23 December 2009

Slinging hash: peppermint bark

Ours is a chocolate mint family. I ate a vast quantity of mint chip ice cream when Sarah was in utero, and it is hard to imagine a combination those flavors that I would find unappetizing.

And so last year around this time, when I came across a recipe for peppermint bark, I had to try it, and it was unsurprised to love it. Although I am Jewish, I am not immune to the Pavlovian Christmas baking reflex, and Sarah has earned a reputation as the Jew Who Loves Christmas, and so last weekend, on a snowy Saturday, we broke out the double boiler.

Peppermint bark is essentially a sandwich of white chocolate with a chocolate ganache filling. It contains two things I'm not crazy about on their own — white chocolate and peppermint candies — but it all comes together nicely. Making it isn't hard, but it does require an hour or so of patience, as you spread melted chocolate and wait for each layer to cool before laying on the next.

By the time we were through with dinner, the bark was chilled enough to slice. It was a messy job, sending bits of starlight mints about my just washed kitchen floor, but that's what you get for cleaning up prematurely. Hands flew to catch shards as I broke up the sheet of chocolate, but seeing as mine were among them, I could hardly scold. If you are at all like me, you eat this until you are hovering at the edge of sugar shock, have a glass of water, and then eat a bit more.

Peppermint Bark
adapted from Orangette, who adapted from Bon Appetit

Make sure your white chocolate contains cocoa butter, not hydrogenated oils. Whole Foods white chocolate chips, or Ghiradelli white chocolate bars are good quality and not too expensive.

Crushing the mints is a bit of a pain in the ass, as you have to remove each one from its wrapper and then crush them. I place them in a plastic ziploc bag and have my kids enthusiastically go at them with the blunt end of a rolling pin.

24 oz white chocolate, finely chopped or white chocolate chips
30 red-and-white-striped hard peppermint candies (starlight mints), coarsely crushed
7 oz bittersweet chocolate chips, such as Ghirardelli 60%
6 tbsp heavy cream
¾ tsp peppermint extract

Turn a large baking sheet bottom side up and cover with aluminum foil. Mark a 12 x 9-inch rectangle on the foil. Melt white chocolate in metal bowl set over saucepan of barely simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch water) until chocolate is melted and smooth. Pour approximately 2/3 of the melted white chocolate onto the rectangle on the foil. Use an icing spatula to spread the chocolate to fill the rectangle. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup crushed peppermints. Chill until set, about 15 minutes.

Microwave the cream in a glass measuring cup in thirty second intervals until steaming, about 60 seconds. Pour cream over bittersweet chocolate, leave for a minute, and then stir until the chocolate melts. Add the peppermint extract. Cool to barely lukewarm, about 5 minutes. Pour bittersweet chocolate mixture over chilled white chocolate rectangle. Use icing spatula to spread bittersweet chocolate in an even layer. Refrigerate until very cold and firm, about 25 minutes.

Rewarm remaining white chocolate in bowl set over barely simmering water. Working quickly, pour white chocolate over firm bittersweet chocolate layer; spread to cover. Immediately sprinkle with remaining crushed peppermints. Chill just until firm, about 20 minutes.

Lift foil with bark onto work surface, break or cut into pieces, eating as you go.

21 December 2009


Friday afternoon, the boys were playing together when David and I heard banging, accompanied by Sacha shouting, "Ow, ow, stop it, stop it, STOP HITTING ME GABRIEL!" Although he sounded more angry than injured, I would have been remiss had I not investigated.

At the bottom of the staircase stood Sacha, hitting himself in the head with a hollow plastic tube,  while Gabriel played on the other side of the room. Sacha saw me and initiated evasive maneuvers, much as a cat who suddenly takes an intense interest in grooming to distract attention from the shame of having been caught doing something especially clumsy. I did not take disciplinary action, because I was laughing so hard I had no credibility.

Not two minutes later, Sacha started again, with the banging, and the shouting. Now things were getting interesting; although he'd already been exposed, apparently the joy of potentially setting his brother up was so intoxicating that he could not help himself.

While I admired his persistence, for the second offense, he got a time-out. As I led him to the step, he continued shouting, "Ow, ow, my bone; Gabriel hurt my bone!"

I felt the now familiar rush of pride upon being confronted with yet more evidence that while he may be in the fifth percentile for weight, my youngest is in the hundred and tenth percentile for balls.

16 December 2009

Embrace the paradox

The delicate negotiations required to get Sacha to stop shitting in his pants have left me with an inverse relationship between soiled laundry and patience. For every shit in the desired location, there are several in the undesirables.

The standard advice for a hard case such as my beloved is to have them make their deposit in a diaper, while in the bathroom. What parenting manuals fail to mention is HOW THE FUCK TO GET THIS TO HAPPEN, because the mere suggestion sends Sacha into prolonged fits of rage.

While this seems like a perfectly reasonable interim step, in our case, the logic falls apart when you consider that a)we are dealing with an irrational being, and b)one of the cardinal rules of diplomacy is never negotiate with terrorists. 

My son is armed and dangerous, and he needs no yellow cake uranium to manufacture his weapon. When I consider all the time we spend strategizing, and carefully calculating our next move, it occurs to me that were you to substitute Iran for Sacha, and weapons of mass destruction for shit, the substance of the discussion would remain unchanged. When I finally succeed in putting toilet training behind, I will be eminently qualified for high level diplomacy, and I intend to submit my resume to the State Department.
Some people move forward without looking back, while others have a hard time letting go. Sacha is clearly in the latter camp, and he is mightily conflicted about leaving infancy behind and fully embracing childhood. 

If nothing else, toilet training Sacha has taught me that you're never too young for an existential crisis.

He is clearly going through something, and I empathize with his confusion. Yet he is four, and my third child, and I am done with diapers. Reconciling these two conflicting ideas leaves me in the position of wanting to hold, soothe and spank him, in equal measure.

10 December 2009

A surefire cure for vegetarianism

When Sarah was in third grade, she had a brief flirtation with vegetarianism. I never got the full story, but something she'd encountered during a science lesson had made her reconsider her love of beef.

Although I am not a vegetarian, I have vegetarian leanings, and so, I agreed to indulge this, provided she broadened her diet to include more — read, any — beans and nuts, to compensate for the loss of animal proteins.

After about two weeks, during which she had consumed one almond and looked in askance at a pinto bean, I had had enough. So over a steak dinner during which she ate potatoes and pushed vegetables around her plate, I raised the steaks stakes, issuing a fatwa declaring that she could continue on this path as long as she liked, but until she began to consume more protein, there would be no more sweets. "Please pass the steak," she replied, and proceeded to eat the rest of us under the table.

I had to employ a similar strategy when Sarah asked if we could have chicken for dinner tonight. No, we could not, because we were having bibimbap. Today was a particularly efficient day of housewifery, and the beef had been marinating all afternoon. Sarah's brow creased as she explained that she could not possibly eat this, because the last time I made it, she had noticed some cow parts in the beef, and it had grossed her out.

Rather than note the flaws in her logic — that beef is cow parts, or she had prefaced this by asking for chicken — I stated that if it was too troubling to her, she could eat rice for dinner, and skip dessert. 

Problem solved.

07 December 2009

Dispatches from the potty front

Since my ignominious defeat last summer, several people have asked me if I've had any luck toilet training Sacha. My standard response is, "Hell no, I would have blogged the hell out of that."

In the past few weeks, however, we have made significant progress. I'd like to say that after much reading of parenting manuals and soul searching, we managed to find the key that unlocked the mystery of Sacha, but the truth is, we owe it all to television.

Because there are a few things — eating and shitting being chief among them — that you cannot force another person to do, we have been largely resigned to waiting this out.

My mother, however, in keeping with grandmaternal tradition, is not above bribery. When I had the flu, I heard her ask Sacha what he wanted in exchange for delivering the goods. "Nothing," he replied. When she probed further, promising to get him whatever he desired, he answered, "T.V."

And thus, a plan was hatched. For every pee, he would get to watch five minutes of television.

And after months of failed attempts at behavior modification with stickers, tickets and candy, it worked. In two weeks time, we broke out the underwear.

Would that he would not shit in them, it would have been great.

But we measure progress by each individual's yardstick, and this was undoubtedly a huge leap forward. As Sacha still had no compunction about shitting himself, I was loathe to keep him in a pull-up any longer for fear of encouraging backsliding. As is so often the case with Sacha, he had us between a rock and a hard place.

And so we did the only thing possible, and procured many, many, many more pairs of underwear.

(I try to refrain from dwelling on the utter strangeness of cartoon character embellished foundation garments. It's just plain weird to see the image of Patrick Starr on your child's bum, like a bulls eye, or in our case, an invitation. Because we have been worn down to nubs by now, every morning after Sacha makes his sartorial decision about whether he will swathe his ass in Diego or one of the Wonder Pets, or the Hulk, David and I look at one another conspiratorially and offer this prayer, "Please don't shit on Ming Ming.)

I'll spare you the details, but suffice it say that yesterday morning, as we Jews say with Hanukkah approaching, "Nes gadol hayah sham." A great miracle happened here.

We clapped. We cheered. We called the grandparents. We ate ice cream for breakfast.

But lest we get too cocky, Gabriel offered this sage advice. "You know, Mom, Sacha's probably not done pooping in his underwear."

"I know."

