Thai Cafe by Steven Wang

Go Your Own Way

I’ve eaten and adored more piles of pad thai than I can count, starting with a first tentative (and screamingly spicy!) bite the first time I went to Chicago (thanks, db!), escalating into a more-than-weekly habit when I lived in Brooklyn. I’ve watched the line cooks at Thai Cafe in Greenpoint throw the ingredients into the hot wok by handfuls, let the flames shoot up everywhere, and deftly turn out a beautiful pile of noodles for me to devour.

But I’ve never made pad thai. Never even tried to make it. It just seemed too— what? Far from what I knew how to cook? Full of ingredients I knew intimately by taste but not by name? When I did look for recipes, they all seemed full of conflicting ingredient lists and directions, each with their streak of insistence that theirs was the pure way, the real pad thai.

Tonight I made pad thai. I finally found a demystifying recipe from a cook I trust (Deb at Smitten Kitchen), realized I had most of the ingredients and knew how to find the others, and I just gave it a whack. I shook something loose. And it was good. There were tastes in there I recognized from Brooklyn, and now I’m breaking them down and thinking about how to re-jigger the recipe to more closely match my memory of the blissful, fresh, light version in my memory. And I’m going to make it again and again, I know I am, and different every time. And sometimes I’m going to throw snow peas in there, and sometimes cabbage, or pickled radishes because nobody’s looking over my shoulder and I’m not a purist, and I’m going to follow what tastes good. I’m going to improvise.

It’s taken me a long time to be alright with improvising in the kitchen. I’d always tinker with recipes, but never tromp too far afield for fear of wasting food or making something not so hot (umm, that’s why god made smoothies and microwave popcorn, Lori). It’s taking me even longer to be okay with improvising a life. Lately I look at my “career,” a patchwork of things that I do, an assortment of hats I put on and take off: writer, campaigner, project manager, interviewer, editor, violin mom, pre-pubescent advisor, wife, gardener, adjudicator of Band-Aid worthiness, social media planner, fundraiser, communications strategist, listening ear, cook. And I think I felt like there must be something wrong with having all those hats. What am I really? Shouldn’t I be able to say?

But I’m all those things and more besides, and some I haven’t even started to be yet. An evolving list of ingredients, sometimes successful and sometimes, meh. I lose my mojo somewhere for awhile and then some days I wake up and, like the deft scrape and scoop of the line cook, I’m in the zone, and it comes out right. I’m not going to stop making it.


Pad Thai for Now

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

You’re gonna make 2 servings at a time in your wok, because that’s about how much fits in a nice big wok. If you don’t have a nice big wok, use any large saute pan that can take super high heat (not a nonstick pan or enameled cast iron). This recipe makes 4 humongous servings.

  • Soak in warm water to cover for at least 10 minutes and up to 15:
    • 1 lb rice sticks (dried rice noodles about linguine width)
  • Prep your tofu:
    • Either drain, press, and cube 1 lb of tofu, then fry in hot oil in the wok, drain on paper towels, and sprinkle with salt and chili
      OR use a pre-baked tofu cut into small cubes (I like the kind from Trader Joe’s).
  • Stir together this sauce that I’ve extrapolated for myself. Yours will evolve, I’m sure. This is enough for 4 servings:
    • 4 T tamarind sauce/concentrate (this one I think is pretty essential, and it was at my local Asian market, so it’s probably at yours)
    • 1 T worcestershire sauce (you can sue me, but I’m not big on fish sauce, and pad thai I love is very light on it)
    • 1 T rice vinegar
    • 1 T low-sodium tamari or other soy sauce
    • 2 T dark brown or demerara sugar
  • Prep the rest of your setup:
    • 1 large bunch of scallions, chopped, white and green parts in separate bowls
    • 6 cloves garlic OR 2 small shallots, chopped
    • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten in a small bowl
    • Thai chili flakes or Sriracha sauce
    • Canola, grapeseed or other neutral, high-heat cooking oil
    • 3-5 cups bean sprouts
  • For the last stage, have ready:
    • lime wedges
    • chopped salted peanuts
    • ideally, chopped cilantro and Thai basil

 

Then it goes like this—about half of your ingredients from each of your prepped stashes as you cook 2 servings at a time.

