Lorde, Completely Beautiful


April 18, 2014

Yesterday we were sitting by the pool.

There was a girl in the pool chair next to us. She was a teenager, wore a bikini, but she mostly covered herself up in the big hotel towel. She had been swimming, so her hair was damp and stringy, like everyone’s except for those people too afraid to get chlorine in their dye jobs (Okay, me) She wasn’t wearing make-up. She had a smattering of acne on her face, as young women often do. She talked amiably with her friend.

The girls and I barely paid attention.

That is, until a group of people in their 20′s surrounded her and started asking her excitedly about New Zealand. I put it together. The sold out shows at the Cosmopolitan, here in Vegas. The throng of groupies whipping out cameras. New Zealand.

“That’s Lorde,” I said to the girls.

I asked if they wanted their picture taken with her and they didn’t. They just wanted to watch her. They wanted to see pop stardom in action. Another group stuck an iphone into my hand and asked me to take their picture. She couldn’t have been more patient. I asked the kids about seeing her.

“She looks different on YouTube,” Lucy said.

And that presented a really terrific moment to say this: Lorde is really, truly talented. She works hard to be that good. She’s obviously a sweet person, who seems kind and generous with her fans. But the girl at the pool is really who she is, and she wasn’t afraid to let people see her.

How fucking refreshing.

I got to say: When you see her on magazine covers, where celebrities’ imperfections are air brushed and their thighs are slimmed down and their eyes set apart, or backstage or in a video, where they are wearing incredible clothes and layers of stage make-up, and a team of people just coifed their hair within an inch of its life, that’s magic, that’s fun, that’s show business, that’s art, that’s performance.

But the Lorde you saw? That was a 17-year-old girl sitting by the pool. Just real. Just herself. Even though there are eyes and scrutiny and people watching, all the time.

Self-confidence. That’s what that is.

And I got to show them this: where Lorde herself says, “You don’t have to look a certain way, or be a certain way. I think this day and age the prescribed ideals of how a young girl should be are over.” And I got to show them that Lorde tweeted photos of herself that were unedited so her fans know how she really looks. 

Go, Lorde.

And I got to say: Don’t be fooled by the difference between real and performance. Don’t think that magazine covers are reality, or that having a designer dress on a red carpet makes you beautiful. Know that you and Lorde and the rest of us are mostly imperfect. 

And completely beautiful.

Secret Sister Life

photo (2)April 14, 2014

They had just gotten out of the pool.

We’re staying at the Cosmopolitan here in Vegas, because one of David’s shows is here. It’s 80 degrees and we are making good use of the pool.

Lucy and Edie had been in the water for an hour, maybe more. They jumped out. The desert wind was gusting, the air was hot and dry. But they were freezing. I could see them running from the pool around the deck chairs and sunbathers, holding themselves, just trying to get to their towels.

I watched them wrap themselves up and fall into the reclining chair next to me. They threw the towels over their heads, all wound up next to each other, and stayed that way, their feet poking out of the other end, their toes shriveled into tiny gherkins.

They were clearly chatting under the towels. Something was going on.

Then, Edie poked her head out. “Lucy just said, ‘I love you, Edie, as much as I love Mommy and Daddy.’ ”

I think she thought I might be hurt or like what Lucy said might upset the delicate, inter-connected hierarchy of our families love, where we love everyone the same, but have completely unique connections to each other.

“Well,” I said, “this is what your Daddy and I have wanted all along.”

And it’s true. We want them to have each other. Maybe more than anything else.

And then they went back under the towels and stayed like that, chatting, their faces inches apart, Edie’s legs thrown over Lucy’s legs, having their own secret sister life, until they decided to go back in the pool.

Traveling brings us all closer.

In the Wind

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April 9, 2014

“I’ve been waiting to be in an airport for weeks.”

Lucy’s taken her lumps lately. As soon as we got clear of her school, our life in NYC, as soon as we hit the Delta Sky Lounge at JFK, she started talking.

