dating him again

Date Night In VI

You lose a lot when you have children.

You lose sleep, of course. Everyone knows that. Well, you think you know that until you are dragging through the day, the 14th day in a row, with no real end in sight, reaching for coffee again and hoping for a nap. For years, when our daughter was less than 5 years old, Danny and I took turns being depleted of sleep every other night. She just had to dance, even at 3 am when she awoke from a dream. She still dances, everywhere, but it seems to sufficiently exhaust her now that she sleeps through the night. In fact, she started sleeping solidly, arm stretched out over her head in a graceful arc, just before her baby brother arrived. We’re right back to sleeping in fits and stages again.

You lose more than sleep when you have small children, however. You lose shirts without food stains on them. You lose the ability to drink an entire cup of hot coffee, slowly, without interruption. You lose conversations without interruptions. If you’re an introvert, like me, you lose the quiet space to gather your thoughts without having to answer a question or fetch a glass of water or hear again, “Mama! He’s touching my stuff!” You lose quiet. You lose the chance to read an entire newspaper in one sitting. You lose the ability to read more than a 1200-word essay, on the phone, while hiding in the bedroom for a few moments while your partner takes the helm. And at the end of the day, there’s another night of interrupted night’s sleep.

Life is full of loss. Everything changes.

These kids are worth the interruptions, the lack of sleep. Now, with Desmond here, the noise is doubled and the joy is quadrupled. This evening at dinner, we sat together eating butternut squash soup with coconut and curry, a quinoa salad with endive and cucumbers, soft Italian cheese, salami, and homemade bread. Desmond opened his mouth wide, asking for another spoonful of the soup. He closed his eyes and licked his lips and then opened his mouth again, like a baby bird. If I turned toward Danny to laugh about his expression of pleasure, Desmond slapped his hand on his highchair, demanding my attention. Lucy ate her soup too, giggling at Desmond, then pretending to be Laura from Little House on the Prairie again. “Ma, can I bring in some more butter and milk from the barn after dinner?” Danny’s chair broke underneath him — it had been feeling rickety for weeks — and he fell backwards. We all checked to make sure he was fine, then Lucy and I started laughing. “Nice pratfall, Dad!” Lucy shouted and Danny started laughing too. Lu and I cleared the table, and did the dishes while Danny fed more soup to the still-insistent baby. She asked me why we have electricity at the beginning of the talk while she helped me do the dishes. Later, she wanted to know why we have feet. Back at the table, Danny and Lucy and I enjoyed a little piece of bittersweet brownies with salted peanut butter frosting. Desmond ate almost an entire banana. Lucy grabbed her top hat and wooden stick horse and galloped through the dining room, begging us to sing Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds to her. We did, Danny out of tune (singing another tune, really) and Desmond clapping. Lucy danced. We sang Ob La Di Ob La Da to Desmond, whose eyes always go wide when he hears his name. He started bopping his head around, dancing, just like his sister. Danny and I looked at each other and just started laughing, singing louder. Who would trade quiet for this?

When I had the quiet hours to read the newspaper, more than a decade ago, I felt a little lonely there, wishing for someone else to share those stories. Now, there are no shortage of stories. And no shortage of small people opening my heart simply by being here, in the moments I start to think too much about myself.

Still, there’s one loss that seems inevitable, unless you work against it. It’s easy to lose the romance with the love of your life when you have children. You have a fellow dishwasher, someone with whom to tag team on the diaper changes, a lovely warm body to cuddle against as you watch an hour of television before climbing into bed. But someone who wants to woo you? That can disappear.

After 39 years of being alive, Danny came along, and I wrote every day about the joy, the joy!, of knowing him, finally. We had a year and a half together, dating each other, falling deeply in love with each other, and making a life together before Lucy was born. Sometimes I miss him now.

We spend every day together. We parent together. We work together. We write cookbooks together. We have started a business together. We talk about everything, everything, together. And I love this closeness, the nearness of him right now as I write this. But it’s awfully easy for our days to become a tangle of to-do lists, carpools, grocery trips, and endless conversations about the best way to ship boxes of flour and doing our taxes. But the romance? That we have to work at, when we can.

