Entries Tagged as 'Rituals'

One Thing We Did Right

June 19th, 2014 · 14 Comments · Rituals

Last year, we sent our then 11-year-old to sleepaway camp for two weeks, where she did all the things kids do at sleepaway camp — she paddle-surfed in the lake, slept in an open-air cabin, competed in color wars, roasted marshmallows in bonfires after dinner, complained about that dinner (and lunch and breakfast), and wrote her parents letters during her free time summarizing it all. Wow, were those some good letters! Though, as anyone who sends their kid away to camp knows, it doesn’t take much for a letter to qualify as “good” — regardless of the contents, it’s almost enough to just know that they are merely surviving without us, and have the wherewithal to put a pen to paper.

Anyway, as you know, I generally don’t share personal details about my kids — let alone personal letters from them — but Phoebe did grant me permission to publish one sentence, which I just re-read the other day, and which I thought you’d appreciate as much as I did:

“I eat fruit before breakfast. I seriously think that if I don’t, my brain will get confused.”

In the same letter, there were multiple tales of her overnight adventure, camping far into the woods (glad I didn’t know about that one til it was over) and swims in the lake at sunrise, but the fruit at breakfast, sadly, was what captivated me. Ever since she started eating solid food (when is that, New Parents?? Eight months, nine months? Can you believe I forget!) we would always start her day with peeled peach chunks, or a mashed banana, or, her favorite, strawberries, chopped up into little pincer-grabbing bites, just to ensure that she got the healthy stuff in before whatever followed. As she got older, and as she was joined by her sister, we just never stopped. To this day, every morning starts with fruit. It’s an honest-to-God healthy habit that stuck. Apparently, it’s so sticky that it happens when we’re not even around to enforce it. Amazing! Something we did actually worked!

I think because Abby’s elementary school graduation (sorry, “stepping up”) is next week, I’ve been more prone to nostalgia and regret — so these kinds of ridiculously small triumphs have been making my heart swell a bit more than is probably normal. But if you are lucky enough to have a baby starting on new foods, try it out. One day, they might even write home about it.

Tomorrow’s Post: Ten Thousand Things We Did Wrong

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Clear the Afternoon, Kids! We’re Making Mole

March 10th, 2014 · 18 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Entertaining, Rituals

In my next book — which you’ll be hearing about shortly — there’s a whole section on recipes I call “Keep the Spark Alive” dinners. These meals are the opposite of what we make on, say, a Tuesday night, when efficiency and convenience are the most important ingredients. In some ways, they are the opposite of the DALS mission in general. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t every bit as important, especially when we are talking about the psychological health of a family cook. Think of it this way: If Pretzel Chicken and Beef and Broccoli stir-fries are the workhorse recipes, the ones that get me through the week day in and day out, “Spark” meals are the ones that remind me why I love to cook in the first place. They call for ingredients I’ve never used before and usually require a big chunk of luxurious time. Marcella’s Bolognese is a good example of a Spark dinner, so is Andy Ricker’s Pad Thai. And on this dreary New York morning, I’m pleased to announce, I have a new one to add to the list.

It started with Uncle Mike. At our annual Christmas Eve dinner at his house this past year, he served, among a dozen other things, the most amazing Chicken Mole.

The chicken was tender and stewy, the sauce was rich and deep, but not overpowering like some versions I’ve tasted in the past. The kids, skeptical at first, cleaned their plates. It was December, which meant by that point in the winter, I had eaten my fair share of braised short ribs at dinner parties, so part of the novelty of this meal was the fact that I was I dining on a hearty, warm-your-bones chicken-based main. Except for maybe Julia Child’s Coq au Vin, I don’t have a whole lot of those in my repertoire that would earn their keep on a holiday spread.

“How’d you make your mole?” I asked Mike. Only someone who has never made mole would broach the subject so innocently.

He gave a little knowing “Ha” before replying. Mike, an ambitious home cook who grows a dozen varieties of chile peppers in his backyard, and sends us a care package of home-dried Persimmons every November, is not one to shy away from an recipe that might call for pasillos, mulattos, piloncillo, and bolillo.  ”It’s a Diana Kennedy recipe, and it’s been days in the making.”

When I hear the name Diana Kennedy, I mentally turn the page. Diana Kennedy, as I’m sure you know, is one of our country’s foremost authorities on Mexican cooking. Because everyone has told me as much, I have a bunch of her books, and yet, whenever I crack the spine on one, determined this time to conquer at least a simple recipe, I remember: There is no such thing — and as with anything authentic and memorable, there probably shouldn’t be. The recipe Mike used was from Kennedy’s definitive Oaxacan cookbook, but a few days later, he emailed me another, slightly simpler Mole Negro, that looked similar. Mole Negro is one of dozens of versions — it’s the darker kind that incorporates chocolate — and he described it as “traditionally the most difficult.”

I looked at the recipe. Twenty-nine ingredients, half of which would require some scavenger hunting in Mexican markets around the county.  I filed it under “Another recipe, for another kind of cook.”

But damn that mole was good! It stayed with me all winter, and last week, when I was calendarizing (defined as The act of staring at your family’s schedule to see how you can squeeze some real life in between all the activities) I noticed a nice long empty weekend afternoon and evening. It was going to be our last Saturday without soccer until July, no one was coming over, and just by chance, that morning Abby had an orchestra concert a short drive away from a stretch of awesome Mexican grocers.

Mole was calling, and I needed to answer. (more…)

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Giving Thanks on Thanksgiving

November 18th, 2013 · 15 Comments · Posts by Andy, Rituals, Thanksgiving

We put a lot of stock in the idea that families — whatever form “family” might take — create meaning, and identity, through ritual. When the kids are little, that might mean reading to them in bed every night for twenty minutes, or going for long bike rides on Saturday afternoons and talking about life its ownself. It can be something as simple cranking some AC/DC (aka “pump-up” music) on our way to a soccer game, or, in what seems to be our most sacred ritual of the moment, having the exact same argument with our oldest daughter, when she comes down for breakfast in the morning, about the wisdom of wearing a short-sleeve t-shirt when it’s 38 freaking degrees outside. But the king of all rituals for us are the holidays — and in particular, that great secular celebration known as Thanksgiving.

We love Thanksgiving, and have done our best to pass that love on to our kids. Everything about the day gives comfort, a series of rituals so well-worn that the kids could probably recite the day’s slate of activities by heart: Roll out of bed. Watch some Sponge Bob. Eat Nana’s French Toast (and eat well, because there will NOT BE ANOTHER BITE OF FOOD until show time). Sit around in PJs with their cousins. As the grown-ups trim the Brussels sprouts and peel the potatoes, the kids go off and begin preparing a one-act play they will perform after dinner — one that, while often thin on plot, never fails to do an excellent job of skewering the parents in the room. Around 3:00, go for a long family walk. As final prep takes place and the grown-ups fret about whether the turkey is cooked, the kids gather upstairs and rehearse their play. When the serving plates have been warmed and all the food is laid out on the buffet, we grab our plates and pile it on, uniting the whole mess with a thick coat of gravy, and then we sit down and eat until we’re comatose. The perfect end to a perfect day.