Gabriel continued, "I would say, he'll probably do it three or four more times, and after that, maybe he'll be done."

And true to form, today, Sacha shit himself twice.

Two steps forward, one step back. Or more accurately in this case, one shit forward, two shits back.

02 December 2009

slinging hash: poached pears

For Thanksgiving dessert, I usually serve pumpkin pie and pears baked in red wine. Pie, because I like it, and pears, because the majority of my family DOES NOT LIKE PIE. While I try to steer clear of anything smacking of jingoistic, I believe this to be un-American, but I am willing to overlook it, because I love them.

This year, although my Thanksgiving preparations proceeded with unprecedented smoothness, not having a double oven, I was crunched for oven space, and wanted to go to sleep. This made baking the  pears problematic, so I decided to poach them.

It's extremely simple to poach fruit, and pears are especially delicious prepared this way; these are the two criteria I look for in most things I cook. I like Bosc pears best for this, because they're firm fleshed, and hold their shape well. You prepare a flavorful liquid, add some spices, bring it to a boil, immerse cut fruit, and simmer for a spell.

Poached pears have the added advantage of being able to sit on the stove top overnight with no ill effect, a distinct advantage if like me, you were tight on refrigerator space on Thanksgiving eve. 

In a last minute fit of derring-do, because I'd also made these for the kids, I decided to serve the pears as an appetizer, with blue cheese, which is something David and I used to eat at La Bouillabaisse, on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. As we reminisced about these pears, David reminded me of the last time we ate there, shortly before we moved to New Jersey, when, eight months pregnant with Sarah, I freaked the wait staff out by having a glass of wine with dinner. That was fun.

Oh, my, these are good.

Poached pears
Adapted from The Cook's Bible

4 cups water
2 cups white wine
1 cup sugar
2 bay leaves
1 strip orange rind
1 piece of vanilla bean
a few sprigs of rosemary
handful of crushed black peppercorns

3 pounds of Bosc pears
Blue cheese (I like gorgonzola dolce) 

Combine the ingredients for the poaching liquid in a saucepan large enough to hold the fruit. Bring to a boil, and turn heat down to a simmer.

Peel, halve and core the pears, add to the poaching liquid. Simmer for about 25 minutes, until pears are tender.

Prior to serving, remove pears from liquid and reduce over medium-high heat by about half. Serve with a bit of syrup, and a wedge of blue cheese

30 November 2009

The heart is a muscle

Turning 40 in 2008 did not break my stride, but as it happened to be the same year that Sarah turned ten, I've noticed that this year, the terrain has gotten noticeably steeper. I am still adjusting to the fact of my first-born reaching the decade mark – not only have I been a mother for ten years, but we have also reached the juncture where childhood wanes as adolescence waxes.
And so, what I've long known to be true is becoming a reality. While the first decade of child rearing was hard, the second promises to be harder. As the physical demands decrease, the emotional demands rise to fill the void, and they are far more taxing. Problems grow more complex, and resist simple, and sometimes any, solutions.

One of the great fallacies of the rise of psychoanalysis is the myth of closure. There can be resolution, or acceptance, but closure does not exist. It is analogous to the a scar; when fresh, it is prominent, but once it heals, a mark remains.

In Sanskrit, the word samskara refers to the behavioral and emotional grooves we can get stuck in; the holding patterns that manifest in our psyches, and the suffering they cause. Over time, the grooves become so well worn and habitual that we cease to be aware of them. These patterns may serve us well, but more often than not they have negative ramifications; samskara has the same English root as scar. With practice we can fill in the grooves, but the memory is never completely erased. 

I would rather have an appendectomy on a hot bed of nails without benefit of anesthesia than willingly relive my adolescence, but having a child reach that point in their life has the effect of occasionally transporting you back there with them, whether you like it or not. The tragedies of your children's youth awaken long dormant samskaras.

The heart has muscle memory, and as best I can, I am preparing to have mine broken wide open on a regular basis, hopeful that each time the it cracks, the healing will invoke a greater capacity to mother with grace and compassion. 

27 November 2009

The origins of style

Sarah had a friend over this afternoon who was helping her pull together an outfit for an outing to the movies. They came downstairs to show me what they'd come up with, and after I admired their handiwork, they had the following exchange:

Friend: You have to go to school to be a stylist, but I have it in my blood.

Sarah: What, is your great-grandmother Lindsay Lohan?

26 November 2009

Oh, happy day

Some time in October, I ran my dishwasher and it emitted a noxious and alarming smell, something like the unholy spawn of hot rubber and electrical fire. I stopped the dishwasher and finished everything by hand. David made note to look at it over the weekend.

And then began our the weeks of sickness and the death, and more sickness, and it was last weekend that David was finally able to poke around the dishwasher's innards. He found nothing wrong, and we theorized that this was a fluke caused by the environmentally friendly dishwashing powder we'd recently begun using. To test this hypothesis, we soiled dishes wantonly, loaded the dishwasher, and ran it using environmentally destructive detergent.

The result was clean dishes, and no horrid smell. Apparently, it really is not easy being green.

I used to be of the opinion that a dishwasher, while nice, is a nonessential appliance, but a few weeks of hand washing and drying everything exclusively have led me to change that view.

And so today, I count among my many blessings that after a lovely Thanksgiving meal for eleven, the dishwasher is presently running. And I consider it only a small irony that as I write this, David is hand washing the overage.

24 November 2009

Lost in the supermarket: How I wish I could potty train this child

One piece of advice I would give to parents-in-waiting would be, if you have a newspaper subscription, don't waste your money on a diaper pail. Instead, dispose of dirty diapers in plastic newspaper bags. Start stockpiling them now, and you'll have plenty when your baby is born.

I have an impressive collection of these, but I recently realized how habitual my hoarding is. When I unpacked my groceries yesterday, I was excited to find a few items packed in small plastic bags, and immediately thought, Martha Stewart style, these will make perfect shit bags.  

23 November 2009

Lost in the supermarket: Is this really necessary?

Today was something of a supermarket high holy day for me, as butter, flour, AND ice cream were all on sale. My children have been feeling deprived lately because we've had an ice cream drought. I only buy ice cream when it is on sale, and the brands we like have not been on sale for a while, so they have HAD TO GO WITHOUT.

And so I found myself at the register with four sacks of flour, three containers of ice cream, and eight pounds of butter.

If you go into Whole Foods without your bags you have a few options, none of them good. You can hold your head high as your cashier loads your groceries into paper sacks, consoling yourself that you really are a good person because you compost not only your food scraps, but also your dryer lint. You can pony up for a new canvas bag. Or you can do the WALK OF SHAME to your car to retrieve your bags, thereby pissing off everyone on line behind you.

If you go into any other supermarket with your own bags, it's another story entirely, because although they make all the right noises, they really don't encourage BYO. And so you are subjected to shame for messing with the baggers' finely tuned system. I empathize; it is annoying for them, but it sure does make it easier for me when I get home, and I don't have to figure out where to stow all those bags, or feel guilty that I put the paper sacks right in the recycling, instead of repurposing them for book covers, which no one seems to use anymore, or crafting with my kids, for which I have no patience.

And so I found myself in Shoprite with my canvas sacks, and a flummoxed bagger who tried very hard to remain professional.

When I arrived home to unpack my groceries, I found each bag of flour and container of ice cream individually placed in plastic bags within my canvas bags, like a set of Matrushka dolls.

Touché, bagger, I thought, grateful that she tired of this before she got to the butter.   

22 November 2009

Lost in the supermarket: I was judged

I was in the produce aisle of the supermarket with Gabriel and Sacha, when Gabriel walked a few feet away from me and bumped into another shopper's cart, hitting himself in the eye.

He started to cry, and ran over to me. I was examining the garlic at the moment of impact, so as I comforted Gabriel, I asked him what had happened.

The man whose cart he banged into, answered, loudly, and with great disapproval, “He ran into my cart.” It had clearly been an accident, but Angry Man took great offense. Angry Man continued to scowl at us as Gabriel pulled himself together, shaking his head, as if to say, “Dude, man up!”

And so I scowled back at him, with my best, “Dude, man down,” look.

I hope he got the message. 

21 November 2009

The missing link

Last night on my way up to bed, I stopped to check on the children. Sarah was still awake, and as I leaned over to kiss her, she told me that she was proud of Gabriel, because earlier in the evening he had fallen out of  bed, and had not cried.

When she said this, she was lying next to him, in his bed, which is her traditional weekend perch.

Although we moved to this house for more space, on weekends, in homage to our ancestors, my children pretend we live on the Lower East Side, circa 1929, and share a single room.

It reminded me of a story Sarah told us years ago when she was in preschool. One night over dinner she said,  "Holden cried today at school." When we asked why, she responded casually, "I pushed him."

We all have our blind spots, and hers have been admirably consistent over the years.

And so I chose not to suggest that by crowding him out of his own bed, she was the reason her brother fell. Because one thing that raising her has taught me is that obviously, in both of these scenarios, one thing has nothing to do with other.

20 November 2009

The secret

Sarah went to a birthday party tonight, and upon arriving home, she engaged in that time honored pursuit of examining the loot in her goody bag.

As she repeatedly opened and collapsed an intriguing-looking metal sphere bedecked with jewels that was supposedly some sort of puzzle, she remarked, "This isn't magic, it's crap."

