Entries Tagged as 'Domestic Affairs'
Do you ever wonder what your dinner guests say about you when they walk out your door? Do they marvel at your hosting abilities and wonder when they’ll get invited back? Do they praise the food but slag the company? Do they praise the company but slag the food? Do they judge your glassware? Do they climb into their car, sit for a second in the darkness, and say, Never again? That depends on what kind of entertainer you are. Take this quiz to find out… — Jenny and Andy
Your friends are coming over for dinner and you’ve made a (pretty tasting looking, if you don’t say so yourself) frittata with feta cheese, leeks, and baby asparagus. When your the guests arrive, the husband tells you he doesn’t eat feta. He’s not allergic, he just has a “thing” about it. In response, you:
a) Apologize profusely and, in a show of solidarity, toss the frittata into the garbage and start over using some good cheddar.
b) Wag your finger and say, “I guess Mr. Picky over here won’t be getting any dessert tonight!”
c) Roll your eyes, sigh audibly, and say, “Oh god, let me guess: you’re an only child?”
d) Say, “No problem! Which would you prefer: Honey Nut Cheerios or Peanut Butter and Jelly?”
e) Say: “No problem. I’ll just make you an omelet.” Think: “You are so incredibly dead to me.”
It’s 6:45 and your guests are due to arrive in 15 minutes. You hop on your computer to make a playlist, which consists of:
a) Whatever they play between those segments on that NPR show.
b) “Losing My Religion,” and the exact same thirty-seven songs you put on the mixed tape you made for your girlfriend in college.
c) Haim, Haim, and more Haim.
d) Whatever comes up when you type “cool dinner party playlists” into the Google machine.
e) I don’t have time to make a playlist – isn’t there a Bland White Guy Pandora station on here somewhere?
You would describe your approach to menu planning as:
a) Buy fresh ingredients, and prepare them simply.
b) Three words: Short Ribs, bros!
c) Ramen. Or whatever rapo4 is hashtagging on his instagram feed.
d) Food’s not as important as the company — and besides, have you tried Trader Joes pot pies? They’re actually pretty good.
e) If it can be grilled, then I shall grill it.
Your default conversation starter when the silence borders on awkward is:
a) Okay. Edward Snowden: good guy or bad guy?
b) So, how’s your kitchen renovation going? Wolf or Viking?
c) What year is your Passat?
d) Who’s watching House of Cards?
e) What’s it all about? Life, I mean.
Your guests are raving about the braised pork, a recipe your friend Cindy made for you a few weeks ago. You: (more…)
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About a decade ago, when the girls were 6 months and almost 2, I showed up to the lobby of my office building just as I had every morning for five years and started rooting around my bag for the I.D. that would grant me access through the turnstiles. It was probably about 9:30, which meant I had likely been up four hours, and the caffeine hit from the single cup of coffee I allowed myself (breastfeeding, pumping, etc.) had long worn off. I seemed to find everything else in that bag — wallet, yellow-capped Medela bottles, Disney figurines — but not my I.D. Watching everyone else glide through to the elevator bank was too much for my sleep-deprived state — so I stood there and wept. Surely this was the worst thing that could ever happen to any human. Where the hell was my I.D.? Why couldn’t it be right where it always was? What was wrong with me?
Had I read Jennifer Senior’s new book All Joy and No Fun I would’ve probably had the same outsized reaction, but I’m guessing I would’ve been a little more forgiving of myself. Because among the many things I learned in her meticulously reported book on the complex state of modern parenthood (based on her widely discussed 2010 New York magazine cover story), I learned that there wasn’t much I could do about my reaction — it turns out that the way we handle sleep deprivation is a fixed trait, with most of us fitting into one of three major groups: “Those who handle it fairly well, those of us who sort of fall apart, and those who respond catastrophically.”
This tidbit seems small and almost obvious, but as with most things, to understand the science, to read the hard research on why our houses have become messier than any time in history; why a three-year-old is biologically incapable of responding to logic; why I loved — craved — going to work when my kids were little (when I remembered my I.D.); why moments of unbridled parental euphoria are so hard to capture in the day-to-day life with kids…to drill down deep on all this stuff is both instructive and comforting. Especially when the reporting is interspersed with personal stories from parents across the country. All in all, I’d say that reading Senior’s book felt like one big exercise in what the medical folks might call normalizing.
All Joy is also a fascinating chronicle of the many paradoxes of modern parenthood including, but not limited to:
- What’s great about America (your kids can grow up to be anything! There is no script) is also what’s so terrifying (there is no script!)
- We’ve never been in greater contact with each other — digitally — and yet, compared to our parents’ generation where neighbors were in and out of our houses, and kids were playing kickball in the cul-de-sac, we’ve never been so alone, so on our own.
- The more stuff children have, the more useless they become.
- The very same empowering skills parents encourage in their children (particularly in middle class families) lead those children to challenge and reject parental authority.
- Since after World War II — at which point the child’s status started shifting from “useful” to “protected,” — children have become “our crowning achievements,” and yet they have never been less equipped to live their own lives.
