Pardon me while I move things around trying to get this blog more readable and usable. Things might look kinda weird for a week or so while I’m working on it. Thanks to Liza Williams for letting me use her gorgeous photo as my header.
I keep seeing this piece of “inspiration” popping up around Pinterest:
At the surface, it seems harmless enough. Who doesn’t want to avoid stressful situations and/or people? Wouldn’t doing so make one less stressed out and thus happier?
But I see three fundamental flaws in it.
1. True happiness is an internal thing and is not necessarily dependent on external circumstances. This is, of course, easier said than done, but advising people to make their lives easier in order to be happier seems like telling them they can’t be happy until things are less stressful in their lives, and that’s simply not true.
2. No one can avoid all stressful people and situations, nor would one truly want to. My children, for example, are some of the most stress-inducing people I know, but I wouldn’t want to avoid them. Likewise, people’s jobs often provide some of the most stressful situations they encounter in their lives, but avoiding work is usually a bad idea. Relationships with parents, siblings, and spouses can be stressful at times because the closer people get to each other, the more likely they are to encounter the parts of each other that are annoying and unpleasant. But these relationships can be the most fulfilling of all if, instead of avoiding them, we invest in them. Of course, I’m not saying that one should never avoid a toxic relationship, but stressful does not equal toxic.
3. Dealing with hard things makes us stronger and more compassionate, which makes us more capable of happiness. So far in my life, dealing with hard things has taught me 1) that I am strong enough to deal with hard things, which makes me feel confident in my abilities, and 2) that hard stuff is hard, and I never know what other people are going through, so I should give them the benefit of the doubt and show kindness when I can. Both of these have ultimately led to me becoming a better, happier person. By dealing with difficult people, I’ve learned to understand where they’re coming from, even if I don’t agree with it. And I’ve learned to appreciate the people I love even more.
This isn’t the only bit of advice I’ve seen that was terrible, but I actually felt like I could respond to this one without hurting anyone’s feelings. Can we all collectively decide to let this one die?
Jonathon and I love Indian food, especially the variety served at Bombay House. I still haven’t found a recipe for naan that comes anywhere near Bombay House’s naan (or, even better, their garlic naan). My general philosophy of ordering there is to try something new every time, and it’s only done me wrong once, I think. It wasn’t Bombay House’s fault; I just realized once again that I’m not a huge fan of lentils. But a cauliflower/potato dish was to die for, every chicken dish on the menu is delicious (some more than others, of course), and the lamb dish I tried last time because I’d exhausted the chicken menu was very good as well.
When I order something I love at Bombay House, I memorize the name of it and come home to research recipes for it. The thing about Indian food is that there’s a little bit of an initial cost to buy the weird spices you need—coriander, turmeric, garam masala, and cardamom usually cover it. After that, the only things I need to remember to buy when making Indian food are fresh ginger, plain yogurt, and sometimes whipping cream or coconut milk, depending on the recipe. In fact, I keep ginger in my freezer and coconut milk in my canned goods all the time, so usually Indian food is something I can make just with what’s on hand, unless I need to go get yogurt.
Every time I make a delicious Indian recipe, though, I feel amazed that I can make such wonderful food myself. It almost seems like magic. Throw onions, garlic, ginger, and tomatoes together with some spices and cream/yogurt/coconut milk and make something transcendent.
For Indian food, I love to use basmati rice, but I know it’s much more expensive than regular white rice, so I understand if you just want to use that. I will include instructions for doing the basmati in case you want to try it.
Anyway, I sometimes get requests for my recipes, so here’s my chicken coconut kurma recipe. Rather than give you a long list of ingredients at the beginning, some of which are used multiple times during the recipe, I’ve bolded ingredients so you can easily scan for your shopping list.
Chicken Coconut Kurma
Sprinkle 2-3 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts with 1/2 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. cumin, 1/2 tsp. coriander, 1/4 tsp. turmeric, 1/4 tsp. cayenne, and a dash of black pepper. Let sit one hour.
45 minutes into the hour, start on the rest. Grate a 1 inch square frozen gingerroot (not peeled). Add 6–7 cloves of garlic and 1/2 cup water. Blend (in a blender) until smooth. Also chop up an onion at this point and set aside.
Rinse 2 cups basmati rice in water. To do this, I measure the rice into a bowl and pour in cold water until it’s an inch or two above the top of the rice. Stir the kernels around a bit, making the water cloudy with starch. Pour off most of the water and pour new water in. Repeat until the water stops looking so cloudy. You won’t get it all the way clear, but it definitely starts looking clearer after the fourth or fifth time you do it. Put the rinsed rice in a pot with 4 cups water, 2 Tbsp. oil, and salt to taste (you know how much you like, probably). You can also add turmeric for color if desired. Don’t turn on your burner yet.
Okay, by now, you’re probably ready to brown the chicken. My recipe doesn’t say, but I like to chop it up into bite-sized pieces. I do this after letting it sit in its spices because sprinkling evenly over intact chicken breasts is easier than over chunks. So I chop up the chicken at this point and fry it up in some oil until browned. Remove from pan.
Fry onions in oil (I reuse my oil from the chicken, but you can add more if needed) until medium brown, otherwise known as slightly caramelized. Pour in that garlic–ginger paste you made earlier in the blender. Continue frying until it gets a little thick. Add 1 tsp. cumin, 1 tsp. coriander, 1/4 tsp. turmeric, and a dash of cayenne pepper. Fry 30 seconds. Add 2 chopped tomatoes (I use canned usually, and since my kids aren’t fans of chunky cooked tomatoes, I use crushed, about 3/4 can). Turn heat to low and cook 3–4 minutes, mashing with the back of a slotted spoon.
