We spent Sunday eating all manner of meats on sticks at Sherwood Forest Faire. We went with my sister Helen and her family and my sister Joanna and her daughters. I spent the week before sewing a fairy costume for my niece, Lucy (more on this later), and pulled the rest of our costumes together the night before (photo evidence of this, including George looking surly and Henry looking surlier in his new furry vest, later too). I love this place. This love is mostly centered around food, but it’s also about all the neat things I get to look at whilst eating food. The costumes are spectacular- the kids loved and were terrified of a fellow in an adorable fox costume and were simply terrified of a lady in a wolf costume. Took us a minute to decide she was a wolf. My first thought was bear. I’m bad at animals. The pine-y woods were gorgeous, and the day was cool and lovely too. We saw a magic show with Merlin, a dog show with an adorable clown couple and their pups Peanut and Polka Dot (Henry fell deeply in love with Peanut), and a band on a stage that shot fire balls into the air on the downbeats of their songs. We ate frito pies, sausages (on sticks, course), smoothies, baklava, french fries, steak (also on sticks!), baked potatoes stuffed with pork, honey sticks, and more baklava. We failed as parents by not buying funnel cakes for our children, but otherwise, the day was a success. I have a lingering dehydration from the frivolity, but spending the day eating a lot of meat and walking around in the sunshine did help me get a full nine hours of sleep that I haven’t had in a long time. The rest of the week was good too! Here’s what it looked like.
Cherry Pie. A pie for pi day! The filling is just the gloppy stuff that comes in a can, but I made the crust using the recipe and technique in the link. I brushed the top with egg wash and sprinkled it with a lot of turbinado sugar and baked it for a while, over an hour, until the crust was deep brown and the filling had bubbled up through the holes in the lattice. The crust is remarkably flaky, like a chewier puff pastry. I didn’t hate the cherry glop either.
White Lasagna with Swiss Chard, Leeks, and Gruyere. Helen and I were at Joann Fabrics with our kids on Monday morning, because I needed stuff to sew my niece’s ren faire costume, when a lady in a black apron walked up to us and asked if we’d be interested in free haircuts for the kids, because she had someone applying for a job as a hair cutter and no kids around for her to try out on. Helen and I were both confused, and asked if she meant right there in Joann’s? She said, no, she worked at Snip-Its, a kids’ hair cup place next door. We’re dumb. Henry and George both said they wanted haircuts, so we walked over and did the thing. The trick at Snip-Its is that they put the kids in front of a screen showing a weird hair cut cartoon so they can cut the hair while the kids stare at the screen, slack-jawed. It worked for my kids, who are starved for screen time. Henry ignored the plot of the cartoon and instead relished in the progress bar at the bottom of the video, and then delighted in telling everyone he got to watch a 9 minute 13 second video.
I halved the recipe for this lasagna and it still made plenty and damn, it was good. The kids ate up every bite, did not complain about the chard, and asked for seconds. The gruyere in the bechamel goes so well with the leeks and greens, and I far preferred it to the standard red-sauced lasagna. Definitely going to make this again.
Vietnamese Lemongrass and Chile Chicken, Stir-Fried Broccoli, Rice, Coriander Blossoms. In my continuing quest to cook from A Bird in the Hand without actually buying the cookbook, I found this recipe on the Splendid Table website. I didn’t do it right at all (I used leftover shredded chicken instead of raw, marinated chicken, so I had to monkey with the recipe) but even so the flavors were delicious. I even, to prove to myself that I’m not completely lazy, trotted out to the garden and snipped some cilantro flowers to garnish the chicken with. Eat your heart out, Heidi Swanson.
I don’t mean that. She is a better person than me by every metric.
Naan. Hot Bread Kitchen and Made in India were the two finalists in the last round of the piglet, so I found recipes from both books online and made them for dinner on Wednesday. I was really excited to make this naan, which I serendipitously had all the ingredients for after accidentally buying plain yogurt instead of vanilla. My heart broke when I read that they’re cooked in a 500 degree oven though, because cooking anything above 425 almost guarantees that my smoke alarm will go off and Henry will be terrified. I decided to try to sneak it by him by opening up all the windows and turning on the fans (it was warm outside and almost made sense to do this), but he noticed immediately that I had preheated the oven to 500 and freaked out. So we made a plan. He sat at the picnic table in the far corner of our backyard with headphones in his ears and listened to They Might Be Giants’ Here Comes Science album while George and I cooked the naan. The recipe is flawless- the naan cooks beautifully in four minutes, two per side, doesn’t stick at all to the pizza stone, and is fluffy and rich and thick and extraordinary eaten warm with melted butter and salt. It made me really want to buy this cookbook.