Except for one thing: We could never figure out a way to say thanks.

It wasn’t that we didn’t try. One of the adults would usually raise a glass and express how lucky and grateful he or she felt to be here, in this room, with this group of people — but the problem was, the kids were starving and talking (ages 5-11, remember) and everyone was slightly distracted and Grandma, as per usual, was telling everyone to hurry before it gets cold, and so it never really ended up feeling like we had that moment. I know this is gonna sound a little righteous, but that moment — along with the 20-pound turkey — is what makes Thanksgiving different from any other Thursday night dinner, or any other holiday for that matter. That moment is what this is all about! I describe it to the kids as the difference between saying thank you and being thankful.

So last year, we decided to institutionalize — okay, enforce — the giving of thanks. The goal was to make this something the kids would actually consent to doing, i.e. to make it a little fun, to keep it from feeling solemn or dutiful. We made a Thanksgiving Mad-Libs, printed one out for everyone, kids and adults, and handed them out before dinner with a stipulation: Everyone had to go off by themselves and fill them out, and not only that, they had to put some thought into it. They had to care. When we sat down, obscenely full plates before us, we took turns reading them aloud. And just because this was largely done with kids in mind does not mean that grown-ups got away with sitting by and watching: Everyone filled one out, and everyone gave thanks. Even Papa Ivan, the chocolate-loving patriarch, whose love for his children and grandchildren (see above), was plain for all to see — and for which we are thankful. — Andy

Click here to download a copy of a 2013 Mad Lib for your own table.

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Thanksgiving Eve 2013

November 15th, 2013 · 21 Comments · Rituals, Seafood, Thanksgiving

By the time Thanksgiving week rolls around, the game plan, for the most part will be fully mapped out. The menu will have been tweaked and retweaked to reflect just the right amount of tradition (Grandma Jody’s herb-roasted turkey, mashed potatoes) and adventure (maple buttermilk custard pie!); the duties will have been divvied up among aunts and uncles. Anything that can be done in advance—grocery shopping, pie crust making, bourbon stocking—will be done in advance. When we wake up on the last Thursday in November, we will be totally, 100 percent ready to rock.

And then we remember the last Wednesday in November—also known as Thanksgiving Eve, also known as Oh, Sh-t, We Have 14 People Standing Around the Kitchen, Half of Them Starving Kids, and We Forgot We’re Responsible for Feeding Them.

On Thanksgiving Eve, we at least know what we don’t want to make. We don’t want to make poultry. We don’t want to make anything that requires a bunch of pots and pans or taps into the precious reserve of psychic energy we need for Thanksgiving. We don’t want to order pizza, which just feels wrong. And above all, we don’t want something heavy. That’s what the next day is all about.

It’s like this: On the night before a championship bout, did Muhammad Ali go out and pick a bar fight? The night before performing in The Marriage of Figaro, does the diva practice her primal screams? The night before the food-lover’s Olympics, do we make a 20-ingredient paella? No. We rest, we get our heads together, we create optimum conditions for the main event.

So this year we’re doing salmon en papillote, which only sounds complicated. Here, everyone can customize what vegetables go into her parchment paper–wrapped fish packet (Kale? Spinach? Thinly sliced potatoes?) before drizzling (or not) the horseradish dill sauce on top after the whole thing has cooked. It’s fresh and light, and best of all, there is minimal cleanup—only a baking sheet or two. For that, we give thanks.

This is our “Providers” column for the November issue of Bon Appetit. Head over to their site for the salmon in parchment paper recipe.

Related: Thanksgiving Eve 2012

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Marcella Hazan 1924-2013

September 30th, 2013 · 25 Comments · Pork and Beef, Rituals

Marcella Hazan, who changed the way Americans think about Italian cooking, and who feels like family in our house even though we knew her only through recipes, died yesterday. She was 89.

Here is a beautiful obituary in The New York Times.

Here is a tribute I wrote this morning for Bon Appetit.

Here is her famous Bolognese.

Here is her famous Tomato Sauce that calls for three ingredients: tomatoes, onion, butter.

Here is her famous Milk-braised Pork. (I think it might’ve been of the first post Andy ever wrote for this blog.)

Here is proof of how important she has been in our kitchen, from the moment I first heard her name in 1993.

Here is the cookbook you should buy in her honor, and cook from for the rest of your life.

Thank you, Marcella.

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Dinner and a Movie

September 10th, 2013 · 16 Comments · Dinner, Rituals, Vegetarian

The night: Friday
The scene: Two friends, ages 9 and 11, coming over for dinner and a movie.
The movie: Forrest Gump
The issue: Very little in the fridge — except the most beautiful CSA Tuscan kale and peak-season tomatoes — but not ordering in and not going shopping again, no way, no how.
The other issue: Is it point-blank unfair to serve kale to kids who were just hoping for pizza and popcorn?
The other other issue: Will 9- and 11-year-olds understand any historical references in Gump?
The kale solution: Add some avocado to the kale. Maybe a little pickled something if I can get away with it.
The main course solution: Pizza. Always pizza! Homemade whole wheat crust, homemade pizza sauce, last strands of shredded mozzarella (including a few wayward string cheeses), fresh tomato slices, basil.
The review: Could’ve done without a few inappropriate scenes in Gump (and should’ve checked Kids-in-Mind!) but with a little help from the fast-forward button: it worked.
The menu review: Kale: Let’s just say it might’ve been the Ishtar of side dishes for kids. The pizza? Four thumbs up.

Dinner and a Movie Menu
Whole Wheat Pizza with Fresh Tomatoes
Kale & Avocado Salad

Pizza Crust (adapted from Jim Lahey’s My Bread)

2 3⁄4 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 1⁄2 teaspoons instant or other active dry yeast
3⁄4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/3 cups water, room temperature
Olive oil, for greasing

In a large bowl, stir together the flours, yeast, salt, and sugar. Add water and mix until blended, at least 30 seconds. The dough will be stiff, not wet and sticky. Cover the bowl and let it sit at room temperature until the dough has more than doubled in volume, about 2 hours. Divide the dough in two and shape each section into flattened balls. If you are only making one pizza, freeze the other ball in a freezer storage bag. (If you rub a little olive oil on your fingers and on the ball of dough before bagging, it will be less sticky to negotiate when you  need it later.) Now, make the sauce… (more…)

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Date Night Lamb Chops

September 9th, 2013 · 6 Comments · Dinner, Rituals

The day after we had our first baby, a friend with kids visited us in the hospital to meet the new addition. He held Phoebe, we took some pictures, and before he left, he delivered some advice: “Make sure to get a date night every once in a while,” he said. “Alone time is important, and it can get lost.”

Lost? On us? Never!

