It’s a Dog’s Life

The Dog has been a wreck!  The pack has been entirely unruly – coming and going, missing members, separate houses.  Poor Dog can’t keep track, tried to chew his way through a door to follow Daughter 1.0 one evening.  I can totally relate!
For five weeks our house was full.  My Little Sister arrived from Baltimore on January 4 and stayed with us until her house (our other house, the one down the street that we are calling the Beach House) was ready for her to move into (tenants out, painting done, kitchen and bathrooms scrubbed clean of chicken grease and nicotine).  While she stayed with us she roomed with Daughter 2.0, sleeping on a twin blowup mattress.  This suited the Dog just fine; he loves my Little Sister, and Daughter 2.0’s room.  He could rest easy.
And then Daughter 2.0 went to Laos.  Yes, Laos, to the tiny village of Ban NongKhuay (don’t try to find it on GoogleMaps, it’s not there – close to Luang Prabang) to work on building an eco-bungalow.  The Dog has a special place in his heart for Daughter 2.0.  She lets him sleep on her bed.  He always sinks into a bit of mourning when she is away.  Good thing for him he doesn’t understand the concept of distance.  It is disconcerting to send your not quite 16 year old daughter half way round the world.  To take that little piece of yourself that is her and watch it walk through security at the international terminal.  As I write this she is on her way home, hurtling through the thin air high above the vast Pacific (don’t think about it too much).
I had one communication from her when she was “in country.”  I woke to a text message Wednesday when they were back in urban Luang Prabang saying that she thought she had strep.  The teacher chaperone had looked and seen the telltale white patches on her throat.  7500 miles away and my baby is sick.  After a quick internet search and a text exchange with our friend the doctor, I texted back that she should take the Azithromycin that she had with her.  It would kill whatever was ailing her.  So will being home, which she will be, in about 8 hours (who’s counting?).
So Daughter 2.0 disappeared on the Dog, followed soon after by my Little Sister packing up and moving a block away.  To the Dog, one block and 7500 miles are the same.  Gone is gone, and he doesn’t like it.  He should be grateful his English is limited because talk in the house is shifting to where Daughter 1.0 will end up in the Fall.  She heard from her top choice school yesterday that she was accepted!  Now I knew that she was going away to college.  I knew because she did not apply to any colleges within 500 miles.  And she had already gotten into a few schools, one as far away as Miami, Florida (the moon!), but somehow getting into her top choice college makes it all the more real.  She is going away to college!  The pack is splitting up, my pack, the one my Husband and I made.  I’m as anxious and distracted as the Dog, trying to keep track of them, knowing I can’t.
You think this time in your life will be so long, this time when you are a mother and your kids are at home.  People will tell you it goes by fast, older people, people with adult children, and you nod and agree but somehow you don’t quite believe it, until they are going and gone, and suddenly you can’t breathe because you’ve misplaced the baby and toddler, the ones with the lisp and giggle and drool on the chin.
The pack will be back intact tonight and will stay that way, more or less, for the next 6 months.  I don’t think there is anyway to prepare the Dog for the next transition.  Poor Dog!

Grilled Swordfish with Red Peppers and Onions

Four swordfish steaks
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Lemon olive oil
Smoked paprika
4 small red bell peppers, cored and sliced
One white onion, peeled and sliced
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
Piment d’Espelette

Rub the swordfish with olive oil and sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper.  Preheat the grill to medium high.
Put a generous amount of olive oil into a large sauté pan and heat over medium high heat.  Add the onions and peppers and cook, stirring, until the vegetables begin to caramelize a little, about 10 minutes.  Add the vinegar to the pan and allow to boil almost all the way away, stirring and scrapping the brown bits on the pan.  Add Piment d’Espelette to taste.
Grill the swordfish about 3 – 4 minutes per side.  Sprinkle the cooked fish with the paprika and drizzle with the lemon olive oil and serve topped with the peppers and onions.

We served this with good crusty bread and sautéed broccoli rabe.

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Try Caviar, Please!

It’s Sunday afternoon.  No football.  Everyone’s home and we are all together.  I am going away Monday night, for one night, to Sacramento, for a fundraiser.  I’m staying at the Holiday Inn.  I will be out of the city and away from my family for less than 24 hours (19 hours to be exact).  “What’s your plan for our dinner tomorrow?” my Husband asks.
“I won’t be here so I hadn’t planned a dinner,” I say.  “Maybe you could pick something up on the way home?”
“I get Daughter 2.0 late tomorrow, I don’t want to stop on the way home,” he grumbles.
“Ok, maybe you could order something?  TryCaviar?”  Caviar (we call it TryCaviar, that’s the URL) is an amazing service!  Check it out.
“Can you do it now?” he asks.  Yup!  No problem!  I open the website on my iPad.  “Ok, guys,” I say to the girls, “what do you want for dinner tomorrow?”
“I don’t want TryCaviar,” Daughter 1.0 says.
“You have a car, you can pick up something for yourself on the way home from school,” I suggest.
“I don’t want to,” she whines.  “I guess TryCaviar is ok.  I want pizza, Tommaso’s”
“I hate Tommaso’s!” Daughter 2.0 pipes in.  I’m scrolling through the restaurant choices for Monday night, no Tommaso’s.
“No Tommaso’s tomorrow anyway.  How about pizza from somewhere else?”
“I don’t want pizza,” Daughter 1.0 says.
“But you just said …”
“I only want Tommaso’s”
I sigh and continue to scroll through the choices.  “What about Blue Plate?”
“Where?” Daughter 1.0 asks.
“We’ve eaten there, the place on Valencia, with the good macaroni and cheese?” the Boyfriend offers.
“Oh yeah, I liked it,” Daughter 1.0 says.
“I love macaroni and cheese,” Daughter 2.0 says.
“Great,” I say and start loading the online cart.  “They have fried chicken,” I say to Daughter 2.0.
“Yum!” she says.
“Do you want a side of mac and cheese and a salad?” I ask Daughter 1.0.
“I don’t want Blue Plate,” she says.
“But you just said you liked it.”
“Yeah, but I don’t want it.”
“I don’t want it either,” my Husband says.
I glare at him.  “I don’t know why this is my problem,” I say.  “When was the last time you went out of town and I asked you to arrange our dinner?”
“Never, but I make sure to deposit my pay check into the bank.”
This is an old button, a tender nerve that gets pushed and poked every once in a while.  I have not earned a paycheck since 1996, the year Daughter 1.0 was born.  Well, there was that $1000 I earned for “modeling” in a print IBM ad; and those 5 minutes when I thought I could be a realtor.  I got my license and started practicing in the fall of 2007.  Don’t blame me for subprime mortgage meltdown or the bottom falling out of the real estate market; I swear it wasn’t my fault.  I did manage to make two (small) commissions as a realtor before my manager told me they were going to have to let me go.  I was fired from a job that didn’t even pay me!  Turns out I’m not a very good salesperson.
When my Husband and I moved to San Francisco with our 3 week old baby, we both assumed I would go back to work.  I had always earned money.  I babysat from the age of 11 (different times) for $1.00 an hour.  I got my first official, tax-withheld job as soon as the law would allow (age 13) scooping ice cream at Brigham’s.  I temped summers through college and worked as a babysitter and bartender during the school year.  When my Husband and I got married, I worked while he went to law school.  I paid my own way (and my Husband’s), until I became a mom, and my Husband got his first lawyer gig.
For years my Husband would ask when I was planning to go back to work.  When would I find a high paying job, one that wouldn’t interfere with my ability to manage the household and care for the children or impact his life too much?  When?  I know it’s hard to be the sole breadwinner for a family of 4, I do.  It’s stressful.  But my Husband is one of the lucky ones who is very good at his job, and he really likes it, and it pays very well.  It pays more than the combined income of most two working-parent families we know.  I happen to be really good at my job too, and I really like it, but the pay sucks.
Before I say something I might regret I leave the kitchen.  I call the dog and take him for a walk in the park.  In my mind I run through my frequent fantasy, the one where I take the kids and move to some small town (New Mexico?) and get a job (waiting tables?) and we live in a one bedroom apartment and shop at the Goodwill and eat red beans and rice but are happy, because I would once again be paying my own way and teaching the girls the value of the dollar.  I could do it, I can live on very little, I have in the past, I could do it again.  It would be honest.
When I get home my Husband apologizes.  He’ll sort out dinner, don’t worry.  I didn’t worry, and I tried not to feel guilty.  I did get a call from my Husband the next evening.  He needed the TryCaviar account password.

