Friday, April 27, 2012

Why be normal when you could be happy?

A few weeks ago I got the most delightful email that said, "So, you like free stuff, Ben likes pink, and Birdy's a bad-ass. I'm putting together a little care package for you." [full disclosure: it actually said, "and Birdy likes to read."] It turns out that Craig Wiesner owns Reach and Teach: the peace and social justice learning company, which is a book/toy/education store in San Mateo, California. Gender, race, sexuality, class, poverty, global economic injustice, different abilities, different family configurations. . . they have all kinds of amazing stuff, about all kinds of important things. As evidenced by the care package that arrived in the mail, which included these awesome coloring books:
I love these coloring books, because they manage to be simultaneously witty and political.  Which is what this photo caption would be like, if it were witty. And political.

There's nothing that makes your kids seem more grown-up than their suddenly being *not* offended by coloring books! Mine have passed through the humiliated loathing of them and are now at the stage of ironic appreciation.

I used to have a fluorescent-green Queer Nation "Fuck the Patriarchy" sticker on the back of my thrift-store suede jacket. Sigh. Those were the days (of my badass glory).
We had a Big Gay Wedding to go to, and so I xeroxed a few pages so the kids could make their cards.

Which came out simultaneously beautiful and corny and fun. (For long-time readers: one of the brides was our friend Anni, who lived with us the year her baby Frankie was born. Ben played the Kris Delmhorst song "Birds of Belfast" on the piano during their ceremony, and we all sang and cried.)
We actually xeroxed some extra pages for kids (and grown-ups) at the wedding to color, but we were too busy rejoicing to get out the crayons.

Coincidentally--or, um, not really--the kids picked out fabulous outfits for the wedding. Birdy is so psyched about this jacket that she just inherited from Ben. And the tie, which my mom bought her after Birdy oohed and ahhed over it at the Salvation Army. 
Even Strawberry got cool and fancy in his awesome off-the-shoulder pink cashmere dress.

Ben is the kind of kid who has to politely ask the inn-keepers if they might happen to have a lint-roller he can borrow.
How did I become the straight dresser? I'm almost offended by myself!
Anyways, congratulations Anni and Gree, and thank you again, Craig. And I hope you guys will hit up Reach and Teach for all your social justice and coloring book needs. They are so completely awesome--and not just because they sent me free stuff. Seriously.

Have a good weekend, my darlings!


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Cake You Want

Festive, no?
This is my current favorite quick cake. It’s the rich red-brown color of Devil’s food cake, chewily chocolaty, and with that almost preternatural moistness that I usually associate with a banner on a box that says “Pudding in the mix!” Speaking of which: it is more or less as difficult and as tasty as cake-mix cake, and I mean that in the best possible way. Seriously. My oven takes 6 minutes to preheat to 350—and I end up having to wait, because the batter is already in the pan. No creaming (there’s no butter), no adding the eggs one at a time (there are no eggs), no alternating with the milk (there’s no milk). It’s just you and your whisk, and it means that if you’re like me, constantly trolling for dinner invitations, and someone finally says, “Fine, but bring dessert,” then you can be out the door with a still-hot cake 41 minutes later. Which is all I need.
But this is how I really like it. It gets that kind of sticky top that I really admire on a piece of cake.

The Cake You Want
Active time: 5 minutes
Total time: 41 minutes

This is very gently adapted from a recipe on epicurious called “Easiest Chocolate Cake,” that I got as a dirty photocopy from my friend Jonathan, but that seems to come from a book called Organic and Chic by Sarah Magid. All I did was remove the word “organic” from each ingredient (but please, do consider it), change the directions a hair (e.g. I like to make it in one large pan), and, oddly, given the whole “organic” thing, add the spelt flour. Look, that’s how I am. I dare you to make this and use the spelt flour and imagine this couldn’t be cake from a mix. And I don’t mean the flaxy kind of cake mix either.

