Entries Tagged as 'Rituals'
“What’s my angle on this post?”
I don’t want to pull back the curtain on this whole DALS thing too far, but that’s a question you hear a little too often around our house, at about 10:00 at night, when the kids are in bed and one of us is sitting at the kitchen table, trying to write 400 words about baked potatoes or 7,000,000 words on, gulp, a freakin’ chicken salad sandwich. (Not that we’re complaining.) What’s my angle? What’s my point? What, exactly, am I saying about this plate of food or that pile of children’s books? This is what I asked Jenny last Sunday night when she informed me I would be posting, in the coming week, about the meal we’d just eaten.
“Sunday dinner,” she said. “That’s your angle. You don’t need anything more than that.”
And, as usual, she was right. Sunday dinner conjures certain feelings and carries certain expectations and I suppose we’d met most of them that night. It was cold that day — or, at least, what passes for cold now — and we’d bunkered down most of the afternoon, reading Anne Frank (school project) and playing Apples to Apples (dying, truly dying) and getting antsy (very antsy), and I craved something basic and warm and tasty. You could say I was craving comfort food, but comfort food is a phrase that gives me the willies and I swore I would never use it, in earnest, on this blog. And yet: I needed something that went well with bourbon. I needed me some meatloaf! Not only that, I needed the meatloaf I grew up eating. (You will find this recipe in Jenny’s forthcoming book. Have you heard about her book? I’ve read it and it is GOOD.). Anyway, to go with that meatloaf, we needed potatoes, but I wasn’t totally feeling the roasted kind, so Phoebe and I went retro and made a cheesy gratin — I did the slicing, she did the arranging — and just so there was one indisputably healthy, green thing on the plate, we made our favorite raw kale salad. All of this, working in concert, made the house smell so good. At one point, Abby actually took a break from her doll playing, appeared at the top of the stairs, and shouted: “Dad! What smells so good?!” That’s what you want to hear on Sunday night. And that’s my angle. – Andy
Potatoes au Gratin
We used to make this all the time before we had kids. You can do it with red potatoes or Yukon gold potatoes — we even used to mix in some sweet potatoes, too. Hard to go wrong. If you have a mandoline, you can use it to slice your potatoes nice and thin, about the thickness of a quarter. If not, a sharp knife will do just fine. If you want the full treatment, use cream instead of milk.
1 tbsp flour
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne, depending on your tolerance for heat
1 cup 2% milk
4 to 5 medium Yukon gold potatoes, skin on, sliced thin
1/2 yellow onion, sliced thin
salt and pepper
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan
1/2 cup shredded cheddar
Grease 9″ pie dish or casserole with olive oil or butter, and set aside. In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together flour, cayenne and milk, and set aside. Arrange sliced potatoes neatly on bottom of dish, then a few onions, in one layer. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and a handful of each cheese. Repeat three times: potatoes, onions, cheese, reserving a little cheese for final layer. Pour milk mixture evenly over the potatoes. Top with shredded cheese and salt and pepper, and cover with foil. Bake at 425° for 40 minutes. Remove foil, and broil for 5 minutes, or until cheese gets slightly brown and bubbly.
[Read more →]
I was having drinks with a few local friends last year when one of them, the mother of a newborn (her first), leaned across the martinis and whispered to me “How come everyone says it goes so fast? I just find it to be the EXACT opposite.” Her face was awash in guilt as soon as she sent these words out there, and quickly hedged. “Oh my God! Is that a horrible thing to think? It’s not like I feel that way all the time.” I was shocked by the statement too — not because she was confessing to what every parent thinks at one point or another, especially during the particular points when the baby is not sleeping — but because she was asking me for advice. How was I suddenly the veteran with a third and fourth grader who had advice to dispense on parenting? What the…? Damn, that went fast!
I told her what I believe to be 100% true: Everything changes when the baby, and therefore the baby’s parents are sleeping. Until then, you can’t be expected to remember where you put your car keys, let alone think straight about the great cosmic meaning of children and happiness. Then I told her my theory about sleeping which I also believe to be 100% true, but might have a harder time backing up with, you know, JAMA studies: Every parent has to deal with one of three sleep handicaps:
- Handicap 1: The baby/toddler will torture you for hours at bedtime before finally shutting his or her eyes.
- Handicap 2: The baby/toddler wakes up in the middle of the night for long stretches, during which time you feel like the loneliest person on earth.
- Handicap 3: The baby/toddler rises before the sun and you are forced to function before you’ve had a cup of coffee.
Each handicap carries its own particular set of tortures, but in my experience, it seems rare that a parent has to deal with two or three at once. (I can already hear the emails of dissent pinging in my inbox.) As we’ve mentioned several million times on this blog, our sleep handicap was always the morning. No matter what we did, for the longest time, we could not figure out a way to get Abby to sleep past 5:30. (How I dreamed of the sevens!) But then we’d go to a friend’s house for dinner and we’d all be eating dessert at 10:00 while their 3-year-old would dart in and of the bedroom every 15 minutes, burying his sleepy bedhead in mom’s lap, until finally his parents, through gritted teeth, would just give up and invite him to join us for a piece of pie.
Our first pediatrician told me that kids crave routines. I like to think this is a fact that one might even find in JAMA. I also like to think that we were so Draconian about our evening routine early on that this is what made it impossible for our daughters to suffer from handicap number 1. Even though we weren’t necessarily eating dinner with them when they were that little, we were always sitting with them. There was always some form of after-dinner event (as full-time working parents, this was the half hour when we attempted to cram in all the “quality time” we felt we missed during the day), then bath, bedtime story, and finally, lights out. On the weekends, we’d let them “watch a movie” (a 10-minute Pixar short; today it’s more like The Danish Poet*, above) because what’s the point of having a routine if you can’t break it every now and then?
