Celebrations · Food Memories · Life with Littles · Traditions · Uncategorized

A New Year’s Eve Tradition and Mema’s Green Chili Cheese Dip

Dear Joey,

I think we made a good decision when we chose to put off our own New Year’s Eve tradition in favor of letting the Goobies stay up a little bit later than usual to get a taste of what New Year’s Eve is all about.

We usually make Shrimp & Grits and kick off our annual Harry Potter movie marathon on New Year’s Eve, a tradition we started a few years ago when it became clear we were the sort of people who used to go out on New Year’s Eve, but have traded in our party shoes for slippers. (Things really changed once we had kids, didn’t they?) It occurred to me on New Year’s Eve morning this year that our kids didn’t really know what New Year’s Eve was, let alone realize it was that same day. I tested this thought at the breakfast table, excitedly prodding them, “Who knows what today is?!”

Blank stares.

“Saturday?” It might have been Addie who asked this, but I don’t remember. I do remember thinking I was right. How can they not know what New Year’s Eve is? What kind of parents are we that we haven’t even mentioned this before?

“Yes, it is Saturday. But it’s also….NEW YEAR’S EVE!”

More blank stares.

Mia tentatively asked, “So what do we do to celebrate?”

 

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And it was that question, right there that wriggled its way between my excitement over Harry Potter and my deep desire to cultivate a culture of celebration in our family. These kids are young, yes–but aren’t they too old to send to bed without marking the occasion in some small way? If we don’t show them what New Year’s Eve is all about this year, we will have to wait a whole year to introduce it, and Addie will be seven years old by then. I felt it grow inside, that pesky feeling that I had to act now or miss my chance, and that the opportunity to weave another strand of tradition into our family life was there right then, and really? How long do we have until these Goobies want to spend New Year’s Eve with their friends, and not us? The time is now, I thought.

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So we threw together a plan for our own family New Year’s Eve party–nothing fancy, but different enough from a normal night to make it feel special and fun. Central to this party was the idea of tradition–something that connects us as a family to our collective past and forges a bridge into our future, a bridge that we’ll keep building as we grow and change and step into the first few days of a still-hazy 2017.

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Maybe that’s why your mom made sure to keep her New Year’s Eve offerings consistent every year: bridge building. Her traditions led you from one year to the next, first then and next, now. Maybe she knew that all that time ago when her her Green Chili Cheese Dip and Sweet and Sour Little Links showed up at the table while that funky 1960 rendition of H.G. Well’s The Time Machine flickered on the TV. Those things were constants for you then, and perhaps that’s why it felt right and good to make the same party snacks for our family this year–because traditions connect our individual pasts with our collective future.

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Logistically speaking, cheesy dip is sort of a nightmare to serve with a kid who has a dairy allergy. But Emery was sick on New Year’s Eve and he took a nap straight through the dinner hour–a serendipitous coincidence that allowed our girls to enjoy that dip without any of us having to worry about Emery being around it. We taught the girls how to play Charades while we knelt around the coffee table and nibbled our way through dinner. By the time Emery woke up, we had all had our fill of dinner snacks and Emery joined in the fun of making s’mores around the fire and watching the Peanuts movie (which we had to explain to Mia wasn’t really about peanuts at all). All five of us piled on top of each other on our too-small-for-us-all couch and giggled our way through the evening. By 8:30, everyone was in bed but us, and we toasted to the new year in our pajamas, watching Food Network reruns while the fire petered out.

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And so, we said goodbye to 2016 in peace, not feeling guilty or pressured, soaking up the joy of what we had right around us, and in the process, I think it’s safe to say we started a new tradition. Perhaps it’s not flashy or exciting, but it’s ours–and that’s what matters the most.

Love,

Scratch

P.S.–We collapsed on the couch with big bowls of Shrimp & Grits last night instead–on New Year’s Day after the Goobies were in bed. They crashed early, after being up late the night before and in preparation for going back to school in the morning. We turned on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and geeked out (well, I did, at least), and fell asleep right as Hermione Granger is figuring out who Nicolas Flamel actually is, and totally missed midnight. I think we’re both ok with that being our new tradition, too.

