Abby’s design (“Teeshee”), left; Phoebe’s design (“Bat”), right.
Bring on the Milky Way Darks!
Abby’s design (“Teeshee”), left; Phoebe’s design (“Bat”), right.
Bring on the Milky Way Darks!
…to have family dinner: When my kids are 16 and 15 (instead of 8 and 7) and we are dealing with friendship dramas, SATs, sexting episodes, and God only knows what else (Parents of teen-agers: please refrain from telling me what else) dinner will be so firmly established as my family’s 6:30 Magnetic North, that my kids’ hormone-raging, eye-rolling, parent-resenting bodies will be hardwired to come home, sit down, and talk to me anyway. In other words, I will have them right where I want them. (more…)
I’ve only watched The Simpsons a few times in my life, but I vividly recall an episode where Homer stands in front of his bathroom mirror shaving. As soon as he puts down the razor and towels his face dry, his six-o-clock shadow emerges as gray and shady as it was before he began. I mention this here because I, like most parents, contend with my own Homer’s Beard every day, i.e. the clutter…i.e. the beading kits, the book order catalogs, the cheese stick wrappers, the Monopoly money, the paper dolls, the general detrius of family life, which keeps coming back bigger and stronger and darker and shadier no matter how forcefully I fight it. Like it’s freaking alive. It’s not even like my kids are that messy — they’re just busy and into things. And when you’re busy and into things and you are not yet paying you’re own rent…well, it would take some convincing to get me to clean up the wikki stix too.
The Sisyphean struggle is annoying every day, but it is particularly annoying every other Wednesday when the house is professionally cleaned, the sink scoured, the floors mopped, and the stovetop is sparkling in the sunlight with nary a grease speck in sight. I devote my whole being to protecting the illusion of a peaceful, orderly house as long as possible…which usually amounts to about 20 minutes. My friend Frances, who attempts this feat of daring as well, has managed to carve out an oasis of calm in the one spot her young kids are not allowed to touch: the stovetop. On cleaning day, she makes baked sausages because it’s all done inside the oven, involves minimal countertop work, and keeps the stovetop area clean and mess-free. For one night at least.
Baked Sausage with Apples, Potatoes, and Onions
I originally thought this might work as a one-dish and a no-chop meal, which is why I bought tiny potatoes and cippolini onions. But it can be annoying to peel those tiny onions (no matter how sweet the reward) so you should feel free to use a regular onion.
Preheat oven to 425°F. In a large baking dish, toss 2 cups small whole unpeeled potatoes (or 3 to 4 medium potatoes chopped), 1 medium onion (chopped artlessly in chunks), and leaves from 2 sprigs of fresh thyme with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Bake for 20 minutes, then toss in 2 to 3 apples (unpeeled, preferably baking apples such as Cortland, Granny Smith, Jonathan, Northern Spy) that have been cut into large chunks, and 4 uncooked sweet Italian sausages (about 1 pound). Turn heat down to 400°F and bake another 30 minutes. During the last 5 minutes of cooking, stir 2 tablespoons of cider vinegar into vegetables. Serve with dollops of grainy or Dijon mustard.
My daughters are 20 months apart in age. When they were babies, people would take one look at the hollowed-out shells that once housed our functioning selves and say It’s tough now, but you’ll be so grateful later when they play together. I thought these people were lying just to make me feel better. We were so in the thicket of “now” that we couldn’t imagine a “later.” I could not fathom these helpless little things entertaining each other, or a time when we would trade in defensive parenting — hovering, watching, reacting — for active parenting. Nor could I imagine a time when they’d actually sit down to a real meal with us. The sitting part stymied me, as did the “real meal” part. Their plates held not so much dinner as a poor man’s tapas selection: cubes of raw red peppers, microscopic pieces of chicken or shrimp, a little bowl of noodles. But I turned a corner the day I decided to marry two of those foods to make one: Angel Hair with Shrimp. It’s so simple it seems almost stupid, but it worked as a perfect inaugural family dinner because the shrimp and pasta mix together without fully integrating. So if it flops, you can always send the ingredients back to their separate corners. And if it works, the kids get a real meal, and you get a glimpse of your future.