The girls didn’t want her in their dance group next year. They said they, the girls, have been plotting next years talent show, and they wouldn’t let her in. This, from one of her oldest friends. And then, Lucy told me how much this friend enjoyed telling her.

I’ve written about this a lot here lately, here and here, how one of her closest friends has hurt and betrayed her, used her secrets to embarrass her, and how she has been reeling from it, and recovering from it with her usual logical thinking. On the plane, I started reading about “relational aggression” in girls this age. It’s brutal. Third grade. It starts in third grade.

But in the airport, she let it all go. I saw it. She let it fly away. Out of her head.  In the wind. She let all of them go.

And now we’re in Vegas. Cuddled up in the big hotel bed, contemplating a little room service, the dog snoring, bad TV on the set.

We’re in Vegas. And that is the only thing on our minds.


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March 25, 2014

I was driving the kids home from school today, and overheard Edie, Lucy, and Lucy’s friend, Anise, talking in the back seat. 

I used to try to join the conversation, ask questions, but my friend Julie (also Anise’s mom) turned me onto just listening to them. She is so smart. I’ve learned a lot just listening and basically because they find me irrelevant, they speak freely, as if I didn’t exist because, in their world, I do not. Or just barely.

So, today while driving, I listened as Anise confessed that Lucy’s other friend had been taking some glee in Lucy’s failure. Lucy botched a round off in the talent show group dance, and this friend, one of her dearest and longest friendships – a friendship that has had its share of growing pains – played the video of the show over and over, laughling gleefully at Lucy’s mistake and rewinding and playing it over and over some more, saying, “This is my favorite part!”

The rest of the conversation entailed Lucy talking about her plan for the next day. She decided she might want to give this friend the silent treatment. She was brave and wise-cracking, but there, so obvious, was her hurt.

So, I broke my rule and chimed in. I was going to make a point and I was going to use my cultural forte – bad Reality TV – to do it.

I started talking about Dance Moms, a show we started watching for the dancing, but which has imparted some weird lessons, one of which is that I shouldn’t act like a crazy, screamy mom at their dance studio. Got it. But one thing they see on the show is this team of girls, who despite their vocal moms who are often pitted against one another, support the hell out of each other. They are nine and ten and eleven year old girls capable of complex thought – “I can be sad that I didn’t do well, but also happy for my friend because she did well.”

Despite all the machinations of Reality TV and all the ways drama is manufactured, these girls are – dare I say it – nice. The Dance Moms girls are competitive, but kind. They don’t ridicule each other. They do not make each other feel small. These are the girls that rush to give the girl who probably beat them out of first place, a huge hug, with a smile so gigantic and earnest that there is no way it was prompted or acted. They are goal-oriented, aggressive and fierce. They want to win. But they don’t bring down their friends to get there.

So, I holler from the front seat over my shoulder: “Do you think Maddie (who is often the fav dancer on Dance Moms) would rewind and rewind and rewind a mistake that Chloe (amazing dancer, some times the best, sometimes right behind Maddie) made and make fun of her?”

All the girls screamed, “NO!” from the back seat.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because they support each other.” Lucy said, and they all agreed.

And this stood in some kind of contrast to how her friend is treating her. I wanted her to see it, so she can practice saying now, “Not good enough.”

Oh, and a message to Lucy for the rest of her life: Lucy, you are great. Surround yourself with people who make you feel that way. And girl, be sadistic in enforcing this rule.

Did you hear me say it? You are great.

Barbara Cartland is my Muse

photo (76)March 23, 2014

We were at a small upstate used books store last night. It was not a hipster book store, guys with full beards, reading vintage cockatil books. It was the kind of used book store a certain kind of older lady goes to, the kind of lady who lives alone with her cats, and her house plants, and dies her hair yellow from a box, and on Saturday nights, she watches Lifetime TV in her ratty bedroom slippers and socks. Not that I’m judging. But the store had a whole wall full of Barbara Cartland novels, which was proof.

When I was a pre-teen, there weren’t a ton of books for young adults or older middle readers. I mean, there was Judy Blume and “Go Ask Alice”, so the coffers weren’t bare, but for that romance, that hands on her hips, lips on hers, quivering thighs action I needed to tame the hormone rush, I had to turn to the real deal – Barabara Cartland.

