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Update! If you have read my book, Dinner: A Love Story, if you have cooked from my book, lived with my book, are sick to death of hearing about my book, you should feel free to skip to the bottom of this post. And know that I am eternally grateful. In no small way, your support keeps this blog going.
For those of you who haven’t read the book, I just wanted to let you know something: Guess what guys? I wrote a book! And if you read this blog with any kind of regularity, if you get excited by things like mix-and-match menus and Venn diagram-dinners, or if you are the type of person who is required to feed people every day while also doing small things like holding down a full-time job, I think there’s a good chance you will like it.
At last count, there were well over 100 readers on Amazon
who have said as much. I only bring that up as an excuse to quote one of the more recent reviewers: “Skip ‘Lean In
‘ and try this!” How much do I love that? A lot
In other exciting news: Dinner: A Love Story is going into its fourth printing. And for those of you who are inclined to read a cookbook on a Kindle, there’s an Amazon special going on right now through October 7. Dinner: A Love Story has been selected as one of the Kindle 100 (I have no idea what this means, but I’m going to pretend for our purposes that it is a big stinkin’ deal) and is only $2.99.
And then there’s this:
An honest-to-god, 350-page manuscript for my next book. It’s done. Well, not quite. But a big huge hunk of it is. And if I were a betting woman, I’d put my money on the celebration including a batch of Great Grandma Turano’s meatballs
. Tonight. More details on the way very soon!
Thank you for indulging me. Back to regularly scheduled dinner programming on Monday. Also, big thanks to Jessica, of Feed Me Dearly and her gorgeous pup for sending along the photo way up top.
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Tags:dinner a love story book·jenny rosenstrach dinner a love story
All right people, I’m back. Since last we spoke I have been cranking on work — that vacation I was so wistful for? Those handstands on the beach and dinners on the screened-in porch? They became distant memories as soon as the iphone photos were auto-flowed into their own Apple album. Closed the book on summer vacation! Gone! To quote one of Pixar’s more brilliant characters, “I never look back, darling, it distracts from The Now.” So what is The Now…now? It’s back-to-school. It’s back to eighty-five pairs of shoes by the front door. Back to forgetting to check backpacks. Back to alarm clocks, school lunch-packing, breathless breakfasts, and…structure. To start the year off right, naturally, I’ve put together a little gift for everyone — me included: A Sunday-to-Thursday weekly dinner plan (plus shopping list — click on link at the end.) But instead of just, you know, giving it to you, I thought I’d also share the reason why I chose each recipe for each particular night — why pulled chicken on Sunday? Why salad pizza on Wednesday? There is a method to the madness and in the spirit of back-t0-school, I figured you’d want a little lesson plan to go along with the recipes. Here you go and good luck!
Sunday (morning or afternoon)
- Go food shopping
- Make a jar of vinaigrette that you can use all week.
Why? So you can make extra BBQ pulled chicken. It freezes well, and is a great thing to have on hand if you have to make a quick serves-one meal for an athlete who needs to eat before or after a game or practice. Or a picky eater who won’t touch whatever it is you are serving. Or a spouse who staggers in late, after everyone has eaten. Alternately: You can freeze the entire thing and have a full dinner for four ready for later in the week. The second half of the cabbage will be used for Tuesday’s dinner.
Why? Never start with something ambitious on Monday. Remember: You are in it for the long game. This is easy, fast, seasonal, and requires a minimal number of pots. In other words, total keeper. Also: Feel free to replace the country ham with bacon — or with olive oil if you want to make it a Meatless Monday. Make twice as much salad as you eat. Save the rest (undressed) in a bag for salad pizza on Wednesday.
Why? It works because it has a lot of overlapping ingredients with the Tofu you’ll have on Thursday, but feels like something else entirely. The only thing you have to worry about is spacing them out well so people don’t get soy-overload. Also, this is extremely light — another reason why it’s nicknamed “redemption salad” — so feel free to round out the meal with a baguette or some noodles.
- Salad Pizza (add some of the basil you have leftover from Monday night)
Why? It’s quick and healthy and a nice warm-weather pizza. If kids won’t touch a salad pizza, top one half of the pie with pizza sauce and mozzarella for them. (Note: sauce and mozzarella are not included on the attached shopping list.)
Why? I love this meal because it’s totally pantry-driven, so if it works on Thursday, great. If you don’t get to it till next Thursday, that works, too. Obviously the tofu will expire at some point — but unlike meat or fish which comes with use-it-or-lose-it pressure, it gives you a little breathing room. Another reason to make this? It’s so freaking good! If someone protests on the grounds of tofu (as my children still do) heat up that extra bbq pulled chicken from the freezer and slap it on a sandwich.
Go out. Call it in. Eat in the car. Whatever you do, take the night off!
Click here for your meal line-up and shopping list.
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Tags:back to school meal plan·family dinner meal plan·weekly meal plan
Our next guest in the DALS Summer Reading Series is Michael Paterniti, a man who needs no introduction (and not only because we just introduced him last month). Besides being the father of three voracious readers, he is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Revenge, Betrayal, and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese, and joins us today to tell us about his two (give or take nine) most memorable childrens’ books. Thanks, Mike!
My favorite children’s books belong to two distinct categories: the ones I adored as a kid, and then the ones I’ve loved as a father reading to my kids. To the first pile belong treasures like Homer Price (who can ever forget Uncle Ulysses’s doughnut machine!), The Tomten (about a mysterious elfin man who rummages a remote farm by winter night, talking to the animals), The Great Brain (oh, how I wanted to be him, pickpocketing the world with his schemes!), and The Hardy Boys catalogue (the recurrence of their friend Chet, in his jalopy, on the prowl for lemonade and chocolate cake while the brothers face harrowing danger, still cracks me up).
