It sure looks like it tastes better this way.
From the back seat:
Evolutionary biological evidence that the automobile did not develop in tandem with Homo sapiens:
Gbot, having not finished eating his lunch at school, spreads a napkin on his lap in preparation to finish his soup on the drive home. And then pouts when I put the kibosh on opening his thermos.
I am so consumed by the present that any glance back into the past is jarring–almost surreal. So much changed when I became a mother. Not just the usual big-then-saggy boobage, belly fat, hair-falling-out, sudden-fact-that-I-am-in-love-with-a-helpless-alien sort of things. I’d married Husbot just one year before; I’d met him nine months before that. I relocated from a place and community I’d lived in and loved for ten years to a foreign land. (Just because the same currency is used and the same language is spoken thirty minutes west of Phoenix, Arizona and the Wood River Valley, nearly two hundred miles east of Boise, Idaho, doesn’t mean the two locations are not as different as Amsterdam and New Amsterdam). At the same time, I lost a friendship–or at least, it changed, dramatically and irrevocably. I still grieve for it.
Things were different, and would never be the same.
The bots and I return to the Wood River Valley twice a year, and each time, I am confronted with the past. We usually stay with my parents, who retired here twenty years ago; I sleep under the same crewelwork image of a girl carrying a cat that was above my bed in Alaska as a child. There is news of the old boyfriend and his wife, who are friends of friends and family. Every visit to the grocery store in this small town offers chance meetings with former colleagues and acquaintances. Sometimes they recognize me but sometimes they don’t remember my name. I introduce myself. We catch up in that inane way that takes ninety seconds. And then we push our carts in opposite directions, the way our lives have gone.
And so it should not have been unexpected but was nonetheless very strange last night, while inspecting the contents of my parents’ liquor cabinet before dinner, to come across a drink recipe I’d written for my father about fifteen years ago. It was a remnant of still another life, when I was working in my twenties for a famous Denver restaurateur who foresaw trends sometimes a decade before they became trends. (He poured me my first Cosmopolitan in 1993, three years before Carrie Bradshaw first tipped one back in a move that would forever determine the cocktail of choice for women now between the ages of forty-five and fifty-five.)
This recipe was for the Caiperana, which never enjoyed quite the notoriety of its pink sister, but made a comeback ten years ago at wedding receptions and on creative cocktail menus across the country, and more recently has featured in one of Jo Nesbo’s bestselling thrillers, in which the hero, a Norwegian detective with a taste for anything fifty-proof and above, finds himself stuck somewhere in South America and glad that the only available drink is a local version of the caiperana, brewed from the fiery and wince-inducing native liquor, distilled apparently with little consideration for flavor from raw cane sugar.
In a bow to the past, I’ll transcribe the recipe here as I wrote it back then. It made me laugh, which of course was a bittersweet kind of laughter, because I want it back. I mean, I want the parts of my past the made me laugh back. It’s a stupid thing to want–that’s what memory is for, that’s what stories are for. And soon enough–tomorrow, as it turns out–today will be the past that made me laugh.
For one drink:
2 teaspoons brown sugar
3 oz. Pitu cachaca
dash simple syrup* (*double-strength hummingbird food)
little spoon (optional)** (**a swizzle stick will do)
First, learn to pronounce both the drink and the liquor. This will entail learning a foreign language, so be ready to practice. Practicing after having served your guests yields the best results as, while your linguistic skills may not improve greatly, your listeners, as they empty their glasses, will become much more accepting of the injustices you perpetrate against the Spanish language.
But practicing beforehand doesn’t hurt. While chanting ca-CHA-cha, ca-CHA-cha, slice the lime in a complicated manner. That is, cube it as if you were cubing a potato, if you ever cube potatoes, but don’t cut all the way through the peel at the tip. You will understand why momentarily.
Place the lime pointy-side down in the glass and pestle it soundly to squeeze out the juices. Meanwhile, repeat, ky-per-ANN-ya, ky-per-ANN-ya quietly to yourself so that your guests don’t know you’re getting a headstart on pronunciation.
