Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Some Advice For People In Their Late Teens About Taking Advice From Other People In Their Late Teens

I want you to know that I am not trying to tell anyone what to do. The story I am about to recount, which starts in my late teens, then ends badly in my late twenties, is meant as food for thought. This is a cautionary tale. If you want to let it go in one ear and out the other, be my guest. Don't say I didn't warn you.

I was seventeen years old. It was the winter of my senior year of high school. I was an extremely single-minded photography student, anxiously awaiting the end of high school so that I could go to college at SUNY Purchase. I would study art and photography there in a very serious fashion. Then I would begin what promised to be a fabulous career.

I was sitting in trigonometry class. There was a bit of a pleasant looking hubbub out in the hallway. My photography teacher, my art teacher and my principal were standing outside of the door. They pushed it open and came in. They were all smiling. Excuse me, Mr. Legacy, the principal said. We need to pull Karen Capucilli out of class for a few minutes.

We all went out into the hallway. That is when they told me the most amazing news I'd ever heard. They had just been informed that I had won the highest Scholastic Award given that year. I don't remember what it was called, but it was a best in show type recognition. Previous to this, the highest Scholastic Award ever awarded to a Westhill High School student was the Gold Key. I'd already won some of those the previous year.

If you are not familiar with the Scholastic Art Awards, I'll give you a little description. If you were a high school art or photography student in upstate NY in 1980, this was like the Oscars for you.

The principal had already called my mother at home. I was enthusiastically creating a happy ruckus in the hallway, which added to the hubbub I mentioned earlier. In addition, an untenable situation was forming inside of the math class. The students in there naturally wanted to know what was going on. So Mr. Legacy came out to investigate.

Mr. Legacy congratulated me. But at the time he was strict. He reminded everyone present that although I was clearly advanced in the photography arena, I needed some serious work in Trigonometry if I had any hope of passing the Regents.

So back in we went. The best part was when the whole class applauded. That was really nice.

When I said that Mr. Legacy was strict at the time, here is what I meant. He was strict in the classroom. But over the summer, when people were having their graduation parties he was completely cool and very loosened up. He was singing and dancing like nobody's business to what we now call classic rock music. I didn't know this dude had it in him.

Word about the prize spread around school very quickly.  I wanted to share my good fortune with all of the friends I made at a special summer program I had attended the previous year. Since I couldn't do a status update on Facebook for another thirty years, I phoned some of my closest friends from the New York State Summer School of the Arts. I also talked with my boyfriend Jeff. We were conducting a long distance relationship because of the fact that he lived on Long Island.

One of my friends, Andy Cohen, was so happy for me that he sent me a dozen red roses with a card that said All my Love, Andy. My mother put the flowers on the dining room table.

I felt like the flowers were a very lovely gesture. However, it also made me feel a little uneasy. I was worried that the red roses meant that Andy Cohen was harboring romantic feelings for me. In addition, I was worried that I might be reading too much into it. I was in a quandary because I liked Andy Cohen very much - just not that way.

Also, I already had a boyfriend and I was almost always very faithful about the relationship. Very close to 90 percent of the time I was completely faithful about the relationship.

After obsessing for a bit, a very helpful thought popped into my head. My friends give fantastic advice, I thought. Let me give some of them a call.

First, I ran the situation by my female friend from school. She listened and then gave her proclamation. She felt it was unmistakable. Andy Cohen was in love with me. He had probably been suffering with this for some time. The phone call with me was the straw that broke the camel's back and he was not able to hold the feelings in any longer.

You need to let him down gently but firmly, she said. She suggested I do this in the form of a letter.

Then I called a male friend. Well, I called one male friend and he wasn't home, so I called another one. It was important to get some perspective from a guy. As you can see, I was being really thorough.

He too, felt that Andy Cohen was holding a torch for me. He advised me that I needed to tell him my true feelings because anything less would be leading him on. My friends and I all agreed that leading people on was very bad.

One or another of my friends felt that time was of the essence in a situation like this. You don't want him showing up at your house with an engagement ring, asking your Dad's permission to marry you, said either the male or the female friend.

My 51-year-old self would have a lot to say to my 17-year-old self. If such a conversation could occur, I would say the following things.

