family dinner

42 Meals: A Vacation Odyssey, The Overview

By Lisa

We’ve just returned from our annual family vacation, which this year involved a long an epic road trip from the Bay Area to San Diego, one of the most southern parts of our state.  Our initial destination was ComicCon in San Diego, which was a blast & included a preview of the upcoming Phineas and Ferb Movie,which is terrfic, if you like that sort of thing, which we do.  But the trip quickly morphed into a week at the Coronado beach, a 3-day visit at Disneyland, an excursion to Hearst Castle, and something Caroline came to call Mission-polooza: a visit to every California mission between our home and our destination.  I will not be writing about that part of the trip here.  (You can check my personal blog for follow-up and fallout on that score.)  But what is of interest to LTE readers is that for the first time ever, we stayed in hotels for the duration of our trip, which was a new experience for us.

For me, this meant a lot things: no cleaning, no sweeping, no making beds, no tidying up at the end of the day. Of course it also meant no marketing and no cooking. No farmers market. No prep. No meal planning.  Honestly, it was a terrific break, but I was nervous about many meal-related things including:

  • Cost
  • Getting the kids ready and out of the hotel for dinner.  Every night.
  • Table manners
  • Stamina–the day in, day out energy it takes to dine in restaurants
  • Finding enough variety in the food to keep us feeling energetic and healthy
  • Theme park food

We were right to worry about some of these things. Variety, for instance: we eat so much seasonal produce that by the end Finn was picking the cucumbers out of his dad’s water in search of fresh vegetables. And I may never again eat another Caesar salad, because at many of the theme parks we visited, this is the closest thing you can get to fresh vegetables.  I also discovered that left to their own devices and an unstoppable tidal wave of kids’ menus, even my accommodating and not-picky eaters will choose chicken tenders or pizza or burgers.  My daughter, who never ate a chicken finger in her life ordered these twice in our last three days.  It’s true she got the side of fruit salad, too, but it just goes to show the deeply subconscious appeal of the kids’ menu–even for a kid who doesn’t really eat like a kid.  And finally, it is costly to eat out all the time, so we were right to budget high for this part of our vacation.

But other things proved not to be problems. In retrospect, it’s not that surprising. In some sense, we’ve been training our kids from the time they were toddlers to eat out in restaurants, so the stamina, the manners, the getting ready, all these things were taken in stride. It surprised us. We stuck to our tried and true rules, and they worked for us through many different kinds of meals: in a car, at a pool, at a taqueria, in a fancy restaurant, in a lodge….Frankly, it was an enormous relief because in the weeks leading up to the trip we were not at all sure that the kids would make it through every meal without incident.  But they did, and at the last meal, a lovely little place in Carmel, we celebrated and we toasted them. While they ate pizza and a burger.

Up next: managing breakfast on the road.

Tahoe Salmon Tacos

by Lisa

My contribution to dinner in the mountains was a twist on one of our family favorites: grilled salmon tacos. It was inspired by bags of fresh chips and fresh corn tortillas that were in the cabin, a pile of limes, and a bag of shredded cabbage. We had sour cream, and plenty of mayonnaise and cumin for the baja sauce.

We never use salmon for tacos, but I made the drive to Overland Meat Company and bought the fish most recently brought in, which that day proved to be some beautiful looking salmon tail. If you’re ever on the South Shore of Lake Tahoe, this is the place to go for beautiful, freshly butchered meant and impeccable fish. Normally I would have balked at using it in tacos, but I had eaten some recently that were surprisingly good. I bought 2 lbs, and we had a simple, delicious dinner. They were, in fact, some of the best fish tacos I’ve made, but I attribute that to the quality of the wild salmon and not so much anything fancy I did with it. Here is the recipe that served 5 adults and 4 children, with no leftovers:

Grilled Salmon Tacos

serves 7-8 adults or 5 adults + children

  • 2 lbs wild salmon filets
  • 2 lemons
  • 2 limes
  • white wine
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • cumin
  1. Marinate the salmon in a ziplock bag with the juice of 1 1/2-2 lemons, 2 limes, a splash (about 1/4 cup) wine, a good sprinkling of salt, about 2 T cumin, and olive oil to cover the fish.  30 minutes will do, but you can leave it longer for more flavor. I generally marinate from after lunch to dinner.
  2. Grill salmon, skin side down, over medium high heat until cooked through.
  3. Let cook slightly, peel strips of salmon off the skin, cut into chunks if you prefer, and serve with:
  • warm corn or flour tortillas (your preference)
  • shredded green cabbage
  • red salsa
  • cream sauce (equal parts mayonnaise and sour cream, lime and cumin to taste)
  • refried black beans
  • shredded cheese
  • cherry tomato salad dressed with salt, olive oil & lime


By Lisa

We are spending a few beyond perfect summer days in Lake Tahoe with my husband’s aunt and uncle, his cousin and wife, their kids, and 2 other families. Five families, 17 people, 9 kids ranging in age from 18 months to 9. The lake is glorious, the weather perfect, and the kids are in free-range kid heaven. The cabin is on the lake and every meal is eaten outside on long picnic tables, including breakfast. It doesn’t get much better than coffee and cherry cobbler by the morning fire pit.