Souvlaki Pork or Chicken with Pizzeria Greek Salad, Tzatziki and Pita Bread

3 halves boneless skinless chicken breasts or 1 pork tenderloin
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoons fresh oregano chopped or 1 tablespoon dried
1 tablespoon fresh thyme chopped or 1 teaspoon dried
3 cloves of peeled and chopped garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and black pepper

Cut the chicken or pork into cubes that can be skewered.  Whisk together the remaining ingredients and toss with the cut meat.  Allow to marinate in the refrigerator for a hour.  In the meantime make the tzatziki and salad:

1 1/2 cups whole milk greek yogurt
1 cucumber
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon fresh mint chopped
Salt and black pepper to taste

Peel the cucumber and slice in half the long way.  Using a spoon, scrape out the seeds and discard.  Slice the cucumber into thin half moons.  Put the cucumber in a bowl and sprinkle with salt.  Peel the garlic cloves and grate them over the cucumber.  Add the mint to the bowl along with the yogurt and stir to combine.  Taste and correct for salt and pepper.  Place the tzatziki in the refrigerator until ready to use.

For the salad dressing:

1/3 cup and teaspoons olive oil
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
1 tablespoon mayonaise
1/3 cup red wine vinegar

Combine all of the ingredients into a glass jar with a cover.  Cover and shake hard to mix.  Toss the following ingredients together in a large salad bowl:

1-2 heads of romaine lettuce, washed with outer leaves discarded, chopped
One large cucumber, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
One pint cherry tomatoes halved
1/4 cup (or more) sliced pepperoncini
Half a red onion peeled and thinly sliced
1/4 cup (or more) pitted kalamata olives chopped
1 cup crumbled feta cheese

Add the dressing to taste and toss again.

Remove the pork or chicken from the fridge and bring to room temperature.  Preheat a grill to high or preheat the broiler in your oven.

Peel two red onions and cut in half length wise.  Cut each half into quarters.  Thread the meat chunks onto a skewer alternating with the wedges of red onion.  Grill the skewers for about 15 minutes, turning frequently, until the meat is done.  Remove from the heat and squeeze a lemon over them.

Serve the skewers with the tzatziki, salad and pita bread.  We like to make pita pocket sandwiches.

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The Story of Us

It’s been more than a month.  A month that included carols and trees and cards and food and champagne and presents and wrapping and travel and family and friends and general good cheer.  Followed by two weeks of the Bon Appétit Food Lover’s Cleanse.  Happy 2015!  I’m back …
I love the holiday season.  I love decorating the house and baking cookies and listening to Christmas carols (I have 10 hours and 50 minutes worth of merry tunes on my Christmas play list).  There was that year I cancelled Christmas.  That was the year my Daughters began Christmas wish lists in September and started to get upset thinking about what they might not find under the tree.  That’s not the spirit of Christmas!  Come on girls, don’t I read the Grinch over and over every year?  Haven’t you learned the lesson that “What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store”?  Don’t expect much under the tree, I told the girls.  You have everything you could possibly want and need anyway.  And then I told them about my childhood of meager possessions and how Christmas was so special because it was the one time of year (save our birthdays) when we got stuff.  And we didn’t get a ton, just one “big” present that was left unwrapped under the tree and maybe a book.  (Ok, I exaggerated a little, but I was trying to make a point).  I’ll show them the true meaning of Christmas, I thought, and signed us up to help serve dinner to the homeless at St. Anthony’s Dining Room on Christmas Day.  It was a strange and, I thought, wonderful experience.  And maybe a little scary for my 8 and 11 year old Daughters.  We followed that year up with annual Christmas Day visits to shut-in seniors through a program at Little Brothers.  This was a little more to the girls’ liking.
Traditionally we host some (not all) of the holiday dinners.  For years we traded hosting Thanksgiving with good family friends, dividing the cooking work load.  As my Daughters got older, and proximity to their bedrooms and stuff got ever more important, we became the default host house, but the cooking has always been a joint effort.  Our numbers at dinner can range from 12 to 24, friends and family.  We have oysters and champagne in the backyard, traditional Thanksgiving feast served buffet style with plenty of good wine, all nine kinds of pie Harold likes best with port and Sauternes.  We insist folks Uber, Lyft or cab it.
We used to host Christmas Eve dinner and then went to friends’ for Christmas Day, the same friends with whom we share Thanksgiving.  This was the perfect set up for us.  My Husband would plan an elaborate, indulgent, multi-course, sit down dinner; Daughter 1.0 and I would make a bûche de Nöel; everyone got Christmas pjs (adults too) and changed before heading home; my Husband and I would stay up to the wee small hours after the girls were in bed, cleaning the kitchen and fulfilling our Santa duties (sorry girls, it really was us eating the cookies and carrots and drinking the milk for all those years).  On Christmas Day after the madness of opening presents, we took our bleary-eyed selves to our friends’ for prime rib and Yorkshire pudding.  Perfect!  Merry Christmas to all!
Three years ago, independently, both families made plans to be away for Christmas.  They went to New York, we went to Maui.  And while I love Maui, (who wouldn’t?) where the hardest decision of the day is whether to have our beach chairs set up in the corner by the rocks or right in the center of the beach and whether 11:00 am is too early for a Mai Tai (no!), I missed being home for Christmas.  But our friends really like being in New York.
My Husband put his foot down – he would not cook both Christmas Eve and Christmas day dinner (not to mention Thanksgiving!).  Last year we went to friends for Thanksgiving, went out to dinner Christmas Eve and my Husband cooked (pork roast) for Christmas dinner.  And while Thanksgiving was incredible at our friends’ house, and the restaurant meal was superb, I missed having the dinners in our home.  My Husband didn’t.  He seemed to be relieved not to cook.  And this made me sad.  You see, cooking for people has always been a part of who we are.  It’s the story we tell of us.  We feed people – in college, in law school, in our grown up life.  And my Husband is a cook.  I fell in love with him for his killer Caesar salad and because when I had to have my tonsils out in college, within months of meeting him, he fed me (soft food).  Cooking and feeding feel synonymous with love.
This year, somehow (oops!), we ended up hosting all three holiday meals.  And yes, it was a tremendous amount of work, but it made me happy.  And I would argue that it made my Husband happy too.  I could see it watching him shuck oysters and fuss over his barbecue turkey.  I could see it when he went to the cellar and brought up a bottle of beautiful Sine Qua Non wine.  I could see it when he artfully plated his perfectly cooked Christmas Day quails.
I promised my Husband I wouldn’t make him host all three dinners again, but I have 10 months to work on him.

One way I convinced my Husband to host Christmas Eve dinner, in addition to Christmas Day, was to assure him that I would make it, and that it would be easy and casual.  My Husband’s sole responsibility was to pick up the focaccia bread from Liguria Bakery (turns out the line was 3 hours long, so he did worked for it, but if you have ever had Liguria’s focaccia, you know it’s worth it!).

Christmas Eve Lasagne Two Ways (red and green)

For both lasagnes, I used fresh pasta sheets (store bought).  I rolled the sheets in a pasta maker to make them extra thin.

