Friday, September 9, 2016

September, School Days and Dinnertime

  No time for melancholy or sadness over the end of summer.  The scary feelings and anticipation of the first day of school have passed.  We are now at the end of the first week of school.  The leaves haven't yet changed and the air is still humid but there is a distinct, pervasive vibration that September brings.  Excitement and newness in the classroom signifies the end of freedom for a long while.  Flip flops and bare feet trapped inside sneakers and socks.  Books, computers and lockers replace sun, surf and sand castles.
  I always loved going back to school, so I try to convey this excitement to my kids even though this summer that just ended was almost too good to let go.  A whirlwind of activity: going here, going there.  Packing coolers, applying sunscreen, meeting friends, floating down a lazy river, jumping off the dock over and over again, eating ice cream instead of a well rounded dinner.  Exhausting. But completely filled with just about every fun summertime activity you could ever think of.  All of the memories stored in photos on my computer and phone.
  The crowds are gone, the mood in town is calm, slow.  Even the supermarket is all of a sudden, eerily quiet.  No waiting in line at the deli for lunch meat.   And the house is empty for most of the day which isn't a huge change from this summer.  The only difference is that now, I am in it and the kids are working hard at reading, writing and arithmetic.  The morning starts out great: sweet relief once they get on the bus especially after a particularly rough morning.  A sibling's harsh words, red rimmed eyes.  A swing of the backpack, the door slams. I open it and say, "Good bye, I love you, have a great day!"  She barely looks back at me.  The hours slowly creep by.  NPR and the Food Network voices fill the void that silence creates.  It's a bit lonely, really.
  The house springs back to life again at 3:17pm with another door slam and a "HI MOM!!!!"
"So, guess what?  Today, Lola totally went to the wrong class during 6th period and didn't realize until half way through that she wasn't supposed to be at band, she was supposed to be in science, she said, "OH NO! I'M IN THE WRONG CLASS!" so she ran down the hall and her notebook and ruler came flying out of her hands!" 
 The ultimate junior high embarrassment.  But all is well signified by giggles and a smile.
  I guess it went o.k. today?
 Five minutes later: "Hi Mom! What smells good?  What are you making? Can I have something to eat?" Dirty, sweaty, filthy boy hands reach for a handful of grapes.
"I was talking to Mom and you interrupted!!!"
Sibling rivalry, bickering and laughter. Household balance restored.
  The smell of roasting root vegetables, softening onions and crispy chicken skin fills the air in the kitchen.  Just last week, I would never have attempted to slowly bake a chicken for dinner, opting instead for a quick meal of pasta, grilled cheese or possibly a take-out pizza at the beach with a sunset swim. But now it's time again for those comforting meals at home.  The ones that signal that even after a crappy morning fight and misstep at school, everything is really going to be o.k.  Grab some fruit or sneak a cookie while you do your homework.  Because dinner will be ready soon.

  I've been trying to amp up my game in the roasting department.  It's not something that I naturally gravitate to when thinking about mealtime. This recipe is Ina Garten's with a few added details that have helped me.  Also, I substituted potatoes for the fennel in her recipe. I don't like fennel and my kids would likely pass out if I didn't serve potatoes with something like this.

Perfect Roast Chicken
(adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten, queen of roast chicken)

1 roasting chicken (5-7 pounds)
Kosher salt
ground black pepper
1 large bunch of thyme
1 lemon, halved
1 head garlic, cut in half crosswise
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 large yellow onion, cut into 1/4's
a handful of carrots cut into 1" pieces
6 potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" pieces
olive oil
good bread

  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees
  Remove the chicken giblets.  Rinse the chicken inside and out and pat dry.  Liberally salt and pepper the chicken inside and out.  Stuff the cavity with 1/2 bunch of thyme, lemon halves and garlic halves.  Smear the butter all over the chicken and sprinkle again with salt and pepper.  Place the onions, carrots and potatoes in a roasting pan.  Toss with salt and pepper, a couple of teaspoons olive oil and remaining thyme.  Spread the vegetables evenly around the roasting pan and place the chicken on top.  
  Roast the chicken for 1 1/2 hours or until a thermometer reads 165 degrees when inserted into the thickest part of the thigh.  (Calculate approximately 15 minutes per pound for cooking time.)  Remove the chicken and vegetables to a platter, cover with foil and allow to rest for 20 minutes.  Slice the chicken and serve with the vegetables along with some good bread to soak up the delicious juices.


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