Home for Dinner
Mixing Food, Fun, and Conversation for a Happier Family and Healthier Kids
Author: Anne K. Fishel, Ph.D.
Pub Date: January 2015
Print Edition: $16.00
Print ISBN: 9780814433706
Page Count: 240
Format: Paper or Softback
e-Book ISBN: 9780814433713
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Welcome to the Table
Experiences with food have played a central role in my life as a wife, mother, teacher, therapist, and community organizer, and they constitute the raw ingredients for this book.
I first made a commitment to cooking tasty family dinners twenty-two years ago when my husband gave up smoking after our second son was born. It seemed like a fair trade—one oral pleasure to nourish and delight him in exchange for another that could kill him. In the bargain, I soon realized I had stumbled onto something with unexpected benefits for everyone in my family. Some nights, my two young sons wanted to help—at first just banging pots around but later stirring the soup, washing the greens, and pulling basil leaves off their stems. Their kitchen participation turned them into stakeholders at dinner—they wanted to try their own handiwork. Other nights, they preferred to play with their father. On those nights, I was left alone in the kitchen, and cooking became the one quiet, meditative time of my day. It felt like a guilty pleasure. In the guise of being a good mother, I earned some time to myself.
We ate dinner in the kitchen around a wooden table. It was cozy when our sons were young, but it became pleasantly cramped as they stretched out to more than six feet tall. My sons were adventurous and demanding eaters. They egged me on to try a new dish almost every night despite my wish to build up a repertoire of recipes that I could make in my sleep (a state I hovered close to as a working mother with two young kids).
While I wasn’t exactly Julie Powell trying all of Julia Child’s recipes, I did try to keep up with my sons’ curiosity about new foods, and I experimented with dishes I’d never eaten before. Once, we spent an entire afternoon trying to open a coconut they’d spied at the supermarket after seeing one in a Babar the Elephant book. The coconut remained stubbornly shut despite my assaults on it with hammer, screwdriver, and knife. Finally, I cleared out the street below and we threw it out a third-floor window. This was effective, but it meant that we couldn’t use the coconut milk, which supposedly was the best part.
Another time, we made limeade by squeezing about twenty limes like mad. Days later, my older son, the chief squeezer, developed a mysterious rash in a C-shape around his thumb and index finger. After consultations with numerous pediatricians who were stumped, a nurse diagnosed it as a rash that develops when sun interacts with lime juice. Other mishaps occurred from time to time when I tried a new recipe. I recall a hollandaise sauce that tasted like papier-mâché. But I like to think that my sons and I learned to appreciate one another’s willingness to try new things even when the results were inedible and never to be repeated.
As my sons got older, they began to cook dishes and then courses and then whole meals on their own. One night a few years ago, I came home from seeing patients at Massachusetts General Hospital, feeling tired and depleted. As I entered the house, I was struck by the homey smell of melting cheese and saw that the kitchen was strewn with cookbooks. Knowing I would be home late, my younger son, Joe, had driven to the store and purchased ingredients to make dinner. And not just any dinner, but a blue cheese soufflé accompanied by a salad of beets, spinach, and roasted walnuts. He was headed off to college in a few months, and I knew he’d learned one important lesson at home: the power of a home-cooked meal to bring cheer at the end of a long day.
Now that my sons live in their own apartments, I am proud that they are competent and creative cooks. (My husband is another issue, but I didn’t raise him!) My older son, Gabe, can throw a dinner party for a dozen friends, with stuffed eggplant, butterflied chicken, and a risotto made with from-scratch chicken stock. Joe makes dinner in a shoebox-size New York kitchen and then takes leftovers to work for lunch.
But I don’t want to leave you with the impression that my family dinners have been a seamless affair with everyone praising my culinary efforts, asking to chop the onions, and offering to wash the dishes. Making dinner night after night was sometimes tedious and frustrating. I often felt too tired to cook, or didn’t have the ingredients I needed, or had started cooking so late that the kids had spoiled their appetites on snacks by the time dinner was ready, or I couldn’t think of a menu that would please everyone, or I threw up my hands when the kids’ rehearsals and athletic practices were scheduled at the dinner hour.
Home for Dinner is intended for any parent who feels similarly frustrated, bored, or overwhelmed by the prospect of making dinner night after night. Think of this book as a well-stocked pantry that has sauces to perk up a tired meal or a can of beans to add nutrition to a familiar dish. Perhaps, one night when you’ve run out of ideas of what to cook for dinner or what to talk about at the table, you’ll remember something you read here and pull it out, like grabbing something from a back shelf. My hope is that you can dip into it tonight, next week, or next year for something to make dinner easier or more enjoyable. There’s nothing here that is meant to be a heavy lift, nothing that requires an overhaul of what you’re already doing.
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