parenting

Noticing that time has passed

I finally broke down and got out my relief printmaking tools.  I was looking at the work I've done so far for running snail & rainbow and noticing a glaring omission in the lineup: a wood block print.  I only got to take one printmaking class in college, which is a great sadness to me, because if I had found the medium before second semester of senior year I would have most certainly taken another and another.  I want presses and rollers and cranks, buckets of chemicals and plates of metal and glass, and I want to know how to use all of them.  Even my painting professor thought that more printmaking would have been a good use of my time.

What he did not think was a good use of my time were my antics in the theatre department, dabbling in plays and entertaining the fantasy of becoming an actor.  He saw that my work in the art studio suffered horribly when I split my creative focus.  He had a point.  But aside from his point, painting was just never my medium.  I wanted it to be.  Desperately.  He was a brilliant teacher, and a brilliant artist.  His use of color made you want to live behind his eyes forever.  His world was vibrant, unexpected, beautiful.  My problem was not understanding the color theory, or what all the different little tubes of paint and gels did.  My problem was with the palette--it got so messy, and my brushes got so globby; it just wasn't how I think.  The teacher probably unfairly blamed theatre entirely for my ineptitude, when really I just couldn't organize myself the way I needed to do interpret what I was seeing.  Then one night, second semester of senior year, I was in the printmaking studio finishing up a project.  He was grading portfolios in the adjoining studio and popped his head in.  "Oh," he asserted, matter-of-factly, after having seen my woodblock prints, "you're a printmaker."

I don't know why I didn't touch my tools to a piece of wood for seven years.  Figuring that out doesn't warrant any of my energy, so suffice to say that I've started a piece, for children (or not), about the four seasons.  But I didn't want this bit of writing now to really be about that piece, since I don't want to give anything away yet.  What I really wanted to talk about was yesterday afternoon.

I've begun to wonder how people who live in more-or-less season-less climates--you know, like the tropics--keep track of how time has passed.  My entire internal clock is based upon how the light looks, the air feels and smells, and where I've spent the majority of my time.  Yesterday afternoon, on an unseasonably warm spring day, I took my daughter into the backyard, filled up her little wading pool, and brought my wood carving supplies outside.  She sat pouring water from one cup to another, and I carved my block of wood.  I was struck how similar this was to an early evening last summer, an evening when I finally figured out how to capture a moment of quietness in her waking hours.

The two early evenings have so many things in common: the out of doors, the water, the long shadows, the rarity of the occasion.  Yet they are so different.  I didn't sit there like I did last year, stunned at the advent of motherhood, blinking in the light.  I was able to do something for myself: carve out a few little bits of my woodblock.  It wasn't much, but it was everything.

Life in a Patty

Some generalities can always be made: about women, men, seagulls, you name it.  And then there are always the exceptions to the rule.  My exception to one such Generality About Being a Woman is that I'm a horrible multi-tasker. When I was in my twenties, I deluded myself that I was one capable of multi-tasking, and now that I'm safely thirty I have admitted to myself that I am a one-thing-at-a-time kind of person.  Your twenties are for pretending who you want to be, and your thirties are for realizing who you actually are, I've decided.  Now I can congratulate myself on my newfound maturity, and, at once, painfully wave farewell to the times gone by when I had the option of doing one thing at a time.  Really, that time ended when I had a baby.  Then I was doubly reminded that that time was over when she started walking.  And then triply when she began climbing...and you see where I'm going.  (You may also draw the logical conclusion when you see what time I posted this and every other blog post).  I see other women juggling children at the grocery store, with their coupon binder, washed hair, and unstained clothes, and marvel at them.  If you are one of these women, I salute you.

Of course, in a household with an actor, an artist, and a toddler, there's never one thing going at a time.  And not only do I try to take the best care ever of my little girl, but I also try to do some things for myself (writing here, drawing there, bathing), then I have to earn some money (freelance graphic design work, helping out my photographer friend with some shoots), and still find time to put breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the table.  It's at that time -- when the actor shows up for his far-to-short dinner break, and I realize I have no idea what to serve up, and the toddler starts getting cranky, and I realize that the day is almost gone and I've gotten maybe one thing done -- that's the time when I want to consolidate everything in my universe into a big life-shaped patty that I can eat one. mouthful. at. a. time.

Not possible, I know.  But I can make dinner into a patty, and that's what I'm going to do:



I'm starting a project called Life Burgers.  I'm going to take all my favorite (mostly meatless) meals, put them into veggie-burger format, freeze them, and serve them up when all else fails.  I'll be sharing the recipes here, of course, and I'd like you to weigh in, via the comments section, what you'd like to see in burger form.  First up will be a Punjabi Red Kidney Bean Stew gone life burger: kidney beans spiked with ginger, garlic, coriander and cumin, with bits of bright tomato and a squeeze of lemon juice.  Serve it up with a dollop of yogurt and a sprig of cilantro (you know me).  Then after that: a Southern Black-eyed Pea Life Burger with bits of bacon and ribbons of kale mixed in.  Are you getting the idea?  Stay tuned.