I would ever so gently suggest that in addition to my friends, I should consult with an older individual. I would concede that my friends certainly had some assets to bring to the table. For one thing, they were available. The other thing they had in abundance was good intentions.

But I would remind my 17-year-old self that none of the friends dispensing this advice had any romantic experience at all. We all got our information from the same sources—The ABC Afterschool Special and The Love Boat.

And while I had befriended some of the brightest kids at Westhill High School—kids who today would be labeled gifted and talented—I would feel obligated to remind teenaged me that the smart male friend I consulted enjoyed stealing watermelons from a supermarket called Wegmans on Friday nights.

I would firmly insist to my younger self that any older individual - a trusted teacher, a parent, my grandmother, the lady next door - would have reasonable advice. That advice would probably be some variation on the words Chill out and stop worrying. Send him a thank you note and leave it at that.

But alas, I had no adult advice on board. So I proceeded to do what I knew to be the right thing. I wrote Andy Cohen a long letter.

As a senior in high school, I had three favorite classes. Number one favorite was photography class. Second favorite was art class. Third favorite, but really high up on the passion meter was English class. I loved both reading and creative writing.

At the time, unleashing all of my creativity and literary influences in a letter to Andy Cohen seemed like a good idea. It was as though Sylvia Plath, Elton John, John Steinbeck and the editors of Seventeen Magazine had formed an unholy alliance.

I'm positive that I wrote the words I know that you'll make a very lucky girl a wonderful husband one day. Then I took a stamp from my mother's desk in the family room. It was with a heavy heart that I walked to the mailbox at the end of the block.

I never heard from Andy Cohen again. I proceeded to forget about the whole thing.

Weeks turned into months, months turned into years. I found myself to be a 28-year-old still life photographer. This photography career was mostly fabulous. There were moments when it was less than glorious - times when it was boring, ludicrous or a downright pain in the ass. But for the most part, I was enjoying myself.

I liked to think of myself as leaving the 1980s behind and truly embodying the 1990s. I felt that in the time since high school I had acquired a certain je ne sais quoi without losing my joie de vivre.

I was at a place called Community Darkroom for the day. This is a place where photographers would rent darkroom space by the hour and do color printing. Over the last few years I'd worked hard at honing my printing skills. I was there laboring over some colorful images I shot for a magazine.

I'm in and out of the darkroom I rented, minding my own business. Actually, that isn't true. Whenever I was waiting around for a print to come out, I'd be socializing with the other photographers there. Minding my own business was not what I was doing.

One of the nice people who worked there called out that my lunch delivery had arrived. I signed for my lunch. It was either a falafel in pita or guacamole in a pita. I sat down on the overstuffed couch to take a little break and have lunch.

That's when I noticed that Andy Cohen was there.

At first I was a bit alarmed. For Christ sake! Out of all the C- printing labs in NYC, he had to pick this one! Actually, there weren't that many. Maybe four at the most. But this was colossal bad luck. My 80s self and my 90s one were about to collide.

But then I calmed down. Listen, I told myself. He probably doesn't even remember the letter. This is the kind of thing only you think about. He might not even recognize you.

I was wrong about Andy Cohen. He remembered me. He remembered the letter. It was apparently something he would never forget. That is because of how hilarious it was! Not only was it extremely comical that I thought that he thought he was in love with me. But the letter itself was so freaking funny that he told everyone at Community Darkroom who happened to be in the common lounge area the entire story.

I can still hear him laughing. It sounds like the maniacal laughter that happens in horror movies right before something bad happens. I think that is my memory putting a certain patina on it. I'm fairly sure it was just regular laughing.

I finished lunch and proceeded to tackle my color printing. What I should say is that I multitasked. I did the color printing but also pulled some other photographer friends into my rented darkroom to discuss the incident with Andy Cohen. I also insisted on visiting friends in their rented darkrooms, closing the door and discussing the Andy Cohen thing. Sometimes I insisted that two or more other people, along with the owner of the darkroom, meet in my darkroom to discuss it.

I am still like this. When something happens, I need to process it.

I took a little time by myself in my private darkroom to take some deep breaths. I was feeling much better after the support I'd received in various darkrooms from other photographers. I packed up my prints, slapped an address label on and called a messenger. I was on deadline, so the prints needed to go to the client immediately.

