Do we let them know we see and delight in them as they are, for who they are? Or do we hustle past their actual selves in favor of a generic family photo op? God gave us specific children for a reason. One of our primary jobs as parents is to identify and encourage what is good in them – not what we wish they were like, but what is good in them right now. Our job is to find something delightful in them.
First a prayer request: My father is in the hospital, waiting for heart surgery. He’ll have a triple bypass, or possibly a quadruple bypass, on Tuesday. We’re very glad this surgery is available, and have high hopes he’ll start feeling better than he has in a long time once he’s recovered; but of course the recovery is long and hard, especially since he is 75 and has other medical issues. He lives alone, close to where my mother’s nursing home, but an hour or more away from all his children, so the logistics are a little daunting.
And now the food! We ate so much ridiculously good food this past week:
Gosh, this seems like so long ago. Saturday we went ice skating and came home to have hot chocolate, popcorn, and grilled ham and cheese. Corrie was very very enthusiastic about skating and won all the races.
I did a lot of skating with Benny, until the moment came when I leaned too hard on the skating frame and it collapsed. Le sigh.
New Year’s Eve. We pretty much ate all the food that is available to the known universe.
Some friends sent a huge, spectacular hamper packed with luxurious treats, so we hauled out all the various tea sets you accumulate when you have eight daughters, and had a sort of rolling English tea party. Tragically, I forgot to take pictures of my own, but you must take my word for it that it was fancy beyond all reason:
If you don’t have extraordinarily generous friends who send you luxury hampers, I recommend getting some right away.
While everyone continued feasting and being fancy, my husband casually strolled into the kitchen to prepare, you know, a little sauteed scallops topped with shredded duck and Hollandaise sauce.This photo miserably fails to capture how rich and sumptuous this dish is.
If you don’t have a husband who likes to casually stroll into the kitchen and make your dreams come true, I recommend getting one right away.
This dish is not an obvious combination of flavors, but it makes so much sense once you’re shoveling it into your mouth.I thought duck would be more or less like dark turkey meat, but it’s really almost closer to lamb. So good. A wonderful meal for a special treat. (Aldi has both duck and scallops on sale every so often!)
And now the sushi! Yes, we had a sushi party on the same day as our English tea and our duckstravaganza. It made sense at the time.
First, I bought good rice and several packages of nori, soy sauce, rice vinegar, wasabi, pickled ginger, a little jar of roe, tuna steaks that were frozen at sea, some seared and seasoned tuna, canned salmon for the sissies, fake crab legs, toasted sesame seeds, avocados, mangos, carrots, cucumbers, and chop sticks, which we forgot to use.
I bought a sack of Nishiki rice, which is just gorgeous, like mother of pearl. It is expensive, but definitely worth it for a treat. I used the sushi rice recipe in this post (after skimming, with growing horror, through numerous other recipes that discussed whether it was more auspicious to rinse the rice 54 or 128 times before cooking), except I didn’t use quite that much salt. I cooked six cups of raw rice in the Instant Pot, which makes good sticky rice.
While the rice was cooking, I peeled the carrots into strips and pickled them, and we stirred some hot sauce into some mayo, and sliced the tuna as thin as I could, and the kids helped prep the avocados, mangoes, and cucumbers. It was all so lovely.
Now that I have ramekins, I use them all the time. Ramekins!
When the rice was done, I carefully sprinkled the vinegar mixture over it (I sextupled the recipe, but didn’t need that much) and then Benny’s moment of glory came: She used her special gold lace fan to vigorously fan the rice while I carefully turned it:
I guess you fan it to evaporate the vinegar, so the rice takes on the flavor without getting mushy. It worked!
We couldn’t find the rolling mat, so we opted for sushi cones, where you break a panel of nori in half, set the rice and fillings on one side, and roll it up diagonally. It took a while to get the hang of it, and they were not dainty, but on the other hand, NOM NOM NOM NOM NOM.
We kept the rice covered while everyone took turns building their sushi cones. A few variations:
It was fantastic. Just about everyone found some combination to their liking. Some of the kids skipped the nori altogether, and made deconstructed sushi; some of them just used rice and vegetables; some of them (okay, me) just parked themselves in front of the tray and systematically worked through eleven different combinations.
We’re doing this every New Year’s Eve from now on. What ingredients would you add?
Birthday! Baby New Year turned twelve and requested calzones.