For the red:

One package of fresh pasta sheets
Freshly grated reggiano parmigiano cheese

One batch of Bolognese (we often double or triple the recipe and freeze it):
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
Small yellow onion, chopped into small dice
2 celery ribs, chopped into small dice
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped into small dice
1/3 pound ground chuck
1/3 pound ground pork
1/3 pound ground veal
1 cup whole milk
Whole nutmeg
1 cup dry white wine
1 28 ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes, drained

Put the oil, butter and onion in a large pot over medium heat.  Cook until the onion is translucent, stirring occasionally.  Add the celery and carrots, cook for about 2 minutes, stirring the vegetables.
Add the ground meats to the pot with a large pinch of kosher salt and a few grindings of black pepper.  Crumble the meat with the back of a wooden spoon and cook until it has lost its raw color.
Add the milk to the pot and adjust the temperature to a gentle simmer.  Simmer until all of the liquid has bubbled away.  Add a tiny grating of fresh nutmeg and stir the pot.  Add the wine and simmer until all of it has evaporated, stirring occasionally.
Add the tomatoes, crushing them in your hand as you add them to the pot.  Stir well to combine all the ingredients.  When the sauce begins to bubble, turn the heat down as low as possible and simmer very very gently for 3 hours.  Add water (1/2 at a time) if the sauce appears to be drying out.  Taste and correct for salt.

Béchamel Sauce:
3 cups whole milk
6 tablespoons butter
4 1/2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Heat the milk just to the verge of boiling.  In a separate pan, melt the butter over medium low heat.  Add the flour and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes.  Slowly add the warm milk to the flour/butter mixture (the roux).  Add the salt and stir until the sauce is the texture of heavy cream.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Smear the bottom of a lasagne pan with butter and spoon in some béchamel sauce to coat the bottom.  Line the bottom with a single layer of the pasta
Combine the bolognese sauce with béchamel sauce.  Spread a layer on the pasta.  Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.  Add another layer of the pasta and repeat, layering, until all of the pasta and sauce are gone.  Finish with a thin layer of sauce on the top layer and sprinkle with cheese.  Dot the top with butter.
Bake in the top rack of the oven for 10 to 15 minutes.

For the green:

One package of fresh pasta sheets
Freshly grated reggiano parmigiano cheese

Pesto with Ricotta:
2 parts basil leaves to 1 part Italian parsley for a total of about 2 cups, loosely packed
1 – 2 cloves of garlic peeled
3 Tbsp pine nuts
1/3 a cup or so of freshly grated reggiano parmigiano cheese
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup good olive oil

3 tablespoons of butter at room temperature
1/2 pint of fresh ricotta cheese

I make my pesto in a food processor.  If you use a blender be sure to put the oil in first followed by everything else.
  Put all the ingredients except the oil in the bowl of a food processor.  Process for a few seconds then add the oil through the food tube and continue to process until all the oil is incorporated.  Scrape the pesto into a bowl and blend in the butter and the ricotta.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Thickly smear the bottom of a lasagne pan with butter.  Line the bottom with a single layer of pasta.  Spread a thin layer of the ricotta pesto on the pasta and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.  Add another layer of pasta and repeat the process, layering until all of the pasta and sauce are gone.  Finish with a thin layer of pesto and sprinkle with cheese.  Dot with butter.
Bake in the top rack of the oven for 10 to 15 minutes.

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Goodbye Allegra

Just a quick post today, no recipe.  May I suggest take out for dinner?

We said goodbye to our cat Allegra last week.  We had had her for nearly fourteen years.  I remember going with my Husband and our Daughters to Pets Unlimited to find our kitten.  We had hoped for a tiny, brand new baby kitten, one tiny kitten.  We came home with two seven month old litter mates.  They were not brand new or tiny, but when one of them was a silver tabby Daughter 1.0 didn’t complain.  She was 4 years old, nearly five, and loved a Magic Charms book called The Cat Next Door which featured a silver tabby named Clover (and a silver charm necklace in the shape of a cat; what joy!).  The big kittens were already named – Sticky Mango and Satay.  We weren’t all that fond of those names and told Daughter 1.0 that she could name one of the cats. She panicked, maybe with the responsibility, and couldn’t remember the name Clover.  She reached for the name of a character in a book and came up with Charlotte (the famous spider).  My Husband and I named the other kitten (Daughter 2.0 had only just turned 2) and landed on the name Allegra after a cat we had cared for briefly just after college.  The original Allegra was Siamese and this new Allegra had Siamese in her.
Allegra was a noisy girl.  She loved my Husband best.  She would climb into his lap whenever she could, purring, crumpling papers or sitting on his laptop.  She would roll around on his dirty clothes (when he didn’t remember to put them in the hamper which was often) exposing her tummy and acting entirely undignified.  She loved her sister Charlotte.  Charlotte was quiet and tolerant and a terrific hunter (the perfect cat in my opinion).  She allowed the girls to pick her up and move her around.  I always thought of the book Olivia by Ian Falconer – In the morning, after Olivia gets up, and moves the cat… and brushes her teeth, and combs her ears, ….and moves the cat.  Allegra was less tolerant, would sometimes snap at the girls when she was annoyed by the manhandling.
Charlotte died a little over two years ago from cancer.  I liked Allegra more after Charlotte was gone.  Allegra was a very good cat.  She had suffered by comparison to the most excellent cat that was Charlotte.  We got a kitten, Charlie, six months after Charlotte died.  I thought it might be too much for our old lady cat Allegra, but it was the best thing that ever happened to her.  She had a Cocoon-like response to Charlie, playing like a kitten herself.
Allegra’s decline was quick.  On Monday she had little interest in eating; by Wednesday night she had trouble breathing.  Our kind and gentle Vet on Wheels, Dr. Bolivar, came on the day of the #hellastorm (yes, they cancelled school for rain!).  My Daughters were here with me, and the Boyfriend.  Dr. Bolivar ran through the possible causes for Allegra’s sudden decline and the possible treatments.  Her prognosis wasn’t good, any treatment would involve a trip to the animal hospital.  In the best of times, Allegra was terrified to travel to the vet’s.  It distressed her so much that she would pee on herself in the carrier.  We thought that putting Allegra through that kind of ordeal would be cruel, especially at her age, and decided to let her go.  We cried and Dr. Bolivar said a prayer and quietly she was gone.
As I write this, Charlie is sitting next to me in the spot where Allegra always sat, on top of the cable box.  Maybe he’s missing her.  Or maybe he just likes the warmth of the cable box under him, like she did.


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Just Parents.

