At Least I Can Make Dinner

My daughter said the other day, “We have like three things for dinner,” meaning we do not have enough variety in our dinner menu. This, despite that I just made rice with a homemade Yumm style sauce with peas and potatoes, something I had never tried before, which was, if I may say, even though I made it myself and may be biased or at least have a stake in that particular meal’s success, particularly tasty. Three things indeed.

My son really likes pizza. When my daughter is not around we have pizza at least once a week. What can beat fresh dough that can be garnished with a variety of sauces and toppings and cheeses? I mean, pizza is great, and fresh from the oven? It can’t be beat. So I was going to make pizza, since it has been a couple of weeks since we have had that (I’m sorry did you say three things?). But apparently pizza is one of the three things, so instead I made a pizza wannabe.

I guess you could call it a stromboli. Instead of dough with carefully scattered toppings, I mixed a bunch of stuff together–sauteed shallots and orange bell pepper, chopped spinach, cheddar and parmesan, and goat cheese. The goat cheese was the kicker. I rolled out a huge square of dough, laid out some tomato sauce and spread out the mixed stuff. Then I pulled in the corners and tucked them in to make a square pie. And baked.

And that thing was good. I had never made quite that same dish. I mean, I have wrapped up ingredients in dough and baked it, but never in a square. A square stuffed pizza/stromboli/new thing for dinner. It was hot and savory with a crunchy chewy crust and gooey yumminess in the middle. I may be crappy at other aspects of parenting/husbanding, but at least I can cook up a quality dinner. Dammit. I got your three things. Plus a whole lot more. You want some variety, kid? Bring it.

Pancakes for Dinner

I have been cooking dinner pretty much every night these days, what with being home all the time. I don’t have a drive home after working later than I should and then a day’s worth of fatigue to dissuade me. Instead I close my laptop and head to the kitchen.

I used to make pancakes fairly frequently. Saturday morning I would whip up some batter and fire up the griddle and, once everyone was up for the day, I would cook up some pancakes. Maple syrup and berries and bananas and nuts and whatever we had that seemed appropriate to top of them off–that was the extra prep work. But now that our kids are older, they sleep in. Pancakes for breakfast? More like pancakes for lunch.

Since that morning rise time is unpredictable (could be 9:00, could be noon) and since it is rare that everyone gets up at the same time, I just don’t make pancakes anymore. It isn’t as enjoyable to eat them alone and the batter doesn’t last for hours. It is a breakfast that just doesn’t make sense these days.

But we do eat dinner together. And I have been wanting pancakes. So we had a marriage of convenience last night. And that relationship was one to savor while it lasted. I made yeasted batter and while it rose I sliced strawberries and washed the few blueberries we had left and cut a banana into discs. I heated some maple syrup, as well as the griddle and off we went.

We enjoyed dinner. I mean, pancakes are great, especially these yeasted pancakes. I did not make them with buttermilk, which really makes them excite the taste buds, but one has what one has. Dinner together–that works. We pretty much never have breakfast together so this was a bit of a throwback.

I did polish off a half gallon of maple syrup and cracked open the next one–our last one I am afraid. We never got down the road to the sugar shack to get more this spring. I am sure they still have some as their season was cut a bit short. I need to give them a call and set a time to stop on over to get more. Everyone wins with that deal. And it means we can have pancakes for dinner another night. I am sure we will have the chance. We will be stuck at home at least a month more yet.

Saturday Bagels

In the past I have gone with the overnight rise. Make the dough, shape the bagels, let them rise in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning? Boil and bake. Bagels for breakfast. I went the standard route yesterday, however. I made the dough in the morning, let it rise, then shaped the bagels. One more rise, then boil and bake.

I tried something new with this batch. I have made plain bagels and I have made cinnamon raisin bagels. This time I used some whole wheat flour along with all-purpose flour where I have used just bread flour in the past. Flour is in short supply these days, what with all the quarantine baking happening, so I added whole wheat flour to increase the gluten content. And I also added toppings.

I have to admit I had a bit of a fear of toppings in the past. Wouldn’t they burn in the oven? Or fall off? But this time I added Everything topping (King Arthur makes a quality mix) to some, and grated parmesan to others. And I left a couple plain as well.

They were not ready for breakfast, but they were just right for a hot afternoon snack. We had no cream cheese (also out of stock these days) but hot bagels are great any time, if you ask me. And the toppings worked like a charm. So good. Will definitely do that again.

I have said it before, but bagels are easy to make. Letting them rise overnight makes them easy, no doubt, but when you have the time, letting them rise on the counter is just as simple. I am pretty sure my family enjoyed them. My wife almost burned her fingers and her mouth she was so eager to eat one. So quarantine bagels? Doing that again.

Pile of Games

It has been a while since we have all been home together. And it has been even longer since we have all been home together for this long. We all get along well, two adults and two teenagers, so mostly things are copacetic. We help each other when needed and stay out of each other’s way at other times. We watch movies together and eat dinner together and play games together.

