Saturday, August 14, 2010

You May Not Remember Me, But...

I think it's safe to say I've failed at blogging. It's been nearly two months since my last post. Nearly two months of telling myself I'd write a post during E's nap, or after he's in bed, or tomorrow. But somehow I never found the energy, and now here I am. Bad blogger.

In many ways, blogging has been a wonderful blessing for me. It's gotten my writing muscles back in shape and given me the space to re-form my writing habit. It's allowed me to connect with some truly interesting and insightful women, and it's pushed me to think about my life in new ways. At the end of the day, however, my introverted tendencies seem to be winning out. As much as I've gained from blogging, it has had costs as well. The energy that I put into blogging was energy not available to be expended elsewhere.

For me, one of the best things about blogging has also been the worst. The immediacy of blogging gave me the gratification of being able to write and put it out there without any lag time, but that same immediacy also required the ability to sustain a certain pace. Keeping up that pace with my own blog, reading and commenting on other blogs, seemed to "use up" all my writing energy. What I started for fun, as a way to make some connections with other women in a situation similar to mine, seemed more and more to be pulling me away from my primary goals - developing a book length writing project and working on getting my essays published. More and more, I found myself blogging instead of doing the work I'd set out to do on any given day, and as much fun as blogging is, that didn't make me feel good.

I have such admiration for all the women who write amazing blogs while raising children, working, and attending to all the other details of life. I'm particularly grateful to Jana at An Attitude Adjustment for introducing me to this community by offering me the opportunity to guest post on her blog. I wish I could strike the balance that would allow me to include blogging in my life, but for right now, I know that the right choice for me is to give myself permission to let the blog go. I don't know if I'll be back or not, but I wish everyone the best, and I am truly thankful for everyone who took the time to read and comment on my blog. It's meant so much to me, and on more than one crappy, rainy, stuck in the house with a wild 3 year old kind of day, those comments have turned my mood and my day around.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Let Her Eat Cake (And Buy Shoes)

Tuesday, 2:19 PM Eastern Standard Time:

All right, I'm calling it: today is the Worst Day Ever. I'm currently sitting here blasting my Ipod in a futile attempt to drown out the sounds of E singing the alphabet in a Very Loud Voice as he refuses to nap. This, of course, is after spending an hour making every effort to get him to sleep by honest means.

It all started when E fell in the potty this morning. He decided the other day that he no longer wanted to use his potty ring, and instead perches precariously on the toilet while holding onto the sides of the seat. This morning, in his obstinance over going potty in the first place, and then getting wiped, he lost his grip, and in he went. I fished him out, cleaned him up, and we headed out to the gym. At this point, I naively thought this was a small, somewhat amusing bump in what would otherwise be a good day.

After we got home from the gym, I went into the kitchen to prepare a picnic lunch for a playdate in the park. While I was getting lunch together, E got hold of a red Magic Marker and colored all over a number of books AND his bed. After a time out and some Oxi-Clean, we were on our way to the park. Surely, things could only get better - I'd have a chance to talk to the other moms, he'd get a chance to play with other kids and get some energy out, and then we'd head home for naptime.

Not so. We met some friends for a playdate at a free lunchtime concert. It's a weekly event that attracts lots of moms and kids. While all the other children sat contentedly on the blankets eating their picnic lunches, my kid took a sip of milk and was off and running. He trampled over other people's blankets, climbed up the side of a trash can, and then poured his milk all over himself. He had a run in with a magnolia tree that left him with a huge scrape on the side of a his face and the attention of half the crowd as he dissolved into epic tears over the pain. Once recovered from that, he proceeded to knock over a row of chairs set up for the free concert. The last straw was when he spit on the ground. Fearing that the next step would be for him to procure a massive pick-up truck plastered with Confederate flags, I grabbed him and ran for the car. (A Hyundai plastered with Obama stickers.)

It was the sort of day that left me exhausted and filled with doubt. No matter how hard I tried, or what I tried, I couldn't be the parent I wanted to be. At the end of the day, the only logical response was to let E get up from his non-nap, stick him in front of Clifford The Big Red Dog, and hide in the kitchen to consume jalapeno lime tortilla chips and coconut cake while reading The Atlantic. Just as I'd cleaned up the evidence of my disgusting display (two pieces of cake, it was seriously disgusting), reinforcements arrived, in the form of J, home an hour early from work. At which point, I promptly left the house and went shoe shopping.

It was the worst day we've had in a very long time. Now, from the perspective of the Morning After, I can say that even though I messed up and lost my temper and didn't do the best I could, there were still things I did right. Knowing when to step back. Knowing when to call in reinforcements. And knowing that there are some situations where the only thing you can do to keep it together is eat cake and buy shoes, and in those situations, a couple thousand extra calories and 68 bucks is a small price to pay.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Salty and the Sweet

When I go grocery shopping, I am one of those annoying people who stands in front of the display carefully reading the list of ingredients on the label. This started last year when I realized how ubiquitous high fructose corn syrup is. The end result is that you end up consuming far more sweetener than you would choose to in any ordinary circumstances because it's in pretty much everything, including things you wouldn't think of, like bread and pickles. So I started reading labels to find items without it, and have pretty much eliminated it from our day to day diet. I've been feeling pretty good lately about how I feed my family, until I read this article on salt.

I went grocery shopping yesterday morning, and I made it a point to read the labels and check sodium content on all the packaged foods I purchase frequently. It was shocking, disappointing, and quite frankly, infuriating. Two slices of whole wheat bread - 13% of daily recommended amount of sodium. A tiny 6 ounce can of plain tomato sauce - 17% of the sodium RDA in just one quarter of the can. Pancake mix - 18% sodium RDA. I could go on, but the basic point is that I thought I was pretty educated about food and making conscious, well-informed choices about diet, and here I was, unknowingly consuming a huge amount of sodium just through the (very) few packaged and processed foods I buy.

I left the grocery store feeling defeated (and without any tomato sauce or pancake mix). My ongoing efforts to eat a healthy diet and feed E a healthy diet seemed futile, especially considering all the concerns about BPA in food packaging and plastics. I want to feed my kid FOOD, not salt and chemicals. And as much as I love to cook and enjoy fresh foods, I don't want to feel like I need to start making my own bread to avoid excess sodium or canning my own tomatoes to avoid BPA. Because there are so many toxins in our environment we can't avoid, I feel I need to do everything I can to keep our food as healthy as possible, but it's a big job. It takes time and commitment, and it's expensive, but I'll keep plugging away. If that means I have to figure out how to make my own bread, then so be it - I've never been good at compromising, and this is one area where I'm not about to start.

What is an area of life that you refuse to compromise on? What changes have you had to make to avoid compromising in that area, and what areas of life have you been willing to compromise? How do you feel about the quality of our food supply? Do you think I'm crazy and just need to start my own farm?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Three Things No One Told Me

In honor of E turning three today, I am writing about three things no one ever told me about having a three year old. I've only "officially" had a three year old for about two hours, so I'm taking some liberties here, but I couldn't resist the symmetry of this exercise. I'm envisioning a post someday entitled "21 Things No One Told Me..."

1. Chocolate milk is the only acceptable milk to serve at a three year old's birthday party, if one must be so uncouth as to serve milk at all. (Juice, of course, being the most highly valued beverage among the pre-school set.) I learned this lesson during E's party on Saturday when I set out a cooler full of milk boxes - white, chocolate, and vanilla - and juice boxes. After the party, I discovered the chocolate milk boxes completely gone and only two of the juice boxes remaining, but the white and vanilla boxes completely untouched. I have made a note of this, and will offer only chocolate milk at any future gatherings where more than five children are present, as past experiences have shown me that children will drink white milk in groups smaller than five.

2. Three year olds are indiscriminate when it comes to eating food that does not belong to them, and one must go to parks, playgrounds, etc. prepared not just to feed one's own child, but all of the other children as well. I learned this lesson when E and I showed up for a picnic lunch playdate with a single peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a few mini carrots. Enough for E's lunch, but not enough to share. I watched in growing dismay as the well-prepared mothers set out an admirable spread including, but not limited to, hummus, pita, cheese, apple slices, as well as the obligatory peanut butter and jelly. The other mothers carried their meals in soft sided coolers, whereas E and I had packed his lunch in a miniature lunch box that once held a puzzle. Everyone very graciously shared their food with E, while I could only offer one mini carrot per child. I have since acquired my own soft-sided cooler, and fill it with at least quadruple the quantity of food I think E will consume.

3. In my sleeping three year old, I can see at once the baby he was and the man he will become. This was not case a year ago, when I could see the last of the baby begin to melt away as the little boy emerged. The man, however, remained an enigma. Now, the shape of E's face has changed, even in sleep, and I can see more clearly who he will become. But the baby is not so far in the distance that he doesn't emerge in sleep, and while I expect I will always be able to see him, the chubby cheeks and flawless skin will soon disappear, further obscuring his view from anyone except the woman who gave him birth.

Happy Birthday E...thanks for the adventures.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Search for Sidewalks Continues

It's been a while, hasn't it?

The past two weeks have been full of practical, everyday busyness. E is turning 3 tomorrow, and we had his birthday party on Saturday. We had ceiling fans installed and I'm currently fighting it out with Sears, which for some reason is having quite a difficult time figuring out how to get my new dishwasher to my house. In other words, normal life is happening here.

But other things have been happening too, and while they are not mine to write about, they have filled my head and heart in ways that have made it difficult to think of anything else. For the past two weeks, I have been afraid to write, afraid to read and comment on blogs, because writing and reading and commenting would make me think, and the last thing I wanted was to open the floodgates of my thoughts. I've turned my attention to other writing projects that I could approach without emotion, that don't require the reflectiveness of blogging.

