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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Tears in the Supermarket.

I’ve been crying a lot recently, although not all that often at dinner.  Close friends will say that’s nothing new.  I’m quick to tears.  A song, movie, advertisement can have me sniffling.  And don’t even get me started on that NPR feature StoryCorps; that’s always good for a sob.  When I talk to people, about anything at all, the weather, the Giant’s winning, the recent election (ok, that could be cause for tears), I will often well up.  Teachers and grocery check out people probably think I’m on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  I’ll blame my recent even more frequent tears on perimenopause.  But then, I have blamed all sorts of things on perimenopause, for, like, the last ten years or so.  It’s like teething for babies; explains every ailment.

I dropped the girls off at school the morning of Halloween.  1.0 was in costume (Cher from Clueless); 2.0 was not.  She carried a couple of options (one of which was Magenta from Rocky Horror) in a bag just in case the mood struck her later in the day.  I rounded the corner from school and saw a dad walking his two daughters across the street.  Two princesses (Snow White and Cinderella) decked out in Disney’s sparkly finest.  I started to cry, really cry.  The father held each of the girls by the hand and I can remember what that felt like, clammy little palms, fingers clutching mine.  I miss those little people!

I know, I’m romanticizing that time, leaving out the tantrums and the middle of the night wake-ups and the whining, all the whining.  But what I wouldn’t give to go back, do it all again.  Or maybe even start again now.  Madness, I know.  I’m forty-five, on the cusp of the empty nest (new adventure!) and (remember?) perimenopausal.  And I’m lucky, I like my Husband, so getting to be just the two of us again will be great. But it would also be great to have a couple more kids, like a second family, except with the same father (don’t think I could break in another husband).  I’d be better at it this time, wouldn’t I?  Pay closer attention.

And maybe all these tears are about my identity.  I’m a stay at home mom and I’ve relished that roll; even when it sucks, it’s a fantastic gig.  So what will I be in three years when Daughter 2.0 is happily (please God) ensconced in college?

Daughter 1.0 has been asking me to drive to school lately.  She has her license and the use of a car and had been getting herself and her sister to school.  I am a circle driver extraordinaire and more than happy to take my girls (though I do reserve the right to grumble about it occasionally).  Maybe this is 1.0’s gift to me, a way to let me know that I’m still needed.  Or maybe she’s feeling not quite ready to be so independent, wants someone to take care of her for a little while longer.  Or could be she just wants to save on parking money.  That’s ok, I’ll take it.

My Husband made an amazing paella like dish for Saturday night dinner.  He based it on Thomas Keller’s recipe, but simplified it for the home cook.  So yummy!  There are many components, but really it’s not hard.

Faux Paella with Chicken, Mussels and Clams


1/4 cup canola oil
Half an onion chopped finely (like a grain of cooked rice)
2 teaspoons saffron threads
2 cups short grain rice
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock

4 chicken thighs and 4 chicken drumsticks
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Piment d’Espelette
Canola oil

1 Spanish chorizo sausage cut into 1/4 inch slices
12 small mussels
24 little neck clams
1/4 dry white wine

4 roasted piquillo peppers from a jar, cut into strips
1 cup blanched green beans and cut into 1 inch pieces

Chopped Italian flat leaf parsley to garnish

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees

Heat the canola oil in a large oven proof saute pan over medium heat until hot.  Add the onions and a sprinkle of salt and reduce the heat to medium low and cook gently for 3 minutes.  Add the saffron.  Reduce the heat to very low and cook for another 2 minutes, careful not to brown the onions.  Add the rice and turn up the heat to medium, stirring the pan and cooking 1 to 2 minutes to toast the rice.

Add the stock to the pan and stir once, scraping the side of the pan if necessary.  Cover the rice with a piece of parchment paper with a whole cut in the middle.  Adjust the heat to cook the rice at a simmer for about 12 minutes or until the liquid is all absorbed.  Do not stir the rice.  You want it to develop a brown crust at the bottom of the pan.

When the rice is cooked, gently stir in the piquillo peppers and green beans.

Sprinkle the chicken with kosher salt and pepper and Piment d’Espelette on both sides.  Heat canola oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat.  Add the chicken skin side down and lower the heat to medium low.  Cook the chicken without moving for 8 minutes.  It will develop a nice crispy golden brown skin.  After 8 minutes, flip the chicken and continue to cook for another 6 minutes, or until golden brown on the other side as well.  Transfer the chicken pieces to the rice pan, arranging them on top of the rice.

Heat canola oil in a large sauce pan over medium heat.  Add the chorizo and cook until well browned.  Transfer the chorizo to the rice pan along with the chicken.  Put the rice pan into the oven.

Pour off most of the chorizo fat from the sauce pan then add the white wine and and bring to a boil.  Add the mussels and clams and cover the pan, cooking until the shells have opened, about 3 minutes.

Remove the rice form the oven and arrange the mussels and clams on top.  Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and salt and serve.  Be sure to scrape up some of the brown crust from the bottom of the pan for each serving.

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