Friday, September 12, 2008
feed the children
One of the best things about our apartment is that we have nice neighbors. People who collect your mail when you're away, leave jars of jam on your doorstep (more on that later), and just generally keep an eye on things. Much to our disappointment, the sweet, sweet family in the ground floor apartment is moving away, so we had a small building farewell party last weekend.
I offered to do pre-dinner snacks and cocktails in our apartment, then quickly realized there would also be a one-year-old, a three-year-old, and a nine-year-old. For the first time ever, I had to think about what kids like to eat. What do you feed them? In my babysitting days, dinner was usually left on a plastic-wrapped plate in the microwave. My childhood tastes ran toward Entenmann's chocolate-covered donuts, chicken fingers, PB&J's, and grilled cheese. Not quite cocktail party fare. (Although mini grilled cheeses could be fun.)
Although I love the children in our building, confidentially, the rest of their kind make me a little nervous. Do you talk to kids like grown ups, or like chihuahuas? What do you do when they throw a screaming fit? And more importantly, can you feed them proscuitto and melon, or do you have to break out the Kraft mac and cheese? Growing up as an only child with no cousins nearby, most of my childhood was spent around adults. Of course I had friends my own age, and later on I babysat for the neighbors' kids, but compared to most people, I haven't really spent that much time with people younger than me, especially babies. This isn't to say I haven't tried. During a summer semester home from college, I tried my hand at being a YMCA camp counselor where I corralled a bunch of five-year-olds and tried not to mix up their ADD prescriptions. After several panic attacks, my stint at the Y lasted exactly two weeks. I just couldn't deal.
Luckily, these are cool kids. Funny, frighteningly articulate, and a joy to watch run around our front stoop. The one-year-old is just starting to talk and I wish I could keep watching her grow up. But back to the matter at hand: food.
Cocktails with the kids
Wine, beer, fizzy lemonade
Hummus, with pita bread and veggies
Sausage rolls with mustard, pickled red onions, and cornichons
Smoked almonds (kept away from the three-year-old with a nut allergy)
Toys were brought downstairs (did you know there's a Brooklyn version of Monopoly?), juice boxes were drained, the toddler toddled about, parents lunged for drinks about to be spilled, and gradually, absentmindedly, the sausage rolls were consumed. No one said yuck, no one spit anything out on the rug. I quickly realized that when kids are around, food becomes nothing more than background music. No one noticed that the hummus was a little lumpy, or that I didn't refill everyone's drinks because I was too busy poking the one-year-old's soft, wiggly tummy. And I have to admit, it was kind of refreshing.
Afterward, we headed downstairs to the ground floor apartment's back garden for BBQ brisket sandwiches, potato salad, and homemade coffee and peach ice cream. In between bites, my digital camera was kidnapped (the nine-year-old is surprisingly good at taking photos), a hula hoop made an appearance, and by the time we were ready to head back upstairs, the kids had finally collapsed in a giant moving box full of crumpled paper. Although I was more than happy to decompress afterward in our quiet apartment, kids bring such a rush of fun, freewheeling energy into a room.
(But don't get your hopes up, Mom.)
A classier take on the traditional pig in a blanket that's adapted from Jamie Oliver's great book Jamie's Dinners "the essential family cookbook." Appropriate, huh?
(Serves 8 to 10 people)
1 package puff pastry (two sheets), thawed
4 medium-sized uncooked sausage links (I like sweet Italian pork sausage, but you could use chicken, lamb, or veggie sausage)
Zest of 1 lemon (or orange)
1 Tbsp. dried or fresh thyme
1 egg, beaten
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Using kitchen shears or a paring knife, slice open the sausage casings, releasing the raw ground meat into a medium-sized bowl. Throw away the casings. Add the zest and thyme and fold it into the sausage with a fork, being careful not to turn the sausage into mush. Unfold one of the puff pastry sheets. Cut it in half, lengthwise, so that there are two pieces with three horizontal sections each. Place 1/4 of the sausage mixture onto the center of the sheet and spread it out lengthwise so that you have an even "tube" of meat running down the center of the pastry. Leave 1/4 inch overhang on the left and right side. Fold over the top and bottom sections, covering the meat. Seal the fold by lightly crimping the edge and sides with a fork. Brush the folded pastry with the beaten egg. Use kitchen shears or a sharp knife to cut the tube of pastry into small bite-sized pieces. Repeat with the other piece, then repeat all the steps with the other puff pastry sheet. Place the sausage rolls on a greased cookie sheet and bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until puffed and golden. Serve with mustard, pickled red onions, and pickles.