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People, for the most part I love eccentricity and general weirdness, in people, places, film and so forth. But I gotta be honest in telling you that the middle-aged, long-haired dude in tube socks and puffy white kicks who parks his fanny on a padded red cushion he brings and then places on a local park’s bench -which happens to be a ringside seat at a children’s playground- and proceeds to pop a Pepsi, place it on the ground next to him and then strum to beat sixty on his acoustic guitar while so earnestly crooning/narrating James Taylor songs like a mixed tape on repeat is a bit beyond my pale.

I mean, who is this guy, and why? Let’s start with his hair. It’s like Bret Michaels meets an unkempt elderly gal who should have cut her tresses decades back but didn’t. It is a stylist’s worst nightmare: frizzy; dry; mousy; dated; and then some. It looks like there may once have been layers, or are those bangs? Did he try a perm and then let it go, or does he just have natural “waves”? Ever so often, not frequently, he stands, reaching his hands toward the sky as if to stretch or inhale. On the descent, his fingers fluff the frazzled nest that is his coiffure. Why? Is he self-conscious about volume or whether the wind has mussed it just so?

The socks and sneakers are comfortable and practical; I get it. Ditto the old tee-shirt hugging a round belly and the generic khaki shorts. His outfit is not his priority, y’all, it’s the tunes. It’s all about the tunes. He’s channeling so much feeling into James Taylor’s songs; you know every one is a tribute to the guy he considers “the man.” For emphasis, dude will at times speak the lyrics or adopt a bit of vibrato, just for an added emotional oomph. Bless his heart, he still sounds totally vanilla.

I still think I’d just chalk it up to quirkiness if it weren’t for his chosen locale. Why front and center at a playground? I mean, he’s certainly not singing the Annie soundtrack or “Let It Go,” for christ’s sakes. James wrote about some heavy shit; death, loss. “Fire and Rain” is definitely not what I want my kids to hear and ponder as they see-saw and swing, you know? That stuff is tough.

““““`

I thought about this on the way home because even though we had one of J’s friends in the car -read: try to act nicely- my boys made complete arses of themselves. It was like they climbed into their carseats and morphed into mean dicks with an unfortunate lot to say. It was mostly the Elder, to be honest, just reveling in some moody, ugly shit like a pig in fresh mud. At first I was sort of, “WTF, y’all?! Didn’t I just bring you to the park for baseball on a beautiful day? Did I not pack each of you a ludicrously thoughtfully pimped out bag of gear, snacks and all that jazz?” J tells me that during his field trip to the g-damn National Arboretum today he saw the most famous Bonsai tree -”it’s bone-sy, Mom, not bonn-sy.” ‘Scuse me!- in the world which is not only extremely old but also extremely cool, not least because A) we live in the same city as does it, and B) he got to see it whilst in just second grade.

Erm, can we have a moment of thanks for Mom who packed the damn cleats/tees/hats/snacks/sunscreen/water bottles/special Friday cinnamon rolls AND enrolled y’all in a magnificent school AND you got to see an effing 200 year old Bone-sy tree today? Jesus H, you ungrateful heathens.

Anyway, we arrive at Friend’s house, and I told my kids to stay in the car while I walked Friend to the door. On the way, I asked Friend (who is J’s best friend) if he thought that based on their behavior thus far, the boys would be alive when I returned to the car. Friend said, “I don’t think so.” I had to agree.

But on the way back to the car, I reconsidered my appraisal and thought surely I was being too pessimistic and definitely wasn’t giving the boys enough credit.

I have never been so wrong. Indeed, it is laughable just how wrong I was.

Because, when I got to my damn sticker-bedazzled beater of a car, I looked through the driver-side window to see not one but BOTH boys gripping themselves in apparent pain and crying huge, farcical, raindrop tears. Do you think I wanted to open the door and get in? I did not. I wanted to run for the hills, a la that really-unhappy mom in “The Hours.” But, I manned up, got my game face on and got in.

