I know I’m a bit old to be writing you this letter, but no one around here listens, so I’m hoping I’ll have more luck with you.
2014 has been fine. However, as I like to tell my daughter, there is always room for improvement. I don’t end up telling this to her, I end up telling this to the lovely oil painting I have of an exasperated woman, the one where she is resting her head in her hands in complete resignation (can so relate!) That fine artwork hangs in my living room right behind my daughter, above an electrical outlet.
The outlet is what lures my daughter there regularly, charging a phone or a computer or both. Fingers are quickly composing a witty text, eyeballs nervously checking social status on Instagram (I need more likes on that picture!!!) or maybe she’s perusing Facebook, just biding time until it is 9:00pm and she can tune into the season premier of PLL.
That’s Pretty Little Liars, Santa. Come on, get with it.
Look, I’m not going to ask you for the big stuff.
I’m not going to ask you for a larger house.
With an infinity pool.
Perhaps an ocean view.
That would be outrageously abusive of me.
But maybe, could you do something about the stovetop?
The thing is, it’s electric.
And yes, fancy shmancy electric, seriously high-end German electric, with an eco-friendly Ceran glass surface that claims to heat up faster than you can say omelet, with double and triple size elements that make the whole thing have more rings on it than the Olympic emblem.
By the way, Santa, I don’t know how savvy you are in the kitchen, but, if the brochure tells you it heats up faster than you can say omelet, the brochure is lying to you. Or you aren’t reading the German properly. Something.
I could walk over to my neighbor’s house, make an omelet there, clean up, come back home, and then my skillet would be ready.
I’ve learned to roll with this electric stovetop situation ever since I moved to the Florida ‘burbs a kazillion years ago, but my children don’t get a break, I am constantly kvetching about this. You know about kvetching, Santa, you must have some complaining to do as well, say, when the elves slack off or that darn chimney somehow becomes more narrow.
I fill their heads with stories about the perfectly simmered black beans I enjoyed growing up in Venezuela or the fantastic puttanesca pasta that I’d whip up in a flash in New York, or the spicy Moroccan chicken couscous I’d dazzle their dad with when we lived in Boston.
It’s not that I can’t make these dishes here. I can and I do. It’s the experience of making them over a gas stovetop that is so different, the ease and control of creating them under the embrace of a real fire that makes a difference. Maybe it’s that primal, caveman instinct of cooking with actual fire that makes me happy. Maybe it’s the hypnotic dance of the blue flame and the way it instantly heats up my skillet, even the heaviest cast iron one, making my heart flutter just so.
The year we lived in Mexico, my kids witnessed this jubilation first hand.
“Look, see! See how fast the water boils?” I’d scream, vindicated, drunk with joy.
“Crispy, crunchy hash browns in seconds! “ I’d revel.
I admit, I had gone a bit mad. But it was a happy mad, one in which everyone seemed to benefit and eat a lot.
The euphoria ended upon returning to our South Florida home where my German engineering quietly awaited to disappoint me.
The kids poke fun at me, Santa.
There seems to be two lethal attacks they inflict on their mother regularly:
1) Commenting on how lovely whatever sunset we are currently enjoying would look from a beach home (because they know I am an ocean girl through and through)
2) Reminding me of how grand it would be if we had a gas stovetop.
They know I’d pretty much give one of them up for either one of these two things.
I’d definitely give up the dog.
But hey, they say Christmas is a time for miracles.
And Hanukkah, which is the holiday I celebrate, is filled with stories of miracles.
So, I’m writing you this note (because I don’t have Hanukkah Harry’s address, and, let’s face it, you must have more pull.)
I’m asking: amongst the tricycles and trucks and dolls banging around your bag, could you possibly spare a gas stovetop?
In thirteen days, four hours and ten minutes my daughter will head to summer camp, her final year as a camper.
She hasn’t stopped talking about camp since the moment she handed me her overstuffed duffle bags cramped with dirt, mud, mismatched socks and insurmountable memories from her experience last year.
