Last night, we came home from Lu’s second dance performance of the weekend, all of us exhausted and beaming. It was an incredible weekend. Lu had her first sleepover with the friend she has known longest in the world (their mamas pregnant at the same time, they were born on the same day a month apart). That meant Danny and I had the night to ourselves. We had a dinner I’ll have to share with you later this week. And the rest I won’t be sharing at all. We picked up Lu at noon — she had such a good time that I think she was a tiny bit disappointed we had arrived — and met another set of friends for gluten-free cupcakes and a quick conversation. We drove back to the island for Lu’s first dance performance.
To say she was excited would be insufficient language. She stood in the green room, a quiet still point in the midst of dozens of kids yelling to their mamas and shouting for their friends. She stood at attention in her pink leotard with the sparkly heart on her chest, her hair pulled back, her eyes clear. She was ready. We hugged her and walked into the theater. As the lights dimmed, a memory clutched at my heart. Twenty years previously, I had sat in this theater, in my first faculty meeting for the high school where I was to begin teaching. For five years, I was a high school English teacher on Vashon Island. I clapped there at the end of many high school drama performances, performed on that stage in the disastrously bad faculty Air Band, and sat in those red-velvet folding chairs for endless meetings. In 1992, when I was 26, I never imagined that I would be sitting in those same seats, ready to watch my 4-year-old daughter dance to the Go Gos in a pink tutu.
Danny held my hand. We both grew a little teary when we saw her do her sashays across the stage. After she looked out at the audience, and her face brightened at our waves, she smiled as she pointed her toes and did her pliés with great seriousness. She beamed when she saw the pink rose her daddy bought for her.
The next day, she did it again, smiling even bigger this time. And after the performance, she twirled and spun on her toes until her tutu flared out, all the way to the car.
At home, I asked her if she had loved it. “Remember, honey, the only thing that matters is that you enjoy it.” She nodded a deep nod, emphatic. When I asked her if she might like to do another dance performance someday, she held up both hands and flashed me 10 fingers, 10 times in a row. “I want to do that many more dance performances, Mama!”
I have a feeling we’ll be sitting in that theater often in the years to come.
Last night, when we returned home from this whirlwind of activity, Lu was fading fast. She sat on my lap, watching Curious George. I could see her eyes droop, so I asked Danny to cut her up some apples and cheese. She ate, each bite slower than the one before. When she had eaten most of them, she dropped an apple slice onto the plate on my lap and dropped her head onto my shoulder. Asleep. Immediately. At 6 pm.
When I came downstairs after putting her in her nightgown and tucking her into bed, I found Danny in the kitchen, cooking away. He let me taste something then shooed me away. He wanted to surprise me. A few moments later, he put a plate into my hands. On it, roast chicken dripping smoked paprika butter. Roasted purple potatoes from our favorite farmer at the market. And gluten-free tempura ramps and watercress.
I think I’ll keep him around for at least another 7 years.
We sat on the battered couch, the plates on our laps, and watched one episode after another of Law and Order: SVU. It was a great evening.
Sometimes, family dinner means apples and cheese before falling asleep, and sitting on the couch while watching tv.
There’s no one right way to eat. There’s only the sharing, the food, and the memory of it all.
Thank you to the lovely people who wrote about their family dinners.
Sarah from Edible Living wrote about the fleeting moments when you feel like you’re getting it right.
“As it all came together on the plate, I started to have that buzzy, motivated feeling you get when you just came up with something really good. András poured us each our favorite Belgian beer, and we gathered at the table. And just when started to pick up our forks, Greta, sitting in her usual spot between us, reached for our hands and said, ‘Mamma, the prayer!’ Oh yes, the prayer. She bowed her head and started, ‘dear Lord, thank you so much for everything. We’re grateful for our family. We’re grateful for … (something we couldn’t quite make out) and ice cream. Now eat. The end.’”
Greg from Chef and Father wrote about the joys of cooking for his girls while they’re on the trampoline.
