Thursday, March 25, 2010

Thirteen Years Later, I'm Still All In

I’m no martyr.

Yes, I know plenty of new moms who, before their little baloney loaf was even wiped down and weighed, were willing pack their bags, swaddle up that baby, install the newborn carseat and all but drive themselves home. 

Not me.   When Darling Daughter was born, due to some medical complications, I was given the option of staying an extra night or two at Presbyterian Hospital.  Thank you, Jesus.  No need to ask twice.  No need to wait for the umbilical cord to be snipped.  My answer was unequivocal:  Sign me up.

That was exactly 13 years ago.  Today is my girl’s birthday.  Which means I am now, officially, mom to two teenagers.  And before you ask, it doesn't make a difference whether I’m up to the task, because there’s no turning back.  I’m in.  All in.

I knew it from the beginning.

After DD finally and quietly emerged, purple and blotchy with a cord around her neck, I basked – no, reveled – in those extra couple of nights in the hospital.  The laundry, cooking, cleaning and inevitable day-to-day responsibilities of parenthood and housekeeping – not to mention that supposedly essential bonding with Son -- could wait. Instead, I hunkered down in the hospital room with DD, whose sweet little foot was so tiny, it could fit in my mouth.  And it did.  (She hates that part of the story.)

The best part of those few days, far and away, was when the nurses would bring DD to me for feeding at night.  Although hospital policy encouraged newborns to stay with their moms during the day, babies were kept in the nursery at night.  The idea, I suppose, was to give recovering moms the chance for a few extra winks.


Around 10 or 11 at night, a nurse would retrieve DD from my arms, and, utterly exhausted – both from childbirth and the parade of friends and family wanting to know whether I’d finally decided on DD’s middle name -- I’d achieve REM sleep before the hospital door quietly shut behind them. 

For about 20 minutes.  Maybe 25.  The rest of the night, instead of falling deeper and deeper into sleep as the hospital halls grew quieter and quieter, I become more and more alert.

Newborns were returned to their moms during the night for feeding.  But instead of being carried down the hall, each newborn would be rolled in its own little cart.  Like room service.  Only you didn’t have to sign anything.  Or tip.  (I know.  Why be a neo-natal nurse if you don’t get to carry around those sweet-smelling squishy swaddled babies?)

Thing is, those little baby delivery carts had little squeaky wheels.  So instead of getting much needed sleep (which I fully intend to catch up on once the kids are in college), I’d lay in my remote-control operated hospital bed wondering, “Is that my baby?” every time a cart creaked down the hall.

All night.  

“Is that my baby?”

“Maybe that’s my baby.”

“That sure sounds like my baby.”

As if I’d recognize the sound of the squeaky wheels bearing my 9-pound (I know, right?) bundle of joy.  Thirteen years later, I still can’t think of anything as thrilling as hearing that cart roll toward my room, easing to a stop, just before the door cracked open, spilling light into the room and illuminating perfectly pink Darling Daughter.

In honor of DD’s thirteenth, the best recipe I could offer would be for Chocolate-Chocolate-Chocolate Cake.  Yes, I know I ran it this same time last year, but it’s her favorite.  (It was also one of my favorite posts ever, What I Want For My Daughter.)

And on her birthday, when she asks whether I’d mind making it – yet again – I can’t help but answer, Sign me up.

Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Cake

3 cups flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups sugar
1 cup corn oil
2 cups cold water
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
5 cups powdered sugar
8 tablespoons whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 scant cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Make the cake.  Preheat oven to 350.  Butter and flour three 9-inch cake pans.  (This is a delicate cake, so be sure to prepare pans well.  If you have the patience, I’d strongly recommend preparing each pan and then, lining the bottom of each with a circle of wax paper, also buttered and floured.)  Sift first five ingredients into a large bowl.  Mix water, oil and vanilla in a separate, small bowl.  Make a "well" in dry ingredients, pour in wet ingredients and whisk well.  Scrape batter into prepared pans, dividing evening.  Sprinkle 1/2 cup chocolate chips over batter in each pan.

