Meal planning, let alone cooking delicious vegetarian dinners, has been the last thing on my mind. In these parts, we’ve been eating a lot of toast.
It’s been a minor doozy of a few weeks. I finally got rid of my two-week cold only to throw my back out, only to receive word, early last week, that one of the kids from Sammy’s daycare had likely brought in Norovirus. One of the caregivers went home sick, daycare closed for two days, and then Sam had it. Even though he never slowed down for one minute, him waking up covered in vomit on Sunday morning kiiiind of seemed like an indicator that our house was a big virusy mess.
Ensue Papa Bear in bed for two days with nausea and aches and Sammy home indefinitely until, well, his poop firmed up. Me? I had some vague nausea that, fingers crossed, seems to have passed, and yesterday I finally sent Sammy back to school?only to get a call later asking me to pick him up.
It’s been a week of hot-water-washes, incessant hand washing, bleached everything, and the sensation that this thing just won’t release its grip on us. Norovirus, if that’s what this is, seems to impact everyone differently, but its main claim to fame is just how very contagious it is.
Anyway, this morning, in addition to a bolstering bleach-wash of every Lego Sammy has ever touched, plus some more laundry, I’m turning again to thinking about great vegetarian dinners.
I know, I know: if you’re a real diehard meat fan, you don’t think you can get behind tofu, that bland white block of meh. That’s the thing, though. Most people don’t know that tofu is spectacularly tasty when you do it right. As a friend of Leo’s said once, when she stayed for dinner, “I LOVE tofood!” Me too. It feels nourishing and satisfying in a way that even meat-lovers should be able to get behind. In fact, tofu truly makes a vegetarian dinner that doesn’t suck.
Tofu Two Ways
1-2 blocks extra firm tofu (we now make 3 in our house, with a slim chance of some leftovers for the next day! #growingkids)
Lots of soy sauce or Bragg?s Liquid Aminos Freshly grated ginger Coconut oil, sesame oil, or both Neutral oil for frying (see below) Garlic, minced Nutritional yeast
Whichever method you choose, you need to get excess water out of your already extra-firm tofu so as to be sure it?s firm, firm, firm. You can either wrap it in paper towels to blot the excess moisture or stick your tofu between two plates and stack several heavy cookbooks on top for 20 minutes or so. Drain off the excess liquid, and chop it into bite-sized cubes or rectangles.
Method One: Stovetop
This is Ben?s method, which was actually passed down from his dad. (We might even call it Eichentofu.) Basically, in a hot frying pan, you heat some neutral oil and saut? 2-5 minced garlic cloves?how many is up to you, but Ben likes to do more than seems right for polite company.
Add your tofu, and allow it to cook on one side until it develops a crust, much like searing meat (in other words: don?t flip it too early!). Once it?s getting crunchy, browned, and awesome, you can flip it gently, then add soy sauce and nutritional yeast to taste. Cook those cubes for a while in that salty, yeasty mixture?maybe 20 minutes. Taste occasionally to be sure you?ve got the right saltiness (add a splash of water if you?ve overdone it on the soy). The tofu pieces should become almost caramelized, crunchy on the outside, chewy inside, with the most umami spectacular deliciousness ever.
Method Two: Oven
Arguably less awesome, but requiring almost no babysitting, is baked tofu, which has become my go-to because most nights I need a quick and easy protein to do its thing while I ignore it. Heat your oven to 400. In a large lasagna-type pan, melt a couple of tablespoons of coconut oil (stick it in the oven for a minute and take it out) and then swirl it around to coat the pan. Meanwhile, toss your firm tofu cubes in a bowl with freshly grated ginger, sesame oil, and soy or liquid Aminos. You?ll need quite a bit of flavoring for baked tofu, so use a heavy hand. The grated ginger is delicious and arguably makes it more digestible, too. Bake for 20-30 minutes, tossing once or twice, until browned and awesome, tasting occasionally to be sure you?ve got the right saltiness and intensity.
Either kind of tofu is best devoured with a giant pot of rice (white or brown) and a green side, like saut?ed greens or roasted broccoli (so easy! So good! Just adjust your tofu temp up or your broccoli temp down to do them at the same time) or even a steamed artichoke from the garden. Make sure the table is liberally set with condiments like more soy, Aminos, nutritional yeast, and hot sauce, even if it would make your proper mother cringe.
Or you can serve it like we did in the photo: with a quinoa salad and slaw. —- NOTE: While I really do adore tofu, I DON’T adore the plastic it comes in. It’s also, compared to beans, a relatively processed food that uses a decent amount of energy (on par with eggs and chicken, I think). Seek out bulk tofu where and when you can, and make it a once-weekly treat.
