What I want to do is surprise Husband with an elaborate dinner, one that involved hours of wrapping homemade puff pastry around fancy cuts of meats stuffed with equally extravagant aphrodisiac delicacies like oysters or asparagus or shaved truffles.
Of course, I’d wear the strappy stilettos.
“What strappy stilettos? You only wear those nasty slip-on sneaker things. You always say your feet weren’t designed for heels.”
Ignore that. That is my child in the background.
I do have strappy stilettos. They are midnight black and come equipped with thin sparkly straps that secure themselves around my slender (yes, slender) feet with the same expertise Christian Grey would secure Anastasia in his Red Room. There is no safe word with these shoes.
That’s how I’d start the evening.
“What about us? What are we having for dinner?”
That’s the other kid. Excuse me while I kick a box of cereal in that direction.
The house would be aglow in romantic scented candles.
“Fire hazard, Mom. Gosh. Don’t you know ANYTHING???”
That’s the sixteen year-old. Of course, that’s the sixteen year-old.
“And you can’t do scented anything, remember? Cause YOU…GET… HEADACHES!!!”
Okay. That was really, really loud. Where was I? The house aglow in romantic, scented candles. Me in sexy shoes.
I’d be wearing a silk something or other, something to show off that amazing flat stomach.
…One second please.
“STOP THAT LAUGHING! It was flat before YOU PEOPLE RUINED IT!!!!!!!”
Anyhow, there’d be smooth jazz playing, maybe some Miles Davis Autumn Leaves…
“Hey, isn’t that the song you wanted papi to learn to play on the saxophone you bought him? The sax that’s been sitting there gathering dust for a hundred years?”
Ignore them. As I said, Autumn Leaves would be playing in the background. I’d serve dinner. I’d look amazing. Husband would gaze into my eyes and…
“Ewwwww…get a room!”
“BTW papi isn’t here, remember?”
So they are in stereo now?
Okay fine. I’ll make this quick:
I look hot. I’ve made this fancy dinner. There’s dim lighting and sexy music.
There’s no children. There’s no children. There’s no children.
There’s just Husband and I. Maybe he’s gotten me roses or a gift or both (I don’t need it, I don’t need any of it, just him, but, hey, it’s not like I am going to say no) and we gaze into each other’s eyes and smile and say, “Happy Valentine’s Day!”
But here is how it really goes guys:
Husband is off in some other country for work, as usual. These kids, good God, these kids that I sometimes wanna kill (in the most loving way) are here. And they’re hungry. And dinner isn’t ready yet. So I’ve gotta do something quick. Something simple. I’ll throw a steak on the grill, make some mashed potatoes, offer up a nice green salad.
“We hate salad, Mother…”
Okay, whatever. Hopefully one day they’ll eat salad. One day after meals and meals and meals of watching their mother eat salad, something will click and they’ll eat a salad.
And then dessert, because after all, it’s still Valentine’s Day.
I need something to commemorate my love to my man, albeit apart and long distance. Something that would follow that amazing entrée I’ve made up in my head.
I’m thinking crepes.
Don’t be afraid!
Crepes are easy, really.
You can super cheat and buy them premade. (I’ve super cheated, yes I have.)
Or you can whip up a batch and keep them in the fridge- just pull them out whenever you want. They’ll last up to two weeks like that.
Raspberries go great with crepes and feel fancy. And you’re gonna love this: all you do is spread your favorite raspberry jam inside the crepe, roll it up, and sprinkle the outside with raspberries, confectioner’s sugar, and fresh whipped cream. Seriously! That’s it!
“Wait, did you say crepes?”
“Yes, yes! We want crepes! Can we have crepes?”
Oh no. They’re still here?
“Can we just have dessert for dinner, Mom?”
“Ooooh, yeah, dessert for dinner! Dessert for dinner! Dessert for dinner!”
Throw everything into the blender (start with the wet ingredients first.)
Blend until smooth, about 1 minute.