Bake 25 minutes, or until layers test done.  Cool in pans on racks for 15 minutes, then turn cakes out and allow to cool completely.  

Make frosting.  Beat butter in large bowl (an electric mixer is best) until fluffy.  Gradually beat in three cups of powdered sugar.  beat in six tablespoons milk and vanilla.  Add cocoa and remaining sugar, gradually.  Beat until blended and fluffy, using remaining two tablespoons of milk, if necessary.

Assemble cake, with layers chocolate-chip-side up and about 2/3 cup frosting spread between each layer.  Spread remaining frosting over sides and top of cake.  Tastes even better the next day -- for breakfast!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Spring Break -- Then and Now.

Spring Break was a fairly new phenomenon to Charleston County Schools in the 70s.  I don’t think our parents knew what to do with the odd week of vacation – or us.

No problem there.   We were smart.  We were creative.  We were open-minded.  We were teenagers.  We knew exactly what to do with those seven days.  We drove straight – and speedily -- to Folly Beach, rented a bunch of houses (don’t ask), stopped in at Chris and Jerry’s (a sandy little grocery store with eye-rolling prices, a barrel of fresh feta cheese, and an inconsistent policy of checking IDs), dunked ourselves in baby oil, and flopped out on the sand.  Heaven.

C’mon.  It was South Carolina in the 70s.  Certain things – like the drinking age – were different then.  But we didn’t push it.  At that time, SC law also would’ve allowed teenagers -- as young as 14 -- to get married.  We never tried that.  To the best of my knowledge.

We’re a far cry from all that now.  Parental consent is now required for 14-year-old girls to marry in SC.  And spring break is its own industry.  The question isn’t whether you’re going away for break-- it’s where.

Then it’s a matter of cold (skiing) or warm (beaches), active (again, skiing) or sluggish (again, beaches), educational or, well, I’ve got two teenagers.   The Smithsonian is no longer an option.

This year, we chose warm and sluggish.  My bad.  There was no “warm” on Amelia Island last week.  Which instantly put a cramp in “sluggish.”

Look.  I’m certain Amelia Island is delightful – the other 51 weeks of the year.  Last week, though, for the three of us, though, the words “chilly,” “dreary,” “overcast” and “threatening” come to mind.  And the weather wasn’t any better.

Still, we had fun.  There’s no denying how much I enjoy the kids’ company.  Come rain or shine, they are howlingly funny.  Just a few quotes:*

Why does farting smell so bad? I’m asking.

You should be glad we don't like getting shots. That way, you never have to worry about us shooting heroin.

DD, accusingly, "What are you doing?" Son, "Apparently something wrong."

I'm sorry, but you're just a bad mom.

I like long sleeve shirts. Then you don't have to wear pants.

Fortunately, the trip ended on a high note.  We opted to head to Charleston to spend some extra time with family and friends – sans baby oil and Chris & Jerry’s.  But before leaving the Sunshine State, we fit in a Segway tour of Fort George Island.  You know Segways, of course.  It’s impossible to see one and not think – man I wish I were riding that thing.  We did.  And for us, it made the trip.

All’s well that ends well, I suppose.  At least we didn’t ride home shifting in our seats from painful sunburns and peeling patches of blistered skin from our noses and shoulders.  But I felt like we still needed a little something to remind us of sunnier days -- maybe something like this fresh and light tasting grilled chicken.

The Sunshine State may not have lived up to its name this time, but we were smart.  We were creative.  We were flexible.  Heck.  Some of us were even teenagers.

*I keep an ongoing list of these quotes.  If you'd like to read more, check out "Overheard At My House" on Facebook or @HeardAtMyHouse on Twitter.

