30 September 2010

Random musings for a rainy day


Today as my nurse called me in for my allergy shot, it looked very much like she winked at me. She may have been blinking, or perhaps it was a trick of the light, or an involuntary twitch, but from where I was standing it looked very much like a wink. This is a standing appointment, and I chose the time slot because not only is it convenient for me, but also because this nurse is the best jabber in the office. Shots don't make me nervous, nor do I find them especially painful, but she has a very light touch, as opposed to the other nurse, who has a more muscular, flesh wielding style. The more I think about it, considering that she was professional in every other respect, she probably didn't wink, but it would have been kind of exciting, if inappropriate, if she had. 


The kids always come home from the first day of Hebrew School with a care package. This year's contained a notebook and pencil, to signify knowledge, (fake) honey candy for sweetness, a penny for tzedekah, and a container of what they called "tradition soup," which is supposed to be chicken noodle soup, but is actually vegetarian chicken flavor. This is a kosher version of Cup Noodles — which I remember being called Cup O Noodles in my youth, which I guess is now too hokey and unsophisticated, or maybe too faux Irish — aka ramen in a bowl. I'm not sure what I find saddest about this; the lack of imagination demonstrated by dried soup to represent the rich history of Jewish civilization, or the imitation chicken flavor.


This is what it sounds like after school in my house. Sarah is to my right in the dining room, doing homework, while Gabriel is on my left, having a snack at the kitchen table.

Sarah: Mama, does it make sense to say, "I relish my phone?"
Me: Not bad, but it might be better to say —
Gabriel: Mama, do you know if you sell ten boxes of chocolate you win a free iPod?
Me: Really? Coo—
Sarah: Mama, how about this sentence: When I get in trouble I get very morose?
Me: Pretty go—
Gabriel: Mama, can I tell you what you get if you sell 100 things?
Sarah: Mama, I'm out of money on my hot lunch account.
Me: I thought we just put money on last—
Gabriel: Mama, today in music we got to put our names on our recorders.
Me: Did you learn any—
Gabriel: Mama, what are cats made of?
Sarah: Mama, don't forget I'm staying after school tomorrow.

At this point, Sacha's bus arrives, relieving me of my whiplash, and inability to complete a sentence.


Pincamayurasana elbow burns: like carpet burn for elbows
Peeling big toe pads: from tucking the toes on the back foot, which sometimes prevents me from getting a pedicure when I sorely need one

24 September 2010

the new routine

I am a midday, as opposed to a morning or a night person. It takes me a while to get going in the morning, and I am happiest when in bed by 10.00.


I like to ease into the morning slowly, in silence, and darkness, which is not entirely compatible with family living. Spouses rise early for work, and young children often wake well before you would like them to. Because David has the peculiar habit of getting readying with the lights on, I have been known to stumble into the brightly lit bathroom like a wounded lemur, covering my eyes and grunting while he shaves and tries to chat me up.

My favorite part of the morning is the 30 minutes I spend alone with a cup of coffee, reading Andrew Sullivan or the newspaper. For years now, I've tried to be downstairs by 6.30 so I have 30 minutes to myself before the children wake. That this only happens one out of five mornings is besides the point; it is the sacred ideal to which I aspire.

Sarah started middle school this year, which begins at an uncivilized 7.50am. Never mind that getting up early is difficult for a child who prefers sleeping until 10, and who tried, admirably but without success, to get in the habit of waking early during the week prior to the start of school. My point is that this new routine has completely upended my morning ritual. Sarah's bus comes at 7.23, and so when I come downstairs she is already in the kitchen preparing her lunch. It is rude not to acknowledge one's children, and so I must say things like, good morning, how did you sleep, and you look very pretty today.

By the time my coffee is ready she is sitting down for breakfast, and I feel boorish retreating to the living room and leaving her to eat alone. And so I join her at the table. But then, there is laundry to do, and a dishwasher to empty, and I wind up sitting for only a few minutes before I am compelled to do some work, periodically stopping for a sip of coffee.

