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joan: turning 3 in two months. Lately she says “I can’t read this” when she looks at books and packaging of any kind. She’s mystified that she can’t read yet. 

lux: turning 5 in two months. Looking through a book from the Finnish Moomin series. 

alma: chewing on her fingers, self-soothing like a genius baby.

Chai and good books

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Two birthday gifts above–a package from Bellocq tea and a new mug. The Bellocq tea parcel and elegant tea strainer tugged me back into the romance of chai tea making, something I loved experimenting with awhile ago, and then forgot about (one good place to start, if you’re interested, is this food52 discussion on masala chai). Mythological chai seems to crest on milky sweet and spicy flavors with the tannic black tea filling in the rest of the wave underneath. No matter which path you choose–boiled milk, added sugar, extra spice–it takes time to make, so you anticipate it all the more, and sip it all the slower. (And for decaf fans, there’s a rooibos blend.)

I’m in so deep with the amazing Italian Elena Ferrante novels. Should you be so lucky to have not encountered these yet–the delight you have before you now!–you might as well buy them now en mass and mark off the next week or two of consciousness to read them. There’s no use putting yourself on the library waitlist because there are four volumes and once you finish one, it’s all you’ll think about until you have the next one in your grasp. I’m tempted to say that everything people like about tv shows like the Bachelor is in these books–heartache, affection, friendship, ambition, betrayal. That sells them short, they are so much more than that, but it also sounds right.

Beach read as a term doesn’t make much sense for me because I’m terrible at reading in direct sunlight, but let’s interpret it to mean you can leave off the page and start back up again in a moment. These books are absolutely that.

I’m reading all of them on my kindle, which allows for a few pages before bed and a few more pages in the morning light (I have the kindle voyage, with adaptive lighting) before anyone else wakes up. They have consumed my last few weeks.

Ferrante describes feelings through faces–the characters’ skin, bones, and eyes reflect their inner feelings. One day a hustling teenager may look like a weary old woman, another day an old woman will convey the joy of a carefree youth. I think this is true in everyday life, but rarely do you encounter an author who can describe it so exactly.

The fact that they were translated from Italian by New Yorker editor Ann Goldstein–and that she learned Italian later in life–is making me want to pull out my old Italian texts from my semester and summer abroad. Funny fact: because of the history of the neighborhood Lux’s kindergarten is in, all students take weekly Italian classes. I wonder if she’ll remember any murmurs from visiting at age 2.5. We’ll have to plan a celebratory return trip after her first year.

nearly every week

The way Lux blew off my requests for help, and yelled at me in the park that evening. Then, when I explained there would be no ipad during quiet time tomorrow as a consequence, she said “you’ll forget you said that.” The way she didn’t blink when I then told her she was going to bed early. Joan, wide-eyed in the face of her audacity, but huffing and nodding her own disapproval at my decrees. How Lux had declined to use the bathroom fifteen minutes earlier but now she had to go, thus we couldn’t stay out in the golden light any longer.

I was annoyed at myself for once again taking her at her word that she didn’t need to go, and now the result that I had to pick Alma up off the green grass where she’d been lolling in the soft evening light, the sun casting just enough shadow over the side of her face.

I texted Joe that they would absolutely both be in bed by 6:30. So there! I said to myself. It’s so sad, we’ve worked hard, and yet, here look: raised such terrors, I said to myself. Dramatic texts are a trademark release of mine. After we got home, I asked them to help me tidy the apartment, they refused and I said they were welcome to sit in their room then. Behind their door I heard the contented murmurs of duplo-construction and shared blocks. I relaxed at bit in the silence and felt–perhaps they hadn’t been that bad? Thinking of my text to Joe, I realized I had probably exaggerated my case. When exactly had it started to feel like too much? 5pm on the dot? Nearly all of it was an ivy of reactions tethered to their fatigue, a tiredness I had been fully aware of, a soft vine working slowly across our day.

