The last supper

So it’s my last night in DC which brings a flood of emotions but it also brings a last dinner out.

Tonight’s last supper was at Lauriol Plaza, Sister restaurant to Cactus Cantina. I love mexican food and cactus/lauriol is the best mexican food. In fact, if I ever wind up on death row I would like to have my last meal from here. Ill be more specific- I’d like the combination fajitas with extra butter sauce.

They are literally the best ever. And beyond that, cactus cantina which has the exact same menu, is like a little taste of my teenage years. If you grew up in DC and went to private school in northwest like I did, cactus was and is an institution.

It’s walking distance to almost every private school in DC and was the place where many friends had summer jobs. In high school it was the place to go and after college we discovered how amazing the margaritas were. It’s one of three restaurants that is uniquely DC- the others are Clyde’s and the rib pit. And it has food that I love, namely the fajitas and margaritas. I suppose then it’s a fitting last meal for me on this trip. It’s always good to be home, but this trip hasn’t been easy and I’m leaving with more questions and emotions than answers. I’ll be glad to see The Runner but am wishing I could have everyone I love that’s still living in the same place– or at Least the same continent. Being at home I feel like I’ve come back to my roots, and they’re pretty good roots- especially when you throw butter sauce on them and wrap them in a tortilla.

Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine!

So, here we are about to embark on today’s epic challenge- and it became epic when I decided to do a main, two sides, and bake a cake.  I’m not sure why either but clearly the excitement took over.  I came back from the store and my mom was making turkey soup, further adding to the evidence that at some point every woman becomes her mother.  And in case you were wondering, turkey soup smells wonderful, but the sight of a half eaten, semi submerged turkey carcass is revolting.  It reminds me of that scene in Fatal Attraction where he comes home and finds the bunny….  I hope you’ve seen the movie, otherwise it might not make sense.  Anyway….  The scent of future turkey soup makes me a bit hungry, so maybe before starting on the cake baking or jello making, I should make myself a turkey sandwich…. Let’s not dwell on the fact that guests – either one or several- are arriving in 5 hours…. Or that I’m not supposed to be eating wheat…..

Nothing sounds super complicated – and the mac and cheese and seafood casserole can bake together- the mac and cheese for 30 minutes and the seafood until the cheese melts and the top is brown…. Of course the big challenge could be thawing the frozen shrimp and lobster—in retrospect I should have gotten fresh prawns  but I realistically I have a few hours up my sleeve so no panic!  And in the meantime, my turkey sandwich!

I start on the Ginger Ale salad.   It’s really a fruit-mayonnaise- jello concoction.  The first thing I realise is I’ve forgotten grapefruit.  OH well, I’m going to use Clementines instead.  So I peel  1 clementine and section it and squeeze out the juice of a second one.  I also drain the juice from some canned peaches and chuck the peaches into a measuring cup.  I need a cup of peaches and clementines and ¾ cup of juice including the juice of the crushed pineapple which I’m about to open—as soon as I figure out where The Mom keeps her can opener.  The best thing about cooking at The Mom’s is the gadgets, the worst is having to find them… IT’s always tough in someone else’s kitchen, although The Mom’s kitchen is probably the easiest to figure out—I just have to think like The Mom…. Sometimes easier said than done! 

I put the fruit juice in a saucepan with 2 tablespoons of gelatin and let it sit for two minutes.  In the meantime, I dump in the peaches, pineapple, clementines into a mixing bowl and add ¼ cup of seedless grapes.  Then I turn on the gelatin-juice mixture to simmer until it dissolves.   Then I add lemon juice, powdered ginger, salt, paprika, ½ cup of mayonnaise and 2 cups of ginger ale.  I’m supposed to blend well and then chill it, but it’s not combining- the mayonnaise that is.  Or it is, but it’s gloopy.  And lumpy.  Like scrambled eggs or watery baby vomit.  It’s not that appetizing.  It’s supposed to chill until it’s the consistency of egg whites and I have NO idea of what they mean by that!  Beaten egg whites?  Plain, separated egg whites?  Sigh…..  I cleared out space in the fridge and set a timer to check it again in 20 minutes- for what, not sure exactly but we’ll see!  I get the jello mould out and try to make the big decision- star, heart or tree?  I’m not  into the tulip and it’s too early for Christmas too despite what the rest of the world thinks…. So I think we’ll go with a star…..  with that the most difficult of difficult decisions made, I set aside the mold, preset the oven for the Heaven Cake and start to tidy up a bit.