As for how to solve handicaps 2 and 3? What do you think I’m some sort of veteran? How should I know?
*Which contains the immortal line: “Kaspar became living proof that some poets are better off happy than sad.”
[Read more →]
Tags:dinner routine·family dinner·family dinner and bedtime·how to have family dinner
No matter how early I got out of bed when I was a kid, I would come down to a set breakfast table. Even during the school week. Even in the winter when my alarm (“You’re listening to 95.5, WP…..L….J”) would go off in the pitch black. Even when I was the first one up on Christmas morning, I could expect to flip on the kitchen light and see five plates, five place-mats, five juice glasses, five forks, knives, and spoons. This was not Santa or Santa’s elves at work. It was my dad, who had set the breakfast table the night before, after dinner, after the dishwasher cycle. After we had all retired to our bedrooms to do whatever it was we did before teenagers holed up in the dark texting their friends. When my friend Jenny would call me at night the first thing she’d always ask was, “Did Ivan set the table yet?”
We made endless fun of him for his obsessive advanced planning – and yet, there I was, two years ago, with our holiday table all ready to go (sans the fresh flowers) a full week and a half before any guest would walk through my white-Christmas-light-framed doorway. The truth is, that dinner was the first Christmas dinner Andy and I had ever hosted (usually it was at my parents’ or Andy’s parents’ house), and I was overwhelmed by all that had to go into feeding ten adults and six children. I found that hosting the holiday dinner wasn’t like the rest of the season’s chaos — much of which could be done in advance and usually one-clicked while waiting for the chicken to finish roasting. When I sat down and looked at my dinner to-do list, it was a lot of last minute shopping and stressing and the only thing I could think of to do to feel more in control was…set the table.
It felt so good to have that part of the event under control that now I do it before almost any occasion that merits the Dining Room Table treatment. Phoebe’s Secret Agent Party birthday table was set at least three days ahead of time and when Andy came home from work that night and saw it, he looked at me like I had nine heads. Just like we all used to look at Dad. But Dad gets it. I know he’s running around the county right now picking out gifts for his six grandchildren, and I’m sure he’s overwhelmed by the chaos, too, but I’m guessing that wherever he is, whatever he’s doing, his table is set.
PS: Andy made an apricot-bourbon glazed ham for that holiday dinner and it rocked. Look for that post in the next week.
[Read more →]
New Year’s Eve is so overrated. I realize I’m not breaking any ground with this statement — which became a mantra in our house long before we even had kids who would’ve insisted on playing Dora dollhouse at 5:30 AM with no regard for how much champagne was consumed the night before. All it took was one aggressively mediocre $100 prix fix dinner out — which offered nothing more special than what you’d find on the menu on a Tuesday night in March — to convince us that we’d be much less resentful of the New Year and way better fed if we just stayed home for the night and watched Larry Sanders re-runs.
That doesn’t mean we don’t properly recognize New Year’s Eve. (As my friend Rory noted the other day, my family has never met a ritual or an opportunity to celebrate that we haven’t seized upon.) Before the kids came along and before Andy’s brother, Tony, and his wife Trish had to go and move across the world to Hong Kong, we used to dress up in our holiday best (for me: black velvet Ann Taylor pants, chunky-heeled Nine West loafers, something shiny on top from Banana) and make multi-course dinners in each other’s Brooklyn apartments that almost always included something worth a splurge. Something special.
Something Special could mean just about anything: a bottle of Champagne that was not procured from the sale bin (1995); a tin of beluga caviar that one of us had received as a corporate gift, served on blinis with creme fraiche (1996); a bottle of 1963 Port that Andy’s dad had been saving for a big night (1999!). But if I am to believe my Dinner Diary — and why wouldn’t I? — the “something special” that, as of 2002, began dominating our New Year’s Eve celebrations was… is… lobster.
It might be dipped in Champagne butter. It might be part of a paella or served alongside a wild mushroom risotto or a citrusy salad or horseradish mashed potatoes. Early on in our parenting career, it was usually just the two of us feasting on 1 1/4 pounders after the girls went to sleep; later the lobster dinner became a family affair that would splinter into two teams: The Tail is Better Team (me and Abby) and the Claws are Better Team (Andy and Phoebe). No matter how the lobsters are prepared or who is eating them, there is a 100% chance that they’ll wind up in the family photo album, with Andy or me doing our obligatory imitations of Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in Annie Hall.
And that’s the plan for this year, too. (more…)
[Read more →]
Tags:get maine lobster·how to steam lobster·lobster dinner·new years eve menu·what to cook on new years eve
My guess is that by now, most of you have a pretty good idea what your Thanksgiving menu is going to look like and who’s in charge of what. Or if the menu isn’t set, you might be in the middle of a reply-all marathon with your family like me. Uncle Phil – you’re on cheese duty, right? Grandma’s got the bird. Papa – How about a few bottles of that Norton Ridge Chardonnay again and some of that hummus from the Lebanese place for nibbles? NO ONE BUY BRUSSELS SPROUTS! Andy just bought every sprout harvested in the Hudson Valley last week. Do we have enough butter? Eggs? Olive oil. Aunt Lynn- You’ve got kosher salt in the kitchen right? I love stuffing my face on Thanksgiving, but I think I may love planning and discussing and cooking part of it even more.