As if to prove our point, we headed out for our first post-kid dinner six weeks later—an early-bird special in downtown Manhattan. We put our daughter to bed, handed the babysitter many pages of insane instructions, and ran out the door. But the alone time we’d carved out didn’t feel so…alone. We checked our phones. We called the sitter. We ate like cavemen and skipped dessert, telling ourselves we were too full (we weren’t). When we got home, it was still light out. Was this how it was gonna be? Like, forever?

For a while, yes. Forever, no. At some point, the clouds parted. Our one kid turned into two kids, who miraculously learned to place food into their own mouths and go to sleep without us. And so we embraced dinner out in a big, existential way. Even when the girls were finally old enough to tag along, we kept the reservation capped at two. Going to a good restaurant became the easiest way to remind us that there was a world out there beyond Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! and “Kidz” menus.

Nowadays, we do not mess around with these nights. We book the sitter within minutes of booking the reservation. We hand the girls their favorite take-out menus and tell them to make a night of it themselves. We meet at a bar for a cocktail. We wear shoes that are not waterproof. We order dessert.

Last month, we hit Lafayette, Andrew Carmellini’s new downtown brasserie, a leather-boothed place that felt like a New York institution the minute it opened its doors. We sat down for dinner at 8:30—when we used to aim to be home by—and 
started to feast: leaves of butter lettuce served with Roquefort and country ham; short-rib ravioli; market-fresh peas tossed with mint pesto and ricotta salata. We took particular pleasure in ordering things the kids would never allow in their airspace: buttery, sweet scallops, a pickled-blueberry sorbet. The stars of the night? Moroccan-spiced lamb chops that we could have eaten by the dozen. “Man, the kids would love these,” we said as we ate them. “We should bring them here.” On second thought, no, we shouldn’t. But if they’re lucky, we might make them at home.

This is our “Providers” column for the September issue of Bon Appetit. Head over to their site for Lafayette’s Moroccan-Spiced Lamb Chops recipe. Photo by Christopher Testani for Bon Appetit.

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Vacation Dinner Highlight Reel

August 21st, 2013 · 12 Comments · Dinner, Grilling, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Rituals, Sides, Salads, Soup, Travel

I can’t promise you this will be a very usable guide to exciting eating. As you know, on vacation, you can toast a pop tart for dinner and it will make you as happy as a four-course meal at Cafe Boulud. (In fact, maybe we’ll try that tonight.) But, as you can imagine, we are getting seriously into our South Carolina vacation dining, doing our best to adhere to the 50 Rules, outlined so dutifully last week so we don’t lose total control. Herewith our top six dinner moments this side of the Mason-Dixon line…

1. Shrimp Cocktail. I once read that if you’re not going to eat shrimp right off the boat in Southeastern US, you might as well always buy it in the freezer aisle — there’s pretty much no such thing as fresh, flavorful shrimp outside of this region. I think that’s why whenever we are down here, we eat shrimp like we’re never going to eat shrimp again. The run-up so far: Shrimp cocktail before dinner as often as possible (chilled with cocktail sauce, natch), grilled shrimp in salads at lunch; shrimp salad rolls for dinner.

2. Oyster Sliders at The Ordinary. We’ve gone out to dinner a few nice places, but so far the winner has been The Ordinary — perhaps a tip-off was the fact that Bon Appetit nominated it for one of the country’s 50 best new restaurants this year. Or perhaps it was the oyster sliders with the crazy coconut action that Abby ordered and which put the rest of our meal to shame. And that’s saying something because the rest of the meal — lobster rolls, pickled shrimp, John Dory schnitzel — was pretty damn tasty.

3. Beet & Carrot Slaw Our CSA pick-up was the day before driving from New York to South Carolina, so what were we going to do, give our neighbor that week’s share? I don’t think so. Not when, among other things, heirloom tomatoes and cylindra beets were in the box. We packed all our produce in a cooler and tended to the bundle like it was a third child. The love and care paid off because on our first night cooking we made some flounder and, not wanting to turn on the oven (Rule 45!), I shredded those beets on a box grater with some carrots, tossed in rice wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, cilantro and mint. (Full disclosure: There was no mint, but there should’ve been.)

4. Phoebe’s Crostini You’re looking at grilled tuna (that Andy had spackled in mayo before throwing on the Weber) a very JV succotash made with butter beans, corn, red peppers, onion, sauteed in a little bacon fat (apologies to real southerners) and Phoebe’s crostini. At camp, Phoebe learned that if you toss chopped fresh tomatoes, fresh peaches, corn kernels, a drizzle of balsamic and some Parm, and put the whole thing on baguette toasts, then very delicious things ensue. “It’s like summer in a bowl,” she announced when she put together the topping. I’ll take it!

4. Roast Carrots with Garam-Masala Yogurt Sauce. OK, so fine, I confess: we turned on the oven once. Or twice. But the cause was a noble one — carrots, cut on the bias, tossed with a little chopped onion, olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roasted at 425°F for about 30 minutes (keep an eye on them). While they roasted, I whisked together about 3/4 cup plain yogurt with a teaspoon garam masala, lime juice, olive oil, chopped cilantro and mint. I’m not going to go so far to say it was the best thing on the plate — that’s an impossible honor when a grilled burger with special sauce is in the mix — but it was a clear leader in the side dish department this summer.

6. Beach Picnic The homemade pizza with fresh tomatoes was pretty good. So was the asparagus that Andy quickly sauteed in olive oil, salt, and pepper during the 30 minute stretch that the girls were totally, absolutely, relentlessly begging for a beach picnic. You promised! It’s so easy! I’ll help pack everything! Come on it’s vacation! Be fun! What parents know but kids don’t yet is that beach picnics are one of those things that always sound really fun, but are actually kind of a nightmare. Especially if you don’t have any of the right gear (see baking pan cum nonbreakable tray above) and especially if you try to take photos showing how ideal the night is (full moon, clear sky, silky calm ocean, etc), then get sand in your fancy camera making things a thousand times more stressful. So why is this even on my highlight reel? Because after dinner was over, we all jumped in the ocean. And there’s very little that beats a post-dinner sunset swim.

For more real-time dinner highlights, follow us on instagram: andyward15 and dinneralovestory.

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Only on Vacation: Salsa Fresca

August 14th, 2013 · 20 Comments · Rituals, Sides, Salads, Soup, Vegetarian

Far and away, the most beloved pre-dinner snack in our house is chips-and-salsa. Every night, while the grown-ups are do-si-do-ing around each other assembling something that resembles a meal, the kids are generally popping into the kitchen to dunk a chip into a bowl of decanted Trader Joe’s salsa (and ask, yet again, dinner almost ready? Mom? Dinner almost ready? Dad?) It would never occur to me to make that salsa from scratch. Even if the tomatoes were in season all year long, even if I had more time than the usual turbo-charged weeknight affords.