My Husband and I got away last weekend.  Well, not the whole weekend (that would be outrageous!) but we escaped across the Golden Gate Bridge and spent one glorious night at Cavallo Point.  We were once better at weekend escapes.  When the girls were younger we would swap kids with our friends who had daughters the same age.  It was a win-win as they say.  Sleep over fun for the girls!  Sleep over fun for the parents!  And no matter how hard your weekend with the kids might prove to be (and it was never that hard – turns out having more kids around made things easier) we could handle it knowing our turn was coming.  It was the best thing EVER.  The other mom and I would routinely pat ourselves on the back at the sheer genius of our trade plan.  Our other friends were rightly jealous; our kids looked forward to the swap.
And then the kids turn 15, 16, 17, 18, and don’t feel like they need to have someone “watch” them when we go away.  They want to stay home alone (don’t you trust me?).  And you want to (trust them), but somehow the weekends away become less frequent.  Because, well, you do trust them (sort of), but you worry.  Because there was that time you were away and you got the crying phone call from Daughter 2.0 and before you have the chance to understand what she is saying Daughter 1.0 pings in on the call waiting yelling at you about how her sister is overreacting – I only asked her to put lotion on my back, and why is she so weirded out by naked bodies, and so I had to kick her in the stomach – and you find out later that week that when Daughter 2.0 texted you (and the mom down the hill who you asked to keep an eye on the girls) that she was home safe and sound in bed, going to sleep, that really she was out at a party with a bunch of kids you (and she) don’t even know.  You run a cost benefit analysis and decide going away might not be worth it.
It’s something like when your kids are little and you have a standing babysitter for date night.  We had this and I would say it is the single most important piece of parenting advice I could give.  Get a babysitter!  Get out of the house, at least one evening a week, with your partner!  Even if your date consists of sitting in the car drinking coffee until you know it’s safe to go home, i.e. the kids are asleep, don’t skip date night.  It may be the only way to finish a conversation with your spouse.  When Daughter 1.0 turned 12, old enough to “babysit” her little sister, we stopped hiring a sitter for date night, and we stopped having date night.  You would think not having to pay for a sitter would make us go out more, but we went out less.
I think I’m lucky because I like my Husband.  He is the person I want to spend my free time with.  Even when, on our night away last weekend, he whispered in my ear at 7:00 in the morning, asking if I’m ready for coffee.  7:00 in the morning!  When we are away from the kids and the animals and could sleep late, like, I don’t know, until 8:00?  But he didn’t want me to miss the 8:00 yoga class.  I hate yoga!  But that’s another story.  We’ve done a fairly good job over the years of protecting our relationship, safeguarding it against those nasty (wonderful) creatures we decided to create (our Daughters).  Those Daughters are fast becoming independent adults who will move out (God willing) and have nasty (wonderful) creatures of their own one day (not too soon) and the person I will be left with is my Husband.  I was thinking recently about how I remember our lives before children (fondly).  To me it feels like a long expanse of time when we did so much and experienced so many things.  In reality it was only about six years.  We have been parents for over 18.  But I think that my perception of what a long and rich time that was bodes well for how my Husband and I will transition into empty nesters.
Aside – I don’t like that term empty nest, because, really, our nest won’t be empty.  We’ll still be here, feathering it.  Even if we are relegated to the category of “just parents”, something I once overheard a 20 something women say to her friend when talking through a career change and how her dad might object.  Remember, they’re just parents.

Grilled Steak with Calçot Onions

I bought a boneless rib eye and a boneless New York strip steak which we sliced and shared.


About a half hour before cooking take the steaks out of the refrigerator to bring them up to room temperature.  Sprinkled them on both sides with salt and pepper.  Rub the onions with olive oil.
Heat a gas grill to high.  Drizzle the steaks with olive oil.  Put the steaks and onions on the grill.  Cook the steaks about 4 – 5 minutes, then flip and cook the other side another 3-4 minutes for medium rare (135 degrees).  Cook the onions, turning periodically, until well charred.
Remove the meat and onions form the grill and allow to rest for about 5 minutes before serving.

Cauliflower Gratin (a modified Thomas Keller recipe, because, let’s face it, no one can cook like Thomas Keller can!)


One head of Cauliflower
White vinegar
3 tablespoons of butter
About 1/2 cup shallots chopped fine
Sprig of fresh thyme
Sprig of fresh Italian parsley
One bay leaf
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and black pepper to taste
1/2 grated Emmentalier cheese
2 tablespoons panko bread crumbs
2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese

Trim the green outer leaves from the cauliflower.  Cut the florets away from the stems.  Cut the florets into small pieces, about an inch each.  Take the core of the cauliflower and slice off the tough outer skin.  Put the tender part of the core and the stems into a food processor and process until pureed.
Bring a large sauce pan of water to the boil.  Add salt and a teaspoon of vinegar to the water.  Blanche the cauliflower florets in the boiling water for about 2 minutes.  Drain and put into a bowl and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Put the butter into the sauce pan and add the shallots.  Saute over medium low heat for about 5 minutes.  Add the cauliflower puree (the stems and core) to the shallots along with 1/2 cup of water and the fresh herbs (bay leaf, parsley and thyme).  Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 5 minutes to cook the cauliflower.  Add the cream and cook at a simmer for 3 more minutes.  Remove the herbs from the cream and disgard.  (Mr. Keller now blends this cream in a blender until smooth because he likes to use every appliance in the kitchen I think.  I’ve blended it, but I’ve also skipped this step and just left it a little chunky)  Toss the cauliflower florets with the cream.  Dump the cauliflower into a small casserole dish topping it with the bread crumbs and two cheeses.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Bake the cauliflower in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes until it is well browned on top and bubbling.

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I hate it when you sing! (The extended dance remix)

Yesterday was my Husband’s birthday.  Sometimes the pressure of making one day special for someone else can be too much, especially for children.  After years of tears and unmet expectations and general misery I had to call a moratorium on Mother’s Day.  My yearly request to have my gift be a day free of strife proved too much to ask.  I know my children love me, I don’t need a Hallmark holiday where my girls turn themselves inside out trying to outdo each other in the showering of affection.  Birthdays are generally a little easier, but yesterday, well, not so much.
I started the day on the wrong foot.  I forgot it was my Husband’s birthday.  I lay in bed and grumbled about not wanting to get up after the alarm went off.  My Husband got out of bed first and stumbled to the garage to feed the yowling cats.  I followed not long after and flipped on the coffee maker and started to feed the dog before I remembered about the birthday.  “Happy birthday!  I forgot.”  Not the best beginning.  When I woke the girls I whispered “Don’t forget it’s your dad’s birthday.  I did.”
The day got better.  I met my Husband downtown for a long birthday lunch.  He had requested crab pasta for dinner and a Meyer lemon tart, nothing too hard.  I had made the tart dough the day before, there was a beautiful bottle of Sine Qua Non white (cult wine!) in the cellar, dinner would be easy to put together.  Things were looking up.  I did feel a tad guilty about having no present, but, like me, my Husband doesn’t want for much.  And nothing special had occurred to me, so I didn’t buy something just for the sake of buying something.  Besides, when asked what he wanted for his birthday, his response was “To pay for Daughter 1.0’s college.”  Good gift.
So, by 5:15 the girls and I were home from school.  Daughter 2.0 disappeared into her bedroom to work on homework.  Daughter 1.0 didn’t have any homework to complete for the next day and didn’t feel like working on any of her long term school projects.  This is a new attitude for Daughter 1.0.  She usually works days, if not weeks, ahead of deadlines, mapping out her work schedule with a precision that would make a Marine blanch.  Example – she completed and submitted all of her college applications (17 of them!) before sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner (a self imposed deadline).  I think her new laissez-faire attitude is healthy.
I assumed (hoped) that because Daughter 1.0 wasn’t planning on doing any homework she would help me get dinner ready.  I didn’t, of course, say this out loud.  So much better to have her prove her love for me by reading my mind, right?  Daughter 1.0 was tired so she didn’t stay in the kitchen to help or even keep me company.  She went to her room to nap.  “You won’t keep me company?” I asked.  “I’m tired,” she said, closing her bedroom door.  Me too.  Sigh!
I pulled dinner together.  The lemon curd took forever to thicken and I almost burned out the motor on my immersion blender adding the butter, but it tasted fine.  And I cut my hand cracking the crab and the dishes piled up in the sink, but everything was ready when the birthday boy arrived home.
Dinner started out fine.  I thought the crab pasta was a little bland (I didn’t add any hot pepper) but finished it with lemon olive oil which helped.  Somehow the topic of Colin Kaepernick (our 49ers quarterback) came up, I think because my Husband has him on his fantasy football team.  We bemoaned his lackluster season so far and Daughter 2.0 pointed out that it wasn’t really his fault, he has no offensive line to speak of.  (This was an unusal comment for Daughter 2.0.  It’s Daughter 1.0 who is the sports fan.  Daughter 2.0 claims to hate football.  And maybe this is what starts to set Daughter 1.0 off.  Daughter 2.0 is trespassing on her territory.)  “He certainly doesn’t have all kinds of time,” I said, which led, naturally, to the singing of the Fountains of Wayne song by Daughter 2.0, my Husband and me.  This is when things began to go sideways.
“Stop singing,” Daughter 1.0 said.  “You know I hate it when you sing.”
“Why does your hate of something trump our love of something?” I asked.  There was some back and forth, some nasty comments.  We all agreed to stop singing and stop talking about it for the sake of the birthday dinner.  Daughter 2.0 sat with her arms folded, jaw set.  I got up from the table and began to work on the mountain of dishes, a passive aggressive move according to Daughter 1.0.  Maybe (probably) she was right.  I would usually leave the dishes for later.
Perhaps you know how these things go, how one small comment can lead to another and then there are hurt feelings and anger.  I can’t remember how everything escalated, but eventually Daughter 1.0 announced that she didn’t want any dessert (“I spent hours on that thing, but fine, don’t have any!”  That’s me, definitely passive aggressive) and retreated to her room in tears.  I stormed downstairs, slamming doors for good measure.  I thought maybe I’d just get in the car and drive away, then remembered I had had wine with dinner and realized driving was probably not the best idea.  I got the dog’s leash and called him to go to the park.
The dog’s night potty run to the park is generally my Husband’s job.  I clean the kitchen.  (I think he gets the better end of the bargain).  I marched up to the park with the dog, who looked concerned.  It is totally true; animals can read emotions.  I’m usually a little bit scared walking the dog in the park after dark, but not last night.   “Don’t fuck with me,” I muttered under my breath, to no one.  The dog stopped short at the edge of the park, nose in the air.  It was probably a coyote (we have urban wild life – coyotes, foxes, hawks, maybe even lions and bears, you never know).  I felt certain I could take a coyote in my state of mind, but decided not to traumatize the dog.  We stayed on the edge of the park.
When I arrived home, Daughter 1.0 was attempting to leave, car keys in hand, and my Husband was attempting to stop her.  I barred the front gate.  “You had wine, you can’t drive,” I kept repeating.  We had given her a glass with dinner.  “I have to get out of here!” she kept repeating.  Finally she said, “I’ll just sit in the car, I won’t drive.  I just have to get out of here!”  The dog cowered in between us.  Poor dog!  “Ok,” I said, “I’m going to trust you not to drive.”  I let her leave the house.  My Husband and I kept watch out the front window.  She merely sat in the car.
Later she left, but she didn’t drive.  She called an Uber and went to the Boyfriend’s house, breaking the rule of never on a school night, which seemed oddly important last night, but today, not so much.  I’m tired of fighting.  Something shifts with children, I think, when they are getting ready to leave us.  There is an inevitable distancing on both sides.  Maybe Daughter 1.0 needs to hate me a little bit to be able to go away.  When I told my Husband last night that I was upset about the breaking of the school night rule, he said it didn’t really bother him.  He’s ready for her to move out, move on.  It’s time, and he thinks she’s ready.  I’m just not entirely sure I am.

