My girl, she's got it, the instinct for ornament. From where, I don't know, but the evidence is everywhere. Zoë can accessorize like nobody's business. She's the only gal I know who hears, "Let's take that glider out," and immediately thinks, "This calls for a purse!" I don't remember carrying one until I had a job, and hard-won funds, and the wish to preserve them. Silly me. I always was a little slow.
I have learned from my sunshine that money's the least of it, that purses are modern-day ladies in waiting. They're always good for a spare pair of socks, and a stash of little Golden Books, and for keeping that little crook in your arm company. At the moment, I think it's stuffed full of fall color. I probably ought to "lose" it before snowballs arrive.
Not everyone can pull off cargo pants and pearls. But then, she's got a way with jewelry. We have a tangle of Mardi Gras necklaces that get trotted for special events: walks around the block, park afternoons, lego sessions and the like. But really, they're only the tip of the iceberg. There's a chapter in the hilarious The Passion of the Hausfrau that is titled something like, Every Stick A Gun. In it, Nicole Chaison recounts the way in which her pacifist home produced a weapon-loving son, who can manufacture a fire-arm out of any rock, twig or thumb. So it is with Zoë. Except it's Every Rubber Band a Bracelet.
She just has this knack for seeing baubles in frim-fram. I'm not exactly sure how else to explain it. I don't know how many stern post-nap talks we've had, about the importance of circulation and not wearing rubber bands to bed. That smart black set down there? K'NEX roller coaster chain, re-purposed from her brothers' six-foot-tall set. I'm fairly certain the Cobra's Curse Coaster designer never envisioned this particular end-use for their product. Works, though, if you can command the look.
The clothes thing is just beginning to get interesting. Some mornings I can bring her an outfit, and we're off. Others, she's emphatic about choosing her own. Either way, she lobbies to change out pieces on the flimsiest of pretexts. I'm trying to teach her one water drop does not a wet shirt make. We look for other outlets. Her Woodkins are well-dressed.
And then there are the glasses. Mamo brought them back in May, along with the purse, and not a moment too soon. Zoë's rather fond of them. I've only recently realized how much. We were stuck in line, a few weeks back, and Zoë was rapidly veering toward peevish. In an effort to distract her, Papa Bear asked her a question which, if memory serves, ran something like this: "Zoë, if you had to choose one or the other, would you pick Winkie Blinkie or your sunglasses?"
I was a little dumbstruck. A prisoner's dilemma for a two year old? I mean honestly, how terrible would a Toddler feel, having to cast aside her sweet grandmother-given shades in order to save her beloved baby doll? The guilt! The treachery!! The— "My Sunglasses!" she answered, almost instantly, all smiles.
Well. Okay, then. Baby overboard.
She has a special way with adhesives, the potential of which I've obviously neglected for decades. We've gone through more band-aids in the past twelve months than in my prior nine years as a parent. (No, she's not particularly accident prone.)
She invented a new superhero, Tapron Man. I'm not sure he's got Superman's same cross-merchandising appeal, but he's won a fairly keen following in our home. And really, what would you call a green army man, done up in a yellow masking tape apron? (He's aboard a block of Scharffenberger dark, up there. Can't remember whether it was a boat or a final resting place. I can think of worse fates.)
Stickers are a topic unto themselves. Max and Henry scowled when offered them at check-out. Zoë adores them with wild abandon. Potty training was a relative breeze last Spring, all because we offered bright tiny sticky bits. I'd heard this was a motivator from many moms before me, but my boys were not cc:'d on the memo. They held out for chocolate chips and toy cars. I'm only now realizing all those moms had daughters.
Not that we're through with them now; not hardly. Every day brings with it brand new sticker possiblities. Off to dig? Better look the part. Writing a letter? Envelopes need not be dull! Yesterday, she did something especially well, and I left her alone a few moments to choose a sticker. You wouldn't know it by looking, but her listening and counting skills are really quite good. Embellishment trumps accuracy, I guess.
(I haven't had the heart to tell her about hats, about how they are technically to be taken off indoors. She wears them at least as often inside as out, in preparation for reading, or writing, or breathing. Perhaps we're over that propriety nonsense, anyhow.)
Don't misunderstand: Zoë's no princess. People always ask, what with two older brothers and all. She recently declared an end to all skirts; jeans are the way, truth and light. She went as a wizard for Halloween (a little like that one, but sub out starry cape for wings). And anyway, in my experience, princesses don't do Power Ranger with such gravity and chutzpah. I think she just has this slightly more evolved sense of what fully dressed involves, exactly.
Me? Not so much. By which I mean, not at all. I'm overdue my annual order of seven white Favorite-T's, my uniform for years now. All my necklaces (all two of them) now reside in the dress-up trunk. I've no idea if my ears are still pierced; I last wore earrings before Henry was born. I've made peace with hats and scarves, but that's more Darwin than decoration.
