Beef stew and careening into the holidays


These are the last days of my maternity leave. The weather has turned cold, so in the predawn we turn on the heat, which makes a satisfying boom and then slowly seeps up through the floor vents and smells like a different toxin in each room. The baby has his first cold, coughing as if he’s trying to get our attention and blowing snot bubbles. Thank Christ he doesn’t have a fever; he’s not fussy and only nurses and sleeps more. A couple times a day I shoot saline solution up his nose, which is helping to break our bond of trust right before I go back to work.

Last week we signed the paperwork on the daycare we wanted THANK THE FUCKING LORD, because first we had it, then we didn’t, then we panic-interviewed five other daycares and sat stupefied in the half light of various converted garages and living rooms, staring at unvaccinated children, smelling smoke and weird sewage smells, listening to shrieking fire alarms, looking at toys so bleached by the sun they had no color, and examining peeled and chipped paint on door frames and back decks. All this can be yours FOR A QUARTER OF YOUR COMBINED MONTHLY INCOME FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU.

Now we’re back to the daycare we wanted, and we’ll be paying out the ass, but, like people who complain about the cost of private school and housecleaners who don’t put everything back exactly where it was, FUCK YOU IF YOU HAVE THE GREAT GOOD FORTUNE TO BE ABLE TO COMPLAIN. And the daycare provider has agreed to shellack the baby in gold leaf every day, so we’ll come out even.

I’ve been trying to spend as much time as possible with SJ, the man I haven’t divorced yet BUT THERE’S ALWAYS TIME. I’ve made a conscious effort to be nicer, too, which sounds like a joke but isn’t. I may have passed a number of weeks starting every interaction angry. But it’s hard to stay angry at someone who makes me breakfast every morning and comes home from work to wash the dishes.

Jenny: I want to take a bath tonight if that’s OK.
SJ: Didn’t you take a shower this morning? Didn’t I come home so you could take a shower?
Jenny: Was that today?
SJ: Yes. Remember when I asked you to wash the dishes and you wept?

On the other hand, it’s EXTREMELY easy to stay angry at someone who continually remarks that he’s been getting the best sleep of his life.

Still, in the early mornings, SJ and I snuggle under the duvet and laugh with the baby. Why is he awake? We don’t know! Ha, ha, ha!

Jenny: I had a dream he did something really advanced. I don’t remember what it was.
SJ: I dreamt I was on a Japanese game show and I had to kiss a lot of men and look like I was enjoying it.

We read him books, such as Frog and Toad Together:

Jenny: “One morning Toad sat in bed. ‘I have many things to do,’ he said. ‘I will write them all down on a list so that I can remember them.'” Ahem.
SJ: Ah. A story and a lecture. How comforting.

We sing to the baby. On the way home from a local brewery (and the distillery next door) over the Thanksgiving holiday, I played the playlist I’ve been compiling for the baby, starting with “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss)” by Betty Everett.

Jenny: Is it in his eyes?
SJ: No, that’s not the way! And you’re not listening to all I say!
Jenny: If you wanna know if he loves you so, it’s in his kiss.
Jenny (gesturing)
SJ: Ooh. Air xylophone.

One of our major bonding activities, now that we’ve worked through 30 Rock, The Office, Better Call Saul, and Stranger Things, is to chip away at Parks and Rec. This does not always work with the baby’s schedule. When he’s awake, I refuse to point him at a projection screen the size of a minivan, but if I try to watch the screen holding him so he faces me, he twists his head and body in an attempt to see WHAT IS THAT LIGHT IT’S SO BRIGHT WANT TO SEE WANT TO SEE. He is incredibly strong and flexible and will attempt to watch the screen upside-down. So we have to wait until he’s nursing. Sometimes this takes a while and we have to TALK TO EACH OTHER.

SJ (holding the baby one night and staring forlornly at the projection screen): How do we make it sleep?

Already I think of the baby as a zombie when he feeds in the middle of the night, dead asleep but his mouth pursing like a goldfish and his arms reaching for my body to EAT MOMMY EAT MOMMY.

So SJ and I are just hanging in there, two geriatric parents in a world of millennials. This is what it sounds like when we talk to each other in private:

Jenny: I have to up my GIF game.
SJ (looking confused)
Jenny: There’s this thing where people send each other moving images.
SJ: Oh, right. GIFs.
Jenny: What do you call them?
SJ: GIFs. But I thought you said “gifts.” As in, you have to up your gift game.

(Watching Mudbound on Netflix)
Jenny: I didn’t know Mary J. Blige acted.
SJ: Who is she?
Jenny: She’s the one in the sunglasses.
SJ: But who is she?

SJ: Have you ever noticed what a dog eating a corn chip sounds like?
Jenny: No.
SJ: Exactly like a person eating a corn chip.
Jenny: Why did you give the dog corn chips?
SJ: I didn’t. I gave her toast. But it’s dry so it reminded me. One time I was home alone and I heard someone eating corn chips and I was like WHO’S HERE. But it was the dog.

T minus 22 days until I go back to work!

This recipe is adapted from something called “Fireside Beef Stew” from Bon Appétit, which I recently resubscribed to because my UNDERGRADUATE MAJOR was magazine journalism and I still love magazines. Magazines, forever!

And how did I make this stew with a sick 4 1/2-month-old? Because for most of an afternoon, he sat in his bouncy chair chewing on a wooden spoon. I do not understand it either.

You need:

  • 3 TB safflower oil
  • 3 lbs. whole chuck roast
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 lg. onion, diced
  • (2 celery stalks, thinly sliced, but I didn’t have any so I skipped this part)
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 TB tomato paste
  • 2 TB unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 TB Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 1 lb. potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-in. pieces
  • 1 lb. carrots, peeled and cut into 1-in. pieces
  • 1 lg. turnip, peeled and cut into 1-in. pieces
  • 1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/4 cup prepared horseradish
  • 1/2 cup sour cream

You need to:

  • Heat 2 TB oil in 5-quart Dutch oven over medium high. Season beef with salt and pepper. Working in batches, sear beef, flipping once, until deep brown, 3-4 mins. per side. Transfer to a bowl.
  • Remove fat from Dutch oven; add remaining 1 TB oil. Stir in onion, (celery), and garlic; cook, stirring occasionally, 6-8 mins. Add tomato paste and flour and cook, stirring, 1 min. Add Worcestershire and wine and cook, scraping up browned bits from bottom, 1 min. Add broth and bay leaves.
  • Cut beef into 1 1/2-in. chunks; return to Dutch oven along with any juices. Bring to a boil, then partially cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until meat is tender, about 1 1/2 hrs. Add potatoes, carrots, and turnip, re-cover partially, and continue to cook until vegetables are tender, about 1 hr., 15 mins.
  • DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP: Combine parsley and horseradish in a small bowl. Serve stew with dollops of sour cream, topped with parsley-horseradish mixture.

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