A good friend from college and her partner just had a baby, and last Tuesday, I gathered together a bunch of hand-me-downs and goodies and packed them all into a box to send to Boston. That wasn’t the only thing I managed to get done that morning: I sealed up a birthday package for my mom, addressed a few birth announcements, cleaned the kitchen, checked my email, swept. Then I went in and woke up the baby, who’d been sleeping peacefully in his crib, by himself, white noise blaring, for two hours. After a feed and a brief period in which we managed to get out the door to the post office, get me a flu shot, and say hello to my acupuncturist, he took his second two-hour nap of the day. Oh, and there was a third. By 5 p.m. my house was the tidiest it’s been in weeks, dinner was made, emails were caught up on, an episode of Project Runway Juniors had been watched, and a part of me felt completely at loose ends, like: what on earth am I going to do with myself if this kid sleeps six hours every day? The thing is, he’d napped like that over the weekend, too, and I thought maybe, just maybe, he was setting a sleep pattern that would change my life for the better. Dare I say “revisit that neglected novel?”
You know how this story ends: on Wednesday, the baby’s naps totaled a cumulative 3 hours: two 40-minute jobbies in his crib from which he woke cranky and sweaty, plus some afternoon chaos that involved me nursing him into oblivion while lying in a semi-prone position so that we both could sleep, the kind of sleep that, before I had a small baby, I would never have considered “quality” (I mean, it’s okay having someone gnawing on your nipple for 90 minutes while you get a crick in your neck and torque your low back, but it’s not as awesome as some sleep I’ve had in my day). By five p.m. the house was still in shambles, I’d had at least one good cry, and dinner was going to have to wait until Papa Bear got home. Then we had a rough sleep night, too. The day after, same routine, from morning until night.
When L was a baby, my anxiety about his sleep took up about 90% of my brain space. At about six months I invented something called The Sleep Lab, which is to say, I undertook an exhaustive study of his sleep patterns, writing down his every night wake-up on the back of an envelope or a notebook and trying, in the daylight, to make sense of the notes. But because he was waking up every ninety minutes on a good night, and I was so tired I couldn’t see straight, my data just showed that I was completely and utterly?not slated to ever sleep again.
Note from the sleep lab. “Rig” stands for “that crappy rigamarole where he won’t accept the pacifier and won’t calm down, so I’m losing my mind.”
This time around, I’m playing things a little smarter. I’m getting B more involved in the night times, and I’m not giving in and giving the baby my boob every time he cries. Baby S is already on a better trajectory at 3.5 months than L was at nine, and that gives me a lot of hope. But nonetheless, life feels like?a game of Jenga: every time I balance one piece, another?goes out of whack. And I’m not just talking nighttime sleep. It’s the whole picture. It’s waking the baby early to nurse so the?pick-up of the seven-year-old isn’t tainted by high-pitched shrieking. It’s the constant question of?whether dinner is take-out or fried eggs on toast or a balanced, healthy meal. It’s making sure L doesn’t feel left out when so much of my time to goes to Baby S. It’s signing L up for summer camp before I even know my summer work schedule. It’s planning for a short-term nanny share while looking for a long-term daycare situation. It’s finding time to call my senators about the Affordable Care Act. It’s the aged car and the ant problem, the writing career mostly on hold until I can predict. One. Thing. About. Any. Given. Day.
I’ve never been great with spontaneity, but I’m doing my best to hold onto what’s solid?both kids seem predictably to be in bed by eight!?and roll with what’s not (the night waking, the naps). And I’m grabbing these little moments every day to blog, to read, to journal, and most of all, to sit with this time?that, I have a feeling, will feel like a simple Jenga game?one I’ll dearly?miss playing?ten years from now.
Hey! I’ll be presenting at the San Francisco Writers Conference again this year. If anyone’s planning to attend, drop me a line or look me up. It would be great to see you.
Thank you, egarc2 (via Google Advanced Image Search) for the great Jenga picture.
Many of us have cried since the 2016 presidential election, some of us every day, some of us more sporadically, and some of us, Trump supporters or those more measured or those whose tear ducts no longer work, not at all.
I?d woken with a terrible cold, the kind that escalates from a mildly scratchy throat at four a.m. to aches, burning throat, and uncontrollable sneezing by nine. B was in Orange County for the day, had a six a.m. flight, so I handled the whole night with the babe myself, the babe who slept great until 4:00 and then barely at all. L was grumpy as we walked to school. B was not due home until 8:00. It was pouring down rain, a relentless, gray rain, and every time I had the baby close to falling asleep, I?d wake him up with a sneeze or because my nose was a fountain, running down my face and onto his blankets?I kid you not, it was disgusting. So circa 7:00 p.m., when he and I were both exhausted hot messes and I hadn?t managed to get dinner on the table yet, I crept into the bedroom and, all of a sudden, began crying like I haven?t cried in ages, big old wracking sobs (as silently as I could, because I was holding Baby S and doing the baby dance). I cried for my stupid day, sure, but mostly? I was crying because of the appointment of Scott Pruitt, a climate denier, to head the Environmental Protection Agency, an appointment that is more disastrous than the election of Trump himself. *
Eventually, I emerged from the bedroom. Putting the baby to sleep was futile, and L still hadn?t eaten, so I quickly put a bowl of soup on the table. Through tears, I called, ?Bunny, dinner?? at which point he walked into the kitchen, took one look at my face, and said ?Mumma, what?s wrong??