  1. Drain your noodles and get your wok really screaming hot.
  2. Add: about 2 T oil
    Garlic or shallot plus white parts of scallions
    Stir-fry till they just start to take on color
  3. Add noodles (1/3 to 1/2 of the whole pound that you soaked)
    And the sauce (just half of it)
    Stir-fry until the noodles have absorbed the sauce and look mostly cooked
  4. Push your pile of noodles to the side of the wok
    Put 1/2 of your eggs in the blank spot and let this sit for a sec
    Throw your tofu, chili flakes, a small handful of bean sprouts, and a small handful of scallion greens on your noodle pile while you’re waiting for the eggs to get half-cooked.
  5. Scrambled the eggs and everything else into your noodles.
  6. Turn this out onto a plate, top with another small handful each of bean sprouts and scallions.
    Sprinkle generously with cilantro, basil, and peanuts, and squeeze lime over.
  7. Be happy with yourself, even as you chew over how you might change it up the next time.
    Hey, we’re alive here. We’re growing.
    xo
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Ordinary Extraordinary

A couple of years ago I found myself driving baby Stella to Boston Children’s Hospital at 3 in the morning in pouring January rain, gripping the steering wheel super tight as other cars passed me on the Mass Pike, and I remember thinking, wait—what the hell are these other people doing on the Mass Pike at 3 a.m.?

And then I popped out of my narrow world for just a moment, where I’d been feeling put-upon by the fact that I was required to stick my baby in a carseat in the middle of the night in order to get her the scheduled surgery she needed. And I saw all the other cars. And I remembered that as hard as things were for me, that wasn’t extraordinary. That was ordinary. Life asks so much of us, all of us, so much of the time. And I sat there, hunched behind my steering wheel, in awe at the quiet strength silently underlying this sweep of cars on the slick, wet road, underlying the love of every parent, every person.

I’m not supposed to be writing this right now. I’m supposed to be doing something else. But if I always did what I was supposed to do, I would never pop my head up and see the other cars, the other faces, connect with them. Joy makes us pull our heads up from our screens and look at the sky, look each other full in the face for a moment. And it’s okay that we have to spend a lot of time with our faces in our screens, and working our way through checklists and performance reviews, and washing the dishes and folding the laundry (again). It’s okay that life asks this perpetual labor of us—so long as when joy calls us, we listen. (Gawd I’ve been watching too much Call the Midwife, haven’t I?)

A lot is asked of us, and we live in a brutally demanding moment. There’s no end to the need to resist, to mobilize, to work for justice. There are days I’m surprised to look up and see that my Facebook feed hasn’t left physical welts on my body. We’re shelled by a near-daily cascade of horrors. We’re worried for ourselves and our friends and neighbors. I sometimes feel like I’m running around with a paper towel that’s already soaked up everything it can hold, but I’m still mopping with all I’ve got. (I wrote about that for parent.co too, if you need a moment of validation!)

For a long time after Trump was elected, this blog felt like a rather shallow enterprise to me. There’s so much to be done. I guess I forgot to look at the title of my own site. Yep. Still gotta eat. We gotta keep strong, people, gotta feed the resistance. So here’s something to feed your bodies. Bring it to a table where you can look into the faces of loved ones—or strangers—and feed one another with your eyes, your hopes, your plans.

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Slow-Cooked Hoisin Chicken with Slaw

Adapted from a pork recipe at The Kitchn

For the chicken:

3 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs

1/2 c bottled hoisin sauce

1/4 c soy sauce

3-4 coin-size slices of fresh ginger (you’ll fish it out at the end)

2 T chopped garlic

Mix all this in your slow cooker and set it to low for 6 hours, or high for 4 hours. If you have a long work day (all hands raised!) this will be fine on the “keep warm” setting for another 3 hours past cook time. Whew. It falls apart into shreds which you can either serve over rice, scoop up with flatbread, or just plop it on the plate.

