21 October 2010

Heat wars

Here on the east coast we are enjoying a gorgeous, temperate fall. Last year by this time I was deep in the heat game, donning my makeshift burka and doing wind sprints up and down the stairs. But with the exception of a few rainy days earlier in the month, I haven't yet been tempted to turn the heat on.

Sarah disagrees, appearing every morning for breakfast with her shoulders hunched, shivering in her coat. "It's freezing!" she declares, and asks for a cup of tea. I am happy to make tea, but as someone whose hands and nose are perpetually cold, I am categorically certain that it's quite comfortable in the house.

Until this week, the thermostat has read sixty-eight degrees during the day, which is one degree warmer than we keep the house in the winter. When I mentioned this to Sarah, she shivered in disdain, whimpered and wrapped her hands tightly around her hot mug.

And so I was surprised when David mentioned he was contemplating setting the heat to go on from 5-7:30 so it's warm when we come downstairs in the morning. He less susceptible to cold than I, so I knew what he meant by we was Sarah.

Sarah has a flair for high drama, and is very comfortable ordering people around — sometimes I find myself listening to her before remembering that I am the one in charge, and just this week, when I didn't give her a check for a school function as quickly as she wanted, she offered to write it for me to sign. But as her parents, I like to think we are not so readily fooled.

I was momentarily surprised to see how easily snookered David was, until I remembered that when it comes to daughters, a father is reduced to a pat of butter in a hot pan. Mothers, of course, are made of stronger stuff, especially when it comes to their sons.

19 October 2010

Brother can you spare a blue skirt?

Sarah is going to be a rainbow for Halloween this year. Her plan is to layer her clothing in Roy G Biv order, with her outfit unfolding: red headband, orange necklace, yellow shirt, green shirt, blue skirt, indigo and indigo and/or violet leggings. She is mightily into layering as of late. I'm not sure how she plans to handle the legs, but I'm hoping we can strike a compromise with purple.

I asked her to take an inventory of what items she already had, so I could get a handle on what we needed to purchase. Her answer was everything.

I suggested an alternate route; since she already owns orange leggings and yellow shorts, perhaps she could work from the ground up. She disagreed, asserting that the concept will not work if people have to scan bottom to top, because a rainbow is not Vib G Yor, and so she most definitely needs a blue skirt.

At this point I realized her mission is two-fold; not only had she come up with a clever DIY costume that does not require sewing, but had done so in such a way as to maximize the number of new clothing purchases that can continue to be worn well past Halloween. Win-win; I was powerless to disagree. She did throw me a bone by agreeing to wear her grey sneakers.

13 October 2010

Meet the porcelain god

One night last week Sarah complained about the state of our powder room toilet. I couldn't argue with her assessment; I've been busy lately.  While I did scrub the sink recently, I didn't bother with the toilet, and was looking slightly unsavory, with an unappealing dark halo at the waterline.

I decided it was time for Sarah to learn how to clean a toilet. She is extremely competent in every respect; a crack babysitter, she can get Sacha fed, bathed and to bed and still have time to read before we get home. I don't intend for my children to leave this house without knowing how to change a light bulb, or make ice.

And so over the weekend we had a date with the porcelain god, during which I introduced her to the rudiments of scrubbing and swishing. Now, Sarah is ready to host a dinner party, where her guests will be assured a delicious meal, and a sparkling bathroom.

And next time, she will think twice before criticizing my housekeeping skills.

12 October 2010

Crowd surfing optional

This year we went to synagogue for Simchat Torah. I'd never been to this service before, but the class of new Hebrew school students, of which Gabriel is a member, were being consecrated. While I'm not against the idea of going to synagogue, I do find it fairly boring, but on Simchat Torah I had the best time I've ever had in a synagogue.

It was partly due to the joyous nature of the holiday, which celebrates the end of the annual cycle of Torah reading, and culminates in a ceremony where the congregation forms a circle around the children and unfurls the entire Torah scroll. I'd always thought touching the Torah was verboten, but apparently not, at least if this is to be believed.

There was a relatively short service accompanied by a klezmer duo, and many families with small children were present, signifying a behavioral bar set low enough for limbo. During call and response readings, Sacha repeated things, fortissimo, half a beat after the congregation. This included lot of enthusiastic oh yeahs! amens! and much indecipherable ad-libbing. The service culminates with singing and dancing, during which Gabriel and Sacha fought over playing the bongos, and Gabriel spun wildly like a dervish.

Speaking in tongues and ecstatic dancing; perhaps the key to enjoying synagogue is to behave like you're at a tent revival or a rock concert, and let your freak flag fly. Next year's highlights will include pogoing, and slam dancing.

06 October 2010

slinging hash: pesto genovese

No one needs another recipe for pesto, but the basil, if not quite dead, is no longer thriving, and so it is time to pick the plants clean and lay in a stash for winter, or at least the next week. Last weekend I set aside time to do just this, which is incredibly easy now that I no longer use the mortar and pestle.

I love mortar and pestle sets, and find them incredibly useful, and satisfying. I have a small collection of them, including a small one made of virtreous ceramic, and a larger ceramic Japanese mortar with a grooved surface that helps facilitate grinding, but is a bitch to clean. What I really covet is a molcajete, and if I had unlimited counter space, I would leave it out on display because I find it's primitive, sculptural form so attractive. Once I purchased one in the supermarket for a very good price, and immediately set about using it, only to find that whatever I prepared in it was inedible due to the presence of tiny bits of pulverized stone.

For years I swore by the mortar and pestle method of making pesto, believing it yielded a sauce with a true, fresh basil flavor, as opposed to the slightly stale quality of dried basil, on the theory that bruising, as opposed to chopping the leaves preserves the plant's volatile oils. This is also why most recipes instruct for basil to be cut in a chiffonade, as opposed to finely chopped, like parsley.

It was time consuming, and a bit of a pain in the ass, to make pesto by hand, but also fun to do with the kids — pounding things is extremely therapeutic at any age. When she was small, Sarah used to ask for a turn marching the basil.

A few years ago I read Laura Schenone's lovely The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken, and although I probably shouldn't have been, I was surprised to read a description of Enrichetta, a Genoese woman who made pesto in a blender. Her secrets included working quickly, and adding a bit of water to the blender to give the sauce a smooth, creamy texture.

As Enrichetta's son Sergio says, "Better to make good pesto in a blender than bad pesto in a mortar." This seemed like eminently sensible advice, for pesto, or for life. And so I put away my mortar in favor of the food processor. I was getting tired of all that pounding anyway, and of the kids picking strands of basil they deemed insufficiently pulverized off their pasta.

And now, while making pesto is no longer an event, it is every bit as satisfying and delicious. 

Pesto Genovese

You can use either a blender or a food processor for this. Depending on the size of your machine, you may want to make this in two batches to ensure you can work quickly, without clogging the machine.

Because I make this is large batches, and keep the sauce in a jar in the refrigerator covered with a layer of olive oil, I don't add the parmesan until I toss the pesto with pasta. If you are going to serve all the pesto immediately you can add the cheese after the basil. Made without the cheese, pesto keeps for a while in the refrigerator covered in a layer of oil, or can be frozen for longer periods. 

1/2 cup pignoli
generous pinch salt
1 fat garlic clove
olive oil
3-4 fistfuls basil leaves, about 4 cups

parmigiano-reggiano for serving

Put the pignoli, salt, garlic and a tablespoon or two of oil in the blender or food processor. Grind well, and scrape down the bowl.

Add the basil in two batches, scraping down the sides of the container as necessary, adding a little water at this time. If serving immediately over pasta, add parmigiano-reggiano and process well.