So as far as the food goes, you’re probably in good shape. The stuffings and sides are figured out. All the pecan pie ingredients are sitting on the counter, next to the bag of cranberries and the turkey baster and the special serving platter. It’s likely that the contents of the fridge is in precarious balance, and that your kid stood there for five minutes trying to find a place where the milk might fit.
But what about when you sit down? Have you thought about that part? Not the serving pieces and the place settings, or the way you must time the potato gratin to be ready when the turkey is, but the moment everyone’s food is loaded onto the plates, forks perched for consumption. Have you thought about what you’re going to do then?
I guess you could go ahead and eat. But then a day’s worth of cooking, a week’s worth of planning and reply-all-ing, is gone in 15 minutes. Twenty tops. The question is: Have you thought about how you might get the kids — and everyone for that matter — to participate in the moment and to appreciate what the holiday is about?
With six kids under 10 at our family’s Thanksgiving table, we are not always so good at this. Toasts can be hard. We’ve tried to go around the table and say what we’re thankful for, but by the time you’re at the 16th speech, the gravy has gummed up and the toddlers are gearing up for holiday-level tantrums. So this year, if I can get my act together, I might try to do what Andy did for me one birthday I was celebrating without the kids. Since they weren’t going to be with us — it was going to be a late night — before the meal he had them fill out short fill-in-the-blank questionnaires about me (“The most important thing she told me about life was…” or “Three adjectives to describe Mom are…”) then placed the results on my dinner plate. I got some nice gifts that birthday, but their words on those pages were right up at the top. Something about the specific prompting and the act of writing down (as opposed to speaking in front of a large group) made them write with abandon and express things I can’t imagine they would have told me in the backseat on the way to ballet. Or even at the dinner table for that matter. Here are a few examples:
So what kind of questions would I write for my nephews and nieces on a Thanksgiving questionnaire? Here’s what I’m thinking:
The moment I felt luckiest this year was when….
If I had to pick three adjectives to describe this meal it would be….
When I’m really old and 35, I hope my Thanksgiving table is…
If I could invite anyone to sit with our family this Thanksgiving it would be……because….
If I could write a note to the cook (or cooks) thanking them for what’s in front of me, the first line would be…
If I can get a few answers out of them and then read convince them to read one or two aloud at the table, my guess is that it will be like waving a magic wand across the plate. The food will no longer be Turkey with Sides. It will be Thanksgiving Dinner. (more…)
[Read more →]
There’s this thing Abby and I do, before every soccer game. She’s usually sitting on the wooden bench by our door, in her too-big uniform, and even though she’s in third grade, I’m enabling…I mean, tying her cleats. When I’m done, I give her a pat on the knee and look into her eyes.
“You ready?” I ask.
“Yeah,” she says. The affect couldn’t be more flat. She has heard this before.
“You gonna be tough out there today?” I ask.
“Yeah,” she says.
“Good,” I say, “because if you lose, don’t bother coming home.”
She rolls her eyes.
So when I was loading my stock pot full of chili into the back of our car at 8:30 last Saturday morning, on my way to deliver it unto the judges of our town’s first annual Chili-Off, Abby saw her opening.
“Hey, Dad,” she said.
“If you lose today, don’t bother coming home.”
You know where this is going, right?
We’d signed up for this Chili-Off — which would take place at the Pumpkin Fair, which raises money for our town’s elementary school — a few weeks ago, and Abby wasn’t the only one having fun at my expense. Jenny, too, had been gleefully applying the pressure, getting all up in my mug about it. (“Remember that venison chili Francine made for us like ten years ago?” she asked a few days beforehand, out of nowhere, which I took as challenge — brazen in its passiveness — to my manhood. “Mmmm, that was so good.” Damn, I thought. Should I be using venison?). The night before the contest, she’d been watching me like a hawk as I got my mis en place going, hovering, looking skeptical, asking me if I was nervous, if I knew anything about “the competition,” if I had a secret ingredient up my sleeve (meaning: you might need one), if I’d be able to show my face at the coffee shop if we lost. But I had waited until 9:00 on the night before the contest to start cooking, and I didn’t have the time or bandwith for new recipes or special ingredients. Go with what you know, as they say, and so I did. I’m not about to abandon the chili I love because there might be someone out there building a better, prettier one. It’s called loyalty, people.
Besides, I only know how to make one chili by heart. It’s quick and easy, about thirty minutes of hands-on time, and is a regular in the family rotation. Every Halloween, actually, we make a batch of it for friends and neighbors, who stop in before they go trick or treating, or while they’re out trick or treating, sort an open house kind of deal. It’s a dinner party in a pot. We stick a ladle in the Le Creuset, put some paper bowls and fixings on the counter — sour cream, cheese, cilantro, avocado, chips — and everybody stands around with a glass of red wine and serves themselves. It’s become something of a tradition, and nobody has ever complained about the food. To my face, at least.
The chili itself is a pretty straightforward base with lots of possible variations, but for the First Annual Chili-Off, I decided to go classic (beef), with a slight twist (chorizo). The chorizo adds some subtle heat and smokiness and, in general, just really good depth of flavor. I mean, it’s sausage, for chrissakes; it’s not going to make it worse. By 10 pm, the stock pot was in the refrigerator, marking its time until Judgment Day.
We showed up at the fair at 12:30, having completely missed the Chili-Off, not to mention the panel of seven judges who apparently tasted all fourteen entries with the seriousness of the dead. The day was beautiful, sunny and windy, the leaves just beginning to turn. High clouds were blowing through in long formations. A soccer kind of day. One of Phoebe’s friends ran right up to us as we walked in. “You guys came in second place!” she said. “Phoebe, your dad almost won!”
Almost. Hey, I tried, right?
