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Dinners This Week

Carla is off school and so I am taking the opportunity to make challah for the first time ever. 

We also may have houseguests, for a week! They are escaping the hurricane, and I am glad we can offer them a refuge, but also I am spinning a little at the thought of it, especially because plans are still up in the air! And then once they leave, I have a few days to finalize birthday plans for my husband and his sister, and then our other houseguests arrive (we’ve planned to have the latter houseguests for several months now)! 

It is Very Challenging to plan dinners when a) we are still trying to figure out how best to get dinner on the table AND attend all of Carla’s extracurriculars and b) now we might have two extra mouths to feed! Plus, I am still extremely busy and I don’t have time to go to the grocery store more than once this week so I am going once and hoping for the best! 

Is it almost October! I feel EXTREMELY all capsy / exclamation pointy right now!

Dinners for the Week of September 26-October 1

  • Guinness Beef Stew with Salad and Challah: Is Guinness beef stew a traditional Rosh Hashanah food? I doubt it but also it’s as close to brisket as I’m willing to get and I am Very Tired of chicken right now. The salad will have apples and pomegranate seeds (per Carla’s request; she wants to buy a whole pomegranate), but I haven’t figured out the dressing yet. Carla has also requested apple crisp for dessert. We’ll be cooking all day! 
  • Butternut Squash Soup: Will there be leftover salad and challah to eat with this soup? I hope so! 
  • Basil-Parmesan Crusted Salmon with Creamed Spinach: I have never made creamed spinach before! It may be a disaster! But my mother-in-law loves it, so I’m going to try!
  • Oven Roasted Chicken Shawarma with Broccoli and Couscous: We haven’t had this in awhile, and it’s so flavorful I think I (personally) can get past the chicken thing. 
  • Tacos: I literally cannot think of anything else, so tacos it is!

What’s making you feel all-capsy / exclamation point-y today? Are the hurricanes affecting you in any way? (If so, I hope you and your loved ones are safe and sound.) (Also, shana tova and happy New Year, to those who celebrate!)

First, I feel duty-bound to inform you that last week’s spinach artichoke chicken was a bust. I don’t exactly know why it was a bust, but it was. 

The spinach artichoke dip or sauce or whatever you want to call the element containing the creamy spinachy artichokey goodness was quite delicious. But the chicken… well, it suffered, and the whole dish suffered in empathy. I made enough to have leftovers, but when it came time to reheat the leftovers and eat them, I was filled with such revulsion I ended up a) making fish tacos with frozen fish sticks one night and b) ordering Chick-fil-A another night. And then I ended up throwing out the rest, which made me feel extremely guilty and wasteful. (I did scrape off the rest of the spinach artichoke element and ate it by itself; it was yummy.)

The other issue – besides the chicken, which was very tough? and also didn’t really seem to complement the sauce somehow? even though chicken is so neutral I have no idea how this is possible? – was that some of the artichoke hearts were… inedible. So that you would be eating along and then all of a sudden you realized you had been chewing for ten thousand years on a particular leaf. That was wildly unpleasant. I used the frozen artichoke hearts in a bag from Trader Joe’s and maybe that was the issue. It really kind of put me off of artichokes, though, and those have always been such a treat. 

Since I raised the issue of extracurriculars in my Dinners This Week post last week, I also feel duty-bound to update you. We had our first (nearly) full week of extracurriculars and we survived. It was rough going though. Although it was also a Call Week and it was also a week that Carla was recovering from a nasty respiratory thing that resulted in a lot of coughing, so she and I didn’t get a lot of sleep. 

This week has to be better, right?

I am also experiencing that free-falling panic that often accompanies September, which only just started and yet is also somehow two-thirds done. I have several freelance projects all due at once and then another one coming up in a couple of weeks; I have a big volunteer event looming in the near-distance and preparations and meetings have begun for that; we just had two family birthdays and two more are coming up early next month and one more after that; I am finally getting the ceiling repaired so we’ll have workers taking over our kitchen for a bit; then there are ALL the fall holidays one right after another and I feel as though I am already behind. Plus, in that time my husband and I have a pre-planned mini-getaway and I am trying to figure out if we can go visit my sister-in-law to see a performance she’s in even though the dates we could possibly make that work are the single weekend in between the big volunteer event and Thanksgiving. I don’t mean to complain, because it is all good stuff. It is just A Lot and it all stresses me out. 

I did buy my husband one of his birthday gifts already, so there’s that. But the rest of the uncompleted tasks are in a big, teetering stack and I don’t know what to grab first because everything is going to come toppling down on my head. 

Let’s think about food!  

