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Phases

Posting has become harder for me lately. The kinds of things I want to talk about in this space – cooking for my family, planning for the holidays, complaining about ridiculous things – seem so glib and frivolous what with the state of the world. I don’t want to ignore the grief and fear and outrage so many people are feeling so acutely these days. But nor do I want to post about those things; I am fully aware that my existential dread is not worth discussing in depth, and I don’t feel like I have anything substantial to contribute to the existing conversations around All Of This.

When I seek out content online, it is typically to distract me from what’s going on in the world. Yes, I try to stay informed, but I can’t linger too much or I want to crawl into bed and sob forever. Instead, I want to spend my free time reading blog posts about baby names and holiday gift suggestions and how people spend their day and what people are doing with the veggies from their latest CSA and what it’s like to send a child to college. Things that are fun and, sure, sometimes, important, but maybe not important important, you know? (Are you blogging these days? Leave me a link. I want to read your posts.)

So today I am trying to push through the resistance that comes from not wanting to be too cheerful in the face of (another) tragedy and talk about something frivolous and unimportant.

I want to talk about phases.

Carla is at the intersection of several, shall we say, “challenging” phases. The phase where she is four, so she obviously knows MUCH better than me what she should be doing at any given moment which results in me asking her to put on her shoes fifty times and then just putting them on myself because we are already 14 minutes late for school. The phase where she screams when she (perceives she) is Deeply Wronged. (She has NEVER been a tantrum thrower, so this is startling and I am Not A Fan.) The phase where she eats nothing (we have been here before, at least). Mornings are especially fun around my house, is what you should take from all this.

It is so very difficult, when you are in the midst of a phase, to see it as A Phase rather than The Way Things Shall Be Until The Bitter End. I am only looking at these as phases because I was complaining to my friend the other day and she very calmly said, “Gosh, phases always last about two weeks longer than you think they should.” And all of a sudden, I realized that yes! These were phases! They will not last forever! (Also: Two weeks? Hahahahaha, friend.)

Sure, I want to “enjoy every minute” and I certainly am not trying to wish time away. It goes by fast enough. But also sometimes being a parent SUCKS and I wish these phases would end more quickly.

Of course, the trade off is that one phase ends only to usher in a new, perhaps equally challenging phase.

BUT there is a bright side. An annoying bright side, for those of us who are Not At This Particular Stage Yet. But a bright side nonetheless and I am grasping at anything to keep me upright here people. The bright side is that once this phase passes, it will (probably) cease to seem that bad.

This must be biological, right? The way I sometimes think fondly of pregnancy and daydream about being pregnant again. When pregnancy – for me – was not just smiling strangers and baby hiccups and cute maternity clothes. Oh no. It was twenty-five weeks of all-day-every-day morning sickness. And sudden onset crying. And it lasted for FORTY-TWO WEEKS. It was NOT GREAT. Stop rose-coloring those pregnancy glasses, me.

But the same goes for challenging childhood phases! And I know it’s not just me. My mother and mother-in-law have this rosy vision of their own children and how perfect they were. It’s kind of dispiriting – almost insulting – in a way, to have your parent look at your child, shaking her head in utter disbelief, saying, “Boy, I never went through this with my kids! They were perfect!”

Okay, okay. I am exaggerating for effect. When they talk about how perfect their kids were (and you realize “their kids” are me and my husband, right? so perhaps there is a little creative license based on audience going on here), they are not doing it in comparison to how un-perfect Carla is. (Obviously, she IS perfect.) They are not jerks. And my mom even has a story about how she once took me to the doctor and asked him what was wrong with me, because I was driving her so absolutely crazy. But it doesn’t seem like she remembers the specifics of that particular challenging phase, just that it happened.

(And, to be fair, I haven’t yet asked her about the Challenging Teen Years. I am still too close to them to hear her discuss them without dismay and chagrin. So there could be some doozies awaiting me. Let’s get through the early childhood years first, shall we?)

What I’m saying is, it’s one thing to be smack in the middle of a challenging phase and another thing entirely to be looking back at it through the gauzy mist of the past. Perhaps it would be therapeutic to take a good hard look backward at some phases and remember them as they were, rather than as the dewy memories of an idyllic babyhood they have somehow become. And then remind ourselves that those phases ENDED and today’s phases will too.

The Pumping Phase. Worst. Ever. I produced a lot of extra milk, and the only way to not choke my baby was to pump before feeding her. And then, because she got enough nourishment from just one side, to pump the other side, again, afterward. I spent what felt like most of the day attached either to my child or to that horrific breast pump. It was a Very Challenging Phase but it ended.

The Spitting Up After Every Meal Phase. Oh. My. Goodness. That was so frustrating. And wet. I’m sure it had to do with all the extra milk. But I still had to feed the child, you know? And she spat up every single time. We got some of those cloth diaper inserts to use as burp rags, and then got a huge pile more, because we went through ten or more a day. And we had to buy huge stacks of pajamas because I’d have to change Carla after every feeding. (Which, if you recall, was every two hours at some point. EGADS.) I lived in tank tops and nursing bras because I could rotate them out every time the spit up landed on me. That phase sucked. But we eventually got through it.

