Sunday, October 29, 2006

Bring back the charm bracelet

This week I happened to take out my Mom's charm bracelet. I attached it to my wrist, listening to the jingle-jangle as I worked, and stopping on more than one occasion to gaze at the little silver charms.
It's like a mental photo album, flooding my mind with remembrances of days gone by. There is a charm from her jeweler sister -- a silver B encased in a padlock, always a chic token from Tante Ingrid. The very sentimental "A Date to Remember," marking the day my Mom became an American citizen -- this was given to her by my grandmother, her mother-in-law, who my Mom said was always so kind to her. A zebra from Africa; a little stagecoach from Tombstone, Arizona, home of Wyatt Earp. My Mom & Dad travelled constantly and the bracelet is laden with snapshots from their life together. The Olympics in Los Angeles; Chinatown in San Francisco; Las Vegas; Jamaica; Bermuda; and a tiny 3-dimensional diver...from...could be any island. A miniscule pewter mug, reflective of the pewterware my Mom had, and visits to Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. Rothenberg, one of many visits to her homeland. And a miniature windmill from the Netherlands. She loved Delft pottery, and while she travelled to The Netherlands a few times with my father, I'm lucky to have my own memories of the two of us (and Troy) together in Amsterdam & Delft, before Wyatt was born. We went to the Anne Frank house; ate ristofle at her urging (spectacular!); smoked outside at a cafe b/c "everyone was doing it; why not;" cruised the canals; and made a day-trip to Delft together, where we enjoyed a nice lunch all together in the sunshine.
It really is charming, this bracelet, and I have such vivid memories of not only the events, but the charms, too, that it makes my heart ache while simultaneously swelling with happy thoughts of special times. What a conversation piece. I gave it to Wyatt to have a look at, and he really was enthralled. We talked about my parents and various places, and spoke of adventures we hope to make together in the future. There is a small glass vial with a silver cap on my Mom's bracelet, and it contains earth from her hometown of Kassel, Germany. I remember when she received this, there was a celebration -- an anniversary marking. I always knew that it was significant in that it was a piece of where she came from, and her bracelet to me serves much the same purpose. You can look at it and see a tiny glimpse of, not the town, but the woman I came from.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Fun in a box

If it weren't for other clues, I might wonder if Sons 1 & 2 were switched at birth w/some strangers' babies. Wyatt doesn't like pickles (I love them) and they both are crazy about mint foods (hack). Like Mint Oreos (which Troy calls, "self-protecting" b/c I never go near them), and mint chocolate chip ice cream. I like fresh mint, and mojitos, but that's about it. So when I asked Griffin what kind of cake he wanted for his birthday, I wasn't particularly thrilled when he gave me his specific directions: a chocolate cake with mint chocolate chip ice cream piled on top.
Okay. At least I had a theme, that's helpful. So I went full-throttle on it and also bought mint chocolate pirouette cookies, too, which the boys love. Griffin told me that, for his special birthday dinner, he wanted peanut butter & jam sandwiches with no crusts. For everyone! I took my marching orders and proceeded dutifully.
Like many days here, the routine left me scrambling for time & space in which to bake. It's always this way lately, and it's a miracle that no one has been hospitalized due to burns from caramel-making, so insane is it sometimes in our kitchen, but so I made a devil's food cake out of a box. Actually, Harry & I made the cake together, he dumping in the oil, water, and eggs. And luckily, the spoon-in-the-moving-paddle move wasn't a problem.

We ultimately had two 8" layers of chocolate cake. One layer was smothered in a caramel sauce frosting, and eaten warm from the oven with the birthday boy's grandparents. The second was the piece de resistance. The bride of the runway. I used the cake as a base for a massive tub of mint chocolate chip ice cream, and then covered with crushed pieces of chocolate cookies (Oreos w/out the cream filling). I then stuck the chocolate mint pirouettes in & added FIVE stars, one for each year my star has been on this earth.
He loved it! It had a definite Boy-Ker-POW!-presentation at table, and he blew out all the candles, so I'm sure his wish will come true! They went so nutso over the cake, which they declared the "Best Ever," that I felt quite happy and surprised.

