Entries from January 2012

Oldie But Quickie

January 30th, 2012 · 11 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Quick

Recipe writing can be such a buzzkill sometimes. Last week, as I was making this classic skillet meal — Chicken with Spinach and Warm Bacon Vinaigrette — I was, as always, amazed by how fast it came together.  While I was whisking in the wine, I was mulling over the angle I wanted to take when I would eventually write it up for DALS. (I make a lot of things that never end up on this site, but there wasn’t even a question about this one.) The angle could be about bacon being the magic ingredient — a little goes a long way, especially with kids.  It could be a “quick classic” — who doesn’t love a quick classic? It could be a five-ingredient dinner, i.e. “money in the bank” for working parents. The only problem was — it’s not a five ingredient dinner. But it was so easy and fast that I didn’t even realize that until I started writing the recipe. Suddenly I’m noticing that there was some flour in there for the dredge and that there was not only vinegar, but wine and also — I forgot — there was olive oil after the bacon fat got used up. When I described the recipe to my friend Todd on the train the other day it took about 10 seconds. (“Fry some chicken in a little bacon fat, then add shallots, wine and vinegar and toss in spinach until it’s slightly wilted.”) But when I wrote it out below, it suddenly seemed so much more involved. Trust me, though. It’s not. It’s quick and easy and even if there are eight ingredients in it (as opposed to the magic five), it’s likely you have all of them in your pantry or fridge right now.

Chicken with Spinach and Warm Bacon and Shallot Vinaigrette

2 slices thick-cut bacon
4 boneless chicken breasts, pounded thin (and halved if they are large and unwieldy)
3/4 cup flour, salted and peppered
olive oil, as necessary
1 small shallot, chopped (I know, that’s an onion up there, it’s all I had, so I used about 1/4 cup chopped onion)
2 tablespoons-ish vinegar (I used tarragon vinegar, but red wine or white wine would be fine, too)
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 large bunch or bag of baby spinach

In a large skillet over medium heat, fry bacon until crispy. Remove, cool, and crumble.

Turn up heat slightly to medium-high. Dredge chicken breasts in flour, then add to bacon fat, frying on both sides until cooked through. Cook in batches, tenting finished chicken with foil on a separate plate. If necessary, add a little more olive oil to the pan before adding more chicken.

Once all chicken has cooked, add a bit more olive oil, then shallots and cook about one minute. Add vinegar and wine, whisking gently until warmed through. Add spinach and toss until it wilts slightly. (You do not want it to shrivel to nothing.) Toss in bacon crumbles.

Add warm spinach to four plates along with chicken, drizzling any sauce that remains in pan on top of each. Serve with rice or those cool par-baked Trader Joe’s dinner rolls that my children are officially addicted to.

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Are You a Gold Member?

January 27th, 2012 · 17 Comments · Uncategorized

A DALS Gold Member…

Follows the conversation on facebook with a likeminded community of dinner-makers.

Follows me on twitter so finds out in real time what recipes, restaurants, and online multiplication worksheet generators we are excited about.

Has pre-ordered Dinner: A Love Story, the book! (And will therefore, very soon, have access to recipes like my cure-any-cold chicken and orzo soup shown above.)

Has bookmarked our Recipe Index so it’s easy to find the recipe you’re looking for.

Has a quick weeknight taco recipe in his or her back pocket.

Is a newsletter subscriber, so is eligible for all kinds of fantastic giveaways including gift cards and fancy cookware.

Owns the official Dinner: A Love Story “Make Dinner Not War” bumper sticker. (Platinum members have actually placed this on the bumper of their cars and/or have sent me photos of where their stickers live.)

Periodically checks in on Fave Five, a list of book recommendations for kids that changes at least once a week.

Is a book-reading, dinner-making, comment-writing, thoughtful person who knows how much bigger dinner is than food.

OK, done with my Friday housekeeping. Have a great weekend.

Photo by Jennifer Causey for DALS.

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Herby Greens with Fennel

January 25th, 2012 · 7 Comments · Sides, Salads, Soup, Uncategorized, Vegetarian

If I had a nickel for every email in my inbox saying I’m making Andy’s Pork Ragu this weekend for guests. What should I serve with it?…I would’ve shut down this site by now and built my dream house in Block Island overlooking Mohegan Bluffs. But since I seem to have mastered the art of working my tail off for no money*, I will just give you the quick answer: This salad. Herby, easy, wintery-not-pretending-to-be-summery. You can shave an apple in here, too, but the sweetness in the vinaigrette will suffice as a counterpoint to the pork.