“I have two ways of cooking. Really slow or really fast. Both take the same amount of time though. I either spend ten minutes getting something in the oven and then have an hour or two to play, pull weeds in the garden, jump some more„ whatever. Then it is five minutes to put out the meal. That is the slow way. Fast way is just 15 minutes start to finish without stopping. Slow way might be a roast chicken or some braised pork. Fast way might be some salmon with greens and kimchi. Either way it is about 15 minutes of cooking. Plenty of time left over for jumping.”
Chelsea from Blackberry Eating in Late September writes about the dinners she’s trying to craft for her husband and herself:
“That act of gathering around the table, though, or munching away on the couch, that’s not all dinner is. At least not for me. For me, dinner starts in my brain. Dishes, flavors, raw ingredients that could be combined jostle around, shouting for attention, telling me their stories. What if I used hash browns instead of tortillas to make a quesadilla? What would that be like? What if, for extra texture, I folded kale chips into the hash at the last minute instead of serving them on the side? What if, oooh, I roasted the mushrooms for stroganoff instead of just sautéing them in a pan? It’s like the scene in Disney’s The Sword in the Stone where Merlin packs up his traveling bag, except instead of dishes and furniture waltzing through the room, it’s ingredients.”
“We love to cook because we love to eat, but it’s more than that. We love to sit down as a family and talk about the food, talk about our days, tell fart jokes (we DO have a teenager, after all), and eat. The only differences now, from 7 years ago? I’m a better cook, which helps. Teenager now gets the biggest portion (and pronounces himself hungry shortly afterwards). We’ll stay with the family dinners, thanks.”
Emily from Home Cooking with Em and M writes about how she and her husband have worked out how to cook dinners together.
“We cook most dinners together. We take turns as ‘chef’ and ‘sous chef,’ or divide the meal into parts and decide who’s responsible for what. We’ve learned that we tackle projects best by dividing them into pieces, and then working separately toward the common goal… so this is how we approach dinner. We’ve also learned that we like to be in the same space but working on different things. Sometimes one of us cooks and the other will clean, but we have much more fun when we do both of them together.”
Marisa from Food in Jars writes about the joys of eating simple dinners with her husband.
“While we don’t yet have kids to bring into the family dinner fold, Scott and I eat dinner together nearly every night. Often, the meals we share are quite similar to the ones that my mom used serve (this apple didn’t fall far from the tree in terms of wanting to make food that tastes good, isn’t overly complex, and doesn’t take all day to make). There’s something so very comfortable about wrapping up a busy day with another person over a meal. I love many things about being married, but this is among my favorite aspects.”
Lovely Jen from My Kitchen Addiction writes about how keeping a blog sometimes makes her feel like her dinners should be perfect.
“It certainly wasn’t the kind of meal that you’d see beautifully photographed on one of the many food photography sites. There were no perfectly pressed linens with beautiful matching plates and perfectly arranged props. I pushed the clutter out of the way to make enough room on the dining room table for the pizza peel. We grabbed some plates and sat down for dinner. Madison has started dining with us in the last few weeks, so I also grabbed a squeeze pack of baby food, her dinner for the evening – a lovely blend of broccoli, peas, and pears. (Yes, that’s right, I hadn’t even made my own baby food.)”
Finally, my friend Karen from Chookooloonks wrote about an incredible farm dinner she had the joy to attend with her family. She is also giving away a copy of our cookbook! So go on over to her post and leave a comment about food you love.
“And this, this is what I love about food. I mean, I love the flavours and the artistry of creating a wonderful meal (and Benjy and Richard are really true talents when it comes to doing this), but for me, a great meal is less about the food, and more about the connections that happen in its presence. Place amazing food in front of strangers, and suddenly they all have something in common: they’re all sharing something beautiful with each other, and it necessarily creates a bond.”
I can’t think of a better way to say it. Sitting down together means we’re sharing something beautiful together, even when it’s imperfect. Especially when it’s imperfect. Whether it’s eaten at a goat farm in beautiful weather or on a battered couch while watching a compelling television show, food sits us next to each other and says, “You’re connected. Enjoy this.”
Our new cookbook, Gluten-Free Girl Every Day is filled with recipes for delicious weeknight dinners. It comes out tomorrow. Tomorrow, we let go. It’s all yours. Our greatest hope is that you cook from our book. We hope you make some great family dinners together.