Birthday Dinner – It’s Dungeness crab season in Northern California!  Something we look forward to all year.

Spaghetti with Dungeness Crab

The meat from two cooked Dungeness crab (I buy them fresh cooked from the fish market and crack them at home)
Lots of minced shallots (about 1/2 – 3/4 of a cup)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter divided
Zest of two lemons
Red chili flakes to taste
Chopped parsley
1 pound spaghetti

This sauce is made while the pasta is boiling.
Boil the spaghetti in highly salted water for one minute less than package instructions.  While the pasta is cooking, melt two tablespoons of butter in a saute pan large enough to hold the pasta.  Add the shallots, lemon zest and red chili flakes and cook over medium heat until the shallots are soft.  Before draining the pasta, scoop out one cup of the pasta water.  Add 1/2 cup of the pasta water to the pan with the shallots and bring to a boil.  Add the pasta and remaining two tablespoons of butter to the pan and toss, adding more pasta water if it gets too dry.  After about a minute the pasta should be al dente.  Add the cooked crab meat and fold into the pasta, careful not to break up the lumps of meat too much.  Turn off the heat.  (You don’t want to cook the crab meat, just heat it a bit).  Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Cacio e Pepe

Daughter 2.0 doesn’t like crab, so I made this quick pasta for her.

3 tablespoons butter divided
Lots of freshly cracked black pepper
1 cup freshly grated Reggiano parmesan cheese
1/2 pound spaghetti

Again, this sauce is made while the pasta is boiling.
Boil the spaghetti in highly salted water for one minute less than package instructions.  While the pasta is cooking, melt two tablespoons of butter over medium heat in a saute pan large enough to hold the pasta.  Add the black pepper and cook, swirling the pan, for about a minute.  Before draining the pasta, scoop out one cup of the pasta water.  Add 1/2 cup of the pasta water to the pan with the butter and bring to a boil.  Add the pasta to the pan along with the remaining tablespoon of butter and the parmesan cheese.  Toss to combine, adding additional pasta water if the sauce gets too dry.

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These boots were made for, you know.

It’s Tuesday morning before the Thanksgiving break, the last day of classes for my daughters before a much needed, extra long weekend.  We are hosting Turkey Day dinner this year; we’ve all been very busy; we are all a little bit tired.

Daughter 1.0 is ready to go to school.  The first class of the morning begins at 8:10, but Daughter 1.0 likes to be at school when the front doors are unlocked at 7:30.  She likes time at school to get prepared.  She likes to leave the house around 7:00, 7:10 at the latest.  She sits near the bottom of the stairs waiting for her sister to come down.  It’s 7:05.  Daughter 2.0 is not a morning person.  She likes to roll into school with just enough time to drop her books in her locker and make it to her desk as the bell rings.  She likes to leave the house around 7:30.  This, as you might imagine, has been an ongoing source of conflict in our house.

“Let’s go,” I call up the stairs to Daughter 2.0.  “We need to leave if you want to drive this morning.”  Remember, Daughter 2.0 has just gotten her permit.  She wants to practice driving at every opportunity, as she should.  Daughter 1.0 drove us to school every morning when she was learning to drive, Daughter 2.0 should do the same, no matter how many grey hairs it gives me.

“She’s not driving this morning.  It’s Tuesday,” Daughter 1.0 points out.  We had started a discussion Sunday at the dinner table about when Daughter 2.0 would drive in the morning.  It had dissolved rather quickly into a yelling, crying match.  “I need to practice driving everyday!  That’s what you did!”  “But I need to get to school by 7:30!”  “No you don’t, that’s ridiculous!”  “It makes me calm!  And I’m so stressed!”  “Me too, I’m stressed too!”  “You’re not stressed!  You’re only a sophomore, you have nothing to be stressed about!”  “If you want to get to school that early drive yourself!  You have a car!”  “But I want Mom to drive until the end of the semester!   I’m totally stressed!”

I tabled the discussion, hoping to salvage our Sunday dinner.  Apparently Daughter 1.0 believed that we had come to an agreement about what days Daughter 2.0 was allowed to drive.  She could drive on the days 1.0 didn’t have class until 9:00 (Mondays and Thursdays).  I did not believe that any agreement had been reached, but Daughter 1.0 sat with her arms folded glaring at me.

“It’s Tuesday, she can’t drive today.  I need to be at school at 7:30.”

I resist the urge to tell her that 7:30 seems an unreasonably early time to get to school, 40 minutes before her first class.  When I’ve pointed this out in the past I’ve been met with fury.  At that moment Daughter 2.0 walks down the stairs.  She is carrying her shoes, not all of her books are in her backpack, her jacket is dragging behind her on the stairs.  Daughter 2.0 is a somewhat disorganized person.  There was a time when she was in sixth grade that we made it all the way to school (a 45 minute drive from our house with morning traffic) before she realized she didn’t have her shoes.