So picture this, it’s summer, and my next door neighbor, Julie and I are in my backyard, on the big swing that fits four people and has a tarp over it for shade, in the middle of my mom’s rose bushes, and just under the big oak tree with the tire swing on it, and right next to the wildly sprawling rhubarb plant, which my mother always tried to kill or give away because no one in the family liked rhubabrb pies, and we couldn’t be more than 11, and Julie and I are taking turns reading passages like these to each other:

He would’ve raised his hand to her lips, but instead she put her arms round his neck and pulled his head down to hers. 

“You will leave a gap in my life which no one else can fill.” 

Then her lips met his and the Marquis’ arms went round her.

They stood for a moment locked together, and Shikara, watching them wide-eyed, felt a strange sensation within her that was almost like a pain. 

She thought it was disgust. Never had she imagined that any woman could behave so brazenly in public and conduct herself so immodestly. 

Then before she could understand her own feelings, the Senhora were being rowed away towards the brightly lighted shore. 

This is followed by several paragraphs of Shakira, duty-bound, trying to get a handle on the pulsing monster that is her love for the Marquis, while watching him doing the tongue tango with some ridiculous woman, usually malicious, and so unworthy of him.

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Okay, forget that the narrator is all over the place reading eveyone’s minds, and forget that everyone is a royal from a fictitious country, and that everyone is fabulously, lavishly wealthy, with cool names like Shakira. That’s the whole point. Who wouldn’t want to be named Shakira and date the Marquis?

The beauty of a Barbara Cartland novel is – nothing happens and everything happens. There are no throbbing members. There may be some “feeling the hardness of him under her skirts”, but it’s just an idea she puts in your head, which I think makes her a pretty great storyteller. There is no wagging penis, no damp vagina in all its uncloaked, splayed-out glory. No 50 Shades of Anything. And yet it feels so wrong, so indecent. So incredibly brazen. There was secret longing, betrayal, lies, jealousy. GOD. IT. WAS. SO FREAKIN’. GOOD. It was porn for tweens.  I’m pretty sure Julie and I read all of them.

Which is why I was so excited when I saw a whole wall devoted to her and completely understood why the ladies shop at this book store.

At heart, I’m one of those ladies, too.

Girl Drama

photoMarch 17, 2014

She wants this to be her album cover.

Lucy has been having some issues with some of the girls in her class. A pack of girls. It’s always a pack, isn’t it? And they say hurtful things, and she, on occasion, has ended up coiled into a ball on our laps, crying over it.

There was the time when the pack was rehearsing a group dance number for their school talent show, and when it came time in the song for the girls to partner up, dance eight beats, partner up with someone else, dance eight beats, and change again, none of the girls wanted to partner with her, or even touch her. One of them declared her “dirty” and the idea spread like bush fire. I watched her hold her hand out to each of them, and I watched them turn her away. Except Edie. Edie took her hand and danced with her.

After rehearsal, Lucy picked up her backpack and jacket and walked out. She walked behind us block after block, silent and brooding and kicking the snow. She couldn’t speak about it for hours.

But then last night, in the tub, a place where all things get polished up or washed away, that rehearsal came up, and those girls. And she looked at me with a cheeky smile and said: “Sometimes being lonely gives you the spotlight.” And it’s true that not being partnered up gave her a spotlight in the dance.

And it made me laugh, because it is so Lucy to find the good stuff inside the bad. I love her light.



March 14, 2014

In case you missed it, I had a fun little piece in Bon Appetit last week, here. And then people fought and debated about the fun little piece, and you can see what they said, here.

And, of course, Lucy was in the cover photo. She wouldn’t have it any other way. #Hambone


Awful. And Awesome.

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February 27, 2014

David has been traveling a lot. He’s in Germany now and will be there for the next few days. Every once in awhile when he’s gone, I’ll post on Twitter or Facebook a little blurb about what I’m doing in his absence.