To the second, the father pile, belong almost anything by Chris Van Allsberg (The Stranger, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, The Polar Express) and The Hobbit (still one of the world’s great travelogues) and, say, Penguin Dreams (the surreal, wonderfully psychedelic journey of a penguin through his own dreams). For our purposes today, however, I’m limiting myself to a couple of desert-island books, one in each category. I realize only now in writing that both are appropriately animated by food (and one, perhaps the strangest and funniest children’s book I’ve ever read, is actually about animated food!). So here goes…
Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson (Kid Book)
Before this book, which I read at age nine or ten, I’m not sure I fully understood how books work, how a good one can deposit a secret world so whole and alive in your head. A Newberry Medal winner from the 1940s, the story centers around one rabbit family, living on “the Hill” in Connecticut, and begins with the refrain, “New folks coming.” See, the Hill has fallen on hard times because the big house there—and its fantastic garden—have fallen into disrepair after a string of “mean, shiftless, and inconsiderate” owners. Now as the animals grow skinny and sip their “thin soup” everything relies on the new folks being planting folks. Meanwhile Little Georgie is going up “Danbury way,” where times are even harder, to retrieve his old Uncle Analdas, who’s just lost his wife and whose dinners consist of a skimpy turnip. Thinking about Little Georgie out in all that wilderness sets Mother to fretting in the kitchen, worrying about “the possibility of Dogs, Cats, and Ferrets; of shotguns, rifles, and explosives; of traps and snares; of poison and poison gases” while longwinded Father, of southern stock, tries to reassure her of the boy’s capabilities. And sure enough, son and uncle return, the new folks move in, and everything seems quite promising indeed until one night, as Little Georgie sallies forth on another errand, there’s the screeching of car brakes from the road, and Little Georgie disappears.
Though known for his great illustrations, Robert Lawson is an evocative, lyrical writer. I won’t ruin his ending, which is simple, moving, and wonderful, but I will say that, first and foremost, Rabbit Hill is a book about generosity—at its most elemental about the overwhelming gratitude we feel when down and hungry and offered food—and that’s a very good thing to be reminded of in this world. Ages 7+
The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay (Father Book)
Um—I don’t quite know where to begin with this one except to say that when I read it to our son, Leo, some years ago, he wore the most quizzical expression for 169 pages, kept snorting with laughter, and said, “I don’t understand any of this!” which seemed to make him happy and all the more interested. And he never let me stop reading.
First published in Australia in 1918, the book centers itself on Bunyip Bluegum, a tidy, proper koala bear who leaves home to see the world because his uncle’s whiskers are too long, and take up all the space in their tree house, and soak in the soup at dinnertime, which is depressing. Before long, Bluegum’s fallen in with Bill Barnacle, a sailor, and his friend Sam Sawnoff, “a penguin bold,” whom he finds eating lunch. “They had a pudding in a basin,” reads the book, “and the smell that arose from it was so delightful that Bunyip Bluegum was quite unable to pass on.” This pudding is named Albert, and is a little foul-mouthed, and takes no guff. And it loves to be eaten, never runs out, and can transmogrify into the thing you most want to eat. (“It’s a Christmas steak and apple-dumpling Puddin’,” says the penguin. “It’s a Magic Puddin’.”)
Of course, rollicking high jinx ensue, the Puddin’ is stolen, strange characters appear, long, wacky, wonderful poems are delivered, the Puddin’ sulks and snarls and ripostes, and the pictures are fantastic. Lindsay said he wrote the book because children like eating and fighting, but I might add that what they—and their parents—like most of all is to laugh together. And there’s no weirder, funnier children’s book out there, one based entirely on the wonderful ways we feed ourselves, with words, stories, adventures, and cobbler. (Ages 8+)
FYI: Mike is on a West Coast tour right now, reading from The Telling Room tonight, 8/19, at Vroman’s (Pasadena); Tuesday, 8/20 at Book Passage (San Francisco); Wednesday, 8/21, at Omnivore Books (SF); Thursday, 8/22 at Reader’s Books (Sonoma); then Powell’s (Portland) on 8/26.
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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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Tags:michael paterniti·spain·the telling room
There are certain food items that Jenny has banned from the house forever. Most are desserts. Actually, all are desserts. There were the Mallomars when we were first married, which we stashed in the refrigerator and ate by the box until she turned, viper-like, upon them. There were those sugar-coated, citrus-y gum drops from T Joe’s, which she loved dearly for many months, right up to the day when, in the middle of eating a few of them after dinner, she turned to me and said, “Ugh, god, why am I eating these? What is my problem? I think we need to do ‘Turn Over a New Leaf’ month on the blog.” There was the bag of peanut butter chips that she ate by the handful — paired with alternating handfuls of dark chocolate chips — and that she loved so much that she had to throw them away, or risk eating every one of them. (It was hard to watch, as if the chips, by merely existing, had done her wrong.) There my personal favorite, the batch of snickerdoodles that she first saw as a revelation but then grew so disgusted by that she actually poured water over them before throwing them away to ensure that she wouldn’t, upon reflection, dive back into the garbage for more.
And then there was the tres leches cake that Abby and I made last week.
My struggles with baking have been well-chronicled on this particuar weblog — Jenny loves to say that baking is not my “thing” and she’s right — but Abby had been after me for a month to make this with her, ever since she’d tried it in school on some kind of end-of-year, Spanish celebration day. Abby is nothing if not determined, and had been dying to recreate it for us at home. So I finally relented, busted out the dreaded mixer, and pulled a recipe from Bon Appetit. To my amazement, what we made resembled a cake and tasted… boy, did it ever taste good. Like, seriously, seriously good, and I am not a huge lover of cake. The best part of the process came at the end, after the cake was cooked, when we put it on a baking sheet and Abby poked tiny holes all over the top of it, and then slowly, over the course of several minutes, drizzled seemingly endless quantities of various milk products over the top of it. “Where does all that milk go?” Abby asked, as the liquid disappeared. Then she tried to lift it off the counter, and understood.
Baking may not be my thing, but Jenny didn’t exactly turn up her nose at this creation. She loaded a canister of Reddi Whip and downed two slices, and then cursed her powers of self-restraint, and then had another piece, and then got angry and threatened to throw the rest away. Good sense prevailed, however, and the cake lived to see another day. But that was all. After night two, with about a quarter of it left, Jenny dumped it into the trash and banned it for life. “Don’t bring that into the house again,” she said. “It’s too good.” – Andy
Tres Leches Cake
Adapted only very slightly from Bon Appetit
1 tablespon unsalted butter (for pan)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
1/2 cup whole milk
1 cup evaporated skim milk
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon good dark rum
Preheat oven to 350°. Butter bottom and sides of cake pan (I used a spring-form pan, but not sure that was necessary). Set aside. In large bowl, whisk your flour, baking powder, and cinnamon. In another large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat egg whites until firm peaks form, about 7-8 minutes. Gradually beat in sugar. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating to blend between additions. Beat in 2 tsp. of the vanilla and the lemon zest. Add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with milk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Pour batter into pan; smooth top.
