Entries from November 2011

Controlling the Controllable

November 30th, 2011 · 217 Comments · Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Uncategorized

Do you know this phrase? Controlling the Controllable. Or should I say, have you heard of this condition? Symptoms include:

-Adding tasks to your to-do list even after you’ve completed them, just so you can experience the satisfaction of crossing that task off the list.

-Having a sudden irrepressible urge to rearrange your sock drawer or color-code your bookshelf or clean the living room blinds with a toothbrush after reading a terrible story in the newspaper.

-Recording what will be for dinner or what has been for dinner every night for going on fourteen straight years, even when those dinners consist of a pasta-potato-buttered-biscuit starchfest (picky toddlers) or a microwaved Boca Burger, which was as imaginative as it was going to get after a long day at the office  (picky bosses).

-Organizing your grocery list by supermarket aisle.

-Mentally spreadsheeting the time your children spend with you versus the time they spend in childcare or with a babysitter or nanny. (And hoping you will come out ahead.)

-Having the fleeting thought If I could make all corners of my life look and feel as orderly as this compartmentalized lunchbox by PlanetBox, then I can accomplish anything. (more…)

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Anatomy of a Monday Night Dinner

November 28th, 2011 · 12 Comments · Uncategorized

We begin in the morning…

6:45 Phoebe’s alarm goes off
6:46 Abby’s alarm goes off
7:00 Mom showers, Dad gets breakfast (pomegranate seeds and cereal) for girls
7:15 Get-Your-Shoes-On Battle begins
7:22 Shoes finally secure, Mom starts freaking out about missing bus. Dad and Girls laugh at her. “Mom have we ever missed the bus?”
7:30 Bus Arrives. (No kisses, but…yes! I think that was a wave from the window!)
7:35 Mom removes drumsticks from fridge, lays them down on cookie sheet, brushes with Dijon mustard. Mixes bowl of breadcrumbs with Parmesan, salt, and pepper. Searches for leftover herbs, finds only sage, which she chops up and adds to breadcrumbs. Finds leftover brussels from Thanksgiving. Places everything together in fridge.
8:07 Mom and Dad catch train to NYC.

What Mom projects will happen…

3:30 Girls will get off bus with sitter, will check in with Mom or Dad when they walk in door; Mom will get school download then give 9-year-old orders to preheat oven to 425° at 6:00.
5:40 Mom will board train home.
6:25 Mom will walk in door, remove chicken from fridge, press breadcrumbs into mustarded drumsticks and shove in preheated oven.
6:30 Mom will pour glass of Pinot Noir. Will now start to pay attention to her children, maybe even remember to check notices in backpacks.
6:45 Mom will decide which brussels to make: These or These. Probably the first, the ones with bacon, since there is a good hunk leftover from Thanksgiving…somewhere. Where is that bacon?
7:00 Dad will walk in: Jake.
7:05 Chicken removed from oven.
7:15 Dinner.

PS: This morning, my cow0rker, who lives and dies by her Slow Cooker during the week, did this: She took one frozen pork tenderloin, an ummeasured bag of lentils (about a cup and a half as she sees it), 1 onion (chopped), 2 cloves garlic (whole, smashed), about 4 sprigs of thyme, 5-10 peppercorns, 1/2 cube of beef bouillon, 2 strips of bacon into her slow cooker. She added water about halfway up the pork and set on the 10-hour setting. We’ll let you know how both dinners turn out tomorrow via twitter.

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Take a Moment

November 20th, 2011 · 15 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Dinner, Rituals, Thanksgiving

My guess is that by now, most of you have a pretty good idea what your Thanksgiving menu is going to look like and who’s in charge of what. Or if the menu isn’t set, you might be in the middle of a reply-all marathon with your family like me. Uncle Phil – you’re on cheese duty, right? Grandma’s got the bird. Papa – How about a few bottles of that Norton Ridge Chardonnay again and some of that hummus from the Lebanese place for nibbles? NO ONE BUY BRUSSELS SPROUTS! Andy just bought every sprout harvested in the Hudson Valley last week. Do we have enough butter? Eggs? Olive oil. Aunt Lynn- You’ve got kosher salt in the kitchen right? I love stuffing my face on Thanksgiving, but I think I may love planning and discussing and cooking part of it even more.