I believe she just discovered the secret of advertising.

19 November 2009

Kick them where it hurts

I have a love hate relationship with screen time. Because they want it ALL THE TIME, managing my children's access to it is extremely aggravating. But since they love it so, we are all beholden to it; they need their fix, and I need my threat. 

In matters of discipline, you have to find the thing that most efficiently brings your charges to their knees. For my family, screen time is the closest thing we've got to a magic bullet. Screen time is my sword and my shield, and I do not hesitate to smite my kin at will. The Lord may giveth, but I taketh away.

Its power is so awesome that after months of all sorts of attempts at positive behavior modification, the promise of television may ultimately be the thing responsible for toilet training Sacha. If it proves successful, I will have no choice but to turn it into a shrine and make daily offerings.

And so while I sometimes contemplate banishing screen time altogether because I don't want to hear someone ask me one more time if they can watch tv/play Wii/use their iPod, in reality, what I really need is duplicate electronic devices, so that once I've taken away the privilege, I have a spare handy so I can do it all over again.

18 November 2009

slinging hash: cabbage with brown mustard seeds

I like cabbage. While you could never call it sexy or sophisticated, as vegetables go it has many virtues. It is inexpensive, keeps well, and is equally tasty cold and hot.

The trick to cooking cabbage well is to do it quickly over a high heat, much as you would a stir fry, so it chars and sweetens while still retaining a bit of crunch. When I was in graduate school in central New Jersey I lived near many fine Indian restaurants and groceries, where I became acquainted with black mustard seed. They are pungent and nutty, and crunch pleasantly in the mouth.

This is nice as a side with dinner, but my favorite way to eat it is for lunch, with a fried egg and sriracha sauce.

Cabbage with Brown Mustard Seeds

1/4 - 1/2 head green cabbage, shredded
1 teaspoon -1 tablespoon brown mustard seeds
neutral cooking oil
salt and pepper

Heat a slick of oil in a saute pan over high heat until very hot. Add the mustard seeds, and cook until they begin to pop, no more than one minute. Add the cabbage, salt and pepper, and stir briefly to coat with oil. Let sit undisturbed for a minute, until cabbage begins to brown. Stir again and cook another few minutes until cabbage is browned and wilted. Taste for salt, and serve. 


17 November 2009

Women are awesome

Depending on your perspective, two weeks ago from Saturday I reached either the nadir or the zenith of my bout of swine flu — I've decided to refer to it as swine flu from here on in, because it sounds so medieval — when my fever climbed to 104 degrees.

I was of no use to anyone, and may actually have been delirious, and by 4pm I was fixated not on my fever, but the fact that by my admittedly irrational standards the house was a mess, we hadn't unpacked from our trip, the sheets needed changing, and I was useless to do anything about it.

David took the kids out so I could sleep, and after stewing in my juices for a bit, I made a very wise decision to call in the big guns, namely, my friends, Cassie and Sharon. Within twenty minutes they were at my house, armed with shop masks, bandannas and gloves, and they cleaned my house. They fetched me medicine, and beverages. They straightened, recycled and dusted, and if that were not enough, they scrubbed my bathroom.

If that's not love, what is?

One thing that multiple bouts of depression and childbirth have taught me is that when help is offered, SAY YES. From there, I sent out a second series of distress signals: SEND FOOD, and from that point forward, my family was well provisioned for the remainder of my illness.

Between that, and my mother providing child care and laundry services while David was at work, I had a domestic army at my service, and it was not only a great relief, but an awesome thing to behold; when women mobilize, they are a force to be reckoned with.

And although he is not a woman, I also have to thank David for holding down the fort in my absence, and for having the wisdom, upon coming home to a SWAT team cleaning his house, having the good sense to be relieved and grateful, rather than defensive.

Pranams to everyone.

16 November 2009


I hate to break it to you Sacha, but now you are four. Not seven, as was your wont for most of the summer, or eight, the age to which you recently promoted yourself. Despite the fact that you consider your best friends to be a pair of third graders, you are now four years old, as every fiber in your being can attest.

I'm sorry you had a crappy birthday, as traveling home from a funeral with a sick mother is nobody's idea of fun. I'm sorry I didn't post this on your birthday, as is my habit.

You continue to find new ways to delight and confound me on a daily basis. You are wildly creative, with a perverse imagination which I mightily admire. Recently you had one of your most amusing and entertaining weekends to date, during which you used a wooden spatula to flush your father like a toilet, and moments later, improvised games of tennis and hockey utilizing said spatula and a ball.

Past experience has led me to believe that the great existential struggle of the preschool years is baby versus kid, and you are not yet certain which side of the fence you prefer. That we still have you sleeping in jail a crib doesn't help clarify the situation, and we intend to rectify that shortly, but seeing as you have a talent for movement, and squirming out of seat belts, you can hardly blame me for wanting to confine you for as long as possible.

Despite my well documented failed struggle to coax you to the other side of the fence, I will be waiting as patiently as I can to welcome you whenever it is you ultimately decide to arrive. As you have made abundantly clear,  you do what you want to do, when you want to do it. 

You make me swoon on a daily basis. Yesterday, while we were sitting in the dark of a movie theater, after being separated from me for all of 70 minutes, you walked over your brother and sister to climb into my lap, and proceeded to practically make out with me. Had this actually been your eighth, not your fourth birthday, it would have been wildly inappropriate. But seeing as you are just four,  it was exactly the moment a mother lives for.

This is all by way of saying that despite the fact that you keep me constantly running, and try my patience daily, I enjoy your company tremendously, and adore you beyond belief.

15 November 2009

NaBloPoMo derailed by H1N1

Despite my best intentions, illness got the better of me. For a while, I was able to get by on my stash of posts, but last Friday, after a day spent traveling home from a funeral with a fever averaging 102, I had to cry uncle.

And while this may not qualify me for early adopter status, I like to think I was still in the forefront of a movement, having succumbed to the disease du jour at the onset of cold and flu season. After eight days of high fever, and eleven days total, I have rejoined civilization. To celebrate, yesterday's festivities included: cooking breakfast and dinner, and depositing and retrieving my children at school, and food shopping.

My review of H1N1: it sucks, but you will most likely not die.

And although I've blown it from a technical standpoint, because I make the rules in this universe, I am going to pretend that I never fell off the wagon, and reclassify NaBloPoMo as NaBloPoHaMo, because there are still fifteen days left in November.

Looking on the bright side, I do not have to fret about how to procure a coveted vaccine, because I've earned my immunity the old-fashioned way.

Behold my naturally derived immunity! As a public service, I will lick you.

06 November 2009


Sacha has a few disgusting personal hygiene habits, and we have been trying diligently to teach him some manners. Like most things where Sacha is concerned, it is an uphill battle.

Lately, I've seen some encouraging signs that our attempts at socializing him are having some effect. I was out for lunch with brother recently, when Sacha began rooting around in his nose. I handed him a tissue. He did not use the tissue to clean his nose, as I would have preferred. Instead, when he was good and done, he wiped his finger on the tissue. I was pleased; better this, than on his shirt, or even worse, the table, I thought. A few days later during lunch I handed him a napkin and told him to wipe his face. He complied, wiping his face...on his sleeve. He then proceeded to use the napkin to clean his sleeve.

In the universe which I now inhabit, these small improvements constitute a huge leap forward.

05 November 2009

Things I like and dislike

Do you like to play parlor games? I play them in my head all the time, which now that I admit this, gives the impression that I am easily amused, wildly creative, or extremely lonely. You choose! 

I got the idea for this from Eden Kennedy at Fussy, who did a things I do not like post this week for nablopomo. I imposed a few rules on myself, because boundaries are a good thing. Because it is so often easier to be negative, for every item I dislike, I had to come up with something I do like.

To my surprise, I had to come up with negative things to balance the positive, not the other way around, as I would have expected. Look how far I've come!

Things I like
waking to the sound of falling rain
cream in my coffee
the arctic monkeys
salty sweet
hot hot baths
being upside down
dinner parties

Things I dislike
almond extract
brad pitt
nuts in baked goods
sea urchin
sponges that have not been sufficiently rung out
white pepper

04 November 2009

Slinging hash: chocolate pudding

Sacha has become very interested in cooking lately. I'm glad to see him taking an interest, but alarmed whenever he pulls his chair in front of the lit stove and shouts, “CAN I HELP TOO?” I'm trying encourage him and keep him alive by making things he can help with without putting himself in mortal peril, that he'll actually want to eat, and don't make too much of a mess.

I'm sure you can guess which of these two of these criteria chocolate pudding satisfies. It's been said thousands of times that corn starch based puddings aren't any harder to make from scratch, and taste far better than a mix, but that doesn't make it any less true.

We've done this together a couple of times lately, and have a system worked out. I measure dry ingredients, and Sacha dumps, something he excels at. Then he helps me add the milk, and we argue about proper stirring technique. I suggest we go in a circle, and Sacha counters that we should go up and down, as if we were churning butter. And that's where it gets a bit messy, and I get a bit exasperated, and pull rank by taking the whisk away from him. 

But he makes up for it by amusing me with his taxonomy of dairy. I often use a combination of 1% milk and cream for pudding. As we pour the milk into the measuring cup, Sacha explains, “This is the milk.” Last time, I finished off the remainder of a pint of cream and opened a quart. “This is cream,” he said, and we poured from the pint. When I opened the quart, he declared, “And this is coffee milk.”

