Tuesday, November 24, 2015

It wasn't me that started that ol' crazy Asian war

so proud of making her laugh
Someone is home from college with a cute nose piercing and a copy of Freud’s The Uncanny that must be read in the next 6 days and she is very, very tired and has been very, very sweet, apparently newly charmed by her folks and laughing at her younger brother’s antics for the first time ever, unless you count the fleeting moment captured in the photo at top some years ago. My favorite photo ever. 

It was delightful watching our children tell stories and laugh together at the dinner table last night. I thought, this is how family dinner was supposed to be and never, ever was. Really, guys, it wasn’t. All those years, it was tense. Much bickering and sighing and baiting. I think there was something semi-disastrous about our kids' difference in age, gender, and maturity level and now there isn't. Mark and I were so happy we didn’t even mind listening to Owen’s records, which he played all through dinner and which occasionally. . . grate. He's accrued an eccentric collection of vinyl that includes almost every album ever made by ABBA, plus some Steely Dan, Kenny Rogers, Linda Ronstadt, and The Many Moods of Christmas. Owen is so blissfully uncool he is totally cool.
Have you listened to Kenny Rogers lately? A lot of self-pity and impotence in those songs. I'd never really noticed before. Just listen to Lucille or Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town some time.
We ate Marcella Hazan’s spaghetti with tomato and butter sauce about which more than enough has been written (but in case you haven't read it -- make this sauce!) For dessert: Hazan's coffee cake with winter fruits which I’d been wondering about for years, a very plain, pale cake full of chopped apple, chopped pear, and thinly sliced banana. I am wondering no more. Not the best thing I've ever made, but here's the recipe if you're curious.

Today Isabel took Owen out for lunch, a first. Later, he told me they mostly talked about "how you and Dad are getting weirder and weirder."

True dat. 

Below is one of the waffle cupcakes I made for Owen over the weekend, fulfilling my end of a bargain.
needs no syrup
First, you bake cupcakes using yellow cake mix, reserving some of the batter. Once the cupcakes are baked, heat a waffle iron. Pour some of the reserved batter on the iron then place a baked cupcake face down in the batter. Let the waffle cook. The top of the waffle (now the top of the cupcake) will be nice and crispy, the underside slightly raw, and the whole production quite handsome, as you can see. It didn't taste like anything special, but taste wasn't the point.

I'm not hosting Thanksgiving this year and for that, among many other things, I am extremely thankful.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Be careful what you resolve

Pumpkin caramel tart from Bon Appetit -- I was going to write about this, but something fascinating happened in world news, can't remember what, and I got distracted. It was tasty, but I would stick with regular pumpkin pie.
About two months ago, I started listening to a time management book called Getting Things Done that the writer Atul Gawande had once mentioned liking. It's an earnest, sort of dorky organization manual intended for harried business executives, which I’m most definitely not. But I absolutely loved the book. If you’ve spent time with me recently, you’ve heard my infomercial. The book has changed my life. I really did just type that. I have more to say about Getting Things Done, but of relevance today is the fact that it got me to start reading the newspaper. 

To be clear, the book itself isn’t pro-newspaper. The book simply encourages you to take inventory of everything that you want, must, or should be doing and “capture” it all in writing. Everything. This can take several days and my list was unbelievable. But the author was correct -- once my 10,000 item to-do list was captured on paper and things properly filed, I felt unburdened. And somehow, without even really trying, I started getting things done. 

Like reading the newspaper. It always bothered me that I didn’t read the newspaper very carefully. I could not have told you with full confidence what ISIS was a few months ago and I felt bad about that. I felt ill informed because I was ill informed. But one day not long after I finished listening to Getting Things Done, I started reading the New York Times, pretty much cover to cover.
Delicious marionberry pie milkshake from Shari's, a chain restaurant, that I was going to write about until I got distracted by something in the news. They put a whole slice of pie into the blender with the vanilla ice cream. Highly recommend. 
Soon I could tell you not just about ISIS, but about the election in Myanmar and Bernie Sanders and Paul Ryan and the unflattering things George H. W. Bush said about Donald Rumsfeld. Oh, I was so proud. Full of newfound self-respect. It was exciting, too. I started having opinions. For a few days I was livid about the overuse of arbitration clauses. Then I was loathing Donald Trump. Feeling sorry for Jeb Bush. Pondering the campus protests. I began looking for more information on my favorite topics online. I start reading tweets and political websites and -- best of all -- comment threads. I love comment threads.
The grossest looking dinner I've ever served. I was going to write about it, but . . . 
I didn’t feel bad about not reading the newspaper anymore. 

Instead, I felt bad about neglecting my blog. 

And how are the two connected? 

I don’t know about you, but there’s always some narrative running in my head. I’m always thinking something through. Earlier this fall, when I wasn’t otherwise mentally engaged, I was thinking a lot about Gabrielle Hamilton, composing blog posts as I drove around or washed dishes or did the rowing machine at the gym. This all changed when I started reading the newspaper. It was hard to focus on Gabrielle Hamilton because I was too busy thinking about riveting topics like the Christakis Halloween email
Oddly, you don't season the lamb before you wrap it in the won ton skins.
This could not go on. I love this blog. I do not want it to die. I decided I could will myself back into caring about food. Monday night I made the manti -- tasty little Turkish dumplings -- from Prune and a strange Pennsylvania Dutch cracker pudding dessert that I’d been wanting to try for eons. It was an interesting dinner. Monday night I thought: I’m back! Tomorrow I’ll do a blog post.

Yesterday morning, I sat down to write, but somehow an hour passed and I was still reading about whether it was bigoted to be more engaged with the carnage in Paris than the carnage in Beirut. Then I had to drive down to help my aunt clean out my grandmother’s house. Ordinarily I would have been writing the blog post in my head as I drove, but all I really wanted to do was find some provocative political radio show where they were talking about Syria, maybe, or Ben Carson, or the resignation of the Claremont McKenna dean.

I am sorry to say this, but there's no way around it: Once you start paying attention, current events are more interesting than cracker pudding. 
I was sure I took a picture of the finished dumplings, but I can't find it. 
But I'm going to try to find my way back. Here goes: The toasted manti from Prune involve cutting wonton skins into quarters and filling each with a lamb meatball smaller than a marble. You toast these in the oven then cook them in canned beef broth and serve with garlicky yogurt and some spiced butter. Owen said they were “too spicy.” Mark said they were “flavorless.” I liked them a lot, but for obvious reasons I'm not making them again.

To make cracker pudding, you cook some milk, egg yolks, sugar, Saltine cracker crumbs, and flaked coconut into a thick custard and then fold in beaten egg whites. Eat warm. Like coconutty tapioca pudding. Good, but not great, and it looked like curdled vomit. (Sorry.) I would not make this again.

As you can see, my heart was not in that account of Monday's dinner. I can't fake it. But I just made a bargain with Owen and holding up my end involves cooking two appalling dishes he found on BuzzFeed. This is one of them. If I can't think of something to say about waffle cupcakes, I really do need to pack it in.