Mema’s Green Chili Cheese Dip

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This is the dip my mother in law made every year for New Year’s Eve–and still does, if I’m not mistaken. It’s a constant  in Joey’s memory of the way he spent New Year’s Eve as a child: eating dip and little smokies while watching the 1960 version of H.G. Well’s The Time Machine, so it’s no surprise this is what he requested when we talked about starting a New Year’s Eve tradition for our own family. I admit this recipe deviates from the original a bit, meaning mainly that this one is gluten free. That famous national brand of Cream of Mushroom soup (you know the one) is made with wheat flour, which poses a problem for people like me. But Pacific Foods makes a fantastic gluten free version that works just as well as that other brand, and it’s made with organic ingredients, too. Use mild cheddar cheese — it melts beautifully into the soup and stays creamy. Add more cheese if you like it even cheesier, but Joey gives the amount listed here two thumbs up. Also, this dip is mild as can be, so add hot sauce if you want things to be spicy. 

Ingredients:
  • 2-12 oz. boxes Pacific Foods Organic Cream of Mushroom Soup (or 2-10.5 oz. cans conventional cream of mushroom soup, such as Campbell’s)
  • 2-4 oz. cans fire roasted green chiles
  • 1 cup milk (we used 2% milk, but use what you prefer)
  • 12 oz. shredded mild cheddar cheese
Method:

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, mix together the soup, chiles and milk. Heat for a few minutes, until warm and steaming. Add the cheese, about a cup at a time, and whisk until melted and combined. Heat thoroughly–the dip will bubble up around the rim of the pan when it’s ready to pour into a serving bowl*.

*Joey says his mom always serves this dip straight out of a small crock pot to keep it warm and gooey, but we fared just fine using a regular serving bowl. You might need to reheat the dip a bit as it sits, but it stays nice and smooth at room temperature.

 

 

Breakfast · Food Memories · Learning from Mistakes

Mistakes Are Part of the Process, and Scrambled Eggs with Crème Fraîche

Dear Joey,

Remember that day you tried to watch Worst Cooks in America and you couldn’t stand to watch the chefs scrutinize the contestants’ fried eggs?

You turned the channel, muttering under your breath you had a hard time believing there were people out there who actually cared enough about fried eggs to pick them apart like that, and how lucky you felt that your wife knew how to decently fry one. I sat quietly, thankful you appreciate my cooking, and let you flip the channel back to the basketball game. But inwardly I sulked, for I knew the truth: I am no good at making fried eggs. Haven’t you noticed I usually ask you to fry them?

The heat is always too high. Then it’s too low. Then the whites stick. The yolks are too runny, or not runny enough. The yolks break and bleed and get cooked into a brown spider web of disaster. Even Eggs in a Hole are hard to perfect, and while you happily eat whatever sludge I slide out of the pan, the younger, pickier mouths in this family protest even the slightest deviation from their idea of a perfectly cooked yolk.

Clearly, fried eggs aren’t my idea of a quick and easy breakfast. But scrambled eggs? That’s a different story.

Before I met you, I mastered the art of egg scrambling by taking Julia Child’s advice and cooking those beauties at a low temperature. Making a tender, fluffy batch on Saturday mornings was my specialty, so much so that my roommates praised them and clamored for them nearly every week. The longer cooking time, while admittedly a bit of an annoyance, yields unparalleled results. For me, a reluctant egg eater in the first place, Julia’s technique changed me forever.

When you and I decided to get married, I was sure my egg-scrambling confidence equipped me to meet your every whim of “Breakfast for dinner, please!” with brag-worthy fare. And for the most part, it has. Except for when it comes to fried eggs. But we’re talking about scrambled eggs here.

Even so, my confidence was shaken a little just days into our marriage. We were on our honeymoon, starting our last day in Seattle at a quaint little basement cafe nestled beneath The Elliot Bay Book Company in Pioneer Square. I don’t remember the specifics of what we ordered that morning, except for the scrambled eggs with crème fraîche and scallions. They were fancy, and just the sort of simple and delicious that made us sure we could replicate them at home.

But then, we didn’t.