So as far as the food goes, you’re probably in good shape. The stuffings and sides are figured out. All the pecan pie ingredients are sitting on the counter, next to the bag of cranberries and the turkey baster and the special serving platter. It’s likely that the contents of the fridge is in precarious balance, and that your kid stood there for five minutes trying to find a place where the milk might fit.

But what about when you sit down? Have you thought about that part? Not the serving pieces and the place settings, or the way you must time the potato gratin to be ready when the turkey is, but the moment everyone’s food is loaded onto the plates, forks perched for consumption. Have you thought about what you’re going to do then?

I guess you could go ahead and eat. But then a day’s worth of cooking, a week’s worth of planning and reply-all-ing, is gone in 15 minutes. Twenty tops. The question is: Have you thought about how you might get the kids — and everyone for that matter — to participate in the moment and to appreciate what the holiday is about?

With six kids under 10 at our family’s Thanksgiving table, we are not always so good at this. Toasts can be hard. We’ve tried to go around the table and say what we’re thankful for, but by the time you’re at the 16th speech, the gravy has gummed up and the toddlers are gearing up for holiday-level tantrums. So this year, if I can get my act together, I might try to do what Andy did for me one birthday I was celebrating without the kids. Since they weren’t going to be with us — it was going to be a late night — before the meal he had them fill out short fill-in-the-blank questionnaires about me (“The most important thing she told me about life was…” or “Three adjectives to describe Mom are…”) then placed the results on my dinner plate. I got some nice gifts that birthday, but their words on those pages were right up at the top. Something about the specific prompting and the act of writing down (as opposed to speaking in front of a large group) made them write with abandon and express things I can’t imagine they would have told me in the backseat on the way to ballet. Or even at the dinner table for that matter. Here are a few examples:

So what kind of questions would I write for my nephews and nieces on a Thanksgiving questionnaire? Here’s what I’m thinking:

The moment I felt luckiest this year was when….
If I had to pick three adjectives to describe this meal it would be….
When I’m really old and 35, I hope my Thanksgiving table is…
If I could invite anyone to sit with our family this Thanksgiving it would be……because….
If I could write a note to the cook (or cooks) thanking them for what’s in front of me, the first line would be…

If I can get a few answers out of them and then read convince them to read one or two aloud at the table, my guess is that it will be like waving a magic wand across the plate. The food will no longer be Turkey with Sides. It will be Thanksgiving Dinner. (more…)

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Now Accepting Applications

November 18th, 2011 · 40 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Thanksgiving

Proposed Chocolate Pudding Pie (From Scratch)*

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, process 2 packages honey graham crackers (total: 2 1/4 cups) until they resemble fine crumbs. Add 5 tablespoons sugar and 10 tablespoons melted butter (unsalted) and pulse to combine. Using your fingers, press the mixture into a 9-inch pie dish. Bake for 10 minutes. Cool. Make this chocolate pudding, then pour into prepared crust. Chill for at least 3 hours (and up to 24) and top with freshly whipped cream.

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Could Use Some Feedback

November 18th, 2011 · 33 Comments · Children's Books, Gifts, Culture

Hey DALS readers! How are you liking Fave Five? Do you know it exists? Are you using it? Are you aware that we’re regularly updating the list of recommendations, so it is worth your while to check in at least once or twice a week? Let me know — we’re curious if the new feature has been helpful.

Update: Thank you all for your nice feedback here. I think the consensus is that you like the feature but tend to forget it’s there. Furthermore, you would like to be notified when it’s updated. From now on, when I update the list, I will let you know via facebook and twitter. So if you want the updates, be sure to like, follow, etc etc.