I did not make lentil soup last week. The weather went from cool and rainy to 80+ degrees and sunny, and hearty soups no longer sounded appealing. I am back in Salad Mode, at least until I remember how much work salads are to put together. 

Dinners for the Week of September 19-September 25

  • Greek Marinated Chicken with Something Green, Probably Zucchini: I saw this on Instagram and immediately wanted to try it. In the Instagram video, Laura Vitale simply combines all of the marinade ingredients in a blender and blends them together, which is a relief because “use a mortar and pestle” is otherwise a reason for me to skip a recipe entirely.
  • Greek Farro Salad: I am feeling really into farro right now? I will make an extra couple of chicken breasts on Greek Marinated Chicken night so that we can have this salad.
  • Fall Chopped Salad with Some Sort of Protein: Another salad, and another Instagram find, this time from Healthy Girl Kitchen. Her recipes are vegan and I am not vegan, so there will be a little variation in the way I make my salad. For instance, I might add shrimp? Also, I don’t have any butternut squash on hand, so I may skip that part. I absolutely HATE chopping butternut squash – they are so hard and I am always afraid I will chop my hand off with the knife, or that I will send a shard of squash straight through the window (they tend to fling themselves away from the knife, when I can get it through the rind). My grocery store sells pre-cubed squash but one package was $5.49 and, while I appreciate how much labor is required to cube that squash, $5.49 is too much for me to pay for what is likely to be my least favorite part of the salad. I suppose I could look for frozen cubed butternut squash but I didn’t and I am not eager to return to my grocery store anytime soon. Last time I went I FORGOT TO WEAR A MASK and I am still reeling from that. Like… WHAT? I have worn a mask in a grocery store for TWO YEARS at this point, how did I just… forget?!?!?!
  • Tacos: ** Alert, alert: very quick weight loss talk ** The thing about tacos is that I love them with my whole heart. I want to put them on the menu because they are easy and everyone loves them, and because they SHOULD produce enough leftovers for a second night. However. I tend to overeat tacos. It’s as though you put a taco in front of me, and suddenly my body is certain this is the last time I will ever have access to a taco, and so I eat more tacos than any person should eat. I have a fond memory of being invited over to my schoolbus driver’s house when I was in elementary school, along with all the other kids on her route, for a taco night. (Yes, I suspect this is a little unusual, and yet my parents okayed it as did other parents of other children. Small town life, I guess.) And I ate TWELVE TACOS. As an elementary school student. Please understand that I do not eat twelve tacos when I make them at home, that was a one-time feat of extraordinary stomach stretchiness, but I do really, really like tacos. For most of my life, I have just… eaten however many tacos I want. But that’s not in line with trying to lose weight. I think it is reasonable to eat tacos, but that it is also reasonable to not eat ALL the tacos. So I am trying very hard to tell myself that just because things like tacos exist in my house right now, doesn’t mean I need to eat them. And likewise, that just because I am not eating tacos now does not mean I cannot eat them later. (This point is to prevent me from scarfing down leftover tacos for lunch, which I usually do as well.) Furthermore, I am not going to die if I only eat two tacos. I’m just not. (I am being hyperbolic; I never feel like I am going to die by restricting myself to X tacos. But I do feel a deep, deep longing for more.) Anyway. I am going to put tacos on the meal plan for TWO NIGHTS and ZERO lunches and it is going to happen.

Do any of these meals seem particularly in line with “easy” or “quick” (aside from the tacos)? No, not especially. So we’ll see how quickly it all falls apart. 

Pearls

Carla is, at this very moment, operating a library in our living room. She has made a circulation desk out of couch cushions and has brought down fabric bins from her room to hold books (we are not thinking about the current location of the original contents of the bins) (*cough cough* her bedroom floor) (nor are we thinking about how much less fun it is to dismantle a library than it is to create one). She has divvied up the books by category, which seem to be: Realistic Fiction, Fiction, Piggy & Gerald, and Non-Fiction. She has rounded up all of my library books, from the real library, to use in her offerings. She has her (my old) laptop on the circulation desk and created a Google doc in which she typed the title of every book on her shelves. She has created personalized “photo” library cards for her critters. And now her stuffed animals are asking her for recommendations and checking things out. I already checked out Anastasia Krupnik and read two chapters out loud to the librarian, who sometimes still sucks her thumb. 

Not sure why one of the patrons is being used as a step stool, but we all do our part to encourage reading I suppose.

Carla is at this wonderful age between Little Kid and Tween. She’s got all these responsibilities and behaviors of a big kid, and yet she still loves playing make believe and she still has that childlike wonder and delight in the world around her that transforms my heart into a big neon sign pulsing behind my ribcage.