I remembered that morning unexpectedly seeing Lux flit by my door at 6am, nearly two hours before she’s usually up, already in a princess dress with a crown on her head. She was playing some game that involved secrecy and light steps, and I was only awake because Alma had woken up. Then Lux woke Joan up to join her, an hour or so before Joan would have woken up on her own. Soon I saw them both flitting by, Joan blurry and barely tracking what was going on, but devoted to the imaginary heist, dazed as she was. 

I had left Alma on the bed next to Joe and went for a run in the perfectly cool morning air. The world for thirty minutes was cheerful running music and a steady chain of joggers keeping lines on the sidewalk along the river. I came back certain that the thing to do was for all of us to head straight outside. But it was two hours before we got out, between feeding Alma and doing the breakfast dishes, after they opened a package of saltines with their scissors, cheerfully munching and chatting like old friends at the golf club lunchroom, absentmindedly scattering half the contents in the form of crumbs on the floor—a ready picnic for the ants I’ve been trying to keep at bay.

Finally we got outside before lunch. Then everything was so beautiful and finally sunny after a week of rain, the park grass seemed cleaner and greener than ever—the gazebo, the coffee shop, the merry-go-round, the playground, everything beckoned—that we stayed out too long, deep into nap time.

On the walk home Joan sat down on the corner of an intersection and mumbled to the bricks that she couldn’t walk anymore. I smiled sympathetically and shrugged my shoulders at her, what I could I do? I couldn’t carry her. I sensed a message in the glances of the people skirting our scene: how’s she gonna handle this? She’s carrying a baby and now the little one is sitting on the ground. Naturally it did no good for me to repeat aloud that this was why I had said we shouldn’t go to the playground after all. Nonetheless I too murmured it to the bricks, and the girls looked at me, mystified at my evoking a conversation from an hour ago—nearly ancient history! If I had known that going in—why had I let it happen? Why hadn’t I insisted we head home when I knew the time was right? Because it was so beautiful out, Lux was begging to go, and I loved the idea of the girls running and climbing for just a few more minutes. Finally Joan hopped up and started walking again,and we made it back.

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Joan: always wants to hold my hand when we walk. Nothing brings her closer to a meltdown than if I distractedly pull ahead without her when she examines a flower/bug/brick. 

Alma: such a light. Just passed four months. Grasping everything her fingers graze over, but not reaching for anything yet. She loves to lock eyes with strangers.

Lux: my attempt at an updated passport photo. I must have taken 30 photos of her, with not a straight face among them!

Last week the sky stayed gray for nearly the whole week. The clouds killed my interest in taking the girls anywhere, and the girl’s adventurous spirit seemed to wane as well. Lux and I had to have a real sit-down before her swim lesson. I knew she couldn’t see the vision but I reminded her of all the fun–splashing! ponds! water parks! pools with googles! –that was just around the corner if she could just stick with it for a few more weeks. She finally caught on and had a great lesson.

Our weekly sitter left for her summer abroad (students, sigh, the life) and, afraid of being stranded, I tried two new sitters the same week. It was too many disruptions for the girls of course, but I’m happy to be headed into the summer with help to call when needed.

Lux and Alma’s headbands were a gift from Ohio’s Ever Iris Designs. Go see the adorable grosgrain bands in flag colors. 

 

Juliet, Union Square, Somerville

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Juliet is tucked into the old Sherman Cafe space in Union Square, neighbors with the ultra cool Loyal Supply Co. Sherman’s space never had the right vibe layout-wise, but on the weekends they did make toothsome english muffins, and Joe and I used to go there back when I lived up the street and he was in graduate school for architecture.

They’ve remodeled the space so it feels full of light, white, and wood. You can go for a prix fixe lunch at the counter, meaning they decide the menu for you. Or you can come in and just get a lovely coffee and sandwich and sit at one of the tables. In the evening for dinner, the roles are reversed–à la carte at the counter, or prix fixe at the tables.

I love the idea of a luxurious lunch where you commit to sitting through dessert from the very beginning. My friend Lisa and I ubered over together from Boston last week. It was so relaxing and I loved sitting at the counter watching the cooks prep hundreds of vegetables for their dinner and lunch tomorrow (realizing I could really learn a thing or two, or six, about how to cut mushrooms well). Lisa went off the menu, something they usually can’t offer at the counter but were able to because it was quiet, to order a kale salad and a lobster roll.