Grilled Ginger-Citrus Chicken

4-8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (depending on how many you’re serving)

1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 lime, zested and juiced
1 orange, zested and juiced
1 clementine (optional), zested and juiced
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper

3 cups hot, cooked rice (1 cup rice to 2 cups water)

In a resealable plastic bag, combine chicken breasts, citrus zests, juices, ginger, vegetable oil and red pepper flakes.  Allow to marinate 30 minutes.  Drain, reserving marinade, and season each breast with salt and pepper.  Grill over medium-hot coals until done.  (About 5 minutes per side for thin breasts).  While chicken cooks, heat remaining marinade to boiling (in the microwave is fine).  When chicken is done, allow to rest 5 minutes before slicing and serving.  Stir 2 tablespoons of heated marinade into hot rice and serve with sliced chicken.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What's Opera Chez Wiles?

I was born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina, a gorgeous, coastal city with the well-deserved reputation of being charming, historic and cultured.

When new friends realize where I’m from, they inevitably ask:

• “Do you know [well-heeled, well-connected person]?”

• “Did you go to [privileged, pricey, private school]?”

• “Did you live in one of those [expensive-to-restore, expensive-to-heat, just-plain-expensive] houses downtown?”

Um. Sorry. I’m not from "that" Charleston.

Although our postal address was "Charleston," I lived on James Island, which lies just across The Harbor, and while it may not be as high-falutin’ fancy as The Holy City proper, it isn’t exactly some backwoods backwater populated by rednecks, either. At least, not all the time.

Still, I did grow up in plain view of one of the most cultured cities in America, and then, lived in the venerable grand dames of Boston and Richmond. Somehow, though, I made it to age 47 without ever going to the opera.

Nope.  Not once.  Never even missed it.

So I wasn’t sure what to do when I was offered tickets to Opera Carolina’s Carmen last week. If it had been Bugs Bunny’s Barber of Seville, of course, I wouldn’t have hesitated a single sixteenth note. Who doesn't love watching Bugs make fruit salad on Elmer’s head?

But when Cougar Bait, who's a lot closer to being from "that" Charleston than I am, offered to go with me, I gratefully accepted the chance for an evening out.  And as it turns out, “real” opera was both less and more than what I’d expected.

Less difficult to understand. Thanks to English supertitles projected on an overhead screen, I had no problem understanding the plot. Reading the words also proved for me that every musical genre uses word repetition in lyrics, and repeated words look silly when read instead of sung. Carmen sings, I am thinking of a certain officer, I am thinking of a certain officer, Who loves me and whom in turn, yes whom in turn, I could really love. Mick Jagger sings, I can’t get no satisfaction, I can’t get no satisfaction, ‘cause I try and I try and I try and I try, I can’t get no, I can’t get no. No, no, no. Elmer sings, Kiww the wabbit, kiww the wabbit, kiww the wabbit.

Less cleavage. I’d expected (again, drawing on my over-familiarity with Bugs Bunny in What’s Opera) that the performers would be, ahem, ample. Remember Brunhilde?  But no, even Kirstin Chavez as Carmen was only appropriately voluptuous.

More than “vocal” talent on display. Shame on me for expecting less than stellar “acting,” too. All of the performers – through body language and tone and movement as much as singing – helped me understand their characters and the plot. The dancers, too, could really dance.

Less attitude. The audience wasn’t nearly as stuffy as I’d worried. Not in the slightest. Although I can be paranoid to the first-degree (I honestly believed there were cameras in my house when I was a kid, watching my every move – 40 years ago), I never wondered whether anyone could identify me as the “opera virgin.”

More familiar.  Yes, the language (French) was foreign, but the music wasn't.  I was pleasantly surprised -- and grateful -- that, in 47 years, I'd actually heard a good bit of the music.  Heck, I think I even played some of on the piano as a kid.  Somehow, that link made me feel more involved, more connected.

More cleavage. Let's be honest.  I'm a girl, so of course I worried about what to wear.  I kinda figured that there wouldn't be a lot of black ties on display, but what I didn't figure was the gracious amount of cleavage that would be, ahem, on display.  I don’t know whether it was officially “breast night at the opera," but there was an eye-popping abundance. Not on stage.  In the audience.  Holy Jiggle-Oly.  Guess I didn’t get the memo.