For the slaw:

1/2 to 3/4 head green cabbage, finely shredded

1 bunch scallions, sliced

1 bunch cilantro, chopped

1 cup peanuts (I like salted here), chopped

1/2 c peanut or canola oil (anything neutral here)

1/4 c rice vinegar

2 T toasted sesame oil

2 T soy sauce

1 T sugar

I like to combine the first 3 ingredients ahead of time and throw them in the fridge. You can use bagged slaw here, but the fineness of the cabbage shreds does kind of make the whole thing more light and delicate. If you’ve got a mandoline and a moment, go for that. I try to maybe make the dressing ahead and set it in the fridge too. Then I can just chop the peanuts and toss everything together when it’s dinner time. Last time I forgot the peanuts and the children were not happy! They like lots of peanuts.

For a hearty variation on this slaw, use red cabbage, more sesame oil, and black sesame seeds instead of peanuts.

Crickets

What a different world it is since I last wrote to you.

A world without Kev, who died almost a year ago now, and whose voice, mock-scolding or laughing with me, I still hear constantly, thank god. A world, starting today, without John Ashbery, a founding father if ever there was one.

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I carried this book in my backpack for more than a year. I have read it more times than any other single volume of poetry.

A world whose simmering dangers have bubbled up into more prominent awareness in a President Tr*mp era. (Fingers still crossed this is the shortest possible “era.”)

So buffeted are we by memories, elegies, news cycles, abandoned self-improvement regimes, that sometimes I’m actually stunned at constancy.IMG_7505

The ocean. Properties of drippy sandcastle design. My patient, unwavering husband. Turning butter and eggs and sugar and flour into muffins.

Last week I got to swoon for constancy a bit, sitting on a favorite beach, my only industry the meditation of castle building—and wrecking, and building atop the ruins—and the occasional fetching of a wind-snatched sunhat. Somehow it seems to have built a reserve of steadiness, and I’m ready to head back into the flow.

Surfing that wobbly balance of news consumption and activism to make myself some way useful and mostly skirt political despair. (Lately I like this podcast.) Putting up tomatoes.Buying new shoes for the girls and then what feels like a week later buying more new shoes for the girls because their toes are now busting through. Okay, September. Bring it.


Whole Grain Blueberry Muffins

These are amazingly soft and light without any white flour whatsoever, a magic trick achieved with the combination of finely ground oats and yogurt. The recipe struck me as a curiosity for that reason when I saw it in Real Simple. And then I had to make it just a little bit less healthy. With a sugared lid, since that’s how we roll. They’re still pretty tame in the butter and sugar category; you could honestly tell yourself you had oatmeal and yogurt for breakfast . . .

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Oh my god I forgot the sugared tops this time. Shit.

1 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup pecans or slivered almonds, toasted
1/4 cup golden flaxseed meal (Bob’s Red Mill is a good brand, at your natural foods store, or substitute more nuts if you’re brave)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Heat the oven to 375. Add all the above ingredients to a food processor and pulse until finely ground. (Make sure your oats and nuts are ground well.)

In a separate large bowl, whisk together:

4 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 cup white or light-brown sugar
1 cup plain yogurt (whole or lowfat)
1/4 cup milk
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla

Add dry ingredients to your wet ones and stir until just combined. Gently fold in:

2 cups blueberries, frozen or fresh

Scoop into paper-lined muffin trays (these are sticky—if you don’t like paper liners, you could get away with parchment here, but not with cooking spray alone). My favorite tool for this is an ice cream scoop with the sweeper feature that kicks the dough out when you depress it. You can spray your scoop with cooking spray and that’s even easier.

Sprinkle the tops of your muffins-to-be with:

2 tablespoons sugar

Bake at 375 for 22 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in muffin tins at least 15 minutes. Fear not the first day of school.