After a week of this, I decided that if David is in the kitchen it would be alright to retreat to the living room. And so I settled in the my chair in the dark living room, triggering the ass sensor, at which point Sacha appeared at the bottom of the stairs, warm, tousled, and smelling of sleep, wearing nothing but his briefs, demanding to snuggle. A mother is powerless to refuse. But instead of abandoning myself to Sacha, I tried to continue to read over one shoulder and drink my coffee over the other. Which is how I wound up reading roughly 150 words in a coffee-dampened robe.

22 September 2010

slinging hash: figs and basil with pomegranate vinaigrette

I am having a love affair with a salad. It began with a dish of sausages and figs in a pomegranate dressing that appealed to me. I bought the figs, made the dressing, grilled sausages. And then I got distracted, and put a few onions and red peppers on the grill; I've never been good at following recipes.

We had sausages and grilled peppers and onions with pomegranate dressing and grilled flat bread for dinner, and as I washed the dishes, I remembered I'd forgotten about the figs.

The next day I sliced the figs and, in a fit of inspiration, arranged them on a plate with some basil leaves, drizzled with some of the leftover dressing, and my new favorite salad was born. I don't know what possessed me to pair basil with the figs. I am an intuitive home cook, not generally prone to  inventing flavor pairings or restaurant flourishes. But the combination of meaty figs, with their gently popping seeds, and the sweet-pungent licorice tinged basil is exactly right; so clean, refreshing, and with the vinaigrette, just the right amount of sour, that I can't get enough of it. I have been eating this for lunch, dinner and anything in between.

I am so entranced by this dish that when I refused to leave the table to help Sacha with his bedtime ablutions, he accused me of being greedy. At the time I found this delightfully absurd, but considering that I ate an entire box of figs in one sitting, he may have had a point. Whatever the case may be, it was worth it.

Figs and basil with pomegranate vinaigrette
Adapted from Bon Appetit

fresh figs
basil leaves
salt and pepper
pomegranate vinaigrette

Pomegranate vinaigrette
Pomegranate molasses is available at Middle Eastern markets, and at Whole Foods. I like the Al-Wadi brand. 

1/4 cup balsamic or white wine or champagne vinegar, or a combination
1/2-3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
1 teaspoon cumin
salt and pepper

Whisk ingredients in a bowl or measuring cup; season with salt and pepper

Arrange figs and basil leaves on individual plates or a platter. Season with salt and a few grinds of pepper, drizzle with vinaigrette.

It looks beautiful on the plate, that I must hurry up and arrange a dinner party soon, before figs are out of season, so I can watch people swoon.

21 September 2010

The package

One afternoon recently I arrived home to find a large maroon box from Gevalia, addressed to one Emelda Sanger, on my doorstep. I marked the package for return, expecting to never see it again.

The next afternoon, the mail arrived, but the box remained. At this point I surmised it had not been delivered by the USPS, and called Gevalia to request they pick it up. That was the first of several errors of reasoning I was to make in my attempt to get the package to its rightful owner.

The first customer service rep I spoke with wasn't much help.

"Hello, and thank you for calling Gevalia! How many I help you?"
"Hi; my name is Pamela Goldsteen. A package from Gevalia was mistakenly delivered to my address."
"Can I have your name?"
"Pamela Goldsteen."
"Thank you Ms. Goldsteen! I don't see any record coming up under that name; can I have your account number?"
"I don't have an account number; I don't have an account. I have a package from you that I did not order."
"Can I have your address?"

I gave her my address, explaining I did not think it would be very helpful as it was the wrong address.

"Then may I have your credit card number, so I can look up your account?"

I considered several responses: fuck, no; hell, no; and, do you have a large sum of money you'd like to transfer to my account, before settling on no, and reminding her that I did not have an account. 

We went on like this for a few rounds, until she grasped the root of the problem. At which point, she suggested that I keep the package.