The Refusal to Sleep on Her Own Phase. Oh, Carla. Until she was… two? Older? (See, how quickly I have forgotten?), Carla would not fall asleep unless my husband or I was holding her or at the very least in the room with her. My husband spent portions of many nights asleep on the floor in front of her crib. Because I could not fall asleep on the floor, I remember singing her endless verses of lullabies and then trying to back very slowly out of the room without her noticing. Very rarely successfully. UGH. That was rough. But it’s over now!

The Reckless Disregard for Personal Safety Phase. There was a time when Carla had the speed of a cheetah and the caution of those wild squirrels that leap out in front of your car as you drive through your neighborhood. There was one incident where she dashed into a PARKING LOT and I almost died right there, so certain was I that she would be crushed by a car. She used to run pell-mell down the halls of her school, completely oblivious to things like commands and other people and immovable obstacles. There was a memorable heart-stopping few moments at Target when she took off down an aisle and out of my sight. Now, at least, she has some sense that streets and parking lots are dangerous and that she needs to keep me in sight at all times. The phase ended, and I no longer have to carry her everywhere for fear that she will escape and fling herself off a cliff.

The Putting Everything in Her Mouth Phase. Yuck. I was not a fan. My floors were much cleaner, but still. I am glad this one’s in the rear view.

The Potty Training Phase. This one is partially my fault, because I got it into my head that she should potty train at age two even though I don’t think she was quite ready. And then it’s partially her daycare’s fault, because the classroom teacher decided she was going to potty train the entire class at the same time (why? WHY????), and then a few weeks later she quit. In any event, I am SO GLAD THIS ONE IS OVER.

The Postpartum Phase. This really has nothing to do with Carla, but when I look back on it, I wonder if I had some form of PPD or post-partum anxiety. I was so afraid to leave the house. There’s a picture of me and my husband and Carla together in a park when she was twelve days old. It’s super cute, and one of the first of the three of us together. But I don’t really like it because it carries with it all these bad feelings. I remember so clearly how awful that trip was, how afraid I was that something would happen to her, how hyper-aware I was of how soon we’d need to head home so I could pump and feed her, how upset I got when Carla started to cry. It seems as though she and I stayed in the house pretty much the entire time I was on maternity leave, even though she was a summer baby and the weather was (presumably? I don’t remember.) great. I was so fixated on all these potential horrors, constantly worrying that she was sick or there was something wrong with her, so afraid to put her in the car, afraid even to let her spend time alone with my husband or my mom, just in case something happened to me or her at that very moment. I needed to be there. I couldn’t miss out. Add that to the endless pumping/breastfeeding cycle and it wasn’t the happiest time. So very glad that ended.

Of course, there are other phases that I truly miss. Like when Carla was learning to talk, and every day meant a few new words to practice and delight over. Like when she was a snuggly, happy six-month-old who stayed in one spot. Like when she called me Mama.

And there are other phases she’s in the midst of now that I never want to end: The Wakes Up Singing Phase. Or the Phase Where She and Her Friends All Compare Outfits and Jewelry the Second They See Each Other at School (it is ridiculous and adorable). Or the Phase Where She Wants to Help Me in the Kitchen. Or the Voice-Texting Daddy Super Sweet Things Phase. Or the Just Learning How to Read Phase. Or the “I Love You So Much I Never Want to Live Anywhere Without You” Phase.

She is a joy and a delight and I am glad to hold on to the good phases and let the bad ones fade into the detritus of memory.

What are the childhood phases you really miss? The ones that couldn’t have ended soon enough? And the ones you are not looking forward to? (Me, I’m just trying to focus on getting through TODAY. I am not even thinking about the Door Slamming Phase or the Boy-Crazy Phase or the Upsetting Report Card Phase.)

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You know those tasks that you do every day and some days you do it without a thought and other days you do it while grumbling quietly and other days you hate yourself and your life and you would prefer to abandon your spouse and children and live life in a yurt on a remote island than remove ONE MORE TIME the daily mass of hair from the shower drain? Well, I have reached the latter stage with changing the toilet paper rolls, which seem to ALL THREE need changing simultaneously, only by me, and at an alarming rate of turnover.

Of course, my irritation is on the level of hair strands burrowing in a drain, which is a near infinite distance from the level of My House Just Got Leveled By A Hurricane or My Backyard Is Burning And Has Been Since July or My Country May Or May Not Be In The Imminent Path of Nuclear Disaster. But rather than spend $1,000 on all the gas masks and emergency rations that are in my Amazon cart at the moment, I am turning my thoughts instead to the minutiae of life’s drain-hair-nest of irritations in hopes that it distracts me from The End Times for a while longer.

Something that is high on my list of unimportant-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things irritations lately is my eye doctor. Not him, per se. But his office and their apparent COMPLETE INCOMPETENCE with submitting charges to my insurance company. (Let’s acknowledge all the inherent privileges in this source of exasperation: access to health care, access to eye doctor, access to funds to pay for the services in case my insurance company denies the claims, house standing in a hurricane-free area, backyard absent of fire and smoke, etc.)

