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.
Tags:dinner a love story book·jenny rosenstrach dinner a love story
Under the category of “Better Late than Never,” I thought I’d share our family’s Rosh Hashana menu for the evening. Quickly. So you can go get your shopping done, like, now.
As usual, it’s a group effort — I am on Salad and Side patrol. Here’s how it breaks down:
My parents: A few bottles Pinot, Challah, and Dessert which has yet to be determined, but I am pulling for Helene’s Orange-Almond Cake (which, by the way, is gluten-free)
My brother: Assorted goodies for a Cheese Plate & Chocolate Chip Cookies for the Kids
My sister: Brisket, the main event.
Me: These Fork-Roasted Yukon Gold Potatoes*; a simple barley salad (like the one on page 245 of my book, maybe with feta); and the Kale and Apple salad you are looking at above. I’ve eaten this salad exactly twice: Once at my kids’ camp, which is where the recipe comes from, and once with my cousin Sicily, who liked it so much she asked me to send along the how-to soon after she left. Always a good sign.
Now, to figure out who takes care of the dog.
Kale & Apple Salad
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
squeeze of lemon juice
2 tablespoons honey
2 bunches raw kale (preferably Tuscan/lacinato), shredded
1/2 cup celery, sliced thin
2 tart apples, cored and chopped small
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
1/4 cup raisins
1 shallot, chopped
In a measuring cup or small jar, whisk together (or shake together) all dressing ingredients. Add remaining ingredients to a large salad bowl and toss with dressing.
PS: When I titled this “Happy New Year,” did you think I was talking about the start of the school year, which always feels more like the new year than the real new year? More posts on back-to-school very soon.)
*Update on these potatoes: What a pain to make! I pissed and moaned the whole time — smoking hot oil, fussy fork-tined ridging, etc — but they were a hit. The recipe is not for the faint-of-heart, though, be warned!
Tags:kale and apple salad·rosh hashana menu
Keeper. It’s one of the more beautiful words in the language of Dinner. (As in “Yes, dear, this pretzel chicken? It’s a keeper.”) But for anyone who’s cooking for a family, it’s also one of the more elusive words. Because families are usually made up of kids, and kids are usually made up of really weird genetic coding that makes them say things like “I don’t like pasta” or “the chicken has too much crust” or “I’ve decided I like cows too much so no more beef for me.” And we love them for it. We just don’t love how complicated it makes things at 7:00 on a weeknight.
So how do we optimize our chances of amassing a rotation of Keepers? Well, for starters, we can look to two ex-Saveur editors for advice. Kathy Brennan and Caroline Campion (of one of the best food blogs out there, Devil & Egg) have just published a book called — you got it — Keepers. I love that title, but I love the subtitle even more: Two Home Cooks Share Their Tried-and-True Weeknight Recipes and the Secrets to Happiness in the Kitchen. The book is filled with my favorite kind of recipe: simple and straightforward, with just a little twist that elevates a meal from everyday to special — Asian Pork Sliders with Magic Miso Mayo, Greek Style Fish with Yogurt and Lemon, Skillet Lasagna, Sauteed Tilapia with Citrus-Soy Marinade, Japanese Style Meat and Potatoes that’s made with soy sauce and brown sugar and that is first in line to be cooked when the weather turns a little colder. Kathy and Caroline were nice enough to share a little Keeper Wisdom with us today. Thanks guys — take it away!
The Five Hallmarks of a Keeper
by Kathy Brennan and Caroline Campion
Here are the 5 things that we think make a weeknight dinner a KEEPER, and by weeknight dinner we mean that, not only is the dish itself is brag-worthy and tasty, but also all the effort and time that you put into it (including the shopping, prepping, cooking, plating) was minimal, fuss-free, and dare we say, enjoyable. So here goes:
Accessible You can find all of the ingredients at your local supermarket (no ordering a custom blend of za’tar from a rare spice catalog or sourcing white truffle oil). Simple things from your grocery aisle like toasted seeds, lemons, and maple syrup, can turn the ordinary into something extraordinary, without breaking the bank (or forcing you to spend your weekend preserving lemons).
Low Impact After you’re done cooking, your kitchen won’t look like it was hit by a typhoon. Meaning, you didn’t have to use every bowl, pot, and utensil you own to make it, and your family doesn’t silently loathe you when they have to spend an hour doing the dishes.