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup spelt flour or whole-wheat pastry flour (or another cup of white flour)
2 cups sugar
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup canola oil
2 teaspoons white vinegar
2 cups cold water

Heat the oven to 350. Butter and flour one 9- or 10- by 13-inch pan or two 8- or 9-inch round cake pans, or place liners in 2 muffin pans for 24 cupcakes. Or use that insanely gross PAM baking spray (Now with real flour!) that I love.

In a large bowl, sift (or, um, whisk, because you’re lazy) the dry ingredients together.

In a medium bowl (or large measuring cup), measure the vanilla extract, oil, vinegar, and cold water.

Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until the dry ingredients disappear, but before you’d win a prize for world's longest mixing.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s) and bake until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes for the big pan, 30 minutes for the layers, and 24 minutes for the cupcakes.

Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack to cool—or leave it in the big pan.

Serve plain or with ice cream or whipped cream, or dust the cake with powdered sugar. Or frost, if you must.

I am almost sure that you already have the ingredients.

A whisk here. . .

. . . a measure there. . . 

. . . and I made the batter while you were reading photo captions.

You can let your kids lick the mixing bowl without that weird feeling of what if they get salmonella? even if you usually let them anyway.

Ready to bake.

Baked. I like to press the palm of my hand to the hot top of a cake. I don't know why, and I don't want to talk about it.

This was just for the photo, since we were bringing the cake to a friend's house. But what are you going to do--not really let the kid eat the cake? You have to let them. So I brought 2 pieces less than a whole cake.

Our whipped cream was behaving unpicturesquely.

Mythbusters is what they're watching.

It must have been some serious busted myths!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

pink + long hair = pink long hair

Thank you, Splat! Ben is one very happy boy.

Meanwhile, in other news from Crazytown, Birdy and I have been eating the dandelions. 

Actually, not the flowers, which taste like milkweed crossed with arsenic-flavored cow patties. But the leaves,

which have a tonic (rather than toxic) bitterness and are a starred superfood in my book The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth, according to which the Latin name Taraxacum officinale translates as "official remedy for the disorders." And let me tell you: I need an official remedy for the disorders. Especially since I was just daydreaming about installing a zipper in my belly so that I could use it as a kind of duffel bag, given its astounding roominess. It actually reminds me of an old pajama bag my brother once had, although I think his was shaped more like a teddy bear than like somebody's droopily aging mom.

Further, "dandelion is one of the most nutrient-rich vegetables on the planet," being full of calcium, potassium, fiber, beta-carotene, and vitamin A, plus crazy antioxidants. Get 'em now, folks, before they get big and nasty!

If you're not convinced, check out our newest crazy smoothie:

aka The Lavender Antioxidant Bomb: grape juice, ice cubes, cinnamon, vanilla, a banana, milk, yogurt, a pitted date, and, yes, a large handful of dandelion leaves plucked from our very own "lawn." It tastes oddly like artificially-flavored bubble gum, not in a bad way.

Next up: chocolate cake. Because that's how we roll around here.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Lip-Smacking Spinach

No, no--not Spinach Lipsmackers, so don't get all Bonne Bell on me.  It's just that I feel like one of those starving spring pioneers who wouldn’t have seen anything green for months, and then must have knelt in the damp dirt to bite shoots of grass and nettles. I’m starved for greens. I’ve been buying these enormous 1-pound bags of spinach that make either, like, a hundred thousand salads or 1 teaspoon of steamed spinach per person, your choice. But still, I love cooked spinach and have to make it sometimes. (I know, Mark Bittman wrote about this too this week, but he copied me, in a prequel kind of way.)

This branch from our ornamental quince makes me feel like I'm living in a serene and beautiful painting. At least until I look at all the teetering piles of crap all over the place.
The Japanese Restaurant Spinach is still the number-one favorite of the children, on account of being so peanut-buttery and sweet. But I’ve been making a lighter version based on two factors: one, the dear reader who commented on the J.R.S., “Why do you have to be such a fusspot, cutting and balling up the spinach like a total freak?” or something to that effect. Eureka! I don’t! Here I just leave it in a tangle. And, two, the Hot Soy-Mustard Sauce on the grilled tuna I once ate at Roy’s, and which is like a dream I must have had because a) it was so delicious, b) I was so young, and c) Michael and I were in Hawaii. What?

