Wednesday, January 21, 2015
A recent episode was about sandwiches, and each shared their top five favorite sandwiches. I have never been a big sandwich fan, if you think about sandwiches in their typical, what you would pack in your school lunch iteration of a sandwich.
But, I am definitely drawn to the sandwich listings on a restaurant menu, and would definitely prefer something like a chicken sandwich over an entree of fried chicken, for example. Many more opportunities for varied taste experiences throughout the eating of that kind of a sandwich.
It got me thinking about my own top five, so here is the list I settled upon. (in no particular order)
1. Pulled Pork sandwich, preferably from Eli's Barbecue, but I'm not above one from a lesser establishment. Jim shakes his head at me when I order this in a place like Frisch's, mostly because I'm so predictable, but also because he'll just stick to the safe burger, thank you very much.
I think what I like about a pulled pork sandwich is again, the varied taste experiences in each bite. I definitely want slaw on my sandwich, not just on the side, and I hope it's a slaw with more vinegar than mayo. Pickles on it might even be good. The best pulled pork is smoky and crunchy in places, with not too much sauce, but enough that you can taste it.
2. Turkey Reuben. Never with corned beef: too fatty, and the sauerkraut is the star here anyway. I like it on grilled rye for sure, with plenty of thousand island dressing. When I was in young, when bagels were a new and fascinating thing in the Midwest, there was a bagel shop near a bookstore I liked. They had a turkey reuben bagel on their menu that came on a pumpernickel bagel, and had red russian dressing instead of thousand island. I'd still choose that sauce over thousand island in a heartbeat, but it's not something you see all that often anymore.
3. Chicken Sandwich: I debated whether or not to even include this on the list, because for some reason, a chicken sandwich feels more like a meal, less like a "sandwich" made with bread, etc. I don't think you'd put a hamburger on a list of sandwiches, for example. It is its own category. Same with a chicken sandwich in all its iterations. However, a good, marinated chicken breast grilled or fried properly on a chewy bun will always be tops on my list of a food to enjoy, so I think it has to have a place on this list. A Buffalo version with ranch dressing: always a good idea.
4. Hot Pepper Turkey. This is a sandwich on the menu at the sports bar down the street from our house that we have been regularly visiting since the week it opened. N. literally has grown up there, as it was probably the first restaurant she visited in her little pumpkin seat at three weeks old or so. The hot pepper turkey features peppered sliced deli turkey, pepper jack cheese and a chipotle mayo, on wheat bread, which is then grilled. I get mine without the cheese, so it's a little less spicy than as intended, but nonetheless delicious.
5. Pot Roast Sandwich at Bob Evans. Okay, you might as well just graze on a salt lick for a while as eat this very salty sandwich. But the fall apart beef, onions and carrots (grated, not big chunks that would overwhelm the rest of things) is so yummy that I pass up the breakfast menu at Bob Evans to order it. We don't go here very often, but when we do, it's usually because I've been thinking about this sandwich. I get mine without cheese of course, and I really do not think the slice of American cheese it's supposed to be served with would improve it in any way.
List established, I realize that there is not one sandwich on this list that I make, or would really try to make at home. Not surprising. It's why I'm not so much of a packed lunch girl. Perhaps it's the no cheese necessity, but there is just nothing exciting or interesting to me about a cold sandwich, whether it's with lunch meat, some sort of spread, or even a collection of vegetables. Food, unless it's a fruit or vegetable meant to be eaten raw, or a chip or a cracker meant to be eaten out of the box, should be warmed and prepared in some way. If you're not going to cook it, what's the point? I almost included the day after Thanksgiving leftover sandwich, but even that would involve me warming up the turkey and filling before putting it on toast spread with cranberry sauce. This is one of the reasons packing my kids' lunches is one of my most dreaded tasks: it's so disheartening assembling that food meant to stay the same until they can get to it. (I know, I know, I could pack them a thermos or some artful bento box. That's a topic for another day, though)
All right, now I'm hungry, so I'm off to heat up something for second breakfast. I won't be making a sandwich, I guess. What's on your top five? I'm sure I've made some glaring omission, so I'd be interested to hear what you like to eat between slices of bread.
