We went to a birthday party today- the daughter of some dear friends of ours is turning four. Their house is so lovely- a huge Christmas tree bedecked in bright and shiny ornaments and tinsel garlands, beautiful ceramic houses that double as candle holders, and colorful decorations for a rainbow birthday party. The food was amazing too. There was a whole smoked turkey, lovely sausages with skins that snapped when you bit into them, homemade sweet potato fries with a creamy chipotle dipping sauce, and at the center of it all, two gorgeous rainbow cakes for the birthday girl. We laughed and chatted with our friends while the kids played happily with each other- hide and seek and who knows what else. I wasn’t paying attention but did stop to appreciate the moment of getting to sit at the table and just talk to other adults while the kids entertained themselves. And then it was time for cake. George climbed up in my lap and Henry squeezed in close to me and they waited eagerly for their slices. Henry got the second slice and tucked in right away. He took one bite and made this gagging noise. Oh shit oh shit oh shit. I yelled for Andy to bring me a napkin, but it was too late. Henry threw up. I covered his mouth with my hands, but the vomit was so torrential that it spewed up over the top of them and got all over Henry’s hair, ran down into his eyes, soaked me and George, and splattered the bench, floor, and table around us. So basically, it was the worst thing that has ever happened. The darling little birthday girl was on the other side of Henry and she absolutely recoiled in horror. The hosts were so gracious and asked if we wanted to give the boys a bath, but I just wanted to run out of there as fast as I could. I apologized over and over again while quickly heading for the door. I didn’t even stop to put my shoes on- I shoved them in our bag and drove home barefoot.
I submit this to you as Christmas parable. I know this is a hectic week- lots of shopping to do, things to cook, lines to wait in. If you feel yourself getting caught up in the fray, or upset about how much you have to do, take a minute to appreciate the fact that you were not the parent of the kid who vomited all over a young girl’s rainbow birthday celebration.Who’s ready to talk about food?! Let’s do it.
Homemade Marshmallows. I humbly request that you take a minute to appreciate the pleasing nature of this photograph. The marshmallows are soft and pillowy, yet angular and geometric. The chiaroscuro of the shadowy pockets on the right adds visual interest and draws the eye in. Okay. There are some really bad food photos in the blog this week. Maybe the worst of all time. The dinners are boring. Most of them were eaten while I was holding a sick kid. You can see the shadow of my hand in the shots and the food looks universally terrible. When things get really hairy, just scroll up and look at the marshmallows again. We’ll get through this together.
A taco. So this is maybe the worst picture. We hosted 12 or 13 families of unschoolers at our house on Monday. It was fun! Also exhausting. I set up a cookie decorating station and gave the kids free rein. I massively underestimated how much kids like marshmallows. After everyone left at three it was time to clean up and Helen came over to help, bringing with her a late lunch of Taco Bell. George fell head over heels for her nachos bell grande and ate fully half of them. After a long day, I didn’t feel like cooking anything and thought, well I’ll just look at my menu plan and see if I put anything easy on there and I was excited to discover that every dinner was easy! I forgot I decided to phone it in this week after cooking all the things last week. It was a good decision. We ate potato, egg, and cheese tacos on store-bought flour tortillas and I felt just fine about it. Late that night, George threw up. I hope you guys don’t mind reading a lot about vomit? I heard him sputtering and knew what was happening and managed to get him out of bed and almost out of the room before it happened. Luckily our carpets are horrifying anyway, so a little more throw up isn’t going to make much of a difference. I blamed his sickness on the nachos, because I don’t trust Taco Bell even a small amount, but it turns out he caught a horrible stomach bug. We’ve been dealing with it all week.
Coconut Curried Chickpeas. The last time I made curried chickpeas I made up the recipe and it was massively unsuccessful, so this time I took to the internet. One of the top hits was for a Pioneer Woman recipe, and I thought that was so ridiculous that I decided to go and read it, and actually it ended up being exactly the sort of thing I was looking for. I made it and everyone loved it. Henry ate three bowlfuls! (He still wasn’t sick by this point) and ate the rest for lunch the next day.
Pepperoni Pizza. I think I’ve mentioned it here before, but Henry has a crippling fear of our smoke alarm. Anytime he hears a pan sizzling on the stove he asks me, “What percent guarantee is this dinner?,” meaning, how likely is it that the smoke alarm won’t go off, and I tell him, “It’s 100%! No chance at all of the smoke alarm going off.” For pizzas, you have to crank the oven up as high as it will go- 550 in my case. My oven is dirty and grease-splattered, so it fills with smoke when you do this. I was preemptively opening the windows to make sure air could flow through the kitchen when Henry caught me and asked, panicked, “how much percent??” and I started to say, “Oh, 100-” when the smoke alarm went off. He screamed. A cry of pure terror, and Andy took the boys into Henry’s room and closed the door, and I made the pizzas. Not just two. Four. Because that’s what it takes to feed us plus have an extra for Andy’s lunch the next day- and every time I opened the oven door to slide in a pizza or take one out, smoke would pour from the thing. So I’d dash out of the kitchen, leap onto the couch, grabbing a Magic School Bus book along the way, and desperately fan at the smoke detector to keep it from going off. It worked! And the pizza was good too.
