The Shannon Family Table (Literally)

Dear Concerned Neighbor/Woman walking her dog/Anyone else within earshot of my house,

I’d like to assure you that my daughter is well.  She is not undergoing various strains of Chinese torture.  She is not being mauled by wild coyotes.  No one is picking off her toenails one by one with pliers.  She is simply appalled by the abhorrent, three little piece pile of sweet potato on her plate.  She is convinced they will kill her.  I calmly discouraged the thought but she would not be deterred.  There will be no eating of those terrifying little orange things tonight.  And thus, she was whisked off to her room to think about what it means to not have dessert.  In her room filled with toys.  With the lights on.  And a chalkboard wall.  Not to be confused with Riker’s Island.  Which is where she thinks she is.  And now, where the entire neighborhood thinks I exiled her to as she is shouting out of her open window:

“My Mama HATES ME!!!!! Why is it wrong to not like sweet potatoes?????? I CANT EAT THEM!!!!! I STILL WANT DESSERT!”

And my personal favorite:

“I’m just a little girl!”

There are two houses for sale on our street.  This show’s for free every night at 6, folks.  Tomorrow night’s spinach.  Get ‘em while she’s hot.

My Month Without Facebook

Alright, so it may be cheating a little, but this is preemptive post.  I am still completely off of Facebook until October but I actually couldn’t wait to tell you how it went, er, is still going.

I had been feeling, overloaded.  Too much noise, too much time wasted, just too much.  It seems I barely had time to check up with my husband to see how he’s doing- I didn’t need to be spending time reading other people’s statuses.  So, I got rid of it.  And something weird happened.

I didn’t miss it.

And I started getting excited about all the other crap in my life I didn’t need, either.  The poor VETS have been to my house three times in two weeks to pick up the stuff I’m cleaning out of my basement.  We’re on a first name basis.  They know where the coffee machine is.  I’ve even let go of books, people.  Books.  And clothes.  Like, all of them.  All of a sudden I was overwhelmed with the less is more, last shall be first and I gave everything away.  Literally.  Almost everything.

And then I paired down my shopping list as I thought of all the people in the world and what they eat, or don’t have to eat, daily.  And I stopped just, “popping in” to Whole Foods for $45,880.00 worth of one fillet of fish and a piece of cheese and cooked what we had (which means my husband ate meatballs made out of eggplant this week, see earlier post).

I started thinking about all the time I freed up by not checking social media and started reading my Bible.  And other stuff.  Like, really good stuff.  And praying.  Not like I usually do with ceremony and a list and a system : Thanksgiving, Petition, Praise and started just TALKING.  Like we were pals.  I am 31.  It took me a while to catch on that this was what Jesus was talking about.

I started crying about orphans and widows and the lost and the hungry and I gave more clothes and food away.  I can’t walk through Penn Station without crying anymore, and though I pretty much fit in with everyone else, this gives me little comfort.  I’m there twice a day, three times a week.  That’s a lot of crying, folks.

I began getting rid of other apps on my phone and started cleaning the windows in the kitchen and began thanking Jesus for weird things like bees and polar bears and headbands for little girls.

In short, I became a raving lunatic.  And then I read Jen Hatmaker’s Seven on the train on the way home in one sitting and cried all over again how she stole my idea and put it in a book way before I ever thought about it but I’m so glad she did and then I cried all over again.

One month fasting from social media and I have become a tree-hugging, Bible-reading, broken people loving maniac looking to adopt/take home/love on/feed delicious meals every man/woman/child in a 5 foot radius.

I’m not going to promise I’ll never go back to it, but man has life been good without it.

P.S. I’m sure some of you who were directed to this blog via Facebook are like, “Um, what is she talking about?????”  To clarify: the blog is automatically published to Facebook, my fast has been to stay away from the Facebook page itself.  Even though the blog has posted, I have only done so through the blog’s site and have not visited the Facebook page since the last day of August.

The Muffin Deception

I made vegan meatballs tonight.  Not because I had something to prove, or lovely Bohemian dinner guests. I’m not considering a change of lifestyle- she says as she takes another bite of ice cream- not even for only two meals a day.  Tofu for BREAKFAST???? I’ll pass.   I just took out Mark Bittman’s VB6 Cookbook from the library this week and they actually sounded, well, good.  But I’m actually not going to talk about Mark Bittman, or his meatless balls tonight.  (On which I grated a copious amount of parmesan.  It’s not a confession if there was no intention to begin with, ok?) But rather, another foodie icon in this house.