The little round thing on the right is the library card scanner; the black lamp illusion box is the book scanner. I’m not sure which cat is checking out Little House in the Big Woods, but I hope they won’t argue about it. Not the line of library users waiting their turn to check out.

She had to accompany me to the grocery store this morning because my husband is at the hospital. Call Week bleh. Big as she is, I am just not ready to leave her at home alone for an extended period of time. (My husband and I left her alone for about 30 minutes once, while we went to pick up takeout, and that seemed both fine and terrifying.) She was initially extremely grumpy about being dragged along to the store. Who can blame her, really. 

Each cat has her own library card.

But almost as soon as we went inside, she became quite cheerful and inquisitive. She wanted to push the cart, which she can (mostly) do now without ramming into displays or other shoppers. She asked me what various things were (kumquats, delicata squash, figs) and pointed with glee at the baby artichokes and requested we buy many, many types of fruit (yes: kiwi, plums, blueberries, mango, grapefruit; no: whole coconut, pie pumpkin). I love being able to say yes to her at the grocery store, and I was able to say yes a lot: to two types of yogurt (yes, child! Ask for ALL the yogurt!), to a pumpkin roll from the bakery, to a package of mini stroopwaffles (to share with her father), to packages of frozen cherries and frozen raspberries. 

There was a brief mishap in the refrigerated case that holds things like Pilsbury bread and cinnamon rolls. We were in the rice/quinoa/grains aisle, and the case was at the end of it, and all of a sudden a bunch of cylinders tumbled to the floor. Carla ran to help, along with multiple grocery store staff members, and informed them cheerfully that it “just collapsed out of nowhere!” (I really hope they saw that she was not anywhere nearby when this happened. It really was one of those moments of invisible chaos.) As we walked past, I saw one staff member holding up a cylinder that had popped open, the uncooked dough bulging out.

Then we got to the meat section and while I was putting ground beef into a baggie, she told me she was going to the fish counter to see if they had any live crabs.

No live crabs today, but they did have a WIDE selection of clams. Carla begged me to get her a clam, and I felt kind of terrible about it but I said no. I don’t like clams and I have no idea how to cook them, let alone a single clam. 

Then she pointed out the oysters.

“Do you think they have pearls in them?” she asked. 

I told her no, I didn’t think so, but it was possible. And she wanted me to ask the person staffing the fish counter if there were pearls inside. I told her that it was impossible for that person to know. The oysters were closed, and would remain so until they were cooked.

“No, mommy,” she said, knowingly. “They open and close like this in the water.” She showed me with her mouth. “It’s how they swim. Someone could look inside and see the pearl.”

Okay, fair. But this particular grocery store staff member was certainly not in the water with these oysters before they were caught. 

“I think you should just ask, Mommy.”

I did not want to ask. So we stood there for a few more moments, discussing the probability of finding a pearl in a grocery store oyster. 

I don’t know why it charmed me so much, but it did. How hopeful she was about the possibility of a pearl! How certain she was that the fish counter staffer would know whether pearls were present. How startlingly knowledgeable she was about bivalves. How willing she was to discuss it with me, and how carefully she constructed her arguments, trying to get me on board. 

I don’t think I’m conveying it all well enough, but my heart was so full. It was such a happy shopping trip, such a fun time we spent together even though we were both doing a chore.  

Sometimes I wish I were an oyster, so that I could wrap a morning like this one in gleaming nacre, protecting and preserving these fleeting moments of childhood like the precious pearls they are.  

And now it’s time for lunch. Carla says she will close up the library and take her lunch break in the Book Nook Cafe, which she, the librarian, also owns and operates. It serves Lunchables.

A few people mentioned family dinners in recent comments and it got me thinking about Family Dinners in general. I love learning about the things we all do (in this case, eat meals), but do in such different ways, depending on our families’ needs and priorities. 

I would love to know about your own Family Dinner interpretation. Or if not “Family Dinner,” then whatever mealtimes look like in your family. What were evening mealtimes like when you were a kid? What are they like now? What are the top benefits you reap from your family’s way of doing things? 

When I grew up, family mealtimes happened, but not daily. I seem to recall Sunday dinners in particular taking place around the table, but there must have been others that we ate together as well. Although now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t know how that would have been possible during the week. My parents both worked full-time, and I’m pretty sure my dad came home on the late side most nights. Could it be that we only ate together on the weekends? No matter how often they happened: I have a fuzzy but warm feeling toward Family Dinners, and a general feeling that they were A Thing when I was growing up.

