Making dinner happen

Monday through Thursday,  we enact a carefully choreographed dance, working together to make and eat dinner, put The Dude to bed, and get ready to do it all again the next day.  Here’s how it goes (exact timing varies slightly):

5:00  Matthew takes the lead on dinner, starting prep as soon as he gets home from work. At a minimum, we discuss dinner plans during the day, but we’re trying to sit down on Sunday and sketch out a rough meal plan for the week.  Some sort of plan helps things run much more smoothly than the arrive home from work, hungry and tired, and stare in the fridge asking “What’s for dinner?” approach.

6:10  Gabriel and I arrive, and Matthew spends a few minutes with him (mostly involving a potty opportunity and a nice, thick diaper).  I change, hang up my clothes, use the bathroom, and grab a drink of water.

6:20  The Dude and I snuggle up on the couch, and he  eats his dinner/bedtime snack.  Meanwhile, Matthew continues working on dinner.

Assembling a new lasagna

6:40  Once Gabriel finishes eating, we head to the bedroom.  We sing his bedtime lullaby, and I lay him down for the night.  On good nights he goes down without a peep, on so-so nights, 5-10 minutes of crying, during which I agonize over all the things that I may have done wrong in the bedtime routine while anxiously awaiting the quiet.

6:45  I return to the kitchen and jump in where needed to get dinner on the table ASAP.  Most nights this happens between 7:00 and 7:30, but some nights we’re pushing 8:00, which would just be quaint and European, except we’re trying to go to bed by 9:30, which doesn’t leave much time to digest, not to mention taking care of the after dinner stuff.

7:15  Light candles, set table, and sit down to dinner.*  If we’re lucky, we’re not too tired to enjoy the delicious food in front of us.

7:50  Pack lunches for next day (usually leftovers from the previous night’s meal), complete some minimal kitchen cleanup (I’m trying to improve on this, but things tend to pile up until the weekend), and put away dinner leftovers.

This concludes the “dinner” portion of the night.  In the remaining time, we grab a few minutes relaxing on the couch with books, use our neti pots, and have a bit of dessert (if we’re hungry having just finished dinner).**  I like to have things all wrapped up, including brushing, flossing, and last call in the bathroom by 9:00 if possible, leaving a few more minutes to read in bed before lights out.

*The fact that Gabriel is not at the table with us for dinner really bugs me, because family meals are important for establishing good eating habits.  Unfortunately, given my current work schedule and his current bedtime (which may sound incredibly early, but really seems to work for him), our options are limited.
**Some nights we also engage in fun extracurricular activities during this time, like hanging the diapers 😉

Butter with a side of vegetables

If you’re looking for decadent vegetarian comfort food, The Barefoot Contessa’s “Vegetable Pot Pie” is your dish.  While the vegetables make this somewhat healthy, don’t be fooled, it has TONS of butter.  (I’ve concluded that if a recipe doesn’t have at least a pound of butter, it’s not a Barefoot Contessa recipe.)

In our most recent rendition, we made this with vegetables almost entirely from our garden: butternut squash, carrots, onions, potatoes, green beans (subbed for the asparagus), and parsley.  The only non-garden veggies were the fennel (which we tried to grow) and the “small frozen onions” which I really don’t like that much anyway and may just omit next time.

My pastry chef makes the pie crust with 100% whole wheat pastry flour — healthy and so much tastier and more interesting than plain old white flour!

A few notes:

  • We skip the Pernod (an anise flavored liquor).
  • Don’t skip the saffron!!!  It’s pricey, but a little goes a long way — it’s important to the flavor here.
  • To make it vegetarian, we use veggie broth or stock instead of chicken stock.
  • We tend to be generous with the amount of vegetables.
  • To make it healthier, eat a small serving of the pot pie with some lighter side dishes to round out the meal.  I served this with a tomato salad last week.

Taking sides

I was unaware of the strict separation on my plate until I looked at this photo.

On the left: Green beans and Chinese red noodle beans (see this post for the beans before I snapped them into bite-sized pieces — 12 inches long!), steamed for 5-7 minutes, then tossed with seasoned rice vinegar and a touch of sesame oil.

On the right: Sauteed bell peppers (red, orange, and green), onions, corn, and edamame* with grilled summer squash served over brown rice.

*I’ve tried to grow edamame twice now, with little success, but my father-in-law shared some of his beautiful crop.  We steamed a big batch in the pods, then ate some straight out of the pod and shelled the rest for this dish.

Summer eats and treats

I kicked off the weekend with a strawberry banana smoothie, made with frozen local berries, homemade yogurt from local milk, and The Last Banana, recovered from the depths of the freezer, served in a green glass.

Delicacy or discard?  That funky looking growth is huitlacoche, a fungus that grows on corn (known in the U.S. as “corn smut”).  It’s edible, and in Mexico, it fetches a high price, much higher than the corn itself.  Matthew handled the prep work.  I avoided touching it until he cooked it.  (If he’d been feeling ornery, he could have chased me around the apartment, threatening to touch me with it.)  Once cooked, it looked and tasted much like any other cooked fungus (i.e., mushroom).  Click here to read more details, including potential health benefits.

At my urging, Matthew bought a tomato at the farmers’ market.  (He liked the idea of our first tomato of the season being from our garden, but we’re not quite there yet — soon!)  Dressed up with basil (courtesy of our neighbors’ plant — hope they won’t mind 😉 ), olive oil, and s&p.  Yum!

Partial results of another oven extravaganza: zucchini bread and chocolate chip pumpkin bread.  I have not purchased bananas for a year-and-a-half, due to their large carbon footprint (which gives you a sense of the age of the banana that went into the aforementioned smoothie).  As predicted, these two quick breads make great alternatives to banana bread.

Sneak peak of “Summer eats and treats — Part II” coming tomorrow: homemade pizza and ice cream sandwiches!

Just dip it

A little elf  prepared this meal — I found it ready and waiting when I got home from work one evening last week.  I took a few bites, and, though it was quite good, knew my meal needed more veggies.  I sliced up zucchini “chips” and chopped some broccoli as an additional dipper.  Much better.

Start with a layer of refried beans, top with chopped tomatoes, corn, [spicy] cheese, salsa, and green onions (the last three ingredients were local).  Compared to our normal meals, this one involved a good bit of “prepared” food: canned refried beans, canned tomatoes, frozen corn, and tortilla chips.

Try one or more of these options for a  fresh, locavore version: homemade refried beans made from locally grown black beans, chopped garden tomatoes, and/or local corn off-the-cob.  If you really want to get crazy, you could make your own tortilla chips.  Or eliminate the chips altogether and stick with fresh veggie dippers.

This not-quite-seven-layer dip, with the veggie addition, makes an ideal quick, tasty, healthy meal.