Monthly Archives: August 2009

Slow down, you move too fast

Once, in the days when my hair was less brittle and gravity had not had it’s way with my bosoms, I liked to think of myself as a cook.  I made homemade tomato sauce and baked bread and did equally astonishing feats of turning raw materials into identifiable meals.  I still bought plenty of sliced bread, of course, as cooking was more a cross between a science experiment and performance art than it was a way of life.  As a newly-minted adult, I liked the self-reliance I put on display every time I conquered phyllo dough or showed up at a pot-luck with a homemade bowtie pasta salad, rather than something sporting a grocery store price sticker.

Cooking trumped baking because I liked the creativity of wandering into my kitchen and thinking, “Hmmm.  What do I have and what can I do with it?”  Baking was too precise for my taste, too paint-by-number.  I liked to think of myself as a food artist of sorts.  Long before it was popular to blog about Julia Child, I spent many a long hour alone with my Moosewood Cookbook, playing with recipes.

By child number three, that conceit was knocked right out of me.  I was still throwing together dinners, but most days it was about minimizing my time in the kitchen.  I just didn’t have the time to putter about the kitchen, skinning garlic and whatnot.

A lot of meals come pre-done, you know.  I tell you this in case you haven’t been in a grocery store in the last seven decades.

I was “mom cooking,” as a relative described it, which consisted of a lot of opening various jars of this and cans of that.  The problem is that when you buy something in a can, they slip in a lot of things I don’t really want my family eating, like extra salt, sugar, partially hydrogenated something or another, sundry chemicals with complicated names that I vaguely suspect are not actual food items, and the ever-popular bisphenol-A.

So, I have been finding myself more frequently making stuff from scratch.  Baking muffins and that sort of thing.  But, I was getting resentful of the time it takes, because baking muffins from scratch is a whole hell of a lot more time consuming than buying them at Starbucks.

Where I cannot control the ingredients.

I decided the change that I needed was not to buy more or different ready made foods.  What I needed was a change in my attitude.  I needed to remember that food preparation can be an organic part of my day, not something to be alternately shown off or rushed through.  Just a pleasant part of my day.  Bread can be set out to rise after lunch, punched down after Zachary’s karate, re-kneaded in the early evening, and put in to bake during dinner.  And we will have fresh, sugar-free bread for lunches the couple of days.

I realize that I have this luxury because I am not working out of my home.  Even if I were, there would still be some things I could do to reduce our reliance on processed foods, but time moves at a different pace for me, even when I am writing, because I am at home.  So, I can start things the night before that turn into dinner 22 hours later.

Anyone who breaks into our house in the middle of the night is likely to find beans soaking in a bowl on the counter.

Don’t get me wrong – I know the time involved in this is coming from somewhere, and since I already don’t watch TV, it’s coming from time with my kids.  Yes, they’ll help me roll out tortillas, but let’s be honest, no three-year-old cares to spend two hours a day cooking and no five-year-old ought to be chopping onions.  I am hoping the baby gets better at deseeding tomatoes, because she made a mess of the last batch.

My progeny play about and fight and do art and otherwise entertain themselves while I spread food preparation out through the day.  I believe this is good.  They are forming their relationship with food, and I want them to know that food does not come individually wrapped in plastic with microwave instructions.  Since my change of attitude, Zachary has learned why it is that the Hebrews ended up with matzah because they didn’t let the bread rise.  The Exodus story suddenly made sense as he took his first peak at our rising dough.

We are not purists.  While our produce has been about 95% local all spring and summer, we are not locavores.  Winter will test our mettle, even here in California.  While I am working to reduce our meat intake, as the obscene amount of resources required to produce meat makes me feel dirty, we still are having some sort of flesh two nights a week.  I just try to make sure none is wasted and it is all raised as sustainably as possible.  While I like the idea of approaching food slowly, we’re still buying our pasta pre-made.  Come to mention it, since my tomato plants fell victim to the blight, we are also buying our sauce pre-made.  And, while I myself am more or less a Real Foodie, my husband will never get off the sauce.