Tuesday, January 13, 2015
One of my goals for the new year is a recurrent one: to read more. It's always easier over the holidays because there's more time to lay around and read while I'm eating and drinking too much. Plus, people know that when all else fails, they can always buy me a book from my Amazon wish list. I've always got a few goodies lying around to get to on the first of the year. Hoping this jump start signals a start to a year with more reading, less time wasting.
It's a heartbreaking book in many ways, I guess any book that begins "Lydia was dead. They didn't know it yet" is bound to be sad. But it isn't just the death and loss of Lydia that is getting to me about this book. Instead, it is the fact that there is so much miscommunication and inability to listen to each other in the family at the center of it. Everything I Never Told You, indeed. For James, the husband and father, everything is filtered through his experience as a Chinese American boy, alone and hurt by racism, and determined that life for his children will be different. For Marilyn, it's about not following through with her dream to one day be a doctor, and terror that she will turn out like her mother, a disapproving and sad presence, who left nothing behind after her death aside from a few lines highlighted in a Betty Crocker cookbook.
It's a book about defining yourself based on the expectations of someone else, whether you decide to accept them or rebel against them completely. Ng shifts the perspective in this book from character to character, and back and forth throughout time. Each time I saw how differently each person was experiencing each event, I wanted to yell "Just talk to each other!" But of course, we often don't, do we? We live our lives so much in our own heads, certain our understanding of ourselves and others is correct, and if we do have doubts, afraid to ask in case our worst fears might indeed be confirmed. How many of our memories, when we bring them out to light with others, are shown to be so different than the recollections of others, trapped up in their own biased filters?
So, I keep wanting to stop listening to this book, but keep getting pulled back in. The writing is beautiful, even to listen to, so I imagine would be even more so on the page. Lots of images that seem fresh but yet so exactly right: a near impossible feat. I can only hope to find a few more treasures of reading experiences like this one throughout the year.
Friday, November 21, 2014
An overdue account of some moments I've been jotting down for the last few months.
“We’re not going on a bear hunt again,” I conclude.
Driving to Tae Kwon Do, we pass an old cemetery. O. must have noticed this each time and had some thoughts about it.
O. "Isn't it weird to think about people being buried in the ground? I mean, what if you died with your mouth open, and then it got filled up with dirt. Then if you were just, say, planting flowers in the graveyard, you could actually be digging into someone's throat!"
Me: "Oh really? Why not?"
O. "Well, for one thing, I wouldn't want to hang around them, because they wouldn't have anybody for me to play with. But also, if they don't have kids, well, that's the end of their family. For all these years, that family has been going on and on. And then they don't have kids. Boom. That family is done."
A Little Young to be Realizing This
Every Other Second, It Seems
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Anyway, it's the kind of meal that requires you to stay close to the stove, but not actually think too much or have that much hands on interaction with the dish. Perfect dish for mind wandering, percolate about the writing I'd like to be doing kind of dish. Good for me, because every time I sit down to write, there is that darn blank screen staring back at me. Or that darn blank page in the notebook, if I can even find the notebook.
It's not that I don't have ideas to share, or even thoughts and issues that consume a great deal of my time and energy. But I've reached a strange season of life where my kids need me less physically, but still take up the bulk of my emotional and actual time. They need more protection from what I might write and share and discuss about their struggles and challenges and even victories than they used to, which makes writing for an audience, however fictional and minuscule, problematic. So even though things are happening here, I have a hard time figuring out what and how to say them.
I read articles online and in the newspaper, and I have things I want to say about them, about my dismay about how life just seems to be getting harder and harder and harder. Not to mention lonelier and lonelier, despite all our "connections" and sharing. But then I read another essay and think "oh, that person already wrote pretty much what I wanted to say about that." So I just share that essay on my Facebook wall. There are moments in my day when I'm so revved up about some injustice or ridiculous moment of idiocy that I feel ready to write a letter to the editor, or email the person in charge (is anyone really in charge around here? where are the adults who can take care of crap when it goes wrong, anyway? Oh, that's me now? Darn.) or maybe even run for school board or city council or at least form some sort of committee.
I am at times so filled up by the blessings of my life, and so thankful for all the moments of wonder and sweetness and just plain goodness that the people I have figured out how to keep around me offer that I want to write it all down before I lose it all all all.
