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November 20, 2018

I wrote this post in June and never posted it. I am posting it now, right before I go camping again. (In early December! And again it is a kid-driven decision! But I am doing it!)


I am going camping. Camping for 4 nights. Several hours upstate, away from home.

If I recall correctly, the last time I went camping was 35 years ago.


I was 11, it was the first time I’d gotten my period, I was going with a friend whose family I didn’t know too well, and it was beach camping.

Reflect on the sub penultimate noun phrase in the sentence above. You know the one. And hey, I survived! Aside from those facts, I don’t remember anything except the image of a pristine white tent on sand at night, light emanating from within. Is beach camping even a thing? I would not know, not being a camper. My brain may be accessing a piece of stock photography from glamping in Dubai. It is possible.

But my kids want to go camping. It is so nice to give them experiences. And I keep running into people who like to camp. “You like to camp?” I’ll say, conversationally, and they’ll turn and look me steady in the eye and say “I LOVE to camp. It is my favorite thing.”

(It is possible that everyone I run into lives here, and people live here because they love stuff like trees and rivers, and they therefore also camp. Sort of like when you go to the gym and marvel at how thin everyone is. But: when someone is so soulful, so positive about something like that, you’ve got to think hard about it.)

Last year, in my shift away from accidentally living in New York City for 17 years, I had an epiphany, or maybe I made a decision to stop thinking about it like this:

Camping: you have to sleep outside.


Camping: you never have to go back in!

There is nothing I love more than sleeping on my sleeping porch. The kids love it, too. It’s pretty much what sealed the deal on this house. That and the light in the living room. And the view. And the brightly painted doors. And the insouciant taxidermy that was everywhere. There is actually a lot that contributed to this being my dream house. (Dream house for me: lots of others have made it clear how they feel about taxidermy, insouciant or no; doors which don’t really work, regardless of hue.)

I recently got a cot and little puffy mattress that fills itself with air, no one knows how, so the sleeping porch is my deal for many warm nights now, and it makes the sleeping porch that much better.

Of course, the sleeping porch does have 2 solid walls, a roof, no bears, and is thirteen paces from my bed and a mere eleven from the bathroom. How to bridge the delta between sleeping porch sleeping and having to sleep outside? By which I mean never having to go in?

Hmmmmm . . . Buy an on-sale tent as big as the house?

Sometimes when I am trying to get my daughter to try something new, something she will most certainly love — most recently a Juan Canary melon — she won’t do it. Just won’t. It doesn’t seem to matter that other melons are her favorite foods: both honeydew and cantaloupe make her so happy that when I put them into a grocery cart, she looks up at me all soft-eyed, and offers the most earnest thank you. Other mothers have stopped and grabbed me by the arm on hearing her tiny, speech-impeded gratitude on the topic of melon. With the canary, I explain that it looks orange but it tastes green. Yum! But she won’t try the new, despite the joy that the known has brought.

Camping seems like one of those things that is so basic but with the potential to be just the best best thing — like eating or sleeping or color or swimming, so elemental  — that I can’t write it off. I must try the melon, so here we go.


Baby Hater

May 31, 2018

My baby is six. But she’ll always be my baby, etc. etc.

She’s getting sort of leggy to be considered a baby, though. Speaking of which, do you know what she hates the most?


I love babies. Anyone, any baby at all, any species, I’ll snuggle it up if you give me the chance. They are so funny, so expressive, so alien and familiar at once. And let’s not forget the sartorial opportunities they can provide. I literally cannot drag my eyes off of them, because I am fond verging on creepy.

The girl child, though . . . a baby hater.

In the grocery store one day I say “Look at that hat!,” referring to the hat of someone very small in a chest carrier. I can only see the back of the hat but it is charming — has a fuzzy texture, I believe it had some wee animal ears involved in the design and construction.

My daughter turns without realizing what she is about to see. And then back to me, glaring with smoking-hot anger eyes. “You made me turn my head to look at a baby . . . AND I HATE BABIES!”

