members, with double thanks to his mom for babysitting our kids both nights. Andy said he’s pretty sure his face looked like that the whole time. I can’t remember why we aren’t raising our hands.

In other news, I did some of the things I put on my to-do list in my last post. A guy came out to look at our cistern and he’s researching what we can do to get it operational again. And I did buy a journal! I’ll show you some pages from it. Please bear in mind that it’s hard to draw kids that don’t look super creepy.

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A table of contents of sorts. I regret writing the alphabet instead of coming up with a clever note and making Henry and George’s irises black like demon eyes. I also don’t like my peach that looks like a malformed set of buttocks and the too-pointy mango next to it. I like my chickens and Andy’s T-Rex leer.

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George says something outlandish like this every five minutes- I could make a whole journal of just weird shit that George says.

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Henry is very rarely silly. I’ve had to listen carefully to come up with quotations for his page.

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This page is just an excuse to draw flowers. I’ve also started pages for landscape drawings and to capture ideas for places I want to visit and for party plans.

On to the business of food. Here’s what we ate.

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Chicken Shawarma, again. The boys and I spend every Monday at Yawp! It’s about to open to the public, so let me know if you want to meet up there some day to see how you like it! Here’s a list of things I love about Yawp: 1) The parents and caregivers, who are kind and thoughtful, and smart. Also, I suspect, hipper than me, because they’re all watching the new Twin Peaks and I haven’t even seen the old one. 2) The kids, who have been considerate and generous with each other, no matter how many times Henry jabs a finger at their iPads. 3) The space, which is inviting and stocked with art supplies and fun books we haven’t read and a courtyard that’s ideal for riding razor scooters around. It’s also super close to Halal Corner (!!!) and Xian Sushi and Noodle and a fancy HEB, which has been nice. Things I don’t love about Yawp: A) Trying to get my kids to leave on time when they’d very much prefer to watch kids play Minecraft on their tablets some more. B) The drive home down I35 in the late afternoon with a very sleepy George and a very rankled Henry (he hates traffic). Brains On, a science podcast for kids, has helped with this. That’s it! It’s a pretty good pro to con ratio. We made it home and I made this shawarma, which had been marinating all day, and served it with wedges of our first small garden tomato.

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My neightbor, Otto, in our cistern. If you’re wondering if that’s an electrical outlet dangling into the water by a tether of frazzled wires, it is! This place is also full of toads and cockroaches and Otto said the water smelled pretty terrible when he started kicking up the muck that’s on the floor, so this is probably filled with juices of a dozen disintegrating human bodies. I don’t want to go down there. But I’m grateful that Otto does! He said it was pretty cool. He measured it so we could calculate how many gallons it’ll hold- it’s 12 ft 4 in in diameter and 12 feet from floor to ceiling, so it holds a little less than 10,000 gallons of water. And he discovered that there are flood lights mounted to the ceiling of the cistern, which answers the question of what those two light switches on the side of our house are for. He also doesn’t think this thing is watertight, because there are big cracks between the stones. Wouldn’t that be sad if this cistern couldn’t be used as a cistern and it’s just a big cockroach pit for the rest of time?

Jef Page, from Purple Fountain Tree, came out to look at it too. He told us about this amazing rebate for Austin Water customers so I’m telling you in case you have a big giant hole in your backyard. Maybe we’ll end up putting a thick plastic lining in there, or maybe we’ll nestle a whole complete tank in there or maybe we’ll do nothing because it will cost thousands of dollars. Let’s wait and see.

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Middle-School Tacos. We subscribed to the Sunday New York Times delivery after Trump got elected (to support journalism, not because I like reading about Trump) and I sometimes read the news but I always read the food section in the magazine. A few weeks ago it was about crunchy-shell tacos and it made a compelling case for them. The part I liked most was the notion of putting all the toppings out in little bowls for kids to DIY their own dinner. Given the choice, my kids eschewed the vegetables and ate meat with sour cream for dinner. We all loved this- the filling recipe is greasy and delicious (see photo) and I’ll make it again.

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Perfect Blueberry Muffins. These were everything I wanted out of a blueberry muffin, even if I did eat them while helping my dear friend Amanda pack up her stuff so she can move far away. What I’m saying is, this muffin is delicious enough to cut right through your sadness.