But, I am making changes.* We are getting a waffle iron so that Zachary’s addiction Kashi waffles can be broken.  I feel torn about the non-stick surface, but life cannot be perfect, and I figure whatever machinery the Kashi folks use to make their waffles has its own issues.  There are other purchases I would like – a non-plastic container that keeps bread fresh and another for freezing loaves, jars for preserving beans – but they will have to wait.  Right now, I need to get myself a dutch oven.

It’s time for Benjamin to learn that baked beans actually get baked in an oven.

* Any suggestions on which types of dutch ovens, jars, or waffle makers to buy are much appreciated, here.

Stranger in a strange land

I moved to Los Angeles last spring, just at the end of my first trimester with my third child.  I was relieved to find an obstetrician I liked, but I was a little taken aback when I discovered where I was expected to deliver this child.

I was going to give birth in a hospital named after Ronald Reagan.

I was aghast.  Ronald Reagan, of all people.

“You know, a lot of people here revere him,” an acquaintance gently informed me.  Seriously?  All I could think of whenever Reagan’s name came up was the hoards of mentally ill people he condemned to a life on the streets when he kicked them out of hospitals.  But, apparently, growing up in California gives one a different perspective, one I couldn’t ever hope to understand.

I was acutely aware of being a stranger in a strange land.

The last year and a half has only underscored that fact.  I feel awkward much of the time, a woman out of her culture.  The billboards, the earthquakes, the designer sunglasses, and the pedicures all leave me slightly shaken at the end of a long day.  It is all so strange, even now.  Not better, not worse, but very, very different than Massachusetts, where I grew up, or Philadelphia, my last hometown.

Never have I felt more out of place in Los Angeles than this past week.  I emerged from my house Wednesday morning, expecting to see people gathered on street corners, huddled together in mourning for Senator Kennedy.  Yet, despite the news coverage, no one seemed particularly bothered.

I brought my son to camp, and people seemed to be going about their daily business.  No one was weeping, children weren’t waving little American flags, women weren’t tearing their clothes.

I mourn Senator Kennedy.  Yes, he made a mistake in his youth, a tragic mistake.  But he devoted his life to serving the people of Massachusetts and the people of the United States.  Yes, he was a rich, privileged man, but so was George W., and Senator Kennedy cared a hell of a lot more about the common man than did our esteemed former President.  Yes, he let a woman die due to drunkenness or negligence or a concussion.  But he spent his life expiating that sin, unlike –say, George W. – who killed a lot more people with his pointless war.  And Senator Kennedy tried to make the world a better place.

Bottom line.  Ted Kennedy tried to make the world a better place.  If that’s all they can say about me on my gravestone, it’ll be more than enough.

To those who are mystified why we are so sad, so bereft at the loss of this man, it must seem as mystifying as the adulation of Ronald Reagan is to me.  But I know there are some of you out there reading who understand.

Because I went to bed instead of writing a post

I’ve been wanting to write a post, but it didn’t get done.  It will be coming soon.  For now, may I just say that I feel a great sadness at the passing of Senator Kennedy?  You can take the girl out of Massachusetts, but you can’t take the Massachusetts liberal out of the girl.


Zachary has developed a fear of television.  Ever since the afternoon we stopped by our neighbors’ house and their five-year-old was watching Hannah Montana, in which some magician scared the living crap out of my son, he has been terrified of TVs.

This might sound like a great phobia for one’s child to have.  After all, how better to reduce the screen time than to have a kid who shudders with fear at the mere sight of a flat screen?  However, there are two exceptions to Zach’s telephobia: his home TV and the one at Grandma’s house.  He has come to the conclusion that those televisions are to be trusted, as the adults have carefully pre-screened whatever we Tivo for him.