Add the cachaca and simple syrup and fill the glass to the brim with crushed ice. Insert the little spoon.
Sip slowly and stir the drink constantly so that the ice dilutes the concoction and you remain scintillating for as long as possible before being reduced to a pleasant stupor. Keep prodding the lime with the little spoon to extract all the juices. If you have mastered them by this time, work the words caiperana and cachaca into the conversation at frequent intervals so that your guests will be duly impressed.
* * *
Skol! Salud! Here’s to the past. Here’s to change.
To change things up from updates about where Gbot has last peed (in his Yo Gabba Gabba Vans), here’s a funny famous-person story for you:
Once upon a time, in a fairytale land called Sun Valley, Idaho, where many a prince and princess of Hollywood rode on their noble G5s to their seasonal palaces among the chairlift towers and real estate offices, there once lived a serving girl named Betsy.
She was a sassy, competent serving girl, laboring by night at a fine northern Italian eatery called Piccolo (now, sadly, defunct). The servers brought gnocchi and lasagne bolognese to the common townspeople who dined there amidst the visiting cinematic royalty such as Clint Eastwood, Tom Hanks, Michael Keaton, and Rita Wilson, and even occasionally the King of the balls, Matts Wielander.
Much Betsy’s favorite famous guest was Jamie Lee Curtis, who was funny, friendly, polite, kind to her kids, whom she always brought with, and a generous tipper. Her husband, Christopher Guest, accompanied them when they came to dine several times each summer. Now, where Betsy the serving girl could easily flirt with Ms. Curtis and exchange tips on where to find nice earrings with Ms. Wilson, she found herself intimidated by Mr. Guest. His expressionless face belied the razor intelligence and cutting wit behind such masterpieces as This is Spinal Tap, Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman, and, Betsy’s favorite of all time, The Princess Bride. All the world must be so boring to him, for we are mostly morons in comparison to Six Fingered Man, the character he played in The Princess Bride. Who among us doesn’t repeat a young, thin, tight-wearing Mandy Patinkin finally getting the chance to say to Guest’s character in a Spanish accent: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”?
Each time he came to dine, Mr. Guest ordered the famous Rosemary Chicken–a quarter bird smothered in olive oil and rosemary and then roasted at 800 degrees. No one had ever been known to replicate this dish beyond Piccolo’s kitchen walls.
Now, while the staff was flattered that Mr. Guest enjoyed the signature dish, there is no more effective way to gain a chef’s distain than by ordering chicken. Ordering chicken announces loud and clear that a diner has little confidence in the chef beyond her or his ability not to fuck up a chicken. Why not venture the fresh summer pea ravioli made of homemade pasta with brown butter? Or the local organic lamb grilled to perfection with the Valley’s best garlic mashed potatoes? Not that Betsy judged. She didn’t really even care. The chicken was delicious. And she, too, had been guilty of ordering the same dish over and over at certain restaurants. Although she never ordered the chicken. No matter how good, it was still chicken.
There came a sad night, the second-to-last night before the restaurant shut its doors for business, forever. Ms. Curtis and Mr. Guest brought their entourage and filled the banquette. Betsy chatted with Jamie Lee and nodded when Ms. Curtis reminded her to bring the check to her end o the table rather than her husband’s. When Betsy took Mr. Guest’s order, she raised her eyebrows. “Chicken again? Or are you branching out this time?” she asked.
“Chicken,” he said (or something like that). “Next time I promise I’ll try something different.”
At which point Betsy said something like, “I’ll hold you to it.” She felt giddy with exuberance. Surely her charm must have had an effect.
But the exchange must have simply strengthened Mr. Guest’s belief that we are all mostly morons. Because, of course, there would be no next time. Betsy didn’t think of this until later that evening driving home.
It made her wish that she’d had the balls to present the chicken as she’d fantasized all summer. She would approach the table. She would lower it before him. She would say, in a bad Spanish accent, ”Allo. My name ees Betsy Andrews. I keeled your chicken. Prepare to dine.”