My daughter suffers from Campitis.
She has from the first moment she separated, not from me, but from her camp, eight years ago.
Back then she was a little squirt entering the third grade.
She had learned about her sleepaway camp completely by accident. She and I were running errands and bumped into the mother of a little girl who had attended pre-school class with my daughter years before. Being that it was 91 degrees at 8:15 in the morning and insufferably humid, the topic of summer was hard to ignore, and so I casually asked this woman about her kids and what they were up to over the summer. Her eyes lit up as she dove into telling us they were spending a month at sleepaway camp canoeing and craft making in the Blue Ridge Mountains. She explained how magical this place was, how she had gone as a child, how her husband had as well, and now, their children were proud members of the same camp too. Apparently there were so many alumnae with the same generational track record that the camp had formed a special group for them.
I was pleasant and listened, but completely aloof to the experience, having not wanted to leave my mother’s side until I was old enough to drive.
My daughter, on the other hand, was enraptured.
The minute we parted ways she announced, “I want to go there too.”
I explained that this was an overnight thing. Several over nights. Far away. Not like a playdate with her best friend or a sleepover at her aunt’s house.
“I know,” she replied with unwaivering confidence.
“You won’t be able to call or speak to Mommy or Papi for a while,” I added, noting the fear rising in my voice, maybe hoping I’d scare her a bit too.
“I get it Mom, I want to go.” She rebuttled without even blinking.
“You wouldn’t be able to attend the same session as this lady’s daughter. You won’t know anybody,” I added sneakily, assuming this would be the coup d’état to keeping her home and safe with me. (Sometimes a mother’s will has no limits.)
But my daughter? My daughter who doesn’t think twice about new situations? Who charges through life with enthusiasm and zest and zeal, well, she’s way braver than I ever was and her mind was already made up.
“I don’t care, Mom. I wanna go,” she said resolutely.
If I had my mother’s skirt to cling on, I would have clung.
She left, giddy and excited, and I endured the summer with an increased dosage of Shiraz.
I also attempted to distract myself in the kitchen.
Old, forgotten recipes that had been waiting in the sidelines suddenly became critically important.
Breads that needed kneading. Cakes that required layering. Sauces that begged stirring, all were placed under my constant, vigilant care.
Every afternoon I’d take a break from whatever I was sizzling and run to the mailbox in hopes of a message, even if it would be a quick hello in my daughter’s crooked writing or a standard camp form with an oversized bubble circling the “I’m having fun!” sentence.
I got nothing.
And so the cooking grew more incessant.
I pulled out fancy herbs.
And went to work with the Microplane grater.
I visited musty Indian shops where locals eyed me suspiciously and came out with handfuls of clouded jars holding mysterious powders and curries of all shades and intensities.
I chopped a lot root vegetables with exotic names.
I thought of all those parents who had lied to me, all those parents who had told me I would have the time of my life! Would get to relax! Would finally have a break! Enjoy myself! Be free! And I added more red pepper flakes to my sauces.
I knew little about my daughter’s day-to-day activities except that she would, at some point, ride a horse, sleep in a tent, and sing songs.
I was fearful she wouldn’t fit in.
Cry herself to sleep every night.
Need me and not survive, like, quietly, I realized, I needed her.
But I kept those thoughts to myself.
Shed my tears under the premise of a strong onion or two or three.
Added more olive oil and pounded more scallopini.
The camp counselors called several times. They were bubbly, perky college kids who’d begin each call with “This is not an emergency, Danny is okay,” and I remember feeling stunned, distanced, removed; wondering, “Who is Danny? When did Daniela change her name?”
They called to let me know how great she was doing. They’re lying. How adjusted she was. She must need her mommy. How many friends she already had. That’s code for she’s totally alone. It was hard to hear them over the voice in my head.
I pulled out more curry and became fixated on Chardonnay.