"Thank you, but I don't want it," I said.
"Then give it to someone!" she responded.
"I don't know anyone who will want it."
"You can donate it to charity?"
"I don't want to give it away; I do not want to be in any way responsible for this package."
"Then throw it away."

Thems fighting words. I suffer from irrational guilt regarding trash. I will never forget the scene at the beginning of Sex, Lies and Videotape when Andie MacDowell speaks to her therapist about her obsessive thoughts about garbage, because I too used to worry far too much about garbage. Since then, I've gained considerable perspective and become an ace recycler. But it pains me to place number six plastics in the trash, and I will carry a empty plastic water bottle around in my purse to recycle at home if no bin is available. Today in Whole Foods I had to restrain myself from offering to take a cardboard package from the woman on line in front of me when she asked the cashier to throw it out.

I am almost as insufferable about clutter as I am about trash. If it were up to me, my children would have no toys, and if I want to disrupt my sleep at night, all I need to do is think about the contents of my garage. And so I was in a bind. I could no sooner put a new, non-biodegradable coffee pot in the trash than I could bring it in my house.   

"You want me to put a brand new coffee maker in the trash?" I asked.
"Yes. If you don't want it, you can throw it away!"replied the customer service rep.
"May I speak to a manager please?"
"Yes! I'll connect you, but my manager is going to say the same thing."

I waited on hold for several minutes, and was disconnected. Perhaps it was an accident, or perhaps that's how Gevalia deals with the crazies.

I called back, undeterred, because now I had a point to prove. Thus began round two, where I was eventually connected to a manager, not before being warned by yet another customer service representative that the manager too would tell me to throw the package away.

Which he predictably did. Their coffee may be mediocre, their business plan questionable, but Gevalia is certainly effective at delivering a consistent message.

And so began a futile pas de deux, in which I attempted to approach from different angles, trying to convince the manager that this was his company's error, and therefore their responsibility to rectify, only to be consistently stonewalled. I suggested Gevalia contact Emelda Sanger, and was told that if she really wanted the package, she would contact them. I asked them to send UPS to pick up the package. The manager said I was welcome to ask my UPS deliveryman to take the package, but he wouldn't send it back to Gevalia. I began to suspect there was a sinister plot afoot to cleave me to this package. 

I knew I was wasting my time, but I couldn't help myself; I was, like a dog with a bone, unable to relent. My lunch went cold, and apparently I left Sacha stranded on the kitchen counter after washing his dirty feet in the sink. I was so absorbed in my debating exercise that Sarah had to tell me that Sacha was calling for me, begging to be let down. The circles became tighter as me and the manager approached our denouement.

Eventually I hung up the phone frustrated. The package remained on my doorstep all weekend, mocking me. In this time, I contemplated various ineffective schemes from the useless to the absurd— writing angry letters, and sending the package back to Gevalia at my own expense—before resigning myself to storing it in the basement until school started, when I would offer it to one of my children's schools.

The package was still sitting there on Monday morning when I took the kids to camp, but when we arrived home, it was gone. I'm certain Gevalia did not retrieve it, so either my mail carrier took pity on me, or more likely, someone stole it. If it was stolen, I know I ought to be upset, but really, I'm very grateful for this act of petty thievery.

10 September 2010

What passes for rational conversation around here these days

Late Friday evening, on a late summer evening. David is out of town. 

Sacha: Mama, will you come upstairs and help me get ready for bed?

Me: No, Sacha. I am going to finish my salad. Sarah and Gabriel are upstairs, and they can help you. 

Sacha: No! Mama! You're being greedy!

Me: No, Sacha, I am not being greedy.

Sacha: Yes you are. Greedy: G-A-T-R-W-X-Y-Z. You're being greedy!

Me: Sacha, greedy does not mean what you think it means. Greedy means —

Sacha: Mama! Just come upstairs right now or you never come up here again! Or, you come upstairs and you can...take a bath. But you should never, ever be greedy; it's very dangerous!