Sunday, March 15, 2015


Sweet potato tart with goat cheese
 It's when the little things begin to pile up that you see the cracks. At first, perhaps, you have to stay up a little later one night taking care of Things. But then! Then all the cracks become apparent and you yourself begin to crack.
faux paella
The weeds. The pile of essays. The paperwork that I just need to sign to send in to the bank, but I also have to read it over (again!) because, when you set something aside and have to come back to it, you don't just pick up where you left off, do you? Permission slip to sign and check to write. Oven is filthy. Teddy's underwear is too small. The car is cluttered. There are so many things to file that I just want to pitch the whole box-to-file in the recycling ... and would anyone notice? Have I paid the bills this month yet? And then Teddy colors on a chair. And then you run out of milk. And then Rufus leaves a dead rat on the porch.

parsley pesto gnocchi with cauliflower and kidney beans
  Dinner is at once a joy - to plan, to shop for, to execute - and a burden. By about Wednesday, I am seriously flagging. I do know that there are purported 30-minute meals. I can't seem to make them. I make 60-90-minute meals. "Family dinner" means me, Sam and Teddy, anyway. But Sam is still excited and that does buoy me to a certain extent. I have been cooking for the past couple of weeks. There was a pizza night in there and a Chipotle night, as well as a scrounge night that included cereal.  I try not to be hard on myself. I have my list of excuses reasons.

tomato bread
 Josh and I discussed how delightful a simple green salad with vinaigrette is. We were chortling at our high school (and college!) selves who judged the merit of a dining establishment by their salad dressing selection. What do you mean you don't have Ranch? And you call yourself American? Now, of course, we are so urbane that we know dressings are to be made a la minute or not at all! (Insert snobbish snort.) 
roasted chicken with croutons and a green salad
I once watched a Jacques and Julia episode in which Jacques prepared a simple salad like this one. He used a paring knife to trim haggard leaves (use for soup - do not toss!), to separate the leaves from the core, to pare down the core itself, to cut each leave through its spine, and then to trim each worthy leaf into a bite-sized piece. He also waxed rhapsodical about the proper preparation of a Salad and Julia stuck in her own pithy commentary about how only the French know how to make a proper salad and the rest of us have to be taught ... presumably by a Frenchman. (Snobbish snort.)

I neither know what the answer nor the question is to my dinner dilemma. Maybe it's not a dilemma at all. I just have to be realistic. If I am tired by Wednesday, then let's not make empanadas! I can stop by the local upscale market and buy their overpriced spanakopita to go with some rice. It doesn't have to be glamorous, right?

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

True Test

salmon, kale, rice
The true test of my resolution, of course, occurs when I return to work. Which I did this past Monday after our mid-winter break. In order to stick to the plan, I rushed out of a meeting - a 50-minute meeting on top of the morning meeting that we had that day already due to an event at the school on 2/13 - when talk turned to touchy-feely things. I believe in community-building, but not at 4pm when I have to get my kids. The principal asked us to go around the room and share a positive event or word to capture our mid-winter breaks. She wanted us all to "have a voice" that afternoon. I am sure some of you might say, "Wow, how lovely. I would love to hear all of my colleagues' thoughts and feelings." Surely, I do love learning about my colleagues and I do believe we are brought closer together by these things. It is meaningful, it is. And yet.

Sam eating everything with bread to "wash it down"
Being a teacher has reminded me that people don't change. That your personality is set when you are about 6 and, when you are a teen and whatever clique you gravitate towards, that is YOU, my friend. So, I have always had a potty-mouth and a bad attitude. After the fourth or so remark at the end of that meeting, out I went, muttering to the gal next to me, "Uhhh, I gotta get my kids."

Teddy ... at the table!
 I knew that I also had to get dinner supplies out and ready. And dinner landed on the table, where a mere three of us sat, at 7pm. Sam's eyes were drooping and he had been whining just a little bit about dinnertime. Bless him, he tried everything. I am crushing this! Even though, the whole drive home, I was trying to figure out how I could shop at Metropolitan Market for dinner and still maintain the spirit of my resolution.
lamb chops, rice, escarole
 I kept rallying and making dinner. Sam kept trying everything on his plate, even earning dessert a couple nights. But I was pretty tired by Friday and had to order pizza because the kitchen was a mess and I just couldn't muster the strength to prepare what little I had to. I still consider the week a success, though. Sam wanted family dinner each night and was disappointed one night I was really late and suggested he have toast. He had one piece to tide him over and then ate "grown-up dinner."

empty kongnamu bowl
Reflections at the end of the first week: I have to hold myself to my resolutions and rally, but I also have to be gentle with myself. I can't take on too much in terms of the menu. I tend to think of three dishes that will go well together and then kill myself and get dinner on the table at 8pm. That didn't happen this week, but I can easily see myself reaching too far. I have get back into the habit of taking photos of the food. This bean sprout salad was so brilliant, you should have seen it!

