When people ask, or even when they don’t I often describe parenting as a roller coaster although I really hate how cliche that sounds. And yet, I can’t think of a better way to describe the highs and lows, dips and dives, elatement and nausea that happens in a single day when you are left to guide and shape the life of a little being or beings.
Let me give you a few examples from my day. Warning: four-year-old humor is involved. Proceed at your own risk.
In the car, where my patience is the most tried, my children sound like the shattering of a thousand plates of fine china. One is touching the other which is apparently worse than death, while the other one just dropped his lego into the deep crevices of the car and expects me to turn around and grab it while I’m driving. The cries from the back increase as I threaten to, “pull this car over”. Languishing both over the fact that I sound like a parent and that I have no idea what I would do if I really did pull the car over I decide to join them in their screams, “No more talking! Ever.”
Now I’m frustrated that I didn’t handle the situation as a mature and controlled parent would and that they didn’t listen to my pleading. While I’m lamenting my behavior I’m stunned by the sudden silence. I glance in the rear view mirror. With contorted necks and gaping mouths they are asleep and I swear I can see a ridge of light around their heads forming a brilliant halo. The last few moments of screams are instantly forgotten as my heart and every other part of me swells with love for these little people to the point where I feel as if I might just burst.
At home and well recovered from the car ride I settle on the couch with my four-year-old as we bond over classic Spiderman cartoons. As Spidey is flinging his webs from his fingers, Roman looks at me and says, “God made you beautiful.” I sit in stunned silence and just start to wipe a tear from my sleep-craved eyes when he finishes his sentence with, “I’m farting.”
At its peaks it is the best “job” in the world. I sit in stunned gratitude that I get the joy of parenting these three who I feel are the coolest people on the planet. And then there are the times when I wish it was an actual job so I could quit or at the very least, take a sick day.
Dinner time is another wild ride. Sometimes I spend the afternoon in the kitchen slowly simmering sauces and caramelizing onions to the point of uncommon sweetness. The herbs are picked from our garden and the bread slowly risen in the fridge overnight. I proudly display my dinner on the table, like my 2 year old and her scribbled drawings, only to be met with grimaces and the immediate separating of dinner into what can and what can’t be eaten categories.
Then there are the times when I bring dinner to the table ready for the assault of moans, grumbling and slouched disgusted bodies as the meal has all the signs of usual disapproval; lots of green, exotic seasonings and no pasta with cheese. So when I see clean plates and hear, “It’s delicious!” it’s enough to sustain me through some of the more common grimaces and groans. They happily devour the sweet and spicy grilled beef fleck with fresh mint and cilantro. Baron, after one bite of thinly sliced cucumber proclaims, “cucumber is my favorite.” I’m in shock as last week it was the worst. As I listen to all this I too clean my plate and marvel at the moment of a meal appreciated.
Until I can think of another visual that better illustrates the range of emotions I see and feel in one day, I think I’ll stick with a roller coaster. I’ve come to realize that while the dips are hard, emotional and trying to the point where I think I can’t handle anything else it’s then when a peak begins and I find again, the joy of the ride.
Thai Beef Salad
Serves 4 to 6
After a stint with a nasty sickness that invaded our house and roughed us all up pretty good I needed to feed my family something hearty and nutritious to make up for the endless days of soda crackers we had become accustomed to.
I turned this Cooks Illustrated version into more of a salad than is classically called for. I upped the dressing ingredients so there would be enough to coat the pile of lettuce I ate this with. While I adore Cooks Illustrated sometimes I find their recipes a bit fastidious with more steps than I have time or patience for but I’ll tell you about them in case you want to add them into your process. First of all they toast the ground spices so the paprika is a bit more smokey and the cayenne has packs more punch. The other thing they do is toast 2 tablespoons uncooked basmati rice in a dry skillet until golden. Once cooled the rice is then ground and added as a garnish and along with the cooked and seasoned meat. If you have the time or patience this step really does add a lovely crunch and deep flavor but it’s fine without it. I also left out the chile for the sake of the kidlets.
One more thing to point out before you begin: here the meat is not pre-seasoned but rather tossed with the fragrant sweet and sour dressing. For those of you who don’t often pre-plan dinner, such as myself, this means dinner is ready in under 20 minutes. I love that.
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3-4 tablespoons lime juice (according to preference)
3 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons water
¾ teaspoon sugar
1½ pound flank steak, trimmed
Salt and pepper, coarsely ground
3 shallots, sliced thin
1½ cups fresh mint leaves, torn
1½ cups fresh cilantro leaves
1 Thai chile, stemmed and sliced thin into rounds (omit if you don’t want it too spicy)
1 seedless English cucumber, thinly sliced or peeled with a potato peeler
3-4 cups greens (I used a red leaf lettuce but I imagine nearly anything would be great)
Combine the cayenne and paprika together in a small bowl.
Whisk together the lime juice, fish sauce, water, sugar, and ¼ teaspoon paprika mixture in a large bowl and set aside. This dressing will taste strong but remember it’s the flavor for the meat and the lettuce.
Season the steak with salt and pepper. Place the steak over the hot part of the grill or grill pan and cook until it’s beginning to char, 5 to 6 minutes. Flip the steak and continue to cook on the second side until charred and the center registers 125 degrees, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate, tent loosely with aluminum foil, and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes (or allow to cool to room temperature, about 1 hour).
Slice the meat, against the grain and on the bias, into ¼-inch-thick slices. Transfer the sliced steak to the bowl with the fish sauce mixture. Add the shallots, mint, cilantro, chile, and half of the rice powder (if using); toss to combine.
Add a bit (save the rest of the dressing for another time) of the dressing to a bowl with the greens. Place some dressed greens on the plate then finish with some of the cucumber and slices of meat.
Serve with the remaining paprika mixture so your diners could add more spice if needed. Also, if you’ve taken the time to make the toasted rice powder serve that on the side as well.