But when I’m on vacation, as I am now, it’s a different story. For as long as I can remember — pre-book, pre-blog, maybe even pre-diary — one of the first things we ever started experimenting with was fresh salsa. Even when the tomatoes weren’t perfect like they are right now, even when we had a perfectly acceptable jar of prepared stuff in the fridge, we’d make a point to chop up a few heirlooms, toss in some onion, play around with hot sauce and tomato paste and cilantro before striking the right formula. It’s so easy, in fact, that every time we make it, as we did last night, we wonder why we never make it back home. Of course as soon as we ask the question, we answer it immediately: Some things just belong on vacation.

Salsa Fresca

There’s definitely no official recipe for this, which is another way of saying that you should have some spare chips by your side so you can taste and correct as you concoct. (Chef’s privilege!) But the basic idea is this: Chop up 1 or 2 of the freshest tomatoes you can find — heirlooms are best, but really any good summer tomatoes will do. (And chop them into smaller pieces than you see above.) For every cup of chopped tomatoes, add 2 tablespoons cilantro, 1 tablespoon finely diced red onion, 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, 1/4 cup olive oil, dash of hot sauce, salt and pepper. That’s your baseline salsa fresca, but even that is flexible depending on how juicy the tomatoes are (and how juicy you like your salsa). Once you have your base, you can add whatever you’d like: corn, chopped yellow peppers, chopped peaches, pineapple. If your tomatoes aren’t quite as flavorful as you’d like them to be, whisk a little tomato paste into the red wine vinegar before tossing with tomatoes. Serve with chips.

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50 Rules of Vacation

August 13th, 2013 · 38 Comments · Rituals, Travel

  1. You can never, ever pack too many bathing suits.
  2. Make a pot of really good coffee before bed, pour immediately into glass pitcher, put said pitcher into the refrigerator, and — voila —  you have a steady supply of high-test iced coffee for the next morning. This could not be more crucial in re vacation happiness.
  3. Exercise first thing in the morning, and shower at night.
  4. Jumping in the pool counts as a shower.
  5. Dudes over forty should do everyone a favor and run with a shirt on.
  6. Everything tastes better on vacation.
  7. Always assume the worst about the beach rental’s utensil drawer. BYO knives.
  8. Fifty-one weeks of the year: ballet pink for the pedicure. This week: Neon tangerine.
  9. Fifty-one weeks of the year: milk or water with lunch. This week: Ice cold Coke.
  10. Fifty-one weeks of the year: Cocktail hour at 6:00. This week: Cocktail hour at 6:00.
  11. (It’s the one thing keeping us from spiraling into total chaos.)
  12. If key lime pie is local, order the key lime pie. If key lime pie isn’t local, order the key lime pie.
  13. Never drive by the farmer’s market without stopping to see what’s local.
  14. Unless that farmer’s market is located just off route 95, in North Carolina, and is selling “local peach wine” — in which case, drive the f*ck on!
  15. Don’t wait for the last fifteen minutes of an 800-mile drive to discover that the AC/DC Pandora station is the one you should’ve been listening to all along.
  16. Best road-trip movies for kids (or at least the ones in our back seat right now): Monsters Inc, Life of PiTootsie*, The Lovebug (original, non-Lohan version), Ironman, Coraline, Dumb and DumberThe Incredibles. (*there is light sex talk, and a bunch of s-bombs, but when Sydney Pollak is saying them it almost doesn’t matter.)
  17. Burn a copy of the Johnny Cash children’s album for the drive, and you will never be sorry.
  18. Ice cream, in some form, every day.
  19. Good Humor bars, in descending order of deliciousness: toasted almond, strawberry shortcake, chocolate eclair.
  20. Sunscreen before the beach.
  21. Better yet, Roxy surf shirts.
  22. And speaking of swimwear, dads can (and should) get away with these, from Olasul.
  23. There is nothing as nasty, when you really think about it, as the fully-loaded swimmy diaper.
  24. We have been vacationing in the same house for many years and in this house is an unironic boom box with an actual, functioning cassette player. Next to this cassette player is a tray of old cassette tapes, featuring Kenny Loggins, Billy Joel’s 52nd Street, late-vinatage Neville Brothers, Steve Winwood, the sountrack to Working Girl… and Darkness on the Edge of Town. It could be that it’s the only gem among sad old rocks, but is there a better album to cook to on vacation than Darkness on the Edge of Town?
  25. The post-beach nap is best taken on a screened porch, or face down — bathing suit still on, flip-fops hanging off — on the guest room bed.
  26. The gin and tonic is King of Vacation Cocktails.
  27. If you’re roadtripping, and if your kids in any way resemble our chip-eating, juice-spilling, crumb-shedding children, remember a garbage bag for the backseat.
  28. The minute you arrive, you must throw out the grocery shopping rule book. First thing in the cart for us: Cinnamon Pop-Tarts.
  29. If you have to eat out every single meal, it stops being special. Which is why we always try to stay in a place with a kitchen.
  30. But having a kitchen doesn’t mean skip the restaurant. Pick one or two spots you want to hit and book your reservations before you leave. (This was our most recent choice.)
  31. One night, burgers with potato salad. One night, grilled fish with salsa verde. One night, yogurt marinated something with a good, fresh slaw.
  32. Every night: cobbler.
  33. On the night you have burgers, you shall have them on Martin’s potato rolls, with crunchy lettuce, fresh tomato, American cheese, and MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL: special sauce.
  34. As much as we like you, we don’t care about your golf round.
  35. Book a house with a washer-dryer. It means less luggage, and it means your bathing suit will always be dry.
  36. If you’re a dad, this is your one chance to grow a mustache. Use it wisely.
  37. Be flexible about the kids’ bedtime. Unless Breaking Bad is on, in which case, get them in bed as soon as dinner is done.
  38. Two words for a hungry person on the road: Waffle House.
  39. For the first three days of vacation, the fact that this will all soon come to an end might be felt, but it must never be acknowledged.
  40. For the last three days of vacation, pass the hemlock.
  41. Start your own Polar Bear Club. Set an alarm one morning and do a sunrise swim with the kids in the nearest lake, ocean, swimming pool.
  42. Learning to ride a bike for the first time is twice as nice when it happens on vacation — and twice as easy.
  43. Carve out an hour or two of post-lunch quiet time every day. Make it sacred.
  44. What “quiet time” actually means: Everybody’s free to do whatever activity they want, as long as it doesn’t bother anyone else. And doesn’t require parental supervision.
  45. The oven should never be set higher than zero degrees. Vacations are what grills are for.
  46. Non-vacation food emergency: No ketchup in the fridge. Vacation food emergency: No sugar cones, charcoal, Gatorade.
  47. Non-vacation to-do list: Dry-cleaner, tires fixed, post office. Vacation to-do list:_______.
  48. If there is a choice between coming home on Saturday or Sunday, suck it up and choose Saturday so you have that 24-hour buffer zone between vacation and pool-less, beach-less, happiness-destroying reality.
  49. It’s OK to take it out on the rental car.

50. There are fewer more noble pursuits than perfecting a handstand on the beach.
Jenny & Andy

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¡Viva Family Dinner!