That's my boy.

Chocolate Pudding
adapted from Gourmet

1/4 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups milk, preferably whole, but 1 or 2% will work, as will a combination of milk and cream
4 oz chocolate chips

Whisk together cornstarch, sugar, cocoa powder, and salt in a 2-quart heavy saucepan. Gradually whisk in milk. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly, then boil, whisking, 2 minutes. The mixture will thicken as it cooks. Remove from heat and whisk in chocolate chips and vanilla until smooth.

Pour pudding into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and chill until cold, least two hours. If you are anti-pudding skin, press the wrap directly on the pudding.

Serve with whipped cream.

03 November 2009

It's going to be a long day

It turns out that my powers of resistance are weaker than I hoped. Toward the end of last week David caught whatever non specific viral illness the children had, while I remained unscathed. This was somewhat unusual because David has a freakishly strong immune system, and I am normally the one to fall ill. I felt a bit left out for missing the sick party, but I wasn't going to complain.

But it turns out, my timing is impeccable, because now we are in Maryland sitting shiva, and I have taken ill. And so while everyone is at my sister in law's house, I am at my in-laws shivering with a fever of 102. And now I have what every mother desires; a quiet house to myself, a day alone, with no obligations. And yet I'm lonely, because these were not the circumstances under which I had hoped to get it.

It's going to be a long day. I am awaiting a delivery of rice pudding and trashy magazines.

02 November 2009


My children were recovering from their first bout of sickness of the season, and after twenty-four hours without appetite, they began to exhibit signs of hunger. To capitalize on this, I made pizza for dinner. It's relatively gentle, and one of the rare things that everyone agrees on.

Toward the end of the meal, Sacha's plate was littered with crusts, not unlike the bones of a small mammal's carcass picked clean. 

“More, PLEASE!” he demanded.

“Sacha, you know, you can eat those crusts.”  David responded.

“Okay,” Sacha replied, and picked a crust and proceeded to eat it.

Just like that. No argument, no protest, no screaming.

And this is how I knew that he was not quite back to himself. Because under normal circumstances, there is NO WAY he would acquiesce so readily without putting up a fight.

Perry Arla

Pamela was not my intended name. A contraction of παν (pan) "all" and μελι (meli) "honey," it means all sweetness. As baby names go, you can't get more auspicious.

When I was born, my parents intended to name me Perry Arla, which I've always thought is a kick-ass name. It is strong and unusual, and I like its androgyny.

I spent a good deal of time in my adolescence wondering what life would have been like had I remained Perry Arla. And although it was not my name, I experimented using it as my signature, as swoony girls do with the object of their crush's last name. I no doubt spelled it with an i, dotted with an over-sized bubble, or possibly a heart that threatened to capsize the whole affair.

Yet my maternal grandmother did not like Perry Arla one bit. She thought it sounded like a gum disease, and she may have had a point.

And so, on my original birth certificate, in fraying black and white mimeograph, the name field is blank, and there is a stamp on the back, dated January 9, 1969, which reads:

This is to advise you that the name "Pamela Allison" has been inserted on the birth record of your child in accordance with the notice recieved from you. Certified copies of the record made in future will include the childs full name.  

And thus, I came into the world, with a ready made identity crisis. And while things have worked out well for me as Pamela, I thought I would take Perry Arla as my nom de plume, in homage to the girl I wasn't, and in gratitude for the one I am.

31 October 2009

Barbara Sharmaine Goldsteen

My mother-in-law, Barbara Sharmaine Goldsteen died early this morning, from complications related to pancreatic cancer. This was her fourth bout with cancer; prior to this, she had survived ovarian cancer three times. Her first two sicknesses occurred before I knew her; when David was a teenager.

No cancer diagnosis is good news, and ovarian cancer is especially deadly. When she was first diagnosed, at the age of 39, her doctor more or less told her to get her affairs in order. And yet, she went on to defy all odds and survive not once, but two more times. She was a medical miracle.

During this last illness, we learned what had become painfully obvious by that point; she had been dealt a genetic short hand, and had a mutated BRCA gene. This last round was the most serious by far; when she was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, her prognosis was five months; she outlived that diagnosis by more than a year.

Despite the fact that for a third of her life she had an uncomfortably intimate acquaintance with this disease, she never allowed cancer to define her. She had a remarkable capacity for staring down her illness and saying, "Fuck you, cancer." She was aggressive and fearless in her treatment protocol, and refusing to take no for an answer. And while cancer ultimately killed her, she did not ever allow it to sap her of her will to live. She came to New York for treatments twice a month for a better part of the year, and while she was in town, and suffering from the side effects of chemotherapy, she did not take to her sickbed, but continued to explore the city to the best of her ability, seeing shows, and visiting with family and friends.

For a brief while, her doctor was able to put the pancreatic cancer into remission, although it ultimately metastasized to the point where it was like chasing mercury. A few weeks ago, when she took ill for what would be the final time, she told a friend that she did not want anyone to pity her, because by her reckoning, she should have died twenty years ago. She had not expected to live long enough to see her children grown and married, let alone meet eight grandchildren, and die knowing a ninth was on its way.

And yet, although I am grateful that my children had the opportunity to know her for as long as they did, I can't help but feel cheated, because we always want more than we get, and I had hoped she would live to see her grandchildren marry as well.

30 October 2009

Executive decisions

After some wavering, dithering and prevaricating, I have decided to participate in NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month. It rolls off the tongue awkwardly, no? I am going to do my best to post something every day in November, which will be no small undertaking for me. I've stockpiled a few things, and I hope that is not considered cheating. Some items will be short, and a few may be lame, but I'll try my best to avoid that. Will I make it? I have no idea, but I'll do my best. 

I am also changing my name. As of November 1, I am retiring Hausfrau. Hausfrau is an awesome blog name, and I can't think of anything that suits this blog better.

One of the things I'll miss most about Hausfrau, and in part why I chose it, is that in addition to a domestic vocation, it is also a porn name, in the sexy librarian mold, and I thought that was a good joke. One of the things I've learned via Google Analytics is that there are a lot of people trolling the Internet looking for hausfraus having sex. Sometimes they stumble across my site via keywords including some combination the two, including my favorite: “anal hausfrau blogspot”. You would think anyone looking for such footage would quickly navigate away from this site disappointed, but you would be wrong. Mr or Ms Anal Hausfrau Blogspot stayed to browse awhile. Maybe they found a recipe, or just related, because they are going through the exact same thing with their kids. Whatever they got, thanks for reading.    

As much as I like it, hausfrau is also a very popular name, and there are a lot of us out there. For awhile, I've toyed with coming up with something more unconventional. A few weeks ago, I hit upon it.

I will tell you what it is on November 1.

28 October 2009

slinging hash: garlic soup

In an exquisite feat of timing, my children fell ill this week in highly choreographed fashion. Gabriel went first, spiking a fever on Sunday evening. Sarah came home early from school on Monday, and Sacha woke up sick in the middle of the night. I thought this most considerate of them, as it means we'll get this round over with quickly, whereas if they'd staggered their sickness, I would be housebound for the better part of a week.

We had a very pleasant day, in part because the kids were too sick to be demanding, and spent the time alternating between napping and sitting in front of the television in a stupor. I did get breathed and coughed on a lot, however, which left me wondering how many days it will be until I fall ill.

And so when it came time to prepare dinner, I thought of garlic soup. I started making garlic soup years ago, inspired by a recipe in John Thorne's excellent Outlaw Cook. Research is beginning to confirm the folk wisdom that garlic may help ward off colds. I knew my kids would hate it, but as they had no appetite, I didn't have to worry about feeding them, so why not try to stack the odds against getting sick in my favor?

Garlic soup is quick and easy. You boil garlic in water, mash the garlic into a paste and return to the water, which is then enriched with eggs. Boiling the garlic tames its pungency into something delicate, while the eggs give the soup body. In all, it is a great demonstration of one of the most awesome things about soup, in that you can make something delicious from practically nothing.

Garlic Soup
serves 4

I serve this with bread or croutons, but plain boiled rice would also work.

6 cups water
12 cloves of garlic, peeled
bay leaf
a few sage leaves or sprigs of thyme, optional
salt and pepper
6 eggs
a few slices of crusty bread
1-2 tablespoons olive oil

Bring the water, garlic, bay leaf, herbs and a teaspoon of salt to a boil. When the water comes to a boil, turn it down to a simmer and cook until the garlic softens, 15-20 minutes. Remove garlic and mash to a paste in a mortar, or with the flat of a knife. Return garlic to the pot.

Beat the eggs in a bowl, and slowly add to this a ladle-full of the cooking liquid, whisking constantly. Whisk the eggs into the pot and stir over very low heat. If the soup comes to a boil, the eggs will curdle, which is not a tragedy. Adjust seasoning.

Meanwhile, broil or toast the bread, and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper, and place in the bottom of soup bowls. Ladle the soup over the bread, garnish with additional herbs and a drizzle of olive oil, or not.

Serve immediately.

22 October 2009

Parenting in ALL CAPS

It is hard to comprehend, as you cradle your newborn in your arms, how much this child will annoy and anger you someday. This is the flip side of love; the ones we adore the most are also the ones most skilled at driving us crazy, sometimes in equal measure.