Monday menu: salmon with a dijon-breadcrumb-potato chip crust; brown rice with Parmesan, lemon, and parsley; and wilted kale salad with raisins and pine nuts. The rice and salmon were new recipes from ATK and I overcooked the salmon. The kale salad is my go-to greens salad. You can find variants in many a cookbook. I'll give you mine below.
Tuesday menu: lamb chops with Pape meats herb crust; escarole sautéed with garlic and anchovies; leftover Parmesan rice. I heart escarole! One of those greens that is great raw and cooked - in soups or salads or sautéed or even on pasta! It's what spinach wishes it was.
Wednesday menu: lentils (precooked from Trader Joe's!) with pancetta and leek-carrot-celery saute; leftover rice. I was too tired to attack the pho I was supposed to make, but at least I made dinner!
Thursday menu: Beef pho, kongnamu (bean sprout salad). The pho was a recipe from ATK and it wasn't very flavorful. I decided to marinate the rest of the meat for the leftover meal.
Friday menu: pizza! I was too tired to heat up leftover broth and saute the meat. Friday is a long, tiring day. I need to remember that every week, I think.
Saturday menu: Pho with marinated beef this time! and green papaya salad. The meat was thinly sliced when it went into the marinade, so after 48 hours in soy sauce, the proteins had actually "cooked."
Wilted kale salad
1 bunch kale of choice (also works with Swiss chard, spinach, escarole ... not really collards)
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup pine nuts
several good glugs of olive oil
1/4-1tsp. salt, to taste
1-2tsp. sherry vinegar

Heat up the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, raisins, and pine nuts to brown for a couple of minutes. Toss in the pre-wilted and chopped greens. (I microwave torn leaves for 1.5 minutes in a covered bowl that has 1/4 cup of water in the bottom. I squeeze out the extra liquid and then chop.) Stir greens around to coat with oil and sprinkle with salt. When the greens are heated through, add vinegar, stir again, and kill the heat.

You can vary this by greens, but nuts, by dried fruit - I like pistachios a lot. You can even add anchovies or pancetta; you can vary the acid at the end. Infinitely variable and pretty quick and easy.

Saturday, February 21, 2015


my system - taping to the cabinet

I hit a serious funk. I went back to work this year and just sank into it. As a teacher, there is just Add to that little people waiting for you to pick them up and feed them and, ugh, things are crazy. I managed to keep it together for most of this year - just a few sniffles here and there when I felt quite stressed. But this past 4-day weekend with the kids was my breaking point. Teddy spiked a fever and Sam was just being Sam, which is especially needy in the wintertime, for whatever reason. Josh was out of town, and I just wasn't my best self. It all came to a head and I spent Tuesday evening, after the boys went to bed, bawling my eyes out. Catharsis.

Sam said, "This isn't junk food, right?"
Up to that point, what was building, was this growing resentment and negativity and all this blame I was putting on everyone and everything around me. After my cry, I recalled that saying by Someone Important and Sage about changing your reaction ... or the only thing you can control is your reaction. Like blaming The System and My Job or, the worst, My Kids, was getting me anywhere.
peppers before breadcrumbs

So I wrote "Be better" on our family whiteboard and just stopped yelling and feeling frustrated.

I also recommitted to dinner. See, the other thing is that I'm not doing what I enjoy most: writing and cooking and writing about cooking. And I am not enjoying my family. Basically, I wondered, "What am I doing that brings me joy?" And I came up with goose egg. And it felt lousy.

I checked a book out from the library, "Dinner: the playbook." I read the introduction in its entirety (!) and committed to doing the same sort of thing that the author did. That is: 30 days, 30 different homemade meals that I haven't made before. I eagerly went to my folders with magazine cutouts and my cookbooks and marked several recipes for the week. I made a shopping list. I organized the fridge. And I announced my plan to my husband because Family Dinner at 6:30 requires a family. He was in ... except for nights with meetings and calls. But that's okay; we'll take what we can get.

peppers with breacrumbs
Thursday, February 19, was the first night and it was a raging success. I was ready with everything right when Josh walked in the door. Sam was *so excited* to have Josh at the table with us. Teddy, well, he came to the table and looked at dinner! I overcooked the steak, but the meal was still great and Sam ate everything on his plate! AND! This morning Sam reiterated how much he enjoyed Family Dinner last night and how much he was looking forward to Friday's dinner! Whaaaaaaat? This just has to continue.

I don't know if there is a trick to sticking to this, though. I do know that my tendency is to get too big for my britches. So I have to keep the goals manageable. I also have to keep my eye on the prize, which is just having the family together. I have to have a backup plan that is in the spirit of the Family Dinner - so maybe ordering out from a place we haven't eaten at?? Dunno. What I do know is that I can't hit this point again. It wasn't certifiable. It wasn't commit-able. It was just lots of sobbing and puffy eyes in the morning. That's no fun.
overcooked steak with herb sauce and peppers with breadcrumbs