My eye doctor – whom I’ve seen for nearly a decade, and therefore do not want to leave, not so much out of loyalty as out of desire not to meet a new person – just joined a larger practice. He used to be part of the University Health System for which my husband also works. Now, he works for a practice called, confusingly, University Ophthalmologists. This is important to my plight.

After the eye doctor joined this new practice, my husband and I each went for our yearly eye exam. (I actually had several additional appointments, but that’s another story and I’d rather not fret about my steady march toward sightless doom at this time.) We got a bill several months later.

The bill says clearly, “If there is an asterisk next to the thing we are charging you for, we have submitted a claim to your insurance for that thing.”

The bill had zero asterisks, and it looked as though – unsurprisingly – none of the items had been covered at all by our insurance, despite the fact that our insurance covers yearly eye exams in full.

Since the bill said we had to pay by X date or face a collections agency, I called the number for the billing office.

The woman who answered – let’s call her Doris – said she could help me. I told her it didn’t look like our appointments had been submitted to insurance. She asked me what our insurance carrier was, and I told her. Recognizing the carrier, she asked, “Is your husband employed by University Health System?” and I confirmed that he is.

That’s when her brain shut down tight like a toddler throwing herself on the floor in prone, immovable refusal to wear the perfectly reasonable pants she already agreed to wear. Doris said, “Well, if you have the employee insurance, we don’t take it. We aren’t PART of the University Health System. We’re separate. Even though our name is University Ophthalmologists, we are NOT part of the University Health System. We are out of network to that insurance because we are not part of the University Health System.” She repeated this information several times and in a variety of ways, lest I misunderstand what she was saying.

When she finally ran through all possible variations on “we are not part of the University Health System,” I brought out my trump card (which no longer sounds as pleasantly triumphant as it should) and told her that we had in fact emailed our insurance company prior to our appointments to make sure that our eye doctor was still an in-network provider. The insurance company had responded that he was indeed an in-network provider.

Doris was still on toddler tantrum mode and this information did not sink in.

At some point she paused long enough for me to finally ask the question I had been intending to ask from the beginning, which was, “Did you actually even TRY to submit the claim to our insurance company? Because the bill says you did not. No asterisks.”

That got through somehow – her brain toddler must have spotted a soothing My Little Pony or something – and she said, no, it didn’t look like they had submitted the claim. So she would do that. BUT MARK HER WORDS, she said, it wouldn’t make any difference because they were out-of-network for my insurance company, not part of University Health, yada yada, the sound of my blood pressure drowned out her words at that point.

Internet, we have since received at least a dozen bills. Some of the claims have been submitted to our insurance. Some have been PARTIALLY COVERED.

One bill showed that part of my routine annual exam was covered… but my husband’s was not. Same exact service. Same exact insurance. So I had to call again. And Doris answered again. And we went through the SAME EXACT RIGAMOROLE.

Perhaps you are well aware how maddening it is to tell someone a fact and have them completely ignore that fact as they steamroll right over you with their own agenda. She was so completely caught up in this “we are not part of the University Health System” thing that she could not see that my insurance WAS IN FACT COVERING THINGS. Nor could she take a breath and look at the identical appointments my husband and I had, and note that there was no earthly reason for our insurance to make a payment on MINE and not on HIS.

The call ended with me asking, again, for her to re-submit the claim (which, again, had NO ASTERISK on their own form which said clearly that an asterisk means it has been submitted and ipso facto LACK OF ASTERISK means it has NOT been submitted). And again, we got a bill with incomplete asteriskage and mismatched claims information. Exhausting.

I am seriously considering leaving my eye doctor because of this! It is not worth going through this every couple of weeks! I never want to speak to Doris again!

And listen, I can empathize with Doris. I can. She probably has to talk to a billion people a day, many of whom are probably confused/enraged by the fact that University Ophthalmologists is not part of the University Health System and therefore doesn’t accept their insurance. That would be confusing and enraging! And so she probably has to shut off the part of her brain that listens so she won’t be bombarded by insults and profanity from angry, frustrated clients. And probably there is a limited number of variations on how insurance companies respond to claims so she likely thinks she’s seen it all. And maybe she’s worked there for fifty years and HAS seen most things and has a good grasp of her job and what can and cannot be done. She’s probably a very efficient, hard-working woman who maybe has too many things on her plate and might be a wee bit exasperated by all these patients the new doctor is bringing into the practice with their associated ignorance about what the word “University” means when it’s part of a practice name. Maybe she hates her job and goes home each night and cries. I try to think of all these things every time I speak to her, with limited effect on my blood pressure.

When the most recent bill arrived, I waited as long as I could. Then I gritted my teeth and geared up to deal with Doris. But! Lovely, reasonable, fresh-voiced Heather answered the phone! Heather, who trotted out the same “we are not in-network for University Health System insurance” line, but then listened as I pointed out that a) our insurance told us our eye doctor is in-network and b) our insurance had been covering some of the claims. And then she agreed that it was odd! And that she would look into it!