During a surge of unexpected domesticity, I decided to make dinner AND dessert.  My husband, mind you, is not a dessert guy.  Breads, muffins, those are more his bag.  So, I turned to one of Ina’s cookbooks for a tried and true muffin recipe I could serve him after dinner and have plenty for breakfast the next day.  (Muffins for breakfast, yes, tofu, no.)

Ina has never steered me wrong before.   If I wasn’t already married when I made her engagement chicken, it would’ve landed a rock for sure.  I learned all of my french pronunciations from watching her Madeline-esque bob swish up and down the screen.  I have been known to whisper, “How easy is that?” Under my breath as the rising steam of of a crisp pinot grigio meets a hot pan.  I may or may not have had dreams of her leaving me her East Hampton home in her will, knowing that I would care deeply for her garden.  Her kitchen.  Her adorably flamboyant florist bestie.

I digress.

I chose her banana crunch muffin recipe and eliminated the “crunch” part, knowing my husband’s disdain for sweet things.  Poor thing.

I know it’s been a while since I’ve baked with “typical” ingredients (Like, no chia, psysillium husk, soaked almond flour, and other amazingly hippie things I have pouring out of my cabinets) and I can’t remember the last time I used real cane sugar that’s WHITE, so I just figured all of these, now, foreign ingredients must be normal.

They smelled like fairy tales while they were baking which should have been the first sign, folks.  Like fairy tales with unicorns and little girl’s princess birthday parties and rainbows and hello kitty and everything lovely.

These little monsters are CUPCAKES. You can’t just call something a muffin because you put a little fruit in it and you’d eat it for breakfast.   I’d eat pizza for breakfast.  That doesn’t make it a frittata.  Nope, not even if you crack an egg over the top.  (Which sounds like something someone should do tomorrow am.  )

Don’t get me wrong, they’re delicious.  Because they’re CUPCAKES.  However, I thought it only fair to warn you, in case you are as trusting of the woman as I was.  She will sneak that bleached white sugar right in through your door before you can say boo and hold your entire family hostage to it’s alluring power.

Wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Muffin, indeed.

Don’t believe everything you read, my friends.

Except what I write.

Obviously.

I Hate Beautiful Things (But not really.)

Beautiful was never important to me.

I know that’s a strange, strange thing to say but I’ve only really begun to understand the truth of it.

Whenever I was shopping with a friend, I almost had to feign interest EVERY SINGLE TIME.  The question, “But do you LOVE it?” has always been so confusing.  How can one LOVE a sweater? A new pair of jeans? I never understood.  I have never felt that way about a single article of clothing I’ve ever seen.  Which is probably why I’ve never owned very many.

I can count on my hand the times I blow-dried my hair or applied make-up…….in high school.  And college.  And the last three years of motherhood.

Upon meeting people, I never remember their faces but their voices and names are embroiled on my brain for decades.

The only other class in high school that gave me anxiety aside from Gym (haha) was Art.

I’ve zero interest in visual artistic expression.  There.  I said it.  I just never understood it.  My patient husband gently guided my hand through the Louvre and only giggling once when I had to ask why the statue with no head or arms and really bizarre wings was the center of attention.  I cannot express myself that way, and therefore, the expression is foreign to me.  Almost wrong.  Like putting mayonnaise on a peanut butter sandwich.  Where are the WORDS to explain what one has meant by these giants things I don’t understand ?!?!?!

I have never been tidy.  To clarify- this not does mean my house is dirty.  It’s just unkept.  Most of the time.  A little three year old girl with a penchant for tiaras and high heels might have a little something to do with that now, but she is not responsible for my natural habit of tossing pants on the floor, or leaving books all over the place with their binding bending to hold my place.

After spending some time ruminating on the subject in order to figure out what my problem was, I have deduced things to the following.  In my warped, Baptist-guilted, legalistically inclined brain, Beauty equals frivolity and vanity, luxury at it’s finest, which makes it off limits.  No I cannot allow myself to love those boots because that’s ridiculously selfish.  No I cannot enjoy the scent of that candle, the look of that flower, the feeling of that painting because it insights something pleasurable and that MUST BE BAD.  Whoa.  Have people always warped Gods gifts this way?

Words are certain.  Steadfast.  Unyielding.  Visual beauty is something different entirely.  It flits from person to person like a bird, changing feathers as it goes.  No one sees it the same way.  That is terrifying to me.

Which is probably why I’ve been married for 9 years and still have never redone our bedroom to look like anything other than a cluttered nun’s room.

Why I don’t own a single painting.

Or a single pair of boots I, gasp, love.

