Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Helping Apparently

So there I am - the "helping parent" at 3 year old Shaw's preschool from 12:30 to 3 on a Wednesday afternoon.  Every parent is the "helping parent" two or three times over the school year and my time has come.  Shaw gets pretty excited about the whole thing because it means that at "line up time" she gets to ring the bell and lead the line to recess.  This is the privilege afforded to the child of the helping parent and is lithely accompanied by not an insignificant amount of cache´amongst the preschool peerage.

  An hour and half in, we spend 20, 35 minutes getting the three year olds and their three year old bodies crazily overbundled into snow pants and boots and  arctic grade mittens and scarves and hats that are completely unnecessary in the current New Jersey thaw,  but speak volumes of overzealous mothers assuaging primal fears of the precious bundles and thermal insulating the cherished young flesh to within an inch.  After much wrestling and wrangling and coaxing we get the tiny astronauts stuffed properly, encased entirely, and walk them the 20 yards to the playground, each of their 3 year old bodies breaking immediately into earnest sweat in the 50º heat. Mrs. X, (Shaw's teacher) tells me to go back inside to get my jacket, which I'd left inside and I acquiesce if only to enjoy a tiny brain break even though I think it feels great out there. I go back and get the jacket and get a drink out of the drinking fountain and return.

Naples, (not the three year old male's real name) has peed his snow pants. Would I take him back into the classroom and change him? Of course. 

"C'mon Buddy." 

I have received instructions from Mrs. X on the location in the classroom of the extra underpants and trousers that are stowed for just such emergencies. I walk Naples in the room. He having walked slowly and straight legged all the way up the stairs and down the hall verifying who I am repeatedly. 

"You're Shaw's Daddy.  Shaw's Daddy."  

We get to Mrs. X's classroom.  I take off his boots, his coat, his hat, his mittens. I remove his wet pants, his urine soaked socks, his underpants and ready the school provided replacement garments.

He sees the foreign, unknown underwear and freaks. What is called in the parenting world the Total Meltdown. 

"NOOOOOO!" No underwear!" 

I'm like, "Ok. We'll just put the pants on then"


Hot, hot tears and snot and panic erupting and he suddenly bolts from the classroom full bore, pantless, underpantless, sockless, sprinting headlong, shrieking down the hallway, cold bare feet thumping the carpet;  any way, any possible path away from me and beelines straight for the administrative offices.

I leap into gear, catch up with him and sweep him up in my helping parent arms and whisk him, writhing back to the classroom.

He refuses to put on the underpants or pants.  He runs around the room pulling toys out and throwing books off the shelves. Crying "Mommmmm!" 

We are beyond reason, though I attempt it a couple of times:  "Look Naples, we have to wear something."  


I can't force the pants on him, sort of out bounds in my job description and dangerous territory.  I can't get to Mrs. X, blissfully unaware, in the playground. I don't have her phone number on my cell. 

So me and Naples just have to wait out recess until reprieve, the calvary, arrives.

  I sit in the tiny pre school chair, my knees up by my chest and Naples wails, shrieks and throws toys.

I've been watching House of Cards, the Neflix remake with Kevin Spacey.
Brilliant.  There is a convention in the piece wherein Kevin Spacey will look off
his shoulder and directly address a soliloquy into camera.  It's very effective
device and I've been indulging in it myself during my days.  I did one of these 
at this point. I Looked over my left shoulder and addressed the imaginary
camera while Naples bawled and yelped.

"I can't understand why anyone would want to do this for a living. I mean, God knows I love the children, and am a pretty patient man. But I am not cut out for this. This is duty. This sucks. This is unacceptable."

Naples shrieks and screams and pulls a bean bag chair over himself. I sit.  Eventually Mrs. X and the class comes sweatily trudging back and Mrs .X  gets Mrs. Y (the director of the preschool) to dress Naples... forcibly. He yowls and shrieks and eventually calms. He accepts the foreign trousers.  He joins the rest of us for juice, strawberries and popcorn. 

Naples takes me in, popcorn stuck on his lip, dried tear streams and snot; breathes and says, "You're Shaw's daddy."  


Cheeseburger Wontons
For 60 wontons: 
1lb. Cream Cheese, 
15 pieces of chopped bacon, 
1lb. Ground Beef, 
6oz gorgonzola cheese 
one half jumbo yellow onion (sautéed & diced)

Mix ingredients in a large bowl.  Add a half-tablespoon per wonton.

Drop in 350 degree oil for 3-5 minutes or until golden brown. Remove and strain from oil. Salt & serve plain or with a dipping sauce.

                                         Wonton Wrappers

  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup water, as needed
  • Extra flour as needed
Lightly beat the egg with the salt. Add 1/4 cup water.

Sift the flour into a large bowl. Make a well in the middle and add the egg and water mixture. Mix in with the flour. Add as much of the remaining water as necessary to form a dough. (Add more water than the recipe calls for if the dough is too dry).

