aromatic cooking

Tonight I carefully slice into a red bell pepper, then a green one, and finally a cheerful purple onion. I cut a quarter wedge from each of these and slice as thinly as my patience will allow. I am exhausted, and I am trying to prepare a new dish. So I move slowly; but I do move. I heat up two types of tortillas (microwave under a damp cloth napkin) and wrap them in heavy foil packets into the warmed oven. Having pickled a jalapeño (while the others roast in oil and salt), I dice it finely and add to the marinade hosting thick tempeh slices. I halve cherry tomatoes into a bowl and gently combine them with a little oil, salt, sugar: set aside. I fry up the seitan chick’n strips – having pre-baked them dry and chewy in the oven – and add the peppers and onions and more pickled jalapeño. The kitchen warms brilliantly with the fragrance of peppers and onions and the family cheers a little. Finally: I slice avocado, bring out the lime cashew cream, and the purple slaw, my husband prepared earlier. We don’t set the table as my work is spilled across it, but join one another convivially on the couch to watch a quaint baking show before we go our separate ways again for the evening.

soak up like a sponge about to be wrung out again

The weather may be dipping into fall but it’s still plenty warm out, the sun is still hot on my skin and the heat catches and holds in my pigtails as my sponsor and I step out of the grocery store – carrying small packets from the deli and in my case, a quaint salad roll of basil, avocado, and cucumber – and travel to her car. She’s a far-parker, like my late father. It feels delicious outside.

absolutely a precious thing

Ralph and I are home late but we are putting together a dinner with several parts: chick’n strips, steamed cauliflower and broccoli, roasted carrots, gravy from scratch, homemade fluffy biscuits. The preparations take a while and the dining room table waits, the children having set each plate with a folded napkin. Four small juice glasses.

Sometimes I think of preparing an elaborate dinner and setting it in the warmer to wait until the kids come upstairs from their gaming. They work work work (gaming or drawing) until they are famished. They come upstairs crying out for food. Besides little bouts of inspiration here and there, they are uninterested in learning how to cook for themselves, let alone the family. I don’t worry at all because I know they are growing. They are being raised in a home with a love of food and with good homemade fare on the table several times a day; they will very likely grow into this aptitude themselves when they are ready. (And if they don’t – what of it?)

My youngest child’s locks are long; tonight he asks me to dye the blond tips a cool blue. I put on gloves and mix up a concoction and paint his hair, his beautiful honey-colored length. I knot his hair up on top of his head and instruct him on how to cowash it to keep the color. He tells me, “I have hair under my arms now!” and shows me – proud. His shoulders are getting broad and yesterday after he asked me to snuggle him, as I slid behind him on the bed to put my arms around him saw stretch marks on the smooth skin of his back; he is growing so fast. He tells me he stayed up all night and waited until Ralph got up to get ready for work, so he could crawl into bed with me: “The way things should be,” he says, his eyebrows beetling and his lips set firm. 

Both kids want me to work less. When I took the day off yesterday and had us do housework they were happy and they sang and played and enjoyed our time together as much as if I’d taken them to the beach. There is absolutely no mistaking the fact that as long as we prioritize parenting, one of us adults won’t get to develop their career as far as it might have gone – that’s looking to be me, set back about twenty years. I have searched every brain crevice and I know it’s what I want (and it’s what Ralph wants), but sometimes I get salty as fuck about how little we want to spend on our kids, how few resources we throw them. My kids get to be raised differently and I wouldn’t have thought it would be one of my legacies but it is. Today in any case I did get to stitch some darts in a burnout velvet, and I got to do a few more this and that, but to be honest much of the day was spent caring for children, and the home, and putting time into a few other people besides.

the warmth of the sun in my hair

For St. Patrick’s Day I spent two days in preparation: a soda bread with caraway seed, corned beef, roasted cabbage and butter carrots – all vegan. I have a very pragmatic attitude toward cooking: I do my best, but I also know it doesn’t always work out. In this case, my efforts paid off. It’s funny I make traditional Irish fare as I don’t even care for it. I guess I love these small rituals, these observances. I also enjoy cooking – now that I don’t have to do it every day, three times a day.

I drive the two boys to the pizza parlour and hand my son my debit card. Despite the fact my children are old enough to walk here and there I have a fear of them being struck by a car – either while they are in a car themselves, or while they are walking. I tell them, “be careful”, and maybe I shouldn’t but I can’t help myself. When they were very small, I worried about drowning. I’d walk over a bridge carrying one baby and holding the hand of the older and I’d have horrible visions.

My son and his best friend are so happy together. They spend about twenty hours immersed in their own word – mostly gaming and eating and laughing – before the lad’s mother texts and asks us to send him home. My son comes and finds me shortly after and wants solace. He is a young man now but he still seeks me out. Both children do so I am surprised to think, perhaps it will always be like this.