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Long Live Broc

November 16th, 2011 · 10 Comments · Cameos, Dinner, Pork and Beef

I feel passionate about broccoli. It’s not often you hear these words come out of someone’s mouth. Let alone a mom’s mouth. And yet, there I was a few weeks ago, having lunch with my friend Melissa Roberts listening to her talk about broccoli in a manner someone might use to talk about lobster or Shake Shack or the Green Bay Packers. But I knew enough not to change the subject. Melissa was a food editor at Gourmet for almost nine years before it folded (on the same day as Cookie, where I was working a few floors up); She was a cook and a stylist in the Food Network Kitchen and is currently a regular contributor to CTbites; Perhaps most important, she is the one who supplied me with the recipe for Peanut Butter Noodles, which, Google Analytics tells me, you guys seem to click on more than any other vegetarian meal in the DALS archive. But even if you are in the 1% of readers who haven’t made them yet, Melissa has probably found a way into your kitchen some other way. I find it’s impossible to do a search on epicurious without her name popping up on every recipe I end up printing.

But back to broccoli. She feels passionate about broccoli and guess what? It’s in season right now. (Bet you didn’t know it had a season. I didn’t either!) So I’m turning the mic over to her for a guest-post treat and a kick-ass recipe. Thanks, Melissa!

Everyone knows about the beauty of broccoli when you have kids in the house — how it’s an excellent vehicle for dips, delicious topped with melted cheese, simply drizzled with olive oil and salt, or tossed with butter. And I’m not sure I know anyone who hasn’t at one point in their parenting career marketed the little stalks as “trees.”  We rely on it so much, that we’ve all come to see it as an evergreen vegetable, one of convenience, but broccoli is actually a cold-weather crop, best eaten in the deep dark cold months of winter. I try my best to hold off buying broccoli until there’s a chill in the air, but in spite of my best efforts to eat local and seasonally, this has proven a hard resolution to keep because my finicky 9-year-old will go weeks without touching a vegetable…except broccoli. (more…)

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What is Easy? (Illusions, Part 2)

November 15th, 2011 · 19 Comments · Posts by Andy, Quick, Sides, Salads, Soup, Vegetarian

“This looks amazing,” my friend Mike said, as we sat down to dinner. He was in town on business, and Jenny was at a work event, so it was just me, Mike, and the kids, rocking out on a Wednesday night. On the table: chicken tandoori burgers with a yogurt-mint sauce, sauteed spinach, curried carrots, and the remnants of some math homework. “Man, if we could eat like this every night…”

Mike’s one of my best friends. He’s a smart guy. He’s also an extremely talented writer with some serious — and rare — powers of observation. He’s crazy insightful. His stories, as they say, get at the deeper truths. He’d just spent the last 30 minutes, standing in our kitchen, getting his gin-and-tonic on and watching me put this dinner together. How had he not seen how unmagical this really was? What had I done that could have possibly suggested this was hard, or complicated, or beyond his skillset? In some ways, this was like watching a friend back his car out of his driveway and saying, “Holy sh*t, dude, you are amazing! How did you do that?” It’s not that I don’t enjoy a good, undeserved compliment — and oh, how we love a gracious guest — but I can’t, in good conscience, let this perception stand. I can’t let Mike get away with acting like what we’re doing is hard. The big secret here is that most of the stuff we make on any given night is simple, requires very few ingredients, very little prep time, and no expertise (which I don’t have, anyway, at least not in any real sense of the word). All it takes is will, and a little planning ahead. This was no exception.

“God, these carrots,” he said, taking a bite.

The tandoori burgers take all of 20 minutes. The yogurt sauce is plain yogurt spiked with a handful of chopped mint. The spinach is sauteed in olive oil for three minutes, with a clove of garlic, and then topped with a squeeze of lemon juice and some salt. And the carrots he was talking about? Our Boston Terrier, God love her peanut brain, could make them with one paw tied behind her back. Here’s how I did it: I peeled four carrots and cut them into quarter-inch rounds, and tossed them in a pot. I added 1/2 cup of water, 2 tsp of curry powder, a small pat of butter, some kosher salt, and a squeeze of honey. I simmered, covered, for 15 minutes. That’s it.

“That’s it?” M. said.

Illusion shattered. – Andy

Iris takes notes on preparation. “Yeah, I got this,” she says.