The most interesting paradox for me, though, was the fact that All Joy is really much more of an anthropological look at parenting than it is a parenting guide — Senior says this right away in her introduction — and is fundamentally based on the fact that raising happy children is harder and more elusive than it has been for any previous generation. And yet I came away the opposite of scared. Did I recognize myself in the story about the woman from Texas signing her kids up for tutors and football and softball without really knowing what the end game was? Yes. Did I freak a little when I read how a Brooklyn mom described her role in her teenage daughter’s life as “the pit crew?” (“I change all her tires, polish up the car, and get out of the way…then she peels out.”) Did the entire section on adolescence and its corresponding downward spiral effect on parental happiness scare the daylights out of me? Well, yes. But, oddly, when I closed the book, the more overwhelming feeling I experienced was that we were all in this together, struggling with the same (mostly unanswerable) questions — and even having a rough guide to the territory makes me feel just a little more mentally equipped to take the trip.
We’ll see how I feel about this theory in a few years.
Related: Jennifer Senior on Fresh Air. Also: a few cool giveaways coming up on facebook and instagram this month, so make sure you’re checking in.
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Tags:jennifer senior all joy no fun
Jenny called me at work a couple of weeks ago, on one of those gray afternoons when the temperature never rises much above 10 degrees and the dog refuses to go outside.
“I’m freezing,” she said. “How do I turn up the heat?”
“In the house, you mean?”
We’d lived in this house for ten years. This was not our first winter there.
“Yeah,” she said.
“Okay, do you see that box on the wall? The one in the living room, near the fireplace? It has digital numbers on it. That’s the thermostat.”
“I see it,” she said. “Now what?”
I’ll spare you the rest, but let me ask: Does this seem weird to you?
I could tell you how weird it seemed to me, too — how do you not know where the thermostat is?! – but I’d be lying. The truth is, it wasn’t that weird at all. I have to believe that most families have these random-seeming divisions of labor which, if you really step back and look at them — or write about them publicly on a blog — do seem pretty weird. Our house, and our marriage, is full of them. It’s practically built on them. Some of this is probably evolutionary (we have only so much bandwith, so we pool resources to survive, etc.), and some of it is probably just being happy to let someone else deal. Here are some other things that Jenny never does in our house: Replace light bulbs, pay bills, sweep the kitchen floor, cut the kids’ toenails, change the filters on our air conditioner, realize that our air conditioner has filters (and that they need changing), clean the tank of Abby’s beta fish. And here are some things I never do: Braid hair, iron anything, realize that anything needs ironing, organize closets, manage our calendar, feed the dog, sort the recycling on Wednesday mornings, hang up coats that get piled on the chair next to our front door, turn on the dreaded Sonos system.
This ad-hoc division of labor applies to our lives in the kitchen, as well. There are certain things we just close our eyes and rely on the other person to execute. (Q: And what if that other person isn’t around to execute it? A: We buy it.) For me, the idea of making, baking, and frosting a cake: unh-uh. Same goes for latkes — and for deep frying, in general. Have never done it, don’t know how to do it, don’t intend to learn. Jenny, on the other hand? She doesn’t make coffee. “Can you make some of your coffee?” she ask me on Sunday morning, as though “my coffee” is some rare, magical potion and not a matter of pouring some hot water over ground beans. How strange does all this get? Consider this: Jenny’s favorite breakfast of all time is a bowl of steel-cut McCann’s oatmeal with a little cream and fruit, AND SHE HAS NEVER MADE IT IN HER LIFE. Or, she tried once and wasn’t happy with the result and gave up forever, ceding all future oatmeal duties to me. Oatmeal is not hard to make. There is no real art to it. I am pretty sure she could (a) figure it out in about five seconds, if she tried, and (b) become a thousand times better at it than I am. But that’s not how it works, when it comes to the division of labor. Oatmeal is my thing. Mud cake is her thing. And as long as we stay in our lanes, we keep moving forward. – Andy
Andy’s Oatmeal Instructions
The only downside of steel-cut, real deal oatmeal is that it takes a while. If you’re trying to get it on the table on a Tuesday morning, as the kids are packing their backpacks and the dog needs to go out and orchestra practice starts in 25 minutes, this will not make you happy. On a Saturday morning, however, with the kids watching some SpongeBob and a cup of good coffee in your hand, and a rare “nothing day” stretching out in front of you: Yes. This humble little grain will do you right. Note: As much as I love oatmeal, I also believe that it’s all about the toppings. There must always be fruit — strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, bananas — or, if you’re in a pinch, dried cherries or cranberries work well, too. There must always be something sweet, as well, and here are my go-tos, in descending order of favoriteness: Maple cream, maple sugar, high-test maple syrup, dark brown sugar, agave. Jenny likes a few chopped almonds or pecans. Some people like a sprinkle of cinnamon. I am not one of those people.
1 cup steel cut McCann’s Irish oatmeal
3 cups water, plus another cup in reserve
1 pinch salt
In a medium saucepan, add 3 cups of water and a pinch of salt. When water is boiling, add 1 cup of oatmeal and stir. Reduce heat to the lowest simmer and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally and scraping along the sides of the pot with a rubber spatula, for 25-30 minutes. If it looks like the oatmeal is getting too thick, add a little more water and stir. I like it to be almost like porridge: thick but not too thick. Top with a drizzle of milk or cream, and the toppings of your choice.
Related: You Make it, You Own it.
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Tags:healthy breakfast for kids·oatmeal·winter breakfast
You guys would laugh at my inbox. For starters, it seems like every third email that is sent to my DALS email has the subject line “Pork Ragu.” There’s usually one or two with a panicky vibe, like: “I have people coming over and the short ribs are looking dry! What do I do?” (Answer: Add whatever liquid you can find.) And then occasionally I get something magical, something with a picture attached like the one you see above. With a subject that says “Love Over Sunday Minestrone.” Suzi is a working mom of three kids and a DALS reader. Here’s what she wrote:
I just wanted to say thank you to you and Andy for the entertainment and for keeping our weeknight meals interesting. I think I made at least three DALS recipes per week while on maternity leave with our third baby this fall. A typical comment from my 4-year-old: ”Mom, you should make this again!”
