Rock & Roll Parenthood.

I watched my oldest son flick through the pages of the display iPad in the Nature’s Bioluminescence exhibit at the Museum of Natural History (aka the dinosaur bone museum) and watched his eyes twitch from icon to icon and his finger flit over this or that button before pressing it. And in that rare moment of silence, my mind drifted.

He turns four this week and I just cannot get over the fact that this little man is my kid. I could tell you that he is smart as a whip and a handsome devil to boot, but I know that already so I won’t bore you with the details. I just take the greatest pleasure in watching when he is interacting with something or someone and see those little pieces of me (and my wife, of course) that are reflected in those big brown eyes. You have to understand that I am slowly getting the hang of this parenting thing or rather I am OK with the fact that it is beyond my control and yet I have to put all my brawn, brains and heart into it in an attempt to budge it this way or that in a direction that is hopefully the better path for my kids. It usually, though, feels like Sisyphus and I actually have decided to adopt him as my parenthood mascot – my patron saint of Parenthood.

With my oldest son almost four and my youngest almost 9 months, I still have an eternity to go before earning my veteran parent benefits. There is still plenty of watching that boulder roll back down the hill and trudging back down the hill to push it right back up. And it’s draining.

Two things comfort me and transform the trudge into a little more of a skip in my step. The first is that I see plenty of other kids throwing tantrums at the supermarket and schadenfreude is the best therapy for parents – bar none. The second is the deception created by those moments – often just a split second – where your kids do something so normal and yet so superlative that you turn into silly putty and slide right back down that hill. A smile, a song where all the words are wrong, an unexpected hug, a sincere I’m sorry, replicating something taught without prompting, a delighted laugh, you know what I’m talking about. It gets you every time and is worth all the schlepping that is parenthood. Call me a sucker for punishment, but it’s every bit worth it pushing that rock day in and day out with a skip in my step.

Very, very better latte. Per favore!

For the past 100 years in a land not so far away (it’s actually a bedroom), a little boy (I know… you’re wondering how he stays so young!) shows up at the foot of his parent’s bed (they look every bit a hundred years old) and at the top of his lungs says:”I want very very better latte, per favore!” The latte he is referring to is not the Starbucks kind, but simply “milk” in Italian. Every day for the past century his parent’s have slept with one eye and ear open dreading the moment. They’ve tried everything to break the spell. Pleaded, threatened, ignored, hidden, cried even – to no avail. Every morning at around 5am, rain or shine, much like a Swiss cuckoo clock, the boy comes and makes his proclamation. It is repeated several times and more. Even the neighbors must hear and fear it since no village posse bearing pitchforks and torches has ever descended upon the household seeking to purge this scourge. I know this tale seems fictitious, but I assure you it is something that neither Tolkien nor Lewis nor Jordan nor Goodkind nor Eddings or any of the other master bards could conjure from the deepest recesses of their brilliant imagination. Such is the fantastical reality known to some of us as Parenthood.

Enjoy the silence…

I know. Depeche Mode wrote that about teen angst relationship stuff, but here I am past midnight enjoying it – immensely. I have not been able to sit down for two seconds to write anything down in the past few months – not even by locking myself in the bathroom (that actually makes it worse because the banging is even more nerve racking). Sure, I was warned, but this is something else. I don’t mind the having to change diapers again for the little one or the loads of laundry due to the tail end of potting training for the older one. I can handle the “stop touching your brother” and “don’t give that to him he will choke… and stop laughing it’s not funny!” or “how many times do I have to tell you not to (fill in the blank with pretty much anything a toddler could do)!” and my favorite from the adults “do you know what YOUR son did?!” I can take all of that because somehow I expected it from hearing other parents and from watching lots and lots of Bill Cosby. What I cannot take is the incessant cacophony of screaming and crying and yelling and singing (although closer to screaming) and the “daaaaaady can you (fill in the blank with anything)?!”

I used to hear myself think. Even after my first son was born. There were moments in which I could contemplate and knit my brow while reading, surfing the net or just thinking. I miss it terribly. I crave it. I dare say I need it!

I’ve been reduced to a bumbling fool by a 6 month old and a 3.5 year old.

I envy Homer Simpson.

OK. Back to enjoying the silence.

“He’s a regular…”

That’s what the kind lady said to me as she walked around the bakery counter and recognized my son sitting in the stroller. She handed him a mini vanilla (or banilla as my son says) cupcake and smiled as he devoured the icing. Luckily he has been less of a regular these days since he is no longer going to the daycare next door. She laughed and said,”he always goes for the icing first. “He ONLY eats the icing”, I thought to myself. She got out of her crouch next to the stroller and mussed his hair, “what a cutie and so well mannered!” (huh?!) And she went back to her other customers.

Half way down he block my son sticks out his now empty crumb encrusted hand and says,”Daaaady?! I want another one!” And stood up in the stroller, harness and all – to punctuate his quasi-interjection.

