We’re not so good at doing nothing. Take the other morning, for example. There we were, the first Sunday in weeks with not a birthday party, soccer tournament, or home-improvement project in sight. It was the kind of lazy day made for sleeping in and reorganizing the sock drawer. But as soon as the coffeepot had been cleaned, we were already getting antsy.
“Put your shoes on, we’re going out.”
“Just trust us.”
By now they know the routine. We are not make-it-up-as-we-go kind of people—at least not when there are kids in the mix. It’s not just Sundays at home, though. It’s also on vacation, where we are convinced that the key to successful family travel—like most things involving young children—is to have some structure. Some kind of plan. A three-point plan, to be exact. With summer vacation-planning in the works, we thought we’d share.
STEP ONE: A Culture Hit
We like to start early(ish), while the energy is high, with the kind of activity that a parent might call “culturally enriching” and a kid might call “the most boring thing ever invented by anyone, ever.” The small museum works well here because (1) unlike, say, the Tate in London—and we say this with all respect—you don’t feel as though you’ve been mugged when you’re done, and (2) small museums have awesome gift shops, and kids love a gift shop. (Note: We define “culture” broadly. The Civil War battlefield at Antietam: yes. Hunting for “authentic” Messi jerseys in the Ladies’ Market in Hong Kong: possibly yes. The kids’ section at Book Passage in San Francisco: absofrigginlutely.)
STEP TWO: Something Outdoorsy
One of our friends grew up in a crazily athletic family that vacationed in Maine and would have races every morning—the entire family swimming out to some distant rock and back. We’re not that intense, but we do believe in the value of fresh air, whether it’s a 20-minute walk from our hotel to the farmers’ market or a sweaty hike through the slot canyons at Tent Rocks in New Mexico. It lifts the general mood, we find, giving us a little of the exhilaration that comes from being outside and seeing something beautiful and being reminded that the world is a lot larger than we thought.
STEP THREE: The Reward
Whether it’s lunch at a divey Mission taco stand or an absurdly priced macaron at Dalloyau in Paris, we always aim to impart to our kids a cardinal rule of travel: The best way to feel you’re part of a place is to find something delicious, and to eat it. –Jenny & Andy
This is our “Providers” column for the May travel issue of Bon Appetit. Pick up the issue for travel and food inspiration from Chicago to Paris and everywhere in between. Or head over to their site for the entire Providers archive.
Speaking of travel: Check out Joanna’s awesome family vacation round-up over on Cup of Jo.
Photo above: Block Island, ca 2009
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The day after we had our first baby, a friend with kids visited us in the hospital to meet the new addition. He held Phoebe, we took some pictures, and before he left, he delivered some advice: “Make sure to get a date night every once in a while,” he said. “Alone time is important, and it can get lost.”
Lost? On us? Never!
As if to prove our point, we headed out for our first post-kid dinner six weeks later—an early-bird special in downtown Manhattan. We put our daughter to bed, handed the babysitter many pages of insane instructions, and ran out the door. But the alone time we’d carved out didn’t feel so…alone. We checked our phones. We called the sitter. We ate like cavemen and skipped dessert, telling ourselves we were too full (we weren’t). When we got home, it was still light out. Was this how it was gonna be? Like, forever?
For a while, yes. Forever, no. At some point, the clouds parted. Our one kid turned into two kids, who miraculously learned to place food into their own mouths and go to sleep without us. And so we embraced dinner out in a big, existential way. Even when the girls were finally old enough to tag along, we kept the reservation capped at two. Going to a good restaurant became the easiest way to remind us that there was a world out there beyond Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! and “Kidz” menus.
Nowadays, we do not mess around with these nights. We book the sitter within minutes of booking the reservation. We hand the girls their favorite take-out menus and tell them to make a night of it themselves. We meet at a bar for a cocktail. We wear shoes that are not waterproof. We order dessert.
Last month, we hit Lafayette, Andrew Carmellini’s new downtown brasserie, a leather-boothed place that felt like a New York institution the minute it opened its doors. We sat down for dinner at 8:30—when we used to aim to be home by—and
started to feast: leaves of butter lettuce served with Roquefort and country ham; short-rib ravioli; market-fresh peas tossed with mint pesto and ricotta salata. We took particular pleasure in ordering things the kids would never allow in their airspace: buttery, sweet scallops, a pickled-blueberry sorbet. The stars of the night? Moroccan-spiced lamb chops that we could have eaten by the dozen. “Man, the kids would love these,” we said as we ate them. “We should bring them here.” On second thought, no, we shouldn’t. But if they’re lucky, we might make them at home.
This is our “Providers” column for the September issue of Bon Appetit. Head over to their site for Lafayette’s Moroccan-Spiced Lamb Chops recipe. Photo by Christopher Testani for Bon Appetit.