Angel Hair with Shrimp
In a medium pot, cook angel hair as directed on package. Drain and toss with olive oil in the colander to prevent noodles from sticking. Return the pot to the stovetop and turn heat to medium. Add more olive oil, one chopped shallot (or 1/2 onion), one clove of garlic (minced), a few red pepper flakes (optional), salt and pepper, and cook about one minute, nestling garlic amidst the onions to prevent it from burning. Push to the side, turn up heat slightly, and add 3/4 pound of cleaned shrimp. Cook about 1 1/2 minutes on one side, then when you flip them over, pull in the onions and toss until everything is cooked through. Squeeze a little lemon on the shrimp, then add the angel hair, tossing to combine. Add a handful of chopped parsley, unless you think it will render prospects of consumption null and void.
The party officially began at 6:00 and ended at 8:00, but at 5:58 I had already checked my watch twice, counting down to its finish. Why do minutes feel like centuries during birthday parties in your own house? Or at least they do for me. But its sorta like having a baby, I guess. Because I forget the pain as soon as the last kid walks out the door with her goody bag. And then I live off the high for a solid few weeks. Before that blessed moment, though, I deal with the chaos the only way I know how: I make a schedule, always underestimating the time it takes for each activity because there’s no panic quite like the one that grips you when you look at your watch and realize you have 30 minutes left and 14 cupcake-fueled kids to entertain. Below was the itinerary for Abby’s Game-Themed Party. I am not too proud to admit that it was written down on a piece of paper that I kept in my pocket and referred to several dozen times throughout the evening. (more…)
As far as omens go, it doesn’t get much worse than this.
On a Wednesday evening a couple weeks ago, at about 7:30 pm, I proposed something radical: how about we eat on the couch tonight, while watching… Game One of the American League Division Series! This was greeted with surprising enthusiasm. Abby and Phoebe marched over with their plates and plopped down next to me. Hey, great: they finally want to watch with me! We’re going to watch a baseball game together! I’ll teach them the basics, maybe work up to some nuances, even instill some passion – you know, pass down a little of what my father passed down to me when I was a kid. (My dad still goes outside and sits in his car at night, by himself, to listen to the Yankees on AM radio because it’s the only place he gets decent reception). Before long, they’ll be reading Ball Four and trolling ebay for Ron Guidry rookie cards! As Abby’s magic eight ball might say, all signs were pointing to yes.
Then the Yankees took the field.
“Daddy,” Abby said. “Who are the Jets playing?”
And just like that, the dream died. (more…)
It’s a miracle if I bake something from scratch even once during the course of my child’s birthweek. And if I’m going to do it, it’s going to be Rosa’s Mud Cake for the actual birthday party. But for the classroom party? No chance. A few years ago I debuted this Dunkin Donut Cake at school and was actually embarrassed by how slap-it-together it was. But the kids went bonkers when I removed the foil and pretty soon I started getting emails from parents. Sean wants some donut cake for his birthday and told me to ask you? What’s this I hear about a donut cake? My friend Sue told me that your daughter had some cool cake in class? Erin told me to ask you about the munchkin cake. Do you know what she’s talking about? If so, can you pass along instructions?
Here they are — make sure you are paying close attention because it’s kinda complicated: Cover a concave platter with tissue paper. Stack three Dunkin donuts in the middle and shove your candles in the top one. (The top one should be festive with sprinkles.) Dump 75 assorted munchkins around the stack.
When Phoebe first started pre-school I started a ritual. I’d pick her up after school every Friday (my day off from work) and take her and Abby to lunch at our local diner. Every time I’d walk into the classroom the teacher would say the same thing: “Phoebe! Look who’s here! It’s mommy!” I should note that this was about six or seven years ago, during the golden era of the Working Mother Manifesto — I was probably reading I Don’t Know How She Does it with my morning coffee and falling asleep with Perfect Madness splayed across my chest. So the way the teacher’s greeting registered in my overly sensitive ears was more like this: “Well I’ll be! Look who decided to show up today!? It’s your Mommy, Phoebe! Can you believe it?” Had I been a little less self-involved it might not have taken me four months to notice that she greeted all the parents with the exact same line.
