Call me crazy but this Charcutepalooza smoking challenge seemed like a no-brainer to me – a fun, slightly off-beat activity with enthralled kids, with lots of time to play Barbie while all the smoking is happening, and at the end, a wholesome snack. I find that kids expect you to make muffins or something lame like that with them, but if you smoke something or light something on fire, get some steam happening, some broth bubbling and popping, if you play with the elements, well, that just catches them off guard. Then you have them.
But this time they had me. It was hell the minute we stepped out of the school doors. Edie had a 45 minute meltdown in the barren parking lot that serves as our school’s playground. 45 minutes sitting on damp concrete weeping over a headband. But we soldiered on, my kids and Edie’s best friend, Sofia. We calmed ourselves, walked two feet and stumbled into the Italian Ice man, which started a cacophony of begging and more weeping. I tried to convince them about my smoked nuts. Smoked nuts are sooooo much better than Italian Ice, I told them. I had on my excited face. But they didn’t buy it and really I wasn’t buying it either. I caved. I bought them Italian Ice.
Still, I thought I could save it. I was focused on my nuts. We dislodged ourselves from backpacks and winter coats when we got home and I set about lining the wok with foil, and called them all in to join me for adding the wood in the bottom of the wok, and setting up a lattice of chopsticks across the pan that would hold a plate of almonds and covering it tightly with foil to create a little oven. They were interested for about 20 seconds.
I barely turned on the heat and they were done with me. Someone yelled out “Princess Dress-Up!” and two seconds later they had discarded all of their clothes on the kitchen floor and were streaking through the apartment buck naked running for first dibs on the dress-up box. Leaving me, of course, alone holding my nuts.
The apartment didn’t start filling with smoke until they were all dressed in various ball gowns watching Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” together. We live on a high floor so we have child locks and can only open the windows just shy of a kid being able to get their head through the crack. And we have a pretty lame hood exhaust. Our only option is to open the door and make the neighbors pay for our indiscretions and experiments. That’s when Sofia started coughing like a four pack a day smoker and Edie joined her. Then everyone was hacking and clutching their throats, as if nerve gas had been released in the apartment. It wasn’t that bad. Really. But then Lucy came into the kitchen and asked if we were all going to die in a fire, and I heard Edie say something to Sofia about “stop, drop and roll”.
Which is why I stopped smoking the almonds. I know when to accept defeat.
Instead I made Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Tamari Almonds, which toast up quick in the oven and make a pretty addictive snack. I didn’t mess around with them. I wasn’t in a messing around mood. They were perfect just the way Cathy wrote the recipe. Pretty soon I had three girls dressed in gowns, drinking sparkling water out of champagne glasses, wearing garish flower petal headbands and popping warm, freshly-toasted almonds into their mouths. I wish I had a picture for you, but by then I was too busy pouring myself a glass of wine and cursing my wok.
I’ll save my smoking for the country house from now on. This weekend I’m smoking bacon on the deck. Outside. Far away from the children.
For now, here’s Cathy’s simple, but life-saving nuts. Great for emergency snacking and after school rehabilitation.
Cathy Barrow’s Tamari Almonds
(almond picture also by Cathy)
1 lb raw almonds
1/4 c (scant) low sodium tamari
Preheat oven to 325°
Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
Toss the almonds with the tamari until they are well coated.
Spread the almonds out on the sheet pan and allow them to dry a little while the oven heats up.
Toast the almonds in the center of the oven for 18 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven and loosen the almonds from the parchment paper using a spatula.
Remove the paper and spread out the almonds on the hot sheet pan, shaking well.
Pop them back in the oven for two minutes to dry out a little more.
Remove and allow the almonds to cool completely on the sheet pan.
Store in an airtight container.