Let batter sit for at least 30 minutes. If you are organized and plan ahead, letting it sit overnight in an airtight container is the die-hard way to go (just mix it up when ready to use)! But don’t worry. I am unorganized and impulsive when it comes to food cravings which leads me to wanting crepes RIGHT NOW, i.e., letting the batter rest a half an hour works just fine.
Heat a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat.
Lightly coat with butter or Pam.
Add 1/3 cup of the batter and swirl it around so it coats the whole skillet.
Cook for 2 minutes..
Use a spatula to carefully flip. Cook 1 minute.
Slide crepe off and repeat, coating pan each time.
You can keep crepes warm in a preheated oven or just store them in the refrigerator in a gallon-sized Ziploc bag, taking out what you need as you go. To heat, just microwave on high for 10 seconds.
Use 4 crepes (2 per person.)
Pick your favorite raspberry jam. Add 2 teaspoons in center of warm crepe and spread all around. Roll up crepe.
Sprinkle with fresh raspberries and confectioner’s sugar and add a dollop of whipped cream.
If you want it super fancy, include a sprig of mint for extra color. Repeat.
Today is National S’mores Day, so, even though she is away at camp, I’ve got celebrating with my daughter on my mind.
If there is such a thing as a S’mores Addict, she’s definitely one. I, on the other hand…not so much.
She is unsettled by this difference of opinion. I tell her it must be a cultural thing, that this quintessential American treat must not tickle my fancy because I grew up in Venezuela, where the closest thing to melted marshmallows was the leche condensada I’d have drizzled on the coconut raspados, or snow cones, for an extra 25 cents. Hershey’s never made it into my mother’s pantry – that pantry was bursting with local Venezuelan chocolate favorites with names that sung: Samba, Suzy, Cri-Cri, Ping-Pong!
It’s a tough sell. Ever since my daughter, a native South Floridian, has been old enough to chew, she’s been consuming anything S’mores-related and trying her darnest to win me over to the S’mores crowd.
Obviously, there is a constant supply of Hershey’s chocolate, graham crackers, and marshmallows in our pantry at all times.
And then, whatever S’mores-esque products The Marketing Gods come out with, we must buy:
S’mores Pop tarts.
S’mores ice cream.
S’mores Rice Krispies Treats
Even S’mores Goldfish!
My daughter promises me, with each new product purchased, that I will like S’mores this time around. I taste, hear Marketing Gods’ evil laughter and, well, tell her to go ahead and enjoy it, and leave it at that.
But my daughter is persistent, hopeful and never one to give up on whatever it is she sets her mind to. I do love her for that. So, when we found ourselves trying out a local restaurant, The Red Cow and I saw her face light up as she read the menu, I knew something was up.
“Mom, they have a S’mores brownie,” she announced. “You gotta, we’ve gotta…”
I knew the drill.
We’d get it.
I must try.
I will love S’mores this time around.
“Okay,” I told her, and the pact was done.
After devouring our Smoking Gun sandwiches the waitress placed the coveted dessert in front of my daughter, whose eyes looked like they were about to fall out.
Something strange happened.
Did I tell you that part?
The part where I heard music.
Not the country music crooning in the background (that stuff always makes 12-hour smoked brisket and cowboy potatoes taste better, you should know.)
It was more like church-choir music.
For a second.
As she placed the plate down.
The plate, which, OMG…glowed.
Not in a creepy, chemically way, no! In a golden-spiritual-live-in-the-present-Buddhist kind of way.
This all happened in seconds, see. While my daughter’s eyes popped out. I heard music. I saw a glow.
Then I rubbed my own eyes.
Because I was a jaded anti-s’mores Venezuelan, remember?
So something must be wrong with my eyes.
This dessert looked…
“Mom, this is beautiful,” my daughter stated.
Yes! Beautiful! Took the words right out of my mouth!
What can I tell you?
I want to tell you the truth: as cheesy as it sounds when I’ll type it out.
I want to tell you what happened, exactly as it did.
I want to tell you that I saw the light. I saw the S’mores light!
