Project, Pantry, Purpose

I’ve been staring at my screen all weekend, struggling to find the words to meet this moment. Mostly, of course, I hope you are all doing your best to stay healthy and, however possible, check in on the people in your lives and communities who are most at-risk.

So far, the hardest part on our end has been convincing the teenagers in my house to stay home and minimize exposure to the virus. They’re grasping it, but slowly, and we’re trying to be patient. Of course, in the absence of any clear direction from our leaders, I don’t know how to behave myself. I’m still going to the supermarket, and over the weekend we had dinner at a friend’s house, but today both of those activities seem reckless. I’m sure you are all feeling similarly confused.

I don’t have any answers — my instinct always is to set weird goals or overlay some sort of structure on my day so I don’t feel like I’m going off the rails. I’m trying to hit a specific number of steps every day; I’m forbidding myself from sitting in my favorite corner couch spot, where I can just get sucked down the twitter hole for hours. I’ve scribbled loose schedules that include family hikes, and banana bread baking and dog walking. I’ve seen a bunch of you do that, too. This morning, Andy (working from home) read an email from a coworker who is at home with two small kids, outlining the day’s schedule down to the minute (8:00-8:30 Morning meeting; 10:30-11:00 “Lego challenge!”)

To that end, I’m going to do my best to overlay a simple structure here: a few times a week, I’ll post one pantry recipe, one baking-time project for kids, and one “purpose,” which can be translated many ways, but will serve mostly to connect our quaranatined selves to the larger world. I hope this offers a small measure of distraction and connectedness — It’s all I can think of to do right now, so here we go…

Pantry: Tomato-Pea Risotto

We made this on Friday night and it gave us old-school 90s vibes. Why has risotto gone the way of the Sony Discman? It’s so damn delicious and comforting. And also the best way to stretch odds and ends from the fridge and freezer. On the night we made this, we had a half container of grape tomatoes and peas in the freezer so that’s the direction we headed. The best thing about risotto is that you can pretty much throw anything in the pot at the end: cooked crumbled Italian sausage, cooked chicken pieces, cooked mushrooms (cut into small bites), fresh basil, kale, spinach, any kind of cheese. Memorize the basic idea, then riff.

Tomato & Pea Risotto
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter, plus more for finishing
1/2 onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
red pepper flakes
4 to 5 cups liquid (any combination of chicken or vegetable broth, water, even wine; we didn’t have broth so whisked two tablespoons of tomato paste with water to create a “tomato stock”), heated in a small saucepan on low heat
1 cup grape tomatoes, chopped (you could also use 1/2 cup canned diced tomatoes)
1/2 cup frozen peas (they don’t have to be thawed)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parm

In a medium saucepan set to medium-high heat, add olive oil and butter.

Add onion, salt and pepper, red pepper flakes, and stir about 1-2 minutes. Add rice and stir until every grain of rice is glistening. If you have white wine, you can add about 1/3 cup and stir until the rice absorbs all the liquid. (If you don’t have wine, just skip to next step.)

Start adding warm liquid about 1/2 cup at a time and stir until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Repeat this step for about 20 minutes, then start tasting the risotto. It should be tender with a little firmness. (You may end up not using all your liquid.) At this point, stir in tomatoes and peas (or whatever else you’ve got) and cook until heated through.

Remove from heat and stir in Parmesan and a little more butter.

Project: M&M Cookies

This recipe below is from my first book, published when the girls were still little enough to take up as much room on my counter as a sack of flour. If you don’t have M&Ms, use chocolate chips. P.S. Think ahead for tomorrow’s project: If you have the energy (I know you have the time!) start the recipe for “Shockingly Easy” Foccacia from Bon Appétit. The dough takes a day to rise in the fridge (it really rises, which is really fun for a kid to see), so get it going today. It will also be a nice accompaniment for tomorrow’s pantry meal, some kind of bean soup or lentil number. Haven’t decided beyond the fact that it will be cozy and comforting.