Without further ado: the recipe. Oh, and I finally caught up on some commenting over on the vinaigrette post from last week. I love you guys so much.

Lip-Smacking Spinach
Serves 4
Active time: 10 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes

This spinach is just totally perfect in my book: salty, a bit sweet-tart, and with a hit of nasal heat from the English mustard. If you don't have Coleman's English mustard, use wasabi powder, which is its closest condiment cousin, or leave it out--it will still be good, better even than if you try Dijon or yellow mustard, which won't work here. For the heat averse (i.e. Birdy) a teaspoon each of the vinegar and soy is a great dressing. Oh, and if you don't have seasoned rice vinegar, then add a half teaspoon each of sugar and kosher salt to regular rice vinegar.

1 pound clean spinach
1 teaspoon Coleman's English mustard
1 teaspoon water
2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Bonito flakes (or toasted sesame seeds) for topping

Cram all the spinach into a large lidded pot with a steamer and a half an inch of water in the bottom of it, and bring it to a boil over high heat. Steam the spinach until it is thoroughly wilted and collapsed--a minute or two. Leave it to cool in a colander while you make the dressing.

Stir together the mustard and water until smooth, then stir in the vinegar and soy sauce. There! You've made the dressing.

Ideally, the spinach will be cool enough to handle now. Gather it up and wring it out over the sink. Really squeeze it--you're going to end up with something around the size of a baseball, which is kind of demoralizing but totally fine! Squeeze and squeeze it. I even put mine in a clean dish towel and give it a gentle squeeze. 

Now divide the spinach into four bowls and drizzle a tablespoon of dressing over each green pile. (Do you ever see those trucks that say A. Duie Pyle on the side? I mean, seriously that's the name of a company? "What are they, shit movers?" Ben asked intelligently enough.) Sprinkle each dish with bonito flakes, if you like, and serve.

50 to zero, volume-wise.

That's a subatomic particle, for scale.

Team Delicious.

My friend Sam send me these little dishes from Japantown in SF, and I love them.

Ben, devouring.

Mr. Beautiful Hands.

Monday, April 09, 2012

abidingling the actuality and now of carventing

I think that if you google yourself, you kind of deserve whatever it is you get, you know? Because you’re not going to find an announcement that you, say, won a MacArthur Genius Award. You’re going to find this, from the esteemed Discount Shoe Blog:

4 days ago by FKLD786fdhjkhjk
Catherine Newman Mom Blog- Writer Catherine Newman abidingles the actuality and now of carventing her adolescent adolescentren, Ben and Birdy.

It is all I can do not to make that the new subheading of my blog. Catherine Newman abidingles the actuality and now of carventing her adolescent adolescentren, Ben and Birdy. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Meanwhile, in the mixed-faith atheist aftermath of our weekend, this is what Monday morning looked like around here:

Those little collages are the Easter cards Birdy made us. It will be awkward when I marry her. Especially since I'll have to divorce our cat first. 

Matzo Brei here. Toffee Buttercrunch Crack Matzo here. Deviled eggs here. One-stop atheist interfaith shopping, that's what we're all about here on the Abidingling Blog!

Tomorrow: a new recipe, right here.
Today: Reviews of our 5 favorite kids' books, all of which you've already heard about from me ad nauseam, over at The Children's Book Review.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Perfect Vinaigrette / Healthy Lunch Bowl

I am having the kind of day where I just want to tell you about salad dressing, on the one hand and, on the other, I want to cry in your arms about the babies. Ben as the Major General in Pirates of Penzance. Birdy with a Frisbee-induced (and proudly cherished) black eye. My running to-do list that has been in continuous operation for so long that, when I just scrolled down pages and pages to its very bottom, it says, “Twyla? Boris? Toby? Gemma?” about the baby I was very briefly pregnant with, oh, 5 or 6 years ago now.