I do wear a wedding ring. Diamond, even. The smallest, simplest one I could find. Though I did have it lowered, which took a little doing. Apparently, to judge from the way the jeweler's jaw hit the floor, no one had ever said, "It's just too dang sparkly. Please lower the setting as much as you're able." My mom can pull off bakelite bracelets with panache. Maybe it's one of those skip-a-generation genes.
Or maybe it's just that the direct object changes. I do rather like to accessorize my soups. Puréed soups in particular, which I adore. For about five bites. Then they bore me to tears.
The problem, I think, is their signature texture, which goes from velvet to Gerber's, just like that. For ages, I'd whip up some smooth, sultry number, then grumble my way to the bottom of the bowl. Their vegetable-centric flavor was grand, their plush demeanor obviously appealing, but they always failed to feel like dinner. At least for anyone over, oh, 10 months of age. It took me years to realize that a little edible bling was all these soups needed. Adding smoked trout to potato-leek was a turning point. Heidi's potato croutons pretty much sealed the deal.
I should confess, I've never made potato croutons. But I did take the idea and run with it. The idea being, instead of fried cubes of bread, crisp up some cubed roots to top your favorite soup. Or, in my case, in the fall, caramelize small-diced apples to gussy up a bowl of butternut. This, my friends, is so not baby food.
What it is is a bright, vibrant, warmly spiced soup, rich with butternut, tickled by chili. There's fresh ginger for warmth and a splash of cream for softness and it would all be for naught if it weren't for what's next. Because after you simmer everything into softness, and blitz it into a silken purée, you top it all off with a heap of those apples, sweet-tart and golden and powerfully good. If you're me, you add also a plunk of greek yogurt, plus a smattering of cilantro and pumpkin seeds. I may not have style—we can't all be Zoë—but at least I've got a great bowl of soup. And a fetching little companion to dine with.
Butternut Squash Soup + Caramelized Apple Croutons
yields 4-6 main-course servings
How to peel a butternut squash? If you have a Y-peeler, use it here. A regular peeler will do the job also, so long as it's sharp. I go over the entire squash twice with the peeler to remove the entireity of the thick skin. This is quicker than it sounds, two minutes, maybe. Alternately, you can whack the squash in half, scoop out the seeds, and roast it until tender. I'll often do this at the end of some other oven-session, and tuck it into the fridge for later in the week. Just scoop into the soup after sauteeing the aromatics, and you're that much closer to dinner. Clever.
To my taste, this makes a fragrant, not-too-hot, warmly-spiced soup. My soup-girl, however, did not prefer it. You may wish to dial down the spices a bit, if you are serving this soup to small children.
Butternut Squash Soup
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
fresh ginger — 1 thumb-size knob, roughly chopped to equal 1 1/2 Tablespoons
1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1 butternut squash (2 1/2 lbs., give or take), peeled, seeded and cubed
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 tsp. nutmeg, freshly grated
1/4 tsp. aleppo chili, or to taste
1/2 tsp. salt
1-2 tsp. sugar
1 plump lime, juiced
4 Tablespoons cream
To garnish: chopped cilantro, greek yogurt, salted pumpkin seeds, apple "croutons" (recipe below)
In a large sauce pan or small dutch oven, warm olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and ginger, and sauté until translucent, 8-10 minutes. Add squash, apple, broth, nutmeg, chili, salt and sugar, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low-medium, and simmer, uncovered, until squash is falling-apart tender, 20-30 minutes. (This is a fine time to make the apples.)
Blend soup to a smooth purée, 60-90 seconds, either in the pan with a stick blender, or in a jar blender. (If using the latter, blend soup in batches and with care, as a full jar of hot soup will cause excess pressure and outbursts.) Stir in lime juice and cream, and taste for seasonings. I'll usually adjust salt, sugar and heat (chili, nutmeg) at this point. When the soup is warm, vivid and bright, accessorize to your liking, and enjoy.
Caramelized Apple "Croutons"
inspired by Heidi Swanson, 101cookbooks.com
4 medium apples, peeled, cored, and diced into 1/2" cubes
2 Tbs. butter
1 Tbs. sugar
pinch of salt
In a large skillet, wide enough to hold apples in a mostly even layer, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the diced apples, sugar and salt, and shake the pan to coat apples with butter and seasonings. Cook over medium-high heat 4-5 minutes, undisturbed, until apples are going gold along the bottom. Shake or stir to re-distribute, and continue to cook another 4-5 minutes. Shake again, and judge doneness. When apples show good color on many sides, gold in some spots, bronze in others, they are ready.