(Originally posted with the title, “The Moon Is Like China,” on August 23, 2014. The version below is a revision and, therefore, quite a bit different from the original.)
One day, at some point in our childhood, my sister and I were riding in the car, and my sister, staring out the window, said, apropos of nothing: The moon is like China.
Because we were young and I was still well-mannered, I did not turn to her and respond: What the hell?
But I must have given a quizzical look, because she went on to say: I never want to visit either place. And we laughed, because I understood perfectly.
From that point forward we had, as sisters often do, a private code. “The moon is like China” applied in all sorts of situations, usually when we found ourselves surrounded by literal thinkers who made us feel itchy. That phrase was just one in our large (and still growing) book of secret language, my sister’s and mine, developed through a bond that is unique to oddballs like us.
We were never, either of us, like the rest of the kids we grew up with. Our parents were older than the other parents, and they, our mother in particular, were always a bit unconventional, never fitting in completely with their peers. They were oddball parents, and we were their 1970s oddball children, and at the risk of making too much of things that might seem silly and superficial, we oddball children might have felt entirely disconnected from the world around us if not for having one another.
And we had Kermit and Mork.
Our mother was a writer and a musician and an intellectual, but she nevertheless allowed us to watch plenty of TV. We didn’t have cable, so the offerings were limited to things like Little House on the Prairie and Happy Days and, in the afternoons, re-runs of I Love Lucy and The Beverly Hillbillies.
Given the five years between us and the fact that we had only one small television, Margaret and I had to compromise on the afternoon viewing because she wanted to watch The Electric Company and I wanted to watch Hogan’s Heroes. This is why she is now a medical doctor and I am a spin doctor.
We alternated shows in a way that I don’t remember fighting about, although I suspect we were then very much like my own children are now and that we fought mightily.
The Muppet Show was Margaret’s show, which she watched from a position very close to the TV, sitting on the floor cross-legged (in the 70s we called it “Indian style,” a detail I add in the spirit of forgiving our past selves) while I sat in our father’s turquoise vinyl recliner and pretended to do my homework. She would marvel over the Muppets, and I would tell her, from my armchair position, that I knew all about those Muppets because I remembered the very first Sesame Street episode ever because I watched it on television with our mother before my sister was even born. I was a pain-in-the-ass older sister. Margaret often called me Miss Piggy.
It was hard not to love those goofy displaced Muppets, though, because they were the ultimate oddballs, Kermit in particular. And it was equally hard, a couple of years later, not to love Mork when he landed from outer space as Laverne’s blind date and made such an impression that he got his own show.
For children too young to digest The Catcher in the Rye, The Muppet Show and Mork & Mindy provided a kind of affirming assurance for kids who didn’t fit the norm. So we watched, my oddball sister and I, and we laughed, and in the subtlest way we felt a little more at ease, a little less alien.
What I couldn’t know then was that all middle school aged children feel like oddballs. Feeling out-of-place is, in many ways, the work of this particular age group. And, for children lucky enough to have parents who love, accept, and nurture their oddball children, what comes next, in teenage years and the early 20s, is the process of finding one’s tribe of fellow oddballs and finally belonging.
I know this now with certainty, because I am watching my own children get through to the other side of it. Their experiences are different from mine because they are not me. But in the larger sense, what’s happening for them is identical to my own growing up. There is relief, for them, as they start to find their own ways, their own people.
It is a human process, and looking at it from middle aged motherhood it seems almost magical, though I know it doesn’t yet feel that way to my children.
They, too, are finding their own oddball tribes. And soon they will move on, because it is time.
So it must be.
Food | Week of August 25, 2014 (direct re-post of the original)
So, speaking of the 1970s, let’s talk about Stouffer’s spinach soufflé.
My mother, as many of you know, was a very good cook. She was the kind of cook who could whip up dinner of pork tenderloin with orange sauce and pilaf followed by chocolate soufflé for dessert that would leave everyone raving about her meal. One of her favorite things to make for cocktail parties was stuffed mushrooms, and she made them – I swear on my life – with Stouffer’s spinach soufflé. She, my mother the cook, tried mightily to replicate that green marvel, all to no avail. I took up her quest when she died, and my most recent attempt is based on David Tanis’s spinach cake recipe from A Dinner of Figs. Tanis’s recipe, adapted, also appears on David Lebovitz’s blog, and that’s the one I’m sharing this week. (And yes, I know that’s Swiss chard and not spinach in the picture; I couldn’t find local spinach, but I did find other greens, including chard, that are volunteering a second crop on local farms around here. And yes, you can use any green instead of spinach for the cake.)
And since I’m thinking about outsiders generally and David Lebovitz (American in Paris) specifically, I thought I might share several other of his recipes and encourage you, if you’re in the market for a new cookbook, to try My Paris Kitchen: Recipes and Stories (link is to Amazon so you can see the book, but please buy from your local bookseller if you can). And if you follow DL’s blog and are interested about his book writing adventure versus blogging, here is a great interview with Dianne Jacob about that very thing.
Spinach Cake | Watermelon Salad
I followed this spinach cake recipe almost to the letter; the exception was that I put the leek/spinach mixture in the blender without the eggs/milk (leaving the top vented, of course), so I could taste it. I almost stopped at that point because the puree was so good I wanted to eat the entire batch. But I continued, and the result was delicious. I did bake mine in a rectangular Pyrex instead of a round deep-dish pie plate, which probably helped in the similarity to Souffer’s. Tanis recommends serving with an herb salad. I think some sauteed mushrooms and a watermelon salad fit the season better.
Tandoori Chicken | Chopped Vegetable Salad
Even my children like Tandoori Chicken, although they prefer that I de-bone the chicken first. Removing the bone does remove some flavor, but not enough that my children notice. Serve with a simple chopped vegetable salad – which should be crunchy, always, not mushy.
Salmon Spread | Baguette | Tomato Salad
I’ll confess outright to purchasing salmon spread at The Fresh Market, but it is easy to make and better if prepared at home. Here’s DL’s recipe for salmon spread (including ideas for adapting). Serve with some fresh crusty bread and a tomato salad (or leftover chopped salad).
Shakshuka | Arugula Salad
In my aged cooking journal, which I started in 1988, I have a recipe called Eggs in Purgatory, which I’ve made several times but not recently. This one for shakshuka from David Lebovitz is very similar and gives the option of canned or fresh tomatoes. At the market here there are plenty of tomatoes that look better for cooking than for eating in salad, so I’m going that route. The second crop of arugula is coming in, too, so we’ll have that as the side.
Josey Baker’s Adventure Bread | Farm-fresh Cheese | Green Beans
For you seriously gluten-free celiac people (yes, there is at least one bona fide celiac sufferer who reads here religiously, and oh how I love her), here’s a recipe for gluten-free bread that’s hearty enough for a summer meal, especially when served with some good cheese (I like Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam, myself) and perhaps some steamed green beans with a bit of mustard (or ranch, for my children) for dipping.
This post is 11/56 in a series of daily posts, a daily writing challenge that is birthday gift to me from me, because writing gives me a place to put the clutter that lives in my head.