I named my blog Searching for Sidewalks because when we moved to our current town, I was quite literally searching for sidewalks. I wanted to live in a neighborhood where there were sidewalks, and I expected those sidewalks would lead somewhere - parks, coffee shops, restaurants. Instead, I found isolated, self-contained "developments", located off of busy main roads that were unsafe to walk along due to the lack of sidewalks. The stray stretches of sidewalk that you find here and there tend to lead nowhere. To me, sidewalks have become emblematic of a life I left behind when we moved here, and a life that I hope to live again. But right now, more than anything, the sidewalklessness of this town seems emblematic as well. A stray stretch of sidewalk here and there, giving you a glimmer of hope, but ultimately leading nowhere.

As much as I feel I can't breathe in my sidewalkless subdivision, while driving my car yet again to the grocery store, the breaths I take are real, and I am grateful for them. There is progress happening here, in fits and starts perhaps, but progress. I finally finished Oscar Wilde's biography. I submitted another article for publication (most likely fruitless, but I'm trying to embrace the failure). I have another writing project underway, and while the idea of making a real attempt at developing a writing career fills me with fear, it is the fear of standing on the edge of a cliff, knowing that when I fling myself off the edge, I will not sink into empty air, but instead fly into the forceful winds of possibility.

And so after yet another reminder that life can change in an instant, and there are no guarantees beyond today, I now resume my search for sidewalks.

Friday, May 7, 2010

A New Spin on Saying No

Today a friend complimented me on the fact that I set limits when it comes to outside obligations. The event in question was a backyard camping party hosted by friends who live in the country. Sounded like fun, E was game, and I think all who have been invited will attend. Except us.

Tonight, we will be camped out on our couch, for family movie night, complete with wine (for J and me), apple juice (for E), and popcorn for all. Over the past two weeks, both J and I have gone out of town, separately. It's been hectic and exhausting, and what our family really needs at this moment is to cuddle up on the couch together and just be.

Would it be fun to sleep under the stars with a bunch of our friends and their kids? Yes. Would it make for some great memories? Most likely. But what won't make for great memories is the inevitable moment when the stress and the exhaustion and the worry and the lack of time together catch up with us. Maybe family movie night isn't as exciting as backyard camping, but if the price of those memories is a tense, angry day because we've all pushed too hard, for too long, then not only are those memories not worth it, but they won't even be the happy memories I'd like them to be, because we'll all remember what came after.

I say yes to these kinds of events far more often than I say no, but just as I need time alone to recharge and reconnect with who I am apart from E's mom and J's wife, just as J and I need time alone together to just be a couple, instead of E's parents, our family needs time together to recharge and reconnect, as a family. I've realized that turning down an invitation doesn't have to be about saying no. I'm not saying no to backyard camping, I'm not saying no the hosts, I'm not saying no to our other friends who will be there. Instead, I'm saying yes to my family.

Over the past few months in particular, we've been making much more of an effort to get out and do things that we enjoy, such as museum visits. I feel compelled to make the most of our time, to really live life, but I've also realized that part of living life, and making memories, are those quiet moments when you are all together, cuddled under a blanket, sharing a bowl of popcorn. Those moments when you say yes to your family, leaving the rest of the world to its own devices, while you retreat, safe and secure, into yours.

Do you struggle with the ability to set limits on outside obligations? What are your criteria for turning down an invitation to a social event that your family would otherwise enjoy? Any good recommendations for movie night with a 3 year old boy?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Less Meat Meal Plan

I've written before about my efforts to eat only sustainably raised, pastured meat. I've acknowledged that it is, in fact, very expensive to purchase such meat, and that in order to offset the cost, my family now eats less meat. It occurred to me that while this solution sounds easy, it's not actually easy in practice, so I thought I would start sharing a weekly menu, both to keep myself motivated and to give anyone who's interested ideas on reducing meat consumption. The idea is not to go "meatless", but to go "less-meat". I don't try to have X number of vegetarian meals per week; instead I try to have a good balance of protein from both meat and non-meat sources spread out over the course of the week.

Some practical points - I make no claims that I am saving any money here. I probably spend the same amount on meat as I did before I started buying sustainable/organic meat, and I've always spent absurd amounts on things like fancy cheese and artisan breads. Also, I am feeding two adults and one 3 year old, who will either eat nothing or eat an adult sized portion. I plan on cooking 5 nights a week, and we generally eat leftovers one night and do take-out another. Most meals also make enough to provide at least one lunch the following day. I will post recipes that I've developed myself, and cite or provide links to recipes that I've found elsewhere. Friday is my grocery shopping day, so I'll post the meal plan on Thursdays. Anyone who has ideas or recipes, please share!!

This week's meat was 1 pound grass fed ground beef, and 1 pound organic chicken breast.

Monday - blue cheese burgers made with grass fed beef and (frozen) sweet potato fries

Tuesday - pasta salad with cilantro pesto, tomatoes, avocado, corn, and 1/2 pound of grilled chicken, cubed (cilantro pesto recipe below)

- strawberry spinach salad with blue cheese crumbles, sliced almonds, and 1/2 pound grilled chicken, cubed, with balsamic vinaigrette and rosemary olive oil bread

Thursday - black bean tacos

Friday - homemade pizza

Cilantro Pesto

about 2 cups (loosely packed) cilantro, stems removed
2 cloves garlic
zest of 1 lime
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 jalapeno, seeded and chopped (use more if you want, or eliminate it altogether)
about 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Place the cilantro, garlic, lime zest, jalapeno, salt, and pepper in the food processor. Add about 1/4 cup of the olive oil, and pulse briefly. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the cheese. Pulse while drizzling in remaining olive oil until you've achieved the desired consistency. Stop to check your progress frequently - the more olive oil, the thinner the pesto.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I Don't Know How He Does It

This past weekend, I left E and J alone overnight for the first time. I've left E overnight before, to get away for a night or two with J, but I've never had a reason to go away overnight on my own. In turn, J has never had occasion to be on his own with E for more than eight hours or so at a time.

After three nights away, I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I came home. Would I find J sacked out on the couch, surrounded by beer bottles and puzzle pieces, exhaustedly proclaiming, "I don't know how you do it!"? Would there be a sink full of dishes? Would there be a mountain of dirty laundry waiting for my attention, or kitchen counters strewn with the accumulated crumbs of the past four days? Walking in the door after a five hour drive, I was filled with both relief at being home, and dread at the inevitable mess that would take me the next few days to clean up.

Except...except, there was no mess. NONE. My husband, who under normal circumstances displays confusion regarding the location of his clothes hamper (it lives in his closet, but he believes it lives on the floor next to his side of the bed), had cleaned all three of our bathrooms, vacuumed the entire house, done all the laundry, and even picked up the playroom. He also had dinner for that evening and the next planned and prepped, and a bottle of wine waiting. On top of all that, he had done the Costco run, taken E to swimming lessons, the library, and to a pottery painting place. Clean house, meals, errands, enriching activities for the kid, and he even seemed reasonably well-rested. I felt strangely deflated, almost shown up. Could it be he was doing my job better than I did it?

I realized that I wanted my hard work to be validated by his inability to do it. Coming home to a mess would have given me that validation, but just because he can do that work as well as I can (when he so chooses) doesn't invalidate the work I do. This past weekend, I had no choice but to let go and put all the control in J's hands, and the true validation to come from that is the knowledge that I married a man who doesn't need me there to take care of everything. I can leave to take care of others who need me, knowing that E and J are just fine on their own. At the end of the day, that is all the validation I need.

Have you had an experience of realizing that the kind of validation you wanted for your work as a wife and mother was not actually the kind of validation you needed? Any funny/interesting stories of your first solo trip without little ones?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Remembering My Strength

I dated a boy in college who was wildly jealous, devastatingly insecure. The longer we were together, the more controlling he became. By the end, there was little I could do without repercussion, and his desire to control had chipped away at the very core of who I was, but one thing remained. I was a writer. No amount of fighting, or jealousy, or silence could keep me from writing, partly because I had to, the same as breathing, and partly because it was the one thing left that I could control, the one weapon I had left against him. I came away with my identity as a writer firmly fixed, and since then, my answer has always been to write my way through.

I wrote my undergraduate thesis for my English major on Oscar Wilde. I still remember the days I spent working on it, locked away in my tiny bedroom. Papers scattered everywhere, books balanced precariously next to my computer and stacked on the floor. Towards the end, the frantic worry that I wouldn't finish in time, and the knowledge that the only way out of it was to write. Write my way through.

The countless papers and projects and articles in grad school, culminating with my dissertation, a three year long undertaking in itself. The same scattered papers, the same precariously balanced books. The same answer: write my way through.

Now, things are different. There's no jealous boyfriend to spite, no project, no deadline, no committee waiting to judge my work. But the answer is the same: write my way through. The two people who have been my strength all my life are very ill, and I feel unmoored. I've been casting about, trying to find strength, direction, trying to cope, and in the midst of doing so, I'd forgotten the one thing that has always been my strength, even more than any one person. Writing.

The answer at this moment in my life is the same as it's always been: write my way through. Whether it's here on my blog, or in my journal, or the essays I am always telling myself I will work on and send out in the hopes that one will eventually get published, writing is the thing that will hold me together, center me, and give me the strength to get through.

I am a writer.

