Entries Tagged as 'Rituals'
Like Santa Claus, my mom never shows up empty-handed. When she visits, the kids gather at the door, waiting to see how lucky they’ll be this time. Will it be the new Lemony Snicket book? That turtleneck Abby had circled — hint, hint — in the Land’s End catalog a few months ago? A pair of earrings for Phoebe’s recently pierced ears? If a grandmother’s job is to shower love and affection (and presents), my mom is in the running for Awesomest Grandmother of All Time. She also brings things for me, however. Not presents, exactly. Things she has saved. Things that have lived in the boxes that sit in her
compulsively incredibly well-curated basement for thirty years — her version of what Jenny and I call “the treasure chest,” the stuff from your life that you can’t bear to picture in a landfill somewhere — which she is now parceling out, bit by bit. Little dolls from her childhood, my old soccer jacket with all the patches sewn on the back, the mimeographed newspaper from my elementary school containing a story I wrote, in second grade, about Arbor Day, the light blue cable-knit outfit I wore on my first birthday, photos of my eighth grade dinner dance (I wore my dad’s tie and WHITE PLEATED PANTS), my old Looney Tunes T-shirt with Tweety Bird on the back and “Rent-a-Kid-Cheap” on the front, an old Wilson A2000 baseball mitt, my freshman course guide and assorted college detritus, and once, I crap you not, an Easter bonnet I made in pre-school out of a paper plate, some plastic flowers, and a light blue ribbon. (Me: “Mom, come on, what am I going to do with this thing?” Mom, actually attempting to tie the bonnet on my head while simultaneously applying the guilt: “But you… made it.”)
As you see, there are upsides and downsides to her role as family archivist.
Not too long ago, though, she showed up at our door carrying an old cardboard box, and when I say “old,” I don’t mean, like, six months old. I don’t even mean thirty years old. I mean, the cardboard on this box had that kind of waxy sheen that truly old cardboard gets, as if it has been holding fried dough and candles for a few thousand years. Stuck to the top of it was a mailing label that had my mom’s maiden name on it, and the mailing address of the house she moved out of more than fifty years ago. And inside, she announced, was a special present for Phoebe. Inside, as Phoebe soon discovered, was my mother’s comic book collection from her childhood, preserved here, as if in amber. Scrooge McDuck, Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Kit Carson, Hiawatha, all in various states of parchmenty disrepair, motes of dust rising from the box, the pages literally falling apart as Phoebe turned them. Our oldest daughter is a well-documented comic book enthusiast, but man, I haven’t seen her sucked in so completely, so deeply in a long time. (“Sometimes when I’m reading them, I imagine that I’m grandma, sitting in her room when she was little,” is how she put it.) She spent a couple weeks reading and rereading them, and I joined in, too. The slightly fuzzy, saturated colors of that old ink are so satisfying and the writing — and yes, I realize I am talking about Donald Duck comic books here — is kind of amazing. Scrooge McDuck: Wait, that guy is a metaphor! There’s stuff going on here! These comics are saying something!
Given that they were written in the 40s and 50s, they occasionally veer into uncomfortable, not-very-sensitive cultural observations, but as with TinTin, you can turn that to your advantage. Think of it as an opportunity to talk about how dumb we used to be and how much we have learned and how times have changed, mostly, and for the better. Phoebe loved them so much, we secured another, more pristine shipment, each copy wrapped in plastic, and she currently keeps them all under her bed, stacked nearly in that old cardboard box. Sometimes I’ll be upstairs, on a quiet weekend afternoon, and I’ll peek in and see her there, laying on her floor, propped up on her elbows, reading them. Get to the end, put it back neatly, reach in and pick up the next one. The good news is, you don’t need to have a gift-dispensing mom who doubles as an obsessive family archivist to give this stuff a shot; old comics are practically what ebay was made for. They’re not hard to find — but even if they were, they’d be worth it. – Andy
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Once I was half way through Alex Witchel’s All Gone: A Memoir of My Mother’s Dementia. With Refreshments I stopped underlining passages and moments that I wanted to remember. There were just too many. Witchel’s mother, a college professor and one of the few working moms in their 1960s suburban New Jersey neighborhood, cooked more out of obligation than joy (“Del Montes was her farmer’s market. Everything was in season, and syrup, all the time.”) but it didn’t matter. The aromas of her mom’s cooking signaled a “safe harbor” for Witchel and once she began losing her bright, spirited mother to dementia, she looked to the kitchen to reclaim her. As Witchel asks, “Is there any contract tighter than a family recipe?” We are lucky to have Witchel, a longtime repoter at The New York Times, guest-post for us today about Hanukkah memories with her mother. – Jenny
When I was growing up, I realized early that Hanukkah was a raw deal. No tree, no stocking, no cookies, no carols – and school was open, at least every weekday. Eight nights of presents were little consolation. The first and last nights were for the good ones like Candyland, or the plush, cuddly stuffed animal I had spent weeks coveting. The nights in between fizzled with unloved items like Pez dispensers or calendars for the coming year emblazoned with the name of my parents’ bank. The Hanukkah gelt, those gold foil-wrapped chocolate coins were okay, though they never lasted long enough to make much of an impression. Certainly not as long as that spinning dreydl which was such a bore it made jacks seem like an Olympic sport.
Yes, we always had latkes and they were always great. It’s hard to fry potatoes and lose.
Dinner on the first festive night was built around them; my mom usually made her brisket, which for me was the side dish to the latkes.
By the last night of Hanukkah, after a full week surveying our long faces, she rallied. Now there was sufficient distance from Thanksgiving, so she (more…)
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My mother owns Thanksgiving. Which is another way of saying that she is in charge of the turkey. We are, of course, with her in my sister’s kitchen every step of the way, mincing onions for stuffing, browning anchovy-studded breadcrumbs for the cauliflower, shredding Brussels sprouts, rolling out our pate brisee, whisking Scharffen Berger into chocolate pie filling, and providing moral support (and sometimes actual muscular support) when the bird makes its dramatic entrance into the 400°F oven. Because I don’t get to cook side by side with my mom and my sister very often, Thanksgiving Dinner is like the World Series for people like me — a heavily choreographed effort that I have always felt is just as fun to assemble as it is to actually consume.
The night before Thanksgiving? Another story altogether. We are all arriving at my sister’s house at different times with different levels of hunger and desires. (Read: We are all arriving with our children.) And in situations like these I’m not sure which is worse: Cooking up a “quick meal,” which before you know it fills the sink with a truly soul-crushing pile of ketchup-streaked dishes….or ordering a sad-sack pizza because in all the pre-game hype leading up to the big day no one even gave Thanksgiving Eve a thought until the moment we arrived. No one owned it. (more…)
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Given that I woke up yesterday at 3am worrying about how early I need to leave work on the day before Thanksgiving to make sure I get my pumpkin pie made in time for a seamless departure the next morning, now seems like the perfect time for the last installment of our series featuring Sam Sifton and his new book, Thanksgiving. As we head into the final weekend before the feast, we asked him for advice on planning ahead — more specifically, we asked him what three things he takes care of in advance to make the big day a little less stressful. In his (elegant, reassuring) words:
Make Cranberry Sauce.
