pretzel bites.

pretzel bites.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

winter afternoon blondies. because we all need them.

the moments when a day--once full of promise, once peaking--begins a gentle descent to its conclusion, the air cooling, bowing to the settling darkness, are powerful. afternoon becoming evening is a transition. a separation. an end and a beginning all at once...

and for a mother trapped inside a condo with three small children in winter, these are moments of descent into sheer madness. these are the moments in which everyone is tired. everyone is grumpy. everyone wants space. these are the moments in which a drop of water spilled on a shirt is met with a 45 minute crying fest. in which two year olds hug one year olds around the neck with gusto. in which two year olds and four year olds play "the bumping game" which never, ever, ever ends well. these are the moments in which a broken lego construction might actually be the end of the world.

of course, it isn't always like this. 
in spring, glorious spring, we spend these transitional moments outside. at the playground. scooting. biking. walking. running. rejoicing in the newness of the season. in summer we're at the pool, which we can see from our window, walk to with no shoes, and at which we pass those insufferably swampy dc summer afternoons cooling ourselves. the mosquitos can't get us there. in fall we hike. we collect leaves and acorns and gleefully catch those helicopter things as they spin down from the trees. 

but then winter comes. 
and there is no more outside. 
not for me, anyway. 

over the summer, in the heat of an august evening, i met a woman who lives on a homestead in maine. her descriptions of life in her cabin in winter inspired me. she braves the northern winds and snows and so can we! this year will be different and we'll play outside no matter the weather and no matter the dark! there's no such thing as bad weather--just bad coats! dark shmark! look at us go! 
it's easy to dream when it's 80.

the very first time we headed for the park under that weak, cloud beaten sun, when the air hovered somewhere in the mid thirties, i could feel my resolve crumbling. by the time we got home i had changed my mind entirely. we would not spend the winter outside, after all. some people just aren't cut out for the cold. so inside we go.

josh says it's good for children to be bored. he read that somewhere. probably there is some deep rabbinic wisdom in that statement, but josh is not home from 4:30-6:30 pm most of the time, and so he does not know the kind of horrors bored children can reap. 
so here, as i see it, are my options for indoor winter sanity:

-playspaces are sometimes great! they are also regularly pretty expensive and sometimes unfortunately smelly. if you are the kind of person who worries about germs, do not go to indoor playspaces, which is where all the germs live. that doesn't bother me, though. what bothers me is the perpetual "watch me do this" and the "are you watching are you watching are you watching" and the "no, that wasn't it, keep watching keep watching keep watching!" sometimes--especially the times i have paid good money for my children to run and jump and climb on padded surfaces indoors--i do not want to watch. sometimes i just want to stare at the wall and wonder how long it is until bedtime so i can just stare at the wall in peace. another risk involved in afternoon playspace outings is the godforsaken nap. the one that happens at exactly the wrong time, for exactly the wrong number of minutes, inevitably resulting in the dreaded waking-the-kids-up-to-get-out-of-the-car-and-walk-up-the-hill-to-our-condo. there is no longer walk.

-reading. to three children. who are all different ages. we read, of course we read. we read until everyone fights over my lap or starts grabbing at the book and whining about not being able to see. 

-playing. of course we play. my children build with legos and magnatiles. they make believe they're doctors and i'm the patient. they pretend to cook food in a mini kitchen and serve it to me and blow on it for me if it's too hot. we roll and bounce and throw balls but not too hard please. we build forts with boxes and they fill them with stuffed animals and dive into them. nothing ever ends because it was just time for it to end. they play until playing turns into fighting and screaming and hitting.

-arts and crafts. i love arts and crafts. arts and crafts are quiet and fun! cleaning up glitter paper and glitter glue and regular paper and regular glue is not fun! arts and crafts projects do not last as long as they should. see above. 

-fake magic. i once spent 17 agonizing minutes straight doing "magic" with a quarter.

-science magic. recently we made magical volcanoes that involve alka-seltzer and magical tie dye milk that involves dish soap and magical colorful rice in which we buried treasures. i call these things magical because a) i do not understand the science behind them and b) i hope referring to something as "magical" will buy me at least 6 extra minutes of child involvement. 
sometimes bath time is the activity du jour, thanks to our discovery of foam soap. sometimes i tell them to please just go jump on their beds. 

and yes, we watch tv. because TV SAVES LIVES. 

