They’ll Hold You To It

November 9th, 2011 · 19 Comments · Dinner, Quick, Vegetarian

I’ve learned the hard way that when it comes to kids, don’t make a promise you won’t be able to keep. Don’t promise a trip to Barnes and Noble this weekend if you know it’s going to take some logistical heroics to squeeze it between all the games and practices and trips to the mall to buy new boots. (Again! Why am I always buying boots?) Don’t promise you will kick the soccer ball around after work if you know it’s going to be dark outside when you get home. (They will blame you no matter how convincingly you try to explain Daylight Savings, the meeting that ran late, the train that chugged along at a snail’s pace.) Don’t promise you’ll make a cereal box village on Sunday afternoon, if you know there’s a good chance you’ll have to wrap up some last-minute work on a project due Monday and will likely respond “in a minute…in five minutes…in ten minutes…in about an hour” to the little voice that keeps asking you “Now Mom? Now Mom? Now?” and then eventually with resigned, puppy-dog disappointment, “Oh forget it.” Does anything make me feel lousier? I don’t think so.

Whatever you do, don’t promise them you’ll take part in Meatless Monday! Don’t get me wrong — it’s not that I don’t love the idea of a weekly vegetarian meal and the hugely popular initiative to get families to cut back on meat once a week  – I more than love it. I embrace it! We like to do our part for the planet with plant-based dinners at least two times a week. It’s just that those dinners somehow don’t ever seem to fall on a Monday. And for my two little literalists, this is not acceptable. They don’t ever seem to give me props when we have salad pizza on Thursday or Minestrone on Sunday or Bean Cakes on Wednesday. It’s the Pomegranate-braised Pork Loin I dared to make on Monday that they remember. “Mooooom,” said one of my eco-policewomen last week, setting her fork down, leaning back, and crossing her arms. “It’s Monday! Why are we eating pork?”

So next Monday we’re having veggie Quesadillas. Because they are fast, because they are good, and because I promised.

Black Bean and Goat Cheese Quesadillas
The girls aren’t goat cheese lovers, so for their quesadillas, I usually replace it with shredded cheddar or Jack.

vegetable oil
1 to 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste
2 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1/3 cup water
3 scallions (white and green parts only) chopped
6 8-inch whole wheat tortillas
4 ounces goat cheese

Heat about 2 tablespoons oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, cumin, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring, until garlic is golden, about 1 minute. Stir in beans and mash them with a large fork. Add water and scallions and cook, stirring until most of water is absorbed, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

Set a separate skillet over medium-high heat and add a little more vegetable oil. Place one tortilla in skillet, spreading about a sixth of bean filling on one side. Sprinkle a little goat cheese on top of beans and fold other half over to seal. Flip around a few times until tortillas are golden and cheese is melted, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove to a dinner plate and tent with foil to keep warm. Repeat with remaining tortillas.

I served these with crispy kale, which is another way of saying I sauteed the kale in olive oil over medium-high heat, added salt, and then completely forgot about it as I was summoned to explain a bar model math problem. But you know what? The leaves turned crispy and with a little more salt, they became delicious, easy-to-eat (and easy-to-sell) kale chips.

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Separate but Unequal

October 15th, 2010 · 14 Comments · Dinner, Pasta, Picky Eating, Vegetarian

I knew what I wanted for dinner yesterday before I had even taken a sip of my morning coffee. It was going to be that beautiful fusilli with chard and crunchy breadcrumbs that accompanied Melissa Clark’s story in the Times about whole wheat pasta. I didn’t have any fusilli — but I had some whole wheat rigatoni, and chard, and onions and…hey look at that!…I had some thyme and goat cheese and mushrooms, too! With the addition of each new ingredient to the pot, though, I was not only getting further away from Melissa’s recipe, I was getting further away a meal I could expect my children to eat no-questions-asked*. So just before I dolloped a hunk of very un-extractable goat cheese into the hot pasta, a point-of-no-return move if there ever was one, I made a decision: The kids are eating something else tonight. Tonight, I just need to cook my dinner the way I want to cook my dinner, and I want to eat my dinner the way I want to eat my dinner. The family has sat down to roughly the same meal for, what, about four straight nights now? Plus, I volunteered at school today and sent out Abby’s birthday invitations! Surely these noble deeds qualified me for some kind of kickback? So Andy and I had our special earthy, herby pasta and the kids had their Trader Joe’s chicken taquitos from the freezer. And the sun still rose from the east in the morning.

*in my house, mushrooms + goat cheese is asking a lot

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The Almost Vegetarian

April 22nd, 2010 · 4 Comments · Dinner, Vegetarian

About 15 years ago, I was chatting with two women at a cocktail party when one of them mentioned she was a vegetarian. Other than feeling a flash of pity — poor thing can’t eat a steak — I didn’t think much about it until she wandered away to get a Pinot refill.

At that point, the other woman whispered, “Well, that’s a pretty good sign that she’s not a lot of fun!” We snickered and shoved a few more pigs in blankets down the hatch.

I’ve thought about this conversation a lot in the past few years. When I replay it and think of my glib response, it feels like watching a pregnant Betty Draper in “Mad Men” throwing back a martini: How could she not know? How could I have dismissed this woman when it was likely that some major soul-searching had gone into her decision to stop eating meat? How could I not have known?

Maybe it was because that cocktail party was about eight years before Eric Schlosser’s “Fast Food Nation” described the disturbing conditions of the slaughterhouses and meat-packing plants feeding the country’s fast-food system. And before Michael Pollan asked us in “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” to question everything on our plates and how it got there. It was way before investment bankers were leaving Wall Street to start organic chicken farms and before new dad and literary darling Jonathan Safran Foer proclaimed in his 2009 vegetarian manifesto, “Eating Animals”: “We are equally responsible for what we don’t do. In the case of animal slaughter, to throw your hands in the air is to wrap your fingers around a knife handle.”

Click over to Body + Soul to read the rest of the story and to get the recipe for this stunningly good vegetarian main: Spinach, Mushroom, and Scallion Tart.

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