I have no doubt that I will be back on the phone with Doris in a couple of weeks, because insurance matters take YEARS to untangle. (Surely I’ve complained here in the past about the insurance company that had “University of City, Name Memorial Hospital” on their list of in-network providers, but the hospital itself put simply “Name Memorial Hospital” on the claims it submitted, so the insurance denied them all? That was a fun one to deal with.) (No.) But maybe, knowing Heather is around, I won’t have to leave my eye doctor altogether?

Carla has decided that, when she grows up, she wants to be a zookeeper. A zookeeper with a cat for an assistant.

This comes as no surprise to anyone who knows Carla. She loves animals more than anything in the universe. She chooses videos of animals whenever I give her the chance to watch something on my computer. She prefers stuffed animals over dolls, and her favorite game of late (read: past year and a half at least) is playing “Kitty,” wherein I count to ten, she hides, and then she pretends she’s a cat and I have to bring her home and teach her to do tricks. (The reward for the tricks is Goldfish crackers, obviously.) If I hand her my phone in the car or in the grocery store, she will keep herself busy googling pictures of whatever animal is most on her mind (mountain lion, giraffe, porcupine, praying mantis, armadillo). She has no innate fear of animals: she loves snakes and lizards and insects as much as she likes the fluffier, cuddlier critters.

If I had to choose her FAVORITE animal, though, I’d say dog.

She claims she likes cats best – and maybe she does; that’s certainly the animal she pretends to be. She seems to play with her stuffed cats most often. Cats star in her favorite online videos. But she hasn’t had much real-life experience with cats.

Dogs, on the other hand…

Dog

I don’t actually know this dog. But it hasn’t gotten the memo that I am firmly and forever A Cat Person. It’s very cute, though. 

Carla’s first experience with a dog was at her great grandmother’s funeral. Well, to be more accurate, the reception after the funeral; this wasn’t the type of mortuary that has dogs wandering around, although that sounds like it would be quite comforting. She was not quite a year old, and she fell in love with the dog who lived at the house where the reception took place. And she followed it around the ENTIRE TIME we were there. It was some sort of golden retriever and so it was big enough that it could knock her over with a wag of its tail. She loved it and I think it launched a passion for dogs that has so far only continued to blossom.

My parents have a dog, and Carla has been OBSESSED with him since she first met him. She will follow him around constantly. She has to be touching him at all times. Whenever she’s not with him – even if that means she’s sitting at the table eating breakfast and the dog is on the other side of the room – she has to know what he’s doing. Even though we were all in the same room together, she would insist on narrating what the dog was doing. “He’s licking his paw!” she would crow to my mother, who was sitting several feet away from the dog. “He’s sleeping!” she would announce to my father, who was literally at that moment petting the dog. When we are away from my parents and Carla mentions them – I miss them, I love them, I wonder what they’re doing – she never omits the dog. When we talk about members of her family, she lists the dog right up there with her uncle and aunt and grandparents and cousin.

We are lucky to live on a quiet cul-de-sac that has MANY dogs. One dog lives next door. Another lives across the street. Another lives across the street and three doors down. There are four others that live at the north end of the street, and three more that live at the south end. Plenty of dogs in close proximity.

Which is great!

But it’s also raised previously unknown-to-me etiquette concerns. What is an ideal Dog Neighbor Relationship supposed to look like? What are the appropriate Dog Neighbor Boundaries? How can we be good and non-irritating Neighbors to Dogs?

To make matters more complicated and uncertain, I do not like dogs.

Perhaps this changes your mind about me. I’m sorry if it does. But dogs are not my thing. I do not like how slobbery they are. I don’t like the licking. I don’t like the idea of picking up another creature’s excrement. I don’t like the hair or the scent or the forced walking.

Listen, I’m not going to be mean to a dog. I will say hello to a dog as I pass it on the street. I will happily look at your dog pictures. I will even, on occasion, pet one. I can appreciate a dog. I certainly want YOU to love dogs.

But I bring this up because I don’t really know anything about what it means to HAVE a dog. To be a Dog Owner. I mean, I grew up with dogs… but they were outdoor-only dogs and they had the run of our many-acre property so there wasn’t any pooper-scooper action or even any walking to be done. I never went to a dog park. My parents were responsible for the brushing and the feeding. They kind of existed at the periphery of my attention.

This means that I’ve had to learn, from scratch, how to interact with other people’s dogs. I’ve always sort of thought of Dog People as sociable types, who enjoy being outside with their dogs, who bask in sharing their Joy of Dogs with other dog lovers. So when Carla learned to walk, and we’d be out and about in the neighborhood, I thought nothing of allowing her to pet our neighbors’ dogs.

(Note for the concerned: I have always taken great care to teach Carla about Dog Safety: asking the dog’s owner before touching a dog; allowing the dog to sniff your hand first; preferred places to touch the dog; steering clear of dogs alone on their lawns, protecting their homes; being alert to signs that the dog is frightened or upset – ears laid back on the head, tail between the legs, growling.)

At first, it was easy enough – and, frankly, tiny Carla was adorable enough – to get away with a lot of dog attention. Our neighbors were very indulgent. But as Carla’s gotten older and more autonomous – and ever more obsessed with dogs – it’s gotten more uncomfortable. For me, I guess I should say. I have no idea how the neighbors feel. I am just assuming that their patience with Carla and our constant Dog-Related Interruptions is wearing thin.