“You just had one. Sit down and put your feet up. It’s 115 degrees and Daddy is melting faster than the Wicked Witch.”

“Daaaady?!”

“What.”

“I neeeeeed it!”

“No, you really don’t. Let’s go.”

“Daaaady?!”

“What.”(sighing)

“I love you!”

“Nice try. Feet up let’s go.”

The stand off finally ended and I made it home dripping with sweat as my son bounced up and down in the stroller in the grip of a full fledged sugar high. I could just imagine if the bakery had installed a few stools they would greet my son as he walked in with a “Norm!” and he’d slide onto “his” stool and wait for the nice lady behind the counter to slide him a cupcake.

Fage: How to pronounce it and turn “plain” yogurt into a multi-course meal.

I was invited recently by Greek yogurt brand Fage (the Greek word φάγε – pronounced “fa-yeh” is a singular imperative verb meaning “eat!”) through @MCConsulting to a crash cooking class using Greek yogurt to substitute or compliment other classic ingredients.

The reason I accepted is my son and his yogurt addiction. He could easily become a silent spokesman for Fage (silent because it’s tough to talk while spooning gobs of this stuff into your mouth) given the amount that he consumers per diem. I cannot even guesstimate the number of tubs of this Greek yogurt that he eats plain and with his favorite condiment: honey. “More yogurt with honey, please!” is his battle cry.

I will confess that I myself am not a big yogurt fan. My wife and son on the other hand love it and prefer the plain kind. When I say plain I mean no vanilla and no sugar – we are talking hardcore yogurt. This tends to be the norm in Italy where my wife grew up and where I spent my summers and my years after college. So Fage has been on our shopping list and in our refrigerator forever.

So I arrived at the International Culinary Center amongst a gaggle of moms and we donned aprons and chef hats (I had to abandon mine since it kept falling off my head – maybe it was a sign!), rolled up our sleeves and got to work. I will confess that most (if not all) of the prep work had been done earlier by the students and chefs, but we still got a chance to get our hands dirty.

We were shown how to use Fage in biscuits and Hollandaise sauce to add texture and thickness, we tackled a chicken marinade, a potato salad, cole slaw, Mac and Cheese and finally a parfait with honey, almonds and blueberries. I love cooking as does my wife so to get a rare chance of working in a prep kitchen like the one we were in at the International Culinary Center was quite a treat for me. I even took away the secret to never messing up homemade mayonnaise (no matter how fast you add the olive oil) thanks to some of the great tips and suggestions that the staff gave us while we were working on our dishes.

Two plates in particular I wanted to share with you since tomorrow is Independence Day and what would the Fourth of July be without some comfort food to go along with the grill.

The easiest of the two is certainly the cole slaw for which Fage was kind enough to share the recipe:

 

FAGE LEMON COLESLAW (Recipe created by Edward Magel for FAGE)

 

Serves: 4-6

 

Dressing Ingredients:

1/2 cup FAGE Total 2%

1/2 cup Mayonnaise

1/3 cup Fresh Lemon Juice

2 teaspoons Lemon Zest

2 tablespoons Dijon Mustard

2 tablespoons Olive Oil

1 tablespoon Sugar

1 tablespoon Prepared Horseradish

1 teaspoon Salt

1/2 teaspoon Celery Seed

1/2 teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper

 

Directions:

Whisk together all ingredients in a bowl.

 

Slaw Ingredients:

8 cups Green Cabbage, shredded (approximately 1 ½ pounds)

1/2 cup Green Pepper, small dice

1/2 cup Red Pepper, small dice

1 cup Scallion, green and white, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons Parsley, chopped

 

Directions:

Combine slaw ingredients and toss with dressing. Let chill for 30 minutes to an hour, adjust seasoning and serve.

This next recipe for the Mac and Cheese I loved making, but you have to take a little more care when making the roux (the tip we were given was that once the butter, flour and milk combine and thicken to stir the roux for an extra minute on the heat to make sure the taste of the flour is not overpowering). Mac and Cheese is the ultimate comfort food, but too often the ingredients are so awful that it is inedible. The use of real white cheddar and the addition of the Fage Total Greek yogurt created such a rich, smooth and creamy sauce that we were all anxious to taste the final product. To try it at home here is what you need to do:

 

FAGE MACARONI & CHEESE (Recipe created by Edward Magel for FAGE)

 

Serves: 6-8

 

Ingredients:

8 ounces Elbow Macaroni

1 tablespoon Olive Oil

1 cup Onion, fine

1 cup Red Pepper, finely diced

1/4 teaspoon Salt

1/2 cup All-Purpose Flour

1/2 cup Butter

1 ½ cup Whole Milk

1/2 cup FAGE Total Classic

1/4 teaspoon Ground Nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon Salt

10 ounces Cheddar Cheese, grated

1/2 cup FAGE Total Classic

1/2 teaspoon Tabasco Sauce

1/4 teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

2 ounces Cheddar cheese, grated

2 ounces Feta cheese, crumbled

 

Directions:

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add elbow macaroni and cook for 4 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop cooking.

