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8.28.2014

And: FUDGESICLES

I have a child who is about to be two years old. I have a lot of thoughts on the subject, but one thing I do not have a lot of thoughts about is a second birthday party. I could take it or leave it. For one thing, June doesn’t understand birthdays yet, so it doesn’t matter to her either way. Also, I am lazier than I let on. When your kid turns one, a party feels mandatory, because you kept a small human alive for an entire year and you survived it and bells must be energetically rung. Cake must be baked! BEERS MUST BE DRUNK! I am here to report, however, that a second birthday party feels much less urgent.


Still, it seems sad to not mark the occasion. My friend Natalie and I were talking about that sometime in July, because her Eero was born in early August and my June was born in early September and we were both feeling lukewarm on party planning. Then Natalie hatched an idea: we could throw a joint party. And: FUDGESICLES.



We split the difference in birthdates and threw the party in mid-August, inviting a bunch of friends to the park for a Sunday potluck lunch and popsicles. (I highly recommend, by the way, throwing kids’ parties in public parks, preferably ones that include playgrounds. That way, the kids can lose their minds on the slides and teeter-totters while the adults toss around frisbees, lie in the grass, whathaveyou. And: it’s FREE.) This particular park has a sloping lawn that points toward Puget Sound, and that morning, there was a dense fog hanging over the hill. We claimed a couple of picnic tables, hauled the coolers across the lawn, and hoped for sun. Natalie and Michael brought two big balloons, and I brought two strings of paper flags that Natalie made for Eero’s first birthday party last year and then bequeathed to me for June’s first birthday party a month later, after which my father-in-law carefully folded them into a Ziplock for safekeeping and I stashed them away in the kitchen closet, and now that I have typed all of this, I guess it could seem like a real bummer to reuse somebody else’s old party decorations?  I assure you, these are some really nice flags. We intend to use them until they fall apart.


Brandon and I bought a chickpea salad, a platter of tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, and a pile of blankets, and Natalie and Michael brought guacamole, Natalie’s famous cucumber dip, chips, water, and a croquet set. As our friends arrived, some with their own children and some without, they brought cheese and fresh fruit, lemon bars, noodle salad, Greek salad, so much food.


At at some point, I noticed that the fog had lifted and my child was running after a crow (GETTA BUHD! GETTA BUHD!) with a croquet mallet in her hand. Then somebody opened the coolers, and popsicles were happening.


We’d agreed that Natalie would make a batch of popsicles with stone fruit, and what she came up with was much more than that: peach with honey and chamomile. I made my usual raspberry yogurt pops (I cut the sugar back to ½ cup / 100 grams, though; not sure why I ever thought you’d need more than that) and, at Natalie’s suggestion, I made fudgesicles, too. She’d never had luck making them, she told me, and I’d never tried. But I like a challenge, or I sometimes like a challenge. I occasionally like a challenge. Anyway, I decided to work on a fudgesicle recipe.

There are a lot of them out there, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. It’s even fair to say that there’s a fudgesicle mini-craze going on right now: Food52, for instance, just ran a recipe for them. My goal was a chocolate popsicle that resembled, at least somewhat, the Jello pudding pops of my childhood. I wanted it to be silky, creamy, dense, and rich, and not even remotely icy, and I wanted the flavor to lean more toward chocolate than cocoa. What I wound up with posed almost no challenge at all, because it’s only a small tweak on Alton Brown’s recipe. (Thank you, Alton Brown.) It uses only five ingredients: chocolate, cream, milk, a small amount of cocoa, and vanilla extract. It also comes together in maybe 20 minutes.  As my aunt Tina, one of June’s namesakes, would have said, What’s not to like? June smelled like chocolate for the rest of the day, and secretly, I hoped she always would.


P.S. I am thrilled to announce that in late October, I will be teaching a four-day workshop on storytelling and personal narrative at the Oklahoma Fall Arts Institute. I was a writing student at the Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute as a teenager, so I am beyond, beyond all number of emotions, to be teaching at Quartz Mountain myself. (!!!) The fee is $605 for in-state participants and $1,005 for out-of-state participants, including meals and lodging. Scholarships and discounts are available for Oklahoma educators and members of arts organizations.