Herby Greens with Fennel and Cider Vinaigrette

In a large bowl, add the following:

Fresh greens (or as fresh as you can find in the winter)
1/2 bulb fennel, shaved into slices with a mandoline
handful of chopped mixed herbs such as cilantro, chives, parsley

Make this vinaigrette:

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
squeeze of fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper
1/2 cup good quality olive oil

Toss vinaigrette into salad.

*shamelessthinly-veiled attempt to guilt you into pre-ordering my book.

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Figuring it Out as We Go Along

January 24th, 2012 · 49 Comments · Dinner

We could not have been luckier to find Ali, our current babysitter who comes twice a week in the afternoons while I attempt to piece together a freelance career. Beyond the fact that Ali has a clean driving record, always shows up on time, texts me with we’re-at-piano status updates all day long (no such thing as TMI in my house), and is generally great with the girls, she is from a family of professional educators and she herself is a student, getting her masters in special education. If homework hour with her at the helm is any indication, she is well on her way to graduating summa cum laude.

But here’s where my luck is ratcheted up to I-won-the-lottery levels: She is in her 20s and wants to learn how to cook! Well, at least I think she wants to learn how to cook. It’s also entirely possible that she doesn’t want to have anything to do with cooking and is merely humoring me because what choice does she have when her new employer  a) leaves the Jim Lahey pizza crust recipe for her to assemble on her first day of work b) gives her a box set of Barefoot Contessa cookbooks for a holiday gift and c) thrusts a Dinner: A Love Story galley in her backpack with the instructions that I need her feedback — good and bad — immediately.

Whether she wants to learn or not, she’s proving to be as good a student as she is a homework tutor. She mastered that life-changing Lahey crust on her first try. After the holiday she reported back with praise for Ina Garten, in particular the super simple zucchini with Parmesan recipe in Barefoot Contessa: Family Style. And — always the hallmark of a star student — she asks a lot of questions. Like: Is it OK to use parsley in guacamole instead of cilantro since they look so similar? (Not OK) Or: If I want to make sugar cookies, do I just leave out the chocolate chips in my chocolate chip cookie recipe? (No.) And, perhaps my favorite, the answer to which she figured out on her own: Is it OK if I use an American oven instead of a Dutch Oven called for in so many of the recipes in the DALS book?

I can write this without feeling mean because all of these questions are exactly the kind of questions I asked when I was her age, when I wouldn’t have ever been able to identify a Dutch Oven; when I bypassed recipes in my Silver Palate because they called for an exotic ingredient called chicken stock; When I went to Chanterelle in downtown Manhattan and almost ordered sweetbreads thinking they were some form of glazed pastries.

My Uncle Mike, a loyal reader of this blog (as well as a recipient of a 2011 Dolly Award), emailed Andy and me last week to tell us a story about how, back in the early 80s, when he was teaching himself how to cook, he decided to make a whole fish with coriander from his brand new Time-Life Middle Eastern cookbook. For a dinner party. “Of course, I had no idea that there was such a thing as fresh coriander/cilantro,” he wrote. “Not even sure I could have found it then, but the recipe called for a cup of coriander.  So I went out and bought three bottles of dried coriander leaves and used it on top of the fish while it cooked.”  No one at the dinner party commented.  ”Maybe they didn’t know better, and since the fish was not skinned, you could kinda push the mass away with the skin, but still a frightening memory.”

I could hear stories about these frightening memories all day long, and in the interest of teaching Ali the most important lesson — that you can only learn how to cook by actually cooking, even if it means you feel lost or screw up every now and then — how about you guys share a few?

