Eating Out of the Ice Box

Well, it finally arrived. Summer has descended on our little island and the thermometer has finally managed to stay in the 80’s for more than two days in a row. For me, that’s quite hot enough, thank you very much. It’s not that I haven’t’ experienced hotter living, I have. It’s just that loath it. My blood is made up of equal parts molasses, crude oil and taffy and hot weather just makes me more and more sloth like until I finally fall whimpering from my tree branch and sizzle to death in the sun. It’s sort of the reverse of the Wicked Witch of the West. Rather than melt when doused with water, I simply combust in direct sunlight.

Naturally, I had carefully chosen a profession that would keep me in close proximity to insanely hot industrial kilns for days at a stretch. I maintain that I managed to keep my weight down mainly through water loss and since I sold my business some time ago, I think there might be something to that. I seem to be getting rounder by the day.

It might have been the sweating, or it might be the fact that I’ve been enjoying being at home with my kids and have made a concerted effort to keep the cookie jar full at all times. It’s not easy. I seem to be just as adept at emptying the thing as filling it.

With the warm sun pounding on the roof like a troublesome neighbor who knows you’re home and won’t go away, I was confronted with the fact that I… I mean, WE needed more cookies, but what? I didn’t have a lot of enthusiasm for firing up the oven and the no-bake cookies that I love tend not to fair so well in the jar if it’s hot for too long. Then I thought of a childhood favorite that I hadn’t had in ages.

I love remembering half forgotten stuff from my childhood because it gives me a chance to introduce it to my kids. Lulu Belle is still too young to remember things that happen in her life at the moment, but Short Stack will. It was time to introduce him to Grammy’s Ice Box Cookies. I had him in mind with this recipe for a variety of reasons.

First, they are his size. Perfect for small hands.

Second, they are fun because they look like little hamburgers.

Third. Chocolate.

To those whom know him, I need say no more.

So what is an Ice Box cookie, I hear you ask (Thanks for asking, by the way)? It is made of just three ingredients, requires no baking and is delicious simplicity.

Melt one bag milk chocolate chips with one can sweetened, condensed milk.

Once mixed, remove from heat.

Lay out most of a box of Nabisco ‘Nilla Wafers (and I hate to say this, but Nabisco ‘Nilla wafers are really the way to go. The other vanilla wafers just don’t do it justice) and put a blob of chocolaty goodness on a wafer and then top with another wafer. When you run out of chocolate and wafers, (it will take close to two boxes) toss them in the fridge and let them sit for an hour or so.

This is what you get.

iceboxcookies

On the list of great moments in kitchen Olympics, this hardly rates even as a warm up. These things are pretty much the definition of “stupid-easy” but MAN, are they good on a warm summer day! The name alone ought to give you an idea how long they have been around in my family. “Ice box cookies” was the name given to them by my Great-great grandmother and though I never met her, I am eternally grateful to her for concocting them. The recipe is so basic that whether she came up with them on her own or copied them from someone else is impossible to prove. I don’t care. I just like to eat them.

As it turns out, Short Stack does too! I’ve never known my boy to back away from a chocolaty treat and if he does, I’ll know that the aliens has swapped him with a spy robot. Short Stack has now fully embraced the notion of “helping” whenever I’m doing something and cooking, as with most kids, really gets him excited. The beauty of these little morsels is that they are the perfect first recipe for young kids. He’s not old enough to use the stove alone, but with supervision, he has a blast and later, can enjoy “his” cookies.

So summer cookies from his Great-great-great grandma, direct to his happy, round belly.

Now all I have to do is explain what an “ice box” is to him.
That ought to be interesting.

On the other hand, given enough cookies, he might not care!

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Eating to Live or Living to Eat

Part of my job as a father of two young children, is to dispose of perfectly good peas.

As a general rule, I loath waste and though my wife professes to as well, she is also very skittish about any food item that could have possibly come in contact with an individual mold spore or, God help us, was over a week old. This is a personality trait that often times come in direct, diametric opposition to my own edible food criteria. For me, so long as it’s not trying to escape or is three distinct shades paler than it was when it was newly made, I’m pretty much game for eating it.

The root of our individual viewpoints comes, I believe, in the way we view food in general. Though I can appreciate, even wax poetic, about some meals (an octopus soup enjoyed in Belgium, springs to mind), I tend to view food as fuel. Though I prefer delicious fuel to cardboard flavored, I’m of the mind that both will get you where you want to go, so it’s no big deal to say… eat the exact same peanut butter and honey sandwich for sixteen days straight or to simply go for the english muffin with peanut butter every single morning for four years. It’s fast, easy, and fits the bill, though I do tend to go though a hell of a lot of peanut butter. I call it being practical. She calls it, “Eeeaugh”

Not so, Action Girl. She is of a different sensibility. She would rather go with out rather than eat the wrong thing. This is manifestly, a bad idea and though I love my wife with all my heart, if there is one thing that will transform the bubbly woman I’m married to into a blond haired, blue eyed hand grenade, it would be “lack of food”.