Flexible It’s fine, actually encouraged, to incorporate leftovers whenever possible: A carton of rice from last’s night’s Chinese take-out, half a rotisserie chicken from the market, odds-and-ends from the vegetable drawer, a stale loaf of bread…all of these things can be transformed into something Keeper-worthy with ingredients like oyster sauce, a tangy homemade chimichurri sauce or carrot-and-ginger dressing, and the toaster.
Make-Ahead There’s always a good chance a recipe will stay in regular rotation if there is some part of it that can be done ahead of time. Take these Asian Sliders below. It’s a good example of how a few minutes at the start of your day can lead to an extra-tasty dish in the evening. Marinating the tenderloin in a pineapple juice and garlic mixture tenderizes it and imparts a savory-sweet flavor. And then come dinnertime, it’s simple enough to make on autopilot while drinking a glass of wine. That’s a pretty essential hallmark, too: Easy. (Come to think of it, so is the word “Sliders” in any recipe title.)
Homemade The dish is a crowd-pleaser, one that your family and friends ask for time and again. How does this happen? Because you’ve used good ingredients, seasoned it well, and put love into it. Yes, we know that you can’t always please everyone. Chances are that there’s someone in your family who’s gluten-free, leaning towards vegan, will only eat food that’s beige, or a raging carnivore. But putting something in front of them that you made yourself is a good start.
Asian Pork Sliders with Magic Miso-Mayo
We coat the marinated meat with hoisin sauce, roast it, slice it, then put it on light, fluffy potato rolls with extra hoisin and sliced scallions. Some Magic Miso-Mayo and/or hot sauce are really good, too. You can also serve the pork and fixings in lettuce leaves or on bowls of steamed white or brown rice. If you can’t spare any time in the morning, marinate the pork for as long as you can before cooking (up to an hour at room temperature; any longer and it should be refrigerated). [Read more →]
Tags:asian pork sliders·keepers caroline campion kathleen brennan·magic miso mayo·sliders
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.
Tags:back to school meal plan·family dinner meal plan·weekly meal plan
Do you guys have that list? The I’ll-Deal-With-it-After-Vacation List? Earlier in August while scrambling to get everything organized before we dropped off the face of the earth for a while (real earth, not blog earth) I found myself keeping a mental list of all the things I’d just figure out once I got home. Taken on their own, in the rosy glow of pre-vacation denial, all those tasks seemed so infintisemally minor — a magazine deadline, a bunch of volunteer obligations, afterschool activity scheduling, a 300-page manuscript to read through. (More on that soon.) And yet, like clockwork, the night before re-entry to reality, each one of those items on my list team up — I picture them rubbing their palms together and laughing an evil laugh — to form one really not-min0r-at-all get-organized list. This usually happens somewhere around three o’clock in the morning. That was last night for me, so I’m going to make this post short.
But even as summer vacation winds down, summer itself is still in full throttle. Which is another way of saying, the cooking is still as simple to deal with as ever. So for this week, at least, come dinnertime, I’m pretending we’re still on holiday. This grilled steak with salsa verde was our last meal in South Carolina and was good enough to deserve a reprise. As soon as I get through my list.
Grilled Steak with Salsa Verde
We served this with the most basic sides: Vinaigrette-tossed chopped kale and Chopped tomatoes and avocados with red onion, avocado, a little olive oil, red wine vinegar, s&p, and cilantro. On the screened porch overlooking an egret-speckled lagoon. I can’t promise you it will taste as good if you’re not on vacation.
1 scallion, roughly chopped
1 cup fresh parsley or cilantro or mint or a combination of all three
10-12 large capers
generous amount of salt and pepper
squeeze of lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 punds boneless ribeye steaks, heavily salted & peppered
Process all salsa verde ingredients except oil in a mini food processor or blender. Then, slowly add olive oil as you whirl and the sauce emulsifies. Remove to a small dish.
Grill steaks over medium-hot coals 3 to 4 minutes a side. Remove from grill and and let sit five minutes before slicing on the bias. Serve with salsa verde spooned on top.