The cabin has been in the family for generations, and we are the newcomers. But one of the best things up here (& there are so many, including a giant trampoline on the lake, and inner tubing,and bike trails, and 3 great dogs) is the meals. And they have the feeding a crowd out of a tiny kitchen down to a truly impressive system. Lots of grilling, lots of bulk purchases, plenty of fruit and chips, and nuts, and coolers full of drinks for everyone all day long. We’ve had grilled tritip and garlic bread, grilled chicken, lots of salads, grilled asparagus, burgers and dogs–the supplies they organized are truly impressive. Add that to the fact that Kory’s cousin’s wife is starting a catering business and is a whiz at organizing and scaling up, and makes the best bbq sauce I’ve ever had and a mean batch of carnitas (which sadly we missed), among other things. And did I mention that one of the families owns a winery?

It’s not fancy, but it is all delicious, and easy enough when everyone pitches in..and that’s the most surprising thing for me. Because while I can cook well for a dozen or so, for a holiday, doing it every meal, every day is a truly great skill. I am learning a lot. And enjoying the company immensely. They have managed to make feeding a crowd a stress free endeavor. Which is something I would do well to remember when we head back to civilization.

Crispy Lemon Rosemary Chicken

By Lisa

I tried this recipe because in the middle of cooking a run-of-the-mill dinner for my kids last week, I got a text from a friend with a cooking question. I responded & asked what she was cooking. She told me she was trying to cook like Giada. I responded I wanted to look like Giada.   That is not going to happen.

But the chicken did happen, in both our homes, and with good results. These are basically a version of chicken “nuggets” rolled in mixture of polenta and rosemary and sprinkled with lemon rosemary salt. They’re nicely crispy, great at room temperature, and appealing to kids without being too familiar.  It’s a fast, good weeknight chicken recipe. Next time, I might experiment with baking these, since frying can be messy & I hate the clean up.

The kids liked it, the book club liked it, and we even liked it leftover as a little  side dish of protein for a composed salad (with Boston lettuce, cilantro, cucumber with olive oil and white balsamic)

It was a busy week and I forgot to take a picture, but you can trust me that it’s an appealing looking dish.  For the visual, today, in honor of Giada, here’s the closest thing I have a to a glamour shot, taken by the amazing Lisa Johnson, Rock Photographer, in case, you know, one of those glossy magazines comes calling.

But seriously folks, try the chicken. And be sure to make extra salt: it’s great on salads. Or popcorn.

Crispy Chicken with Rosemary-Lemon Salt

Vegetable oil for frying

1 (6-inch) sprig fresh rosemary
1/4 cup kosher salt
Zest of 1/2 large lemon

1 pound chicken tenders, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
Zest of 1/2 large lemon
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup fine cornmeal or instant polenta

For the salt: Heat 1/4-inch of oil in a large, high-sided skillet over medium-high heat (the oil is hot enough when a pinch of cornmeal sizzles when added to the pan). Add the rosemary sprig and fry for 30 seconds until crisp. Using tongs, remove the rosemary sprig and drain on paper towels. Remove the leaves and finely chop to yield 1 tablespoon. Place the rosemary, salt and lemon zest in a small bowl. Mix with a fork until combined. Set aside.

For the chicken: In a medium bowl, mix together the chicken, garlic, chopped rosemary, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Add the cornmeal and toss until the chicken is coated. Add 1/2 of the chicken to the same skillet used to cook the rosemary and fry for 2 to 3 minutes each side until golden and crispy. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining chicken. Sprinkle with the rosemary-lemon salt and serve.

Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 5 to 7 minutes

Green Beans with Eggs & Herbs

By Lisa

I came across this recipe in Food and Wine this month, and since we eat a lot of eggs over here, and green beans are generally a hit, I thought what could be bad? It’s basically a tumbled togther mix of eggs, green beans, and herbs.  Then I realized the very premise of the dish–all the foods touching each other could pose a problem. Finn tends not to like things mixed together. At least on the first appearance.  But taken alone, the ingredients were a no brainer, and the dish had the added benefit of keeping at room temperature, and I figured I could make a version with the eggs separate for the kids, before mixing the ingredients together for us to eat later, which is exactly what I did. In the end, Ella requested an omelet, so I agreed to that variation too.

Version 1.0 & 1. 5

Version 2.0

In the end, both kids tasted Version 2.0 and agreed it was good, so the slow ramp up to the big dish was worth it. The consensus was that the original dish was excellent, if a bit too onion-y. You can see the original version here, but when I make it again I will modify it thusly:

  • 1 pound green beans, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 5 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro, plus small sprigs for garnish (or try another leafy herb–like basil)
  • 1 chopped green onion, green part included (optional)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  1. Cook green beans in boiling salted water until tender. About 6 minutes.
  2. Melt butter in nonstick pan. Lightly scramble eggs.  Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Add the green beans, cilantro, green onion, and garlic.
  4. Serve immediately or at room temperature, garnished with cilantro.

It’s a great summer dish–warm or at room temperature. An easy appetizer, or casual outdoor meal, or just when you need something quick and healthy and full of flavor.