Sunday, October 17, 2010

Helicopters and parents

Stories about helicopter parents are a dime a dozen. I recently read a column by Petula Dvorak, who writes for the Metro section of the Washington Post. She wrote about helicopter parents and the absence of childhood. Although I like her, it was boilerplate stuff. I’m a let kids be kids kind of parent. They need time to relax. Be kids. Watch too much TV and eat too many sweets. I spent many hours watching Gilligan’s Island and professional wrestling (National Wrestling Association, not that soap opera WWF). Didn’t seem to stop me from doing well in school and even getting a PhD in physics. Not bragging, just thinking that having laissez faire parents didn’t hurt me.

Then it turned out that my kids have special needs. One with autism and the second to be determined on Thursday. He might be on the spectrum, might not. There’s the rub. My natural inclinations are to let kids have some time to be kids. And for me to read the paper and have a cup of coffee. But wait. I have SPECIAL NEEDS KIDS. They’re developmentally delayed, so every moment is a chance to work with them.

There was a big deal made of a book a year or two ago about a woman whose son is “cured” of autism. His diagnosis went from autism to PDD-NOS (pervasive developmental disorder we don’t have a clue about what it exactly means) to neurotypical. The family went through financial hell including a bankruptcy. Of course, why wouldn’t any parent do that for their child?

Not me, evidently. I want my kids to be kids. Secondo loves vehicles of all kinds. Cars, buses, trains, planes. We live in a great location for this as all are frequently seen. Oh, and firetrucks! How could I forget firetrucks? There are times when they come home after a day at school and just want to zone. So, Secondo is lying on the floor playing with a bus or plane. It might verge on stimming, but the kid needs a break. Primo wants a piece of paper and is writing. Sure, it’s a little obsessive, but helps him to organize his day. Kids with developmental delays need down time too. Perhaps more than other kids.

And, hey, I get a chance to make dinner. Or read the paper. I might even have a glass of wine. We get plenty of interaction in our lives together, so a little down time is good. Let kids be kids. Let adults be adults. And let the helicopters fly overhead.


Monday, October 4, 2010

A Cornhusker in King Arthur's Kitchen

I grew to love three things from my time in England. Trains, pubs, and curries. There is no better way to travel than on a train. You arrive, oh, 15 minutes early and watch the countryside go by. I’ve been lucky enough to travel on high speed trains in England (channel tunnel), France (TGF), Finland (Pendolino—it’s Italian), and Japan (the Shinkansen). I’ve never been on one of the Maglev trains, but hope to do so. Pubs are an entirely separate post, but that’s where I really got to know people and make friends.

Oh, but curry. How I love thee. It’s rich, spicy, and utterly satisfying. If I indulged myself, I’d get to looking like Peter Griffin. Rogan Josh (lamb curry). Jalfrezi (spicy). Vindaloo (really spicy). Lamb Pasanda (cream, sweet and mild). Chicken tikka (Indian BBQ). Balti (a traditiional Indian cuisine invented in Birmingham, England). Papadoms. Pilau rice. Naan. Yummy yummy yummy yummy yummy.

After I bought my place in Sheffield, my commute involved walking up to the main drag (Eccelsall Road) and catching a bus to the Univesity. In the evening, the bus would let me off across the street from the Banner Cross Hotel (a pub). Next door was a very good Indian takeaway. I’d put in my order (chicken jalfrezi or lamb passanda were my favorites) and pop by the pub for a pint or two. I’d head home with my curry and polish it off with a Kingfisher or some red wine. I didn’t get much work done in the evenings back then.

When I moved back to the US about ten years ago, I figured my curry days were done. I was wrong as it happens. There are a number of excellent Indian restaurants in Boston. Kashmir on Newbury Street and Divas up in Somerville are two of my favorites. Figuring that I’d need to learn to cook a curry, I picked up a sensational cook book (Art of Indian Cuisine by Rocky Mohan). I’ve rarely had a recipe go wrong from this book. If you ask someone who knows about Indian cooking for advice, you’ll probably get steered to Madhur Jaffrey. This one is my reference. The recipes simply work. I do adjust things a bit. Virtually every recipe calls for a half cup of ghee (clarified butter). I tend to cut the amount of fat in half and cut the butter 50/50 with canola oil.

I started cooking Indian at home around the time Keen and I started dating. She was out of town about half the time, so I’d experiment and cook. Going over individual recipes is tiresome, but there’s one I remember. Keen loves Saag Paneer. Me? I’d never been into cooked spinach so it didn’t motivate me that much. When she mentioned that, I dove into the cookbook. Now, saag effectively means greens. Spinach (which is palak), methi (fenugreek) leaves, cilantro all qualify. The closest recipe was one which involved making a paste from ground spinach and methi leaves. My first effort involved doubling the spinach and leaving the recipe untouched. It was decent, but very rich and very spicy. That’s when I started cutting the oil by half and I also cut the chili pepper. At some point, I shifted from using methi leaves to simply a bunch of cilantro. The recipe calls for dried cilantro leaves anyway and it’s easy to make a double batch with a pound of chopped spinach and a large bunch of cilantro.