That’s one of the reasons I love Ashley Rodriguez’s beautiful new cookbook, Date Night In: More than 120 Recipes to Nourish Your Relationship. Our friends Ashley and her husband Gabe are both incredibly talented, kind people, and Danny and I adore them both.  (You might know Ashley’s wonderful blog, Not Without Salt.) Ashley is a phenomenal photographer and former pastry chef. This woman knows how to cook. I love most what she wrote in the introduction to her book, about the routine they settled into in the evenings after the kids were finally asleep.

“It was in those quiet hours that I started to notice a very un-romantic routine forming. Gabe would retreat to his computer and I to mine. After a long day spent caring for three small children, I had nothing more to give; I felt like this time was mine. But the neglect to our marriage started to become clear, as we began to feel more like roommates than husband and wife….It was then that I decided things had to change. We needed more than the quarterly date we were trying to squeeze into our budget and our schedule. Our finances were tight, and babysitters were not lining up at the door eager to hang out with our three young children. We had to get creative. So we turned to our modest kitchen as a new, romantic setting where we could begin to date again.”

This inspiring cookbook is a series of menus that Ashley created for Gabe on their date nights in. He put the kids to bed and she made a three-course meal to share together, meals like this: spiced cider toddy; brussels sprouts slaw with grapes and feta; white bean and pumpkin gratin with crispy shallot crumbs; and grandma’s apple cake with maple cream.

That’s my kind of date. And Danny’s.

We’ve been so inspired by Ashley’s lovely cookbook that we’re starting our own date night routine. Starting this week, I’ll put the kids to bed early (Lucy, go to sleep!) and Danny will spend the evening cooking for us. These will be dishes no one else will see. No recipe testing. No Instagram photos. Just a man cooking for the woman he loves and a woman grateful for this food. We used to share  a meal like this every night, after midnight most nights. We never make it up to midnight these days. But the two of us? We’re going to have meals without interruptions, with no talk of work, and no phones.

I’ll try not to spill food on my shirt.

I can’t tell you how excited I am about Saturday nights again.


Date Night In I

Date Night In III

Date Night In IV

Date Night In V

Date Night In II

Date Night In VII

Bittersweet Brownies with Salted Peanut Butter Frosting,
adapted from Date Night In: More than 120 Recipes to Nourish Your Relationship

If your mouth is watering just looking at this photo, wait until you taste these brownies. They are super dark fudgy chocolate brownies, with a crackly top and the crisp edges people fight over as they come out of the pan. I’ve made brownies I love before but these are the best. (Ashley! Brown butter in brownies? Stop.) They would be enough. But topped with a creamy peanut butter frosting and flaky sea salt? Stick a fork in me. I’m done. 

Oh, and the fact that these brownies contain no gluten is lovely too. 

3/4 cup (170 grams) unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
90 grams unsweetened chocolate (we used bittersweet chocolate chips)
1 1/2 cups (300 grams) organic cane sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 eggs
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup (40 grams) cocoa powder
1/2 cup (70 grams) gluten-free girl all-purpose flour blend  

6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (100 grams) smooth peanut butter
1/3 cup (40 grams) powdered sugar
flaky sea salt

Prepare to bake. Heat oven to 325°. Line an 8×8 square baking pan with two long pieces of parchment paper so a couple of inches of paper hang over all sides. Liberally grease the parchment paper.

Brown the butter. Brown the butter. Set a small pot over low heat. Add the butter. Let the butter melt, then come to a simmer. Keep an eye on the butter as you keep heating it, letting the edges come to a boil. There might be some spattering as the water in the butter starts to evaporate. Raise the heat to medium and give the pot a swirl to prevent any places from burning. After about 5 minutes, the butter will start foaming on the top and release a nutty smell. You’ll see parts of the butter at the bottom of the pan start to brown. Watch the pot carefully, swirling it sometimes. Watch the butterfat solids on the bottom of the pot and let them get as brown as you wish, about 3 to 5 minutes. Be careful — it’s so easy to burn butter. Take the pot off the heat immediately and pour the butter into a large bowl.