it's not that i don't want to be with my children during these long, looong, looooooong afternoon/evening hours. in fact, i have lucked into a job and a life that allows me to do exactly that; to spend more time with these incredible beings than i could ever have hoped. it's just that i find it difficult to be with them inside our not-very-large condo between the hours of 4:30-6:30 pm. those are bad hours when the crankiness quotient is turned up to high and the bickering and downright physical fighting just doesn't let up. and i'm not at my best during these hours, either. i get frustrated and frazzled and i have a short fuse. there are days i feel like i'm just barely treading water. and of course they sense that. they sense everything. and of course that makes absolutely everything worse. 
what they need, what we all need is fresh air and space. but like i said, it's too cold for me. (i should admit that i'm obviously glorifying spring, summer, and fall. those hours are hard hours then, too. but right now it's winter. and the hours are harder.)

sometimes, during these hard hours, i'm filled with doubt and worry that i'm not doing enough. that the ever present love that surrounds my children every moment of their existence whether they are being hilariously enchanting and charming or horrifyingly whiny and difficult, is somehow not enough. i wish i knew for certain i'm giving them all they need. but i've never done this before--this raising three children born in less that four years thing--and a lot of the time i'm just winging it. maybe most of the time. and the number one person who was in charge of making sure i had what i needed isn't here to guide me, or tell me to just calm the heck down and have a glass of wine. and my mom would tell me that no one in their right mind would intentionally spend a cold winter afternoon and evening cavorting in the woods with three children this young. or even at the playground, for that matter. my mom would tell me to trust that i have what it takes. 
but i still feel this nagging guilt that i am somehow responsible for my children's indoor-related wretchedness at the end of the day. why should they suffer indoors because of my lack of fortitude? 

they shouldn't. they should get bakers reward.
bakers reward is, of course, a real thing in bakeries everywhere. in my house, however, it is nothing more than bribery to participate in the activity i love so very much and find so deeply soothing. a chocolate chip here or there after the baking powder is measured, the butter and sugar whipped. 
after all, one of the ways i show the people i love that i love them is by baking for them. and so my children are learning to bake with me, to take turns pouring sugar and stirring flour, cracking eggs and whiffing vanilla. and i hope, in so doing, they are learning a way, my way, of saying i love you and get well and congratulations and i'm sorry and i'm thinking of you and a finding a way of sharing sweetness with others for no particular reason at all. and so, more and more, i find that we spend at least some of those hard winter afternoons and evenings together in the kitchen. 
the recipe below is particularly hands on because instead of using brown sugar we actually make our own by combining white sugar and molasses, which is fun for my children to do with forks and fingers. i keep coming back to this recipe for other reasons, too. something about the balance of sweet and salty, that heavy molasses warmth and tang draws me in. i like to eat these straight from the freezer. josh likes them warmed in the microwave for 13 seconds. my children will eat them any way they can get their hands on them. and cleaning up a baking mess is a whole lot more pleasant than cleaning up glitter. 
winter afternoon blondies
adapted from joy the baker's candy bar cookie bars. i've made them her way, with candy. that's good too, obviously. 
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups granulated sugar
4 tablespoons molasses
2 sticks salted butter, melted
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla 
1 bag of chocolate chips. or chocolate chunks
lots and lots of thick, flaky sea salt

to make:
1. preheat the oven to 350 F and line a 9x13 pan with parchment paper.
2. whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
3. combine the molasses and granulated sugar until there are no clumps. (fingers work best here.) then add the sugar to the dry ingredients.
4. whisk the butter, eggs, and vanilla, then add this mix to the dry ingredients and stir. it'll be nice and thick. stir in the chocolate. all of it.
5. bake for about 25 minutes. they should be golden brown and maybe just slightly undercooked when you take them out of the oven and generously sprinkle sea salt all over them. let them cool before lifting them out slicing them. 
6. wait until the kids go to bed and then eat them all. after all, you've had a hard day.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

ice cream lasagna. (you read that right.)

ice cream lasagna.
it exists. (i'm not kidding.)
i didn't invent it, but i wish i had.
it's what happens when you take a bunch of absurdly not-homemade-things and put them together in a pan and feel accomplished.
and it's delicious. (obviously.)

here's how you make it:
line a pan with ice-cream sandwiches. 
cover them with room temperature hot fudge.
and then caramel sauce.
and then defrosted cool whip.
and then crumbled cookies. 
(you're going to need some seltzer...)

