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Posts Tagged ‘family’

Nappertunity knocks — very, very softly

September 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Taking the nappertunityOne of the things I miss about my youth and young adulthood is the chance to close my eyes for a few minutes in the middle of the day… seizing the “nappertunity” as it were. I still love to spend an hour or two in the early afternoon lying on a hammock in the sun or under a bright reading light, either reading a book or doing something relaxing like a crossword puzzle or sudoku, and letting my eyes slowly blink closed.

Babies and toddlers are of course allowed, encouraged and even cajoled to nap. But in our American society, naps are something you’re apparently supposed to outgrow as you get older. I learned this hard way when I was on my first job.

As with most things I accomplish, I’d worked my way into full-time employment slowly. As a grad student TA, I held office hours right after my 8:30 morning class, and didn’t have my own class until after 3 pm, so I had a few uninterrupted hours to eat lunch, watch the Carrier Dome get built and put my feet up and contemplate the human condition.

I didn’t easily adjust to the lack of nappertunities in the working world. I continued to put my feet up and “read” after lunch, until the day I looked up from my reading to see my boss’ boss smiling down at me. Oops. Like a grown-up Cookie Monster, I had to make my naps a sometimes treat.

It wasn’t until the birth of my first child that I truly discovered the joy of nappertunities. Sleep deprivation had been taking a harsh toll, as I’d been using the kid’s sleep time for my “me” time. Bad move. The best advice I ever got as a new parent, and the only parenting advice I ever give, is to sleep when the baby sleeps. Naps are restorative for the adult caregiver as was well as the child.

With kids all moved out, and as I age and naturally sleep less at night, I find myself more open to nappertunity than I have been in a long time. I do still occasionally nod off at my monitor at work, but mainly I look forward to lying down for a few minutes when I get home, NPR droning in the background. And for me, the best part of taking a vacation is being able to indulge in the twisted twin pleasures of staying up all night and napping through the day.

How and when do you like to nap? On your back, belly or sitting? On a bad, on the grass, in a train or bus? Morning, afternoon or night?

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Categories: Essays Tags: , , ,

Degree material?

June 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Yesterday was oldest son’s high school graduation. I was plenty early enough, I thought, to get good seats. I parked and followed the throngs of grads in robes and family members in whatever passed for their Sunday best into the the arena where it was being held. I opted for a tie and pants but it was so warm I left the jacket behind.

It was pretty crowded already, so I took a seat further away from the action. I got myself settled in and started to look over the program, automatically scanning the list of graduates’ names for my son’s.

Funny. I couldn’t find it.

I looked a few more times, turned the program over. And then saw the name of the school on the cover. Which wasn’t my son’s high school. The school in a town I used to live in was holding its graduation in the arena right next door to the civic auditorium where I was supposed to be.

Yeah I can be pretty clueless like that, but fortunately I got to the right place by the right time. Still, a little Dr. John wouldn’t hurt.

Categories: Nonsense Tags: ,

Happy Pi Day

March 14, 2010 2 comments

In honor of Pi Day (3/14) I made one of my favorite — but also, importantly, one of my kids’ favorite — foods, broccoli quiche.

Broccoli Quiche

Pi Day Broccoli Quiche

I’ve heard of mythological children somewhere who make a face at broccoli, but it’s one of those foods that all three of my boys have always enjoyed enthusiastically, making it my go-to veggie when I’m feeling the need to get some deep green goodness into their growing bodies. It’s the non-meat pizza topping of choice, sometimes with black olives (the only one who won’t eat the olives will chow down on the pepperoni pie that I usually get to appease the ominvores). They like it the way my mom prepares it with garlic, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I’ve already written about the crowd-pleasing properties of my Tofu Broccoli Stir Fry. They’ll even gobble it up steamed with a little salt.

But as much as they like all these, my broccoli and cheddar quiche seems to get the most “yays!” when they find out I’m making it. I like it because I can get nearly all the cleanup done in advance. Also, because the veggies are inside, it makes a side dish optional, though tonight I served it with steamed carrots and garlic bread. I also got a peach pie just to be extra celebratory.