Jenny looked at me. She smiled. “Second place, wow,” she said, throwing an arm around my shoulder. “Not bad, not bad. But you know what George Steinbrenner said: Second place is really first place loser. I’m just saying.”
Ouch. I don’t the name of the guy who won first place, but I have two things to say to him: Congratulations, your chili rules. And: Stay away from my wife. – Andy
Second Place Chili
Serves 12 to 15 (more…)
[Read more →]
Tags:chili·easy chili recipe·entertaining families·family entertaining ideas·halloween entertaining
There are other benefits to keeping a dinner diary besides the fact that it offers daily meal inspiration as well as tangible, Pilot-Pen-V5 documented evidence of my obsessive-compulsive behavior. And that added benefit is this: It tells a story. It tells the story of how much my cooking has changed from the pre-Michael Pollan days of the 90s (asparagus is constantly showing up in the winter and butternut squash in the spring) and the pre-kid days (Andy and I would spend entire afternoons tracking down obscure ingredients so we could experiment with, say, a lamb kibbeh. Can you imagine having that kind of time?) But, I realized this week as we celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary, the diary also tells a short story of New York. By now it’s probably clear how much we like to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries in our house in a big way, and to that end, we almost always try to snag a restaurant reservation somewhere special. And special can be defined in a few ways: It can be personally sentimental (like our first one, with the view you see above, was); it can be trendy (as our 8th in 2005 was) or it can just be classically, insanely awesome (as Le Bernardin at 9 months pregnant was). No matter where we went, though, the dining room always seems be charged with the energy that only a special night out in New York seems to offer. Here’s the list…
First Anniversary (1998) River Café, Brooklyn (shown above)
We had our rehearsal dinner here (and got married right down the street), so it was the obvious first choice for our first anniversary. After our wedding, TRC would subsequently become the go-to spot for our extended family for celebrating big occasions like engagements and important birthdays. But the tables for two that seat both people on the same side (so no one gets cheated of the view of Downtown Manhattan) was always my favorite way to eat there. (more…)
[Read more →]
Tags:best anniversary restaurants nyc·new york restaurants·romantic new york restaurants·where to eat nyc
I wasn’t sure I heard her right.
“Excuse me?” I asked.
“What’s up with the flat bags?”
I heard her right. The question came from the photographer’s assistant during the DALS Book photo shoot a few weeks ago. She was in her twenties, hailed from Williamsburg. I didn’t get a peek at her iPod, but I feel certain it would be loaded with songs by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the New Pornographers. In other words, bands I’d never heard before. She was referring to the bags of chilis and soups in my freezer — I always freeze dinners in flattened Ziplocs. When you do it that way, you save time (by thawing whatever is frozen under running water for 60 seconds) and you save space. (After your soup or stew is frozen, you can file the bag in your freezer like a book in a bookshelf.) How did she not know this?
Most likely because she hadn’t spent six years of her life at Real Simple or four years editing the food pages of Cookie. I need to remember that not everyone is a former magazine editor walking around with a mental catalog of time-saving, money-saving, energy-saving, sanity-saving, life-saving, surefire, guilt-free, guaranteed fool-proof, plan-ahead, stress-free, problem-solving shortcuts, tips and tricks. (And yes, in case you are wondering, all those words consistently scored the highest with the focus groups.) I need to remember that not everyone out there feels comfortable with recipe-writing language that calls for a “handful of beans” or a “pinch of cayenne.” (Don’t literally pinch cayenne, especially if you are using those same pinchers to remove contact lenses an hour later.) I need to remember that calling for lemongrass in a recipe is a potential deal-breaker and that calling for a ”large” can of whole tomatoes is going to elicit this comment from my book editor, Lee: “Ounces please! Lord, define large!” This is why she is so awesome. Not only because I can hear her southern drawl through the most miniscule of notes, but because she yells at me now so you won’t have to later.
Anyway, in honor of all of you out there who don’t know to store your folded garbage bags inside the garbage can (so you can conveniently grab a replacement as soon as you discard the full one –classic Real Simple tip ) or that adding skim milk to boiling liquid is going to result in curdling (classic Jenny screw-up), here are a list of things I wish someone told me fifteen years ago, when I was the one with the loaded iPod (Sony Walkman?) who did not understand the kind of happiness that a quick-thaw might someday bring me.
1. Don’t ever make recipes (or trust cookbooks) that have overly cutesy recipe titles like “Struttin’ Chicken.” These kinds of dishes rarely have the kind of staying power that a good simple Roast Chicken will. (Grilled Chicken for People Who Hate Grilled Chicken is the obvious exception.)
2. Buy yourself a pair of kitchen scissors. You will use them to snip herbs. You will use them to chop canned whole peeled tomatoes that have been dumped and contained in a 4-cup Pyrex. You will use them to snip spinach right in the skillet as the spinach wilts. Spinach! As long as we’re on the subject: always make more of it than you think you need. This way you will not find yourself in the position of having one cupcake-sized mound of sesame spinach for your whole family of four to share.
3. Some Type-A behaviors worth stealing: Do everything you can in advance when you are having people over for dinner. No matter how easy and tossed-off the task may be. No matter how many times your partner-in-crime says, Why don’t we just do that later? Filling a sippy cup takes 30 seconds! If you forgo this advice and do nothing in advance, at least make sure you start off the evening with an empty dishwasher. You will thank yourself a few hours and a few cocktails later when staring at the mountain of greasy plates in the sink. Lastly, if at all possible, go to sleep with a fresh trash bag in the kitchen garbage can. I find it somewhat soul-crushing to see last night’s dinner scraps piled up before I’ve had my morning coffee. And I sleep better when I know it’s empty. (See: Type A.)
