Obviously We’re Adults, We Have a Grill

Rachel here.

This post was planned to mark our very first grill purchase. Strapped for cash these days while I transition from school to work, we waited out our local Target and victoriously snagged a grill the other day for half-price. YUP–HALF. We waited them out and the arrival of our new grill onto our little back patio was all the sweeter for it. Of course, we were itching to get cooking.

I didn’t purchase briquettes when I picked up the grill, fantasizing that John would be that spectacular combination of persnickety and salt of the earth that he sometimes offers up. He didn’t have strong feelings about the charcoal, though, so today I stopped and picked up some standard stuff while running errands. He promised to develop feelings about what he’s grilling over as the summer progresses. Obviously, we’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, any suggestions?

Tonight was supposed to be the christening of our grill. Chicken kabobs with apricots, onion and zucchini (and chicken marinated in jerk seasoning, olive oil and lime juice) were on the menu, as was grilled asparagus. To say I was excited is probably an understatement. I was more like a kid who’d just found out Christmas just might pop up at the end of June this year. One of my absolute favorite things about being alive is grilling and sitting outside. For the first time in my adult life we have both the space and the equipment. We’ve got the grill (did I mention that already?), and Adirondack chairs, and strung white lights through the trees. We’ve got a little table and a patio and a nice stretch of grass with a little garden doing its darndest to grow. We’ve got it going on this summer, as far as I’m concerned. And tonight was supposed to be the moment it all finally came together.

Except it rained. From ten o’clock this morning on, the entire day has been relentlessly drenched. If you don’t live in California you probably figure this is standard summer weather. But not us, not here. We’re only supposed to get rain 6 months of the year. The other 6 are supposed to be gloriously and reliably dry. Summer falls in the dry 6, in case you were at all uncertain.

And so the chicken will stew in its juices a little bit longer, until tomorrow night. If it’s raining then, I’m handing John a raincoat and umbrella and telling him I can’t wait for dinner.

Hmmm, Strawberries

Sometimes pictures really are worth a thousand words and while our photography can leave something to be desired, this photo of a bowl of fresh, local, perfectly ripe strawberries says summer in a way that nothing except perhaps corn or tomatoes does. Who needs sugar or shortcake when the strawberry looks like this?

Pesto Besto

Janet here: I’m in serious salad mode with the summer having arrived and at least semi-hot weather here in the Northeast. Grilling some veggies, fish or chicken outside and adding a little salad is the perfect easy dinner in the summer.

For most of my adult life, potato salad was one version and one version only: the potato salad I grew up eating and recreated once I was cooking on my own. (You can get the recipe here.)

As I’ve become a more accomplished cook over the years, I’ve realized that there are actually about a gazillion potato salad recipes out there. Here’s a variation on potato salad I created this past weekend that only requires a few ingredients. It takes advantage of another summer wonder: fresh basil.

Pesto Potato Salad

1 1/2 pounds small red potatoes
1 medium red pepper, seeded and diced
1 medium yellow pepper, seeded and diced
1/3ish cup pesto (I used some made at a local farm but if you want to make your own, try Rachel’s recipe here)
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the potatoes for about 20 minutes in boiling water. Don’t overcook because mushy potato salad is just gross. Drain the potatoes and cool until ready to handle. Cut into quarters and put in a large bowl.

Add the rest of the ingredients and toss gently. Put in the fridge to cool for at least two hours. Serve and enjoy…

What’s your go-to potato salad?

teach me to eat

John here:
Eating has always been easy for me. I have never had an eating disorder and i have never been overweight. I’m not trying to brag, i just mean that i have never had to consider why i eat, i just eat.

Rachel and i took M to her one year check-up with the doctor. The doctor informed us that M is not gaining enough weight. Rachel and i have been struggling with dinners for M for a month or so now. What we make her for dinner she won’t eat, just a few nibbles. We have recently switched her to real food from jarred baby food and at first she was game, but now not so much.

Any advice? I feel lost regarding this issue, how do i let her be herself while eating but insure that she is eating enough? How do i not give her my tension during dinner? I want her to be free to be herself without me shoving my concerns down her throat, literally.

How do i teach her to eat?