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In our family, few things say vacation like a box of Pop-Tarts. We like the frosted kind with the vaguely cinnamony filling, the ones that make that whispery sound when you break them in half. Within an hour of dumping our luggage, we’re at the supermarket, stocking up on all the staples that sustain a family–milk, pasta, fruit–as well as a few that definitely don’t: ice cream bars, Frosted Flakes, those Pop-Tarts.
Why? Because it feels good to take a break from saying no all the time, because we believe that vacation is a time to indulge every vice, to let our food ids run wild. We wash down our post-beach white-bread grilled cheeses with Coke; we finish the Key lime pie; we top off the Gin and Tonic with another Gin and Tonic. Each day begins with a bowl of Apple Jacks and ends with a “smush-in,” which is what the kids call those marble slab ice cream places where we let them smush gummy bears into their cotton candy-flavored ice cream. If the mark of a successful trip is forgetting your everyday life, then we’ve gotten pretty good at vacation.
When we return, though, the earth assumes its normal rotation, and our old selves reemerge. We make food amends. Our first dinner is usually Redemption Salad: chicken tossed into a mound of Asian-style, nutrient-dense, guilt-erasing shredded red cabbage and spinach. It’s our way of saying, Okay, that was fun, but now it’s time to get back to business. If it’s possible for a meal to make you feel healthy–to actually undo seven days of poor habits–this is the one. It also happens to taste good, which softens the landing a bit. But only a bit.
This is our Providers column for the June issue of Bon Appetit. Head over to their site for this recipe and for the entire Providers archive. Photo by Danny Kim for Bon Appetit.
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We wish we could tell you we raised our kids to think of dessert the way one is supposed to think of dessert: as a “treat” in the true definition of the word; as something you get rarely, if you’re lucky; as part of a celebration – say, an ice cream cone after a hard-fought soccer game, a slice of cake at a birthday party, or some cookies, dipped in milk, on a Friday night. But the sad truth is, our kids consider dessert – like water, shelter, allowance — their birthright. It’s gotten to the point where Phoebe, will finish her dinner, rise from her chair, and begin plunking packages down on the table: Dark chocolate peanut butter cups, a box of shortbread cookies, a bowl of leftover Easter or Halloween or Christmas candy. The question she asks is not: “Can I have dessert?” It’s: “How many can I have tonight?”
We tell ourselves we’re only partly to blame. Back when the girls were toddlers and we were mired in an extended picky eating phase, we had no choice but to ignore all the expert advice and go primal. We were desperate, don’t you see, forced to leverage dinner with something sweet – If you don’t eat that chicken, no dessert tonight. If we’re honest, though, the more likely root of the problem is the fact that we, the supposed grown-ups, are chronic violators of the cardinal rule of parenting: Do as I do, not as I say. The only reason the kids think it’s normal to celebrate “No Cavities!” with a bowl of pudding or finish lunch with a chocolate chip cookie is because we — the Providers, the champions of kale, quinoa and omega-three-rich fish — are guilty of the exact same behavior.
We want to stop eating so much dessert, but those chocolate-covered almonds from Trader Joes are so good. You know the ones with the fleur de sel? We would stop, if we could. And these slice-and-bake oatmeal raisin cookies are our first attempt to establish some limits. The idea is to control the portion size on the front end — to slice and bake only as many cookies as there are mouths to feed – then into the toaster oven they go. As soon as dinner is over, four cookies are warm and ready to be savored with a cold glass of milk. Or crumbled atop a scoop of vanilla ice cream. But that’s all. We swear.
This is our Provider’s column for the April issue of Bon Appetit. Head over to their site for the Slice-and-bake Oatmeal-Raisin Cookie recipe. Photo by Brian W. Ferry for Bon Appetit.
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On a freakishly warm night this past spring, we dragged the family (our ten-year-old, our Samba-wearing eight-year-old, and our vegetable-hating five-year-old nephew) to Boqueria, a tapas restaurant in Soho. The reservation was at the Chuck E. Cheese-ish hour of 6:00 p.m., but the place, thank God, was full–and not with a bunch of other families, either. Our host took us to a high table with high stools on one side and a banquette on the other. He asked if we wanted menus, or if we were interested in sitting back and taking our chances. Since we like to think we’re past the phase where one of us has to escort a kid to the bathroom or take a tantrum-quelling walk around the block, we took our chances.
An open kitchen let the kids watch the staff crank out dish after dish until almost 20 little plates were vying for space on our long, happy table. Caught up in the energy, the drama, and the sense of surprise, our gang would’ve tried anything that night. In fact, they pretty much did: squid, Idiazûbal cheese, two kinds of ham, crisp potatoes with a smoky sauce and garlic mayo, fluke crudo with hazelnuts and grapefruit, rabbit (gulp) paella, lamb toasts with salsa verde, flatbread pizzas with mushrooms, and something with ramp pesto that we can’t remember because by the time it arrived our brains were officially overloaded.
