Three things arrived this weekend at the RRG household: Football season, official Fall weather, and molars.
P. is a terrible teether — a late teether, a fussy teether, and a teether who has probably been voted by his daycare classmates as “Most Likely to Make Others Miserable.” Now that he’s nearly eighteen months old, all the teeth in his head that have heretofore declined to make their appearances have decided it’s time to have a coming-out party, at P.’s expense. Over the weekend, we went from 9-ish teeth to a full mouth of them, which was hellish for P., but not any more pleasant for the rest of the household, nor probably for our neighbors; owing to the exceptionally pleasant fallish weather, they were the beneficiaries of our open windows and thus privy to P.’s nonstop screaming. He barely ate a thing all weekend, but I was definitely in the mood to escape into the kitchen to cook up some treats.
Besides my need to distract myself from the dental horror show, and to appease some of the crankiness of all three of my guys with something yummy, I had serious motivation this weekend to cook. After a two-week hiatus, I got back to the Farmer’s Market, where I had the pleasure of not only loading up my bags with beautiful produce, but actually found something new: a Boston Marrow Squash, which was displayed at the booth of a farmer that I’m ashamed to say I have generally neglected. (Sorry, Christina of Blue Skies Flower Farm!) So I arrived home hungry for fresh local produce and geeking out over a new vegetable friend. I also had the fresh-air, long-sleeved, crisp-breeze invigoration of the first real Fall weather spurring me onward; whenever the weather turns, heralding a new season, I crave a whole new set of foods. This weekend, the added event of Week One of the NFL season made me positively rabid to get into the kitchen. I associate football season not only with my favorite team (the Buffalo Bills — don’t judge me), but also with long, cool Sundays spent cozied up in my slippers, baking pumpkin breads and making slow-cooked Sunday dinners and drinking hot cider. Just hearing the opening music for the pregame show produces a Pavlovian response that drives me straight to the stove.
This Pavlovian phenomenon produced quite a few edibles, among which were several successes and one absolute failure. The failure, I’m relieved to say, was really a lapse in judgment. Starting out the football season with the arrival of molars and our subsequent desire to stress eat until we passed out and could not longer hear the howling meant that J. and I were craving junk food. Of course, there’s not a lot of junk food to be had in our house, so we had to be somewhat inventive, and we had an excuse: at my parents’ last weekend, my mother pressed upon us a block of Hot Habanero cheddar that she’d mistakenly bought at the grocery, and which was so darned hot that it nearly incinerated every nerve in our mouths. My mother, J., and I (and my sister D., for that matter) are all lovers of spicy food, but this stuff was HOT. Mom rightly assumed that J. and I would find a way to put it to better use than she would, so we’ve had this chunk of nuclear reactor fuel sitting in our cheese drawer, waiting to be beaten into submission to the degree that it might actually become edible.
Spicy cheese + Football season + junk food craving = queso dip. Right?
And the (totally inauthentic, bastardized, processed) queso dip loved by tailgaters across this great nation of ours primarily consists of a jar of salsa, stirred into a shameful quantity of Velveeta, then nuked into a molten mass of dippable goodness. Of course I generally eschew Velveeta — first of all, anything that has to be labeled a “cheese PRODUCT” is something I wouldn’t so much include on the list of “real food” items I prefer to feed to my kids. Secondly, the fact that it bounces, wiggles, and can be molded into pseudo-dairy sculptural objet d’art makes me vaguely ill. But J. and I decided to make an exception in this case, because frankly, we couldn’t think of anything in the natural world that was as well equipped to subdue the radical heat of that habanero cheese.
Well, Velveeta must know that I’ve been talking smack about it, because after making and eating this queso dip, I’ve been victimized by some serious indigestion. It’s not habanero-cheese indigestion, either; it’s more that queasy, bad bar food kind of illness you get after eating something that tasted pretty, well, horrible (but yet so good), and was clearly not good for you. J. and I wound up throwing most of it away, in fact. We realized, a few chips in, that while it sort of tasted good in that addictive junk food way, it was, in fact, pretty gross; the texture of the Velveeta was much gummier than I remembered, and it was also a lot saltier and more artificial-tasting than I’d recalled. I guess your palate really does change after you start trying to eat more “clean” foods. I’m vaguely pleased and satisfied by this confirmation of my beliefs, even if it has come at the price of a Velveeta hangover.
However, the Velveeta fiasco was the only failed mission of the weekend. I also honored football season with some homemade soft pretzels, which I made in miniature for the kids’ lunches. Since this obviously wouldn’t be a RRG recipe without some produce, I finely grated a whole mess of the beautifully gnarly carrots I got at the Zephyr Farm stall and added them to the dough, along with a generous helping of raisins. It was my first attempt at homemade pretzels, but they turned out great, and L. and I had a blast together, cutting the dough into portions and rolling them into little snakes. When I twisted them into pretzel shapes, L. observed that my skills weren’t as good as I’d hoped: “They look like turtles, Mommy!” he squealed, delighted. So we made carrot-raisin turtles, I guess, which he, J., and I inhaled (P. refused yesterday, but he did gnaw on one for a while this morning — the first real attempt at anything other than applesauce and yogurt that he’s made in three days). We also celebrated the fall weather, and the new and interesting Marrow Squash, with a gorgeous “pumpkin” panzanella salad to accompany an easy cider-brined pork roast (more on those, and recipes, tomorrow). As I sit here, nursing a badly needed cup of coffee to combat my molar-induced state of zombiedom, wishing it weren’t clashing so badly with the vestiges of Velveeta’s Revenge, I’m still smiling, because it was really a great First Fall Food Weekend. It could only have been better if I’d been able to hear myself think.