There was this enormous cloud of perfectly melted marshmallow hugging chocolate and some sort of graham cracker crust underneath and perched beside it an utterly unpretentious scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and good God I wanted to snatch that plate away from my child, my flesh and blood, and devour it all myself.
But I didn’t.
I still have an ounce of composure and an itty-bit of restraint.
I pride myself in believing I am a pretty-decently-okay parent.
So, I grabbed the sides of the wobbly table and said, as calmly as I could:
“No darling, go ahead.”
“What?” My daughter asked, confused. “Oh? You want some, Mom?” She offered, watching me closely, witnessing change.
“Oh, sweetie, thanks, but, you, uh, you can, um, just…”
There’s a very important part of this story I’ve left out.
It’s about my daughter.
I told you she’s sixteen.
I told you she’s a S’mores Addict.
I haven’t told you how incredibly giving and perceptive she is.
You see, at that moment, while an imaginary S’mores choir sang and our tiny table for two lit up with delicious joy, my daughter, the S’mores Addict, pushed the untouched plate under my chin.
“Here Mom, go for it. I’m sure you’re gonna love it this time.”
I’m not sure if it was that soft, sweet blanket of surrendered marshmallow or the rich chocolate brownie dancing with buttery graham crust underneath. It all tasted magnificent in the company of my girl, smiling and savoring the moment with me, without even taking her first bite.
There are many wonderful things about having family members live in Germany.
There’s the traveling to Germany part (thanking hubby for his zillions of frequent flyer miles.)
There’s the adventure of a new language (I really didn’t get past “nein,” sorry!)
There’s the instant bonding cousins who’ve never met have while careening down snow-coated hills.
There’s the snow-coated hills. We hail from Venezuela and South Florida, this, and any other winter-related activity (including scraping ice off car windshields) spawns enthusiasm/excitement.
And then there are the waffles.
Waffles are hard-core Christmas street food in Germany. They sort of became a thing there in the 18th Century. I know Belgium has an international reputation as waffle masters, but, believe me, the Germans know what they are doing with their waffles, and it doesn’t matter if there is a blizzard, ice, or below freezing temperatures, waffle stands are out there making waffles non-stop. If they pour waffle batter, they will [and do] come!
My children (and my first child, my husband) can’t resist anything chocolate, so they got their waffles bathed in chocolate syrup. I am more of a traditionalist when it comes to Sandwaffeln, which, unlike American waffles, are enjoyed in Germany for Kaffeetrinkin (afternoon cake and coffee), so I got mine with just a light sprinkling of powdered sugar. I also passed on the coffee and headed straight for another German winter favorite: glühwein, a hot brew of spices, sugar, citrus, wine, and booze served in a festive mug designed just for that year.
Either way works wonders for the soul, especially a very weather-wimpy tropical soul who was instantly revitalized sitting on a frozen German bench, gobbling warm dough while alternating with sips of hot mulled wine.
He watched it ooze and bubble and grow steadily under the flame, his eyes widening in awe with the rhythm of the melted mess he was creating. This was no ordinary activity. This was the best activity for a cold, cloudy, rainy Wednesday, a day that kept him trapped indoors instead of his usual outdoor setting of trampoline jumping and dog chasing.
Playing with fire was my ten-year old son’s version of being antsy. I needed to redirect, and fast.
“Whatcha doing there?” I asked, feigning as much casualness as my terror instinct allowed.
“Melting a marshmallow,” Son replied, equally unphased.
Black scabs formed on the petrified victim, a super-sized Jet Puffed marshmallow ruthlessly pinned to a fork. My fine bought-in-Italy fork.
This had to end and fast. I had to think of a distraction.
I turned on the television and put his favorite cartoon on. It did nothing to deter him from his pyromania.
I called our puppy, his favorite play thing, and began bouncing his ball around and playing tug of war with him in the cramped kitchen, risking collateral damage all in the hopes of engaging my son.
Flames have a way of mesmerizing him. He was hyperfocused on the destruction of sugar.
