If I were to fill out a questionnaire right now that asked what I do in my free time I’d have to answer “wipe down the high chair.” Oh my god, the high chair! The whole wipe down the baby/wipe down the high chair/get down on your hands and knees and wipe up every sticky piece of orzo on the floor/pick up the rogue pieces of food that have stuck to her clothes and later fall off on the rug routine is never-ending.
But I love this stage. The chubby thighs! The giggles! The slobbery kisses! The chatter! It’s just a big old love fest around here right now. Except between 4am and 5am every single morning when I think about how glorious it will be when one day I can go back to waking up on my own instead of being woken up. The memory of restful sleep and knowing that every day we are getting closer to it again is one of the things that keeps me from being completely overwhelmed with the sadness of the last baby growing up. I also remind myself that one day I’ll have real, uninterrupted time again to focus on my work and have conversations with my husband and read the newspaper on Sunday mornings. It’s exciting to think about moving on to a new stage in our lives. But I know that once that happens, there’s no going back. Our baby days are slowly but surely coming to an end.
The baby turns 1 in just a few weeks. How quickly this year has passed! It takes my breath away. And, a few months ago I turned 40, a birthday that was pleasant but uneventful.
There was no big party or lavish get-away. I was too tired to plan or want either of those things. Sorin bringing home some take-out and a bottle of Champagne and a cake decorated by my 4 year old was exactly what I wanted.
But although I paid little attention to the actual birthday, I’d be lying if I said the number 40 hasn’t been flashing in my brain like a neon sign.
It has little to do with vanity and much more to do with, “well, what now?” I feel the need to re-focus and take stock of things and make sure I’m living the life I want to live. I feel a more urgent need to appreciate what I already have. And there is a bit of a dull ache, from my babies getting older, for sure, but also because, damn! I’m 40.
Awhile back Meghan Daums’ New Yorker essay about deciding not to have children examined the same dull ache.
“… or perhaps it wasn’t even sadness we were feeling but, simply, the dull ache of aging. Maybe children don’t save their parents from this ache as much as distract from it. And maybe creating a diversion from aging is in fact much of the point of parenting.”
There is truth to that, I think. Watching my two littles grow up is far more interesting than paying attention to myself growing older. What better way to fight aging than by surrounding yourself with youthfulness? But I don’t want to let myself be so distracted by parenting that I allow the years to slip by without any self-reflection. I want to map out my own individual future, too, not just help them map out theirs.
Taking stock of things leads me in a very indirect way to miso. Miso that has been in the back of my fridge for a very long time. Miso keeps forever, so they say, but I was really testing the limits. Every once in awhile I like to give the fridge and pantry a once-over. I try to identify and cook the random bags of grains I’ve bought from the bulk section. I open cans of corn that I bought for no apparent reason. And I start Googling recipes that include miso.
This one, for miso salad dressing, is pretty good. I plan to try this miso tahini soup from 101 Cookbooks when it’s not 4,000 degrees in LA anymore. And the one below, for Miso-Glazed Eggplant, I’ve made twice, and it’s been twice rejected by our children, but Sorin and I really like it.
I have to give myself a pep talk every time I cook eggplant. It’s like that friend who can be really amazing and fun, or total nightmare, and you’re never sure which one is going to show up. But with this recipe I finally feel confident. We’ve eaten this miso-glazed eggplant alone as a side and also chopped up and thrown into rice (or noodles). It’s best when eaten right after it’s cooked; not so great as a leftover. And although it’s really tasty, this dish isn’t going to win any beauty awards.
Take note: You might have some of the miso glaze leftover, and I think it has potential to be a tasty salad dressing too, if you add a little bit more water to it.
4 to 6 long, skinny Japanese eggplants
1 to 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (or sesame oil)
1/3 cup white miso
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon reduced sodium soy sauce or tamari
1 teaspoon unseasoned rice vinegar or white vinegar
Optional: 4 teaspoons finely grated peeled ginger (I forgot to add this, but it probably would be really good)
Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise. Cut an incision down the middle of each half, but don’t cut down so deep that you cut through the skin. Salt the eggplant lightly and let sit for 10 minutes. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet (or two) with foil for easier clean-up.
Blot the eggplants with paper towels to remove the beads of moisture. Place on the baking sheets. Brush both sides with the vegetable oil. Roast for 20 minutes or so, turning once, until soft and slightly shriveled.
Remove the eggplant from the oven and preheat the broiler.
In a small bowl, whisk together the miso, sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar, (and ginger, if using) with 1 Tbsp. water. Use a spoon to smear a light layer of the glaze on top of each eggplant’s fleshy side. Broil, flesh side up, 4 to 6 minutes, until the glaze is browned and bubbly but not burnt. Keep an eye on it.
If you like, top with sesame seeds and chopped scallions before serving.