She would have had nothing to lose. Jamie Lee was doing the tipping.
Such are the regrets of a serving girl.
And here, in one of life’s fun ironies, is a Princess Bride reunion article that Lil’ Bro sent from Japan the same day I thought of writing this post:
It is fascinating to me that when I search Google Images for “tomatoes smashed on a door,” pictures of homemade bruschetta, a bowl of soup, a hornworm, and a mean-looking cartoon Viking come up on the first page, but no actual tomatoes smashed on a door.
After I purchase the memory chip to put in my phone to replace the one that disappeared from my desk last week, I will change all that. The appearance of tomatoes on my door and the disappearance of electronics from my desk help to explain where I’ve been for the past seven days, which is obviously not in front of my computer posting tips and tales from parenting, writing, and life, as my business card promises.
For the past seven days, I have been attempting to adapt to just-turned-four-year-old Mbot’s second week of his second year of preschool. For Mbot, it seems to be going very nicely. And for that I am thankful. For me and almost-three-year-old Gbot, some days are better than others. Some days, we build impressive MagnaRepTiles (I would show you a picture, but it’s stuck in my phone.) Some days, we go to the Y, where I am summoned off the treadmill prematurely because my younger half put his tooth through his lip under a table in the playroom. Some days, we play in the pool, where Gbot wants nothing to do with actual swimming, or even bobbing, but instead insists on playing catch with a SquiDiver for an hour from the cooling comfort of the steps. Other days, I try to work. Like today.
I had a lot to do. I was behind. Very behind. Husbot was in the bedroom getting dressed for a meeting. I let Gbot play by himself while I stared into my computer screen begging it to take me back.
Over the monitor, out of focus, I saw Gbot playing handball against the bedroom door with the half-deflated mini soccer ball I’d thought I’d left in the car. “How good he is at entertaining himself!” I thought, pleased. “And thank heavens, because I’m so behind.” I listened to the rhythmic, gently “Thump. Thump. Thump,” as he played. Every once in a while it would stop, and I’d see him race across the living room, out of sight because I didn’t bother turning my head, and then it would start again.
I was deep in mid-edit when Husbot opened the bedroom door. “Did you see this?” he asked in what seemed an overly alarmed tone.
“What?” I asked. “Gbot’s been playing ball against the door.”
“With tomatoes,” he replied.
I snapped to attention.
Had I already forgotten that earlier that morning while signing Mbot into school, and while all the other children had been milling around interacting with other humans, the Bots had gotten double time-outs for conducting a hands-on investigation of the office paper cutter?
I leapt to the scene of the present crime and yes! It was true! The vine-ripened tomatoes that had been on the high counter were now splattered up and down the bedroom door and across the floor. It looked like a murder scene.
The slipcover on the arm chair which he climbed and on whose arm he stood to reach the tomatoes will have to be removed and washed.
The velvet and beaded silk throw quilt responded surprisingly well to dabbing with water.
We will have pasta sauce with canned tomatoes.
I will have a glass of wine.
And I will continue working–and working toward serenity tomorrow. Thank goodness the tomatoes are gone.
So we were driving along, chatting about poop or, more specifically, what can make poop green. (Don’t you love a story that starts that way?)
Alarmed earlier in the day, I had consulted the internet and among the short list of perpetrators are excess bile, food coloring, and green veggies. I decided it was the food coloring in the sprinkles on the cut-out cookies Mbot had helped make after breakfast. Mbot decided he had eaten too much broccoli, which he likes to eat but tends to whine about while it’s cooking because of the odor. He decided that food coloring makes broccoli green.
No, I explained. Something called chlorophyll makes broccoli and other plants green. “Chlorophyll can turn sunshine into nutrients,” I said brightly. “It’s kind of like magic. So when we eat broccoli, we’re really eating sunshine!”
Mbot paused, then asked in a voice that betrayed his suspicion: “You mean when I smelled broccoli, I really smelled sun?”