Until finally, dehydrated and oozing garlic, the day came when I picked my daughter up from camp. I walked in the woods amongst the cabins searching for her. I was trying to be cool, forcing myself to practice a casual stride, when I spotted her sitting on a bench with five other girls under a leafy tree. She looked beautiful, even if her hair was matted and her shorts were full of mud. She didn’t see me at first, she was too busy socializing. The girls were all listening to her story. All laughing. All calling her Danny. And my daughter was thriving and happy, doing just fine without her mom.
It was a bittersweet moment for me.
On the one hand, I was so relieved and so proud. She hadn’t broken down without me, in fact, she’d flourished, she’d grown.
On the other hand, she hadn’t broken down without me, in fact, she’d flourished, she’d grown.
See the conundrum? And I didn’t even have my stovetop to work it out over.
“Daniela,” I called, hopeful.
She looked up and her face lit up instantly. “Mommy!” she shouted, melting my heart.
No amount of Chive Blini with Crème Fraiche, Quail Eggs, and Tarragon can match that feeling, I tell you.
We hugged and she quickly introduced me to her new best friends.
She was alive and jittery with excitement. She insisted on giving me a tour of the entire campgrounds, waving and greeting everyone along the way.
Everyone greeted and waved back: “Hey, Danny! What’s up, Danny? That your Mom, Danny?”
This was her turf and I was happy to share a tiny portion of it with her.
When it came time for us to go she hugged her besties and together they all cried. I turned away giving them some privacy while silently wishing I had brought them some food. Maybe that Chicken Curry. That’s always good to share amongst friends. I could picture them with bowls of the stuff, swinging their legs and laughing in between bites.
“See you next summer!” She decreed hopefully.
“Yes! Yes! Next summer!” They all replied in unison.
And so it was written in tears and hugs and the next summer, they all met.
And the next.
And the next.
And so on and so forth it has gone.
I’ve cooled it on the kitchen craziness when my daughter leaves for camp. My son joined her several years back and I’ve actually gotten used to the time alone. Maybe even relish it a teeny tiny bit. Plus, I don’t have to tinker with my sauces anymore, I can make my curry how I like it, extra hot.
Only thirteen days, four hours and six minutes left.
1 tablespoon sweet chutney (honey if you don’t have)
1 chicken, cut in eight pieces
2 teaspoons salt
½ cup water
¼ cup white wine
2 potatoes, peeled and quartered (I prefer Yukon Gold)
½ cup fresh green peas
handful of fresh cilantro
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in cinnamon, onion, cardamom pods, turmeric and cumin and fry until golden. Add curry powder, tomatoes, ginger, garlic and curry leaves and leave to cook for about 5 minutes.
Add chicken and salt. Sauté until chicken is slightly golden, five minutes per side.
Stir in chutney, water, and wine.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add potatoes and cook another 20 minutes.
Stir in peas and cook another 5 minutes.
Add fresh cilantro, adjust salt.
Alternatively: you can make this dish with chicken breasts, just reduce cooking time of chicken by half.
One of the benefits of being the parent of a teenage daughter is that you never run out of topics to argue over. This keeps the air nice and tense, the vocal chords perpetually warmed up and the white hair coming. Issues with ulcers may also flare up, but I’ll keep that to the privacy of the closed bathroom door.
A sense of humor is indispensible to surviving this stage of your child’s life.
Remember, this is the child [most of you] chose to have.
Hell, if you are like me, you planned it, right down to the romantic lovemaking by the fireplace.
So don’t go telling me you want to give her up now. You asked for her, you got her.
Plus, you know you’re going to be a bundle of nerves when she leaves for college, which isn’t so far away now. You know this. She reminds you constantly:
“Mom, what are you going to do when I go to college?”
I’m gonna blast “Born In The USA” without anyone rolling their eyes at me?
I’m gonna watch E! and follow it up with The Insider because I can, because I do wanna know who wore it the best and why Michelle Obama has had enough?