My brother and I each had a nanny when we were kids (we were so far apart in age, we had separate nannies), and I remember clearly his nanny making us dinner. She made this dinner of sauteed canned salad shrimp with carrots and celery sliced on the bias that I loved. I… do not think I would love it now. But I am assuming that she made food for me and my brother, and that we ate it together before our parents came home from work. I will have to check with my mom whether that’s true. 

I also remember my mom making lots of wonderful things. Fried chicken, pot roast, a pasta dish with ground beef, corn, and Velveeta that we called “seashells,” tacos, soups. When I was about ten, I made spaghetti or tacos for our family once every week or so. Most Fridays, we ate pizza – for a long time, my mom made it herself but then at some point we switched over to Pizza Hut pizza, which my father brought home in fragrant grease spotted boxes. We ate pizza in front of the TGIF line-up on ABC. 

As I mentioned the other day, I ended up eating fast food on the nights I had extracurricular activities. That really ramped up in high school – I can’t remember my exact schedule, except that I am pretty sure I always had piano on Tuesday nights at around 6:00 and I had cheerleading most days after school. (I also remember scarfing down fast-food tacos or nachos at a friend’s house after practice and then going home and eating dinner. Ah, to have the metabolism of a high school cheerleader.)

What I’m trying to say is, I both have fond memories of family dinners and understand how other priorities (work, extracurriculars, convenience) can reduce the number of nights available to eat together as a family, or eliminate them entirely. 

Family Dinners have so many potential benefits. For me, the top three are:

  1. Gathering for a meal as a family allows every family member to interact – without distractions! – and share Quality* Time together. (*Your level of Quality may vary.)
  2. Meals together allow for important modeling of things like conversational flow, happy disagreement, table manners, etc. 
  3. Eating as a group typically means everyone eats the same meal, which can help picky eaters try new foods and show how other family members deal with foods they don’t love. 

Despite the purported benefits, we don’t do a lot of Family Dinners in my house. Part of me feels a little guilty about this, but the reality is that families are different, and do things differently, and that’s okay. 

Dinners in our house typically look like this: I make Carla something to eat around 5:30 and then I sit with her at the kitchen counter while she eats. Sometimes I read to her (by the way, we finally finished Where the Red Fern Grows, which I delayed based on your kind warnings, and Carla was completely unaffected. I, on the other hand, had to strenuously suppress my gasping tears so that I could read audibly. Carla kept eyeing me, trying to figure out if I was crying, or just really doing a bang-up job voicing the main character, who was definitely crying.), sometimes we chat, sometimes we listen to Kid Nuz or Wow in the World on our Echo. Once in a great while I will eat with her. Then she showers and goes to bed. Once her bedtime routine is over, which is usually around 8:00 or 9:00, my husband and I eat together in front of a TV show. 

Weekends, we often eat dinner together in front of a TV show or movie. (We are watching Junior Baking Show right now and it is just as charming as Great British Baking Show.)

When family is staying with us, we tend to do Family Dinners almost every night. It’s nice in some ways… there’s something pleasant about the ritual of getting everything on the table, and sitting together and being forced to talk to one another instead of look at a screen. But it also reminds me of why I don’t love it: the table has to be set and I use way more serving dishes and there’s so much more clean up afterward. (It’s so small and stupid, but I absolutely hate dealing with place mats or tablecloths.) Plus, people often get out their phones after they’re done eating and sit at the table and stare at their phones, which drives me bonkers. Plus plus, finding a time for all of us to eat together means that my husband has to rush home, often bringing home work to do later in the evening; that he has to skip exercising, which is important for his mental and physical health; and that Carla is often awake much later in the evening than she should be. It’s fine, because it’s for a short duration. And sometimes – over holidays, for instance – things like work and school-night bedtimes aren’t a factor. Maybe if eating together at the table every day were already a habit, it wouldn’t feel like such an ordeal. But it does feel like kind of an ordeal. 

I admit that I’m a little envious of people who sit down nightly to a Family Dinner all together. It sounds so wholesome and idyllic. And I do try to encourage us to eat at the table as a family at least once in a while. There ARE all the benefits I mentioned above (and probably more!) to sitting around the table together for a meal. But I am the only one in my immediate family who cares about it, and I can really only manage it on weekends, and not every weekend day, and sometimes I just don’t have the mental/emotional energy to wheedle my family into doing it at all.  