Now that I’m back at work, my husband, Noah, is the prime dinner chef. He is not a reader of blogs, but I am slowly winning him over. My aim is to have him searching the blog for weeknight favorites
soon too. Yesterday he set up this shot with the iPhone tripod. I happened to be making Sunday Minestrone, which you can see. He took one look at the photo and said, “You should send this in to your Dinner: A Love Story blog.” So here you go – dinner and love, all in one shot.
For the rest of you who occasionally write me asking How do you keep this blog going?
There’s your answer. And here’s the Magical Minestrone.
(Results Shown Above Not Guaranteed.)
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Want to learn how to cook but don’t know where to start? Miss the last 600 posts on Dinner: A Love Story and don’t know how to catch up? Looking for something to read while anxiously awaiting dispatches from the Supreme Court? Look no further. Herewith, a list of one hundred definitively DALSian (which is to say totally unofficial, ridiculously subjective) rules of dinner.
1. “Acid” is usually the answer when you taste a dish and wonder “What’s missing?”
2. Always cook more spinach than you think you’ll need.
3. The quickest way to enrage me is to start eating before the cook has sat down. Even if I’m not the one cooking.
4. The juiciest limes are the small ones with thin, smooth skin.
5. Being cooked for in someone’s home is one of the finer pleasures in life.
6. But I’m pretty sure I’d skip that invitation if someone offered to take me to ABC Kitchen instead.
7. There is nothing sadder than a piece of warm pie without ice cream.
8. Improvising with herbs or vinegars? Yes. Improvising with baking soda or baking powder? No.
9. There are very few problems in a kid’s life that aren’t momentarily solved by a stack of chocolate chip pancakes on Saturday morning.
10. There are very few problems in my life that I can’t momentarily forget about when I’m cooking dinner with Andy.
11. No need to sift. Whisking is just as effective.
12. Herbs in the salad.
13. Horseradish in the mashed potatoes.
14. Cinnamon in the chili.
15. Resist the urge to apologize when you’re cooking for people. Most of the time your dinner guests won’t notice anything is wrong until you bring it up.
16. There is no more fun question to put forth at the dinner table than “What would you do if you won this week’s Powerball?”
17. Dessert should be cake.
18. Kitchen chairs should be red. Or at least fun.
19. The term “100% All-Natural” when it appears on food packages: 100% meaningless.
20. If you have to unwrap it, it’s not going to be good for you.
21. It’s not wise to store your drinking glasses in the shelf above the dishwasher, the shelf that won’t be accessible until you shut the dishwasher.
22. Two words for those of you who haven’t switched from (iodized, metallic-tasting) table salt to (easy-to-handle, clean-tasting) kosher salt: Why the f not?
23. If my house were burning down and I could only save one thing from the kitchen, it would be my Master Copy of Dinner: A Love Story that I’ve had event planners, bookstore owners, morning show hosts, party guests, guest-posters, and family members sign as if it’s my high school yearbook.
24. Or maybe my Dutch Oven.
25. Slice a baguette on its side instead of right side up. That way you don’t end up smushing the loaf with your hand and knife.
26. Freeze soups and stews in flat bags so they thaw more quickly under running water. I know I’ve told you this one a thousand times, but it bears repeating.
27. The best way to seed a cucumber: Peel, halve horizontally, then use a spoon to scrape out the seeds.
28. The best way to get the conversation going at the table is by saying “Which kid got in trouble at school today?”
29. The best way to prepare scrambled eggs is with freshly grated Parm and snipped chives.
30. The best way to prevent tearing when chopping an onion is to wear contact lenses.
31. As far as I can tell, instructing your children to “please, dear Lord, please use your napkins” every night for ten straight years is not the best way to get your children to use napkins.
32. Learning how to Deconstruct my family dinners saved my family dinners.
33. It’s counterintuitive, but the sharpest knife is the safest knife.
34. When entertaining: Bo Ssam for the Boss; Short Ribs for the Neighbors; Minestrone for the Vegetarians.
35. When entertaining: Chicken is kind of a bummer.
36. When you use a knife to scrape food off a cutting board, use the dull side so you don’t ruin your blade.
37. When someone says they drink “one to two” glasses of wine a night, you can pretty much assume it’s two.
38. If you have to ask “lime or lemon?” when making me a gin and tonic…I’ll make my own gin and tonic.
39. My new Holy Trinity: Rice Wine Vinegar, Fish Sauce, Grapeseed Oil.
40. When you throw shrimp into lightly boiling water, it takes exactly three minutes to cook.
41. If you’re gonna use storebought pizza sauce, Don Pepino is the one to buy.
42. There is no such thing as owning too many little bowls.
43. Without some crunch (nuts, celery, snap peas, radishes), salads can only reach half their potential.
44. An immersion blender is just not as life-changing as everyone promises it will be.
45. Everybody should know how to properly chop an onion.
46. Most everybody should know how to roast a chicken.
47. Establishing a post-dinner alternating lunch-packing schedule goes down as the smartest thing we’ve ever done as parents.
