The Crispy Hedgehog, or What I Emotionally Ate in 2021

So how was your Christmas? Were you maybe in a lineup of two hundred cars waiting to get your brain swabbed? Maybe you were standing outside in the cold for three hours waiting for a booster shot? Or hey, best of all, maybe you were quarantining! Did you get to eat a turkey dinner by yourself in a basement? God bless us, every one!

Everything you need to know about my mood post-Covid briefing on Wednesday can be summed up in the lunch I ate shortly afterwards. Dip and chips. Yeah no, you heard me right. Dip and chips. That’s when the chip crumbs at the bottom of the bag are too small to dip but you don’t want to waste any salty goodness so you take a spoonful of dip, sprinkle and squash the chip crumbs on top, sticking them to the spoon until everything looks a bit like a tasty, crispy little hedgehog, and then you shove the whole thing in your mouth.

Now THAT’S what I call emotional eating at its very fucking finest, chickens.

In short, everything feels fragile and tenuous and sucky right now and I’m gonna let myself feel all the feelings for a couple of days before taking a deep breath and steeling myself to take the first plunge into virtual kindergarten next week. Sweet Baby Jesus and all the exhausted saints. And in the meantime I thought I’d write a little something while I had the chance, before my writing time is snatched away in January, trying to get my kid to sit in front of an iPad for…SURPRISE! It’s school, Honey! It’s not your favourite scuba diving shipwreck youtube video, you get to do SCHOOL while Mommy drinks coffee in her bathrobe and silently weeps in a corner of the kitchen! Isn’t that cool? You’re on mute, Sweetie. YOU’RE ON MUTE. You have to unmute so the teacher can hear you but make sure Mommy’s stopped crying first, ok?

Anyway, I haven’t done a top ten list in yeeeeeeears, like since the Before Baby Times, but I thought I’d throw together one for a laugh. Yeah, I did. What, you’ll listen to a 21-year-old on TikTok tell you how to part your hair but you won’t read what a perimenopausal woman emotionally ate in Year Two of a global pandemic? That, my friends, is pretty fucking ageist, thank you very much.

10. Cheese Buldak

We eat this, no joke, a minimum of every second weekend at our house. Not the kid, obviously, because this falls outside the dry multi-grain Cheerios and butter and cheese pasta category. Spicy, cheesy, salty, sweet, and maybe the most moreish thing you’ll ever eat. I use the Maangchi recipe of course, skinless boneless chicken thighs instead of breasts, and I toss a tablespoon of sesame oil into the mix because I’m addicted. We like this on top of slightly sticky jasmine rice…which sounds a bit weird with the cheese. But also hugs are still kind of illegal, so whatever makes you feel good, man.

9. Nigella Lawson’s Cold Cure Soup

I don’t have a picture of this because it’s basically just a chicken stock, but I’m obsessed with it and always have a few containers in the freezer. I use it as a base for soups and risottos, but lately I’ve been sipping it from a mug like Nigella intended, because I’ve been sick every second week since my kid started school. The recipe calls for three pounds of chicken wings that you toss afterwards, which whaaaaaat, I guess you might feel ok about if you’re a gazillionaire. I save and freeze all my roast chicken carcasses and when I have four or five I’ll make a batch of the stuff. Toss all these ingredients (except chilis and cilantro, and subbing chicken carcasses instead of wings or whatever chicken-y equivalent you have on hand) in a large stockpot and top up with water. Bring to a boil, then let everything simmer uncovered for 2 hours. Let cool a bit, strain through a fine mesh sieve, and let cool a bit more before storing in the fridge overnight. Remove fat from the surface, before serving or freezing in batches. You can sip it with the chilis and cilantro if you like, but the absolute BEST (trust me) is putting a few dashes of fish sauce in the bottom of a mug before pouring in the stock, wrapping yourself in a blanket, and plunking yourself down in front of the TV. (And listen, the recipe name is just an expression, so get your vaccine, hippie.)

8. Smoked Salmon Pappardelle (Adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine, December 2014)

A kick-ass pasta recipe if you like smoked salmon. I predict it’s going to be a carb-heavy winter on this end, so here’s another idea to add to your list of comfort foods. It’s dead easy but looks and tastes fancy so it’s great for company, unless company is banned this winter. The good news is it’s also great for one or two. One if you are quarantining, with a ton of leftovers besides.