Most of the cake base served simply as a vehicle for the ice cream.
You da mom!

It's so good for me to have them in my life to remind me of everything that's important & everything that's not, b/c we sometimes forget. They get so happy about little things, and they don't even think of things that adults sometimes make a big deal over.
Yes, even though these boys like mint and don't like pickles, I'm keeping them.
Happy Birthday to Grif!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Salted butter-->caramel + milk chocolate = mousse. Whoa.

The salted butter caramel wave hit me full force this summer with the downing of a dreamy crepe containing the hot stuff and some sliced bananas. I now also believe that the caramel ice cream I swooned over at Berthillon was salted caramel ice cream. Mm mm mm mm MM!
Elisabeth, always with a finger on the pulse, gave me a heads-up when The NY Times Magazine recently featured an article on this wonderful Breton traditional, and a recipe for this mousse was included. Described as "palate-awakening," salted caramel & salted chocolate treats are apparently sweeping the nation, so if you don't feel like making your own, you can pretty easily stumble upon something to satisfy your salty-sweet craving. It's sooo good!

Definitely put this recipe in your back pocket and remember it on Valentine's Day or some other romantic evening, b/c I'm sure it will serve as a love potion...if not something more obscene, as our normally cool-headed friend Fosse described when she made it earlier this week! It's freak-out good.
Salted Caramel & Milk Chocolate Mousse
100g granulated sugar
2 tbsp water
30g good-quality salted butter
200ml double cream or crème fleurette or heavy whipping cream
200g milk chocolate (38% cocoa solid)
3 eggs, separated
Make a caramel with the sugar and water. Off the heat, mix in the butter and cream until smooth.
Add the milk chocolate and wait for a minute or two for the chocolate to melt. Homogenise by mixing.
Mix in the egg yolks. Whisk the egg whites until they form firm peaks and fold into the chocolate mixture.
Divide between six ramekins and chill for at least 6 hours or as long as you can hold out & hold 'em off.

Props to l'adorable Fanny's Foodbeam for this version of the recipe, which she adapted from Du Caramel Plein la Bouche by Trish Deseine.
And a big thank-you to E. for sending me the magazine, which also happened to include a thoughtful article on elephants, beloved by me.

Comfort in the guise of dairy products

Finally, a day with no appointments, no plans, no visitors, and no obligations. Just a chance to relax, regroup, and try to read some of the books that have been piling up. I made macaroni & cheese for the boys and myself for lunch.
My Grandmother was a woman of great kindness and some talents, for example, she was a good pianist and also played the organ for her church, but when it came to cooking, she was virtually inept. I'd even go so far as to say she was notoriously disastrous in the kitchen. However, Grandma could make one dish -- one: macaroni & cheese; and at this, she excelled! It was always very special to visit her and my Grandpa, they were the nicest people, and I always asked her ahead of time if she would make mac & cheese for me, which of course she always did.
Paula Deen has a great recipe in her cookbook The Lady & Sons Savannah Country Cookbook or, what Troy and I call The Stick o' Butter Cookbook. I didn't consult it today, but have used it enough that I can go on ought to be submitted to the American Dairy Association for an award, b/c it's all butter, cheese, sour cream, & eggs. It does taste like what my Grandma used to make me, though, and it's delicious.

The Lady's Cheesy Mac
Serves 6 to 8
4 cups cooked elbow macaroni, drained (aprrox. 2 cups uncooked)
2 cups grated Cheddar cheese
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup sour cream
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, cut into pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk, or equivalent in evaporated milk
Preheat oven to 350F degrees. After macaroni has been boiled and drained, add Cheddar cheese while macaroni is still hot. Combine remaining ingredients and add to macaroni mixture. Pour into casserole dish and bake for 30 to 45 minutes. Top with additional cheese, if desired.

And turn off the phone.

Monday, October 16, 2006

What's important?