What is your strength? Have you ever lost touch with that strength, and if so, how did you rediscover it?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Family Heirlooms and Unfortunate Inheritances

My mother has passed on to me an antique sapphire ring, pudgy knees, and a hair-trigger temper. The ring is lovely, the knees make me long for liposuction, and the temper is the thing I most dislike about myself. Since E was born, I've been particularly conscious of this unfortunate inheritance, and I've tried to be mindful of controlling my reactions. Lately, however, I've felt as if I'm fighting a losing battle, and worse, I am starting to see signs of that same temper developing in E.

J has been gone on business the past four days, and I sit now counting down the few remaining hours of his absence with a glass of wine in hand. The past few days have felt more like the emotional equivalent of hand to hand combat than parenting. There are a bunch of outside factors I could blame, but the truth is, E and I descend into this pattern because of me. Because of my temper. Because of the volatile reactions he is learning, courtesy of me.

We're working hard to teach E to give voice to his emotions, to help him identify feelings of anger, frustration, sadness, and talk about how he feels. We encourage him to take time outs if he needs them to calm down, and to take deep breaths when he's feeling upset. We've been surprisingly successful with this approach, with just one factor undermining our progress: me.

I haven't been able to get on board with these techniques for myself, and I'm beginning to see that until I do, E will never be able to use these techniques to their full advantage. He's learned the temper from example; he won't learn to control it without an example. I have to be that example, and if I am not, I will have to live with the knowledge that 30 years from now, E might think that his temper is the thing about himself he most dislikes. We all have failings, but those failings should be things of our own making, not patterns imposed on us from the generations that have gone before.

The ring is a family heirloom, and I hope someday to pass it on to a daughter or a granddaughter. The temper is an unfortunate inheritance, and I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure it doesn't make it to the next generation.

Do you have any "unfortunate inheritances"? What family patterns do you see being repeated in your children, and what strategies are you using to break those patterns?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Eating Green Things

The trees in the woods behind my house have sprouted leaves, seemingly overnight, and I can no longer see the houses on the other side of the ravine. We are once again cocooned in our own little green world. Which means, of course, that it's time to eat all the wonderful green things the season has to offer. One of my green foods in the spring and summer is basil pesto. It's wonderful in a pasta salad with fresh mozzarella and ripe tomatoes, or over grilled chicken, or as a dipping sauce for pita.

Basil Pesto

About 1 1/2 cups basil leaves, loosely packed
2-4 cloves garlic (depending on preference)
zest of 1 lemon
1/4 to 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (depending on preference)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
about 1/2 to 3/4 cup olive oil

Quick note: I do not use pine nuts in this recipe, but you should certainly add them in if you like them - about a 1/2 cup. If you do add the nuts, you'll need to increase your olive oil a bit if you're going for a thinner pesto. Another option is to just sprinkle the nuts whole over the top of a pasta salad, which looks very pretty.

Wash the basil and remove the stems. Add the basil to the bowl of a food processor, along with the garlic, lemon zest, salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Drizzle in a bit of the olive oil, maybe about a 1/4 cup, enough to get things moving. Blitz it and then scrape down the sides, taking note of how thick or thin the pesto looks. Add the cheese, and with the processor running, drizzle in more of the olive oil. If you want a thicker, chunkier pesto, you'll need less oil and you'll need to run the processor for only 10-15 seconds. If you want a thinner pesto, add more oil and process a little longer. Either way, stop frequently to check the status of your pesto, and when it looks like something you want to eat, call it done.

This recipe makes enough pesto to cover a pound of cooked pasta, but if you want to use it as a dipping sauce, you might want to double the recipe unless you've got a number of other dippers on offer.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Madness and Blessings

That we are not much sicker and much madder than we are is due exclusively to that most blessed and blessing of all natural graces, sleep.
- Aldous Huxley

There was a time in my life when I was graceless, when I would have paid an obscene, ridiculous amount of money for just one decent night's sleep. I was sick, and I was mad, and even though the pursuit of sleep became the organizing principle of my life, I wasn't getting any. The New York Times has been running a series on insomnia, and this article in particular really spoke to me.

My insomnia began in grad school, when I was preparing for my qualifying exams. At the time, it seemed normal - preparing for qualifying exams is incredibly stressful because the exams are on a pass/fail basis. If you fail, you can't continue on in the program. So I didn't think of myself as having insomnia, but rather that I was having trouble sleeping because I was stressed, and once the exams were over, I would sleep easily once more. Instead, the insomnia slowly got worse over the next few years. My inability to sleep peaked during my pregnancy, which again, might be normal enough, except for the fact that now I was having anxiety attacks over the thought of even trying to sleep. And then, after just a few hours of sleep, I had to get up and do a 90 minute commute. The only reason I never fell asleep at the wheel is because E spent the whole drive helpfully kicking my bladder.

Naturally, I expected to have trouble sleeping once E was born. Everything I'd heard about new parenthood, and my own experiences, all suggested that this problem would not resolve itself any time soon. Yet, within days of his birth, I was getting the best sleep I'd had in years. Most new mothers talk about struggling through the newborn stage, but I had more energy, more enthusiasm, and was happier than I'd been in a very long time. I was finally getting the sleep I needed, and even more importantly, I no longer felt anxiety about sleep. I knew I could count on sleep to come when I was ready, and that knowledge changed everything.

I freely admit that part of the reason I chose to be a stay at home mom was because of sleep. Now that I can sleep again, I feel the need to protect that ability. I know too well the physical and mental downward spiral that chronic sleep deprivation creates, and I refuse to go down that road again. The way our society structures work life, with its long hours, daycare drop-offs/pick-ups, and lengthy commutes, leaves so little time for self-care, and it seems that sleep is always the thing that we're expected to sacrifice. Somewhere along the way, sleep has become a luxury, something that if you're strong enough, you don't need, but sleep has given me my health and my happiness, and it's given me grace. For that, I feel blessed. Call me weak, call me indulgent, but call me asleep.

How important is sleep to you? Do you feel you get enough? Have you experienced insomnia? What are your coping strategies for times when you're not getting enough sleep?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Painted Toes

E's feet have always been my favorite part of his body. They're huge - long, wide, and fleshy, with big stubby toes topped off by toenails that tend to curl up at the ends when I'm less than vigilant about clipping them. His are feet that only a mother could love.

Lately, those curly toenails have been green, or blue, or orange. Whatever color strikes his fancy. It all began when he noticed that I painted my toenails and decided that he wanted "painted toes" too. So I let him choose a color from my (very small) collection of nail polishes. He chose hot pink, and when his friend came over later that day, E proudly stuck out his bare feet to show off his painted toes. His friend promptly stuck out his hand, the better to show off his painted fingernails.

A few weeks later, E started requesting colors that weren't in my nail polish collection, and so we made a trip to CVS to pick out a color. A few trips later, and we now have an enviable collection of quick dry nail polishes in all the colors that appeal to little boys. I came home from getting a pedicure yesterday and upon seeing my freshly painted toes, E excitedly ran for the drawer in my bathroom where the nail polishes live.

My mother is generally horrified that I paint my son's toenails, but I see things differently. Right now, painted toes have no gender association; they are just fun. He is so innocent and untouched by the expectations and prejudices about what it means to be a boy, about what makes a man. Soon, that innocence will fade, and he will no longer ask for painted toes. Every time he asks it's a reminder that he is still, still, my little boy. One day, he will stop asking, and those bottles of blue, green, and orange nail polish will sit in the drawer, untouched, and I will know: he is growing up.

I'm interested in how other families handle these issues. Do you encourage interest in things not traditionally associated with your child's gender? If your child displays a non-traditional interest, what is your response?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Superwoman Pasta Salad

It's been ridiculously, unseasonably warm this week, such that by the end of the day, the last thing I wanted was anything hot for dinner. Hello, pasta salad!

I started making pasta salad in the first few months of E's life when it was high summer and we had no air-conditioning. By dinnertime, it was probably at least 90 degrees in the house and eating hot food was out of the question. In addition to being a great summer meal, pasta salad also has some huge positives to recommend it for new parents. It makes a massive quantity of food, and as we know, leftovers are key for new parents. It can be prepared in stages throughout the day, in those 5 and 10 minutes chunks that you find yourself calling "free time". And because it's meant to be served cold, you can serve it one-handed straight from the fridge if need be. (Place your plate next to platter on the shelf, and then use one hand to fling a couple of scoops of pasta onto the plate. Place serving spoon back on plate, lift plate, and use hip to close fridge door. Lunch. Done. While nursing.)

As a brand new mother, I could prepare this dish for dinner and have everything cleaned up by the time J got home, which made me feel like superwoman. Hence, Superwoman Pasta Salad. However, the "super" designation applies to anyone preparing this recipe under new parent conditions, so it can be referred to as Superman Pasta Salad, or alternatively, Superperson Pasta Salad, which admittedly has a nice alliterative element and circumvents the gender issue. Your call.

For the salad:
16 ounce box rotini or penne
1 package fresh tortellini or 1 can kidney beans (or both, if you wish)
several different colored vegetables - I generally use tomatoes, yellow bell pepper, zucchini, and asparagus. (Steam the zucchini and asparagus.)
fresh mozzarella cut into chunks

For the dressing:
1/4 cup good quality olive oil
2-3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar or lemon juice
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp rosemary
1 tsp garlic salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp honey

Mix the dressing first so the flavors have time to meld. Place all the ingredients except for the olive oil into a small bowl, and then slowly add the olive oil while whisking. Once olive oil is added, continue to whisk vigorously for a couple of minutes, then put dressing in the fridge.