4. Brushing dough with a quick egg-wash is the secret to getting that shiny, lacquered, I’m-worth-something-after-all glow to your pies, breads, and cherry galettes (pictured above). This comes in especially handy when trying to pass off storebought crust as homemade. Whisk one egg with a fork, then use a pastry brush to cover every inch of the exposed crust before baking.
5. Meat will never brown properly if you add it to the pan when it’s freezing cold and wet. (And browning properly is where you’re going to get most of your flavor.) It should be patted dry and room temperature. Unless you have just walked in the door, it’s 7:30, the kids are screaming and the instruction to “bring it to room temperature” is the instruction that will make you swear off family dinner forever.
6. Add acid. A drizzle of vinegar, a spoonful of tangy buttermilk, a simple squeeze of lemon or lime will always add brightness to an otherwise boring and flat dish. I’ll never forget an interview I read with Mario Batali that reconfirmed this: He said the easiest way to pretend you know what you’re doing in the kitchen is to talk about the “acidity” level of a dish.
7. Never use the phrase “pun intended” or “no pun intended.” Oh sorry! That’s from my “Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I Started Writing” list.
8. Learn the correct way to slice and dice an avocado. You will not only save time, energy, sanity [insert up to 4 more Real Simple focus group words here] by doing this, but you will find yourself giving tutorials to awed, in-the-dark observers every time you make guacamole in front of them.
9. Ice in the cocktails, people. Don’t be stingy. Nothing worse than a lukewarm Gin and Tonic.
10. You won’t get arrested if you leave out an ingredient or replace it with something that’s not called for. That doesn’t mean leave the shrimp out of the shrimp and grits, but if you don’t have scallions for the chopped salad, or if you don’t have red wine called for in the braised pork, take a look around and see what else might stand in for what’s missing. Every time you do this and it works, you’ll be a little more confident in the kitchen. And every time you do this and it doesn’t work, you have one more good story to tell.
Flattened freezer bag photo by Jennifer Causey for DALS.
[Read more →]
Tags:advance cooking·cooking 101·dinner strategy·how to cook
It’s hard to know who was more excited when the Amazon box landed with a thunk on our doorstep last week, Phoebe or her parents. We knew from the heft what was inside: All 640 pages of Brian Selznick’s new book, Wonderstruck. We’ve spent many dinners and car rides and bedtimes discussing Brian Selznick. His last book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, for me, was one of those books where you just think, Wow, that’s amazing. I guess I’ll never write a children’s book! I mean that in the nicest possible way: it’s hard to imagine even attempting to create something that transporting and beautiful, let alone succeeding at it. If you gave me a different brain and some artistic talent and a million peaceful years to make it happen, no. But that’s just me. For Phoebe, our resident dreamer and book critic, Brian Selznick is something different: he’s a writer who has taken her beloved graphic novel form and turned into something bigger and better. Phoebe just seems to love the added layer that imagery adds to a story, the way she can keep going back and getting more out of it. This is not to say that she doesn’t like chapter books, but if you asked Phoebe to pick her ten favorite books, a hundred bucks says all ten would be graphic novels. I kind of hope that never changes. Wonderstruck is not a graphic novel, just to be clear. I don’t know what to call it. It’s a chapter book with hundreds of luminous, moody, full-bleed illustrations, which unspool in these amazing ten, twenty, thirty page stretches, like the greatest flip book ever created. As Phoebe says, when asked why she loves it so: “He makes you feel it.”
We thought we’d use this book’s arrival as an excuse to round up our latest favorite graphic novels for 8- to 12-year-olds. And, like always, I’m going to turn the mic over to the reader herself. – Andy
Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick: “If you liked The Invention of Hugo Cabret, you’ll like this book. I can’t really explain it, because this author makes his books really complicated, but it’s about a deaf boy and a deaf girl. It makes you think about how hard it must be to be deaf. It’s half pictures and half words; the girl’s story is pictures and the boy’s story is words. He puts so much feeling into his stories. And there’s a surprise at the end, which is always good.”
Phoebe rating: 9*
Parent note: Why not a 10? Because Phoebe said it wasn’t quite as good as Hugo Cabret.
Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity by Dave Roman: “This is one of my favorites. I read it like three times on vacation. It’s about a school in space and it’s cool: they have anti-gravity drills and time-bending watches and things like that. Everything that’s impossible on earth is possible there, pretty much. It’s funny and adventure-y. My favorite character is Miyumi San because she has a watch that lets her travel in time and because she acts tough. She’s like a tomboy.”
Phoebe rating: Half 9, half 10*
* Parent note: I assume this means 9.5.
Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword* by Barry Deutsch: “Okay, this is a tale of knitting and pig-chasing. Weird, right? It’s the story of an Orthodox Jewish girl named Mirka who has nine brothers and sisters and she’s always wanted to fight dragons and trolls. I know all this sounds really strange, but if you read it, it’ll make sense. This is a good book for people who like adventure. It makes you want to go grab your own sword and start fighting some trolls!” (more…)
[Read more →]
Tags:best comic books for kids·comic books·comic books for kids·creative gifts for kids·graphic novels for girls·graphic novels for kids
At what point do I stop feeling that pit in my stomach, that gnawing sense of dread, when summer ends? Is it me, or was last week officially the longest four-day week in history? Okay, maybe that’s overstating things, but still: I was hurting, in a real back-to-school way, and I’m a grown-ass man. Back behind my desk, staring at the screen. School lunches to be packed. Bills to be paid, rising anxieties to be tamped down, alarm clocks to be set, soggy basements to be dried, soccer and piano schedules to coordinate, times tables to be memorized, reality to be reckoned with and, most crushing of all, vacation officially over. We did a little posting from our trip in August, but in case it didn’t come across: we had fun, and were extremely fortunate to have had it, and were unbelievably bummed to be back. We had so much fun, we kept looking for ways to relive our trip once we were home — inflicting our pictures on polite friends (“hold on, you gotta see the sandwiches we made for that picnic in Place des Vosges”), making epic photo albums, leaving our souvenirs around, in prominent places, to remind us of where we’d been, replaying our favorite moments (walking up the Eiffel Tower, hiking the South Downs, napping on trains, watching a clueless, jet-lagged dad try to pay for a crepe in Paris with a ten dollar bill) with the kids around the dinner table.