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Four-Minute Side Dish

January 23rd, 2012 · 9 Comments · Posts by Andy, Quick, Sides, Salads, Soup, Uncategorized, Vegetarian

O, haricot verts, how it pains me to say this, given all that you have given us (nay, done for us), but I have grown tired of you. For eight years, you — the basic steamed and salted version of you — were there for us, a rock in our rotation, a reliable side dish we could count on. You made us feel better about ourselves, because our children loved you, too, and you were healthier than tater tots. But eight years is a long time, and I have grown weary. I have grown bored. Whatever the opposite of leaping is, that’s what my heart does when it sees you. My heart, I suppose, squats when it sees you. It sinks into the floor. But I am also loyal, and I do not want to banish your crunchy, svelte little self from our family table forever. I can’t do that to the kids and besides: I don’t want anyone else. What I want is a slight upgrade. I want to see you in a new light. I want you to impress me again. I want you to try. And that is why I am going to pair you with some toasted almonds and mint, and shower you in fresh lemon juice. Ah, yes. That’s better. What are you doing later? As a great poet once wrote — paraphrasing slightly here — your tastiness balks account! I sing you electric! And you only take four and one half minutes to prepare, which I know because I timed you, and which makes me love you even more. Consider yourself upgraded, old friend, and consider our love rekindled. – Andy

Green Beans with Toasted Almonds and Mint

2 cups haricot verts
1/4 cups roasted almonds, roughly chopped
One handful chopped fresh mint
Juice of one half lemon
Salt, to taste
A few glugs of olive oil
One small pat of butter (about as much as you’d put on a piece of toast)

In a large frying pan, heat olive oil and butter over medium heat until butter is melted. Add almonds and cook 2 minutes, letting them darken slightly in color. Add haricot verts and cook for two minutes, stirring occasionally. Add lemon juice, a few pinches of salt, and remove to platter. Sprinkle with mint. Serve.

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Dollhouse Galette

January 19th, 2012 · 13 Comments · Baking and Sweets

These are the kinds of ideas that I really think twice about posting for all the world to see. Because pretty much nothing good can come of telling the world at large that I have home-baked an apple galette for my daughter’s doll. (Meet Esme, the luckiest Plan toy in the world!) I will say, however, that it is not as bad as it sounds — I was making a life-size galette as well and, as it happened, Abby hopped up on the counter to eat the sugar covered apples. (“Cooks privilege!” she is fond of saying, even when she is not the cook.) When I started rolling out the crust, there just so happened to be the perfect little bite-size scrap sticking out of the dough like Spain from Europe. What choice did we have but to lop that part off, mince a couple apples and make a mini pie? It was Abby who suggested serving it on Esme’s dining set — the latest acquisition in her diy dollhouse. Go ahead and call me crazy — my husband has already beaten you to it — all I can say is that for about 5 minutes (which is about how long the baby galette lasted before Abby gobbled it in one bite) I felt like mother of the year.

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Real Deal Bolognese

January 17th, 2012 · 59 Comments · Pasta, Pork and Beef

Like a lot of people I know, I returned from my first trip to Italy in 1993 determined to teach myself how to cook. The eating in Florence, where Andy was “studying” art for the summer, was so revelatory that I didn’t waste a whole lot of time once the wheels touched down Stateside. On the way home from the airport, I stopped by our local bookstore and found my friend Matt behind the counter. I asked if he could recommend a good Italian cookbook that might offer even just a hint of what I had just experienced across the Atlantic. As far as I know, Matt never cooked a thing in his life, but he will forever hold a special place in my heart because he handed me The Classic Italian Cookbook, by Marcella Hazan, and, with the understatement of the decade, told me, “People seem to really like her.”

The name was familiar — Andy’s Aunt Patty had already introduced us to Marcella’s milk-braised pork loin — so I plunked down my five bucks for the mass market-y looking paperback, started flipping through it, and for almost twenty years have not stopped. That’s probably why the book, held together by masking tape, now looks like this:

It’s sort of like looking at Luca Bear, my daughter’s dingy teddy-bear lovey with the frayed bowtie that she has been sleeping with since she was 13 months. One look at him and you know that thing has been on the receiving end of some serious love.

