Souper Tuesday: Israeli Couscous with Mango, Cucumber and Cilantro

It was hot today. July hot. Not only did it feel like a pool day, it smelled like a pool day, even though our neighborhood pool doesn’t open until Saturday.

It felt so much like summer that I mindlessly sang “Summertime” as I served a snack of cheese and crackers to Rory, Noah and his friend. (The Porgy and Bess version, not the Will Smith version. Though I will confess to liking both.)

summertime

Just as I got to “and the livin’ is—” Noah cut me off.

“Mom, it’s not summer.”

“Well, it feels like summer.”

“Yeah, but it’s spring. So you have to sing a song about spring,”

I thought for a second. “I don’t know a song about spring.”

“There’s one in Curious George.”

“That’s doesn’t help me.”

Anyway, it was appropriate that he cut me off right before I rhapsodized about “easy” living. Because the afternoon had been anything but that. I was already having flashbacks to the second half of last summer: my first couple months of staying home with the kids full-time, when I occasionally made valiant attempts at being a fun mom, but mostly flailed in the heat, unsuccessfully dragging the kids to  story times, cleaning up poop, hiding in the bathroom, wondering what in God’s name I had done.

It’s gotten easier over the last ten months, just like many other moms who made the transition told me it would. Nice, even. But that doesn’t mean I’m not warily anticipating the start of summer break next week.

First, I’m going to bawl my eyes out on Noah’s last day of preschool because it’s his last day of preschool.

Then, I’m going to freak out a little. I’m going to panic over the lack of structured activity, the loss of my six hours of freedom each week, and the onset of hot, sticky, buggy days in the driveway, Rory red-cheeked and overheating, hair plastered to his forehead with a mixture of sweat and sunscreen. Ugh, the daily sunscreen.

The panic started creeping up today. And so I tried to cut it off at the pass with some fun mom activity. Today I had read this list of fun indoor activities, and was reminded of how much Noah used to like washing his cars in the kitchen sink.

“Guys, we’re doing a car wash!” I announced. I filled two 9×13 aluminum pans with water and a little dish soap and carried them to the screened-in porch. I added a couple cups of rinse water, a sponge, this scrubber thing I bought to de-silk corn, and a few towels.

boyscars

The boys were enthusiastic about it. At first. Noah brought an armload of cars out to the porch, and his friend started scrubbing. But then Noah started getting agitated. He ran into the house, crying, and threw himself to the floor.

“But what if the cars get bwaaahahaha in the whwahaha?!” He bawled.

“The what?”

It turned out he was worried about what would happen if the Hot Wheels cars with open windows got water inside. I assured him the water could easily be shaken out. But he was not to be consoled. He was back in the house in two minutes, on the floor, with the same question. And an accusation.

“I can’t do it, and you’re not helping me!!!”

“Do you actually have a car with water in the windows yet?” I asked.

“No!”

“Then how do you know you can’t do it, and how do you know I won’t help you?” I asked. Okay, I yelled.

I know that engaging him in this kind of back-and-forth is absurd. For starters, I’m the parent. Beyond that, we’re both argumentative perfectionist-quitters, so, as Pat likes to point out, it’s like I’m arguing with myself. A no-win situation.

I’m not sure if it was the logical response or the harsh tone that did it, but whatever the case, Noah went even more berserk. Rory ran over to perform one of his sympathy tantrums with Noah, a wailing, dry-eyed ballet of flops and fist-pounds.

“Rory, stop following me!” Noah bellowed. I sent him upstairs to cool off.

Rory went to the porch to wash cars with Noah’s friend. Once Noah was upstairs, I went out to check on them. Rory dipped a rinse cup in the water, while Noah’s friend buffed a neat stack of cars with the towel.

carwash

“Wow, look at you!” I beamed, sensing a “fun mom” badge on the horizon. “Great job with the car wash.”

“There’s a problem,” he told me.

“What’s that?”

“Rory’s drinking the wash water.”

Indeed, as he said it, Rory scooped up a cupful of soapy water and raised it to his mouth.

“Rory!”

Noah eventually came back downstairs, and they washed a few more toys on the porch before abandoning the game completely. Rory took the opportunity to take a few more swigs of the deserted dishwater, but as of bedtime was not showing any signs of life-threatening toxicity.

Somewhere in there, I managed to make this salad. I found it a few years ago in Relish magazine that comes with the newspaper about once a month. (You can find more of the author’s mango recipes and good tips on how to cut a mango here.) I’ve made it several times since then, and love it. It tastes just like summer.

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  • 2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth (I used Pacific Organic Vegetable Broth)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 (6.3 ounce) box Isareli couscous (I used whole wheat)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 cups chopped mango
  • 2 cups chopped English cucumber, unpeeled (I use regular cucumber and peeled it)
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

1. Combine broth and water in a large saucepan; bring to a boil. Add couscous, cover and cook. stirring occasionally, until liquid is absorbed and couscous is al dente. Remove from heat and place in a mixing bowl. Stir in 1 tablespoon olive oil to precent grains from sticking. Let cool.

2. Add mango, cucumber and cilantro; toss well.

3. Whisk together honey, lime juice, remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour over couscous, mix well.

Serves 8

Israeli couscous is a fun grain (a pasta, really), and just right for this salad. But I’d love to hear from any of you non-wheat eaters how this salad works with, say, brown rice or another slightly larger, chewier grain.

couscous2

Do make sure to turn down the heat when you add the couscous in step 1; for some reason, I didn’t, and after walking away from the stove to check on Rory, found it bubbling over and burning the stovetop, with a layer of couscous already stuck to the bottom of the pan.

Thankfully, enough survived to make the salad.  I served it with a piece of pan-grilled salmon and some roasted asparagus. Pat, Rory and I had seconds. Noah made a big show about how he does NOT like the salad, but ate the mango out of it, and asked for seconds on salmon, so I’ll consider it a success.

Anyway, Noah not eating it means more for me.  For lunch tomorrow, I’ll mix in half a can of drained and rinsed black beans and plop it on a bed of lettuce for a full-meal salad. So there’s one less thing I have to worry about. If only the rest of the day could be so predictable.