Chop up your veggies and get the pasta going. I cook the dried pasta and the fresh pasta in the same pot, I just add the fresh pasta in once the dried is about halfway cooked. If you are using veggies that need to be steamed, get them into a small pot to cook at the same time as you begin cooking the pasta. In a kid-free world, the veggies and the pasta would be done at the same time, but I don't live in that world, so I have a large serving platter ready. As things are done cooking, place them in the serving platter or bowl. If the pasta is going to have to sit out a bit before the other ingredients are done, stir a little olive oil in to keep it from sticking.

Add the remaining cold, chopped veggies, beans if using, and dressing to the cooked veggies and pasta on the platter. Stir until thoroughly combined, and when cool, add cubed cheese and serve. Or, if you're making it ahead of time, cover with cling wrap, stick in the fridge, and revel in your awesomeness.

Makes about 8 adult sized servings.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Lingering Smell of Spring

I associate seasons with moments, and I almost always associate those moments with smells. The sense of smell is powerfully connected with memory, such that catching a whiff of a certain smell can bring back the memory associated with it in full, visceral force. This is what spring smells like to me.

The smell of hyacinths and lilacs is the smell of Easter when I was a little girl. In my memory, the day was always fresh and bright, and I went to church wearing my new dress and hat, and white patent leather Mary Janes with lacy white socks.

The smell of fresh cut grass is the smell of my dad working in the yard while listening to baseball games on AM radio. That combination of smell and sound is still one of the safest things in the world to me.

The smell of mulch is the smell of college, and the boy I loved then.

While not a smell specific to spring, the smell of Pampers Swaddlers always means spring to me. It is the smell of the first weeks of E's life, late spring almost 3 years ago, when everything was perfect and beautiful and nothing could convince me otherwise. Sometimes, in Target, I stop to smell the Swaddlers, and I feel all the possibility and promise of spring, and that tiny new life.

It takes time for the smell of something to cement itself as an association in my mind. Spring here is almost garish, bursting into bloom overnight, and smells are everywhere. This time in my life doesn't have a smell yet, but I know it will. I wonder what the moment of watching E learn to ride a bike will smell like 10 years from now, when he is thirteen and wants nothing to do with me. When I am driving that sullen teenager to the mall or soccer practice, what smell will I catch a whiff of and be back in the moment of watching my little boy on his tiny red bike?

What does spring smell like to you? What memories are associated with those smells?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Decision Process

Last weekend, we went up to the city for the day. On the lawn in front of the Capitol, there was a small group protesting male circumcision, which I found kind of ironic, given my recent guest post at An Attitude Adjustment. Jana's readers were very kind and for the most part offered only support for my choice, and I found myself in the position of, if not advocating male circumcision, at least not arguing against it. This was a curious position for me to find myself in because I spent seven years studying, and arguing against, female genital cutting rituals. All week I've been trying to reconcile my reaction to these two very different responses to male circumcision - protesting in front of the Capitol, and warm support for a mother who chose to have her son circumcised.

In the United States, more than half of infant males are circumcised before leaving the hospital. The practice of male circumcision is widely accepted and is often considered a healthier alternative than leaving the foreskin intact. Many parents choose to circumcise their sons because, in addition to perceived health benefits, they fear their sons will feel self-conscious later in life. This contrasts sharply with female genital cutting rituals in the United States, which were banned at the federal level in 1996.

Most people are familiar with what male circumcision involves - the removal of the foreskin - but many people are unaware of what is involved with female genital cutting practices (FGC). FGC, which is practiced mainly in Africa, can take several forms, and range from a small, symbolic cut that inflicts no organ damage, to the most severe form, known as infibulation, which involves the removal of external genitalia and stitching closed the vaginal opening, leaving a small hole through which urine and menstrual blood can flow. While there is a clear difference in the severity of these two practices, as well as in the potential side effects, there are often similar motivations for performing them - perceived health benefits and aesthetic preference. (The primary motivation for performing FGC is generally to ensure a girl's marriage prospects, which is obviously not a concern when it comes to male circumcision.) However, one is widely accepted in our society, and the other is not just reviled, but illegal.

I'll be clear here. I am not advocating FGC, nor do I agree with it. But my experience with choosing to have my son circumcised for religious and cultural reasons has shown me that these issues do not have easy answers. As the mother of a circumcised boy, I cringed when I saw those protesters at the Capitol. I identify with their basic position, yet they would likely drag me over the coals if they knew my story. As much as part of me agrees with them, I'm just not cool with being accused of child abuse, and I'm sure the mothers who have chosen for their daughters to undergo FGC don't like it either. I have always held the view that if we truly wish to help girls who are at risk of FGC, then we need to engage with their families and communities and seek to understand what the practice means to them. When we mistakenly assume that these parents don't go through the same kind of decision process I did, we undermine our own efforts to reduce the practice of FGC, just as I feel the protesters at the Capitol undermined their efforts with their angry signs equating male circumcision to abuse.

I'm interested in the decision process other parents went through in deciding whether or not to have their sons circumcised. If you're comfortable sharing, what was your reasoning in deciding for or against circumcision for your son? If you did choose to circumcise, what would your reaction be to those protesting against it?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Happiness Meme

Jana at An Attitude Adjustment tagged me for this this moment, what makes you happy? I've been thinking about this for over a day now, and I've realized that it's actually a pretty hard exercise. It's easy to come up with 10 things that make you happy generally. Your kids, your spouse, not being homeless, etc. You don't have to think very hard to find 10 things that make you happy or that you're grateful for when you're looking at the big picture. But to come up with 10 things that make you happy right now, when you have a headache and are tired and the house is a mess and you have a to-do list a mile long, that is a challenge. So I've thought and I've thought, and here I go...

1. Sleeping dogs. Preferably pugs who sleep in my lap, snoring gently while I pet their warm, soft ears.

2. The smell of green. The other evening I was driving to the grocery store with the windows down, and I caught a whiff of green. You can only smell green in the spring and summer, when the air is warm and a little damp and carries with it the smell of the green things growing all around. One of my favorite smells.

3. The house is blessedly, blissfully, silent this Saturday morning, as J and E have just left for E's swimming lesson.

4. Yesterday evening it was warm enough to sit on the patio drinking white wine.

5. The scatter of puzzle pieces across the coffee table, the train track on the floor, and the half-sunk helium balloon tied to a tiny fire truck - a mess to some, even to me most of the time, but at this moment, the tools of E's trade, and proof that my little boy is happy and healthy.

6. Writing. It makes me happy in the same way that breathing does.

7. Conversation with J last night over aforementioned white wine. I love that I am married to someone who will discuss politics and philosophy with me, who actually knows what he's talking about, and who challenges me every time we talk about this stuff.

8. Gail Collins' column in today's New York Times. Really, the existence of Gail Collins in general.

9. The feeling that life is starting to open up to us again. We can make plans for the future - travel, dinners out, home improvements, and our careers - and know that all of this stuff isn't just us dreaming lofty dreams, but that it actually has a reasonable chance of happening. It's a wonderful, liberating feeling.

10. E's relationship with my parents. As he gets older, it's really blossoming, in spite of the fact that we live 5 hours away from them. He builds train tracks with my dad, bakes cupcakes with my mom, and in between visits he talks to them on the phone. Hearing this little person tell Grandma and Grandpa about his day always makes me smile.

I'm tagging Stacia at Fluffy Bunnies and Leslie at Five to Nine, and anyone else who might be reading this post who hasn't already been tagged for this meme. Spread the happiness!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Quiche, aka Man Food

I love the expression "real men don't eat quiche". It comes in handy when I want to make fun of J, because I serve quiche for dinner at least a couple of times a month. He even takes the leftovers for lunch the next day. Clearly, I married a "fake" man. But I digress.

Quiche is extremely versatile, both in terms of the ingredients and in terms of when you can serve it. It really works for any meal - even J, who is adamantly opposed to the notion of breakfast foods for dinner, happily eats this during the evening hours. And aside from the pie crust, quiche is actually quite healthy. I make it for dinner on a regular basis because I tend to always have the ingredients around, and if you lay in a couple of those pre-made pie crusts, it's a pretty quick meal to prepare. The recipe below is for a basic spinach and tomato quiche, but you can play around with the fillings to suit your taste. I've done asparagus, red bell pepper, and goat cheese to good effect, and anytime I have leftover stinky cheese (frequently) it goes in a quiche. In fact, I often make quiche for the express purpose of using up leftover stinky cheese. I usually make a meatless quiche, but if you'd prefer to include meat, ham is an obvious choice.

5 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
about 1 cup frozen chopped spinach
2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/3 cup cheese (parmesan or cheddar)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp oregano
1 pie crust

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Whisk the milk and eggs until slightly frothy. Whisk in seasoning. Add defrosted spinach*, tomatoes, and cheese, and stir until combined. Place pie crust in the pie plate and pour the egg mixture in. Bake for about 35-40 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and a knife inserted into the egg mixture comes out clean. This makes about 6-8 servings.

If I am serving this for dinner, I usually serve it with roasted sweet potatoes. Very easy to do, just peel and cube 2 or 3 large sweet potatoes, toss with a couple tablespoons olive oil, salt, and pepper, throw them in a covered casserole dish and bake alongside the quiche until fork tender, about 30 minutes. If I am serving this for brunch, I like to offer it along with a fruit salad and some form of incredibly unhealthy breakfast meat. If I am serving it for lunch, it's good with something like butternut squash soup.