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What is Quick? (Illusions, Part 1)

November 14th, 2011 · 19 Comments · Dinner, Posts by Andy, Quick, Vegetarian

I want to talk a little bit, today and tomorrow, about time. More specifically, about our lack of it when it comes to dinner. About that moment when you come home from work at 7 pm and the dog is begging for a walk and your fourth grader really needs you to drill her on her social studies definitions (quick: what’s wampum mean?) for her big test tomorrow and your third grader is asking you to watch — no, Daddy, watch! — her stand on one leg and you’re still in your jacket, staring into a mostly empty refrigerator, and wondering what you’re going to make for dinner tonight. Or, more likely: what you have time to make for dinner. Jenny seems to be more resourceful than I am in these situations, but when it’s a weeknight and I’m on Dinner Duty, and I couldn’t quite get on the earlier train, and the kids are hungry, and I need to make something fast…. why is it, in moments like this, that the human mind — my human mind, at least — automatically goes to pasta with a jarred sauce? My best guess: because it’s quick, it’s healthy, and it’s convenient.

But what does convenient mean, anyway? And what exactly is quick?

This weekend, I finally decided to conduct an experiment. I say finally because I’ve been meaning to write this post for about two months now, and I could just never seem to find the… time. What I wanted to do was to time myself, from a standing start, and see what took longer: a weeknight dinner made mostly with pre-made ingredients, or a dinner made with all real stuff. For the pre-made dinner, I would make spaghetti with Old World Style Ragu, and a pre-washed mesclun salad with Ken’s Light Ranch Dressing. For the homemade dinner, I would make an old stand-by, cacio e pepe, with sliced kumato tomatoes drizzled with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and sea salt. I want to stress: I have nothing against jarred sauces. I spent the first three years after college, living in Brooklyn with very little money and an arrested culinary imagination: I know from jarred sauces. Had I opened a vein when I was 24 years old, Ragu Garden Style and Heineken would have poured out. The goal here is not to make some kind of Michael Pollan-y political statement or to suggest that one of these dinners is evil while the other is righteous and pure. Anyone who’s ever had Rao’s or Cucina Antica or even T. Joe’s marinara knows that’s baloney (which I also enjoy, by the way, on white bread with yellow mustard). The goal is only to suggest that, often, what we have been conditioned to think of as quick and healthy is not, in fact, any quicker or healthier (or cheaper, for that matter) than the real deal. The most important thing is to have a few of what Jenny calls “back-pocket recipes” in my repertoire, things I can go to when I’m feeling paralyzed and time is tight. Cacio e pepe is one of those recipes. And the inconvenient truth is, it tastes better, too.

Below, the results of the test. Note: I used the same amount of cold water (4 cups) and started the timer the minute the burners were turned on. No prep work was allowed. – Andy

Coming up tomorrow: What is Easy? And maybe after that: What is Cheap?

PRE-MADE DINNER: Spaghetti with Old World Style Ragu Pasta Sauce, Bagged Mesclun and Ken’s Light Ranch Dressing

TOTAL TIME
21 minutes, 15.8 seconds

INGREDIENTS
Pasta: Trader Joe’s spaghetti, boiled in salted water.

Sauce: Tomato Puree (Water, Tomato Paste), Soybean Oil, Salt, Sugar, Dehydrated Onions, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Spices, Romano Cheese (Part-Skim Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes), Natural Flavor.

Salad: Pre-washed mesclun (though I washed it again because we’re paranoid like that).

Dressing: Water, Vegetable Oil (Soybean and/or Canol), Buttermilk, Distilled Vinegar, Sugar, Maltodextrin, Egg Yolk, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Contains less than 2% of Omega-3 [Fish Oil and Fish Gelatin (contains Tilapia, Sardine, and Anchovy)], Salt, Modified Food Starch, Phosphoric Acid, Garlic (Dried), Natural Flavor (Milk), Vegetable Base [Salt, Sugar, Corn Oil, Potato Flour, Onion Powder, Natural Flavor, Carrot Powder, Garlic Powder], Monosodium Glutamate, Disodium Phosphate, Titanium Dioxide, Xanthum Gum, Sorbic Acid, Spice, Carrageenan, Disodium Innosinate and Disodium Guanylate Calcium Disodium EDTA to protect flavor.

HOMEMADE DINNER: Cacio e Pepe with Kumato Tomato Salad

TOTAL TIME
20 minutes, 28.6 seconds

INGREDIENTS

Pasta: Trader Joe’s spaghetti, boiled in salted water.