Both Ralph and I have a weekend full of volunteer work: cooking for others and hosting events, answering phone calls and texts and email: he as an eSports advisor, me in the Recovery community. I am vaguely sensing I need some down time, a break; I am also uncertain when I will take one. I love my work (paid and volunteer) so much that in the morning I almost spring awake – but I also know I am out of balance, overworked, stretched thin.

On that account my child has finished their last paper of their community college career; they study for two more finals and are finished in a couple days. The entire family is getting used to the idea of them being finished; I know that we will then be onto driving school, and trying to fund a car, and trying to set up a (quasi-)business for this child.

Years ago when I got sober people in Recovery used to tell me about a life “beyond one’s wildest dreams”. I am experiencing that now and it is very funny. It seems to take as much focus and mindfulness as anything else, and it seems to be entirely out of my control. I do pray daily and lately I have felt so much gratitude for our health and safety. These things will be threatened in time, but every day we have them is very precious indeed.

occupations

Today I wrapped up the revamp on my B-movie site; I am mighty darn pleased with the whole business tbh. Website design is one of those little side hustles I get up to – earning a bit of cash sure, and also doing a few favors. In the case of B-movie BFFs! the only favor I am doing is for myself, on and did I casually mention MY NEW CO-COLLABORATOR, the illustrious E. Young, whomst I successfully courted into writing for the site. E.’s first post just hit the press and opens with an ardent declaration of love for Billy Zane.

So as far as collaborators go:

fassy gif: perfection

Besides web design – which is time consuming! – I’ve finished with a large bit of mending, ordered and waded through a whole heck of a lot of samples for a client’s capsule wardrobe, and designed and begun construction on two costumes for an upcoming twin birthday. As wonderful as these occupations are, I have also repeatedly set them aside to tend to my teenagers. My children are able to care for themselves but they still absolutely need my care: today, Tylenol and a smoothie for one child who woke with a painful throat. Then: helping the other child with their testosterone shot. The latter child has wanted more time together so we’ve been on the couch watching a Victorian-era science fiction horror on telly and generally just being next to one another. Teenagers are like great big rechargeable batteries and they benefit from a lot of nutritious food, a lot of rest, and a lot of love. Too many teenagers don’t get enough of all the above.

In the evening Ralph and Beeps are off at German class; my studio is so impossibly cold lately so with my son’s help I haul a few bits of equipment and the right threads and scissors and pins and pattern pieces upstairs and I construct a belted tunic, a pair of leggings, and a tissue-knit sweater – all for little babies, absolutely delicate and wonderful work. Ralph brings home takeout and I finish my yoga practice and take a hot shower and slip into pajamas. Tomorrow I get to make a goldenrod linen dress and I am sure this will cheer me immensely.

mint, turmeric, saffron, cardamon, ginger, garlic…

Today when I wake I know I’m going to do my yoga, drink my coffee. Hem a linen dress with a blind stitch. Press the dress and hang it up, to deliver to a client in a couple days. Wait for my children to wake and then take them out to pizza.

It’s my oldest’s sixteenth birthday.

In the evening we travel to an event, the LGBTQ+ safe space, a crafting night. I bring embroidery supplies and work on a small project. Many other young people are there. Beeps doesn’t always fit in; they are friendly, intelligent, and well-spoken but they have a preternatural calm and a presence that others find intimidating. I am not nearly as calm as Beeps but I know what it’s like to be considered intimidating. People assume you don’t need the kind of care, the kind of asking-after. They assume you don’t need them to walk over and say Hello.

But someone does walk over and sit with us and we do handwork and we talk. I am embroidering a little goth skull for a friend in Tennessee. Deep deep deep purple, and a silvery-blue, and a lavender. Cotton floss.

And when I get home I will be making chick’n biryani, because I know (even though I haven’t made it before), it will be loved by my children. Earlier in the day I spent the last 19 dollars to my name this week on the supplies – well 12 dollars on the vegetables and herbs as I had to spend seven on medicine for my mother, who called from her house and asked. I have gas in my car and dried beans and rice at home and a day or two to hopefully get paid by a client and so I’m cheerful enough.

Home and my partner has chopped up the herbs and spices and peeled the potatoes. This is what I love – alchemy, he and I together. I have the confidence the dish will taste perfect – and it does.

My children lay on me when they can – on the couch, in my bed before I sleep. They still need so much attention; they still crave touch. It can be comedic; if either child sees Ralph and I embrace, they move into the middle. They’ve done this since they were very little and they do it now. I am pleased because I am a special person in their hearts; they also need these kinds of things from their father but from no one else, do they trust like this. I am so glad every day we get to earn their trust again, and again.

We have a special birthday cake and a few gifts, lined up for Sunday when my mother comes over. I ordered a cake in a cheerful blue; I will make another special meal. Another trip around the sun, for my glorious firstborn!

Seitan

for tomorrow’s repast

Seitan

Today in the kitchen: making up a batch of seitan. Blending spices and miso and tofu and vital wheat gluten; kneading and pressing. Baking while heating the spicy, redolent broth to simmer with. Vegan cooking somehow makes me so profoundly happy it is almost impossible to describe. It seems we spend less, eat better, and enjoy everything so much more.

