Cheesy Potato Casserole, Sunken Cakes, and a Jammy Focaccia

When I was in high school I drove around in my bright red chevy cavalier with the windows down and Dvorak’s new world symphony and the wizard of oz soundtrack blasting. I wrote and performed bad poetry on how much I hated Texas. Helen and I cowrote a performance piece based on the “never work with animals or children” maxim where I mimed being birthed from her vagina and she mimed vomiting into my mouth as a mother bird might. Molly and I watched countless hours of Jerry Springer and Conan O’Brien and memorized hundreds of choice lines from both. All of this, in retrospect, makes me sound like an obnoxious twerp. But I feel nostalgic for it. I don’t do anything silly anymore. I feel slow-witted and unfunny. I used to be able to tear people apart with an off-the-cuff bit of drollery when they said something stupid or sexist or rude, and now I stare blankly at a computer screen for full minutes trying to think of synonyms for ‘wit’ and then give up and look it up on thesaurus.com and then look up ‘drollery’ on dictionary.com to see if that makes sense in this case. It kind of does. Is this an inevitable thing that happens to everyone? You are bright and sharp and funny and it slowly leaks out of you until you’re someone who opens her mouth to say something clever and then closes it 20 seconds later when nothing comes out? Or did I go wrong somewhere? Is it the children? Can I blame the children? Or was I never all that great, I just had a lofty opinion of myself and now I see things as they’ve always been? I don’t have the brain power or energy left in me to answer that question. Here’s what we ate this week, presented with as much drollery as I can muster.

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Thai Basil Stir Fry, Coconut Rice, Citrus Salad with Coconut, Peanuts and Fish Sauce Vinaigrette. This was the fun dinner at the end of an amazing day that I mentioned in last week’s uncharacteristically upbeat introductory paragraph. Some of my high hopes for the week were dashed as the days went on- half the plants I transplanted to the new hellstrip garden died from shock (this is an actual thing) and George ate a prune every day of the week and still didn’t poop until Friday. How is that possible? He is but one tiny person against five powerful prunes! But on Monday I was still optimistic, and dinner was great. Henry’s fallen hard for coconut rice and asked repeatedly for me to add it to the menu plan, so I did. The stir fry takes no time and is delicious. So basil-y! This salad is the one we had at Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s citrus cooking class that has all the best flavors in one bright and shiny package.

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Focaccia with Apricot Jam, Caramelized Onion, and Fennel, Caesar Salad. The kids asked for ham sandwiches for lunch, so I made three. Henry sat and poked at his sandwich and eventually ate half and I looked at him with my head cocked and brow furrowed. This is a kid who loves to eat. I knew he was coming down with something. And sure enough, an hour later he got a raging fever and we skipped parkour and spent the rest of the afternoon reading books in bed. We finished The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (thanks for the recommendation, Abbie!) and we both loved it. It did have the unfortunate side effect of introducing Henry to the phrase “titty baby” which he laughed uproariously at and has since repeated, mostly in George’s direction, ad nauseam. Andy and George and I ate this focaccia for dinner with April Bloomfield’s caesar salad and it was great. The focaccia is quick and easy- light years simpler than the three day one I normally make and honestly just as delicious. Especially with all the cool things going on on top of it. I’m a sucker for sweet and savory things on a bready vehicle.

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Double Cranberry Orange Bread. I had plans to go to a craft day at my friend Christy’s house but felt bad for asking Grandma Mary to look after a sick Henry. But he felt cooler overnight and in the morning said to me “look how fast I can run!” So we went forward with the plans and I made this loaf of quick bread to share. I baked the bread in the size pan the recipe specified, but still the thing rose so much that blobs of dough oozed over the top of the pan and fell to the baking stone below. I tested it and a cake tester came out clean, but it was a damn lie. The center starting sinking as soon as I pulled it out of the pan, but I didn’t have time to put it back in, nor to cool it properly, so I put it in the passenger seat of the car and drove to Christy’s, watching in horror as the cake completely imploded on itself. I unmolded it when we got there and we cut the few salvageable slices off the edges and egads it was incredible! We stood around the cutting board and devoured all the non-batter-y bits. Christy put the doughy parts into the oven to try to salvage them and they baked up ok and tasted great. I was having so much fun with cake and crafts and scones that I texted Mary to see if I could stay longer, and it turned out that Henry’s fever had climbed over 104. So I’m eating cake and drawing pictures like a dickhead while my kid is on the road to febrile seizures. I left the fun and came home to cuddle with Henry. But later in the day, when he had fallen asleep, I baked another one of these cakes. The same thing happened with the batter overflowing, but I cooked it longer and at least corrected the sunken center problem.

The recipe is from The Everyday Baker and is exactly like the linked recipe except that it has one cup of fresh cranberries and adds a half cup of dried cranberries. Also, a half cup of sliced almonds instead of a glaze. Though I don’t know how or why one would downsize from a glaze to milquetoast sliced almonds.

