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On Parenting. And Smashed Roasted Potatoes with Crispy Cauliflower over Tahini

Smashed Roasted Potatoes with Crispy Cauliflower, Tahini and Chiles

My niece recently showed me a meme about how bloggers write a whole dissertation about how much their husbands love guacamole before sharing the recipe for guacamole when readers just really want the &*#$ recipe for guacamole. Guilty. We had a good laugh.

So, if you’re here for this recipe, just quickly scroll to the bottom. What I have to say here has nothing at all to do with these Smashed Roasted Potatoes with Crispy Cauliflower over Tahini. You won’t miss a thing.

Smashed Roasted Potatoes with Crispy Cauliflower, Tahini and Chiles // www.LisaSamuel.com
Smashed Roasted Potatoes with Crispy Cauliflower, Tahini and Chiles // www.LisaSamuel.com

But if you want to read about my thoughts on parenting these days, here we go.

Last week was Halloween, and I don’t know who had more fun, Theo or the six adults who trick-or-treated with him. It was a close tie.

This was Theo’s first time trick-or-treating, so we walked our little astronaut to the first few doors. Then he got brave, and he’d hold out his hand to us and say, “I’ve got this. You stay back there, kids.” Why he started calling us kids, I don’t know. It makes me laugh. He marched up the stairs and knocked confidently and loudly on every door. Every time he got candy, he turned around to us and yelled, “I did it!” Then he’d run to the next house, oblivious to all the ghosts and goblins. They’re just pretend, he said.

That night felt magical. I’m going to tuck it away in my memory as one of my favorite nights of parenting thus far. Starting with dinner at the White Spot drive-in, where we blasted music and sang karaoke (thanks Tesla!) to feeling overwhelming gratitude for how much Theo is loved by our extended family to Theo’s unbridled joy at the magic of Halloween. He became a big kid all of a sudden. So good, all of it.

There have been a lot of great moments lately. Or at least, memorable ones.

Smashed Roasted Potatoes with Crispy Cauliflower, Tahini and Chiles // www.LisaSamuel.com
Smashed Roasted Potatoes with Crispy Cauliflower, Tahini and Chiles // www.LisaSamuel.com

Every day before school, we make breakfast and then curl up on the sofa with a pile of books. Either Elie or I read books, while Theo eats his usual breakfast of pancakes and eggs. Sometimes waffles. Sometimes there’s peanut butter on the pancakes instead of the egg. It used to all be served with honey, but Theo recently discovered the pleasure of homemade raspberry jam.

The other morning, Theo listened to Kalamata’s Kitchen, where Kalamata escapes under the kitchen table to be magically transported on an adventure in her own mind. I asked Theo if he had a magic place. Without looking up, he reached for a piece of pancake and said, “Yes. My heart.”

I love this boy’s heart.

Theo’s observant, sensitive. Always thinking.

The other day, he and Elie were driving to school, and Elie put on Rocket Man, by Elton John. This song plays frequently, in our quest to find enough space songs to satisfy Theo’s interest in astronauts and space, a curiously fueled by Moonshot. Theo sat in his carseat, listening. Then he asked Elie, “Daddy? Why does he sound so sad? If he’s in space, he should be happy.”

He’s an intuitive child. And pays such close attention to song lyrics.

We were listening to John Craigie the other morning, I am California. It the song, Craigie sings, “You’ll always want me…” Theo had his head in Elie’s lap, and he looked up and said, “Daddy, I’ll always want you.”

Those are the moments.

The other evening, I was helping Theo into his pajamas, when he started asking questions. I wish I could remember exactly how he phrased them, but it went something like this.

“Mommy, will there be a day when I don’t play anymore and I only sleep?”

“What do you mean, sweetie?” I asked. “You’ll always be able to play.”

“No. I mean, will I not get up to play and I’ll only sleep.”

I suddenly realized he was talking about death. We had just lost a family member, and Elie and I had decided not to talk with Theo about her passing. We didn’t think it was time to talk about death. But, I think we were wrong.

