Roasted grape tomato crostini, and penne with zucchini, spinach, olives, capers and almonds

Roasted grape tomato crostini

Roasted grape tomato crostini

A while back I was standing in the kitchen at work waiting for food to run, and I chatted with the food runner, who was standing in the same place with the same intent. For some reason, I mentioned to her that you’re not supposed to be sarcastic in front of children because it confuses them. She laughed and said, “your kids must be confused all the time.” Well! This gave me pause. I hadn’t spoken often with the runner or even said much in her presence. How could she know about the sarcasm? Had my inner-sarcasm somehow seeped through the cracks of my professional and friendly demeanor? Because I don’t think you’re supposed to be sarcastic in front of bosses or customers either–they get confused, too. I started to think about what it means to be sarcastic in front of your children. It’s true that my boys get confused when you say something they know isn’t true. When Isaac walks into a room, don’t say, “Well, who are you? I’ve never met you before,” because he hates it as much as if your words could actually negate his existence. (Although apparently he’s allowed to say, “Mom, my right arm is attached to my left hand and my left hand is attached to my right arm, and both my arms are put on backwards!” and I’m supposed to take this alarming information all in stride.) Honestly, children ask a lot of questions. Sometimes you don’t know the answer, sometimes it’s too complicated, and sometimes it’s too dull, and like Calvin’s dad, you find yourself presenting a different version of the world. So when they ask you why the subway is so much hotter than the street, you might find yourself answering, “because it’s closer to the fiery earth’s core,” instead of the actual answer–that it’s the cumulative temperature of all the pee that’s been peed there, which can’t cool and evaporate so far under ground, because this is obviously too scientific an explanation for little minds. But surely this is just using your imagination to present an alternative view of the world, and surely the world is always shifting and mutable anyway, so that there are no constant and correct answers. Obviously, if your child is uncomfortable you abandon the joke, but most of the time they recognize a good story, and if nothing else, they learn to become very skeptical of everything they’re told, and that can’t be a bad thing. I did a little research on the subject of sarcasm and children. Apparently, you’re not supposed to be sarcastic at all, in front of anybody, ever, because it’s cruel and dishonest. Well! (again) this gave me even more pause, because I love sarcastic humor, but I abhor cruelty and dishonesty. Sarcasm comes from the Greek meaning to tear or cut the flesh, and I realize this does sound cruel, but like anything else in life, it’s how you use it. You can use sarcasm to be snarky and bullyish and make people feel bad about themselves, certainly. But why would you? You can also use sarcasm to cope with an unpleasant situation, to make fun of yourself, to express something that you’re not allowed to come out and say. It’s a coping mechanism, and it’s a tool I’d like my children to posses. I always admire people that can disarm a tense or nasty confrontation with a joke. At its most effective, sarcasm can demonstrate the absurdity of a predicament and help you to change it or wade through it. And, far from being dishonest, sarcasm, like all humor, is a way to speak truths that otherwise couldn’t be spoken, that wouldn’t be accepted in any other form. With sarcasm and irony you can turn the world on its head, and sometimes that needs to happen. So I’m not going to teach my boys that sarcasm is bad, I’m going to teach them that pettiness and cruelty are bad, however they’re expressed. And when they each inevitably develop a sarcastic sense of humor (they’re sarcastic on their father’s and mother’s side, so it’s only a matter of time), I’ll be glad to step back from the world with them, have a chuckle at the absurdity of it all, and forge back into life better prepared to shape it the way we like it.

Zucchini and spinach with olives and almonds

Zucchini and spinach with olives and almonds

I’m combining these two recipes because we ate them together, but they’d each be fine on their own. They’re both super-simple, so this is a nice summer meal. I roasted some grape tomatoes with olive oil, balsamic and herbs (use fresh if you have them!) and piled this on little toasts spread with goat cheese. That’s it! A nice combination of flavors, though. And then I made a stir fry of zucchini with spinach, capers, olives, and topped the whole thing with almonds. The boys ate it with pasta as a sort of pasta primavera and I ate it over greens as a sort of warm salad. Good either way!

Here’s Jelly Roll Morton and his Red Hot Peppers with Hyena Stomp. Need a laugh? This has plenty.

THE CROSTINI

1/2 thin baguette, sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes
1 T olive oil
2 t balsamic
1 t each basil, rosemary & thyme, dried, or a small handful of fresh, torn
1/2 cup softened goat cheese
freshly ground black pepper, pinch of salt.

Preheat the oven to 425. Combine the tomatoes, olive oil, balsamic and herbs in a small roasting pan. Cook until soft and fragrant – about 20 – 25 minutes.

Toast the baguette slices. Top each with a layer of goat cheese. Spoon the tomatoes on top. Season and serve.

THE ZUCCHINI

2 T olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 t red pepper flakes, or to taste
1 t each rosemary basil, oregano, thyme, and sage, or a small handful of fresh herbs
2 thin zucchini, sliced in quarters length-wise, and then into 1/4 inch pieces
1/2 cup pitted chopped olives
1 T capers, drained
1/2 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, chopped
2 cups spinach, cleaned and chopped
1 T butter
1 t balsamic
1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted and crumbled
salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper

Warm the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, herbs and red pepper flakes. When the garlic starts to turn brown, add the zucchini. Fry until the zucchini is soft and brown–about ten minutes. Add the olives and capers. Stir in the tomatoes and cook until they soften, about five mintues. Add a spoonful or two of water and the spinach. Cook until the spinach is tender but bright. Stir in the butter and balsamic. Season well with salt and pepper (remember that the olives are salty!) and scatter the almonds over. Serve.

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