Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What I Brought: August 30, 2010

Roast chicken and vegetables.

It's pretty common practice, when a friend has a new baby, to bring over a meal to help out.  What about when a friend has two new babies?  What if they're not babies, exactly, but regular preschoolers with preferences and demands and attention-spans and large reserves of energy?  What if those preschoolers are fluent in a language that isn't English?  What then?

Well, I mean, I don't know.  But my friend has additions to her family, so the boys and I trundled over there yesterday with a roast chicken dinner in an aluminum pan for them.  (It's the easiest thing.  If you're making one chicken dinner, it's almost no extra effort to make two.  Much easier than a casserole, in my opinion.)

Those kids are adorable.  My boys were very into them.  Josh and Alex were quite concerned about the no-English thing, so they decided to do their part--they spent most of the visit pointing to various things and naming them.  Josh focused on the more utilitarian:  "This is a book!  Can you say 'cupcake'?  'Dog'?  'Bathroom'?"  Alex tried a didactic approach:  "Here is a dinosaur.  They are extinct.  That means there aren't any alive anymore, so you don't have to worry about them."  Actually, now that I think about it, Eli's method might have been the most effective:  He grabbed all their toys, one by one, and yelled, "That's my [goat, tractor, stroller, purse]!!!" 

To me, despite the obvious differences, it seems shockingly similar to bringing home a newborn.  Whenever we brought home a new baby it was always completely disorienting, almost like living in someone else's house.  (When we brought Josh home, because he was our firstborn, it was like living in someone else's house where you had agreed to take care of their pet giraffe--which is to say, I spent a lot of time secretly wondering if I hadn't ruined my life by taking on this huge and bizarre commitment.)  It took a couple of months (or, in Josh's case, like six) until the new baby became part of the routine, fitting into the landscape of the home.  And then, of course, we couldn't even imagine living without them.

So a chicken dinner and an hour of entertaining mayhem with the boys seems like a pretty small contribution,  but I'm willing to do what I can.  At least I know of some people who will provide free English lessons of questionable method and effectiveness.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

What My Mom Made for Dinner: August 28, 2010

Spaghetti and meatballs.

Someone at our house had a big birthday.

Birthday boy picks the menu (which is why my mom, pictured above with Josh, made dinner--he loves his grandma).  I made the cake.  He picked one out of this month's Bon Appetit magazine, Christina Tosi's chocolate-malt cake.  The recipe is a little bit elaborate, requiring several steps, and I was intimidated at first.  But when I read the part about the chocolate-malt crumbs, I realized the recipe was suggesting making your own Whoppers.


Instead, I used Whoppers someone else had already made--quite well, as it turns out--and crushed them in the food processor.  Everything else was easy.

Happy birthday, kiddo.  You're pretty impressive so far.  I hope the next ten years go as smoothly as the last ten.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What I Made for Dinner: August 24, 2010

Frozen ravioli with brown butter-lemon sauce.

This dinner is a good one when you have only fifteen minutes to make it between getting home from work and everyone rushing out of the house to go to a Cub Scout meeting. 

(By the way, I read a magazine article a while back where the writer or interviewee or someone advised that the first thing to do when you come home from work is put a pot of water on to boil.  It turns out, that is excellent advice.)

While the ravioli boils, melt a stick of butter over medium-high heat and let it cook until the foam subsides and it starts to smell nutty.  Take it off the heat and add the juice of one lemon, salt, and pepper.  I think it would be good to add some fresh thyme alone with the lemon juice, too, but I didn't try it this time.  Drain the ravioli and toss it with the butter sauce. 

What I Made for Dinner: August 22, 2010

Tomato-herb bruschetta; crab cakes; spaghetti with basil pesto; blueberry cake.

So amid all the late-August transition insanity, we planned for ourselves one peaceful oasis:  Dinner with Allison and Mark.  They brought the wine, I made the food.  And even though we were at our house--a house full of children who continue to demand food, attention, a bath, stories before bed even though Mommy and Daddy are Entertaining, isn't that ridiculous--it was just a delightful evening, fun and happy, the perfect antidote to this stupid time of year.