The hatred of babies by a six-year-old girl entertains me no end; these fresh-faced sweeties, just coming into their own, are more often moony and maternal over anything soft and small. But this kid reserves all that for animals.

Referring to a family who know with three kids the other day, I say, “There is the middle one named Violet. Do you remember the big sister’s name?”

“I do. Her name is Jane. But then also there is the baby, which, I HATE BABIES!”

She doesn’t want to have a baby, because being pregnant seems horrible. Hmm, who could have given her that idea? She’s also clear on the fact that she doesn’t want to take care of a baby. She would like a kid though, so her provisional plan is that I’ll handle the babyness of it all and then she’ll take over when it’s a kid.

I shouldn’t encourage it, or get her to say it because her contrarian attitude is so heartfelt, unusual, strongly expressed and therefore delightful. I don’t want her to end up hating babies in a real sense because she talked about hating babies so much when she was still adjacent to her own babyhood. But maybe she really does hate them. And maybe I am solidifying this in her identity by typing it down in letters.

At the end of the day I sort of like it when women don’t want babies, aren’t swayed in their decisions because of some fervent biological desire they never chose; it makes me feel like we females aren’t just a pack of baby-wanters, whereas I personally have done nothing and probably will continue to do nothing to dispel that myth.

It takes all sorts, it takes a village.

It takes a baby hater and it might take a baby hater’s mom.


May 30, 2018

My kids’ elementary school hosted a “World Culture Night,” which was the best. Since we’ve left Brooklyn, we see many more leaves and rivers and chipmunks and other animals who are not rats than we used to; things could not be be better in that regard.

We also meet a lot fewer Bangladeshi butchers and have been invited to zero parties where unheard-of herbs are synthesized into delicious salads by savvy Caribbean women. I cannot remember the last time someone tried to serve me a turkey neck in a curry. And I guess I am a little sad about that.


thx to ryan pickle from flickr 

But for World Culture Night, all families with a penchant towards a particular culture were invited to make a booth with music, crafts, fashion, and foods from whence they came — either recently, or never, because it was actually their grandparents or someone who came from there.


I would not have had a lot to contribute unless I made a Wethersfield, CT booth with a red onion costume, a tri-cornered hat balanced atop, and shiny shoes buckled below, piccolo in fist, with a mouthful of butter-and-sugar corn. But: I didn’t think of that until afterwards.

My enthusiasm for the cultures of others led me to ask a friend whose grandparents are Mexican if she’d like any help. My daughter had just finished a unit on Mexico and my son had cried real tears recently after I explained that we are not, in fact, at all Mexican. (The same thing happened with Jewish a few years back.)

We worked with another actually-from-Mexico family who had great ideas and execution, not to mention bona fides. (Meanwhile, it has been fun to field casual but focused lines of questioning about what part of my family is Mexican.)

At WCN, our booth had a station where kids could make paper flowers out of tissue paper and pipe cleaners. It had five huge, beautiful king’s cakes, with candied fruit atop, sliced thin for tasting. It had a chart so you could understand that the words for so many of your favorite things — chocolate, avocado, coyote, tomato — come from the Nahuatl language. Our booth had a line 1000 children long where you could get your face made up in Day-of-the-Dead makeup. And it had children modeling colorful serapes.

My contribution was horchata — which is basically the drink form of rice pudding. I drank a lot of this when I lived in Texas and now I drink it anywhere else I can find it. I usually share it with someone, because it’s pretty sweet. We served it in tiny little cups. It’s delicious and was quite popular with grownups and kids alike.

Children are a suspicious lot and many of them were wary of tasting a drink they hadn’t had before. I told them to dip a finger in and then lick it off, and most of them wanted their allotted cup, and seconds.

Several adults asked for the recipe so I am publishing it here.