Simple Summer Salad

Janet here: One of the many wonders of summer is the variety of salad options. Sure, you can cobble together something more than lettuce and carrots in the winter, but it’s trickier and the options are more limiting. In the summer, though, the veggies are fresh and plentiful and eating a huge salad for dinner is more appealing than winter when you’re often craving something hot and gut-gripping to help you make it through another cold cold day. Salad is as light as a summer’s day itself.

Here’s a pasta salad I made recently for a crowd of relatives. I can’t wait to try it in the height of tomato season. What’s your go-to summer salad?

Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta Salad
serves 6-8

1/2 pound fusilli or some curly pasta
1 pound ripe tomatoes, medium diced
3/4 cup kalamata olives, pitted and diced
1 pound fresh mozzarella, cut into cubes
6 sun-dried tomatoes, drained and chopped into bite-size pieces

for the dressing
5 sun-dried tomatoes, drained
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon capers, drained
salt and pepper to taste

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup julienned fresh basil

Cook the pasta on the stove. Drain and set aside in a large bowl.

Cut up the olives, 6 sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella and add to the bowl when the pasta is cool.

To make the dressing, mix all the dressing ingredients in a food processor until well mixed. Add to the large bowl and mix well. Season to taste.

When ready to serve, add the Parmesan and basil.

Happy 1st Birthday, M.

Rachel here.

A year ago, John and I scheduled a dinner party for the evening of June 17th. Good and pregnant, I figured one last hoorah as non-parental types was in order. I also secretly thought it might inspire M to make an early appearance. It was hot and I was sick of my stomach sticking to my thighs when I sat, creaking as it detached itself when I stood.

Anyway, I went into labor on the morning of June 17th. We’d bought all the food for our little soiree, though, and so John spent the day distracting himself by preparing all of the food anyway. He made pesto chicken salad, ice cream and blueberry pie. After M was born on June 18th, we were itching to get home and eat all of this delicious food. Immediately we began planning the blueberry pie we’d make for her this year to celebrate her one year birthday.

The best laid plans never work, right? We had the camera and the video camera set up to capture that classic first birthday shot where the kid is positively covered in their treat. She was wearing nothing but a diaper. M wasn’t having it, though, not even a taste. More for her parents, we figure.

Fathers and Food

Rachel and I are going to share a post today, a little celebration/tip-off to our respective dads as we enter the weekend that honors fathers. I’ll kick it off.

If you added up the number of meals served in my house growing up, my mother certainly made most of them. But it is my father who most influenced my taste buds. My dad was a large man for most of his life. He was tall and big chested and he was also always at least somewhat over the ideal weight. The reason for that was simple: He loved to eat. And he loved to eat well.

This is a man who lived the Mad Men life of two-martini lunches at swank restaurants in New York, followed by card games in the bar car on the way home from New York to New Jersey, followed by a substantive dinner. On weekends, he loved nothing better than piling the whole family in the car and driving somewhere — one of his and my mother’s favorite restaurants was at least an hour’s drive from our home — for a full-on meal, complete with appetizers and dessert. It was during these regular forays that I learned how to sit still at the dinner table, which fork to use and the wonders of parfaits (a dessert I also loved because I felt quite smart being able to spell it).

On weekends when we didn’t eat out, my dad loved nothing better than cooking steak sandwiches on the grill, often with fresh vegetables from our garden. And at the holidays, he was the creator of many of our most special dishes. (His pies, as regular readers know, were out of this world.)

When my father became diabetic later in life (no surprise there, given his eating patterns and his family history), he still ate well, just differently. Okay, so he couldn’t eat the same kinds of desserts. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t have dessert; it just meant more fresh fruit and less sweetener.

My father, who died four days after my 32nd birthday and three days before Rachel’s third birthday, stands at my side now as I cook and as I eat. He reminds me, a woman who has struggled with loving her body and nurturing/nourishing it, to enjoy the food, savor the moment. My dad was a no-nonsense kind of guy, a man who grew up in an era when hugs were forms of intimacy left only for rare moments. But in his gusto for food — the sharing of it, the joy of eating it, the cooking of it for people he cared about — he showered me with love day in and day out.

Rachel here.

