August 30, 2011

Speaking in Tongues

I just got a pedicure for the second time since my son was born.  Last September.  And since I had all that free time to myself to think (and finish The Odyssey, which I'm preparing to teach this year and which I've been reading since April, thankyouverymuch), I closed my eyes, and let my mind drift.

Whatchoo say?  
Except that if you, like me, get your pedis in random places, chances are your ears prick up when you hear the impossible, lilting vowel acrobatics of the Thai or Vietnamese beauticians talking to each other from their nail stations, little islands in and of themselves, their mouths forming around vowel combinations I couldn't do if I tried.

And you, like me, can't help but wonder what the hell they're saying to each other.  Is it juicy gossip?  Or is it about you--or me?  Get a load of this white girl's toe situation, I imagine.  Yeah, says the nail salon's owner, I haven't seen anything that bad since that time my old man showed up at his birthday party without his socks on.

We're a culture well-fed on reality television, and we like to know exactly what everyone's thinking at every single effing minute of every day (and as soon as they have those thoughts), so it's no surprise to me that I wanted to know what the heck my nail techie was talking about while I was supposed to be pretending that I was wading in the hot springs of a Grecian tide pool (foot bath) and getting the prime massage treatment from Odysseus himself... (a mechanized chair.  Please don't tell my husband I almost dreamed that.)

My daughter likes languages, and there just seems to be a barrage of them on any given afternoon.  In one day, she may have listened to a Mexican song about witches (on a cd of Mexican music we like), seen episodes of Dora the Explorer (also Spanish) and Ni Hao Ki Lan (Mandarin Chinese), and listened to her brother babble on in his baby talk like he's the (heaven forbid) Rush Limbaugh of infants.  ¡Vamanos!  C'mon! Say it with me! Dora yells at us on her way to the Lost City.  Then, just minutes later, Ki Lan asks us to repeat something that means faster! over and over until our jaws give up.

So my daughter will try to mock what she hears.  And lately, because her little ears have picked up all this stuff that doesn't sound at all like the way her family and teachers talk, she's been making up her own language that's something between baby babble, iKung, Vulcan, and, well, Spanish.  It unnerves me, for some reason--maybe because I know that these should be the days/months when her vocabulary could really pick up and explode.  Is she going backwards?  Is the verbal regression more unsettling because I want her to go to the college of her choice on scholarship or because I CAN'T UNDERSTAND IT?

Worse, she talks to her baby brother this way, so at some point during the day, there'll be a conversation in our kitchen between two kids--my two kids, mind you, the ones I birthed--that I cannot understand.  It's sort of like what it felt like when I was little and my mother and grandmother would squawk at each other (purposely) in Yiddish so that I couldn't understand them.  [Side note: I secretly signed up for Yiddish classes in Hebrew School, when I was 14, so that I would understand them; turns out that a.) you don't need to put garlic in the cavity of your Thanksgiving turkey, but it helps, and b.) Mr. S.--- was indeed a prick who shtooped Mr. R.'s wife sometime during the sexual revolution.]

As if it isn't enough that we're bushwhacked with words everywhere we go, from graffiti on bridges to Twitter on your smartphone to the running text at the bottom of the screens of our talk shows/news programs/etc., there's now a new kind of verbiage to sort through on another level: how to talk to one another and make sense.  

Even in my English-speaking world, I'm constantly trying to decode meaning and subtext and innuendo.  Even when the television is off, our brains are working overtime to deconstruct language to find meaning.  My daughter used to ask me what the Spanish witch song was all about (it's ripe with innuendo, so I have to make it up); now, when we listen to any kind of music--even wordless, classical music or jazz--she asks: what does it mean?

One of D's favorite nighttime book pics is the Aleph-Bet book, which depicts a Hebrew letter that corresponds to a picture.  We look at it, sound out the letters, look at the pictures.  I don't know how much of it sticks.  Then there's the Japanese toy blocks our friends in Tokyo graciously sent us after the birth of our boy.  The kids play with the blocks, one side the Japanese character/sound, the other, the corresponding picture.  I secretly hope to find my one-year-old studying these in the living room one day (scholarship!), but what a tall order for a kid who can't even seem to sit through a reading of Pat-the-Bunny.  With all the tongues of the world seemingly living in harmony in our living room, I guess it's no wonder that our toddler walks around the house making up her own sounds, her own meanings, her own worlds.  The other night, in the car, she was singing something my husband and I couldn't identify.  We asked her what it was, and she casually replied that she was singing her brother a Spanish lullaby.  (My husband and I agreed it sounded Nordic.)  I'm hoping that of all the languages in our ears, which on some days seems like an auditory assault and on others the UN, we can keep our thoughts, and our daydreams, straight--and to ourselves.  Anything more would be like a loch en kop.  

