Mushroom dinners, one cake fits all, school lunchbox inspo
Greetings eaters and readers! The Weekday Vegetarians turns ONE this week, and I don’t know about you, but I will be celebrating with some veggie burgers and by placing a big order of Rancho Gordo white limas, aka TWV Cover Girls. In the Conspicuous Consumption department, here is my lightning round report: Reading: Tinkers, by Paul Harding; Friday Black, by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Happy Go-Lucky, by David Sedaris; “Mom Com,” Ariel Levy profiles Amy Schumer; On Deck: Girls They Write Songs About, by Carlene Bauer Cookbooking: Simple Pasta, by Odette Williams (happy pub day, Odette!) Listening: “She’s at Brown, Her Heart’s Still in Kabul;” Watching: Naked & Afraid, Never Have I Ever, All Things US Open…
1. How to Turn Mushrooms into Dinner
I know that mushrooms can be a hard sell on kids, but once we crossed that threshold in our house, a whole new world opened up to us on the dinner front. I really do look at a box of mushrooms the way I used to look at a tray of chicken thighs, i.e. worthy of the center of the plate. Here are three ideas that might convince you to feel the same:
Polenta with Roast Mushrooms and Tomatoes (shown above) This is a DALS classic, and even though you can make it year-round with any vegetable, I love it with shiitakes and roasted summer tomatoes, which create a sweet, juicy drizzle sauce. And if you happen to have some local chèvre or a few bits of cooked crumbled sausage, like we did last week, that won’t hurt either. (If so, you only need a little, think: Meat as Condiment.) The recipe is in my book, but you can absolutely get the gist of it from this reel I made last year.
Miso-Mushroom Tacos with Pickled Anything I’ve been tweaking a version of this recipe for my next book, but the basic idea is so, well, basic, that you can probably figure out what to do just by looking at the photo. Sauté the best mushrooms you can find (bonus if they are shiitakes from a roadside farm stand in Vermont) in olive oil with onions, then after they get crispy, stir in some white miso that has been thinned out with a little hot water; stuff into charred tortillas and top with any pickles you’ve got. That’s it! The tacos have proven to be just the kind of fast-healthy-filling recipe that fuels a kid before a late soccer practice.
Lastly, there’s this old faithful from The Weekday Vegetarians: Refried Bean Tacos with Kale, Crispy Shiitakes and Avocado. (Page 102.) Anyone who says vegetarian food isn’t filling hasn’t tried these yet.
2. Cake for the Labor Day BBQ
There might be only two or three people left in the world who have not made the iconic Marian Burros plum torte, one of the most popular recipes in New York Times history, but I’m here to remind you that if you told the host you’d bring dessert, this is always going to be an easy, excellent solution. (If for some reason the recipe is behind a paywall, it’s famous enough to google.) I’ve made it with every kind of fruit, but Italian plums, which you can find pretty much all over right now, are the best.
P.S. I can’t make any cake without thinking of this panel from Allie Brosh’s magnum opus, Hyperbole and a Half. When there is a cake in the house, it’s literally all I can think about.
3. The Lunchbox Chronicles
As a relatively new empty nester, I still get pangs of sadness when I drive by a high school athletic event, or when I have to walk in to one of my kids’ way-too-clean bedrooms for something, or when I grab four plates and four forks by accident at dinnertime. But I will tell you something I do not feel the slightest bit of nostalgia for: PACKING LUNCHES. I don’t even know why. It’s not like I felt pressure to shape their sandwiches into hearts or write napkin notes every day like my friend Liz did. It was just one more thing on the never-ending to-do list, and I dreaded it. Andy and I had a strict alternating policy with the packing — one day on, one day off — because he felt the same way, and I can still conjure up that feeling of pure relief upon realizing that it was “not my turn.” All this to say, when books like Lunchbox come along, I’m both skeptical and jealous. Because they actually make lunch-packing sound fun. (I know, the nerve!) Here is what authors Marnie Hanel and Jen Stevenson write in the introduction:
…You have two choices. You can see lunch as relentless parent homework, or you can see it as a golden (or metal or plastic) opportunity. You can use their lunchbox as a way to clear your fridge, foisting dinner leftovers on the daytime crowd. You can use it to clear your mind, creating an orderly Zen garden (via neatly stacked celery sticks and carrot chips) out of a chaotic produce door. You can use it to start a conversation about the school day (“What did so-and-so have for lunch?”) or food combinations…You can use it to tee up success for babysitters and grandparents, playdates, zoo trips, and travel of all sorts. You can use it to reduce single-use plastic and talk about why that’s important. And yes, you can use it to insta-brag…Of its many wondrous qualities we think the lunchbox’s superpower is in transforming wiggly, capricious eaters into a captive culinary audience. Far from the kitchen and tired grown-ups primed to cave and make noodles…
Did they actually use the word “wondrous” to describe a lunchbox? Yes, yes they did! And did I find myself wishing that I had not chosen the lunch-as-relentless-homework direction? I might’ve just a little tiny bit. That could be the nostalgia busting through, but it could also be because this is a really funny book and it miraculously does a good job of presenting cute, surprising ideas without an overly cutesy tone. For starters, just look at the bento box above: Dumplings! (They give a recipe, but also recommend using frozen store-bought, which I think is genius.) And: reusable Animal Bento picks, which I think would brighten up even the saddest lunchbox. Check it out, and good luck parents!
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Have a great week,
As a “permanently remote” worker, one would think that lunch wouldn’t be such a chore… yet here I am shoving cold noodles from last nights Chinese takeout into my mouth. I wonder if I should start making lunch a bit more fun. Plus I have long been fascinated by bento… thanks for the book recommendation.
Tinkers is such a great book, it is on my 'to read again' list.
Off to order new lunchbox for my 6th grader. Trying to not dread the return of packing lunches...