Oh sweetie! No scraps tonight, Iris. (It’s steak for crying out loud.) But if you hang out with us for a bit, you might get a piece of kale.
Tags:vacation dinner ideas
I can’t promise you this will be a very usable guide to exciting eating. As you know, on vacation, you can toast a pop tart for dinner and it will make you as happy as a four-course meal at Cafe Boulud. (In fact, maybe we’ll try that tonight.) But, as you can imagine, we are getting seriously into our South Carolina vacation dining, doing our best to adhere to the 50 Rules, outlined so dutifully last week so we don’t lose total control. Herewith our top six dinner moments this side of the Mason-Dixon line…
1. Shrimp Cocktail. I once read that if you’re not going to eat shrimp right off the boat in Southeastern US, you might as well always buy it in the freezer aisle — there’s pretty much no such thing as fresh, flavorful shrimp outside of this region. I think that’s why whenever we are down here, we eat shrimp like we’re never going to eat shrimp again. The run-up so far: Shrimp cocktail before dinner as often as possible (chilled with cocktail sauce, natch), grilled shrimp in salads at lunch; shrimp salad rolls for dinner.
2. Oyster Sliders at The Ordinary. We’ve gone out to dinner a few nice places, but so far the winner has been The Ordinary — perhaps a tip-off was the fact that Bon Appetit nominated it for one of the country’s 50 best new restaurants this year. Or perhaps it was the oyster sliders with the crazy coconut action that Abby ordered and which put the rest of our meal to shame. And that’s saying something because the rest of the meal — lobster rolls, pickled shrimp, John Dory schnitzel — was pretty damn tasty.
3. Beet & Carrot Slaw Our CSA pick-up was the day before driving from New York to South Carolina, so what were we going to do, give our neighbor that week’s share? I don’t think so. Not when, among other things, heirloom tomatoes and cylindra beets were in the box. We packed all our produce in a cooler and tended to the bundle like it was a third child. The love and care paid off because on our first night cooking we made some flounder and, not wanting to turn on the oven (Rule 45!), I shredded those beets on a box grater with some carrots, tossed in rice wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, cilantro and mint. (Full disclosure: There was no mint, but there should’ve been.)
4. Phoebe’s Crostini You’re looking at grilled tuna (that Andy had spackled in mayo before throwing on the Weber) a very JV succotash made with butter beans, corn, red peppers, onion, sauteed in a little bacon fat (apologies to real southerners) and Phoebe’s crostini. At camp, Phoebe learned that if you toss chopped fresh tomatoes, fresh peaches, corn kernels, a drizzle of balsamic and some Parm, and put the whole thing on baguette toasts, then very delicious things ensue. “It’s like summer in a bowl,” she announced when she put together the topping. I’ll take it!
4. Roast Carrots with Garam-Masala Yogurt Sauce. OK, so fine, I confess: we turned on the oven once. Or twice. But the cause was a noble one — carrots, cut on the bias, tossed with a little chopped onion, olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roasted at 425°F for about 30 minutes (keep an eye on them). While they roasted, I whisked together about 3/4 cup plain yogurt with a teaspoon garam masala, lime juice, olive oil, chopped cilantro and mint. I’m not going to go so far to say it was the best thing on the plate — that’s an impossible honor when a grilled burger with special sauce is in the mix — but it was a clear leader in the side dish department this summer.
6. Beach Picnic The homemade pizza with fresh tomatoes was pretty good. So was the asparagus that Andy quickly sauteed in olive oil, salt, and pepper during the 30 minute stretch that the girls were totally, absolutely, relentlessly begging for a beach picnic. You promised! It’s so easy! I’ll help pack everything! Come on it’s vacation! Be fun! What parents know but kids don’t yet is that beach picnics are one of those things that always sound really fun, but are actually kind of a nightmare. Especially if you don’t have any of the right gear (see baking pan cum nonbreakable tray above) and especially if you try to take photos showing how ideal the night is (full moon, clear sky, silky calm ocean, etc), then get sand in your fancy camera making things a thousand times more stressful. So why is this even on my highlight reel? Because after dinner was over, we all jumped in the ocean. And there’s very little that beats a post-dinner sunset swim.
For more real-time dinner highlights, follow us on instagram: andyward15 and dinneralovestory.
Tags:vacation dinner ideas
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.