Safety

In this week of shattering earthquakes, what has shocked me the most have been the shrugs and eyerolls. Statements like this:

“It’s over and Trump won. Get over it and move on.”
“Why is everybody freaking out? It’s just an election.”
What I’ve found when I probe a little deeper is a profound ignorance of the fear that people of color, immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQ, and other vulnerable people are feeling. That’s the same ignorance that lets people complain about Black Lives Matter protesters blocking the highway. Get out of the way so I can drive my car. Don’t make me feel unsafe.
But honey – they are in the middle of the highway because they feel unsafe. They’re being targeting by law enforcement. Their families and friends are dying for no legitimate reason. This country has a history of civil disobedience used to draw attention to civil rights violations. What they’re doing is not only proper but in the annals of democracy, it is a hallowed act. Get out of your car and join them.
I went to a school council meeting Wednesday afternoon at my daughter’s elementary school. I asked our unflappable, determined principal about how the day had gone. “It was a really tough day,” she said. “Lots of kiddos in my office. Lots of kids worried that their families are about to be deported. Lots of black kids afraid they’re going to be killed by the police. They’re terrified. And we had to break up a game of Trump Tag at recess.” She sighed.
It’s a lack of empathy creating a gulf between rural white America and these poor kids. But there’s also a gulf to be bridged in my understanding of the fear that’s motivating Trump voters. Because they are motivated by fear, too. They don’t think they’re being hateful. They’re afraid. Isolation creates fear. Empathy, connection—these are still our best tools.
On Wednesday morning, with tears streaming down my face, I told my kids that love is more powerful than hate. That our belief in love is unwavering. That “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” But we must also remember that it is more powerful than fear. As a white middle-class person, I might think it’s hard for me to bridge the gap between threatened minorities and white people who perceive a threat as well, but it’s much easier for me than for many. And so I must reach out, and listen, and stretch.
There are people who need our help and support, people who feel unsafe (and ARE unsafe), and the work doesn’t stop. Our belief that love is stronger than hate—that doesn’t stop. The search to find compassion for those whose motivations and decisions we disagree with —that continues more earnestly than ever. What we need to do is not retreat, but engage. Reach out. Connect.
This week I interviewed several college students for the summer creative writing program where I work. Let me tell you—they are incredible. They talked about the joy of connecting to others through writing, of making sense of life through storytelling, of the joy and magic of feeling for the first time no longer alone. They want to pay all of that forward and make it possible for others. They make the way by walking. Each one of them has already done amazing things—worked 30 hours a week while going to school full-time, for instance, or self-published three novels, or organized a Day of Tolerance with diversity training at their high school, or started a creative writing group at a tiny town library. Things I was never engaged enough to do at their age. They know we need each other and that we are stronger together, and they are reaching out. They WANT to be the glue.
That’s what my kids want too, clinging to my legs this week, imploring me with their eyes. Let’s glue ourselves to each other. On Wednesday I crouched by the little one’s preschool cubby, called the big kid over, and told them to remember: “When they go low, we go high.” We won’t say nasty things about anyone, even Donald Trump. We don’t need to. We will invalidate his positions with our love and compassion.We will stand up for people who are being bullied, people poked by the permission he gives to bigots and misguided people everywhere. We will be the helpers.
How to help is less clear, and more individual to each person. For me, I am working hard to find compassion and engagement with differing points of view. I am interested in bridging the gap. I want to pursue facilitator training and learn more techniques for engaging in civil discourse without triggering immediate defensiveness and disengagement. I also know that for many years I have ceded the space of Christianity to the warped version that would have us consider Trump a “pro-life” candidate. Though I most vehemently disagree with that interpretation of Jesus’ teachings, I have quietly walked away from the church rather than engage. But that space is too important, and too powerful, to give up on.
Social media is a place where deep conversations don’t always happen; yeah, we hear that a lot. But I’m not so sure it can’t be used that way. I’ve found lots of inspiration and information there, and I want to end this post with some of them, and some advice for engaging online which I’m going to follow much more closely than I have before:
  • Always, always, always fact-check news, quotes, and statistics before sharing them online. No matter how “right” it sounds to you. Whenever you can, share a story from the most unimpeachable source out there. For example, if you see a story from upworthy.com (a left-leaning site), and you can find the same story on NPR, share the link from NPR. (And try not to share from the Huffington Post, because they don’t pay their writers, but that’s another side of beef.)
  • Think about responding to an inflammatory post via private message rather than as a comment. Always ask questions and, if you can, offer facts. Be calm and avoid sarcasm. Start by offering a point of agreement or empathy. Using statements like “I was surprised to find out that . . . ” and “In my experience” implicates your own thought process, rather than accusatory “You” statements.
  • Don’t disengage with people who disagree with you. Rather, try to enlarge your connection with them and make the bridge stronger. Keep engaging as respectfully as you can. If you’re trolled, say so and step away. (This pertains to my personal situation more than it does to people with a larger public persona, who find themselves trolled repeatedly and stalked online. A whole other ball of wax that also needs fixing.)