“Kind of!” I chirped.
At least he didn’t make the next connection, which would be: if broccoli smells like sun, and broccoli turns into green poop, then does sun smell like poop?
It’s a question for another day.
We’ve been busy–my mother’s in town for the week. The bots have been counting down the “sleeps” until Nanny arrived and now that she’s here, we’ve been going nonstop.
One of the highlights for the bots during his last June visit was a trip across town to the Chinese Cultural Center, which features an enormous Asian grocery called, for reasons I have not yet ascertained, 99 Ranch. Last year, with the bots 2 11/12 and 1 3/4, everything in every aisle was a marvel, especially the produce department with vegetables of every conceivable texture, shape, and shade of green, the swordlike lemongrass, carrots the size of a half-bottle of wine, watermelon-sized jack fruit resembling scared pufferfish, and especially the real fish–about thirty different varieties on ice and six great tanks filled with live tilapia, catfish, Dungeness crab, and our main objective: the Maine lobsters, $10.99/pound.
Behind the counter, four men in rubber boots and aprons stand on high stools to dip fish from the tanks and take silver-bladed cleavers and giant yellow rubber mallets to chop each fish in one of six ways, illustrated on a board hanging above the counter. Last year, we had to pull the bots away. I myself could watch for hours without getting bored, in spite of the pungent low-tide smell.
Well. This year, with a 3 11/12 year-old and a 2 3/4 year-old, was an entirely new experience. In the produce department, everyone was cold and wanted to be held. They are both too big for Nanny to carry, and too big for me to carry both. We took turns. The bot in the cart complained of being cold and not being held. As we neared the fish counter, wailing about the smell began. It didn’t bother Gbot, but Mbot, who is notoriously sensitive to smell and has remained largely resistent to my attempts to introduce him to foods other than cereal, peanut-butter, hamburgers, chocolate, ice cream, and broccoli, refused to be diverted for more than a minute at a time by the tilapia, the catfish, the crabs, or the lobsters. A hole was poked in the lobster bag and Nanny went back for another.
It was among the least pleasant grocery shopping trips of the year, mostly due to dashed expectations.
In the past six months, I’ve rarely been taken so totally by surprise by the bots’ response to an experience. I realize this trip was a preview of teendom, when nothing that is my idea will prove to be anything other than boring, too smelly, or too cold. But we got the lobsters, we got the Tsing Tao, and we escaped without setting fire to anything. Which is more than I can say for that evening, when Mbot found out what happens when you hold a paper Spiderman napkin over a candle.
But that’s a story for another day.
Last Friday Mbot was sent home from preschool with a big red bag and a list of food items I needed to bring into class on Monday. I’ve been faced with the big red bag and the accompanying list twice before; approximately every three months it’s our turn to buy a week’s worth of snacks for the Joshua Tree classroom. The list changes all the time.
I’ve always done the shopping well ahead because who wants to be the mom who can’t even find the caramel dipping sauce for the apple slices? (Although I had to visit three stores before I found it.)
But this weekend, having succeeded twice before, I was lulled into a sense of my own competence. And so, on Monday morning, when I looked at the list on the way to library story and craft time, I read along nodding: ten bagels, a container of cream cheese, a bunch of bananas, a bag of carrots, etc. etc. And then: Gogurts. Followed by: Pretzel Flipz.
Were they typos, spelling mistakes, or trademarked names for packaged foods I’d never heard of? I feared the last. There was no one around to ask. I couldn’t Google it because I left my smart phone in my other life, the one in which I’m savvy and hip. Hell, if I had a smart phone, I’m sure I’d already know what Gogurts where, just because hello, doesn’t everyone?
I cheated on the Pretzel Flipz and bought the funnest looking pretzels I could see, in little tic-tac-toe shapes. But after failing to find anything called Gogurts in the trail mix aisle, I admitted defeat.