The idea came up over the years (meaning: you asked me to try to make them, but I put it off, afraid of ruining the memory of them.) But eventually,  finally, I did it, and in the process, I learned something: I put off most things I really want to do because I am afraid: that I’ll make a mess of things; that it won’t measure up to my expectations; that I will fail. I learned I let fear paralyze me and keep me from trying new things – even something as small and insignificant as making scrambled eggs with crème fraîche instead of milk or water. I don’t really trust myself.

After I finally got over it (sheesh–they’re just eggs!), in making them made I realized I am far more capable that I give myself credit for, and when I try new things (not if, but when), I ought to approach them with the attitude that accepts mistakes as part of the learning process. And goodness – trying and failing is more important than not trying at all, isn’t it? I mean, isn’t that what we tell our kids?

As it turns out, it was not nearly as challenging as I had imagined, nor did I ruin our memory of our charming breakfast in Seattle. Instead, we can re-live that moment in the taste of those eggs whenever we want, really, since we can’t just pop over for a quick little breakfast on a whim.

I gather the bookstore has moved since then anyway, to a new location with a different sort of cafe, which while it may be delicious and charming in its own right, will never be our cafe, so to speak. But whenever I make scrambled eggs with crème fraîche at home, I am transported to that place and that time for a moment long enough to remember what it felt like to experience something familiar and new all at the same time.

I’m so glad I got over myself and tried something new.

Love,
Scratch

 Scrambled Eggs with Crème Fraîche

Mistakes Are Part of the Process, and Scrambled Eggs with Crème Fraîche

Inspired by the best eggs Joey & I ever had, this recipe elevates an ordinary breakfast food to something truly special. (I even made them for breakfast on Christmas morning when I was too pregnant to manage much else.) Crème fraîche (“krem fresh”) is really just unpasteurized heavy cream that is thickened by the good bacteria it naturally contains. Rich and velvety, it’s perfect for making these decadent eggs.

Ingredients:

8 large eggs
4 oz. crème fraîche (plus more, for optional topping)
2 T salted butter
1/2 tsp salt
3 green onions, chopped (green parts only)

Method:

First, warm up a large skillet over medium-low heat and let the butter begin to melt. Meanwhile, whisk together eggs, crème fraîche and salt. When the butter has melted, pour the egg mixture into the skillet. (I often use non-stick, so you will need to use more butter–say, 4 Tablespoons or so– if you are cooking the eggs in a stainless steel skillet.)
Let the eggs cook slowly, gently scraping up big fluffy curds as they begin to set. Do this until all eggs are soft-cooked: not runny, but still moist. When they’ve set, serve them warm, sprinkled with green onions. Top with additional dollop of crème fraîche if you want to be really fancy.

Baking · Cookies · Food Memories · Traditions

On Christmas Baking and Chocolate Peppermint Spritz Cookies

Dear Joey,

Let’s talk of pleasant things, shall we? Skip all the “There’s been so much going on, lately” catch-up and jump straight to Christmas cookies? What do you say?

Christmas cookies have been on my mind for the past couple of days, ever since my Grandma Teague told me she was just getting her Christmas baking underway. As I listened to her admit that she was finally letting go of the need to strive toward perfection during Christmastime and was only going to bake a handful of varieties of cookies this year, I completely missed the point and started fretting about the fact that I myself haven’t started my Christmas baking yet. Nor had I made any sort of list or plan about cookies and the people to whom they would eventually be given.

I guess the truth is that I don’t think of myself as a Christmas baker.  I bake during Christmas – that is true. I even enjoy it and honestly, the season just doesn’t feel complete without doing at least a little of it. But I do not have an urge or need to make any one certain treat this time of year. I know that sounds completely bizarre coming from me of all people, but truly, I am pretty content with letting other people do all the dirty work so I can loaf on the couch with a box of Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s and a tin of my mom’s Russian Tea Cakes.

 

But alas, the more I thought about Christmas cookies and how I am the mom now, and responsible for making new traditions (or passing on old ones) to our children, I realized I ought to get my act together and at least devote a little bit of brain power to what sorts of cookies I want our girls to think of when they think of Christmas. It was just this afternoon when I decided that Spritz cookies were going to  be at least one tradition to pass on. There may be others that make the cut along the way too, but for now, those are the ones I am going to perfect.