This most recent time my in-laws were visiting, my mother-in-law and Carla were setting the table, and Carla told her something like, “Oh, we usually eat in front of the TV.” And my mother-in-law laughed, like Carla was trying to pull something over on her, and said, “On a Sunday?!” in a tone of incredulity. That’s the kind of (unintentional) thing that makes me feel ashamed of our dinner habits. As though there is only One Way to do dinner, and I (all on my own, as though my husband has no role) am doing it wrong. 

Well. My own feelings of shame are something to deal with on my own. I would never look at YOU, for instance, and say, “Oh my gosh, HER family doesn’t sit down together for dinners every night?! What are they thinking?!” or otherwise judge you. So why am I so hard on myself for the very same thing? The million-dollar question, isn’t it. 

I remember reading a blog post ages ago – I swear it was from Swistle – that I think about every time I feel a little guilty for not making Family Dinners a priority around my house. It was something like, “Eating together as a family makes me dislike my family,” and it was so freeing. (Oh yes: Here it is.) If you are likewise unable to sit together for regular Family Dinners, for whatever reason up to and including you hate it, I hope that my own report of how we do things releases you from that obligation. 

My husband and I have a close and loving relationship with one another and with our child. Carla is reasonably versed in table manners (whether she uses them is a different topic all together). We find ways to be close and share details of our day at other times. For instance, Carla’s bedtime routine is one of my favorite times of day. I mostly no longer read to her at bedtime (I read to her at other times of the day, but bedtime reading is her father’s province), but there are always at least a few minutes at night when the three of us are snuggled up together in Carla’s bed, chatting about the day behind us and the day ahead, giggling over something silly, or talking through a challenge. It’s not always like this, especially on Call Weeks, when my husband may not make it home in time for bedtime, or on nights when Carla just wants to read her own book to herself (which I thoroughly encourage), but I don’t feel like anything is missing just because we don’t sit down together for a meal each day. 

Carla is extremely picky, and maybe some of that could have been avoided if we’d all been sitting together, eating the exact same food together, every night for her whole life. But… maybe not. And that ship has sailed, so there’s no point in me beating myself up over it any more than I already do.

Football season is back, baby! It’s super problematic and fills me with conflict and yet I just can’t quit it! My husband and I enjoyed a luxurious afternoon watching our team win yesterday and sampling some Octoberfest beers, all from the comfort of our living room. Carla made herself a couch out of blankets and the cushions from the actual couch, and sat there through the whole game. She was originally very excited about football, but then realized after only a few minutes that she finds it quite boring. Well. It took me many decades before I learned how to enjoy it, so I get it. She watched a few shows on her iPad, then started doing a “research project” on her computer that seems to involve googling photos of animals and pasting the photos into a google doc. There may be an element of alphabetization at play. (“Mommy, Daddy, what’s an animal that starts with a G? All I can think of is ‘gnu.’”) Delightful.

We’ve been having fallish weather, which is pleasant. And makes me crave all the soups and stews and hearty foods. We made impromptu chili last night, which was delicious, and which means we have leftovers for dinner tonight. 

This week also marks the start of all of Carla’s after school activities. To be fair, we started one activity a little more than a month ago, and then there was a week of tryouts for the sport she’s doing. But the real, FULL schedule begins this week. (Technically, it’s not “full” yet. We will add a second Monday activity in late October as part of her music lessons. I am apprehensive about that one, because it means Carla will need to eat dinner in the car as we drive from one activity to another.)  

I did after-school activities as a kid – piano and gymnastics starting when I was in elementary school – and I remember dinners being tricky. Well, they were also wonderful because I had a sanctioned reason to eat fast food; my parents both worked right up until the time of the activities, and our house was too far out of town for us to go home for dinner. I have no recollection of how I got from school to my parents’ offices. But I do remember fighting with my brother over whether we were going to get tacos or McDonalds for dinner, and then eating whatever we’d decided on at my father’s paper-cluttered desk while he finished seeing patients and dictating notes. This was the time before smart phones and iPads, too, so I am not sure what we did while we waited. Looked through old medical journals and bickered, probably.

I don’t remember feeling overscheduled when I was a kid. But until high school (when I still did piano, but also added debate, cheerleading, individual voice lessons, and a capella group practice), I had two, maybe three activities spanning two or maybe three nights a week. Carla is going to have something every single day. Yikes. She and my husband and I talked at great length about the scheduling and the time commitment, and I am hopeful that it won’t be too overwhelming. Carla doesn’t really have homework yet, so her only requirements at home are playing her instrument, reading for 15 minutes, and keeping her room and play areas tidy. And even though she’s doing something every night, she really only has three activities. (Sport: 3 nights a week. Instrument: 2 nights a week. School activity: 2 afternoons a week.) And she is SO excited about all of them. 