Cauliflower, Cashew, Pea, and Coconut Curry, Naan. From Made in India, I made a curry, which also used ingredients I had on hand. I love when that happens. It was great! And super simple. I loved the garnish of fried cashews on top. Also, it got the best possible compliment from Andy, who chose to take leftovers of the vegetable curry for lunch instead of leftovers of the chicken stir fry, which he also loved, and which scores extra bonus points for including some kind of meat. Andy would eat a 100% meat and garlic bread diet if given the option. So good on you, little curry!
Thai Flavored Citrus Salad. I finally got to make the fancy birthday dinner I had planned for 9 days earlier and had to cancel because George was sick! I had to re-buy most of the citrus for this salad because we’d eaten it so it wouldn’t go bad, but the big pomelo sat stoically on the counter the whole time and looked no worse for it.
Roasted Orange Salty Caramel Duck Breast. Cooking six duck breasts was more stressful than I thought it would be. I had a pan of the sauce going (which is completely insane- look at the title, you guys! Roasted Orange Salty Caramel! It’s got everything!), but anyway, a big pan of that on the stove, a pot of rice in the oven (I really favor the oven method for cooking rice) and had to find a way to also squeeze two big pans to slowly crisp the duck breasts onto the stove too (I have only two large and two small burners) and then fit those pans into the oven with the rice pot. It was a juggling act, but everything miraculously came out ok, the duck breasts all cooked to the recommended 150 degrees, and the sauce as outrageously delicious as I remembered it from Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s citrus cooking class.
Meyer Lemon Curd Shortbread Tart. We finished the meal with this sunny tart, which, while lacking the recommended whipped cream “rosettes” was still completely delicious. Everyone had two slices.
Oreos. This is a Joanne Chang recipe, of Flour fame, and the linked recipe (with shockingly lousy photo) gets it right. Unfortunately, I got to the recipe via Tipsy Baker’s cookbook, which I love, really and truly, but which, I read afterwards, changed Chang’s instructions from “Cut the log into 32 slices, each a quarter-inch. Set them on the baking sheets 1 inch apart.” to “Cut the dough into scant 1/4-inch slices. Place them on the cookie sheet. They can be as close as 1/4 inch apart, so pack them on there.” Italics mine. To show that that instruction is stupid. Don’t pack them on there! They will be weird and square and raw-edged after being sliced apart if you do. Stupid square oreos.
And another thing. These aren’t Oreos. Given the choice between a sack of double stuf oreos and another batch of these, I’d pick the sack every time. That didn’t stop me from eating a ton of them, but I felt it only fair to warn you I don’t think they’re worth the effort. They’re, oddly, better on day 2 and even better on day 3 though.
I made cookies because I wanted to send a little package of something along with a thank you note to two of my neighbors. One is a lady who lives on the corner, and put up a giant light-up cross in her yard at Christmas time and has kept it up and illuminated ever since. That’s not why I wanted to thank her, by the way, that’s just all I knew about the lady until a few weeks ago, when Henry and George and I were walking down to the stop sign and she came running out of her house to bring them a bag of her favorite orange jelly candies that she had bought at the Cracker Barrel for her birthday and didn’t want to finish. George and Henry, mostly Henry, ate them all while she stood with us on the corner and told me she’s a great grandmother, that she loves the Cracker Barrel, and that she really loves Jesus. She asked me if I loved Jesus too, and I said sure! I decided not to mention that I’m a non-practicing Jew. She was a nice lady. A week later she drove by while Andy was mowing the lawn, asked if ‘this was the house where the lady lived with two little boys’, and handed Andy a giant Foleys bag full of stuffed animals, Easter baskets and eggs, a pinata, and several souvenir rock collections stuffed in a fanny pack. It was pretty rad. Hence, thank you note No. 1. The second was for a neighbor who has encountered us on our “agave tours” of the neighborhood, where Henry identifies every variety of plant he sees. She thought we might want three giant posters of chicken and other fowl breeds, since Henry liked “information.” She was right! Thank you note and cookie sack No. 2. People are nice!