Kosher salt
8 to 9 oz dried pappardelle
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp finely chopped shallots
8 oz cold-smoked salmon, torn into 1-inch pieces (I used hot-smoked, it was great)
1 tbsp minced garlic (about 2 large cloves)
2 tbsp dry white wine
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup heavy cream (YAAAAAAAAAS)
1 tbsp drained capers
1 tbsp chopped fresh dill, plus more for garnish
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
Freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions (try to time it out so that the pasta is finished when the sauce is complete). Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the shallots and reduce heat to medium and cook a couple minutes until golden brown. Add the salmon and cook a couple minutes, add garlic and stir till fragrant. Add wine and cook till evaporated, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomato paste and then cream and cook until slightly thickened, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in capers, dill, and lemon zest. Using tongs, move pasta carefully to the skillet, and a little bit of pasta water tossed in is ok, too. Mix everything together gently in the skillet, and serve the pasta sprinkled with a little bit of dill, black pepper, and some Parmesan. The Parm is optional if you’re one of those people who thinks it’s a crime to serve cheese with fish, but honestly if that’s the case what are you even doing here.

7. Sticky Buns

This was the last post I wrote. And funnily enough, we’re right back there. Except it’s kinda worse. Times are even stickier, I guess.

6. Chinched Chicken and Waffles

We’ve been going to this restaurant for almost ten years and it’s my favourite in the city, possibly the world. This was Japanese-style fried chicken on a waffle and topped with, I don’t even know, all kinds of goodness and love and stuff. Coincidentally this was my last restaurant meal a couple weeks ago with a pile of friends and we ate oysters and drank cocktails and stuffed our faces just like old times. They’ve just shut their dining room as a precaution during this latest outbreak, but they have a deli and homemade charcuterie counter for takeout so you can STILL support local while eating at home in your softpants. Perfection.

5. Moose Bulgogi

This is what happens when you have friends like Didi. And Larry, who has the best little boil-up spot known to mankind, and who’s always willing to host a bubble of pals, even when those pals come with kids who won’t stop asking questions for three hours straight. This is the food you get to eat, and these are the spots where you get to forget all the troubles in the world.

And listen, I’m not knocking a cup of tea and a hot dog when you need a boil-up fix, but it pays to have friends who will marinate moose in bulgogi, cart it into the woods, along with all the fixings (cooked rice, lettuce leaves for wrapping, kimchi and gochujang or dwen jang for serving) and cook it over an open fire like it’s no big thing.

The world needs more friends like Didi and Larry.

4. Vietnamese Iced Coffee

Ok, not really, more like Vietnamese-inspired iced coffee. I don’t have the proper gear to make an authentic one. But what I do have is an espresso maker, so I’ll make a half dozen shots and keep them in a measuring cup in the fridge, along with some sweetened condensed milk. It keeps for ages in the fridge once it’s been opened and transferred to another container. Mix cold coffee with a tablespoon or two of the sweet milk depending on your preference, and add ice. It’s hard to remember summer in times such as these, but you can make this hot, too, if you need a fix. Or when summer eventually arrives, and we get one of those super sticky days, you can zing it all up in a blender with a few ice cubes (with an optional squirt of chocolate syrup) and make yourself a homestyle frappuccino. See? You never have to leave your house again. Which might come in handy this winter when we continue to arse up this pandemic so bad that Omicron mutates into Motaba.

3. Salted Margarita Bar (New York Times Cooking)

An edible cocktail that is illegal to share with your child? Sign. Me. Up.

For the crust:

1/2 cup butter, melted, plus more for greasing pan
About 40 saltine crackers
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp kosher salt

For the filling:

2 tsp lime zest plus 1/2 cup juice (about 4 limes)
1/4 cup tequila, preferably blanco (I used very cheap and dirty, it’s fine)
2 tbsp orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier
Pinch of kosher salt
5 large egg tolks
1 (14-oz) can sweetened condensed milk
Flaky sea salt, for finishing.