Some links:

The Black Lives Matter platform.

Reasons for Liberals to Hope; the best piece of political strategy I’ve read this week.

This got me thinking: An opinion piece offering a different view of rural America.

A friend this week cancelled her HBO Go subscription and put that money into a monthly gift for Planned Parenthood. I don’t have much extra money, but I’m considering where I can shift. Here are some organizations to follow online, amplify their reach, and where you can, give them your money:

Also consider paying for a subscription to news organizations who are impartial and trustworthy; paying for good journalism allows it to sustain its essential function in our democracy.

We still belong to each other. And we are stronger together.

 

 

 

 

Chicken and Egg

“You’ve gotta stop reading those mommy blogs. That’ll go a long way towards making you feel better.”

Kev and I were walking on the bike path, and although he’s the one with terminal cancer, I was the one complaining how rotten I felt. I wasn’t writing enough, achieving enough, making enough money. And worst of all, I’d gained weight. The horror! Kev wasn’t totally off-base in invoking “mommy blogs” as manufacturers of discontent. The culture of keeping up with the Joneses is ever more elevated by the cult of Pinterest-perfection, poisonous clickbait, and curating our “Fakebook” lives. He was telling me I cared too much what other people thought. And he was right.

The culture of “mommy blogging” (tho let’s acknowledge how poor that term is) does give us a few things that are truly valuable, one of which is that the space of caregiving is seen and the voices of caregivers are heard. At a birthday party last weekend, a grandmother who is raising her preschool-aged granddaughter had me bristling when she said she “couldn’t understand” parents who “say bad things about their children” on Facebook. What things, I wanted to know. You know, like posting pictures of terrible messes they’d made, or saying how frustrated you were with them. They were going to grow up and see all that negative stuff about themselves, she said. “We need to think about the children,” she said. And sure, she’s part right too.

But we’re always thinking about the children.

We need a place where we can vent, kvetch, engage in a collective eyeroll, and also take down the notion that if your life’s a mess, you’re doing it wrong. Facebook has been a place for us to do that. We don’t live in the Bronx of Grace Paley’s day, where the kids could roam the streets, grab a snack from anyone’s kitchen, and a mother needing a cup of tea from a compassionate neighbor could find one down the hall. I’m living far from my parents and sisters, and my college and graduate school pals are dispersed around the country. The demands of two-income families mean I don’t even see my marvelous  tribe of local mothers very often. Hence Facebook. I can’t yet cede that space to some future need for my offspring. I need that space. I need the benefit of the doubt, the acknowledgement of imperfection and messiness and difficulty of parenting and thinking and art-making and living. Being seen is a great gift we can give to each other. So I’ll cross my fingers and hope later that delete really means delete.