Bake for 25 minutes. Reduce heat to 325° and continue baking until cake is golden brown and middle springs back when pressed, 20-25 minutes more. Let cake cool in pan for 15 minutes. Invert cake onto a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet.
Whisk 1/2 tsp. vanilla, evaporated milk, and remaining ingredients in a medium bowl. Poke holes all over top of cake (we used a wooden skewer). Drizzle half of sauce over cake, letting liquid soak in before adding more. Let cake sit for 10 minutes.
Invert a plate on top of cake. Lift rack and gently invert cake onto plate. Drizzle remaining sauce over. Dust with powdered sugar.
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When you live with someone like Andy, it can be hard to know when he likes something and when he really likes something at the table. This is because his policy is to express how good dinner is if someone else has made it for him — I mean really express it — even if it’s maybe just mediocre. He’ll drop his fork. He’ll “Oh-My-God” a few times. He’ll mmmm through the entire first minute of eating. If it sounds disingenuous to indiscriminately dispense this kind of flattery, he might indulge that accusation for a second before saying that he’d rather err on the side of being overly gracious. As he’s fond of pointing out: “There’s nothing weirder than cooking for someone who doesn’t mention the food they’re eating while they’re eating it.” I love this about him.
Unless, of course I’m the one cooking for him, in which case it drives me batsh*t crazy.
Though it’s weird to even put this in writing, you might say that cooking dinner has sorta kinda become my livelihood. And in that way, it does me no good to be serenaded with “Wows” when I’ve just cooked something that may or may not be book- or blog-worthy. When I need an honest-to-god, incisive breakdown of whether a recipe works or not, the guy is utterly useless. (The kids on the other hand? You might say they are gifted in the Critiquing Department.)
I have noticed, however, that there is a subtle hierarchy to Andy’s compliments. It’s always a good sign when he asks “What’s in here?” after the first bite. It’s even better when the word “keeper” is thrown around at some point during the meal. But I think the compliment that registers highest on the truth-o-meter for me is what he said last Thursday night, after eating nothing but a tiny portion of leftover macaroni and cheese along with three or four salads made right from the CSA box.
“Wow,” he said. “I could eat like this every night.”
There’s a theme to the dinners that earn this compliment. The meals are almost always healthy. They generally involve fish, really fresh, in-season vegetables, and very little intervention on the part of the cook. The compliment is apparently so rare, that I can recite every single meal I’ve made him in 15 years that has earned the honor:
1. Asian Cabbage Salad with Shrimp or Chicken. The classic.
2. Grilled Black Sea Bass with Market Vegetables Pretty much the formula for Sunday Dinner from April through November, when our farmer’s market is open.
3. Sweet-and-Sour “Mongolian” Tofu We are newly obsessed with tofu. More to come on that front soon.
4. Fried Flounder with pretty much anything on the side. Must be the freshest flounder we can find.
5. Spaghetti with Clams (page 56 of Dinner: A Love Story) He is actually the one that always makes this.
6. Detox Soup With or without shrimp
7. Last Week’s Salad Bar Dinner
We had leftover Mac & Cheese, but you could also just serve salads and vegetables with good warm baguette toasts. Slice one baguette in half lengthwise, ten brush with olive oil (or spread with a little butter) and sprinkle with salt. Wrap in foil and heat in 350°F oven for 15 minutes. While it warms, make:
- Any of these Summer Salads (from 2013 round-up), which includes the cilantro-napa cabbage salad you see above
- or these Summer Salads (from 2012)
- or these Summer Salads (from 2011), which includes the tomato-corn salad you see above
- or chopped tomatoes with basil and bocconcini
- lightly cooked carrots with honey, thyme, and butter
- or shredded zucchini sauteed in garlic and olive oil, aka Zucchini Butter via Food52 (not that Andy would ever touch that.)
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Tags:stone barns csa
Five no-cook summer dinners. How soon can I get me some of that up there? (Photo by Romulo Yanes.)
Marion Nestle + Cartoons + Food = A Book I Just Pre-Ordered.
Forget dinner and a movie — Abby and I just had our 2nd annual documentary-and-a-shackburger lunch date. We chose (and loved) 20 Feet from Stardom* playing at Lincoln Center, followed by a visit to Shake Shack up the block.
Speaking of world-class burgers, a very kind reader (whose name and email I lost!) sent along a recipe link for replicating that Hatch Burger I loved so much at Umami last year. Thank you reader whose name and email I lost.
When she’s not baking cakes, she’s watching really good summer movies with the kids.
Is everyone else as in love with the “Jenny’s in the Kitchen“ column on Food52 as I am?
What Happy People Do Differently.
Everyone wants it. (Show this to the kids.)
I think TeamSnap (and its attending app) has the potential to change my life as I know it.
Oh my god, have you read this book? I feel like she’s my kindred spirit.
Mick Jagger singing a so-good-I-want-to-weep, outtake version of Keith’s song, You Got the Silver.
A really nicely written essay about the joys of traveling solo (containing an excellent Clark Griswold reference) by Ben Loehnen in Slate.
Maybe the best thing I have ever seen on film.
We are so bad about television. Here we are, in the Golden Age of the medium, and the only thing we watch right now, in real time, is So You Think You Can Dance. We do eventually make our way to most of the good stuff, though — we joined Friday Night Lights in Season Two, Breaking Bad in Season Three, and Homeland halfway through Season Two. Our latest one came via a recommendation from a reliable (in the taste department) friend: Top of the Lake, which was created by Jane Campion. Has anyone out there seen this? We loved it, loved the acting, but maybe loved, most of all, the scenery. I wanted to press pause on every frame of this thing. Insanely beautiful.
This piece from Bill Buford is just fun to read, and it makes me hungry.
You’ll be hearing more about this book next week on DALS, but if you feel like getting out and you live anywhere near Brooklyn and you want a free drink and enjoy listening to great writers read from their work, then swing by Powerhouse on Wednesday, July 31 at 7:00 to hear Michael Paterniti (and me) talk about — and read from — his new book, The Telling Room.