To make twelve calzones, I used three balls pizza dough divided into fourths, then made the cheese filling (this was more than enough):
2 tsp oregano
1 tsp salt
I stretched the dough portions into the size of small plates, then added a ball of cheese mixture, plus whatever fillings were requested. I folded the dough over and pinched the ends tightly shut, then pressed the calzone to spread out the filling evenly.
We greased two baking trays with shortening and sprinkled them with corn meal, laid the calzones on (with a few inches in between, as they puff up), and brushed the with egg yolk beaten with a little water.
I baked them at 450 for — okay, I don’t remember how long. Maybe 15 minutes?
Then we served them with ramekins (ramekins!) of hot marinara sauce for dipping.
We made this one-bowl chocolate cake recipe. I didn’t taste it, as chocolate is a huge migraine trigger, but it looked pretty good. Decorations courtesy of the 90% off shelf after Halloween. I’m a saver.
We made chocolate frosting with a recipe on the side of the cocoa powder can. I think it was just shortening (we had run out of butter!), chocolate, and powdered sugar.
My son took a few pictures of his sister blowing out her candles, and then Google helpfully and spontaneously merged them into this horrifying glimpse into the spirit realm of birthdays:
I don’t want to know what that creature wished for.
Chicken enchiladas and beans and rice
One of the college girls offered to make chicken enchiladas before she flies away again. They were so good. She used boneless chicken thighs with Pioneer Woman’s recipe, and made thirty nice enchilada longbois, some red and some green.
I made some quickie beans and rice. Cooked up a few cups of rice and added a can of black beans and a can of chili kidney beans, drained, a can of Ro-Tel tomatoes, some jarred jalapenos, and a bunch of cumin, chili powder, and salt.
We just had this, but I like it. I browned up some boneless pork ribs in olive oil, then sliced them thin, and then I cooked up some frozen stir fry veggies in the pork pan. I made a dozen or so soft-boiled eggs in the Instant Pot. The trick is to do a quick release after cooking, then dunk them in ice water, and then shells slide right off, almost in one piece. Not necessarily easier than using the stove, but a good trick if the stove is in use or if you really want unblemished whites.
I served a big pot of cheap ramen and let people choose pork, veggies, and eggs, plus sesame seeds, hot sauce, soy sauce, and chopped scallions.
Do you make fancy ramen? What do you add? I like this meal, but would like some more variety in the add-ins.
I am not sure. We had a pretty good storm going, and school was cancelled, but we got the news in the morning that my dad was going to need heart surgery, and was going to meet with the surgeons on this day.
So Damien and I rolled slowly north through the storm to the hospital while the kids managed at home. We had a good visit (the only thing my father requested was The Odyssey, Fagles translation) and I like the surgeon.
We thought we’d have to spend the night, but the snow slowed down toward evening, so we pushed ahead to get home, stopping only for Five Guys, because where else would you go on your way home from a visit to the cardiology wing?
I know this isn’t the popular opinion, but while their fries were quite good, I thought the burgers were just okay. The meat was kind of mealy, and the buns were just too greasy to be enjoyable. Huge portions, though. You can see that I am not complaining.
Then we trundled the rest of the way home through the last of the storm, and Damien installed me on the couch with a lot of red wine and The Big Lebowski.
I think we are having beef stew.
We’ll say an extra decade of the rosary because it’s Friday, but I have this big hunk of beef going unheeded in the fridge, and it has been quite a week.
QUITE A WEEK. Here is a picture of my dad from this summer, talking (possibly about the Declaration of Independence) with my brother Joe:
My father’s name is Phil, if you’d care to mention him in your prayers! Thank you.
In today’s podcast, I interview my father, Phil Prever, about living through the Six Day War fifty years ago.
He and my mother and my two oldest sisters in Jerusalem in 1967. He was half a block from the border with Jordan when the radio suddenly started repeating, “The window is open. The window is open.” Half the people in the office abruptly got up and left. He realized it was code, and the war had begun.
Hear the interview to find out what my parents were doing in Israel in the first place,
what was the one Hebrew word he learned right away,
what made him realize the war had broken out, and what it was like as it happened,
what “The window is open” means,
whether he thinks there were actually angels fighting with the Israeli pilots
and what was the city like after the fighting was over.
Here is a recording of the song he mentions, “Jerusalem of Gold, written in 1967 and played everywhere on the radio after the war was over:
When I was growing up, everybody else’s father would happily (or so I thought) camp overnight outside K-mart to make sure their kids got one of the few remaining Cabbage Patch Kids in town. They would give them the best presents: Game Boys, Simon Says games, and of course the Barbie Dream House, with elevator and real bubbling hot tub. We never got any of these things.