How to draw with children, for non-majors :: {roasted tomatoes}

In our house, drawing is a team effort.  The grown-ups do the outlines, and Heidi the Toddler colors (read: scribblesveryenthusiastically) inside, outside, and on top of the lines.  It's like an on-demand coloring book.  I used to be the only Outline Draw-er, my theatre-major husband clutching his chest as he exclaimed how he wished he could draw, but alas!, Mama will have to draw the cat.  Again.  It got to the point where I was drawing about 50 cats a day.  Heidi would thrust a crayon in my hand and shout, "MEEEEEOOOOOW!!!!!!" and I would draw a cat for her to scribble upon.  I am incapable of denying her artistic desires.

As it turns out, however, that heart-clutching wish of my husband was easy enough to grant.  I devised a Very Easy way to draw a cat taught him to do it.  And now I will teach you, just in case your 2012 resolutions include drawing more with the children in your life. 

Without further ado....the Very Official Running Snail & Rainbow Way to draw a cat, dog, bunny, owl, and frog (you're more than welcome to right click to download the images, print them out, keep them handy):




Roasted Tomatoes
Adapted, barely, from The Italian Country Table, which, as I've said before, is a book you should own.  Enjoy these when it's not tomato season -- transform a can or two of lowly plum tomatoes into meaty, intense, luxurious, and supremely versatile gems.  As a bonus, these smell almost as good as bacon when they're cooking.  Almost.
Open two cans of plum tomatoes, squeeze them gently, and pry in half with your fingers.  Place close together on a lightly olive-oil-ed baking sheet.  Drizzle with some more olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  If you want to get fancy, you can sprinkle on some fresh or dried herbs, or tuck large slivers of garlic between the tomato halves.  Place in a 300° oven for 1.5-2 hours.  Check after 1.5 hours to make sure your edges are not burning.
Cover with oil and store in the fridge for up to three days, or freeze for up to three months.
Things to do with roasted tomatoes: 
  • Marinate in olive oil with fresh herbs (like rosemary or thyme), garlic, and chilies.  Serve with an antipasto spread.
  • Purée and use as a sandwich spread: think tuna melts, grilled cheeses, hummus and veggie sandwiches. 
  • Purée and use in place of sauce on your next pizza 
  • Toss with whole wheat spaghetti, walnuts and garlic toasted in olive oil, and serve with a generous glop of ricotta on top (this is my favorite).
  • Use in any recipe that calls for sun-dried tomatoes.
  • Stir purée into hummus, cream cheese, or greek yogurt for a great dip.
  • Stir purée into mayo or aioli for another fab sandwich spread.  Try it on a burger.

Firsts :: {lemony spinach salad}

Tonight my daughter Heidi figured out that she could chew raw leafy greens.  She's been reaching for my salad for months now, but before she would just suck the dressing off, or sometimes almost choke on a leaf that she tried to swallow whole.  Tonight she tried again.  She sucked off a few leaves (thoughtfully draping the spent leaves back in my bowl), and then she realized that it tasted even better if she chewed the leaf up.  She sat in my lap, feeding me a leaf and then herself a leaf, wiping lemon juice and olive oil all over everything and both of us, and laughing at the sourness of my hastily made, poorly balanced salad dressing.  Perhaps "first salad" is not an achievement many parents consider a milestone, but we all have different values.

I also couldn't wait to get a crayon in her little hands.  I offered them to her months prematurely, just because I didn't want her to miss a moment of drawing pleasure just because we didn't have the right materials at hand (and by "at hand," I mean quite literally placed on the play table next to whatever else she was doing).  We spent a few months practicing not eating the crayons, then we practiced gripping them and applying pressure to the paper.  (We're still practicing staying on the paper and off the furniture, books, and clothes.).  Once she knew what the crayons were for, she caught on pretty quickly.  Then on July 21, 2011, she did something amazing.  She drew a dog.

 "Do[g]" | Crayon on Mama's leftover newsprint from figure drawing class. |  7.21.11

My first titled drawing, as you might already be aware, was "running snail and rainbow" (I was a tad linguistically precocious).  When I couldn't decide what to name my Etsy store, and I was over-thinking it horribly, and trying in vain to be clever and catchy, I remembered with what authority Heidi had told me that what she had just drawn was a dog.  "Do[g]."  Period.  My mother reports that I said "running snail and rainbow" with the same sort of authority, and since I can't imagine that I've ever had that much confidence about anything since then, I thought the name was perfect.

