Last weekend I found myself up to my elbows in kids, cabbage, and pies.
My ‘rents had hit the road for a few days and asked me to watch my three- and five-year-old siblings, Joey and Ava. And while I had the house and kitchen of dreams to myself, my dad stuck me on recipe testing duty for an upcoming book.
Four kinds of coleslaw. Six kinds of pies. Two ankle-biters too big for their britches. Countless priceless moments.
I was starving when I rolled into Houston on the Greyhound Saturday, and after thoroughly rockin’ my Friday night right, a big bowl of soup was sounding like a godsend. We headed over to Van Loc, a nearby Vietnamese joint, but instead of defaulting to pho, Pops encouraged me to try a catfish soup called Canh Chua Ca.
It was interesting for sure. It’s a sweet and sour soup with big chunks of catfish (complete with skin and bones), bac ha (taro stem), and pineapple. It hit the spot, but truth be told I was kind of left wishing I’d tried their seafood pho. Way more sweet than sour, with lots of odd fish parts my tummy wasn’t really feeling.
Joey and Ava happily shared my dad’s Bo Luc Lac (Rock’n’Roll beef) and chomped down on their favorite, Cha Gio, pork egg rolls wrapped in lettuce leaves. My fortune at the end of the meal: “You will have much success with your career.” Sweet!
On the first day of recipe testing, Dad still in the spot, I cranked out Lexington Red Slaw made with ketchup, Green Pickle Slaw with dill relish, classic white slaw, and yellow mustard slaw. I never knew you could eat ‘yer slaw so many ways. They made a lovely cruciferous rainbow all together.
The next day I took the kiddos to the park for playtime and a picnic (also known as “run around and stuff your faces so I can get you to take a nice, long nap”). Among the various hilarities spoken from their sweet ‘lil mouths: “Katie, I found bird poop!” “Katie, I punched Ava. It was on purpose.” “Katie, can we eat our picnic on the tennis court?” “Katie, what should I do with this booger?”
I had to try really hard to suppress my giggles when Ava, visibly reveling in the rare treat of Cheetos puffs, said with orange-stained sincerity, “Mmm, Cheddary!” Then again, the morning before Dad took off, when she tried with all her might to (unsuccessfully) pull me out of bed before 9 a.m. and then demanded with frustration, “Katie, how are you going to take care of us while Daddy’s gone with your sleeping habit?”
I managed, though. We made funny-shaped pancakes and painted abstract jungle snakes and watched the Smurfs no less than five times. Ava also made an excellent kitchen assistant, suggesting we make “stations” for our pie-frying extravaganza in which she would cut the circles from the dough and I would fill and fry them. “You just stand there and when I have some dough ready, I’ll yell, ‘pie!’” she said.
She then quickly got way ahead of me. “Pie! Pie! Puh-eyyye!!!” she chirped, while I tried to lift one out of the grease with my right hand and crimp the edges of the next with my left. “Just hold on Ava, I’m still working on these,” I said, to which she replied very matter-of-factly, “You’re going to have to work a lot quicker if you want to be a chef one day, you know.”
Yeah, I know. Thanks, kid. What can I say; I’m glad she takes her cooking so seriously. Must run in the family.