Sunday, July 12, 2009

Good Food, Great Company

We love to cook, but once in a while we really enjoy takeout. That's an understatement. Lately, however, we've been having to tighten up our belts even more. Tom took a pay cut, our bills are going up, our insurance copays took a huge jump. And I am not complaining, mind. He still has a job, and we have everything we need, as well as a few comforts and luxuries.

Still...we've had to make a few changes. Having a weekly date night without kids is absolutely vital to our marriage. Hiring a sitter and going out every weekend was never financially possible, so we improvised. Our Saturday night in-house date night used to consist of takeout, often pizza from a local deli that now knows us by name. We'd pick up the house, feed the kids dinner and put them to bed early, order takeout, pop in a DVD from the library or get out a board game, and enjoy a peaceful and unrushed meal together. (It's probably a bad thing that Bella Vita answered their phone with, "Hey, Tom! Your Saturday night usual?")

Until the auto industry is more stable, this, too, is a thing of the past. But today, Tom said he had a hankering for the Third Street salad at Max and Erma's. So we did a little research and put together a recipe for dressing that very closely matched Max and Erma's, and even conjured up a great seasoned almond recipe for crispy, spicy almonds just like Max and Erma sprinkle on their Third Street salad.

So here it is: Our dressing creation and soy sauce-toasted almonds, put together with crumbled bleu cheese, bacon (everything is better with bacon), grilled chicken, red onion and dried cranberries:

(Hint: Starbucks Frappuccino bottles are great for storing homemade salad dressings.) The salad went really well with a batch of naan that I made from pre-risen, high-moisture bread dough in our fridge that I have been experimenting with. And the very inexpensive bottle of Pinot Grigio didn't hurt the ambiance one bit.

The nice thing is, once the kids are in bed, cooking and eating a meal is a completely different experience. It's like a blast from our past, when we had so fewer cares and copious amounts of free time. (The free time was something we couldn't fully comprehend until it was taken away. But that's par for the parenting course.) We can talk, slow down, experiment with ingredients. We can have a conversation that doesn't include "Stop beating your sister's head with the pizza peal" or "Who tried to stuff their peas in the salt shaker?" We can, if the mood strikes us, relax in total and utter silence. Not that we don't love our nightly family dinners with our darling (but sometimes loud and cranky) urchins. Every once in a while, though, it is heavenly to leisurely cook and peacefully eat a meal with someone you love.

In the meantime, I should probably ring Bella Vita and let them know we still love them...we just won't be calling every Saturday night anymore.

Three Chicks in the Kitchen: Liesl and Ava helping by very carefully and thoroughly (really!) painting the egg wash onto the challah. It helps that this really is like painting.

Sprinkling poppy seeds on the finished loaf.
I had poppy seeds alllllllll over the house after this one.
Oh well. I didn't become a mother because I wanted to be precious about a perfectly clean house.
Enjoying the fruits of her labor

I tried to get a photo of Ava eating the challah, but the camera is not as fast as her mouth. This is (or was) the 3rd loaf of challah we have made in the last two weeks. Our family loves it, and the loaves don't see the end of the meal.

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