I make a quick, executive decision.  “I’m driving.  We don’t need added stress today,” I say.  I have my shoes (and jacket) on.  Daughter 2.0, to her credit, pouts, but doesn’t protest.  She does say, as we’re crowding out the front door, “Then I’m sitting in the front seat.”

The front seat, copilot, shotgun!  Oh, the arguments we have had about that coveted bucket seat.  It got so out of hand when the girls were younger that I used to have a seating schedule.  It was complicated by the fact that there are an uneven number of days in a school week.  But we quickly solved that by assigning seats both to and from school, giving us 10 rides in all.  And if you happened to not be there on your given front seat day, for whatever reason, there was no “makeup.”  Same went for holidays.  I had written this contract out, the girls had signed it, harmony ensued (right!).

“I want the front seat!” Daughter 1.0.  “When I was learning to drive, you always got the front seat when mom drove!”

“I don’t care, I was supposed to drive this morning!  I want the front seat!”

“She was supposed to drive,” I point out.  “Let her sit in the front.”

“She wasn’t supposed to drive!  She can only drive when I don’t have to be at school until 9:00!”  Daughter 1.0 is yelling now.  Yelling loud enough for my Husband (who is uncharacteristically home this morning) to come out of the house to see what all of the commotion is about.

“Get in the front seat,” I say to daughter 2.0.  She does.  Daughter 1.0 doesn’t get in the car.  I walk around to the driver’s door and say, “If you don’t want to ride in the back seat, you can drive yourself.”  I climb into the car.

Daughter 1.0 is crying.  She does what any overtired, totally stressed out high school senior would do.  She starts kicking my car, repeatedly, with the heel of her Fry boots, all the while screaming, “I hate you!!”  It’s 7:15 in the morning.  Our neighbors are coming out of their houses, leaving for work and school. You lull yourself into thinking the tantrums end when they grow up, no more wailing in the grocery store or flailing at the playground.  But here we were, our family circus, on full display.

I turn on the car and slowly nudge my way out of the parking space.  I’d hate to run over my kid, even if she is having a two year old tantrum.  I watch in the rear view mirror as my Husband tries to calm Daughter 1.0 down.

Then I do what any reasonable, well behaved mother would.  I turn on Daughter 2.0 and start screaming.  “Couldn’t you, for once in your life, just go with the flow?!?  Just sit in the back seat!  Goddammit!  Now she’s going to be driving angry!!”  I yell, driving angry.

Daughter 2.0 says nothing.  Her non reaction calms me.  She’s doing what an adult should, not pouring gasoline on the fire.  Me, I fan the flames, I can’t seem to help it.  When we get to school we sit in the car together.  We talk, we both cry, we feel better.  She goes into school, tells me she’ll text me to let me know Daughter 1.0 made it safely.

We have a plan in place now.  Daughter 2.0 will drive Monday, Wednesday and Thursday.  3 out of 5 days, not bad.  I’m sure that will put an end to all fighting in the morning, right?

Butternut Squash Soup

2 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds total)
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup creme fraiche or heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter
Cayenne pepper or curry powder to taste (I vary the recipe, depending on my mood.  Both options are good)
Salt and fresh black pepper

Peel the squash and cut in half.  Scoop out the seeds and then cut the squash into chunks.  Combine the squash with the broth in a large sauce pan and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about 20 minutes, until the squash is very tender.  Allow to cool for about 15 minutes or so, stirring occasionally to release the heat.
Working in batches, puree the squash with the broth in a blender.  Return the soup to a large sauce pan and heat over medium low heat.  Stir in the creme fraiche or cream.  Add the cayenne pepper or curry powder and stir.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve hot with crusty bread and a salad.

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The Laundry Fairy.

“What the fuck?  You’ve had that sweater for months!  Why haven’t you gotten it to the dry cleaners yet?  What the fuck?”  Daughter 1.0 slams her bedroom door, knocking one of the small mosaic tiles from the wall and it loses another stone.  There once were three tiles lined up on the wall next to Daughter 1.0’s bedroom, now there are only two; the third was a casualty of the frequent door slamming.  Daughter 1.0 brought those tiles back with her from Jordan two years ago.  She went to Jordan on a cultural exchange trip with her school.  They visited Petra.  I have never been to Petra, or Jordan.  I go to the dry cleaners.

For the record, I hadn’t had the sweater for months, maybe for a couple of weeks.  The timing of her giving me the sweater for the dry cleaners was poor.  I had just dropped off a load.  And then there hadn’t been very much else, so I hadn’t gotten around to making a trip.  That was not an acceptable excuse for Daughter 1.0.  She wanted to wear the sweater, like now.  I had clearly failed her.

My tone here is tongue in cheek, but actually, I think this episode may point out where I have failed her, and her sister.  I didn’t fail her because I didn’t get her sweater to the dry cleaners (she has a drawer full of sweaters, many of which are not dry clean only).  I failed her because she felt entitled to have her sweater back from the dry cleaners, cleaned and ready to wear, when she wanted it, with no effort on her part.  She is spoiled in this way and so I have failed.

If I’m asked what my biggest regret is when it comes to the way I’ve raised my children, it may just be that I never made them do any chores, at least not with any consistency.  Parents of newborns, if you’re reading this, start planning a chore chart now, and FOLLOW THROUGH!  Everyone will be happier for it, especially your children.  Oh, they’ll grumble and complain, but they will be better adjusted people, equipped to handle all kinds of curves life throws their way.  Trust me.  They say (them that says) people who make their bed every morning are more productive.

My kids are messy.  They leave dishes on the table and in their bedrooms, they do not make beds or hang up their bath towels, it’s so much easier to drop clothes on the floor where they happen to take them off then into the hamper, they do not load or unload the dishwasher, they do not do laundry.  Oh sure, they will occasionally do all of these things, as a gift to me.  Why, you may ask, is it a gift to me that my Daughters wash their own underwear?  Good question.

And my Husband is not entirely off the hook when it comes to this.  Just the other morning, when he had gotten home so late from work the night before that I was already in bed, he pointed out that he had cleaned the kitchen after he ate.  Then he suggested that he deserved high praise for this act, like maybe a ticker tape parade.  He cleaned up after himself, lets have a party!

I sound like I’m complaining (I guess I am).  My kids are great, they really are (swearing and door slamming aside).  They work hard in school and get good grades and they are polite to adults (if not always to their parents).  They are good kids.  Just think how much better they would be if only I had enforced the chore chart when they were little.

My friend (a woman who holds a full time job outside of the home) told me the story of how she stopped doing her son’s laundry.  It was the day he complained about not having a particular item of clothing to wear and she said that if it was that important he should have done the laundry himself.  His response was “Isn’t that your job?” to which she replied “Not any more.”  Good response.  He’s now in college and presumably continuing to do all of his own laundry.  So do I think it’s my job to do all the chores (ok, most, my Husband does do some) because I don’t have a paying job?  Could be.

I guess I’ve found over the years that it’s easier to pick up after my Daughters than to harass and harangue them into picking up after themselves.  It’s this way with so much of parenting, we choose the path of least resistance, give in because we are too tired to fight.  But this doing chores thing, I think that may have been a battle worth fighting.  And maybe it’s not too late.  Look out kids, the laundry fairy just may be going out on strike.  You’ll thank me for it later.

