Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Date Night

April 5

Tonight it would have been really great for Craig and I to have a date night. For many years we resisted the very notion of date nights. But eventually we got it: if you don't plan the time, it does not just magically appear. We have always been good at supporting each other in going out with a friend, even taking a few days to get away to the city to work, see friends and rest. One of the first times we stepped out of the house together, on a date, and strode out to the car holding hands, the thrill was dizzying.

Sometimes though, getting organized to go on a date does not happen, particularly during seizure periods when schedules scatter like confetti in the wind. So we have a date sub genre: the Home Date aka Having a Nice Dinner at Home Together While the Sitter Wrangles the Kids Date. We are fortunate to have a wonderful babysitter who is a participant in our family, a meaningful companion to the girls, and an incredibly loving, skillful and intuitive person. A couple of times now, after a week of lots of work and seizures when it felt like Craig and I had not communicated about anything but logistics, we had a Home Date. Craig made a nice dinner, we opened a bottle of wine and we just sat and talked.

Alice helped feed the kids, we focused on each other through that. We had a glass of wine while we ate. Alice got the kids in the tub, in their pjs and in bed, We stayed at the table together, savoring our conversation, speaking in complete sentences and actually finishing a thought. We finished our dinner, slowly, had another glass of wine. We relaxed and enjoyed each other like on a real date, only we did not have to drive and could split that final little bit of wine at the end of the bottle. I love the feeling after a second glass of wine. It is warm and diffuse, it relaxes muscles and eases concerns.

I told Craig the next morning that I loved getting out on actual dates, but I really liked Home Dates as well because I always knew the food was going to be amazing. It got me thinking about dates. I think they feel so good because it is a moment of promise to put each other first. In a busy life, with children and their literally constant demands, putting yourself and your loved one first is an incredible statement of purpose. A date says: I love you, and I enjoy you.

Craig made a simple, beautiful meal with an easy clean up for our date: scallops, rice and arugula salad. The arugula was a big thrill, the first bunches to appear at the Farmers' Market this spring. Here is the scallops recipe:

Seared Sea Scallops with Preserved Lemon and Parsley Pesto

For pesto, clean and rinse 1/4 of a preserved lemon (check out the Canal House gals for how to make these amazingly useful delicacies!) Julienne and finely dice. Finely dice about 2 tablespoons or so of parsley. Mix the lemon and parsley, add a dash of sansho pepper, a grind of black pepper and mix in a small bowl with really high grade olive oil.
Cut the green part of a couple of scallions into 2" lengths, split open and julienne. Set aside in cold water.
Rinse scallops and pat dry. Season lightly with french (or other mild) sea salt. Drizzle with olive oil (a cooking grade).
Heat a grill pan over medium high heat. When hot, add scallops. Cook until just done (about 2 minutes per side depending on thickness.) They should be a lovely color with dark grill marks and just warm in the center when cut open.
Arrange cooked scallops on a plate. Put a dab of the pesto in the center of each scallop. Shower with scallions.

Tiny Turnips

March 29

Back in January at the winter (indoor) Farmers Market, Brent and Teresa of Red Tail Farm had the tiniest, greenest little turnips I had ever seen. Brent told us they had sown their hoop house with the Japanese variety, Hakurei. When the starts came in, he went out to thin the rows. He pulled the first one and turning to toss it in to the compost, he decided to see what it tasted like. The tiny white turnip, about half an inch, and tender greens, about four inches long, burst with sweetness. When he told the story at market, his eyes lit up and he pantomimed staggering backwards at the flavor of the tiny turnip, as if the surprise of the sweetness had nearly knocked him off his feet. He harvested them gingerly, bundled them in to fairy sized bunches and brought them to market. I have thought back on this story, recalling the delicious ways we ate them, raw and cooked, and contemplating the heart of the story itself.

Brent and Teresa are farmers. Their land is outside their front door: life and work are one. They are ambitious and deeply educated and always learning. They do all the work; there are no laborers and only the most elemental of industrial tools (tractor, weed whacker.) Their investment is total, their work is their intellect, their hands, their instinct. The story of the tiny Japanese Turnip was told casually, a wonderful fluke; that he happened to taste them and they happened to be amazing. But tasting that turnip at that moment, before tossing, was an act of curiosity, inquiry - what does this tiny plant, the excess of the planting, taste like?

The farmer's attentiveness, the intersection of intellect and instinct, yielded the candy sweet bunches of turnips, which in turn became nutritious meals for others. The intimacy of this interaction, I think, is what has captivated me. To know that a portion of our food, our community's food, is brought to market with this level of care and intelligence brings me a rush of hope for our food system and the survival of botanical diversity. The respect the farmer, our friend, brings his work envelops our work, our cooking for our family. Can a turnip save the world? Perhaps not. But the care and attention around said turnip, that surely can.

(regular sized Japanese Turnips can be used, just cut into quarters)

Raw Salad:
a couple bunches of baby Japanese turnips
sea salt
great olive oil

Rinse the turnips, trim root hairs and carefully half leaving greens attached to root.
Drizzle with lemon juice and and olive oil. Sprinkle a bit of sea salt. Let rest a bit and serve.