M&M Cookies
Reprinted from Dinner: Love Story
Makes 24 cookies

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour 
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar, tightly packed
3 tablespoons white sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup good-quality chocolate chips (such as Ghirardelli)
2 1.69-ounce bags M&Ms

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. (It was somewhat life-changing when I found out whisking was just as effective as sifting, so that’s what I usually do.) In a separate bowl and using a wooden spoon or electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugars. Add the egg and mix until well combined. Add the vanilla and stir. Using a handheld mixer, add the dry mixture to the wet mixture gradually until all the dry mixture has been worked into the batter.

Fold in the chocolate chips, and using two spoons, scoop small rounds of dough onto the cookie sheet about 2 inches apart from each other. Pour the M&Ms into as many bowls as you have kids (it’s important for each helper to have his or her own bowl) and ask them to stick the candies into the dough rounds until they are all gone. (Sometimes I use my fingers to make the balls rounder on top—it makes for prettier cookies.)

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until golden. Cool on a rack.

Purpose: Donate

Millions of children in this country depend on school meals to eat every day — donate to No Kid Hungry or follow Steph Curry’s lead and donate money or supplies to your local food bank. To find a food bank in your community, type in your zip code here.

How are you all doing? How are you getting through this? How can I help? Please share your own projects, pantry recipes, family movies, binge-worthy TV shows, recipes, distractions, projects, stories, anything (!) below. Let’s continue this counting-on-each-other thing as long as we can.

Stay safe.

P.S. Pantry shown above belongs to my friend Robin. (Can you tell she’s an art director?)

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16 Comments

Deb

Book recommendations! DALS was such an amazing source of book suggestions when my kids were smaller; now I’ve got a 15-year-old girl who has been given keys to the virtual bookstore for the duration, and we need some quality books. Poll your kids. Personally, I’m looking forward to getting to the bottom of some of my pantry items. Dried mung beans, you’re going down!

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moonvirgo

We have been watching family movies and This Old House. This Old House went to Paridise CA after the fires and they also went to Detroit in recent seasons so watching those has given us great history talking points. We also watches Spies in Disguise, Blinded by the Light (awesome to intro the kids to Bruce Springsteen music and it got us all into a dance party for 1/2 hour), Apollo 13, and the Rise of Skywalker. We play with neighbor children only outside. We are officially on 2 week spring break so trying hard to adhere to that despite the cancelled trips to our elderly relatives in VT and FL. Thanks for this playbook – so helpful to know we are all struggling with this adjustment to the new normal.

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Kaitlyn

My kiddos are 5, 3 and 1 and DALS has made me feel like a better mom! Cant wait to make these cookies tomorrow the girls will love them!

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Molly

Thank you for this post and for even asking how to help. I love all three bullet points.
I also feel reckless for going to the grocery store yet am going for parents/elderly neighbors. So I must continue to go.
I love everything about DALS. Thank you!!

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moonvirgo

Great YA book I read was the memoir poem Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes, author of Bronx Masquerade.
The Red Cross is still also holding blood drives – type your zip code in to Red Cross website to find locations if that is something you can do.

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Kristen

I am in love with your new series already, thank you! We have only just begun our extended spring break. I was planning on making harvest corn chowder for dinner tomorrow and am now going to make the focaccia to go with. We just spent a happy hour watching The Beverly Hillbillies with our 13 year old son; he had never seen it and cracked up. Tomorrow we start the homework packet!

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Sherri

Thanks for this…..here’s what we’re doing to start:
Resurrected an old but very fun recipe for “stained glass” cookies. Basically, a sugar cookie that you roll out, cut a
shape out of the center and fill the center with crushed jolly ranchers and bake.
Dug out the sidewalk caulk
Watched the movie “Stargirl” with my 14 year old (Signed up for Disney+…for better or for worse)
Read “Wild Game” by Adrienne Brodeur…read in one sitting!
Listened to “Happier” podcast by Gretchen Rubin
Walked the dog
Learning how to use the Zoom platform……hoping to have my book groups meet virtually, host a virtual “happy hour”
And making a list of house “hot spots” to declutter, clean, organize etc. (pantry is top of the list!)
Check back with “Dinner: A Love Story” frequently……always great ideas and suggestions!

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Amanda

In times of uncertainty, it makes a big difference to hear from a voice as comforting as yours. ❤️ I’ve been reading DALS for… forever (since before the first book) and it’s gotten me through college and into adulthood and into marriage. It’s like having a favorite aunt tell me everything is going to be fine (even if we don’t know that, there’s comfort in being in it together.)