I do this on the weekend in front of Thanksgiving, usually on Saturday night, as a way to say to myself: This thing is starting now. I dump a bag of berries into a pot with some sugar and orange juice. I get that cooking and wait for the berries to start to pop and bubble. It’s the culinary equivalent of priming a pump. It gets me started. As the sauce cooks, I sit in the kitchen and make lists I should have made days and days before. I make lists of dishes, ingredients, guests, needs, wants and, crucially, jobs. By the time the sauce is done — and that, by the way, is when a goodly portion of the berries have popped and released the pectin that binds the dish together — I have a pretty good idea of what I need to get done in the next couple of days. I dump the sauce into a serving bowl, let it cool off and put it in the fridge under some aluminum foil. There’s that job, DONE. I cross cranberry sauce off my list.
Try a Brine.
Too many people come to the idea that they’re going to brine their turkey on Wednesday morning (even Thursday morning!) and that is a little late in the game. Better to make the brine on Monday night, tip the bird into it when it’s good and cool, and then remove it on Wednesday morning so you can dry it, first with paper towel and then in the cool air of the refrigerator. That way, when you do cook it on Thursday the skin of the bird is really and truly *dry*, important because then the heat of the oven won’t have to evaporate anything before it gets to work tanning and crisping the bird. Science! It’s a Thanksgiving secret weapon.
Make Some Pies.
Or ensure that someone is making them. It’s hard enough dealing with all the stress of cooking the savory side of the meal on Thursday when you’re also trying to bake sweets. That’s why pastry chefs get to work at three in the morning. The kitchen isn’t as hot as it is when the line cooks are in there, and the butter and lard in their dough doesn’t melt until it should. Make pies on Tuesday night. Make them on Wednesday. They’ll be better for your thinking ahead, and you’ll have more things crossed off your list on Thursday morning besides.
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Tags:thanksgiving sam sfiton
Part of the joy of working with writers who are smarter and more knowledgable than you is that you learn stuff. They do the research and make sense of the material and then you get to absorb it, process it, and then go to dinner parties and act like you know what you’re talking about. I’ve just finished editing a book about bullying by the amazing journalist and Slate gabfest fixture Emily Bazelon – and, obviously, being the parents of two girls, this is a topic Jenny and I spend time thinking about. Emily’s book – Sticks and Stones, out in February — is about the phenomenon in general, how it works and why it happens and what can be done to alleviate it. One of the words that comes up in the book over and over again is empathy, in that it is a crucial trait for kids to possess – or learn, as the case may be – if we are to make strides in making kids less mean, and more forgiving. Since October is officially “Bullying Prevention Month,” and since our kids, for some reason, have been reading in and around this subject area a lot lately, I thought we’d highilght three books that help instill some empathy and might lead to some fruitful dinner table discussions on the idea of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes — always a good thing to think about. Apart from the subject matter, they also happen to be really excellent books. I now hand the mic to Abby and Phoebe. — Andy
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
What it’s about: ”A boy named August (they call him Auggie) who has a deformity on his face. I know that doesn’t sound nice, but his ears look like tiny fists and his eyes are too low and he has no eyebrows or eyelashes. I don’t know how to explain him. Auggie has been home-schooled until his parents decide that it’s time to send him to a real school, Beecher Prep, and Auggie is resistant at first. He’s afraid. But when his parents tell him that the principal’s name is Mr. Tushman, Auggie laughs and decides to go. The rest of the book is about his year at school and how he manages to survive bullies, ‘the plague’ — which is a mean game, kind of like cooties — and a jerk named Julian.”
The moment that hurts the heart: “When Auggie overhears his friend Jack saying bad things about him. Jack tells Julian that he had pretended to be friends with Auggie, and Auggie didn’t know that. Auggie overhears this and goes on the staircase and just starts crying. He trusted Jack and thought that he didn’t care about how he looked. When you read it, you can feel how sad he must be.”
The lesson it teaches: “Looks can be deceiving.”
Phoebe score: 10. “One of the best books I’ve ever read.”
Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
What it’s about: “A girl named Melody who has cerebral palsy and is incredibly smart. I think she’s twelve. The thing is, she can’t speak because of the cerebral palsy, and so people misjudge her. A lot. She has one friend, beside her aide, named Rose. Rose believes in her and one day, Melody gets a special computer that allows her to finally communicate. When she types in a word, the computer says it out loud, so it’s like she can talk. This helps her prove that may be different, but she’s not stupid. This book is enough to make people cry.”
The moment that hurts the heart: “Melody’s school has a team of these super smart kids who go to compete against other schools in a trivia game that is on tv. Melody is on this team. One time, the team had to go to Washington to compete and Melody was a little bit late and they left her behind. One student thought that she wasn’t as important as the others. This made her realize again that, no matter what, people would always think of her as different.”
The lesson it teaches: After Phoebe read this book, she sent Sharon Draper an email. This is what it said:
I read Out Of My Mind on Thanksgiving weekend. I think that if everybody had a copy of that book, it would change the world. It completely changed the way I looked at people that have cerebral palsy and autism. Do you know any body with cerebral palsy? Did you write the book to make people look at people with cerebral palsy and autism differently?
That night, Sharon wrote back, and this is what she said:
Thanks so much for your kind letter. I’m so glad you enjoyed Out of my Mind. That book is very special to me. I tried very hard to capture the essence of what it means to be different. Melody is a song to me that will forever sing. Yes, I know lots of people with disabilities, and I hope the book helps people see them as real people.
Phoebe score: 9. “Soooo close to a 10, but not quite as good as Wonder. Still, a great book for people who want to look inside somebody’s mind.”
The Thing About Georgie by Lisa Graff
What it’s about: ”It’s about a boy named Georgie who has something called dwarfism, and what happens in his life. It’s not a book that has a lot of action, but it still makes you want to read on and read on and read on. A lot of the chapters end on cliffhangers and it makes you really think about how different people are in this world. This book is about friendship, too — and how it’s hard for kids like Georgie to find friends because people make fun of him for his height and the way he looks.”
The moment that hurts the heart: ”When you hear about all the times people stare at Georgie and make fun of him just because of how he looks. One time, he’s knocking on a door and a car drives past and the man in the car stares — like, eyes wide open — and I can imagine how hard it would be to deal with that every single day.”
The lesson it teaches: ”Everyone, no matter how they look or how they act, is always the same as you on the inside.”
Abby score: 10. “Ten. Ten!”
