The Mom’s Network of Walla Walla invited me to talk about Family Meal Time, their initiative to re-prioritize dining together as a family. Last Saturday, I met a wonderful and inspiring group of women, had terrific support from Wine Country Culinary Institute and cooked with grassfed beef (from shaggy Highland cattle) from the Lostine Cattle Company.
Two nights after I returned from Walla Walla, I faced a full-fledged rebellion in my own kitchen. Both girls arrived at the table and before sitting down, rained complaints all over the dinner and me. Admittedly, I didn’t have it entirely together, but I’d made something different for each of them, something I thought they’d like (broccoli with cheese sauce for Cece and beet salad for Molly; squash soup for Benjamin and me).
The food was really beside the point. No matter what I serve, I don’t think it calls for shouted complaints and threats to never eat dinner again.
So, I left the girls to their shared unhappiness and with Benjamin and escaped the yelling frenzy. I went for an evening stroll around the neighborhood. Daylight savings made it nice and light and the air was pleasantly mild. No dogs even barked at me, and I cleared my head.
I thought about what I’d said to the Mom’s Network group: Dinner is hard. For everyone. Maybe it’s okay just to accept that it’s hard.
I wish I’d taken it one step further to point out that it’s the most important things are the most challenging. Feeding those we love, including ourselves, day in day out is one of the most important things we do. Culturally, we want to push dinnertime aside to make time for all the other activities and priorities. We pine for 15- and 30-minute dinners. I am right there with speed and ease, but I do not want to sacrifice pleasure, or the few moments a day when we gather, all four of us, around the table. What, really, no matter what we’re eating, is more important than that?
Inspired by the women in Walla Walla, I decided to run a new series here on Rural Eating called Dinner 911. It’s the go-to meal when you don’t have a plan or your plans didn’t work out and you’ve worked late or are otherwise too distracted, frazzled or pre-occupied (maybe in a good way) to think.
My first suggestion is the rice bowl–simply prepared vegetables over a bed of steamed rice. Here’s what I love about it:
- jasmine rice steams in 20 minutes
- any type or quantity of vegetable you have on hand gets called in for duty
- use them raw (have the kids help peel carrots, cut zucchini, etc.), or
- quickly stir fry with garlic or soy sauce or toss with sesame oil and salt
- everyone gets to pick only what they like
- perfect for leftovers of salmon, beef, chicken or pork
- kids add soy sauce, sesame oil and sesame seeds to taste; adults add hot sauce
Dinner 911 doesn’t depend on a recipe. It’s a concrete concept to adapt to your time frame, state of mind and the contents of your fridge. I’ll include links to recipes wherever useful. In the case of this vegetarian bibimbap in the photo, I followed instructions for preparing the carrots, bean sprouts and zucchini from recipes here and here.
What’s your Dinner 911?