I’m typing this while the snow flies outside (again, and again), and spring feels like some far distant thing that may or may not arrive. I’m ready for farmers markets and eating outside on sidewalks, and I’m really ready to wash the winter gear one more time and pack it away. Warm, winter meals have been my saving grace(s) this past month – the bright spots at the end of the day. There’s something nice about coming home, turning up the heat a bit, warming up the oven and settling in for the night. The house smells good and feels cozy and all the inside toys are getting their fair share of play time. So the Lego’s are happy about the snow, and I guess our stomachs aren’t complaining much either.
I read a comment on someone else’s Instagram recently that reminded me of a similar conversation I had with another friend on the same topic. Dinner time – specifically the “time” part. I’ve been thinking about the shift in our evening schedule over the past year or so, and how drastically the seemingly simple act of growing children can impact so many things about daily life. Both of our girls have always been big sleepers, and have needed early bedtimes and reasonable wake up times to function. Especially the little one – when she was a tiny baby she was in bed by six o’clock, sometimes even earlier. She was simply a disaster much after that. Even last year, her magic hour was seven o’clock. Pushing her past that mark meant a melt down for sure, and so dinner was a hurried item on the evening agenda. M picked up the girls from school, made dinner, and had it waiting on the table when I arrived home from work. Dinner, baths, books, bed – you may be familiar with the routine.
And then things shifted a bit – we were able to all get home, start dinner, settle into patterns of play and practice in and around the kitchen, steal bites of ingredients when absolutely necessary (that would be F, she’s the main culprit) and then sit down together for dinner. It was a slow process – not an overnight shift – and I’m quite certain there were a few meltdowns from hunger along the way. But I think we’ve all adjusted to the schedule now. Dinner is later, and bed follows shortly, and the evening feels a little less rushed through, and more centered around, the table. It can still be messy and chaotic and occasionally downright abysmal, but for the most part it’s good – the food, the smells, the effort, the time. Little fingers are dipped into everything, at least for a sample, and most of the time for much, much more.
Sunday night we made a family standby, Roasted Butternut Squash and Greens over Bowtie Pasta – it’s from How to Eat Supper, and we love this recipe. You can heat up the oven and a sheet pan in roughly the same time it takes to chop up the squash and the onions. The girls take charge of the other ingredients – tearing the greens and adding the rest of the ingredients into one giant bowl for tossing and then roasting. The pasta cooks while the veggies roast and then it all gets tossed together with some heavy cream and asiago cheese. Simple, and lots of leftovers.
Monday night I wanted to use some caramelized onions that a friend gave me, so I warmed them up in a cast iron skillet and roasted some grape tomatoes with them. I also made some buttered skillet potatoes and green beans (prepared in similar ways to some of the recipes I’ve been reading in my Bonne Femme Cookbook). M toasted a baguette later in the week with some of the onion / tomato leftovers – they were really, really good. Dinner was a quick and colorful affair that evening.
Tuesday night’s Warm White Bean Salad with Rosemary is another favorite of mine – it goes together quickly into one pan – toasting some bread crumbs first in the skillet (I use up all those slightly stale loaf ends for this) and then the crumbs are cleared out and the rosemary and garlic and beans and salad greens are warmed and tossed into a finished dish. The bread crumbs (mixed with Parmesan and pepper) are sprinkled on top, and then whole dish feels warm and filling and healthy. Good as lunch leftovers, if there are any. (Note: I don’t smash the garlic with salt – it was too salty for me the first time, so adjust to your tastes. I’m a conservative salter.)
Tuesday night I also made a quick pizzette dough and left it to rise for a few hours. Wednesday night I had a meeting, so M and the girls came home and made some little pizzettes for dinner – Margherita for the grownups, Italian sausage for the girls. I added some cornmeal to the dough recipes, and so they were light and crunchy and delicious. We’ve had this Pizzette cookbook for ages – I had a hard time finding a link.
On Thursday night M and E had a long list of things they were involved with, so F and I made dinner ourselves and left the rest on the table for the others. We made Scrambled Eggs in Puff Pastry – an America’s Test Kitchen recipe that we really enjoy. It makes two pastries, and so we usually do an egg and cheese and sliced ham version for the girls, and a vegetarian version for the grownups – this week I added mushrooms and spinach to the eggs for that one.
Friday night we went out with friends to Small Batch – keeping up with our New Years goal to try out a new restaurant once a month around town. Small Batch is the latest David Bailey restaurant, and the new space is really beautiful. It’s a vegetarian restaurant and whiskey bar – so that should cover all the bases, right? I’m not quite sure how to review the restaurant – I’m a bit torn on this. The food was good, the place was packed with a really nice vibe, and I love the concept. Trust me, I’ve been dating or married to a vegetarian for over sixteen years now, and going out to dinner and watching him order the only option on the menu (usually the least inspired afterthought) wasn’t a lot of fun. That’s really not the case anymore – meatless dishes on a menu are more plentiful, and in general, I think people are coming around to the fact that they don’t need to have meat on their plate for every meal. So here’s the tricky part – we eat really great vegetarian meals almost every single night at home. (Hooray! Because boring meals that just omit the meat are awful.) I must confess, when I go out to dinner, I sort of like to order something that I don’t prepare on a regular basis. But fair’s fair, and since I have zero zip dietary restrictions, I can walk into any restaurant and select absolutely anything off the menu. I love the fact that there are more and more restaurants catering to this healthier, more sustainable model. I also love the fact that the place was hopping, and that it appears to appeal to a wide variety of people. So I certainly recommend a visit to anyone, particularly non-vegetarians looking for some inspiration outside of the meat wagon.
We wrapped up the week with a smorgasbord of Indian food last night – I made Smitten Kitchen’s Indian Spiced Cauliflower and Potatoes and Red Kidney Bean Curry – both were delicious, and will certainly be repeats. I also made Basmati rice, adding a few ingredients in the making that made it too salty plus I undercooked it – complete bust, into the trash. Simple white sticky rice saved the day, as well as the Trader Joe’s Naan – simply the best, apologies to anyone making it from scratch.
The snow flies, and we have another week’s worth of warm food on the agenda. Bring it winter. We’ll break you eventually.