If his terror of televisions does nothing to reduce his passion for the tube at home, it has rendered his a ball of nerves the rest of the time.  Until you have lived with a five-year-old who quakes in his Keens every time he sees a television, you just cannot possibly realize how ubiquitous they are.  Not only are they found in Denny’s and Target, but they slip a little security monitor up onto the wall at Whole Foods, as well.  It is rough convincing the poor child that it is just a video of the front door and nothing frightening is likely to pop up, unless some dude gets hopped up on gluten and robs the joint.  We had a close call at the bike shop when we went to replace the stroller tire, but the guys there patiently explained that their set could not possibly suddenly display scenes of blood and gore, as it was completely busted.

Mind you, his brother is not much better.  Just last week, I took Benjamin hiking, which in L.A. seems to involve panting up dusty hillsides, trudging from one patch of shade to another through the scorching sun, all the while keeping an eye out for poisonous snakes and mountain lions.  Benjamin was all psyched up, hoping to see some animals, having announced to me that morning, “If I see any scary animals, I’ll shout ‘Go away, Sam!’”

No, I do not know why the animals were all to be named Sam.

As we hiked, I was a bit on edge, having a strong antipathy towards slithery animals with fangs, but it was completely silent as we made our sweaty way through the hillside.  That is, until a three-inch lizard came darting across the path, making us both jump.  Ben screamed in terror, refused to take another step forward, and looked around anxiously all the way to the bottom, where he spent twenty minutes sitting at a picnic table, happily watching a mole climb in an out of a hole.

For the rest of the day, he would periodically furrow his brow and say, “That hiking was not good.  I don’t like the lizards.  Why the gorillas far, far away?”

OK, so hiking and television are out.  That’s OK, because fortunately, there is still Disneyland.  With a little research, we are able to plan the perfect day trip, assiduously avoiding Snow White but enjoying the pleasures of that silly boat that goes into the mouth of the whale.  We had such a day together on Sunday, even managing to bring the baby along, although she did sleep through all of A Bug’s Land. We have season passes, so I plan on going back again with the boys in a few weeks.

“You know,” I told my husband on the ride home, “I think when I take the boys in two weeks, we’ll keep just to Adventureland and Frontierland, since we didn’t get to those today.”

“Sounds good,” he whispered, trying not to wake the snoring three-year-old and silent baby in the middle row.

“And maybe I can actually convince them to go to The Pirates of the Caribbean.

“I don’t think that’s such a good idea,” he replied.  “They’re kind of fearful right now.”

“Oh, I think it’ll be OK,” I responded.  “I’m pretty sure there aren’t any televisions or lizards.

In my mind

Every now and then, by happenstance, I come across a song or a smell that reminds me of an emotion I once had but that I have long since forgotten I am capable of feeling.  A taste or a color that brings forward with startling clarity the me I once was, before I became whatever facsimile of an identity I am right now.

Jen posted this on Facebook, and I cried as I watched it.  Because somewhere inside of someone’s wife and several people’s mother, I have to believe there is still the girl I was back when I would go to concerts and flirt with people I didn’t know or care to know and climb ladders with a wrench in hand to tighten a lighting instrument just because I wanted to face down my fear of heights.  Back when my best friend and I would listen to JT while we gossiped and polished our waitressing sneakers.

I love my family, and I love being there for them.  But sometimes I go to Carolina in my mind.

Yes he is the muffin man

Having made yet another batch of muffins, only to have them rejected because there are drops of apricot preserves instead of raspberry, I was about ready to throw in the towel.  Not into the muffins, of course, although towels are about the only thing I have not yet tried to bake into muffins.

Zachary, you may recall, is a picky eater.  I use the term “picky” rather loosely, as it implies that he sometimes does pick something.  Most of the time, frankly, he seems to survive on air and carbohydrates.  Hence the muffins.  A clever mother can sneak a surprising amount of stuff into a muffin, disguised as yet another round of carbs.

This kid would give Dr. Atkins heart palpitations, assuming the good doctor’s steady diet of red meat and eggs hasn’t already done his ticker in.

The problem is that there’s something wrong with every muffin recipe I can find.  When muffins are the main source of one’s child’s caloric intake, one tries to make them as healthful as possible.  I want a recipe with no sugar, lots of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and low saturated fats.