“He hit me twice, AS HARD AS HE COULD.”
“He stole my penny! It was my favorite penny. I need that penny!”
“He scratched me AS HARD AS HE COULD.”
“I saw the penny first. FIRST! 900 DAYS AGO, I SAW AND FELL IN LOVE WITH THAT PENNY. THAT PENNY IS MY LIFE-PARTNER!”

Can we take a quick break to mention that pennies are literally worthless? That it costs more to make a penny than the one stupid cent at which they’re valued?

Bygones.

I truly did not think I’d make it home but I also didn’t think this mayhem would last. I mean, it takes a lot of energy to act like an insane, inane buffoon, you know?

Suffice it to say that it did last. Until we got home. Past the time I asked them to wash their hands before dinner. During dinner such that I had to physically remove them from one another and force them to eat without looking at each other. During bathtime when one chose my bathtub and the other said it was his life dream to bathe in my tub. Givemeabreak. After the one got out of my tub with DRY hair and a still-filthy face. Afterwards when I went onto the deck for self- and child-preservation only to haul ass back in when I heard bloody-murder screaming. While I called T with a seriously 911 plea to come home RIGHTNOW. And still onward, during my deck-exile and fishbowl-of-wine drinking hiatus.

T got home for a needed and helpful intervention, I still think the guitarist is weird but nothing more than a dweeb with bad hair, I’m loving my third glass of wine, and Eldest is all sweetness and light again, as if Evil Hyde was simply a mirage. I wish. Hyde the Younger is asleep, and I’m grilling a pizza. And so it goes on this Friday.

Hasta, peeps!

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Growing up in Louisiana, I attended lots of parties. Not just formal affairs for Mardi Gras or Christmas but also neighborhood soirees and cocktail parties hosted by my parents’ friends. I loved all these fetes, loved dressing up and seeing people, assessing the spreads and noshing on my favorite dishes. Perhaps it’s fairly obvious that I still take great pleasure in parties and really love all their festive concomitants; I truly enjoy hosting, derive much joy in cooking for others, appreciate great food and drink, love setting a pretty table.

Mom and I used to give the “refreshments,” as I liked to call them, a full overview before committing to a first plate. Always -oddly?- I loved the inevitable parsley garnishes tucked around the tenderloin or salmon, nestled by the crudités or bowl of dip. Fortunately, few others seemed to give these bright green sprigs much thought and so neither noticed nor minded the girl swiping bouquets of them and then chewing with satisfaction.

The parsley was always your standard curly parsley, small parcels trimmed from the larger bunch, rather like a cauliflower broken down into florets for easier handling and eating. I didn’t discover flat-leaf, or Italian, parsley until after college, when I became a cook of my own and the sort of one who cared deeply about herbal variations and the implications therein. Though I now use flat-leaf parsley almost exclusively, the curly remains unbeatable if you’re looking to enjoy the simple satisfaction of noshing on an unadulterated green.

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curly parsley

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flat-leaf, or Italian, parsley

I started musing about my history with parsley when a friend recently asked if I’d post a “tutorial” about the various types of parsley and just what can be done with them. Perhaps this primer is more than she bargained for, but it’s been an awfully nice trip down memory lane. For now, let’s jump in to the question at hand.

Petroselinum crispum, otherwise known as parsley, originated in the central Mediterranean -southeast Europe and far west Asia- and remains an important herb in the culinary traditions of that area. Consider the role parsley plays in tabbouleh, for example, or in a bouquet garni. How many plates of risotto and pasta garnished with chopped parsley have you enjoyed? The always-pleasing gremolata is a parsley-centric accompaniment to many a dish, and parsley plays a weighty role in most versions of chimichurri (or salsa verde as the Italian iteration is known). It’s a humble but significant herb, one that pretty much anyone with a pot, soil and sunshine can grow and enjoy.

Curly parsley is most commonly used as a garnish, hence my early experiences with it as just that. Its leaves are smaller than its flat-leaf brethren and some believe its taste is less pronounced. I myself think that the tongue’s experience with such crisply ruffled leaves affects our ability to as clearly discern its taste. Flat-leaf parsley sometimes has thicker stems and can have a slightly woodier taste, as heftier trunks might suggest. I use flat-leaf more because it has a clean, clear flavor not entangled with any texture.