Quick Saute
a couple bunches of baby Japanese turnips
2-3 salted anchovies (well rinsed, filleted and chopped)
olive oil
red pepper flakes or a dried red pepper thinly sliced
black pepper

Rinse the turnips, trim root hairs and carefully half, leaving greens attached to root.
Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and add anchovies. Stir until dissolved. Turn up heat to med-high and toss in turnips and red pepper. Remove from heat when just done, for tiny turnips about a minute, larger turnips two to three minutes. Add a crank of black pepper and serve.

Friday, April 23, 2010


March 22

One of the hardest things for me in parenting Colby is never knowing if an environment is going to be O.K. for her, and there being no ability to reason with, bribe or cajole her. It feels a little trivial, I will confess anyway, but I have missed not being able to take Colby certain places. In particular, Balthazar. Balthazar is gorgeous. One of my earliest experiences of New York City glamour was at age twenty-two, sitting at the bar on a summer evening after a dance class and having a cold beer in an elegant Pilsner glass. I snacked on the olives and thought how I as a little girl would have found the environment exhilarating. And I looked forward to taking my own kids there as an ultra treat from that moment on.

I tried taking Colby once, we were there for about eight minutes. People were nice, trying to help, but she started to cry and wanted out, and there is really no point trying to force a moment like that with her. When Coral had her first croissant at a local coffee shop and loved it, I knew I had my long awaited date for Balthazar, I knew she would love it: she loves croissants, she loves mirrors, she loves fans, she loves nice, pretty ladies and handsome men. Balthazar is a temple to croissants, it is plastered with French bistro mirrors and every member of the waitstaff, in their crisp black and white outfits, are so gorgeous they look like they are playing waiters in a movie.

We were seated at our table, grinning widely, both fully aware that this was a real treat. Coral looked at the fans, above the outstretched spring bouquets of peonies and cherry blossoms and said, "Fans dancing!" while they twirled above us. She ate her croissant exclaiming, "This mine Moma!" and dipping it in her warm milk with honey. It was bliss. It was the sort of moment I remember savoring as a child, having your parents all to yourself, in a special environment, eating a treat.

I thought of it as a treat for Coral, but actually it was a treat for me. To sit with my daughter, just two years old now, with whom I can easily anticipate moods and needs. I can read her and see things coming in a way that I cannot with Colby. Being with Coral is not a comparison between the girls. This moment together was much simpler than that. It was being with a child, my child, and sharing something we both enjoy: a lovely place, a buttery croissant, and each other. It was nothing short of a dream come true.

Nori Eggs and Happiness

March 15

A friend told me she was amazed that she never felt like Colby's life was sad. She said, "For everything Colby goes through, it seems like you make her life a happy one." As we spoke, Colby was recovering from brain surgery, still unable to walk, and deeply affected by the experience. Colby does suffer, her seizures are violent, shocking and exhausting. It is sad that she goes through that, but never have I ventured into thinking her life, or our life with her, was sad. It is possible to contemplate suffering and sadness in terms of things that happen to her; her seizures happen to her. But to say, to feel, that her life is sad, inherently, by definition of the seizures, is impossible. I realized, in turning my friend's comment over in my mind, that to see Colby's life as sad would feel like the ultimate failure.

It is not that I cannot say Colby's life is sad, it is that it is not true. It is not true because we, while she is our girl, in our care, focus on the joy. We celebrate and acknowledge who she is, who Coral is, who they, as sisters, are together. We acknowledge our success as a family in finding moments of happiness and focus in the day.

And all the things that happen to Colby, injuries, seizures, hospitalization, that is just the work. It is hard work managing seizures. It is hard work being in the hospital. It is hard work feeling like there is not enough time for both girls. But our life together is more than work.

The daily, moment to moment, focus is to raise these girls well. To give them the love and support they need to reach their potential. This week, around our table, that means feeding Colby by hand, but waiting for her to gesture when she is ready for another bite. This gives her a sense of participation and control. And for Coral, it means helping her learn to say "Please," and not talk with her mouth full: tiny, important steps in learning to navigate the world more smoothly.

Colby smiled as she ate her Nori Egg omelette this morning, Coral was saying, "Please, more Dada," their cheeks were still warm, flushed from sleep. We were present, in the moment, our joy was quiet and sturdy.

Nori Eggs
Using scissors, cut half a sheet of nori in into thin strips about 1/16" wide and an inch long. Put the strips in a small bowl, add sansho pepper to taste and douse in regular soy sauce or usukuchi (light soy sauce). Set aside.
In a bowl beat 2 eggs (the more free range, the better!) 
Heat a small cast iron skillet on medium-low heat. Add a splash of olive oil. When the oil shimmers pour in the eggs. Add a grind or two of black pepper. Cook as you would for an omelet. When the egg begins to set, lay a thick line of the marinated nori along the center of the eggs. Roll the egg over the nori mixture. Remove from pan and drizzle remaining soy/sansho mixture over the top.