The dog pulled me along the path ahead of Kev, chasing a chipmunk. I wanted to explain my restlessness, my urgency to make changes in my life. “I just want to feel like I’m making progress,” I whined to Kev.

“Progress toward what? How can you make progress if you don’t know what you’re trying to move towards?” he countered.

I thought then about the needs I was bouncing between: self-acceptance and self-improvement. We want to feel better and we want to be better. But which comes first, the chicken or the egg?

Some Personal Truths:

  1. I have accomplished some things.
  2. The things I’ve accomplished have been tremendously collaborative and not the sort of things that give a person much of a public profile.
  3. Not that I want that anyway. I think.
  4. I am eating a cookie right now.
  5. I believe in making the unseen work of caregiving seen and appreciated, in having collaborative work acknowledged and celebrated.
  6. This would be a largely self-serving glorification, since most of what I do seems to fall into that space.
  7. I haven’t reached my potential.
  8. Yet.

I didn’t always thirst for change. We had a hard couple of years when J was in cancer treatment, Stella was a sleepless newborn, and J had a scary period of unemployment. Last night on our date night J reminded me of a particular weekend four years ago:  Kev collapsed onstage at their rock show. J resuscitated Kev, stayed much of the night with him at the ER, then got up at 6 the next morning, took his last chemotherapy dose (hopefully his last ever, knock wood), and worked an all-day event for his job. I was stunned even by the retelling of these feats of stamina. “I think I’ve compartmentalized a lot of that,” I said to J. He nodded. People contort themselves into all kinds of positions for their many roles, and for many kinds of love.

When things finally stabilized after all that turmoil, we were so thankful to still be clinging to the life raft that there wasn’t a chance in hell we would rock it.  When change came to me a year ago in the form of job loss, I was terrified at first. But as I moved forward into it (this time, it must be said, with a financial safety net–let’s not pretend that doesn’t make a huge difference), I found joy both in picking up old threads and in launching myself into learning new things. Change was enlivening. But it’s life, now, isn’t it? Fits and starts. Weather.

As Kev and I were talking and walking along the path I saw a large robin’s egg shell and picked it up. It was an amazingly well-preserved, uncracked piece, a smooth, blue, beautiful thing. I thought of the girls immediately and wanted to share it with them. I put it gently into my jacket pocket. Later I forgot, and shoved my phone in there, smashing it to bits. Nothing to show.

 

Poetry in the Margins

For long stretches, I let the poetry-making, art-eating parts of myself lie fairly dormant. While this particular piece of my life is essential to who I am, I haven’t been disciplined enough or selfish enough or strong enough (depending on how you view these things) for its centrality to hold when waves of other responsibilities sweep around me. There are times I have neglected that identity so completely that I shy away from calling myself a poet at all. I nearly gave myself whiplash from nodding my assent so vigorously when I read Kim Brooks’ amazing recent essay about the challenges of being a mother and a maker. If you care about being a good parent and making art, the struggle is real, and it’s always tipping out of balance one way or another. Then again, it’s not a museum piece, is it? It’s a life!

But oh, joyously, one miraculous day in April I find myself eating pulled pork at Kathranne’s house in Iowa, meeting poets and curators and artists and musicians and talking shop with all of them, gabbing about collaborative art-making and Joseph Beuys and Eileen Myles and Negative Capability, laying hands on the incredible traveling boxes made for Correspondence Publishing, pondering the difficulties of memoir with a new friend who used to be a tiger trainer (now raising three boys with equal aplomb, no small feat), tapping out poetry ideas on my phone in the guest bed, too wired to sleep. And oh, yes! That part of me is still there, the one who has something to say about all that, and wants to hear what you have to say about all of it too. I get to feel like a poet again. And its sticking to my ribs this springtime, not fading.