July 31st, 2013 · 7 Comments · Cameos, Dinner, Posts by Andy, Rituals, Uncategorized

I’m a *little* worried this is going to sound like a wedding toast.

I have basically been following Mike Paterniti around for the past twelve years. When I worked at Esquire — as a kid, practically — Mike was the star writer who would come into town, from Portland, Maine, with his Patagonia backpack and his good vibes, and be nice to all the peons, and then fly off to crazy places and bring back stories like this and this, stories that would make 25 year-old assistant editors like me say, Damn, it would be nice to work with a writer like that someday. Then, when I went to GQ in 2002, I went — in large part — because Mike was there and, by taking the job, I would finally become his full-time editor and have the chance to work on stories like this. Then, a few years ago, I moved on to Random House — in large part — to work with Mike again, on a book he’d been obsessing over for the better part of a decade. That book, The Telling Room, was published yesterday, and the easy thing to say about it is that it’s a slow food fable about a cheesemaker, named — proof that there is a god? — Ambrosio, who lives in a tiny village (pop. 80) in Spain and makes his cheese, according to an ancient family recipe, from the milk of sheep that graze on chamomile and sage. But that’s not really what the book is about. This book is about the heartbreaking story of Ambrosio’s world-class cheese, yes, but it’s also about Spain and the ghosts of Civil War, about friendship and betrayal, about love and memory and forgiveness, and, most important, about stories. The stories we tell ourselves in order to live.

Do I love this book? Yes.

Did I warn you this was going to sound like a wedding toast? Yes.

In the course of writing and reporting his book, Mike spent a lot of time in Spain. He estimates he made 15 to 20 trips to Guzman, in fact, during which he learned a lot about Ambrosio and his magical cheese (it was said to conjure memories), but also about family dinner. Given that this is a blog dedicated to that very subject, we asked Mike to tell us how they do in the Castilian highlands. He did, and we’re glad. Congrats, Mike! — Andy

Of all Spanish institutions, family dinner ranks as one of my favorites. Why? Because it happens to be Spanish chaos theory at its best—and the Spaniards are good at chaos. After all, what other nation runs with its bulls… or holds a massive tomato-pelting event, in which citizens throw over 90,000 pounds of tomatoes at each other… or has an annual, mandatory, four-day, wine-soaked party—known as the fiesta—in every village of its great, sun-scorched land?

In classic Spanish fashion, then, family dinner is a microcosm of this craziness and big joy. And of course, there’s a fair amount of confusion about when dinner really is. Is it the big meal in the middle of the day, known as the comida? Or is it the late-evening, smaller meal known as cena? (The Spaniards love their food so much they have five designated grazing times a day: desayuno, or breakfast; almuerzo, the late-morning snack; comida in the early afternoon; and then the latter meals of the day: merienda, or late afternoon snack; and cena, dinner.)

Cena is the best—and in summer begins anywhere between 10 and midnight. In the plazas of the cities, you’ll see families seated at outdoor restaurant tables, telling animated stories, wine, chorizo, and grilled pimientos on the table, a simple green salad and some lomo on the way, the kids sprinting madly over cobblestones, playing soccer, chasing birds, when suddenly someone walks by on stilts, or an orchestra begins to play, or some impromptu marching band comes banging through the square. The voices get louder. Now the gambas sizzling in olive oil are put on the table, the laughter echoes, the kids shriek with joy as they come and go, grabbing tidbits from the table.

In the little Castilian village of Guzmán, where I moved my family one summer as I wrote my book, we often found ourselves with an invite to my friend Ambrosio’s telling room for cena. A telling room is a little hobbit hole dug into the hill on the north boundary of town, most of them equipped with a simple wood-plank table, a fireplace full of dried grapevines, which gives the grilled lamb a sweet taste, and a porron—a glass, decanter-like vessel with a spout—sloshing with homemade red wine. In Ambrosio’s telling room, the shutters were thrown open so we could look out over the picturesque village with its palacio and impressive church as we ate and drank. In fact, I’d often look up from the table, tricked by the illusion that I was gazing upon some ever-changing painting on the wall that just happened to be the village of Guzmán itself. (more…)

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Post-Vacation Guilt Eraser

June 24th, 2013 · 19 Comments · Rituals

In our family, few things say vacation like a box of Pop-Tarts. We like the frosted kind with the vaguely cinnamony filling, the ones that make that whispery sound when you break them in half. Within an hour of dumping our luggage, we’re at the supermarket, stocking up on all the staples that sustain a family–milk, pasta, fruit–as well as a few that definitely don’t: ice cream bars, Frosted Flakes, those Pop-Tarts.

Why? Because it feels good to take a break from saying no all the time, because we believe that vacation is a time to indulge every vice, to let our food ids run wild. We wash down our post-beach white-bread grilled cheeses with Coke; we finish the Key lime pie; we top off the Gin and Tonic with another Gin and Tonic. Each day begins with a bowl of Apple Jacks and ends with a “smush-in,” which is what the kids call those marble slab ice cream places where we let them smush gummy bears into their cotton candy-flavored ice cream. If the mark of a successful trip is forgetting your everyday life, then we’ve gotten pretty good at vacation.

When we return, though, the earth assumes its normal rotation, and our old selves reemerge. We make food amends. Our first dinner is usually Redemption Salad: chicken tossed into a mound of Asian-style, nutrient-dense, guilt-erasing shredded red cabbage and spinach. It’s our way of saying, Okay, that was fun, but now it’s time to get back to business. If it’s possible for a meal to make you feel healthy–to actually undo seven days of poor habits–this is the one. It also happens to taste good, which softens the landing a bit. But only a bit.

This is our Providers column for the June issue of Bon Appetit. Head over to their site for this recipe and for the entire Providers archivePhoto by Danny Kim for Bon Appetit.

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36-Hour Austin Whirlwind

June 17th, 2013 · 18 Comments · Rituals, Travel

A few years ago, when I was working full-time and the girls were 3 and 4, a dad-friend of ours invited Andy, Phoebe, and Abby up north to his ski-house for some winter wonderlanding. Just dads and kids. No moms. I should’ve been offended, but I wasn’t. Almost as soon as Andy told me about the invitation I started making a mental map of all of the ways in which I would abuse my roughly 36 hours of alone time. There would be late sleep-ins, and long newspaper reading sessions by the fire, maybe an afternoon nap, maybe, if I was feeling ambitious, a really girly movie — get this — in an actual movie theater. In short, do nothing and embrace doing nothing. I was about 37, and 37 years are a lot of years in which one might get to know oneself and remember that…I’m not so good at doing nothing. I am almost too embarrassed to tell you (almost) how much got packed into those 36 hours, but let me just say that out-of-state zip codes were involved, the freezer was packed with different portion sizes of Chicken and Orzo soup (page 290, my book), and at midnight I was sipping a bourbon while assembling a newly-purchased Ikea chair. Every minute I wasn’t taking advantage of  the fact that a kid was not climbing on top of me, brought on a wave of guilt.

Aren’t you glad you’re not married to me?