Sauce: Olive oil, pasta water, Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper.

Salad: Tomatoes, olive oil, Balsamic vinegar, sea salt.

Cacio e Pepe

Boil one package of spaghetti in salted water. In a large bowl, put 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup grated parmesan, a few pinches of salt, and lots and lots of freshly ground pepper (thus, the pepe part of cacio e pepe). I usually do about 15 or so grinds. When the pasta is done, reserve 1/3 cup of the water, and drain the rest. Take the reserved pasta water and pour into the bowl, whisking it into the ingredients as you do, until it is emulsified. Add pasta to bowl, and toss thoroughly. When you plate it, top with more ground pepper and parmesan cheese.

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My Book: Cover Reveal!

November 11th, 2011 · 55 Comments · Dinner: A Love Story, the Book

When I first sat down with my book editor Lee Boudreaux and the designer Allison Saltzman, they asked me what I wanted in a cover design. Oh, you know, I told them, I don’t want it to look cheffy or foodie. I don’t want it to look too precious or too slick. I’d like it to be homey but not dowdy, familiar to old readers but striking for new ones. I want it to appeal to recent grads and newlyweds and especially to parents. I want it to reflect the vibe of this blog. I want it to have good energy and I really want it to feel personal, like it looks right at home on my kitchen counter. I’m not Sean Brock or Gabrielle Hamilton. No matter how many times I make his brussels sprouts, I will never be David Chang. I’m a home cook who has figured out one thing — that making dinner for people I love brings me daily happiness  – and I need this book to appeal to people who suspect that carving out a nightly dinner ritual might do the same for them.

Was that too much to ask for?

Apparently not, because I think they nailed it, don’t you?

To pre-order, please visit Amazon or Barnes & Noble or Indie Bound.

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They’ll Hold You To It

November 9th, 2011 · 19 Comments · Dinner, Quick, Vegetarian

I’ve learned the hard way that when it comes to kids, don’t make a promise you won’t be able to keep. Don’t promise a trip to Barnes and Noble this weekend if you know it’s going to take some logistical heroics to squeeze it between all the games and practices and trips to the mall to buy new boots. (Again! Why am I always buying boots?) Don’t promise you will kick the soccer ball around after work if you know it’s going to be dark outside when you get home. (They will blame you no matter how convincingly you try to explain Daylight Savings, the meeting that ran late, the train that chugged along at a snail’s pace.) Don’t promise you’ll make a cereal box village on Sunday afternoon, if you know there’s a good chance you’ll have to wrap up some last-minute work on a project due Monday and will likely respond “in a minute…in five minutes…in ten minutes…in about an hour” to the little voice that keeps asking you “Now Mom? Now Mom? Now?” and then eventually with resigned, puppy-dog disappointment, “Oh forget it.” Does anything make me feel lousier? I don’t think so.

Whatever you do, don’t promise them you’ll take part in Meatless Monday! Don’t get me wrong — it’s not that I don’t love the idea of a weekly vegetarian meal and the hugely popular initiative to get families to cut back on meat once a week  – I more than love it. I embrace it! We like to do our part for the planet with plant-based dinners at least two times a week. It’s just that those dinners somehow don’t ever seem to fall on a Monday. And for my two little literalists, this is not acceptable. They don’t ever seem to give me props when we have salad pizza on Thursday or Minestrone on Sunday or Bean Cakes on Wednesday. It’s the Pomegranate-braised Pork Loin I dared to make on Monday that they remember. “Mooooom,” said one of my eco-policewomen last week, setting her fork down, leaning back, and crossing her arms. “It’s Monday! Why are we eating pork?”

So next Monday we’re having veggie Quesadillas. Because they are fast, because they are good, and because I promised.