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Tags:bullying prevention awareness month·national bullying prevention center·out of my mind sharon draper·the thing about georgie lisa graff·wonder rj palacio
Now that we are three weeks into the school year, I am assuming you have all mastered School Year’s Resolution 1 (More Freezer Meals) and we are free to move on to a very popular cry for help among the DALS readership: I don’t know how to shop efficiently for dinner. This is a little tricky because how and what you pick up at the grocery store is inextricably linked to how you eat, so no two shopping lists for the Piggly Wiggly or Wegman’s or your local Farmer’s Market or Trader Joe’s (where we go) are ever going to look the same. So what I’ve tried to do here is outline a few rules and strategies that we shop by that can hopefully be universally applied. This list also assumes we all want to at least try to have a sit-down dinner at least four times between Sunday and Friday.
Rule 1: Put it in Writing Those of you who have read my book, know that I began this whole dinner ritual by sitting down on Sunday with my dinner diary, writing down the meals I wanted to make in the upcoming week, then shopping for everything we needed to make that happen. This strategy helped kickstart the ritual in a few ways: It got the momentum going; it eliminated those odious late-afternoon back-and-forths (What do you want to eat tonight? I don’t know, what do you want? I don’t know what do you?); and later, when we had school-aged kids, it helped lessen, if only a little bit, the existential dread of lunch-packing. (It’s so much easier to do the first pack of the week with a full fridge than with a fridge that’s been run dry.) Ultimately, the goal here is to take the daily thinkwork out of dinner. If you come up with a plan for the week, you just freed up all that psychic energy to direct towards more exciting pursuits, like watching, dissecting, and ruminating over all four seasons of Breaking Bad.
Rule 2: Squeeze in a Sexy Shop Another reason we hit Trader Joe’s on Sunday is because our farmer’s market is open on Saturdays. Unlike the dutiful, checklisty supermarket shop, this is where we can let the food (as opposed to the list) inform the shop. So we pick up what looks good — almost always fish that was swimming off Hampton Bays just hours earlier and a bundle of Tuscan kale, sorrel, summer spinach, or any other beautiful greens that last us the week and allow us to skip their mediocre bagged counterparts at Trader Joe’s. And there we have Meal 1: Grilled Fish with some kind of greens. I’m not saying your Meal One has to be this. It might be a bolognese made from some good grass-fed beef, or pasta with fresh butternut squash or a kale and feta quiche made with the eggs from your favorite farmstand. The point is: We almost always earmark our Sunday dinners to be market-inspired. (And please don’t tell anyone I just called kale-shopping sexy.)
Rule 3: Make a Realistic Line-up Now, for that dutiful, checklisty shop. It’s crucial to keep it simple — save the Nathan Myrhvold Foamy Broth Number for Saturday night. The loose formula that I sometimes use when dreaming up my line-up is the following: (more…)
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Tags:how to grocery shop·Trader Joe's·trader joes shopping list
The First Best Thing my father ever came home with after work was, by far, a Ford Granada. It was powder blue, four doors, with a white vinyl top, and when I hopped on the kitchen counter to peek out the window that overlooked our driveway, I remember saying to myself, Is this real? Did my father just pull into our home with a new car? No matter that the Granada epitomized the darkest days of late-70s American car design. This sedan was ours, it was new, it beat the hell out of our rickety old white Pontiac wagon, and in the big huge world of two siblings, two parents, and my kindergarten class, news didn’t get much more monumental than that.
The Second Best Thing that my father ever came home with after work was the soundtrack to Grease. My sister and I were playing in a back room with some of the neighborhood kids and I knew we were in for a treat when I saw the Sam Goody bag tucked under his arm. We had already seen the movie and knew the words to all the songs but there was jumping and shrieking when he made the dramatic reveal. The fact that I was seven years old and obsessed with a movie where pregnancy and sex are routinely discussed, and that now, as a mom, I can’t imagine screening it for my 8- and 10-year-old, well, see above re: late 70s.
The Third Best Thing that my father came home with after work (which is another way of saying “for dinner” because he was always home in time to eat) was a freshly baked challah. Unlike the First and Second Best Thing, this was a gift I could look forward to fairly regularly. On his one-mile walk home from the Larchmont train station, Dad would swing by our local bakery – the one with the display case of chocolate éclairs and Napoleons and a roll of baker’s twine hanging from the ceiling – and pick up a loaf. On most nights the challah was of the plain braided variety. But on special nights, it was a challah that had been studded with plump golden raisins. As soon as Dad handed me the loaf in the waxy bag, I’d slice up a still-slightly-warm piece, spread a schmear of Breakstone’s whipped salted butter on top, and let the happiness wash over me. Life was about as good as it could get for a girl wearing a velour warm-up suit.
Much as I like to think my delight was the main reason he brought home the bread every night (remember: my Dad was the philosopher who coined the famous food-happiness concept of “Absolute Value”) the ritual had actually been in place long before John Travolta was in style. Every Sunday morning as a teenager, my dad and his father, Phillip (who is pictured above with his brothers at his family table and who, like all my grandparents, died before I was born), would walk north from their 165th Street apartment in the Bronx to their local bakery on 167th Street. During the week, my grandfather was up and out the door before anyone was awake – he worked as a furrier in the Garment District – but on Sundays, he and my Dad would head out to do the Crucial Sunday Morning Job of selecting breads and danishes for the family breakfast. They’d talk about the normal stuff — school, my grandfather’s job — but the one-on-one bread-gathering mission was a reason to look forward to Sunday. As my dad recalls, it was the first time he felt like a grown-up.
The story of this ritual has taken on a misti-ness over the years, especially as I grow older and realize how valuable these select memories are and how crucial it is to keep the rituals associated with them alive. We do not have regular Friday night Shabbat dinner in my house like my father did, and in truth, if my sister didn’t organize Rosh Hashana (and Yom Kippur and Passover and Channukah) dinners every year, I’m not so sure I’d get them in the calendar myself. But on the days of the year that do not qualify as High Holy Ones, I somehow manage to feel connected to something bigger than myself. Like when I braid my first homemade challah with Abby using my second cousin Ronnie’s recipe (that’s my maiden attempt up there); or when I use a knife to peel an apple in one long strip, just like my mom told me her father used to do. Or when I secure the recipe to my Aunt Selma’s famous sweet-and-sour meatballs that she served at every family gathering growing up. Or back in 1994 when Andy and I had just moved to New York, and we’d meet after work at the corner of Smith and President Street in his up-and-coming Brooklyn neighborhood of Carroll Gardens. I can still see him walking up the block wearing his pleated khakis and Joseph Aboud tie, carrying his messenger bag and, yes, a loaf of crusty Italian bread from Caputo’s on Court Street. We’d head another two blocks west to Andy’s Hoyt street rental – a four-story brownstone with full garden, eat-in kitchen, all of which cost him and each of his three roommates $400 a month — and that bread would be the start of dinner.