She’s a very busy, active kid, so I don’t necessarily worry that much about her being overstimulated or tired. My main worry is that she won’t feel like she has any time to play, which is really so important for kids. But she will be able to come home after school three days a week and play a bit before her sports practice. Plus, her weekends aren’t terribly crowded. Well. I forgot about Girl Scouts. She will have Scout meetings once a month. But that’s not too bad. And then there’s skiing, but that doesn’t start until January. 

Well. We’ll see how it goes. If it’s impossible, or she’s too exhausted, we will apologize profusely and back out of one of the activities. 

Did you do after-school activities when you were a kid? Did you feel overscheduled? If you are a parent, what is/was it like for your kiddo/s? Do you think Carla and I are nutso for doing this to ourselves on purpose?

With all these activities, I am back to planning super easy meals with plenty of leftovers. Here’s what’s on the agenda for this week:

Dinners for the Week of September 12-19

  • Leftover Chili: This reminds me that I have never posted my chili recipe. It’s very good. I make it with ground beef and beans, but it’s very adaptable to be vegetarian or to accommodate alternate types of ground meat or your particular preference for beans. 
  • Spinach and Artichoke Chicken: I don’t know why, but I’ve been dreaming about something like this for awhile. I think it should make some good leftovers, and it sounds perfect for fall. 
  • Crockpot BBQ Pork: This was on the menu a couple of weeks ago, but I didn’t execute it for whatever reason. So it’s happening this week. I slather my pork on a baked potato, my husband eats his in a sandwich with coleslaw. The pork tenderloins at Trader Joe’s were teensy, but I think I can make this stretch to two nights anyway.
  • Lentil Soup: I haven’t made lentil soup in a good long while, but it sounds really yummy. I got pre-made mirepoix from Trader Joe’s, which makes this meal very simple to put together. Perhaps I will also make a loaf of miracle no-knead bread to go along with it. I’ll make a nice big pot, which should make enough for another night of dinners and maybe even a lunch or two.

Are you having fall weather in your neck of the woods? Are you a football fan? Any fall meals on the docket for you this week?

Dinners This Week

Happy Labor Day to my US readers! 

Our houseguests leave later this week and my husband and I are going to cut waaaaayyyy back on the Vacation Eating that we tend to do when houseguests are around. They are cocktails people, as well, so I always have to wean myself off of my nightly urge to pour myself a gin and tonic.

For Labor Day, which is today, we are grilling burgers and hot dogs. I am making this Mexican street corn salad and my favorite plum torte

This plum torte is best if you make it a day in advance. The plums get plummier overnight.

Dinners for the Week of September 6-September 11

  • Slow Cooker Balsamic Pork TenderloinI think I’ve made this for my in laws before, but oh well. I do this kind of “bowl” style, with a base of brown rice. Then I top mine with the pork (and lots of the balsamic-y liquid it cooks in), caramelized onions, feta, and kalamata olives. My husband skips the olives and adds sundried tomatoes – the soft kind that come in a jar with oil. I think I may also try adding marinated artichoke hearts to the mix, and maybe some of the little mini pitas that come in a bag. Hummus would be good alongside this, too.
  • Chicken and Zucchini Stir Fry: For some reason, I feel weird about making stir fry for guests. There is absolutely ZERO justification for this. But I love stir fry, and it has been a month since I’ve made one, so this will be our first post-houseguests meal. 

While I love my houseguests and while I am so very glad they are here for pleasure this summer and not for medical reasons, I am also relieved that they are heading home. As I mentioned last week, I find it very wearying to balance the needs of even very easy, very un-demanding guests against my own need for quiet and routine. And against my MANY neuroses about food and my kitchen. Sigh. 

If you are enjoying a day off today, I hope it’s lovely and relaxing and safe. If you are going about business as usual, I hope your week is off to a happy, productive start.

Just waiting to be sliced and paired with vanilla ice cream.

Dinners This Week

Well, I am thoroughly exhausted after the first week of school. WHY was it so exhausting? I mean, I was shuttling Carla to and from things every day (although my husband took her to her music lesson). But when she is at extracurriculars, I’m just… sitting there? I did go to two social events, which, as we all know, wipes me OUT. But… I was really careful about those. The first one was a one-on-one with a parent I really like, so it wasn’t as stressful/draining. The second social event was with more people, but it was mainly people I know and feel comfortable around, plus I set a timer and stayed for exactly 30 minutes and then skeedaddled. 