Puttanesca Pasta with Ventresca Tuna

Oil packed Ventresca Tuna
Olive oil
4 garlic cloves peeled and thinly sliced
Large pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
4 Anchovy fillets
One can whole tomatoes, drained
2 tablespoons capers
1/4 chopped Kalamata olives
Chopped Italian (flat leaf) parsley

1 pound pasta – spaghetti or bucatini work well, as does penne rigate (with the ridges)

Pour the oil that the tuna is pack in into a large sauté pan, adding additional olive oil to make about 3 tablespoons.  Place the pan over medium heat and add the garlic.  When the garlic starts to sizzle, stir in the pepper flakes and anchovy fillets.  Be careful, the pan with sputter.  Stir the anchovies until they are dissolved, then add the canned tomatoes.  Lower the heat and cook the sauce, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon to help break up the tomatoes, for about 10 minutes.  Stir in the capers and olives and cook for another couple of minutes.  Turn off the heat.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to the boil.  Add a handful (really) of salt to the water.  Cook the pasta for 1 minute less than package instructions.  Before draining the pasta, scoop out about a cup of the pasta water and set aside.  Drain the pasta.

Turn the heat back on to medium under the tomato sauce.  Add the pasta and about 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta water.  Stir together for about a minute to finish cooking the pasta, adding more pasta water if it gets too dry.  Once the pasta is cooked, turn off the heat and carefully stir in the Ventresca tuna.  You do not want to break it apart too much.  Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

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Even in Australia.

Yesterday was kind of a miserable day.  For me.  Why do we have those kinds of days?  Nothing went terribly wrong, everything just felt ten times (100 times) harder than usual.  It was one of those days when the thought of trying to pick up the mail from my garage floor (we don’t have a mail box, just a mail slot) and sort it – recycling (mostly), bills (some) and letters (do people still write those?) – felt like a task too big to handle.  My head hurt.  My back hurt.  My run felt impossible, but I slogged through (5K a day!).  When I sat down to write I began three different posts, nothing came together.  I was boring myself, not a good sign.
And then I got to visit what must be one of the nine rings of Hell – the DMV.  The San Francisco DMV is dismal.  The ceiling is low, the lighting is bad, there is a constant din of people complaining, sighing, grumbling, yelling, and the pinging and automated voice announcing “Now serving A158 at window number 14”.  I can’t even imagine what it must be like to work there.  And to their credit, every employee we interacted with was both cheerful and helpful.  Even the person who told us she couldn’t answer questions, that we needed to see someone at the other end of the building.  We were trying to avoid that end.  That was the end with the snaking, rope line of disgruntled looking people.  We had an appointment.  Surely we didn’t need to stand in that line.
What brought us to the dreaded DMV?  Daughter 2.0 is now fifteen years, six months old, which means she can get a learners permit which will permit her to learn how to drive (see how that works?).  She (and every other teenager between the age of 15.5 and 18) must have a learners permit and practice driving for at least six months before getting an actual (well, provisional) drivers license.  Good idea, right?  Practice makes perfect.  Now, before she can sit for the written permit test at the DMV, she has to complete a course (online or in person, she chose online, would any teenager choose something in person?) which costs money.  And then once she passes the written test (more money) and obtains the much sought after learners permit, she is not permitted to drive until she has completed at least two hours of her mandatory six hours of driving instruction with a professional driving instructor.  This also costs money.  It begins to feel like a racket.  Getting a drivers license, if you are under the age of eighteen, can cost upwards of $700.00.  This is not a trivial amount of money.  But then, driving is a privilege, not a right (Daughter 2.0 learned this in her online course).  It’s too bad you have to be somewhat privileged to afford it.
Not that teenagers are rushing to get licenses these days.  At least that’s been my experience.  Daughter 1.0 is one of the only kids she goes to school with who has a drivers license.  I had wondered if it was a city versus suburb thing (the couple of kids who do have licenses live outside of San Francisco), but doing a bit of research, I found that not true.  The number of teenagers getting their licenses nationwide is down (85% of high school seniors in 1996 compared to 73% in 2010).  To be sure, cost is a factor, but it seems like there may be more to it.
I think that, in general (generalizations are dangerous, I know) we parents are more frightened for our children than maybe our own parents were.  Much has been said and written about helicopter parents, so I feel no need tread that well-worn path.  What I’m talking about is fear.  The world feels dangerous.  And it starts when you have the baby.  We are afraid to put the baby on her stomach (SIDS!), or not talk to the baby enough, or show her enough black and white images peppered with red, or allow people to hold her without washing hands first (germs!).  We are afraid when she starts walking of corners and edges and electrical sockets.  We are afraid when she starts school of bullies and pedophiles and SARS.  We are afraid when she is a teenager of sex and alcohol and drugs with names like Molly and Spice.  We are afraid of her driving.
I have a sneaking suspicion that all this fear is born of the 24 hour news cycle and instant shared information.  Today when something happens to a baby or a toddler or a teenager in Spokane, parents in Bangor can read about it immediately.  I think maybe all of this information may make make us over estimate the risks.  Hasn’t it been said that parents over estimate risk, teenagers under estimate it?  There must be a happy medium.
Anyway, back to Daughter 2.0.  She passed (hooray!) her permit test and will soon be hitting the roads.  I had to race her back to school for play rehearsal (she was late), then I ran a couple of errands, then I went back to school to retrieve Daughter 1.0 who had stayed late to make up a chemistry test.  I am the Queen of Circle Driving.  I hold that official title.  Yes, you remember correctly, Daughter 1.0 has a drivers license, and access to a car, but has been asking me to drive her to school lately anyway.  My little secret is that I really don’t mind.  It’s nice to get to spend time with her and her sister in the car.  This time is fleeting.  I should have been feeling somewhat accomplished, it had not been an entirely unproductive day.  But what I was feeling was tired, and achy, and a little cranky.
We got home and I put dinner together while Daughter 1.0 worked on college stuff and homework.  Monday Night Football kept us company.  My Husband arrived home with Daughter 2.0 a little after 8:00.  Dinner was ready to put on the table.  We were starved.  My Husband came up stairs and opened the refrigerator.  “Should I open these oysters?” he asked.  He had gotten oysters at the farmers market on Saturday and opened some (but not all) of them that day.  “No,” I said, “I want to eat.”
“What about sauce?  Are you going to do anything with these pan drippings?” he scraped at the pan the pork had been cooked in with a wooden spoon.
“Hadn’t planned on it.  I thought they were too charred.”
“Not at all,” he said, and began deglazing the pan with white wine and vinegar.  There is history here.  My Husband has been known to come home and look at the meal I have made and ask “Where’s the sauce?”  Most of the time my reaction is not enthusiastic.  Most of the time I either want to throw something at his head or burst into tears.  Last night I bit my tongue and let him make a sauce (apparently the black pepper applesauce I made didn’t count).  The sauce he made was good.  Damn it, the sauces he makes are always good and really just what the meals needed.
We sit down to dinner.  My family seems in a good mood.  I’m still feeling like I’ve been hit by a truck.  I look over to the kitchen and see our cat Charlie on the stove licking the pan.  Charlie is the sweetest, most loving cat ever.  He is also a colossal pain in the ass.  “Hey,” I yell and clap my hands.  My family jumps.
“Don’t do that!” Daughter 1.0 cries.
“You have to stop yelling like that,” my Husband scolds.  “It doesn’t work.”
“He got down,” I point out. “I’ll take him downstairs,” I pout.  We more often than not keep Charlie shut in the downstairs space when we eat, lest he leap into our laps and help himself to our plates.  I scoop up the cat and stomp down the stairs.  Somehow my anger escalates as I descend.  Once downstairs I toss Charlie on the floor of the family room and slam the door.  I turn to go back upstairs, then realize that that’s probably not a very good idea, given how completely and irrationally furious I feel.  Instead I open the family room door again and walk through it, slamming it shut after me.  I go to the bathroom (my Husband’s and my bedroom and bathroom are downstairs) and brush my teeth.  Daughter 1.0 comes to the door.  “Mom,” she says, “Are you ok?”
“I am,” I say.  “I’m really just very, very tired.  I think I need to go to bed.”  All I really want right then is to climb under the covers and close my eyes.
“I thought you were hungry?“
“I was, but mostly I’m just tired.  I think the best thing for me to do is go to bed.”
“OK.  I love you.”
“I love you too.”
My anger was fading.  I was simply ready for the day to be done.  Like Alexander, I had had something of a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.  Some days are like that.  Even in Australia.