Please head over to my second cousin Ronnie Fein’s website for the incredibly clear Challah recipe as well as a photograph of the challah without a weird bulge in the middle. It was my first attempt — cut me some slack! If I had read her braiding tips first, perhaps this wouldn’t have been a problem. (Also: forgive me that my bread is not round for the holidays.) Ronnie is also the author of Hip Kosher: 175 Easy Recipes to Prepare for Today’s Kosher Cook. Happy New Year everyone.
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You know how everyone says San Francisco is so low-key and relaxed? How you people out there are all about the lifestyle? Well, I think I might have shown up in the wrong city when we headed there last week for a few work-related events — including that visit to Pixar and a Dinner: A Love Story reading at Omnivore. Because our four-and-a-half day trip seemed to be the opposite of laid-back. Do not take this to mean that I didn’t have the best time ever — all I’m saying is that in a town like SF, there is so much pressure to eat well, that every mediocre bite of food felt like some sort of colossal failure on my end. I had a long list of you-must-go-here directives in my inbox and on facebook, and, perhaps most exciting, a customized San Francisco itinerary for my family from Yolanda Edwards of Travels with Clara. (You know by now: When Yolanda talks, people listen.) So the long weekend was spent, doing what this neurotic New Yorker does every other day of her life: Crossing things off lists. And then, of course, making one of her own. Now that I think about it, maybe the problem is not with San Francisco? Anyway, here are my top 10 favorite food moments from the weekend.
(Picture Above: One of those quizzes turned keepsakes that I made with the girls on the plane home.)
#1. Smitten Ice Cream. There were warring emails about Bi-Rite vs. Smitten, but it just so happened we were in the neighborhood so stopped by Smitten. They use liquid nitrogen to custom-blend each bowl in front of your eyes. Because the ice cream has no time to melt and then refreeze, this means there is not a single ice crystal to be found, resulting in the creamiest mint chip I’ve ever eaten. Abby was wary (ice cream shop or witches lab?) until she tried a bite.
#2 Lemon-Ricotta Pancakes from Plow may not have been on the girls’ list, but they were right at the top of mine. Along with those potatoes fried in rice bran oil that Yolanda told us all about. We took advantage of our jetlag and showed up at the Potrero Hill spot almost as soon as they opened their doors. By the time we left around 8:15, there was a line around the corner.
#3. Miette I do not have girly girls, but even they could not resist the pull of pastels and polka dots at the famous temple of sweets. How could I get away with not going here a zillion times? My kids chose the sour patch stars one day and little candy covered chocolates the next. These are bags of mini cookies.
#4. As Yolanda said, March in Pacific Heights “is the kitchen store of all kitchen stores.” I agree and loved it even more when I saw that right next (more…)
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Tags:san francisco with kids·what to do with kids in san francisco·what to eat in san francisco
Seven or eight years ago, I resolved to be better about my non-work reading. I made a list of books I either (a) felt ashamed I’d never read, or (b) hadn’t read once, so long ago, they were practically lost to me now. Books like Don Quixote, The Idiot, Jude the Obscure, Dead Souls, Herzog, My Antonia, The Sound and the Fury. I bought them all and stacked them, neatly, on my nightstand. That was one ambitious pile of paper, and I couldn’t wait to get started. I could almost feel my brain expanding. It’s not worth making excuses here — though, okay, if you insist: work, kids, life, that second glass of wine, this effing blog — but I ended up reading only one of those books, The Sound and the Fury. The rest of the stack sat there untouched for what seemed like forever, accumulating dust, menacing me every night before bed, reminding me of my failure. I finally relegated it to a box in the basement. Pathetic, I know. I didn’t used to be this way. I used to be better. I used to find time for pleasure reading. I used to be more like my kids. I can’t tell you how much vicarious happiness I get now from watching them burn through books, how I envy their undistracted minds. Jenny emailed me the above picture last week of Abby, folded into her little red rocking chair, reading Coraline — which she’d been eyeing nervously for a couple of years, not sure if she was ready for it, having been warned of its deep freakiness by her older sister. Well, she finally took the plunge and knocked it out in one afternoon and then spent the next two days telling me, at great length, every detail of its plot and why it was so good. (Her full review is below.) Phoebe, too: when school ends, a switch is thrown and she goes into overdrive. The week after school ended and before camp started — a rare stretch of five totally unscheduled days — she sat on her floor and read for five hours straight, stopping only because, as she told Jenny after staggering downstairs, she couldn’t “stop her eyes from moving from left to right.” Last weekend, when Phoebe and I were out on one of our long Saturday runs/bike rides, we hit the four mile mark, made the turn to head back, paused for a second, and drank some of her juice box. “Okay,” I said, “we’re half-way there. Homeward bound.” And she said, “Yup, there’s no place like home. Except for maybe the library.” I loved, and envied, that. — Andy
Wonderland by Tommy Kovac, illustrated by Sonny Liew
In a nutshell: “This one is based on Alice in Wonderland. It’s about a girl who is a housemaid for the White Rabbit. Her name is Mary Ann. Her master rabbit is falsely accused of being, like, what’s that word for becoming an ally? Like, joining forces? [Conspiring?] Yeah, the rabbit is accused of conspiring with Alice to overthrow the Queen of Hearts. I don’t want to give the rest away.”
For people who like: “Ummm, books that are, like, a little different from the original. It’s an old story, told in a new way, with a character you’ve never met. She’s cool.”
The thing Phoebe loves best about it: “The artwork. Every page is so beautiful to look at. It’s by the same artists who did the Wizard of Oz graphic novels, so it has that sketchy, kind of spooky feel to it.”
The Bat-Poet by Randall Jarrell, illustrated by Maurice Sendak
In a nutshell: ”In the beginning, a narrator is speaking about how he sees this bat, always hanging on his house. Then the bat leaves his family to be a poet and the story, interestingly, switches the narrator to the bat’s voice. Every night, the bat listens to a mockingbird sing poetry and he likes the idea of that. So he starts writing his own poetry that he can sing. He shows it to the mockingbird and the mockingbird approves of it, but gives him a couple suggestions. Soon he meets a chipmunk and the chipmunk is much nicer. Every time the bat writes a poem, he reads it to the chipmunk. This story is simple, not action-packed, but heartfelt.”
For people who like: ”Books that don’t have a big problem or a fancy plot, such as The Mouse of Amherst, The Islander, or Cat Wings.”
The thing Abby loves best about it: ”Two things: First of all, the pictures are exceptional. We all know that Maurice Sendak will be a legend forever. Second thing is that the book, you don’t just read words. You image every single simile and sentence, even every word you can see in your head.”
The Baby-Sitters Club (Nos. 1-3), graphic adaptations by Raina Telgemeier
In a nutshell: “This series is about a group of friends with really different personalities that form a babyistting club together. While they’re babysitting, crazy things always happen. Like, a girl catches a fever of 104 and no neighbors answer when the babysitter goes looking for help. Then another group of kids copies their idea for a club, but they turn out to be horrible babysitters who don’t show up for their jobs and things like that, and the real babysitter’s club has to stop them.”