For the Heaven Cake, I crack 4 eggs, two brown and two white—it doesn’t specify this but I bought a dozen brown eggs and The Mom had a dozen white eggs in the fridge, in the interest of racial harmony, I thought it best to use both.  I beat them for 5 minutes with the Kitchen Aid mixer.  Yes, we have the same mixer, only hers is all black and mine is pink.  Sort of like Darth Vader and Barbie. 

I play hide and go seek in the kitchen while the eggs mix—I’m looking for a tubular pan or any sort of cake tin really but they don’t want to be found.  I know they’re somewhere- everything has to be somewhere but for 4 minutes they’ve eluded me.  Think like The Mom, Think Like The Mom—-  Ha!  I found them just as the buzzer sounded- seriously, it was hard work— and true to form, The Mom didn’t just have one little tubular pan, she had about 7 there.  So I picked out one that looks fancy and fun and start to grease it while the mixer mixes the heavy cream and eggs for another 5 minutes.  I also check the ginger ale cake one more time- I truly have NO idea what consistency I’m going for with that but I’ll get the cake in the oven and worry about it later.  I add the sugar, self rising flour and vanilla extract and boom!  That’s it.  It goes into the oven to bake for 50 minutes and from the batter it’s yum!  I think it’s going to be extra yum for dessert with ice cream on the side so I’m looking forward to it!  Winner!  The only hiccup is I may have chosen a cake pan that was a bit too big for the cake so instead of overflowing the decorative pan, it’s about half full.  Oh well, I’m trying to be more of a glass half full girl anyway so it should be fine!  So in it goes.

Ok, another fun thing about a grown up kitchen, or maybe it’s an American kitchen vs. an Australian kitchen- the oven is massive!  I love it!  Our oven in Sydney doesn’t even compare- it’s like an Oomaloompa size compared to the Jolly Green Giant sized one here.  IF there’s an argument for moving back to the US, in addition to family, Triscuit crackers, HGTV, and Raisinets, it would definitely be oven size….. wow.

So now that the cake is in the oven, I’m going to go back to my Ginger Ale Salad, which is actually not a salad at all.  It’s something Betty Draper would serve at a Bridge Party, only I think mine is looking more Peggy Olsson than Betty Draper.  I think it needs a bit of hope and maybe a quiet whisper begging it to set because it’s not doing anything in its present form.  Right, I’m just going to dump in the fruit and nuts and then put them into the mold.  Then I’m going to leave it alone and hope for the best until it’s time to eat.  And of course, I have the opposite problem with the salad than with the cake.  Of course—there’s too much salad mixture so I have to spoon some out to make sure there’s room for all the fruit.   I pop it into the fridge and relax for a minute before moving on.

The seafood casserole is pretty straight forward- and I whiz through it.  The worst part is that the prawns need to be peeled and deveined which is a job I properly hate.  I don’t know how to take out the poop shoot or whatever you want to call it so it winds up being a super pain but other than that it’s pretty straight forward.  One can of Cream of mushroom soup, milk and flour all go in a pan to cook down into a thickened sauce.  Then you add turmeric, salt and pepper and cooking sherry- to taste- always a dangerous phrase when it comes to me and alcohol but the bottle’s still pretty full and I’m not asking to go sing karaoke so it’s ok this time.  The prawns go in and cook for 3 minutes and then it all gets dumped into the casserole along with crab meat and lobster meat.  Then you mix it all up.  Once I Figure out where the cheese grater is I’ll grate cheese over the top of it and pop it in the oven until it’s a warm, melty, cheesy mess of goodness.