My mother in law comes over every Thursday afternoon and I completely check out from child care duties and do whatever I want to. It is glorious. On this Thursday, I knew I wanted to do the bulk of my holiday gift baking projects, so the kids and I went to Central Market in the morning and held out our arms in the baking aisle and knocked every ingredient into our cart. We came home and made gingerbread cookies, just for fun, and the kids squealed with glee when I made a sad one. They wanted sadder and sadder cookies, and I think I prefer them that way too. There are too many happy cookies in this world.
I didn’t want to take too much time out of my precious baking time to make dinner, so we just had tuna sandwiches. They were fine and utterly unremarkable. I liked the look of George’s sad cookie sitting on a plate, though.
So what goodies did I make? I’m picturing you, dear reader, on the edge of your seat, giddy with anticipation. I made the marshmallows at the top of the post! They’re from Make the Bread, Buy the Butter, and she describes the hassle-level as “negligible, as long as you have a stand mixer.” No way, man. You have to dissolve gelatin in water on the stove, make a sugar syrup, whip egg whites, slowly pour the sugar syrup and gelatin mixtures into the stiff whites, and let the stuff whip around in the stand mixer until the outside feels cool to the touch. I don’t know how long that is, because I let the thing go for half an hour and it still felt warm to the touch, so I just stopped the machine and moved on to the next step. Then you have to dust a sheet pan with a mixture of powdered sugar and cornstarch, spread this impossibly sticky marshmallow stuff on top of the powder, let it cure overnight, and then slice and dust the marshmallows in more powder. How could this possibly be described as a negligible hassle? And the result tastes almost exactly like the bag of jet-puffed ones you can buy for $1.08. But they’re gluten free, and the cheap ones aren’t, so I guess that’s something.
I also made sea salt caramels, and you guys, they turned out like sea salt caramels! I have tried and failed to make caramels like four times in a row leading up to this win. They always turn out rock hard and I have to melt the brick of caramel in a pool of cream and serve it as a caramel sauce, which is good too, of course, but not what I was going for. After the fourth failure, when I had been absolutely rigid in following the recipe, I decided to test my candy thermometer and found that the fucking thing was 20 degrees off- I had been hugely overheating the caramels. My mom got me a new, really nice thermometer for my birthday, and I used it and these caramels are perfect- butterscotch-y and warm, melt in your mouth-y, and delightfully soft and chewy. I’m so happy with them. I don’t like the sound of the word mouth-y, but I’m gonna go ahead and leave it.
And Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups! These are comparatively easy and exactly what I want in a peanut butter cup. The recipe calls for 32 oz of chocolate though, which is so expensive when you buy bars like you’re supposed to do. I bought chocolate chips instead and melted them in a double boiler and they turned out just fine.
Burgers and Fries. George had been intermittently sick all week, but Henry didn’t really get it until this day, Friday. He woke up complaining of a hurting stomach, walked into the kitchen to get some water, and threw up on the floor. That’s the last throw up story this week, I swear. We cancelled all our plans and spent the day reading in bed. We seriously read all day long. In the late afternoon, Henry wandered into his room and somehow fell asleep on the floor, and George was sitting up on the couch while Andy was reading to him and fell asleep in that position. I was gonna just let him sleep like that and got up to start dinner, but then the dog sat down on the couch next to him and licked his face and he woke up screaming, so I had to calm him down and he fell asleep on me and I held him for an hour and a half, dreaming of burgers the whole time and complaining to Andy that my butt had fallen asleep. The kids woke up after seven, I made the burgers and made from-scratch french fries too, while Andy took the kids for a walk to get them out of the house to avoid the drama of another smoky dinner with the possibility of the alarm going off. Andy and I ate, neither kid did, and then we took a long drive down to see the Wimberley trail of lights, since the kids were going to be up forever after their late naps anyway. It was so fun! Everyone seemed to be feeling better and we were all happy to be outside after a long day indoors.
Another not-noteworthy, badly photographed taco dinner. I did make my own tortillas though. This was Saturday and the kids still seemed like they were on the mend. (Not true, as it turns out, but I had hoped!) I got to go to my friend Christy’s house, and my friend Molly came too and everyone helped me with a really fun project I’m working on for Homemade Christmas and it actually turned out almost as good as the inspiration picture we were working off of, which is such a rare thrill. I got to do it kid-free too, again, thanks to my mother in law, Mary. (Mary, you are a dream!). Anyway, it was a good day, after a rough week, and I’m grateful for it.
I don’t want to end this post with this sad taco, so let’s just look at the marshmallows again.
This was not a very Christmas-y post. I think it had too much vomit. But all the same, I will wish you a happy and delicious week and holiday! Stay healthy, dear readers!