But then the kids get off the bus and we're doing homework and we're doing dinner and I'm putting away laundry and I'm emptying the dishwasher and someone has to go to gymnastics or Tae Kwon Do or basketball and we're playing legos again. And then the glass of wine and the blank screen await, and I'm all out of anger and irritation and even enthusiasm. All the moments of sweetness have faded in detail, leaving just their echoes to carry me on into the next day.
I've written all of these ideas before, and have even written it better before. This is the stuff that gets in the way of the writing that I really feel like I want to be doing.
So, instead, I make a pot of risotto. Or I chop some vegetables for a soup. Or I roll some chicken in some breadcrumbs. And I feed my family and the best parts of me the best way I know for right now. The making of the food is sometimes enough to absorb the worst grumbly lonely parts of the day. It's almost always enough to let the sweet people who come through my home know that I will keep trying to care for them in all the best ways I can. Occasionally, the simmering and the stirring and the chopping are even enough to get a few thoughts going and write a few lines. Something to come back to later when there is more of me to give.
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Since I've been talking about how we go about doing dinner around here, and what works and what doesn't, and thinking about why we do what we do for food around here, I've been thinking of Sundays.
Sunday has such a distinct feel about it as a day, doesn't it? I mean, after the Monday drudgery and Friday's party feeling (we have an animated toy hamster that sings the Friday song, and every morning on the way out the door I sing the same to my kids. "Getting' down on Friday...Partyin' Partyin'...looking forward to the weekend" They love it, I tell you.), Sunday has the most clear attributes.
It's interesting, though, that the adult members of our household have such different approaches to a Sunday attitude. I absolutely get hit with the "Sunday Blahs" and the anxious dread of good things coming to an end before the start of a new school/work week. But I think they hit my husband a little harder than they do me, and I don't think that's just because I don't leave the house to go to work on Monday.
Growing up, Sunday was very particularly a family day. We would go to church in the morning, and often get breakfast out, or come home and eat brunch food or egg sandwiches for lunch. Sunday afternoons were usually the day we did some sort of outing or adventure as a family, often taking a drive somewhere or visiting a park or museum or some other event that my parents had sought out. Or it was just an afternoon we spent together in the house.
I know Sunday dinner often has the connotation of a time when extended family gets together and cooks a relatively elaborate meal, sometimes with an old fashioned feel, like a roast or casserole. Something you'd probably have serve mashed potatoes. Sunday dinner wasn't usually like that in my house as a child; we probably had soup and sandwiches or homemade pizza more Sundays than not.
However, Sunday has still come to connote a day when one should spend a little more time on meal preparation. Weeknight meals are usually something I assemble while the kids are at school, or else pull off on the fly very quickly in between homework and after school activities. So while I sometimes do things that take a while to cook, I don't often have time for things that are intensively hands-on. So on Sundays, I find myself wanting to cook a complicated curry or the chicken in a pan sauce that looked good in a magazine. It's the time I find myself drawn to pins on my the Pinterest food board. Often, while the big kids are watching Minecraft videos and endless reruns of the Suite Life on Deck, and J. is in the basement watching football and playing Legos with L., I'm in the kitchen listening to a podcast and chopping vegetables and searing a piece of meat.
This is not at all J.'s idea of the kind of food that one should eat on a Sunday. He spent many of his weekends growing up at his dad's house, going to a movie with his siblings and then probably eating out. Sunday was the day he had to go back his mom's and get homework done and then get ready to go to school. It was a fun day, but a transition kind of day. Watching sports has also always been a key part of his Sunday routine. Making a big pan of oven baked nachos with his sisters to eat while they watched the Browns was a much loved tradition.
For J., Sunday is a day that he mostly just wants to eat crappy, greasy hangover curing, stoner type food. He wants to make chicken wings, or chili, or the aforementioned nachos. Or more often, he just wants to go to Skyline or eat a giant cheeseburger.
These divergent ideas of what Sunday meals should look like have caused some conflict in our house for as long as J. and I have known one another. By Sunday evening, on a day when I've willingly embarked on a course of putting together a fairly complicated meal, I suddenly (and irrationally, I KNOW), feel like some sort of drudge, cooking all afternoon while everyone else has been playing and resting and relaxing. Then no one eats what I've made anyway, and then there I go, down into the Sunday blahs myself.