For people who like: “Smile, which another one of Raina Telgemeier’s books, and the original Babysitter’s Club chapter books. Basically, these books are way more interesting than they sound. They’re about kids with average, everyday lives, and that can be fun to read about.”
The thing Phoebe loves best about it: “How they always seem to conquer their problems, no matter how tricky. I also love that these are graphic versions of the original books, because graphic novels are my favorite things to read.”
The Great Cheese Conspiracy by Jean Van Leeuwen*
In a nutshell: “This book is about three mice, all different. These mice are frantic for cheese, like every other mouse in the world. They live in a movie theater, and they get bored of eating only popcorn. So soon, a new store called The Cheese Barrel opens up in town. It sells three things: cheese, cheese, and cheese. This is just a mouse’s most favorite destined dream. They go undercover to break into the store and steal the cheese. If you want to know more, read it.” (more…)
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We’ve just wrapped up what you might call an “unstructured” week — other than a late-afternoon soccer clinic for the kids and other than one full day of meetings in the city for me, we had nothing on the schedule for the first few days of summer vacation. And now I’m wondering why we registered them for their upcoming organized activities at all. I could get used to a schedule where we get to sleep in and not once have to hear ourselves say tie your shoes immediately or you will miss the bus and please please please don’t make me ask you again! (Happiness is the laceless summer shoe.)
This is not to say that we were sitting around watching Nick Jr and bumming at the beach. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) Without even realizing it, we began checking things off the List of Things We’ve Been Meaning to Do All Year. Monday: We finally saw that documentary First Position about the Grand Prix ballet competition and the girls loved it. Tuesday: We hit Shake Shack. (It’s hard to even admit this to myself as a parent, but my poor, deprived daughters had to live eight and ten years respectively before ever sinking their teeth into a Shack Burger.) We roadtripped to Ikea in search of a “swivel stool” for Abby’s new desk and wound up stuffed to the gills with Swedish meatballs and mashed potatoes. (You know, one of those nice light summer meals.) We visited a new Asian Supermarket across town which everyone keeps talking about and where we found all sorts of cool and crazy little things to try like quail eggs, mochi, and Korean melon. It was there, in the glisteningly clean seafood aisle where I spied a five-dollar cooked lobster ($5!) and remembered one other thing on the List: Make Lobster Roll! I came home from that trip, tossed the lobster meat with mayo, scallions, and the slightest sprinkling of paprika, and with one bite, officially initiated summer.
Makes one lobster roll. Recipe can be multiplied accordingly.
meat from a cooked 1-pound lobster (about 1/4 pound of cooked lobster meat), roughly chopped
1 scallion (light green and white parts only), chopped
1 teaspoon mayonnaise
squeeze fresh lemon juice
sprinkling of paprika
salt to taste
hot dog bun
Add all ingredients (except bun and butter) in a mixing bowl. Fold together gently. Toast hot dog bun then spread with a thin layer of butter. Top with lobster salad.
Don’t forget about the Mega Giveaway: Tell me your favorite part of the book (not on the comment field of this post, but through the official contest survey) and be eligible to win some pretty awesome prizes. You have until July 9 to enter so get reading!
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Tags:easy summer dinner·lobster roll
I was driving Phoebe to school on Wednesday morning – she had to be at her desk by 7:30 for a field trip to Ellis Island or else – when I told her that Shaun Tan had sent us a guest post about his formative books for kids. What do you want me to tell people about Shaun’s books, I asked her. What should they know?
His pictures have a lot of feeling, she said.
Okay, I said. But what do they make you feel?
I think about them when I’m daydreaming, she said. Can you stop asking me questions now?
If you got a copy of 121 Books last week — the little book that Jenny and I gave away here last week — you might have seen Shaun’s book, Tales From Outer Suburbia, sitting there at #91. What you didn’t see was what the book actually looks like. I’ll start with the cover, which is as evocative and alluring an image as I can recall on the cover of a book. I remember seeing a review of this one in the New York Times Book Review a few years ago and looking at that cover, and thinking: I want to climb inside that book. And once you do, a similarly strange, exquisite, odd, absurd, whimsical, mysterious world awaits. Tales From Outer Suburbia is a collection of stories about, well, about a lot of things, including: a stoic water buffalo who lives in a vacant lot; a tiny stick figure-ish, possibly alien foreign exchange student who sleeps in a teacup and asks to be called, perfectly, Eric; two brothers who argue over whether the earth simply ends at the edge of the map, and then set out on a journey to find out who’s right; and a story with the stunningly great title, “Broken Toys,” that contains the following two stunningly great sentences: “Well, we’d certainly seen crazy people before — ‘shell-shocked by life’ as you once put it. But something pretty strange must have happened to this guy to make him wander about in a spacesuit on a dead-quiet public holiday.” How do you not want to read that?
Anyway, if you want to see what Phoebe was talking about re: the emotional punch — the feeling — of Shaun’s art, check out some of his work. He did a wordless book, The Arrival, whose soulful beauty kind of defies description. He did a picture book, The Lost Thing, which he then turned into a fifteen minute short film, which then won a little known prize called AN ACADEMY FREAKING AWARD. (You can see it here.) The pleasure of having someone this talented on Dinner: A Love Story never gets old — for us, at least — and I hope you enjoy Shaun’s recommendations. What I love, in particular, is that Shaun – being an Australian, and an artist — has so many books below that I’d never heard of, and have now ordered. That, and I also love his use of the word “carnage.” Enjoy. — Andy
I should begin this list with an early “mistake” made by my mother when it came to bedtime reading. She herself did not grow up in a literary household: in fact, as a kid, I was fascinated by the sheer absence of books, or even paper and pencils, in my grandparents’ house – books just weren’t part of their world. Perhaps for this reason, our Mum felt her own children should be exposed to as many books as possible, but at the same time was not guided by (a) experience, or (b) the kinds of lists you find on websites like this. If it looked vaguely interesting, Mum would read it to my brother and me at bedtime. One such title, read to us when I was 7 or 8, was an apparently charming fairytale by some guy named George Orwell: “Mr. Jones, of the Manor Farm, had locked the hen-houses for the night, but was too drunk to remember to shut the pop-holes…”
We were all hooked (and, frankly, a bit unsettled) from the outset, so there was no turning back. My brother and I looked forward to each progressively disturbing chapter: conniving pigs, brainwashed sheep, a horse carted off to something called a “knackers” – poor Mum, having to field all of our questions. I asked her recently about this, and she remembers being increasingly anxious about how the story “might affect your young minds” – yet we voted to keep going (bedtime reading should always be democratic). Of course, the book ends with the pigs celebrating their triumphant depravity, and Mum was very worried about that. As for me, I just thought it was terrific. And it was no more disturbing than stuff I witnessed at school every day, with our occasionally cruel kids and less-than-perfect teachers – I thought Orwell was right on the money. I’d never thought about a story so much after it was read. From then on, I began to appreciate unresolved endings, and to grow tired of the less-convincing, moralizing stuff that kids were being fed in suburban Australia, where I grew up. I realized books weren’t just for entertainment, that they could say something. Animal Farm – along with Watership Down and Gulliver’s Travels –profoundly influenced my development as an author and illustrator. Most specifically, The Rabbits, an allegory about colonization written by John Marsden and illustrated by me. That was quite a controversial book when it was published — and was even banned in some Australian schools – yet very young children seem to enjoy and understand it quite deeply; they grasp, somehow, the hidden optimism that adults often miss. That continues to surprise and delight me, the ability of children to find silver linings in grim stories.
