Tag Archives: advice

Gratitude Custard

1 Dec

It was an Asian-inspired brown rice confetti from a fellow mom at our homeschool co-op. How did I get to be the lucky mom to sit next to her during lunch? I jotted down the recipe.

I decided, {one day} I’m going to make this, because {one day} I’m going to make everything, but most things just stay in my recipe files, and I keep making the same stuff over and over. After working all day [which is what homeschool is, after all], the last thing I want to do is make a fussy meal.

So, while dropping the older two off at Qur’an class, one of them gets the bright idea to ask me what I am going to cook for dinner. I absolutely do not like this question because I’d prefer not to think about dinner…I want to advance to the next part of my day which is driving {nearly} solo in the minivan with only the sound of the heater blowing after I say “good-bye!” Three-year old Dimples was in the back seat sleeping. I love when he does that.

“I’m going to cook lasagna,” I said, because that is the first thing that pops into my head.

“Oh, please, don’t cook lasagna!!,” they cry, while blocking the passenger door with their fannies, so that all the frigid air is laying siege on my bones. I want them to go away. Go away!! Go away!! Go away!! I chant in my mind..the place my kids have never really seen…God forbid! It is where, with impunity, I can say all kinds of wretched things they can’t imagine. All moms have one. It comes with the baby.

“Fine, I won’t make lasagna,” I say.

Then, I remind six-year old Nelly with my slanted eye and pursed-lip expression not to sass her teacher. She politely asks me {again} for the definition of sass; she is always very courteous when asking, so as never to be blamed for malintent. She promises to try real hard but she doesn’t know if she can because, of course, that’s like asking a mosquito not to bite.

Satisfied, Nelly, releases the door, crinkles her nose through the glass {it’s starting to turn red} and says what I love to hear anytime of the day, “I love you, Mama!”  Again and again, she says it as she delicately walks sideways all the way to the front of the door, so our eyes remain locked. She’s blowing kisses, but without puckering her lips because her smile is so wide…so precious to me.

I decide to pull out that recipe as soon as I get home and get straight to work not making lasagna.  I forget to use brown rice the key healthy ingredient, and start to boil white rice into a mushy, gunky mess. Not because I don’t know how to read the recipe; rather, due to the fact that I am interrupted by Dimples who wakes up hollering {every day like clockwork after his nap}. It’s always disorienting. I can’t wait for him to grow out of it.

“Shoot-a-roo!” I exclaim and then set about thinking how to use it anyway since the thought of tossing it would  render me a rotten excuse for a role model. I pull out eggs, milk, butter, sugar, raisins, nutmeg. Rice custard, anyone? 

Just when I’ve mixed and ladled it into a baking dish, unbeknownst, I set it down unleveled on the milk carton cap, and so it comes tumbling down on the floor, splattering my pants and oozing between my toes.

I run a finger over my pants legs and place a dot of the creamy goo on my tongue. Yummmmy….it would have been so good. But wait! There is a little bit left that wasn’t ladled yet. I tip-toe around the kitchen, like ‘Mission Impossible,’ reach for a small ceramic bowl, spoon and lift it into the oven to set.

It will take a long time to clean up as this is not just a mess, it is a splattered mess…on my hands and knees, moving things around, washing and re-washing. Thank God I have a machine and I don’t have to wash my clothes out by hand! And hot water from the sink to sanitize the floor. And a bath tub to clean my feet. And a dishwasher to put to work. And enough custard left to at least have a taste. And isn’t it better to have to clean up a kitchen floor covered in desert than, I dunno….a gas station bathroom in a red-light district? 

In the interim I’ve found the brown rice and try to improvise dinner. My husband comes home in the middle of it all. Thank you, God! He is so amused.

“My American wife,” he laughs, and hustles around the kitchen putting things back in place and helping me get the not lasagna dinner on the table. He always says, “My American wife,” and laughs when I’ve walked into a funk. I have no idea what he means by that – probably precisely what I mean by ‘my very Arab husband,’ ~a catchall for chaos.

So, I ask him, “What does that mean?”

He replies: “She made that, so you decided, I can do that too, and you did [but you didn’t].” My forehead wrinkles the way it does when he’s attempting humor [which is my job!], and I’m plainly confused. Should I try to set this straight? And then, Nah, I don’t care. I’m happily married 90% of the time and that’s purty darn good. I settle for asking him to pretend that he likes what I made.

The brown-rice confetti tastes nothing like the real deal, because I left out two key ingredients.  There is this little thing about directions….they require to be followed! Lesson learned for the 596th time.

My very Arab husband, sits down and very convincingly gobbles it all up so that at least two of the kids are convinced, and advance to the clean plate club. Nelly, no surprise, is not phased, and tosses her head on the table, weeping at the thought that she might be expected to eat mush for dinner.

“I can’t do it!! [big tears], please, I really can’t eat this!”  On and on she goes, like a battery-powered spinning top.

Lasagna would have been….so. much. better.