More fun. Turns out, opera wasn’t so much “good for me” as “good.” Who’d have guessed?

So much for stereotypes. Even though I’m not from “that” Charleston, I can now say I enjoy opera. And although Carmen certainly didn’t inspire me to stretch my vocal chords (for which my kids should be profoundly grateful), it did inspire a new, “gussied up” version of the simple grilled fish we had nearly every Sunday night growing up in Charleston. 

Ahem.  Not “that” Charleston, of course.

Grilled Swordfish with Lentil and Olive Salsa

Several, thick swordfish steaks
Kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper
Olive oil

1 ½ cups precooked black pearl lentils, drained
½ cups chopped green olives with pimentos
2-3 tablespoons fresh, minced parsley

1 scallion, thinly sliced (optional)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

Brush swordfish with olive oil and season generously. Grill over medium-high heat, about 5 minutes per side, or until done. Set aside and allow to rest five minutes before serving. While fish is grilling, combine remaining ingredients, tasting and adjusting for seasoning (will likely need about ½ teaspoon kosher salt). Top rested swordfish with room temperature lentil salsa and serve.

Friday, March 12, 2010

If You're Early, You're On Time. If You're On Time, You're Late. And If You're Late, Who Knows What's For Dinner?

I don’t like to be late. I don’t like to be late and I don’t like to be on time.

I like to be early.

Son and Darling Daughter are well aware of this quirk. It rears its head every morning, when, in my role as master-calendar-keeper, household-chauffeur and bossy-mom-extraordinaire, I go over who has to be where and when for the next 24 hours and how that affects everything they are compelled and would like to do and what colleges they may get into as a result.

Today, for example, Son had (yet another) orthodontist appointment. This one, though, was unusually important, because, unbeknownst to him, Son was having his braces removed. Over breakfast, I reminded him that I’d be picking him up later at school. I also coordinated what he’d be doing after school, DD’s afternoon with friends, the upcoming weekend plans, other doctors’ appointments on the horizon, and how our plans might change in the event of rain. (Yes, in addition to being early, I like being thorough.)

The appointment was at 9:00 a.m. Since it takes 15 or 20 minutes, with traffic, to get there, I planned to leave at 8:30 a.m. According to Wiles Mean Time, I’d be there right on time -- 10 minutes early. Perfect.

Kinda. Sure, I’d be there 10 minutes early – but without Son. Oopsy daisy. Must’ve been a hole in the schedule.

No need for suspense. Yes, I was late. And I hated it. I was late picking up Son at school. We both hated that. But by then, there was nothing to be done. We could’ve fumed and stressed. We could’ve yelled at the stupid cars that were driving 10 miles below the speed limit in the passing lane. (OK. We kinda did, but they deserved it.) And Son really could’ve yelled at me -- understandably. But mostly, we laughed. We listened to the radio and laughed all the way to the appointment. And I was grateful.

Yes, we were late -- really late -- getting to the orthodontist. But, as is so often the case, it worked out. The kids’ orthodontist is famously accommodating.

Son’s braces are being removed as I type.

And look. There he is. I am dazzled. For the second time today.

I’m still a planner, though, which is why I came up with this recipe for Slowcooker Chicken in Peanut-Ginger Sauce. Somebody has to be thinking ahead. And somebody has to be accommodating.

In my family, I’m blessed to have it all.

Slowcooker Chicken In Peanut-Ginger Sauce

When I first came up with this recipe, I tried it with bone-in, skin-on thighs, but the result is too fatty and too much work. This version is super simple and very flavorful. The thighs stay moist and tender, and I cook plenty of them, so I can use the leftover chicken in salad or Chicken in Saffron Rice.