I don’t have children, and don’t specifically write/paint for them. Maybe that’s why kids like my work! I just think of them as smallish people who are smart and creative, and honest in their opinions. So when I think about what makes a great children’s book, I tend to think of books that achieve universality, the widest possible readership – books that appeal to us, from toddlers to geriatrics, in a primal way, and can be understood on many different levels. Picture books are particularly great for this, because they’re concise and easily re-read; they often invent their own narrative grammar, as if you are learning how to read all over again.
My interest in picture books only came about later, as an adult artist, as I was moving from painting into commercial illustration and looking for interesting work. The book that really got me interested in picture books — professionally, I mean, in that “Hmmm, I’d really love to do something like that one day” kind of way –was A Fish in the Sky, written by George Mendoza and illustrated by Milton Glaser. (Even if you don’t know Glaser’s work, you almost certainly do. He’s a legendary (more…)
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Tags:books for kids·graphic novels for kids·shaun tan·shaun tan tales from outer suburbia
And by free we mean, um, sort of free. Here’s the deal: We like dinner. We also like books. And while Jenny’s upcoming book, on its every (“masterful,” says her husband) page, honors the meals we’ve made together for the past fifteen years, there is not a single word in it devoted to books — our love for them, or they way they inform our daily lives. What better way to fix that than to produce another book, devoted solely to the things we read and write about so frequently on this site. In some ways, we’ve spent the past two
weeks months years pulling this project together*, and it was only a matter of time. We finally decided to turn it into a proper book of its own because we realized not long ago that (a) we’d already written more than 20,000 words’ worth of reviews since DALS was born, and (b) a big list of great, enduring books (for kids ages 0 to 10) might be something parents — as well as aunts, uncles, friends of pregnant people, husbands looking for point-scoring Mother’s Day presents, and good readers everywhere — could really use.
And now, for the fine print: If you pre-order Dinner: A Love Story, we’ll send you our new book of kid books FOR FREE. It only exists for now as a pdf, which means it’s easily forwarded and shared and copied, but we know you guys are decent, upstanding people and we trust you so deeply and know you would never send this around, all indiscriminately, since we spent so much time and effort putting it together FOR FREE. If you want one, all you have to do is email email@example.com, tell us you ordered a copy of Dinner: A Love Story, and we’ll send you all 25 pages of our book, in beautiful color, FOR FREE. Jenny’s whizbangy technical consultant has figured out a way to prompt every fifth email with a one-step request for proof of purchase. And yes, we know this means there’s an 80% chance you can lie and get this book without pre-ordering, but, well…see above re: decent, upstanding people.
One last thing: This offer is only good through Thursday, April 26 at midnight. So let’s do this thing. – Andy
*A huge, huge thank you to the supremely talented Chelsea Cardinal – magazine genius, illustrator, book cover designer, clothing designer (for real), seriously solid person — who turned our pile of disjointed text into something that makes us so happy to look at. We are convinced Chelsea will be famous one day, and we are grateful to have worked with her.
UPDATE: This offer has now expired. Thank you to everyone for the nice response and the even nicer notes that came along with the pre-orders. There’s a chance the offer might resurface on Facebook in the next few weeks, so if you missed it, be sure to follow DALS there.
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Tags:best childrens books·books for kids·daniel handler's favorite books·dinner a love story book·dinner a love story book recommendations·dinner a love story childrens books·george saunders very persistent gappers of frip·lemony snicket·pseudonymous bosch
On any given day, there are about a zillion things that can derail family dinner – where do we begin? — and I’ve probably heard about every one of those things from you guys these past few years. How do I deal with the fussy toddler? The spouse who won’t help? My coworker who makes me feel bad about leaving the office before him? The relentlessness of after-school activities and all the schlepping it entails? This last one always stumped me. It seemed of all the obstacles one could face, this one was something we could control instead of complain about. What I didn’t know until fairly recently, though, was how broadly defined the term “after-school” has become. We just got the soccer schedule for the spring and one of my daughters has a practice that ends at 7:30, at a field that’s a 20-minute drive away. That’s a dinner deal-breaker if there ever was one. Well, unless you have this recipe in the repertoire. Cause you can have this on the table in the time it takes for your midfielder to walk in the door, change out of her jersey, get washed up, and return to the table where she belongs.
Simple Miso-Glazed Salmon
A big reason why I could get this on the table so fast was because I had a stash of the glaze in the fridge already. Making the glaze definitely qualifies as the kind of task your bright-eyed morning self can do ahead of time — it takes only a minute or two if you have all the ingredients on hand. Your beaten-down evening self will thank you later.
1 1/3 pound salmon
2 tablespoons white miso*
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin
1 tablespoon brown sugar
squeeze of lime
In a small bowl, mix together everything but the lime. Slather the miso glaze on salmon and broil for 10-12 minutes until it gets golden on top. (Watch it carefully. The sugar in the glaze will burn.) Serve with lime wedges.
While the salmon was broiling, I briefly sauteed some snap peas in a drop of sesame oil, then tossed them with a sliced radish, sea salt, a squeeze of lime, and chives. (Scallions would be better than chives, but I didn’t have any on hand.)
*You can buy white miso at Asian specialty stores or better supermarkets like Whole Foods. It keeps in the fridge for ages.
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Tags:miso glazed salmon·salmon recipe for kids·salmon recipes
I’m beginning to think that parenting is just a lifelong excuse to turn anything into a celebration. Because if you really think about it, there is always something to celebrate. The problem with this of course, is…there’s always something to celebrate, i.e. there’s always some kind of treat that — in our house at least — seems to be central to the celebrating. It’s the last day of school before spring break: By The Way Bakery cupcakes! You just rode your bike four miles: Mint chip ice cream! It’s Daddy’s birthday: Cherry pie! No cavities at the dentist: Pain au chocolat! It’s Passover: Matzoh brittle! It’s Easter….oh dear Lord, Easter. I think this holiday — which we technically don’t even celebrate — might have officially eclipsed Halloween as the biggest treat-o-thon in our family. It begins with the obligatory air-dried Peeps, then the neighbor’s Easter Egg hunt where we are lucky to come home with only a few chocolate eggs. (Woe is the poor soul who wins the 1000 Jelly Bean Jar contest!) And then there is the long-awaited treat-filled basket from Grandma, which, to the girls delight, always includes a ginormous chocolate bunny. A ginormous chocolate bunny that ends up sitting in his plastic case in the corner of the kitchen like a museum piece: So fun to look at, yet never consumed. This year, we decided to change that — instead of letting him get all dusty and sad, we melted him down to make the healthy-ish chocolate covered banana pops that you see below. They are easy, delicious, and just the thing to cap off our dinner on Thursday, when we plan to celebrate the dog’s third birthday.