*Defrosting frozen spinach is kind of a tricky business because you basically need to wring it out after it's defrosted. I just dump the whole soggy mess onto a couple of paper towels, wrap it up, and keep squeezing until I'm not getting any more liquid out. You will then be left with a tiny dark green ball that doesn't look the least bit appetizing. Throw it in the bowl and use your spoon to break it up enough to combine it with the rest of the ingredients.

Monday, March 29, 2010

No More Excuses

One of my favorite books is Paris to the Moon, by Adam Gopnik. Aside from the fact that I wish I'd lived the life that inspired the book, what I really love about this book is that it's about living life without making excuses, without holding back. So often, we are told that when we have children, we have to delay gratification, put things on hold, wait until they're older. Paris to the Moon recounts the experience of Gopnik and his wife moving from New York to Paris when their son was six months old. It was a long-time dream of theirs to live in Paris, and being parents didn't hold them back from taking a huge leap of faith to achieve their dream.

It seems that there is almost always a reason to not do something when you have a child. J and I aren't the most motivated people in the world, and we often fall into the trap of making excuses for why we can't do something or go somewhere or just generally live a more interesting life. It's one of the primary reasons why we feel we're just not suited for the small town/suburban lifestyle - it adds one extra hurdle. Instead of being able to drive 10 minutes and end up at a museum or a baseball game or an awesome sushi restaurant, we have to drive a minimum of an hour, plan on being out for most of the day, and at this point in E's life, haul along most of his worldly possessions. So we tend to stay home, occupying ourselves with the many chores or projects in the house and yard. While we usually get a lot done, we end up feeling frustrated and bored, and that the weekend has passed almost without our noticing it or really even spending any time together.

Recently, we decided that we need to make more of an effort to spend our time consciously, to do the things that feel like real life instead of just filling up the hours. There are some great things within a 1-2 hour drive of our town. We keep waiting for the perfect time, for the weekend when there is no birthday party, no projects inside the house, no yard work, and I've come to realize that weekend will never happen, so we might as well just dive in. Below is a list of things we want to do. It's not quite packing up everything we own and moving to Paris, but it's a start.

Visit the farm that produces our meat
Art Museum
Visit cool small town with lots of fabulous local food markets, about 80 miles away

This past weekend, we checked the art museum off the list. Our weekend was incredibly busy - Saturday morning swim lesson for E, dinner with friends Saturday evening, Sunday trip to the city - yet, this morning, I felt more rested and refreshed than I have in a long time. During the course of our weekend, J and I didn't have any spats about whose turn it was to do some random household chore and E made it through the entire weekend without a single meltdown (unheard of lately). We were focused on each other, focused on doing things that fill us up and renew the connections between the three of us. The house is a disaster and the yard work was left undone, but I count this as our most productive weekend in a very long time.

I'm interested in how other families experience this issue of making excuses and of waiting for the "right" time that in reality will never come. What do you put off, thinking that you don't have the time, money, freedom, etc., to do? If you've found a way to stop making excuses, what motivated you to break out of that pattern?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Guest Post!

Today, I have a guest post up on a blog I've really been enjoying, called An Attitude Adjustment. Jana's blog reflects on issues surrounding politics, feminism, faith, and motherhood, and she very kindly offered to share space on her blog with me. Please check out my guest post, Evolution of an Interfaith Family, and then check out the rest of Jana's fabulous blog!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Soup Season Finale

T.S. Elliot said that April is the cruelest month, but around here that would be March. It seems to veer wildly between seeping cold and pervasive damp, and brilliant sunshine with the tease of tulips and daffodils beginning to push forth from the earth. Still, in a few weeks, the sun and the flowers will have their way, and soup season will draw to a close, giving way to salads, pesto, and fresh berries. Here's a recipe for potato leek soup that revels in the last dark dregs of winter, yet still celebrates the whispered promise of spring. Leeks have a fresh, slightly tangy taste, but the soup has a comfortingly creamy texture.

Potato Leek Soup

4-5 good sized potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 pound leeks, cleaned and chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
approximately 32 ounces chicken or veggie broth
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp crushed rosemary leaves
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
a few tablespoons olive oil

In a large stockpot, gently saute the garlic, onions, and leeks until slightly softened. Add seasonings, potatoes, and broth, and simmer until potatoes are fork tender. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup and serve. This soup is wonderful with some nice bread and cheese, and if you eat meat, a few chicken apple sausages. If you have leftovers, don't be put off by its unappetizing appearance the next day - the flavor improves overnight. Just add some broth, heat, and enjoy. Makes approximately 8 servings.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

In Support of Slacking

All winter long, I've planned my first ever kitchen garden. Tomatoes, of course. Basil. Garlic. Peppers. Maybe some melons. Except...I really don't want to plant a garden. Despite the fact that I am a huge fan and supporter of the local food movement, of eating fresh, whole foods, and of Michelle Obama, I just don't want to plant a garden. So I'm not going to.

This feels incredibly rebellious. Among my friends and acquaintances, not planting a garden appears to fall into the same category as giving your kid Coke for breakfast. Scandalous. If you have the space, you plant a garden. But I make pizza from scratch, I buy my meat from a local farm, and I eat more lentils than anyone I know, so I've decided to give myself a pass on the garden.

Contemplating my potential garden, I found myself longing for the kind of yard we had in our old city - big enough for the pugs and a few tomato plants in containers, but really best suited for sitting outside and sipping wine on summer evenings. Instead, we have an unwieldy half-acre, exactly the kind of yard that cries out for a garden and one of those expensive wooden swing sets. The swing set has never been a possibility (our yard isn't level enough), and now that I've embraced my anti-garden stance, it seems our little slice of suburbia will lie fallow. Sadly, it can't even be used for sipping wine on summer evenings. Too many mosquitoes.

That I would rather drink wine in my yard than grow zucchini suggests I probably would not have been well-suited to life as a pioneer woman, but also that I am not unique. Whether it's planting a garden, sending our kids out in matching clothes, or reading a newspaper every day, we all have something we just don't want to do that we nonetheless feel we ought to do. The truth is (and we all know this, just may not want to actually accept it), stay at home mom or working mom, kids or no kids, suburbs or city, none of us can do it all. What have you decided to give yourself a pass on? And if you haven't given yourself a pass on something yet, I hereby give you permission to do so - it feels wonderful!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Mommy Blog At Your Own Risk

I don't like to go for walks during the weekdays, because my small subdivision is usually deserted. It feels eerie, as if E and I are the last people left on earth. If you're a suburban stay at home mom, it can take real effort to find a community of moms (or even just one mom!) that will help alleviate that feeling of being the only one left. One of the real benefits to so-called "mommy blogs" is that they help fill the void of human interaction so many moms experience. But mothers who blog are widely ridiculed and judged, as shown by the comments on the New York Times Motherlode blog the other day.

Reading through the comments, I was really shocked, but perhaps I shouldn't have been. Women, and mothers in particular, are always judged more harshly and criticized more openly, and blogging opens us up even more to that judgment and criticism. It occurred to me, however, that aside from giving women the chance to feel connected to each other, perhaps blogging can serve another, larger purpose - bringing the experience of motherhood into the public realm.

On the surface, motherhood seems very public. Baby bumps are considered fashion accessories; books and magazines about parenting abound. But the true experiences of mothers remain largely private. Our struggles with pregnancy, pre-natal and post-partum depression, the ugly truth about recovering from childbirth, the bleeding nipples as we learn to nurse our babies, the sleepless nights, the search for the right daycare - these are all kept quiet. We're not supposed to complain. After all, we chose to have children. Real life motherhood is a lot different than it looks on TV, and blogging allows us to tell the true story.

But mothers being more honest about their experiences in a public way inspires vitriol in some, and I believe the reason is these women pose a challenge to the status quo of mother as martyr. As more and more intelligent, thoughtful women share their experiences in a public forum, gaining public voices in their roles as mothers (as opposed to their roles as attorneys, teachers, etc.), more and more women will begin to critically examine the way society treats mothers and families. More and more women will begin to question the lack of systemic support for families once they learn they're not the only ones who struggle with issues such as pre-natal or post-partum depression, or ad hoc daycare arrangements. Over time, I have to believe that this will add steam to movements focused on developing public policies to support families, and in particular, mothers. (Year long maternity leave, anyone?)

I'm not suggesting that mommy blogs are going to change the world, but I am suggesting that blogs can be a powerful public forum, and there are many women out there creating public voices for themselves. Some are focused on supporting each other through the day to day details of raising kids, some are focused on more political issues that relate to motherhood, but whether it's diaper changing or day care subsidies, blogs are a game changer, and there are those out there who like the game just the way it is and will continue to disparage mothers who exercise this public voice.

Mommy Bloggers of the world, unite!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Build Your Own Risotto

When J and I first met, I subsisted largely on packets of instant oatmeal. My idea of cooking was boiling water for pasta, and I owned precisely one pot. J was quite appalled at not just my inability to cook, but also my disinterest in anything resembling a balanced diet. As soon as our relationship had progressed enough for him to take such liberties, he dragged me off to the grocery store to show me how to shop properly.

Since then, I've gained a full arsenal of kitchen gadgets, a discriminating palate, and the ability to do a bit more than just boil water. There is one recipe, however, that continued to elude me - risotto. J used to make it, but it looked so complicated that once I took over primary responsibility for cooking our meals, I never even attempted it. It wasn't until I decided to go rogue and ditched the recipe that the world of risotto opened up to me.