Spanking has been out for some time, but now, the tide is turning against yelling at our children. I take this with mixed emotions, as yelling is an inevitable, and necessary part of the job.  

In my better moments, my study of mindfulness practices pay dividends. I was talking with a friend about meditation recently, and quipped that one of the greatest benefits I have derived from my yoga practice is to yell at my children with far greater precision. What I meant is that I've become better at catching myself on the verge of an explosion, and deciding how to engage. Recently, I've used a trick I learned from Elena Brower, of lowering my chin to my chest, which changes the pattern of your heartbeat, and I've found it really works. As a result, when I do yell, I am more likely to be in control my anger rather than allowing it to control me.

In my lesser moments though, I've resorted to stomping, gritting my teeth, growling, and wrist squeezing. Once, when Sarah was small, I took a page from my cat, and hissed at her. It was not my proudest moment, but it got her attention.

I learned a good trick for anger management from Sarah. She was about three, and we were beginning to teach her to identify her emotions, and express anger verbally rather than physically. In true sanctimonious parent fashion, "Use your words," was a constant refrain. One day when she was angry about something, she clenched her fists and scrunched her face, and shouted, "I WANT TO HIT!"

We were so proud.

So sometimes when I'm close to losing it, I'll say, "I am really angry right now, so angry that I want to spank you."

What do you do to manage your temper?

21 October 2009

slinging hash: potato gratin

Although there are thousands of ways to cook them, I am not very imaginative when it comes to potatoes. If I'm serving chicken, I make mashed potatoes; with beef, it's roasted or baked potatoes.

When I'm feeling frisky I switch it up by serving mashed potatoes with beef, and vice versa. Last Friday night, I made lamb, and by my logic, it called for an entirely different potato preparation. (If you're wondering, how about rice?, I have one word for you: Sacha. Rice doesn't always vacuum well, and it takes a long time to pick those grains up from the rug.)

And so I remembered potato gratin, and as I always do when I make one, I wondered, why don't I make this more often? Potato gratin is easy and delicious, and coming in somewhere between roasted and mashed, is the perfect fence straddler.

And for a slatternly cook like myself, a gratin has the advantage of coming together more by method than recipe. It is flexible and forgiving. If you have a lot of time — ha! — you can cook it longer on a lower heat. If you're in a hurry, you can raise the temperature, cook it at a higher temperature for a shorter period of time. You can make it with milk, half and half, or cream. Add garlic, or not, though I highly recommend it as there are few things that smell more heavenly than garlic warmed in milk. It is fashionable in the food pages to say that with a salad, potato gratin would make a great light supper, but in reality, I wouldn't bother with the salad. I'd be happy eating it all by itself.

Potato Gratin
serves 4-5
You can easily increase this; my general rule is one fewer potato than the number of people you are serving. 

4-5 medium potatoes
2-3 cloves of garlic
whole milk, half and half or cream
salt and pepper
butter, for greasing dish

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit.

Scrub the potatoes, and peel them or not, according to your mood and their level of filth. Slice potatoes about 1/8 inch thick.

Slice the garlic into thin slivers.

Butter an 8" square or gratin dish. Place a layer of potatoes on the bottom of the dish, scatter a few slivers of garlic, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Repeat with remaining potatoes and garlic. Slowly pour in milk, half and half or cream to reach the top layer of potatoes, leaving them exposed. Gently press the potatoes down to submerge them a bit; you don't want the potatoes to be completely covered, as they will bake down as they cook.

Bake 40-60 minutes, checking after 40 minutes. Gratin is done when the top layer is nicely browned, and potatoes can be easily pierced with a knife.

19 October 2009

Fighting words

My children have all been great dumpers and tossers of things. The basic recipe goes something like: upend one tin of blocks, add a generous amount of Legos, and a smattering of cars. Using your hands, mix well until ingredients are incorporated, and then repeat vigorously, until items are spread to the far corners of the house.

Sacha is by far, my most talented child in this respect, and I am waiting patiently for him to outgrow this phase.

In the meantime, because I am a control freak have a low threshold for chaos, I spend a good amount of time sorting and returning things to their rightful places. This kind of routine busing of the house is so automatic to me that I do it unthinkingly, and without complaint.

The thing I cannot abide, however, is the flinging. Sacha walks in, sees pillows and blankets neatly arranged on the upholstery, and then methodically tosses everything to the floor. He stops to assess his work, and moves on to the den to do it again.

It is how my house goes, in under sixty seconds, from this:

to this:


It would be one thing if this happened in the course of play – say, making a fort – but the flinging appears to be an exercise in itself. More often than not, once the flinging is done, so is Sacha. His work is so deliberate that it is hard for me not to take it personally. It's as if he is certain that my insistence on placing pillows on the furniture is wrongheaded, and if he rearranges things often enough, eventually I will come to agree. 

Or so I thought, until I walked in to the living room last weekend to find Sacha wrestling with a brown pillow, shouting, “YOU'RE GOING DOWN PILLOW, YOU'RE GOING DOWN!”

This gave me a different perspective. In hindsight, we often realize our tendency to personalize things that have nothing to do with us. I thought the flinging was about me, but now, I saw that it was the pillows, not me, that are Sacha's nemesis.

I'd like to say that this insight gave me new found tolerance for Sacha's idiosyncrisy, but that would be a baldfaced lie. It's still extremely annoying.

15 October 2009

The heat game

Today is an auspicious day in the Goldsteen household. Today is the day we turned on the heat.

When we moved to this house almost three years ago, we experienced a severe case of utility sticker shock. We expected our utility bill to roughly double. We thought this was a reasonable assumption, because our new house is roughly one-third larger than our previous house. You can imagine our surprise that first winter when the utilities bill was closer to three times as much as we had previously paid. I think this had something to do with an unfortunate confluence of rising natural gas prices, and an older, and thus more inefficient house.

And now, every year, when the weather turns cold, when I look through my lovely old windows, with their rippling pains of glass, I no longer appreciate their beauty, and the way they frame the views. All I can see is THEY ARE COSTING ME A FUCKING FORTUNE. I do, however, appreciate the irony in the fact that we cannot yet afford to replace them.

David has gone on aggressive fact-finding missions, searching out and sealing any obvious leaks, which has shaved approximately ten dollars from our average bill.

And thus, we began to play the heat game.

The heat game is familiar to many homeowners. There are two primary aspects; How Low Can You Go, and How Long Can You Wait?

How Low Can You Go is the less challenging aspect of the game; for amateurs, if you will. My daytime threshold is sixty-seven degrees. Sixty-eight degrees is more comfortable to me, but it's nothing that a sweater, a few additional trips up and down the stairs a little extra vacuuming won't cure. At night, we go down to sixty-four degrees, and we are thinking that perhaps this year, we may try to beat this personal best, and go to sixty-three, or maybe even sixty-two.

Once you agree to play How Long Can You Wait, you have made it to the pros. You start by assigning an arbitrary date before which you will not turn on the heat, NO MATTER WHAT.

And then, you wait.

Our date is October 15, and it has given me a new appreciation as to how cold sixty degrees really is without benefit of sunlight. Sixty degrees is cold enough that I have been wearing two sweaters, a scarf, and a hat indoors. If it didn't impair my fine motor skills so much, I would opt for gloves as well. I look fairly ridiculous, but no less so than my friend Sharon, who equips herself for the heat game by creating a DIY Snuggie made from a blanket she wraps taut around her body as one does post-shower, so that she ends up looking like a ragtag Bedouin.

The heat game means I run the risk of becoming dangerously over caffeinated, because instead of one or two cups of coffee a day, I make cup after cup, so as not to be without a warm mug in my hands. Hot beverages have the added bonus of providing temporary relief to the tip of my frozen nose.

The heat game is very good for certain aspects of housekeeping. The floors are very clean, because vacuuming and mopping are good aerobic activities. Bathroom cleaning ranks low, because while scrubbing the tub is effective for raising body temperature, coming into contact with the water necessary for rinsing would negate its aerobic effect.

I felt a little guilty this year because I cheated when I brought a space heater down from the attic on Monday. The kids were off from school, and while it is one thing to subject myself to such deprivations, it seemed a mercy not to inflict suffering on my children unnecessarily. This gave me the added bonus of getting to watch my children duke it out fighting for primacy in front of the heater, in a true depression-style amusement.

This morning when we awoke, David and I looked at each other and nodded in agreement. We had endured long enough, and it was indeed time. On my way out to take the kids to school, I flicked the switch on the thermostat, and when I arrived home, I was greeted by the metallic smell of water moving blessedly through the radiators.

Yet even as my muscles began to loosen, and my teeth unclench, and my fingers thaw, I found myself wondering, if perhaps next year, we could hold out just a few days longer.

Such is the perverse logic of the heat game. 

14 October 2009

slinging hash: corn chowder

I don't know what my children have against soup. Aside from miso or the occasional bowl of chicken noodle, the mere suggestion of soup leaves them mortally offended. But because hope springs eternal, I am thick-headed, and I just like making soup,  I persevere.

Last week I had a hankering for corn chowder when a recipe for Cheddar Corn Chowder in the Barefoot Contessa Cookbook caught my eye. I began to get my hopes up. My children like corn; they like potatoes. Maybe this will be the soup that wins them over. And that was foolish of me, because in child rearing, as with many human pursuits, logic does not prevail.

