family dinner

Polenta with Decadent Mushrooms


Remember when I wrote last week about being so inspired by recipes in magazines? It happened again, all because of the glorious picture I’ve posted above. The recipe, once you look at it closely, is nothing fancy or complicated at all. Polenta, made a little richer with milk rather than all water. Mushrooms, both fresh and dried, sautéed with an extra hit of butter, soy sauce, and cream — just a tablespoon of each, but that makes all the difference between a meager sauté and something a bit more special to cook for your family.

Unless, of course, your family includes people who cry at the sight of sautéed mushrooms, don’t like anything mushy, and shy away from salt.

My first step was biding my time, waiting until the mushroom-loathing eight-year-old was out (at a basketball game with his dad and grandfather, who would have loved the dinner, but tough; I had a recipe to try and I was getting impatient). Step two was selling the no-mush twelve-year-old on the idea of broadening his palate to consider new textures, not just the new flavors I am usually peddling. As for the salt, to which my mother is acutely sensitive; well, I hoped the single tablespoon of soy sauce wouldn’t be too much, but it concentrates so much as it cooks down, I needed to thin the sauce with extra mushroom-soaking water. It’s a little less decadent that way, but she liked it. The twelve-year-old liked it. And I, sitting at the table with them, talking and eating, I didn’t really care what it tasted like…but I liked it, too.

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Angry Tofu

Food is love, they say and I do believe. I aspire to family meals prepared and shared with love.

But sometimes family meals take a rougher road to the table. Sometimes the cooking is a hasty chop-heat-stir-and-serve, and sometimes it’s even worse, a pot-crashing, ingredient-flinging, plate-slamming scene.

So it was the other night. There was a question about homework, and my answer didn’t satisfy. I tried again, and my — clearly tired, hungry — child moved suddenly from confused to frustrated. He started to cry. I tried again to help and he raised his voice, wanting my help still but disagreeing with what I was offering. I walked away. He followed me into the room, whimpering, the sound grating on me, emphasizing my failure to help–with homework, with disappointment, with anything.

I tried to ignore him to cook, and I’m lucky I didn’t lose a finger, I was so reckless about it. I knew he wouldn’t like the dish — Food 52’s black bean orange peel edamame — and felt small that I was taking some pleasure in that. I wiped out the pan before cooking the tofu, but didn’t wash it thoroughly, and figured the garlicky-orange tang on the tofu would bother him, too. By then, I had calmed down enough to feel a little bad about that, but still not enough to go to any extra effort.

We sat down for dinner quietly and served some food. The half of the family witnessing the storm made an extra effort to praise the meal, and he took a cautious bite. “This tastes different, “ he said, and I braced myself for some complaint; “I like it.”

And I exhaled, and took a bite, and we moved on with the evening.

The Salad that Saved Family Dinner

There was this one night we had dinner together, when we all found our way into the kitchen from our separate places–one from soccer, one from swimming, one from work–all at the same time.

That night, together, we were more than the sum of our parts.

A husband, a wife, a daughter, a son. Usually, on weeknights, we spin in our separate orbits, with our own interests, desires, events, activities, chores, work, projects, needs.  But that night, the spinning stopped, and we focused on each other when we weren’t expecting to and the result was pure joy. Which is, of course, why people make such a fuss about family dinner. Because it can be a gorgeous, grounding thing. Sure, it can be hard and hair-raising. But it is a thing worth fighting for. A thing worth preserving when you can. A thing that can be composed, a thing that can bring composure.

Eating Red and Gold


It’s not every year that two of the local teams play for the championship, and although we’re really more of a baseball and basketball family, it’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement about the Forty-Niners.

Naturally, I’m all about the food, and that leads to two questions: How can our meal support our team? And, having read about Lisa’s Super Bowl plans, how, I wonder, can this happen without me spending game day in the kitchen?

I asked the family what we should eat for a Red and Gold Superbowl Dinner.

“Chips and salsa!” suggested Eli.

“Lemon meringue pie with raspberry sauce,” said Ben.

Tony says he’s going to Gordo’s for a burrito — a Super, naturally, for the Super Bowl. And so it’s set: the kids and I can make the pie Saturday night, and then Sunday all we have to do is open the chips and salsa and take a half-time walk to the taqueria.

Go Niners!

Holidays. Family. Food.

I always used to think of my family of four as kind of the difficult eaters among my broader family of thirteen. We’re the vegetarians, and my kids have been picky. But as we all– my three siblings, two siblings-in-law, niece and nephew– prepared to gather at my parents’ home this Christmas, I realized there were more dietary issues to take into account than in the past. Meal planning everywhere these days involves an increasing number of allergies, food sensitivities, and food preferences, and my family is no different. Among the thirteen of us, we currently have two on low-salt diets, four managing chronic illnesses with dietary adjustments, one vegan, five vegetarians, one on an elimination diet and one more still in the midst of figuring out what foods are causing new sensitivities.