I’m going to do a heck of a lot less laundry?
She’s not waiting for those answers. She’s waiting for the true response. The one that I avoid. The thought that when my daughter will be gone, in three and a half short years, it’s going to be awfully quiet and argument-free around here.
I’m not really sure what I’ll do with a war-free zone.
As I said, everything is up for grabs right now, now that we are in the thick of it. My trench is dug deep and I try to make every effort to stay tucked in there, head down while the bullets fly over.
Today the artillery of choice is football.
Not fútbol, football.
Fútbol, I can grasp. Growing up in Venezuela, my ears rung with accolades for the soccer greats, Pelé and, the more colorful, Maradona. Sure, Venezuela is a country that favors baseball over all other sports, but still, it has always been equally infected with the South American passion for fútbol, and hearing the sportscasters battle over the loudest and longest goal announcement during the World Cup was always a source of amazement and joy.
But their impressive lung capacity amounted to yet another colorful anecdote I’d tell once I moved to the States as an adult.
Football, I got nothing on.
No understanding, no interest, no desire.
The few times I’ve tried to watch a game, I get restless and frustrated and distracted.
“Why are they stopping every two seconds?” I’ll demand to the poor sucker who is trying to convert me to the sport. “Where’s the double scissor? Where’s the hip fake? Why aren’t there any Chilenas?”
Remember now, this is way before Beckham came to the U.S. to spread the soccer love.
The poor sucker trying to educate me on the wonders of football is usually my husband. Which explains why he hides out a lot in the tiny room off of the garage. The one with a TV and a small fridge stocked with beer.
“Are we going to watch the Super Bowl this weekend?” my daughter, the General, attacks.
Don’t let this innocent question fool you, this is an attack.
“Hmmm?” I say, drawing out the m. I’m not an imbecile, I am strategically stalling. I’m sure it is in all the military handbooks.
“The. Super. Bowl. This. Week. End. We’re watching it, right?” She asks, with a triple serving of eye rolling.
I’m at a crossroads here. A delicate moment. I know, good God I know, that my teenage daughter, who has never watched an entire football game in her life and has no friend, brother, or boyfriend connected to football, has absolutely no interest in watching the Super Bowl this weekend. I’d go so far as to say that she’d most likely get restless, frustrated, and distracted sooner than I would.
I’m sure there is something more fast-paced to Tweet, Snapchat, or Instagram.
But she stands there defiantly; head cocked up, and takes a step closer to me, waiting.
“Hmmm, well…I hadn’t really…ummm…your father is out of town this weekend…so…I…just..ahhhhh.”
I talk like this on purpose, you see. All discombobulated. Helpless. Distraught.
It’s giving her an imminent sense of victory, this confused, flustered mother she has to contend with. Between you and me, it’s really my Trojan horse.
My daughter is a bit thrown off now.
She loves a good battle with her mother (what teen doesn’t?) but it is no fun for her when her mother doesn’t battle back. And on such an obvious topic! Mom hates football! This was supposed to be a no-brainer!
She gives me a few more seconds to gather up my motherness and start my rant:
Absolutely not! I won’t stand it! I can’t bear to see these guys pile up on top of each other! And for what? A bunch of undocumented head injuries that catch up to these poor fellows twenty years later? My goodness there are better things to do! Read some Proust! Make your bed! Figure out why the left light bulb in the bathroom won’t stop blinking!
She waits. She is an extremely impulsive girl, but, for this, she has the patience of a Siberian tiger waiting quietly to pounce on its prey.
I give her my most overwhelmed look.
My daughter has a heart of gold.
Did I mention that?
Did I tell you how she baked cupcakes and sold them on the street corner when she was a wee bitty kindergartener? She made a whopping $75 and turned around and gave it all to the Red Cross to help the people of Indonesia after the devastation the tsunami brought. And now? Now that she is a hormonal teenager with the required list of teenage drama, did I tell you she still pays close attention to others, making beautiful video collages of family members for their birthdays, picking out the most personalized and thoughtful gifts for friends and teachers, calling her grandparents overseas just to say hello?