The summer I first bought CIC, I tried out a few of the recognizable recipes — Tomato Sauce 1, Tomato Cream Sauce, Blender Pesto — making some real knucklehead comments in the margin as I went along. “Too garlicky” I wrote after adding three cloves of garlic to a tomato sauce that didn’t call for any garlic at all. Improvising with a Marcella recipe, I’ve since learned, is not something one does, unless one does not want to learn how to cook. You make the dish exactly the way she tells you to. In a nod to her shortcut-obsessed American audience, her headnotes are studded with phrases like “if you insist” and “if you are so inclined” (Fettucine with Gorgonzola Sauce: “You can try substituting domestic gorgonzola or other blue cheeses, if you are so inclined, but you will never achieve the perfectly balanced texture and flavor of this sauce with any cheese but choice Italian gorgonzola”), but the effect is the opposite of liberating. It makes you desperate to not disappoint her. (There are also many less passive instructions such as this one, under Mayonnaise: “I can’t imagine anyone with a serious interest in food using anything but homemade mayonnaise.”) The ingredients she uses in her recipes are all basic staples of any kitchen — butter, ground beef, salt, onions — which means that in order to yield the kinds of dishes that have earned her exalted status in the food world, it is absolutely imperative that you do not deviate from what’s written. For Hazan, who was trained as a biologist and went on to teach cooking classes in her New York apartment, it’s all about technique. When I do what I am told (literally leveling off two tablespoons of chopped onions), not only do I find  myself with insanely delicious dinners I’d be proud to serve to Grandmas Turano and Catrino, but I find myself a little smarter in the kitchen. Her bolognese, which you are looking at above, was the first Hazan recipe that we fell in love with for this reason. “It must be cooked in milk before the tomatoes are added,” she wrote. “This keeps the meat creamier and sweeter tasting.” And then: “It must cook at the merest simmer for a long, long time. The minimum is 3 1/2 hours; 5 is better.” We, of course, always do five. (more…)

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Early Mornings with Abby (and William Steig)

January 12th, 2012 · 31 Comments · Children's Books, Gifts, Culture, Posts by Andy

For the first four, maybe five, years of Abby’s life, she would wake up at 5:45 in the morning, leap out of bed, throw her door open and sprint down the hall — bump, bump, bump, bump, bump — and into our bedroom. Depending on who was on Morning Duty that day, Jenny or I would hoist ourselves out of bed, take Abby by the hand, and stagger back to her room to (a) organize her Playmobil farm, (b) play Dora “Chutes and Ladders” while fighting off waves of despair, or (c) read a pile of books on the floor. In the winter months, when you had an hour and a half to fill before the sun came up, this was tough duty. I know how this will sound to all the early risers out there, but this was some existential stuff. Anyway, most of the time, I took Option C, books. The problem is, you can read a lot of kid books in an hour, and if you choose wrong — if you get pushed into the wrong groove — you can be in for a world of hurt. In particular, I remember struggling through Amelia Bedelia and a series of Backyardigans books — really, any TV show spinoff was a serious soul-killer. Cutesy books, with cutesy alliterative characters — Randy the Rooster, Francie the Fairything, Harry the… Holy Momma, those were some dark days. But they were also some good days. Because really, when you locked in on the good ones, and Abby would sit there in your lap for an hour, turning pages and listening to you read: you’d have to have a stone for a heart to complain about that. And as for what qualified as good, in the pitch dark, before coffee? The books that made us laugh (thank you, Paper Bag Princess), that were about things (The Red Balloon, which I will write about someday on this blog), books that gave kids credit for having a brain and being able to understand questions of longing and love and worry and beauty, books that explored what, even for adults, qualifies as mysterious or unknowable. And, to my mind, the writer that most consistently hit those marks? William Steig. I know, duh. We’re not breaking news here, but William Steig was one of those guys who could talk to adults and to kids at the same time, with one voice, which is a rare quality indeed. I literally wore Sylvester and the Magic Pebble out, read it so many times, it just fell apart. And, later, when the kids were in first and second grade, Steig was a favorite when we would go in and read to the class — the perfect length, a few good laughs along the way, a moment or two where a kid might think, Yup, the world is a lot bigger than I know. Anyway, here are a few of our favorites*, but I’m sure you have yours, too. I miss these books. I kind of miss the early mornings, too. – Andy

*You won’t find Shrek here, but that’s only because the movie ruined it for me.

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (1969)

CliffsNotes version: Mama’s boy donkey named Sylvester Duncan (how great is that name?) collects pebbles. One day, he finds a magic one: when you hold it and make a wish, the wish comes true. Not being dumb, he immediately sees the potential for good in this, wants to take it home to show his parents. Sees a lion on way home and, freaked and scared of being eaten alive, wishes he was a rock. Turns into rock. Unable to touch magic pebble and wish to be a donkey again, he sits there, inert: a rock. His distraught parents go looking for him. They look for him for a year. Parents eventually go for a walk and have a picnic on him. They find the pebble, place it on the rock, and Sylvester is reborn.

Favorite little moment: “The sun was shining as if rain had never existed.”