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Crispy Thai Pork with Cucumber Salad. I had/have big plans to make ten Instagram posts of my top ten favorite things I ate on Whole 30, which, I imagined, would bring lots of new readers to the blog when people looking for chorizo-stuffed sweet potatoes found they could have that and also read about how often I get my period all in one place. This Thai pork is near the top of my favorite things to eat, Whole 30 or otherwise.

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Roast Chicken and Bruschetta. I was a hopelessly picky eater as a kid, avoiding meat, vegetables, fruits, and beans at all costs and eating simple carbs and lots of sugar. But I loved cooking shows so much. For my 14th(ish) birthday, I asked for and received David Rosengarten’s cookbook, Taste. I read the thing cover-to-cover and then asked to make this bruschetta. The recipe specifies a Tuscan olive oil- “the greenest, fruitiest, and most peppery of olive oils.” And my mom went to Whole Foods and bought every last perfect ingredient I needed to make the recipe, including the expensive oil. I made it and we all loved it. I’ve been making it ever since, and every time, I think of my mom doing that for me. Thanks, mom.

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Chicken and Broccoli Pot Pie. Henry eats fruit like a champ, but otherwise his food preferences map perfectly to my childhood food preferences. He ate this meal by burying his biscuits in gravy so they’d sop it up and then scraping all the vegetables and chicken off and just eating the soggy biscuits.

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Spinach Fusilli with Pesto, Tagliolini with Brown Butter and Sage, and some other stuff. After the kids’ swim class on Friday, we ate at Texas Honey Ham, and then went just another half mile down the road to this new pasta shop. Everything is clean and shiny inside and all the pastas were so lovely. My kids wanted to press their hands against the glass display cases and rub their bodies along the full length of the counter, so I probably won’t go back there with them again. They each picked out a half pound of pasta to try, and we cooked them up, two ways, for dinner. The spinach fusilli smelled a little swampy when it was boiling, but tasted good. The tagliolini was better.

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Chocolate Zucchini Bread. We ate this for Memorial Day with Molly and Dustin and a little schnauzer-y puppy they’re fostering who is currently named Arthur but whom George thinks should be named Nibbles. We also ate chorizo pork burgers with grilled honey onions from Dinner: Changing the Game. Henry picked those and they were a big hit.

 

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Lemony Cheese Blintzes, Crispy Potatoes, Fruit. I’ve asked Helen from time to time during her pregnancy if she’s craving anything I can make or bring her. She hadn’t taken me up on it until last week, when she said she couldn’t stop thinking about blintzes. As it happens, Shavuot, a Jewish holiday I know nothing about except that you celebrate it by eating dairy, was just a few days later, so she came over and we ate them and that’s my story about blintzes.

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Oreo Cheesecakes. A Shavuot infographic on Pinterest informed me that you are also supposed to eat cheesecake. Twist my arm! As luck would have it, Shavuot fell on Helen and Jordan’s second wedding anniversary. Since they served oreo cheesecakes at their wedding, I decided to line my mostly-useless coeur a la creme mold with foil and make them a little heart-shaped anniversary cheesecake with some of the batter. I got brownie points for being a thoughtful sister and I got to eat a stack of surplus oreos, a win-win.

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Hurst’s HamBeen’s 15 Bean Soup. Otto made a big pot of 15 bean soup for lunch some months ago and invited us down to join him, so we did. The kids ate it with bread and crackers and fucking loved it. Almost every time we’ve seen Otto since then, Henry mentions how much he loved that soup. He said it again last week, and Otto went out and bought a bag and left it on our back patio for us one day when he was giving the chickens a snack. Best neighbor. We all loved it. It doesn’t seem like it would work, 15 kinds of beans all cooking in the same pot- wouldn’t some be sodden while others were undercooked? But no, they were all deliciously tender. That’s the HamBeen magic. And oh yeah, it comes with a packet of ham-flavored powder which Otto advised me to not use, so I didn’t. Passing that on to you in case you’re interested in making this soup for yourself or if you’ve been on the lookout for some ham-flavored powder.

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Sweet Potatoes with Coconut, Curry, and Mint. My mom sent me this recipe- it’s glorious. I loved the crushed fennel flavor with the sweet potatoes. I pureed the leftovers with the rest of the can of coconut milk and it made a really good soup for lunch today.