For this recipe, you will need:

  • Long grain white rice
  • Water
  • Sweetened condensed milk or sugar and milk (You can basically do whatever you want, and it will be delicious)
  • Cinnamon (sticks or ground)
  • Vanilla

Horchata is not unlike banana bread — no matter what you do with it, it is going to be delicious. Unlike banana bread, if you are not happy with the result, you can monkey with it until you do find it delicious.

If you want to make quite a bit, soak a bag of rice in a large bowl or stock pot. Soak cinnamon sticks in there, too, if you have them. After several hours, blend some of the water with some of the rice in a very strong blender.

Very strong.


Blend the cinnamon sticks too if you’d like. After blending for about a minute, the rice should be smaller. Some of it will be ground completely, but expect a gritty slurry at the bottom. Strain the liquid and the partial slurry that comes out with it. To the rest of the ricey chunks in the bottom of the blender, add milk and more sugar than you would like to admit. Add a dash of vanilla and ground cinnamon if you haven’t used any yet. Blend until you are tired of blending it or are starting to smell that warm rubber smell which signifies the motor ruining itself. Then, strain the milky sugary liquid into the first liquid you strained. Stir and taste it. Is it good? Is it so so good? Or does it need more sugar?

Clean the slurry out of the blender to start anew with the next batch. Begin again with several cups of the ricey water and a couples of inches of rice. Blend, strain. To the grit at the bottom add cinnamon, vanilla, milk or more water and sweetened condensed milk, blend again, strain again, and clean out blender.

Repeat and repeat and repeat and repeat. For some of the sugar — or all of it — you can use sweetened condensed milk. Taste for cinnamon and vanilla. Do not be alarmed at the accumulation of soft, ground rice at the bottom of your container. It has the consistency of ooblek, but not the properties.

Serve over ice to lots of suspicious children and delighted adults. It tastes like a nap in a glass.



Art, Science, Guacamole.

May 22, 2015

I’m going to help you with something very important. I’m going to help you with your guacamole.

What makes guacamole delicious is grinding together plenty of minced-up garlic with plenty of kosher salt in and all around the sides of the bowl before you do anything else. Thoroughly smush it all up together with a fork. It will make a huge difference in the final product.

I have thought about this a lot, and now i will try to explain why this makes it so much better using scientific terminology.

I think it’s the difference between a solution and a mixture.

Perhaps if you get the salt very garlicky, if you actually impregate the salt with the essence of garlic, then, when the salt dissolves and becomes part of the food, you have actually inserted garlic into every bite rather than only the bites that are garlic. Does this make sense? It’s like creating a solution rather than a mixture. It is a chemical transformation, a new food, a whole greater than the sum of the parts.

And a whole greater than the sum isn’t math, and it isn’t science. It is art.

So this simple tip let’s you access guac as science, and as art.

After the lots of garlic and salt, add ripe chunks of avocado, a handful of minced red onion, and perhaps some chopped tomato. Juice a lime in there, and stir it up. And unless someone hates cilantro and you are trying to get on their good side, add chopped cilantro.

You might also add diced jalapeno or serrano or a shake of cayenne, but if you are trying to convice children that they like guacamole, I don’t recommend it.

* This is a trick that either my friend Jennifer or my friend Theresa, both excellent cooks who I often see together, taught me several years ago. They taught me this trick right around the time when my guacamole started to get really really good, and I considered putting it on my resume.

Bejeweling the Mango: Trinidad Chow

May 20, 2015

Thanks to on flickr for use of this Creative Commons photo! Mmmmm.

I went to a 6 year old’s birthday party at a bowling alley.

The lights. The music. The flashing animated rabbit declaring who got a strike, and who got a split. The little guests so delighted to be together, to celebrate their friend, to practice new wobbly math skills to understand the score.

Some children used a ramp-like contraption which in effect bowled the ball for them. My own bowled analog, but pitched each ball more downward than forward. The games progressed in a spirit of amped-up camaraderie, and though I only had to get ice for one wounded child who had stuck her hand into the unforgiving maw of the ball dispenser, it is safe to say that we were all overstimulated.