If you were to call this a form of denial, you wouldn’t be wrong. Two weeks after coming home, we’re still denying, still holding on. This weekend, in homage to the few days we spent in England on the way home from Paris, we had a fry up — cardiologists and vegetarians, avert your eyes — and kicked off our Sunday with an absurd plate of runny eggs, sausage, bacon, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, baked beans, and toast. Of all the unhealthy things we ate in England — to name a few: rock cake, apple tart, banoffee pie, Cadbury bars, clotted cream, rose and chocolate eclairs, scones, currant scones, cheese scones, lamb shoulder, beef roasts, fish and chips, Victoria sponge cake, summer pudding, maple pecan ice cream, etc etc etc — none was more bald in its unhealthiness, or more satisfying, than the fry-up. It’s one unapologetic, greasy, bursting plate of deliciousness. We’d like to live long enough to see our kids reach their teenage years, so we’re not making a habit of this, but man (blimey?): the Brits know from breakfast. I love this, particularly with the beans. I love vacation, particularly with the kids. Can it be summer again? – Andy (more…)
[Read more →]
Tags:breakfast entertaining·breakfast party·british breakfast·fry up breakfast
In my next life, I want to be Brooke Reynolds, creator not just of the inspired family blog inchmark, but of the kind of life where kids have hand-sewed mongrammed ballet and book bags; where families have color-coordinated reunions (and seem to genuinely like each other); and where there is no such thing as a detail that is too small to be made special. Brooke, a former designer at
Martha Stewart Living, is a big believer in eating dinner with her brood (her husband and three kids) and here she guest-posts about a few rules laid down for the family table. And yes, she is responsible for the beautiful artwork as well. See what I mean about simple made special? –Jenny
We love family dinner at our house, I’ve got three children ages 1 to 7 and that moment when we all sit down together to eat a good meal…it really is my favorite moment of the day. I’ve been loving all the recipes and great tips I’ve learned from DALS, and I’m happy to share our Rules of Dinner — some ideas that have helped my family enjoy our dinners together. (more…)
[Read more →]
Tags:brooke reynolds inchmark·family dinner rules·how to have family dinner
Every year around this time, when I’m about to embark upon a year of school lunches, I have the same thought: Have the girls outgrown the napkin note? Do I bother with it? I don’t know exactly how they feel about the message or picture tucked into the lunchbox saying “I Love You” or “I’ll Miss You!” or “Have a Great First Day!” but in my own mind, it goes a long way towards reminding them I am pulling for you. I am thinking about you. I am still holding your hand through the day even though I’m not even with you. (I have a hard time picturing where all this rah-rah-ing ends up: greasy, chocolate-stained, buried under a crumpled bag of Cheetos in the cafeteria trash can.) But the problem with the napkin note — besides the fact that it is one more thing to think about during the back-to-school madness — is that it feels like an all-or-nothing-proposition. Because if you go to the trouble of writing “xoxoxo” on Day 1, your kid will expect it on Day 2, and if she doesn’t find the same number of x’s and o’s, her heart might sink just a little. Which seems to be the opposite of the point. A few years ago, I got myself sucked into the napkin note spiral, dreaming up different messages or drawings every day for both the girls’ lunch boxes. When Phoebe was into Greek Myths, I signed them from Athena. When Abby was studying poetry, I wrote some verse. Do I even need to mention here that I was working full time and dealing with serious guilt issues?
If anything can chip away at the guilt, though, it’s the napkin note. I will never forget a story in Calvin Trillin’s book About Alice, eulogizing his wife. (If you haven’t read the book or the New Yorker essay that inspired it, please remedy this immediately.) Alice volunteered at a camp for sick kids, and one summer found herself captivated by a sunny young girl who was severely disabled. When Alice happened upon a note that the girl’s mom had sent her, she decided to read it. “I simply had to know what this child’s parents could have done to make her so spectacular,” recalled Alice. “To make her the most optimistic, most enthusiastic, most hopeful human being I had ever encountered.” The note said this:
“If God had given us all of the children in the world to choose from, we would only have chosen you.”
Alice, the mother of two girls herself, took the note and handed it to Calvin, who was sitting next to her. “Quick. Read this. It’s the secret to life.”
I never found a note from my mom in my Holly Hobbie lunchbox. For a good chunk of my elementary school years, she was going to law school at night and was more interested in Civil Procedure and Torts than drawing smiley faces on three napkins five times a week. (Maybe she was smarter than me and recognized an all-or-nothing situation when it presented itself.) But later, with the advent of email, she managed to make up for this in spades. She always emails me on the day in April when we turn our clocks forward because she knows how happy an extra hour of daylight makes me (we are both summer fanatics); or sends me poetic missives about things like the 100-year-old Elm tree being cut down in my childhood back yard (“It’s so much sunnier — and I thought I’d grieve.”) And then there was the follow-up note she emailed after visiting my office, saying how proud of me she was. I could tell you what she wrote word for word – not only because it is pinned to my office bulletin board, but because it is seared into my memory. It was the napkin note equivalent sent when I was 35 years old, and when I re-read it last week, I knew what I had to do with the lunch boxes.