Action Girl is one of those individuals whose attitude toward the word is directly connected to the contents of her stomach. If it is filled with a fine meal, delicately made and thoughtfully assembled, then she could pretty much shrug off the house burning down. Let her skip lunch and then be foolish enough to enter the room, and the best you can hope for a swift and moderately painless death.

I have two sets of photographs to back this claim; both taken over seas when eating patterns were erratic and unpredictable. The first was taken on a trip to Bavaria where we were staying in a small village, nestled in an Alpine valley. When we discovered that bicycles could be rented and that you could pedal to Linderhof, a palace built by Ludwig II, we jumped at it. It wasn’t a hard ride on paper, only about ten kilometers. What they didn’t point out was that it was all up hill. Not a huge incline, to be honest, perhaps only about three or four percent, but it never once let up. Couple that with less than optimal bikes, a somewhat rough gravel path and you get a tougher than expected ride. We weren’t creampuffs when it came to biking and did manage the ride without having to wuss out and take breaks, but it was harder work than we had anticipated doing, fueled only by a light breakfast. Once we arrived, we immediately toured the palace and grounds, partly to beat the bus loads of camera toters that we saw in the parking lot but also for the sheer joy of walking on our own feet and giving our beaten-up our behinds a rest from sitting.

By the time we had exited the palace and seen the famous gardens and grotto, it was well past lunch. I had been nibbling on granola bars and though Action Girl had one too, she opted to wait for a proper lunch.

Bad plan.

Here’s where the photos come in. The first I took is of my lovely wife sitting on a bench in an amazing garden. If you look very, very closely, you can almost make out the black cloud that is hovering inches over her head. There might have even been flickers of lightning in there. In short, she does not look like a person enjoying things. Only the most inept and unobservant pan handler or pigeon would attempt to beg something from her. Not doubt with dire consequences. The next photo on the roll is of Action Girl again. This time she is swinging, one armed from a lamp post a la Fred Astaire. A joyful smile spreads across her face and the rain cloud is nowhere to be seen. Between these two photographs… was a hardy and delicious German lunch.

The other set of photos, this time taken in Alsace, lacks the “before” black cloud picture that so perfectly bookends the no-food / food equation. They are, however, very telling as well. To anyone who doesn’t know my wife, in these two pictures, she just looks like a happy traveler, walking towards me and wearing a smile. To those of us who know her well, we notice two things. In the first photo, you can see that she is just leaving a chocolatier’s shop. In the next picture, she is closer in the frame and you can now make out two important things. First, the yellow bag containing something like forty Euros of fine, hand made dark chocolate, clutched lovingly to her chest. Second, her enormous smile, possibly visible from space, which was put there by the anticipation of getting into that bag.

Food is heavenly to her and it needs to be done right or not at all. Very French of her, I’d say, which is odd since I’m the one with the French and she’s mostly Irish. All in all, our two ways of dealing with food match pretty well. Being a gifted cook, she routinely makes meals that would be at home in the best restaurants and kitchen stadiums. I firmly believe she could easily win “Iron Chef”. On the other hand, once the apple roasted chicken is more than a few days old or the raspberry torte is getting a bit stale, she is all for pitching it and starting anew. She’d rather make something else than warm up a plate of less than perfect leftovers. So, since we don’t have livestock at our house and I hate to see what I view as “perfectly good food go to waste, it has fallen to me to hoover out the fridge in an effort to keep up with the wonderful bounty of foods that we didn’t finish the first, second or third time around. Now with the addition of kids, my job and diet has expanded.

Short Stack’s attention to his dinner plate can be less than laser like on any given night. If food items are easily stabbed with a fork, he does pretty well, all things considered. Peas and chopped carrots are another matter though. The cooked carrots, though delicious, are hard to keep on the fork and tend to slip off the tines en route to his mouth. Peas, ever the tricky vegetable, are all for going on brief and exciting excursions across the table, into his lap and eventually, onto the floor where they find a final resting place under his chair or crushed flat under our feet. Because of their inherent difficulty, they tend to be eschewed and purposely forgotten. That’s where dad comes in.

Initially, I would simply clean off his plate and dump the forgotten peas down the drain. The waste bugged me a bit, but it was high summer and fresh vegetables were plentiful. Autumn is now heavily upon us, and with the changing of the season, so had come a change of my attitude. It’s almost as though I view these once frozen vegetables as bits of the warm, bright summer, and I cringe at thoughtlessly dumping them in the sink. As I walk away from the table, holding a ladybug shaped, plastic dinner plate, I scoop up the lukewarm leftovers with his miniature fork and shovel them in. Though some of the peas might have been dribbled with ketchup or a few of the carrots, marinated in soy sauce, I don’t mind. It’s all good fuel.