48. Great Grandma Turano’s meatballs are better the next day.
49. It’s not chaos. It’s richness.
50. You end the day with family dinner.
51. When making pasta, be sure to salt the water.
52. The proper cocktail construction: First ice, then booze, then mixer.
53. Nobody uses enough ice.
54. You very rarely feel worse about yourself after cooking dinner.
55. You very often feel worse about yourself after going out and spending $68 for four soggy pepper jack quesadillas, some rice and beans, and a couple of Shirley Temples.
56. The simpler the recipe, the more likely I am to cook it.
57. People who say bribery is not a good way to get kids to eat have never had kids.
58. When eating grilled stuff outside in the summer, there is no shame in cold, pink wine.
59. When cooking steak on the grill, get a nice char over hot coals and then move it to a less hot part of the grill — i.e. over indirect heat. Test for doneness by pressing down on the meat with your finger. When it’s ready, it will have the consistency of the flesh at the base of your thumb. Once it’s firm, you have overcooked it.
60. The best grilling steak is a well-marbled ribeye.
61. The least healthy grilling steak is a well-marbled ribeye, which tells you something re the relationship between fat and flavor.
62. As Julia Child once said, “There is nothing worse than grilled vegetables.”
63. Clean as you go. Seriously, I can’t stress this enough.
64. Eggs can become difficult to eat if you think too hard about them.
65. We never invested in a decent blender, and I rue that sh*t to this day.
66. We did invest in a big, expensive Le Creuset Dutch Oven and, 300 pork ragus later, I am so happy we did.
67. When roasting potatoes – or any vegetable, really – cook five minutes longer than the recipe says. And then cook five minutes more.
68. If you want to get something crispy, the pan needs to be hot. And so does the oil.
69. The ideal weeknight side: Baby carrots simmered for 15-20 minutes in a little water, a squeeze of honey, a couple of sprigs of thyme, salt, and curry powder.
70. Let us stop for a minute and consider the taste of a fresh ear of corn, rolled in butter, sprinkled with salt.
71. Performance enhancing drugs are to sports as butter is to cooking. Which is not to say that butter is evil. But it is cheating.
72. I can’t think of a single meat or fish that does not taste better on the grill.
73. Salt the water again.
74. Raw spinach does nothing for me.
75. If someone cooks dinner for you and that dinner is delicious, and you enjoy eating it, say so. Say, “Oh my god, this is so good. This is INSANE.”
76. If someone cooks dinner for you and that dinner is maybe not the best thing you’ve ever eaten in your life, but still, it clearly required thought and time and work and, yes, love, say, “Oh my god, this is so good. This is INSANE.”
77. If you cook dinner for someone, and that person is not super forthcoming with his or her expressions of happiness or gratitude, you must (a) fight every urge to ask them if they like it, and (b) think twice about cooking for that person again.
78. Cooking is to baking as pleasure reading is to chemistry homework.
79. Salted butter for toast and bagels, unsalted butter for everything else.
80. Season your meat generously before you cook it, and then season it again while it’s cooking.
81. Everything in moderation, but particularly garlic.
82. I have a lot of regrets, but one of them is not substituting boneless chicken thighs for boneless chicken breasts in a recipe.
83. Three secret weapons of salad dressing: Teaspoon of sugar, dash of Sriracha, chives.
84. When making a hamburger, pack it loosely, and use lots of salt and pepper. And never ever ever ever press down on it with your spatula, for crying out loud. That is, unless your goal is to make it taste less good.
85. I serve turkey burgers. I know turkey burgers. Turkey burgers are a friend of mine. Turkey burgers, on your best day, you are no hamburgers.
86. Anything + Broccoli = A meal you can feel pretty good about.
87. If you care about what other people think about you and your parenting abilities, it is important that your kids only ask for their water “on the rocks” at home.
88. My ideal summer lunch: An open-faced heirloom tomato sandwich, on white toast smeared with mayonnaise and sprinkled with sea salt.
89. If I could keep only one cookbook, it would be Marcella Hazan’s The Essentials of Italian Cooking, followed by How to Cook Everything.
90. After Dinner: A Love Story, I mean.
91. The only acceptable mayonnaise brands are Hellman’s and Duke’s. It is a testament to how much I love my father that I can still accept him even though he puts LOW FAT MIRACLE WHIP on his sandwiches.
92. When I was a kid, my favorite meal was breaded pork chops that had been marinated in white vinegar. My mom would make them for my birthday, when the report cards arrived, and when I came home – with forty pounds of dirty laundry (and a gold hoop earring!) — from college. That smell, of the vinegary pork chops coated in Progresso Italian breadcrumbs, browning in olive oil in the Sunbeam electric frying pan, is burned so deep into my brain that, if you did the deathbed montage of my life, it’d be in there, right near the beginning. Not sure what that says about me, but it’s true.
93. More vinegar, less oil.
94. The ideal summer dinner: Fresh clams with pasta and a raw kale salad with pecorino romano and red onion.
95. Egg salad is a perfect food that is made even more perfect by the addition of dill, a handful of chopped pickles, and a dash of Dijon mustard.
96. The older I get, the less I like beer.
97. My ideal dessert: Jenny’s Mexican chocolate icebox cookies with cinnamon or vanilla ice cream. Or a fresh Mallomar, eaten in total quietude, so as to fully appreciate the sound of teeth cracking pristine chocolate shell.
98. Dredging the chicken or flounder before frying is an excellent task for a kid who is eager to help. Peeling a beet with a sharp knife is not.
