Henry has been having bad dreams. The subject matter is sweet and interesting, but I have been sworn to secrecy so I can’t share the details with you. We’ve done everything we can think of to help him get past his fears- we wrote the story of the dream down on a piece of paper and set it on fire, we’ve learned about what happens in your brain while you’re sleeping and about the science of dreams, we’ve talked about the fear itself and of what would happen if his dream came true. None of these things really helped all that much. We were at the library a couple of weeks ago and in need of new novels to read before bed. I always look in the bluebonnet award winners section first, and found a book called Nightmares! and I thought, maybe this will help! It didn’t. It’s about nightmares that become real and can actually kill you. So we stopped reading it and have just been reading Shel Silverstein and Berenstain Bear books before bed instead, and things seem to be better. All this is to say, I really want to finish this Nightmares! book. I want to read it instead of writing this blog post. It’s not super great, but it’s a fun and easy young adult story about witchy things and I want to know what happens. Also I’m tired. We spent the weekend celebrating Henry’s 5th birthday with a do-whatever-you-want day on Saturday and a birthday party on Sunday, both of which were a lot of work. And my parents are in town from Portland and we’ve been living it up with lots of outings and dinners out, which means I haven’t been cooking that much and I don’t have much to show you. All of these things together made me not start this blog post on Sunday, even though the kids were both asleep by 7:30, and made me not want to write it on Monday either. I tried for a while, but then I gave up and finished Nightmares! instead. So here we go on attempt three to write this thing! S’gonna be great. Here’s what we ate this week.
Chorizo Tacos, Rice and Beans, Guacamole, Mango Salsa. A welcome feast for my parents! Helen let me take a picture of her plate because she’s so good at making stuff look pretty. My plate looked like total shit compared to this. You can tell it’s Helen’s plate because of the two varieties of cheese in the upper right quadrant. Also, no meat. She went for the soyrizo I put on the table instead of the far more delicious chorizo that was also available.
I was gonna try to hang with a semi-legitimate Passover regimen this year where I didn’t eat pork or chametz (any bread-like thing that’s not matzo) for the full 8 day run of the holiday. I made it until my parents got into town on Tuesday and we had Tarka for dinner and I ate a lot of naan and Helen’s homemade chocolate chip cookies for dessert. With that sacrilege under my belt I decided to abandon the notion entirely and just serve a steaming pile of crispy pork for dinner on Wednesday with a fat stack of flour tortillas and more chocolate chip cookies too.
Food52 Potluck Picnic: Broccoli Salad with Bacon and Raisins, Watermelon Salad with Tomatoes and Feta, Seven Layer Dip, Tabbouleh, Ham and Cheese Scones, Chocolate Chip Cookies, Fruit, Probably Other Stuff That Wouldn’t Fit in the Frame. There’s no picnic like a food52 picnic. There were six of us and enough food for at least twice that many people, all of it delicious. Also, I love these ladies. We talked about the best place to get great feta in Austin (Phoenicia), back-seat driving, and about how we develop recipes (I’m including myself in this ‘we’ even though it’s been two years since I’ve written a recipe). Most of us do it by making something once and then tweaking the ingredients or instructions when we write the recipe to try to correct some of the problems we had. But some enterprising folks, like the genius lady behind the bundt cake pictured below, make a thing half a dozen times to ensure it’s right. I admire the hell out of that, but what do you do with all those less-than-perfect bundt cakes? I feel like I don’t have the room for error (time-wise or money-wise) to shoot for perfection, but oh am I grateful to those that do!
Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies, The Chocolate Chip Cookies I Already Talked About, Whole Orange Bundt Cake with Five Spice Streusel. Barbara (drbabs) has a real way with cookies- these oatmeal ones were outstanding- perfectly spiced and just the right amount of crisp and chewy. And Nancy made this bundt cake, which captured everyone’s hearts. Most of all Andy’s. Nancy brought tupperware for us to take some home and Andy said it was one of the most delicious cakes he’d ever eaten.
Blueberry Buttermilk Cakes. These were for our friend Sean’s birthday. We love Sean. He took Andy under his wing at Andy’s first job out of college and they’ve been friends, and occasionally colleagues, ever since. And Sean is the guy who got Andy this sweet new job after the other one went south a few weeks ago so, yeah, he gets a pile of cupcakes.