For instance, Carla would see a dog in its yard as we walked past and would call out to the owner, “Can I pet your dog?” Or she would see a dog passing the house and would run to the door shrieking after the owner, “Can I pet your dog?” Or, worst of all, she would see a dog owner arriving home, and would call out, “Can you bring your dog outside?” Anytime we glimpsed one of the dogs on our street, Carla would make a beeline for it. And then she’d foist attention upon it – to the exclusion of all other things, like neighbors asking her kind questions about what she’d done in school that day, or like her mother noting that we’d need to leave in two minutes to go eat dinner – until the point where I would physically extract her from the situation, sometimes with accompanying tears and/or screaming.

Delightful, right?

Our kind, patient neighbors would usually acquiesce to her doggy demands with gracious kindness. But it makes ME feel like such an imposition. And an over-indulgent parent. And a person who doesn’t understand proper Dog Boundaries. AND a Bad Neighbor.

In maybe the past six months, we’ve instituted a new “rule,” which is that we only ask if we can pet someone’s dog if we encounter it on a walk. As in, if the dog is walking with its owner and we are walking. If we are on a walk and we pass by someone’s house, even if the dog and its owner are sitting outside on the lawn, we will not bother them. The rule is accompanied by a stern reminder that we need to pet the dog for short time, and when the dog owner or I say it’s time to go, we need to leave immediately and with no tears.

So I am trying to teach her about privacy and boundaries and all the things that are important to me. And we’re having success!

But it’s HARD. Because she LOVES THOSE DOGS. And sometimes, before I can remind her of the rule, she calls out – across the street, down the block, out of a car window – “CAN I PET YOUR DOG?” And then the neighbors feel obligated to comply.

In those cases, I usually explain to Carla that it’s not the right time, remind her of our rule, etc. And guide her away from the dog. But occasionally, the dog owner will say something like, “It’s okay,” and then Carla gets to pet the dog anyway. And I die quietly of humiliation.

Because I never know what’s appropriate, you know? I never know if I am being too strict with my own boundaries, or if I’m reading the situation correctly, or if I am totally overthinking things, or if I am being way TOO lax with what I allow Carla to ask and do.

The other day, we walked a few blocks to the post office. On the way, we noticed that our neighbor was walking his dog – about half a block in front of us. I reminded Carla of our rule, and told her if we crossed paths, she could ask if she could pet his dog. So Carla took off running. I had her stop and come back, but of course she wanted to catch up to the neighbor dog. At one point, the dog stopped to sniff a tree and we were within a few yards. So she yelled, “Hello, Mr. Neighbor! Can I pet your dog?” (I am also trying to teach her to acknowledge the person and not simply the dog.) But he was wearing earphones and didn’t hear.

I knew he had seen us though; we’d exchanged a wave. And I also knew that he KNOWS Carla and her dog obsession. I wondered if he was purposely staying ahead of us so he didn’t have to deal with Carla. And then I began to panic that he might think we were following him. No! We were just going in the same direction! Fortunately, he veered off one way and we went the opposite direction to the post office.

But of course, on the way home, we spotted him. I told Carla that we would probably cross paths and that she could say hello and ask to pet the dog. But he STOPPED, on the other side of the street. I don’t know why. To avoid us? Perhaps. (Panic, panic.) But we had to cross the street anyway, and then he was maybe five yards away, and she had been so patient and so rigorous in sticking to the rules, so I let her go up to him and say hello and pet the dog. Our neighbor was very pleasant about it. But sweet amaryllis did it make me anxious, intruding on his walk like that! If it had been up to me, I would have assumed that he was keeping his distance on purpose, and then I would have waved, stayed on my side of the street, and walked briskly to my house.

As an introverted person with, shall we say, Very Strong Boundaries, it is extremely uncomfortable for me to try to navigate these types of situations appropriately – and even worse when I have to teach my boundary-light daughter how to do so. What’s the right thing? What’s overstepping? What’s too much Dog Joy vs. not enough?

I think Carla is going to win lots of friends in the neighborhood when she gets old enough to be a dog walker. But until then, I guess I will just keep bumbling my way through Neighbor Dog Relationship Issues.

Giveaway Results!

I mean, could this giveaway have worked out any better?! Kimmylovescooking and Jennifer, please email me your addresses at lifeofadoctorswife [at] gmail and I will send you your books!

 

 

I love pretty much everything about Indian food. The flavors. The rice. The naan. The abundance of sauce. But of course, getting Indian takeout every night or even once a week is not particularly practical.

So I have been trying for YEARS to make an appropriate substitute at home. I’ve tried all the simmer sauces you can get from the grocery store. I’ve tried so many recipes for chicken tikka masala that they have all sort of begun to run together.

But then I tried this recipe for Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala from The Kitchn and I fell in love.

Chicken tikka masala 1

You can make it at home IN YOUR CROCKPOT, which is pretty much the holy grail of cooking experiences for me. It’s flavorful and satisfying and – even though it doesn’t taste quite the same as food from your local Indian restaurant – it scratches that itch for spicy, creamy, saucy Indian food that I get every few weeks or so. Plus, it’s another way to dress up boring old chicken breasts – and I am always looking for new ways to eat chicken breasts.