Soon enough we moved to a party room, where a vast super hero cake lorded over a populous congregation of smaller cupcakes. Bowls of candy overflowed in the middle of the table and balloons bobbed to the ceiling. As hot dogs and pizza slices were passed around and punch was spilled on the tablecloth, the hostess drew my remaining, fractured attention to some food geared towards an adult palate.

And that is when I met the Mango Chow for the first time in my life, and I found something to zero my focus in upon.

Be careful! my friend warned, as I spooned some orange cubes flecked with . . . could those be wee wisps of green herb? Slivers of garlic? It can be a bit spicy, she said.

There is something so pure about mango. The hue of ripe mango flesh has a smooth, unvariegated intensity and gloss. But the arc of flavor is phenonemal. Some fruits are elemental: think apple, banana. But mango is already complex. Some claim it’s too sweet, but in reality, it’s the acidity and the almost delicate dusty flavor at the finish that make it so special for me. I love mango by itself. My kids beg for sliced mango as a dessert, and can frequently be heard squabbling over who gets to suck the pit.

If plain old mango is a party in the mouth, one could postulate that salting and spicing a mango would be like gilding the lily: too much. But this kind of salad is more like bejewling the mango, playing to its natural beauty. It’s like draping a beautiful person in beautiful fabric.

Memorial day is this weekend. This salad, with garlic, lime, chilis, and herbs, it just what you want on your table. No lie.

Trinidad Chow


4 cups cubed fruit (try it first with mango! pineapple makes sense, too! throw some halved grapes in!)

6-8 culantro (use cilantro if you can’t find culantro)

2-3 garlic cloves

Hot pepper to taste, sliced or minced — eg. habanero or scotch bonnet, or hot pepper sauce


Lime juice


1. Mince culantro (or cilantro) and hot pepper.

2. Crush, grate, or mince garlic.

3. Peel fruits, if required.

4. Cut fruit into bite sized pieces.

5. Season to taste with minced culantro, hot pepper/s, garlic and salt.

6. Toss all ingredients together.

7. EAT.

The Maximalist(s)

August 26, 2013

I’ve long considered myself  a maximalist.

Mostly, this has to do with toppings for ice cream or sandwiches. Given the choice to have a sandwich with ham and cheese and mustard and bread — that’s 4 ingredients — or a sandwich with cherry peppers and those shaved onions and avocado and mayo and salt and pepper and vinegar and oil and shredded lettuce and maybe some sort of cheese or meat, I’d take the one with cherry peppers and everything else every time. The cheese and meat are often incidental. They get in the way of my toppings.

When I was growing up, there was a sandwich place called D’Angelo’s in my town. At first, they just served pocket sandwiches. I’d rather do just about anything than eat a pocket sandwich, but number 9 on the roster had shaved steak and American cheese. You could get onions and pepper if you wanted. You could get mushrooms. You could get lettuce and tomato. You could get chopped hot peppers, the stinging vinegar they were packed in adding a wonderful acid component. You could get salt and pepper. (You could get mayonnaise, but everyone has to draw the line somewhere, and on that sandwich that was overkill. On most sandwiches, I would indeed pull the trigger on mayonnaise.)

And then one day, they stopped identifying as just a pocket sandwich restaurant and started to serve sandwiches on sub rolls. It was a life changing moment. Nothing is identified by numbers there anymore, but the name “Number 9” lives on.

When I make burgers at home, I exhaust even myself providing little bowls or plates of things to dress them with. But that is how I like my burgers. I start by dicing onions and cooking them in butter. Then I salt and pepper the meat and squoosh the butter-cooked onions through. I cut tomato, spice up mayo with chipotle or sriracha, sautee mushrooms. There is lettuce available, for crunch. Cheddar or Swiss. Ketchup.

My husband is a bit more measured.

We have 2 kids, each with lots of qualities of their own. It’s a fun family game to attribute a behavior to one side or the other. Sleeping late? That’s my side. Throwing a tantrum when someone tries to help you? Husband. A child begging to use the vacuum? I won’t say who that is, but I will say that it’s not me.