I bring this up because I was in total 36-hour-whirlwind-mode last week when I flew to Austin to speak at BlogherFood. I knew I’d be hanging around the conference for at least a good part of Friday morning, and then after that — I’d be free to explore if I wanted to. In fact, it looked like I had enough time for two dinners, one lunch, one breakfast, and a pretty solid chunk of afternoon time in there, too. Even better, I had convinced an old friend to tag along with me — Lia, my Time for Dinner editor and, as luck would have it, we picked up a new friend/old hero of mine along the way — Molly, one of the originals, creator of Orangette. Molly spoke on my panel (topic: storytelling) and won my heart (again) when she said about food-writing, “This is my first trip away from my 9-month-old daughter, and to me, sitting at a bar alone with a margarita, and how that feels is so much more interesting to me than whatever food I’m going to be eating.”

That doesn’t mean we didn’t eat good food. We were in Austin for crying out loud, and oh my goodness, I must say, we did right by Texas. My plan (more…)

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Closing the Book

June 11th, 2013 · 84 Comments · Dinner, Rituals

Something momentous has happened in the past month and I haven’t even let you in on it. Not because I’ve been keeping it a secret, but because I just didn’t know how to tell you. And also, I wasn’t exactly sure how to deal with it myself.

In truth, the story begins a little over a year ago, on my birthday, April 2012. At the usual celebratory breakfast, there were a few gifts scattered on the table and Abby, the self-appointed VP and Director of Birthday Events in our house, chose the order in which I’d be unwrapping. There was a small box that looked like jewelry (#1); a medium box (#2) that, I’d eventually find out, held a dove-shaped candy dish (both girls know that I’m a sucker for anything bird-related); and a tablet-sized box, wrapped in leftover snowflake-print holiday paper.

“This is last,” Abby said. “It’s the best one.” She looked conspiratorially at her father.

Hmmm,” I said shaking it. “What could it be?” I like to take my time unwrapping, because I know it drives the girls crazy.

“RIP IT OPEN, MOM!”

The paper came off fast to reveal a crimson box. In gold across the middle, it read “Liberty of London.”

Hmmmmm….I like where this is going”

“JUST OPEN IT MOM!”

Inside was a blank notebook with a midnight-navy leather cover, embossed with ornate vines and leaves. ”Holy cow!” I said. “It’s so beautiful.” The only thing I like more than birds is a blank notebook. “Thanks!”

“It’s your next dinner diary,” Andy said. My first dinner diary, as you likely know by now, chronicles fifteen years’ of dinners. It, too, was a gift from Andy, though he didn’t know what it would become when he bought it for me a few months after we got married.

The only way I know how to explain what happened next is by using this phrase we often deploy in my house: Emotional Lockdown. It describes the phenomenon of shutting down what you are feeling in order to get through what you’re feeling without completely breaking apart inside. One might say I’ve been in a state of perpetual Emotional Lockdown all June-long, in anticipation of my eldest graduating from her storybook sweet elementary school next week. Sometimes, the passage of time, the change of an era, is just too much for me to bear.

“So who wants more pancakes?” I said to no one in particular, locking away both the journal and the heartburn back where they belonged. In a box, out of sight.

Andy stared at me, incredulous.

“That’s it!???” he said. “I thought I knocked that one out of the park! You’re almost done with your dinner diary. You need a new one!”

“I like it! Who said I didn’t like it?!?”

“So then what was that reaction?”

“Well. I’m not done with the first diary yet. It’s hard to think about a new one right now.”

“Wow,” Andy said. “That is dark. I’m just sticking to birds next time.” He got up and cleared the girls’ syrup-smeared breakfast plates.

I wasn’t lying. I did like the book. (How could I not? It was freaking gorgeous.) I just didn’t like what it stood for. And the original diary still had a dozen pages left, which roughly translated to one more year of dinner recording. Another year for me to think about all that had transpired since I cracked the spine on it fifteen years ago. Another year for me to decide whether or not I even wanted to start a new diary, now that I am coming to terms with the fact that these eras don’t go on forever. They have last pages. They have graduations. They wrap themselves in white towels instead of the ones with hoodies that have floppy puppy ears. They tell you to dismantle the dollhouse and store it in the basement, next to the box with the words “crib bedding” scribbled across the top in black Sharpie.

Periodically since my birthday, Andy would wander into my office where the Liberty journal lived, tucked away on a shelf, pick it up, and shake his head. “I will never understand your reaction to this.”

Easy, I thought. I was in lockdown, not willing to close the book on the era that began on February 22, 1998 with Andy’s childhood recipe for Chicken Cacciatore, and ended on May 12, 2013, with a Mother’s Day dinner at my sister’s house, where both my siblings, both my parents, my brother-in-law, his parents, and six cousins raised milks and Chardonnays to the first beautiful spring evening of the season. In between those two meals were holiday charcuterie spreads for old high school friends; beef stews and baked pastas for new work friends; Fourth of July barbecues on our Brooklyn rooftop, where we watched millennium fireworks light up downtown Manhattan and the Twin Towers; tortilla pies and lasagnas for college roommates who had their first babies; a grilled soy-limey swordfish for a couple we knew in our hearts to be soul mates, but who would break up five years and two kids later; many million Mark Bittman recipes (especially this one) that pretty much defined the era; spaghetti and meatballs for the Seinfeld finale, pasta with yogurt and caramelized onions for the Palin-Biden debate; breakfast burritos for American Idol every Thursday in the spring of 2011; coq au vin for the first dinner we cooked as new parents; grilled turkey dogs for our first dinner in our first ever apartment that came with a mortgage; take-out pizza with my entire family on the night we moved to our suburban Dutch Colonial (me=seven months pregnant, me=ravenous); mail-order ribs for end-of-the-school-year “bus stop parties;” Grimaldi’s pizza and Junior’s cheesecake for Andy’s Brooklyn-themed 30th birthday party; Andy-made paella, with homemade aioli, for my 30th birthday party; more than fifty birthday cakes for over fifty birthday celebrations; freezer dinners that helped two working parents survive two kids under two; four long-table, champagne-filled dinners from Phoenix to Kiawah Island to New York to Larchmont, celebrating each of our four parents hitting 70; dinners spent mourning the loss of two special uncles; Bugiali’s Minestrone; Marcella Hazan’s Bolognese; Nobu’s Miso-glazed Cod; Jim Lahey’s pizza; David Chang’s Brussels Sprouts; Andy Ricker’s Pad Thai; Fish cakes! My God did we eat a lot of fish cakes! Easter Hams every spring at our daughters’ great-grandmother’s house, until 2008, when she died at age 93; Passover briskets for seders presided over by my father, who once cried at the table remembering his father presiding over his childhood seders; the relentless — the blessedly relentless — roll-out of stir-fries and burgers and pizzas and baked potatoes and pork chops and Grandma Jody’s chicken at our family dinner table night after night after night.

When I think too much about all that happens around that dinner table, it’s hard to know what to do next.