Form the dough into a ball and knead for about 5 minutes, or until it forms a smooth, workable dough. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll out until very thin, and cut into 3 1/2-inch squares. Store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator or freezer until ready to use.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


A memory. 

10 years old.  

Fifth grade. 

I would walk home the three blocks from Roosevelt Elementary home and make lunch for Dad who would drive home the five blocks from McVety Food Sales.  Cold metal-gray Michigan February day.  The routine was thus: I would make lunch, eat my measure, and have his portion ready for him when he came in.  Usually, and on this day, I would go upstairs to my room while he ate. 

On this day I made Campbell’s Chicken Noodle soup.  Something was off.  There wasn’t enough.  Didn’t make any sense and it tasted strange.  I took a much smaller share in my bowl so that there would be a regular size ration for Dad. I ate the curious soup and went upstairs. 

I heard him come in downstairs and move about the kitchen, heard the ladle in the pot. 

Some moments went by.

“Andrew?  Did you put water in the soup?”  Arose rough from the kitchen, bounced off the wall of the stairwell with it’s scorched wallpaper from an younger Andrew’s futile arson attempt , and into my red white and blue themed and paneled and bunk-bedded room with it’s marionettes, Budweiser sheets, and corkboard.

The unmistakable, familiar mein of indictment in the question from down the stairs. 

I didn’t answer. 

I figured the non-answer was the obvious answer. 

Some moments went by.

“Well?  Did you?”  Anger, evident and unambiguous.

Flushed red fifth grader working on his report on the planet Mars in his room, red from his non-answer not being understood, the non-watered condensed soup being the answer in and of itself, and further from the non-recognition of the sacrifice of his portion so the father would have enough. 

“I forgot.” From above.

“Christ.”  From below.

Tetchy sounds of water from the faucet added to the soup and clanging of pot back on the stove.  Sounds of “as if this fucking day hadn’t been bad enough.”

A present.

I drive Duncan the seven blocks to school.  Conversations about the heavy frost on the white winter sun New Jersey January day. 

“Jack did it.”  Says Duncan.

I drop him off at school.  Other parents and I forming a horizontal line behind the vertical lines of the kids, waiting to see them swallowed up by the building.  The bell rings, he goes, not without a wink to me.  Shaw and I walk back to the car. 

Later, at lunchtime, I make her an egg sandwich although she’s mildly disappointed we don’t have mac and cheese.  I heat the pan and melt butter over medium heat.  I crack the eggs on the side of the skillet (apologies Jacque Pepin) I break the yolks, salt and pepper, when they set, I flip.  I add a little water to the pan and cover so that the eggs steam a bit.   I spread mayonnaise on the whole wheat bread.  I pull the less desirable leaves off of the iceberg head and shred them.  Shaw watches from her stool. We take the sandwiches to the table and eat lunch.

Afterwards, as I sweep breadcrumbs and errant frosted flakes up on all fours under the table with hand broom and dust pan, she meets me there and kisses my ear and whispers, “Dad, egg sandwiches are good.”

The Best Chicken Soup I Know

The secret is the gentle poach.

1 whole 3-4lbs chicken
1 medium onion cut into wedges
3 cloves garlic smashed with flat side of knife
2 stalks celery leaves and stems chopped
Stems and roots from 1 bunch of cilantro
2 bay laurel leaves (or 1 california bay leaf)
1 Tbs kosher salt
2 carrots, each cut into 2-3 large pieces
1 avocado
cilantro and lime for serving
Put the chicken in a stock pot just big enough to hold it. Scatter the onion, garlic, celery, cilantro, bay leaves
and salt around the chicken. Cover the chicken with water, put a lid on the pot, and bring it to a boil over high
heat. Continue boiling for 5 minutes. Then, turn off the heat, allowing the chicken to poach in the water for
45 minutes (don’t open the lid during this time).
When the chicken is cooked, remove it from the stock and allow it to cool off enough to touch. Remove and
discard the skin, then strip the meat off the bones into bite size pieces. Cover the chicken and refrigerate until
the soup is done.
Return the bones back into the stock pot along with any collected juices from the chicken. Cover, and return
the soup to a boil. When it boils, turn down the heat and simmer for 3 hours.
Strain the stock through a fine mesh sieve and discard the solids. Skim off any excess oil then add the soup
back to the pot along with the carrots. Cook the carrots until tender and salt the soup to taste.
To serve, put down some chicken, carrots and avocado in a bowl. Pour the hot stock over everything and
garnish with cilantro and a wedge of lime.

Recipe courtesy Alton Brown

In a bowl combine all ingredients, except for the pasta and egg wash.
Using the fresh pasta recipe, roll out your dough either by hand or by machine. Cut into 3 or 4- inch rounds with a round cookie cutter.
Place 1/4 teaspoon into the center of each round. Brush egg wash (on the bottom half of the round and fold over to seal. Fold back
around your finger and turn down the edge to form a tortellini.
In half a gallon of rapidly boiling salted water add the tortellini in batches. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until they float to the surface.
Remove to a strainer to drain.