Fudgesicles
Adapted from Alton Brown

You will note that there’s no sugar in this recipe, which means that you need to be thoughtful about the chocolate you use, because that’s what will bring sweetness. Brown calls only for "bittersweet chocolate," but when I tried using 70% cacao chocolate, which I think of as a pretty standard percentage for bittersweet, it made for a very bittersweet popsicle. More bitter than sweet. Brandon loved it, and June ate it, but it wasn’t really my thing. I like to combine two types of chocolate for this recipe: Valrhona “Jivara” 40% milk chocolate, and Valrhona “Manjari” 64% dark chocolate. I use four ounces, or 113 grams, of each. (Yes, they are wildly expensive! I know. We buy them in 3-kg bags at the restaurant, and I regularly steal some for my home use. I am a lucky bastard.) If you don’t want to shell out like that, Scharffen Berger also has a good 41% milk chocolate, and my guess is that it would blend nicely here with either the 62% semisweet or the 70% bittersweet. Whatever chocolate you choose, I wouldn’t recommend going above 64%, at the highest.

And as for popsicle molds, I use these.

8 ounces (225 grams) chocolate, ideally between 45% and 65% cacao
1 ½ cups (355 ml) heavy cream
1 cup (240 ml) whole milk
2 tablespoons (about 11 grams) unsweetened cocoa
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Finely chop the chocolate, and put it in a medium bowl. (If you have a bowl with a pour spout, use that! Perfect.)

In a medium (2- to 3-quart) saucepan, combine the cream, milk, and cocoa. Whisk well to dissolve the cocoa, and bring just to a simmer, whisking frequently. Remove from the heat, let sit for a few seconds, and then pour it over the chocolate. Let stand undisturbed for 2 or 3 minutes; then whisk to combine well. Whisk in the vanilla extract. Divide between popsicle molds, and freeze until hard.

Yield: 8 to 10 popsicles, depending on the size of your molds.

8.18.2014

August 18

A couple of weekends ago, we packed up the better part of the restaurant kitchen, crammed it in the back of a pick-up, and drove two and a half hours east to cook an all-day anniversary party for a pair of longtime Delancey regulars.



We rented a big house along the Wenatchee River, about ten minutes from the property where the party was held, and we brought as many people as we could fit inside, including a set of 8-month-old twins and one almost-two-year-old June.




If you’ve ever been to Leavenworth in the summertime, you will remember how hot it gets. It hit 100 that weekend, and no one had air conditioning. The flies were out and biting. But the party guests were somehow still cheerful, playing lawn games, hula hooping, napping in the grass, clambering down the hill to cool off in the river.





Brandon and Co. got up at 6:30 to start smoking a billion pounds of brisket, ribs, and pork shoulder. Ricardo manned the smokers; Brandon and Ben and June ran errands; Amy drove to Idlewild Pizza to borrow their ice cream machine (thanks, Eric!) and churn twenty quarts of vanilla custard. At some point, Cody showed up, and Katie and Kyle and Michelle, and some Campari shandies. I got to sleep in(!) and read a decent chunk of a YA novel (that I, for the record, refuse to feel embarrassed about), and then June and I crashed the party and at least one of us ran around waving a half-eaten hot dog bun like a lunatic.


Actually, I shouldn’t call it crashing. The couple who threw the party had invited our staff to be a part of it, to sit down like everyone else and enjoy it. Of course, it’s hard to actually do that, and between running platters of food and bussing empty plates, we wound up perched on ice chests or leaning against the folding tables of our makeshift kitchen rather than sitting at the table they had set for us. But to have been included was something in itself, because that’s not standard protocol. When you work in a restaurant (or at a grocery store, or as a bank teller, etc. etc. etc.), if you do your job well, your work makes you invisible. Most often, we as customers only notice service when it’s really, really bad, because when it’s good, it feels effortless, natural, so subtle that you can’t really point to it. As customers, it can be easy to forget that someone is working hard to make us feel that way. So it means a tremendous amount to me, and to Brandon, and to all of us, I think, who have ever cooked and served, when we can get to know the people we are working for, and when we are included not only to work, but also to play. And now I am getting sappy.




In this case, they even called us over for a round of applause. WE HAVE LIVED THE DREAM.




Because it was so hot that weekend, the river was only cold enough to take your breath away for a minute (as opposed to permanently), and when I managed to ease myself in, I was rewarded with watching an otter swim by. We are having a summer. Hope you are, too.