Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Dinner Fever

This is what my dining room table looks like right now - covered with books and binders and recipes and sticky notes. I am organizing my recipe binders, my cookbooks. There is chaos before there is order. 

I have taken great pleasure in busting out the glue sticks, construction paper, and three-hole-punch. Sam has even helped me with my "art project" by doing some gluing and snipping with me. I come from a long line of project-doers. Okay, maybe not long, but my dad has always created projects for himself, so I guess that is where I get it, and Sam will get it from me. Or something like that. 

I also take great pleasure in organizing and preparing for trips where I will cook and in preparing and organizing for house guests. I previously mentioned that my in-laws were here last month, and, boy, did I plan the heck out of that. Well, the meals anyway. I even laid away doughs and breads in the freezer. Not too long after that, we traveled (by car!) to Lake Tahoe and met up with my family for a week in the sun. The dinner routine was that Dad grilled the protein while I made the side dishes. And I make a mean side dish. From Seattle, I brought foodstuffs, pans, bowls, and notes so that I didn't forget all the ideas I had before we left. I also labeled all my supplies with masking tape and a Sharpie! Cooking like that, with Dad, was sheer pleasure. My timing has never been so good, and I drank up praise for my food as if compliments were wine and I was at a bacchanal. 

So it may come as no surprise that I take dinnertime at my house seriously. And that, when my carefully planned and prepared food is rejected and labeled yucky or gross, I hit the ceiling. I am well aware of the probable fact that I did this to myself. The kids have their own special dinnertime for years before integrating into the grownups' table and timing; they are fed bland food for those years and then expected to munch on Thai or Middle Eastern flavors all of a sudden; they are constantly given crackers and cookies and then expected to eschew all snacking and save room for dinner. I get it. Really.

Because dinner looks like this,
Teddy begs for goldfish

I get that they have sensitive taste buds. I get that new foods are frightening. I get it that crackers are ridiculously good. But I want them to get that I am making things that are really good and not objectionable to little palates. Am I making sweetbreads with verjus? No. Escargots with a nice garlic-herb butter? No. I saute bacon and then throw couscous in it. I make a bajillion pancakes out of all sorts of things. I make tempura, for God's sake! I make good, kid-friendly stuff.

I am therefore led to conclude that they do it on purpose. As a matter of principle, they reject what Mommy makes. I believe their thinking goes something like this:

Sam: Hmmm, Mommy has been in a pretty good mood today. I'm going to see if I can get pasta with butter for dinner.
Teddy: What did Sam ask for? What is Mommy making? I want something else. But I won't eat it. I just want to look at it.
Sam: No dice with the pasta. Perhaps, if I refuse just so, I can get a bowl of Os instead.
Teddy: Os? I'll have a few.
Sam: Hm. Now she is raging and drinking her grape juice. I can totally hold out until breakfast tomorrow. I'll just ask for milk tonight and pray she doesn't make me try the zucchini pancake and black rice. I mean, really. Black rice!
Teddy: Milk, please.
Sam: Look at Mommy squirm. Wow, I did that. I feel so ... powerful! Hahahahahahahahaha.
Sam eating only what is required

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Berry Wonderful

That's the name suggested for the dessert I concocted the first night my in-laws were here. I say concocted because I threw it together with no recipe. *gasp* It was blackberries covered in streusel and roasted at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or so. A scoop of that went over vanilla ice cream. A revelation.

The next night I made my raspberry tart. But I couldn't find those darned cookies that you are supposed to use for the crust. They are always up, tippy-toe high on the shelves in the store because they are expensive and esoteric; you must have your nose in the air to see them. So I made my own chocolate crust. Naturally, I felt quite cool and competent making my own, but it didn't taste the same. It was far from the same, in fact. Not chocolaty enough, not crumbly enough. Not enough. The filling was divine, of course, but I like a tart to be the complete package.

Berry season is booming. The strawberries were fantastic in June, and the blackberries and marionberries have been great in July. That reminds me of marionberry season a couple of years ago: a travesty. The local berry stand, Spooner's, had people queueing up before they even opened at 9:30am. Customers were limited to one flat, if they even wanted that much. And we all know what happens when there is a shortage: hoarding. The rest of us, who showed up at 10:30 with a toddler in tow, got nary a 1/2-pint to enjoy. This year, thankfully, berries are plentiful.

So I went a little bit nuts with the jamming. I speak in the past tense, but I guess there are still fruits to exploit. Figs sound nice. And, naturally, I will get the jars out for apple and pear butters. Alas, alack, no plums from my neighbor this year! She said she got no fruit! Horrible. Plum butter is delicious and there is but a teaspoonful left in my fridge.

Not only did I jam, but I also found other ways to enjoy the berry wonderful bounty. I like a plain ol' bowlful of berries, myself, but Sam had a fantastic idea: (homemade) toasted brioche with creme fraiche and berries.

This is my third jamming year. I jam with purchased fruit, which feels like a cheat. You are supposed to put up the glut of your fields, right? I do pickle my glut. But the fruit preserves are sometime in the future, I'm afraid. The squirrels ate all my strawberries and the birds ate all my blueberries. There aren't enough raspberries, but I don't like to jam those anyway. Raspberries are for picking and eating, bugs and all. I could visit a U-pick, but that involves, ug, planning and dragging the kids along. And I am looking for poundage, not an activity where I can joyously snap photos of the kids picking berries while I walk away with a wee 1/2-pint.

This year, I realized that I like jam, not preserves. I like a smooth texture, rather than chunky. I won't take it so far as to remove the seeds from berries - that would be insane; that would be franken-jam. Oh, hang on; I do like cherry preserves. I made those last year and they came out delicious - fabulous on oatmeal. Oh, now that I think of it, spiced peaches too. But berries look awful. All my jams are bright and lovely this year. My (step?) mother-in-law noted that preserved strawberries look like little organs - all gray-purple, floating in a thick, sanguineous liquid. So true. So disturbingly true.

Speaking of color change, I just hate what happens to my pickles. I had beautiful, multi-colored beans that all look greenish after canning. Ah well. Chemical reactions, right? What is there to do?

I delivered jam to my neighbors. That was fun. The man next door, who is about 83, smiles like a schoolboy when I bring him goodies. Kills me. I hope he lives forever. And it is always best to take Sam along while delivering because he asks to go inside people's houses - which I won't do, but I would like to do. I have been inside several houses I don't think I would have made it into without him. I like to look at the pictures on the wall and the magazines piled on the coffee table. Who doesn't? I usually get a couple of good stories out of a visit, at least. This time I got that plus frozen rhubarb! And a promise of home-roasted coffee beans!

The moral of the story: Share with your neighbors.