True, our nephew eyed the crudo as if it might hurt him, and the Spanish tortilla barely got the shot it deserved, but one look at all the adventurous little fingers sampling whatever landed in front of us, and we claimed victory over boring kid dinners everywhere. These new flavors were embraced, free of parental nagging or pressure (the veggie-phobe even scarfed down a mushroom pizza). Something tells me there’s a lesson in there we can take home. –Andy & Jenny
This post appeared in Bon Appetit’s October Issue (The Restaurant Issue). Andy and I write a bi-monthly column for BA called “The Providers.” Head over to their site for the Spanish Tortilla recipe shown in the photo. Or click here for an archive of all our Providers columns and recipes.
Photo for Bon Appetit by Christina Holmes.
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It pains us to even admit this, but it took us a long time to come around to Brussels sprouts. They didn’t crack the dinner rotation until we were well into our 30s, with two kids, a mortgage, a dog, and a creeping difficulty reading the fine print on aspirin bottles. In other words, until we were full-fledged adults. But in our defense: When we were kids, way back in the 80s, Brussels sprouts, like liverwurst and canned sardines and that weird gelatinous pate you’d see at our parents’ dinner parties – was a grown-up food, a punch line food, the kind of thing you associated only with thinly veiled threats. “OK, guys, if you don’t eat your Brussels sprouts…”
From an early age, then, it was drilled into our heads: Brussels sprouts were something to be choked down. They were what had to be endured if you wanted your bowl of Rocky Road. One thing you learn as a parent, though, is that you are not necessarily doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. With our kids, we could start over. We could change the narrative. We could, if we went about it the right way, get them to like Brussels sprouts. So a few years ago, we set out to try. We spied a billy-club-size stalk of fresh-looking sprouts at the farmer’s market, brought it home, and began experimenting. And by experimenting, we mean spinning. “Baby lettuces,” we began calling them.Hey kids, aren’t they cute? We shredded and sautéed them (“Look kids, it’s like confetti!”), then tossed with fettuccini and Parmesan; we blasted them at high heat in the oven, and dressed them up with mint, cilantro, fish sauce, and Rice Krispies. (“Can you say Mo-mo-fu-ku, kids?”) But it was, of course, bacon that took us to the Promised Land. We fried some Brussels in bacon fat, drizzled them with cider vinegar (they love a little sweetness), then watched as our daughters popped “baby lettuce” after “baby lettuce” into their hungry little mouths. They didn’t know they weren’t supposed to like what accompanied (and elevated) our boring old chicken that night. All they knew was that they wanted seconds of this magical vegetable that – bonus! – came with bacon bits on top. And we were only too happy to oblige. – Jenny & Andy
This is our “Providers” column from the March 2012 issue of Bon Appetit — on newsstands today. Please head over to their site for the brussels sprouts recipe. Photo by Romulo Yanes for BonApp.
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I’m going to start this story with a personal note to my Women’s Studies professor from college: Please do not continue reading. OK are we good? Are we alone now? Because I’m about to venture into some serious damsel-in-distress territory here.
I can’t grill.
From May through September, I depend on Andy – my totally evolved, equality-minded husband – to be my dinner hero. I know I’m not alone – I know that this scenario plays out in backyards across the country and that the Weber remains a shady, unknowable realm to even my most kitchen-savvy women friends. But come on, this is 2011. How is this OK?
I know what you’re thinking – how exactly is it a bad thing that for four months out of the year, someone else is responsible for feeding Phoebe, Abby and me? (And feeding us well, I might add.) I can only respond with this anecdote: Remember last year how I miraculously arranged my work schedule so I could take a two-week beach vacation? The girls and I headed out for the first week, then Andy joined us for week two. Fun, right? I thought so too until Night One, when I found myself setting the oven to 425° to prepare Abby’s favorite baked drumsticks. This is not the way to cook in the summer. On vacation. In South Carolina. In August. (more…)
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As a kid, the perfect ending to a good day was when I’d walk into the kitchen at about six o’clock, after a long afternoon of backyard pyromania and brain-melting Q*bert sessions, and see the big Pyrex baking dish on the counter. Inside that dish were four or five or six pork chops — bone in, sourced from our local Safeway — marinating in white vinegar. This meant one thing: breaded pork chops for dinner. My mom, who was usually in her room with her “feet up,” would let the chops soak for an hour or two. After my dad came home and poured himself some medicine, we’d get to work on what passed for mise en place in my house in 1983. My mom would fire up her ancient electric frying pan and pour in some olive oil, and I’d help her dredge, coating each chop with flour, egg, and — this is key — Italian bread crumbs. (more…)
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