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

6th and 60th anniversaries. and cake.

a few years ago my younger brother joey said this: it's hard to be a person. he is very wise even though i still like to tell him what to do. it is hard to be a person. 

here are just some of the day to day things that make it hard to be a person:
making appointments for dental cleanings
calling insurance companies
choosing the right curtains
keeping the medicine cabinet clean
waking up too early
listening to people chew too loudly
saving money
going to the post office

there are others, of course. scary and real things like debt and loneliness and pain and things that change absolutely everything about life, like death. 
october 10th was my anniversary. josh and i have been married for six years. and here is what i know after six years of marriage: it's still hard to be a person. 

it's even harder now, actually, because i am now not only a person, but a wife and the mother of three small children who cannot even get themselves breakfast. no, marriage definitely doesn't make it easier to be a person. but being married to josh, being on his team and having him on mine has made my life so very meaningful. he and my children have filled it with enough beauty, laughter, excitement, and wonder that i'd be okay even if i had to call the insurance company every single day. it's okay for it to be hard. it's supposed to be hard. but it's also supposed to be good. and for me being a person is so very, very, deeply, wonderfully good. 

six years.

my grandparents have been married sixty. this weekend we celebrated and had a party and in attendance were their thirteen grandchildren and eight great grand children and counting... (NO. I DO NOT MEAN ME. (i have contributed enough.)) their lives have certainly not been easy. i imagine it only gets harder to be a person as we age. but there they are, still laughing together. 
my parents would have laughed for ever and ever, too.
i know how lucky i am to have witnessed not one, but two generations of marriages that survived all the things that make it hard to be people. marriages that helped those day to day annoyances fade by nightfall, that made those real, true hardships seem surmountable, and those unspeakable heartbreaks seem somehow bearable. and of course, marriages in which life's gifts were emphasized and acknowledged as the real, true blessings they are. marriages filled with interest and understanding and support and laughter.

who am i to say what makes for a happy marriage? i suppose it's different for everyone. mine might not make it easier to be a person, but i imagine the goodness of our lives together will carry us through for as long as we have.

i pray our six years turns to sixty, and then more. 

we had carrot cake at our wedding. my grandparents had brooklyn blackout cake at their 60th anniversary party. these are superb cakes. but they are not easy. they're both involved and intricate and they that take no small amount of work. but the work is meaningful, and when they're baked and frosted and it's time to indulge, it becomes abundantly clear that the hard is clearly worth it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

portrait of a morning. with children. and oatmeal.

this morning i am eating cold, glumpy oatmeal for breakfast. cold, glumpy, packaged oatmeal that has a kind of sad little puddle of melted ice right in the middle. i eat it with a small pink spoon that turns white if it's too hot. the oatmeal isn't meant to be mine. i do not put ice cubes in my oatmeal. i did not mean to have this for breakfast. but sometimes things like this happen.  
my husband is reading the paper. he takes 13.8 minutes to make coffee. it has tasting notes. tsk tsk, he says, about The News. you should read this, he says. he sips his coffee.

i look up at him from the floor. i am on the floor because i am trying to wrangle three small children into clothing. it is not going well. i cannot remember where i put my coffee. it was too hot to drink around all this commotion. my children are always making commotion. 

they are playing. they are running. they are telling me things. at the same time. they do not speak with indoor voices. they are feeling many things. they are laughing. they are crying. or making whining sounds. please do not talk in those whining voices i say. talk in happy voices i say. 

who have i become?  

where is my coffee?
no words needed.
last night the baby woke up. she has an ear infection so i can't just let her cry. also i can't just let her cry if she does not have an ear infection. when she woke up i looked down at the mat next to my bed. my son was there. some time between 10 pm and 4 am he wakes up and leaves his bed with the train sheets and comes to sleep on a mat with a blanket for the rest of the night. sometimes he needs water. or to be tucked in. sometimes he comes into our room with toys that he puts on my night table. when the baby woke up i went downstairs to nurse her and then my two year old woke up and asked if we could go upstairs. it's three am i told her. we do not wake up at three am. she does not know what i mean when i talk about ams and pms. when i finished nursing i took her to sleep with me on the bed with the train sheets. the mattress does not have a pillow top. 
inspecting her cookie for chocolate.

my husband hands me my coffee. he has small toothbrushes in his hand. toothbrushing and vitamin time, he says. the older ones run to him. i am still on the floor. some of the clothes are still on the floor.

the baby pulls up on my knee. she is smiling at me with her mouth open. it is a baby grin. i grin back. my two year old trummels by. trummel is not a word but it is what my two year old does. she kisses my shoulder. it is part of a game she is playing that i don't understand. but she kisses my shoulder and i understand that i love when she kisses me.
poor baby doesn't know she's eating bamba while her brother and sister are eating cookies.
i have made a lunch. and put an ice pack in it and a note with a heart and a smiley face and a moon and a sun. i have packed a backpack with stars and constellations on it. i have packed snacks. so many snacks. and water bottles. i have packed diapers. two sizes of diapers. and wipes. i have sent three work emails. four if you count the one i sent at three am when the baby woke up.
two-year-old's cookie post chocolate extraction. i ate the rest.
i take a sip of my coffee. 