Far and away, the most beloved pre-dinner snack in our house is chips-and-salsa. Every night, while the grown-ups are do-si-do-ing around each other assembling something that resembles a meal, the kids are generally popping into the kitchen to dunk a chip into a bowl of decanted Trader Joe’s salsa (and ask, yet again, dinner almost ready? Mom? Dinner almost ready? Dad?) It would never occur to me to make that salsa from scratch. Even if the tomatoes were in season all year long, even if I had more time than the usual turbo-charged weeknight affords.
But when I’m on vacation, as I am now, it’s a different story. For as long as I can remember — pre-book, pre-blog, maybe even pre-diary — one of the first things we ever started experimenting with was fresh salsa. Even when the tomatoes weren’t perfect like they are right now, even when we had a perfectly acceptable jar of prepared stuff in the fridge, we’d make a point to chop up a few heirlooms, toss in some onion, play around with hot sauce and tomato paste and cilantro before striking the right formula. It’s so easy, in fact, that every time we make it, as we did last night, we wonder why we never make it back home. Of course as soon as we ask the question, we answer it immediately: Some things just belong on vacation.
There’s definitely no official recipe for this, which is another way of saying that you should have some spare chips by your side so you can taste and correct as you concoct. (Chef’s privilege!) But the basic idea is this: Chop up 1 or 2 of the freshest tomatoes you can find — heirlooms are best, but really any good summer tomatoes will do. (And chop them into smaller pieces than you see above.) For every cup of chopped tomatoes, add 2 tablespoons cilantro, 1 tablespoon finely diced red onion, 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, 1/4 cup olive oil, dash of hot sauce, salt and pepper. That’s your baseline salsa fresca, but even that is flexible depending on how juicy the tomatoes are (and how juicy you like your salsa). Once you have your base, you can add whatever you’d like: corn, chopped yellow peppers, chopped peaches, pineapple. If your tomatoes aren’t quite as flavorful as you’d like them to be, whisk a little tomato paste into the red wine vinegar before tossing with tomatoes. Serve with chips.
Tags:tomato recipes for kids
- You can never, ever pack too many bathing suits.
- Make a pot of really good coffee before bed, pour immediately into glass pitcher, put said pitcher into the refrigerator, and — voila — you have a steady supply of high-test iced coffee for the next morning. This could not be more crucial in re vacation happiness.
- Exercise first thing in the morning, and shower at night.
- Jumping in the pool counts as a shower.
- Dudes over forty should do everyone a favor and run with a shirt on.
- Everything tastes better on vacation.
- Always assume the worst about the beach rental’s utensil drawer. BYO knives.
- Fifty-one weeks of the year: ballet pink for the pedicure. This week: Neon tangerine.
- Fifty-one weeks of the year: milk or water with lunch. This week: Ice cold Coke.
- Fifty-one weeks of the year: Cocktail hour at 6:00. This week: Cocktail hour at 6:00.
- (It’s the one thing keeping us from spiraling into total chaos.)
- If key lime pie is local, order the key lime pie. If key lime pie isn’t local, order the key lime pie.
- Never drive by the farmer’s market without stopping to see what’s local.
- Unless that farmer’s market is located just off route 95, in North Carolina, and is selling “local peach wine” — in which case, drive the f*ck on!
- Don’t wait for the last fifteen minutes of an 800-mile drive to discover that the AC/DC Pandora station is the one you should’ve been listening to all along.
- Best road-trip movies for kids (or at least the ones in our back seat right now): Monsters Inc, Life of Pi, Tootsie*, The Lovebug (original, non-Lohan version), Ironman, Coraline, Dumb and Dumber, The Incredibles. (*there is light sex talk, and a bunch of s-bombs, but when Sydney Pollak is saying them it almost doesn’t matter.)
- Burn a copy of the Johnny Cash children’s album for the drive, and you will never be sorry.
- Ice cream, in some form, every day.
- Good Humor bars, in descending order of deliciousness: toasted almond, strawberry shortcake, chocolate eclair.
- Sunscreen before the beach.
- Better yet, Roxy surf shirts.
- And speaking of swimwear, dads can (and should) get away with these, from Olasul.
- There is nothing as nasty, when you really think about it, as the fully-loaded swimmy diaper.