“I’m going to be 57 when I finish the next diary,” I told Andy finally. Adding, as usual, God willing. “And Phoebe is going to be 26, which is how old I was when I got engaged.”

Upon hearing that, Andy — who, I might add, looked like he was in physical pain flipping through Phoebe’s elementary school yearbook the other night — started showing telltale signs of impending lockdown himself. The hand went up and his head turned away. “Stop. Stop,” he said. “Just start writing, would you?”

So here we go.

 Page One: Abby snapped the above photo to record my first entry: Cobb Salad.

My New Diary. I’ve been keeping this one for almost a month, but it still feels like I’m cheating on someone when I log in a meal.

Old Diary, Page One. Some of these recipes are still in the rotation: Curried Chicken with ApplesChicken Pot PieScalloped Potatoes. And, now that I think about it, some of the recipes that have dropped from the rotation, are probably due for a comeback. (Next up: Amatriciana sauce!)

Old Diary, Last Page. After fifteen years, the original diary has completely ripped from its binding. These are the last two pages. On the left are ideas I scribbled three years ago — ideas I thought would make good posts for a blog I thought I might start one day.

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How to Eat Leftovers

May 28th, 2013 · 8 Comments · Posts by Andy, Quick, Rituals

We’re not a camping family. Or maybe, to be fair, we’re not camping parents. We’ve done it a couple of times, for one night, and I wouldn’t say we excelled at it. I’d say we survived it. The ground was too hard. The birds were chirping too loudly. Our sleeping bags were too hot, but our ears were too cold. The bugs were bad and refused to keep a respectful distance. We went to bed smelling like lakewater and campfire, and woke up smelling like lakewater and campfire — and we would have done something about this had there been a shower within a mile of our campsite. Also, the bottom of our tent was sandy.

Camping may not be our thing, but we do love to be outside, and to hike, and there’s no day trip our kids love more than the walk up Anthony’s Nose, about an hour north of our house. We started doing this hike when the kids were in backpacks, unable to make it up themselves, and ten years later, here we are — the parents — calling for water breaks and bringing up the rear. You can have your dafodils and your exploding magnolia trees and your thick golden blankets of pollen: In our house, nothing says spring has sprung like a trip up Anthony’s Nose on a beautiful warm day, the sky so blue it looks pixellated and the river, muddied from spring storms, churning its way south to New York City. After admiring the view, we sit and have a picnic on the summit, perched on a giant, sloping slab of granite, overlooking the Bear Mountain Bridge with what seems like the entire Hudson Valley sprawled out before us. Yesterday, we sat out there for an hour and had sandwiches made from weekend leftovers — breaded chicken breasts, sliced on the bias, with Duke’s mayo; grilled leg of lamb, sliced thin, with a little dijon; some bulgur salad with feta, tomatoes, and mint — as a DIY American flag, which was tied to a fallen tree limb, hung with what looked like Buddhist prayer flags, and held upright by a pile of rocks, flapped in the breeze. Memorial Day! We picked out some landmarks, including the nuclear plant at Indian Point and the ice rink down below us, at Bear Mountain, that we go to during the winter, and from which we always stop and look up and say, “Look, there’s Anthony’s Nose. See it? Those rocks up there?” And as we say that, we’re usually freezing our butts off, longing for that first warm day when we can get up there and have our picnic and feel the sun and watch the summer roll in. – Andy 

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Bro-Down

March 11th, 2013 · 23 Comments · Dinner, Posts by Andy, Rituals, Sides, Salads, Soup, Uncategorized

Two weeks ago, I flew down to Fort Myers, Florida to spend a couple of days with five college friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen in a decade, maybe more. It hurts my heart to type this, but it’d been nineteen years since we’d graduated. Nineteen years since we’d borrowed each other’s toothpaste on the way to the bathroom before class, nineteen years since we ate almost every meal together in the dining hall — a big, smelly-footed family — and did the stupid things that, as long as we survived them, would provide us with the stories we would sit around and laugh about nineteen years later, when we were middle-aged men at bro-downs in Florida. In the intervening years, we’d scattered across the country — Utah, Chicago, Baltimore, Vermont, New York, Florida — and had twelve kids between us, more than a few recessed hairlines, and the requisite number of cranky shoulders, bad backs, and surgically repaired stuff. (I had my old roommate Buck, now an accomplished orthopedic surgeon in Salt Lake City, examine my shoulder as soon as we got there. “Torn labrum,” he told me. “I’ll email you some PT exercises.”) We were not what we used to be, but come on, who is?

We met up at a half-empty hotel with mile-long hallways in Cape Coral, where we’d rented two sprawling, chandeliered suites with water views. We’d spend a couple of days going to spring training games, and maybe even drinking a beer or two before the sun went down. It’d be like The Hangover! We were free! No school lunches to be made. No one shaking you awake at 6:45 to ask if you’d like a tour of her dollhouse. No shuttle service to soccer practice in the freezing, indoor bubble. No one to ask — true story — if “tickling is allowed in boxing.” Our nights would undoubtedly be spent eating 48 dollar ribeyes, drinking martinis, and playing card games into the wee hours. (Only problem there: I don’t know how to play any card games and I go to bed at 11.) We would, in short, turn back the clock. We would party like it was 1999.

Only we didn’t.

On Saturday, after an afternoon game (Sox-Twins), we huddled up to discuss the plan for dinner. The choices, it dawned on us, were grim. I wasn’t strong enough for the hotel bar, which had a sad, swinger-y vibe that depressed the living sh*t out of me. Locally, there was a Chik-Fil-A and a Hardee’s and not much else that we could see — well, beyond a massage parlor, which probably didn’t serve dinner.

“Our room has a kitchen,” Billy said.

“Why don’t we get some groceries on the way back from the game,” said Dave.

“And cook in?” I said.

“Yeah,” said Brian, “you’re the family dinner guy.”

I wish I could say I was bummed or horrified or annoyed at the prospect of staying home, in my shorts and socks, and cooking for six grown dudes. But at this point in my life, why even pretend? The truth is, I loved the idea. It was a relief. So we stopped at the Publix supermarket and loaded up on ingredients for chiliturkey chili, no less — and, lock up the womenfolk… a spinach salad. Oh, it got crazy! We went off! We put on some music and hung out in the kitchen, just like at home, Brian helping with the meat-browning duties, me showing Dave how to chop an onion, Buck loitering in the living room to check the scores on SportsCenter, Dave — who was keeping me company by the stove — peeking over my shoulder to see how much chili powder went into the pot (eight tablespoons; I doubled our usual recipe), Brian making a fresh round of gin and tonics, Billy saying, Huh, he’d never seen anyone put sausage in chili before, but I told him to trust me on this, and he did. All the familiar rhythms reasserted themselves. I was at home. It’d been nineteen years, but these guys were like family. And what do you do for family? You cook for them. And then you sit down and eat. – Andy

The Menu

Chili
Served with bowls of the usual trimmings: avocado, sour cream, cilantro, shredded cheddar, tortilla chips.