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The prix fixe comes with a house made soda (it was rooibos when we were there, delicious!) and of course dessert (one slice light lemon tart, perfectly homemade).

However since you are in Union Square already, and it’s not every day that you’re there, I think walking over to Union Square Donuts for one more sweet bite is worth it. If that somehow doesn’t appeal, Gracie’s Ice Cream (home of the cone with toasted fluff) is right there as well.

Tea at the Boston Public Library

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Joe’s parents came to town last weekend and then my mom came shortly after. It was so wonderful to have all that love for the girls around! Plus, Joe and I enjoy planning these short visits and filling them with all the good things as best we can manage. For Joe’s family we spent a morning at the Museum of Fine Arts to see the amazing Megacities show (I picked up a library pass beforehand to offset the cost a bit). From the museum we drove to the greenway and went to the Public Market and picked up a few bags of the amazing roasted nuts from Q’s nuts for snacking, plus some very ripe, very cheap fruit from the outside Haymarket weekend vendors. The girls played on the greenway benches and grass till dinner time when we ordered lobster rolls from Pauli’s to eat outside. The next day Joe and I took his brother Ross for an evening at the wonderfully funky Hojoko, followed by shakes outside at Tasty Burger. And on Sunday after Alma’s baptism, we spent the morning in the Public Garden with Swan Boats, finally seeking drinks and hot chocolates in the Bristol Lounge at the Four Seasons when we got too cold.

My mom comes to visit more frequently, so I often use that grandmotherly babysitting time to do things like get a haircut, go to a pediatrician appointment with just one child, return clothes and try on clothes in the actual store, get lunch with a friend, or go out to dinner with girlfriends. What I just typed up is basically my complete personal hit list of wonder!

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My mom and I started a tradition of going out to tea and this time I remembered to make a reservation at the BPL Courtyard Restaurant. I thought the food was delicious, really, and the staff was very accommodating and kind with the girls. Alma fell asleep in the stroller right before we went in, which always feels like such a lucky break!

It runs $35 each, we ordered three teas total, and made it our lunch-dinner for the day.

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The girls know all about sugar cubes because I like them in my afternoon coffee, so this jar provided immediate distraction when we sat down. They do offer high chairs or booster seats, but the girls preferred the wide armchairs.

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When the food came Joan made a point to inspect everything on the trays and pick out her favorites–which turned out to be one of nearly everything. Actually it’s a little silly that I order these grand teas–I’m really obsessed with scones and that’s all I eat, especially with the devonshire cream and jam.

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The tea is served in the BPL Courtyard restaurant Wednesday-Saturday, a spot that feels hidden and quiet from chaotic Copley Square. If anyone gets overtired or overwhelmed, you can always step back out into the sunlit courtyard. And absolutely you should head upstairs to the children’s library after your meal! We got there just in time for a story hour and craft.

tea_skeptics^^This was before they saw those tea trays. And the sugar jar.

 

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Lux: children dreaming on the shoulders of their parents. Should be a series.

Joan: in the closet after picking out her clothes. “I look beautiful mama.”

Alma: She’s discovering all the wonderful ways to use her hands these days. 

Occasionally I look at Alma and worry I’m not taking enough photos. Is that stage gone already? Did I catch it? Did I even get one look at it? I think to myself. I don’t think I worried about this with Lux. Maybe I know now that when it’s gone, it’s gone. Or maybe I’m more addicted to documenting than ever before, and documenting one moment simply leads to wanting to document the next, and the next.

And yet I must be subconsciously finding it unsatisfying to rely on them as a record of what happened–as of course they are. What I want is a mental state that has documented all this. One enriched by all these wonderful things my eyes have photographed. I find it remarkable I can still manage to spin a day and say, that was too much, I was so weak and tired, oof glad it’s over. If I just took a moment to review my mental images from the day, it would be full of sweet wonder, blessing, and love.

It reminds me that a mental state of thankfulness and contentment is not a reflection of reality–it won’t appear, no matter how much beauty I see–but an attitude built on habit.