She is a treasure, this obnoxious, battle-hungry teenage daughter of mine.
So when she sees me stumble, she can’t help herself, she helps me up.
“It’s okay, Mom. We don’t have to see the whole game. Maybe just the commercials? They’re supposed to be the best part.”
I want to hug her in that second. I want to hold her and count all ten fingers and toes, like I did that fateful day I was blessed with her almost fifteen years ago. But she is so big now! Bigger than me! And every day she reminds me she will soon be gone.
So I do the second best thing. I climb out of my trench and join forces with her, because two generals are better than one.
“How ‘bout I fix up some wings, we plop down in front of the television, and see how it goes?”
She smiles and I’m not sure if it’s because we will see the game after all or because I’ve thrown food into the mix.
“Okay, mom. But I get to blast the volume and put the couch where I want it, right up close to the screen.”
I could fight that, I could. Remember, you never run out of topics to argue with a teenager daughter: it’s bad for your eyes, we don’t move the furniture around, nothing is going to get blasted.
But I’m calculating something I thought I’d never find myself calculating before: we only have four more Superbowls to argue over before she leaves home.
Christ, you’ve been so good, what with the steamed tofu, the insurmountable amount of roughage and no bread! No bread!!! Congrats on all that, really. But ditch it for now. If people judge, tisk, mumble, “those extra pounds are never going to lose themselves,” go ahead and tell them: “The chicken wings made me do it.” And then give them one of these. They’ll understand.
3 lbs. frozen chicken wings
2 teaspoons cumin powder
1 ½ teaspoons curry powder
¾ teaspoon salt
½ cup distilled white vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
I usually decide what I am going to eat three minutes before I want to eat it. With this dish, it’s better, not critical, but better, if you have a bit of foresight and let it sit in the fridge overnight. If you don’t, the world will still rotate on its axis and Senators will still get caught saying stupid things when they don’t think anyone’s watching.
In a bowl, toss the wings with cumin, curry and salt. Let sit. Preferably overnight (in the fridge.)
Preheat oven to 400° F
Place wings on an oiled baking sheet (or better, place a strip of aluminum paper on the baking sheet and grease that.)
Bake for 10 minutes.(Note:If you didn’t do the overnight thing and have frozen wings, bake for 15)
Turn the wings around and drizzle with ¼ cup vinegar.
Bake 10 minutes (15 for frozen)
Flip wings again. Combine remaining ¼ vinegar with Worcestershire sauce and drizzle over wings.
Bake an additional 3-5 minutes.
Note: Things may get smoky, alarms might go off. This is a perfect opportunity to get a little workout in! Do jumping jacks with the kitchen towel near that damn smoke detector. It’ll all be worth it in the end, and plus, with a good cardio in, there’s less guilt about the 3 lbs. of wings you are about to inhale.
Cuándo uno gasta tres horas el por la noche en la sala de emergencia pediátrico porque su hijo desarrolla ojos similares a Rocky Balboa en la ronda numero 8 usted sabe que le va tocar una noche interminable. Los ojos, que crecieron como montañas rojas grandes, exigieron un desvío a partir de una tarde de familia pacífica en casa a uno lleno de enfermeras y mucho papelero de hospital.