10-12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, excess fat removed
½ cup creamy peanut butter
¼ cup soy sauce
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 ½ tablespoons fresh grated ginger

1 red bell pepper, cored, cut in thick strips, then cut in half
8 ounces sliced mushrooms
6 peeled garlic cloves

Fresh lime wedges

Quickly sear chicken in a nonstick skillet, over high heat. Put in slowcooker. In a large measuring cup, gradually stir soy sauce into peanut butter. Stir in red pepper flakes, sesame oil and ginger. Scrape mixture into slowcooker and toss with chicken. Scatter bell pepper, mushrooms and garlic on top of chicken. Cook for 3-4 hours on high, or 6 hours on low. Gently pull chicken into bitesize pieces and serve over hot lo mein noodles, or linguini or rice.  Squeeze a bit of lime juice over, for extra flavor.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Difference Between Dim and Dimwitted? Sunglasses.

What a dingbat.

Earlier today, I’d been doing the usual SAHM (stay-at-home-mom) runaround, eventually landing, ahead of schedule, at the orthodontist’s office.  While Son went back to be serviced and await the predictable "just-a-few-more-weeks news," I cracked open my beloved MacBook to tap out a few notes.

Weird.  I could hardly read the screen.  Why was it so dim?  I squinted, but not for long, because I don’t want to admit that my opthalmologist was right in saying I’ll soon need glasses.

Hmm.  Even squinting, still dim.  Fine.  I tilted, and then, re-tilted the screen.  Surely it was a matter of finding the just right angle.  Just a few degrees.  Maybe 79 degrees.  Maybe while squinting.

I bobbed my head, birdlike.  Left.  Left.  Right.  Forward.  Forward.  Whoa.  Better stop that before someone in the waiting room thinks I’m trying out for a Bojangles commercial.

I was still befuddled when Son and his orthodontist came out to deliver the dreaded and expected just-a-few-more-weeks news.  Oddly, they both regarded me very curiously – as if they’d been privy to the short-sighted chicken act.

I scheduled Son’s next appointment, we exited the office, and I instinctively reached up to pull my sunglasses into place.  Duh.  What a dingbat.  I’d been wearing my sunglasses in the orthodontist’s office.  That computer screen wasn’t dim.  The computer operator; however, was dimwitted.

Why didn’t someone tell me? 

No girlfriend would let me walk around like that.  Even 12-year-old Darling Daughter knows that membership in the “girlfriend network” is unconditional.  It’s our obligation to tell another “girlfriend” when her tag is hanging out, when her bicuspid is coated in spinach, when her zipper’s gapping and revealing those cute pink panties, or when toilet paper trails her stiletto.

This past weekend, I found myself with an abundance of past-their-prime bananas.  I used Twitter to issue the call to “the network.”  The girlfriends – most of whom I’ve yet to meet – responded quickly.  Suggestions – for freezing and smoothies – flowed.  Recipes – for cobbler, for banana pudding – were tweeted just as quickly.  Rebecca, of Chow And Chatter, immediately shared her recipe for luscious Banana Brownie Cake, which I'll include in a future blog.  And Barb, of The Ambient Chef, shared a banana bread recipe that turned out to be the best I've ever made – moist, crusty and super simple to make.

And I feel sure that neither she, nor Rebecca, nor AprillWrites or StepfordLife or CookingVirgin would ever have let me wander around that orthodontist’s office with my sunglasses on.

Or trailing a few squares of Charmin.  I’m just sayin’.

The Ambient Chef’s Mom’s Best Banana Bread

2 very ripe bananas, mashed
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 cups sifted flour
½ teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 stick butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease a loaf pan, well.  Mash bananas with lemon juice.  Set aside.  In a small bowl, stir or sift together flour, salt, baking powder and nutmeg.  Set aside.  In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar.  When well combined, beat in eggs, one at a time.  Stir in mashed bananas to combine well.  Stir in dry ingredients until combined.  Pour into prepared pan.  Bake 1 – 1 ¼ hours, or until loaf tests done.  Cool 10 minutes in pan on rack, then remove to rack to cool completely.  