But that was four months after the Friday Phoebe said to me in between bites of her diner grilled cheese,”Mom, I love Fridays. They feel more special to me than other days.”
“I know what you mean,” I told her. “I feel the same way.” Then I ate a fry and my heart began its rapid descent to dark, paranoid places. Hold it a second. Why exactly does she think Friday is so special? Cause I’m home? Cause we’re eating lunch together? Since when is Mom’s presence considered a special occasion? Is this bad? Is our diner ritual calling even more attention to the fact that I’m abandoning her the other four days of the week? What am I setting myself up for here?
And that was it for our ritual. From that point on — or at least until I matured a bit — the goal for Friday was to make it as routine as every other weekday. Lunch at home. Nap. Maybe a playdate. Let’s keep “special” where it belongs — on holidays, anniversaries, birthdays.
Birthdays. Maybe this is why in our house they are now more appropriately described as birthweeks. Because after the annual monogrammed pancake ritual (above), the classroom party, the “Pick a Country, Any Country” dinner ritual, the party for their friends, the party with their grandparents, and the sleepover with cousins after the party, we’ve logged some serious hours celebrating. So this week, since Abby is turning 7, you’ll be reading about the various ways I like to overcompensate for my maternal shortcomings make a bonafide special day…special. And then, I promise you, we’ll be right back to the everyday routine.
Monogrammed Birthday Pancakes
Fry up a nice stack of pancakes using your favorite recipe or mix. (We use a mix of Trader Joe’s buttermilk and Trader Joe’s Multi-Grain.) Monogram the top one with squeezable icing and decorate with appropriate number of candles. Note: you should probably not do this with piping hot pancakes because it might cause the candle bottoms to melt a bit into the top cake. If this does happen, just surgically remove the affected areas.
I was thinking of adding a new category on the right over there called “Meals That Are Impossible To Photograph Because My Daughter Can’t Help But Eat The Subject.” Because don’t you think it’s saying something about the deliciousness of a meal when I have to instruct my poor, hungry, 8-year-old model “Stop eating your dinner!” as she mauls what’s in front of her — in this case a fried fish sandwich with sweet potato chips — before I even have the chance to finish shooting it? She just couldn’t help herself. So I never got to capture a close-up, which means you’ll have to trust me that this crispy flounder sandwich has potential to convert even the staunchest fish-anthrope. My kids like them with tartar sauce, but don’t be afraid to use ketchup if you think it might increase your chances of success.
Pan-Fried Fish Sandwiches
We made these with flounder, but it works with other mild white fish like sole, tilapia, or hake.
Set up dredging station for fish: one plate of flour, one plate of one whisked egg, one plate of bread crumbs(preferably panko or Kelloggs Corn Flake crumbs) seasoned with salt and pepper. Add olive oil to a skillet that’s been set over medium-high heat. Dredge fish filets (about ¾ pound that have been trimmed with a knife or kitchen scissors to sandwich-size pieces) first in flour, then in egg, then in bread crumbs. Fry about 2 minutes a side until crust is crispy and fish is cooked through. Serve on whole wheat buns with tartarsauce (or ketchup) and sweet potato fries (I love Trader Joe’s frozen brand) or sweet potato chips (recipe below). (more…)
Five Books We Love Right Now
An evolving list
Last Updated: 8/5/12
Click here more details on Fave Five.
Chew on This, by Eric Schlosser Back in my magazine editing days, I used to work on a column called “What the Writers are Reading,” and we were lucky enough to feature Michael Pollan in one of them. One of the books he recommended for kids was Chew on This, which is Eric Schlosser’s children’s version of Fast Food Nation. It’s been shortened a bit and the tone is a little more kid-friendly, but the effect is the same as it is for adults: When 9-year-old Phoebe found it in my shelf and devoured it, she said she would never walk in to McDonald’s — or eat any fast food — ever again. If I was a better mom, I might have waited for her to turn 12 (which is the recommended age) before handing it to her — there is a story about a six-year-old who dies from E.Coli and graphic description of animal cruelty that upset her briefly. But only briefly. She’s read it three times since.