I had to turn in the big red bag without having completed the assignment. I didn’t have time to explain my performance, which, if not improved within twenty-four hours, would surely result in midafternoon cries of starvation emanating from the Joshua Tree classroom.
By now, I have discovered that Gogurts are, of course, individual tubes of flavored yogurt that can be sucked directly out of the bag. I will go buy some this afternoon. Although, if I do say so: gross.
We are all learning something in preschool.
We went to Costco today, the bots and I. By 11:50, it was ninety-two degrees, and we were heading home to lunch. Mbot, who’d been angling for the cashews resting on the floor beneath his feet, asked what was we’d be eating. Maybe edamame, I said, because a family-sized box of frozen soybeans in the shell was staring at me from the passenger seat.
We buy edamame whenever I remember to. I love it but then forget about it. Before the age of two, Gbot was adept at popping the little soybeans directly from the pod into his mouth. He loves it, but then forgets about it. Mbot can take it or leave it. Or play with it.
“What’s edamame?” he asked, and I was surprised, because his memory is like the Hotel California: what checks in never leaves.
“It’s those…” I paused because I was trying to change lanes and at the same time think of a better word than “things” and a more accurate word than “peas” without using the word “beans.” Mbot took care of my dilemma.
“Those things you put in your nose and then blow out and then put in your mouth!” he cried.
“Yes, Mbot,” I said. “That’s right.”
What does “edamame” mean to you?
Yesterday, after posting an ad for the double stroller on Craigslist (somehow forgetting to mention that it weighs 46 pounds empty), and before posting an ad for the baby backpack we used twice, I checked my Twitter account.
I was sending what would be my fourth official Tweet to date (not including blog updates, which happens by magic). I was saying how, after Friday’s carrot Valentine adventure, I had vowed never, ever, ever to pick carrots in large numbers, haul them home, wash them carefully so their top parts stay cute and perky, store them carefully so their bottom parts don’t get flaccid, and then at the last moment, affix to them cut-out hearts on which I’d written a come-hither note for vegephobic preschoolers. But despite my vow, I did it again on Tuesday. Home-grown carrots are the Montessori Way. And besides, this time, it was only fifteen carrot-cards instead of thirty.
Not six hours after I’d Tweeted about how I’d never do it again, Mbot whispered in my ear, “Sank you for making carrot Valentines.” So of course I had to officially reneg on my vow. For that, I would do it all over again. Fortunately, carrot season only lasts ten weeks.
But there I was on Twitter and some outfit named RookieMoms had just Tweeted and, finding the name intriguing and justifying my procrastination as blog research, I clicked. And that’s how I found out about RookieMoms (hilarious, helpful, go there, as soon as you finish reading this), and the new cookbook called Parents Need to Eat, Too, by Debbie Koenig, with recipes that can be made in stages during naptime and then eaten with one hand. A beautiful thing, a practical book aimed at the one-handed creatures women become directly after childbirth.
So today, inspired by Heather and Whitney (the girl geniuses behind RookieMoms), and Debbie Koenig, I am self-publishing my own cookbook. Right here. In this very post. It consists of my Secret, No-Fail, Kid-Pleaser Recipe. That’s right: just one recipe, but it is a good one. It may not help with the under-two set, but it’s magic for the picky two-and-up demographic. And it’s fast and easy.
Here it is:
Put it on a stick.
Anything. Frozen cherries. Apples. Pears. Cherry tomatoes. Pieces of steak. Melon chunks. Squares of spinach and mushroom omelet. Broccoli. Yesterday’s defrosted banana wheat pancakes. Chicken with peanut sauce. This last one has already been done and served at weddings across the nation, but they use sharp, pointy sticks, and these are the kind of sticks I use:
Anything not sharp and pointy. Anything that is not a fork. Forks are boring.
Popsicle sticks bought at the craft store. Tongue depressors (preferably previously unused). Bendy straws. Non-bendy straws. Straight pretzels. (That way, they can eat the stick, too.)
Sticks: They’re not just for Popsicles anymore.
What’s your easiest no-fail recipe?