LIFE has been a favorite for a while. As you can see from the photo above we have several versions of it. We have a more classic version–the 50th anniversary edition which has updated graphics from the one from the 1960s. We have the electronic banking version–everyone has a “credit card” that uses a card reader to keep track of the dollars.

Then we have the Despicable Me version–branded to match the movies with minions instead of cars for pawns. That one is designed for younger children so it is a quick game. And then we have a more modern version with pets. In this last one everyone has car or a dog in their car and there are cards with specific pet themes (“You’ve won a pet beauty contest! Collect $50,000!) Seems a lot for that but I’ll take it.

The Escape Room games are fun. They are challenging and rewarding, but I can’t deny I find them a bit stressful. The clock literally ticks, with dramatic music that gets faster as the clock runs down. It is pretty great to solve those, of course. Better than winning a pet beauty contest for sure.

Recently we got the retro version of Pay Day. We have not actually played that yet but we seem to have plenty of time to get to it. And we have a whole bunch of other games as well, just not pulled out of the closet yet. So we have plenty to keep us busy. I keep hearing about people doing jigsaw puzzles. We tend to do those when we are away from home, on vacation somewhere, so it seems wrong to do them now, when we are home quarantined.

We are making the best of our situation. We connect with friends as we can. My wife and I encountered several neighbors yesterday when we were out for a late day walk. We chatted with them from opposite sides of the road. For friends who are farther away we use Face Time and Zoom and Facebook video calls and Google Hangouts. We also play video games. And we play board games. We do our best to keep things interesting. And we stay home safe.

Christmas Tree in the Snow

One time we went to the Christmas tree farm up the road and wore boots, not for the snow, but for the mud. My son wore shorts. A coat was too much to wear. At least our hands didn’t get numb.

This year we had snow on the ground when we carried our saw out to select a tree. We wandered farther into the firs than we usually do. Typically we find one that is good enough before we get too far down the hill, and we could have this time, but we kept going to see what might be found.  

We might have gotten some snow in our boots, but that’s cool. My son did the cutting. Balsams are not tough when it comes to facing a saw so it was quick. Then we carried that baby over our shoulders and tied it to the car’s roof rack. 

The damage was $30. Not bad for a tree as fresh as can be. I bought a half gallon of maple syrup while I was at it–also a bargain at only 25 bucks. That was just in time as we had maybe a half cup of syrup left. And since we will have waffles on Christmas morning, it was fitting.

Now the tree is trimmed and glowing, ornaments dangling and lights a-twinkle. It is festive in here.  My wife is a decorator with no equal when it comes to making our house look cheery for the holidays.  I am lucky that way.  

It felt good to cut a tree in the snow. We still have snow on the ground now, days later.  Let’s hope it stays for several weeks. It would be nice to have snow on the ground for Christmas. Too often we don’t. I hoping this year will deliver. 

Double Snow Day

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It happened once before, several years ago, but that is a once-in-a-school-kid’s-lifetime situation–two snow days in a row. Now I guess we have proved it can happen twice.

Snow started falling about 9:00 Tuesday morning. It kept falling all day. It was cranking late on Tuesday, just dumping, piling up and blowing. It was a storm indeed. A blizzard, as it were. Snow kept falling overnight. At morning light it was still falling hard. And it did not stop until late in the day. The sun, if we could have seen it, would have been hanging just over the horizon when the snow stopped falling. As we ate dinner, late, the last of the snow sifted down. And then it stopped.

By the time it was over we had over 30 inches of snow. We got lucky. And when I say lucky I mean we got more snow than elsewhere. Some towns nearby got 14 inches or 22 inches or 18 inches. Somehow we ended up in the sweet spot. We trudged through it and dug tunnels and made tracks to ski in the meadow. And then we skied in the meadow. We jumped and did flips to fall into drifts. We came in to dry out and played games and ate lunch and watched a movie together. It was some quality family time.

It was a gift. Sure, it is fun to get to stay home from school or work. But having the time to do things together, when we are definitely not going anywhere due to the weather, to play and laugh and share the days–that is something you can’t beat. We took advantage of it, which is good, because two snow days back to back won’t happen again. At least, I’m pretty sure it won’t happen again.

Today, I have to get back out there, at least for a little while. I had a meeting cancelled (roads still not cleared) so I need to take advantage of that, too. Another gift. I need to appreciate it while I’ve got it.

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“Snow Day”

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The forecast called for snow. And rain and sleet and freezing rain. It looked ugly. Predictions foretold a tricky morning commute. Weather would be worst just when buses would be transporting children to school. It was a set up for a snow day. So said the forecast. I would believe it when it happened.

We have had so little snow this year (and last year) that I am skeptical of any forecast for wintry weather. But sure enough, my wife woke me up this morning to tell me that schools all across the state were closed. Then the phone rang–recorded message that our school was closed. I was scheduled to be at two different schools today–one in the morning and one in the afternoon–and they were both closed as well. Snow day.