Deadweather and Sunrise, by Geoff Rodkey. For the kid who likes pirates and adventures. It reads like a movie, filled with non-stop action and adventure. It’s kind of complicated but it’s about a 13-year-old who lives on a land with lots of pirates then escapes to a beautiful fantasy land called Sunrise where his family disappears and then he finds out someone’s trying to kill him. If you liked Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, you’ll probably really like this. Ages 10-13 -Guest Review by 10-year-old Phoebe
Bread and Jam for Frances, by Russell Hoban I would of course recommend any book in the Frances series to young readers (especially those who are just growing out of shorter picture books) but this one seems especially right for the DALS reader. Frances, the beloved, beleaguered badger refuses to eat her mother’s eggs, spaghetti and meatballs, or anything that’s not bread and jam. So that’s what her mom decides to serve her day after day, meal after meal. In addition to teaching a lesson to picky eaters, it contains a back-and-forth between Frances’s parents that warms my heart every time I read it: Father: “If there is one thing I am fond of for breakfast, it is a soft-boiled egg!” Mother “Yes, it is just the right thing to start the day off right!” Ages 3-5
The Van Gogh Cafe, by Cynthia Rylant. My 8-year-old Abby declared this her favorite book yesterday. (Well, if I’m going to be technical about it, she said it was actually tied for first with The Mouse of Amherst). I haven’t read the book but the way Abby tells it, Van Gogh Cafe is about all the magical things that happen in a restaurant in a small town called Flowers, Kansas. “But the thing is,” she told me, “nothing really happens. It’s just so beautiful. Each chapter is a new story about something really interesting like seagulls.” She would also like to point out that Cynthia Rylant (don’t make the mistake of calling her Cynthia Rowley, as I have) is a Newbery Medal winner. Ages 8 and up. (Same age range for Amherst.)
The Midnight Fox, by Betsy Byars. Gretchen was the one who recommended this as part of her kid lit program and I am embarrassed to say that before then I had never heard of Betsy Byars (even her more well-known Newbery-winning Summer of the Swans). We intend to change that over the next few months, because this was the kind of chapter book that is so tight and so simply written, you finish it and say “I could write a book like that.” (Of course, by now we know there is a converse relationship between how effortless a book reads and how hard the book was to write.) This beautiful chapter book is told from the point-of-view of Tom, a 10- or 11-year-old whose parents send him against his will to spend the summer at his aunt’s and uncle’s farm while they travel to Europe. Tom, whose idea of fun is building model airplanes and spying on hornet’s nests at his best friend Petie’s house, is not happy about the set-up until, on a lonely exploratory walk through the woods, spies a black fox. He spends his summer observing and eventually protecting the fox and in the process learns a little something about himself and life, including this little gem: That sometimes your parents are right. Ages 8-10.
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I knew what I wanted for dinner yesterday before I had even taken a sip of my morning coffee. It was going to be that beautiful fusilli with chard and crunchy breadcrumbs that accompanied Melissa Clark’s story in the Times about whole wheat pasta. I didn’t have any fusilli — but I had some whole wheat rigatoni, and chard, and onions and…hey look at that!…I had some thyme and goat cheese and mushrooms, too! With the addition of each new ingredient to the pot, though, I was not only getting further away from Melissa’s recipe, I was getting further away a meal I could expect my children to eat no-questions-asked*. So just before I dolloped a hunk of very un-extractable goat cheese into the hot pasta, a point-of-no-return move if there ever was one, I made a decision: The kids are eating something else tonight. Tonight, I just need to cook my dinner the way I want to cook my dinner, and I want to eat my dinner the way I want to eat my dinner. The family has sat down to roughly the same meal for, what, about four straight nights now? Plus, I volunteered at school today and sent out Abby’s birthday invitations! Surely these noble deeds qualified me for some kind of kickback? So Andy and I had our special earthy, herby pasta and the kids had their Trader Joe’s chicken taquitos from the freezer. And the sun still rose from the east in the morning.
*in my house, mushrooms + goat cheese is asking a lot
The Mikey Pollan
Ideal meal: Heritage chicken stir-fry with kohlrabi, heirloom bell peppers, and buckwheat soba noodles.