Fresh Pasta:
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

I Bang My Head

I bang my head.

Yesterday as I got into the 2001 family Corolla, I had left the driver side sun visor up and out.  Full force of my mid life weight swinging into captain Toyota chair, then: Bam! Direct to the right temple.

I moaned my head blow “ow” sound and sat in the driver’s seat for a bit with the ole coconut hanging and cradling my temple waiting for the obligatory 15 second pain period to pass on it’s drip, drip ,dripping, pendulously slow junket.

I bang my head. 

It is my number one recurring accident.  Earlier in the day I cracked my noggin on the edge of the kitchen cupboard I had left open as I swooped in to chop some onion.  That one sent me to the floor.  

At least once a day, I bang my head.  I also stub my toes, bang my elbows, knock my knees, fall on my ass, but hands down, I mostly bang my head.

Some folks are toe stubbers, I am a head banger.

Some of the incidents have been spectacular.  A tremendous Greg Luganis-like incident.  A far braver than I today, 12 year old me executing a back flip gone awry from the 3 meter board.

There was blood.

In my only bar fight so far, Jesse, the assailant, cracked me soundly on the noggin not once but twice with a vicious pool cue.

Serious blood.

Running full speed round the corner of my driveway as a 9 year old, I cracked my bean directly into the steel propeller blade of the upturned outboard motor of our parked boat.  My feet flew, very Tom and Jerry, up and out, and the concrete of the driveway greeted the back of my noodle with a bone melon sickening thud.

Lots of blood.

As I say, spectacular.  But most of the head bangs are extremely pedestrian and as I said, frequent.   Cupboards, book cases, kitchen doors, car doors, garage doors, attic, bathroom and bedroom doors, coffee and dining tables, desks, baseball bats, tennis racquets, golf clubs, hockey sticks, tree limbs and stumps, hoes, rakes, spades, decks, beams, luggage racks, ceilings, floors, rocks, the car trunk, etc.

My Native American name would be “Bangs Head A lot”.

When I work cheffing in a new kitchen, I will inevitably bang my head on a new obstacle; often a vent that I didn’t expect over the stove, or the heading over the sink.  This usually happens within the first 15 to 20 minutes in the foreign kitchen.

If I’m on my game, I note the first head bang and avoid the second.  Off my game and I’m in for four or five times.

I try to see it this way:  “The new kitchen is trying to tell me something.  I need to be aware.”  I thank the kitchen for the bang, if it’s a polite thump and not a wallop.   In such a case, of course, I curse.

I attempt to view all of the bangs as a kind of wake up call from the universe.  I think, “Okay. Why did the universe just smack me?”  

Answer generally is: “Look! Look up!  Look out!  Keep your eyes up.  Look out and up!”  Always looking down when I get these wallops.  So I never see it comin’.  Possible exception is the bar fight, I was looking right into Jesse’s eyes when he swung that cue.  Still didn’t see it coming.

In a more philosophical light, I also think of it as a way for the present to remind me to stay in it.  “No past dwelling or future fretting.  Be here now.”  Whack!  “Got me?  Because I’ll do it again!”

Often times though, I think the universe is merely a cruel bitch that just gets off on pegging me when I least expect it.  And being as the universe is gonna make it far past the tenth round of my time here, I throw in the towel graciously. 

Of course it’s the infinite firmament behind all the noggin knockin'; if you don’t keep looking at the stars, she’ll make you see them.


1 1/2 cups "00" flour
31/2 tsp. dry yeast
1 cup warm to hot water
healthy pinch or two of salt

2 1/2 cups "00" flour
tbs. sugar
!/2 cup warm to hot water
salt and freshly ground pepper

4 tbs. olive oil

Sponge:  In a mixer with paddle place the 1 1/2 cups flour and the salt.  Dissolve the yeast in the hot water and slowly stream into bowl with mixer at medium setting.  Cover bowl with towel and let rest in a warm area of your kitchen.  Let sponge proof for one hour or until doubled in size.

Dough:  Attach dough hook to mixer and start kneading, incorporating remaining flour, sugar, and water.   When almost all the flour is used, add a little more salt and pepper.
Grease a small sheet pan with 2 tbs. of the Olive Oil.  Lightly stretch the dough and transfer it to pan and continue to stretch to size.  Brush remaining olive oil over dough and cover tightly with plastic wrap.  Let dough rest in warm place until doubled in size again.

Bake:  Preheat oven to 375º.  Bake focaccia for 40 minutes.  Remove from oven.  Let rest in pan for 10 minutes.  Serve with olive oil.

Add 2 cups boiled and riced potatoes to dough.  
Mix walnuts into dough and top with rosemary.
Mix shallots into dough.
Substitute milk for warm/hot water..