On my way out I made sure to mention at reception, within earshot of Andy Cohen that a package addressed to the New York Times Magazine was about to be picked up. Then I went out into the street and moved on to planning my next prestigious assignment. 

Sunday, April 27, 2014


I am wispy and rail thin. That is what comes to mind.

I am the finest sheer tissue paper. I feel almost like fabric. I'm that soft.

First snowflakes. White blossoms falling from spring trees. I'll brown and crumple if you walk on me. Don't do that.

I'm old cream bone china. The kind you can hold up to the light and see through. You know better than to put me in the dishwasher. Be careful, or leave me on the counter.

I'm a perfect summer apricot. I'll bruise as soon as I'm ripe.

I'm fair skin on a summer day. This one is not a metaphor. I'm really that.  All the time.

While I'm like this, I'll jump at every noise. I'll want a buffer, but won't be able to find one. I'll scratch easily. I'll cry when I usually don't.

I'll walk like I'm carrying eggshells. I'll want to look at you through vellum, rather than full on. Even lilacs will smell too sharp.

I'm a soft gray smoke tendril. I could blow away, but the wind is calm, so I hover instead.

Thank god I'm not brittle.

Today, I know why I'm like this. There have been many times when I don't. I'll be this way for a few hours, maybe a day.

I'll look less like a filmy line drawing tomorrow.  The watercolor pastels will come back first, along with the pink in my cheeks. Then the bold primaries. That spectrum will lift me up.

I'll be solid and from good stock. I'll have backbone. Hearty and salt of the earth. Rain will bead up and roll off. I'll step lively without having to be brave.

It will be hard to remember the thin sweater, the threadbare cloth, the baby's breath. That's why I'm writing it down.

For today you'll whisper. Brew some weak tea. I've told you what it's like being me. It's temporary but for now it's all I know.

You'll know when I'm ready. I'll remind you of dark chocolate. I'm scrappy and taxi cab yellow. I might even be wearing a jean jacket.

You can laugh loud, then and say what you want. I'm not made of glass. I might even hold you up.

Thursday, April 24, 2014


There was a mom that I met at NYU Medical Center. Her daughter was older than Jacob, but had a similar tumor type. Her child's initial presentation was worse than his because not only did she have a tumor in her brain, but she also had metastasis in the cerebral spinal fluid. Also, the neurosurgeon was not able to remove the entire tumor.

I always knew when her daughter was in-patient at the same time as Jacob because I could hear her raucous laughter from down the hall. I could also hear her speaking loudly about Jesus. She had a really strong faith.

She knew that the doctors were working really hard to cure her daughter of cancer. Like me, she loved the medical team and of all the nurses at NYU. But Jesus was also doing a lot of the work. He was going to make sure everything turned out okay. Besides this, she had a natural glass-half-full personality.

Her optimism was contagious.

When kids are in the hospital for chemotherapy, there is a lot of down time. There is a great deal of waiting around. The mom and I would hang out together during these times.

Both of us were keen observers of other people. So one day during some down time, we worked out a little system together based on previous experience we'd both had at NYU.

At any given time, a doctor might give you some sort of news about your child. Some of the news was huge and life changing, some of it small and of little consequence in the scheme of things. Some of it was sort of in between.

You could tell what type of news you were about to receive by the way that the doctor behaved and how many people were involved.

If a doctor came to see you on their own,  the news was probably good. If it wasn't good, at least it was news that wasn't really bad. At the very worst it would be news you were accustomed to by now.

If two doctors came to deliver news you should be concerned. It was an unspoken rule among the doctors that if they had some sort of negative news to deliver they didn't want to do it alone. We could see them in our mind's eye negotiating with other doctors. I'm not going in there alone! If I'm going to tell her, you're coming with me!

If your doctor had many young looking doctors with them, interns or residents or whatever they were, you should not draw any negative conclusions at all. It was probably okay. They were doing rounds with their boss, the experienced doctor. Unfortunately, even when they were doing well, our children were interesting cases.

The only thing you should watch out for is if any of them to try a procedure out on your child. In our experience, these people were long on brains and short on technique. Sometimes they were short on both brains and technique. Even though this was a teaching hospital, you should insist on the nurse. The nurses knew what they were doing.