I would make a terrible recipe tester, because I am incapable of following a recipe to the letter. Except when it comes to baking, for me, a recipe is more of an idea than a blueprint. You should not necessarily trust me if I tell you I made something from so-and-so's book and it was awful, because in reality, I am not that good at following the directions. But this is the beauty of soup; it is easy, and takes well to improvisation. You saute some aromatics, add vegetables, liquid, herbs, spices, or other flavorings, and simmer away. 

When my children asked what was for dinner, and I brightly replied, "Corn chowder!" I was met with the predictable mix of skepticism and disdain, although Sacha won a prize for originality when he shook his head and said, "I don't like corn showers."

Did they eat it? Of course not. But seeing as David and I enjoyed it, and I got a week's worth of lunches for about 45 minutes of effort, it was worth it.

Corn Chowder
serves 6-8

In keeping with my improvisatory nature, this recipe, and the directions are a little loose. I'm sorry if it drives you crazy. But soup is very forgiving, and subject to individual taste. Measurements for half and half and cheese are approximate; truthfully, I don't pay that close attention. My motto is start with less, add more as you go. You can always add more of something, but you can't take it away.

Ina Garten's recipe calls for bacon. As Jews, we are generally not people of the pig, so I omitted it. But since little is not improved by bacon, you can saute some and serve as a garnish. 

People often think you need stock to make a decent soup, which is not true. Stock gives soup a different quality, but is not at all necessary; most of the time, I use water. When I use stock, I like Better Than Bouillon. I don't reconstitute it before using, but instead, stir the paste into the onions, and then add water.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 chopped yellow onions
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon tumeric
3 cups (2-3 medium sized) potatoes, cut in medium-dice
6 cups chicken stock or water
2 bags of frozen corn kernels
1/2-1 cup half and half
8 ounces (approximately 2 cups) grated cheddar or cheddar jack cheese, optional

Heat butter and olive oil in a stockpot or saute pan on medium high heat.

Add onions, salt and pepper, and saute until onions are translucent.

[True confession: often, I walk away at this point, to put in a load of laundry, or some such, and come back to find my onions not quite burnt, but well past translucent. C'est la vie; it still tastes good.]

Add water or stock, and potatoes, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer uncovered for 15-20 minutes, until potatoes are tender. How long this takes will depend on how small you cut your potatoes. When the potatoes are tender, mash some against the side of the pot, and incorporate, to add body to the soup.

Add corn, half and half and cheese, if using. Cook about five minutes more, until cheese is melted.

Adjust seasoning before serving.

12 October 2009

Playing God

Dear Thomas and Amanda Stansel,

I am sorry you had such difficulty conceiving children. I can only imagine what heartache that would bring, as I was fortunate enough to conceive my children effortlessly with no intervention. I know this is a blessing.

It is understandable that you would turn to a fertility specialist in order to realize your dreams of parenthood. Modern medicine has made many things possible that would have been inconceivable a few generations ago. The desire for children is a powerful, biological force, and in a perfect world, everyone who wanted to have children would conceive them effortlessly. Perhaps you were thrilled that your dreams of a large family were going to come true when your doctor informed you that intrauterine insemination was successful, and you were carrying not one, but six, embryos.

You lost my empathy when I learned that you disregarded your doctor's advice to selectively reduce the number of embryos to help increase your chances for a healthy outcome, and decided to play some very large odds, by bringing six babies into the world. I understand that in keeping with your religious convictions, you consider the notion of selective reduction to be tantamount to abortion, something which, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you could not abide. I am glad you consulted not only with a reduction specialist, but with church elders, to help you arrive at what must have no doubt been a difficult decision to forge ahead with your pregnancy.

It must have been harrowing to deliver your sextuplets fourteen weeks early, and I imagine you were despondent to learn that they had a 60 to 65 percent chance of survival, and a one-hundred percent chance of problems. Your babies were born so early that hospital protocol dictated that no medical care be given unless specifically requested by the parents.

And this is where your logic falls apart, and you made what turned out to be a literally fatal error, when you decided that despite all evidence to the contrary, you would ignore medical statistics, because "God doesn't work in statistics."?

Do you not see that you were playing God all along? That perhaps your difficulty conceiving was God's way of telling you that it was not his plan for you to conceive biological offspring. Perhaps he had something else in mind for you, which, while not what you intended, may have led you to a rich, fulfilling life.

Was it worth it to lose three of your six newborns to gruesome deaths resulting from complications associated with a high-risk pregnancy, and premature birth? Was becoming a parent so important to you that you will treasure the privilege of knowing that one of your newborns died when blood seeped into his lungs via an open heart valve, while another developed an infection in the trachea that inflated his lungs so much that they crowded out his heart? Are you glad to be making daily trips to the neonatal intensive care unit to visit your three remaining infants, one of whom is experiencing kidney failure, and is hovering on the precipice of death?

In life, everyone suffers, and all parents will make their children miserable, hopefully unwittingly, and for as brief a period as possible. Can you live with the fact that you have played such an active role as the architects of your children's suffering? Is it lost on you that had you made the decision to selectively reduce at the beginning of the pregnancy, you might now be the parents of healthy twins, or triplets? At this point, your best outcome is two children with lifelong developmental and neurological issues. Is all the suffering you have selfishly unleashed because you could not see any further than your desire for biological offspring worth it?

07 October 2009

slinging hash: bloody mary

I have always had a fondness for the breakfast cocktail. I wouldn't want to make a habit of it, but sometimes, on special occasions, it can be just the thing. Champagne cocktails are lovely, as is the Ramos Gin Fizz. But I have an especially soft spot for the Bloody Mary, which got David and myself through some fraught family gatherings early in our marriage. In keeping with this tradition, on the mornings of both Gabriel's and Sacha's brit milot, when extra fortification seemed like a good idea, we started the day with a Bloody Mary, our own breakfast of champions.

My affection for the Bloody Mary may be in part why Prune is one of my favorite restaurants, as their brunch menu is not only delicious, but features no less than ten different Bloody Marys, including my personal favorite, the Danish, made with aquavit and garnished with a marinated white anchovy.

A gussied-up Bloody Mary is a nice treat, but the original formula needs no tampering. Once, while mixing up a few drinks, I accidentally added two shots of vodka to once glass, and discovered that extra vodka makes a Bloody Mary even more delicious.

One of the hallmarks of the drink is a bit of heat, usually in the form of Tabasco sauce. I'm not partial to Tabasco, which to me tastes too much of vinegar, and chemicals. And so, I've experimented with different brands of hot sauce, as well as cayenne pepper, wasabi powder, and my current favorite, sriracha sauce.

I have to say, I like this current incarnation quite a lot.

Bloody Mary
Makes one drink

2 ounces vodka
6 ounces tomato juice
juice of 1/2 lemon
generous pinch of celery salt
pinch of kosher salt
dash of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce
squirt of sriracha sauce

Stir all ingredients together in a cocktail shaker or glass. Serve over ice, or not.

06 October 2009

Hesistatingly offered free unsolitcited advice!

When it comes to clinical depression, I am a lifer. Because I have had more than three episodes of major depression, the likelihood of me slipping into this state again is too strong to risk going without medication. So Depression is a Dilemma for Women in Pregnancy, in today's Science Times, caught my attention.

I cannot live without antidepressants, pregnant or not. I suffered crushing postpartum episodes after the birth of my first two children, because I stupidly, and against my doctor's advice, tapered my medication back to a minimal dose during these pregnancies. Because I was feeling great throughout the pregnancies, I didn't want to expose my developing babies to more medication than was necessary. The result was what my psychiatrist called double-depression; ie, someone with a predisposition toward depression + postpartum hormonal surges = initial elation followed by an ENORMOUS crash.

When I was pregnant with Sacha, in consultation with my doctors, we decided to keep my medicine at my therapeutic dose. In my third trimester my psychiatrist considered lowering the dosage during the last few weeks of the pregnancy and immediately increasing it back to my therapeutic level upon giving birth, because there were some slight risks to the baby. Ultimately, we decided that the risks to the baby were small, and not serious enough, compared with the possibility of another postpartum episode, to warrant tapering down my medication.

In part because of this decision, Sacha ended up spending sixteen days in the NICU. He was a pokey nurser, but we brought him home from the hospital, unconcerned, two days after he was born, as I'd breast fed two children and was confident we'd get the hang of it. When he was seen by our pediatrician for his first newborn well visit, Sacha had lost almost 10% of his birth weight, and we were instructed to keep an eye on him for any changes in behavior, and return the next day for a weight check.

That evening, we did indeed see changes in his behavior. He was sleeping an alarming amount, even for a newborn, had no suck, refused a bottle, and kept falling asleep at my breast when I attempted to nurse him. When we were reduced to pumping breast milk and administering it via syringe, we called the doctor, who instructed us to take his temperature and call him back. Thus began twenty minutes of shaking down the thermometer, and repeatedly attempting, and failing, to get a reading.

When our doctor called to see why we hadn't called him back I replied, "The thermometer is not working." In our postpartum haze, it had not occurred to us it was our baby, not the the thermometer, that was not working properly.  

And thus began a rush to the hospital, where he was ultimately diagnosed with neonatal serotonin syndrome, and reflux.