- We have been vacationing in the same house for many years and in this house is an unironic boom box with an actual, functioning cassette player. Next to this cassette player is a tray of old cassette tapes, featuring Kenny Loggins, Billy Joel’s 52nd Street, late-vinatage Neville Brothers, Steve Winwood, the sountrack to Working Girl… and Darkness on the Edge of Town. It could be that it’s the only gem among sad old rocks, but is there a better album to cook to on vacation than Darkness on the Edge of Town?
- The post-beach nap is best taken on a screened porch, or face down — bathing suit still on, flip-fops hanging off — on the guest room bed.
- The gin and tonic is King of Vacation Cocktails.
- If you’re roadtripping, and if your kids in any way resemble our chip-eating, juice-spilling, crumb-shedding children, remember a garbage bag for the backseat.
- The minute you arrive, you must throw out the grocery shopping rule book. First thing in the cart for us: Cinnamon Pop-Tarts.
- If you have to eat out every single meal, it stops being special. Which is why we always try to stay in a place with a kitchen.
- But having a kitchen doesn’t mean skip the restaurant. Pick one or two spots you want to hit and book your reservations before you leave. (This was our most recent choice.)
- One night, burgers with potato salad. One night, grilled fish with salsa verde. One night, yogurt marinated something with a good, fresh slaw.
- Every night: cobbler.
- On the night you have burgers, you shall have them on Martin’s potato rolls, with crunchy lettuce, fresh tomato, American cheese, and MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL: special sauce.
- As much as we like you, we don’t care about your golf round.
- Book a house with a washer-dryer. It means less luggage, and it means your bathing suit will always be dry.
- If you’re a dad, this is your one chance to grow a mustache. Use it wisely.
- Be flexible about the kids’ bedtime. Unless Breaking Bad is on, in which case, get them in bed as soon as dinner is done.
- Two words for a hungry person on the road: Waffle House.
- For the first three days of vacation, the fact that this will all soon come to an end might be felt, but it must never be acknowledged.
- For the last three days of vacation, pass the hemlock.
- Start your own Polar Bear Club. Set an alarm one morning and do a sunrise swim with the kids in the nearest lake, ocean, swimming pool.
- Learning to ride a bike for the first time is twice as nice when it happens on vacation — and twice as easy.
- Carve out an hour or two of post-lunch quiet time every day. Make it sacred.
- What “quiet time” actually means: Everybody’s free to do whatever activity they want, as long as it doesn’t bother anyone else. And doesn’t require parental supervision.
- The oven should never be set higher than zero degrees. Vacations are what grills are for.
- Non-vacation food emergency: No ketchup in the fridge. Vacation food emergency: No sugar cones, charcoal, Gatorade.
- Non-vacation to-do list: Dry-cleaner, tires fixed, post office. Vacation to-do list:_______.
- If there is a choice between coming home on Saturday or Sunday, suck it up and choose Saturday so you have that 24-hour buffer zone between vacation and pool-less, beach-less, happiness-destroying reality.
- It’s OK to take it out on the rental car.
50. There are fewer more noble pursuits than perfecting a handstand on the beach.
– Jenny & Andy
A few Augusts ago, my friends Jeni and Ben and their three kids came to visit us. They live on the Upper West Side, which is only about a 20-minute drive from my house, and yet, with full-time jobs and full-time families (their oldest daughter was about 4 which would make her twins 2, and my kids were 6 and 4), we had the hardest time coordinating get-togethers. (You know that famous New Yorker cartoon, “How about never — does never work for you?” That was us.) Well, on this particular occasion, we had by some miracle figured out a time that worked for a drive-by. It was a Saturday — couldn’t do lunch (soccer practice, naps) couldn’t do dinner (twins’ bedtime looming) so we settled on the somewhat odd, not-quite-cocktail-hour of 5:00.
“Just stay for dinner,” I told her when she called that morning.
“No no no,” she said .”Please don’t do anything.”
“But it’s no trouble.”
“Just trust me. It’s more stressful if I try to feed the kids there. Please don’t worry!”