I planned out what I was going to write today in my head over the past day or so without any knowledge of what my mom was going to write. There are interesting parallels, I think, between the lessons she learned about food from her father and the lessons I learned from mine. Perhaps we observed them more because they weren’t usually the ones standing at the stove…

My dad is a measured man. An avid runner, he–like me–appreciates routine. Growing up, I watched him eat a bowl of cereal every morning for breakfast (ok, as a teenager I noticed the bowl upside down in the dishwasher…), washed down with a glass of juice. For lunch during the week he’d pack himself a half of a sandwich and two pieces of fruit each day (on weekends he dutifully consumed the leftovers in the fridge). Home from work, he’d pop open a can of peanuts and enjoy a few nibbles before sitting down and vocally enjoying the entirety of whatever meal my mom had prepared.

Here is what I learned:

I learned about moderation. I learned to invest in the good stuff so the indulgent food would not only taste luxurious but feel good, too. I learned about food as fuel, as stamina for the bodily machine. I learned about portions and balance. Without ever talking about it, my dad showed me how to eat. It is a model I have turned to often when I feel lost in the vast sphere of food. Make half a sandwich, grab two pieces of fruit. Your body will thank you.

There is something else, though, that I learned from my dad as I witnessed his eating patterns growing up. A blue and white speckled bowl held court in the middle of our kitchen table, brimming with fruit. My dad never picked the prettiest pieces out, though. Instead, he’d reach into the bottom and pull out the leopard-spotted banana or bruised apple–even a peach that was starting to mold in a spot–to eat. I always avoided those fruits, figuring a speck of rot was the same as a pile of mush, favoring the unmarred fruit and letting its mottled counterparts continue their deterioration. While there’s the sort of obvious lesson to eat the food that’s turning before you consume that which remains hearty, there is an undercurrent to this little tableau that courses through my dad’s character.

My dad is a man for the underdog, a shirker of the easy answer and a celebrator of the enigmatic and idiosyncratic. I asked him once about why he chose the fruit that was turning and he said that it tasted so, so sweet. From where he stood there was nothing wrong at all and, instead, he set his eyes and pallet on the marvelous and deep flavors that come from truly ripe fruit. While seeking and sustaining routine, he keeps his eyes open. From the middle of the road, he takes in the periphery, marveling at its unruliness and appreciating the balance of it all. He sees spectacular fungus formations on trees deep off the trail when we hike. He notices M’s tiniest flickers of observation as they flash across her face. And when the day is done, he sits down and appreciates this momentary arrival, enjoying his good dinner and the occasional ice cream cone, too.

If you had/have a dad, what did/do you learn from him about food? What are your favorite food memories?

Chickpeas With Chard and Pan-Roasted Tomatoes

Rachel here.

Summer has finally graced the west coast, sending the rain that nagged us through May packing. Fresh fruit and veggies abound and we’ve been gobbling down stir-fries and salads in our house, delighting at M’s appreciation for berries and bok choy and all sorts of other simple yumminess.

The shelves at the grocery store are overflowing with chard and the first local tomatoes have made an appearance.

Have I mentioned that I absolutely adore tomatoes? Because I do. I’ve been known to stand over the kitchen sink with a salt shaker in hand and tomato juice streaming down my chin, beaming. Tart and sweet and juicy…what more could you want?

Anyway, today I offer this simple recipe for Chickpeas With Chard and Pan-Roasted Tomatoes. I found it in an old copy of Real Simple magazine. It is, you know, a really simple recipe. And really delicious. And super nutritious to boot. I highly recommend you give it a whirl.

Food and Friends

Janet here: My friend, Susan, and I have had many adventures, including a memorable book club meeting in a snow storm involving a tree limb and a car caught in a snow drift, a story that I and the others involved have promised to bring up at Susan’s funeral, assuming one of us is left to tell the tale. Trust me; it’s a good one.

But one of the ways we have shared life together is through food: wonderful meals in each other’s homes, a fateful night involving a microwave and a can of beefaroni, and the unexpected meal dropped off in various times of duress. When Susan’s mother was in the hospital, I dropped off a dinner; when I was larger than any pregnant woman should ever be with our last child who was also two weeks overdue, ie I was insane (he came out 11 pounds, 3 ounces and 23.5 inches long, completely vindicating my bitchiness the entire last trimester), she stopped by with a wonderful crabmeat casserole; and most recently this past week, when she and her family were in the throes of the kind of stuff that happens to every family from time to time.