Tonight Acton Girl is making a roast and there will be leftovers-a-plenty. I will no doubt eat the loin’s share of this wonderfully prepared meal, but that’s okay. She won’t want more than two servings of it any way.

I bet, in the following week, it will go very well with cast off peas.

You Can’t Get That From Here.

Some time ago, Action Girl and I were headed off on one of our trips, backpacking through various European towns. One of the issues that always proved problematic were the cats. We had two at the time and obviously, could not leave them unattended for two weeks while we gallivanted off on adventures. Try as I might, neither one of the kitties seemed to be able to get the knack of using the can opener. I blame this on the lack of opposable thumbs and having brains the size of a walnut. This meant that we needed a house sitter. Well, cat sitter, actually. Considering the neighborhood we lived in, having the house occupied would also give us a better shot at coming home to a house full of all of our stuff, rather than an empty shell. Our house was nice, where it was located was… well, lets just say that you didn’t get bored keeping track of your belongings.

Out house/cat sitter was a good friend and was happy to do it for free. All she wanted was something cool from Europe. That sounded easy. Off we went on our adventure and we had a great time as you’d expect, but one problem persisted. Finding something to get our house sitter that she couldn’t get in the States was getting impossible. Everything we seemed to find that looked promising to one of us, the other would inevitable remark that, yes they had seen that back home. It was getting really infuriating. It seemed that the world had finally shrunk to the point that there were no longer any real cultural oddities that you could bring back from Europe to the States that would “wow” the folks back home.

The only thing that we could finally come up with that you couldn’t get back home, was the Smart Car. If you haven’t seen one of these, then you are really in for a treat. “Cute” doesn’t come close to describing it. They are itty bitty, two seater cars (yes, I know that they make a four seater now) that you see fairly often over much of Europe now. They are made by Daimler AG so you know that they are both well made and crammed full of a gazillion little parts that would take a watchmaker to replace. The interesting part is that not only are they tiny, sporty and make you smile almost immediately when you spot one, but they are also quite safe. I actually had a friend in England who owned one. At one point he managed to get into a high speed accident going down the highway. He bounced off the guard rail doing about eighty MPH, zinged across traffic and off the road, into the trees. The Smart Car was toast. He had a broken wrist and ankle. Not bad for a car you practically strap on.

So, though we needed to repay our house sitter, a car was a bit out of our price range, even if it did have a fair chance of fitting in the overhead compartment for the flight home. On the last day of our journey, I spotted the perfect thing. While we waited at the train station for our ride to the airport, sitting in a gift shop window I spotted our “thank you” gift. Kinder Eggs. Lots and lots or Kinder Eggs. These were perfect. Kinder Eggs are the size of a regular hens egg and wrapped in foil like a Cadbury Creme Egg. They are Chocolate, like a Cadbury Creme Egg. The chocolate is hollow, again like the Creme Egg. There are two major differences. The interior of the Kinder Egg is lined with white chocolate. “Big deal”, I hear you say. Ahhh, but, the real fun is the yellow capsule inside. In that capsule is a toy, usually needing assembly. They are often perplexing, sometimes really fun but always random. They do offer “themes” that go with promoting various movies or TV shows, but for the most part, it’s a crap shoot. You just don’t know what you’ll get, AND you couldn’t get them in the U.S.

There’s a FDA rule that you can not stick an inedible object into a food stuff. You can kind of think of it as the “crunchy frog” clause. The capsule is far to big to be eaten by accident but it seems that the FDA felt that American kids were just far too stupid to notice the avocado pit sized, yellow, plastic thingie in the center of the egg. You couldn’t import them for sale back home!

So, one dozen Kinder Eggs in hand, we happily headed back to all out belongings and a happy house sitter. The cat’s had steadfastly refused to use the can opener. Good for them, she had been there!

A month or so ago, I went into a local fancypants food import store and there on the counter next to the Ritter Bars and the Nutella was a display of Kinder Eggs. I quietly called the manager over and mentioned that I believed that these were not legal to sell in the U.S. To my surprise, she told me that Kinder Egg had managed, after many years of lobbying, to get a special dispensation. They could sell them in America at long last. I was both relieved and a little sad. It was the one of the last things that was uniquely foreign. Some weeks later, as I drove to work I spotted this…

Yes, it’s a Smart Car. You can get them here now as well. This one in particular has been modified for the Lindt Chocolate Company. The bunny ears are not for sale with the standard model. It did strike my fancy though. Some how the idea of both the Kinder Egg and the Smart Car done up as a chocolate bunny goes hand in hand. I wonder if it runs on plastic Easter grass?

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