I agreed begrudgingly. But then I hit the farmer’s market where, of course I was bamboozled by my daughters into buying a container of BuddhaPesto. The stuff is so good. I mean, so so good and leprechaun green and fresh you just can’t believe it. (The Times‘ Jeff Gordinier was similarly smitten last summer.) And, since it was August, there were tomatoes. The kind of tomatoes you dream of all year long. Striped, heirloom, green, gold, cherry, plum, little, big, blistered, exploding. The kind of tomatoes you slice at dinnertime, drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt, and then back away from. Because to do anything more, to add anything else, would be to incur the wrath of the tomato gods…or me, for that matter.
The thing is, I never promised Jeni and Ben I wouldn’t cook for them. Just the kids. So at some point during the course of the family’s two-hour cameo — at which point I think every single toy in the toy box had been removed and discarded on the floor by five gleeful children – I plopped two dinner plates on the table for the grown-ups. Spaghetti tossed with that BuddhaPesto, and slices of heirloom tomatoes (salted, oil-drizzled) that looked like they should’ve been painted by Cezanne. (I can brag about that because I had absolutely nothing to do with it. They came that way.)
You know the Virginia Lee Burton book The Little House about the cottage that stands peacefully still as construction and skyscrapers and general chaos looms all around. That’s how I picture Jeni and Ben eating that dinner. I will never forget how grateful two people could look eating the world’s simplest summer meal, as five screeching kids launched into their fifteenth game of Elefun in the living room.
Jeni tried to fight it, but was powerless in the face of the tomatoes.
“I told you not to do anything,” she attempted weakly.
“I didn’t. I boiled a pot of water. That was the extent of my cooking.”
“But you did! Look at this.”
I guess. But, I reminded her, it doesn’t take much.
Spaghetti with Pesto and Summer Tomatoes
Cook spaghetti according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of pasta water. Toss pasta with a little olive oil while it sits in the colander. Add prepared pesto (the freshest you can find, such as BuddhaPesto) to the same pot you boiled spaghetti in and whisk in a drizzle of pasta water until it’s saucy, but not watery. Add pasta back to the pot and toss. Serve garnished with freshly grated Parmesan.
While spaghetti cooks, slice summer tomatoes onto a plate. Drizzle with a tablespoon or so of the best olive oil you’ve got, sprinkle with sea salt (and pepper, if you must) and serve alongside pasta.
Tags:buddha pesto·quick family dinner·tomato recipes for kids
I think by now I’ve made it clear how much of an inspiration Peg Bracken’s I Hate to Cook Book has been in my life. Not because the recipes are good — quite the contrary, in fact. With brilliantly nostalgic (but not-so-appealing) names like Ham Lime Supper and Fast Cheese Scallop, I’ve never been tempted to cook even one. The writing, on the other hand, holds up remarkably well. A former ad copywriter, Bracken is the master of the zinger, and sets up a chapter like nobody’s business. Whenever I’m in a rut (writing, cooking, or both) I find myself breaking open my way-yellowed, barely-bound paperback copy, then inevitably following Andy around the house reading entire paragraphs to him (“..And now listen to this one!”) Like this intro to her chapter about entertaining.
“When you hate to cook, you should never accept an invitation to dinner. The reason is plain: Sooner or later, unless you have luckily disgraced yourself at their home, or unless they get transferred to Weehawken, you will have to return the invitation.”
Last year, while I was at an impasse writing my own book, I remember reading Andy the first page of IHTCB, then him replying, “I know what you mean. Every sentence is perfect.”
Well, this morning I started flipping through it again and came upon the section where she compiles seventy-five of her most favorite household hints. (But not before she ridicules the whole concept of household hints up and down and all around, God love her.) And then I saw this one:
“You can get a small sick youngster to eat more food, more happily, if you serve him an eight-course meal in a muffin tin. Many little bits of things — a spoonful of applesauce, a few green beans, a few little candies, etc — are more appetizing than three items in quantity.”
I’m not sure what age she was talking about when she refers to a “small sick youngster” but I’d be willing to bet that this trick might work nicely for small youngsters who aren’t sick…for small youngsters whose parents would do just about anything — including make muffin-tin tapas (with cupcake papers!) after clocking nine hours at the office — to get their finicky eater excited about trying something new. When Abby was a toddler suffering from her own bout of ingestus particulare, I know she would’ve been all over it. Above, I put together a sample selection of what might work in our house: cheddar cubes, broccoli, turkey meatballs, yellow peppers, baby ravioli, apricot halves. But I’m willing to bet you know better than me what should be in yours. Let me know how it goes.