Favorite passage: “Mr. Duncan walked aimlessly about while Mrs. Duncan set out the picnic food on the rock — alfalfa sandwiches, pickled oats, sassafras salad, timothy compote. Suddenly Mr. Duncan saw the red pebble. ‘What a fantastic pebble!’ he exclaimed. ‘Sylvester would have loved it for his collection.’ He put the pebble on the rock. They sat down to eat. Sylvester was now as wide awake as a donkey that was a rock could possibly be.”

How I might describe it: A book, in some ways, about loss. But with a happy ending.

Gorky Rises (1980) (more…)

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Quick and Easy Pork Fried Rice

January 11th, 2012 · 22 Comments · Dinner, Pork and Beef, Quick

It’s almost irresponsible of me to tell you about the way I served this meal to my kids — because it’s exactly the way that, if practiced often enough, will drive you to swear off family dinner forever. I love fried rice. Before Andy and I had kids we’d make it with shrimp and pork and chicken all the time. Or at least we’d always make it when we had leftover rice from sushi or Chinese takeout, which was surprisingly often. Nowadays, though, with Trader Joe’s frozen cooked rice (which I highly recommend) we can, in theory make fried rice meals as the main event instead of the spinoff. But we don’t. That’s because, as most of you know by now, we have two miniature egg-o-thropes in the house. And one rice-hater to boot. I’ve spent more hours that I should probably admit, thinking about how to deconstruct this old favorite so that we can all enjoy it in one form or another as a family meal. But as I found out yesterday, some things are just not meant to be. Even quick and easy and cheap and deLISHous meals like this one. Abby ended up having her version as you see below — with pork, rice, and peas that were tossed with soy sauce tableside. Phoebe ended up having…a barbecue pork sandwich on a biscuit and a butter lettuce salad with tomatoes and onions on the side. What was supposed to be quick and easy and delicious became drawn-out and complicated and…delicious. In spite of the drama, I’m giving you the recipe anyway — it’s pretty clear I won’t make it again until the girls are college-bound, but it’s too good a recipe to not share with families who might have better children luck. Who says I don’t do anything nice for you? (more…)

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Four Strategies for Nervous Nellies

January 9th, 2012 · 7 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Pork and Beef

I was at a dinner party with two other couples last year when the host approached me discreetly in the living room. “Can you come here?” she whispered, motioning towards the kitchen. She led me to the oven, pulled out a roasting pan filled with eight split chicken breasts whose skin were all a nice caramel-ly brown. “They’re ready, right?” she asked. I always get nervous with thick chicken breasts, too, so I asked her how long they’d been in. “About an hour,” she told me. I had a feeling they weren’t done yet. “Can I touch one?” I asked. I poked one of them in the thickest part. It felt too soft. The rule for doneness with chicken, I told her, is that it should feel firm to the touch but not rock hard. “It needs more time.” Andy walked in and I pulled him over for his opinion. Along with his tight spiral and his general kindness towards humanity, gauging meat doneness is one of his greatest qualities. He poked the chicken once, and with a conviction I envied, declared, “Five more minutes.”

Five minutes later we were sitting down to a delicious, well-cooked herby chicken with market-fresh greens.

I can’t tell you how many times I have been in the same situation as my chicken-roasting host. Or I should say, how many times I used to be in that situation. It’s not that I’ve become so confident when face-to-face with, say, a lamb shoulder, or a $20/pound Christmas filet mignon or a bacon-spinach-stuffed ribeye, but I don’t stress about cooking meat to proper doneness nearly as much as I used to. Part of the reason for this — OK most of the reason for this — is that Andy is so preternaturally gifted with meat that it just makes sense to cede the floor to him when a Porterhouse or a flank steak is on the menu. But the other reason is that I’ve discovered a whole bunch of ways to prepare meaty main dishes that involve absolutely no stressing about doneness at all. These are the strategies I tend to fall back on when I’m having people over for dinner and there’s a 100% chance that I would be filling a sippy cup at the exact moment a meat thermometer would hit the point of no return.

1. Put Away the Meat Thermometer and Braise. Large hunks of meat become much more friendly when you braise them. This basically means you are cooking a loin or a shoulder in liquid in the oven or on the stovetop for a few hours at a low temperature. Beyond the fact that this technique makes it impossible to overcook or undercook, it magically transforms cheap cuts of meat into melty tenderness and is almost always just the thing for a warm-your-bones winter meal. See: Marcella’s Milk-braised Pork Loin; Braised Short Ribs; Pork Ragu; Baked Chicken with Mascarpone. (That last one is less braising than submerging, but it’s equally effective and takes much less time.)