*Parental warning: As to be expected in a documentary about the music industry, there are a few unsavory word choices used here and there, but I found it navigable for a nine-year-old.
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If you asked our family what summer means, you’d get a few different answers. The girls would say tomato sandwiches, no school, and ice cream. (Seriously, it’s a physical impossibility not to eat a Flav-R-Ice or a scoop of mint cookie every day.) If you asked Andy, it would be tomato sandwiches and road-trips where you’re driving down some county road in upstate New York and you come upon a Rolling Stones-tattooed barn like the one you see above. (We had to pull over to take a picture.) If you asked me, though, it would be tomato sandwiches, a honeysuckle-infused warm breeze off the Hudson, and, of course, the DALS Best of Summer Awards. With no further ado…the Third Annual Dollys!
Best Thing We’d Always Been Too Afraid to Make, Then Made And Discovered Wasn’t Hard: Fried Zucchini Blossoms
A few summers ago, we were lucky enough to eat at The River Café in London where we dined on many many delicious things – all of which have been completely subsumed in our collective memory by one dish: Fritto Misto, featuring Zucchini Blossoms. While it’s probably true that deep-fried battered anything is almost cheating when it comes to culinary trickery, these vegetables were different. Instead of rendering them greasy, heavy, and filling, the deep-frying seemed to have the opposite effect: The blossoms on our plates were light, airy, melt-in-your-mouth-y, and gone in 30 seconds. We attempted replication last week in our own kitchen with a box from our favorite farmer’s market vendor. Success! – Jenny
Best Seasonal Sundae Topping: Fresh Strawberry Smash
Hurry up and get on this one fast, while those tiny, ruby-red, slightly soft strawberries are dominating the farmer’s market. Ever since we made the pilgrimage to Doug’s Fish Fry in Skaneateles, New York a few years ago and had fresh smashed strawberries drizzled on top of homemade vanilla ice cream, I’ve been wanting to bust this out at home. This will be our year. To execute: Remove stems from berries and halve. (Don’t shy away from the berries that look overripe; those are the best ones.) Put them in a small mixing bowl, sprinkle with sugar, and smash with a fork, until the juice is running and the consistency looks saucy but not smooth. Spoon over vanilla ice cream — or, even better, sandwiched between a slab or pound cake and some fresh whipped cream. – Andy
Best Vegan Breakfast: Strawberries and Vanilla Almond Milk
If you’re not going to smash up those overripe berries for dessert, save them for breakfast. Add a bunch into a drinking glass, pour vanilla almond milk into the glass, then dump the whole thing into a blender and give it a whirl. Every time I start the day with one of these, I think “Now that’s how you start a day.” Then I chug a gallon of coffee. — JR
Best Summer Jam: Wakin’ on a Pretty Day, by Kurt Vile
You know when you’re in one of those phases when you can’t bear to listen to any of the music you have? When you’re sick of your entire iTunes library? When you’re out running and you spend more time scrolling — click, click, click, click — than you do actually listening to music? That was me a few weeks ago. So I emailed my buddy Will, who as far as I can tell, knows as much about music as any man alive and asked him: What should I be listening to right now? He wrote back instantly: “Wakin’ on a Pretty Day” by Kurt Vile, a song he described as “breezy good times.” Three weeks later, I’ve probably listened to it 200 times. Which is more impressive/troubling given that the song is nine minutes long. The kids love the zen-like video and it’s perfect for summer night when the patio door is open and the grill is going. — AW
Best Summer Time-Saver: Grab-and-Go Bag
We do a lot of road-tripping over the summer, which means we do a lot of packing and unpacking and…forgetting toothbrushes and braces gear and lip balm and hairbrushes. To save ourselves from the first-world anxiety that ensues, we bought the girls little cosmetic kits last year and filled them with supplies collected in hotel rooms and Target’s travel-size bins. The products live in the cosmetic kit year round, so all the girls have to do when packing for a quick trip is throw the kit in the duffel. This is one of those things that brings me (and I think them, too) inexplicable happiness every time it works. Especially when I forget my own lip balm. — JR
Easiest Summer Dinner: Grilled Sausages
Thursday is my new favorite day — it’s the day I pick up my farm-share box at Stone Barns. That means I don’t have to do much by way of dinner. I throw together a few fresh salads, then fire up the grill or the skillet, and cook a few sausages that I picked up at the farmer’s market the previous weekend. (Last week, I added some hot dogs to the platter for a friend of Abby’s, but she ended up saying “I don’t usually like sausages, but I’m going to tell my mom to get these!” then ignored the Hebrew Nationals altogether.) Because of the bountiful produce, you don’t need a lot of meat — maybe a single link each — and the whole thing comes together faster than you can drink a glass of chilled rose. – JR
Most Indispensable Summer Cookbook: Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Vegetables
You need to own this book. Full disclaimer here: I do not own this book. But I’ve given it to pretty much all of my food-loving friends, including Todd, who lives down the street from me, and who I email right about this time every year asking if I can borrow it for a little while. He is nice enough to say yes, but it’s really not so fair of me to take it from him right as the summer produce is peaking. The book is not so much a cookbook as it is an A-to-Z encyclopedia of vegetable inspiration – and it is always the first thing I think to turn to when the CSA box includes a head of kohlrabi or a bunch of garlic scapes or rutabaga or something else I feel utterly ill-equipped to whip into dinner. Waters assumes you’re starting with the freshest stuff possible, so the recipes are always simple (as in, again, yesterday’s slaw) and always inspired. OK, Todd, I’m going to one-click it right now. — JR
Best Accompaniment to Anything That’s Been Grilled: No-Mayo Slaw
We like a classic creamy picnic slaw as much as the next guy (see page 242 of my book), but lately we’ve been super into brighter, healthier, more experimental takes on the genre. Whether it’s our MVP kale-avocado-pickled onion, fennel-apple-sunflower seed (page 243 of my book), the Lee Bros cabbage, peanut, and lime slaw, anything from the slaw section of The Grilling Book (photo above left: Peden + Munk), nothing offers the same kind of fresh, cool counterpoint to the char of a whatever is coming off the Weber. — JR & AW
