Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Family Affair

I grew up with family dinner, and for the most part, I look back on it fondly (It was usually at 6 o’clock, right when Get Smart was coming on Channel 20). We also ate dinner together at our house in law school every night (backgammon for the dishes), and when relatives visit, you can be sure that a shared meal will be the centerpiece of most days, and the focus--to some--of far too much conversation.

I’m also aware of the research that suggests sharing meals is a key ingredient in the recipe for overall well-being, and, although I’ve tried to make a family dinner part of our regular routine, the busy schedules of the Gs (Cheer, theatre, music, tae kwon do, legos, etc.) often make it difficult to sit down together at the same time. Plus, while I enjoy a late meal, Worldwide is more of a front loader, and has often consumed her calories for the day by mid-afternoon. And the dietary predilections of the Gs (one vegetarian, one eating essentially only meat and plain pasta) make it difficult to plan one meal for everyone. In fact, this was a source of conflict during my 2009 sabbatical, when I was trying very hard to experiment every night with dishes that the kids might like--and usually failing. They really wanted to please me, but, at the same time, their palates just weren’t ready for new tastes and complicated flavours, often to my frustration.

Adding to this is the idea that small snacks or meals throughout the day are a better approach to healthy living, and this is entirely consistent with the preferred lifestyle of everyone in the family, bar me.

So we don’t eat together that much--maybe a couple of times a week. We do sit together at the breakfast table most days, although I don’t usually eat, and Worldwide generally kibbitzes from the sofa with her coffee. And we do have our regular evening out, although it has gone from weekly to perhaps monthly; so there is plenty of family time, even if we’re not eating dinner.

In light of this, I was glad to see an article in Sunday’s NYT suggesting that the togetherness, rather than the consumption, is the key to the benefits of the family dinner:

our findings suggest that the effects of family dinners on children depend on the extent to which parents use the time to engage with their children and learn about their day-to-day lives. So if you aren’t able to make the family meal happen on a regular basis, don’t beat yourself up: just find another way to connect with your kids.
That sounds about right. I look forward to the Gs discovering new foods they like, and to amassing a list of family favourites I can trot out when they come home from college, the circus, tour, or whatever. Right now, chocolate chip cookies are the only thing we can agree on. BG loves pesto, as well as my vegetarian risotto and smoothies; OG likes a burger or a chorizo on the grill, and everyone except me is a big fan of my buttermilk pancakes (though Worldwide likes the fruit version, OG likes ‘em with chocolate chips, and BG likes hers plain). So we keep on truckin’; plenty of time.

Buttermilk Pancakes

This is from the original Joy of Cooking, although I use a little extra baking powder, and I make my own buttermilk by adding a tablespoon of white vinegar to a cup of milk, and letting it sit for 10 minutes (Thanks Cook’s Illustrated).

Sift before measuring, 1 cup flour. Resift with 1 tsp. sugar, ½ tsp. salt, 1 tsp. baking powder, ½ tsp. baking soda. In a separate bowl, beat 1 egg until light. Add 1 cup buttermilk. Combine wet and dry ingredients with a couple of swift strokes of your wooden spoon. Stir in 2 tbs melted butter.

Heat the griddle or pan, prepped with a little vegetable oil. Have ready with the batter a small bowl of chocolate chips, and another of fruit (Worldwide likes the frozen berry medley we keep on hand, thawed in the microwave, although blueberries do fine as well.)

Drop the batter on the hot griddle in tablespoonfuls (2 for a silver dollar, 3 for what we call a hockey puck, 4 for a “mancake”). Drop a handful of fruit or chocolate (or both) into the batter, pressing it down with the spoon, and adding a little batter to cover, if necessary. Flip after a couple of minutes, when bubbles appear on the surface. Cook an additional couple of minutes, using a spatula to see if the underside looks done. When it does, it is.

Serve with maple or pancake syrup. We keep both, as Worldwide and the Gs seem to, ahem, waffle, over which they prefer. Sometimes, I’ll also mix a little syrup and butter together and heat it in the microwave until the butter is melted.

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