Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Dinner, Part One

I have been putting off writing a post about dinner for quite some time now. So long, that at this point, I've spent as much time thinking about why it's so difficult, as about the actual post.

We are all really busy, you and I. We have kids, we have jobs, we have homes, friends, foes, foibles. Lives.

Dinner, in any big family, is complicated. But as with just about any other subject, dinner in a big, blended family, is extra-complicated.

Perhaps it's been hard for me to tackle this subject because it cannot be separated from so many other things, which make for difficult writing at the least, and complex reading, to be sure. My most palpable fear is that what I have to say will be taken the wrong way, as some sort of manifesto, rather than what it is: simply, how we do things.

So, if you will, I proceed with part one: dinner with kids.



We have kids here But, with varying schedules, where some kids are coming home from school, going out to activities, coming back from practices, going over to other houses for the night, and stopping off briefly (I'm talking thirty minutes) for dinner, before going to the next thing, (and remember, this is just some kids, some of the time: some others are home, or coming home, or four, and waiting for someone to come home); dinner with kids could be a total crapshoot.

But, it's not.

Dinner with kids is eight plates and cups and bowls and napkins, around the table Tim's mom had in her house in Santa Cruz. It's and hour or two of prep work for thirty minutes of shouting and laughing and whining and "would you please put your bottom on your chair" and a million other things.

But it is not a crapshoot.

It is me, planning, choosing, buying, preparing, setting, cooking, drinking, (oh! did I say that out loud? but seriously, do you think I'm doing all this without a glass of wine?) and putting out, so that when the last girl is home, the last one has changed her clothes, and done her homework, and put her bike in the garage, and charged her iPod; when the last girl has brought her violin up out of the front hall to her room, filled out her reading log, cleaned up the scraps from collage-ing; when they've all at the very.last.minute come back from the neighbors' trampoline, and we've shuttled out the door any kids who are not ours (sometimes); when they've all washed their hands: we can eat.

::Tim makes pizza: we buy Whole Foods organic pizza dough for $1.49 each, white or wheat. We make our own organic tomato sauce ($1.19 a can), fresh mozzarella (really expensive, but essential), basil (fresh and free, all summer in the yard), sometimes peppers, rarely other toppings. We're light on toppings, but big dippers: hot sauce, olive oil, balsamic vinegar (sometimes all together). The crust is that good. I should really just be writing a whole pizza post.

::We make burritos: flour tortillas, black beans cooked with salsa and lime juice, brown rice, shredded cheddar (no cheese for JoJo, if you recall), hot sauce (again, always) and grape tomatoes halved with lime juice and cilantro. (I suppose it's the lazy version of fresh salsa.)

::Our girls are big salad eaters, as long as I have the right stuff. I wouldn't buy iceberg (although I love it, don't get me wrong), but I do buy romaine hearts ("the crunchy kind.") when I can't get good, fresh mixed greens from the market. They fall into two camps: ranch (one girl stands alone, here) and vinaigrette. But we've made whole meals out of "salad bar", where I put out everything from roasted chicken, shredded, and nuts, cheeses, sunflower seeds, etc...and they make their own.

I find anything that they can customize works well: salad, baked potatoes, tacos, omelets, etc...

::Pasta of course is my favorite thing to give them. I feel that if I've cooked a homemade sauce, good garlic bread, and a fresh salad, I'm pretty much done. I directly attribute this to a book I used to read to my nephew about Elmo's first sleepover, at which this was the meal that comforted him at his friend's house. At the time, I was a childless twentysomething and took this to be "what families with kids eat." I still think "they" were not far off.

::We grill often, year round: Tim grills all sorts of things: burgers and dogs (organic and nitrate free-easily found and not all that expensive), pork tenderloins and the occasional steak. Tuna steaks are a huge hit, but man, are they a budget breaker. Really good though. And make excellent tacos the next day. He's even been known to grill burritos.

He has that "man make fire" thing. You know what I'm talking about, right?

::I love to make things in casseroles: lasagna, real mac & cheese, chicken pot pie, this pasta dish with vegetables I made up one day, in Maine last summer, that I still can't believe the kids like as much as they do.

::No Knead Bread. Always.

::Milk, and then bottles and bottles of water.

Oh, is one of you still awake? I'm sorry, I know this is probably tedious. But this is exactly my point. It's endless. Tedious. Complicated.

Dinner. For eight. Over, and over again.