“Oh sweetheart,” I said. “That’s not going to happen to you.”

“If it did, I would be so sad,” he said, almost in tears. “I would be so sad not to be able to play anymore.”

I just held him and tried to reassure him, using the most simple language I could find. But he had obviously absorbed some of the conversations Elie and I had been having over the past few weeks, without us knowing.

I stayed up that night, Googling when and how to talk to your child about death. But the next morning, he didn’t bring it up again.

Smashed Roasted Potatoes with Crispy Cauliflower, Tahini and Chiles // www.LisaSamuel.com
Smashed Roasted Potatoes with Crispy Cauliflower, Tahini and Chiles // www.LisaSamuel.com
Smashed Roasted Potatoes with Crispy Cauliflower, Tahini and Chiles // www.LisaSamuel.com

Those collective moments are the great ones. The ones you wait for, long for. The ones you tuck into your memory and savor on the hard days. Of course, there are hard days. I believe in sharing the tough moments, too, because that’s what’s real and human. And most of the time, you get the full scale during the course of a day, or even an hour.

We’re just coming out of a tough parenting stretch over these past few weeks. A couple of weeks ago, we asked Theo to give up his motzetz (his pacifier) during the day, and only use it at night. We hadn’t really tried to wean him from the motzetz before, because we thought he would just eventually give it up on his own. But that wasn’t happening. On the last visit to the dentist, they said it was starting to impact his teeth, so we decided it was time.

It started off a little rough.

I understand why pacifiers are called ‘soothers,’ because we could always visibly see how the motzetz helped Theo to calm down during times of stress or a lot of activity. Without it, he’s been a lot more impulsive and full of (sometimes manic) energy. Where the motzetz would have once calmed him down when he was hurt/scared/tired/fill-in-the-blank, now he’s having to figure out how to manage those feelings differently. Of course, this is such a positive developmental change, and he’s really made a lot of great progress in the past two weeks. He now only asks for his motzetz when he’s ready for bed.

At just over three-and-a-half, Theo is a force. He is an old soul and a deep thinker. Most of the time, he’s the sweetest, most loving, curious and joyful little boy, taking delight in every moment and showing empathy and kindness. At the same time, he is also extraordinarily strong-willed, forceful, opinionated and persistent. I keep telling myself those are great qualities in a man. But so hard to parent. Or at least hard to parent in the way I want to parent.

Especially without the motzetz, he has started hitting us when he’s frustrated. And he gives us an emphatic, deep-throated, “No!” quite often, sometimes for no reason. And when he doesn’t get his way with something, it can spiral into a tantrum. Although luckily, tantrums are less and less frequent these days.

Especially last week, Elie and I have find ourselves at a loss, trying to figure out what to do. Spanking is out, but boy do I understand why it was a form of discipline for so long. On and off, mostly out of exasperation and grasping for something, we’ve tried giving consequences, like taking away videos. But, honestly, that just never feels very good to me and doesn’t feel like an effective tool. I don’t like parenting with threats. It feels icky. It doesn’t feel like it builds trust or helps him to learn how to make good decisions.

Natural consequences are great, when they present themselves and we recognize them as such.

These past weeks, I found myself pulling out my parenting books again. At every stage, I need a refresher in what to say and how to stay it. Listening to Janet Lansbury also helps. Although I imagine any child would be soothed by her soft, calming tone.

I share this only to say, you’re not alone. If you’re having a hard parenting day, I see you. I hope you have support. It helps just to talk about. A glass of wine doesn’t hurt either. Or a bath. Or a walk. Or whatever serves as your form of self-care.

More and more, I find taking care of myself to be the most vital input to being a present, patient parent. Taking care of myself also means nourishing myself and my friendships. And this recipe for Smashed Roasted Potatoes and Crispy Cauliflower over Tahini is flavorful, nourishing and a perfect make-ahead dish when you want to gather together people you love.

The potatoes can be boiled and prepped ahead, as well as the cauliflower. Make the fried shallots and the tahini sauce. And then just roast the vegetables when you’re ready and assemble everything when you’re ready. It also tastes great at room temperature.