Make the batter. Add the chopped chocolate (or in this case, chocolate chips) to the brown butter. Let them sit for a moment, then whisk them together. Whisk in the sugar and vanilla while the the butter is still warm, stirring until the sugar has melted entirely. Stir in the eggs, one at a time, then the salt until everything is blended into one color. Slowly add the cocoa powder and flour to the batter. Fold them all together with a rubber spatula.

Bake the brownies. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean, 25 to 35 minutes. Let the brownies cool to room temperature. (I know. It’s hard.)

Make the frosting. Put the butter, peanut butter, and powdered sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer. Whip them together until you have a light and fluffy frosting, about 3 minutes.

Frost the brownies with the peanut butter frosting and crunch the flaky salt on top, as you will.

Makes 12 to 15 brownies.


Feel like playing? We haven’t tried this yet, but I’m pretty sure that coconut oil would be a great substitution for the butter if you can’t eat dairy. This peanut butter frosting would be great on a chocolate cake for a birthday party someday.

As Ashley writes in her cookbook: “I realize that some people like a more cake-like top. So, here’s a way to please both with this one recipe. If you like the crackly top, follow the recipe above; if you prefer your brownies without the crackly top, simple add the eggs when you add the sugar. The crackly top comes when the sugar has a chance to melt before it bakes.”


Shipoopi! Shipoopi! Shipoopi!

“Say MAP!”

Anyone who has a small child in the United States probably recognizes that line. And you probably started wincing, just hearing the sound of it in your head.

I hate Dora.

Yes, I know. Hate is a strong word. It’s a vile word, in most ways. And I’m very aware of my words these days. A couple of weeks ago, we were having lunch with dear friends. Lu and Hickory were giggling with each other at the table, licking each other’s hands and laughing. Gypsy told me something funny and I laughed. Then I said, as I always do, “Oh my god, you’re killing me.” Lucy looked up immediately, grew very quiet, and then said, “Mama, killing is wrong. It means someone dies. You cannot say killing.”

I gulped in a breath. She was right. And I told her so. That moment, I realized I need to choose my words as consciously in speech as I do in writing.

Lucy’s starting to read. She told us the other day about a book we had checked out from the library, “Mama, I was sort of kind of reading a lot of those words by myself.” We weren’t surprised, since she has been pointing out words on buildings and signs. And we can’t even spell around her anymore. Recently I said to Danny on a sunny day, “Hey, should we stop at the P L A Y G R O U N D, if we have time?” Lucy rose up enthusiastically. “Yes, yes! We must go to the playground.” Damnit. I guess we can’t spell around her anymore.

But she doesn’t read this site yet.

So I can still write it: I hate Dora.

I know it’s supposed to be pleasant and educational, with a loveable band of tumbled-together friends. And it’s lovely that a major television show uses Spanish. But if Latina girls are supposed to feel proud they are being represented in mainstream media, they need a better role model. That Dora is annoying.

Lucy watches a little television each day. She’s so visual, swallowing images with her eyes and breathing it all in. The other day, we were at Children’s Hospital in Seattle for her once-every-two-years checkup after her skull surgery. (She’s good! And she’s probably the only kid I know who took her CT photos of her skull to preschoool show and tell.) After a day of waiting, appointments, CT scans, and walking through the hospital, she started drawing on a white board in the doctor’s office. Her drawing looked vaguely familiar. When we asked her about it, she said, “This is the hospital, where we have walked so far. Here’s the aquarium near the entrance. Here’s the long hall Mama and I walked down for the cat scan. Here’s the doctor’s office where we’re sitting.” Damned if it wasn’t entirely accurate. This girl remembers everything.