99. Make friends with the fish guy at your farmer’s market.
100. Salt the water again.
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I first met with Emily Bazelon to discuss the idea that became her book, Sticks and Stones, two and a half years ago, when my kids were six and eight. As we sat in a conference room and talked, I remember two things going through my mind: (a) Wow, this person is way more smarter than I am, so please let me get through this meeting without humiliating myself, and (b) the topic of bullying is fascinating, complex, and (dreaded word) important, but God, am I glad my kids are still too young to be dealing with it. Much has changed in those two and half years. Mainly, our kids went ahead and got older. They’re 9 and 11 now, and while they enjoy school and — knock on wood — have yet to experience the problems that Emily explores in her new book, the social dynamics, not to mention the world they’re living in, are growing ever-more complicated. I didn’t know it then, but this book – and the lessons to be taken from it, from the danger of the rush to judgment to the absolute importance of empathy – has been a fertile and valuable source of conversation at our dinner table. It has helped Jenny and me talk about these issues, while sounding like we know what we’re talking about. And that’s all thanks to Emily. Emily is an incredibly reassuring presence, somebody who actually bothers to do the research before opining. She’s an editor at Slate, a beloved fixture of their political Gabfest, a contributor to The New York Times Magazine, and – see point (a) above – a fellow at Yale Law School. Knowing that we have a lot of parents who read this site, Jenny and I thought it might be helpful to have Emily answer a few of our more pressing questions. – Andy
What’s step number one if my kid is being bullied at school?
First, make sure you have all the facts. Sometimes an accusation of bullying can seem straightforward, but then turns out to be more multidimensional once you understand the full context. Your job, of course, is to support your child. Sometimes it will be clear that he or she is the victim and needs your protection. Other times, however, you will learn that she is caught up in “drama” and has played an active role, rather than being simply at the mercy of bullies. Job number one, then, is to make sure that you have as thorough an understanding of the situation as possible. It’s important to protect your child but it’s also important not to cry wolf. If what’s happening really is bullying, the more specific examples you can cite, the better for making your case.
Even legitimate complaints can boomerang in bad ways if not carefully framed. If school officials are not responding the way you think they should, you may have to keep pushing by going up the chain of command. But remember: school officials are people, too, with a heaping plate of responsibilities and limited time, and the more you respect the role they play, the more likely they will be to sympathize. What I mean is, give them the benefit of the doubt and save the frontal attack for when you feel you have no other choice.
A lot of bullying doesn’t happen at school these days, though, right? So what do I do if my kid is being bullied on line?
You can ask a social network site to take down any content that violates its rules, as many harassing posts clearly do. At Facebook, for example: When the target of an abusive post reports it himself, they will generally take his word for it. So your child should report the abuse immediately. You should also keep a record of the cruel content—even if it’s painful and you just feel like deleting it forever. It’s almost never a good idea to reply to a harassing post. If your child is having continuing trouble, I’d advise taking a break from social networking for a while (though I know that can be a hard sell!). Kids can always go back on when things have calmed down. Finally, police have the authority to address cyberbullying under the harassment laws of most states. But calling in the cops should be a thought-through decision rather than a knee-jerk reaction because it often triggers a response that’s more heavy-handed than called for.
A possibly stupid question, but: What’s the difference between general meanness between kids and true bullying — and is this a distinction that matters?
There is a difference and it does matter. Yes, absolutely. The best definition of bullying, which psychologists who do research use, is verbal or physical aggression that occurs repeatedly and involves a power differential—one (more…)
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Tags:bullying prevention·emily bazelon bullying·emily bazelon sticks and stones·sticks and stones
Tags:back to school·school·teacher forms
This picture was taken in Shek O, off the southeastern coast of Hong Kong Island where we’ve been visiting Andy’s brother and family for the past seven days. That’s Phoebe, jumping — after much prodding and negotiation — off the roof of a junk, and plunging into the South China Sea. A good reminder of how big and beautiful this world is, and how full of things to see. We hope you’re doing some of that, too, this summer.
See you in a week or so.
Jenny & Andy
PPS: Ten Things to Hold You Over Until We’re Back
1. Chicken-Apricot Skewers This one for me is all about that drizzling sauce with coconut milk and peanut butter. (From Bon Appetit)
2. Steamed Clams with Shallots and Wine. Serve with crusty bread and a fresh green salad for a 15-minute dinner. And secure the freshest clams you can find.
3. Baby Back Ribs with Mustardy-Potato Salad and Fennel Slaw. A perfect summer menu, best enjoyed wearing flip-flops.
4. Grilled Shrimp Tacos With or without homemade tortillas.
5. Green Papaya Salad with Shrimp (above) which we ate for dinner beachside in Koh Samui, watching a sunset, Chang beer in hand, toes wiggling in the sand. I don’t hold out hope I’ll be replicating a night like this again any time soon, but I can at least try to replicate the dish. I think I’ll start here.
6. Grilled Fish Tacos with Pineapple Salsa (page 236, Dinner: A Love Story)
7. Lamb Sliders (p. 206, Dinner: A Love Story) with Chick Pea Fries (p. 210) Bon Appetit served the fries as hors d’oeuvres at the DALS book party and they rocked. I’m resolved to serve them in my house with marinara instead of ketchup this year.
8. Cold “Peanut Butter Noodles” (page 261, Dinner: A Love Story) This is such a good one for easy entertaining. Can be made a day in advance — then all you have to do is set out toppings.