Best Reminder of Why it’s Fun to Be a Kid: Pink Soccer Socks
It’s crazy how much neon is flying around our house these days. It’s 1987 all over again. (Minus, thank god, the Forenza sweaters.) Neon shirts, neon sneakers, neon hairbands, neon lacrosse sticks. And now, maybe my favorite of all, ridiculously pink neon Adidas soccer socks. There may be a lot wrong with the world today and any number of reasons to despair, but these are definitely not one of them. – AW
Best Way to Use Up Straggling CSA Veggies: Scrambled Eggs
Of course, anything that involves an egg deserves a Dolly (maybe an Oscar? A Nobel?) in my book, but this has been my favorite lunch lately. I chop up whatever leafy green is on its last legs, sauté with a little onion or shallot, red pepper flakes, then scramble in an egg or two that’s been whisked with a little Parm. No one’s gonna complain if there’s a fresh chive or two snipped on top, either. It’s fast, light and, when washed down with an apricot or two, my idea of heaven. — JR
Best All-Purpose Summer Shoe for Kids: Salt-Water Sandals
It’s been well established that I don’t have girly-girls. For the most part, I’m OK with this. OK, fine, I freaking love it. Unless we’re talking fifteen minutes before the graduation party or my parents’ 45th anniversary celebration or the fill-in-the-blank special occasion when they come downstairs wearing something fancy (i.e. anything that isn’t a soccer jersey) with their Nike Free-Runs. When I ever-so-diplomatically suggest trying on a pair of ballet flats at Marshall’s (“just for special occasions”) they make that sucking-a-lemon face. But I’m lucky in one regard — the only fancy shoe (i.e. anything that isn’t a sneaker) they’ll tolerate is a classic: Salt-Water Sandals, or “Salties” as they’re known. I love them because a) they come in every color of the rainbow b) they are not Nikes and c) they work for pretty much every occasion that doesn’t call for Nikes: parties, sightseeing, traveling, beach-going. As long as it’s summer, that is. Come fall, I’m back to square one. — JR (more…)
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June 21 has been circled in the girls’ calendars since last fall. You know where my Pixarheads are going to be as soon as their parents figure out a way to get them there.
I am about as sick of the “Keep Calm and Carry On” parodies as the next person, but this one, printed on cocktail napkins really made me laugh. (Thanks, Bonnie!)
A 5-day menu-plan for Vacation House Cooking.
The learning from this: Weekend behavior is very unlike weeknights when it comes to cooking. And: Mothers are crazy.
The power of rituals. (Thanks, Todd!)
A brand new blog for childrens’ books. (I think we must’ve grown up in the same house because our taste in books is identical.)
She believes in family dinner. She just can’t make it happen every night.
Always fun to hear what New York Times staffers are reading.
My summer reading, so far.
An absolute treasure trove of summer-ready ice cream treats, cheesecakes, pies, parfaits.
Have a great weekend!
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Every year, right around this time, Jenny and I have the same conversation. We will have just finished dinner, and the kids will have disappeared upstairs to take baths or be mad because we are forcing them to take baths even though just they took baths last night, and Jenny will turn to me and say, “I think I could be a vegetarian.” And I am right there with her. Because (a) I like vegetables*, and (b) when this conversation takes place, we are inevitably transitioning from the gray of winter to the technicolor of prime produce season, when the carrots taste like carrots and the beets are like dessert and the kids can easily snack their way through a pint of snap peas, sitting in a bowl on the counter, in the course of a single afternoon.
It’s kind of crazy how a giant box of fresh produce — from the farmer’s market, a CSA or, if we were better people, from our backyard — in the refrigerator can reset your magnetic north (chicken, must have chicken, what can we do with chicken, remember to defrost chicken) when it comes to family dinner and just, in general, get the inspiration juices flowing again. The other day, as I was sitting at my desk, Jenny texted me a photo of some sick-a#s produce, along with a challenge: “What’s for dinner?” Not to go all Alice Waters on you here, but I let the green stuff be my guide. The truth is, you could throw any of this stuff in a bowl with a light dressing, some salt and pepper, and it would taste good. Apart from the roasting of the beets, nothing we did took longer than 15 minutes, start to finish — and the beets, if I’d been smart enough to plan ahead, could easily have been prepared the day before. Which is what I will do next time, because they were the best thing on the plate by far.
“The beets were the star,” Jenny said.
“Phoebe, what’d you think?” I asked.
“Yeah, good,” she said. “Can I have Oreos on my sundae?”
It was after this meal, as we were cleaning up, that Jenny turned to me and said she thought she could be a vegetarian. Will we ever do it? Who knows. It’s possible. That’s a conversation that, for now, gets derailed by Abby’s love of bacon… and Phoebe’s attachment to cheeseburgers… and that also might ultimately be contingent on fish also being in the mix, given our attachments. But what would definitely help speed our conversion along is if I inherited a fertile plot of land in, say, Northern California that would supply us with fresh produce all year round, or at the very least, if this CSA deal could be extended, ad infinitum, until I am old and sick to death of beets. Short of that, we’ll have to see. – Andy
*Except for zucchini.
This is the photo Jenny emailed me: A sampling of our idiot-proof raw materials — tiny Napoli carrots, dragon radishes, kohlrabi, Oregon giant snow peas, super sugar snap peas, red ace beets, and an herb called winter savory. And this is what we ended up having for dinner… (more…)
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In a few days it will be Memorial Day, two words that are, of course, code for: white pants, grilling, and holy-sh*t-there’s-so-much-to-do-before-school-ends!
If you’re like me, one of the things that inevitably falls through the cracks until the very last minute is teacher gift ordering. Not this year! To pre-empt the angst, I’m figuring it all out now. Or at least after I take care of the other dozen things on my falls-through-the-cracks list. (See: immunization records to camp.) Herewith, some go-to ideas (both storebought and DIY) from a star-studded panel of teachers, friends, and bloggers: Marcie Cuff of Mossy
, Joanna Goddard of Cup of Jo
, Yolanda Edwards of Momfilter
, Alana Chernila of Eating From the Ground Up
, Caroline Fennessy Campion of Devil & Egg
, Donna Duarte of Motherburg
and one or two from yours truly. First gift up (above) from Joanna: Silk Peonies
( Terrain, $24).