Instead, my father gave us experiences. It took me a while to realize this was a conscious decision; and it took me even longer to realize what a great one it was. He would spend days and weeks planning out trips, making reservations, calling ahead to make sure everything was what he thought it would be, and of course parking in a safe place and then heading out first by himself to “reconnoiter.”
We would set out on long, long excursions with nothing but a few metal canteens of water and several packets of sugar wafer cookies. But when we got there, it was always something amazing. And, unlike all those cruddy toys I wanted so much, they are something I still have, in my memory. In no particular order, here are a few of the gifts my father gave us:
PIC Alpine Slides
PIC St. Gaudens
PIC Polar Caves
PIC Fenway Park
PIC Queechee Gorge
PIC Peaks Island Ferry
PIC Isabella Stewart Gardner
PIC Rollins Chapel concert
PIC The Cloisters
PIC Hood Museum
PIC Museum of Modern Art
PIC Mt. Ascutney
PIC Metropolitan Opera
PIC Fairbanks Museum
PIC Midsummer Night’s Dream
PIC Coney Island Nathan’s
PIC Covered bridge
PIC Big Apple Circus
PIC Hopkin’s Center Symphony
PIC Lake Sunappee seaplane
Happy father’s day, Abba! Thanks for all the days.
Glenn Gould is the second person I ever heard who plays Bach properly. The first one is my father, who is not a very good pianist.
My father has the ear of a great musician. He takes orchestral scores to bed as a little night reading. Haydn eludes me, but his music brings my father to tears. Once, when he was striving to explain sonata form, I coolly answered that I’d rather let the music just wash over me, instead of wrecking the mood by overthinking it. By the look he gave me, I think he heard me say something like, “I prefer to let small children be mutilated by elephants, rather than harsh my buzz.”
The radio always played classical music as I was growing up, and the awkward, melancholy voice of Peter Fox Smith was the sound of Saturday afternoon at our house. We didn’t learn table manners or social skills, but we knew how to behave at a concert, and sneered mercilessly at the dolts who clapped between movements.
We drove 45 minutes in a snowstorm to hear Sally Pinkas play (stopping only when we skidded and rear-ended another driver, who turned out to be the local choir director), and once hauled the old red minivan four hours to watch The Marriage of Figaro at the Met. We pulled over to the shoulder at the outskirts of the city, hung sheets on the car windows, and changed into our fanciest dresses (and were appalled to see other opera lovers show up in jeans).
But the best music lesson I had was at night, when the sounds of my father’s upright piano floated up through the floorboards of our bedroom. He often played Bach at night. He would play the same fugues and partitas over and over again, and he never got any better at them — his fingers just wouldn’t perform what his mind was hearing. So what I heard as I fell asleep was a halting, passionate, pleadingly tender rendition of these gorgeous melodies — all largo, grave, and always con espressivo — never in the prestissimo that Bach directed.
I remember first learning that some people are emotionally repelled by the music of Bach, and hear nothing but a dazzlingly intricate array of sound, mathematical, impersonal, elegant and impenetrible. I was dumbfounded. My father, with his meager technical skills, laid Bach out bare. Again and again, struggling to pefect an unusual chord, he would string it out, one note at a time, five or six or seven times in a row. Occasionally, to our glee, he would call out, “Yahhhhh . . . ” in the note he was trying to find – as if his lost fingers would hearken to him and realize which piano key they were aching for.
So to me, Bach sounds like struggle, longing, and tireless devotion. That is still how I hear Bach, even when some hotshot virtuoso zips over the keyboard in the time key that Bach called for. When I discovered that Glenn Gould is known for slowing Bach down, for drawing out the tempo and turning those breakneck intricacies into vulnerable or exultant songs of the human heart, then it sounded like the real Bach to me. In fact, Bach sounds like Music to me — like the heart, the tendons, the inner workings of music. My other cherished composers – Brahms, Schubert, Mahler – wouldn’t have anything to say if Bach hadn’t said it first, somehow cocooned in a code of speed and density.
I am grateful to Glenn Gould for revealing the heartbreaking beauty of Bach, and I’m grateful to my father for revealing his unburnished talent to his family. From him came music. A clever teacher can produce clever students; but, in music as in all other things, only love begets love.