I don't know if it was because I was on a higher dose of medication during the third pregnancy, or because Sacha was  particularly sensitive to the SSRI's, but in effect, the medication had a sedating affect on him, and when he was born, he did not understand that he was no longer in utero and had to begin to take on life-sustaining functions for himself. As we joked at the time, he was born depressed, just like his mother!

And yet, despite what was unquestionably a harrowing ordeal, I do not regret my decision to take antidepressants during my pregnancy, because it was absolutely essential for my health. I was already a mother of two, and my experience of being raised by two depressed parents had given me painful proof that a child's well being is intimately tied to their parent's physical and mental health. As my wise therapist once said, a broken arm heals more quickly than emotional scars. 

Through the initially terrifying days, when we had NO IDEA what was wrong with our child, and whether he was he going to be okay — although it was stressful, I was able to function because for the first time ever after giving birth, I was not depressed. This is meant I was able to cope with a crisis, and be available and present for my family. While I was scared, and worried, and did my fair share of crying in those early hospital days, I did not blame myself up for having hurt my baby. I understood that in the face of all available information, and in consultation with my doctors and husband, we made what we thought was the best possible decision, and were now dealing with the consequences. And that is the difference between a depressed mother, and a healthy one. 

I've no idea if it would have made any difference, but in hindsight, I do wish I had lowered my dosage during those last few weeks of my pregnancy and increased it upon giving birth. I regret we had to go through what we did, but not my decision.

And as this blog can attest, Sacha is a now a healthy, ball-busting, 3-1/2 year old.

03 October 2009

Unrequited love

I considered many possible titles for this post. Foiled? So Close but yet so far? For the love of the Arctic Monkeys? But perhaps the sentiment that best sums it up is, Fucking Philadelphia.

David has always had an irrational hatred of Philadelphia. And while I've never spent an enormous amount of time there, it's always stuck me as a perfectly lovely place. David's visceral response stems from bad childhood associations with some crazy relations who hailed from the city.

David and I love the Arctic Monkeys so much that David, a grown man of 40, joined their fan club, which is how we were able to purchase tickets over the summer during the pre-sale. New York sold out too quickly, so we settled for Philadelphia. That David was willing to travel there to see them says a great deal about our allegiance to this band.

Although the contents of our iPods are very different, David and I respect each other's musical taste. It is what allows me to roll my eyes as he yet again declares his love of the Dirtbombs, and the fact that Mick Collins is a demigod, or, as happened earlier this week, for me to smile bemusedly when, moments after mentioning to a friend while listening to a track from Portishead's Dummy, that it is one of my favorite records, David, who was not even privy to this conversation, turned to me and said, "I actively dislike this music."


The Kinks, Elvis Costello and more recently, the Arctic Monkeys, are some of the places where David and I find common ground. And as young lovers make a past time of time cataloging one another's many excellent qualities, so do we recount the many virtues of our latest crush. If you were to spend any amount of time with me, and I intuited that you were interested in music, eventually I would find a way to bring the conversation around to the awesomeness of the Arctic Monkeys. Once I get going, I can be quite insufferable.

Every time I hear them, I can't help but marvel at how such a young band can be so good. I can, and sometimes do, listen to them almost exclusively for weeks on end without getting bored. The Arctic Monkeys are not a band with a kernel of promise who had to grow into itself. They sprung from Sheffield, fully formed, and three records later, are only getting better. Whenever I hear them, my pulse quickens, and I sometimes have to restrain the urge to jump up and down, or bark like a dog with excitement.

Their musicianship is excellent, and they have a knack for compelling melodies. They rock hard.

But perhaps what I love best about them is their lyrical wit. They always come up with clever and unexpected, turns of phrase:

They are masters of the biting take down:
Presuming all things are equal who'd want to be men of the people, when there's people like you.

And as I've said before, never have I heard a bunch of lads be more articulate about how men are led about by their dicks:
You should have racing stripes the way you keep me in pursuit/ You sharpen the heel of your boot and you press it in my chest/ And you make me wheeze/ Then to my knees you do promote me.

I don't know if it's just that everything sounds better in British, or Alex Turner's excellent delivery, but their lyrics always strike me as wise beyond their years. If I were half as clever and insightful in my early twenties, I was doing pretty well.

This show was to be the highlight of my admittedly dull social season.

And so it was that we set out, tired, but excited, on Wednesday evening. Doors opened at eight, and we assumed that meant the band would start at ten, so we asked our sitter to arrive at 7.30. That turned out to be exceptionally dumb of us, but we figured it would allow us to miss rush hour traffic, and have dinner with the kids, thus having a comeback ready for when Sarah inevitably expressed her outrage that we were going out again? Because twice a month is really excessive.

We did not get on the road until close to 8, which was a foolish mistake, but as for the rest of the evening, I blame Google, and Philadelphia. Google Maps directions SUCKED. They weren't just bad, they were WRONG. Google instructed us to go east on NJ Route 38, when we should have gone west, and although David initially questioned whether that could be right, we went with it, and drove  FIFTEEN minutes, searching for Admiral Fucking Wilson Boulevard, until we rechecked GPS via Google on my phone, and realized we had to turn around.

By the time we arrived in Philadelphia, we were cutting it very close indeed. We looked for the North 7th Street exit, only to find it DID NOT EXIST. And so we took the 9th Street exit and attempted to circle back around. This was deceptively difficult, because while the city appears to be laid out like a grid, the street numbers we were looking for continually eluded us. After riding around the block once, we asked a cab driver for help, and he provided a long and thorough lesson on the city's geography, during which we learned that Seventh Street was closed for construction, and we should take Fifth Street instead. We thanked him, and headed back in search of  Fifth Street. And so we counted down the street numbers in their predictable order: nine, eight, seven, six...four. This sort of thing happened more times than I care to count.

As we took one wrong turn after another, David grew more anxious, while I was uncharacteristically relaxed, because I figured, it's rock'n'roll, and these things are never punctual, and maybe we'll miss part of the show, but surely not the whole thing.

And so it was that we finally arrived at 10.30, rushed into the concert venue excitedly, handed our tickets to the bouncer, who, as he ripped them, announced, "This is the last song."


It was indeed the last song, and our timing was so impeccably bad that we only heard a few bars, not even enough to recognize what they closed with, before the house lights came up.

 "What time did they go on?" we asked the bouncers.


Despite my immense disappointment, knowing that they started so early only made me respect the band even more, for I read into this perhaps meaningless bit of information that they were either morning people, like myself, or liked to knock off work early so as to fit in as much drinking and shagging as possible.

I suppose I could have found Alex Turner and offered him my body in exchange for a few more songs, but then David would have had to kill him, and the Arctic Monkeys could no longer make music.

So in reality, our only options were to laugh, or have a rip roaring fight in which we berated ourselves for our stupidity.

David asked me, "Do you want a t-shirt?

"Oh, yes, I do!"

Never mind that if you include the cost of gas, sitter, and parking, that it was one very expensive t-shirt. It allows me the privilege, which I will cherish forever, of being able to say I went to see the Arctic Monkeys, and all I got was a lousy t-shirt.

Although we were despondent, I was oddly calm throughout the evening and for this, I have John Friend to thank, as one of the most important lessons I have learned from Anusara Yoga is a very simple, obvious truth that often eludes us: look for the good.

And so, although we would have both much rather seen the Arctic Monkeys, it was nice nonetheless to spend several hours alone conversing with my husband, and be reminded yet again that not only do I love this man, but I also like him a whole lot.

Even as events were unfolding, the act of blogging is now so thoroughly ingrained in me that everything is material, and I could not help but think, despite my disappointment, this will make a really good story.

And, thanks to my new t-shirt, I had no trouble deciding what to wear on Thursday.

I also learned a few practical things from this endeavor.

David should never again drive at night without his glasses.
Perhaps we should invest in a GPS device.
Maybe there is a Philadelphia curse?  

Fucking Philadelphia.

29 September 2009

I don't know

Every parent will tell you that getting one's children to take no for an answer is one of the more frustrating parts of this job. Equally exasperating, but less talked about, is the acceptance of I don't know.

I think this has something to do with the perception of parental omnipotence, which is something I'd like to preserve for as long as possible. On the other hand, I don't want to lie to my children, because lacking the ability to think quickly on my feet, I am a lousy liar, but also because I want to preserve the sacred bond of trust my children place in me.

This dilemma leads to many conversations like this one I had with Sarah over the weekend.

"When is Sean's birthday?" she asked.
"I don't know." I replied.
"Is it April 10?"
"I know it's near your birthday, but I'm not certain exactly when it is."
"Is it April 5?"
"Sarah, when I tell you I don't know when it is, it's not because I'm hiding anything from you. It's  because I truly don't know the answer to your question. Why don't we just ask him the next time we see him?"
"Do you think it's at the end of the month?"

This type of thing could go on for a while, and sometimes it does. For me, it captures perfectly the nature of this job, and perhaps, of life itself. Namely, the ability to be adorable, comic and exasperating in equal measures, while simultaneously, utterly defying logic.

23 September 2009

slinging hash: shortbread

I don't know if it is because my children are getting older, or I'm just paying better attention, but this year it struck me in an altogether new way how stressful the beginning of the school year is. Between whipping the kids back in to shape and figuring out everyone's schedules, it is like trying to fit together the pieces of an extremely complicated three dimensional Chinese puzzle, and it has me longing for the simpler days of summer.