Spinach Salad with Almonds and Cranberries (Florida Supermarket Version)

Two bags fresh baby spinach, shredded
1/4 cup slivered almonds
Couple handfuls of dried cranberries
1 tbsp finely minced red onion or scallion
1/4 cup crumbled feta or blue cheese

Simple Balsamic Vinaigrette (Hotel Kitchen Version)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Few healthy pinches of kosher salt
Fresh black pepper
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp cayenne or hot sauce

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The Magic Onion Effect

February 4th, 2013 · 17 Comments · Picky Eating, Posts by Andy, Rituals, Sides, Salads, Soup

A cherished ritual seems to have sprung up in this house, without us ever consciously putting it into effect: we go out to a local restaurant, just the four of us, every Friday night for dinner. The culinary options in our neighborhood being somewhat…limited, we usually end up at a sushi place run by a super friendly Japanese man who I will call Bob. Bob works as hard as is humanly possible. Bob cares. He is the great patriarch of the place, demanding and loving, standing by the door in sushi chef garb, directing traffic, taking pickup orders by phone, making the rounds to check on general levels of satisfaction. He has a photographic memory, as well, which manifests itself in a remarkable ability to remember every customer’s name, which I know because he shouts every customer’s name the second they walk in the door. ANDY! TODD! JENNIFER! EMILY! HELLOHOWAREYOUUUUUUUU! There’s a big, well-tended fish tank by the door, and some mermaid murals on the walls, and the fish is good and fresh; the kids love it here. We always order family style, and we’ve got it down to a science: yellow tail scallion roll, eight pieces of salmon sushi, spicy shrimp tempura roll, a few pieces of tuna, coupla orders of shumai, coupla bowls of miso, and most important, one chicken teriyaki dinner, which is served in a sizzling cast-iron skillet. The chicken is tender, sprinkled with sesame seeds, and cut into strips, but it’s the onions that we end up fighting over. They’re sweet and still slightly crunchy, caramelized in the pan and doused in teriyaki sauce. Abby drizzles them over her rice and goes to town; Phoebe just takes her chopsticks and shovels them in until the pan is picked clean. Without fail, they are the highlight of the meal.

We’ve chronicled our caramelized onion obsession here before — and in Jenny’s book — but a little homemade teriyaki sauce takes things to another level. The first time I made these, I spooned them over some fresh tuna, which I seared in a grill pan on the stovetop. The next time, we served them with roasted salmon. They go with almost everything, is the thing: steak, chicken, fish, tofu, they’d even be good on a burger (with some hoisin instead of ketchup, mmmmmm). The downside is, we never have enough. My hard-won advice: use more onions than you think you’ll need, because you’ll need them. — Andy

Teriyaki Onions

Teriyaki sauce
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp chicken broth
2 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
2 cloves minced garlic
3 scallions minced
2 tsp sesame oil

Add all of the ingredients above to a bowl or large measuring cup, and stir until sugar is dissolved. Thinly slice two or three large yellow onions and sautee in cast iron skillet (with one tbsp canola or grapeseed oil) over medium heat until they soften slightly, about five minutes. Drizzle in a few spoonfuls of the teriyaki sauce, to coat the onions, and stir. Cook 2-3 minutes, until sauce is absorbed. Then, do it again: drizzle some of the sauce over the onions — but don’t let it get soupy, you don’t want to boil these things — and cook another 2 minutes. Remove from heat and serve with chicken, fish, or rice.

Speaking of cast iron skillets, the newsletter giveaway winner of the super-awesome Lodge Cast Iron Skillet that we use daily is Sarah L . Thanks to everyone who participated! 

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What’s Your Security Blanket?

December 13th, 2012 · 30 Comments · Dinner, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Rituals, Sides, Salads, Soup, Vegetarian

A few weeks ago I got this letter from reader Catilin:

Dear Jenny,

So, um, DALS is one of the only things I read right now. I’m a lawyer (work about 65 hours a week), mother of two kids (3 and 1, oy) and have a great husband.  Our life is really blessed, but as you can imagine, we do nothing but work and take care of our kids – literally NOTHING except that!  BUT we both want to eat healthy food that gives us more energy (and less food coma), so we do eat frozen pizza sometimes, yes, but we also prep veggies, make soups and chicken stew and pot roast on the weekends so we can reheat it most nights for dinner.  And I make homemade hummus every week, not because I’m Laura Ingalls Wilder, but because I find when we have it in the house, everything else falls into place.  Hummus becomes a base for us to eat well and choose foods that last in the belly, as opposed to quick, fatty, salty things.  It was one of the first things I learned to make that changed the way I thought about how to eat for energy and to keep up with my kids. It keeps body and soul together.

I tell you all this because DALS helps me keep the faith that at some point we may actually have the time and space from our kids to make things in a more spontaneous way – right now “cooking” on weeknights (even if its only 20-30 minutes) is impossible.  So, we’re settling for reheating homemade stuff during the week.  Which isn’t terrible, but not as fun as throwing together Chicken Marsala on a Tuesday night. Sigh.  Anyway, thanks for all the good cheer and parental commiseration.

Love,

Caitlin

Let’s count how many things I love about this letter:

1) She has no time for anything except kids and work (sound familiar?) and yet she’s making time for DALS (yes!)
2) She has the good sense to make things on the weekend that can be reheated during the week. (And they sound almost exactly like what I make on the weekend.)
3) She also has to good sense to realize that this is just a phase and pretty soon she will be spontaneously throwing together that Chicken Marsala on a Tuesday night. (See “The Years the Angels Began to Sing,” in my book.)
4) She is not beating herself up over falling back on a frozen pizza now and then. (I just did that last night!)
5) It’s so well-written!
6) She knows what her security blanket is — she knowns what she has to have on hand in order to feel that all’s right with her dinner world. For me, it’s homemade salad dressing. For Andy, it’s Tuscan kale. For her, it’s hummus.

What is it for you?

Thanks for writing, Caitlin.

Hummus
Phoebe learned how to make this hummus at camp last summer and we’ve been looking for an excuse to write about it ever since. I’ve tried a lot of recipes before, but this seems to have the right balance of lemon and isn’t overly garlicky. She throws everything into the bowl of an unplugged food processor, then I take over.

1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups drained chickpeas
1/2 cup tahini
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon cumin
juice of 1 lemon
water as needed

On a cutting board mince and mash the garlic to a paste with the salt. In a food processor, puree the chickpeas with the garlic paste, the tahini, lemon juice, scraping down the sides. Add olive oil in a thin drip until the hummus is smooth. Salt to taste.

Add water, if necessary, to thin the hummus to desired consistency and transfer the hummus to a bowl. Serve with pita or vegetable sticks.

For nut-free hummus, omit tahini.

Related: Two-minute hummus dinner.
Related: What’s Your Page-Turner?
P.S. An excerpt from  Dinner: A Love Story on Cup of Jo. Thanks, Joanna!

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