?I?m okay,? I said. ?I?m just having a hard day.?
?Oh, well, I?m sick?and the baby won?t sleep.? And then I paused and added, ?and I?m still just really upset about Donald Trump.? As I said it, I wondered if I shouldn?t have. I don?t want L to worry too much about Trump. I want his childhood to feel intact, blissful, ignorant. But I also didn?t want to lie, so I said it. He ate dinner, and that was it.
Here?s the thing, I realized later: unfortunately, L?s childhood won?t be blissful, ignorant, intact. In the next 4-8 years?and who knows how much beyond?he may well see his national parks drilled and his Latino friends deported and his Muslim friends harassed. He?ll probably lose his affordable healthcare and we?ll somehow find $1,200 a month to put him on one of our plans instead. He?ll see his parents wringing their hands and writing letters to nowhere and slavishly following Rebecca Solnit and Bill McKibben and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie looking for someone we trust to make sense of this world for them. He may see his mom?s reproductive rights taken away. He may be raised in an era where there is no safety net if, God forbid, he gets a girl pregnant by accident. In eight years, L will be fifteen.
There have been so many articles this election season asking ?what do we tell the children in the wake of the election?? Tell your kids, “You’re safe,” the articles say. “We won’t let you come to harm.”
1. Don?t regret your children. A friend asked me the other day, ?what?s it like having a new baby in the midst of all this?” I paused, and then told her something that I have been thinking but have been a little too ashamed to say: “I honestly don’t know, if Trump had been president, if we would’ve pursued having a second child.” I know how that sounds; of course Baby S is precious to us. But when we created that baby, we didn’t live in quite the same world as we do now, and I feel so sorry for what we?ve brought him into. But regretting my children and despairing for their futures? That may be just what they want us to do, and damned if I?ll do it.
2. But?don?t create an us versus them narrative. At least not towards your fellow citizens, and not in front of your kids. This is a hard one, I know: I feel such a wall of anger towards Trump supporters right now. But many Trump supporters liked his economic policies or were fed up with Hillary or disenchanted by Obama or were uneducated, or didn?t think it would be this bad. In the end (you know, when we?re in a nuclear war with North Korea, and our water and air is too toxic to breathe anymore) it will be our commonalities?that we all love our kids, for one?that help us reunify this damaged country. I will not support or condone this government and the monsters who will be in charge of our environment or our bodies, but I will try to model openness and tolerance to my fellow citizens as much as possible.
3. Realize that if you?re a progressive, or even a conservative who believes in things like climate change and equal rights, that you?re raising your kids in an era of resistance. In fact, L needs to know that his dad and I are upset about Trump. I won?t shield him from the nasty realities of the world he?ll inherit; instead, it?s my job to prepare him for it and for the work that will inevitably fall to him to take on.
4. But keep it light. At all costs, assure your children your anger and depression are not about them. It?s hard to be emotional in front of kids, and harder to be measured when your world is falling apart. But your kids can bring you enormous joy, and in the end, your family and children are the people who will watch out for you and keep you whole. So make some time for watching movies, taking hikes, going to Berkeley Family Camp (can?t wait!), seeing friends. Your life still has light and life and value.
5. Model being an active citizen. This is the most important, parents. I know we?re all tired; the baby won?t sleep, the minivan needs a new carburetor, the school is harassing you to volunteer for the PTA. You have college essays to edit and kids to drive to sports practice. But you can?t put on Netflix just yet. You need to write, call, text, email, march, donate, and protest. And your kids need to see you doing it. We have to raise the next generation to raise hell, think critically, and protect their rights and the rights of their friends. Because apathy may be what got us into this mess in the first place.
* Footnote: I try my best to be an empathic person. In part because I teach to a very diverse population, I need to make space in my life for people from all political walks and belief systems. I?ve taught staunch right-wing gun nuts, people so far left they don?t make sense anymore, and, for the most part, a bunch of young adults whose lack of engagement makes me want to pull my hair out. We do alright together, and I care about all of them deeply (and urge them to vote!). But climate change deniers are beyond my empathy. Denying that climate change exists is like denying that the Holocaust existed. It?s morally reprehensible, and more than that, it?s stupid. Climate change will kill us all, but not before it makes our planet a hell of an awful place to live. Quite honestly, I don?t understand why it?s even a political issue, why climate change is not merely accepted and embraced as a bipartisan challenge to address, and I partly blame the fact that whoever?was it Al Gore??used the phrase ?global warming? for too long, giving people the false impression that if we had some bitterly cold winters, that meant we weren?t really experiencing climate change. I believe we all have our issues: some of us worry most about reproductive rights, some about human rights, some about healthcare. Me? It?s the environment, in part because I have spent time in some of the loveliest wild places on earth and know their value, but also because, let?s face it: all of our other rights will be totally irrelevant if the planet becomes uninhabitable.
I'm working from the premise that motherhood is not just all diapers, tantrums, and setting limits. It's interesting. Okay, sometimes.