Yesterday was the Medieval Festival at my girl's school. Apparently I signed up to support this event by bringing a dish. I do not remember doing this. I think it was my neighbor's neighbor's wife who put my name in. She resents my saucy attitude and the effect is has on her husband who, ever since the fishtank episode, slows his Volvo stationwagon down when he sees me to wave. He sticks his hand in front of her face and leans forward. His car often veers off course toward my mailbox. I wave back and I think she thinks it's cheeky of me, because I do not remember volunteering to cook. They sent home a slip before the winter break with my food item. Shepherd's Pie. Apparently they sorted the parents into vegetarian, non vegetarian, vegan, lacto-ovo, celiac, peanut allergy and omnivore and then drew names. They clearly were not fooled by the Sujatha. I look like an omnivore. It's the teeth; they're huge and would be wasted on vegetables and eggs. So I got Shepherd's Pie. Like it's the Festival of Medieval England. I went to England when I was 10 months pregnant. I survived on Pop Tarts I brought from home and Indian food, which is delicious in England. I did order Shepherd's Pie there, because even the English should not be able to mess up meat and mashed potatoes baked in pastry, right? But yes. They can. To the English, who invented the dish, Shepherd's Pie tastes like lasagne but substitute Worchestershire Sauce.
So I found myself in a bit of a dilemma. It was a moral dilemma actually. What was my duty to the school? Should I create a dish that was edible, or one that tasted English and worse, Medieval? I was staring out the back window at the snow covered yard pondering the right course of action when Pepe came into the room. I could see him through the glass. He is particularly visible these days as he has taken on the shine of the demented. He sidled over to the kitchen and took a handful of sugar cookies from the plate. He bit into one and announced, "OH MISS! (he calls me Miss; I let him because it makes me feel young) These cookies are so delicious. Now that you have given them out to the whole neighborhood, everyone is going to keep asking you to bring them to every party! You'll never get a minute's peace!" He giggled, and sidled out. My brain zinged. Just that morning my neighbor, one from the other side, called and left me a message that I should be sure to bring those fabulous Christmas cookies to the jewelry sale she is hosting. Hasn't she heard that I am crazy?
It occurred to me that if I were to make a delicious Shepherd's Pie, I might be asked to contribute to all the school's food-involved events. I might have to make Shepherd's Pie every year until L graduates! The PTA President, whose daughter is in class with L, would probably go on and become PTA President at middle school, because that is what these people do, and she would just see my name and automatically insert Shepherd's Pie and then drop me a note. She lives in my neighborhood. It would be Shepherd's Pie and cookies.
So I pulled out the Worchestershire.
Have you ever recreated a dish? I am not the most skilled in the kitchen, but I've done this a few times, tasted something in a restaurant and come home and tried to make it again. I have had only marginal success. I do not have a reliable palate. But in this instance, I was dead on. I have never ever recreated a dish with such singular accuracy as English Shepherd's Pie.
I used Worchestershire soaked Lasagne Noodles molded to the casserole dish for the crust and brocolli and sweet potatoes for the filling. And I prepared my meat using a salt-free burrito recipe from the internet site Cooking for Congestive Heart Failure. A Four and Twenty Blackbirds Baked in a Pie philosophy of Medieval cooking except everything was already dead when I cooked it. And then I covered it in ketchup and baked at 250 for three hours. It was lightly wilted, but crunchy too!
Then I wrote in my best calligraphy, which is akin to the scribes of yore, "Authentic Medieval Shepherd's Pie provided by: and I used my neighbor's neighbor's wife's name on the card! Legend!
I brought it in, waved hello to everyone and smiled my big omnivore grin, got marked off the PTA President's list as Sujatha Hampton, set up my Shepherd's Pie in its designated spot, checked to make sure no one was looking and put my calligraphed card down beside my dish! And here's the best part: it was a foil baking tray from the grocery store! I don't even have to worry about getting my casserole dish back!! Brilliant!
When L got off the bus I asked her how it went and she said, among other things, "We voted and Mrs. K's Authentic Medieval Shepherd's Pie was the grossest." Epic! "No wonder Mr. K is always scowling and never waves. He's probably hungry." Bonus! And then we went into the kitchen where I whipped up a fresh batch of Christmas Sugar Cookies, this time cut out to look like angels. And by the time my boy got home from practice there was a warm plate of glossy beatific looking cookies ready and they both looked up at me and blinked gratefully, "Mommy, you are the best mommy and the best cook in the world." Which is just as it should be.