McGotes! Because it’s so much more exciting than the ABCs! Click on your teacher’s initial to see your options. If you’re feeling ambitious fill it with a beach read
. (Alphabet Bags
, $12-21. They are UK-based and ship worldwide with delivery options that seem reasonably priced, but I would order like RIGHT NOW to be safe.) –via Donna
Homemade Dulce De Leche
A sugary, milky, gooey sauce that’s takes ice cream, coffee, and waffles to new levels. To make: Pour 1 can sweetened condensed milk into a double boiler. Bring water in the bottom pan to a boil and then lower to a simmer. Cover the pan and continue to simmer for about an hour. (You will need to add more water to the bottom of the pan if it simmers off.) Check on the milk occasionally and stir–it should thicken and gradually change colors from milk-white to butterscotch to a light caramel color–then you know it’s done. Let the dulce cool and then place in a jar. (Chalkboard Labels: Martha Stewart for Staples
.) Keeps in the fridge for 2 months. –via Caroline
Much as I’m sure they hold their class photo mugs near and dear to their hearts, most of the teachers canvassed for fave gifts had no problem stating their preference for Gift Cards. For a Blow-Out
, a spa, a mani-pedi, the coffee shop where she gets her lattes, any place
where pampering is on the menu. One teacher, who preferred to remain anonymous, said his favorite gift is credit at the local gourmet store where they sell alcohol. “Because what I really need at the end of the year is a drink.” (Above: Drybar
gift card, $35 – $40; select cities only) –via Joanna and Yolanda (more…)
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Tags:bake a gift·teacher gifts
When Jenny and I were in our mid-twenties, we both had jobs in publishing – she at Real Simple, me at Esquire – and worked a few blocks apart, in midtown Manhattan. Sounds pretty glamorous, doesn’t it? It wasn’t, not really. But it was fun. For Jenny, who had spent two decidedly unfulfilling years, post-college, at a financial consulting firm in suburban Connecticut, it was a chance to flex those creative muscles, to unleash that side of her that can make a dollhouse out of a pile of clip-art and a cabinet door. For me, it was a chance to work with a bunch of writers I’d long admired and, in the process, come to understand just how little I really understood about writing. Work-wise, everything felt new and different back then, if that makes sense; when each day presents you with something you’ve never done before, you are constantly learning and constantly being challenged and, as a result, constantly feeling like a screaming fraud on the cusp of being found out. This was both motivating and, in hindsight, good for the soul. I can remember telling an older co-worker and mentor, when he asked me how I was holding up during a particularly tough week — one with a lot of late nights — that I was doing GREAT, thank you for asking. I told him, with total sincerity, that in the two years I had been at Esquire, there had not been a single morning when I dreaded coming to work! And I remember the look on his face when I said it, too: a kind of tight smile that said, Ahhh, yes. I remember being twenty-five and naive once, as well, my son. And I am smiling somewhat inscrutably like this right now because it is the only way I can keep myself from informing you that there will come a day when the prospect of editing your 43rd “Women We Love” cover package will make getting out of bed in the morning seem very, very hard.
But in the meantime, Jenny and I were happy just living in the moment. We had no kids yet, no mortgage, no boxes of baby pictures accumulating in the basement, no ballet shoes, lacrosse sticks, soccer bags, emergency granola bar stashes, or Taylor Swift CDs rattling around in the back of our car. (Actually, we didn’t have a car.) Working in the same business, and the same neighborhood, we had so much to talk and commiserate about. (I’d always send her a list of possible titles for a story I was working on before running them by my boss, for example; she was my insurance against public humiliation.) Every couple of weeks, we’d meet for lunch – usually at the local Au Bon Pain or the dreary, sneeze-guarded salad bar at the deli on 54th Street – but once in a while, we’d splurge and walk over to Uncle Nick’s on 9th Avenue. Uncle Nick’s was a cramped and busy Greek place with exposed brick and a sweaty, open kitchen populated by people who yelled a lot. It had too many tables, chairs so heavy you could barely push them back, and excellent souvlaki. An Uncle Nick’s lunch was what I call a “day-ender” – absurd portions of food that is simultaneously so flavorful that you can’t stop eating it and so filling that you immediately resign yourself, upon eating it, to an afternoon spent mourning the decisions you have made in life, and yearning for sleep. We’d get the tzatziki and a salad with blocks of fresh feta, a kebab or souvlaki platter, a side of Greek potatoes and, of course, rice pudding. None of it was what I would call light, but it was the potatoes that dealt the most crushing, and pleasurable, blow. They were roasted, but not crispy, oily but not greasy, crack-like in their addictive qualities.
I haven’t been to Uncle Nick’s in ten years, easy. I don’t even know if it’s still there, and am too lazy at the moment to google it. But in our house, at least, it lives on: I made Greek potatoes to go with a leg of lamb we’d grilled on Jenny’s birthday last weekend and boy, did it ever take us back. There it was, exactly. That fantastic texture, that deep yellow color, those hints of lemon and oregano. Damn! And oddly, given my sappy tendencies, the only thought after eating them was not, Wow, where did all the time go? It was, Why the heck do we ever eat potatoes any other way? – Andy
3 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1″ chunks
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 cup water
1/2 cup good olive oil
Juice from one lemon
1 tablespoon oregano
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 500°F. Place cut, peeled potatoes into a baking dish large enough for each potato to rest on the bottom. In a bowl (I used a large measuring cup), combine water, olive oil, garlic lemon juice, oregano, and salt and pepper. Mix and pour over potatoes. Cook for 45-50 minutes, or until potatoes are slightly brown on the edged and most of the olive oil has been absorbed. Finish with some sea salt.
The main course: a leg of lamb, grilled for about 15 minutes, until medium rare.
Side #2: Arugula salad with radishes, tomatoes, cucumbers, scallions, and mint. (We added the bulghur later, after we’d served the kids. Kids no like bulghur.)
