Dinner Grades

The other day, I was brainstorming dinner ideas, which is not an infrequent occurrence, and I suddenly realized I had a pot of pasta with green onions in the refrigerator. This pasta had started out to be pasta salad for a school event on Wednesday. But after an incident at school that day, the event had been postponed until the next week. Half of the pasta had been made into salad for a pot luck on Friday, but the rest of the pasta (complete with green onions) was still in my fridge. In limbo. And there was my dinner starting point.

I turned to the trusty Internet to find a recipe that would work for my particular pasta dilemma. Oh, and my daughter is currently testing out a vegetarian diet, so I had to find something vegetarian yet hearty enough to satisfy two ravenous boys. Not too tall of an order, I suppose.

I searched pasta and green onions since those were the ingredients already mixed together. Chicken… nope, bacon… nope, shrimp… oh, come on. I finally stumbled on Spaghetti with Skinny Green Onion Sauce. It was made with peppers, onions, and tomatoes with a base that included tomato paste and cream cheese. I could easily swap out the spaghetti for the pasta I had! I went to work, hoping the recipe would turn out as good as it looked.

As we sat down and began to eat dinner, a quiet fell over the diners at the table. That’s always a good sign. A minute or so later after several bites, C said, “This is really good, Mom—I give it an A+!” (as if grading dinner was a thing). He paused for just a second, then he looked me straight in the eye and added, “That’ll bring your grade up.”

Next to him, his younger brother’s eyes widened and his jaw dropped in a split second of shock. Then he pulled himself together. “That was rude!” he commented, and I burst out laughing. The thought of being graded on my cooking was humorous in itself, but the fact that this meal would “bring my grade up” made me wonder what my grades had been on previous meals.

Too bad I’ll never know. But at least dinner was a hit!

 

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Ice Cream

The question was bound to come eventually. We had finished dinner (though apparently not dessert), and I was upstairs when I heard it, asked from one boy to the other, older brother to younger.

“What is it about those two flavors that make it better to mix them?” he asked. A burst of laughter threatened to give away my own curiosity on this issue. In truth, I had wondered this same thing countless times, but because this was a long-standing habit, I was used to it, and never asked.

Ever since I can remember, any time we went out for ice cream, W would order one scoop of vanilla and one scoop of mint chocolate chip in a large bowl. Then he would proceed to stir it up until it was all one flavor—vanilla-mint, melty and smooth.

I had been observing this phenomenon for years. I bought cartons of classic vanilla and mint chocolate chip ice cream, so he could prepare this concoction at home. And yet, I had never asked the reason why.

Sometimes, brothers can take not knowing only so long, and they finally break down and ask. But then I heard him ask, “What does it taste like, anyway? Can I try it?” And I wondered if he really wanted to try it, or if this was his way of getting some of his brother’s ice cream. Vanilla-mint or diluted-mint would not be my own personal choice….

The question of why he mixes these flavors was bound to come eventually. From upstairs, I didn’t hear the full answer, but for me, it was satisfying just to hear the question asked.

Just once…

I went grocery shopping on the way home from work yesterday. Grocery shopping is probably my least favorite job of the week, so I would definitely consider it a chore.

It was Friday afternoon, and the market was crowded with faceless shoppers on their way home from work. The only thing that would have made it worse was if there had been an impending snowstorm when everyone has to go out for bread and milk. Who knows why….

Anyway, I picked up everything I thought we might need for the majority of the week since I don’t want to go back right away. I got bread and milk and meat and veggies. The grapes looked good—green with a hint of blush (and they were not mushy)—so I picked up a couple pounds them. I might have gotten more, but I’ve learned over the years. If I get grapes and they are a touch too sour or the flavor isn’t just right, no one eats them.

I arrived home to two teens who could help me unload the groceries while I started dinner—it was fairly late by this time. I pulled the grapes out of the bag and tossed them into a colander and washed them. I tried one, and it was the perfect flavor and firmness. I ate a couple more as I made dinner.

When J came into the kitchen to set the table for dinner, they were still in the colander in the sink, so she tried one, as well. Her reaction was nearly identical to mine. “Ooo, those grapes are good!” she commented, stuffing a couple more into her mouth.

“Umm, dinner in two minutes!” I told her.

“They can be dessert!” she informed me, eating a few more.

When dinner was nearly done, J brought the grapes to the table. With two teens digging in, those grapes didn’t stand a chance. By the end of the meal, there were three grapes remaining. The two teens were too stuffed to eat even three grapes more.

Just once, I would like to come home from the market and not have to return in another day or two to pick up something that we have run out of. Apparently, this week is not my week. At least I can take comfort in the fact that they’re eating healthy!

 

The Middle of the Night

Many years ago, when my children were very little, I was in a writing group. This was a group of women who met every Wednesday to write. Unlike many writing groups, we did not meet primarily to critique each other’s writing. We spent much of our time actually writing with the option of sharing our work at various points in our session.

This blissful few hours each Wednesday night was an oasis from the trenches of early parenthood and my early days as a single mom. During this time, there were no diapers, no schedules, and no crying babies. It was me, this group of women, and our pens and notebooks.

When I was void of ideas, I would often start my freewriting with, “It is two o’clock in the morning, and I am….” I found this starting point could lead me in a variety of directions and was often all I needed to jump-start my writing brain. Because I am usually not awake at two a.m., crazy things would often happen on the page—a meandering sort of writing that could lead anywhere.