Risotto, I've found, is one of those dishes that doesn't really need a recipe. You just need to pay attention. It's relaxing to make and comforting to eat. Once you throw everything in the pot, all you need to do is stand there and stir, watching as the rice gradually releases its starch to create the creaminess characteristic of risotto. And the great thing about risotto is that you can throw just about anything in there and call it a meal. In the spring and summer we often grill salmon and asparagus for dinner. The next night, I take the leftovers and put them in risotto. In the winter, chicken breast and frozen peas make a great risotto. We also use shrimp from time to time. It can easily become a vegetarian dish just by eliminating the animal protein and increasing the veggies. I've seen, but have not yet tried, recipes for pumpkin and butternut squash risotto. Bottom line, risotto is a dish with infinite possibilities, and you don't need a recipe. All you need is imagination and watchful eyes.

olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 1/2 cup arborio rice
about 32-36 ounces of chicken or veggie broth, room temperature
about 3/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

protein of choice, about a half pound - I usually cook chicken breast in the pot with the garlic and onions, but with seafood I cook it separately and then add it in at the end.

veggie of choice, about one and a half cups - Frozen or fresh is fine, just don't put it in the pot too early or it will get mushy. The exception is something like broccoli, which takes longer to cook. Add that in after the first round of broth is absorbed. But veggies like asparagus, bell pepper, or peas need to be added at the end.

In a wide, deep skillet, gently heat the olive oil for a minute or two. If cooking chicken breast, add 2 or 3 cubed chicken breasts now, and allow them to cook for about 5-7 minutes on medium heat, turning them frequently so they begin to brown. Add the onions and garlic and cook a few minutes until the onions begin to soften. Add the celery and cook another 2-3 minutes. Add the arborio rice and about a third of the broth. This is where the serious watching and stirring begins. Bring the pot to a simmer.

Watch and stir, watch and stir. When the simmering liquid is mostly absorbed by the rice, add more broth. It is important that the broth not be cold, because if it's cold, it will prevent the rice from fully releasing its starch, and the starch is what makes the rice creamy. Watch and stir, watch and stir. Add more broth as the rice continues to absorb what's in the pot, until the rice is tender. Taste test the rice occasionally to keep a gauge on how much longer the rice might need. Once the rice seems almost tender enough to eat, but not quite there yet, add the veggies and cooked seafood if using. Also add salt and pepper at this point. Add more broth, watch and stir. Once the rice is tender, remove the pot from the heat and stir in about a half cup of parmesan cheese. Reserve the rest for sprinkling on top of the individual servings.

The quantities I've given will feed about 4 adults as a main dish, but everything can be easily adjusted to increase or decrease quantity. The main thing to keep in mind is that you need roughly 3 times as much broth as rice. Water can be used in a pinch. Enjoy!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Yet Another Reason to Move to Paris

I maintain an ever-growing list of reasons to move to Paris. Items on the list include (in no particular order) baguettes, the fact that Stella the Pug would be welcome just about anywhere, and fabulous health care. The newest item on my list? Being able to drink wine without feeling guilty.

Around here, Friday night is wine night. When we first moved here and were in the throes of culture shock, we found solace in a little wine shop downtown. It's run by lovely people who stock really excellent wines at great prices. They do a tasting on Fridays at 5pm, so we'd usually go for that, and then either pick up a pizza at the pizza place across the street, or go home to roll out the pizza dough I'd left rising. We got to know the people who run the place and soon our wine runs included some friendly conversation as well. In a town where we knew practically no one, it was a welcome change of pace. It was a little outing that over time became a little ritual, and it gave shape to our week.

We love wine. Thinking about the meal you'll be eating, choosing a bottle that will complement it, and tasting how the flavor of the wine evolves as you drink it - these are all things that we find really enjoyable, and we've never questioned whether enjoying them in front of E was appropriate. He would come with us to the wine shop, sit on the counter while we tasted that week's selections, and we'd let him smell the wines on offer. We've always felt that it's important for children to see their parents and other adults drinking alcohol responsibly, and we feel that including E (to the extent possible) in our wine shop visits, wine tastings, and letting him see us drink our wine at dinner would ultimately help him develop an appreciation for the context in which wine, and other alcohol, should be enjoyed - with mindfulness, as part of a meal, and with family or friends.

Lately, however, I've started to second guess our approach. A couple of times now, E has asked to try our wine. This is just natural curiousity; he's also asked to try my coffee several times. We've explained that wine is a special drink that grown-ups have, and that he can try some when he's older. Still, there's this part of me that wonders if we shouldn't be drinking in front of him, and feels slightly guilty for doing so. I know that it's the norm in many European countries to include wine as a regular part of the meal, and to begin offering small amounts of wine to children at relatively young ages. The time we spent in Paris confirmed that wine is treated with far more respect than it is here in the U.S. It's a central part of the meal there, and it's hard to imagine families in that context second guessing whether they should have a glass of wine with dinner just because the kids are around, but in this country the Puritanical attitude towards alcohol consumption makes it hard not to second guess yourself.

Ultimately, I don't think hiding your alcohol consumption from your children is healthy - for you or your child. It suggests that alcohol can't be part of a balanced life, and it suggests that as adults, we should eliminate anything from our lives that isn't child-centered, fitting ourselves into our childrens' lives rather than fitting our children into ours. Of course, there are exceptions to this. If you're drinking so much that you think you need to hide it from your kids because it's setting a bad example, chances are good that you're just drinking too much, period. But if you feel the need to hide moderate and responsible alcohol consumption from your kids, then it's probably worth rethinking your approach. Moderate and responsible alcohol consumption in the presence of your kids allows you to introduce an element of balance in your life by no longer denying yourself something you enjoy simply because you are in the presence of your children. It also gives you the opportunity to model a healthy attitude towards alcohol consumption and to model balance in general to your kids.

I harbor no delusions that E won't someday be in a frat house somewhere doing kegstands before he's reached the age of majority (although preventing this is yet another incentive to move to Paris, along with the aforementioned baguettes and health care). I do hope, however, that he will develop respect for alcohol - not just for the damage it can do to his body if used excessively, but for the positive things it brings to life. Taking the time to choose a wine, enjoying the process of preparing a meal that will complement the wine and be complemented by it, and sharing that time with family and friends.

I'm interested to know what others' experiences are in this area - how do you feel about drinking in front of your kids, what is your kids' reaction? Did your parents drink in front of you growing up, and do you think it impacted how you view alcohol consumption? Please share your thoughts...

Friday, March 5, 2010

Lentil Appreciation Week

In honor of Lentil Appreciation Week*, I offer the following two lentil recipes. As I've mentioned before, I have great enthusiasm for lentils. I started cooking with lentils as a way to reduce our meat consumption, but now I just love them for their legume-y selves - they have a unique flavor and texture, they're very quick and easy to cook, and they're an excellent source of protein and iron. As an added bonus, they're ridiculously cheap. Bottom line - if lentils were in possession of any more positive qualities, they could probably figure out a way to get health care reform passed.

*In the interest of full disclosure, I have no idea if such a thing exists, and if it does, when it takes place. For the sake of argument, let's assume it does indeed exist and it's being observed now.

Lentil Soup with Chorizo and Ham

3/4 cup red lentils
3/4 cup green or brown lentils
2 chorizo sausages, cooked and diced
1/2 cup ham, cooked and diced - optional
16 ounce can diced tomatoes
2 carrots
2 stalks celery
32 ounce carton chicken broth
1 onion
2-3 cloves garlic
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp black pepper
about 2 tbsp olive oil
salt to taste

In a large stockpot, gently heat olive oil and add minced garlic and onion. Saute on low heat while chopping celery and carrots. Toss the celery and carrots in the pot and continue to cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently. Add in the oregano, thyme, black pepper, lentils, tomatoes, broth, chorizo, and ham. Turn the heat up to medium high and allow to simmer until the brown lentils are tender. The red lentils will break down during cooking and make this soup nice and thick. Keep an eye on the soup during the cooking process and add water to achieve the desired consistency - the lentils absorb a ton of liquid. Once the green/brown lentils are tender, they will stop absorbing liquid.

This soup takes about 45 minutes to make, start to finish. It's a very filling soup and freezes well. If you're serving it as the main dish, you'll probably get 6-8 servings, depending on portion size and whether you've made a thicker or thinner soup.

Vegetarian Lentil Chili Bake

I must admit that I struggled with this recipe. Not the recipe itself, but what to call it. I have issues with any recipe that uses the term "bake" in this way - tuna bake, chicken bake, etc. It brings to mind dishes that involve Ritz crackers and cans of cream of mushroom soup, and while these foods certainly have their place in the world, that place does not tend to be inside me. (It's the food snobbery again. Sometimes even I can't stand myself.) Nonetheless, "bake" seems to have a place in this recipe, as it accurately describes what you do with the dish once you've made it.

1 cup red lentils
28 ounce can diced tomatoes
(1) 16 ounce can dark red kidney beans - drained and rinsed
(2) 16 ounce cans black beans - drained and rinsed
(1) 8 ounce can tomato sauce
1 jalapeno pepper, finely diced
2 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion
2-3 cloves garlic
1 or 2 packages cornbread mix, plus whatever the package indicates you need to make it - I use Jiffy and it calls for milk and an egg.*

In a large pot, heat olive oil over low heat and add minced garlic and chopped onion. Cook for a few minutes, then add lentils, tomatoes, tomato sauce, beans, and jalapeno. Turn the heat up a bit to get things simmering, and add chili powder, cumin, salt, and pepper. Cook until the lentils are softened and the chili has a nice thick consistency. Keep an eye on things because you might need to add some water or broth. Stir frequently to keep the chili from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

While the chili is cooking, mix up the cornbread and preheat the oven according to the package instructions. When the chili is done, pour it into a casserole dish and put spoonfuls of the cornbread mix on top. Make sure to leave some space between the spoonfuls; otherwise the bottom of the cornbread topping won't cook through. Bake according to the package instructions.