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If you weren’t already convinced that cooking dinner might just save you and your family, here’s an even better argument: Dinner might just save the world. From Michael Pollan’s Cooked:
To cook or not to cook thus becomes a consequential question. Though I realize that is putting the matter a bit too bluntly. Cooking means different things at different times to different people; seldom is it an all-or-nothing proposition. Yet even to cook a few more nights a week than you already to, or to devote a Sunday to make a few meals for the week, or perhaps to try every now and again to make something you only ever expected to buy — even these modest acts will constitute a kind of vote. A vote for what exactly? Well, in a world where so few of us are obliged to cook at all anymore, to choose to do so is to lodge a protest against specialization — against the total rationalization of life. Against the infiltration of commercial interests into every last cranny of our lives. To cook for the pleasure of it, devote a portion of our leisure to it, is to declare our independence from the corporations seeking to organize our every waking moment into yet another occasion for consumption. (Come to think of it, our nonwaking moments as well: Ambien anyone?) It is to reject the debilitation notion that, at least while we’re at home, production is work done by someone else, and the only legitimate form of leisure is consumption. This dependence marketers call “freedom.”
Thought you’d like that.
Related: Michael Pollan and Michael Moss go shopping.
Also: I’m at Anderson’s Books in Larchmont, NY tomorrow, May 4 (2:00-4:00) signing copies of Dinner: A Love Story for Mother’s Day. Stop by if you are in the neighborhood.
Lastly: You have just about one more week to fill out the DALS questionnaire and become eligible to win some cool prizes. Thank you to those of you who already have! Love what I’m reading so far.
Have a good weekend.
Photo above: Best family dinner scene in the history of movies, from Annie Hall.
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Here’s something hard to wrap my head around — this little entry you are reading marks Dinner: A Love Story’s 600th (!) post. I know! Hard to believe –seems like only yesterday we were turning 500. We plan on celebrating with a big ol’ pot of Grandma Turano’s meatballs and hope you’ll do the same from your own dinner table — wherever that dinner table happens to be.
So, you wonder, what would I like for my 600th birthday? That’s easy. I’m no dummy — I could never have made it this far without my smart, thoughtful, dedicated readers — so I’d love to get a little feedback from you. If you are so inclined, fill out this two-minute questionnaire to help make Dinner: A Love Story better, stronger, more book-centric, beef-centric, baby-centric, whatever-centric! The point is: I want to hear from you. There are only a dozen multiple-choice questions which I promise are completely painless. And here’s something cool: Even though it’s my birthday, YOU get the gifts. By participating in the questionnaire, you become automatically eligible to win either a Komachi chef’s knife, a copy of Dinner: A Love Story, or a four-pack of the official DALS “Make Dinner Not War” bumper sticker. (Three winners, who must live in the 48 contiguous states, will be selected and can choose whichever prize they’d like.) Deadline for entry: Sunday, May 12.
You’d like that link again, you say? Sure! Here you go. And thanks from the whole DALS team.
PS: Questionnaire or not, remember you can always just purchase a bumper sticker here.
Update: Keely, Chelsey, and Erin are the winners, but you can still fill out the survey if the spirit moves you. Thanks to everyone who participated.
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I made this salad last night. Actually, that’s not true. Andy fried some flounder and made this salad last night. Yesterday morning, he declared, as he is wont to do, that he felt like being in charge of dinner. That was fine by me because I had a lot of email to catch up with, and figured I could work while he cooked. I flipped open my laptop at the kitchen table and sipped a glass of wine, while he dredged some flounder and set the Sonos to Gravity’s Gone. On repeat. As he is wont to do. Then I saw him remove the kale from the fridge as he is wont to—
I just…I just…couldn’t do kale again. It’s not so much that I’m over kale (which seems to be the trendy thing to say these days), it’s just that visions of beets and oranges had been swirling in my head all weekend. Also — and I am aware how this sounds — I knew beets would be less of a fight with the girls than kale, especially when pared with oranges. And I don’t like fighting at Sunday dinner.
“Kale salad sound good?” he asked as he pulled down a bowl from the shelf.
“Sure,” I shouted over the Truckers. “Or beets with oranges? I’ll make it — just going to finish writing this email.”
But by the time I pressed “send” — couldn’t have been more than 10 minutes — there was a genius winter salad on the table. Beets and oranges, yes, but also feta, almonds, some chopped mint and freshly ground pepper.
I think it’s the new kale salad.
Beets with Oranges and Feta
Lately, Abby’s been tossing the pre-cooked beets from Trader Joe’s into the shopping cart. They look kind of strange all slimy and tightly shrink-wrapped together. But seriously, who am I to stop her?
In a large bowl whisk together 1/4 cup red wine vinegar (or white balsamic if you have it) with 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, salt, pepper, a sprinkle of sugar.
Amounts to taste: Add greens, cooked beets (roughly chopped), oranges (sliced or supremed if you are man enough), almonds or pistachios, a few mint leaves (chopped), a sprinkling of feta, a handful of chopped scallions, salt and freshly ground pepper. Toss.
Book owners: Fried flounder recipe, page 143.
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What’s happening in Family Dinner-Ville this week:
*Have you read Lean In yet? What do you think? I found myself skimming over all the studies reminding me of what I already know (women make less money than men; women do more housework even when they work full-time; leaving your kids to go to work is harder for moms than kids, etc.) and absolutely devouring the (somewhat measured) glimpses into her high-power life — like how she forgets to put her kid in green on St. Patrick’s Day and how her kids came down with lice while flying on the private jet of eBay’s CEO. Also: I don’t know if this is just a case of me wearing my family dinner goggles, but there are countless references to getting home in time to eat with her kids and how good it makes her feel. How centered.
*Due to popular demand – Deconstructed Dinner on DALS now has it’s own category. If you click on it (right over there in the right margin under “Categories”) you can get a list of dinners that are more conducive to separating into individual components (for kids) while not messing with the integrity of the whole (for parents).
*Every time I head to Stone Barns I think a) How lucky am I that this farm is right here in my neighborhood? then b) What can I buy at their gift shop? Locals know what I’m talking about — the mix of cookware, cookbooks (you’ll recognize at least one), tableware, kids toys, canning jars, and way more is one of the most beautifully curated gift collections anywhere. Some good news for non-locals: I had no idea until a few weeks ago that they have an online store as well. Head over there and check out my current obsessions: Lidded “working glasses,” a classic market tote, and a table runner that I bought for my mom’s birthday last year and liked so much I went back to pick one up for myself.