Whether you’re here for my thoughts on parenting or for the recipe or both, I’m glad you’re here.

Smashed Roasted Potatoes with Crispy Cauliflower, Tahini and Chiles // www.LisaSamuel.com
Smashed Roasted Potatoes with Crispy Cauliflower, Tahini and Chiles // www.LisaSamuel.com

Smashed Roasted Potatoes with Crispy Cauliflower over Tahini

serves 4 to 6, depending on how hungry you are

  • 1 1/2 – 2 pounds of baby red, white and purple potatoes
  • 1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
  • sea salt
  • sumac
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup avocado oil
  • 4 small shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
  • tahini sauce (recipe below)
  • fresh cayenne pepper (or another variety of spicy pepper), very thinly sliced
  • zest from one lemon
  • fresh parsley leaves

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Place the baby potatoes in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring the water to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook the potatoes until they are very tender, but not cracking and falling apart, about 25 to 30 minutes. They are done when you can easily pierce them with a fork. Drain the potatoes. Place the drained potatoes on a clean kitchen towel and allow to dry.

Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the potatoes on one of the baking sheets. Using the palm of your hand or the flat side of a measuring cup or glass, gently smash each potato just slightly, until it’s flattened but not falling apart. Season with sea salt and sumac and then generously drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.

On the other prepared sheet pan, place the cauliflower florets. Again, season with sea salt and sumac and then generously drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.

Place both sheet pans in the oven. Roast the potatoes and cauliflower for about 30 minutes, until the potatoes have very crispy edges and until the cauliflower is deeply caramelized and starting to crisp at the edges. You might want to toss the cauliflower once, halfway through the cooking time. And, they should take about the same amount of time, but (obviously) take each pan out when it’s perfectly done.

While the potatoes and cauliflower are roasting, make the fried shallots. Place a fine mesh sieve over a medium bowl. Place the shallots and avocado oil (it has a higher smoke point than olive oil) in a small saucepan. Turn up the heat to medium high and cook the shallots for 10 – 15 minutes, or until they are nicely browned. Be careful — the transition from brown to burnt can happen quickly. Pour the shallots and oil through the sieve and then transfer the shallots to a paper towel to cool. Season the shallots with salt. Discard the oil appropriately, once it has cooled. I don’t like to reuse oil, as oil degrades once it is heated.

To serve, spread the tahini over the bottom of a shallow bowl or platter. Gently layer the roasted potatoes and cauliflower over the bed of tahini. Garnish with fried shallots, thinly sliced spicy pepper (add as much as you like!), lemon zest and fresh parsley leaves. You can sprinkle on a little extra sumac if you want to.

It is entirely acceptable to serve this dish at room temperature, which is something I always look for in a side dish. I don’t like to be rushed or frazzled when feeding my friends.

Tahini Sauce

1 cup unroasted tahini*
about 4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
zest of one lemon
½ teaspoon sea salt

Add the tahini paste to a medium bowl.  Add lemon juice, lemon zest and about ½ teaspoon sea salt.  Whisk together with a fork, making a thick paste.  It will turn a strange color and consistency and you’ll think you’ve ruined it.  Add cold water until the tahini becomes the consistency of a thick sauce.  I generally use about 1/2 – 1 cup of water. Start with less, and then get it to the consistency you want. I like it on the thicker side. Taste for the right balance of lemon and salt and adjust, as desired.  Tahini sauce will keep in the refrigerator for one week. It’s delicious with pita or good bread, raw or roasted vegetables, in salads, or just eaten with a spoon.

*Try to find tahini from Israel or Lebanon. We order our tahini here.

Photos by Matthew Land Studios.

Every night, after bath and pajamas and the wrangling that is brushing a willful two-and-a-half year old’s teeth, Theo and I go into his room, dim the lights and get ready for sleep. I sit down in the rocking chair and he squeezes in beside me, holding two books. I wrap my arms around him…