Of course I forgot to take pictures. 

What I've Been Making for Dinner: August 17-21, 2010

Oh, things.  You know how it goes.

Actually, I've been making dinner.  A couple of taco nights here and there; some breakfast-for-dinner; there was teriyaki salmon in there someplace.  I'm not that excited about my dinners because other things have intervened. What's been on my mind:

  • Alex had kind of a rough start to school.  I think things are adjusted now, at least to where he's okay with them, but it took an enormous amount of drama and emotional energy to get there.
  • I've started back to work after a long and relaxing summer break.  Working all day is hardWaah.
  • The kiddos' fall schedules may kill me.  I am trying hard not to freak out about the family being over-scheduled.  
  • The transition back to the school-work schedule, combined with the impending start of preschool, has Eli all discombobulated.  The potty training suffers accordingly.
  • I could use a better rice cooker. 
One bright spot has been Alex hitting a growth spurt that has made him hungrier than I've ever seen him his whole life.  One night last week--a breakfast-for-dinner night--he ate a full plate of bacon omelette and zucchini hash browns and fruit salad, and then an hour later asked if I would make him a peanut butter sandwich.  And some milk.  And maybe the rest of the fruit salad.  He's so hungry that he's forgotten to be picky:  Note that he actually ate the zucchini hash browns. 

So that's kind of cool.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

What I Made for Dinner: August 15, 2010

Zucchini "latkes."

It is zucchini time here at chez Dinnertime.  Last night I made traditional sweet zucchini bread with chocolate chips and dried cranberries.  I also made Joy of Cooking's savory zucchini-cheddar bread, which was pretty good with a fried egg on top for lunch today.  Then tonight, latkes made with shredded zukes in place of most of the potatoes (I put in some shredded potato for texture).  All hail the humble zucchini!

In other news, school starts tomorrow.  There will be tears (mine).

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What I Made for Dinner: August 9, 2010

Poached salmon, pasta con broccoli.

The fish I ate in Alaska was the best fish I've ever had.  Having grown up in the Great Plains, I'm not a huge fish aficionado, but I know good stuff when I get it.  (And I've eaten some good stuff, by the way:  clams and lobster in New England, red snapper in Bali, blue crab in Maryland, seafood paella in Barcelona.  I used get around a little before I had kids.)

But this Alaska fish!  First off, we went hiking in Tongass national forest
Sitka spruce, hemlock, guide
 and the guides had a cook camp where they made this delicious clam chowder over a fire. 
The secret was a load of dill and the smoke from the fire.  Yummmm.  They also served smoked salmon, which was great.  Firm, smoky and salty but not overpoweringly so, and not remotely fishy.

Then we went to the Crab Cracker Seafood Bar, where I ate grilled-halibut tacos.  Simple, right?  But the fish tasted so fresh, clean and delicate.  The Crab Cracker was also where Alex discovered his deep affinity for fish and chips.

In Juneau, Jenna had scouted for us a restaurant called Hangar on the Wharf.  It had a fun pub-and-grill atmosphere with a pretty view, where the kids could watch seaplanes come and go.  I got a macadamia-crusted halibut filet.  It was delicious, but even more remarkable was the beer,
Kodiak Brown Ale from Midnight Sun Brewery in Anchorage.

Our last land meal in Alaska was at the Skagway Brewing Company.  The salmon sandwich there is seriously one of the best pieces of fish I've ever tried, and I don't think it was just because I'd had a couple pints of Spruce Tip pale ale (no picture, of course).

All of this is to say, I miss the fish.  Can't get the fresh stuff here on the prairie.  But you can go to Costco and buy a nice big bag of frozen wild Alaskan sockeye salmon.  It defrosts into beautifully pink fillets that you can poach according to this recipe, and then while you eat you can consider the privilege you had, just a few days ago, to see a river so full of salmon that you probably could have reached in with your bare hands and pulled out a couple.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

What I Made for Dinner: August 8, 2010

Chicken and black bean enchiladas.