While this recipe is HEAVILY influenced by The Kitchn’s version, I have tweaked it over the past year enough that I am always wondering exactly how much Indian red chile I should use and sometimes forgetting the fenugreek altogether and then wondering why it tastes off, and I have gotten to the point where I need the Real Thing written down somewhere.

One thing I will say is that this doesn’t result in anything resembling chicken tikka masala – at least not any chicken tikka masala I’ve ever had. It would be more accurately described, I think, as an Indian-style curry. So if you are hoping that this will taste just like the tikka masala from your favorite Indian takeaway, you will probably be disappointed. Just letting you know, so you don’t feel misled!

Also, I like things SPICY. So if you do follow this recipe, keep that in mind, and adjust the Indian red chile and the hot chili peppers as necessary.

There are two other things I will say in warning before I type up the recipe:

  • This recipe requires quite a few spices. And I have to say, I cook dinner probably six nights a week and I only use the Indian red chile and the fenugreek for this recipe. I have never used them in another recipe. So I don’t know if it would be worthwhile to buy them on the off chance that this recipe becomes a regular part of your rotation. That said, The Kitchn’s version does not call for either of those spices, which means you can just leave them out, if you want to. I think they help add a more “authentic” flavor to the dish, but they certainly aren’t indispensable.
  • My favorite way to make this is to do the prep work in the morning while Carla is eating breakfast (the chicken and the yogurt, measuring out all the spices, chopping the ginger and the onion) and then doing the sautéing step at lunchtime. Then I throw everything into the slow cooker at about one o’clock and let it cook until dinner. If your plan is to have the crockpot work while you’re at work, this obviously won’t do. So you may need to start the night before.

Slow Cooker Indian-Style Curry

4-6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 to 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size chunks (Note: You can certainly use chicken thighs instead if that’s what floats your boat.)
  • 1 cup fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 tsp garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 Tbsp garam masala
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp ground Indian red chile
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp fenugreek seed, ground
  • 1 28-oz can tomato puree (Note: If you like chunks of actual tomatoes in your food, you could use a 28-oz can of diced tomatoes instead.)
  • 3/4 cup canned light coconut milk (Note: Scrape off the solid part of the coconut milk into your measuring cup first, then fill out the rest of the 3/4 cup with the liquid.)
  • 2 15-oz cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 2 bell peppers, cut into strips
  • 1 chili pepper (jalapeno or serrano)
  • Fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 2 cups cooked rice, to serve (Note: I prefer basmati rice.)
Chicken tikka masala ingredients 1

The ginger looks weird because it’s frozen, and the garlic looks weird because it came from a jar. I bought the Indian red chiles whole and ground them myself in a spice grinder.

Not pictured: chickpeas

Directions:

  1. After cutting your chicken breasts into bite-size chunks, marinate them in the yogurt for an hour or so.

I just put the chicken into a bowl, toss with the yogurt, cover with plastic wrap, and stow in the fridge for a few hours. You could probably do this the night before you make the dish, if you want to press “cook” right before you go to work. But I can’t remember if I’ve tried that, and I don’t know if the yogurt has any sort of adverse impact on the chicken if they sit together that long. Proceed at your own risk is what I’m saying.

  1. Sauté the chopped onion, garlic, and ground fenugreek in the olive oil over medium-high heat until the onion becomes translucent and soft.
  2. Add ginger, tomato paste, and spices to the onion and garlic mixture. Cook until the mixture is fragrant, stirring frequently to prevent it from sticking to the pan.
  3. Add the onion and spice mixture to the bottom of your slow cooker.
  4. Add the chicken and yogurt to the onion mix in the slow cooker.
  5. Add tomato puree to slow cooker. Use about a quarter cup of water to “rinse” out the tomato puree can, and add water and remaining puree to slow cooker.
  6. Stir everything together, then cover the slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours. (Note: I don’t think I have ever cooked chicken breast for 8 hours. Make sure whatever meat you use comes up to the correct temperature, which I am not remembering at this time but which you can find elsewhere online.)

Sometimes I do a combination of the two: I will cook on low for 4 or 5 hours, then on high for another hour or two, just to thicken things up a bit.

  1. Fifteen minutes before the end of cooking, stir in the coconut milk and chickpeas.
  2. You can add the sliced bell peppers at this time, too, depending on how soft you like them. (I like my bell peppers to have some crunch to them, so I put them on top of my rice and then add the hot curry to the bowl so that they are just warmed through as I eat them.) If you aren’t a bell pepper fan, you could try green beans, peas, broccoli, zucchini, or any other veggies that strike your fancy.
  3. Serve over rice.
  4. Garnish with sliced chili peppers and cilantro. (Obviously, this is optional.)

