14 August, 2006

time with Sweet Baby Jane

Swimming! The Southbury Municipal Swimming Pool is the place to be. Especially if you're 17 and a half months old with a doting aunt to devote herself to your amusement for hours on end. And tennis, you can be a ball girl! Actually this photo is cheating because John wasn't able to be at home during our babysitting for Jane, stuck in Times Square as he was.

Here's the story: Jill and Joel needed a little down time just the two of them. And nothing could please me more than having Jane all to myself, so they took themselves off to Lake Mohonk, a classy and beautiful resort with spas, restaurants, hiking trails, and the like, to spend a couple of days, while Avery and I played with Baby Jane.

Suffice to say I had no idea how much energy she has!

Now, Avery was a placid, quiet baby. If I sat her down with a pile of books and a couple of squashy toys, I could go take a shower, check email, make beds, whatever, and when I got back, there she was, right where I left her. There was the time she crawled to the kitty dishes and sampled their pellets, but that was the exception. Now Jane is another story. She reminds me completely of Baby Jill. We have a home movie of Jill running from one end of the living room to the other, taking knobs off the television, unscrewing the lid of a jar of Vaseline, unfolding blankets, knocking over piles of books. Jane is just the same! She wants to know if she can lift up a coffee cup, take all the boxes off a shelf, start the rocking chair rocking, unfold laundry. All this is accomplished with a maximum of laughter, squealing, running to you for hugs, taking her ponytails out. She is, as you will have gathered, completely perfect in every way. So Avery and I took her down to the trampoline, but that was too nerve-wracking with just the two of us to keep her from careening off the edges. Easier to kick a ball back and forth. She and John, before he left, played forever in the hose water. She had her first popsicle, covering herself from head to toe in raspberry lemonade. We went to the pool and she dashed about in the baby-level water, and scrubbed down a utility door with a wet paintbrush.

Finally Uncle John had to be driven to the bus stop to go back to New York, sob, and after that I saw what life with two children is like, and it wasn't particularly pretty! I just don't have the knack of talking on a nine-year-old level with one person while cutting food up into toddler-appropriate bites and making dinner for myself and folding laundry! But all too soon it was bedtime for Jane, and then we were back to boring old us.

Next day we took Jane to the library, this being the easiest place to entertain her, I thought, on a brutally hot day. Well, it was an eye opener! She has a way of saying "Groo bee [something]," which means "Great big whatever," and she found LOTS of "Great big books" to whip out of the shelves, peruse with a lightning-quick glance, toss to the side, and move on to the next. Avery and I ran after her at first replacing them on the shelves and then finally just leaving them on tables for the lackluster spotty shelf girl to attend to. Jane kept waving her plump little hand at this paragon of library labor, saying, "I" [for "hi"] over and over. The girl just didn't tumble. Finally I said, "Please say hi back to her," and the girl muttered something that Jane interpreted as an endearment and we were able to leave.

We decided that an ice cream cone was the order of the day and ended up at Denmo's, where Jane reached for her ice cream cone by the dip, not the cone! The lady at the counter was ready with a dish instead. Not having a sweet tooth, I had some shrimp instead, and Jane alternated dipping her spoon into her ice cream and into my tartar sauce! An equal-opportunity dipper. We reached home just as Avery's London friend Sophia and her mother Susan arrived for an overnight stay, and then we all played with Jane, until her mammoth afternoon nap. I forgot what that was like. For about an hour you're happy to accomplish things, then you start looking at your watch and missing the baby, then after two hours you're pretending to hear her every five minutes until finally she gives in and gets up! Jill and Joel turned up, to Jane's delight, and we all went to the pool. It's fun to be there with the cutest baby among all the babies.

Susan made the best ever, most authentic risotto I have ever had. Joel kindly honored my request for fresh thyme from his private crop, and the leaves and stems were so tender that they could be snipped right in, no picking over required. Here's Susan's method:

Susan's Simple Risotto
(serves four)

3 tbsps olive oil
2 tbsps butter
1 cup risotto (arborio) rice
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 white onion, finely minced
1/2 orange pepper, chopped
6 button mushrooms, chopped
3-ish cups chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup parmesan or pecorino cheese, grated
salt to taste
3 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dry)

Melt the butter with the oil in a saucepan and saute the garlic and onions till slightly softened, then toss rice until all is coated in oil. Saute peppers and mushrooms slightly, then begin adding chicken stock, stirring over low heat and absorbing the stock gradually. It will take about 30 minutes to get the rice to a slightly chewy stage, with a nice thick liquidy consistency to the whole dish. Do not worry if you don't add all the stock. When the risotto seems ready to eat, stir in the cream, and 1/2 cup cheese, and snip the thyme over the dish. Serve with the additional cheese on the side. The key is to stir nearly constantly, adding the stock slowly.

Then, sadly, the baby was taken home, and we were left just adults and old kids, with no one to rush around giggling or saying crazy things, or pushing her finger into the palm of her hand in her baby sign language for "help," when she heard an ambulance siren. Jane is simply divine.

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