*When I make this recipe, I usually put half the chili in the freezer. Half the recipe will fill an 8x8 inch casserole dish and uses 1 package of cornbread mix. If you want to make it all at once, you'll need an 11x13 inch casserole dish and two packages of cornbread mix to cover the top. A half recipe makes about 4 servings, a whole recipe will make about 8.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Embarrassing Kid Questions

Embarrassing kid questions fall into two categories: the sort of question that makes you wish the floor would open up and swallow you, and the kind that are not in and of themselves embarrassing, but have the potential to be. One of my more noteworthy experiences of the first sort took place during a trip to the grocery store. I guess it was a bit chilly, because E started asking, "Mama, are those your nipples?" in a very loud voice while we waited in the check out line. (The floor did not accommodate my wishes on that particular occasion.) In a case like this, there isn't really anything you can do except distract, distract, distract, grit your teeth and get the hell out ASAP.

The second category is more problematic because the questions tend to be important ones. To really do your job as a parent, you shouldn't distract or ignore the questions, because these kinds of questions give you the opportunity to expose your child to different ways of living and different ideas. About a month ago we were in the city and passed a woman dressed in full hijab. E didn't notice her, but if he had, I wouldn't have been surprised if he'd pointed and asked in a voice better suited for shouting across the playground, "What is that lady wearing?" He just isn't exposed to this kind of diversity often enough to consider it normal, and so the only way for him to learn is to ask, even if I'm embarrassed in the asking. (Knowing my background, though, I'd be likely to launch into an extended lecture discussing the cultural meaning of her clothing and the context in which women make the choice to wear the hijab. Not exactly appropriate for a kid who isn't even three.)

There are so many interesting, exciting ideas that I want to share with E, different types of people and families and lifestyles that I want him to be exposed to, but the reality is in this town, he might not encounter a family with same sex parents, or a family from a drastically different culture, or someone who has a disability. The lack of diversity here means that more things will need explaining and more situations and people will seem "odd" to him, maybe even things about our own family - why we celebrate two faiths, why he is the only kid he knows without siblings. The challenge is to determine how to combine the simple explanation that adequately answers the question at hand with the complicated one that places the question in the larger context of a big, interesting world, all wrapped up in a tidy, toddler-friendly package.

If you have any thoughts or experiences about these issues, I would love it if you'd share them. Any suggestions about how to get my kid to stop talking about my nipples in the grocery line are welcome, too.

Try, Try Again

I've set lots of goals for myself over the years. Some I've achieved, some I haven't. For years now, one goal I've struggled towards has been making my own pie crust, and I am proud to say that I have officially achieved Pie Crust Success! Although I've been a bit traumatized by my past pie crust failures, I recently felt compelled to give it one more try. Something about the task of making pie crust just seemed so elemental to me, and I also didn't like the idea that I wasn't making pie crust because I couldn't, instead of not making it because I was choosing not to. With the gauntlet thrown once more, I gave it another go and was pleasantly surprised.

There are three key factors to which I attribute this victory. First, the recipe. It's from Nigella Lawson's book, How to Be A Domestic Goddess. She not only provides a simple recipe, but she also presents the idea of making pie crust in a non-intimidating way, suggesting that it's something you just need to practice doing in order to ultimately do it well.

The second key factor in my success was my food processor. Nigella's recipe calls for the use of a food processor, and while you don't absolutely need one to make pie crust, it makes it much easier and faster.

The final crucial element was counter space. I've had the opportunity to attempt this recipe in several different kitchens over the years, all with varying amounts of counter space. My most spectacular failure took place in a kitchen with a three foot span of counter space that came up to roughly the top of my thighs. There was just no way to get the right amount of leverage to roll out the crust, and when rolling out crust (or any dough, really) you don't want to handle it too much. If it gets too warm it gets sticky and becomes impossible to roll out, so you really need a decent space where you move swiftly as you take nice long strokes with your rolling pin.

A couple of notes from the trenches: If you have issues with shortening, get over it. An all butter crust just has too heavy of a flavor for savory dishes, plus shortening makes the crust a bit easier to handle. You'll have to play with the proportion of butter to shortening to see what works best for you.

Finally, be open to it. Making pie crust can be incredibly, shockingly satisfying - it's practical, it's tactile, it's sensual, it's spiritual. The way the dough feels in your hand as you form into a disk is weighty and basic. Making pie crust is one of those fundamental tasks, repeated over and over, generation after generation. Rolling it out, it doesn't quite seem possible that flour, fat, and water could yield this beautiful ivory sheet, thick and almost alive. When you pull it out of the oven, you can see that it's not perfect, but that's the point. The edges are rougher than with a premade crust, it tears more easier as you lay it on the pie, but it bakes beautifully. It's crusty, flaky, and flavorful, and it came from your hands.

Pie crust success was a long time coming for me, more than six years, and I have to say, the satisfaction I feel when I see the final product of my efforts is on par with the satisfaction I felt when completing my dissertation. Of course, that took just as long, so perhaps it's no surprise. Both goals, long struggled towards through a cycle of defeat and success, achieved.

Now, I turn my attention to bread.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

And now for something good about small town life...

As I believe I've mentioned, my family and I are insufferable food snobs. (Yes, even the 2 year old.) Upon moving here, we were bereft without easy access to our beloved Whole Foods. However, there has been an upside to moving to a small town, and that is proximity to farms.

Within days of settling into our house (if you could refer to waiting for the entire contents of your house to arrive as "settling in") I discovered that the local farmer's market operates 6 days a week. Saturday is the big day, where there is wide variety of produce, meat, baked goods, honey, fresh flowers, and handmade soaps, but during the week there is always at least one local farm there selling the basics. E and I quickly settled into a routine of going downtown for a trip to the library or the coffee shop, and then swinging by the farmer's market for ingredients for that evening's salad. The tomatoes never looked quite as attractive as the perfectly shaped, blemish free ones I used to purchase in Whole Foods, but they were local and they tasted fabulous.

I began to appreciate our proximity to farms even more this summer, after I read The Omnivore's Dilemma. I have to say, I never thought I would be so fascinated by reading about how grass grows, but I was, and this book has really been the catalyst for changing how our family eats. After reading it, I did a little research to see if sustainably raised meat was available in my area, and I stumbled upon a truly wonderful organization, The Local Flavor. It's a farm buyer's club that operates in our area, bringing grass fed beef, pastured poultry and eggs, and organic produce from the farms that produce them (about 90 miles from here) to consumers in the area. You place your order online, and once a month go to a local site to pick it up. It's an easy way to access sustainably raised meat and organic produce, and after just one order, I was a total convert.

I know what you're probably thinking. Yes, it is expensive. It would be hideously expensive, if not for the fact that grass fed beef and pastured chicken and eggs taste completely different from their supermarket counterparts, they are healthier for you, better for the environment, and buying these products supports the local economy rather than huge agribusiness. Once you take into account all of those factors, it's practically a bargain. But the question still remained - how was I going to pay for my newly discovered sustainable meat addiction? Easy - eat less meat!

I took a good look at the meals we eat on a regular basis to see if there were any that I could turn vegetarian, such as tacos. Now, instead of tacos made with ground turkey, we eat black bean tacos. I've also been experimenting with different ethnic recipes, both to find new ways of cooking balanced vegetarian meals, and to find ways of stretching the meat we do eat a little further. I've been working on this for about 6 months now, and I've come to see meat consumption differently; it's no longer the centerpiece around which we plan our meals. I also think more consciously about what we eat and where it comes from, and I've become downright passionate about lentils. (Fabulous source of protein and iron! Quick and easy to cook! A dollar a bag! Frees up money for grass fed beef!)

As much as I miss city life and the ease of accessing good food, I am incredibly appreciative of the ability I have here to buy food all but directly from the farm, and the healthier diet my family and I eat as a result.

Black Bean Tacos in the Crockpot

The night before, put 1 pound of dried black beans to soak in 8 cups of water. In the morning, drain and rinse the beans, and then place them in the crockpot with 6 cups of water. Cook on low for 8-10 hours. About 30 minutes before you're ready to eat, add in the taco seasoning (recipe follows) and cook on high. Serve with warm flour tortillas and any of your favorite taco fixings. We really enjoy this with an avocado salad that resembles deconstructed guacamole (recipe follows), which has the added bonus of providing some nice healthy fat and additional protein!

Taco Seasoning for Crockpot Black Beans

2 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

Stir spices together and add to crockpot.

Deconstructed Guacamole

1 ripe avocado
2-3 ripe tomatoes
1 clove garlic (optional)
1/4 onion
1/2 jalapeno pepper (optional)
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
juice of one lime
salt and pepper to taste
few tablespoons olive oil

Cut avocado in half, remove seed with spoon. Using a sharp knife, cut the flesh into small cubes and scoop them out with the spoon. Chop and seed the tomatoes. Finely chop the onion and cilantro. Finely mince the garlic and jalapeno if using.

Place all ingredients in a medium bowl and add lime juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Toss gently until all ingredients are thoroughly combined. Can be eaten immediately, but the flavor will be best if it's allowed to sit for at least an hour. Can be made up to 24 hours in advance.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

When I left for college, my Gram gave me 200 dollars and a case of Snapple. Shortly after I was settled in, before I'd even made a dent in the Snapple bottles stowed under my bed, letters began arriving.