The mac and cheese is pretty straight forward as well.   Cook the pasta, pour melted butter over it, then eggs, cheese, milk etc.  That’s about the extent of it.

So far all four things I’m cooking today are really the embodiment of comfort food.  I mean, this is the type of food that you make someone when they’re having a bad day.  It’s cheer you up, life’s not so bad food and easy to make as well.  It’s not surprising that food like this is back in fashion,  it’s just good.  To be honest, this is one of the most retro dinners I’ve ever made- the fact that there’s a jell-o mold involved automatically puts it into the top 3 most retro dinners.  I half expect a skinny jeaned hipster to knock on the door and ask if this is the new pop up restaurant he’s heard so much about.  But there’s a reason why food like this is being rediscovered- it’s easy, cheap and good.  This casserole makes me want to put on comfy flannel pants and ugg boots and curl up on the couch under a blanket and eat.  It’s like a big hug.  It’s family food.   

The mac and cheese goes into the oven for 30 minutes , and I go to get the  cake out of the tin.  And its’ not budging…. At all….. not one bit…….yikes.  But after some jiggling with the knife I’ve unleashed it, and it looks pretty good.  Next is the Ginger Ale Salad. Well, it came out of the mold but it’s not pretty.  The star on top, looks like a 3 year old’s hand print, the whole thing basically looks like a giant pimple.  Is it tasty???? Well, there have been a lot of advances in cuisine since 1978 and the era when these recipes were written and made, and let’s just say, there’s a reason jello and mayonnaise isn’t on a lot of menus anymore.  It’s a bit….. weird.  But this is a 1970s comfort food dinner so let’s go with it and it’s actually not that bad.  Again, if you’re sick at home with a sore throat or a fever, it would be perfect.

Overall, everything is pretty good.  The Mom and her friend both finish every bite.   The Mom may have had seconds but I’ve been sworn to secrecy.  The Heaven Cake is just that- heavenly!  I serve it with ice cream and it’s perfect.   Really light and really tasty and there’s lots left over.

I must confess I’ve fallen in love with Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine, once my copy arrives in Sydney, I can see myself cooking from this book again and again.  It’s a shame it’s out of print, because really I think it could easily be brought back for a new generation.  If you don’t believe me, just come around once I get the book.  I’ll bake a Heaven Cake and we can discuss whether the book’s any good—trust me, one bite and you’ll agree!

 *** Pictures to follow soon!

Spoonbread- The DC Edition

SO being at home with The Mom, who really deserves a better nickname than The Mom, is fantastic.  Really, it’s like holding up a mirror into the future because she and I are a lot alike.  It’s quite funny.  I’ve actually been spending the day looking at photos in the basement and there are quite a few photos where I’m under 2 and already starting to mimic my mother’s gestures and actions.  It’s funny, people who knew my Dad, used to tell me that I reminded them of him, people who know my Mom, tend to think I’m her clone.  The weird thing is, I see it too.

Anyway, aside from our love of entertaining- and The Runner will attest that I like cooking but I LOVE entertaining- my Mom and I share a love of kitchen utensils.  Seriously, neither of us have ever met a kitchen gadget that we wouldn’t buy- cherry pitter- she has one, butter cutter- yep one of those too, milk frother- got it, vacuum wine sealer- check, melon baller- don’t make me laugh- of course she has one!  So if you can imagine being a small child growing up in the land of 1,000 kitchen accessories, it does shape your outlook on life- in a great way.  The Mom is literally the only person I know with more kitchen stuff than I do.  I’m a total girl- I like shoes and handbags and make up and jewellery, but I salivate- sal-i-vate over Williams-Sonoma……Mmmmmmmm.  It’s not normal, I know, but I’ve come by it honestly.  So I’m really excited to do a He Runs, I Cook from The Mom’s House—although I feel like I should do a 12 course, butter cutting, melon balling extravaganza while I’m here—and I probably would have if Thanksgiving weren’t last week.  Instead, I’ll be cooking from THE MOST EXPENSIVE COOKBOOK I’VE EVER COOKED FROM….(not that I’ve gotten my grubby mitts on lots of expensive cookbooks), “Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine.”

