Garden Diary

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Dinner at home

last night was late. My youngest daughter had her usual Tuesday afternoon figure skating practices, and my wife was working her Tuesday night shift at the library, so when we got home about 6:45 pm I started in on preparing dinner. I have, so far, managed not to give in to the temptation to use "instant foods" and lots of takeout, and so dinner took about 35 minutes to prepare. We finally got to sit down about 7:20, and my two daughters and I worked our way through a typical family meal: saying grace, listening to "that's the weirdest thing I ever saw", talking about school and people we know. Near the end, I leaned back and thought how nice it was that neither of my daughters was in a rush to go off somewhere else.

Each tried a bit more food, then we finally broke things up, started unloading the dishwasher so that we could load it with the dinner dishes, putting away food, etc.

Family meals don't seem strange in the least to me. We have always had them almost every evening since my wife and I first married; my parents did the same, as did my wife's family; and so did our grandparents. But I know from talking with my daughters that many of their friends encounter family meals as an unusual event. Maybe that's why some of their friends have eaten with us so often. (As it turns out, one of the friends turned up for tonight's dinner.)

One of the rules we have about dinner is that we don't answer the phone while at table. I remember a minister's daughter who was a friend in high school had that rule, and I thought that it was, having a family I realize it was prudent on the part of the minister/father. We can hear any number of complaints about how family life is intruded upon if we look in the papers or magazines or surf blogdom. But no one makes you pick up the phone or turn on the TV. Leave these electronic servants where they belong: in the background, ready for our commands.

It reminds me of the many eating scenes of the officers' mess aboard ship in the Patrick O'Brien Master and Commander series. While the officers ate, each had an attendant stationed behind, ready to fill a glass or otherwise come to the aid of an officer. While few of us in the U.S. have servants like this, we all have the mechanical servants which we too often allow to rule instead of serve.

Oh, and the menu. Inspired in part by the title story from Theresa Lust's collection of writings from the kitchen Pass the Polenta, we had a bowl of polenta, with a tomato/mushroom stew along with a loaf of Italian bread I picked up at the supermarket bakery. Recipes below:

Tomato and Mushroom Stew

2 Tbs. oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
12 oz sliced mushrooms
1 14-16 oz can diced tomatoes
2 tsp. oregano
2 tsp. basil

Heat oil and add onions and garlic, until onions are limp and garlic browned. Add bell pepper and mushrooms and continue to sautee. Finally add entire can of diced tomatoes and herbs. Allow to "stew" on low heat for 20 minutes.


4 cups water
2 cups corn meal (a nice whole corn meal like Hodgson's Mill is good)
1/2 tsp. salt

Add corn meal to cold water is sauce pot. Bring to slow boil, stirring frequently. Once this the mixture is thickened, turn the heat down and let cook for 10-15 minutes.

Optional: you can add 1/2 cup shredded cheese (mozzarella or cheddar or paremsan) to this if you're not avoiding dairy products for Great Lent.

Scoop some polenta onto a plate when done, and ladle tomato & mushroom stew on top. Serve with a crusty bread (to help sop up the stew).

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