Letters had never before played a role in our relationship. I'd grown up in the house next door to her and our relationship was based on the every day details of life. She taught me how to iron, she taught me how to polish silver, she taught me how to garden. I learned all of these things just from being around her, from walking into her house after school or in the evenings, never knocking. Then through the distance, she taught me how to write letters.

Like our relationship, the letters were about the everyday details: the latest drama at the church food pantry where she volunteered, my classes and friends and new adventures. I wrote faithfully and in return I could count on a letter in my mailbox at least weekly. Over the years, I would slack occasionally, and I knew I'd committed a big offense when I received note cards and stamps as a gift, her not very subtle comment on the frequency of my letters.

I have friends I've held onto throughout the years and friends I've lost along the way. I wonder, though, if those friends I've lost would still be there if our means of communication was letters. Would I ever have written a letter to them in the first place? Do modern means of communication boil our friendships down to nothing more than Facebook status updates? On the other hand, email, Facebook, and even text messaging have also allowed me to maintain or renew connections with old friends, and those connections have proved to be a blessing.

Still, writing letters feels normal to me, and I think there is something special about a letter. Someone has to think of you, find stationery, a stamp, fit what they want to say to the space on the page. The moment of coming home after a hard day and finding a letter from someone who loves you in the mailbox cannot be replicated through email or Facebook. Sometimes, it's as much about the fact of the letter itself as it is about what the letter actually says.

My Gram is old now, and frail. She can't hold a pen long enough to write letters, but she still sends me cards, and that moment of going to the mailbox and finding a reminder that you are loved still exists. When she could still write letters, she wrote to E. I've saved those letters. Even though he won't have the moment of finding those letters in his mailbox, I want him to have them nonetheless, a reminder that someone loves him.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Surviving Snowpocalypse

The end of the world was upon us, and we have been spared.

Today, the sun is shining and the snow is already beginning to melt. Of the many trees huge trees on our property, only one branch (so far) has fallen under the burden of this heavy, wet snow. We even managed to make it through the whole ordeal without losing power. However, coming from a cold weather climate, we failed to realize the significance of this storm. We didn't understand that in addition to stocking our home with enough foodstuffs to last until the spring thaw, we also needed to prepare our souls, lest we be found wanting when the day of reckoning inevitably arrived. Maybe it was naive of us, but we really thought all we needed to get through this storm were a few groceries - ingredients for homemade guacamole, the makings for potato leek soup, and some nice bread and cheese.

I realized my miscalculation as soon as I walked into the grocery store on Thursday night to purchase my paltry provisions. Tomatoes, broccoli, garlic, avocado, chili peppers, bananas, leeks - all gone. At that point, I was surprised, but not overly concerned. Mainly, I was just annoyed that guac and potato leek soup were no longer on the menu. I managed to scavenge a few lonely onions, some underripe apples, and a package of carrots. Then I made my way over to the bread.

I turned the corner, and got my first real sense that something was wrong. There was no bread. None. No sandwich bread, no bagels, no English muffins, no hamburger buns, no hot dog rolls. There was not a crumb of white flour carby goodness to be had. It was at that moment I first felt panic prickle the back of my neck, and realized everyone in that store - and there were many, more than I'd ever seen - was there for the sole purpose of taking food from my family. I might have been slow to catch on, but I now understood. The snow was coming, life as we know it was ending, and only those with enough food stockpiled would survive the state of nature-like conditions sure to follow. It was all I could do to keep myself from ramming my cart into small children as I rushed to the lentil aisle, which seemed to me the most sensible food with which to face the end of the world.

Lentils, beans, chicken broth, canned tomatoes, cornbread mix, macaroni. Eggs, milk, cheese, flour, butter, yeast. I waited in the endless line to check out, congratulating myself on my choices. I could make dozens of meals with these ingredients! It was only after I got home and realized almost all of my foods required cooking and/or refrigeration that I realized the masses had been correct. Bread and peanut butter are what is needed when the power goes out, when you can't cook and your refrigerator doesn't work. I was in possession of exactly one half a loaf of bread. As the snow began to fall Friday morning, I could only hope that would be enough.

Saturday came, and I breathed somewhat easier. We had made it through the night - a night of howling winds and heavy snow. E asked for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch, and I stifled my primal urge to tell him that we needed to save our bread. How long could those two slices keep us alive? Once the bread was gone, could we eat dog food? We had just purchased a fresh 16 pound bag on Thursday. E and J made sugar cookie dough - how long could we live off that?

The snow finally stopped at about 5pm on Saturday, and this morning I woke up to the sun shining brightly over an icy, white world. In spite of my smug, substandard preparations, we had survived. I understand now that snow is different here. Snow has the power to end all things. There is only one way to ensure a slight chance of survival.

Buy bread.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Faith and Stinky Cheese

When we first moved here, we found ourselves frustrated by the poor selection of fancy stinky cheese. (We are obnoxious cheese snobs.) The local wine shop carried a small, massively overpriced selection, which we quickly tapped. After that, we stocked up on our periodic trips to the Whole Foods 60 miles away. In between Whole Foods runs, we settled for the chunks of brie available from Costco, which were massive in size rather than price. Still, the memory of the most perfect cheese ever lingered. A blue chevre we’d had a couple of times in our old city, it was the perfect balance of all that makes chevre and blue cheese good. It seemed laughable to think we would ever track it down here. I scoured the internet. Nothing. Yet, how could I give up on perfection?

The lack of blue chevre seemed to represent everything that chafed about small town life. You have to cling to the memory of how good the blue chevre was, because if you don't, you slowly become accustomed to the huge chunks of brie available at Costco, which are not altogether bad, but are not blue chevre. It takes work to get blue chevre, and it's easy to get brie from Costco. Plus, there's more of it, and it's cheaper. After awhile, you find yourself wondering what was so great about blue chevre, because after all, it's been over a year since you last had it, and it's probably not nearly as good as you remembered it, anyway. Certainly not worth driving 60 miles.

Our experience of being an interfaith family is quite similar to our experience of being obnoxious cheese snobs, and it’s one of the reasons we strongly feel the need to move back to an urban environment. Our first year here, we were preparing to celebrate Hanukkah and realized we couldn’t find Hanukkah candles. We looked in several stores with no luck. At Passover we had the same struggle with finding the right type of matzo meal. The overwhelming majority of the population here is Baptist, whereas in our old city, we knew a number of Jewish/Christian families. We lived a mile away from a great Jewish Community Center, and within walking distance of an incredibly open and welcoming Catholic Church. There, it was easy to feel like part of a community.

Here, we find ourselves feeling a bit like an island. It’s easy to find yourself slowly losing the things you once valued, simply because they are harder to come by. If you can’t find blue chevre, you pick up some Costco brie. If you can’t find Hanukkah candles, you improvise lighting the menorah with votives, but in both cases, you are left feeling unsatisfied and unsettled, as if something about you just doesn’t quite fit. These are the things that make it hard, but these are also the things that make us more focused on celebrating the traditions of our respective faiths within our family. If we let them go now, there is nothing here that will bring them back to us.

In our old city, there was a community that could have anchored us to those traditions, but here we must anchor ourselves. Ultimately, I think we will be thankful for the time we spend in this town, as it's prompted us to really examine our faiths and the roles they play in our family's everyday life and traditions. Until then, I look forward to the day I can go to the store and pick up blue chevre and Hanukkah candles, all in one easy transaction.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Rolling Pin Envy

I will confess that my child has a better rolling pin than I do. His is a diminutive number in smooth red silicon, nicely weighty, and was purchased for rolling out pizza dough. I've been making my own pizza for years, ever since the penniless days of early grad school. When E was about 18 months old I started including him in mixing the dough. Now, at nearly three, he assists in kneading and can even roll out the dough for his own personal pizza. The results of his efforts are never attractive, but he absolutely loves the process. When we make pizza together, I am reminded of some of the things that are really important to me in life - spending time with my child, being mindful of the joy in everyday things, and good food.

Since I usually top this dough with jarred pizza sauce and pre-shredded mozzarella cheese, this is actually a pretty quick and convenient meal, but you can get fancy with it too. I have served it at dinner parties topped with homemade pesto, sundried tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella. (Tip - if you do top it with pesto, substitute some of the flour for cornmeal to help absorb the excess liquid from the pesto.) It is best when baked on a pizza stone, but I have made it on cookie sheets as well. Bottom line, whether you have a child helper or not, want a basic pizza or a gourmet one, this recipe is a great starting point.

Herbed Pizza Dough

2 cups all purpose flour (can substitute one cup with whole wheat if desired)
2 1/4 ounce envelopes rapid rise yeast
1 tablespoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup very hot (but not boiling) water

Mix together all dry ingredients, including yeast. Pour honey and olive oil onto dry ingredients, then pour over the hot water. Mix together to form a soft dough, then turn dough out onto a floured surface. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, or until it feels smooth and elastic, dusting your hands and the dough with flour whenever they get sticky. Cover the dough with the mixing bowl and leave in a warm place for about 15 minutes to rise. Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees.

After dough has risen, dust the pizza stone or baking sheet with flour, and roll it out. Top with sauce and cheese, and bake for about 12 to 15 minutes, until crust is golden brown and cheese is just starting to get bubbly. Remove from oven and allow it to rest for about 10 minutes. This helps prevent the cheese from tearing apart when you slice it.

This recipe will feed two adults and one toddler experiencing a growth spurt. Enjoy!