family dinner

Birthday Cake

by Caroline

future cake!

Flashback: April 30, 2002

We are the new parents of a fussy, fabulous eight-week old baby. Tony heads off to work, as usual, at 5 AM so that he can put in close to the minimum ten hours his start-up expects before coming home to take a crying baby off my hands.

I’ve spent the day with that crying baby in my hands, nursing and walking laps around the house, occasionally sitting down for a minute to email one-handed with my Stanford writing students, who are working on their final essays with me while I’m on “maternity leave.”

We order in take-out from the local Chinese place and I sit on the couch in a stupor, eating bites out of the carton and watching a rerun of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” while Tony, holding Ben in one hand (the classic colic “football hold”) and a fork in the other, circles from living room to dining room, swooping over my shoulder occasionally to grab a bite of dinner himself. During commercials, I mute the TV for a moment and Tony pauses and I wish him a happy birthday, drowned out by Ben’s wails. I have no recollection of whether I bought or made a cake (I must have, I think, but I really don’t know) but I definitely remember feigning optimism. “It won’t always be like this!”


We have two boys who, happily, don’t cry nearly as much, but they still have their various impacts on birthday dinner. Today, for example, Ben has a 5:30 baseball game at which Tony is coaching. Since it’s a school night, and because my parents will be arriving, jet lagged, from the east coast at 3 this afternoon, we can’t really hold dinner until after the game. So we’ll eat in stages: Ben before his game; Eli, my parents and I during; and Tony after. But we will all sit down together, after school and before baseball, for a piece of birthday cake. This cake, which is our all-time favorite birthday cake.

Happy birthday, Tony!

Just add bacon

by Lisa

The question usually goes something like this:

“What are we having for dinner?”

And the answer goes something like this:

a) “I don’t know yet.”

b) “Food.”

c) “(insert actual name of real dish I’m serving here)”

In other words: a) the lie, b) the evasion, c) the truth.

Option “C” ? It rarely goes well. Which would be one thing if the kids didn’t like to eat. But according to the laws of kid-dom, where they reside, they are obligated to pout and protest and suggest alternative meals…and then almost without exception sit down and eat without complaining. It drives me crazy.

However, I have found a stealth weapon and it is bacon. The other night when they asked the question, I was ready. “Pasta,” I said, then I paused, and added under my breath, “with bacon.” I waited for the backlash.

They cheered.

Technically, it was pancetta, but who’s keeping track? There was an egg involved, too, that I sort of left out of the description.  I did the evasion thing until the last moment when I poached it right there in front of them. I’m not such an expert at the poaching, but the kids love a runny yolk, and they found the process weird and satisfying.

As I was cooking, the two of them admitted that I could add bacon to anything and they would be happy. Really? I asked. “So if I say we’re having pasta?”


“Pasta with bacon?”




“Fish wrapped in bacon?”




“Tofu and bacon?”



“And bacon!”

“So I can add bacon to anything and you won’t complain?”

“Nope. I mean yup. Bacon!”

Pasta with Bacon and Eggs AKA Pasta with Pancetta, Parmesan, and Poached Egg

Serves 4

  • 3/4 pound small shell pasta
  • 4 slices pancetta, cut into small dice, or more, if my daughter is coming to your house
  • about 3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan romano
  • Several large handfuls of pea greens or spinach
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 tablespoons white vinegar
  • olive oil
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta. Bring a smaller pot to boil for the eggs.
  2. While water is coming to a boil, sautee the pea greens &/or spinach in a large pan until tender. Separate into four bowls.
  3. In the same pan, sautee the pancetta in a few tablespoons of olive oil until crisp. Turn off heat and set aside.
  4. Refuse to stuff each individual shell with a piece of bacon/pancetta, per your daughter’s request.
  5. When small pot is boiling, turn it down to a low simmer. Crack each egg carefully into a ramekin or small bowl so it’s ready to poach.
  6. When the large pot boils, cook the pasta. When about 4 minutes are left to go on the pasta, make sure the water for the eggs is simmering, then pour in vinegar, turn off heat, give the water a swirl to make a whirlpool,and  one by one, carefully slip the eggs into the poaching liquid.
  7. Let the eggs sit and cook in the water for 3-4 minutes while you drain the pasta, then add the pasta to the pan with the pancetta.
  8. Add the cheese to the pasta and pancetta and toss to coat.
  9. Portion the pasta into 4 bowls, layering it over the greens.
  10. When the eggs are done, remove one by one with a slotted spoon, drain for a minute, and place them carefully on top of the pasta.