*I know, at this point you probably think that I’m a publicist for “Here’s the Thing,” but Alec Baldwin’s interview with NBC Nightly News host Brian Williams made me run a mile longer than I wanted to so I could hear the entire thing. (Ask Andy, this was an unprecedented event.) Favorite moment: Williams recallling his mother showing young Brian a photograph of a famous broadcast journalist, then telling Brian, “You can do better than him.”)
*Apropos of nothing, I just bought this fabric to cover a bulletin board in my home office.
*Apropos of all niece and nephew and “special” birthdays coming up this year, here’s my new favorite gift. (I love my childrens’ friends, but I ain’t spending $40 on them.)
*I’ve loved every essay I’ve read so far in The Cassoulet Saved My Marriage: True Tales of Food, Family, and How We Learn to Eat, and based on the luminaries that editors Caroline Grant and Lisa Catherine Harper lined up for the anthology, I’m guessing this will continue. The last paragraph of Catherine Newman‘s essay “Talk With Your Mouth Full,” about the evolution of her family’s dinner table conversations, has been haunting me for days — even if the entire essay leading up to it had me in stitches. Here it is:
There are doubtless measurable benefits to dinner-table conversation. It’s a natural check on overeating, for example. Even if you’re talking and eating at the same time, you simply can’t generate the same food-shoveling velocity that you could if you were eating silently. Plus, I’m sure it’s good for mental health, for social health, for learning how to become a good date — although, my god, I’ll miss them when there’s someone they’re dating besides us. Bust mostly the benefits are immeasurable. What dinner table conversation gives us is time to stop and appreciate how much we have, right now, even as we imagine, deliriously, that it could go on forever.
To celebrate this quote specifically and the book’s publication generally, I’m giving away one copy of Cassoulet to a random commenter below. Good luck and have a great weekend. Update: Chris (#194) is the winner. Congrats! (more…)
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Tags:cassoulet saved my marriage·Deconstructed Dinner·design my meals·lean in sheryl sandberg
If you had to use one word to describe a Dinner: A Love Story recipe, what would it be?
A reporter asked me this last year when my book came out. Is there a harder question to answer in the world than one that begins “If you had to use one word…”? I mulled it over for a little bit. I thought about “real,” (there’s my dinner diary and all); I thought about “nostalgic” (porcupine meatballs!); I thought about my friend Sally, who, when asked by a younger, cherubic coworker “If you had to use one word to describe your newborn what would it be?” replied: “Annoying.”
Over the years, the one word I’d use to describe a DALS dinner has evolved right along with the family and the family’s dinnertime needs. Early on, pre-kids, it might have been “ambitious.” With new babies around, probably “Quick” or “Easy.” With toddlers: “White.” But these days, for a recipe to earn a spot in the family dinner rotation, above all it has to be flexible. And by that I mean not only flexible because of how beautifully it can be deconstructed for picky eaters and flexitarians, but because of how you, the cook, are able to prepare it.
Take these burrito bowls, which I have been meaning to make ever since the girls walked into Chipotle for the first time and declared it the best restaurant in New York City. I knew the burritos-without-tortillas would become a major player in our family dinner lives because I could make the meal as simple or as complicated as my time and energy allowed. In other words: Every component in a burrito bowl can be either storebought or made-from-scratch (or some combination of the two) and still yield a healthy dinner. The black beans can be just black beans — or they can be black beans simmered with a bay leaf and some onions. The avocado can be chopped avocado, or it can be avocado mashed with cumin and red onion and salt. As I was making simple white rice — one of the few things I thought was a pretty straightforward task — Andy wandered by the stove and said, “You’re gonna add cilantro, lime and a ton of salt in there like Chipotle rice, right?”
On a weeknight, you’d probably want more of the components to be simplified. On the weekend, it would serve you well to go all out because, obviously, if you put that much work into it, it’s gonna be badass. Come to think of it, maybe that would be a better word that flexible.
I gave two versions of each component below: the “weeknight” (quick) and the “weekend” (less quick). Take a look, then expend energy building flavor on the things you like the most — or whatever the clock allows. (The only thing I insist you don’t shortcut is the chicken.) To serve: Present fixins on the table or counter, serve everyone a half cup of rice, then let them top as they please.
I like this meal to be more veg-heavy, so I only cooked two (boneless, skinnless) chicken breasts. You can add another if you think your family will eat more than shown in the above bowl. To make: Cube two medium-size chicken breasts into pieces as shown above. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat a tablespoon of canola or vegetable oil in a skillet set over medium-high heat. Add 1/2 onion (chopped finely), then the chicken. Sprinkle everything with 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano and more salt & pepper. Let chicken brown a little before tossing around in pan. When chicken is cooked through (about 5-7 minutes total), remove to a bowl. Squeeze a little lime juice on top.
Weeknight version: Heat a 14-ounce can of black beans in a small saucepan until warmed through, about 5 minutes.
Weekend version: Heat 1/4 onion (sliced) in a small saucepan with a little vegetable oil. Add a 14-ounce container of black beans, a bay leaf, and simmer until beans are heated through, about 5 minutes.
Weeknight: Prepare white rice according to package directions — enough to yield 2 cups of cooked rice. (This is based on a 1/2 cup rice per diner — you know your family better than I do, so make more if you think you’ll need it.)
Weekend: Prepare white rice according to package directions — enough to yield 2 cups of cooked rice. When rice is finished, toss in a generous handful of chopped cilantro, the juice from 1/2 lime, and a generous sprinkling of kosher salt.
Weeknight: Use your favorite storebought salsa. (We like Trader Joe’s Salsa Autentica or Roasted Tomatillo.)
Weekend: Finely chop 2 cups grape tomatoes (or any tomato if it’s summer) with 2 tablespoons chopped red onion, handful cilantro, splash of red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, 1/2 minced jalapeno pepper.
Weeknight: Slice an avocado into chunks
Weekend: Using a fork, mash one avocado with 1/4 teaspoon cumin, salt to taste, and a heavy squeeze of fresh lime juice.
Sharp cheddar (sliced or grated), fresh cilantro, sour cream, shredded lettuce. (Me: “What do you think about using shredded kale instead of romaine?” Andy: “Sounds great as long as I don’t have to have it.”)
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Tags:burrito bowl recipe·chipotle burrito bowl·Deconstructed Dinner·healthy family dinners
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 chili — turkey 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
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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