It's post-cruise clean living Day No. 2, and I found this recipe for veggie-rich enchiladas.  But I don't want to write about them.

I want to write about United Airlines.  Two days later, I am still appalled at the way every United Airlines employee we encountered treated us as we flew out of Seattle.  I have to say:  Our luggage made it home, our flights were on time.  But just because an experience could have been worse doesn't mean it was good.

I've thought about how to respond.  What do you do, when you've been on the receiving end of awful customer service?  Usually, I do nothing.  I don't write letters or whatever; I just move on, having more important things to think about.  For some reason, though, Friday keeps bugging me.  Maybe it's because United Airlines' crappiness will now forever be a part of my family's story of our fabulous trip to Alaska, and boy do I resent that.  Maybe it's because they made my kids' lives just a little bit worse on Friday.  Who knows.

Anyway, when we were Juneau we met up with my dear friend Jenna, who happened to be there at the same time.  Jenna co-writes one of my favorite blogs, the Haiku Diaries.  She and her co-author explore haiku to its fullest possibility as a succinct, disciplined approach to describing events in their lives.  And I was inspired.  Boy, was I.  The following is going to United's corporate headquarters.

A Haiku Series for United Airlines by a Passenger on Flight 742 from Seattle to Denver on August 6, 2010

Dear Marlys Z., you
Are the Service Director
at Sea-Tac Airport

Marlys, you were so
Mean to a soldier with her
Makeup smeared from tears

Marlys, you could not
Remember what time it was
Although we told you

You insisted she
Was too late to check her bags
Which was just not true

You laughed and laughed as
Though your idiocy or
Her plight were funny

I said, "the lesson
Is never fly United"
To comfort the girl

Marlys Z., you turned
And walked away, snarking
"See if I help you"

Marlys, you did not
Help us even though we stood
in your line for hours

Half of your kiosks
Stood idle on a Friday,
While hundreds waited.

Friday is Cruise Day
You seem to be an awful
Service Director.

The gate agent was
Mean too; she would not allow
pre-boarding with kids

The flight attendant
Shouted her way down the aisle
While our young son slept

I begged her to shh
"If he wakes up, we'll all suffer"
She just sneered at me

"I have to sell my
items," she snarled at me like
sleep was strange to her

(Maybe she hates kids
Maybe she hates parents, or
Maybe she hates sleep)

She managed not to
Wake him up, poor three-year-old
Stuck on her airline

Still, the worst one was
Marlys Z, back at Sea-Tac,
Hating passengers.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

What I Made for Dinner: August 7, 2010

Pasta and meatballs with fresh summer tomato sauce.

First of all, the explanation of the preceding post:  I was taking a break.  Get it?

It's a yolk.


So, what were we doing the past few days?  Why wasn't I cooking?

We were here:

And here:
We cruised to Southeast Alaska.  And while we were there, we ate well.  Everyone has heard the stories:  The all-day buffet, the snacks served on deck, the constantly-replenished drink, the five-star dining.  It was more or less true.

On the ship, they served baked Alaska.

(I'm not the only one who can crack yolks.)

Chuck and I took a tour of the massive galleys and admired the scope of the food-prep operation.

Those baskets?  Also made from bread.

And, of course, we chowed down on the buffet.
All buffet, all the time.  Alex's vacation began the minute he realized he could get whatever he wanted, all on his own.  The food on the ship was pretty dang tasty.  (The food off the ship was terrific.  More on that another time.)

Of course, that means now that we're home, we must take some careful measures to ensure that our pants will continue to fit.  To that end, this dinner was very moderate:  small, low-fat meatballs and fresh summer tomato sauce made with tomatoes and basil from the garden, which did just fine while we were gone thanks to some help from the neighbor kids.

This was just a spectacular vacation and I would encourage anyone to visit Alaska because the things you see there you just can't see anywhere else, and it's amazing and gorgeous. 

(The only downside was our trip home on United "Total Bastard" Airlines out of Sea-Tac "Ninth Circle of Hell" "Airport."  I would encourage anyone to avoid both no matter what.  Maybe next time we'll go through Vancouver or something.  On some other airline.)