Last week, I realized a habit was forming after I posted this on Facebook:

I’m drinking tequila and eating liverwurst. There are plans in the works to watch bad TV, a lot of it. And it’s possible several among us are not wearing pants. This can only mean one thing – David is traveling. 

I have peculiar things I do when he leaves and most of them have to do with a combination of some form of pantslessness, booze and bad TV. Once, when the kids were staying at a friends house on a night he was out of town, I felt so distressingly lonely that I watched seven consecutive episodes of 16 and Pregnant. I laid on the couch in my underpants, drank a half a bottle of wine and live drunk-tweeted all seven episodes, even though I was the only person on earth who was watching.

I’ve also infected the children. Two nights ago, the kids and I watched three back-to-back episodes of Dance Moms. We really love watching this show together. My favorite part is when the moms get all miffed, because the teacher hasn’t picked their awesome kid to do a solo in their upcoming competition, and they burst out of the Mom’s viewing room and tear into the dance studio, where the teacher and the Moms get two inches apart and scream into each other’s faces, right in front of the kids.

It’s awful. And awesome.

At least once an episode, one of the girls turns to me and says, “I’m so glad you don’t embarrass me like that.” And then the other says, “You wouldn’t do that at Jazz class, right mom?” And in my calm mom voice I say, “No baby, I would never.” But deep down, there’s a small part of me that knows I’m one unnecessary rejection away from clotheslining their Jazz teacher at all times. They just haven’t seen it yet.

Last night, I could’ve redeemed myself. I could’ve watched any one of the many award-winning, thoughtful documentaries about bit coins or dolphin culling or black holes, but did I? Nooooooo. I watched “The Price of Gold”, the story of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. And by watching it, I mean, I hung on every word of the show for the whole wonderfully-sordid 90 minutes.

What made this documentary special is that a much older, but still blonde-bang-wearing Tonya was interviewed incessantly throughout. She is the poster child for lack of self-awareness. I spent most of the night with my mouth hanging open, completely gob smacked by her observations. I felt a weird mix of horror and glee and pity as one absurd, fictionalized memory popped out of her mouth after another. My favorite part was when Tonya got all angry at Nancy Kerrigan for not accepting her apology after the beat down.

“She just blew it off like it was nothing,” Tonya whined, talking about how she tried to apologize to Nancy on the ice at the Olympics. “I thought we had been friends, all of us had been on tour together for years, and for her to treat me like that, like I was nothing, like she was above me, I mean, that was – that’s rude.”

There it is. Awful. And awesome.

I realize I am putting on airs for David. I’m all about the good writing when he’s around – Breaking Bad, House of Cards. I’m publishing poetry and reading the Paris Review. That’s who I am when he’s in town. But by time David hits customs at JFK on his way to some new country, I’ve already poured myself a Tequila double, taken my pants off and queed up five episodes of Toddlers and Tiaras.

I miss David, of course, a lot, but I’m coping. I’m getting by.




February 23, 2014

I don’t often write poetry, but this full-on Winter made me do it.



My daughter is a tight, quiet

ball. Wound up in quilts, her feet hanging

out, bare and cold, like two small

birds, stranded from the nest.


It is Winter outside the quilts, in the

yard, in this room, in my

head. I feel it creeping in through the

cracks in the window. I feel it

seeping through the threads of my

sweater. But inside her

quilts, it is jungle



Her hair is a tangle of vines twining

itself around the

trunk of her body, and her

breathing is the rasp and howl of monkeys

slamming through

branches, and her legs are coiled and twisted

around themselves,

like a snake hold up in the

hollow of her

belly, and her eyelids are veiny leaves

trembling under hot

drops of



I want to pull away, go back to my

words, and my keyboard, but I can’t stop

looking at

her. I am stuck

there, wondering if I parted the

quilts, slid in next to

her, buried my face in her

neck, covered her like I was the tough

bark of her tree, if I might catch the

sun scooping the last of its light into

her lowest hanging



But I hesitate too

long, and see the snow forming a glacier on

the window ledge. I pull my sweater up around my

neck and head out across the tundra of

wooden floors to my

table. And my fists peck the

keys, two pale finches trying to get through



The Great Chocolate Kumquat Spring Roll Massacre


January 31, 2014

This Chinese New Year piece – adapted and changed significantly so it stands on its own – was originally a chapter in my book, “Sharp Knives, Boiling Oil: My Year Of Dangerous Cooking With Four-Year-Olds.” I meant to place this piece somewhere, but time got away from me. So you can read it here. And excuse the plug, but you can still buy the book for your Kindle for just $1.99. And if you do, thank you for that. Know that I’ll be doing the happy dance. xo