Overheard at family table: “Mom, this kale is a little more delicate than I’m used to – are you sure it isn’t Tuscan kale?”
Overheard at playdate with less food-aware friend: “No, thanks. My mom says real Parmesan doesn’t come in green cans.”
Life’s ambition: The purposeful beard.
In 10 years, will be: A junior at Oberlin.
Ideal meal: Whatever you’re not serving.
Modus Operandi: Unswerving, knee-jerk dismissal of everything set before him. Feigned inability to reason.
Calling card: The untouched plate.
Defining characteristics: Second child. Dearth of pity.
Admission, made in a rare moment of weakness: Seriously, other than this whole “food thing,” I’m a total puppy dog.
Means of survival: Snacks. The refusenik is relentlessly hungry, except when it’s time to actually, you know, eat.
Ideal Meal: Double Stuffed Oreos, the promise of which is the only reason he eats anything else.
Overheard at lunchtime: “What’ll you give me if I eat this?”
Overheard at bedtime: “I thought you said there was no story tonight.”
In ten years, will be: Lead interrogator for the Mossad, or high-value detainee being interrogated by the lead interrogator for the Mossad. (more…)
If you are in a commuting, two-working-parent relationship, the IM correspondence with your spouse between 4:00 and 5:00 PM probably reads something like this:
m: 5:41 hopefully. u?
d: 6:27. hopefully.
d: dunno. what do u think?
m: not sure. pasta?
d: had pasta for lunch. chili?
m: S#%T !!!!!! sue just called a 5:00 mtg. prob on 6:27 w/ u.
When Remote Dinner Paralysis* strikes, you can do one of two things: You can browse all those recipe Apps you bought for this very occasion yet somehow never remember are there. Or you can call home and ask whoever answers (babysitter, 8-year-old, sock monkey) to complete a so-easy-even-a-sock-monkey-can-do-it task: put a pile of baking potatoes in the oven then turn the heat to 450°F. And then — Sue, be damned — you can still have family dinner on time.
*i.e. you can’t think of any ideas for dinner, and you are too far away from the kitchen to open up the fridge, poke around the pantry, flip through your TFD for inspiration.
Baked Potato Bar
Bake six potatoes (or 1 1/2 potatoes per diner) in a 450°F oven for 45 minutes to an hour. Remove from oven, split , and top with any of the following:
-cheddar (before serving, add back to oven under broiler til it melts)
-Caramelized onions (2 large onions, sliced and cooked on low heat for 15-2o minutes)
-Cooked bacon, chopped
-Sour cream, Butter, Ketchup
P.S: I drew some very JV-looking “Guest Checks” for a game of restaurant over the weekend, but Phoebe decided they’d be put to better use in the real kitchen. She took our toppings orders and made sure everything matched up.
I think it’s so awesome when readers come up to me and say “I love your blog. You sound like you have the greatest life.” This conclusion is based on the fact that I regularly…eat porcupine meatballs? That’s a joke, but it’s also kind of serious.
I need to back up for a second. My first job out of college was at a financial consulting firm. The people in my office were very nice (especially my friend Han who called me over to his Sun computer one morning to show me this cool new thing called “The Net”) but I had no idea what I was doing and kept my phone on the “direct-to-voicemail” function all day because I was too nervous to talk to clients. It is a miracle I lasted 14 months there — I hated it. But since I was raised in a certain way (aka TriState Ashkenazi) I was programmed to think of these kinds of jobs (law, medicine, business) as the real jobs. And when you are in a real job, you aren’t necessarily happy all the time. “That’s why it’s called a job,” said one jerky associate (Dartmouth ’92) when I made the mistake of saying that I wasn’t 100% fulfilled compiling Strategic Action Reports for Lazard Freres. (At least I think that’s what I was doing.) I will always remember that conversation, as well as the “informational interview” I had later that year with the mother of a friend of mine who was like the Don Draper of the 80′s. She asked me what made me happy. A lot of things made me happy, but I had just put together a recipe book for my best friend for her birthday (crafted from stolen office supplies!) so I answered “Food.” Ha ha ha. (more…)
As if you need more than the Potato-Chard “Lasagna” in Chapter 4???!!! For real: I’m pleased to report that Time for Dinner continues to get some nice ink. (Pixels?) Here is a recent Q&A I did with ivillage, and my co-author Alanna’s write-up in Martha Stewart’s really fun new living-with-kids blog The Family Room and a review from my hero, Corina at Nonchalant Mom. We are also honored to be part of an awesome cookbook round-up from Food in Jars, and (I’m late on this one) Babble excerpted a few good recipes that might give you a taste of what’s to come before you order your very own copy. Happy eating!