But you know what? It's really my most favorite thing to do.

It's not always my favorite time. I'm tired. I've just spent hours preparing what they are either complaining about, or devouring in an instant, loudly.

But they are doing it right next to their sisters. Across from their mom and their dad. Playing out the end of whatever mood they were in for the day, and trying out all sorts of ideas about themselves they can't dip their toes into anywhere else. Playing off of everyone else at that table, knowing that no matter what, we will all be sitting next to them the next time, asking them to pass the whatever, and loving them, all the same.

More tomorrow. Thanks for reading.


ps: breakfast, lunch, and snacks, here.

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Blogger Amy said...

Not tedious. Lovely. In fact I found myself a bit envious while reading. Dinner at my house is exhausting but for different reasons. Our blended family isn't working right now (it's had it's issues since the beginning). Jake's ADHD makes dinner really rough (this is the subject for a much longer discussion) and it's always a fight to get him to the table. He's a picky eater to say the least and my efforts go unappreciated. The baby is less than agreeable about eating but at least he'll sit (strapped in you know). It's not the dream I once had about dinnertime and to be frank I sometimes don't bother (pizza delivery anyone?). So thank you for the glimpse at your table.

May 6, 2009 7:13 AM  
Blogger julochka said...

wonderful and not tedious at all. and i came away with some ideas for eating less meat, which i'm always longing to do, but find it difficult for some strange reason. but pizza doesn't need meat, does it? not if you've got the buffalo mozarella!

this is the stuff they'll look back and remember fondly, so it's all worth it.

but i too would have a glass of wine on hand. :-)

May 6, 2009 8:44 AM  
Blogger Grey Cottage Studio said...

I find dinner for five hard to do. A mom at the playground recently asked me if I was an inspired cook. She said that her mom really wasn't and she felt she wasn't. It invigorated me, because I feel I am an inspired cook surrounded by uninspired eaters. Which means, I must not be very inspiring.

You are though. Thanks for the daily dose.

May 6, 2009 9:46 AM  
Blogger Amanda said...

I live knowing about your life. You know, making meals for 4 or 8 is really all the same, save for the volume prepared. The best part about it all is the time when youa re together, whether making, sitting, talking or eating.

Also, have a look at the book Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a day. It's great, and might be a good addition to your bread reporitore.

May 6, 2009 9:58 AM  
Blogger Char said...

keeping kids healthy these days is hard work. I'm keeping my nieces this weekend and my SIL told she made sample menus for them. LOL otherwise there would probably be a weekend of PBJ. I'm so clueless. so this was really helpful.

May 6, 2009 10:03 AM  
Anonymous Kathleen said...

Definitely not tedious. Inspiring, in fact.

Dinner is hard for me. I love to cook - really, I do - but I'm more the take-my-time-cooking-from-a-recipe-while-drinking-a-glass-of-wine kind of cook, not the oh-my-god-can-we-please-just-feed-them-and-put-them-to-bed-before-we-all-totally-lose-it kind of cook.
And the latter is in far greater demand around here.

So we feed the kids - more mac&cheese, homemade chicken nuggets, and quesadillas than we probably should, but also brussel sprouts and black beans and salad - and get them to bed before dinner, part 2.

I can't wait till family meals mean the exact kind of chaos you describe. Really. Can I come over?

May 6, 2009 12:05 PM  
Blogger Adam Glenn said...

Read to the end, and hungry as hell. Can I be a kid at your dinner table? ... Gotta get on the stick and start having more family dinners here at the Glenn household! Thanks for the inspiration...

May 6, 2009 12:47 PM  
Blogger Molly said...

You just have a way Tara, the knack for making a post about dinner (while totally enthralling and untedious of it self), read like a restful ode to food and family. As always, thank you for making me happy :)

May 6, 2009 1:27 PM  
Blogger Anna Ander said...

Dear Tara,

You make me feel that it's all possible. If you can do it with six kids, I should be able to do it with two. And I usually do. It's just that I have a no-vegetables-what-so-ever-guy and a girl who's lately taken to throwing half her dinner on the floor.

But we're working on it.

Oh, and the no knead bread? HUGE in Sweden as well.

May 8, 2009 4:01 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

I've read your blog for a while and always wondered how the logistics of dinner was done! I struggle to cook for the 5 of us. And I have the glass of wine too.

I think your positivity and daily mindfulness is just great. And inspiring too.

May 8, 2009 7:18 AM  

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