But school is underway, and my clientele have demanded that I put my apron back on. Because I aim to provide the best customer service possible, that means the cookies are coming. I really don't have a lot of time or energy for weekday baking, so I turn to shortbread. They are as close to a no-brainer as possible; they come together quickly, with very few ingredients.

But my favorite thing about shortbread, aside from its simplicity and utter deliciousness, is that once you have the basic formula down, it is infinitely variable. This means you can perform all sorts of kitchen sorcery, and trick your children into thinking you are making a different, carefully crafted batch of cookies every week. They catch on eventually, but you can have a good run of it.

My favorite way to make shortbread is with instant espresso powder and chocolate chips, and that is how I prepared them for the first week of school. Predictably, Sarah issued one of her proclamations, heretofore unbeknownst to me, that she finds this particular shortbread disgusting — I believe her exact words were they hurt her throat. This was something of a surprise to me as she has happily eaten these for years, but I took it as a sign of the dreaded cookie fatigue. 

Because I am a good listener, this week, I made plain butter shortbread, and it was really no surprise to hear my kids complain about this. 

Gabriel: "They're so boring."
Sarah: "Why didn't you make the coffee ones again? Plain ones taste like nothing."
Sacha: "Cookies!"

Sometimes, a mother can't win, and in the best of circumstances, one's children have no idea how good they have it, and that is how it should be.

Espresso chocolate chip shortbread
adapted from Dorie Greenspan and Melissa Clark

The basic formula for shortbread is 2 sticks of butter, 2/3 cup sugar, 2 cups flour. I like confectioners' sugar because it gives the cookies a smoother, more tender crumb, but granulated sugar works equally well. To make plain butter shortbread, omit the espresso and chocolate chips. To this basic formula, you can add grated citrus zest (about 1-1/2 teaspoons), a spice or seed (up to one teaspoon), a tablespoon of chopped rosemary or lavender, the seeds of a vanilla bean, and so on, and so forth. 

1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
generous pinch of salt
2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips

1. Beat the butter and confectioners' sugar in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, on medium speed until very smooth.
2. Add the espresso powder, mix until incorporated.
3. Reduce mixer speed to low, add flour, and mix until just incorporated. Fold in the chocolate.
4. Use a rubber spatula to transfer the dough to a gallon-size zipper-lock plastic bag. Leave the top of the bag open, and use a rolling pin to roll the dough into an approximately 9 x 10 1/2 inch, 1/4 inch thick rectangle. The dough may crease a bit. Smooth it out as you go if this sort of thing bothers you. Otherwise, don't worry too much about it. Seal the bag, pressing out as much air as possible, and refrigerate at least 2 hours, or up to 2 days.
5. When ready to bake, position oven racks on second and fourth notches, and preheat to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.
6. Slit open the plastic bag and use a knife to cut the dough into 1 1/2-inch squares and transfer to baking sheets.
6. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through. The shortbread should be pale, rather than golden. Transfer cookies to a rack to cool.

16 September 2009

slinging hash: coconut macaroons with chocolate ganache

Last spring as I was planning the menu for my Passover seder, it occurred to me that I did not want to make yet another flourless chocolate cake. Delicious as they are, I was bored of them, and wanted to my menu to be a bit less predictable.

I happened to be reading A Homemade Life, Molly Wizenberg's lovely book. Wizenberg's blog Orangette, is a constant source of inspiration to me. And so I turned to her recipe for macaroons, that mainstay of the seder dessert plate. It had never occurred to me to make macaroons; when I think of them, they come out of a vacuum sealed can, and taste like sweetened sawdust.

In addition to being extremely easy to make, oh my, were they good, like the juiciest, most tender and sublime Mounds bar.

I filed the recipe away for next year, but at the end of the summer, I was going to have my friend Nicole and her fiance over for dinner, and Nicole is on a gluten and dairy free diet. As a cook, I love the challenge of satisfying people's dietary requirements and still making a delicious meal. Dessert was especially challenging. Poached fruit would have been easy and obvious but it wasn't striking my fancy. And then I realized that if if I left some macaroons naked, they would still be mighty tasty, and fit the bill.

And so I made them, and then Nicole had to cancel, and poor me, I was left with a dozen macaroons all to myself. It only took me a few days to finish them.

Since then I have not been able to stop making these, and it is really annoying my children, not to mention violating my two out of three rule on purely selfish grounds. I guess that is the nature of obsession.

As far as Sarah is concerned, I've already slacked off on baking for far too long. But she's a trooper, and let me know that she while she will eat macaroons under duress, they are not her favorite. Sacha, consistent with his approach to baked goods, eats the frosting, leaving behind its mutilated carcass. My macaroon obsession is most unfair to Gabriel though, because he is allergic to egg whites, cannot even partake.

I made these at the end of summer vacation for a party at the pool, and as I passed them around the table to a group of adults, the reaction was much like that which I remember from my college days, when you passed around a bong full of really good weed. And that is just about the best response a cook can hope for.

Coconut Macaroons with Chocolate Ganache
Adapted from A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg

3 cups lightly packed sweetened coconut
3/4 cup sugar
5 large egg whites
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
pinch of salt

4 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (I like Lindt Excellence Intense Dark 70%)
1/2 cup heavy cream

Place the coconut, sugar and egg whites in a heavy 2- to 3-quart saucepan and stir well. Cook over medium low heat, stirring frequently for 10 minutes. The mixture will start off looking very creamy, and as it dries out, you will be able to see individual flakes of coconut. Stop cooking when it is still sticky and moist, not dry. If the coconut mixture begins to brown in spots, turn the heat down a bit and stir more frequently.

Remove from heat, stir in the vanilla and salt. Spread the mixture in a pie plate and refrigerate until cool enough to handle, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking mat.

Use your hands to firmly pack the coconut mixture into small domes, about 1-1/2 inches in diameter, spacing evenly on the baking sheet.

Bake until evenly golden, about 30 minutes. Cool completely on the pan on a wire rack.

To make ganache, put the chocolate in a medium bowl. Heat the cream in a saucepan or the microwave until it is steaming, but not boiling. If you do this in the microwave, cooking in 20 second bursts. It should not take more than 45 seconds on high power. Pour the cream over the chocolate, let sit for 1 minute, and then stir until smooth.

Dip each macaroon into the ganache and lay back on the baking sheet. Refrigerate until ganache sets, at least 2 hours.

Yield: 14-18 macaroons

13 September 2009

Post #105, in which I discover that I am a hypocrite

We made a deal with Sarah that when she had $1000 in her savings account, we would allow her to withdraw money and purchase something significant, subject to parental approval. She reached her goal last spring, and immediately asked for an iPhone.


After being shot down so quickly, she deliberated for a long time. Eventually, she circled back to square one, figuring that if she could not have an iPhone, why not ask for the next best thing; the ne plus ultra of iPodery, THE TOUCH.

To her great surprise, we said yes.

Since that day in late August, she has been on a mission to fill her 8GB.

The first insult came when we invited her to peruse our iTunes library, and of the thousands of songs that she has happily listened to for most of her life, she chose two.

"What about Stars, I asked, or the Magnetic Fields?"
"How about Bjork or Mates of State?"
"Sleater Kinney?"
 "No thanks."
"Rufus Wainwright?"
"I downloaded Hallelujah." she replied. "Sorry, you just don't have any cool teen music."

Let's put aside for a moment that my daughter is ten, not thirteen. In one fell swoop, a decade of my daughter's musical education was dismissed, and I aged about a decade in both of our eyes.

And now, the floodgates are now open to the best and the worst of pop music, which leaves me looking forward to the heart to heart we will have any day now, when Sarah asks me, what a disco stick is.

Until now, we have tried to limit our kids' exposure to the full breadth of popular culture. I do not want my children to be naive, but to maintain their innocence for as long as possible. Lord knows I love a good curse word, and call me a prude, but I could not help but squirm this summer as I watched the 10 and under set dancing and chanting Shush, girl, shut your lips, do the Helen Keller and talk with your hips.

You can rationalize by saying it goes over their head, but that does not give children due credit. Nothing gets past a smart child. I was listening to Push Push in the Bush when I was in fifth grade, and I knew exactly what it was about. That doesn't mean I should have been listening to it.

And so, with me now comfortably ensconced on my high horse, I came to find myself this week in the car with Sacha, listening to Humbug, the Arctic Monkeys new record. I have been listening to this more or less constantly since it was released a few weeks ago. I love this band with a passion bordering on teenage, but I try to keep myself under control as befits a woman of my age.

You know how you can sometimes listen to a song many times before you hear the lyrics? Well, I was listening to the first track, My Propeller:

when it dawned on me that the PROPELLER IS A PENIS. To wit: My propeller won't spin and I can't get it started on my own, when are you arriving? And that's just the chorus.

In retrospect, it seems so obvious.

Now, I can rationalize that the Arctic Monkeys are artistically superior to Lady Gaga, or 3OH!3. They are embarrassingly good for such a young band. Their lyrics are clever, not crass; part of the reason why I love them so is that never have I heard a bunch of lads be so articulate about how the male species is led around by their dicks. And if I am to be completely honest, although he is roughly half my age and I think he's let his hair grow a bit too long as of late, I wouldn't mind at all having a spin of Alex Turner's propeller.

So, I've come to realize my hypocrisy. Call it a disco stick or a propeller, but when you come right down to it, dick is a dick is a dick.