My recipe is adapted from Mollie Katzen’s famous Moosewood Cookbook and its sequel The Enchanted Broccoli Forest (which, interestingly enough, I’ve never prepared). I don’t make my own pie crusts; I probably could but I’d rather avoid the time, work and mess for something that would never come out as good as the boughten kind anyway.

Broccoli and Cheddar Quiche

2 pre-made deep-dish pie crusts
2 medium crowns of broccoli, cut into small pieces
8 ounces sharp cheddar, shredded
6 eggs
2 cups milk
4 Tbsp flour
1/2 tsp. mustard powder
1 tsp salt
1 small clove garlic, crushed
juice of 1/2 lemon
paprika

Preheat the over to 375 degrees. Steam the broccoli until it’s bright green and gives some resistance when you try to pierce it with a fork.

Line the bottom of the pie shells with the cheese.

To make the custard, whisk together all the rest of the ingredients except for the paprika. When the broccoli’s done, add half to each pie shell, and then cover each with the custard. Dust the tops with paprika and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the middle is firm. Let the quiches set for ten minutes before cutting.

Happy Pi Day!

Categories: Recipes Tags: , ,

You know we’ll have a good time then

March 12, 2010 2 comments

Sometimes in my current pre-divorced state I find myself kicking the tires on single parenting: going it alone on shopping, meal preparation, laundry, getting kids out the door in the morning, checking on homework and all the other things that don’t sound nearly as important as going to the office and pushing out a report on the US Immigration Courts but nevertheless become my primary focus when my soon-to-be-former partner is out of town.

While on daddy-duty I tend to focus on the tasks at hand, and frequently feel too harried and put-upon to listen to a synopsis of the latest book in the Warriors series or a preview of the features expected in Portal 2. At times like this I wonder if I’m sounding a little too much like the dad in the Harry Chapin song who never had time for his kid.

But once in a while I manage to step out of what I’m doing and really pay attention. And then I wonder what life is going to be like when seeing them get up in the morning and go to bed at night is the exception and not the routine. Sometimes I admit I’m impatient for the day when I’m on a predictable schedule of responsibility. But there are some moments when the enormity of the coming change smacks me in the face and I get maudlin for the kind of idyllic suburban family life that I occasionally glimpsed but never really had.

This morning I had one of those pauses. The two younger boys had just gotten on their bus, which was mercifully only ten minutes late. It’s been as much as a half hour late, and when that happens I have to choose between leaving the kids sitting outside so I can get to my bus, or waiting and giving up on getting to work at anything close to my normal time.

So they got on their bus and I had twenty minutes for the thirteen minute walk to the bus stop. I like this time because it gets me exercise as well as time to think or even, if it’s not too snowy or rainy, do some reading (yes, I read while walking). I also get to watch the parade of yellow buses go by: besides the three public schools in the vicinity, there’s a private school just down the street, and I’m always amazed to see all the far-flung school districts represented by these students.

One of those buses turned out to be the very one my kids boarded a few minutes earlier. I looked up to see my eleven year old flashing a toothy, goofy grin while he waved at me. The bus stopped at a light and I caught up with it, creating another waving opportunity. It passed me again, only to stop at the intersection to make a left turn. As I walked by a final time, I turned and caught one more wave from my youngest and that’s when it hit me that I’d probably have a lot fewer of these wonderful silly interludes. Of course I’m already having fewer as the kids get older. Even if I weren’t moving out, I’ve always made it clear that I expected them to.

But what I’m realizing in these countdown days is that while I shouldn’t idealize my parenting experiences — there have been plenty of frustrations all around — I nevertheless want to cherish my kids and the good times we have while I’m still part of their daily lives. Whether it’s cooking something like broccoli quiche that they like so much they’re too busy stuffing their faces to tell me so, or trying to appreciate the various kinds of music they create or consume, or watching with satisfaction as they make friends and little by little go about the task of replacing their parents as their principle avenues of companionship and support. Basically trying to Be Here Now. And of course, avoiding those “Cats in the Cradle” moments.

