Summer ennui

For people without young children in the house, perhaps you don’t experience the change of seasons so viscerally. You go to your climate-controlled office, you come home, you go back to the office.  Things don’t change much from one month to the next.

Personally, I feel our American school calendar is for the birds. Nine months on, three months off–who needs THREE MONTHS off? Seriously, knock even one of those months off and spread the vacation days throughout the school year–or not–and we’d all be a little more balanced.

In our house we’ve all lost our momentum. The kids are bored and and snappish, and my routine is so out of whack that I haven’t planned a week’s meals in…three weeks? A month? I can’t take the anxiety of not knowing what we’re going to eat for dinner when five o’clock sneaks up on me. I can’t start some other project when I don’t even know what we’re having for dinner. Spontaneity is fine for other people, but apparently not for me.

All week I’ve been thinking about, and then avoiding, these eggplant meatballs. Saturday. We’ll make them Saturday. I finally plopped the eggplant in the oven to roast this afternoon, so we’ll be one step closer. Yesterday I didn’t know what to have for dinner, so I cooked a pot of rice (credit goes to Tamar Adler for that particular strategy). Then I got distracted by these corn cakes and decided to use up the four ears of corn in the fridge instead. With fried eggs and a handful of tomatoes from the garden, it did turn into a lovely meal (you should add a little more buttermilk to the batter, though).

I still wish I had planned it ahead of time.

Tonight we’ll be eating rice.

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Monday Menu & Recipe Review

This is the first year since my kids have been in school that Easter has coincided with Spring Break. The big kids went back to school today, but when I went to drop Little Five off at preschool, I discovered when we got there that there’s no school on Easter Monday. April Fools’ Day on me. Guess I should have looked at that calendar that was stuck to the back of the “W” worksheet in his folder. So I dragged a reluctant five-year-old to the store and bought groceries. Luckily, it was a short list because we have plenty of nice food left from our Easter feast. I’m back at my post on the couch with a cup off coffee, surrounded by empty plastic Easter eggs. The sun is streaming in, and I’m very glad about it, despite the inconvenient spotlight on the dust lurking under the piano.

We had a beautiful Easter. The bunny filled the baskets (contents procured in one fell swoop at Aldi: kites, water bottles, a little bit of chocolate, Peeps, egg-shaped gumballs in a tiny carton), and we made it to church only two minutes late for 7:30 mass. We even got our regular pew. Go early and avoid the crowds is our motto. Dinner was relaxed, and the weather was nice enough for an extended walk to the park before dessert. After our guests left, I played Forbidden Island with Miss Seven and Mr. Ten, which I confess I enjoyed very much. It’s a cooperative role playing game where you work together to gather the treasure and escape the island before it sinks. Near the end, Miss Seven was quivering with the tension of whether we would all survive or not. Little Five was in charge of sound effects every time a piece of the board fell into the abyss. We escaped to play another day, in case you were wondering.

So here’s the rundown of last week’s meals and what’s on the agenda for this week.

Last week

Monday: Crockpot Sesame Honey Chicken, (courtesy of Jen, my meal exchange buddy!), rice, broccoli

This was really tasty, and the kids ate it all up without a fuss. It would be good as a lettuce wrap, a taco filling or on buns like pulled pork, too.

Tuesday: Passover Seder with friends (I brought the charoset)

Toasted walnuts, a little brown sugar and a drizzle of honey made this the best charoset I’ve ever made. Double the recipe if you have more than four people.

Wednesday: Baked Pasta Shells with Chicken

I was going to make gnocchi, but didn’t start dinner in time. Instead, I improvised a baked pasta with some shredded roast chicken I had in the freezer, a quick homemade white sauce with wine and mushrooms, and some peas and parmesan. It was good.

Thursday: Baked Potato Bar with Sloppy Joe Sauce, salad, carrots and dip

Baked potatoes with self-serve toppings are popular with the kids. Instead of frying bacon, I pulled some sloppy joe sauce out of the freezer, which made the potatoes seem more like a meal. My family liked it on their potatoes, and Mr. Ten’s friend had his on a bun, with a potato on the side. To compensate for those who didn’t eat an adequate amount of salad, the next morning I stuffed their blueberry smoothies with a lot of spinach.

Friday: Black Bean Burgers, Smoky Red Pepper Spread, sweet potato oven fries, kale and radish salad (Smitten Kitchen Cookbook)

This meal felt both virtuous and very satisfying. It was colorful, and turned out to be a nice balance of flavors and textures. The burgers took some time, but I doubled the recipe to feed two families, and still had enough to freeze for a third meal. Next time I will keep a little of the bean liquid to make the burgers a bit more moist, but that’s my only complaint. They have great flavor. This recipe would work well as a freezer meal. Don’t skip the sauce: roasted red pepper (I used jarred) and feta in the food processor. (We thought it might make a good pasta sauce, too.) It was the third time we’ve made a version of that kale salad, and everyone we’ve served it to has asked for the recipe.

Saturday: We went out to dinner and the kids had pizza with the babysitter. That was good, too.

Sunday: Roast leg of lamb with garlic, rosemary and anchovies (from Jamie Oliver), Risotto with mushrooms,  green beans with almonds and mint, deviled eggs, Lemon-Drenched Lemon Cake with berries

The lamb was perfect, and we have plenty of meat for several more lamb meals in the coming weeks. The risotto was also just right; I’ve always followed this recipe, but it’s most successful when you’re not feeling rushed or distracted. I had a glass of Prosecco and friends to talk to while I stirred the rice, and nobody was rushed for dinner because we had plenty of deviled eggs to snack on. The green beans are my new favorite version. I had fairly mature, fat beans, so I added about 1/2 cup of water to the pan, covered it, and let them steam until crisp tender. After a hike to the park and some heavy work on the playground, followed by an Easter egg hunt in the yard, we all recovered our appetites to do the lemon pound cake with sliced strawberries (and a cappuccino) some real justice. I baked it in my flower shaped pans, but otherwise followed the recipe to the letter. I wouldn’t change a thing.

This week

Monday: Mexican Rice Casserole (swap from Jen), guacamole and chips

Tuesday: Chicken with Lemon, Cumin and Mint, farro, Greek salad (doubled, to swap with Jen)

Wednesday: Ali Baa-Baa Sandwiches, Greek salad

Thursday: Baked Potato Soup

Friday: Pasta and Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion

Monday Menu

This week marks the beginning of Lent, and in our house, that means being more deliberate about planning meatless meals. Is giving up meat really a sacrifice in this day and age? Not usually–and replacing it with fish often feels like more of a splurge for a seafood lover like me. But I view the tradition as an opportunity to be mindful about how we consume our food resources, as well as a weekly reminder of the season. The kids made Lenten promises in religious ed on Sunday, and I was pleased to hear that they didn’t give up candy or dessert. The eldest gave up Nintendo (a real sacrifice, I assure you), and the youngest promised to “help Dad take out the trash.” Miss Seven hasn’t divulged her promise yet–she’s still thinking about it. I’m still thinking about it, too.

In the meantime, I’ve planned two meatless meals this week, both quick and easy for busy weeknights.

Monday: Hamburgers and oven fries

Tuesday: Crockpot Chicken Cordon Bleu, rice pilaf with thyme, green beans

Wednesday: Pasta with tuna sauce, salad

Thursday: Brioche with Prosciutto, Gruyere and Egg (and some variation for the kids)

Friday: Black bean crispy tacos, guacamole, salad

 

Do you regularly plan meatless meals in your house?