I have been making dinner pretty much every day for the past 16 years. I’d be lying if I said cooking, serving, participating and cleaning-up have been the highlight of each of my days. After a hectic day at work, the question “what’s for dinner” often felt like an accusation, reminding me that despite my efforts I’m still much behind. And not every meal has been peaceful. When my kids were very little (my kids are so close in age that at some point all three were toddlers — an age group you can expect very little table manners from) dinner was so hectic I could hardly taste the food. I often thought that perhaps we adults should eat our meal after we put the little ones to bed, so that we can feel half civilized. But we persisted, and I’m proud to say that I think we all, as a family, look forward to dinner together, and see it as an institution that renews our “familyness” every day.
This brings me to a Laurie David’s book. If you’re still in search of a realistic resolution for this new year this book may lead you to it. Laurie David is an environmental activist. I’ve been reading her newsletter for years. Food is an environmental issue, so it probably isn’t a huge surprise to see David publish a food book. The focus of David’s book – The Family Dinner — is, I believe, one of the most important, effective and fun lifestyle changes we should all enhance, in order to achieve a long list of good outcomes, and since kids imitate us more readily than they listen to us, family dinner is an opportunity to model to kids what we believe to be the right way to eat, share and interact. Dinner together is time to nourish our bodies, but it’s so much more than that. Dinner is time to reconnect, a time to slow down and share, a time to talk and listen — it’s, as David writes, “an island of calm in a sea of change”.
The book starts with an introduction that will motivate you, providing all the rationale to invest in dinner-time (many studies associate family dinner with lots of desired outcomes: less abuse of drugs and alcohol, lower obesity rates, better grades, better language skills etc.) The rest of the book is a lovely resource for everything you need to make dinner time easy, educational, fun and memorable.
David invited a diverse group of thought leaders — including Jamie Oliver, Alice Waters, Michael Pollan, Billy Collins, Jonathan Safran Foer and Mark Bittman — to share their family dinner wisdom and memories. But my favorite parts of the book were those around table talk and the creation of good conversation. David suggests various ways to get the family interacting, from word games to discussion topics to resources such as commencement speeches (these are published in newspapers yearly, and provide well written, valuable life lessons).
The recipes, by Kirsten Uhrenholdt, are practical without being dumbed down. They offer good, healthy food, and a wide range of flavor, texture and experience, and a plan that gets the whole family together, working in the kitchen and sharing the pleasure and responsibility of making food. Many of the recipes are meatless, and David devotes a whole chapter to her reasons for eating more vegetarian meals. Many of the dishes offer opportunities for personalizing the dish—from ‘choose your toppings’ to different final touches — which kids, I’m sure, will adore.
To give you a taste for the books’ approach to cooking together, I asked the authors for permission to share one of the recipes from the “kids in the kitchen” chapter. In this recipe the kid is boss, and is empowered to pick and choose garnishes, adjust and fine tune the sauce to his liking, and even boss the parents, and sent them off to clean their room, set the table and wash their hands. I tried this recipe with my 11 year-old a few days ago. It was enormous fun. The pictures above reflect my daughter’s creation and choices (the pictures in The Family Dinner, by Maryellen Baker, are much lovelier.)
For the peanut sauce
- 1 pound of your favorite shaped pasta
- 1 cup peanut butter
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 2/3 cup warm water
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 3 tablespoons white (rice or wine) vinegar
Garnishes: Pick and choose any you please and as much as you want
- Chopped peanuts
- Diced cucumbers
- Diced apples
- Sliced scallions
- Limes cut into quarters
- Sliced cabbage
- Asian chili sauce, if you are brave
- Chopped fresh cilantro or mint
- Shredded carrots
- Pick out the garnishes you want to serve with the noodles and chop, dice, and slice them. Put them in little bowls.
- Ask your parents, nicely, to boil the pasta until it is al dente (not too mushy). Remind them gently that the pasta water should have enough salt to taste like the sea.
- When it’s done, have them quickly rinse the pasta in cold water. Thank them for helping you.
- Now mix all the ingredients for the peanut sauce together in a big bowl with a big spoon. You will have to stir, stir, stir, until it is all mixed together and smooth (or you could get a parent to mix it all in a blender).
- Taste the sauce…is it perfect? When it is, toss in the pasta and pour into a pile on a big platter or bowl. Put the little bowls of garnishes around the platter, and yell diiiinner!
Further resources: http://thefamilydinnerproject.org/
Reposted as part of Food Renegate's Fight Back Fridays--go join the food fight!