Whip 4 Tbsp. (1/4 cup) plain yogurt in a small bowl. Add to sauce. Add your browned chicken, 1 c. water, and 1 tsp. salt. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, 20 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking on the bottom.
The moment you put the lid on to start the simmer, turn on the burner for your rice. When it comes to a boil, cover and reduce heat to low. Basmati rice cooks 15 minutes, not 20 like white rice, so the timing should be just about perfect for everything to finish cooking at the same time.
Add 1 tsp. garam masala, 2 Tbsp. chopped cashews, 3 Tbsp. raisins (golden are best, but I always use regular because they’re cheaper), and 6 Tbsp. coconut cream (the thick, creamy stuff that rises to the top of a can of coconut milk). Mix gently. Turn up the heat and stir now and then until sauce is fairly thick. Serve over rice. If you’re really adventurous and confident in your multitasking skills, serve with naan as well.
Tonight I tried making mango lassis because I had a mango on hand, something that has never before happened. I also had leftover plain yogurt, so I tried it. Ours were probably not authentic, having far too much milk in them because nobody wanted them as thick as the recipe called for, but I’ll leave you to find a recipe for those on your own (or make up your own because it’s basically a yogurt–mango milkshake with sugar in it).
I know I’ve been talking about El Guapo a lot lately, but this is a really fun age. It’s amazing how quickly a baby becomes a little kid with opinions, preferences, talents, a sense of humor, fears, etc. As soon as they have the words to express their feelings and the mobility to go get what they want, a window into their personality opens up.
Here are some things I’ve learned about El Guapo recently:
1. His favorite food in the world might be pizza. At least once a day he’ll ask for “Pizza? Please?”
2. He hates having doors closed on him. I think he’s more sensitive to this than the older boys have been because he’s aware he’s the youngest and mad that sometimes everybody except him gets to do certain things. The worst is when Lego and Duplo go outside to play and I can’t go out at the moment because I’m teaching piano or making dinner or doing dishes or whatever. Since we don’t have a completely fenced-in back yard, he’s not really safe outside without an adult making sure he doesn’t run into the road. El Guapo LOVES to go outside (he’s a big fan of spring), and he’s figured out how to open the wooden front door but not the glass door past it. He just stands there longingly trying to figure out how to get the door open. One time I saw him bring my keys from my desk and try to “unlock” the glass door as he said, “Lock!” over and over.
3. He doesn’t mind going to bed. Each night when he starts acting tired, I ask him, “Are you ready to go in your bed?” Most nights, he replies in a very chipper voice, “Bye bye, Dada!” He knows that he always gives Jonathon a hug and kiss goodnight before going to sleep.
4. He’s learning to run and it’s the funniest thing ever to watch.
5. He loves Lego people (as in the toy, not his big brother). He takes their heads off and puts them back on, sits them down on each others’ heads, puts their “hats” on (sometimes it’s hair), carries them around, whatever. We tried for months to keep him away from Legos, but finally we’ve given in.
5. He loves dogs. There’s a little dog next door who’s rather old and slow, and El Guapo will follow him around until he can pet him. There’s another dog, larger and more hyper, that usually stays in their back yard, and he always asks me to pick him up so he can see her.
6. He has learned the concept of possession, which has added the words “my” and “mine” to his vocabulary. This also means that he knows if something is “Eela’s” or “Nanio’s,” and he always loves pointing out “Mama’s car” and “Dada’s car.”
7. He’s learned how to say Duplo’s name (see #6 for his pronunciation).
8. He’s expanded his singing repertoire beyond just the Star Wars theme to “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” “Once There Was a Snowman,” and the Iron Man theme song (from the kids’ cartoon, which the boys only watched a few times but which apparently made a musical impression on El Guapo). He likes “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam,” but he hasn’t figured out how to actually sing it yet.
9. He has sharp eyes. Sometimes tiny details that we haven’t even noticed catch his eye. For instance, Jonathon was reading him a little book from the library about clothing. Each page had an illustration of an article of clothing, and on one page was a pink dress with a slightly darker pink bow on the front. “Tie!” El Guapo explained, pointing to it.
10. He’s polite. El Guapo often says please when asking for things and thank you when he gets them. He says he’s sorry and gives “soft touches” when he hurts someone, and he even closes his eyes during the prayer. He’s a good boy who brings joy and a little craziness into our home every day.
Stay tuned for Lego’s birthday update on Thursday! He’s having a Star Wars party.
I read an article recently about how hard it is to teach colors to children because color is everywhere and hard to separate from other aspects, or even other colors. If you say, “The red balloon,” the child has no idea that you’re talking about color specifically rather than other aspects, like its roundness, its floatiness, its rubberiness, etc. The article claimed that there are sometimes kids of six or seven who don’t completely have their colors sorted out yet.
The article kind of baffled me because I haven’t really had trouble teaching colors to my kids. I just find objects that come a) in identical shapes, b) in varying colors, and c) in solid colors (so no bit of green on the red object, for instance). Colored blocks work great (as long as they’re all the same shape), as do game pieces, Tupperware bell tumblers, Candyland cards, etc.
Group all the red objects in one pile and all the blue objects in another. I never teach more than four colors at once. Point to the red pile say “red.” Then name each object and say, “The block is red. Red block. The cup is red. Red cup. The ball is red. Red ball.” Then do the same for the blues. Remove one object from a pile and hand it to your child. Ask, “Where does it go? Is it red? Or blue?”
If the child gets it right, praise him or her and choose another object to sort. If the child gets it wrong, say, “No, it’s blue,” and place it in the correct pile yourself. After a while, you’ll find that they get it right more often than not.
Just now, El Guapo and I played with Candyland cards for over 20 minutes. He was fascinated. He kept collecting all the orange cards, and he could identify red cards, though he called them blue. A pretty good start, I say.