There was one scenario you did not want to see. That is a doctor accompanied by a social worker.

If your doctor came to see you with a social worker, then the news would likely be very bad. If that doctor thought you might need some sort of mental health intervention during or after the conversation, things weren't looking good. If the doctor thought he needed the social worker and not just another doctor, then you might even need some sort of outside support services that only a social worker knew how to arrange.

Excuse my language. You were fucked.

One day the mom sees me at NYU. Guess what? She says. I listen.

Dr. Sapp came to see me. He had the social worker with him.

Oh no. I say.

Listen to this, she says. My kid had her spinal tap a few days ago. They were checking to see how much cancer was in the cerebrospinal fluid after two rounds of chemo. At the meeting today, Dr. Sapp told me that the CSF was positive for cancer cells. They're going to have to add another drug to her protocol.

The mom continued. So then I figure he has more news, so I pointed to the social worker and said, What's she doing here? Then Dr. Sapp said I thought you might need some support after hearing this news.

The mom got really impatient at that point. Listen, she said. I already knew that the fluid was going to be positive. When you did the goddamned spinal tap, you said it looked like maple syrup. So I already knew there were cancer cells in there two days ago!

The social worker was unceremoniously dismissed. Apparently, they could take this extra support and shove it.

This post was adapted from a series of pieces I wrote in observance of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month last September.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Gateway Book

A friend invited me to a lovely gathering at her home. She introduced me to her friends and colleagues, as a reader. Her tone was reverent and italicized. This is the kind of rare compliment that hits at the heart of a person.  But there's a qualification. I am an exclusive reader of non-fiction.

My keeping to one side of the library began with the death of my son Jacob.

Previous to this, I read everything. Fiction, non-fiction, you name it. I binge-read every Joyce Carol Oates book the libraries had.  I lived in the world of Edith Wharton until I ran out of her writing. I read my way through both sides of the New York Times bestseller list. I read the high-minded and the popular, the real and the fanciful. I was an equal opportunity reader.

It's been 14 years since Jacob died and in that time I've probably read hundreds of books, only one of them fiction. I don't know exactly why. I don't fully understand the relationship between my experience with Jacob and an inability to contemplate fiction. Maybe I felt I had no room in my heart for pretending. If it becomes any clearer, I'll let you know.

Very recently, the friend I mentioned earlier recommended a new book. I take what she tells me seriously. If she says read this book, then I read it. So even though it’s fiction, I read the book.

The book is called 'Til the Well Runs Dry and it's the first novel by Lauren Francis-Sharma.

I love this book. I think you will too. Here is why.

This novel is truly story driven.  You will want to know what happens next. You might not be able to put it down. This is exactly what happened to me. There is a lot to be said for a book that can do this.

The characters created will seem real. They are real. They are vivid and three-dimensional. You will feel like you know them. You will be invested in what happens to them. They will be members of your inner circle.

Hard things happen to people in this book. The price you pay for getting to know them is that you'll feel their sadness. I worried. But you'll draw strength from these people. I know, because I did.

You will luxuriate in the beauty of the language. Before the characters and the story roped me in, the pure artistry held their place. You'll smell the flowers and the food, feel the fabrics and the sun. You'll be transported in a good way.

If you're anything like me, you'll forget that this book is fiction.

Like most transformative experiences in my life, the act of reading this book was both earth shattering and ordinary. My reading identity has shifted. Living inside my head as I do, I can say that this is huge.

I have a feeling that Lauren Francis-Sharma didn't know that she was in the business of converting people when she wrote this book.  Her writing allowed me to jump in with both feet. There's no going back now. I'm on to the next chapter. Not the next chapter of the book, because I finished it already. The next chapter of my reading life.

I was in a jewel box of an independent bookstore the other day. I found myself drawn to their fiction section. I leafed through some newly released novels. I contemplated the number of books Joyce Carol Oates has written since I'd stopped reading fiction. I didn't buy anything. But I was over there.

Lauren Francis-Sharma’s website.

For more comprehensive reviews of this book, read what these writers have to say:

As the Crowe Flies (and Reads!)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Tater Tot Nachos

I was sitting on my couch, sipping some afternoon coffee and going through my email. More specifically, it was the designated time of day I have begun to call Email Time.