I didn’t want to make Chocolate Kumquat Spring Rolls.

I wanted to make something easier – ginger ice cream, maybe, or almond cookies. But there’s no chocolate in an almond cookie, and the idea of a no-chocolate dessert made the four-year-olds stare at me with blank, listless, annoyed faces.

I had just cooked an entire month of Chinese food with 25 kids in my daughter, Lucy’s, Pre-K class at a New York City public school called Central Park East II. We had been cooking together for almost six months, making celery root latkes, pumpkin pancakes, homemade ricotta cheese, which we served on toast, dribbled with honey, and scratch-made fettucine with sauce. It was wonderful and hard and messy, but it was nothing like our month of Chinese food.

The Chinese food had kicked my ass.

In week one, we risked life and limb frying up homemade pork egg-rolls in a wok full of boiling oil on a circa 1975 electric hot plate. In week two, we made three kinds of pan-fried dumplings from scratch – hand-made dough and all – pork and chive, shrimp, and tofu. Then we fried them into lumps that looked, remarkably, like goat testicles. In week three, we made vegetable fried rice, which required children – with the motor skills of a chipmunk – to hack up completely weird-looking vegetables with serrated steak knives.

It was touch and go for awhile, but we didn’t lose any fingers during stir fry week.

And now, instead of making something easy, something that would help us cruise to the end, easy-peasy, no problem, not one child maimed in the line of action, the kids demanded chocolate and I found myself about to summit kid-culinary Everest.

We were going to make Pichet Ong’s Chocolate Kumquat Spring Rolls.


Kumquats, or Gam Gat Sue, are a symbol of good fortune in China. Gam rhymes with gold, gat rhymes with luck. The leaves—green, small, fertile—symbolize wealth. The shape of the fruit itself, the orb, means perfection and unity. It is a balanced, beautiful fruit with all kinds of life-affirming messages; luck, money, good fortune, happiness, prosperity coming towards you just because you are eating it.

The kids couldn’t have cared less about Kumquats and prosperity. All they cared about was chocolate.

I know this because of what was happening under the table.

I had done all kinds of research on Kumquats. I was a Kumquat master. I told them everything I knew – how they’re the only citrus fruit that have a skin more edible than its insides, how the Cantonese put them in glass jars, loaded with salt, and let them sit for a long time, until they got briney and shriveled and then use the contents to cure sore throats. I shared it all, from the medieval to the modern.

And in the middle of my speech, I noticed something kind of weird. Lucy, my own flesh and blood, and a boy named Orlando, had crawled under the table.

That was weird enough, but then they had these guilty looks on their faces. And their cheeks were bulging. And they were chewing, like, very slowly, almost so slowly you might not notice. Like they had something in their mouths but they didn’t want you to know.

And because I am like a CSI detective, I noticed that all the all other children sitting at the table, who had been seemingly listening to me tell my fascinating kumquat stories, were also slowly chewing, with bulging cheeks and guilty eyes.

And that’s when I saw that the bag of chocolate chips had gone missing from my bag. A deal had been done, chips had been passed, hand-to-hand.

Duped by four-year-olds.

Liz, their teacher, a woman never duped by four-year-olds, confiscated the bag.

I’m not gonna lie – I had some shame.

We seeded the kumquats, sliced them, and laid them in a sauce-pan. We added cream, and salt, and let it get bubbly and warm. Then we turned off the hot plate, and let the pan sit there. The hot plate, even at the best of times, was never consistent. And it had only two speeds – off and mad-ass boiling. We didn’t want to scald the cream.