Friday, March 5, 2010

Remembering the Important Stuff -- 15 Years Later.

I can't remember what I had for dinner last night.

I can't remember to call the gutter guy.  I can't remember to return Reid It and Weep's* MacBook charger, which I've held hostage now for nearly a week.  And for the life of me, I can't remember to buy more soy sauce -- which is absurd, not only because, on average, I visit my local Harris Teeter, oh, every single day, but because, in a typical week I use so much soy sauce that I'm practically an honorary Asian.

What I can remember, however, is where I was exactly 15 years ago today.  Because today, March 5, 2010, is Son's 15th birthday.

Eight pounds, 15 ounces now tips the scale at 135 pounds.  Twenty inches has stretched to nearly 70.  Just like that, my "Little Man" has become a young man -- and in my not-at-all-humble opinion, a fine one at that.  He's babysitting and shaving and learning to drive.  He's dating and taking subjects I never dared to tackle in high school and becoming the kind of writer I'd like to be when I grow up.

Fifteen years ago, Son entered the world with a splash.  After a Big Dinner Out (a.k.a., "The Last Supper"), followed by a Big Heartburn In, and a late night watching most of The Godfather (back in the days of videotape), my then-husband crawled into bed, my water splattered all over the freshly tiled bathroom floor, and we were off to the hospital.  Wait. Rewind.  Actually, about a half mile into our trip, we turned around and went back home, briefly, to fetch some Pepto Bismol for the father-to-be, and then, off to the maternity ward.  For real.

Thirteen hours later, I had a son.

At the time, I remember thinking I could never love anyone so intensely as I loved Son.  I remember thinking that it was inconceivable that my own parents could have felt the same way about me.  I remember eventually realizing that Son could only comprehend the depth of my emotion when he, himself, becomes a parent.  (Which, given that he's only 15, should be many, many, many years from now.  M-A-N-Y. Many.)

When Son was tiny, I spent hours imagining the person he'd become.  A paleontologist?  Entirely possible, as he memorized the name of every dinosaur in every book ever written by time he was five.  (Did you know there's no such thing as a brontosaurus?)  An architect?  Surely there was a reason for the hours, days, weeks he spent with Legos.  A fireman?  Well, given that it was his preferred costume for three consecutive Halloweens, I reckon it was either a fireman or a founding member of his generation's Village People.

Now that Son's 15, I can see that all my ruminating got me nowhere.  I have no idea what he'll become.  What I do know, though, is that Son has already become more than I could have imagined.  And rather than guessing, I can hardly wait to see what the days and years to come will reveal.

I wish I could now give you a recipe for Son's favorite cake, which I'd bake for his birthday.  But it turns out, I've got a kid who doesn't really care about cake.  Who could've predicted?  What he does enjoy though, in addition to the perennially-requested Sausage Pasta with Broccoli, is Osso Buco.  It's comfort food Chez Wiles.

And if we'd had Osso Buco for dinner last night, I'm sure I would've remembered it.

*If you're an American Idol fan, you've got to check out Reid It and Weep's blog.  And if you could toss a spare MacBook charger her way, that'd get me out of a mess of trouble, too.

Osso Buco
Serves four.

4 large, meaty veal shanks, at least 2 1/2 inches thick
Approximately 1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup olive oil

1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 rib of celery, finely diced
1 small onion, finely diced
zest of one lemon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup dry white wine (I use sauvignon blanc)
1 cup chicken stock
1 sprig rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 clove garlic

Season veal shanks well with salt and pepper.  Wrap each shank tightly with twine.  Dredge each tied shank in flour, shake off excess, and then, in a large skillet (with a lid for later) heat olive oil until rippling, over medium high heat.  Lightly brown each shank and set aside.  In same skillet, lightly brown carrot, celery and onion until onion is translucent.  Stir in lemon zest, salt, wine, stock, rosemary, bay leaf and garlic clove.  Bring to a boil.  Return shanks to skillet, reduce heat to low, and put lid in place.  Allow to simmer for 1 1/2 - 2 hours or until so tender that meat is nearly falling off the bone.   Remove twive, serve with hot noodles or rice, as well as gremolata, made by combining 1 clove garlic (finely minced with 1 teaspoon kosher salt), 1/2 cup minced parsley, and zest of two lemons.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

It Comes Down To This: I "Grease The Track."