9. Summer Ginger-Peach Galette If you’ve chosen Dinner: A Love Story for your next book club selection, or even if you haven’t actually, there’s a reading guide (plus a recipe for this beautiful galette to serve if you are hosting) right here.
10. Tomato Caprese Salad You shouldn’t go a day without this on your table in some form between now and Labor Day.
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Tags:summer entertaining·summer recipe round-up·unplugged vacation·vacation dinner ideas
We have a bowl on our counter. It’s a wooden salad bowl that we have turned into a fruit bowl. I’m not a chemist, so I can’t tell you why this is, but this bowl has a strange and unpleasant effect on the produce we (stupidly) put inside it: it accelerates the ripening process. It possesses mysterious transformative properties. It’s like some kind of primitive oxygen deprivation chamber, a Destroyer of Life. Put a plum in there and, two days later, it’s a prune. Put a potato in it and, one week later, it has been colonized by these creepy, blooming nodules. It turns limes yellow, and lemons brown. Put a bunch of green bananas in it, blink three times, and they’ve been turned into the wizened, leathery fingers of a prehistoric animal. We end up throwing most of this stuff away. You’d think, given all this, we’d figure out a solution to the problem – like, I don’t know, use a different bowl? – but we’re people who have had a broken, leaning lamppost in our front yard for eight years, and have never quite mustered the energy to get it fixed. We’re people who bought four huge plastic storage bins to organize our
family shame basement a few months ago, and have yet to move them the ten feet from the garage into the basement, let alone fill them. It can take me weeks to change a light bulb – to the point that the act of finally replacing them feels like a victory. Inertia is our default mode – or, at least, it sure can feel that way sometimes.
The bowl, though: God, it bums me out. I resent it for reminding me of my powerlessness. So, last Saturday morning, when I looked over and saw three blackened, old-before-their-time bananas sitting there, on the cusp of total putrefaction, I decided to act. I would save them from the trash.
“I’m making banana bread,” I said.
Jenny was at the table, reading. “You’re weird,” she said.
I went over to the shelf and pulled a few stalwart cookbooks down – Bittman, Gourmet, New York Times, Ina Garten — and starting scanning indexes.
“I have a banana bread recipe,” Jenny said. “It’s in the blue binder, under desserts.” I knew the one she was referring to: it was from her friend Elizabeth, handwritten on a Real Simple notecard, and we’d been eating it for years.
“No, thanks,” I said. “I’m good. I think I’m gonna try the Bittman.”
“Why? You love that recipe.”
“Do we have any coconut?” I asked.
“Yeah, Bittman calls for shredded coconut. Do we have any?”
“You’re really annoying.”
Jenny was all uppity about it, too. She couldn’t believe I was stepping out like this, looking elsewhere for inspiration. Was this a referendum on her banana bread? No, it was not. Did this mean I loved her any less? No, it did not. The truth is, she does the same thing to me all the time. I have a perfectly good stir-fry recipe, one we’d made happily together for ten years, but she had to go and improve it by adding rice wine vinegar and hoisin sauce. Partly, this constant off-roading and experimenting is due to having a food blog and always needing new things to write about; but partly, it’s about, well, you know what it’s about. It’s about showing your spouse that you are still capable of discovering something new, all by yourself. It’s about keeping that (flickering) flame of your old identity — the one that exists outside of the “we” of marriage, the one with free will – alive in some small way. So, with Phoebe’s help, I put our stand-by aside and tried a new banana bread. Was it better? Who’s to say? But was it mine? Yes.
Chocolate Chip Banana Bread
This is great for school lunches and, toasted, for breakfast. I added a handful of chocolate chips, and subbed out some white sugar for brown, but otherwise, this is the Bittman recipe from the original How to Cook Everything.
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
2 cups flour (any combination of whole wheat and all-purpose)
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 ripe bananas, mashed with a fork
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a loaf pan.
Mix together the dry ingredients. Cream the butter and beat in the eggs. Stir this mixture into the dry ingredients, being careful not to overmix. Stir in vanilla, nuts, coconut, and chocolate.
Pour the batter into your greased pan and bake for 50-60 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 15 minutes.
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Tags:banana bread·chocolate chip banana bread·leftovers
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!
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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Love this note from longtime loyal reader “ingrid:”
While I have still not improved to your cooking expertise (who am I kidding — I feel lucky if I can grab a rotisserie chicken from Whole Foods 2 blocks away?!?!?), I have come to see that parenting is a team sport. Truly, this is what your blog is about – no? I mean the food stuff is great and all – but really the essence of what you give to people like me (as I am constantly outmaneuvered by a 4-year-old whose frontal lobe is still 21 years away from being completely formed), is that warm yummy feeling that I am not alone.
Keep the mail coming — nothing makes me happier than knowing I’m helping. Have a good weekend!
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If you come to our house for a grown-up dinner party, there’s a good chance it’ll be just after 8:00, and our two kids will greet you at the door. If all has gone according to plan, they’ll be bathed and pajama’d, their teeth will be brushed, and with a little luck they’ll be in bed, out of sight, 30 minutes later.
It’s not that we worry about the girls being un-presentable or that we fear they’ll pillage the crostini plate before our guests have taken their coats off. (OK, maybe we do worry about the crostini thing. It’s a problem.) It’s that usually the people we have over for dinner are parents, too. Parents who have already spent the waking part of their day doing what parents do – suffering through another Wa Wa Wubbzy marathon, doling out snacks, pretending to lose at Uno – and probably, if they’re being honest, don’t feel a real powerful need to spend valuable babysitting hours doing the same with someone else’s kids.