Another gift of travel is realizing how flexible life is really, more than you remembered — how blinkered our routines become. Just seeing how someone else does it somewhere else, that opens up a huge pool of relief in which to swim back into yourself and let all the “shoulds” float away. How is the real question, how to structure things so there’s time and headspace for doing that which brings you joy. Whatever way you invent to make a life, with people-loving and art-making and social-justice longing and maybe without going bankrupt, you can make something beautiful, a life that’s free in surprising ways, and yours. I do believe that, and this spring, I believe it more than usual. The hard part (and it really does turn out to be a hard part sometimes) is that it’s not going to look like anyone else’s.

Even in recipes I like flexibility, so here’s the one from that evening in Iowa, which you can bend to your will and taste.

BarbeCue pulled pork

IMG_5675My favorite thing to start with here is a 3.5 pound boneless pork butt (yes, let’s get the tittering out of the way), but if that’s a bit pricey, I go with a 5 pound piece of pork shoulder, sometimes called picnic shoulder. With the shoulder piece you’re going to wind up with about 3 pounds of meat and have to trim off a great deal of fat (I was curious how much, so last time I weighed it — 11 ounces of fat and about 1 pound of bone). If you’re me, by the end of all that trimming you might wish you’d sprung for the pork butt. But I leave that up to you. If you’ve got a really big dutch oven you can double this, but as written it already feeds a crowd, and fits in a crock pot if that’s your tool of choice.

I find cooking things for long stretches tends to dull the flavors a bit, and they need a refreshing pick-me-up at the end. This layering gives the depth of flavor you want too — an echo of sorts. I use bottled barbecue sauce for this step (I like Stubb’s or the Trader Joe’s sweet and smoky Kansas City kind), but if you really want to make your own, this recipe looks about right to me.

3 to 4 pounds of pork butt or shoulder (see note above)
2 T brown sugar
1 T paprika
1 T smoked paprika
2 T chili powder
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 T olive oil
3 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne — optional for extra heat
1/2 to 1 cup barbecue sauce

Cut pork into 2 or 3-inch cubes and place in your dutch oven or crock pot. Mix all remaining ingredients (except barbecue sauce) in a small bowl and rub it all over the pork. Your hands are really the best tool for this. (If you’re going to be out all day, you can do this part the night before and stash it in your fridge til morning.) Set your crock pot to low or your oven to 200 and cook for 8 hours. Your pork should shred easily with two forks, and the melted fat will make a happy orange juice in your pot. The amount of this will vary greatly depending on how much fat was in your particular hunk of meat. You can drain most of this fat if you are concerned about it, or stir it all in to your shredded meat. I drain all but about 3 tablespoons — that seems to be enough to make things tasty but not heart-stopping.  Stir in 1/2 cup of barbecue sauce and taste. Does it need more? You can probably just about eyeball it.

Makes about 24 sliders for a party or 8 main dish servings. Freezes gorgeously.

Reentry

On Thanksgiving I found my cup overflowing, both figuratively and literally (not to mention the SIX pies on offer at our hosts’ potluck table). I’m going to say it, though: reentry is a bitch. I’m impatient with my kids, driven to the edge by clutter and chores, and the holiday to-do list? Totally over it.

Today I took the dog for her vaccinations, and we were almost home when she puked . . . directly into my bag.  I mean, nevermind that on any given day the bag has held:

  • a partially eaten apple
  • crumpled post-its betraying my senility (“post office”)
  • a plastic baggie containing a pair of size 4 Frozen underpants with poop in them
  • chewy Sprees I am hiding from the kids

It’s still really fucking disconcerting to have a full cup of warm, foamy dog vomit poured over the other things in there. Not my phone, at least. But every single card in my wallet had to be wiped down with disinfectant.

I tried to laugh it off to a friend. Time to make my Christmas gift wishlist: Bag, wallet, notebook, car detailing! But man, I just kinda want to sit around and feel sorry for myself. Drink an extra glass of wine and sift through today’s horrifying news feed. But that sucks too, doesn’t it? Wallowing is not actually any fun.

