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Eats and Feats

Posted by on March 25, 2011

Wow. So more time has passed since my last entry than I’d intended. This week seems to have been filled with a million tiny things that add up to no time for writing…playdates and doctors appointments and birthday planning and sundry other items. And…more to the point for the purposes of this blog post…cookin’ up something new every day this week.

As previously mentioned, I spent an afternoon with a new cookbook recently that spawned an idea: what if I cook 7 new recipes in 7 days, all from the same cookbook? The book in question is The Family Dinner, with which I am enamored for several reasons: first, it was free (Joe brought it home from work…thanks, Joe!); second, its focus of family meals is all-encompassing, from the preparation to the table setting to the meal itself; third, it has wonderful questions and poems and stories to get the family engaged and drive home the importance of these family dinners.

We’re fortunate in that our boys are still quite young, but we absolutely value the notion of family dinners. Not just on Sundays, either, but every possible night. This is how I grew up; it often meant we ate at weird times, but I don’t have any lasting repercussions from that, just good memories. We, too, eat sort of oddly early (5 PM) to accommodate after-dinner time before our super-early bedtime, and also to decrease conflicts with Joe’s evening commitments. So one of the big messages of the cookbook was nothing new to us: eat together. Because eating together is one way in which you connect as a family unit. Since we already know this, and do it, we must be awesome at the family table, right?

Wrong.

Our nightly dinner routine is a crapshoot. Sometimes dinner gets to the table and everyone is ready to enjoy it. Sometimes dinner gets to the table and people are so engrossed in other things that it takes 10 minutes of requesting, pleading, and perhaps yelling to get them to sit down together. Once we’ve begun doesn’t mean we’ll all stay sitting at the table, either. People (and by people, I totally mean KIDS) want to get ketchup, get water, get BBQ sauce, get another fork or spoon, or just plain something else to eat because they don’t like what I’ve cooked. If you ever accept a dinner invitation, might I suggest safety goggles and a hazmat suit? Stuff gets tossed (mostly inadvertently) and spilled often. So instead of having pleasant conversation or funny stories from our day, we have cajoling, negotiating, utensil-pounding, and whining. Sometimes the kids even whine.

Reading through this sort of manual for how to handle the family dinner thing really inspired me. I’ve been trying some of the ideas along with the new recipes this week. See if you can spot the techniques as I describe the meals!

Night One (Sunday): Peanutty Noodles

On Sunday, we had sort of an ill-fated family outing at the bowling alley with Joe’s cousins. Ill-fated meaning our kids ended our trip in meltdown phase. The cousins were very well-behaved, and it was sort of embarrassing and tiring for all of us. I didn’t feel much like cooking when we got home, but I wanted to get the project underway so I forged ahead. I made this recipe for asian-style peanut-sauce noodles and veggies. Instead of putting all the veggies in the bowl with the noodles, I separated them into little bowls to engage the kids in making their own choices about add-ins; wouldn’t you know, they TOTALLY bought it! Haha! Gotcha! Oh, wait…

Anyway, the kids were mostly just okay with the dish as a whole. Ollie liked it (as always) and Max didn’t care much for it, but complained way less than usual thanks to his control over the veggies. I was impressed by how many of them he chose to add/try with the dish. Seth mostly banged his utensils, as is his way. I would definitely make this again, but I don’t know that it will be a regular item in my rotation. Once every couple of months should do it.

Night Two (Monday): Wienerschnitzel

Monday was a fun and busy day. We had guests over for the morning and I made muffins and crockpot mac-and-cheese before 11 AM. I think this might be the first time I’ve cooked all three meals from scratch in one day. I had to rearrange my menu calendar a smidge for Monday because all that fun prevented me from getting something I needed for the next recipe, so instead we had this goody. Wienerschnitzel. Just say it: it makes you feel happy. Only I made it with chicken breasts pounded really thin (another thing that makes me happy: meal-sanctioned bludgeoning. It just feels good!) while the dish traditionally uses veal or pork. The thin cutlets are doused in flour, egg, and panko breadcrumbs (a MUST-try, if you’re not familiar!) and fried to a golden crispy brown in a little vegetable oil. They are served with slices of lemon. Check out these beauties:

Gah! NO! Not those! These:

We also enjoyed mashed potatoes and a salad (from a mix; I know, I know…) and everyone liked these. I mean, it’s like enormous chicken nuggets. The kids pretty much just picked them up with their hands and ate them that way, too. It was especially amusing to watch Seth eat it this way; it was almost as big as his face. So European. Ha.

I think that’s enough for today; I’ll be adding more as I have time. Which…when? I would wish for things to settle down, but we’re heading into such a fun month. I could do without the snow, though. That stuff is just getting ridiculous. Teaches me to think spring is happily unpacking its boxes just because the snow is all melted. It can (and will!) always just snow some more. Sigh.

**You probably noticed that I didn’t add the actual recipes, and that’s because they are from a published book and I don’t want to get in trouble. I am but a humble house-mother and have no money for a vacation, let alone litigation. But I’ll share another recipe not from this book in the next post, so stay tuned!

5 Responses to Eats and Feats

  1. Erica

    Mmmmmm. I love peanut sauce. It looks especially good to me right now since I don’t eat nuts while pregnant or breastfeeding, and peanuts/peanut butter are among my favorite foods. It has been almost a year. Just a few more months to go! My first indulgence after weaning will be peanut butter toast and beer!

  2. Daphne

    As a young mother, I was a firm believer in family dinners together whenever possible. The dinner hour (1/2 hour. . . 15 minutes, whatever) was particularly challenging the years when we had toddlers and teens at the nightly dinner table. I tried, quite successfully, to create a more amiable mood by creating a setting that was more conducive to conversation rather than conflict. The device I employed? . . . candlelight! No matter what was on the menu, the lights got dimmed and the candles were lit. Oh, it was also forbidden to use this sacred time for problem solving. So no matter what we were eating, mac and cheese–hot dogs (not Sarah’s favorite) or stir-fried veggies–the ambiance was the same. It worked amazingly well and didn’t cost a fortune. One more tip: establish some rules about who gets to blow out the candles each night. : )

  3. Crazy Aunt Linda

    Are you sure that ‘chicken’ isn’t actually Fried Squirrel!?
    Uncle Bill is a utensil banger too.

  4. Crystal

    What a fantastic idea Courtney! Sounds like you are off to a great start. We did homemade pizzas the other night and I let Aiden put all his toppings on his own. He had a BLAST! Hoping to do more of that kind of stuff with him. He really enjoys helping me cook, and it makes dinner even more enjoyable when he tells everyone he helped make it.

  5. Boompa

    I kinda miss the utensil banging around here, so I love it when we have the whole gang over for dinner, like tomorrow! Can’t wait for a good old Thanksgiving meal in March. Nana probably wouldn’t sue if you copied one of her recipes either.

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