By Thursday, though, I was A MESS. Cranky and tired all day. I even tried to take a nap, TWICE, which is a luxury I never allow myself. Of course I was unable to sleep, so then I was even more cranky about “wasting time.” (I tried to repeat Nicole’s mantra that even if I wasn’t sleeping, I was still resting, but I have a long way to go before I achieve Nicole-level Zen. HI NICOLE.) 

The dinner thing, though, is going to have be scaled WAY back. I read all of your advice on my last dinner post with RAPT attention, and the core takeaway was make things as easy as possible. I am interpreting this in two ways:

1. I went to Trader Joe’s and spent an obscene amount of money on Throw Together Meals that are now waiting patiently in my freezer. 

I also really, really want to make leftovers work. I LIKE making dinner, and I don’t want to sacrifice things I WANT to eat just because this is a particularly hectic season of my life. So I am also…

2. Leaning into easy meals that produce leftovers. (This is tricky-ish, because my husband and I are big eaters and often have very little in the way of leftovers… and if we DO have them, I eat them for lunch. So we’ll see how this aspect plays out.)

To recap, the name of the game this week is freezer helpers and easy leftovers meals. Oh. But then there’s the long weekend, and I really REALLY want to make a street corn salad again. So we will have to have Something Fun on the list as well. 

Dinners for the Week of August 29 – September 4 

  • Chickpea BowlsI can double this up and force it to become leftovers, I know I can.
  • Trader Joe’s Sweet Corn, Burrata, & Basil Ravioli with Baked Shrimp: The shrimp isn’t, technically, from Trader Joe’s; it’s from my local grocery store and it has little pats of herb butter in the package. It’s super easy though: thaw and bake. My basil plant is extremely voluminous at the moment, so I will add fresh basil and some lemon zest to the ravs. 
  • Crock Pot BBQ Pork with Coleslaw: An old standby. I like to dump my pork on a baked potato, my husband prefers a BBQ pork sandwich on a King’s Hawaiian bun. I think I can make this stretch to two nights. 
  • Trader Joe’s Mushroom and Spinach Quiche with Some Sort of Green Side: I don’t really know what possessed me to pick these up? Will my husband eat one? Will he consider it enough to count as dinner? Time will tell. It sounded good, it looks easy. Protein, green veggies. 
  • Something Grilled and Mexican Street Corn Salad: Here is where I reveal that my in-laws are staying with us for an undetermined amount of time, and have been around for three weeks already (but not staying with us). So perhaps that also adds to the feeling of exhaustion? Not because I dislike having them around, but because it’s two extra people to try to accommodate? Although they are being EXTREMELY kind about stepping back, especially during the first week of school, to let us do our thing. ANYWAY, I don’t know what the “something grilled” will be, because I want them to have a say. Burgers and hot dogs? Ribs? Chicken? We will just go with the flow on this one. I may also try to make another plum torte before the plum season bypasses us. 

What are you doing for the long weekend, if you are in the US? Wherever you are, what’s your favorite BBQ/picnic food?

First Day of Fourth Grade

Carla woke up the first day of school before my alarm went off and came bouncing into my room, all dressed. “Wake up! Wake up! It’s almost 6:30!” she called cheerily. I was a bit blearier than that, but her enthusiasm lifted me out of bed. She ate breakfast while overseeing the creation of the “First Day of Fourth Grade” sign; I did the colors wrong at first, so had to redo it. Please imagine me very fondly rolling my eyes. 

We discussed her outfit: a pink sweater over black cutoffs. I told her I really liked the outfit, but wanted to let her know that some kids would be dressy for the first day. Would she prefer to wear something dressier? No, she did not. She wanted to express her “style,” she explained. Plus, she didn’t want to give everyone the impression that she was going to wear skirts and dresses every day. She’d worn a lot of dresses last year, and remembered that one day she wore something else to school and that her classmates expressed shock that she was not in a dress. She wanted to avoid a repeat of this type of incident. 

Did you dress up for the first day of school? My mom took me school shopping every summer: a special trip to the Big City to go to the Big Mall and stock up on new clothes and shoes. I remember LOVING those shopping trips, and feeling very excited about and proud of my new array of school clothes.

Honestly, I loved everything about starting a new school year. Brand-new school supplies, with fresh notebooks full of unblemished paper. New binders – or Trapper Keepers – that were slightly stiff when you opened them. Pencils with sharp, clean points and plump pink erasers. New shoes, free of scuff marks. New classrooms, bright and cheery, and desks that have nothing in them. So many things to look forward to! I am so glad that Carla is feeling that happy anticipatory joy this year. 

I cannot believe she is in fourth grade already. Fourth! Grade! Do you remember when she was brand new? Well, probably not because I was a terrible blogger at that time. But I remember it quite clearly, and it was only five minutes ago! And now she is NINE and in FOURTH GRADE.