In trying to plan a birthday party for Wyatt, I was broadsided to learn, after a couple phone calls to parents of his schoolmates, that, while I was gone this summer, all hell broke loose and it's High School Revisited: in-fighting, competing, and gossiping amongst the parents -- no: amidst the mothers. The fall-out, which has nothing to do with Wyatt or us, is that nobody could be in the same room together, even for the sake of their children, who are all friends. The fall-out, which has nothing to do with Wyatt, sent ripples far-reaching so that it had everything to do with touching Wyatt.
I went from being shocked to sad to disappointed to disgusted. And then I shifted my focus to my son's day and how to make the best of a ridiculous situation.
Life is what you focus on, and this was a condensed lesson but, due to it affecting my son, I found it heartbreaking and challenging to steel up and explain to him that this was going to be a small party.
"You will all get bigger slices of birthday cake."
"There will be more piñata candy for each person!"
"They can stay as long as they like, because we won't have a housefull."
I refrained from telling him that his friends' parents were a bunch of assholes, and he never learned what was going on behind the scenes. To be forthright, I tried not to let this get to me, but I did shed a few tears. All is said and done, but it just gets so disappointing that people sometimes sink down to the lowest common denominator.
So, one family came -- they have three children, and um, class. It was a nice party, and probably even superior in some ways than the typical kidfest b/c we were all relaxed, and in (silent) agreement that the priority was to make it a great day for Wyatt. The children went for boat rides; they went swimming; they ate all the cake they wanted; and when they finally cracked open the Spongebob piñata, we let them eat all the candy they could stomach.

We adults talked, touched briefly on "the situation" and really enjoyed each other's company. They did stay longer, and when the sun started setting, we opened up a bottle of wine and sat back to watch the sun slowly sink into the horizon. The kids sat on the lawn in a circle by us, and Wyatt opened his presents.
He got a good Lego robot and a bad Lego robot! For the only kind of battling we'll be involved in.
On Sunday, Troy's Dad & Gina + our fave aunt & uncle were invited over for dinner to celebrate. With the wreckage from the Spongebob piñata and general party mayhem, we were definitely scrambling to clean up the house and make food. First and foremost: the all-important chocolate honey birthday cake w/the marzipan bees from "Feast." Then I made roasted potatoes; a huge vat of chilli; and the ricotta & pine nut salad (also fr. Feast).

The boys and I sat down together to make the bees. It was fun. I'm not a very crafty person, so this was really nice for a change, and we had a lot of laughs about the funny bees.

The boys were covered in chocolate by the end of this process, but totally happy. Griffin announced that kids like getting dirty, and of course, that's true.

Wyatt got some great gifts, including a pirate costume & sword; a transfomer; and a detective/spy workbook.

He went to bed a contented boy.

Friday, October 13, 2006

How ya like me now?

Went to the hair salon today for highlights & a cut, and suggested "we" go strawberry blonde. Well, "hairspeak," like Sanskrit, is a language slightly difficult to master, so...
So I have red hair.
No problem, I can roll with it; I like redheads. But the weird thing was -- the rest of the day, everyone was really nice to me! Wth? I'm usually the person who smiles at people and they scowl back, but today, people were smiling at me first. I have no idea what this means, but will enjoy it while it lasts.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Wyatt & me.

I love this pic.
We didn't know it was taken, and just saw it today when Shari gave me copies of her Paris pics.
Wyatt & I are in the foreground, walking hand-in-hand.

La Torta alla Gianduia

This, from HTBADG, is a.k.a. "The Nutella Cake."
Well, what's not to like? Butter, sugar, eggs, Nutella, hazelnuts, and chocolate!

I opted for the rum over the Frangelico in the recipe -- La Nige offers a choice, of course. The ganache is simply chocolate, cream, and a tablespoon of rum melted and whisked together.
Baking is not my forte, and the cake sank after it cooled -- if anyone can tell me why, please do! But it did not affect the taste, the cake was delicious. Very, very rich & intense. I could only handle a sliver.

This was worth the wait, and worthy of the occasion, my darling's pre-birthday dinner!