Everyone wanted to add the chocolate, of course, but not to be a sucker twice, I gave the job to Jamila. She was quiet, smart, composed, an old lady in a kid’s body, with a good comfortable sense of herself. She was a rule-follower, the responsible one, and Lucy’s best friend. I imagined it would be the teenage Jamila who ordered the teenage Lucy to put the bourbon back in our liquor cabinet.

Or so I hoped.

Jamila didn’t let me down. Every bit of chocolate went right in the pan. We let the bits melt up in the cream, the kids hovering over, watching the bits lose their shape and swirl into the cream. They took turns stirring, helping it along.

Ahmad, a boy who had recently come from Syria, and was still discovering his English, added the egg yolk, and only got a smidge of white in there. Rosa, the flamboyantly-dressed drill sergeant with a red gardenia in her hair, added the butter while reminding Ahmad that she could do it better, and that he was holding the spoon the wrong way, and didn’t she want him to show her? And then, taking the spoon from him, she showed him the right way to stir, narrating her technique like she was on The Food Network, and then handed it back to him, where he just went on stirring as he had before, and she kept chewing in his ear about how he he was doing it all wrong.

He either didn’t understand or pretended not to.

Teddy, the boy who, two weeks earlier, I had reduced to tears after he shot-putted a ball of freshly-kneaded pasta dough across the classroom, to the standing ovation and cheers of about 12 boys, poured the whole thing into a cake pan lined with plastic wrap.

There it was. All we had to do was freeze the chocolate and let it set overnight. In the morning we would cut it into bars, fold those hard little bars into spring roll wrappers and fry them within an inch of their lives, so they were crispy and oily on the outside, molten and sweet, with hot, liquid chocolate, on the inside.

I jammed the cake pan into the shoebox-sized classroom freezer. It had all night to get hard.


Except it didn’t.

The chocolate had frozen a bit around the edges, but it was soft and cold in the middle. I poked at the bars with my finger tip and felt the ooze.

New York City Public school freezers do not actually freeze anything. They are there to taunt you.

Liz called the kids for cooking, and they settled in at their table. I considered post-poning, taking the bars home and re-freezing them, and coming back tomorrow with a cooler of perfectly frozen bars.

But I saw their faces. I wasn’t leaving this room without giving them chocolate. We had to make it work. We heated the oil. I put Ahmad, Lucy and Rosa near the wok.

“Will I die if I spill this wok full of boiling oil onto my lap?” Rosa asked me.

“Yes. Yes, you will die.” I said in my most serious voice.

That was all I needed to say.

I stood with my head in the fridge, my hands inside the freezer, cutting the chocolate into “bars”, so that it would stay cold as long as possible. It didn’t matter. I was asking four-year-olds to fold something that was nearly liquid into a spring roll wrapper that was, basically, the consistency of snot.

The kids slurried their wrappers with egg wash, while I raced from table to freezer, scooping out a tablespoon of chocolate, and plopping it on their wrapper, nudging them to work quickly, so that the chocolate didn’t run off the table, onto the floor, or all over their clothes.

We needed 25 spring rolls. That didn’t seem like so much. We could do it.

But the heat of their fingers liquefied the chocolate even faster. And the radiators, which were right next to the table and blasted heat like a Russian sauna, just hurried the melting process, so that now only lumpy, soft chunks of chocolate and puddles of it were now everywhere across their table..

And then it started dripping over the sides of the table.

Their hands were covered. And their bodies and clothes too, as they wiped their fingers, dropped some in their lap, itched themselves, touched their hair, their faces. The more they tried to wipe the chocolate away, the more they streaked it across a new clean surface. Every movement just compounded the problem.

That’s when I saw Orlando, licking himself. His whole arm, up to his elbow, was covered in a thick bath of chocolate. His sleeve was brown and completely wet, his face was covered in a dripping, chocolate beard. He had tried to fold the chocolate into the wrapper, but realized it was impossible and decided to simply suck the chocolate off his body instead.