 

a photo an hour

morning7am Alma is up after waking at 11pm last night and 3am this morning. I bring her to the kitchen so she doesn’t wake Joe up, and make tea, one lump sugar, for myself. It’s already snowing, and looking up from our windows, the flakes look enormous.

7:15 Joan appears, sleepy, cuddly, and anxious for cereal. Once we sit down together, she doesn’t eat and just wants to talk. Joe finishes her bowl after she abandons it twenty minutes later.

8:30 Lux wakes up like a languorous lion in the afternoon sun. For the millionth time I note to myself that this time next year, she’ll already be in school. For better and for worse, I think.

8:45 Joe leaves for work. He’s taking the train instead of biking because of the snow.

9:40 We read several Richard Scarry stories on the couch while I nurse Alma. There is a brief standstill when Joan refuses to trade the middle seat when it is Lux’s turn to hold the book. Pondering her sullen mood I remember neither of them have eaten breakfast yet. We decamp to the kitchen for them to eat together.

beach_scene
 11 While I’m doing the breakfast dishes, an elaborate beach scene has been set-up involving at least twenty items from their room. Fortunately other areas of the living room are still clear. I put Alma on the floor to listen to their storytelling.

I begin making Ina’s Weeknight Bolognese for dinner.

doctor12 I was thinking about offering lunch but the girls are still completely engaged in their game. Beach has turned into doctor. I pick up Alma and wrap her up for her nap.These days I never expect her to sleep more than 30 minutes, but at least she always wakes up refreshed.

pasta

12:10 I remember the simmering pasta sauce and check it. Smells so good I want to eat it immediately. Thank you God for sending Ina Garten to this earth.

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12:20 They’ve moved the doctor’s office into the art room. So now it is silent in the kitchen, which is a nice treat. Walking past with a pile of clothes to put away, I hear them sing “blah blah black sheep.” Lux leads the song and Joan repeats everything she says, a half note behind her.

I’m all for art projects but as far as today’s room-tidy-tally the living room is super messy, their room looks like a elephant went through and knocked everything to the floor, and the art room will definitely be trashed. But I’ve still got my room and the kitchen!

12:30 I put on water for hard boiled eggs for the girls and find a leftover burrito in the fridge. I sit on one of the girl’s chairs since my chair is still part of the beach scene in the living room and page through a New Yorker. I used to read this magazine cover to cover but now I just pick one or two articles to keep up with each week.

Alma

12:40 Call to the girls and ask if they’re ready for lunch. “I’m still finishing my monster.”

If I could take a selfie right now, it would be me leaning against the doorway frame of our room, listening to Alma grunt and settle, trying to decide if she’s going to fall back asleep or is up for good.

1pm Hop online and look at my sister’s beautiful recipe for tabbouleh. I want to make it for my friend this Friday. Frown. Why did she sub in quinoa for bulgur?? I’m definitely not doing that.

But I will take this tip about adding sliced almonds.

Hunt for Lux’s ballet stuff in her room. Find some half eaten jelly beans. Possibly this is why “the kitchen mouse” as we call him has been seen headed to their room lately. I discretely bundled up a bunch of things to throw away as I walk out, hiding them behind my leg as I walk past the art room. I set all her ballet stuff by the door.

lunch

1:15 I finally tell the girls they have to stop playing and come eat. The hardboiled eggs are perfectly done, nine minute eggs, but of course neither of the are eating “the yellow parts” these days and miss the beauty of that. Fortunately I am eating them!

I make a cup of tea so I have something to keep me seated with them while they eat. Too often I hop around the kitchen when they’re eating, which doesn’t make for good conversation or time together.