2. Think Small. It’s much easier to gauge the doneness of small pieces of meat and fish than it is to make the call on larger pieces. Just think — if you’re not sure, you can break open a small piece of chicken in a stir-fry to check for the telltale shiny pink and the dish won’t be any worse for the wear. You can’t really do this with a whole roast chicken without releasing the trapped juices that make a perfectly roasted chicken so tasty. See: Chicken with Broccoli; Pan-seared Scallops; Beef with Broccoli.

3. Hack! One of the reasons I fell in love with salmon salad was because after a fillet was roasted or grilled you had to shred it into pieces and toss it with the vegetables and vinaigrette.  This meant that if you weren’t sure the salmon was cooked to proper doneness you could definitely take a peak in the middle with a knife or a fork or a pick axe — and if it wasn’t ready, just send it back for another few. Who cares what the thing looked like if you were going to eventually hack it all up, right? See: Salmon Salad.

4. Make Clams. Every time I prepare Andy’s clams — which, as you can gather by the name, is not that often — I am amazed at how easy they are. This meal is a bonanza for people who fret about whether something has cooked through or not. Think about how beautifully unequivocal it is that clams, when cooked properly, will open up their shells to tell you that they are done. It’s like they have little mouths. I’m done! Take me out! Eat me! To me this is as much of a miracle of nature as the Blue Footed Booby. See: Spaghetti and Clams; Steamed Little Necks (more…)

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Cookies for Breakfast

January 6th, 2012 · 49 Comments · Baking and Sweets

I’m already over Andy’s goals for me and onto better things — namely, Bon Appetit‘s list of  25 Things to Eat, Drink, and Cook in 2012. In particular, please check out #24, a quinoa breakfast cookie I developed for them a few months back. I wouldn’t exactly call one of these lo-cal, but I can at least call it the healthiest possible cookie you can get away with still calling a cookie. I’m certain that if I added one more flax seed, the kids would sniff out something suspicious. (And btw: No need to tell anyone about the quinoa — you can’t see it once the cookies are baked.)

P.S. A cool little fact that I’m proud of: This is the 400th post on Dinner: A Love Story. Four hundred! Crazy right? OK, that’s it. I said it. In lieu of flowers and congratulations, you can just tell me what your favorite DALS recipe is — or even better, you can just follow me on Twitter! (Four hundred posts ago, I wouldn’t have ever believed those words would shoot so effortlessly out of my fingertips.)

Thanks to everyone out there for keeping this blog alive. I really mean that — we are so lucky to have such nice, thoughtful, well-read readers.

And now back to the cookies… (more…)

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Redemption Salad

January 5th, 2012 · 23 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner

I’ve been so good. Seriously. On Friday I took one last bite of an oatmeal-brownie-butterscotch sundae (true story) and vowed That’s it. That was the last piece of junk that was going down the hatch until…when? That’s always the question, isn’t it? Does it speak to my pathological optimism or my deep-seeded denial that every year I vow to tweak my dietary habits — not the kind that involve a piece of homemade apple pie with the family; the really bad kind that involve shaking the kids’ carseat to unleash the last few nickels I need in order to uncoil the Milky Way Midnight from the vending machine. And every year, I come up short. As in, after few short days, I am right back to my I-hate-myself habits. I mean, how is it that I am already a little less excited by the whole-grain-packed cookbook that arrived on my doorstep today, which I one-clicked in a fit of steely resolve only five days ago. I was going to do it this time! I really really was! (Charlie Duhigg! Where are you when I need you?) This is not to say I have given up…entirely. All of this is merely an attempt to stay one step ahead of my worst self. This year, I’m embracing her instead of pretending she doesn’t exist — keeping my enemy close and all that. In the meantime, my best self has been enjoying some majorly healthy dinners — like this incredibly flavorful shredded salad with chicken that was spiked with a clean Asian-ish vinaigrette. I thought your pathologically optimistic selves might appreciate too. At least for the next few days. (more…)

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A Better You

January 3rd, 2012 · 45 Comments · Domestic Affairs

Dear Jenny,

What a holiday! We had fun, didn’t we? Thanks for the jumbo ice cube tray, and the Nick Lowe shirt. I could not be more pumped to go back to work this morning. Remember last year when, in the clean-slate spirit of the New Year, we wrote up a list of confessions to one another and got some stuff off our collective chests? That felt good. (And while we’re on the subject, I have a new one: I fear I have lost all control.) This year, I was thinking we should do something different. Maybe we should set some goals for one another, little things we should work toward. What do you think? For instance, I think it would be nice if you would stop asking me, after a month of holiday binging, pork-braising, cookie-eating, cookie dough-eating, cheese-inhaling, and heavy pounding, after a month in which assembling LEGOs qualifies as exercise, if I still find you “attractive.” Yes, I still do. And I feel just as gross as you do.