Upon waking, my 13 year old son opens his eyes and says, “What is that unbelievably good smell?” I am transported back to the days when the children were littles and I wasn’t sewing as much (and certainly not as a business owner) and I cooked so much more than I do today. Today, these days I am overworked and jumpy and not quite as able to walk through my kitchen chopping and sauteing and washing up with fragrant, thick soap suds.

In the studio I watch a lesson on sewing with organdy and organza, slowly adding to my repertoire of skills. I print out a template for costume sewing. Answer an email and snap a photo for a potential client. Upstairs again and switch off the hot broth pot and set aside; making a plan for tomorrow. To the grocery store for seltzer water, celery and an onion, for kombucha for Ralph and gallon ziploc bags for freezing. Another fall day with those quiet responsibilities wherein life passes in measured tread.

I am not a single mom

I am not a “single mom” when Ralph leaves for a weekend or a week, on a conference or business trip. A single mom has to do all this shit without support on the daily. Me, I have a few days of focus and a bit of adrenaline and anyway, I could put a thing or two on the back burner if I need to.

That said, I do have to focus as it’s all on me. Up in the morning and the kitties need to be fed; Herbert Pocket does this adorable thing where when we take the lid of the cat food bin, she pops her little paws on the ledge and inspects the level of cat food inside. I get to take the dog outside on his walks, and make sure he’s fed and has enough water. I scritch him a little extra besides; as hard as I worked on washing him yesterday his fur is so thick and he could use another combing and bath! Maybe in a day or two.

Phoenix tells me tonight, after I paint their nails (black, for Halloween!) – “Thank you for getting me pizza this morning. That was the sweetest thing to wake up to.” While it is certainly true that teens can fend or even cook for themselves, I still feel it’s my responsibility as a parent to try to do a little of that work for them. 

Today also I took a bit of cake down to the recovery Club I frequent, right before I pick up the pizza. I slice the slab into two-bite size morsels and arranged them on a large platter. When I cook at the Club, or prep food, men swarm around. Attention; they need attention. “I’ll have a hot dog,” a young man toting a toddler instructs me – mistaking me for the kitchen worker that’s there during limited hours. I explain the situation to him: I’m not a member of the Club and the kitchen isn’t open at th emoment. Other fellows mill around, wanting to tell me about their job (or lack thereof) or just say Hi or whatever. But this is one place that’s good to leave food, because people are always coming through hungry, some off the street. When I first got sober I cooked on the regular because I felt desperate, and grateful, and wanted to give something to the group. And one day a fellow called me, “That chick that always brings food,” and I thought, Well that’s enough of that for now. That particular fellow is very very ill now and every time I see him I am not sure if I’ll see him again.

Tonight, incredibly, for dinner I decide to give a brown rice recipe a try: a (vegan) cheesy broccoli brown rice bake. I had enough brown rice growing up in the bus, I took a solid thirty-year hiatus, but I’m ready to try again. This evening I just know it will turn out wonderfully, and it does – accompanying the bean burritos and the cole slaw Ralph provides. I love peeling off the foil from a hot casserole and letting it sit just five minutes before spooning it out. I love watching how happy people are for hot food – my family yes, and a guest over for dinner.

Ralph is home and after my shower he comes to bed and I put my head on his chest and can feel my hair, down and brushed out, spill across his shoulder. He is warm and strong and feels exactly like home to me. And I know he’s too tired to pay me much mind by now, but my own mind is still a ways from being sleepy. I have had three days’ of hard work and I have some things to worry about besides. So after we say goodnight the pets gather round; two kitties flank me in the bed and I am still up just a little longer, a little deeper into the night before I sink back to sleep.

Watermelon Lime Punch

“I am going to need to cut power”, and other delightful interludes at 11:30 PM on a weeknight

I’m standing at the kitchen counter and it’s almost midnight and I take a bite of the sliced watermelon from the platter. I’m halfway through putting a few things away, and I’m overwhelmed because my husband is tearing apart the ceiling in my studio. At this hour. It has to be done, not that I’ll mention names as to what dog let his bladder loose on our living room floor, except his name is Hutch.

The dog doesn’t piss in the house so that means maybe something is wrong, so I get to think about that too. We’re behind on our vet bill as-is, to the tune of hundreds.

And tonight I get to wrangle two teenage boys into their sleepover needs, setting up a bed on the floor, and try to make meaningful contact with my eldest who has been gaming most the day. I think my husband is stressed about the house/dog thing so I get to think about that.

But now, I just lean on the counter and I have this slice of watermelon. I am struck by the fact that Ralph and I used to be up all hours on the regular when the kids were babies. Now we get another night like that. And while he’s down there hopefully not electrocuting or injuring himself, I make up the bed and put up some candles and a bit of lime oil in the diffuser and put on some Beach House and try to make things just a little pleasant, a little time stolen together if possible.

Watermelon Lime Punch

Son, 13

Mane
Lurve