We are in the midst of a thoroughly January state of affairs: We got home on New Year’s Eve from our trip to see B2’s parents in Honolulu, where I was lazier, more relaxed, and more rested than a parent with a toddler has any right to be (God bless grandmas), and in the midst of our post-Hawaii gloom, were all promptly felled by the Great California Flu of 2018. Well, more accurately, I was felled by the Great California Flu of 2018, B2 was mildly sick, and B3 was sick for exactly one night before bouncing back to his same exuberant self, charging around the house while casting me mystified looks and wondering why his mom was being such a baby.
My commute here in LA is almost the same as it was in New York, 40 minutes give or take. The only difference is that I sit my butt in a little Corolla instead of the blue-benched 4/5, and so I can no longer do either of the two things I used to do on my commutes in New York — sleep, or read, but mostly sleep — because I would die. For exactly 3 days I filled this void in my travels to-and-fro with music from my own playlists, before I got tired of my apparently very limited musical taste, and then for a few more weeks it was music on the radio, before I got tired of their slightly less limited ones. So now I’m at a happy medium of NPR (I have officially become my dad) and the wonderful world of podcasts.
Last weekend we had a couple of exceptionally wonderful friends come all the way from snowy Cambridge to visit us and meet Luke for the first time. Their visit was especially well-timed, not least because B3 was at his chattiest and chubbiest, now that he has 4 1/2 months under his belt (although he was also at his sleep-training saddest come nighttime — sorry, guys), but also because we had a beautiful, sunny weekend here in California, with the kind of weather that I hear is in short supply in Cambridge right about now.
I think fried rice may have been one of the first things I learned from my mother and grandmother in the kitchen. I imagine it must be like Sunday gravy in that every family has their own little way of doing things, though I don’t know that ours was so much a heirloom recipe as just an easy, quick, and comforting way to get food on the table: for us it always began with eggs and a generous pinch of salt, whisked vigorously with chopsticks and scrambled into small wisps in a screaming-hot wok. These were set aside to make way for diced white onion, sauteed until translucent, green peas, most often straight from a bag in the freezer and thawed in the wok, and some form of cooked, diced meat (usually, in a moment of fusion before fusion’s time, bits of deli sliced honey ham), before it all got stirred up with rice, salt, and pepper, to be kept warm in the wok over low heat, crackling softly, until a crispy crust formed on the bottom and everyone got seconds, thirds, and fourths.
Earlier this summer, I spent a few glorious hours in Venice at The Tasting Kitchen in what felt like an endless parade of dream brunch fare. Before this I’d never had any kind of chef’s menu or omakase-type meal, but a group of us opted for their tasting menu (because that seemed like what you should choose at a restaurant similarly named) and it was a culinary romp that makes me wish I could splurge on that kind of treat all the time: a smorgasbord of baked goods to start, with tender, butter-yellow biscuits, dense and moist breakfast cakes studded with fruit or dark with spices, and sticky pecan buns drenched in syrup; little lox and cucumber sandwiches in crunchy, unabashedly buttered toast; omelettes tucked neatly around tomatoes and creamy avocado; perfect parfaits (redundant?) with sweet sliced plums and berries on top.
In the last week or so, in what seems to be the norm for this time of year, B2 and I have been basking in a much-needed respite from a couple of busy months at work. Mostly this has consisted of me procrastinating all my non-urgent responsibilities by streaming the Olympics for most of the day (while B2, by comparison, texts me at 11am that he has done everything he needed to do and is wondering how “to be more productive”), before zipping home and landing on the couch in comfy clothes while the sun is still high in the sky. We’re spending our long evenings mostly enjoying our quiet, bright apartment, marveling at how it’s possible we can already be in the third trimester, and trying really hard to get B2’s hand on my belly in time to feel B3 bopping around like a caffeinated frog (somehow harder to do than it should be with all of the punch-dancing and caroming back and forth that he’s doing each day).
The thing about alfredo that plagues me is the same thing that might be said about cacio e pepe, or macaroni & cheese, or carbonara — they’re dishes that I adore with all my soul, all cheesy, carb-y deliciousness, but that I eat woefully infrequently, because I somehow always talk myself into something with a little more greenery or a little more protein (and then I wish I went for the alfredo). Imagine my delight when a recipe came into my life that offered both the satisfaction and bliss of a rich alfredo and the substance of a more protein-packed alternative — instead of cream and cheese, it turns out that soaked cashews (protein!) and chickpea flour (more protein!) can combine with a little nutritional yeast, garlic, and salt and pepper to form, pretty simply, magic. A chickpea alfredo is practically no-cook and all-blender, comes together in a matter of minutes, but is silky-smooth, every bit as creamy as a traditional alfredo, yet simultaneously lighter and more filling. Add in a little watercress and chives for brightness, and even B2, who usually has eyes only for pizza, was so into this rendition of a restaurant classic. Who knew?
A few months ago, a couple of friends introduced us to a soba restaurant in Midtown called Soba Totto, and introduced me to a world of wonders. Soba noodles are fast working their way up my list of favorite noodles, with their resilient bite and nutty flavor, and they were never better than in the soups we tried there. I had a duck breast and yuzu soba noodle soup that was all kinds of crisp, smoky and tart in all the right ways, but what really stole my heart was B2’s choice (this happens all the time, because I am that kind of date) — something they called “sukiyaki soba,” soba noodles served in a dark, lip-smacking broth crowded with thinly-sliced pork belly and wiggly tofu, piled high with bias-cut scallions, and, most wonderfully, finished off with a barely-poached egg that melted into the broth to make it extra creamy, rich, and just the slightest bit sweet.
So we are currently super into thin crust pizza! I don’t know why the magic of thin crust took so long to dawn on us, but a couple of months ago B2 and I tried a new pizza place in our neighborhood and rediscovered all the perks of it we hadn’t appreciated until now. It’s crackly, flaky, crisp but with a little bit of give, and it takes up so much less belly real estate than doughy chewy regular crust that you can eat, like, seven more slices. Which is clearly the most important part.
I’m boring when it comes to leftovers. (Strategy: Remove from refrigerator and eat. Alternatively, freeze, forget about, then find three months later and still eat.) My mom, on the other hand, makes magic with them — I can’t remember a single time that she tossed out leftovers in our kitchen, or a time that we didn’t ask for the rest of our dinner to be packed up when we went out to eat. Instead, I can see her poised with an open clamshell container in one hand and a metal spatula in the other, mouth pursed, surveying her wok and trying to figure out how to upcycle last night’s takeout into inevitably more delicious fried rice, or stir-fried noodles, or a simmering pot of soup. Some of her recipes are ones where she even swears by leftovers, like her mapo tofu, which she won’t make unless she’s stir-fried giant prawns the day before and has the fiery-red broth left over. (Don’t tell her I gave away her secret ingredient.)