Over the last couple years — a dark time in which I’ve slowly had to accept that my once-tiny baby with fairly simple needs now required real square meals at very specific times of the day, such as dinner, far earlier than we ever do and that he’d likely be looking to me (me!) to provide them or face the hangry consequences — I’ve attempted to increase my repertoire of two things: 1. Dinners that can be made easily in under an hour that I actually want to eat, and 2. Casseroles. No, no, I don’t mean the canned cream of soupiness things. I mean, the idea of taking disparate meal parts and baking them in a big dish until they’re much more than the sum of their ingredients. Plus, they’re dinnertime magic: they reheat well; they make excellent leftovers for as long as you can stretch them; and they rarely require anything more on the side than a green salad (for grownups) or steamed broccoli (for people who haven’t yet come around to salad). Long Live The Casserole Rethought With Minimally Processed Ingredients! is hardly a sexy catchphrase, but there you have it: my new battle cry.
Because we did not move this past weekend after all, we ended up with a bit of free time which we used to do some overdue purging. I’m sorry if this shatters your misplaced image of me as some sort of domestic goddess, but my signature move is shoving something into a closet and slamming the door before anything falls out and then willfully ignoring its pleas for mercy — come on, you do it too, right? anyone? Sigh. And so we dug out, removing three giant trash bags of stuff we should have gotten rid of a while ago, two of clothes and one of (shh, please don’t tell on us) toys. Just 10 or 12 move before this apartment is Pinterest-ready! i.e. vast amounts of open space uncluttered by the existence of actual human beings.
Every time I make an Ottolenghi recipe, I become convinced that he has finally lost his mind. Really, turmeric, black sesame seeds and parmesan together? Three tablespoons of fresh oregano? A full half-cup of tahini? And as my anxiety grows — you see, I, too, understand the bubble of time, ingredients and trust that we invest into new recipes, which, when popped, leads to the kind of frustration that can only be righted with a scalding review — I wonder if this will be it, the day I finally make an Ottolenghi recipe that’s just plain off. And, without fail, we sit down to something so spectacular in a way I hadn’t even considered before, I’m in awe of his talent and relieved that I ignored every instinct not to follow his recipe faithfully.
I had the strangest weekend. My husband went to New Orleans for a bachelor party and my in-laws insisted upon watching my son for one of the nights he was away. I was all set to argue that I probably could handle a single potty-trained, getting-himself-dressed, occasionally listening almost-5 year-old for all of 48 hours but when I opened my mouth the only words that came out were, “Thank you! What a fantastic idea!”
Guys, I am in the weeds this month. After a summer of lazy, a summer of two vacations and a husband (eh, unpaid assistant) always around, making life fun and easy, a mess of busy (new job, work travel for him, book touring for me, a spate of solo parenting of each of us, new preschool, new babysitter, and very important birthday party allatonce) has descended on our recently idyllic lifestyle and, no, I am not handling it with the effortless grace you’ve come to expect from me. Quit laughing. Stop it. I could be effortless or graceful! I mean, there was that one time… Okay, fine. I’m handling it as predicted: with equal measures of bourbon and complaining on the internet. I never claimed to be a model human.
So, I didn’t really know how to tell you this earlier, but we’ve gone to roam. I mean, we are in Rome, here, for a week and a half. Why so long? Why Rome? Does it even matter? The itch for travel that was more than an overnight book trip to one city or another was intense, as I remember a time pre-kid when we used to go places all of the time, just following the promise of cheap airfare passable-enough hotels to Vienna and Prague and Paris, just because. But we were scared of travelling with a three year-old because I don’t want to wreck the reputation of the one that’s been assigned to us, but you see, as normal as this makes him, he doesn’t always listen. Sometimes he yells? He’s not so good at airplanes. Or fancy restaurants. But I knew there would be a point where the inconveniences incurred by travelling with a preschooler would feel less of a burden than spending another minute taking a serious family vacation somewhere we’ve always wanted to study up close, to linger in long enough that it might almost feel routine after a few days, and here we are. At last.
If you have a thing for chocolate, the world is your oyster. On this very site, 86 of the just over 800 recipes boast a significant chocolate component and entire sections of bookstores will be happy to fill in any cravings I missed. If you have a thing for bacon, the internet would be overjoyed to find you places to put it, zillions, even, although I’d proceed with caution before auditioning a couple. But if you have a thing for something slightly less of a prom king/queen ingredient, say, tiny white beans, well, it can be tough. It’s not there are no uses for them, it’s just that when you’re very much in love, there are never enough ways to be together. And if you’re me — someone who sometimes ups and makes a mega-pot of white beans just because you feel like it, presuming you’ll find things to do with them later — you sometimes end up scrambling, yanking down nearly every cookbook in your collection but still coming up bereft of uses outside the well-trodden soup-and-salad territory.