Pork Tenderloin with Belgian Waffles and Black Pepper Applesauce

Pork Tenderloin:

2 pork tenderloins
8 cups of water
1 cup kosher salt
8 bay leaves
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
Head of garlic, cloves smashed, no need to remove skins
1/4 cup of honey
Canola oil
Half a preserved lemon sliced
6 sprigs of thyme
4 cloves of garlic smashed and skins removed
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter cut into chunks

In the morning, combine the water, kosher salt, bay leaves, black peppercorns, head of garlic and honey in a large sauce pan.  Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve the salt.  Cool to room temperature then refrigerate.
About 4 hours before you want to eat submerge the pork in the brine.  Brine in the refrigerator for about 3 hours, but no more than 4 or it will get too salty.
Remove the pork from the brine and rinse under cold water.  Pat dry with paper towels and allow to come to room temperature (about 30 minutes)
Preheat the oven to 350. Take a large sauté or frying pan and coat with canola oil and set over medium high heat.  Add the pork to the pan and brown on all sides, takes about 6 minutes or so.  Add the butter chunks, garlic, preserved lemons and thyme to the pan.  Stir the butter and tilt the pan and spoon the melted butter over the pork.  Scoop the lemon slices from the bottom of the pan and layer on the top of the pork.  Cover the lemon slices with the thyme sprigs.  Put the pan into the oven and cook for 20 minutes or until the internal temperature is 140. Remove the pork from the oven and allow to rest for 15 minutes before slicing.  You can deglaze the pan with white wine and a little vinegar, swirling butter in at the end, to make a pan gravy (this is what my Husband did).

Black Pepper Applesauce:

6 apples (I used a variety) peeled, cored and sliced
3/4 cup of water
Juice of a lemon
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
About 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Put all the ingredients into a heavy sauce pan.  Turn on the heat to medium low and cover the pan.  Check often and stir.  When the apples are fairly mushy, remove the cover and allow the liquid to boil away.

Belgian Waffles:

1 package dry active yeast
1/4 cup warm milk (about 110 degrees)
Three eggs separated
2 and 3/4 cups warm milk (about 110 degrees)
3/4 cup unsalted butter melted
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups all purpose flour

In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup warm milk. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, 1/4 cup of the warm milk and the melted butter. Stir in the yeast mixture, sugar, salt and vanilla. Stir in the remaining 2 1/2 cups milk alternately with the flour, ending with the flour. Beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks; fold into the batter. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
Preheat the waffle iron. Brush with oil and spoon about 1/2 cup (or as recommended by manufacturer) onto center of iron. Close the lid and bake until it stops steaming and the waffle is golden brown. Serve immediately or keep warm in 200 degree oven.

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For Your Child’s Safety, Please Do Not Use Exam Gloves As Balloons.

One of the things you might not expect when you have children is all the time you will spend in doctor’s offices.  Maybe they prime us for that in pregnancy; you do have to see your ob/gyn an awful lot, especially in the later months.  Both of my daughters were born at teaching hospitals and with the myriad of medical students, interns, residents, nurses and attending physicians, it sometimes felt like there was free general admission to my birth canal.  Someone was constantly poking around up in there.

Once you have the little bundle of joy, there are all the regularly scheduled well baby check ups, plus all the unscheduled not well baby visits.  I’ve taken my daughters to countless doctors appointments over the years – vaccinations and skin rashes, ear infections and broken arms, febrile seizures and stomach flus.  Hours spent in waiting rooms and exam rooms, reading the books we brought from home or the tattered ones provided, drawing on the chalk boards painted on the walls, not using the exam gloves as balloons, however temping.  I was always present, the advocate and note taker, the explainer of symptoms and rubber of backs.  I did this as the stay-at-home parent, but truth be told, even is my Husband was the one staying home I’m sure he would find a way for me to attend the doctor’s appointments.  Doctor’s offices and hospitals make him uncomfortable.  Like really uncomfortable.

Last week I had the very new and very strange experience of being left in the waiting area while Daughter 1.0 followed a nurse back into an exam room.  Remember, Daughter 1.0 is now 18, legally an adult, so I am no longer required to be in the room when she sees a doctor.  She had been having some pain and scheduled the appointment on her own, another new experience.

It’s hard to be left behind.  It’s hard to sit on the dingy padded folding chair and half watch Reese Witherspoon choose between Josh Lucas and Patrick Dempsey in Sweet Home Alabama.  It’s even harder to have that movie end and then Monsters, Inc. begin and still no sign of Daughter 1.0.  I trusted that they would come and get me if something was wrong.  But maybe they didn’t know that Daughter 1.0 and I have a fairly open relationship.  She tells me (almost) everything.  And I love that, except when I don’t.  She is an 18 year old so sometimes when she’s sharing I want to plug my ears and sing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star at the top of my lungs, because she’s my baby and all I can think of is that little monkey who used to wrap her arms and legs around me so tight when I picked her up and would squeal when Winnie the Pooh came on TV.

Maybe the doctors didn’t know that about us, how Daughter 1.0 tells me everything.  But surely Daughter 1.0 would ask for me if she needed me.  But maybe she wouldn’t.  She’s not always the best self advocate.  She often hates to put people out, hates to make a nuisance of herself (except with me, of course, but I’m her mom).  I began to think that I really should be in the room with her.

Halfway through Monsters, Inc., just when I decided to ask to see her, Daughter 1.0 poked her head out of the door to the exam rooms, eyes red, cheeks streaked with tears, and waved for me to come back.  I met her just inside the door, in front of the billing/scheduling person’s desk.  “What?” I asked.  She couldn’t speak, started to sob, pointed to a yellow piece of paper.  They suspected she had something and had run tests and would have the results in a few days to a week.  We needed to make a follow up appointment for two days later to see how she was doing.  I didn’t quite understand.  I wanted to talk to the doctor she had seen, but she was on to another patient and Daughter 1.0 just wanted to get out of there.  And I wanted to get her home.  I wanted to wrap her up in my arms and keep all bad things away.

We found out at the follow up appointment that her test results were negative.  She just had a run of the mill infection that would be cleared up with the antibiotics they had given her.  This time I went into the exam room with her.  She asked me to, but I would have insisted anyway.

Easy dinner, one of our favorites.

Sausage and Peppers

1 pound to 1 1/2 pounds of mild Italian sausages
2 large yellow onions peeled and sliced
Five bell peppers (red, yellow, orange or a combination) seeded and sliced into thick strips  Do not use green peppers.
1/2 cup of dry white white
Olive oil

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.  Add the onions and sauté until soft, stirring frequently.  Add the peppers and continue to cook until the onions start to turn golden brown and the peppers soften, again stirring frequently.  Scrape the cooked onions and peppers into a bowl and set aside.
Return the pan to the heat and d a tablespoons of olive oil.  Add the sausages to the pan and brown on all sides.  Once the sausages are browned, cut them into pieces one to two inches long in the pan.  I use kitchen scissors to do this, but a knife works as well.  Continue to cook the sausage for another 2-4 minutes, then add the wine to the pan and turn up the heat to high, stirring the pan with a wooden spoon to scrape up any of the brown bits from the bottom and sides.  When the alcohol has burned off (carefully smell the steam coming from the pan.  If it stings the nose, there is still alcohol) lower the heat to low and return the onions and pepper to the pan.  Stir together and simmer for a few minutes to marry the flavors.
Serve with crusty Italian bread!

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