Categories: Essays Tags: , , ,

Pressure Cooking

February 14, 2010 2 comments

I’m pretty comfortable in the kitchen, but occasionally I manage to forget that (1) I have three hungry kids waiting for me at home and (2) I haven’t gone shopping lately, which tends to make me anxious about preparing dinner. Ordering pizza is always an option but, in the interest of inflicting a death of a thousand cuts upon the debt monster, I prefer to reserve pizza and take-out for special occasions or emergencies.

It was on one of these brain-addled evenings that I was checking the larder when I got home. There are certain ingredients I try to keep on hand at all times for such situations; one of these is broccoli, which holds the honor of being the healthiest food that is also enjoyed by every member of my household.

A few other staples I had were eggs, milk, cheese and frozen pie shells — I know that pie crust isn’t that difficult but I have a hard time tolerating the mess — making broccoli quiche another option. But that would have taken about an hour and a half to prepare, bake and cool, and I don’t like pushing the evening routines too late, both for my kids’ sakes and mine.

Digging deeper, I found a few boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese — actually the Wegmans equivalent — but it’s one of the foods the kids can prepare by themselves when I can’t get home in time. Besides, it’s not a comfort food I grew up with — macaroni were made either with sauce or garlic and oil, never powdered neon-colored cheese — so I’d prefer to declare a pizza emergency than go the box-dinner route.

Fortunately there were also a few cakes of extra-firm tofu in the fridge and several packets of ramen noodles in the pantry, meaning I could make another family favorite: tofu and broccoli stir fry with ramen. I tend to avoid this dish on weeknights because I usually get too OCD about the preparation to do it quickly. But on this evening, I was pretty motivated and managed to throw it together efficiently (though accidentally leaving out the garlic) with a minimum of mess, stress and grumbling. In the end, there was good food that everyone liked, ready at a reasonable hour, without spending lots of extra money.

Tofu Broccoli Stir Fry

ingredients:
3 broccoli crowns
1 red or green bell pepper
1 medium onion
1 pound extra-firm tofu
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon cornstarch
5 packages any flavor ramen noodles (throw away the flavor packets unless you have kids, in which case put one packet at each place at the table)
.25 mg Xanax (optional)

marinade:
juice of 1/2 medium lemon
3/4 cup soy sauce
2 cubic inches fresh ginger, grated
1 medium clove garlic, pressed
2 tablespoons honey

If you opt for the Xanax, take it first with a tall glass of water. This will help keep things under control later on when you have to clean up the mess, set the table, and serve the food before the noodles get gummy and the vegetables get limp.

Mix the marinade ingredients together with a whisk or fork.

Drain tofu and cut into cubes about a half inch on each side. I try to keep the entire block intact when I cut it so I can put it back into the plastic package it comes in, and then pour the marinade over it. If this is too anal-retentive for you, just toss the tofu and the marinade into a plastic ziploc bag and shake it up.

Cut broccoli into florets and stem chunks. Florets should be no larger than about an inch across, stem pieces roughly 1/2 inch cubes. Steam until bright green and still firm but not crunchy. You should be able to pierce it with a fork, but with significant resistance.

Slice the onion and pepper into strips about 1/2 inch by 2 inches. You can also use carrots, celery, bok choy, pretty much any firm vegetable, just cut the pieces about the same size. Or you can leave these out entirely and just use more broccoli, it’s up to you. Put the veggies aside. You’re done with the prep, so rinse the cutting board so you don’t get food chunks running around the dishwasher. And make sure you scrape the inside of the garlic press because you know how icky it is to empty the dishwasher and find soggy washed garlic inside the press.

Put up a big pot of water for cooking the ramen. By the time it boils, you should have the stir fry part done.

Heat oil in large frying pan or wok. Drain off marinade into a bowl, and mix in the cornstarch. Pat the tofu dry with a paper towel to avoid splattering oil when you drop the tofu into it.

Stir fry tofu for a few minutes until it starts to brown a little — you’ll need the heat pretty high or else you’ll just be sauteeing it. Add the cut up veggies and continue to stir fry until the onions start to get translucent. Add broccoli, lower heat to simmer. Add the marinade, stir and cover.