outside
 1:30 Take a photo out the window and begin to get ready to leave with gusto. Strew the girls’ coats and boots in front of the door so they understand what’s expected and don’t try to pull out their “cozy” coats that are useless at keeping them warm.
1:45 Wake up Alma and nurse her. Pull on her wool sweater, socks, booties, and hat. I put on my ergo and clip on the winter-weather cover that my friend Lisa gave me. It’s fleece lined and will keep her toasty without a bulky jacket.
2pm Take the elevator downstairs and make it outside as scheduled!
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 2:01 Take first steps down the sidewalk and realize Lux forgot her backpack containing her ballet shoes, and somewhat mysteriously, a stuffed turtle. Walk back to the lobby and send Lux up to get the backpack. Joan demands to stay in the alley by herself, which is fine with me.
2:10 Ten minutes later. Joan? I call out. I see a sliver of her hat tip through the doorway into the garden. “Everything ok?” I call. The sliver barely nods, then disappears again. I guess everyone is enjoying their alone time right now.
2:15 Fifteen minutes after she first went up, Lux reappears. “I realized I had to go to the bathroom!” Count myself lucky I wasn’t there for the removal and reapplication of her coat, snow pants, leotard, tights, and undies.
walking
2:40 As expected, eating snow and stomping snow is really slowing us down. But the snow is so darn beautiful! I decide that even if we miss class, it was worth it for the long walk alone.

waiting_for_the_train3pm As expected, the trains are delayed. Lots of people are waiting when we arrive, and we have to wait for ten minutes. Even more people are waiting now. When we get on, two people give up their seats for the girls and both girls immediately start to whine about not being able to see out the window from those seats. Given the twenty adults currently standing, I attempted to silence them with my eyes and mentally add train manners to the list of manners we are currently working on.

3:08 We get off the train. As we wait for the line of Able and Capable Adults to climb the stairs first, I briefly lecture them on the etiquette of train thanking and gratefulness. A guy waiting to go up the stairs says “y’all are the cutest thing I’ve seen all day.” “Yeah,” mumbles the grad student behind him. Thanks, man!

3:15 Three grand staircases later, we are on time for class. Confetti should fall from the ceiling to celebrate this accomplishment, but instead Lux gives us hugs and kisses and Joan and I just walk downstairs.

3:30 Downstairs in the dance hall lobby. Joan laments for the 6th time since Christmas that there are no free fortune cookies downstairs anymore. “Why no treats here today?” I remind her this was a Christmas thing.

3:45 Joan and I walk to the library nearby. I talk with my friend Melissa who is also waiting for her daughter’s class. Her sweet daughter Verity attempts to share a book with Joan. I look over to see Joan respond by sprawling on the floor like a dead spider, staring at the ceiling. Melissa and I continue to enjoy our conversation about kindergarten and upcoming 5k races. Fifteen minutes of adult conversation adds a lot to my day.

walking

4:30 Waiting for the crosswalk after the train home, the cars are roaring through the slush. The girls seem to often choose these moments to ask me elaborate questions, all while facing forward. It is impossible for me to hear them. I respond like myself in sixty years, yelling “What? What? You have to look at me for me to hear you!!”

Alma is over being in the carrier but it’s still going to take us 30 minutes to walk. Oh well.

girls
5:10 Home. I realize my feet are freezing from the walk. Joan is so, so proud that she isn’t cold. I had no idea she noticed that she is usually cold, but Lux and I are not. Today, she wins. I take the pan of sauce out of the fridge and put it on the stove. I add a pot of water to boil for the pasta.
quiet_time
5:30 The girls angle for what we call “quiet time together,” something that sometimes happens on days when Joan doesn’t nap, which means they both get ipads for 30 minutes (usually just Lux gets an ipad for 30 minutes while Joan naps). I settle onto the couch with dear Alma who has been so patient and is so hungry, and give them the thumbs up.
alma
6:15 Joe gets home, hooray! Bolognese is heated up. Pasta noodles are boiled. There is a box of white wine in the fridge. Dinner!
dinner

6:30 The girls eat almost nothing but talk animatedly to Joe about their day. It’s clear the after-dance snack of Milano cookies on the train has filled them up. Or maybe I just over filled their bowls? They both opt to eat a few carrots, Joe and I excuse them and enjoy our dinner. Alma sits in her little blue bouncy chair on the floor, smiling whenever someone looks at her. Or maybe she’s often smiling, but we just aren’t looking. The only time she cries is when she’s tired, hungry, or in a quiet room by herself.