August 12, 2011

Greens & Beans, Improvised

Yet another late afternoon with no dinner quite planned, not a lot of grocery to choose from in the pantry/fridge, and the imminent return of a hungry Heath from his work: mild panic (sometimes alleviated by just going out for dinner instead).  Instead of driving to Wegman's, lately, I've found that my afternoons, made long sometimes by the lack of naps my kids ought to be taking, result in my putting them in the double stroller, throwing some reusable bags in the bottom, and setting off, by foot, to the store*.

I'd picked up a bag of spinach because I felt like I really needed some iron.  And during the nine days of Av, when we don't eat meat, the alternative to cow is spinach (and much better for us all).

What I drummed up is probably complementary to any kind of pasta, but I used an imported Wegman's cut called orecchiette, which is also spinach-based and is part of their Italian Classics line.  (I mean, I was craving iron.)

You already know how to sauté spinach.  Throw in some olive oil, a ton of chopped garlic, sweet, fresh, red peppers, some halved cherry tomatoes, and whatever beans you have (cannelloni would have worked best, but I only had chick peas).  My kids gobbled it up, and the toddler asked for more.  Hoorah, another dinner success story.

Now it's time to make another trek to the grocery store.  Must put spinach and chick peas back on the list.

{*Two miles, two kids, about 60 lbs. worth of stroller weight, which is about 100 lbs. once the groceries bags are full.  I'm not bringing much home--and certainly not a lot of perishable stuff.}

August 7, 2011

Midsummer Cobbler

There are few desserts I make well, probably because baking, unlike cooking, involves precise amounts of ingredients and following recipes exactly.  Since I'm genetically predisposed toward not doing any of that, my adventures in desserts usually wind up with me at a bakery purchasing them, which is just fine by me.

But my mother-in-law and some family friends have asked me to make a fruit cobbler on occasion (thankfully, in summers, when the fruit is ripe for the pickin' at farmers markets and local orchards), and I'm always happy to oblige.  I started experimenting with this one about four years ago, and tweak each summer.

Since a friend asked for the recipe tonight, and tonight's cobbler seems to have gone over so well that my husband insisted on taking the leftovers home with us, here's my humble take on peach cobbler: I think it leans more Moosewood than Paula Dean.  It's a little different every time I make it, but Heath insisted that tonight's was the best one yet.  So here's the recipe:

1 c. flour
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 tbsp. baking powder
bit o' salt
1 stick unsweetened butter
1 c. half & half
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1 1/2 tbsp. vanilla (you read that right--I might have put in more tonight, but didn't measure it)
2 tsp. cardamom
4-5 c. sliced peaches (skins on) or whichever fresh fruit you like*

Preheat oven to 375 degrees; melt butter in a 3-qt. or 9 x 13 dish.  Meantime, mix together the flour, 1 c. of the sugar, baking powder, cardamom, and salt.  Add milk and vanilla and stir only until well mixed together.
Let the peaches and lemon juice sizzle on medium-high heat in a pan; add the 1/2 c. of sugar slowly (or, optionally, as I did tonight, left the sugar out and sprinkled it on top of the entire mixture prior to putting it in the oven--novice move, but worked out deliciously!).  Once you think the peaches have sort of sweated out some juices, remove the pan from the heat.

Pour the flour/milk batter over the melted butter; do not mix.  Place the fruit on top, and don't mix that either.  If you're opting to put the remaining 1/2 c. of sugar atop the mixture, try to let it seep in where the butter seems to have risen to the top, sort of to soak it up--this makes a really nice syrup around the soft crust.

40-45 minutes.  Serve with spiced vanilla ice cream.  Enjoy!

*use flash-frozen fruits, like strawberries and blackberries and peaches and blueberries (gasp! maybe even all together!), to save time slicing if need be.  Follow directions on the package for thawing.  No one needs to know.