fast break birthday party

April 7, 2013 Comments Off on fast break birthday party


Jeepers.  That’s a 13-year old spud.  I am the father of two teenagers.

C mentioned several times that he didn’t want/need a birthday party this year.  Thirteen years old, yadda yadda, birthday parties are for little kids, blah blah blah.  I had asked him a good eight times already, but earlier this week I mentioned it again, just to make sure, and in addition to his denials he said something about me and K being really busy, and how he understood.

Wait a minute.  Back that up, I told him.  “It’s no big deal,” he said.

C is one of those people who absorbs a lot of chaos around him.  He wants things to go smoothly–doesn’t want to rock the boat, willing to be flexible if it means other people get their way and are happy (like, oh, I don’t know, maybe his sister?).  So I know he’s taken a lot on board these last couple of years.  I know where he gets this from. Usually I’ve been the first to give him a quiet high five when he compromises, and I’ve tried to see to it that he gets something out of it.  But this one kind of broke my heart.

“Dude,” I said.  “I should never be too busy to get a birthday party organized.  If you want to have one, let’s have one.”

“Hm.”  He thought for what I’m sure he figured was a reasonable amount of time.  OK, he said, it would be kind of fun.  But no big deal–just a few friends over to play the latest zombie role playing card game.  Presents?  Yeah, sure, he said.  But nothing out of control.  Cake?  Ice cream?  Well, if it isn’t too much trouble….

“IT IS NOT TOO MUCH TROUBLE,” I told him.  Make some invitations!  Ask some people!  We’ll do it Sunday.

IMG_5976And so we did.  Having never made a cake before, I tried out a sponge cake yesterday.  My oven has been on the fritz, though, so I had to use the warming oven, which doesn’t fit a full cake pan.  So I tried a loaf pan.  Know what?  A sponge cake cooks through very slowly.  To the point where the liquid middle can’t support the weight of the heavy crust on top of it if it’s 3″ thick.  Ka-boom.  No pictures of this one.  (O tried to console me as we munched our way through the wreckage.  “It’s another tastes great, looks awful Dad baking experiment,” she said.  “Of course it tastes great,” I told her.  “It’s eggs, sugar, flour, and butter.”)  So I did some more research, and finally figured that a pound cake was the closest thing we were going to get to birthday cake.  Foolproof, not un-yummy, especially with a toupee of chocolate frosting.  Homemade frosting, you have to ask?  Yep.  And this was a revelation.  Why anyone buys frosting is beyond me–heat up some cream, pour it on bittersweet chips, add some vanilla and a little corn syrup, and stuff it in the fridge.  Appallingly delicious.

The ice cream was the by-now-standard 2:1 cream to whole milk ratio, with half a cup of sugar, 1/4 cup of corn syrup, vanilla, and bittersweet chocolate added right at the end of the mixing cycle.  Simple but I haven’t yet made a batch of this magic formula that didn’t come out with a perfect texture.  And to drink?  Um, guess who forgot to buy soda.  But guess who had three lemons?  Simple syrup, lemon juice, done.

Five guests, five clean plates.  And so many Yu-Gi-Oh cards that the house may not support their weight.  “Let me know what I need to do,” I told C as guests pulled up.  “Um, Dad?  You should just hang out in the kitchen.”  Point taken.  And there was a happy, constant stream of dishes to do anyway.  The grandparents came up to take him and his sister out for dinner, leaving me time to finish cleaning and go for a glorious spring run, which (I hope) burned off the significant taste testing that’s gone on the last two days.

Happy birthday, kid.


fall cookin’

October 17, 2012 Comments Off on fall cookin’

One of the all-out grand slams last winter was posole.  We had a magazine recipe that involved more cans than I’d normally prefer, but that also included slow-roasted pork shoulder with a garlic and cumin rub that was stellar.  The kids liked it the first time around, but after a few weeks in the freezer (OK, I thought it was pasta sauce at first) the stuff was magical.  They asked for it again this summer, but the thought of firing up the oven all day–even at only 245°–was too much for me to take.  “That’s a Fall or Winter dish,” I told them, laying down the seasonal law.  “It can’t be hot out.”

So, with daytime highs down into the 60s here, this was their first request out of the box this week.  I got a 2-lb. pork shoulder, arranged my Tuesday to work at home during the afternoon, rubbed that thing to within an inch of its life, and fired up the oven.  C earned his Rick Bayless merit badge when he walked in the door after Lego League.  “I SMELL POSOLE!” he said.  And he did, brother, he did.  The whole house reeked of roasted pork, onions, cumin, and slowly stewing hominy and tomatoes.  It smelled like home and Fall all at once.

I did the full condiment plate, even though I knew the kids wouldn’t touch the cilantro and would be purists about not letting the lime touch their spicy, woodsy soup.  But those added just the right amount of brightness, and I cooked down the roasted pork juices until they were super-concentrated, and then chucked those into the almost-cooked rest of the stuff to make the broth more flavorful.  It was as good as we remembered it, but we also saved enough to stash in the freezer.  That stuff will be delicious and warming come January.  They did, on the other hand, chow down on the flour tortillas–I’m convinced that there is no reason in the world to buy these things, since a stack of eight takes about ten minutes to throw together.  And they’re good fresh and hot…seriously good.

And we stuck with the Fall theme for dessert.  What could say October more than pumpkin pie?  And when it’s still warmish?  How about pumpkin pie ice cream?  I am NOT a fan of the coffee chain October pumpkin obsession–a pumpkin chai latte seems like the worst possible wake up on the planet.  But this combination seemed  reasonable–all the usual pie spices steeped in cream and egg yolks made for a nice warm/cold balance, and a few strategically placed pepitas and a gingersnap added salt and brightness.  The recipe was from SeriousEats, and even though I left out the bourbon on account of the kiddos (that sounded like a visit from a social worker) it was some of the best cold stuff we’ve made yet.


January 25, 2011 Comments Off on intervention

C was mopey when I picked him up from school this afternoon.  We’d been rushed this morning and I hadn’t handled things as well as I would have liked, so I was a bit crushed when he rolled out of his classroom, head down, still feeling lousy and dejected.

“How was your day?” I asked, hoping against hope.

“Cruddy,” he said.

“You look like you need an intervention.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s when people do something extreme to change someone’s mood or behavior.”

“No thanks.”

I said nothing, but waited the standard three beats.

“Well…what was it going to be?”

“Eh, just driving through the Dairy Queen.  But if you don’t need one…”

“I think maybe I need an intervention, Dad.”

It worked.  One Dilly Bar later and he was all smiles.  The best part, I suspect, was that he got to call his sister and take her DQ order on my iPhone.

“Yeah,” he told her, “we’re doing an intervention.  Do you want a Blizzard?”

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