This morning I pulled our old, well-loved Ergo baby carrier out of the closet so I could give it to a refugee family. Sophia, ever tenderhearted, was torn. She loved the memories it represented, of baby Sophia and baby Stella cuddled up against mama, of picking cherry tomatoes at the farm, or pulling the shade up over the head of a finally-lulled-to-sleep baby on a long walk with the dog. Being close, being small, being loved. 4729_1135379354043_2929367_nI said that I understood, and that’s why I hadn’t been able to let go of it before, when so many other baby things had been passed along. But when I saw the need, I knew it was time. It wasn’t right for me to tuck it away in a closet when it could help someone else so much, bring so much comfort to a parent and child who had very little. Soph and I had talked about refugees in the car on the way to school one morning. “I know, Mom,” she said, her passion for helping awakened. “I’ll write a poem to put in the pocket for them.” This is what she wrote:

Come to America, you’re welcome here.
Come to America, we’ll keep you safe. 

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that most of the refugees are not coming to America. Or that in recent weeks, refugees have definitely not felt welcomed by America. Or that in America, land of mass shootings, purchased politicians, and decades-long overseas wars, we have maybe not felt so safe lately. I want it to be true, and I want the refugees to have that welcome and that safety. And I want Sophia, and all of us, to have the power to share it with them.

Even though she was fired up with noble purpose, she still cried when we left the Ergo. It still cost her something to share that comfort with someone else. And I regret that I was not as patient with her as I should have been. I was all about moving on, and getting to school on time, and getting the dog to the vet. That was wrong of me. It does cost something, and it is hard to find ways to make a difference or even a dent, and the constant stream of bad news can wear you down.

But I promise you, and Sophia, and the next baby who’ll fall asleep in that Ergo: I’ll keep trying.

On Your Marks

Break out the box of wine and the leftover Halloween candy, people. We’re celebrating!

Remember how I’ve been working toward running a 5K since . . . gulp . . . February? Today I got so, so close—I took only one two-minute walk break in the middle. I’ve been worried about being really ready for the Hot Chocolate Run in just a few weeks, and was madly googling my problems with breathlessness and frequent walk breaks. Turns out, this borderline anemic girl does much better with iron supplements and green smoothies. Breathlessness, begone! Now my legs are just sore. Ouch. Because they’re actually running A LOT MORE. Also, I read something that said to run at a pace where you feel like you could just go forever. And I nearly snarfed. Doesn’t exist, I thought. But it does—it’s just WAY slower. Like, don’t you dare look at anyone else’s running speed. They have longer legs than you anyway. That slow. But then I really, really can just go without having to stop. And it’s excellent. Truly.

I am well aware that people do marathons and triathlons and unicycle rides from Vermont to D.C. and stuff like that. But for me, Hell Yes This is a Big Deal! I’m still dragging around 20 pounds of extra weight, and I’m squeezing in a few runs a week between building my freelance business (going great, thanks for asking!), raising two beautiful crazy people, and occasionally making eye contact with my husband.

So c’mon and break out the Almond Joys you’ve been saving, and spring for thAlicia Winee new episode of The Good Wife on Amazon. (It should be illegal to watch that show without a glass of red wine at least as big as Alicia’s.) No better way to celebrate the Almost-5K than a marathon of couch-potatoing!

Actually, there’s one better way. You can donate to Safe Passage, the incredible organization behind the Hot Chocolate Run, creating safe havens and real change for survivors of domestic abuse. You can donate through my Hot Chocolate Run fundraising page. 5K is about 3.107 miles. May I suggest $31.07? or $5? Any amount is awesome, but I have to confess, I really want the hat. It’s going to be wicked cold, and if we raise $125, I get the snazzy hat and really look like I know what I’m about, doing hamstring stretches in the crowd at the starting line. I totally promise to post a picture of me wearing the snazzy hat if we get it.

Hot Choc HatTomorrow I’m going to be creaking around, popping Advil and swearing, but tonight I’m proud. Let’s go with that, shall we?

P.S. Hot Chocolate Run trivia – how do you make 500 gallons of hot chocolate for 6,000 people???