Today was my day off from work. Usually that gives me enough reason to contemplate opening a bottle of bubbly ( not that we have any in stock for similar occasions) and running around the apartment building in my green shorts pajamas (sorry, sister, they are mine now), making the neighbor’s chihuahuas frantically yelp. Instead, I woke up in my normal state of panic, heart racing like crazy, and an invisible three-toed sloth sitting on my chest, making me breathe like the Elephant Man.

I stumbled out of the kitchen slightly miffed that there was no gurgling from the coffee machine. My myopic eyes did not detect Husband behind his laptop, but even squinting, I could clearly see that my laptop had been commandeered by the Second Beasty. At 9:30 in the morning on a school day, I did not want her working on the best American novel at our dining room table, on MY laptop, but at her desk in school, sweating over square roots and cellular biology. “Daddy did not wake me up”  trailed behind me, as I slowly opened the second bedroom, feeling the lazy, but still heavy sloth steadily morph into a more sinister being, one with razor-sharp fangs and slits for the eyes. And there, on the lower bunk, slept Husband, his glasses slightly askew, separated from the younger Beasty by several stuffed animals in assorted colors and degrees of dinginess.

There was nothing gentle in my hand shaking his shoulder, and he abruptly sat up, sporting a case of really horrendous bed hair and an utterly confused look. Still blinking, he adjusted his glasses and stared at me questioningly, while I stood beside the bed in a great rendition of Mr. Clean, minus the shiny head and bulging biceps. I abhor the abominable language of the chat rooms, but as I spread my arms and tilted my head, WTF was clearly written all over my face. “You told me to keep them home for your photo assignment”, he said, getting out of bed.

It is true that I lamented for days how I have to work on weekends when the kids are at home, while they are in school on my days off. I whined about the light slowly ebbing  just about four o’clock, when both girls are back from school. I complained how it would be impossible for me to finish my final project in my photography class because it is winter, and how I was going to fail, which would be pretty embarrassing for the whole family. I ruefully concluded that I would have to make them stay at home and take the pictures I had envisioned. But then I found the magic little rabbit who became the star of my project and I felt relieved. The kids could go to school, I proclaimed the day before, and started plotting the scenes for my photo shoot.

But Husband forgot. The Beasties took advantage of the unexpected hooky day and organized a Harry Potter marathon. I felt so guilty that the only thing to save the day was for me to go and get a haircut. I do these beauty things on impulse. There were so many things I needed to do today, but getting rid of the sparkling strands on top of my head became the priority. Husband found a Christmas card from my girl Jessie with a 20% coupon in it. Bonus! Appointment was set for two in the afternoon, and my heart was starting to sing. I had time to take shots of the girls, just in case the rabbit idea failed, make plans for dinner, work on my blog, study on the history of photography, and open the bottle of bubbly. After five o’clock, of course ( I do love me some Jimmy Buffet and he says it’s five o’clock somewhere).

Just then, Father returned from his second morning walk, describing in long detail his route, mentioning every corner, every street, and every plant he encountered on the way. As I was drinking my coffee and nodding absentmindedly, already thinking of the luxurious day ahead, he asked me if we were going to go to the store as we planned. Who planned? What store? We did not need anything from the store. But he reminded me that I promised to take him to the grocery store to buy vodka and wine, and to the Persian store to buy lamb shanks on my next day off. He wrote it down in his notebook and there was no backpedaling, even though I tried with all my eloquence to convince him that Husband would love to take him shopping the next day, throwing in the bait of stopping by the “Home Depot” to browse at leisure. He was not budging. He had written it in his notebook and we had to follow the plan. We had four bottles of wine and a huge bottle of vodka, but in his mind this was the only day to procure more, and it had to happen.

While I was changing my clothes (the European habit that will never die), I was dictating to Husband the instructions for a Moroccan marinade. It was already eleven o’clock and the chicken legs had to be lovingly dressed in an aromatic coating of preserved lemons (home-made, of course), cumin, onions, garlic, paprika, olive oil, and lemon juice. Not too culinarily esoteric for Husband, but I had to hold my fingers crossed that he would not exercise his creativity and add a dollop of, say, Dijon mustard, or Worcestershire sauce.

I rushed off with Father in tow, trying to chill and enjoy the time we get to spend together. I let him push the cart, even though I could do it faster, and allowed him to meander somewhat around the aisles. We left the supermarket and drove to the Persian store. After the lifeless experience at the Albertson’s, shopping at Crown Valley Market was pure pleasure. My Mexican butcher picked four beautiful, fresh, meaty piernas de borrego. I grabbed a bag of potatoes and a bunch of cilantro, and we were done.

At home, I dragged the Beasties to the living room, brought a bunch of toys and made them play, while I took the pictures. I checked on the chicken marinating in the refrigerator, not noticing a suspicious yellow tinge, or sharp smell of Leah&Perins. By the time Husband was getting ready to drive me to my hair appointment, Father was donning his swimming trunks and heading out to the pool, the notebook entry scratched off as accomplished.

I brought a book with me, not willing to shift through People, Cosmopolitan or InStyle. I spent two hours chit-chatting with Jessie, reading, and wondering how some women can walk in four-inch stilettos without twisting their ankles. When I finally looked at the mirror, my heart was silent, the beast had departed, and my guilt was nowhere to be found. I liked what I saw, and after hugging Jessie with warmest wishes for the best newlywed holidays, I bounced out of the salon, where Husband was eagerly waiting for me. At home, the Beasties paused the movie to snuggle for a second and smell my hair. Father approved of my new look, but I would not let him get off so easily. I gave him a pile of vegetables to chop and dice, knowing that it would take him about an hour.  But this was the activity he needed and accepted with eagerness and grace.

The men of my family did not disappoint. The Moroccan chicken was moist and flavorful after it sizzled in the cast iron skillet for several minutes.  The Quinoa and Sweet Potato Salad was a perfect accompaniment, light, but assertive, beautifully balanced between soft sweetness of the yams and the crunchiness of raw vegetables.

My day did not start with the choir of Seraphim angels singing. But looking at all the smiling faces surrounding me at the dining room table, I am convinced that I heard a faint harmonious melody coming from a distance, taking the discordance out, and bringing us together, no matter how different we are.

QUINOA AND SWEET POTATO SALAD (adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian)

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups cooked quinoa or 1 cup raw
  • 1 large or 2 medium (about 1 pound) sweet potatoes
  • Salt
  • 1 red or yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded, and diced
  • 1/4 cup minced onion
  • 1/4 cup green onion, chopped
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh chives or parsley leaves
  • hulled pepitas (pumpkin seeds) as garnish (optional)

Directions:

Cook the quinoa according to directions. Drain in a strainer and rinse. Peel the sweet potato and dice it into 1/2-inch or smaller pieces. Cook it in boiling salted water to cover until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain well.

Toss together the potato, quinoa, bell pepper, onion, and green onions. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Whisk the oil and vinegar together and toss the salad with about half of this mixture. Add all or some of the rest to taste. Taste and adjust the seasoning, garnish with the chives and pepitas, and serve.

For the original recipe, click here.