Until a couple of months ago, I would check email indiscriminately over the course the day. I was checking email, reading it, deleting it and answering it constantly. Then I developed a different relationship with email. I read about this new approach in an article. Ironically, the article appeared in an email about not checking you email all the time. I read it while I was still checking my email all the time.

Now what I do is I very briefly scan my email, no more than a couple of times a day. If there is an email that is very time-sensitive or extremely important, I deal with it immediately. Otherwise, I have a specific time when I devote some time to reading, deleting, answering and sending emails. One of my favorite activities is putting interesting blog posts I subscribe to in my Blogs to Read Later folder. This is email time.

So I am having a very typical late afternoon email time, and I notice something in there about Tater Tot Nachos. Naturally, an email like this doesn’t come in every day. So I open it up. I immediately put it in the email box titled Recipes.

I don’t call Jeremy at work frequently. Texting is something I do all the time while he is working. Fortunately, Jeremy was available when I phoned. I told him about the Tater Tot Nachos.

Frankly, I expected a little more of a reaction from Jeremy, because I was pretty excited about the idea of making this recipe. He was pretty positive, just not over the moon the way I was.

We were on the same page when it came to my idea to invite some people over for the Mad Men Premiere and serve the Tater Tot Nachos. He started thinking about the kind of cocktail he might like to serve. He became more enthusiastic once we started talking about that.

We finished talking for the time being, and I set about sending a very succinct email inviting a couple of people over. The person who wrote the article about managing email would have approved of how little time I spent composing the email. I mentioned the Tater Tot Nachos.

The people responded very quickly that they would love to come over. Either I happened to send the email during that person’s email time, or they are still in the habit of just being extremely real-time about email.

Hannah came home from school and I told her we would be having a viewing party on Sunday and serving Tater Tot Nachos. I showed her the picture of them that came with the email. She did this little cheer that she likes to do when she’s very excited about something. Now we’re talking!  I thought. She seemed to understand just how great this was going to be.

She asked me to make them for dinner that evening, and I refused to do so. She began to act like she was having a major craving for Tater Tot Nachos and suffering unduly because of it. I ignored Hannah, finished my email time and got up to make the dinner I planned for that evening.

The much-awaited night of the Mad Men premiere was soon upon us. In addition to the Tater Tot Nachos, we served guacamole and chips, cheese and crackers and Jeremy’s homemade Key Lime Pie. As promised, Jeremy also made us a mixed drink. I am not focusing on the drink at this time. This blog post is called Tater Tot Nachos, not The El Pepino Cocktail. Everything was delicious.

While I was preparing the Tater Tot Nachos, I began to feel nostalgic for my childhood, when my mother might prepare hamburgers for dinner, and you might have Tater Tots on the side, even though it wasn’t a special occasion.

Hannah wondered why kids weren’t all obese at the time, and I said that I think its because you were made to go outside and play. You were not allowed in the house between certain hours of the day. It was the same thing at everyone else’s house. There was a simple directive for everyone. Go outside and play.

Nobody was setting up play dates for you either. You weren’t picky about who you played with back in the day. You just played with whoever was outside. Then when it was dinnertime you were famished and washed that dinner down with a nice big glass of Kool-Aid.

The bag of Tater Tots I used in the recipe are made by Ore Ida. On the bag it said, since 1952, which I initially found alarming until I realized that the Ore Ida people meant that they’ve been making Tater Tots since 1952 in general, not claiming that the ones in this bag have been in there that long.

My own experience of eating the Tater Tot Nachos was surprising. I found it to be every bit as delicious as anticipated but more sophisticated than I would have predicted.

People really seemed to go for it. One of our guests asked for a second helping, which speaks for itself.

The only person who didn’t try it was Noah. He found it odd that we had “apparently invited people over to watch Mad Men,” but were instead sitting around eating and drinking together in a darkened living room. Someone explained that this was the social hour before the show goes on. Then we watched the show, which of course, was extremely awesome and even Noah forgot that he doesn’t like it and watched the ending.