Warm the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add onions and sauté for 3 minutes. Add red pepper and salt and continue cooking until vegetables soften. Remove from heat and reserve.

 

Preheat oven to 350*. Butter a 2 quart casserole.

 

Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add flour, stir and continue to cook for 2 minutes or so. Gradually whisk in warm milk and yogurt, whisking constantly to keep smooth. Add nutmeg. Bring to a low simmer and remove from heat. Stir in 10 ounces of cheddar cheese. Whisk until smooth. Add remaining 1/2 cup yogurt and Tabasco.

Combine macaroni, onion mix and cheese sauce and transfer to prepared casserole. Bake at 350* for 30 minutes.

I hope you will enjoy preparing these recipes as much as I did. You can find tons of other ways to use Fage in the kitchen on their website’s Fage recipe page. We were fortunate enough to have some great teachers and hosts. When we were finished (and without having to do any of the dishes!) I got to sit down and try each dish and talk with some of my fellow temporary chefs. I was overall impressed at how versatile something as “plain” as yogurt could be. Buon appetito!

  

 

Dude. Really?! The lifeguard?!

Why does my kid listen to the old lady in the elevator and completely ignores me? That’s more of a rhetorical question in parenthood, but one that I am currently asking often – too often in fact. It’s not so much the ignoring me part because I have learned very quickly that it comes with the territory. It’s the same behavior that the grandparents all react to with the same disdain as they shake their heads and pedantically (petulantly?) state their favorite phrase, “When you were kids you never acted this way…” (yeah right!). Usually this is said over your shoulder as you try to control your kid and his latest rebellious act. It reminds me of my fraternity days when my spite for all that I had to go through when pledging was reversed back onto the new pledges with cutting sarcasm and a heavy dose of jeering at their helplessness and ineptitude – very constructive. Much like kicking someone when they are down except that this is your own flesh and blood doing it to you. But I digress.

Last summer we struggled to get my son to wear his armbands. We tried everything, force, coaxing, bribery, comparison to the older kids, deceit, reverse psychology, you name it we tried it. Then along comes the pimple faced dorky lifeguard and he looks down at our son and says, “Hey buddy! You better put those bad boys on so you can go for a swim.” And yes our son giggling with delight put them on.

What possesses my son to follow the instructions of a perfect stranger? I understand that his early onset rebelliousness is no different than the next three year olds’, but aren’t they supposed to learn “stranger danger” and seek out a parent?!

I have never had to use this much of my brain to outwit, outflank, outrun, out-everything anyone since I was cramming for my SATs and that was multiple-choice.

We have, though, found a quasi-solution. We basically kid swap with friends when we are out at the park or at the museum and find that the ruse works perfectly. If my friend asks my son to take his hand, he will. If he asks him to sit in the stroller, he will. If he asks him if he wants to drink some water, he will. And vice versa their kid will do pretty much anything we ask him or her to do. It’s not perfect, but it’s a Darwinian world out there and parents need to find a way to scramble to the top of the pyramid before their kids do or we’re toast. Wait, what’s that smell?

 

If I was your kid’s parent…

Why does everybody know how to be a better parent? I’m not saying I am an expert by any stretch of the imagination nor am I Father Of The Year or Super Dad (not even to my kid these days since he is in TT3 mode – aka the Truly Terrible Threes). Grandparents aside (they always think they did a better job with you than you are doing with your kids – it’s in the job description under “How to be a royal pain in the butt!”), everybody else, especially the childless and old ladies with dogs, have all the secrets to child rearing.

How many times does your single friend after asking if you wanted to grab a drink during Happy Hour and “hang out” (and you politely decline) grumble how they will never allow kids to ruin their lives (my twenty something sister-in-law actually told my wife and I without hesitation that she will never lead the “sad” life that we lead – uhm, gee thanks). First of all, parenting has its moments so why do you assume my life is ruined? Second of all, I have to wonder if by “never” you mean you will never have kids and as a consequence not have your life ruined?

A friend recently told my wife and I about a colleague who asked her if she wanted to do a girl’s night out. Our friend declined saying that she was tired and had to get home to her toddler son. The friend suggested that she could go home to tuck in her kid, take a quick nap and then a shower to freshen up and then meet later on. I laughed so hard that it sounded like an elephant snorting (I imagined her waving a magic wand and her child falling instantly into a deep slumber). No words were exchanged, but we all understood each other (if I go home and take a “quick nap” after work there is no way I am getting up again until morning!). The best part about the story is that the son was not even part of the nap, shower and night out equation (sure, no problem, the kid is the easy part).
I sometimes sigh and think back at those care free days and I will admit that I too did not fully comprehend why life should be any different with kids – I just hope I wasn’t that foolish and naïve. And to my sister-in-law I say this: ”We’ll talk again when you have kids!”