The rest followed suit. The idea spread like a YouTube cat video. The folding just stopped and they stood there licking their fingers, the wrappers, the table, their arms. Teddy bent over and stuck out his tongue and tried to lick his belt buckle. A girl named Stella sobbed uncontrollably because she got chocolate all over her new giraffe pants and she was sure her mother was going to yell at her. Lucy had chocolate twisted into her hair.

It was anarchy.

Even Liz was powerless. She came over to us with her pre-k teacher face on, intent on whipping us into shape, but it was like lecturing the naked orgy attendees about the perils of sex. Liz said a few stern things and the kids, nodded passively, as if they had been put in a catatonic state. While she talked, they searched their bodies for stray patches of chocolate.

Liz didn’t seem to notice that Orlando had his elbow in his mouth, sucking it like a baby bottle. There was no coming back from this.

I sent them to wash. And when they came back, I asked Lucy, Ahmad and Rosa to stay and help me finish the job.

“I need your help.” I whispered.

“If we want to have dessert, we have to be a team.”

I said this with some urgency.

“It’s like Saving Private Ryan,” I told them, as if they knew what the hell I was talking about.

“The spring rolls are Matt Damon and we have to storm the beaches of Normandy, and summon all our courage to save the spring rolls.”

They stared. I knew it didn’t make any sense.

“Focus,” I said desperately.

“We have to focus.”

“Oh! it’s like Handy Manny,” Lucy said. “He has to focus so he can fix Mrs. Portillo’s oven so she can bake the cookies for the bake sale…”

Lights of recognition flickered on. Everyone was home.

There was nodding. There were high fives.

A team formed.


I did the folding, which wasn’t really folding at all, since all the chocolate was now liquid.

I pushed it around on the wrappers, grabbing whatever lumps of chocolate I could find, and folded them into as neat a shape as possible.

I handed the limp rolls to Lucy, Rosa and Ahmad and watched as they gently laid them in the oil, without splashing.. Then they calmly removed the browned rolls, and placed them on paper towels.

The rolls came out crunchy and dark brown. And un-appetizing, like little turds. But Ahmad dusted them in confectioners’ sugar, which I just happened to stash in my bag, and they looked nearly good enough to eat.

We served the turds on paper plates. Probably not what Pichet Ong had in mind for his superb recipe. But still, the kids went bananas. Rosa said it tasted like a hot candy bar. And it did—a hot, ugly candy bar turd.

They were sweet, runny, and super-crispy, and, if only more chocolate had found its way inside the wrappers, souped-up, fried candy bars, worthy of a booth at an upstate county fair.

While the kids ate, I went back to the freezer. It was a freakin’ mess. I had defiled the back of Liz’s classroom.

There were pans everywhere, dirty plates, and spoons, and bowls. There was a slight stench of burnt chocolate, and bits of it floating in the wok. There was chocolate burnt into the grates on the radiator, and streaked down the front of the refrigerator. It was smeared across chairs that weren’t even near our cooking table, slopped on the window-sill, and inside the guinea pig cage—how the hell did it get there? The inside of Liz’s pristine, rarely-used Pre-K freezer was streaked with chocolate that was now freezing to the sides.

After school ended, and every sane person had gone home, I spent two hours, on my hands and knees, chiseling chocolate off the floors with an exacto knife.


That night, at home, with a tequila rocks with a twist of lime, a double, all stuck-on chocolate melted off of me in a boiling shower, I told my husband, David, the whole sordid story.

I left out nothing.

I didn’t want to see chocolate, or small children cooking, for a really long time.

Yet, I knew we had done something important in our month of Chinese cooking. These kids, regular little kids, not the ones on Top Chef Junior, could work to overcome problems. They could chop with knives and cook with heat. They could be counted on when things went hurtling off course. We could ask them to focus hard, and get the dessert made, and they would summon the best of themselves and get it done.

And they were four. They could do all that before they even got to kindergarten.

And I knew, even as the tequila took over and I fell into the bliss of my husband, my sleeping children, my snoring pets, and the bottomless couch, I would have to go back and cook with them, and I wouldn’t regret a minute of it.