Parsley rarely offends; I mean seriously, when was the last time you thought the main problem with any dish was the parsley in it? Probably never. It’s pretty and adds a lovely yet fairly muted fresh flavor to many things. As Harold McGee says, it’s relatively “generic,” really and can “therefore complement many foods.”

The best way to store a fresh bunch of parsley is in a small cup of water on a windowsill, as if it’s a bouquet of flowers. When I purchase some parse (my shorthand), I come home, untether it from its twistie binds, maybe (serious maybe because I tend to be lazy) trim any ends that look splayed or old or soft, fill a juice cup with water and stand the bunch up in it. I learned this trick from a cook I once knew and it really is foolproof- you’ll get days from your parsley that you never knew it had!

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the best way to store parsley is in a cup of water on a windowsill

This one is on my sill now. Parsley drinks water like a horse that’s found an oasis in a desert, so you’ll need to be vigilant about refilling its reservoir. Now that I really study this picture, I see that my guy is in need of a tall drink. Momentarily…

Parsley is good for you! It’s full of folic acid, flavonoids, vitamins K/C/A and antioxidants. Unfortunately, the myth that parsley can remedy bad breath seems to have been proven false, but that doesn’t stop me from trying to make Percy eat it as often as possible. It can’t hurt!

Especially when someone else starts it for you, parsley is easy to grow provided you have a spot where the sun shines assertively and you’re willing to water. Certain animals, such as the goldfinch and a few butterflies, really groove on parsley or its seeds, so that’s cool too. And I have had great luck with parsley reseeding itself and acting as quite the perennial in my little garden.

Let me bring this to a close by providing a few ways to use parsley now.

Snip it over anything and everything as a garnish. Just look at part of my dinner tonight: pimentón-roasted potatoes and onions with parsley both before and after. 

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pimentón-roasted potatoes and onions

Spaghetti alle vongole? LOVES a parsley garnish! NEEDS it! Tabbouleh! Parsley is critically important; Ina Garten’s recipe calls for a full cup. What about my roasted sweet potatoes with hazelnut gremolata?

I find myself snipping away at my parsley bouquet all the time. Bet you will too!

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I often think about the perfect sandwich I had at a food truck in Newberg, OR, several years ago. Uprooted the name of the truck was, and there I ordered the bacon avocado sandwich on potato bread that had been slicked with onion marmalade and arugula mayo. Ri.dic.ulous!

Ever so often, when I’m struck with a serious yen for a BLT sorta meal, I make it based on my memories of that delicious tower. Today was just such a day. It is a stunningly gorgeous Thursday, and after delivering three magnificent pies and finishing up a meeting, I’ve been putzing around getting lots of good, too-often-overlooked stuff done. Like repotting orchids and other various flowers that were busting at the seams of their tiny pots. Charging my camera battery. Packing away all the clean winter gear into a giant new bin.

And then, I had to have that sandwich. While walking Percy I’d had the presence of mind to stop by Wagshal’s and pick up some of their Amish slab bacon. It cannot(!) be beat. I fried up a couple pieces, picked some fresh arugula from my garden, toasted some bread, sliced a tomato. Mayo made one piece of toast glisten while a thin spread of Dijon mustard coated the other. I carried my plate outside, basked in the sunshine and savored every bite of this excellent lunch.

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Bacon, avo, tomato, arugula sandwich

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The kids’ school offers some wonderful extracurricular activities; each day there are several options from which the kids can choose and then register, things like drama, rollerblading, Arabic, science. They run for just an hour after dismissal, and each term I let the boys pick one or two from those that strike their fancies. Jack opted for NASA science and chess last time around while Ol took a children’s theater class. I heard rave reviews after every session and immediately shared the new choices when they were published last month.

Somewhat to my surprise, both boys chose Spanish club (I’m so happy about this!), in part because they wanted to do something together (I’m so happy about this too!) and also they’re both really engaged in the language this year. Then they each chose theater which runs on the same day but is divided by age such that they wouldn’t be together. Ultimately, Jack’s theater class was canceled because of low enrollment. In an attempt to assuage his disappointment, I said, “Buddy, I am happy to either pick you up early or to sign you up for the other option that day which is soccer.”