So today was Andy’s and my first day of prioritizing our time together and it felt a lot better. It’s hard though! The kids didn’t fall asleep until 9:30. They argued loudly in bed and came out of the room a number of times for reasons including, but not limited to: wanting a blanket that is not too hot for summertime like the one they’re currently using, Henry feeling like he’s not special anymore (?!), and the classic, being really thirsty. Meanwhile, I’m finishing this post while Andy tries to fix our ice machine, which sent out broken shards of plastic auger along with your ice cubes until enough of the auger broke off and it stopped sending out everything all together. But after that, we’re gonna hang out and pretend we don’t have kids for a little while and it’s going to be great.

Noodles and Fried Fish and Pies and Ashtray Cake

I sat here, watching the cursor blink, every night for the past week. Mostly I’d end up drifting over to the open facebook tab instead of writing anything, watching those autoplay videos of someone’s fast-forwarded hands cooking something elaborate with crescent rolls and pre-grated cheese. But also reading all the news. The Trump-related revelations this week have felt deliciously rich and satisfying, like a well-chilled chocolate mousse that’s bitter and fatty and melts on your lips. I have savored every bit of it. But, yeah, I didn’t feel like writing. I felt like I’d even forgotten how. How do you start? What do you talk about? In a flash of inspiration, I thought I’d check out two of my favorite blogs, Ben and Birdy and Tipsy Baker, to see how the pros do it. It made me feel better. I love them both- they’re funny and informative and inspiring and I read through the backlog of posts I’d missed with a big smile on my face. But they’re not doing anything groundbreaking- they’re just saying some shit and moving on. I can do that! I don’t need to write something brilliant or amazing. It can just be me saying some shit and moving on.

Speaking of Ben and Birdy- the author, Catherine Newman, is always hawking things. But it’s the best kind of hawking because they’re all things I want. She writes about great novels to read, the best watercolors to keep in your purse, the board games her family has loved playing. They all funnel perfectly into the lifestyle I aspire to live- one where I read great books instead of looking at facebook, and watercolor the sky outside my window instead of looking at facebook some more. To that end, I had to buy the Journal Sparks book she reviewed here. It’s full of amazing journal prompts to get you writing and observing and painting every day, and it is so inspiring. I’ve gotta find a journal with pages thick enough to watercolor in, but when I do, some of the pages in my journal will be: what’s blooming in my yard each month, with line drawings that have been water colored; paintings of the sky, with dates and times; funny things Henry says; funny things George says; drawings of landscape ideas for my front and side gardens; a dream journal with details looked up in a dream encyclopedia and recorded (I dreamed this week that a tree outside our house was on fire and I put it out, but the fire kept spreading to under the house, which seems symbolic of something? It does seem an apt metaphor for every damn day with the kids); restaurant and road trip destinations I want to visit; paintings of whole 30 foods I enjoy eating, so I can look at them when I want to feel hungry for more healthful foods; snippets of overheard conversations. There are lots of ideas for stand-alone journal prompts, but I’m more drawn to ones like these, that you add to slowly over time. It’s a beautiful book.

The kids have felt extra tricky over the last two weeks, like trees on fire. I said to my sister, and have really felt this way most days, that I’m so tired of parenting. I still want to have my kids. I love my kids. But I want to not have to say parent-y things to them every 30 seconds. Every time I walk out of the room lately, George starts screaming because Henry has done something shitty or, in some cases, done nothing at all, and I have to come back and remind them about using their words instead of screaming or hitting or kicking, or throwing shit (not literal. yet.) at each other. Repeat 200 times. The first 100 times, I am patient. I explain calmly that we can’t treat each other like this, we have to be respectful. Tell George you don’t want to play that right now. Tell Henry that you can’t see the pages of the book he’s reading. Don’t scream, don’t kick. My patience erodes over the course of the day. When the screaming starts up for the 101st time, I am 13 feet tall. My voice is deep and growly. My hands are monstrous curving claws, and saliva drips from my pointed teeth. When I am my best monster, I tell Henry, in that low and terrible voice, to go to his room. When I am my worst, I yell at him with the might of those 13 feet behind me. It doesn’t help, obviously. I feel worse and Henry definitely feels worse and, when I calm down, I apologize for yelling. And then we repeat the same stuff the next day. I guess we’re just all behaving badly.

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

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Sloppy Joes. Shit, y’all. These are a hit. I made em because I had some old Hawaiian rolls left over from Henry’s birthday that had been sitting on the counter for a week and a half. I thought, what can I put in those rolls? The answer was: some sloppy meat. I made it with a pound of ground pork instead of the 18 lbs of beef the recipe calls for. It was plenty and it was delicious.

