Mid-December and the madness is upon us: students trapped in end-of-semester zombie-state, with circles under their eyes down to their jawlines; piles of (as yet ungraded) papers; emails from Grandma asking what the boys want for Christmas presents; a round of holiday parties (some a pleasure, some an obligation); and of course the requisite dementia-inducing Christmas music being piped into all the malls. The cognitive dissonance of standing in the grocery checkout line at the Australian-owned grocery store next to a woman swathed in black abaya and sheyla as my groceries are rung up by the lovely Filipina at the register … and Bruce Springsteen howls “Santa Claus is comin’ to town…” Sometimes the world seems much flatter than other times.
But. Holidays. Holidays in almost any culture means sharing and eating food. Cookies, cakes, pastries, soup…all the recipes come out at holiday time. So Stasha’s listicle this week–suggested by Bridget at the always funny Twinisms– asks us to think about food, and I thought that maybe I’d list my favorite recipes or favorite holiday treats, but let’s face it: I am a competent cook and only a so-so baker, so my recipes aren’t going to be that much fun.
Better, I thought, to offer you all a list bounteous with schadenfreude: you can read my list of food fails and feel better by comparison. Consider it my holiday gift to you.
1. My new favorite cocktail, the French 75. A delicate drink that packs a whammy: gin, simple syrup, fresh lemon juice, champagne. I read the recipe, thought “hey, that’s easy,” and mixed up a cocktail for myself and Husband. Who knew you weren’t supposed to put the champagne in the cocktail shaker with the other ingredients? Do you know what happens when you put champagne in a jar and shake it? Yes. Expensive French fizz pretty much all over. Expensive French sticky fizz. The drinks looked pretty (although a tad foamy), but apparently you’re only supposed to top off the glass with champagne. Who knew?
2. Baked brie. Who doesn’t love a baked brie? Gooey warm cheese wrapped in flaky pastry (courtesy of Pillsbury, natch) that gets spread on yet more bread. Dee-vine.
Now I’d like you to imagine the top of that delicious-looking treat completely charred. Yep, blackened, as if the instructions read “cook Cajun style.” In case you’re wondering, blackened baked brie is not a taste treat. Not even if you try to slice off the burned top and flip the thing over. Then you get something that resembles smushed bread floating in goo. Unappetizing in the extreme.
3. Pizza with goat cheese, spinach, and carmelized onions. Yum. You can serve this for supper or cut it into small pieces and use it as an appetizer. Use pizza crust, or boboli, or flatbread, then spread goat cheese, sauteed spinach, and carmelized onions on top. Heat the pizza a bit so the goat cheese gets warm and melty. Do not flip it over onto the bottom of the oven as you try to take it out of the oven. If, perchance, you should flip the entire goddamn thing onto the bottom of the oven, make sure no one sees you scoop the toppings off the oven floor and attempt to re-arrange them on the pizza crust. Should someone see you do that, you can assure them that it’s okay because you never clean the oven, so it’s not like they’re going to be tasting any chemicals along with their goat cheese.
4. Very Important Realization (VIR): checking the expiration date on the package of yeast is always a good idea. Otherwise, your pizza crust dough might look something like this:
We went out for dinner instead.
5. Birthday cakes. Ah, birthday cakes. I want so badly to be that parent, the one who lovingly crafts perfect confections for the little darlings. Erin, over at the Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms, she is that parent:
If she weren’t so funny and kind, you’d sort of have to hate her.
My birthday cakes don’t look like that. They’re more…um….let’s say they exhibit a charming DIY sensibility, shall we?
Another VIR? Frosting is the spanx of baking. It can make anything look good. Or at least okay.
6. And yet a third VIR? Find friends who cook, and cook well. Their recipes and advice (and samples!) are invaluable. I’m lucky to know Sean over at Big Poppa Eats, with his cobbler, and Lily, Abu Dhabi’s very own Queen of Tarts. And of course, the Sisterhood of Sensible Moms (when I’m not feeling intimidated, cakely speaking)…
7. My foodie talent might run in the family. During our growing-up years, when we asked my mom what was for dinner, she’d say “chicken glop” or “hamburger glop” or, basically, whatever form of protein she’d purchased mixed with some cans of tomatoes and spices. Usually it tasted good but the concept of “glop” remains in my head, whenever I confront the dinner hour, with one kid who does not like sauces, another kid who loves sauces, a husband who will eat pretty much anything, and me, who would happily be a vegetarian but lives in a house of carnivores. That’s why I often find myself in what I call three-way chicken hell, even though I vow (pretty much monthly) that I will not cave in to all these separate preferences.
8. Shopping for food in a country not your own always presents challenges. For the most part, I can find food we’re used to here, or at least versions of what we’re used to. There is bacon, for instance, although it’s hideously expensive and requires doing the walk of shame into the pork room at the grocery store. But then there are those jarring moments when you realize, as you browse the shelves, that you’re in a country that caters to a palate very different than your own:
Would someone please explain A) what is a “malt loaf” and B) what it means to have “squidgy energy”?
10. Okay. I will make one gesture towards recouping my culinary sense of self. I have learned how to make a pretty kick-ass cinnamon roll. And the smell of baking cinnamon rolls is like a holiday all in itself.