Leftover Soyrizo Tacos. All the real chorizo got eaten on Wednesday but we still had a big soft mass of untouched soyrizo, so the kids and I ate it in griddled taco-form. I bought Frieda’s soyrizo from Central Market because it was the only kind I saw, but it didn’t hold a candle to the stuff Amanda put on top of those molletes from a week ago. Hers was crumbly and greasy and exactly like chorizo in all the best ways and this stuff was like a chunky red paste that got thin black sheets of char on its underside instead of browning and which stayed pasty instead of crumbling, in spite of my repeated jabbings with a wooden spoon.
On Friday we went to Pinballz for lunch and I ate a giant salad and all the pizza crusts from Henry and George’s pizzas and all of Andy’s leftover fries. I didn’t take a picture. And then we went home and everyone came over a few hours later and we ate another huge meal- this time barbecue from Terry Black’s. I didn’t take a picture of this either. We’ve eaten out so much with my parents while they’ve been in town and I’ve had this weird hang up about not photographing those meals because I didn’t cook them, so I feel like they shouldn’t be included on the blog. But Helen reminded me that this blog is only kind of about home-cooking and more about how I spent the last week, with the food pictures in the mix to provide a sort of framework. So, sorry I can’t show you my big salad and pizza crusts. I’ll take pictures of more stuff next time.
Salted Caramel-Toffee Icebox Cake. When I was flipping through The Everyday Baker for the first time a few months ago, Henry caught a glimpse of this cake and asked if he could have it for his birthday. I was happy to oblige- I liked all the words in the title very much. Icebox cakes are just cookies layered with whipped cream and allowed to soften, but this adds several layers of outrageousness to that simple formula. First you make a caramel and add enough salt to make it taste salty. Easy enough. Then you chill it and then beat half the cold caramel with cream to make an insane salted caramel whipped cream, which you pour on top of 40 chocolate wafer cookies and let chill for a minimum of 36 hours. The one in the book is so pretty (see the photo in the link), and mine was completely hideous. I had trouble getting the whipped cream between the cookies so I didn’t get the pretty stripes you see in the book photo and the cookies were naked and exposed on the edges of the cake too. The taste of the thing was intense. Too sugary and too rich. I ate my plateful anyway.
Henry hasn’t played Candy Crush in six months, but he saw a Candy Crush-branded snow cone maker at Target (this product wraps all his favorite things into one $29 box) and it reignited his passion for the subject matter. Helen and Jordan bought him the thing and an armload of syrups for his birthday and Helen designed a tech-free version of the game to go with it- that’s the little squares you see face-down in front of him in the above picture. It’s one of his favorite birthday presents. Also, he’s had snow cones every day since his birthday.
Dessert at Uchiko. When Henry turned 4 we spent his actual birthday doing all of his favorite things. Andy took him to the black light bowling alley in the UT Student Union, I took him to Uchiko for a taste of the best sushi in town (he had come to love grocery store avocado rolls and I wanted to show him what the best stuff tasted like), we hung out at Butler Park, and then went to Amy’s Ice Cream. For his 5th birthday, Henry asked if we could do all the same stuff, exactly what we did for his 4th birthday, again. With the additions of cherry pop tarts for breakfast and fancy $5 buttered noodles for lunch. So we did. My parents joined us at Uchiko and we lived it up- Henry and George both loved the sushi, and we got three desserts too. The fried milk dessert at the top, the $3 happy hour special dessert at the bottom (jasmine cream with a cilantro granita and pineapple which came out with a little glass dome on top so it looked like a terrarium), plus a cool olive gelato dessert with lemon curd and chocolate, which I didn’t take a picture of. I thought after all that we might be able to scrap the Amy’s ice cream idea, but Henry was resolute that we follow through with the plan. We played in the park for a while after dinner and then went to Phil’s Ice House where the kids played on the playground and mostly ignored the cup of ice cream we bought. Henry had a very happy day.
Henry’s Party Spread. And then we had his birthday party the next day. It was a lot. Andy’s of the don’t-make-a-big-deal-about-birthdays persuasion and I fall somewhere past the the far end of the other side of that spectrum. I go way over the top. I tried to rein it in a bit this year by only inviting family and the few friends we see almost every week, but still, it was a lot of work to fill the table with food after staying up late not-eating ice cream with the kids.