[Read more →]
Tags:heatlhy lunch for kids·school lunch·school lunch ideas
I’d like to begin by saying that is by no means a definitive list of everything one should do with one’s kids in Paris, nor is it a comprehensive one. You will not, for example, find any museum here. That’s because a) you don’t need me to tell you about the Louvre or the Musée D’Orsay and b) because the day we decided to spend more of our time wandering in neighborhoods and less time standing in line crossing our fingers that the girls (ages 7 and 9) would be able to appreciate whatever it was we were waiting to see, was the day we found our vacation rhythm. So this compilation of 26 moments, walks, restaurants, bakeries, shops, cafes, strategies, and parks is merely our list. But I will say that we ended every day exhausted, satisfied, and stuffed. Don’t you think that says a lot?
1. Breakfast in the Gardens. We like routines in our house and perhaps sadly, this extends to vacation. This is how we ended up hiking up rue Monsieur Le Prince from our apartment right near the Odeon Metro station, and stopping by a small local (reasonably priced) boulanger for croissants and caffe crèmes, then heading up to the oleander-ringed fountain in Jardins Luxembourg and eating breakfast. I would say there is no more perfect way to start a day. (more…)
[Read more →]
Tags:paris·paris with kids·what to do in paris·where to eat with kids in Paris
When I first got my MacBook Pro a few years ago, Abby and I became obsessed with the Photo Booth application — the one that takes your picture and superimposes fake backgrounds to make it seem like you are riding a roller coaster or flying through outer space or floating inside a fish tank. There’s also a background for Paris and when we snapped that photo we got a big laugh out of the resulting image. Look at us! In Paris! Ha ha ha ha! There’s the Eiffel Tower! The day I took Abby and her sister on a trip like that was a day far off in the future, like all those other days in the far off future, such as the day they would be able to keep track of their own shin guards or the day they could drive themselves to ballet or the day we fly through outer space.
But then — voila! — a friend offers a free apartment in Paris (free) any time in the summer (free) and before I know it, we’ve got ourselves another milestone crossed (which is, by the way, free). All of which is to say that the photo above was actually taken at the base of the real Eiffel Tower in the real Paris, where we’ve been wandering and eating and ferris-wheeling and eating and carousel-ing and eating and eating and eating for the past six days. And though I think it took the girls a few days to realize that Paris was something other than a tangle of really old streets you have to hike through in order to get to the crepes and the pan au chocolat and the palmiers and financiers and beignets and macarons, I think they are starting to register how far away from their little world back home they really are. And how strange and wonderful a feeling like that can be.
This post originally was going to be my Bon Vacances email, the one where I say enjoy your vacation I’m going on my annual digital diet, but we’ve been having so much fun in our French kitchen that I think next week we’re going to do our best to post some of the meals we’ve cooked. Mixed in will hopefully be some guest posts that I’m really excited about. In the meantime, some highlights from the week… (more…)
[Read more →]
Tags:ferris wheel tuileries·luxembourg gardens paris·paris·paris with kids·tin tin shops paris
So I’m sure by now you are all wondering where and how the girls have spent all their hard-earned summer book club points. There have been trips to the soccer shop (Phoebe bought a Rooney jersey, Abby a miniature black and yellow ball which she has been kicking against the backyard wall nonstop, much to the delight of my neighbors, I’m sure); and trips to amazon (they decided to pool their earnings and go in on walkie-talkies together); and then there was the trip to ebay to buy Abby furniture for her dollhouse. By dollhouse, I mean what you are looking at above — the bottom two shelves of her bedroom’s built-in bookcase. Abby has created little worlds for herself all over the house, most notably in the kitchen, but I think this is my favorite one of all because it’s a work in progress and has been for over two years. Together we’ve wallpapered the kitchen with Old Navy wrapping paper, renovated two bathrooms with leftover scraps of ceramic and marble tiles from our real house, laid down wall-to-wall carpeting (fabric swatches from the store), and created enormous jewel–and-giftwrap-on-felt wall-hangings worthy of MoMA. A lot of the furniture in the two story apartment complex was in my dollhouse when I was a kid, but over the years we’ve supplemented with ebay purchases. It can take Andy and me years to make decorative decisions in our real house, so it’s immensely satisfying to wallpaper Abby’s bathroom with a sheet of origami paper in five seconds. In other words, I don’t know who enjoys this project more — Abby or me.
I always politely suggest that it might be time to start shopping for a real kitchen table, but Abby is committed to her makeshift masterpiece, four tea party plates piled on top of each other. The kitchen is from the dollhouse I owned when I was little. The dolls are Plan. (Christmas present, 2009.) (more…)
[Read more →]
Tags:creative dollhouse·diy dollhouse·dollhouse furniture·make your own dollhouse
And by that question I mean, is it easier for families to get everyone around the table at the same time eating the same thing first thing in the morning — before the playdates and the meetings and the deadlines conspire to pull everyone in different directions?
In case you can’t tell by now, we’re big fans of a shared meal at the end of the day. But that’s most likely because, after a few harrowing years with apron-hangers and witching-hours babies, we’ve found our dinner rhythm. We know the meals we can make blindfolded. We know what kind of surgery — rice removal surgery — has to be performed on the porcupine meatballs in order for Phoebe to eat them. But if morning is the best time for your family to unplug and connect — what’s stopping you from declaring breakfast the new family dinner? Actuallly….What’s stopping you from declaring the all-parties-present road trip or bike ride or the weekend hike the new family dinner?