Black Bean and Goat Cheese Quesadillas
The girls aren’t goat cheese lovers, so for their quesadillas, I usually replace it with shredded cheddar or Jack.

vegetable oil
1 to 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste
2 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1/3 cup water
3 scallions (white and green parts only) chopped
6 8-inch whole wheat tortillas
4 ounces goat cheese

Heat about 2 tablespoons oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, cumin, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring, until garlic is golden, about 1 minute. Stir in beans and mash them with a large fork. Add water and scallions and cook, stirring until most of water is absorbed, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

Set a separate skillet over medium-high heat and add a little more vegetable oil. Place one tortilla in skillet, spreading about a sixth of bean filling on one side. Sprinkle a little goat cheese on top of beans and fold other half over to seal. Flip around a few times until tortillas are golden and cheese is melted, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove to a dinner plate and tent with foil to keep warm. Repeat with remaining tortillas.

I served these with crispy kale, which is another way of saying I sauteed the kale in olive oil over medium-high heat, added salt, and then completely forgot about it as I was summoned to explain a bar model math problem. But you know what? The leaves turned crispy and with a little more salt, they became delicious, easy-to-eat (and easy-to-sell) kale chips.

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Perfectly Good

November 7th, 2011 · 27 Comments · Dinner, Pasta, Posts by Andy, Quick, Uncategorized, Vegetarian

Every spring, growing up, my elementary school would put on a fifth grade Science Fair. They’d clear out the gym, bring in a bunch of those long cafeteria tables, and the fifth graders would file in early, groggy and grumpy, to set up their exhibits. Later that day, we’d take our places behind our posters and dioramas and baking-soda-and-vinegar volcanoes, as the rest of the school filtered through, pretending to be interested. My exhibit was a poster-board triptych about beach erosion, which is strange to me now, seeing as we lived nowhere near the beach and I gave not one fig about erosion.* The thing I remember most from that day, though, was not my lame poster or the sweet feeling of relief when the fair was finally over. What I remember most was an exhibit, a few doors down from mine, cheerily titled “Nuclear Winter.”

I wasn’t sure what nuclear winter was, exactly. Was it related to acid rain, that great scourge of the late 70s and early 80s? Was it the same thing as fallout? Would it require a bulkier winter coat? No, if this exhibit was to be believed, nuclear winter was something far, far worse. This was no shoebox diorama. This was, no exaggeration**, a 2×3 foot topographical model of a ravaged landscape. When nuclear winter came knocking, it announced, the world would turn the color of cigarette ash and bus exhaust. Human beings – those that survived – would be forced underground. The sun would be extinguished, winter settling in for the long haul. Here and there were shattered (painted plastic) tree trunks and a pile of rubble that was once a house. The boy who made the exhibit had strewn some white, stick-like things on the ground which, he said, were supposed to represent animal bones. Here was a simple law of nature that even a fifth grader could understand: without sun, there is no food; without food, everything dies. Call me sheltered, but this was a possibility I had not yet contemplated in life. What fifth grader does? Either this kid was the love child of Cormac McCarthy and Ingmar Bergman, or he was onto something real, in which case my family would need to be prepared. We had no stockpiles of food in our basement, only a workbench, a giant foam mattress, a pool table, and some old cans of Minwax. If nuclear winter hit and the animals died and our Safeway was reduced to a gray smudge, how would we survive? What would we do for food?

Thirty years later, I know exactly what I’d do: I’d head to my in-laws’.

Open the door to Jenny’s mother’s refrigerator, and this is – more or less – what you will see: very little that resembles what we think of as “groceries.” You will see orange juice and water, a tub of whipped cream cheese, and a smattering of condiments. But mainly, you will see endless bowls and plates and little glass dishes, all neatly covered in Saran Wrap, containing leftovers. A dessert plate with five green beans. A bowl with three flaccid strawberries. A plastic take-out container with two ounces of plain spaghetti, cooked, and another plastic take-out container with about four tablespoons of marinara sauce. One-third of a breaded chicken cutlet. Half a piece of French toast. A Chinese food carton containing a single piece of black-bean shrimp. A Ziploc bag containing one sad leaf of Boston lettuce. Enough hummus to satisfy a field mouse. A slice of honeydew melon, vintage unknown. None of this will go to waste, by the way. Not one bit of it will be thrown out. Everything here will be repurposed, over the coming days, into the brown bag lunches that Jenny’s mom has taken to work every day for the last 30 years. Think of it as leftover tapas. This is an actual picture I took at her house last weekend: (more…)

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So What is Your Book About Exactly?