Did Ben *love* his ruffly, ruffly costume? As a matter of fact, he did, thanks so much for asking. 
Shiner, Day 6: The Yellow Phase. When Birdy's sweet P.E. teacher called fretfully to apologize that Birdy had gotten hurt, I said, "What--did you just meet Birdy? She's thrilled to have a black eye!" And it was true. 
It is, as they say, all good. It is. I needed another baby like a hole in the head. And lest you think my to-do list is simply a catalogue of ancient grief, a few lines up from that it says, “naturally occurring objects such as pit, twig, shell, or stem fragments—funny?” There is also the pressing question “trust-fund neuroscience rats?” and some notes for a story I want to write about a phantom phantom limb. Also this Birdy quote: "I put out all these perfect tiny meals for them, but what if fairies are actually big, and they're, like, starving and annoyed?" (And I call it my to-do list! Can you see why my house isn’t exactly spotless? Maybe I need a to-do list that’s separate from my random-shit-to-ponder list.)

Anyways. I have posted before my notes on teaching Ben to make salad, along with our old go-to dressing recipe. Only we have a new current favorite, and I thought I’d share it, since it makes a nice, big batch of salad dressing, which we use all week. 
He is the very model of a modern major measurer.
Ben photocopied the recipe and stuck it to the fridge for easy reference. Sensible child.
Oh, did you want to see more of the petty-crime collage on the fridge? We've been clipping bits from the absurdist Amherst Bulletin police blotter for as long as I can remember. We have so many good ones.
The dressing is a little garlicky, lip-smackingly vinegary, perfectly salted, and just barely herbal. Also, it tastes a little like Wishbone Italian, in the best possible way, without any creepy after-taste or anything. And when we have the dressing already made in the fridge, I’m inclined to make healthy salads for my own lunch, which is huge, since I’m always craving chicken wings or a steak sandwich and need to be sure to keep myself well-fed so I don’t dart out anywhere and spend my hard-earned scratch.

Basic dinner salad: romaine and cukes.
Five-minute Healthy Lunch Bowl.

Perfect Vinaigrette
Makes 1 cup

This is adapted from the “Greek Vinaigrette” recipe in The Family Dinner, a book I am friendly towards but haven’t yet used very much. Although Ben did make the Greek Meatballs from it, and they were fabulous. I know. Ben made meatballs! Major General cutie-head.

1 clove garlic, minced or put through a garlic press
1/3 cup white-wine vinegar
2/3 cup olive oil
¼ teaspoon dried marjoram (or oregano, if you prefer)
2 teaspoons kosher salt (or half as much are you even paying attention?)

Shake it up in a jar. Store it in the fridge.

Healthy Lunch Bowl
Serves 2 or 3

Because I am live-blogging my own lunch, I’m showing you exactly how I made this—today. However, in another moment, I would have made it differently, depending on what we had around. As always, I think you need a mix of tender and crunchy, rich and fresh and, ideally, a little bit spicy. (And is it just me, or are you now thinking of saying “Don’t be such a lunch bowl!” to people who are pissing you off?)

2 cups cooked pinto beans, or 1 15-ounce can, drained and rinsed
2 stalks celery, chopped, with lots of chopped leaves
½ English cucumber, seeded and sliced
1 can oil-packed tuna, drained unthoroughly
1/3 cup green pumpkin seeds, sautéed in a teaspoon of olive oil until just browning
1 tablespoon chopped pickled jalapenos
Perfect Vinaigrette

Combine everything in a bowl and add dressing to taste. Try to be glad you didn’t go out for the hot wings.

Other things I would add or swap in for other stuff
  • chickpeas (my usual bean for this salad)
  • crumbled feta
  • capers
  • olives
  • pickled beets
  • parsley or other herbs
  • a handful of arugula or other greens
  • sliced almonds
  • raisins or dried cherries
  • sliced radishes and/or carrots
  • leftover cooked vegetables
  • leftover cooked grains (warmed briefly in the microwave)
Lunch bowl, before tossing.
Michael, finishing the lunch bowl.