Providing an instant dinner for someone who is struggling is one of life’s great gifts. There is something so wonderful about coming home from wherever — hospital, funeral, fill-in-the-blank — and realizing all you have to do to put a meal on the table is heat up whatever wonderful thing arrived in your absence. Life may suck, but someone cared enough to make it suck just a teeny bit less.

I dropped off a casserole and cookies — who doesn’t feel better after a homemade cookie? — and this wonderful summer fruit bread pudding inspired by the Barefoot Contessa. Fresh fruit, sugar and bread — what could be easier?

Summer Fruit Bread Pudding

serves 8

1 pint strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 pints fresh raspberries
1 pint fresh blueberries
1 loaf brioche or egg bread or challah bread

Combine the strawberries, sugar and 1/4 cup water in a pot. Cook uncovered over medium low heat for 5 minutes. Add 2 cups of the raspberries and all the blueberries and cook, stirring occasionally, until simmering. Simmer for about one minute. Remove from heat and add the remaining raspberries.

Slice the bread into 1/2-inch thick slices. Remove the crust. In the bottom of a circular dish that is about 7 inches in diameter and about 3 inches high (or you could probably improvise in a square dish that’s about 8 inches square), ladle about 1/3 third of the berry mixture. Then arrange the slices of bread to fill out the square. Pour more berry mixture over this row. Add another row of bread. (You can cut the bread into whatever size to better have it fit the pan you’re using.) Add more berry mixture, the last row of bread and the rest of the berry mixture.

Place a sheet of plastic wrap over the top. Find a plate about the size of the dish. Place on top. Place a can on top to weight it down and refrigerate. Remove the weight after 6 to 8 hours. Keep covered in the fridge overnight.

Just before serving, run a knife around the edge of the pudding. Put a plate on top and turn the whole thing upside down so the pudding lands on the plate. Serve with homemade whipped cream.

Simple Sides

Rachel here.

As my mom mentioned on Monday, illness has descended upon our household. And despite our best efforts, over a week later we’re still kicking this uninvited visitor around. John was all ready to sit down and write a post for today (it is his Friday after all), but then I made puppy eyes and asked him to make dinner instead. So, I’m sitting in bed with a heap of tissues and he is off scrounging together leftovers from a most excellent visit we just had with family.

Oh man–mentioning a heap of tissues on a food blog is probably something you’re not supposed to do unless they accumulated from patting something fried down. Oh well. My nose, throat and brain are proverbially fried so…deal.

One of the things that I’ve really been enjoying about generating concoctions for M in the kitchen is that so many of these dishes are simple and make excellent sides for those of us with bigger appetites and more teeth than an almost one year old. It’s been a cool minute since I spent any time rethinking side dishes, usually whipping up something from a rotation of standards that are yummy but, you know, maybe appearing a little too often on our dinner plates. Anyway, in the past few weeks I’ve come up with two meals for M that are absolutely fabulous. They’re simple, interesting and healthy, too. Give ‘em a try and let us know what you think!

Apple-Ginger Carrots
ingredients (for 4)
1 large carrot
a knob of ginger
6-8 T. applesauce (homemade, right? right)
olive oil+salt

Halve carrot lengthwise and then slice. Put into pan over medium heat with a drizzle of olive oil (to prevent sticking) and a dash of salt (to help the carrot cook and to open up flavors). Thinly slice ginger and then mince (do this to taste…we can eat a lot of ginger in this family, but I know not everyone can so start with about a tablespoon and build from there) before adding to skillet. Once carrots have begun to soften (around 10 minutes), add applesauce by the heaping tablespoon, stirring well. If using store-bought applesauce, I’d suggest adding cinnamon to taste, too. Saute until carrots are cooked and serve.

Garlic-Parmesan Zucchini
ingredients (for 4)
1 medium zucchini
2 large coves of garlic
freshly shaved aged parmesan
olive oil+salt
fresh cracked pepper

Peel zucchini. Halve lengthwise and then slice. Place in pan over medium heat with a drizzle of olive oil and a dash of salt (wait–this sounds really familiar, right? See–I told you these were simple sides). Mince your garlic and add, sauteing until zucchini is cooked. Remove from pan and toss with fresh cracked pepper and parmesan to taste. Serve and watch everyone smile.


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