Friday, January 23, 2015

Apéritif Friday - Birthday Mac and Cheese, Marinated Tomato Salad, and Santa's Little Helper

I'm delving into the archives today - stretching back about a month ago when we celebrated my not-so-little-boy's birthday. He's fifteen now. Which is an all together delightful age. Not little boydom anymore, but not fully morphed into manhood yet. No longer throwing tantrums...
...or angrily punching desk chairs resulting in broken bones. But not quite ready to do his own laundry and cook his own meals, either.

Decades ago, when I was my son's age, I saw a guy friend of mine embrace his mom in the stands after the Rockridge Rocket football team defeated the Aledo Green Dragons. He kissed his mom square on the lips, hugged her, and declared for all to hear: "I love you, Mom."

My future mom heart melted on the spot. I vowed right then and there to raise a kid who would someday tell me he loves me in front of all of his friends. The image of that boy and his mama stuck with me through the years, and I drilled it into my own sweet boy when he was just beginning to speak.

"Jakey, I love you!"

"I love you," he'd parrot-repeat in a high-pitched baby voice.

"Will you love me when you're sixteen?"

"Yes, Mommy."

"Tell me."

"I will love you when you're sixteen, Mommy."

"Will you tell me you love me in front of your friends when you're sixteen?"

"Yes, Mommy. I will tell you I love you in front of your friends when you're sixteen."

Neurotic Mommy, much? Sheesh. Despite his confusion on pronoun usage and the fact that no, I don't age backwards, we'd have this same conversation almost daily. I naively smirked and patted myself on the back for a job well done. But what I failed to understand is that I could not preordain future dialogue with my child. Even if I had the best intentions, it might just not be right. Not the right time, not the right place, not the right presence of mind, not the right kind of expression for the right kind of kid.

My son will not kiss me in front of his friends. But he'll hug me. And he won't say he loves me in front of his friends. But he'll whisper it in my ear. And the best part of all? When he hugs me, he allows me to kiss the hollow of his neck, just above his collarbone, when he pulls me in for that hug to say he loves me. I wouldn't trade those moments for five thousand hugs, kisses and "I love yous" in front of his friends.
My son will never be my little boy again. But I sure am thrilled with the man he's becoming, and I'm loving every minute of this bizarre in-between stage as he grows up, including the sporadic shaving.
His humor, quick wit, quiet and sometimes introverted tendencies make him HIM. Even his unwillingness to give me a quick kiss in the drop off line is good with me. Because he's not that kid in the football stands. He's him, and he's mine.
His birthday meal choice proved a winner for everyone in the house, even if it's not exactly Paleo or the most nutritious option. Inspired by an episode of "Heartland Table" a few days earlier, Mr. Musky ran upstairs and told Jake what he might like as a birthday dinner. I'm thinking that someone wanted another decadent meal after his own birthday meal, the Daddy Paddy Melt.
Inspired by the original meal here, I created my own versions of Stovetop Mac and Cheese and Marinated Tomatoes with Arugula. And naturally, I whipped up a wintertime apéritif that ended up as gifts in the hands of several family members on Christmas Eve. It was that good.

Santa's Little Helper.
Although I haven't heard anything from said family members, so maybe it wasn't their cup of tea liquor? That's OK. Because I was able to get Mr. Musky to sample it, and even he declared it a keeper.
Thanks for listening...the recipes follow. Go hug a fifteen-year-old, if he'll let you. Best hugs on the face of the earth.


Birthday Mac and Cheese
1 lb bacon, diced
1 onion, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, microplaned
1 lb Gluten Free Fusilli Pasta (I prefer rice flour pasta)
4 T butter
4 T whole milk or half & half
4 oz cheddar cheese, grated
4 oz gouda cheese, grated
2 oz fontina cheese, grated
1/4 cup chopped chives
Salt and Pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to boil for the pasta. While the water heats up, fry the bacon until crispy and reserve about 2T of the bacon fat. Add the chopped onions and jalapeño to the bacon grease and sauté over medium-low heat until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for an additional two minutes, stirring to incorporate. Turn the heat to low.

Cook the pasta according to package instructions for al dente. Drain the pasta but BE SURE to set aside about a cup of the starchy, salty pasta water. Pour the drained pasta into the skillet with the onions and garlic. Add the butter, milk and cheeses and stir to incorporate, slowly adding the reserved pasta water to help the ingredients come together - you'll likely use anywhere from 1/4 to 3/4 of a cup. Add the chopped bacon and chives, taste and add additional salt and pepper to your liking.
Serve alongside the Marinated Tomato Salad.

Marinated Tomato Salad
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 T honey
1 T Lemon Juice
1 T Champagne Vinegar
3 T Avocado Oil or Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 handfuls Arugula
2 handfuls Baby Spinach
Shaved Parmesan Cheese

Combine the tomatoes, 1/4 t salt, 1/4 t pepper, honey, lemon juice, vinegar and oil in a glass bowl. Toss to combine, and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to a few hours. Sip on a cocktail.
When ready to serve, toss the tomatoes with the arugula, spinach and shaved parmesan. Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary. The marinated tomatoes create their own "juice" that becomes the dressing for the salad. It's the perfect accompaniment to a hearty dish.
Santa's Little Helper
1.5 oz Sapphire Gin
1 oz Cointreau
1.5 oz Cranberry Juice
dash ginger syrup (or simple syrup)
a squeeze of fresh lime juice

Shake ingredients vigorously in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into a martini glass and garnish with a lime zest.

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