You know what would also make me happy? If you would resolve to improve the kids’ breakfast routine. I have tried, and failed. I’m hoping you can use your magical powers of persuasion to get them to like eggs — or maybe just eat eggs — and free us from the beige, bready nightmare that our mornings have become. Because there is a good chance I will begin weeping the next time I have to make pancakes, just standing at the stove weeping, and the kids don’t need to see that.

Speaking of eggs: You have pickled, you have preserved, and you have grilled. You have made, and braided, your first challah. Maybe now is the time to master the egg. I love a poached egg, and they never come out right when I make them. Our omelets, too. They’re good, but they’re not, like, Jacques Pepin good. Perfectly runny soft-boiled over toast: Take us to the promised land!

More barley, less quinoa. That’s right, I said it. Pow!

Sell a million copies of Dinner: A Love Story so I can settle into permanent guest-blogger status and fully inhabit the bathrobe you gave me.

Stop feeding the dog from the table, and stop referring to her licking the plates clean as the “pre-wash.”

When I ask you to listen to the guitar solo, it would be great if you would actually listen to the guitar solo. (Me: God, listen to that. You: Hmm? Me: Listen to that! How good is that? You: It’s really good. Have you seen our rolling pin?)

Take some corrective measures re: dessert. We’ve gone over this before, and I know I’m (almost) as complicit as the rest of the family, but when Phoebe starts bringing the T Joe’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups to the table before we’ve finished our dinner (every night, by the way, and we don’t even try to stop her), asks us how many she can have, and we answer “four,” a crazily generous number which would elicit a cheer in most houses but, in our house, elicits an “awwwwwwww” of disappointment, it’s time to admit: the pirates have seized the ship.

Let’s set aside one night a week where you’re not taking 67 photographs, from 32 different angles, of the food we’re all waiting to put in our mouths.

Recognize that, from now until Judgment Day, I will never stop comparing every TV show we watch to The Wire — and having them all come up short — until you suck it up and watch The Wire. I need you to KNOW. Your refusal to do so suggests there is a part of you I will never understand.

You know how you always make fun of me for saying, every time we finish our breaded flounder with tartar sauce and a salad, “Why don’t we eat this once a week?” Let’s eat that once a week.

I’ll end with a modest goal: I’ll be your friend forever if you could find a way, in 2012, to stop time. Because every time you pull out those old photos of our kids from seven years ago, when they used to nap on our chests and drool through their onesies, or dig up the birthday card Phoebe made me when she was in kindergarten, or show me Abby’s first diary which you found while cleaning out her room last week, or play that iPhone video of a tutu-ed, five-year-old Phoebe at her ballet recital… it’s too freakin’ much. I can’t take it. A cosmic punch to the gut. There it is, right there in those pictures, like you can just reach out and touch it, and yet it’s not available to me anymore. What’s not available? It’s not available. Everything’s not available. I’m sorry to go dark on you here at the end, but it’s not fair. This is my issue, I fully realize that, but you are so good at getting things done, and man, it’d be nice if you could figure out a way to make it so this doesn’t happen anymore. Thanks!


Dear Andy,

What a good idea — goals for each other! Mine are always so predictable and predictably unachievable. I love what you wrote above, especially the part about how good I am at getting things done. (You know how to make a girl feel nice.) Re: the old photos and letters and artwork, I hear you — I am totally fine with that resolution. But does this mean you will now be in charge of organizing that huge mound of memories in the corner of the boiler room? If so, at the bottom of the basement stairs are a few bins from the Container Store. Awesome! I just crossed one thing off my list!

OK, as for what you can work on, I will start with this one: Assume that I’ve salted the pasta water. Assume that, just because I forgot to salt the water that one night back in 2005, that there is very little chance I will forget to salt the water from this point forward. Even when there is long division to be done, (more…)

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