Pasta with Lemon Cream Sauce

By Lisa

Half citrus pasta, half fettucine alfredo, this recipe is a delicious mash up.  Inspired by the bright, cool spring we’re having–sunny days cut through with crisp wind–a pound of fresh lemon pepper pasta, a carton of heavy cream, two older recipes (here and here), and the bag and bags of lemons we continue to harvest.

It’s everything the paradox of a spring evening wants:  fresh, vibrant flavor, and a warm, rich cream to take the edge off the chill.  For a few minutes, we gathered around the counter, slurping noodles in silence, soothed and energized all at once.   Sometimes, there’s balance.

Lemon Pepper Pasta with Parmesan Lemon Cream Sauce

  • 1 lb fresh lemon pepper pasta, or fresh fettucine
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • zest of one eureka (or meyer) lemon
  • 3/4 cup grated parmesan or grana padano
  1. While waiting for pasta water to boil, pour cream into a large, heavy bottomed skillet.
  2. Zest the lemon into the cream, add butter and heat slowly until butter melts and cream thickens slightly. Turn off heat and let rest.
  3. When pasta is done, drain and add it to the lemon cream along with the parmesan.
  4. Over medium-low heat, toss the pasta in the cream for about a minute to mix thoroughly and let pasta absorb the sauce. Serve immediately with additional parmesan, if desired.

On & Off Dinner

by Lisa

There are times in the family when I feel like the caterer. Then there are the times when I really am the caterer. Like last weekend, when most of our family living space was taken over by leprechaun-trap builders.  This the fifth year of trap building and it’s, well, escalated over the years. This year, the kids begain to plan in Februry, and the real construction madness took place over the final weekend on our kitchen table, picnic table, kitchen floor, breakfast counter, car port.  Activities included, but were not limited to:  foam board cutting; non-stop hot glue-ing; measuring & planning on the kitchen table; painting on the kitchen floor; dremmeling in the car port; tinker-toy pulley making; Lego stair building; trap-door cutting; paper-mache-ing.

Which meant dinner was impossible when things looked like this.

The only choice I had was to clear a small section of counter for a baked ziti, which the kids call “pizza pasta”, some spinach, flat bread, and a bottle of wine. They ate when and where they liked. Ella called it the “on and off dinner” and has been begging for it ever since. I have not obliged.

Eventually A few days later, things were cleaned up.

Baked Ziti

  • 1 lb ziti
  • 1 container ricotta cheese (15 oz)
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 8 oz grated fresh mozzarella cheese, plus more for slicing
  • 1/4 cup fresh grated parmesan
  • salt and pepper
  • optional: dried oregano, dash nutmeg
  • 4-6 cups of your favorite red sauce, with or without meat
  1. Cook ziti in boiling water about 1 minute less than recommended cooking time, so it is al dente.
  2. While ziti is cooking, mix ricotta, egg, mozzarella in a large bowl, season with salt and pepper, & oregano and nutmeg if using.
  3. Drain ziti and mix thougoughly with cheeses.
  4. Mix about 2 cups of sauce with cheese and ziti. Add more to taste or if pasta seems dry.
  5. Cover casserole with a few slices of mozzarella and the parmensan.
  6. Bake in oven until cheese is bubbling and casserole is warmed through. The time (15-30 minutes) will depend on the temperature of casserole. If it’s at room temperature, it will take longer.
  7. Serve piping hot with extra sauce and cheese.

He Jumps

By Lisa

Finn does not sit still. Not much.  Unless there is a pile of Lego in front of him, or a build-your-own remote control robot arm, or a book of 888 1/2 facts about the Titanic. Then, he is immoveable. But other times? He jumps, he squirms, he dances, he rolls, he hops. He runs, skates, and twirls. He giggles and climbs. He falls. He is all energy, all the time. He is my exuberant one, buoying the spirits of the house.

In his honor: Chicken Saltimbocca. It means jumps in your mouth. It jumped in his mouth.  He sat still. He ate.

Chicken Saltimbocca

  • 4 chicken cutlets, pounded very thin
  • 4 slices prosciutto
  • 4 sage leaves
  • Butter for frying
  1. Pound each chicken cutlet until it is very flat and thin.
  2. Cover each cutlet with one slice of prosciutto and one sage leaf. Fasten meat and sage to cutlet with a tootpick.
  3. In a heavy frying pan, melt 2-3 tables spoons of butter.
  4. When foaming subsides, cook chicken, prosciutto side down, until chicken is mostly cooked through and lightly browned. About 3 minutes.
  5. Turn chicken over and finish cooking. 1-2 minutes.
  6. Remove from pan and place on warm platter.
  7. Deglaze pan with wine and reduce by about half. Pour deglazing sauce over chicken & serve immediately.