For all of our inspired steaks and salads, we here at DALS haven’t yet cracked the breakfast code. Every week at Trader Joe’s we beg the girls to keep breakfast in mind as they shop — we will buy them anything if it doesn’t fall into the starch-fest category, aka pancakes, bagels, waffles, french toast, aka their morning-time default mode. (Our morningtime default mode: Smoothies, which the girls go back and forth craving and rejecting.) But no matter how many cartons of strawberry yogurt and granola we lug home, we’re usually back to our pancake routine by Wednesday. If I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll have Nigella’s homemade mix in the countertop canister, but it’s usually Trader’s buttermilk batter we’re shaping into silver dollars and the girls’ initials. If we’re going to have the same thing every day, might as well make it interesting.
Initial Pancakes (shown above) I find they turn out better when you drizzle the letter into the pan in its mirror image and then flip to its correct positioning.
Fakey Crepey Remember when we handed the girls ten bucks and challenged them to find something new at the farmer’s market? The first time they came back with lavendar honey and two sourdough rolls. The second time, they wisened up and found the newest vendor at the market: they found the crepe guy. With his French accent, twirly wand, and charming little cones, I am no match for him, but I make what Abby now calls my “Fakey Crepey,” achieved by thinning out my pancake batter with milk, then smearing Nutella across the middle. It ain’t Paris, but it’ll do for now.
Silver Dollar Stack A perennial favorite in my house. (How could it not be?) The trick is to pile the tiny cakes as dramatically high as possible.
Nine Years. Nine Blueberries When I was six, I made my mother insert six blueberries into my pancake. When I turned seven, I made her insert seven. The ritual continued for an embarrassingly long time. When I told Phoebe about it, she responded “Grandma better get ready to make you a big pancake next time!” And then: “Make me one with nine!”
[Read more →]
Tags:creative breakfasts for kids·fun pancakes for kids·healthy breakfast for kids·pancakes·pancakes for kids
You should have seen the look on Phoebe’s face when I told her that Daniel Handler was going to contribute a Summer Reading List for DALS. It’s how I imagine my own face would have looked if, back in 1981, my dad had walked through the door and said, “Hi everyone, yeah, long day at work. I’m just gonna go upstairs and put my bathrobe on. Oh, and Andy: the Rolling Stones are going to play at your birthday party this year.” Daniel Handler — and how many people, other than close relatives, can you say this about — has had a genuine, rock star-like impact on our oldest daughter’s life. The thirteen mind-blowing books he wrote, under the pseudonym Lemony Snicket, are the books Phoebe might well remember most when she’s old and forty. First of all, she read them all in about two weeks, curled up on the corner of our family room couch, and we basically didn’t see or hear from her until she was done. We’re talking serious, deep transportation. Second of all, these books give you faith in the human imagination. They’re so beautifully, joyously done. In some ways, they’re the books that opened her up to the value of darkness in a story, and of the way good and evil, and life and death, can coexist. “Imagine lemonade,” Phoebe said, when I asked her to describe what the books are like. “Only with barely any sugar.” Which is exactly how I would have put it, happy as I was to discover these books, too, after so many years of unrelenting cheeriness and pointless plot-iness and overweening cutesiness and, as Phoebe suggests, way too much sugar. (I’m not naming names.) You can never accuse Daniel Handler of ever using too much sugar. That goes for his adult books as well, and, we presume, for Why We Broke Up, the young adult book he is publishing this fall with the illustrator, Maira Kalman, with whom he has partnered before, to gorgeous results. (This is a go-to gift book for us.) We are huge Daniel Handler fans here at DALS, and we’re honored to have him tell us about his favorite picture books. (Plus one not-so-picture book that he couldn’t resist throwing in. See: Darkness, above.) Without further ado, Daniel Handler on what your kids should be reading this summer…
Dillweed’s Revenge by Florence Parry Heide
This one was written a long time ago, and Edward Gorey was supposed to illustrate it, but he pulled a jerk move and died. It’s really remarkable, the story of a young man with terrible parents who evntually finds ways to deal with them — through monstrous acts of witchraft and menace. It was finally illustrated by the amazing Carson Ellis, who’s probably best known for the album covers she does for her husband’s band, The Decemberists. The art has this kind of abstract, Rothko-y, wet quality to it. It’s old-fashioned Victorian meets the dark unplummable depths of the human soul. For kids!
I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen (note: this is coming out in September, but you can pre-order now) (more…)
[Read more →]
Tags:daniel handler·daniel handler maira kalman·lemony snicket·summer book club·summer reading series
You know when you go to someone’s house for dinner and they seem to have it all together? One of the hosts is mixing you a drink and asking your children about camp while the other is sipping a glass of Prosecco, tossing some sort of delicious summery salad, listening intently to what you are saying, and showing no outward sign of doing what I often feel myself doing — which is pretend to listen intently to what you are saying while mostly worrying about the fact that — s#@t! – I forgot to make the g@#$*%n salad dressing! I should probably not admit this in a public space that is accessible by public…people, but I very much aspire to be the confident, nonchalant host who, when cooking for a large group of guests, can wing it without stressing. I’ve been aspiring for about fifteen years now.
But in those fifteen years, I’ve discovered something about myself. I am not a wing-it kind of person. I like to have a plan. This diagnosis probably gets to the root of my dinner diary pathology and my contract-drafting habit. And it is (more…)
[Read more →]
Tags:entertaining families·family entertaining ideas·guacamole recipe