When I was growing up, my mom made the best Swedish meatballs. And chicken Milanese. And lasagna with locally made sweet Italian sausages and old-school red sauce. (None of that fancy béchamel stuff.) These days, when I drag my family for dinner at my parents’ house, I beg her to make one of these dishes for me. How could I not? They were the tent-poles of my culinary upbringing — the family dinner rotation — and I must’ve had each of them once a week for eighteen years. If there were other things worth eating out there, I didn’t care to know about them.
I can’t believe how different the dinner situation is in my own house today. My kids never have any idea what’s going to be on the menu. Like all kids, they have their crazy-making aversions (as you know by now, one won’t eat pasta; neither will touch eggs), but their strengths are in the adventure department. They approach the table (mostly) game for just about anything else. Not because they are superior children, but because they have no choice. When you are a food blogger and cookbook writer, you have to keep up with the schedule. You have to keep things interesting.
Unfortunately, “interesting” to me and Andy, often translates to “annoying” for an 8- or 10-year old. As if my little lab rats are not already starving enough when they sit down to eat, they have to live in a test kitchen. They have to wait for the clouds to diffuse the sun just enough to create optimum photographic conditions to shoot what’s set before them. They have to hear their parents earnestly discuss things like acidity in their freaking salad dressing. And God forbid they love something as much as I loved my mom’s meatballs; they might never see it again. For months now, my 10-year-old has been begging for a reprise of the baked lemony chicken dish I debuted it at the table a year ago. The Lemon Chicken! Of course! I promise her. But first we have to retest the fish cakes for the cookbook, and after that we have to turn in our copy for Bon Appetit, so we need to double check that the marinade is getting the right flavor on the grilled flank steak. And remember how we were going to taste-test all those frozen pizzas? Sorry, sweetie, maybe next week?
Family dinner illustration by William Steig, from Abby’s new favorite: When Everybody Wore a Hat.
PS: This is what we are eating tonight. Or some version of it.