Heidi's first "Dog" hangs framed on the wall, and several other dogs, cats, horses, balls, and "softs" are filling up the rest of my abandoned newsprint pad left over from college.  This weekend I'm opening running snail & rainbow, and it'll be another big first for me.


Lemony Spinach Salad
This is what you should eat when you crave something that tastes like a tasty nutrient bomb.  I eat it when I'm sick, when I'm well, when I'm sad, and when I can't think of what else to eat. 
Make your dressing: combine one crushed clove of garlic, a forkful of dijon mustard, a soup-spoonful of yogurt, a pinch of salt, two soup-spoonfuls of extra virgin olive oil, and a soup-spoonful of lemon juice.  Stir or whisk it together.  Adjust the flavors to your preference, adding more lemon or more oil or more salt til it tastes perfect to you.  I (obviously) like mine on the lemony side.  Toss with spinach.  Eat it and be happy and well.

Sometimes we over-think things :: {lentil salad}

A one-minute sketch of a fleeting moment.

Some people go to spas to have their bodies wrapped in seaweed.  I went into the backyard, put my toddler in a tub of water and propped my feet up on the side of it.  Now, the Sometimes Goal of mothering is to relax with a cup of tea and know that you won't have to spring into action, leaving your tea to get cold.  Usually, a tub of water does the trick, but to be doubly sure that Heidi was as enraptured with this activity as always, I needed to show her that there were as yet undiscovered properties of water.  What we needed to learn about water today (aside from the well-known fact that water makes an excellent cup of hot tea) was that things can float on it.  I scattered a handful of sage leaves from the nearby bush into the water.  The silver-green boats bobbed across the surface.  She plucked one from the surface with careful pudgy fingers and draped it across my foot.  One by one, the leaves made their way from the water to my legs and then back again.  I watched her play with sage in water until the slice of light that was bathing us began to shrink and it was time to fix dinner.

Sometimes we over-think things.  Watching our childrens' rapidly expanding minds make sense of the world around them is dizzying and wondrous and gives us the daunting task of guiding, nurturing, and stimulating.  We spend too much time worrying that we're stunting the growing brains in our charge, and forget that everything we need is right around us.  All we need to do remember to look at everything with fresh eyes like they do; float a leaf in water, put a dried bean in an empty salt shaker, put a tea cozy on your head, have your legs wrapped in sage leaves.

Lentil Salad, lots of ways
Turns out, a bag of dried lentils makes a LOT of lentils.  If you made too many, you can freeze them and have them ready to throw into soup later.  Not only are lentils cheap and healthy, but they're one of the most "green" foods you can eat -- it doesn't cost the environment much to grow them.  The trick for keeping blandness at bay is a delicious dressing and getting different textures into the mix.  
Boil half a bag of brown lentils according to the package directions (15-20 minutes, usually).  When they're as tender as you like, drain them, and dress them with one of the following while they're still warm.  They'll absorb the flavors best this way.  Each of the following will dress about a third of your batch of lentils.
French-style: In an empty jam jar, shake together a small spoon of Dijon mustard, a crushed garlic clove, a pinch of salt, a grind of pepper, 5 spoons of olive oil, 2 spoons of red wine vinegar, and a splash of maple syrup. Dress the lentils with this, and a diced carrot, 2 diced radishes, 2 or 3 sliced scallions, a big handful of chopped parsley, and a twig or two of thyme leaves.  You can eat this as is, or serve it on a bed of greens with some toasted walnuts and crumbled goat's cheese on top.
 North African-style: In an empty jam jar, shake together a big spoonful of yogurt, 2 small spoons of lemon juice, 2 small spoons of olive oil, a small pinch each of cinnamon and ginger, two big pinches each of coriander and cumin, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and a crushed garlic clove, salt, and pepper.  Dress the lentils with this, and any of the following: diced carrot, half a diced zucchini or cucumber, some chopped roasted red pepper (or not roasted), a dozen or so halved cherry tomatoes, finely chopped red onion, and a handful of chopped mint.   You could easily mix in some cooked grains here, too, like cous cous or quinoa. 
 Sweet and Sour: In an empty jam jar, shake together a small spoon of Dijon mustard, a splash of apple juice, a large glob of honey, 2 spoons of apple cider vinegar, 5 spoons of olive oil, a small pinch of allspice, salt, and pepper.  Dress the lentils with this, and toss with some diced apple, sauteed sweet potato chunks, toasted walnuts, crumbled goat's cheese, and crumbled bacon.  (Or use the rendered bacon drippings in place of your olive oil.).  I'd serve this warm, on a bed of spinach.