Jack has never expressed the remotest interest in soccer. In fact, when he was almost three and Oliver was a newborn, I signed Jack up for tot soccer in order to get us all outside. He did not seem excited, but I thought he might enjoy kicking a ball with friends. My precious boy instead loitered, each week, in the field’s back 40, identifying weeds and small flowers which he would repeatedly pick and bring to me on the sidelines. I remember clearly his glee one day: “Mom, Mom, it’s hairy bittercress!!!” a weed which was, at that point, Tom’s nemesis because it spread like wildfire and thus impeded his grass seed’s maturation. If J’s foot ever made contact with the soccer ball, I don’t remember it and it must have been accidental.

Anyway, I suspected he’d say no about soccer this time around so I simply said, “The choice is yours; anything is fine with me! The only thought I wanted to share is that sometimes it’s just really nice to know the basics of common games. Say you and a bunch of your friends were at the park together and someone started a pick-up game of soccer. If you knew how to play, you’d probably be glad. I can remember feeling happy to know how to play various games.”

And to my surprise, he immediately said, “Sure, Mom, why not. I’ll try soccer.”

I always find little surprises like this marvelous. They remind me that even though I know my boys better than perhaps anyone else (knows them), they are dynamic beings whose interests and ideas are developing in tandem with, though often in less obvious or visual ways, their physical growth and capabilities. I have always thought of Jack as my son who would never be an athlete, and in all likelihood, sports will never be his main passion or direction in life. And that’s OK. But it’s also so worthwhile to remember and keep present that our little ones change, that what we used to attribute to, expect from and know about them may not be true next week or next year or ever again.

We, as parents, cannot grow complacent or assumptive regarding our child(ren)’s preferences; not only does that hold the possibility of pigeon-holing our kids inaccurately -ascribing to them interests or traits that are no longer correct- but it also runs the risk of keeping them from discovering external interests and elements of their own inner selves.

I contacted the afterschool coordinator who moved J into soccer, and yesterday I went to pick-up a bit early to see if I could catch a glimpse of him. There was my Jack, racing down the field happily. The group is co-ed which thrills me (second graders really tend to divide by gender unless you force it), and I saw him dribbling with a girl with whom he used to play detective; he gave her a Sherlock hat, pipe and magnifying glass three years ago for her birthday, one of the last co-ed parties he attended. As he jogged off the field, he gave me a high five and said, “That was awesome.”

In the car on the way home, Oliver told us how “awesome” drama was, and Jack told him how “awesome” soccer was. He then said, “You know, I’ve always loved soccer.”

People, please. I took that opportunity to lovingly relay the first and only experience Jack had with soccer, the tot class five years ago. He grinned and shrugged and said, “Well, I love it now.” And I smiled and thought about how we change and perhaps he did love it that first time around, in the sense of what soccer was to him then: time outside in a field of flowers and weeds, time to pursue what was then one of his interests, time to indulge a simple pleasure. The loveliness of inauthentic memories* can still lead us to discover, or rediscover, something new to enjoy.

Food for thought on this beautiful spring day!

*Please rest assured that I am not saying all youthful memories are inauthentic, but some are and those are the ones I’m writing about here.

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Friends, I cooked the loveliest dinner: olive oil poached cod; smoked asparagus; multigrain bread; a glass of Chablis. Everything smelled beautifully and looked as nice; our anticipation was swell.

And then I gently put my fork into my perfectly flaking fish, applied just a bit of pressure and as the fish broke SAW A CURLY, PINK, NOT-A-VEIN BIT OF NASTY. I will eat pretty much any food that drops onto the ground, whether my kitchen floor or the sidewalk. I’m not great at washing my hands fastidiously all the time. I’m definitely not a germ alarmist. But I will tell you that my stomach turned so precipitously that I surely would have yakked up a lung if I’d not pushed my plate away as lightspeed-quickly as I did. I was literally green at the gills, nauseous as a 1st trimester gal with child. Also I was repulsed, and I fully intend to bring both fish and finding back to the market tomorrow.

Uuuuuugggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Fortunately, I had one bowl of turkey chili left from last night and a few biscuits too. Plan B was terrific. I’d made some cinnamon-honey rice pudding earlier with the whey from the ricotta so treated myself to a small bit of that as well.

I really was a cooking machine today: the ricotta; rice pudding; candied kumquats; the failed dinner; something else too, though now it escapes me. Aren’t these kumquats pretty? I saved a few seeds to plant tomorrow, just in case I’m struck with a green thumb.

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kumquats

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Oh, spring, how do you energize me. This morning’s gray drizzle and an epically funny bath fail have given way to a glorious day. I was finally able to plant my mint and marjoram and uncover my basil, fennel, Bluebells and other carefully lidded treasures. They are all aglow now, happily drying out and warming up in the sunshine. Nutmeg is playing with all the abandon a cat on a leash can muster; I do feel terribly for him. He races gleefully after bugs, feathers, anything that appears to scoot, and though he reaches some before the leash length gives out, at other times he’s foiled in a dramatic, whiplash way. If I weren’t so worried that he’d either never come home or be hit by a car, I’d let him roam free. But we have feral cats in the alley, maniac drivers on the extremely nearby busy roads, and I just adore him entirely too much to risk a feline sayonara.

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Virginia Bluebells

After dropping the boys off, I went to the market to stock up on stuff for us and the plethora of catering gigs, big and small, in my near future. Since, I’ve made ricotta, stewed prunes (don’t judge; these are amazing in all their orange- and cinnamon-scented glory! If that’s not enough of a draw, Molly Wizenberg provided the recipe so obviously it’s foolproof!) and am about to embark on candied kumquats. An enormous pile of three types of freshly washed and spun kale is drying on the counter, and the open doors and windows are letting springy vibes wash away the remaining inside cold of winter.

PS- while at the market, I was thrilled to see that this Friday is the annual One Day mango sale. You do not want to miss this, not least because Ataulfo, aka champagne, mangoes are THE best. Canners out there, you should most definitely go nuts. Mango jam, mango chutney, etc. Yee-haw! Non-canners, you should still get excited too: grill your mangoes, make mango/amaretto/vanilla ice cream sundaes, craft some mango salsa for fish, eat them plain, make mango honey mustard, cook yogurt chicken with mangoes…..

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One Day Mango Sale- this Friday at participating Whole Foods

How, you might still be wondering, does one experience an epic bath fail? Well, there are two ways.

One, you endure a mudbath in Calistoga, CA. Disgusting. Tom and I chose this activity during our first trip together, to Napa many moons ago. We had been dating all of four months, thought this might be a nice change of pace from wine tasting, got into our respective baths and immediately felt like pigs in styes and got out. Yuk.

Secondly, and this happened this morning, you realize while at the market just how dirty you feel. I passed the fancy, made-in-house bath salt area and was transported to a clean, aromatic world as I trailed my nose slowly over the bins of seductively “flavored” salt scrubs. I sprung for a bit of the rosemary-lavender one, visions of a relaxing, leisurely, exfoliative soak hurrying me home. I drew my bath, the dial turned decidedly to hot, looked with horror at my unkempt legs and felt doubly glad I’d bought the scrub.

I dropped gratefully into my tub, shampooed and conditioned my hair and got to work on depilation and exfoliation. At that point, the water started to feel a bit cooler than I hoped. I turned the cold completely off and enthusiastically commenced scrubbing. People, this scrub should perhaps be renamed bath soak; it’s a tad aggressive for a scrub. I think I lost a layer of skin over my whole body. I was smooth, so there’s that. Concurrently, the hot water quit. Just quit, and I still had conditioner to rinse out of my hair. I hate cold baths like I hate winter in March. Neither is right. And suddenly, my languid tub felt like a vat of chilly challenge. I have never rinsed so quickly or flung myself into a towel with such need.

That, my friends, is a bath fail!

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