La aventura de sala de emergencia duró tres horas, y terminó con un diagnóstico de una reacción extrema a conjuntivitis (porque una reacción normal era demasiado aburrida, asumo), y el sobresueldo añadido de una infección de oído también (“Ah sí, mamá, no puedo oír de aquel oído”, habría sido una cosa práctica de saber anteriormente). ¿Y luego, las altas horas restantes de la noche fueron gastadas sosteniendo a este chiquito de siete años que gritó y se retorció en el dolor horrible (¿qué debe una madre hacer con tal dolor?) y tu le dices que él estará bien, el medicamento empezara a resolver su dolor en cualquier instante – y quieres ofrecer el amor y la fuerza llena de confianza y aseguramiento porque eres La Madre (y La Madre sabe mejor, verdad?) pero él no le permite el dolor a ser sostenido, él no puede estar contenido por su dolor que lo ha devorado de repente y vorazmente aquel cuerpecito y tu te rompes por dentro viendolo sufrirmira hasta que caiga en el sueño indulgente de modo que podras soltar aquel aliento que has estado aguantando todo el día; con cuidado exhalando no para interrumpir la red delicadamente tejida de su bienestar en este punto.
Te sientes increíblemente inutil pero no lo eres.La medicina ha empezado a funcionar, el cansancio permitio que entrara su sueño dejandolo con puños diminutos apretados y un niño durmiente, su jadear inquieto el único remanente del dolor que lo invadió hace sólo minutos. Un sentido de alivio comienza a absorbertejunto con el hambre: hambre violenta, indiscreta, porque realizas en todo este tiempo no has comido una cosa ni hasta un vaso de agua.
El apetito es fuerte y enojado y no toma su abandono bien. Necesitas algo que te llene y que sea rico y cremoso, dulce y sabroso con un crujido también; algo para contratar todos los sentidos y distraerte de la noche que ha dejado un sello tan agitado sobre ti. Arrastras los pies al refrigerador en la oscuridad dela noche y con asombro entre bolsas de naranjas, cajones de huevos y la jarra fiel de la mayonesa, te espera una deliciosa Ensalada de Pollo Labneh Cremosa para una cita de medianoche. Es dulce, sabroso, y crujiente y es tuyo para esta noche.
Una sonrisa sustituye la ceja arrugada que ha sido tu uniforme toda la tarde. Y aunque esto sea la medianoche y estás cansada más allá de palabras buscas una cuchara y agarras aquel tazón entero de la delicia cremosa, sintiendo el sabor inolvidable del Labneh, la dulzura de las pasas de oro y uvasy el crujidofirme del celery y, egoístamente y silenciosamente, comes por el alumbro de la nevera.
Comes y ya sabes que las cosas serán mejores mañana.
I’d like to think of myself as being a modern, evolving, and accepting human being, one that is open to change, considers other’s ideas and suggestions, and constantly alters set patterns of behavior in hopes of achieving self-growth and a new perspective. However, there are some things I just don’t mess with. Take Thanksgiving dinner, for instance. I know, I know, it’s a wild and changing world out there—many others are achieving growth by glazing their birds with exotic fruit juices, smoking them in the backyard in big old garbage pails or even taking the plunge and tossing their ode to our country’s heritage in frightfully deep vats of boiling oil. They all make for delicious meals, I am sure. You just won’t find them in my home.Call me a foodie hypocrite, a culinary closet conservative, or whatever you like. On this day I don’t budge on my traditions, and, year after year, sit my family down to a classic meal of roast turkey with herbed stuffing, mashed potatoes, creamed onions, baby peas, and pumpkin and apple pies, respectively, all just like my mother made when I was a kid. I confess to one tiny slip-up in my traditionalism: my sister-in-law’s cranberry relish: too good not to introduce into our family ritual, even though, I still put out the jellied can stuff so as not to offend the die-hards.Occasionally, I get the 7-year turkey itch and my Thanksgiving routine temporarily feels boring. My mind may stray for an instant while looking at glossy magazine pictures exploring the new twists on bird stuffing, side dishes, or pie crusts, imagining what it may be like to prepare and eat these. But, before I can do any real damage in disrupting a solid and loving food family, my innate culinary instinct (a solid chunk of my DNA structure) kicks in, demanding and driving me to produce the traditional Thanksgiving dinner year after year. So far, I have heard no complaints from my family, just a whole lot of chewing.