But, God would never have made things that were beautiful if I wasn’t supposed to find joy in them.  Find HIM in them.  Because He is Beauty.  He is joy.

Someday I’m going to grow up and remember only the true things about God’s character and not get caught up in my own hang-ups.

Until then, I’m just going to take it one step at a time.

Let’s start with the boots.

Bread for Life: In Defense of Carbs

I was 22 at my bridal shower and had never touched a raw chicken.  My future sister-in-law was seated discretely behind me as I opened each wishing well kitchen gadget to whisper to me how to thank people.

Jamie: It’s a garlic press.

Me: “Thank you for the, um,  garlic press!” It looks like it would make great play doh spaghetti….

We put Cyrano to shame.

My limited cooking knowledge was accrued by watching my grandmother in the kitchen, and stirring ramen in the microwave of my college dorm.  I didn’t know a protein from teen spirit.  Who would have thought, ten years later, I would become so enamored with the kitchen enough to write a blog based on the time spent around the table?  That my whole theology would shift to accommodate the truths found in the simple breaking of bread, pouring of wine, giving thanks bolstered by the scents of baking and simmering and roasting and bubbling coming from the kitchen.  MY kitchen.

It shouldn’t have been as surprising as it was.  My great-grandfather came to America from the Netherlands with his brother to open the Vanderberg Brother’s Bakery, just before the Depression.  They knew very little English.  But they knew how to make bread.  They knew the feel of the dough between their fingers.  They knew that smell was the best way to tell if bread was done.  The knew the difference between the hollow knock of a well baked loaf and the depressing thud of one pulled too quickly from the fire.  Bread is the ultimate, cross cultural unifier.  It smells like home.  It’s in my blood.

That’s why, ultimately, this no carb diet stuff never sticks.  Not when it comes to bread.  Bread is more than it’s breakdown of ingredients.  It’s the song of ancestors and immigrants.  It’s in our DNA, whether Tortilla or Boule or Pita.  It’s foundational in it’s nutrients.  It takes time to put together.  To rise.  To rise again.  To bake.  To cool.  It’s assembly is the furthest thing from our immediate gratification syndrome.  It speaks of a time when things that mattered were placed as a top priority- something that’s foreign and strange to us, now.  Nourishment, Community, Family, Pleasure.

I live in New Jersey, work in NYC and fight for a balance amidst the hurry.  Bread helps me connect to the things that matter.

Take that, Atkins.

Monday

Nothing would make me happier than if someone had all of the books on my Amazon wish list sent to me anonymously.  Nothing.

Unless someone offered to come de-clutter my house.

But then, where would all of those books go?

We think happy hour is a fourth meal, here at the Shannons and we make good use of it. And we’re kind of obsessed with these.

I am so happy the weather is as such to re-instate our Sunday roast chicken tradition I could do cartwheels.  If I ever learned how to do them. I blame my Mother for telling me to keep both of my feet on the ground.

I made jars and jars of roasted tomato salsa with the produce that came out of my garden and had bone broth simmering in my crock pot all day and am more excited about the rye flour being shipped to my house for my sourdough starter than I ever was about buying an article of clothing.

I started brushing my teeth with baking soda and praying over the door of my child’s room against this insane virus that I see in the news and in my nightmares.

And I finished this book.  And it made me remember how Christ isn’t about programs and Facebook pages and teeshirts and highlights and everything about the hungry, the marginalized, the destitute and the broken.

I want to feed people.  People who are hungry.  I want to feed them and love them well at my table amid down lap blankets and Earl Grey.  I have always wanted that, but I had forgotten.

I watch Chocolat or Amelie when I’m sad.  Or lonely.  Or bored.  Anytime, really.

Especially when I should already be in bed.  Like, now.

Saturday Morning

I may or may not be wearing a shirt that says, “Beer Whisperer” that belongs to my husband and wearing gray sweatpants that match.

While eating chocolate chip cookies for breakfast.

I have clearly given up sexy on Saturdays.

And checking Facebook during the entire month of September.

And Wine during the week.  (See how I capitalized it? I needed to let it go.)

What I have not given up are:

Dinner parties.  (Moroccan eggplant and apricot hand pies, grilled lamb chops and harissa hummus, anyone?)

Keeping a debt countdown by my desk to mark every penny we don’t owe anyone anymore, ever again. Amen.

The hope that my child might ever sleep alone.

Loving fall weather.

Amazon.

I am addicted to amazon.

I am terrified of personal trainers.

And organized sports.

And hand sanitizers that are supposed to smell like apple pie.

