A Gentle Food Weekend

For those who are keeping track (anyone?), a few quick updates:

J.’s grandmother is still hospitalized, but she’s stable.  His folks, known around our house as G. ‘n’ P., left New Jersey at an ungodly pre-dawn hour today and are on their way home.  Immediate worry shoved to the back of our minds, though thoughts and prayers certainly remain with G.G. as she continues her recovery.

The Big Event (otherwise known as L.’s 4th birthday party) went beautifully.  I have to give a grateful shout-out to Chepachet Farm and Carriage Works, which hosted the occasion — they couldn’t have been easier to work with, nor more helpful, and the party itself was absolutely L.’s dream.  The kids and adults all had a wonderful time, which can be hard to achieve at a little one’s party.  I also want to note that the party platters, which we got at the local Whole Foods, were well worth the investment.  And we’ll be eating the leftovers of their generous portions all week!  (Hmmm….stay tuned, perhaps, for creative re-inventions?)

Anyway.  It was a whirlwind of a weekend.  Ordinarily, I spend much of Sunday afternoon puttering in the kitchen so I can get Sunday dinner on the table and have snacks and lunch options mostly prepared for the week.  But this weekend, my attention was elsewhere.  With birthdays to celebrate — J.’s as well as L.’s — and cupcakes to bake and two special dinners to cook, I had to have a serious talk with myself about the plans for the upcoming week.  It was time, I thought, for a Gentle Food Weekend.

Gentle Food means the following: No serious ambitions.  No complicated experiments.  Food that is tried and true and disappears easily into the happy mouths of the family.  Food that can be prepared easily, almost lazily, and will continue to reward me throughout the week with its effortlessness.  The Salmon Fingers, which we moved to Saturday night as a treat for L. following his party (and a reprieve for Mommy, who was too tired for anything more pressing), were a good start — crunchy, juicy, and eaten with fingers, they set the tone for the rest of the weekend.

Sunday arrived hot and humid, and with it, a kind of paralyzing malaise.  Or, to be less eloquent: J. and I were whupped. Mountains of produce from the Farmer’s Market, tempting only 24 hours earlier, seemed to be taunting me: “You thought you were going to do what with us?  Yeah, right — muster up the energy now, lady!”  I had to show them who was boss, I thought, surveying the mass of sneering fruits and vegetables.  But, again, oh please — reaching for a fourth cup of coffee — GENTLY.

The heirloom tomatoes and green and purple basil leaves, snatched greedily from the Pak Express stall (I am officially addicted to their tomatoes), were destined for dinner.  If my husband wants veal parmigiana in the middle of the summer, I’ll oblige, but the sauce will be fresh.  A long simmer in some red wine with garlic beat them into wilted submission.  But what to do with the rest of the bullying horde?  What about lunchboxes?  What about snacks?

Before the O.D.S.K.G. could get to me, I reassessed the situation.  The house — never, I’ll admit, a shining example of order and cleanliness — now looked as if some miniature Wild West show had moved in and procreated overnight.  Cowboy hats, toy horses, itty-bitty feeding troughs, sheriff’s stars, and numerous accessories too overwhelming to recount littered every inch of floor space.  The trash situation, owing to both the remnants of the birthday bonanza and the fact that our outdoor bins are all being moved around and not in full use at the moment (did I mention we’re having our house painted in the midst of all this?), was absolutely dire.  Gift wrap and tissue paper festooned everything I could see, including the grinning jowls of the 16-month-old, who is apparently part goat.

I was going to have to deal with all of this mess.  Not to mention the small people gleefully running through it all in their underclothes.

Bleary-eyed and thus emotionally defeated, I restrained my impulses and chastened myself: Two Things.  Only Two Things this weekend.  You’ll figure out the rest later. And two lazy things, to boot — after glimpsing the overflow of yogurt-stained baby T-shirts attempting to escape the laundry hamper, I didn’t have the strength for much kitchen ingenuity.  I seized the tote of sweet yellow peaches from Barden Family Orchard and started to dismantle them.  A slow simmer on the stove, along with a few early MacIntosh apples for thickening, would render them into an easy peach sauce — run through the food mill and seasoned with cinnamon and nutmeg, I knew it would be a soft sell to P. (who is obsessive in his love of all fruits) and even to L. (who has an aversion to just about every fruit, unless it resembles applesauce).

Rejuvenated, and with time on my hands as I waited for the fruit to cook down, I moved on to one of my ultimate fail-safe recipes: Banana Oatmeal Cookies.  My boys adore banana bread, but it gets tiresome after a while.  A few months back, I re-worked the recipe into cookie form, with lots of oatmeal for fiber and texture.  They’re easy to throw together, healthy enough that I can feel OK letting the boys snack on them, and sweet enough to be a good dessert.  Plus, I can almost literally make these cookies in my sleep at this point — which was a necessary attribute on Sunday.

I set out for Gentle Food, and Gentle Food it was.  The sauce for the veal turned out spectacularly, thanks mainly to the quality of the ingredients; J. was in dinner heaven, and L., who was skeptical of the presentation of his dinner plate, ate heartily and offered the critique “Mommy, you know, that wasn’t so bad.”  The peach sauce was consumed in mass quantities by both children, as well as spilled in mass quantities by P. in his quest to self-feed.  And the removal of the cookies from the oven was heralded by big smiles on all three of the boys’ faces, which in and of itself is rejuvenating — after all, the enjoyment of the family is a major reason for my madness in the first place.  By bedtime, I had even recovered enough to toss some things in a pan and cook up the blueberry chutney for tonight’s dinner, scoring one more point in the battle for kitchen preparedness.  Then off to immediate, and necessary, sleep.

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