“Are you going to eat that?” I asked, desperately.
“Naah. It’s too burnt. I like my marshmallows gooey but good, like we had them at summer camp,” he offered, allowing me a sliver into his and his sister’s coveted secret world of summer camp.
And that is when inspiration hit! Of course! Summer! Marshmallows! S’mores!!!
My genius moment was quickly deflated by the thought that embarking on a s’mores project would inevitably entail more flames for toasting the marshmallows, and as much as I wanted to bring home the joy of summer, there’s a reason they do this stuff at camp and not in my sleek kitchen.
Still, s’mores had invaded my thoughts now. That is the perfect combo of childhood yumminess: melted marshmallows with chocolate and graham crackers. There had to be another way to relive it without possibly burning down the house.
At that point my daughter pounced into the kitchen and looked with horror at the disaster her younger brother was making.
“Mom!” she castigated in the tone of a seasoned caregiver. “Don’t let him do this mess! Make a s’mores pie instead.” And with that, she was gone. A fleeting vision of inspiration. A true moderator. My beloved problem solver had planted her seed and disappeared, back to her Facebook or her Skype or whatever other technological trend had a hold of her 13-year old mind.
‘S’mores pie, of course,’ I grinned. And even my daughter’s brief entrance had made an impression on my son, who, for once, looked up from his fiery disaster.
“Hmmm. That sounds good mom. Let’s do that,” he echoed.
As quickly as a marshmallow turns to a crisp I grabbed my distressed Italian fork from his grasp and turned off the fire that so readily had grasped his attention.
“Let’s put a bunch of marshmallows on the top of the pie and watch them grow in the oven,” I urged, seeing the spark of excitement light anew in my son’s mischievous eyes.
There are ancient churches, picturesque plazas and corners filled with history in the colonial Mexican town of Morelia, but when I heard about a Museo de Dulce, a Museum of Sweets, I got excited.
Forget thirst for knowledge, appreciation for architecture or understanding of traditions, my taste buds where doing the talking and the walking in this town as I led my family on an frenzied hunt for this museum.
I had heard that this region, the region of Michoacan, was well-known for its sweets and I wasn’t sure what I would find: old sugar grinders? Fuzzy black and white blow-ups of traditional candy makers at their task? Fruit roll ups from 1902?
What I found was equally surprising as their ‘museo’ was no museum at all, but rather an actual labyrinth of shacks heavy with candy and sweetened by singsong of hopeful salespeople:
“Que lo ofrezco que le ofrezco, pasale pasale, andale” (What can I offer you, enter enter enter)“El dulce de Michoacan, la Morielita, laguayabalaguayabalaguayaba” (The sweets of Michoacan, the Morielita, guava guava guava)“Vendo dulce vendo dulce tamaranidomangopiña tamarindomangopiña” (I sell sweets, I sell sweets, tamarind, mango, pineapple, tamarind, mango , pineapple)
Every stand had a different tune, even though they all where overloaded with the same stuff.
“Don’t buy from just one place,” my husband reprimanded as my eyes grew wide at the first stand and my hands began to feverishly grab every diabetes-inducing concoction in sight. “Let more than one person make some money.”
This is why I love the guy, because even in a Mexican candy land that propels me into sugar craziness, he can keep a level head. Cool, calm, and collected, he is. And a humanist at heart. I would have hugged him but that would mean putting down my rollo de guayaba and my tiritas de tamarindo and I wasn’t about to do that.
Instead, I did the next best thing and conceded.
“You’re right, babe,” I replied (cleverly not putting down any candy.) This was our mutual cue to keep on trucking, down lanes of sweetness with objects that resembled fruits before they were sequestered by sugar and candied, crystallized, or coated into bliss.
We left with more junk than we’d eat in a lifetime. But everyone was a winner on this round. I had satiated my appetite with loads of sweets I’d never eat, my husband had done a good deed in helping local businesses, and the singing, well, it continued well after we left, but with an extra pep in its beat.