Leftover Thai Citrus Salad, Tom Kha. That bit of do-good-ery, or at least, do-what-you should-do-ery with the Oreos was inspired in part by me being an asshole at Whole Foods earlier in the day. We went to a park and splashed in a creek for a few hours in the morning, and I was hungry by the time we got to Whole Foods, where I had decided to buy the kids a slice of pizza. We stood in the pizza line as the guy in front of us bought up all but one of the remaining slices, so I knew we’d have to wait, and just stood there. A couple minutes later, another guy walked up and the pizza lady asked him what he wanted, and he said he wanted that last piece of pepperoni, and I said “Excuse me! We were here first!” And she said, “oh, you haven’t been helped?” And I said, no, and told her what we wanted, and then, ungraciously said the guy could have that last pepperoni after all because we’d have to wait for more anyway. The guy didn’t know we hadn’t been helped, and the pizza lady made a simple mistake, but I was rude to both of them because it was my turn, you guys. When we got our pizza and made our way over to the dining area, all the tables were full, except for a little kid one near the window. I told Henry and George that we could just sit there, but as we went to sit down another lady turned around and said that she and her kids were planning on sitting there (she had been near the table but I hadn’t noticed her) but that the kids could share, “two and two,” she said, because there were four little chairs and four little kids. I said, huffily, that we would find somewhere else because I needed to sit too. We asked to share a big table nearby and I sat and realized that I’d been a dick again. That lady was there first, and was super nice to offer to share the table, and I was completely rude to her. I sat facing her while I ate my slice of pizza, watching her eat a little salad with her two girls at the kids table, wearing her namaste shirt with perfect hair and makeup and felt horrible. I knew I should apologize, but still it took me the whole meal to get up the courage to do it. When we were both sorting our stuff into the compost/recycle/landfill bins (Whole Foods, you guys) I said I was so sorry for being rude to her and thanked her very much for offering to share the table. She was really nice about it, but I felt sort of shitty the rest of the afternoon. Giving sub-par Oreos to the neighbors helped though.
El Pollo Rico. A couple days earlier, when the weather was warm and breezy, I had opened the window in Henry’s room and a warm gust blew the intoxicating aroma of chicken al carbon into my face. We live less than a block from this chicken drive thru, but the wind has to be just right to carry the smell our way. I opened my mouth and breathed it in and sighed happily. So on Saturday, when the whole family was walking home from the thrift store, carrying a few items we needed to complete the ren faire costumes we would be wearing the next day, and we passed the chicken place, Andy and I both decided to just go for it. It was $14 to feed all of us (including more tortillas and two more tubs of rice, not pictured because the kids were eating them when this photo was taken) and so so good.
Queen Anne’s Lace, AKA Wild Carrot. We walked around the block after dinner to 1) see if the giant-light-up-cross lady had picked up her thank you note and Oreos from her front porch (she had!) and 2) to smell a wisteria that was in bloom. It smelled amazing, and the lady who lives at the wisteria house said Henry could pick one if he liked! And then we found the biggest wild carrot of all time, and Henry begrudingly posed for a photo with it, and then we left it on our driveway to get all withered and dried out.
This is the costume I sewed for my niece. It ended up being roughly three sizes too big for her, but she seemed happy with it all the same. It reinforced for me what an abysmal seamstress I am. I knew approximately 10% of the stitches the pattern called for. Which means I basically only knew what to do when the pattern said to “stitch”. When it called for an “understitch” or a “staystitch” or a “slipstitch” or an “edgestitch” I could only shake my head sadly and guess. Hand sewing the lining of the vest (the dreaded slipstitch), nearly killed me. As did forcing a 12-inch piece of elastic through the tiny opening in the casing of the skirt, which had a perimeter over a yard long. This stuff probably means nothing to you if you don’t sew, and makes you think I’m hopelessly sad if you do, so I’ll stop. Suffice it to say, I’ve got a lot to learn.
And that’s it! And here’s us! Tired and mostly happy after a long day at the fair. You’ve got two more weekends to go and then that’s it till next year, so don’t miss your chance to eat a lot of be-sticked meats and make your terrified kids take pictures with adults in animal costumes. Until next week!