BACK TO SCHOOL (FINALLY!)
Back to school, back to books, back to eating “real food” and dinners with the parental unit. (Why do I hear Rachel’s voice saying, “What?”)
When I did some quick math calculating how many meals she had eaten with us this summer vacation (excluding the days when the boyfriend wasn’t around), the number was pretty low. Because this had been the summer where Lynn and I didn’t travel (big sigh here), we were pretty much home every night which meant I was cooking every night. Rachel, however, was grabbing the occasional slice of pizza or going out for Chinese or sushi. Her idea of vacation? If it was summer, she wasn’t going to be joining us at the dinner table.
Truth be told, I missed her company at dinner and as I drove home from work that day, I decided I would make a big deal of her first day as a sophomore! (Why do I hear her saying, “Oh Mom!”)
Not to be too condescending but I had visions in my head of at least 75% of the other Moms and Dads in her grade bringing in a “prepared” dinner (cheating) picking up a pizza (bah humbug) or actually having something delivered (no comment). I wasn’t touting my own horn but yes, I did stop at the upscale supermarket on the way home from work to pick up food everyone would like with the thought that if Rachel decided NOT to join us that evening, Lynn and I could have a couple of really nice meals later in the week. (Note the use of the word “couple” in this sentence. )
I got home. Rachel looked at the shopping bags. She sighed. I thought that meant she was going out. On the contrary, “A home cooked meal?!” she said to me.
I reminded her I had been cooking all summer she just wasn’t there to enjoy it.
“Home cooked meal” in our house is probably a lot different than a home cooked meal in other homes. I’m not putting that down. Because both of my parents grew up in Indiana in the 1950’s and I spent many a summer there – the words “home cooked” to me conjure up images of mashed potatoes, chicken, overcooked steak smothered with thick white gravy and noodles. Since alcohol in this household was verboten, the entire meal would have to be washed down with copious amounts (gallons actually) of really sweet iced tea followed by pie for dessert.
I was a little taken back at her statement thinking maybe she wanted me to recreate a meal along those lines. Maybe it was first day jitters that made me realize she meant “my” home cooking. I hadn’t really thought about what to make and was just hoping that someone (besides me) would show up for dinner.
Well it wasn’t exactly like “Iron Chef” where they’re given a list of ingredients and have to make a meal that they think will clinch the prize (but pretty close.) After all, don’t they say the best gift a parent can give to their children is their company? How about the fact that my own family in fact does appreciate my sometimes sorry attempt to make a nightly meal which we can share together.
I have to briefly segue here only to say Lynn and I had dinner recently with our son Nick. We persuaded him to join us at a restaurant we had never tried during the last couple of days of restaurant week in New York City. I won’t mention the place, but the food was just OK. As Nick was eating and sighing, he extended to me the most amazing of comments.
“Mom, regardless of where we go out to eat, everything you make at home is just so much better.”
Since I don’t think of myself as a home cook worthy of that much praise and gratitude, I was truly flattered by his comments. (And this from the vegetarian, turned vegan, turned vegetarian.)
But back to dinner. Rachel had upped the ante for me (like she usually does.) She had been missing from the family dinner table in many weeks and wanted to make up for it. (Why don’t kids ever give you fair warning what’s coming down the pike?)
Ok, so I did somehow have an inkling that a fairly “big deal dinner” would be in order tonight. I had bought provisions so it was just a matter of coming up with a line-up of courses worthy of Rachel’s “first dinner back with the parents after working a sucky summer job.”
Without further ado, here’s the menu line-up:
The amuse bouche. Have any old bread in the fridge? Ok, so it kind of does have to be homemade or bakery-bought. Grill slices of bread in pan with olive oil and smear with leftover goat cheese. (I had made two loaves of bread two days before for a Labor Day party. Thought being to put leftover loaf in the fridge, slice and toast or grill as needed.)
1st course – Grilled rare tuna on a bed of mashed red potatoes plated with green beans from the garden and a dollop of Greek yogurt spiced up a notch with dill and lime. (Originally the thought had been to make a potato pancake or upscale fried potato but I was running out of time so sliced and boiled some red potatoes, quickly smashed them, added lots of salt, butter, milk and plated them. The tuna was “artistically” placed on the potatoes, string beans drizzled with some olive oil, lime squirted on the tuna, yogurt dolloped on the side.
2nd course – Slow cooked salmon (stealing the idea but eventually only the terminology of the plate from Jean-Georges Vongerichten) in that a piece of salmon was sautéed stove-top in a combination of vegetable broth and white wine then covered. Salmon was removed from the pan and to the remaining broth more wine, butter and water was added. Salmon was plated in shallow soup bowls with a generous helping of saffron flavored rice and the aforementioned broth was ladled on top.
Side dish – Besides the salmon, the “Mom” in me needed to put something green on the table so a quick spinach salad was prepared with fresh mushrooms, diced pancetta (less fat and calories and preservatives than bacon my friends) and tossed with a quick mustard vinaigrette.
Lynn and Rachel ate everything. (Note to self: why was I thinking there would be provisions for a couple of meals if Rachel had decided not to join us for dinner. As it was, there wasn’t even a smidgen of a leftover on anyone’s plate!) We talked, we ate and enjoyed each other’s company. I started to focus on the fact that they were liking this meal BUT I HAD NO DESSERT!
Usually at this point in the meal line-up, Rachel has eaten but the cell phone is ringing, blinking and rotating on the table beside her place setting. (I know other parents probably frown at this behavior but we don’t sweat the little stuff.) Since she’s very popular with her school mates, I usually don’t worry about even having dessert because she’s usually gone by the time we’re ready to eat it. Luckily, I had picked up some cheese and had some fruit. I was thinking they would be too full for anything else and as in many meals past, they would simply walk away from the table. WRONG. When I feebly mentioned I may be able to rustle up a “small cheese plate,” they were more than happy to wait for me to “rustle.”
3rd course – I had picked up a couple of baguettes at the supermarket, too, for the great sale price of $.99. The thick slab of French Boucheron I bought was under $4.00. Grapes were .99/lb; ditto for the peaches. Truth be told the Boucheron wasn’t quite ripe enough to eat but plated with some leftover Jarlsberg and the fruit, they lapped it up. As we each tore off pieces of the baguette, Rachel was already thinking of lunch tomorrow.
“Can I have turkey on the leftover baguette for school?” she asked.
I immediately saved a chunk of baguette for her so that she in fact would have lunch tomorrow and then watched as she and her father proceeded to eat all of the cheese and the fruit I had put out as the dessert for our three- course impromptu meal.
We reclaimed our daughter with this meal after a two month “vacation” and caught up with her very active 15-year old life and her first day of school. Now if I can only be inspired enough to think of new and exciting bag lunches — we’ll all get through the school year.