And whatever they put in Pumpkin Spice Lattes at Starbucks that will give me cancer but I. CANT. HELP. MYSELF.

Happy Saturday, friends.

Perpetuating the SAHM Stereotype with the Three C’s : Cookies, Candles and Celebrity Crushes

We’ve paired down our clutter by half this summer.  Had a garage sale, gave toys away (don’t tell my kid I had her Aunt come in the dark of night and abscond discarded toys from the lonely corner on the front porch).  I think we’ve been doing pretty good with the whole, non-consumer thing.  

But, I mean, there are still things I can LOOOOOVE, right?

When you loooooove something, you get to keep it? That’s what all of those terrifying Psychologists on those Hoarding TV shows say.  

So, here are a few things I cannot live without right now.

Like, at all.

Like, don’t make me give it up or I’ll cry in the corner like my dog died.

1.  It’s no secret that french cooking is an obsess ,  er, hobby of mine.  If I’m allowed a celebrity crush, it’s David Lebovitz forever and ever.  So, what love child could come of the joining of my favorite chef with my favorite blogger? These cookies.  These cookies are the perfect union of everything holy.  Jesus would love these cookies.   I have stuck to the recipe.  I have gently toasted pecans and sprinkled cypress white flake sea salt over the top of each little mound. Oh, and used this- just to be fancy . I may or may not have spooned a bit of dark chocolate gelato over the bottom.  You can’t take them from me.  Well, unless you’re a little fairy-type person with pink wings and a top knot and you’re not too sneaky but you’re so cute it doesn’t even matter.

 photo-18

2.  We went to New Hampshire on vacation this summer and every year when I return, I mourn the loss of the warm pine smell.  I know,I know.  Everyone in NJ automatically associates the aroma with a rouge twinkle light and a smoking Christmas tree, but the pine smell has always meant summer and rest to me. While in a little shop in the middle of Moultonborough-no where, I found a pine scented candle that smelled like the forrest and not the Christmas Tree Shop. Thank you, Swan Creek, you’ve made this New England heart very happy.  

3.  I put off reading Jen Hatmaker’s “Interrupted” because, well, I’m from New Jersey and have a natural bias against all things Texan. Her writing style is so informal it makes the English teacher inside of me want to whack her wrist with a ruler.  You can’t put y’all on paper. It goes against every code in every book ever written.  Which, I think was her point. I ate up every rule breaking, paradigm shifting, feet washing, word. 

4.  Erin Morgenstern’s debute novel, “Night Circus” was the first piece of fiction I’ve read in TWO YEARS that I couldn’t put down.  And cried when it was over.  I mourned the end.  For real.  It took two full days to come snap out of it.  Read it.

5.  These boots.  Ok, so, technically, they can’t be my favorite because I don’t actually own them.  Yet.  But they would be.  Oh how they would be.  


 


 

Dating Classroom Mothers

The first day of preschool is a milestone, all the way around.

We got up early, brushed teeth and hair.  Had some french toast, braided unruly straggles and put on a white dress.  Because there’s no way they would do anything as brave as painting on the first day, right?

My little one was both excited and nervous, apprehensive and curious.  She ran up the pathway ahead of me through the sea of parents taking pictures with expensive cameras, combing spiky hair, fiddling with hems, and staring at ME.

We are a new family in a private school we can barely afford but she was going there if I had to sell each and every one of my teeth because we both deserve a place where she is safe and free to learn.  

I had prepared my kiddo for the opportunity of meeting new friends, but I had neglected to give myself the same speech.  

Oh shit.

They’re sizing me up.

I am not ready for this.

I smile nervously, usher my child inside to her classroom and gently detangle her fingers from the bottom of my shirt.

“First time?” an inquiring voice asked behind me.  Haven’t seen you around….

“I’m sorry? Oh, yes.” Nervous laughter. 

She’s trying to pick me up.

I watched her eyes.  To my wedding ring.  To my scarf.  To my pearl earrings. 

I have been tried and found acceptable.

Flashing smile.  Assurances of how great she’ll do.  Her son’s in the same class.

Of course he is.

Look, I am a social person.  Friendly, even.  I can handle the thought of meeting new people, as long as I am prepared.  I was not prepared.  My heart started pounding.  My mouth went dry.  Oh God.  I’m not quite ready for a relationship yet, I’m just trying to get through this 15 minutes without crying or throwing up. 

I make a beeline for the door as I watch her mouth open to dodge her request for coffee or to “lunch”.

A date.

You understand, don’t you? 

You can’t rush into these things.

Looks like it was first day for me, too.