The great thing about having a good resource for Indian recipes is you gradually pick up the philosophy of the cooking. If I want to try something different, I can head to the internets and figure out what might work and what won’t. I had a lot of fun devising a recipe for Malai Kofta, which are similar to vegetarian meatballs. You form them from cashews, raisins (I used dried cranberries as I dislike raisins), rice and soft cheese and cook them in sauce. My first efforts were tasty, but tended to break apart. The breakthrough came when I had some leftover sushi rice. That added the needed “glue” to keep the koftas together.

I’ve had a couple of fun events in the last year. We’ve hosted several wine tasting dinners. The most recent one was focused on Indian food. I was a bit intimidated as I invited over a colleague who, like me, is an amateur cook and, unlike me, Indian. Talk about intimidated! The dinner went off well and they even liked my garlic curry. It’s yummalicious. Saute whole cloves of garlic, roughly hopped onion and chiles. Add a bit of spice—turmeric and chili powder—and then a can of coconut milk. Let it cook for a good long while. Garlic heaven!

Last night was my first crack as an instructor The meal was fun, though I spent more time chatting with my “sous chef” than instructing. We made makhni murgh (butter chicken), saag paneer, the garlic curry, and pilau rice. Much fun was had by all and perhaps a bit too much wine was consumed. And now, to the bat kitchen!

Malai Kofta

For the Koftas

½ cup of ricotta or drained cottage cheese

1.5 – 2 cups of cooked rice (sticky rice is great for this)

2 tablespoons cashew nuts, crushed

1-2 teaspoons of dried cranberries, chopped

1-2 teaspoons of dried coconut

dash of salt

Combine rice with cottage cheese, coconut, dried cranberries, a little salt and 2 tablespoons of cashew nuts, broken or lightly chopped. Use your hands to form the kofta mix into 1” diameter balls. Roll in flour and put in refrigerator.

For the sauce

3 cloves, 2 cardamoms, a piece of cinnamon bark

1 teaspoon of whole coriander seeds

1 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns

1 small onion or 1/2 large onion

14 oz can of crushed tomatoes

2 cups of yogurt

1 cup of water (I think one could adjust the balance with whole milk and less yogurt)

1/4 cup of cashew nuts, crushed

2 teaspoon each of ginger-garlic paste

1/4 teaspoon of chili powder

Dry roast the whole spices and crush them. Add the chopped garlic, ginger and cashews and pound to a paste. Chop the onion finely and fry in oil for a few minutes before adding the spice paste. After another few minutes of frying, add the tomatoes then a few minutes later, the yoghurt, water, and chili powder. Bring to a simmer.

Heat a little oil in a large pan and brown the kofta. Add to the sauce. Use a spoon to pour some of the sauce over the koftas then turn the heat down very low and cover the pan. Simmer for 20 to 25 minutes.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Two schools and a bed

This is an overdue post, so I’ll just get into it. We returned to the US from Costa Rica at the beginning of September. It was a week of many changes. Primo and Secondo would be starting school this year in the same class with the fabulous Ms. Bridgett. She was Primo’s teacher last year with Secondo staying with the Spectacular Ms. Caitlynn. Caitlynn is starting with a fresh class of students and Secondo moved to Bridgett’s class. Although this is a big deal, it seemed like a modest shift.

Then home. My boys are bunkies! We had talked about getting bunk beds for the guys and finally pulled the trigger. Our initial thought (Ikea) didn’t last long. Don’t get me wrong, Ikea has a lot of great stuff and I sleep on a wonderful Ikea bed every night. Their bunk bed options are, however, cheap crap. Craigslist to the rescue. The great thing about this set was that it had stairs—a good thing when the bunkies are little boys. Ikea needn’t feel dissed. We spent as much on bedding as we did on the frames. Secondo called it “la cama mas bonita en el mundo” (the most beautiful bed in the world). Primo was doing his happy dance. They’ve shifted to the new bed happily. Of course, they’re sleeping together in the top bunk. As a bonus, I often crash in the bottom bunk.

An aside here. You can fit a queen futon sofa/sleeper in a Ford Focus hatchback. Just mind your elbows.

Now the biggie. The boys have started full time preschool. Stitching together home child care had become increasingly difficult. They also need time amongst neurotypical peers. So, it felt like it was time. We made the decision last spring to move the boys to an all day preschool. After some hunting, including barely missing out on a placement in a highly recommend preschool close to us, we found a great place—Creative Playschool. The early meetings were promising and they are used to handling twins (yay!) and kids with special needs (double yay!) Primo and Secondo are split up into separate classrooms with Primo being with the younger kids and Secondo with the older ones. Even though Secondo is the one with autism, he’s quite social. The boys were quite excited on the first day and took right to it. Who knew it would be that easy?

We’ve had some mild bumps, but it’s got surprisingly well. The boys love preschool and their new bed. Life is good.