Delicious Perfume

Last year, Barefoot Books came out with their first children’s novel, Little Leap Forward: A Boy in Beijing. I bought it in anticipation of our trip to China over the summer.  But as I read it to the boys, they couldn’t follow along.  There were too many cultural references that eluded them.  Frankly, I couldn’t follow it much better.

I took it out to try it again last week.

The first sentence read, When I was a little boy, I lived in an old courtyard in Beijing, China, between the Drum Tower, the Bell Tower and the river.

The boys’ eyes widened when I said Beijing and after the first sentence, they shouted, “We went to the Bell and Drum Towers!”

Throughout the first chapter, we connected the book to our trip.  Sometimes, they remembered the trip, and it helped them hook in to the story.   Sometimes, they didn’t remember, and I could use the book to help them dredge up memories from China.

While we read, we got out the computer to look at our pictures of: The Drum and Bell Towers, silkworms, hutongs, Mao, courtyards, instruments with two strings, stone lions, and sloping roofs with tiles shaped like waves.

It made me feel better about the gazillion dollars we spent to go to China.  It made me feel better about the gazillion pictures Jeff took. (“Why do we need to have a picture of roof tiles?  Who wants to remember roof tiles?” I kept asking him.)  And it definitely made me feel better about homeschooling. The experience provided 15 of the few minutes last week that didn’t completely suck.

Today, in chapter 4, Little Leap Forward made fried potatoes with his sister.  When I suggested we follow the directions from the book, I got a lot of resistance.

“I hate potatoes!” and “We’re supposed to be doing schoolwork.”

But I persisted, we had a blast, and the potatoes were DELICIOUS!

Only one person cried today. (Should I just give up on handwriting?)

Here are the directions if you want to try it:

Cut up a few potatoes into “matchsticks,” and slice a few green onions (We used a leek.)

I stood back and watched my sister heating our wok on our coal stove and drizzling a little of our precious peanut oil inside… (stuff about rationing food)…When the oil was hot and beginning to smoke Swallow added some finely chopped spring onion which made a swooshing sound, followed by potato, which made a dramatic sound like a clash of cymbals.  Then came the magical bit: a tiny sprinkling of white sugar from one parcel, a few pinches of crushed rock salt from another, a drizzle of soy sauce from one bottle and dark rice vinegar from another, and finally, three drops of sesame seed oil, like liquid gold from another.  The air was filled with delicious perfume.

Yes it was.

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  • Liz

    Sounds like your school year has gone off with a bang! For a lack of better word…awesome. Love you.

  • Beth

    now that's my kind of school!!! sounds rich and delicious — both the lesson and the dish. well done, teach. oh, and TGIF to the lot of you!

    • tara

      You, Debbie, Liz.

      It's too much in one day. You would so love home-cooking-school.


  • Deb

    So Starbucks, Target, and fried potatoes – do you have any openings?

    • tara

      Dude, you kill me.

  • Jeff Barneson

    Thank you! Finally! A public declaration that those pictures of roof tiles were worth keeping. I'm glad to have made this humble contribution to the education of our boys. I can't imagine what I'll bring to the table next week…