So, lately, I've been trying to figure out how to balance these two needs of ours to handle our Sunday preferences. Sunday seems like the day we are most in need of comfort as we prepare to do battle with another week out in the world. Clearly we have different ideas about what that comfort entails. I decided for me, maybe it's time to go back to the meals of my own youth, ones that are not complicated or fancy, but instead have familiarity going for them.
Fall Sunday afternoons are clearly football afternoons in our house. When Browns kickoff time arrives, J. wants to be on his couch if at all possible. But I don't want to be in the house ALL day on one of our only days all together as a family. We usually head out for some sort of adventure mid morning. (We're going to add the church routine back in soon, I swear. But that's a post for another day.) Last weekend, it was a family hike at the nature center. The kids grumbled and complained and cried about it all the way out of the house, but once we got there, it was lovely to all be together out in the fall sunshine. Along the way, the kids made a project of gathering all the different flowers and foliage they could find, and made a gorgeous bouquet for our front hall table.
Thursday, October 16, 2014
Friday, September 12, 2014
I could go on for volumes about the techniques I've tried to get my kids to eat anything that does not come out of a box or in an unnatural shade of orange. In large part, our approach involves exposing our kids to many different foods as many times as we can stand it, involving them in the process of choosing and cooking whenever possible, and trying to avoid turning eating food into a battle of wills. You know, all the things all the books and articles and blog posts say to do. It mostly feels like a marathon we're running with no real end in sight and no idea if we're even on the right road.
Chances are, if you've ever heard me talk about feeding my kids, at one time or another you'll have heard me claim that though I usually make what my kids want for breakfast and lunch, one thing I do not do is short order cook for my kids at dinner time. What I make for dinner is what we're having for dinner. Eat it or not, but you're not getting an extra plate of chicken nuggets out of me.
But truth be told, there should be a big old asterisk in a comic book thought bubble above my head every time I trot out that statement. Because on nights when J... is not here, (and those of you that know the comings and goings of this crew know that happens a good chunk of the time), there is an awfully good chance that there is some short order cooking going on around here.
We do have a few meals that J... hardly ever gets to eat, because they are the standard "Daddy's out of town" meals that both easy to prepare, and are appealing to all the kids. Tacos, pizza, brinner and spaghetti with meatballs all fall into this camp.
However, especially in the summer, when we've been outside playing all afternoon, or at the pool or some other place, and we don't have any plans to meet our friends at the Mexican joint down the street, dinner without Daddy starts to look a little more like some poor excuse for a diner. Only with a lot more whining and not even any sub-par tips to tuck in an apron pocket.
Last night, for example, I had two pots on the stove, one with water to boil shell pasta, and the other to simmer a couple of hot dogs. N. and L. had pasta with jarred spaghetti sauce, and O. had his new normal, which is a Skyline Chili knock off hot dog with cheese.
Which left one person in the house to feed. I wish I could just get by with eating a few bites of whatever's left on my kids' plate. Or a bowl of cereal at the kitchen sink. But if and when I skip a meal, soon all the other food in the house will start to look good. Like, even a half a box of Triscuits shoved in the back of the snack cabinet. Or five packs of the animal fruit snacks no one else will eat.
So, I cook something for myself. Actually, cooking for myself is one of my favorite things to do. I have never really liked cold sandwiches, and I can't convince myself (or my stomach) that a salad is a meal, even at lunch. I often heat up and combine leftovers at lunchtime.
But nights when I'm the only adult around, dinner is often a big pan of whatever vegetable no one else in the house will eat. Roasted Brussels Sprouts. Carmelized carrots. And the summer staple: Sauteed corn and green beans. Add some balsamic vinegar to any of the above, and we are in business.
And here's what they really ate for dinner. The rest of the pan of chocolate chip bars I made to take on a trip with us, and forgot to bring, which I just found in the freezer and defrosted today.
So yes, on nights when our whole family is home, we eat dinner as a family, and we try to all eat the same thing. Or at least we all have the same thing on our plate. What that usually means is that 2 out of 3 children are suddenly no longer in need of calories as soon as they sit down at the table. Then they eat the five bites I mandate, and then wait until the last dish is put in the dishwasher to alert us that really, a granola bar or cheese and crackers must be in their belly immediately.
It's a battle I hope we are winning by increments, but allow myself a little grace on the days we throw up the white flag of surrender to crappy eating once again. At least I get to eat what I want those days, too.