Do you guys suffer from Thursday Syndrome like I do? Symptoms include dry refrigerator, a shriveled vegetable supply, and feelings of guilt-fueled resistance to ordering in or going out. (That’s what Friday is for, you weakling!) Lucky for all of us there is a cure, and it involves a combination of the six magical grocery items below, all of which you have in your pantry already since I told you to shop for them a few days ago. (Right?)
1. Whole Wheat Pasta
3. Frozen Spinach
4. Canned or Frozen Artichokes
I find if I have nothing else but these long-lasting pantry friends in the kitchen (plus a few basics like olive oil, soy sauce, and Parm) I can almost always churn out a fast, healthy meal that will bridge me to the weekend. Here are five of those meals below. Please feel free to recommend any combinations I’m forgetting. I can always use more meds…I mean ideas. (more…)
At around 6:00 the other night, Abby made her way into the kitchen to ask what she usually asks at 6:00 when I’m in the kitchen.
“Mom, what’s for dinner?”
Even though Andy had started hacking up a butternut squash about six hours earlier, even though I was standing there over a stock pot, wielding an immersion blender, minutes away from pureeing the cooked squash with apple into a lovely soup, I answered what I always answer when I’m not sure she’s going to like the answer.
“I don’t know yet.”
I had introduced the soup to the family last fall and I had the distinct recollection that her sister loved it. But I’m pretty sure Abby was lukewarm on it. And as far as I can tell, there’s no faster way to get her to reject something at the table than to give her an hour to think about exactly how lukewarm she was on it. The do-ask-don’t-tell policy is in place as much for my well-being as it is for hers. I can’t beat myself up for giving her something she doesn’t like if I didn’t know she didn’t like it, right? Not sure who I’m trying to convince here. (more…)
I’ve been thinking a lot about anniversaries this week. Exactly a year ago today I retired from full-time working-mom life. (Doesn’t that sound so much more empowering than…”Exactly a year ago I was let go” or “Exactly a year ago Cookie folded.”) The staff drowned its sorrows at Scratcher in the East Village, which just so happens to be the bar where Andy and I clinked two bourbons-on-the-rocks* to finish off our anniversary celebration last night. It was half a block from the restaurant where we ate dinner (Degustation. Please go.), a coincidence I decided was too good a memory-mining opportunity to miss. Memory-mining, in case you can’t tell, is sport in my house. Unlike my forward-thinking friend Jenny, who once told me dinners out with her husband usually involve him asking “So what’s our five-year plan?”, I am always looking for a good occasion to ask things like “Can you name all the restaurants where we’ve celebrated the past 13 anniversaries?” (We came up with about six — the rest are recorded in my Diary or scribbled inside the restaurant matchbooks that I used to collect.) On almost every one of these nights, the waiter would approach us at some point during the meal with a message: Your wine tonight is courtesy of your parents. Or Your champagne tonight is courtesy of Aunt Patty and Uncle Julian. (That was technically our engagement dinner, and the cork above, dated 12/15/96 with a ballpoint pen, is from the bottle we popped that night.) And then there was the dinner at Babbo in 1999 that I will never forget — when the entire check was picked up by a friend for whom Andy had just done a favor. Every single time this happens, I am blown away by the gesture — whether it’s a glass of champagne or dessert or the whole meal — blown away by the fact that someone took the time to find our where we were going then call ahead to conspire with a host. Whenever possible, we try to do it right back.
*I love how cool I sound here, but the reality is, Andy and the bartender had to convince me to nut up and have my own glass of Michter’s. But I just had two Albarinos! Maybe I’ll just have a sip of yours. We have to get up early! Just give me half a glass…OK, fine, the whole glass. You’re getting Phoebe on the early bus.