In our experience, what our guests are looking for is a cocktail with plenty of ice, some tasty food, and a conversation that does not begin with the words, “I am counting to three…” So usually, after our kids make their Dinner Party Cameo – the key with kids, like food, is to leave your guests wanting more — one of us will take them upstairs and shepherd them through their bedtime paces, while the other sets the table and puts the finishing touch on whatever has been braising away all afternoon in the Dutch Oven.
Very often in our house, it’s short ribs. We love braised short ribs for three reasons: one, they’re unstoppably, almost obscenely good; two, they’re impossible to screw up; and three, they require no hands-on time once the guests arrive. Entertaining, for us, is all about not having to start from zero once the kids are in bed, chopping and blanching and reducing – and sweating — while our guests stand in the kitchen, hungry, with one eye on the clock. It’s about having a glass of Barbera and diving into a dinner that is ready to go, but that also feels simultaneously casual and special. And when everything goes right, you can almost forget — for a few hours, at least — that there’s a Thomas the Train track running through the living room, and that you have to be awake at 5:30 the next morning to perform a sock puppet show. – Jenny & Andy
This story appears in the current issue of Bon Appetit. Head over to their website for the Short Ribs recipe, which is a simplified version of an old Balthazar favorite. Photo by Christopher Testani for Bon Appetit.
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Tags:braised beef·entertaining families·one pot meal
I spent fifteen years after high school pretending Led Zeppelin sucked. I was apparently too cool for Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. Something happened to me when I went off to college – well, a lot of things happened to me when I went off to college, but the most egregious was that I stopped rocking my a*s off. Not that I was ever in a band or anything. The closest I came to actual shredding was air-guitaring to “Whole Lotta Rosie” with my Arthur Ashe tennis racket in the paneled family room of our house in the suburbs of Northern Virginia. But college messed me up. Suddenly, music, like the books I pretended to read (waddup, Günter Grass?!) under trees on the quad, had become social currency, a signifier of intellectual heft. Suddenly, I was into the Cure and the Cocteau Twins, 10,000 Maniacs, and a moody Scottish troubador who called himself Lloyd Cole. I took long hangover naps to the gentle strains of Talk Talk. I DJ’d a radio show and inflicted Jesus Jones on the poor souls of Western Massachusetts, whose only crime was turning on their radios on Saturday morning, hoping to hear music. By the time I graduated, I was afloat in a warm bath of ambience and interesting lyrics.
A brief history of my descent, from there: In the late nineties, Jenny and I got married, and in the inevitable process of accommodation and compromise, my musical tastes changed again — Lucinda Williams, Matthew Sweet, Norah (gulp) Jones, Sheryl (double gulp) Crow, Ryan Adams, and many others I’ve no doubt repressed – and the soundtrack of my life down-shifted into what I call Music Couples Can Cook To. Then came kids, and I’ll spare you the grisly account of how my iPod was violated over the five year period that my kids were becoming sentient beings, but let’s just say that I know a few songs by Laurie Berkner. If we ventured outside of kid music during these years, it was into territory that felt family-friendly and safe yet still adult, that – if deployed in a car traveling at 60 mph – could lull a cranky child to sleep. In other words, we’d moved into the Music That Won’t Ruin Dinner Parties phase of life. This was thoughtful, smart stuff, sung by dudes in skinny jeans; this was literature set to music. And I participated, suffering through Bright Eyes, M. Ward, Andrew Bird, Jenny Lewis, Jeff Tweedy (solo), Neko Case, Elvis Perkins, and…holy crap, I nearly fell asleep just typing that list.
Then, in 2006, I was saved.
One day at work, a friend handed me a copy of the newly-remastered Live at the Fillmore East by Neil Young and Crazy Horse. I put it on at my desk, and in the course of the COMPLETELY BRAIN-MELTING SIXTEEN MINUTE AND NINE SECOND VERSION of “Cowgirl in the Sand” that ensued, something powerful rose up from the depths. It was like having spent ten years watching decent high schoolers play pepper, and then going to batting practice at Yankee Stadium. Oh, right. So THIS is how it’s done. The shock of recognition, the glimpse of your old, pre-kid, pre-married, less Starbucks-y self: that stuff is for real. I don’t want to overstate things, but something awoke within me that day, some long-lost part of the old me who enjoyed a gratuitous guitar solo and didn’t feel like wearing a scarf or being bummed out. Interesting lyrics are interesting, but I’m borderline middle-aged, with a full-time job and two daughters and a gray crossover vehicle, and I could use something more than interesting. Down the rabbit hole I went, digging up old CDs, trolling youtube for jams, burning tons of Stones and James Brown and Led Zeppelin , ditching the singer-songwriters and diving deep into anything that sounded good loud, from the three-guitar onslaught of The Drive-By Truckers to Jack White to “Check Your Head”-era Beasties to My Morning Jacket to The Jam to, yes, Duane F’ing Allman. And here’s the thing: For the most part, the kids came right along with me. I started playing this stuff in the car, on the way to soccer games and playdates – and with rare exceptions (see: Burma, Mission Of), I heard very few complaints. Instead, I heard, when the song ended: “Again.” Instead, I saw, in the rear view mirror, during those first thirty seconds of “Custard Pie”: Abby, her window down and her hair blowing back, doing her guitar face. She couldn’t have looked happier. Because kids, instinctively, know what feels good. Don’t believe me? Put on some Mason Jennings, and then put on “Hotel Yorba,” and turn it up. See what sticks. – Andy
Rock & Roll Illustration by Phoebe.
