reflections on dinners and adulthood

There is nothing that beats the warmth and comfort of my mother’s kitchen. When I go home to visit, it’s the first place that I end up, either rummaging for a snack or helping with preparations for the next meal. Time in the kitchen is so much a part of my relationship with my mama and, as the center of our home, it was the place where so many important and precious conversations were shared. At the dining room table, just within view of the sink and the oven, I would do my homework or read or work on the countless childhood projects in which I was always immersed. My dad would come home from work and join me there to go through the mail, and mama would complete the circle with news of the day’s happenings. We were very much a dinner-together kind of family. Our little home glowed, I think, from this sweet tradition. I always felt like I missed something if I wasn’t home for our shared meal, and I still feel nostalgic for the glow of the setting sun from the southeast windows, the begging pup underneath the tabletop, and the labor of love that was my mama’s meals.

I think about her hard work when I cook dinner. When I come home from an eight hour shift and it’s all I can do to have a smile on my face, let alone create a nourishing and delicious meal from the contents of the fridge (the Crockpot is my bestie, btw). When I’m trying to cut back but my mile-a-minute husband needs CALORIES and FAST. When I’m cooking from the pantry and there’s little but a can of beans, some chipotles in adobe, and oatmeal.

With my little family, and my comparably few responsibilities, life seems sweet and easy. But I can imagine that as work increases, as stresses compound, and as life grows more complex as it will inevitably do, that my struggles in the kitchen will move beyond the simple question of whether or not to eat the leftover sausages.

How do moms [parents, grandparents, and guardians too] do it?? Jenny and Andy from Dinner A Love Story, just published their first cookbook, all about eating together as a family amidst jobs and soccer practices and dinner parties gone amuck. There example is realistic and simple, and I just flipped through their cookbook today after doing my share of perusing their lovely blog.

But when I need encouragement or an example, I think about my mother who worked and ran her own business and volunteered and laughed and brought home puppies because she is so kind-hearted, and who cooked, I mean, really COOKED, and I think – I’m so glad I have her genes.

Here’s to you, mama. And to that silly man I call daddy who joked at the table while we all enjoyed your many marvelous meals.

Rainbow Salad from Dinner A Love Story

Red: 1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

Orange: 1 orange bell pepper, seeded and chopped

Yellow: 2 ears of fresh sweet corn, shucked

Green: 1 bag frozen peas, thawed

Purple: ½ head purple cabbage, shredded

Lightly cook veggies in a pan with a little water until tender, about 5 minutes. Toss in butter and salt – or perhaps with some fresh herbs, finely shredded carrot, minced garlic, and a red wine vinegar-and-mustard vinaigrette?

Stacked Garden Chicken

2 chicken breasts

a lemon

fresh herbs: chives, basil, mint, tarragon, rosemary…

olive oil

s+p

3 medium eggplants

2 Tbsp. ground cumin

3 cloves of garlic, minced

Roma tomatoes

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Wash and trim tomatoes and eggplants, pierce the flesh, and drizzle with olive oil in a shallow casserole pan. Roast for half an hour and remove tomatoes – they should be soft and charred. Turn the oven up to broil the eggplant until sooty and soft, about 40 minutes more.

Set the tomatoes aside. When the eggplant is cooled, scrape the soft flesh out and mix with juice of half a lemon, cumin, garlic, and salt to taste. Add a bit more olive oil to thin if necessary – the consistency should be similar to a thick hummus.

Rub the chicken breasts with half a lemon, and sprinkle with s+p and chopped fresh herbs. Saute lightly in olive oil and butter until cooked through, covering the pan and adding a bit of water to steam the chicken if it begins to dry out.

On a plate, layer the ingredients: first, a puddle of smoky eggplant puree, then the chicken breast, then a few oven-roasted tomatoes. Sprinkle with fresh basil and a shaving of Parmesan.

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