We strike a compromise. Then, what’s left of the rice custard gets eaten. I’ll have to eat this stuff all week because they aren’t going to amuse me any longer, but I don’t care. I’m just so grateful. I know I’m getting older, but I must be really getting older. I’m a Big Girl.

Some days it all goes wrong, but it feels so right.

Judge a Book by Its Cover

4 Jan

I’m somebody’s mama so when I go to the library I spend a lot of time in the children’s section. By the time we’ve had a sit down with Fancy Nancy, Harry Potter, all the kids at Magic Tree House, Pooh and Piglet, my kids are ready to go home. I have a few minutes to skim the adult section before my offspring start talking to random strangers, or my wandering ten-year old traipses upon a book which claims to inject more intimacy into your sex life. Time to GO!

In this predicament I’m a repeat offender of the sagely rule: DON’T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER! I’ve judged oodles of books by their covers and most of the time I hit the jackpot.

By this method, three years ago, I discovered the culinary prowess of Alice Waters. My eyes caught the contrast of the cover’s mustard yellow and red with orange hues. My photo doesn’t even do justice to the loveliness of this cover’s outward form.

Because of this book I can now roast the perfect chicken and make a comforting, hot pot of carrot soup with tarragon. Her method for preparing pouring custard is divine.

I hit the jackpot again when I glimpsed a white-lettered arial font set against a deep mahogany backdrop. It read: “An Everlasting Meal,” by Tamar Adler. I quickly pulled it out and looked at its face. The subtitle read: “Cooking with Economy and Grace,” and beneath that lay a scattering of leafy greens and cream-colored turnips with sassy, upturned tails.

I slipped it into my designated library sack and headed for the check out line, my five year old daughter hop-scotched behind in my footsteps, and told me to take her to Tutti Frutti – her favorite frozen yogurt shop.

After I paid my dues at Tutti Frutti, where she ordered a giant bowl of frozen sugar topped with a splattering of pomegranate seeds and Fruity Pebbles, I went home, ordered the kids to bed, and sunk down into my reading chair.

What a beautiful book, I thought to myself, and studied its cover more closely than I had a chance to do earlier. At the very end of the front-cover was a notation that the book included a foreword by none other than Alice Waters- the author of “The Art of Simple Food,” whose cover I also judged, and by that virtue learned to roast chickens.

Hitting the jackpot is an under-statement. This book has revolutionized the way I think of ingredients, cooking tools and food preparation. This book is more than a collection of recipes, it is a book about life. Adler encourages home cooks to get the most out of a single ingredient and to use instinct to light our path. This reading paired perfectly with my resolve to Be a Big Girl.

She warns readers not to follow recipes to a fault; rather she encourages us to : ….simply pay attention, trust yourself, and decide.

She says: We’re so often told cooking is an obstacle that we miss this. When we cook things, we transform them. And any small acts of transformation are among the most human things we do.

And this advice deserves to be hung on the wall:

…..there is a great dignity in allowing oneself to keep clear about what is good, and it is what I think of when I hear the term ‘good taste.’ Whether things were ever simpler than they are now, or better if they were, we can’t know. We do know that people have always found ways to eat and live well, whether on boiling water or bread or beans, and that some of our best eating hasn’t been our most foreign or expensive or elaborate, but quite plain and quite familiar. And knowing that is probably the best way to cook, and certainly the best way to live.

I’m pleased to have judged this book by its cover. It is very Big Girl material, and I will now have to purchase my own copy to refer back to every now and then.

I think one of the biggest obstacles to living a Big Girl life comes from so-called expert advice. We are bullied into detaching from the big girls who came before us. Their hard-won, simple advice is supplanted with expert “wisdom,” which teaches us to mimic rather than to live courageously and authentically. I realize it’s ironic that I would advise myself to take expert advice with caution considering the fact that to “Judge a Book by Its Cover” is total heresy to sagely scripture. I feel confident, however, that if my great-grandmother could sit down and have a nice motherly chat with me she would tell me it’s alright to judge a book by its cover- if that is what drives you to choose and if it has worked out so far so good.

To be a Big Girl, I think, we have to more often decide for ourselves, no matter the pulse and sway of expert advice. We have to decide for ourselves even if the expert bears a slew of lower case letters behind h/er name. We have to ask ourselves, What is my perspective? What does hand-me-down advice have to say on the matter? We have to give that the same or better degree of attention before considering which steps to take. I’ll leave you with a favorite quote from Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren which increased my resolve to live life authentically.

In this scene Pippi answers a shop keeper trying to peddle a freckle-remover potion:

“No, I don’t suffer from freckles,” said Pippi.

“But, my dear child, your whole face is covered with freckles!”

I know it,” said Pippi, “but I don’t suffer from them. I love them. Good morning.”

She turned to leave, but when she got to the door she looked back and cried, “But if you should happen to get in any salve that gives people more freckles, then you can send me seven or eight jars.” 

Much Love,

Danette