My daughter has a dirty mouth. Today at preschool she said "poo-poo head." She ran around and around the table. She hid under the table. She ignored the parent-teacher. She was so naughty that the story she wrote was confiscated, and when she and a co-conspirator told a different teacher they didn't care about their bad behavior, they lost their show-and-tell privileges.
At pickup time there was a talk with her teacher, a talk with the parent-teacher, a fountain of tears and howling and then, finally, we buckled up to go home.
"Why you no story, Yee-yee?" asked her three year old brother, deeply concerned.
She didn't respond, so I explained that the text of her story had been "Head. Head, head, head!". Over and over again. And that it wasn't funny. At least not to the parent- teacher, or, as I was told by the offended parent, the other kids.
"Bwaahahaha! You so funny Yee-yee!" he guffawed, slapping her on the back. Peering up from the depths of the chasm into which we had fallen, I saw a lifetime of bad-sense-of-humor inflicted shame and exasperated teachers' loathing ahead of me.
It hadn't been a terribly good string of days. My daughter's birthday party had devolved into a festival of preschool hooligans. The other three we had attended that week had just been exhausting. Thank you notes were undone. Bags were not yet unpacked from the last trip and repacked for the next. There had been ruined dinners - one especially sad destruction of two perfect little heads of lettuce due to my own inability to pay attention. And now here I was, again, ready to muck up more ingredients and attempt to feed them to my children. My poor, sad, children, who now sat on the sofa looking forlornly at the television.
For a moment I considered throwing in the towel and calling for pizza. Then I too could hunker down and gawk at the t.v. But we'd had pizza a few days ago. And besides, my son doesn't like pizza. He eats it only under duress, complaining that he prefers cheeseburgers or fish. Plus, this dinner was really easy. It would take about five minutes. It would use the ancient shrimp blocking up the freezer, get rid of some summer squash and clear out the cilantro. With a great sigh I dumped the shrimp into a colander to thaw, started up the rice and heated a pan.
Then, it all came together like a dream. Each course easy to prepare, quick to cook, delicious to eat. Pragmatic in its use of seasonal and stored ingredients, elegant in its simplicity, this dinner saved me from despair. Even my kids ate it. Or at least ate part of it, with some complaints - the shrimp, though it was too spicy, and the rice, though it was too green. We gobbled our meal, wiped our mouths clean, neatly folded our napkins and were reinvigorated for another day.
As for my daughter's misbehavior, I have to applaud her for having a book banned by the age of five. I think she has a future in literature.
Spicy Shrimp, Cilantro Rice and Zucchini:
For this meal to work perfectly, start by putting the shrimp (if frozen) out to thaw in a colander in the sink. Run some hot water over them. Second, make the rice. While the rice is cooking, make the squash. Turn the heat off when you finish the squash, it will wait for the rest. Also turn the heat off when the rice is done. Last, cook the shrimp.
You'll need the pimentón, be sure to get some if you need to. It really is good. As is the sesame oil.
Cilantro Rice: (adapted from Bon Appétit)
1 cup jasmine rice (or other white long grain variety)
2 one inch long pieces of fresh ginger, peeled and cut each into four round slices
1 2/3 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups finely chopped (minced) fresh cilantro
1 shallot, finely chopped (minced)
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon toasted sesame oil (or not toasted, if that is all you've got)
1 teaspoon or more seasoned rice vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt (or so)
Combine the rice, ginger rounds, chicken stock and salt in a small pot on the stove. Bring it to a boil, stirring often, then cover and reduce the heat to low. You'll want it to simmer gently until the rice is tender and the stock is absorbed, about 18 minutes. While it is cooking chop the cilantro and shallot. Combine them in a measuring cup with both oils and the rice vinegar. When the rice is done, stir in the cilantro mixture. Season with salt and pepper.
Zucchini: (adapted from Nigel Slater's Tender)
In the U.K., zucchini are called courgettes. Nigel Slater calls this "a quick way with courgettes". You can cook any sort of summer squash, not just zucchini, this way.
a few summer squash (zucchini or otherwise), sliced into short pieces
1-2 Tablespoons olive oil
juice of half a lemon (or so)
handful of fresh herbs (whatever you happen to have around - chives, basil, tarragon, thyme, etc.)
salt and pepper
Heat the olive oil in a pan, and when it begins to shimmer add the squash, stirring occasionally. When they are tender and golden at the edges, turn off the heat. Sprinkle the lemon juice over the squash, add salt, pepper and the herbs and stir it up.
Spicy Shrimp: (adapted from Mark Bittman's Summer Express)
3 cloves garlic thinly sliced (or more if you'd like)
1 Tablespoon or so olive oil
1 teaspoon pimentón (this is spanish smoked paprika, usually found in a tin on the spice aisle)
1 teaspoon ground cumin (use less of this and the pimentón if you don't want it spicy)
one dozen (or so) shrimp
salt and pepper
parsley, minced (optional)
lemon, sliced for squeezing (optional)
Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat. When it begins to shimmer add the garlic. When the garlic begins to turn golden (don't let it get darker than that), add the pimentón and cumin. If you are serving kids, or grown ups who do not like spicy food, you should use less than a teaspoon of each. Stir it together and a minute later, add the shrimp and some salt and pepper. Cook the shrimp, stirring occasionally, until they are bright pink and opaque. Serve the shrimp garnished with parsley and a lemon to squeeze over it, if you want to be fancy.