The view from the other side of the table. You probably didn’t need to see this.
Mini Gluten Free Corn Dogs. Henry has recently fallen for Sonic’s corn dog wacky pack, so I wanted to make mini corn dogs using cocktail weenies for his birthday party. I was gonna put ’em on sticks but realized the day of that I didn’t have the toothpicks or the bamboo skewers I thought I did, so I just rolled the little weenies ( 😐 ) in Cup4Cup and tried to get enough batter to cling to them so the sausage-y bits wouldn’t be exposed. These were ugly but delicious. Henry didn’t eat any of them, and instead he ate two Sonic corn dogs that Helen bought for him immediately after the party ended, with a big buffet of homemade food still sitting on the table. The heart wants what it wants.
Tortellini Pasta Salad with Pesto, Olives, and Parmesan. A perennial Henry favorite. And mine too. I did him a solid by not putting any extraneous vegetables in the mix (artichoke hearts, roasted tomato or zucchini) like I normally would. Nothing but carbs and olives.
Deviled Eggs. Man these are so ugly. I boiled only enough eggs to fill up this platter, and fully half of them had the yolk pressed against the shell, which means you’ve got a paper-thin layer of white that just rips clean off when you peel the things and I’m left with mutant half-eggs that I nestled in the platter and piped filling on top of anyway. I begged the early-arrivals to eat the ugliest ones so the other party goers wouldn’t see them and judge me for them.
Vegetables, Ranch Dip, Hummus. Nobody likes celery. Everything else got eaten but I still have a tupperware full of untouched celery sticks in the fridge.
Fruit. Nothing to add here.
The theme for this party was balloons and numbers. Henry wanted to have They Might Be Giants’ Here Come the 123s album playing during the party (we forgot to do this) and have a series of increasingly ridiculous balloon activities to perform. Regular old water balloons were first. We bought two packs of those outrageously-expensive-but-worth-the-cost water balloons that promise that you can fill 100 in 60 seconds and they were enjoyed immensely and all used up in almost the amount of time it took to fill them. Next, we tried to fill water balloons with watercolor-tinted liquid via squirt guns and throw those at a big canvas. They were difficult to fill and nearly impossible to pop, given the piddly amount of liquid I was able to squirt into each balloon, but we had fun trying.
I mean, come on with this baby! She’s too good!
Our next and final balloon experiment was also a fun failure. We wanted to fill water balloons with whipped cream for reasons unspecified. We didn’t know if it would work and didn’t know what we’d do with the things if it did, but we tried anyway. The generic redi-whip can pushed out all its air into the first 5 balloons, along with a little bit of whipped cream, and then left a can full of liquid cream to be sadly dribbled into the balloons for the kids who weren’t pushy enough to ask for one of the first ones. Still, everyone thought it was pretty funny. George’s hair was crisp with dried cream for the rest of the day. And actually still was as of this writing on Tuesday because they haven’t had a bath yet. Full disclosure.
My mom snapped a series of these photos for me and I look creepy in every one of them.
Strawberry Buttermilk Cakes, Salted Brown Butter Cocoa Crispy Treats. And thus ended Henry’s birthday weekend extravaganza. This kid has been the center of my universe for the last 5 years. We still spend nearly every one of his waking minutes together and I’m so happy I get to do so. He’s an amazing little person. In turns intense and sentimental, cerebral and physical, inventive and methodical. He loves the garden, and the chickens, and the fireflies, and I love to watch him explore them. He loves to be quizzed on math problems while being pushed on the swing and he has quietly learned to read sometime in the past year. He remembers dates with stunning accuracy- reminding us when Adelaide is due for her flea medicine, when baby Simran will be two months old, when we last went to Pinballz or to Amanda’s house, or flew on an airplane. He feels enormously tall and big-footed and heavy and also so small and frightened of toilets that flush automatically and of sleeping without his mama or papa. Today he ate a pizza at a movie theatre. One by one, he ate each slice down to the crust and then put the crust back in place around the edge of the pan until he was left with a circle of perfect crusts. He’s a really neat kid and I marvel at him every day.