Chicken tikka masala 3

I feel like this recipe seems more complicated than it is. The sautéing beforehand is kind of a pain in the rear, I won’t lie, but it’s very quick. Probably takes five to ten minutes of actual cooking. And I cheat with the garlic and ginger: We use ginger so often, I have a Ziploc bag full of diced ginger in my freezer that I dip into for this recipe. And I use jarred garlic, which is perfectly adequate for this recipe put those eyebrows back where they belong. Plus, the onion can be roughly diced; no one’s going to measure the pieces to make sure they’re even. So that part really doesn’t take more than another five minutes. Add in five minutes to track down and measure all the spices, and you’re looking at 20 minutes of prep time, and that’s allowing for a minute of staring into the fridge wondering what you opened the fridge to get, and forgetting that your cutting board is in the dishwasher so you have to wash it really quickly, and having to open a brand-new jar of garlic because your old jar is depleted WHAT. It is a delightful time saver and I will not apologize for it.

The chicken, of course, is another matter. I hate websites and people who recommend doing all your prep work the instant you get home from the grocery store, because who wants to do that once you’ve just expended all that energy GROCERY SHOPPING? Not me.

But it does help, grumble grumble. I plan out what I’m going to cook for the week, and then when I am being Super Productive, I will trim and freeze my meat in whatever marinade I’m using. I label the Ziploc with the contents and where the recipe lives online, and then I have waged half the battle when it comes time to actually cook the stuff.

So for this recipe, I would cut up the chicken breasts on Day 1, and then the night before I plan to make this meal, I would remove the chicken from the freezer and throw my cup of yogurt into the Ziploc to marinate as the chicken thaws in my fridge overnight. Then it’s ready to go.

Well, no matter how much I love this recipe, it’s only going to make it into your rotation if it works for you. So I will stop trying to shove it down your metaphorical throat. Maybe you can come over for dinner next time I make it, and see for yourself.

A few months ago, I asked for advice about kids’ books with an instructive element. I loved the comments on that post – they were so full of good ideas, and I have since requested many of your suggestions from the library.

THEN. After I published the post, I got an email from A Kind and Generous Person who just so happened to have an entire STACK of the Joy Berry books I fondly remember from my own childhood.

Her children had outgrown them, she said, and she was thinking about the best way to release them from her house. And would I want them?

WOULD I?!?!

She boxed them up and sent them to me, FOR FREE – AND DID NOT EVEN WANT ME TO COVER THE SHIPPING – and they now live in my daughter’s bedroom. (Can you even believe how KIND and GENEROUS and ALL-CAPS WONDERFUL that is?!?!)

Joy Berry Books 1

I get a little tingle of delight EVERY TIME I see this stack of books!

We have read them several times over. Carla was OBSESSED with them when they first arrived, so we read all 20 of them right away, two-at-a-time before naps or bedtime. And then she began asking for specific books. And now we work them in among the other, less-instructive books that crowd her bookcase.

The books, by the way, are as wonderful as I remember… PLUS they are better, because now I am the one trying to teach my own child certain concepts. And some concepts are HARD.

Joy Berry Books 4

The elephant is already very clear on the concept of disobedience.

Thank goodness for Joy Berry. She very clearly and simply lays out a term and what it means and then offers several clear, firm, no-nonsense examples, all accompanied by a cartoon that shows the concept in action.

Joy Berry Books 5

There’s always an animal along for comic relief/extra shaming.

Then she lists simple examples of what you should do and what you should not do in order to avoid the concept being taught.

Joy Berry Books 6

SO EASY to abstain from disobeying! Just follow the two steps! (Disclaimer: May not be quite as easy in practice as it seems in the book.)

It was such a wonderful, pleasing case of serendipity. That this Kind and Generous Person would not only have the Joy Berry books, and be done with them herself, and be looking to pass them on to someone else… but that she would also read my blog at the exact moment I posted about my longing for those very books.

It’s the kind of thing that makes me itch to pass along the kindness.

To that end, I happen to possess three books that a) I LOVE and b) I am no longer in need of and c) I would wholeheartedly recommend you buy anyway because they are soothing and easy to read and short. So I would like to give them away to you.

They are by Louise Bates Ames, Ph.D., and they are slim “guidebooks,” if you will, to the inner workings of a two- and three-year-old.

Louise Bates Ames

I have no idea why these are not ordered CORRECTLY. It is driving me batty (although apparently not so batty as to retake the photo), so let’s just quickly look away, shall we?

The two-year-old book and one of the three-year-old books are gently used. The other arrived from Amazon as a surprise extra, and Amazon – which apparently has more money than it knows what to do with – just shrugged its shoulders and said, “keep it.” So the book is fresh as the day it arrived, more than a year and a half ago.

The books follow the same basic structure, outlining the characteristics of a child of that age, techniques for dealing with a child of that age, accomplishments and abilities typical for the age range, how the child sees the world, etc. There are “real life stories” sections in the back of each, where parents give a brief description of some problem they are encountering and the author responds.

I like these books for their cheery and matter-of-fact tone, for the “help with routines” sections, for the books/toys suggestions at the back, and for the short lists of “things to avoid” when interacting with your child. Sample, from the book on two-year-olds: “Avoid any expectation that all daily routines will go smoothly.” Second sample, same book: “Avoid any questions that can be answered by ‘no.'” I don’t know why, but these simple suggestions give me the giggles. And have I mentioned that they are short and very easy to read? Some parenting books are so dense. Others are so wordy. These books are so quick. Of course, that also means that they don’t really cover anything in-depth. But as an overview of what to expect from your kid at a specific age, they are top notch.