I wrote a little about it in my previous post, but I actually sat down last night and read it—that’s right read it from start to finish.  The book itself isn’t just a book of recipes, it actually tells the story of each family member from grandparents to parents to aunts and uncles, and possibly even a few others.  It’s written by two sisters who were living in New York and seriously, what a gem!   I started off looking for a recipe but by the end, I was enthralled by the family history.  It’s seriously, such a great idea and I can’t think of another cookbook that I own that does the same.  It’s small enough to read as a novel, yet the recipes are simple and sound tasty enough to use as a cookbook.  I’m sold!  Not quite sold enough to cough up $350 for a new one on Amazon.com, but I am bidding on one on Ebay at the moment so fingers crossed.  It’s only new, and the opening bid was $5… I’m not overly optimistic!

Anyway, this book is fantastic- and not just because the first chapter based on the Grandfather is all about making homemade wine……yessssssssssssss!  Unfortunately, I don’t have the facilities or the patience to make wine, and thanks to our lovely friends in the Hunter Valley, The Runner and I have a seemingly endless supply of fantastic wine.  If we didn’t, the idea of testing out a recipe for strawberry wine is vaguely appealing, but I am extremely thankful that we live in the 21st century where liquor stores are ubiquitous and you can order wine over the internet.  The book also has recipes for canning, jamming, and making marmalades.  None of which do I have any interest in.  What’s the point of buying 3 pounds of tomatoes and spending hours coring, blanching, peeling and boiling them when you can buy Canned tomatoes in the store for 99 cents.  Anyway, wine making and tomato canning are things I’ll do One Day….as in One Day/Some day/Never! 

The book also has some delicious ice cream recipes—and if there’s one thing that The Mom and I have in common—ice cream is our favourite food.  Legend has it that The Mom had ice cream sundaes every single day that she was pregnant with me, and I don’t doubt it’s true—I LOVE Ice Cream.  No, really.  I LOVE it.  Seriously, I’m like Cookie Monster’s long lost human twin, Ice Cream Monster.  Love it, love it, love it, love it.  Always have, always will.  In high school, I used to have a bowl of ice cream every day after school- mint chocolate chip or cookies and cream.  It’s actually a miracle that I’m not morbidly obese…. (and yes, Ben and Jerry’s Mint Chocolate Cookie is pretty much the best thing ever).  Anyway, another vote for Spoonbread being awesome, it has awesome ice cream recipes.

So to recap, the book has recipes for two of my three favourite things- Ice cream and wine.  I think I might increase my Ebay bid.  I understand why it caused a phenomena in the 70s.  It’s causing a slight moral dilemma for me, I really want to quietly and secretly slip the book back to Sydney so I can delight in its yummy-ness on a longer term basis.  I know it’s wrong because The Mom loves The Book, but would she miss it?  Yes.  And she reads the blog…..hmmmm, let’s increase the Ebay bid.

Anyway, aside from all this, it does have some really amazing recipes-  Peach gingerbread upside down cake, made with fresh, homemade gingerbread, baked steaks, white potato and cheese casserole, like 8 different ways to make sweet potatoes, southern fried corn, pineapple upside down cupcakes, eggnog pie.  The list goes on…. Of course, there are some low points like scrambled brains- and yes, they mean actual brains not eggs, and of course squirrel, rabbit, opossum and other road kill delights- but that’s only one part of one chapter.  The hardest thing is that I don’t know what to make for dinner tonight- and I made a list of possibilities.  Do I make The Mom’s favourite macaroni and cheese or crab meatloaf or a classic fried chicken?  Do I go out on a limb with Ginger Ale Salad or Chicken in the Pot or Tipsy Cake?  Is it more of a Stuffed Eggplant occasion?  Whatever it is, the recipes all seem to be really simple with pretty simple ingredients and they sound pretty tasty…..  Overall, this cookbook is a winner.  No, I don’t know first hand, but The Mom and her friends can’t possibly be wrong!