But it wasn’t really a snow day. It rained hard last night and was raining hard when I fell asleep. It turned to snow at some point and there was some sleet mixed in at some point. It was snowing when I woke, then rained again to freeze on every exposed surface. It was icy and sloppy, and treacherous driving was a given. It made sense to cancel school.

I did do some work from home today. I always have something I can do, although I have to reschedule two school visits now. That’s always a hassle. But still. Snow day! Even though it means a pain the backside for me, I always love a snow day. Today was a bonus family day. I went out to get some sandwiches in town, just for a fun lunch (and the driving was pretty slow), but otherwise we stayed home together. As my children get older those family days will get fewer, so it is worth taking advantage of them.

Tomorrow I will be back at it. I have some prep to do for the day yet. We won’t have two snow days in a row. But I feel a little more energized, a little more buoyant. A snow day is like a mini-vacation. I don’t want it to end, but I am better prepared to get things done tomorrow. Not a bad deal.

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Home for Dinner

Most of the time my wife mows the lawn. And most of the time I cook dinner. It doesn’t always work that way, of course, but we have settled into some roles after many years of marriage. These two tasks happen to run upstream of the typical gender roles. That is something I can get behind.

I like to make dinner. I like to have a tasty, hot meal ready for all of us to sit down together to enjoy. I like the process of creating something that is worth eating, that makes my family say “This is good!” Yes, occasionally we have a frozen pizza or two and sometimes we revert to pasta with jarred sauce. But mostly I try to be home in time to make dinner so we have time to eat together and to talk about our day and the days to come.

Some days I think about dinner as I get ready for the day, or as I eat breakfast. What to make tonight? What ingredients do we have that we need to use soon? What have we not had in a while? How much time will I have when I get home? When will I get home? My schedule is so varied that I might get home at 3:00 one day and not until 5:30 the next day. I work some evenings. There is no routine so I need to think ahead.

What I like to do is to plan a menu for the week and then to purchase the ingredients by Sunday. That way I can come home and just cook up one of the meals that is already planned. But. honestly, that almost never happens. I just don’t get it together to plan and purchase ahead of time. When I do get it together it makes things way easier. Often, however, I stop on the way home for ingredients, or I just go with what we have.

Typically we have staples on hand to get started. This includes:

  • Base grains like pasta, rice, couscous, quinoa
  • Cheese–we always have sharp cheddar and typically Parmesan and one other variety
  • Milk and butter and cream
  • Frozen vegetables like peas or broccoli
  • Fresh produce–whatever is in season or ripe from the garden or that just looked good at the market

I almost never cook meat in our house. When my wife and I met we did not eat meat at all. We raised our children on a vegetarian diet but my daughter has come to enjoy meat now and again, so once in a while I will cook a chicken dinner, usually when my wife is not home. If it is local and raised well I will eat it as well. That is just a rare event.

For dinner tonight? I’m not sure yet. The sun has just risen on a Saturday. I have time to make a plan. Maybe this is a week I will get ingredients for a week of meals ahead of time. I should make something new, something to mix things up a little, a new recipe. Although, we haven’t had that spinach lasagna in a while; it takes a couple hours to assemble but dang is it worth it. I might just have to do both.

Another Perfect Day

View Toward New York From the Bike Path

We had a bit of a spontaneous morning. We tossed bikes and helmets into the van and drove to Burlington. We had breakfast at Penny Cluse which, frankly, is hard to beat (those home fries are pretty much to die for), then pulled out the bikes and headed toward the lake. My wife needed air in her back tire, but when she tried to fill it with the pump we had brought along, it went flat–busted valve. Rats. We had just loaded the meter with quarters–enough for three hours–but she had to bring her bike to the Ski Rack to get a new tube. Somebody got a great parking gift after she pulled out of that spot.

The kids and I walked our bikes down the sidewalk to the Ski Rack. The tube was replaced in no time and we were off to the bike path. We rode for a couple of hours, slowly making our way to Winooski. We turned around at the bridge over the Winooski River, which was a big hit with the kids. And, I have to admit, for myself, even though I had been there before. The river spilling into Lake Champlain, the water shining in the sun, the Adirondacks glowing in the distance–really, it was spectacular.

As we rode back to town I thought about how amazing is this place. We live in a beautiful spot and I don’t think I could take it for granted. I am stunned on days like today. After a breakfast that could not be better, a ride with my family in the most picturesque of settings, how could I not be happy?

Snow at Last

White Stuff in the Viewshed

Finally we got some snow yesterday. We spent an hour or so outside as a family last night tossing the stuff at each other. We got wet. We got chilly. We slept well. Today we had good reason to play. We sledded. We skied on the hill and in the field. We had some good fun. The temperature never got all that high. It was in the single digits by the afternoon. Still, we could not stay in all day. The wood stove did its duty for us today.

The temperature should get below zero tonight. We will snuggle down and sleep well again. We will still have snow again tomorrow. The parents in the household need to decide if skiing is worth it with wind chills in the negatives. Skiing? To be determined. We will play one way or the other. I just hope the snow sticks around.