Chocolate Covered Banana Pops
There is a recipe for these in my first cookbook, but you don’t really need official instructions. Before you begin, cut your bananas in half, insert popsicle sticks or halved wooden skewers (as shown below) and freeze for about 15 minutes on a flat surface. While bananas are freezing, melt down your bunny over low heat (removing all bowties and styrofoam accessories, please), whisking as the bunny shrinks*. (You can also do this in the microwave in a Pyrex for about a minute, depending on the size of the bunny.) When your chocolate has melted, pour into a deep measuring cup or a cereal bowl. Dip your now semi-frozen bananas into the chocolate and place pops down on a wax-paper covered surface. Quickly sprinkle oats, sprinkles, or chopped nuts on top before the chocolate hardens. Freeze until ready to eat, at least a half hour.
*I added water as mine melted to get to the right consistency, but usually even a drop of water or hint of steam puts the chocolate at risk of seizing, so only do this if absolutely necessary. My friend who works in a test kitchen surmises that the reason mine didn’t seize and get grainy was because the chocolate in the bunny was not, in fact, real chocolate.
The chocolate hardens fast, so add your toppings quick like a bunny.
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Tags:chocolate covered banana pops·leftover easter bunny·leftovers
One of these days Andy will write his post calling bull$#@t on starters. (He could, in fact, fill a book dedicated to calling bull$#@t in general.) “Why,” he always asks “do we spend so much time putting together a delicious dinner if our guests are just going to fill up on cheese and crackers and approach the table stuffed before they even lift their forks?” I think he has a point, but I also know that a well-curated starter plate is one of the great pleasures in life, and if assembled correctly can actually make you hungrier. As usual, I have a formula in the back of my head when I’m putting one together. It goes something like this:
Perfect Starter Plate = something sweet + something crunchy + something pickled + something from a pig + something aged
The trick is just to not have an obscene amount of any one thing. Above, you’ll see a small hunk of aged Manchego, about a quarter pound of Parma (you could do regular prosciutto or Serrano ham), some cornichons from Trader Joe’s (the best in my opinion and there would be more in that bowl if the girls didn’t eat them like popcorn right from the jar), and some pecan-raisin crackers from Eli’s Bread. Lesley Stowe’s raincoast crisps (Whole Foods) hit the sweet-crunchy note nicely, too.
Have a great holiday.
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Tags:easy starter course·easy starters·family friendly cheese plate
Last weekend I was in my friend Nina’s bright, airy kitchen, taking in the expansive view of the Hudson River out the back window, when she motioned me over to the kitchen table. ”Please sit down,” she said. In front of me, there was a small pile of cookbooks, some old Gourmet magazines, and a well-loved, yellowed recipe booklet that once belonged to her grandmother. Nina handed me a pad of paper and a pencil. She took a seat next to me and said, “I feel like maybe I should be lying on a couch.”
Her 9-year-old came bounding into the kitchen and thanked me — unprompted! — for the meal Andy cooked for him at our house the night before. We laughed. We talked about last night. He left and she turned to me again, a serious look on her face.
“OK, Nina,” I said. ” What seems to be the problem?”
She took a deep breath. “I just can’t get organized when it comes to grocery shopping” she said. “I really need help.”
Because of my line of “work,” I seem to land myself in these kinds of dinner heart-to-hearts all the time. I imagine my friend Kate, a psychologist and the world’s best listener, helping her friends through stress and anxiety and deeply personal issues, offering them comforting advice with phrases like “That’s normalizing.” Not me. My patients’ issues — at least as they present themselves to me — tend to center more on pork chops and grocery lists. Last year, at pick-up, a mother of three approached me and said “I get angry – really angry, when my kids say they don’t like the food I’ve spent time cooking for them.” She paused then added, “Sometimes I have to get up and walk away from the table.” About a gazillion times a month I hear this complaint: “We eat the same things week after week. I can’t seem to break out of the rut!” Last year, after a book talk I gave at a local school, a mother asked me: “What do you do if you don’t know how to make sauce?”
But of all the issues that can face a dinner-maker — no time, no skills, no inspiration, no help with the cooking — Nina has the big one down: Family dinner is the house default mode. She and her husband (who both work from home) and their two kids sit down to a meal together every night.
“What are you so worried about?!” I told her. “That’s the hardest part to nail!”
She didn’t quite see it that way. “I guess. But I never have a plan when I go shopping,” she told me. “I never seem to have what I need to improvise.” She led me to her pantry and, Vanna-White-style, swept her arm across the shelves. There were three full bags of panko breadcrumbs, about a dozen bags of pecans. Nina told me she hits the supermarket once a week for the kids’ school lunch and breakfast staples, but on that shop doesn’t ever think about dinner ingredients. “Honestly,” she told me, “I don’t really think about dinner until the moment I’m standing in front of my refrigerator at 6:00.”
I had a sudden urge to rewrite the first line of Anna Karenina: Every unhappy family dinner-maker is unhappy in his or her own way. But instead I started scribbling some strategies that I wanted her to put into play immediately.
Strategy 1: Think about dinner before you have to make it. It’s not exactly breaking news, but if the goal is to make dinner something to look forward to — as opposed to one more task in between “pay taxes” and “schedule root canal” on the to-do list — you need to plan ahead. And planning ahead comes in all shapes and sizes. It means on Sunday, you look at the schedule for the upcoming week to determine which nights are going to be home-cooked meal nights and which ones are going to be storebought dinner nights. (And which ones are going to be Moo Shu pork in front of American Idol.) It means on a Monday or Tuesday morning taking two minutes to ask yourself: What can my 8:00am self do to help my 6:00pm self? Marinate something. Chop something. At the very least, decide on something. Get the momentum going.
Strategy 2: Try something new once a week. Nina’s kids eat almost any meat and love salmon, but they don’t love things mixed together, and could use some help expanding their vegetable repertoires. We looked in my upcoming book for some salmon recipes that were familiar to the boys, but different enough to feel like she was busting a rut. We also looked for interesting ways to upgrade the vegetables so the grown-ups could get a little more joy out of the steamed broccoli. I always feel like the trick to trying something new is to introduce it gradually — and preferably when there’s something else on the plate that is universally loved and embraced.