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JJ’s Arcade. Molly and Dustin gave us all tickets to see this show for Henry’s birthday and the kids loved it and we loved it. It’s based on this heart-swelling youtube video. The kids were pretty psyched to get to play with the cardboard arcade games after the show.

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George won a back-scratcher which he promptly applied some next-level thinking to.

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Fried Fish Sandwich. My neighbor, Otto, brought me some white bass that his friend Eldon had caught and cleaned the day before, cuz he’s a real nice guy. His friend Eldon is nice too. An old-fashioned gentlemanly sort of nice that you don’t see too often. For a tangible example, he reminds me of one of the farm hands in The Wizard of Oz who are kind to Dorothy and have a dreamy twinkly-eyed quality to them. I thought about making some grilled fish tacos with it but opted for fried fish slathered in a mayonnaise sauce served sandwiched between griddled buns. I had leftover batter so I used the dregs to make some onion rings.

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Old-School Baked Ziti. The next day was Otto’s birthday. I knew his favorite food was casseroles, specifically lasagna-type casseroles, so I made this for him.

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Raspberry Buttermilk Cake. And also this cake. It looks like I stubbed out three cigarettes in the middle, but that’s just what candles look like from an aerial view.

Maybe I shouldn’t tell you this story? I’m gonna go ahead and do it, but I’m trusting you to keep it quiet, and to not breathe a word of it to our across-the-street neighbor, Kate. Otto is what you might call a tinkerer. He makes things, all sorts of things. His own box fans from rescued air conditioner parts, a working cannon that can drive a ball bearing through a telephone pole, a homemade Jacob’s ladder- those sorts of things. For his birthday, he invited us to bring the kids down to see a pyrotechnic display. He filled a series of balloons up with propane, taped them to a metal pole, rigged up a gun-powder fuse, and blew them up. It made a big movie explosion-style fireball that roared up into the sky. We loved it. Then Otto said he had some leftover fireworks, so we set those off too. A smoke bomb, some spinny-things, a fountain, and then, the big finale, two artillery shells. Shortly after that, a helicopter flew overhead. This isn’t unusual, because we live really close to a hospital with a landing pad. But then it kept circling back around. You see where this is going- we found out on Nextdoor that Kate, and several other people in the neighborhood, thought they had heard two gun shots. Kate called the police who sent over a helicopter super fucking quickly. So the moral of that story is: don’t set off fireworks in the city of Austin on non-firework-y holidays. And if you do, stop as soon as you hear a helicopter.

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Crispy Smashed Potatoes, Roasted Green Beans, Roast Chicken. Hey, here’s another thing about Eldon! These green beans and potatoes are from his garden! I blanched and then roasted the green beans in a 450 oven on a sheet pan with a chopped spring onion and they were the best ever. Maybe it’s just because they were fresh from a garden, but the technique worked well too. They were soft and tender, and sweet from the onion, with little bits of roasty crispness too.

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Chicken Shawarma, Cucumber Salad, Pita Chips, Tahini Sauce. Gonna eat this every day.

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BLTs, Butter-Braised Purple Potatoes, Corn on the Cob. First BLT of the season! The purple potatoes are also from Eldon’s garden. Between the fish and the produce, this guy fed us all week.

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Chorizo, Crispy Potatoes, and Spinach. Another whole 30 favorite trotted out for an easy dinner.

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Mother’s Day Lunch: Salad with Crispy-Skinned Salmon, Roasted Potatoes, Haricot Verts, Bacon, Avocado, and Tomatoes. Plus Tortellini Pesto Pasta Salad, Garlic Cheddar Biscuits, and Berries. I made way too much food. My mother’s day gift, as usual, included Andy taking the kids somewhere so I could spend time by myself. It is the best. I used my precious alone time to paint the bathroom, hallway, and dining room while listening to all the episodes of S-Town. That was on Saturday. On Sunday, the boys surprised me with delightful cards that Andy helped them make and super fancy chocolates and salted butter caramels from Chocolaterie Tessa. He did real good. We spent the rest of the day eating a big lunch and then swimming for hours at Grandma Mary’s house. A good time all around.

 

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Halal Corner: P7 Meat over Hummus Plate with Gyro. I didn’t feel like cooking after all that, so we got takeout from Halal Corner instead. The hummus is soft and rich like ice cream and they put salty meat on top so it is the best dinner you can buy from anywhere.