November 4th, 2011 · 8 Comments · Dinner: A Love Story, the Book

…I get this question all the time. Followed by: Will there be new recipes or is it only the recipes already on the blog? Does it have anything to do with the dinner diary you’ve kept since 1998? Is it a book about you and Andy? Will it provide any more variations on that yogurt-marinated grilled chicken I love so much? Is it also for people who don’t have kids? Loyal readers who remember the book announcement back in January sometimes ask “Is it a cookbook devoted entirely to meatballs?”

For the most part, the answers to all these questions (except the meatball one) is yes. I will get into more detail as I approach the June publication date (believe me, I will!), but for now I wanted to share the above photo with you which might help clarify things a bit.  What you’re looking at is an excerpt of the “Style Sheet” that the copyeditor sent along with my marked-up manuscript. A Style Sheet shows how certain words that frequently come up in the book need to be written — whether they should be capitalized, written in contractions, what the preferred spellings are, etc. The words are listed alphabetically so it’s easy to refer back to them.

Looking at the “S” section the other day I had the realization that those six words, when taken together, might capture the spirit of the book better than any 500-word post. For those of you with newborns wondering if the book is for you, “Snap ‘N Go” should answer that. For those of you with toddlers whose idea of dinner is one chicken nugget, two potatoes, and nothing green, see: “survival mode.” For those of you who stay up at night trying to solve your own personal work-life-balance equation, you will find plenty of “soul-searching” And for those of you just interested in what quick side to throw on the family dinner plate after a long day of work “Swiss Chard” should do the trick. As for “Spoonula,” I’ll keep that one to myself, but let me just say that it has become a revolutionary tool in the scrambled-egg department. If only my kids ate eggs. (See D: “downward spiral.”)

Have a great weekend.

P.S. Next week: The Cover! I couldn’t be more excited to unveil it and hear what you guys think.

P.P.S Next month: A bunch of awesome giveaways. Remember, to be eligible, you need to subscribe to our newsletter.

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Sayonara Seven

November 2nd, 2011 · 41 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Favorites

Day Before the Eighth Birthday

Abby: Mom, I don’t want it to be my birthday.

Mom: What? Why not?

Abby: Because then it will be over and I’ll have to wait a whole ‘nother year for it to come again.

We have this same conversation every year — which is amazing to me, because between the classroom doughnuts, the annual restaurant-picking ritual, the party with friends, and the cousins-and-grandparents get-together, we seem to be celebrating Abby’s birthday all year long. All year long, it’s on her mind. “Where should my party be this year?” she’ll ask on New Year’s. “What restaurant are we going to on the night of my birthday?” she’ll ask in the middle of her sister’s February birthday dinner. “What should the theme of my party be?” She asked when I picked her up from camp one day in July.

I don’t want to pretend that this is hard work. All of us got into picking the theme this time, submitting our best proposals to the Birthday Boss.

How about an “almost-sleepover” party?
Too babyish.
An upside down party?
Naaah.
A British tea party?
Too girly.
A soccer party?
Not all my friends play soccer.
secret agent party, like Phoebe’s 9th?
We did that already.
A Drive-by Truckers party?
Daaaad.

We wracked our brains. What did Abby love more than anything else in the world. More than her LaLaLoopsy dolls, more than Lemony Snicket, more than flying down a soccer sideline?

Once Andy threw out Japan as a theme we wondered what took us so long to get there. Abby’s idea of happiness has always been miso soup, shrimp shumai, and chicken teriyaki, followed by a private screening of Totoro.

Here’s what we ended up doing…

Candy Sushi! For twelve girls I made two sheets of Rice Krispie Treats, cutting them into round and square sushi-size pieces. Then I proceeded to load two trays (one for each side of the table) with some world-class junk: Swedish fish, gummy worms, jelly beans, Airhead Extremes (the rainbows), Dots, chewy Now-and-Laters, green Fruit-by-the-Foot (which stood in for the seaweed and is truly, hideously repulsive), and sour peach strips that were a dead ringer for ginger. (I think as I type this a week and a half later, the girls are just now coming off their sugar rush.) To make things a little easier for everyone — I chopped up a bunch of the candy into bite size pieces so they’d fit nicely on or around the rice patties. (more…)

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