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Sausage, Potato, and Kale Casserole. This recipe is from a magazine I adore, Taproot, which is a celebration of food, farm, family, and craft, in an inspiring, misty and glorified way. The last issue, SHELTER, has a collection of casserole recipes, teaches you how to weave a rag rug on a loom made from an old picture frame, and has instructions for dyeing wool yarn with foraged plants. It’s ridiculous, I know, but also so lovely. I read it and think, maybe I will take up screenprinting! This casserole is it, you guys. It’s layers of sliced white potatoes, sliced sweet potatoes, a cheese sauce with absolutely irresponsible quantities of cheddar and worcestershire sauce, sliced sausages, and two bunches of kale cooked in the sausage fat with chicken stock, and then all those layers again, plus parmesan cheese. The kale on top turns into a crunchy kale chip layer and the cheese sauce is the greatest tasting thing with the potatoes and sausage. I only put about half the amount of food, probably less, that the recipe called for, which is something approaching 8 pounds of raw ingredients (2 pounds potatoes, 2 pounds sweet potatoes, 2 pounds sausage, 8 ounces of cheese, 2 big bunches of kale). The dish as written would feed a whole heap of people. I loved it so much that I ate the leftovers for breakfast, excitedly, the next two mornings.

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Buttermilk-Cornmeal Griddle Cakes with Blueberries, Sausage. Day three of Henry’s fever and we were all going out of our minds from being cooped up in the house for three days. We spent the morning bickering with each other, and in the afternoon we dragged ourselves into the backyard sunshine and things got so much better. We spent three hours back there. Henry and I pulled weeds from the decomposed granite that surrounds our small circle of turf. When we would find a little caterpillar under a weed, which was dozens of times, Henry would balance it on a leaf and take to the same kind of plant growing in the grass circle so it wouldn’t die without its host plant. It was so dear. We built a fire and roasted marshmallows and Henry ate four in the course of about 3 minutes. It was so great to see him eat happily again, even if it was marshmallows. These pancakes are also from The Everyday Baker and they are my new favorite pancake recipe. They came out perfectly cooked, unusual for me, and have a little crunch of cornmeal and smell like vanilla.

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Chickpea Curry with Rice. Friday dawned on a well-again Henry! We went to a nursery to spend a few bucks on plants to replace the ones that died when I transplanted them. I bought a Jerusalem sage, lantana, lavender, thyme, and tropical milkweed. We set out to plant them after lunch, both kids eager to help. Henry is careful in the garden but has a weak transplanting game. He tends to pull plants out of their plastic pots by gripping the stem and yanking, which occasionally leaves him with a plant and its roots stripped naked of their cube of potting soil. So this time, I went over to show him how you tilt the pot gently, one hand cupped under the plant, the other squeezing the thin plastic sides to dislodge the dirt and roots, and how you let it fall into your hand softly and then place it carefully in the dirt. He listened to what I had to say but then did not want me to intervene when he didn’t do the process like I had described it. When I started to correct him I could see that he was looking exasperated, but I kept going. When I tried to help guide the plant out of the pot he threw his body on the ground in contempt of my meddling. I got frustrated and threw up my hands and moved on to do the rest of the plants with George, who still lets me call the shots. I felt bad for having no patience and Henry and I made up quickly, and we sort of planted the Jerusalem sage together. We spent the rest of the afternoon doing all lovely things- cracking pecans together, making granola, pumpkin muffins, and these curried chickpeas- and one thing I hate, which is playing with a little baby doll the kids have named Pooey Milk. I have to be the baby and make him talk and they do things to annoy the baby, and then laugh and laugh when he says “Don’t call me Pooey Milk! Come up with a better name!”

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Apple Muffins, Lemon Blueberry Bread Pudding Muffins, Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins. I brought muffins to a beautiful blessingway for a beautiful person and more muffins to an end of the world-themed birthday party for a hilarious five year old. There is no place where a platter of muffins is not welcomed with open arms.

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Football Snacks. Guacamole, Sausage Balls, Genius Wings. We hooked up our tv antenna to watch the football game with the kids while eating a pile of snacks on a blanket on the floor. I had no idea who Bruno Mars was (Andy told me!) and I had never heard Uptown Funk. I live under a rock, did you know? The kids and I were all smitten with him. Also rainbow flower umbrellas. Also the game was fun. I sat in the stands with the marching band for every football game for four years in high school and was still only able to name three ways that you can score points in the game. I am an abject failure. Sausage balls are one of Andy’s favorite things. The kids ate mostly guacamole and orange wedges, but also devoured these chicken wings, which is unheard of. They never eat chicken. They’re really good and really easy. The wings, not the children.

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Double Coconut Granola. I ate this before we ate the superbowl snacks, but facebook puts the last picture as the thumbnail image and I don’t want it to be the garishly-filtered chicken wings that look like they’ve been wrapped in a taut layer of human skin. So, granola! I ate it everyday for forever and got sick of it, but man is it delicious every once in a while. And it means I can make magical marvelous memorable cookies, so it’s all things bright and beautiful.

I’m giving myself permission to not try to be witty in this last paragraph. I’m fresh out. I never know what to say down here and so this week it’s gonna be nothing. See ya!

 

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2 thoughts on “Cheesy Potato Casserole, Sunken Cakes, and a Jammy Focaccia

  1. lolakb February 9, 2016 / 3:56 am

    💖 Fun reading once again. Henry and the catapillars made me smile. I laughed many times as I followed you through your week. Thanks, my dear.

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