A purpose suggestion: I work for an indie bookstore in Arlington, VA, and we, like all other indies, are really struggling right now. We’ve closed the floor of our store to the public and are relying on our online orders to keep us going. I’d love to see some indies highlighted for online ordering – a lot of us are offering free shipping right now, and it’s one of the best things you can do to keep community hubs like us thriving! (I’m biased towards my own store, One More Page Books, but there’s hundreds of other great ones!)

Stay healthy!

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Tina

Indiebound.org has lots of great recommendations, both current and archived. They have recs for kids as well.

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Mom of Boys

Jenny, you’ve been inspiring me to cook for a long time! Thanks for this post. You should know that I check your site daily as part of my normal click-throughs and when there is a post, I feel like I’ve been sent a little present.

Here on the left coast, we’ve been quarantined for over a week now with the kids at home. We’ve been fortunate to be able to spend the time with our two kids. Two days ago, our teen made pot stickers from gyoza I had in the freezer and ground pork from the freezer. Yesterday our little one made biscotti. Last night, we had homemade pasta. Finding the time to use the pasta maker is often hard, but not when you are stuck in your home all day!

As for things to do, we’ve been playing a lot of hearts (which is a four person game). And thankfully the library still can be used electronically, so we’ve had a lot of books on tape and kindle books.

Keep up the posts! They bring joy. And we all need a little joy! Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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awads

Thank you!! This is perfect! Like you, we participated in a few reckless social events over the weekend because, at the time, we didn’t know any better. what a difference a few days makes…so far, i’ve baked no-knead bread, chocolate madeleines (from “simply cake”) and working on an irish stew today. tomorrow? bolognese and hand-made pasta! will keep checking back here for ideas.
thanks again!

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Hannah

I found this really helpful (but I know things change fast!) in understanding the difference between all the terms. Fun fact, my parents in CA are under “shelter in place” notice, and I’m trying to find small things to chuckle at- such as how many ways our government can say “stay home.” 🙂 https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/03/16/816490025/quarantine-self-isolation-social-distancing-what-they-mean-and-when-to-do-them
Also, risotto became a family favorite as soon as I learned you can do it in the oven. Easier with a toddler underfoot 🙂 Trying out that foccacia this week!

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Kate

My 7 year old is peeking over my shoulder as I just gobbled up Day 1 & 2 and fell in love with this series already. She saw you and your ‘Celebrate Everything’ book in the margins and went ga-ga over the idea of pancakes with candles. When I told her your book was over on the shelf she ran over and scavenged for the one with the flowers on the spine. She’s found her social distancing passion project! We’ll be looking for ways to celebrate the little victories over the next few weeks or months – we finished the chapter book we just started, planted seeds for our summer garden, cleaned up trash along the path on our favorite neighborhood hike. Thanks Jenny!

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Andrea

Thank you for these posts, Jenny. Actually, thank you for every post, I enjoy them all. My 8 year old daughter made the M&M cookies yesterday—a perfect recipe for a budding baker. And, we had Second Place Chili for dinner Monday and Tuesday nights! Take care and thank you for all your thoughts and productive ideas.

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Susie Ballenger

Thanks so much for this! I have been checking your site regularly, with hopeful anticipation of a post from you. So far, we have made banana chocolate chip muffins, homemade 100% wheat sandwich bread (King Arthur site recipe), homemade dark chocolate peanut butter cups (because we about to run out of the kind we usually grab at the Trader Joe’s checkout), and double-ginger chocolate chunk cookies (which are usually a Christmas cookie).
We’ve been watching live concerts on Instagram (john legend!) and on Facebook (Ellis Paul and tonight Indigo Girls and Willie Nelson!). Music, books, and creative cooking will help sustain our souls.
Definitely going to try out your risotto recipe this weekend and look forward to reading all your posts–it means a lot.

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Sommer

I’m late to start you PPP series as I found it yesterday. Kids made the cookies, I donated to No Kid Hungry, and risotto will be made this week (found close to all the ingredients so we’ll riff).
This is an awesome, simple plan and I really appreciate you sharing it. I’ve followed your blog and cooked from your books since waaaaaaay back. Thanks!

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