Zachary can detect any grated fruits and veggies, which was his reason for rejecting last week’s muffins, so I puree them, but that throws off the consistency.  For years I have been finding recipes and then tinkering with them, never fully satisfied with the results.  And it grows more complicated as I try to steer away from canned goods, due to my reluctance to feed my kids Bisphenol-A.   (If there’s a Bisphenol-B, I’m pretty sure I want to avoid that one, too.)  Not that I can put canned pumpkin in the muffins anyway, given Lilah’s squash-induced hives, which also rule out zucchini.

It becomes a problem worthy of Socrates after awhile.

And then it occurred to me: I have been making a batch of muffins every week for four-and-a-half years.  I am a reasonably intelligent woman.  I’ll bet that, with some trial and error, I could design my own pureed vegetable, honey sweetened, BPA-free, squashless, olive-oil moistened, whole grain muffins.  With no nuts.  Or raisins.  Or apricot preserves.

Hell, I’ll bet with some practice I could figure out how to get protein in there while still adhering to the school’s no-nut policy.  Especially since my kid is one of the children that policy is designed to protect.  But it’ll have to be beans, since I am trying to cut back on our processed soy and meat intake.  And because beef would be kind of weird in carrot-bran muffins…

I will be posting from time to time, letting you know our progress.  It may be deadly dull, and for that I apologize, but it may also yield some lovely recipes.  Feel free to contribute with ideas and suggestions.

We’re going to be going through a lot of honey around here.  In glass containers, of course.


Recipe one:

1 cup white flour

¼ cup whole wheat flour

1 cup oatmeal, run through food processor

tablespoon baking powder

teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon salt

2 carrots, pureed

1 peach pureed, with skin

½ cup honey

½ cup olive oil

1 cup milk

2 egg

At the last minute, Zachary asked me to put dollops of raspberry jam in, whereupon I extracted a promise from him that he would actually EAT the muffins if I put jam in.  Usually, such fancy-pants tinkering renders them unacceptable.

The muffins were pretty good but too moist, which he doesn’t mind too much but dissatisfies me. I need to realign the wet/dry balance.  Next time, I think less milk, as the pureed peach is very moist.  And perhaps a teaspoon of baking soda so they aren’t so dense.

Damned if he didn’t say he couldn’t eat them because of the fucking jam.  Next time, no godforsaken jam.

In real life

Zachary’s newest obsession is figuring out whether or not things happened in real life.  I suppose I could get into an existential discussion with him, pondering the definition of “real life,” but I suspect the kid is just trying to sort through which boogeymen he ought to worry about climbing in his bedroom window.

“Mommy,” he began on the way to camp last week.  “You know there are such things as pirates in real life.”  I wanted to reassure him that, no, there are no pirates.  However, the only currency I have with my kids is that they know I always tell them the truth.

“Yes, there are a few,” I told him.  “But not here.”  This last part is my standard refrain whenever he worries about coyotes, tornadoes, or plagues of locusts.

“Yes, they aren’t here.  They are mostly by the ocean.  And they only bother you if you bother them.”  Apparently, he has confused pirates and wasps.

Hazarding a guess as to the origins of this conversation, I brought up David Shannon’s How I Became a Pirate. “And that little boy shouldn’t have talked to them, should he have?”

“Yes,” he responded, blowing off my point.  “But, grandpa explained that the pirates now are mostly just trying to steal things.”

OK, now we are at the root of the issue.  You see, when we were in D.C., four months ago, there was a picture in the paper of some pirates who had been apprehended.  And Grandpa, taking the whole truthfulness thing a bit far, explained the entire story to Zachary.  And that little tidbit has been percolating for four months as he mulled over the possible threat to his well-being from modern-day pirates.

Note to Grandpa: the next time he asks you about an item in the newspaper, no matter the actual topic, the only acceptable answer is, “It’s a story about four cuddly kittens.”