7pm Joe motivates teeth brushing and pajamas to be followed by reading in their room. They are deep into the Chronicles of Narnia’s The Silver Chair, which is one of the ones I didn’t read as a kid. I disappear into our room with Alma to nurse her, swaddle her, and then I fall onto our bed listening to her fall asleep.

Note: I always enjoyed reading these types of posts back when I had just one baby and wondered what the future looked like. It feels strange now, almost misleading, to pick a day and write it up, because every day really feels so different. This was a day when I woke up feeling rested because I went to bed early, and the girls got along wonderfully, but the next day–Tuesday–they wanted to be in the same room with me the whole day, and I barely had a moment to myself!

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Lux: taking a photo of pair of doors after I told her they were two of my favorites in the neighborhood.

Joan: her granola came with four blackberries. ‘I need more blackberries,’ she repeated for the rest of the meal. Don’t we all, Joan.

Alma: her little eyebrow furrows.

I had two food goals for March: 1/ get the girls to eat muesli or “cold oatmeal” for breakfast. I spend an enormous amount of my weekly budget on food, and yet I loathe putting money into cereal manufacturer’s coffers. The girl love oatmeal, but the ten-minute-prep-and-cool time is usually too long for us to wait. So muesli would eliminate processed grain cereal—saving money and cutting sugar. And it would mean breakfast would be ready in bowls, in the fridge, first thing every morning.

2/ Get the girls to eat beans and rice for several meals a week.

Both goals get an A for Attempted. Joan took to the muesli, aside from the one day I optimistically added raisins the night before and they bloomed into foreign things (in her mind). Lux did not take to it, now matter how charmingly I set out little bowls of brown sugar and raisins to accompany it, and she skipped breakfast all together on those days.

I made an enormous pot of rice and beans but made the mistake of following a recipe that asked for Chinese chili spice. It was too much for them, obviously, and it was just me that ended up eating rice and beans for about ten meals.

I’ll do a simple batch next and serve for lunch–a time when my meal prep is needlessly harried.

Both goals are coming with me into April.

Squash gratin

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My friend Jenny dropped off this dish after Alma was born and I’ve made it a few times since then. It looks very innocent in the pan but then is dynamite once you begin to experience it. Much like a baby, really.

I could be posting about pink rhubarb or pale green asparagus or blanch white parsnips or some other spritely spring vegetable; but I’m still in hardy-winter-veggie mode. Kale and squash! You could accidentally drop these troopers down a flight of stairs before cooking and they’d be fine, if not improved by the bruising.

Jenny got the recipe from the blog Alexandra’s Kitchen but she adds roasted butternut squash to it. This is an extra step that totally pays off in flavor. I’m becoming one of those grown ups whose eyes widen in pleasure at the sight of caramelized squash (the ticket to a faint caramelizing is not to toss them when they are roasting).

It reheats beautifully in the microwave and I love the idea to line the pan with parchment. I’d never done that with a casserole–it makes it easy to move the leftovers to a new dish.

kale_gratin

squash gratin

3/4 lb pasta penne or whatever (I use 1lb–the whole bag)

4 Tbsp butter

1/4 cup Flour

2 cups Milk

2 cups water

3 cups butternut squash cubes (I peel and chop up a whole squash)

1 1/4 tsp kosher salt

black pepper

8oz kale stems removed and chopped

1.5 cups grated parmesan

1 cup fontina or mozzarella diced into cubes

Preheat oven to 425. Roast squash cubes with olive oil, salt and pepper for 15-20 minutes.

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add a tbsp of salt. Boil pasta for two minutes less than the box’s suggested al dente time. Drain, do not rinse, set aside.

Melt 4Tbsp butter over medium high heat in a medium saucepan. Add flour, whisking constantly for one minute. Add milk and water, whisking to remove any of the flour-butter mixture from the bottom of the pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and gently simmer. Add 1 1/4 tsp. salt and pepper to taste. Simmer until mixture thickens for 20 minutes or less. Remove from heat.

Chop kale into small pieces. Toss pasta with the bechamel sauce and grated parmesan. Fold in kale and squash.

Line pan with parchment paper and spread pasta on top. Distribute cubed mozzarella on top.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until bubbling and golden.