And stories. Oh my, how she loves stories. We read Charlotte’s Web and The Wizard of Oz and the junior novelization of Brave (she loved that movie, the only one she’s seen in the movie theater) together in bed, she and Danny and I. At least once a day she settles a stack of books next to me on the couch and climbs into my lap so we can read 20 books in a row. She lives in her imagination. I’d like to live there. She imagines good stories, with many imaginary friends. Tell her a story if you want her to understand something. Sometimes, all it takes to calm her when she’s frustrated about not getting something she wants is for me to lean down, put a hand on her shoulder, and say in a soft voice, “You know, I remember when I was a little girl, I felt frustrated about this too.” It’s Once Upon a Time and she quiets, immediately.

So visual + stories + never stops moving + swims every day for an hour + plays outside even in the cold and rain + the thousand brilliant lights and funny noises of the day swarming through her head = an hour of television in the late afternoon when she needs a little down time.

(Please don’t write to me to tell me I’m ruining my child’s mind by letting her watch some movies. Last year a very well-meaning woman wrote that I was damaging Lucy by letting her watch Sesame Street. That’s just plain silly.)

And so, she loves Curious George and Madeline. We seem to have grown out of the Wiggles, thank god. There’s a little bit of Bob the Builder or Fireman Sam. Mama still loves the old Electric Company. Morgan Freeman as Easy Reader is a revelation now. I was busting happy when she fell in love with Free to Be You and Me. But mostly, it’s old musicals.

A couple of years ago now, I showed her That’s Entertainment, a great compliation of the best moments from MGM musicals that I remember loving in the 1970s. She didn’t move. She stared at the screen, mesmerized, until she stood up to dance. Within a few days, she was telling people how much she loved Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. She has music in her heart, this one.

(The real star, for her, is Esther Williams. Do we have the only four-year-old who adores Esther Williams? Perhaps. But combine swimming and music and Busby Berkeley? She wants to be Esther Williams when she grows up. And a baker.)

So we started watching the movies themselves, this year, when she was ready for the longer form. There was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. (I was singing Truly Scrumptious for months.) And then The Sound of Music, which caused her to bound up and down the stairs, singing So Long, Farewell! many many times. Shirley Temple came next. And then Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

(We might have the only four-year-old who has a running dialogue about the Nazis, since they’re the bad guys in both The Sound of Music and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. But she grows confused because the Nazis are so polite in both of them.)

Fridays are family movie night here. Pizza and a movie. This past Friday, we started her on The Music Man. She hasn’t stopped singing Shipoopi! since then.

This is why I hate Dora. (Ah, you thought I’d lost the thread, didn’t you?) Old musicals, The Electric Company, Free to Be You and Me — they’re about relationships between people, about complex situations, with humor that’s pretty far above the head of a four-year-old. But somehow, she’s getting it.

Dora’s bossy. She’s vapid. And that voice. Cheese grater on fingertips, that voice. Stop talking like that.

I’d rather Lucy be exposed to something smart that she doesn’t entirely understand than watch a show programmed by advertising executives and tv producers to be right at her perceived maturation level.

But then again, she’s a kid. It can’t all be as rational as the sentence I wrote above.

So, the other day, when she put a Dora book about manners on the top of our pile of books from the library, I said Sure. When she asked me to read it to her, again and again, I kissed the top of her head and said, You bet.

And when she pointed out the bowl of arroz con leche on the feast table on the last pages, I had an idea. We moved to the kitchen together. She stood on a chair and scooped some warm brown rice from the rice cooker. I combined a little coconut milk and some date puree we’ve been playing with lately. (Soak dates in hot water and then put it in the blender. It’s a great sweetener.) Some scrapings from a vanilla bean. A scratch of nutmeg. We mixed it all up together in the pot, and I let Lucy stir at the stove. She felt so important. At the last moment, I tossed in an egg and let Lucy stir until the last traces of egg disappeared. The rice pudding thickened.

We sat down at the table with Danny to eat our breakfast.

Okay, Dora, I’ll give you that. You gave us arroz con leche with Lucy one day.

But seriously, I don’t want to say MAP.

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