It turns out that I adapted the recipe from the original.  Here is my version:

Tater Tot Nachos – serves 6
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Spread one bag of Tater Tots on a baking sheet in an even layer. Bake until golden, 10-12 minutes.
  3. Remove the Tater Tots from the oven and sprinkle 1 cup grated cheddar cheese and 1.5 cups of grated Monterey Jack cheese on top. Return to the oven and bake until melted.
  4. Top with salsa, chopped cilantro and scallions.
Note about salsa: I used the chunky kind from the refrigerator section of the market, not the jarred variety. I suggest using this, or making your own fresh salsa.

Nutrition information per serving: Don’t ask.
Weight Watchers Points Plus Value per serving: Don’t ask.

If you would like to really go crazy, here is the original recipe.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Magnet

I was having terrible evening. It wasn't the worst evening of my life. But it was close. It was definitely in the top 10 of crappy evenings.

Jacob had died about a week before. Jeremy and I were reeling from that.

We were also having some financial struggles. Some of this was from complications from Jacob having cancer. We weren't dealing with medical bills because we had excellent health insurance. But there were other costs involved. Things you don't think about until you have a child with cancer.

Before Jacob was born, we had diligently built up our savings. That was gone now.

Additionally, there was something else going on that we didn't know at the time. The photography industry was basically imploding. We actually wanted to do photography work after Jacob died. We continued to do creative and lucrative assignment work. The problem was that there was less of this to go around. When an industry is disintegrating, it's difficult to know in the beginning. A lot of the awareness happens somewhat in retrospect.

The Internet that we know today was still in its infancy at the time. If this were happening now we would be more aware that we weren't the only ones struggling. Now I know that 50% of families where there is a childhood cancer diagnosis file for personal bankruptcy regardless of the outcome. Nearly everyone suffers negative financial consequences.

In other words, if I had known all of this back in 1999, perhaps I wouldn't be blaming myself for what was happening quite as vigorously as I was.

Jeremy came into our apartment carrying the mail. There was a letter from our health insurance company. It said that our monthly health insurance premiums would be doubling. You can imagine our response to this.

It had nothing to do with what happened with Jacob. It was industry wide. There were many people getting similar letters all over the city.

Jeremy and I are very resourceful people. We are glass half full, creative thinkers. However, in light of what just happened with Jacob, we weren't as proactive with this news as we might have been. We were sad and angry.

It felt like we'd just had a colossal run of bad luck. I might have felt entitled to sit around feeling sorry for myself, except that I really hate that feeling. It makes my skin crawl if I feel this way for too long.

I decided to call a family member who is also a very good friend. I talked with her for a bit. She was lovely with me. One of the nicest things she did was allow me to see that maybe I was being a bit hard on myself. She shared that this type of letter would be difficult for many people to deal with, not just people like us.

The next day the friend came over for a little visit. She brought me some gifts. I don't remember it so clearly. In my mind's eye I am seeing a blank journal with a decorative cover and two magnets. The magnets are the kind of thing you sometimes see sold near the cash register in a bookstore. They had quotes from famous people on them.

I liked all of the gifts very much. But one of the magnets had an incredible effect on me. Receiving this magnet was a seminal experience. The fact that this friend chose a magnet that seemed to speak so closely to my experience and to offer up hope at the same time – that was just what I needed.

This is what the magnet says:
I beg have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer… (Rainer Maria Rilke)
In the coming days, weeks and months, the magnet became a kind of lifeline for me. As I navigated life, with Jeremy at my side, the magnet did not live on the refrigerator with the other ones we had. I actually carried it around the apartment. It went with me when I fed baby Hannah. It sat on top of books I was reading and paperwork I did. It went with me to work. I needed it close by.

Months turned into years. It hasn't always been smooth sailing. But life is really good, even with the challenges of missing Jacob and other things.

Eventually, I stopped needing to have the magnet on my person. It's on the refrigerator in a prized spot, right above the shopping list. I refer to it often. I've also internalized it.

The other day, Hannah was talking to me about some feelings she was having. She's a teenager now and future planning is on her mind. I have something to show you, I said. I took the magnet from the refrigerator and handed it to her. She read the quote and liked it very much. It had a resonance with her.

You'll probably have more moments like this, I said. You may borrow this magnet whenever you like. But you must always put it back on the refrigerator when you're finished with it. You never know when one of us will need it again.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

I Am A Short-Order Cook

It was 5:30 on a weeknight. I commenced dinner preparation.