Strategy 3: Give yourself at least one From-the-Freezer night. Whether it’s thawing something homemade or chucking in the storebought default dinner you picked up at Trader Joe’s. Nina’s go-to in this situation is Trader Joe’s Mandarin Chicken. (Note to self: That stuff looks goood.) Don’t put pressure on yourself to cook something from scratch every night of the week. I don’t have to remind Nina, a sustainability consultant, that the name of the game is to create a sustainable dinner system.
Strategy 4: Be your own sous chef. Make something on the weekend (or at least a Sunday dinner) that can carry over to one meal during the week. It doesn’t even have to be a bolognese — though that would be nice. Even a five-minute homemade salad dressing will end up yielding some seriously happy dividends.
Strategy 5: Go out on Thursday or Friday night. No matter what your dinner issues are, you’ve earned it.
Click here to download a PDF of Nina’s weekly meal plan (plus shopping list!) and also to see how we applied each of the above strategies.
Above photos shot by Jennifer Livingston.
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Tags:custom meal plan·dinner doula·family dinner·organizing family dinner·weekly meal planning·weekly shopping list
For my grandmother’s 80th birthday, her best and oldest friend in the world, Midge — fellow bridge clubber, golf partner, drinking buddy, all-around Golden Girl — hosted a dinner party, on the Wedgwood china, in her big brick house on Forest Avenue. Jenny and I were in attendance, as were my father, two widows — Mary and Shep, both in their mid-eighties — and a couple of cranky daschunds named Maxi and Mini. These ladies were as old-school as they come, and though the most basic motions of life had grown difficult and their social universe had pretty much been reduced to the people at this table, they all had that twinkle in their eyes that said: We might be past our prime, but don’t be fooled, sonny. We could crush you in our day. Every woman there had raised kids, spoiled grandchildren, and all but one had lost husbands; all, including my grandmother, have since passed away. But that night, Midge turned back the clock. At 5 pm sharp, out came the Scotch. (These women couldn’t be bothered with wine — unless the Scotch ran dry, at which point: watch the f*ck out.) Then came the little bowls of mixed nuts, cheese waffles, and Bugles. By 6, we were feeling good, seated at the long, formal dining room table, and my dad was toasting my grandmother, whose chair was decorated with balloons. I don’t remember exactly what Midge made for the main course, but let’s say it was a foil-tipped crown roast with cooked-to-oblivion asparagus and instant mashed potatoes — and if it wasn’t, it might as well have been. For dessert, one of my grandmother’s all-time favorites: angel food cake.
My grandmother, it should be noted, was the daughter of German bakers. The woman knew from dessert. I don’t think she had a tooth in her head that hadn’t been violated by a dentist over the years, but that didn’t hold her back. She actually had a little silver dish by her front door that was filled, year round, as if by a benevolent god — I never did figure out where she kept her stash — with York mints and peanut M&Ms, jelly beans and mini-Almond Joys. When I think of her kitchen in the house my dad grew up in on Lincoln Street — before she moved into a one-story place later in life, as my grandfather grew frail — I picture two things clearly: the side-by-side freezer with two or three white-and-blue gallons of Schrafft’s ice cream, and an angel food cake, cooling upside down in its pan on the counter, impaled on the neck of a Dewar’s bottle. She’d serve this to me with vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of Hershey’s chocolate sauce, and god, the way that slab of cake absorbed the ice cream, and held it there until fully saturated, kind of like a sponge? Please. Let me rephrase that: Please.
It made sense, then, that we’d have angel food cake for her 80th. The cake, this night, had been supplied by Mary who, at 84 or 85, still knew how to make some noise in the baking department, still knew the value of cake and ice cream on a birthday. This had just the right amount of toasty crunch on the outside, and just the right fluffiness on the inside. Jenny, who also loves a dessert, was impressed.
“Mmmmmmmmmmmmm,” she said. Maybe this was just the Scotch talking. “Oh my god, Mary. This cake is a-mazing.”
“Isn’t she just the best cook?” my grandmother said.
“She really is,” said Midge.
“Truly,” said Shep, who was wearing an awful lot of gold. “Always was.”
“Oh, stop,” said Mary, waving them away. These women were not limelight-seekers. “But Jenny, if you give me your address, I’d be happy to send you my recipe.”
About a week later, a letter from Mary arrived at our apartment in Brooklyn, addressed — of course — not to Jenny, but to Mrs. Andrew Ward. Inside was written, in slightly shaky hand, the secret recipe for this angel food cake. “Take one box Duncan Hines angel food cake mix,” it began…
For women of my grandmother’s generation — or, I should say, the women of my grandmother’s generation that hung around with my grandmother — from scratch meant something very different from what it means today. It meant: I didn’t buy this in a store. It meant: I cooked this in my own oven. It did not mean: I defied convenience and combined several real ingredients together to make this cake. Was it worse? Better? They didn’t care. To be honest, I didn’t get any of this “from scratch” stuff until pretty late in life, either, and I’m not going to sit here and pretend Duncan Hines doesn’t make a solid angel food cake mix. But there is a from-scratch version of this that we make for the kids that even I — a terrible baker — can pull off. It, too, goes great with ice cream. We never tried it out on Doris, Mary, or Shep, but something tells me they would have been impressed. – Andy
Angel Food Cake, from Scratch
From Cakewalk, by Kate Moses
1 1/2 cups sifted confectioners’s sugar
1 cup sifted cake flour (or unbleached all-purpose flour)
1 1/2 cups egg whites, at room temperature (about 12 large egg whites)
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup granulated sugar
Move the oven rack to the lowest setting, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Bring the egg whites to room temperature about an hour before baking.
Combine the sifted confectioners’ sugar and flour and sift three times. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the whip attachment, beat the egg whites on low until foamy, then add the cream of tartar, salt, and vanilla and increase the speed to medium. Whip just until soft peaks form, then, beating on medium speed, gradually add the granulated sugar a tablespoon at a time, beating until the whites form soft peaks but are not stiff.
Sift one quarter of the flour mixture over the whites and fold in lightly by hand using a rubber spatula, and repeat with the remaining flour in quarters. Turn the batter gently into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan.
Bake about 40 to 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted at the center comes out clean and the top springs back when touched lightly. Invert the cake onto the neck of a bottle of Dewar’s (or a wine bottle) and allow to cool completely, 2 or 3 hours, before moving from the pan.
Serve with spring strawberries or with chocolate sauce and ice cream.
Photos courtesy of family archivists Earl Johnson and Douglas Ward.
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Tags:angel food cake·nostalgia cooking
Related posts: Pork Ragu; George Saunders Kid Book Picks; Andy’s First Cocktail Post; School Lunch-Packing Contract (our first post to go viral), Salmon Teriyaki, Quinoa, NY Times Puts DALS on the Map.
And if you are looking for a way to say Happy Birthday, a pre-order would definitely do the trick.
Have a good weekend.
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Tags:dinner a love story the book·height chart