my stomach growls.

my four year old makes a joke. a real joke. my husband and i look at each other with big eyes. 

in seven minutes it will be time to leave. leaving always takes longer than it should. i am in pajamas. i haven't eaten breakfast. please do not look at my hair. i go to clear the table for the second time. the second round of breakfast. there is a bowl of oatmeal. it is cold and glumpy. it has melted ice puddled in it. in it there is a small pink spoon that turns white when it's hot. 

i eat it all. 
(i avoid the spot with the melted ice.) 
i eat it standing over the sink.
it is delicious. 
it is comforting. 
it is exactly what i want to be eating.

then i do all the other things. 
i often eat forgotten, rejected oatmeal for breakfast. most of the time it's cold. and that's okay. because oatmeal is one of the greatest, most wonderful foods of all time. All Time. it is simultaneously filling and restoring. luxurious and sturdy.

when i am feeling indulgent, i make salted oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. when i am feeling even more indulgent i make peanut butter oatmeal cookies with chocolate chips and m&ms. monster cookies, they are called. i do not make them as well as the person who gave me the recipe. her name is ellen. i am not going to share her recipe but i know that The Internet can provide different versions of it. i am sure they are good, too.

when i am alone and i am not sitting on the floor, i make a bowl of oatmeal like this:
1/2 cup old fashioned oats
more salt than any oatmeal package suggests
two shakes of cinnamon
packet of stevia
3/4 cup water

stir. microwave. (mine takes 2 minutes on level 8/10. oatmeal can also be made on the stovetop, but then you will have to clean an extra dish.)

stir in a drop of strawberry jam and some chopped banana. 

sit down. eat in silence. drink coffee, if possible.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

dry walnut cookies (are better than they sound)

you know what's the worst? walnuts. walnuts are the worst. it seems to me they exist largely to destroy chocolate desserts. who in their right mind would want to ruin an otherwise lovely brownie with walnuts? or a chocolate chip cookie? think you're about to take a bite of the best cookie ever? BAM. walnut. ruining everything with its... walnutiness.

here is my rating of raw nuts:
brazil nut
all the other nuts i can't think of

no one just walks around eating walnuts because GAH. that would be like walking around eating bitter, expensive sticks..

some people even go so far as to put walnuts in salads. let's not talk about those people.

here is a good life rule: avoid walnuts.
1. fesenjan.
2. my mom's dry walnut cookies. 

i know, the name alone makes them sound like sad, sad things that don't warrant the name "cookie." but trust me. they do. my mom used to make them to give as holiday gifts to people she liked but wasn't friends with. mr. kim, the dry cleaner, mr. patel, the package store guy, all the vet techs, etc. and i never understood why she would go to such trouble to make so many cookies that didn't have chocolate. 
and then something happened. i don't know what. but i started loving these dry walnut cookies. i started gobbling them up one after the other after the other as if they were chewy chocolate chip cookies. i ate them straight from the freezer (where my mom kept them) when i was home to visit. who says people never change?

when my mom died, there was a bag of these cookies in the freezer. and oof, they were like the most valuable cookies of all time. my mom made them with her very own hands. 

last year some time joey started making the dry walnut cookies a lot. it was maybe the first thing he ever successfully baked. (but not the last--he makes bread now!) and he used to text me or call me when he made them. and around thanksgiving, when he was home for a long weekend, he made a few batches for everyone and they were just perfect. so i decided to make them, too. this week was the third anniversary of my mom's death, and i was looking for ways to recognize it, to ritualize it because this year her yahrzeit isn't until july.
that morning i dressed in a flowing, flowery dress of hers that she wore throughout my childhood. it felt so wonderful to be draped in it, to be wrapped in her, and i took nava to her grave and we sat for a while feeling peaceful and grateful for the bountiful blessings my mom gave me, gave us. and then later, after school pick up and work and errands and dinner and bath, the kids finally went to bed and i was alone. i toasted and then ground walnuts, measured flour and salt, oil and lemon juice. i texted with joey all the while to ask for advice. it felt so, so good and right. and i thought hey, look at me, i'm doing so well. i'm not a weeping mess--i'm honoring my mom by living this beautiful, busy, happy life. la di da. and then i proceeded to have a very bad week. a Very Bad Week. the kind of week that makes me just wish i could call my mom and say come over and rescue me! these kids are driving me nuts! or at least call her and have her tell me nani, you're not messing everything up. you're doing fine. better than fine, you're doing great. she would have. she would have made everything okay. and of course wanting that of course added to the feelings that made it a Very Bad Week. and so it goes.
the salve to all of this is knowing there's a little taste of my mom just a room away in my freezer. it's no small thing. and the leftover walnuts? they'll sit around forever. or at least until i run out of these cookies...

this is the recipe joey had. i amended it slightly and got more info by texting joey throughout.

