“My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four. Unless there are three other people” ~ Orson Welles
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I really look forward to the couple of days out of the week that I give my daughter a ride to work. A few minutes, just the two of us, to catch up. It's fun to hear what she's thinking about and how she's approaching her life, now that she has a little one of her own.
“Now that I'm a mom, I want to have dinner as a family as much as we can. Growing up, I wish we would've done it more often.”
It's often said that families are created around the dinner table. That it's the most important hour of the day. The time we need to pause, say a prayer, and eat potatoes together, night after night, without fail; no matter what.
Forever and ever. Amen
Dinner time is sacred; it will make you a family, it's been written
Certainly, it can be sacred. Certainly, it can be part of what makes you a family. But I'm not convinced either of these things happen because of the hour, .or if the dishes match, or what's being served
I've come to believe it's sacred and will make you a better family if, and only if, one chooses to see it that way
My childhood was delineated, in part, by the farming crisis of the 1980s.
In the early years, growing up on our family's farm in northwestern Iowa, there was a predictable flow to our evenings. In the summer and winter months, after the chores were finished, we'd sit down together for meals made from recipes of friends and neighbors, gathered together in well-worn church cookbooks
Casseroles, pot-roasts, and dessert salads.
During planting or harvest season, dinner was sandwiches eaten brown-bag-style, in the cab of the tractor or combine. At dusk, my brother and I headed off to the fields on our three-wheeler. Special delivery to my father and grandfather while they worked, well into the night.
Then came the farming crisis. The season my parents decided to go back to school, and pursue their college degrees (brave!) Between parents with days full of work and school, and two busy teenagers, family dinners were far
from the norm
None of us thought about it much. We knew the Schwan's man by name, warmed burritos from the freezer, cooked noodles on the stove and covered them with cheese, opened the peanut butter jar and made cinnamon toast
Some days, we'd forget the sacred, the togetherness. We'd focus on the homework, the mess, the dishes, the everyday
But on others, the ones my father would break out the Aunt Jemima and boysenberry syrup, or my Granny would be visiting, and in the kitchen making cabbage rolls. Those still make me smile
When I became a mom of my own, I remember feeling exactly the way she does today. That I so badly wanted to do everything right, and the only way family dinner should be done is around the kitchen table, over meat and vegetables at 6 pm.
Please pass the salt
But now, I know better
To the mother with a car full of hungry kids navigating the drive-through. #7 no mayo, #4 hold the meat + lots of tomatoes, #10 with the works. Is that everything? Probably not, but it'll be good enough. Sacred mealtime, you're making a family
To the weary father in the middle of the night, re-heating last night's meatloaf while warming the baby's bottle. Sacred mealtime, you're making a family
To the grandparents at the park with your grandchild. Animal crackers and apple juice shared on a bench. Sacred mealtime, you're making a family
To the college student eating a bologna sandwich at the library. Sacred mealtime
To the puppies who wait at your feet to QA those eggs, or pancakes, or cheese slices. Sacred mealtime, you're making a family
To the ones we love, to those we don't understand; to those, we're glad we left the door open to. Sacred mealtime, we're making a family
To those, we keep showing up for, even if the gesture isn't recognized or returned. Sacred mealtime, we're making a family
To those, we keep frying eggs for, keep wiping crumbs from, keep passing the salt to, keep refilling wine for, keep spreading love and patience and apple butter to
Sacred mealtime, we're making a family
We're lucky enough to have a talented neighbor who's known for many things, including her love of interesting salads, and this is no exception — her addition to last month's Spaghetti Saturday.
As a whole, the salad is absolutely wonderful. Fennel and apple are such great partners, brightened by the vinaigrette. Refreshing, crispy, crunchy, and light. It's a salad that brings color and happiness to any meal.
A note about the grains: in her original, she cooked the grains before adding them.
Here, taking a queue from Cooking Light, I've included the frying step. They're easy to make, and on their own, the crunchy spelt tasted a bit like unpopped popcorn kernels. Fried, they have a nutty flavor and become incredibly crisp.
Once incorporated into the salad, they're transformative — the addition of the perfect and unexpected crunch.
ps: For recipes and stories from Spaghetti Saturday .. here
Crunchy Apple, Fennel, and Grains Salad
- 4-5 Tsp Trader Joe’s Orange Muscat Champagne Vinegar (or 3 Tsp apple cider vinegar)
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- 2 Tsp fresh dill or tarragon, chopped
- 2 small fennel bulbs, stalks trimmed and thinly sliced, chopping enough fronds for 2 tsp
- 2 firm and crisp apples (Pink Lady, Jazz, Gala), cut into julienne strips
- Crunchy Grains
- 2 cups cooked grains (spelt or wheat berries are good)
- 4 cups coconut oil (or canola oil)
- fresh berries (raspberries, blueberries, etc.)
- pinch sea salt + freshly ground black pepper
- pomegranate seeds or sprinkles of goat cheese
- Crunchy Grains
- Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat until a thermometer submerged in the oil registers 375°. (Don't use a smaller pot because the moisture in the grains will cause the oil to bubble up vigorously)
- Add ½ cup grains to the hot oil and cook 4 to 5 minutes, or until grains have browned and are crisp. (Maintain oil temperature at 375°, and fry in small batches)
- Remove fried grains from the pan with a slotted spoon; drain on paper towels.
- Repeat with remaining grains, ½ cup at a time.
- In a small bowl, add the vinegar, lemon juice, dill/tarragon, and whisk.
- Slowly add the olive oil
- Set aside
- In a medium-sized bowl, add the fennel, fennel fronds, apples, and grains
- Pour the dressing over the top and toss to combine.
- Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Sprinkle berries on top