Ah, Spritz cookies. Those delightful little butter cookies decorated with shimmering red and green sprinkles. They always looked a little bit like ornaments to my little girl eyes. I can see them piled high in a funky old Christmas tin alongside all the other treats that filled my Grandma’s dessert table. In my memory, there was always a great variety of cookies, but the ones I remember most clearly are Russian Tea Cakes, Krumkake, and of course, Spritz cookies.

Spritz cookies are a traditional, somewhat under-celebrated cookie these days. They originated in Germany, but I always think of them as Scandinavian (since my Norwegian Grandmother always baked them but I don’t remember my German grandmother ever  making them). There isn’t much to them: butter, sugar, vanilla, flour. What makes them special is the way they are made and the shape they take. Using a cookie press with changeable molds, they can be Chrismas trees or wreaths or flowers or hearts. The result is a delicate little butter cookie whose beauty was completely lost on me in childhood. It’s not to say Grandma’s Spritz cookies were not any good — they were. They are. But, well, is it any surprise my heart didn’t swoon over a dessert that didn’t include chocolate?
Even so, whenever I think about Spritz cookies now, I wish I would have lingered a little longer over those gems and paid them their due. Even though I sort of think of them as old-fashioned, in my grown up mind that makes them charming and important. As I stirred together the dough and filled the cookie press and made dozens of those delicate little cookies, I thought about my grandma and how she lovingly makes those cookies year after year, and how she must have learned how to make them from her mother, and then I started thinking about all the women’s hands who had mothered all the generations before me. I wondered how many of them felt like they had to create a perfect Christmas every year, and how many of them baked out of duty and not pleasure?
Mothering comes with so many non-negotiable duties, some the same as they were in the generations before me, and some that aren’t. Baking cookies certainly is not one of them these days. Baking is inconvenient in today’s world: it is messy and time consuming. In a  culture that values convenience, buying cookies saves time and sanity. But I find that when I do the messy things, the messes always somehow manage to get cleaned up eventually, and what I’m left with are the smiles and the giggles and the shy, hopeful whispers of “May I have another one Mommy?”
I think it’s safe to say that I will continue to bake at Christmastime for the sheer pleasure of it. And I hope my girls someday will, too.
Love,
Scratch

Chocolate Peppermint Spritz Cookies

Adapted from 100 Days of Real Food 
On Christmas Baking and Chocolate Peppermint Spritz Cookies
These cookies don’t look like much, but if you like chocolate and peppermint and crispy little tea cookies, I think it’s safe to say you’ll enjoy them. I admit I would not go out of my way to hunt down a good Spritz cookie recipe had I not had a cookie press begging to be used, but since I had one, and a good one at that (a Wilton Cookie Pro Ultra II, which I highly recommend), it was easy to walk in my grandmother’s shoes and make a batch of these delicate little beauties.
UPDATE: I first made and wrote about these cookies in 2013. I updated the recipe this year (2016) to be both gluten free and dairy free, but the ingredient list to make the cookies with butter and wheat flour is pretty much the same–just omit the xanthan gum and use salted butter instead of Earth Balance and all purpose or white whole wheat flour instead of gluten free flour. The good news? The kids couldn’t tell the difference and Addie again three years later shyly asked me if she could have another cookie, just like she did when she was three years old.
Ingredients:
1 cup Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks (or salted butter), softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons peppermint extract
1/8 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups Gluten Free Flour Blend (like this one), or white whole wheat flour

 

Method:

First, prepare your cookie press by getting everything set up (design plate chosen/inserted and get everything assembled to the point where all you need to do is add the dough).

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Then, soften (but don’t melt!) the butter. In a stand mixer, mix the butter and sugar on medium high until well combined. Add the egg, extracts, and salt; reduce speed to low. Add the xanthan gum (if using), cocoa powder and flour. Stir until just combined. The dough will be sticky.

Then, fill your cookie press, and press the dough out onto an ungreased cookie sheet (don’t use parchment paper, either). You can add sprinkles at this point, if you want to – just sprinkle on top before you put the cookie sheet in the oven. Bake at 375 degrees for 8 minutes–much longer, and they’ll burn. Remove from pan and let cool on a wire rack.

*Variation: for plain Chocolate Spritz Cookies, increase vanilla extract to 2 teaspoons and omit peppermint extract.