Serve with ramen. It’s good with rice too, but then you should make sure you start the rice before steaming the broccoli or else you’ll end up with soggy vegetables and nobody likes soggy stir fry. You’d end up throwing the whole thing out and ordering pizza after all.

Categories: Essays, Recipes Tags: , , , , ,

On Pancakes and Fatherhood

February 13, 2010 2 comments

Dad at the grill, circa 1971*

I was 24 years old when my father died on Valentine’s Day in 1982. He was 56, only five years older than I am now. I think that’s when I first started to consider myself a grownup — I’m still considering it, but over the years I’ve come to accept some of the trappings of adulthood. Like driving, which I only learned after my father’s death — mildly unexpected for the son of an auto mechanic. I decided I needed my license after figuring out I wasn’t likely to make any more progress toward a PhD and so needed one of those job thingies, which were generally not located within walking or bicycling distance of my off-campus apartment. I inherited his living-room-sized pale blue ’77 Chevy Impala, and promptly dented all four corners of his last baby the week I took ownership.

I’m also disinclined toward household repair projects — though I have, with great effort, fixed a bathroom subfloor and installed flooring that’s nearly even if you don’t look too closely. On the plus side, I don’t eat red meat nor do I smoke two packs a day of unfiltered Camels — or any quantity of any cigarette for that matter — so the chances are good that I’ll live a bit longer than he did.

But one place where I think I compare favorably with my paragon of adult masculinity is in the kitchen. My dad liked to cook. Once he recovered from his first major heart attack at 49, he started to take over the grocery shopping and dinner preparation which had previously been my mom’s job. But even while he was working and all the kids still lived at home, there were two meal-related tasks that were his purview exclusively: barbecue and pancakes.

I may not be much for grilling dead animals, but I do a pretty good job with breakfast, and so was thinking about my dad this morning while preparing the breakfast that was the final event of my middle son’s fourteenth birthday party sleepover. After making some fresh strong coffee to get myself motivated, I put together my weekend special which I call “IHOP at home” — orange juice, pancakes, hash browns, eggs, bacon. I made veggie bacon for me and my youngest son — who is a stricter vegetarian than I am — but also regular pork bacon because I’m that kind of good dad. Besides, nothing associated with fatherhood disgusts me anymore since getting through the bottom-wiping stage.

Sure, I cut a few corners. I used frozen hash brown patties, partly to save effort but mostly because I have never made hash browns that didn’t end up a soggy oily mess. And I used a pancake mix — my favorite, New Hope Mills Buckwheat — but then I’m really honoring my dad in this respect, since he always used a mix. Granted his mix of choice was Bisquick, which I don’t ever recall being used for anything but pancakes — but I’m sure he would have loved these too.

Thinking about Dad’s meticulous attention to detail — getting all the lumps out of the batter, precisely adjusting the temperature under the griddle, making sure the pancakes turned out perfectly round and lightly brown — I recognize the source of my own OCD. Which was probably as helpful in his career as it is in mine, though probably also making neither of us the kind of guy you’d want to share a kitchen with.

I don’t know if he did much cooking before he got married, but at about the same age as he was when he got busy in the kitchen — though for very different reasons — I find myself taking pleasure in fixing my favorites again. I make a mean cheddar and broccoli quiche that my kids as well as my partner consume with enthusiasm, and which only needs a salad or some raw carrots to be called a meal. I can nail an eggplant parmigiana with varying degrees of difficulty — everywhere from slicing and breading and frying the eggplant to buying it pre-sliced, pre-breaded and frozen — and am nearly always happy with the results. I’ve devoted an entire post to my banana bread, and I think maybe writing about cooking is how I share my pleasure with those of you I may never even meet. Dad may not have been much for writing, but he sure did love to feed his friends and family.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Dad.



*My dad graciously posed in the chef’s outfit which, including the bellows, was a gag gift someone gave him on his birthday. This was in the Catskills where we spent summers while I was growing up. He rarely smiled as much as he did when he was there. On the drive up, once we got off the highway, he’d roll down the windows and exclaim “Smell! Smell!” It sure did smell a lot better than Brooklyn back in the day when most apartment buildings burned trash in residential incinerators.