One memorable piece started with “It is two o’clock in the morning, and I am weeding the garden.” In the piece, I was weeding hastily, taking out the day’s frustrations on my garden. And in my haste—and the dark and the furious pace at which I was working—I accidentally pulled up something that was not a weed, but was a thing of beauty. It was, at the time, a reminder that beauty was all around me and I needed to take the time to appreciate it.

These days, there is a bit of a wrinkle to the middle-of-the-night writing prompt. The wrinkle is that I live with teenagers, and on any given night, I could write about what is actually happening in my house in the middle of the night.

It is two o’clock in the morning, and from the comfort of my bed, I hear the refrigerator close and the microwave open. It must be snack time. Either that, or all of the food in the house is being sucked into the black hole that exists just beyond the microwave’s false back. It is amazing how much food seems to disappear in the middle of the night….

And I can continue to write, documenting more of my night. Four thirty in the morning, and someone is stirring. A light comes on, and a teen is up, preparing to catch a bus scheduled for 5:30. As the heat clicks on and the wind howls just beyond my window, I remember the child out camping in the woods tonight, and I shiver.

I am usually not awake in the middle of the night, but crazy things often happen in my house—a messy sort of meandering night that is always a possibility when there are multiple teens and young adults residing in the house.

Bread

My daughter was recently telling me about an experience she had at school. Her English teacher was talking about his experiences when he was younger. He told the students that there was a time when people started to realize that bread was not good for them, and bread companies almost went out of business.

“Can you imagine if that had happened?” he asked them. “There would be no bread anymore.”

“What do you mean there wouldn’t be any bread?” my daughter responded. “People would just bake their own bread.” Because that’s a simple solution.

But then she realized that her classmates were looking at her as if vines were growing out of her head and traveling down her back. “No one bakes bread,” they told her definitively.

At that point, I imagine she shrugged, puzzled, and went about her business. She turned to a friend and quietly said, “My mom bakes bread all the time….”

That afternoon, as she told me the story, I could only chuckle. “I have to agree with your classmates. No one bakes bread anymore.”

This was one of those moments when my daughter realized that even though she might think our family is completely normal, maybe it’s not. And it was a moment for me to recognize that my kids might be a bit sheltered.

So what if my kids live a sheltered life? If “normal” means we don’t eat home-baked bread, I’d rather not be normal!

 

Teen Dinner

So there I was yesterday afternoon, minding my own business, sitting in my office proofreading a document. It was 3:30, and I was thinking about how the evening was likely to play out. At home, my youngest was packing for a weekend camping trip with the Scouts. When I left work, I would go directly home and drive him to where the troop would be meeting. However, I had just reread the email, and a worrisome feeling came over me like a shadow.

According to the email, my son was responsible for eating dinner before the troop assembled, a fact which was frequently true before camping trips. However, before I left for work on this particular morning, I had cooked a pound of spaghetti and popped it in the fridge so the assembly of a dinner casserole would be hastened before I sped off to a class. In my mind, I could see the bowl in the fridge, his hands reaching for it, and the majority of it disappearing before I even got home. Once he got to it, that will be the end of the spaghetti.

Anticipating his approaching dinnertime, I texted him, listing the food options he might choose other than the spaghetti. Thankfully, we had some leftover chicken he particularly liked.

If you are looking to evoke a slight panic at the end of the work day, there really is nothing like the realization that your hungry teen might consume your partially prepared dinner!

Family Dinner

When I was growing up, we always had our evening meal together as a family. I have maintained that tradition as much as possible in my life with my children, as I feel it is important that we sit down together and share a meal and conversation. At dinner, we can sit together, relax, and enjoy each other’s company while we are doing something we need to do anyway. After all, from my experience, there is nothing as effective as food to bring teenagers to the table.

Our family meals might start out calm and orderly. “Could you pour the milk?” “Please pass the salt.” “This is really good, Mom. Thanks.” But any time you have three teenage siblings in the same small space for any length of time, “calm and orderly” can unravel fast and stuff begins to happen. I’m just gonna say it: Our family dinners can get a little rowdy. Take last night, for example.

I don’t know how things deteriorated as quickly as they did, but it started with one of the younger siblings deciding that the oldest would be responsible for fetching anything that was needed—milk, salt, dessert, utensils. The jovial requests picked up in intensity. When younger brother said, “Hey C, can you get me some ice cream? Oh, and I’ll need a bowl. And a spoon. Don’t forget the ice cream scoop…,” C decided spoon, bowl, and scoop would be best delivered via air mail. And so, a spoon flew across my kitchen into the [thankfully] nimble hands of little brother.

“Did you just throw that?” I turned to ask. But by the time the words had come out, a ceramic bowl passed through the air from one boy to the other. “STOP!” I commanded. “Do not throw dishes and utensils!” Seriously? Why is this even something that has to be explicitly stated? This could have gone very badly, but thankfully, it did not. It was not until a few minutes later, when C was playfully tossing a cup in the air to tease me that he dropped it. At least that one was plastic. It does make me wonder what they do when I’m not home.

Come to think of it, this may just be the very behavior that has carved so many chips out of the edges of my dishes….