My battered, but well-loved I Hate to Cook Book (open to the tip section), given to me by my Uncle Mike, and, incidentally, winner of a 2011 Dolly Award.
Tags:peg bracken·picky eating
I live in the suburbs — land of the two-car garage, of strip malls, and of people walking around saying things like “Here take this bushel of cucumbers! They are overtaking my backyard and I don’t know what to do with them!” (This kind of complaint, of course, is filed right alongside the one about that Spicy Shrimp dish that comes together so fast that I don’t have time to enjoy a glass of wine while I make it, i.e. a very nice problem.) Well, here’s what I say to that. You could peel and slice up those cucumbers real thin, mix them with seasoned rice wine vinegar, a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and tons of dill, which we’ve been doing a lot of lately. Or you could puree those suckers in a blender, strain the pulp and drink up the bounty. Cucumber juice is August-y and crazy refreshing on its own, but this cocktail, created for DALS by the Blue Hill Stone Barns Beverage Team (I’m so glad they don’t call themselves “mixologists”) is currently my favorite solution to the cucumber overload issue. It’s light, summery, easy going down (uh, maybe a little too easy)…and would you look at that beautiful color? That in itself is worth the price of admission. Problem solved.
Makes one drink.
2 ounces dry gin (we use Greylock)
2 ounces cucumber juice (made my blending peeled, seeded cucumbers with a little water, then strained; it works out to about 1 medium size cucumber per cocktail)
1/2 ounces eucalyptus ginger syrup (I just made plain ginger syrup which they said was fine)
1/2 0unces lime juice
Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker. Shake, and serve over ice with a thin slice of cucumber as a garnish.
Thanks BHSB Beverage Team!
Tags:cocktails·cucumber cocktail·summer cocktails
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. [Read more →]
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.
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.)
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.
Not to be outdone by her sister, Abby — heading into fifth grade — has decided to weigh in with her picks for summer reading. Here are the best books she’s read in the past two years (that she hasn’t already written about here and here), graded on the very official Summer Sun Scale. Ten Summer Suns is, obviously, highest, hottest honor. Thanks, Abby!
Umbrella Summer, by Lisa Graff
This book takes place during summer break. The main character, Annie, is very scared of life because of her brother Jared’s death, and is afraid to do things she used to have no problem doing – like riding down the hill on her bike and getting hurt. Annie and her friend, Rebecca, have always thought the house next door was haunted, but when an old lady called Mrs. Finch moves in Annie goes to visit accidentally while spying on her. After speaking with the lady, Annie learns to let loose more in summertime.
Summer Sun Grade: 9 suns
For Ages: 9-12
If you like this, you’ll like: As Simple As it Seems, by Sarah Weeks
As Simple as it Seems, by Sarah Weeks
I like this book because it made me think a lot. It’s about a girl named Verbena who is very small. When she’s around 11, she finds out that she is not living with her real parents. Her real mom was an alcoholic and she drank when she was pregnant. (That’s why Verbena was so small.) When she finally finds out about, she’s very mad at her parents because they didn’t tell her. Nearby, a family moves in and the boy, Pooch, becomes Verbena’s very good friend. Together, they encounter fun – and dangerous – adventures.
Summer Sun Grade: 10 suns
For Ages: 9-11
If you like this, you’ll like: Umbrella Summer (see above)
Pie, by Sarah Weeks
This was one of my most favorite books I read all year because it’s funny and very creative. Alice’s Aunt Polly owns a pie shop called…PIE. Unfortunately, Polly passes away, and people wonder who she left all her pie recipes to. Alice soon finds out she leaves them in the care of her cat Lardo, named after vegetable oil. When she finds that out, she also learns that Lardo is the care of Alice. She and her friend Charlie Erdling have to figure out what it means to leave recipes to a cat and put all the pieces together so that PIE can live on.