Heat the oven to 350°. Lightly grease a 9-inch square baking pan with butter and line the buttered pan with parchment, leaving an overhang on two sides. In a food processor, pulse the saltines until ground like coarse sand. It’s ok if there are a few larger pieces. Add the melted butter, sugar and salt, and pulse a few more times until the crumbs are even saturated. Pout the mixture into the lined pan, freeze into an even layer and freeze for about 15 minutes. After crust has chilled, bake 15-18 minutes or until golden brown. While the crust cools, make the filling: In a liquid measuring cup or small bowl, combine the lime zest, lime juice, tequila, orange liqueur and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together the yolks and sweetened condensed milk. Add the tequila-lime mixture to the yolk mixture, whisk to combine, then pour into prepared crust. It’s ok if the crust is not completely cool. Don’t make the curd more than 10 minutes before baking, as the lime juice will start to thicken it and it could affect the baking. Bake 15-17 minutes until the curd is set around the edges and slightly jiggly in the centre. Transfer to a rack to cool slightly, then freeze for at least 2 hours. After freezing, remove bars from the pan using the parchment overhang and transfer to cutting board. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt, cut into squares, and serve right away. Fine left out for 20 minutes or so, but make sure to store leftovers in the freezer.

2. Kimchi Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Squeeze the liquid out of 2 heaping tablespoonfuls of kimchi and chop finely. Butter the outside of your bread and add a thin layer of mayo to the insides (so the kimchi juice doesn’t soak into the bread, which wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world). Add whatever cheese you like (I like old cheddar), the kimchi, some chopped cilantro, and a sliced still-jammy boiled egg if that’s the direction your day is going in. Proceed with your favourite method of grilled cheese-grilling, maybe a wee bit lower and slower to make sure the extra sandwich toppings heat through completely. Worth the wait.
  1. The Best Chocolate Cake
It really is. My mom’s recipe, always. When there’s something to celebrate, or when something’s been lost. When it’s the Easter party at your kid’s daycare and you want to be smug in the knowledge for once in your life that you will kick every mom’s ass in the unspoken competition that is your child’s entire educational career by making the best cupcakes. When your kid turns five and wants a birthday “Titanic cake but with sea monsters that eat the survivors” and it’s his second pandemic birthday and you love him so much you make an iceberg out of meringue shards. Or when you turn 45 and are so genuinely thrilled to turn 45 because of the year that’s been, that you bake the prettiest cake and have a party because the case counts are so low, and you can have a party and your friends sing you Happy Birthday like you are a child even though you asked them not to but you are secretly so happy they did.

I’ll take the good where I can find it. And it’s still in a lot of places, thankfully. Deep breaths, chickens. And fuck it, here goes nothing, HAPPY NEW YEAR!! Bubble up, booster up, bake a cake, be well, be kind. Spring will be here sooner than we think. xo

3 thoughts on “The Crispy Hedgehog, or What I Emotionally Ate in 2021

  1. Hello, hello Happy 2022. Remembering your beautiful Nan, Geraldine, each time I see your photos of that great cooking. Ah, yes. Genes are real!!! Love Sr. Esther

    On Thu., Dec. 30, 2021, 11:48 p.m. the little red chicken, wrote:

    > thelittleredchicken posted: ” So how was your Christmas? Were you maybe in > a lineup of two hundred cars waiting to get your brain swabbed? Maybe you > were standing outside in the cold for three hours waiting for a booster > shot? Or hey, best of all, maybe you were quarantining! Did you” >

  2. Hello Sr. Esther! So lovely to hear from you as always. I hope you are safe and well in these crazy times. When things settle down we should get together for visits and chats. I hope you have the most wonderful New Year! Love, Willow

  3. The sticky buns are so so delicious! While i like cinamon , i LOVE cardomom ans orange and butter and pecans, so these are a hit. I will be making them again. Soon.

    I make cardomom shortbread at Christmas and sometimes other times of the year.

    Thank you dear Willow. We love ypur blog. I actually read aloud to Mike sometimes.

    Cheers,

    Lisa

    On Thu., Dec. 30, 2021, 11:48 p.m. the little red chicken, wrote:

    > thelittleredchicken posted: ” So how was your Christmas? Were you maybe in > a lineup of two hundred cars waiting to get your brain swabbed? Maybe you > were standing outside in the cold for three hours waiting for a booster > shot? Or hey, best of all, maybe you were quarantining! Did you” >

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