The little vacuumer is great at cleaning up the garden, but he has become a minimalist. He will scream at me for, say, including cheese in his quesadilla. Or for including a hot dog in his hot dog bun — you know, doing bad stuff like that. But the one year old is still a good eater. People in restaurants often approach me to marvel at her capacity. She is a very petite child, but this has nothing to do with her eating habits. She slept horribly as a young baby. Clarification: she slept Guinness Book of World Records horribly. The first night I ever remember her sleeping well was when she sat in a chair and ate dinner for a full uninterrupted 90 minutes. If I recall correctly, it was hundreds and hundreds of small fistfuls of smoked salmon risotto with marscapone cheese. She kept being willing to eat more, and I kept giving her more. Then she slept through the night. Now i feed her as if she were Muhammad Ali nearly every night. She is still svelte, but now she is a glossy-furred good sleeper, too.

When she’s not stuffing her face, she’s stuffing her arms: her other focus is collecting stuffed animals in her bed. I suspect her to be a maximalist. I suspect that she is the kid who might want not chocolate, or not rainbow, but chocolate AND rainbow sprinkles on her ice cream a few years down the line. Ketchup, mustard, relish AND onions on her hot dog.

But for now she’s got the bear and the dog and the other dog and the turtle and the zebra and the cow and the babydoll. And the rabbit and the lizard. And before you lift her out of her crib in the morning, she will hand you each one and deliver a personal thank you for taking each baby, and for holding onto it until she’s out and can grab them all from you again.

The Maximalist likes to run with her whole crew. And who can blame her?

Mango Blossoms

June 26, 2013
thanks for caribb on Flickr for use of the photo

thanks to caribb on Flickr for use of the photo

My inlaws were in from Chicago this weekend and we subway’d it out to the beach Saturday to fly a tiny kite and to say hello to the ocean. It was the Mermaid Parade, which we’d managed to forget, so we also saw a lot of glittery, near-nude women with Technicolor hair.

And I guess that not all of them were women.

We had passed several thousand Mr. Softee trucks, tinkling their siren songs, when I saw our four year old  stomping with a twisted, tortured face. I noted that he wanted ice cream but didn’t want to ask.

I have a conflicted relationship to him asking for things. On the one hand, I want him to feel more comfortable asking for things than I did as a child and frankly, than I do now. On the other, I don’t like being asked for ice cream every single time we walk by it, and because it is on wheels, it is not above following us.

Seeing grandparents is on the level of Mardi Gras for the children, so we knew that the treats would be flowing. So finally we asked him whether he’d prefer a treat then or later in the day. He wanted a treat just then, of course. But right at the moment when it was decided then we passed a spectacular sight, which was a man grabbing a mango from a box, impaling it on a stick, peeling it lickity split at an awkward angle, then hacking at it willy nilly with a machete in order to turn the stone fruit into a lovely blossoming all-fruit lolly. Then he’d hand it to a thirsty, sandy customer and collect their money. The customer could add lime and chili, or just walk off and eat the lushly orange fruit as is.

Henry, stunned at the sight, forgot about ice cream and asked for one of those. Most of me inflated with happiness that my son wanted a beautifully presented fruit rather than industrial-grade ice cream, but a small part of me winced in anticipation. His father was certain that a whole mango would be too much, but I knew that a whole mango would be perfect if it was the sort of mango that passed muster – but that Henry has a very complex relationship with mangos. When they are good they are very very good, and at other times, he wants them to be good, and yet is disappointed, and begins to shriek in a way that only a 4 year old hysterically disappointed by the characteristics of a mango can, or would. 

We waited for the mango-ist of mangos to come out of the box: shiny, orange-fleshed, still firm but juicy and softer than the drier, yellow, less ripe versions. And then we stared into the sea and were ruffled by the breeze as we enjoyed the lush and colorful beachy treat.