I had some leftover cooked cheese tortellini from the night before. I combined that with some canned artichoke hearts, grape tomatoes, fresh basil and fresh olive oil vinaigrette. I sautéed some baby kale with rings of white onion with olive oil. I served the tortellini salad over the greens.

This was my dinner. It would have been dinner for Jeremy too except that he was working late that night. He ended up bringing an extra portion of the salad for lunch the next day.

Hannah had cheese tortellini with us the night before, but was a bit concerned about the salad I was making. I whipped together one of her favorite dishes - a pear, toasted walnut and feta salad. On the side I served her a vegetarian corn dog.

I could probably make Noah's dinner in my sleep. For him there was a bowl of angel hair pasta with butter. On the side I served him raw baby spinach with no dressing, a clementine and his favorite artisanal baguette from a lovely neighborhood place. Noah is an extremely picky eater by nature. Along with this are some mitigating factors. It's a long story. This is a dinner he loves.

Fifteen minutes later I laid this attractive and eclectic dinner on the dining room table and called the kids over. There is nothing unusual about the scene I described. But something made me think about it more than I usually would.

I took in the sheer numbers of foods prepared. It looked like a combination of a typical family dinner table and a restaurant. The salads were gorgeous. The dinners were delicious. The kids thanked me and expressed their unprompted appreciation. It was a pleasant repast.

Everyone did their own thing after dinner, feeling satisfied and fortified for the night ahead.

Although this scene is not atypical, it has some variation. My goal is increasingly to have at least three out four of us eating pretty much the same meal. Occasionally that means family pizza night. If Jeremy and I are eating chicken, Noah will usually
join us except that he has recently fired chicken as an acceptable food. I am planning to re-introduce it the next time we eat it. I'm hoping it takes.

Hannah often eats what Jeremy and I are eating when it is a vegetarian or seafood dish. She's come a long way.

In looking at the dinner I cooked and served on this night I had to re-examine the idea I have held of myself as being lousy at multitasking. I was using all four burners of the stove. I did not serve dinner in shifts but managed to getting all to the table at the same time without Jeremy being home to help. And it came together in a shockingly short time. What I did was a cross between making a family meal and catering. I felt rather proud of myself.

I'm hearing some sirens in the distance. Here come the Mommy Police.

I read the same parenting books as everybody else. We introduced our babies to healthy solid foods, one at a time, and carefully. It went badly with Hannah until she could chew. She never really took to baby food. Noah was an awesome eater until he went off the rails at toddlerhood. Jacob was a pretty excellent eater until he needed chemotherapy.

Doing what I'm doing is breaking the cardinal don't be a short-order cook rule of parenting. I know I'm doing it and I do it purposefully and mindfully.

I listen to this good parenting podcast while I'm working out. They often have guests on the show and I usually find value in what they say. Once they had a nutritionist and mom on the show. She'd recently written a book about feeding your family healthfully. She promised to address choosy eaters. I listened with interest.

The cookbook author was the mommy judge-iest, most annoying person I ever heard.  Her kids eat everything because she is a perfect parent.  I was so put off by her bitchy personality that I called the podcast comment line as soon as I got off the treadmill. Once I finished leaving my complaining message about the fascist nutritionist, a thought popped into my head. I'm really glad my kids don't have someone insufferable for a mother.

Here's my belief system on dinner. Life can be hard. Life IS hard. At the very least, everyone deserves a dinner that makes them feel nourished and nurtured. Something that tastes good. I could go on about this, but I won't. That's all of it, in a nutshell.

I'm not going to serve brownies or candy for dinner. That said, I do seem to remember trying to convince Hannah to eat a chocolate chip cookie for breakfast when she was four.

Dinner has to be reasonably nutritious. Beyond that, with pots and pans strewn about my tiny kitchen, I make my way.

Jeremy will be going to a concert tonight, so it's just the three of us. Noah and I will eat together because Hannah arrives home late from piano lessons. For him, I'm making the same thing that I made before, except that it will be sugar snap peas instead of baby spinach. He likes things predictable.

For Hannah and I it will be ravioli with apples and walnuts, a recipe I know we both love. I'll watch her face light up as she comes in tired and hungry from a school and piano lessons. Her food will be served warm from a pot on the stove. I'll be preparing only two meals tonight. That's a piece of cake for a short-order cook.