Summer Sun Grade: 10 10 10
For Ages: 8-11
If you like this, you’ll like: Everything on a Waffle, by Polly Horvath [Read more →]
We are honored to present a very special guest poster today on DALS — my dad, Steve Ward. As I have noted here before, my dad did not have the deepest (and that’s putting it kindly) repertoire when it came to dinner, but man, could he do a good, no-bake dessert. Sundaes (topped with crushed, roasted peanuts), ice cream sodas (he was partial to ginger ale and vanilla), spoonfuls of Cool Whip straight from the tub (and delivered when my mom wasn’t looking) and, of course, milk shakes. The guy loved a milk shake. His love of them is still evident today, in the collection of vintage blenders and mixers he has on a shelf of honor in his office. We asked him to sing its virtues for Dinner: A Love Story, and he was kind enough to oblige. Here is proof that you’re never too old to start blogging. – Andy
Hurricane Sandy’s devastation of Bay Head, New Jersey last fall opened a floodgate of packed-away memories for me, stretching back 57 years. It made an old man remember barefoot summers, crabbing, fishing with a bamboo pole for snapper blues, sailing a sneak box with my dad, tossing horseshoes with Gramps and – perhaps most notable of all– my very first paid job as the Milk Shake Man.
For one glorious summer in the early fifties, I led the life of an Archie Comics character, working for 38 cents an hour (plus tips) as a soda jerk behind the lunch counter of a general store on Bay Head’s main drag. It was in this beachside emporium that I learned the dark magic of the chocolate malted milk and the raucous, roaring machines that make them. Even with its meager wages, my job was a match made in heaven. I would have gladly have worked for free, because one stipulation of my employment was that I could consume unlimited malted milks, milk shakes, lime rickeys and other fountain concoctions free of charge.
The malted milk incentive quickly became an integral part of my summer strategy. As a rising high school freshman, I desperately wanted to try out for the football team, but my mother was of the opinion that 135 pound boys do not play football. When pressed, she grudgingly offered to reconsider if I made it to 150. So I embraced the challenge and fired up my battery of blenders. My rule of the thumb was that I would consume one malted milk for every ice cream drink I served a customer. The malted quickly became my signature dish and my blender talents were recognized up and down the beach, especially among the high school girls who stopped by to sit and chat at the counter.
Chocolate malteds were by far the most popular. My favorite, though, was vanilla, which was unusual. Strawberry was rarely ordered and no one ever thought of asking for whipped cream.
In the heyday of my Bay Head bacchanal, I can’t remember ever taking an order for skim milk; I’m not sure if reduced fat ice cream even existed, though I highly doubt it. One of the cardinal rules of healthy eating back then was that every child should consume a quart of whole milk every day – and, hey, that malt was good for you too.
Did I gain weight? Indeed I did (and I made the football team, too) but I’m not sure my coronary arteries have ever recovered. The Malted Milk Man – along with his wife of 50 years — has cursed the weight and treasured the memories for almost six decades since. The memories, of course, weigh nothing and they are sweeter than a Zagnut Bar.
An afternoon at the beach, slathered in oil specifically designed to make you burn… body surfing on a leaky air mattress … searching for beach glass… flirting with the girl in the rental next door. Then — baked, burned and exhausted — top it all off with a stroll to the soda fountain for a rich, creamy, icy-cold malted milk created by a real, live soda jerk and poured from the glistening, frosted aluminum tumbler of a laboring Cecilware blender. Summer at the shore.
The Malted Milkshake
One of the (many) great things about a malted milk is than anyone can make one, and you hardly need a recipe. But a true fifties chocolate malted wants whole milk (about a cup), full-strength ice cream (try two generous scoops – don’t lose your nerve), several robust squeezes of chocolate syrup and, of course, 2-3 tablespoons of malted milk — season to taste.
For those adventuresome enough to “make mine vanilla,” vanilla syrup (Starbucks sells one) works best, but a dash of pure vanilla extract will also get the job done nicely. So: milk, ice cream, vanilla syrup, malted milk.
Chocolate, vanilla (or, if you insist, strawberry): throw it all in a blender*, fire it up, blend until cold and frothy, and prepare to be amazed.
*Author’s note: For the true aficionado, old time blenders are often available at flea markets and antique stores, and most have aluminum cups which tend to frost up enticingly as the malted blends. It’s fun to sample the full fifties experience, but be sure to check the wiring first. They’re good, but not worth-burning-your-house-down-good.