This morning, unbeknownst to them, Son and Darling Daughter each greeted me with the same question.  Nope.  Despite the freezing rain and snow of the day before, and their plainly-stated hopes of the night before, neither one asked, “Do we have school today?”

Each asked, “Can I have an Advil?”  To which I, taken aback, responded, “For what?”

OK, what I really wanted to ask was, "What the aitch?"  I mean, plenty of folks scrounge for pain relievers within seconds of prying open their dehydrated, bloodshot eyes, but my guys are 12 and 14.   They may have had a rough night, but it had to do with books, not booze.

I probably should've been scrounging for my parenting cap, because if I’d been thinking clearly, I’d have remembered:  Son’s braces had been tightened the day before, and DD's braces had been put on the day before.  Of course they were sore.  I had braces as an adult, and based on my two solid years of whining, you’d have thought I’d undergone that excruciating Chinese leg lengthening surgery (if you don’t know, you don’t want to), rather than the privilege of a simple tooth-alignment procedure.

Still, the kids’ question reminds me that my most common parenting task is simply “greasing the track.”

I don’t mean, necessarily, making their lives easier.  I mean, recognizing what’s going on in their lives and making it easier for them to make good decisions – putting out cut-up veggies for snacks to help them steer clear of sugary treats, keeping them “busy” at times they could be getting into trouble, eliminating distractions at homework time, and in this instance, providing satisfying, easy to chew, or rather, ingest, food.

Sure, I’d rather spend time imparting my considerable (OK, biased, and likely inaccurate) knowledge.  It'd be great to have more hands-on time, teaching the kids the things I’m good at -- stuff like cooking, holding a fork correctly, and, um, sending e-mails.  Occasionally, my choice would be to just flat-out do things for them.  (Really, I’m quite good at sending e-mails, and could even do it in their “voice.”  Here, watch: “Yo, sup?”)

This past weekend, for example, the kids’ dad got married.  And as much as I’d love to have horror stories to share, there was nothing catastrophic about it.  Nothing even slightly diabolically blogworthy.  (Disappointing, right?)

Still, weddings are a big deal.  Particularly when your parent is getting married.  So I knew, when the kids returned home, I’d need to grease the track – making a meal sure to please (Waffles of Insane Greatness, natch), helping them unpack, giving them an opportunity to decompress, making it easy to get back on the “school” track.

So where was I this morning? The kids’ teeth hurt.  DD’s upper and lower teeth don’t even meet.  And, given their tender teeth, everyone’s bound to be a wee bit cranky.

So where were the smoothies, the yogurt, the noodles, the soup?  Where were the easy-to-eat treats I could pack in their lunches?  Where were the treats?  The Jello?  The tapioca?  The 17¢ ramen noodles?

Twelve hours later, they’re in my fridge and pantry.  My parenting cap is firmly in place.  I’m back to greasing the track.  Starting with this easy-to-eat, but slightly sophisticated and flavorful version of chicken and rice.

Saffron Rice With Chicken
Serves four.
Generous pinch of red pepper flakes
1 garlic clove, peeled, impaled on a toothpick
½ teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
2 teaspoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 ½ cups basmati rice
3 cups chicken broth
2 ½ cups leftover cooked chicken, cut in bite-size pieces

Combine all ingredients, except chicken, in large saucepan with lid.  Bring to a boil, stir once, put lid in place, and reduce heat to low.  Cook for 10 minutes.  Remove lid and drop chicken into saucepan.  (Don’t stir.)  Cook on low an additional three minutes.  Remove from heat and fluff with a fork.  Let rest 2-3 minutes, unlidded before serving, hot.