350 degrees
3 extra large eggs
2/3 cup oil
1 tsp vanilla
3 tsp lemon juice (one lemon)
3/4 cup sugar
3 cups flour
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup toasted walnuts, ground

here's what i did.

3 extra large eggs
2/3 canola oil
1 tsp vanilla
juice of one lemon
3/4 cup sugar
3 cups flour
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup toasted walnuts, ground
cinnamon and sugar, optional

1. preheat oven to 350 and grease a cookie sheet or put parchment on it
2. toast walnuts in heated oven in a single layer on a cookie sheet. this should take between 5-10 minutes. don't let them get too brown. when they're cool grind them in a food processor until they're mostly ground with at least a few chunky pieces.
3. mix the eggs, canola oil, vanilla, and lemon juice in a large bowl.
4. add the sugar, flour, salt, baking powder, and walnuts to the wet mixture and stir until everything is combined.
5. form the dough, which will feel quite wet, into two or three oval logs on the cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes or until they start browning and the center is mostly cooked through.
6. remove the cookies from the oven and carefully slice them into one inch pieces while trying not to burn yourself. spread the cookies on the cookie sheet on their sides in one layer and return to oven.
7. bake for another 20 minutes or until cookies are darker shade of brown. depending on your oven and the size of your cookies you might have to rotate them while they're baking, or flip them over, or even remove the ones that bake fastest. it'll be worth it.
8. sprinkle cinnamon and sugar on them while they're hot. i did this because i always sprinkle cinnamon and sugar when it's suggested. joey likes them without it.
9. let them cool and enjoy. store in the fridge or freezer.

Friday, July 17, 2015

lemony ricotta cake. with blueberries and plums.

we got home from vacation on saturday.
getting home from vacation is sort of the worst.
especially when you have no food in the house.
and your children decide to share your last $2 yogurt.
(YES! sometimes i buy $2 yogurt, okay!)

josh offered to go to the grocery store because, he told me, i looked too tired to do it. which i was. he took maya with him and i got to sit on the floor and play chutes and ladders with rapha, which i did not win.

josh is a deeply kind human being.

they left at 5 something. and they didn't get back until almost 7.
i don't know what happened.

he asked for a list. i gave him a list. on this list i wrote:
peaches (or nectarines. whatever is ripe.)

before he left i thought about reviewing what i meant by ripe, since josh once came home with an avocado that seemed like a scientific anomaly in its epic hardness, then claimed he doesn't really know what a ripe avocado feels like. but the thing is, my husband constantly awes me with not only his kindness and patience, but with the depths and creativity of his mind, too. he's always thinking. whether it's about philosophy or religion or belief or the law or shoes or parenting or game of thrones, his mind does not stop twisting and turning in the most fascinating, beautiful ways.

and maybe that's how and why he came home with one bag full of rock hard peaches and another bag full of rock hard plums. oh, and the biggest container of ricotta i've ever seen. because, he explained, he likes to garnish his french toast with it. (we make french toast once a week, on saturday mornings, with leftover challah.)
sometimes it's hard for Thinkers to go grocery shopping.

and i know that right now it probably seems like i'm making fun of josh, but i don't mean to. because sometimes having too much of something, or not the right version of something is a wonderful challenge. and it seemed to me the only thing to do with all of this food we wouldn't possibly be able to eat before we move on monday is bake it. which is what i did.

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups ricotta (i used whole milk)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 stick butter, melted
1/2 cup blueberries
1/2 cup chopped plums

to make:
1. preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a 9 inch round cake pan with parchment paper, then spray with non-stick cooking spray.
2. combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a big old bowl.
3. combine the eggs, ricotta, vanilla, lemon juice and zest, and butter in another bowl.
4. dump the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir slowly until combined.
5. add in the fruit (i'm sure any kind of fruit would be good here) and stir gently until it's all mixed in. 
6. spread in pan and, if you're feeling fancy like i was, gently place some thinly sliced fruit on top.
7. bake for about 50 minutes or until the cake is a nice golden color.

a wonderful summer cake. enjoy!