If you (or a loved one) are in possession of a nearly two-, or three-year-old, and if you don’t already own these books, let me know in the comments if you would like a) Your Two-Year-Old: Terrible or Tender, b) Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy, or c) both. I will do some sort of random number drawing on Friday.

Oh! And whether you want a copy of the Louise Bates Ames books or not, I would love to know what your favorite instructive-type children’s book is… and/or your favorite/most useful parenting book.

Hair Fret

Well, the world seems about ready to spin off its axis entirely and every time I even so much as glance at the news I start hyperventilating, so let’s talk about MORE FRIVOLOUS STUFF.

At some point last spring, I decided I wanted to Mix It Up a little bit with my hair. For me, a person who avoids change at all costs, this meant asking my hair stylist to add a little red to my normal brown hair dye.

I think I was picturing something like Anna Kendrick’s hair… Dark, but with a reddish tinge…

(Photos, clockwise from Anna, from myhaircolors.net, pinterest.com, and ouchpress.com)

I liked the result okay. But it wasn’t anything like ANY of the above photos. It felt so BROWN. More like… Young Rory Gilmore. Or… Jennifer Garner without highlights. But… Less shiny.

(Photos, left to right, from worldhairextensions.com and allwomenstalk.com)

So I went back to her a few months later and told her that I wanted to change things up AGAIN.

“What was wrong with the last color?” she wanted to know. She was non-accusatory, not hurt in the least; she just wanted to know what the issue was so she could help avoid similar issues.

“It was just too… brown,” was all I could come up with. But she nodded like I’d been extremely explicit and detailed with my criticism and presented me a few alternatives.

She did so by putting together a little board of hair samples. A literal curl of hair in four different colors that I could choose from. The far left was my hair color of last fall. The far right was Really Red. The two center options were somewhere in the middle.

But here’s the kicker. She recommended one of the options. I can’t remember which, all I can remember is that she compared it to Hair of Last Fall and said something like, “This will go much better with your skin tone than what we used to do.”

I trust her and so we went with the option she’d recommended.

You see where this is going, no?

I do not like my current hair color. It’s fine. It’s not bad or anything. It’s closer, I guess, to Anna Kendrick Brownish Red. But it’s lighter than I like my hair to be, and it’s still too brown, and it’s different enough from my natural hair color (mouse brown interlaced with grey) that you can REALLY see the difference now that it’s growing out.

When my husband – who, bless his heart, doesn’t notice these things – not only agreed with my assessment that it was very clear my hair was in need of a color-update, but also said he’d noticed without my pointing it out, I made a hair appointment immediately.

But now I am fretting. I mean, it’s MILD fretting. Nothing on the level of School Stress or What If Writing a Book Is a Huge Waste of Everyone’s Time Worry. But I like to wring every last bit of anxiety out of every possible situation so here we go.

What I really want is to go back to my hair stylist and say, “Let’s go back to how it was last fall.”

Simple enough… Except that she has already expressed a preference for NOW vs. THEN.

It’s like when your friend breaks up with that kind of boring dude she’s been with for five years, and when she finally does it, you can’t help but say, “Oh, I’m so glad you aren’t with him anymore! He really wasn’t bringing out your inner sparkle!” And then a few months later she decides to get back together with him.

Only I’M the one who is getting back together with the dull boyfriend, you know? And my hair stylist is the one who has to reunite us.

I would almost rather find a NEW hair stylist. But it’s so hard to find a good one, and I really do like her, and she does do a good job, and I really like the way she cuts my hair. Plus, my husband goes to her, too. So if I quit, it seems like he would have to quit, too, just for the sake of awkwardness and I’m too tired to worry about any of this.

My husband helpfully discussed this with me (although I doubt he will engage in deeper or additional conversations on the topic) and agreed that a) my former darker hair color worked just fine with my skin tone and b) it was totally reasonable for me to have a different opinion from my hair stylist and c) I could very reasonably ask her to change the color back and all would be well.

But YOU understand my fretting, don’t you?

What if she does it, but clenches her teeth the whole time, so certain is she in the life-altering mistake I am making?

What if she does it, and then it turns out she is RIGHT and my skin tone is Totally Wrong for dark brown and I HATE IT?

What if I can’t think of any other disastrous outcomes?

In any event, I want to go from Reddish Brown to Dark, Glossy, Gorgeous Brown and completely avoid Just Plain Brown at all costs.

Maybe what I do is pretend that I am NOT going back to my old hair color… and ask for a NEW hair color?

Something like one of these?

(Photos, left to right, from pinterest.com, hairboutique.com, hairstyles123.com, and pinterest.com)

Yes!!

I could totally go in and say, “I want my hair to be a bit darker for fall. Let’s change it to Katie Holmes brown please.” And then see what happens.

Perhaps I will even bring her this photo as an example!

Hair dark brown 1

What do you think?