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Ramen with Crispy Pork Belly and Marinated Soft-Boiled Eggs. I did not make the broth with the trotters and the dozens of other ingredients in the linked recipe. I made my normal chicken broth, and stirred miso and tamari into it and called it a day. The pork belly recipe is a great one to have in your back pocket, because unlike most pork belly recipes, it doesn’t take 24+ hours. You rub the pork with salt and herbs and stab the fat hundreds of times with a bamboo skewer. Then you blast it in a 450 oven for an hour and a half and you’re left with a much smaller piece of meat sitting in a pool of it’s own fat, but it’s perfect- the skin is crackly and salty and the meat is tender.

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Roasted Sausage with Fennel and Broccoli. This was the surprise hit of the week- it’s so damn easy, and everybody loved it. I made the sausage by mixing some salt and garlic and spices into a pound of ground pork but you could use a pound of any sausage you want. Andy and the kids ate theirs on top of farfalle with butter and parmesan and I ate mine as is- it’s so much more than the sum of it’s parts.

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Sesame Noodles with Butter-Fried Scallions and an Egg. Christy’s daughter Ella made me this beautiful bowl of noodles- she is a poetic and noble land mermaid. I’m gonna have to steal this recipe from her- its brown rice noodles doused in sesame oil and tamari, topped with a crispy-edged, runny-yolked fried egg, fried scallions, fresh scallions, chopped peanuts, and furikake.

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Beirut Lebanese Food Trailer: Beef Shawarma, Tabbouleh, Fattoush, Baba Ganoush, Falafel Pita Wrap. My friend Amanda and I got to go out, just the two of us, without kids, for the first time in years. We shotgunned some shawarma and then went to a garden talk and tour at Pam Penick’s house. The talk was about her new book, The Water-Saving Garden, and I left feeling inspired. She has a beautiful metal stock tank pond and I have an empty stock tank in the back yard waiting to be turned into a pond. She pined after those gigantic metal cisterns you see on the sides of green houses and I have a 15,000 (at least) gallon stone cistern buried under a metal cover in my back yard, unused. I’ve gotta reroute my rain gutter to feed into it and get someone (Otto said he would do it) to climb down there to see if the pump at the bottom still works. There are cockroaches and toads in there and I’m not going down there for anything. Also, she grows a lot of plants successfully in the shade that I didn’t think you could, and I want to brainstorm ideas for using those plants in my front yard. I loved it all, and I loved getting to learn this stuff with my friend.

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Mango and Avocado Sushi, Miso-Glazed Roasted Eggplant. The kids and I were busy doing something, I don’t remember what, Friday morning when I looked up at the clock and saw that swim class started in 20 minutes. I threw the kids into their swimsuits and we raced to class. We made it, but I forgot towels, so I had to borrow some giant t-shirts from the front desk to dry off the kids after class. A kid in Henry’s class showed up late and then for all the world acted like he had forgotten how to swim. He’d get out into the middle of the pool and panic and cling to the teacher. This went on for a while until he burst into tears, ran to his mom and vomited into her hands. I’ve been that mom. Julia, the coach, says it happens all the time. In fact, she said, the day before a kid had shit in the pool, the power had gone out, and another kid had thrown up within the course of a single hour. We all washed our hands really well after class. Oh yeah! We ate sushi for dinner.

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Gluten-Free Blackberry and Peach Pies for Joanna’s Birthday. (With this crust recipe). I love Joanna! She asked for pie for her birthday and I thought, I love you so much I’m going to make you TWO PIES. Here they are, in the trunk of my car, hot from the oven. The hot pie juice sloshed out and ran onto the quilt, but it doesn’t matter. Our old dog Rupert (RIP even though you bit people’s faces) had already chewed a big hole in the middle of this one. Happy Birthday, Sister!

I’m gonna do a preemptive list of things I might want to talk about in next week’s blog in case I’m feeling uninspired again next Sunday: the kids watching other kids play tablets at Yawp for three hours; how Amanda Soule is able to have five kids and run a business and a farm and still sew and knit all the damn time; the end of my life as a breastfeeding lady (I assume I have big feelings about this buried somewhere deep inside myself); how desperately I need to rewrite my About page on this site, and replace the bizarrely tiny photos, one of which is a selfie Andy and I took with my iMac circa 2006. And surely I’ll be able to show you photos of my finished stock tank pond and pages from that journal that I’m going to buy and write and paint in. Those things are totally happening.

See you next week!

 

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.