Tuesday, October 6, 2015

ABCs of Dinnertime

Our youngest just turned 3. We now have a 3, 5, and 7-year-old. As you may imagine, dinnertime at our house is organized chaos, at best. Even with just one we struggled to sit at any table for more than 5 minutes. Our oldest was particularly active at mealtime and she still will perch rather than sit in her chair at the table. Once she was mobile, restaurants loathed seeing us because she would sit in her high chair for 2 minutes at a time, even when food appeared in front her. My husband and I ate in shifts as the other would walk the restaurant with our child who was delighted to discover her legs were made for more than kicking.
Then our second arrived. She refused to eat anything, ANYTHING, until she was over a year old and she refused to take a bottle. At every meal she was attached to me most of the time, meaning my husband took double-duty with our first. At home we could let our oldest run around and attack her meal hit-and-run style while we sat and actually attempted a conversation.
Upon the arrival of number 3, we had fairly given up on the concept of a family dinner until they all reached 5+ years of age. We would set the plated food at each child’s place setting, they would swarm, and we would sit with our plates to discover we may have 3 minutes left with them to say the blessing and share a story or two from our days before they were up and playing again. While my husband and I enjoyed the time to talk to one another, every study rang through our minds of the importance of family dinner time to family, mental, and educational health and the parental guilt would begin to creep into the most insecure recesses of our minds.
Then last Christmas I realized the kids, then 2, 4, and 6, were old enough for one of my favorite holiday stories: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. I hadn’t read it since I was in elementary school and my husband had never even heard of the book. Bedtime is fractured between us cleaning the kitchen, picking up the house, and the kids getting ready at various speeds to take the fast train to sleepy town. That is not a good time for us to read anything longer than the standard hardback children’s story.
Dinnertime it was. I knew that was the one time of the day that all 5 of us sat in any one place. I had a captive audience.
If you aren’t familiar with the story, do read it. It is sweet, sure to bring tears to your eyes, and remind you of all that can be beautiful about the Christmas season.
As we started, the kids began with impatience and uncertainty, unfamiliar with the rich tradition of cloistered communities of reading to one another at meals…not that it would have mattered if they were. It took about two chapters read over two meals for them to become invested in the characters and want to see what they did next. About three chapters in and my husband was hooked as well. He’s not afraid to admit to watery eyes during the last chapter. I used it in my Christmas sermon last year and still teared up in my retelling.
With The Best Christmas Pageant Ever a new tradition in our household was born and, with it, the ability to have the whole family sit through an entire meal. We have read standard hardback library books and new books given by friends and family members for holidays and birthdays. Most recently we read the Illustrated Classics version of The Wind in the Willows and tonight started The Borrowers.
Yes, one of us has to be reading while the others eat, but it’s completely worth it. About halfway into a book my husband and I can take turns reading and the kids will sit while both of us have time to finish eating.
Aside from quality family time, I’ve gotten to read several books I had always had good intentions to pick up but never quite got around to. Toad’s Wild Ride was my favorite ride at Disney World until they replaced it with the Peter Pan ride and it was great to read the story to the kids and think about hopping in the old car with Toad once again.
Tonight’s meal was another “How do you do it?” meal. Once again I visited with a new acquaintance today and heard that oft-repeated refrain. Modern conveniences sometimes really are just that.

Slow-cooker Pork Loin with Apples, Cinnamon, and Honey
I picked up about a 2 pound pork loin on sale today and hoped I would have time to cook it when I got home. Then I realized I had a few more errands to run and a much-wanted trip to the nail place. About every 6 weeks I like to take some of my week’s reading and sit while someone with wonderful patience and skilled hands work away some of my life’s journey as recorded in the muscles of my feet. Wanting to have my cake and eat it to (or “have it all”), down from the shelf I pulled my trusted friend.

Pork Loin (2-3 lbs)
2 Onions, quartered
3 Apples (Granny Smith work best), cored and sliced into ½ inch pieces
3-5 Garlic Cloves
2-3 cups Mini-Carrots
Ground Cinnamon
4 XL Sage leaves (I picked these from my herb garden and they really are huge. You would need 8-9 grocery store sized leaves)
1/3-1/2 cup Apple Cider

Place the onion, 1 ½ of the apples, and the carrots in the slow-cooker. Use a garlic press and press the garlic cloves into the slow-cooker. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and cinnamon. Drizzle honey over everything. Using kitchen shears, cut the sage into strips over the vegetables. On a cutting board make slices in the top of the pork loin being careful not to cut all the way through. You want to make deep slits in the loin, not cut up the loin into individual pieces. Take the rest of the apple slices and tuck, skin-side-up, into the grooves you have cut in the loin. I put two pieces of apple per slit. Whatever apple you have left, simply add to the bottom of the slow-cooker. Place the loin on top of the vegetables and apples in the slow-cooker. Salt and pepper the top of the loin. Drizzle honey well over the top of the loin. I didn’t hold back on the honey as we like the sweetness and flavor. Pour the apple cider down the side of the slow-cooker so as not to wash any of the seasoning off of the loin. A splash of apple brandy would be yummy as well. Cook on high 3-4 hours.

More Easy Sides
The slow-cooker will cook the carrots and apples while the loin is cooking. The carrots will still be firm and the apples soft. But my kids would not consider these adequate sides by themselves so I added two of our go-to easy sides: Oven fries and roasted broccoli.

Oven Fries (I prefer Yukon Gold)
Preheat oven to 450 and line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper. I love the parchment paper because the potatoes still brown and crisp but don’t stick to the cookie sheet.
Peel the desired number of potatoes and cut them as you would French fries. Put pieces in a water bath while you peel and cut all the potatoes. This keeps them from browning and helps soak away some of the starch from the potatoes.
Spin potato pieces in a salad spinner then dab with a paper towel or lint-free kitchen towel to dry them as much as possible.
Toss potato pieces with olive oil and whatever seasonings you may like. Tonight I used salt, onion powder, garlic powder, and curry. The slight curry flavor went great with the pork.
Put potato pieces in single layer on the cookie sheet and put in the oven. Watch them and flip once they have browned partially on one side. Continue to cook until potato pieces have browned more and are cooked through (about 30-40 minutes).

Roasted Broccoli
My kids aren’t huge vegetable eaters, much to my dismay, but broccoli always seems to go down without much of a fuss, especially if I roast it. I like to buy the pre-cut florets in a bag in the produce section. Frozen work ok but will be mushier.
Toss the broccoli florets with some olive oil and salt then place on a cookie sheet. Put into a 450 degree oven for 8-10 minutes until broccoli has a few browned spots. If you use fresh broccoli, the broccoli will still be firm but not too crunchy. This one is great because I just add it to the oven about two-thirds of the way into the potatoes’ cooking time.

Share this meal with your family as you start your first dinnertime book!

1 comment:

  1. What an inventive way to "still the children" for some family wholehearted time!


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