My memory is not one of my strong points, and much of my childhood is a foggy mass dotted with blurry snapshots. But I remember big chunks of fourth grade. My teacher was wonderful – she had all these great ways of engaging us in learning – including this semester-long quest that I am sure was accompanied by lesson plans but just seemed, at the time, like a big, long exciting game. She read aloud to us from fun books. She arranged a class field trip into the badlands where we got to dig for dinosaur bones. 

I remember the boy I had a crush on in fourth grade. I remember one classmate took a family trip to Japan, which was kind of unheard of back then, at least in my small hometown, and brought back a ton of exotic snacks that we all got to try. I remember sleepovers with school friends. It was a great year. I hope Carla’s year is just as memorable.

Carla was all ready for school a full 45 minutes before we needed to leave, so we settled in to read the book I am reading to her (Where the Red Fern Grows, which I have never read before). 

We took her photo in the rain and I dropped her off. She skipped into school without a backward glance. Really, could there be a better way to begin a new school year? 

I have this persistent feeling in my left foot that there’s something caught between my toes, or maybe there’s a hair wrapped around my second toe. I have checked; there is nothing between my toes, no hairs in the vicinity (although of course I had to remove a hair that was draped casually over my shoulder as I was looking). And even if there were something caught between them, I would have expected it to dislodge itself over the course of two weeks, which is how long I’ve had this feeling. 

(I’ve looked it up. The closest “diagnosis” Google has to offer is a Morton’s neuroma, which is a thickening of the tissue around the nerves of the foot. But the symptoms don’t quite line up. Neuromas cause a feeling of “sock bunching” or “small pebble” but usually between the third and fourth toes.)

Anyway, I have this niggling memory that the feeling “there’s a hair wrapped around your toe” is Something To Watch For. I don’t find anything, upon Googling. Although I did find some articles about how critical it is to remove an actual hair that is wrapped around any appendage, as it can cut off circulation. But it’s somehow stuck in my head as one of those things that you listen for, and if you hear it, it Means Something. Something that would be important for medical staff to know in an emergency.

Based on no evidence at all, I like to think I would be good in an emergency. I have had the incredible amazing luck of not having been faced with an emergency of any sort. But I want to be READY. Which is why I have stowed a few little helpful medical hints away for future emergency use. 

Do you have any of those “medical hints” that you’ve come across somewhere and never forgotten?

After reading Hatchet by Gary Paulsen a million years ago, I am constantly on high alert for people who have arm pain followed by gas. CLEARLY that is a heart attack just waiting to happen. (I can never remember which arm the pain will be in, though.) (Apparently, it is usually the left arm.)

And I read at some point that A Feeling of Impending Doom is a medical clue you should never ignore. (You could have the bubonic plague! Or, more likely, although you never know these days, anaphylaxis! Or a pulmonary embolism! Or a bad reaction to a blood transfusion!) Unfortunately, I am filled with doom so often it seems like it might be hard to separate that feeling from the one that means, like, imminent death. But it’s a medical clue that’s forever lodged in my brain, just ready for me to leap into action the next time someone nearby sits down heavily and says, “Oh no, I’m filled with doom.” 

I seem to fuzzily recall that there’s an acronym you can use to tell if someone is having a stroke. But I can’t remember the acronym itself. Oh here it is: FAST, which stands for Face, Arms, Speech, and Time, which themselves are shorthand for facial drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulties and… time, which I guess means if you notice any of these things it’s time to get help? Oh – and here are some other sites that say you should really be using the acronym BE FAST, and also be alert for Balance and Eyes (trouble with balance/coordination and sudden blurring or loss of vision). Now, in a possible-stroke type situation, I will be sure to forget not one but two life-saving acronyms.

I read/heard once that singing the Bee Gees’s “Staying Alive” when giving chest compressions during CPR will help you keep the appropriate life-saving rhythm. (The video I linked to made me unreasonably giggly. All those very serious dancers!) (Also, I suspect – based on previous experience of watching CPR scenes on TV/in movies – my husband would say that you need to be more forceful and less elbow-bendy than this particular video demonstrator.) 

This little rhyme may someday come in handy, although I sincerely hope not: “If it’s black, fight back. If it’s brown, lie down. If it’s white, good night.” But that’s more in case of bears than in a medical emergency. I do appreciate the absolute surrender of the last couplet, though. Don’t even try, you’re dead already. 

What helpful medical hints do you have stored away in case of an emergency? And have you ever had to put them to use? And, if so, did they WORK?