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This might sound paranoid, but one can never be too safe. I have this feeling that some kind of shadowy, proxy war has broken out in our house lately. It’s small, seemingly innocuous things that, when I add them up, suggest something more ominous might be afoot. It’s coming home every Saturday morning from the farmer’s market, unpacking the loot, and finding two or three large zucchinis staring up at me from the bottom of the bag, zucchinis I was not aware were purchased. (The old Trojan horse strategy.) It’s telling me, again, how popular the “green fries” post continues to be with DALS readers (so weird!), and asking me, all innocent-like, if we should throw a little zucchini on the pizza tonight before it goes bad. (Classic psy-ops technique.) It’s standing in the kitchen, and hearing you say, “Mmmm, this looks delicious, we have to make this sometime, look,” only to realize that the recipe you’re pointing to is for something called “zucchini crudo,” which, upon closer inspection, is really just raw squash, sliced thin, with a little lemon juice drizzled on top. And it’s somehow always managing to say this in front of your little agent provocateurs, who then respond, (as if) on cue, “Daddy hates zucchini!”
No, Daddy does not hate zucchini. Daddy does not have the energy to hate zucchini. Zucchini is not worthy of hate. (Garlic mashed potatoes, on the other hand…) Here’s an attempt to clarify my position, once and for all: I would never willingly choose to eat zucchini. I find zucchini bland. Bland can be okay, but I also find it kind of flaccid and soggy, and it’s that soggy, slightly gelatinous quality, that weird spongy texture, when combined with the blandness, that keeps it from rising even to the level of inoffensiveness. Zucchini, to me, is the Three and a Half Men of vegetables: Can I endure it, if absolutely necessary? Yes, I can. Do I enjoy putting it in my mouth? No, I don’t. Will I swallow it whole in order to get it down because of said mushiness issues? Yes, I will. I mean, have you ever heard anyone take a bite of zucchini, drop the fork, and say, “Holy sh@t, that zucchini is INSANE?” Because I have not. But, honestly, I feel like you know this already. We’ve been married thirteen years, and my position vis a vis zucchini has remained steadfast. (About as steadfast as your position on bell peppers and olives, for the record.) Which makes me wonder: why the renewed guerilla campaign? Why all the subterfuge? When you say you love zucchini, and resent that you hardly ever get to eat it anymore because I don’t really like it: what, exactly, do you love about it? Help me out here. I want to know. Or is this, getting back to the proxy war thing, not about zucchini?
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Tags:zucchini bread recipe·zucchini crudo·zucchini dinner ideas·zucchini recipes for kids
I’m going to start this story with a personal note to my Women’s Studies professor from college: Please do not continue reading. OK are we good? Are we alone now? Because I’m about to venture into some serious damsel-in-distress territory here.
I can’t grill.
From May through September, I depend on Andy – my totally evolved, equality-minded husband – to be my dinner hero. I know I’m not alone – I know that this scenario plays out in backyards across the country and that the Weber remains a shady, unknowable realm to even my most kitchen-savvy women friends. But come on, this is 2011. How is this OK?
I know what you’re thinking – how exactly is it a bad thing that for four months out of the year, someone else is responsible for feeding Phoebe, Abby and me? (And feeding us well, I might add.) I can only respond with this anecdote: Remember last year how I miraculously arranged my work schedule so I could take a two-week beach vacation? The girls and I headed out for the first week, then Andy joined us for week two. Fun, right? I thought so too until Night One, when I found myself setting the oven to 425° to prepare Abby’s favorite baked drumsticks. This is not the way to cook in the summer. On vacation. In South Carolina. In August. (more…)
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Tags:bon appetit providers·fourth of july grilled chicken·how to grill 101·juicy grilled chicken·yogurt marinated chicken recipe
I’ve been feeling a little badly about something. I re-read my post about last weekend’s Grilled Lamb Feast and had the thought: I don’t know if I would like me if I didn’t know me. Who calls their own number on a dinner party? If Phoebe read it, she might have called me “braggy.” The truth is, I was thrilled about that meal because for a few weeks there, I was feeling like Chuck Knoblauch in the late 90s when he forgot how to throw from second base to first. Like totally forgot to the point where the ball would sail 10 feet over the first baseman’s head and into the crowd. He was the second baseman for the New York Yankees. The New York Yankees! This was his job. Sort of like how I write about dinner, so I’m expected to know how to execute a your basic everyday skillet meal. But I started to feel like I was suffering from a bad case of the yips. I could not turn out a decent coconut curry chicken even though I’ve been making a version of one for over a decade. One night, I thought I was a genius for conflating Phoebe’s request for meatballs and Abby’s request for chicken teriyaki into “chicken teriyaki meatballs” — until I actually tried one and realized they tasted like balls of styrofoam with a hint of sawdust. I couldn’t even get mad at Abby when I told her there’d be no dessert if she didn’t eat more, and she responded, “Fine. I’ll have one more bite of this disgusting meatball.” I think my lowest point, though, was last Wednesday when I broke out a nice bottle of Gruner from the fridge and sunk the corkscrew right into the….screwtop cork-less cap. My first thought: Is today the day my family and my DALS readers find out that I am a complete fraud? My second: Thank God, dinner report cards already went out. (more…)
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Tags:French Fry Salmon·salmon for kids
And Jenny evaluates Andy… (more…)
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