On Sunday I look forward to making a family dinner. The farmers’ market is open in the morning, and that gives time to shop for fresh produce, plan a menu and cook. As I’m in the kitchen preparing a meal for my family, I recall the Ang Lee film, Eat Drink Man Woman. The scene opens with a the main character preparing Sunday dinner for his family. It’s a marvelous home cooking scene, most likely the best in film. The man, Master Chef Chu, a chef and widower, insists that his three daughters have a sit down dinner together every Sunday. One of the daughters calls this family dinner routine “Sunday torture” as she feels forced to endure this ritual, but the table is where the family is brought together. My own children may feel this sort of thing, as I attempt to make everyone eat as one family unit, without phones, including myself. (I save everything for #latergram. Promise.)
My three children are often involved in separate activities, so getting everyone to the table together is not an easy task, to say the least. I’ve longed to have the sort of family where everyone is at home, ready to dine and talk about their day, but with our modern arrangements being as they are– I have three children each with different dads, to add to that, my fiancé’s two daughters are with us sometimes, but live with their mother– well, it’s quite an idealistic concept to have us all together at the table at once.
And I know I’m not alone in this.
Many families are as blended like ours, with complex schedules to consider. Teenagers involved in sports activities (like mine), and younger children happily off with their playdates, friends and occasional sleepovers. Then there’s eleven year old tween girls (like my daughter) that want to eat potato chips along with a green smoothie, ever so casually inclined to shrug off a wholesome and delicious plateful. Dinner? Instead, they would rather try their hand at YouTube makeup tutorials to get their eyebrows on fleek. Making this routine Sunday supper idea with everyone around the table isn’t always possible, fleeked or not. There are moments when my youngest daughter or the friend’s little sister comes out of the “YouTube powder room” with lipstick smeared all around her mouth because she wants to look like Miranda Sings. (If you don’t know who this is, you probably don’t have girls in the house.) Though it’s not quite the Cheaper By The Dozen scenario with the pet frog leaping into the platter of scrambled eggs and all. Ah, me with my June Cleaver tendencies to don an apron and set about cooking for everyone, while they edge themselves out of the Sunday dinner plan. It makes me want to grab a bullhorn and order everyone to sit down and stay put. So much for the slow and leisurely elegance of cooking, and the pleasures of the kitchen. Honestly, Tuesday dinners are much more appreciated and less stressful. (Taco Tuesday is an amazing plan.) Sound familiar?
Sunday is also our chance for family outings to dine over dim sum— if dinner all together at home isn’t planned— or we are just too stuffed full with dumplings to think about a Sunday suppertime. (Tea and a light snack can suffice in the evening on those occasions.) We’ve had friends join us at the dim sum table, and the feeling is just as good as sharing a home cooked meal. Sometimes I think this is a better idea for Sunday suppers. My eleven year old can roll her eyes up toward her fleeked eyebrows at me, but I insist on dining together. It’s important. I won’t give up on this idea.
So I joined up with Sunday Supper Movement, hopeful for a regular sit down dinner as a family. So far, it’s just a few of us that make it to the table. I consider having everyone home for Sunday supper a work in progress. (Maybe I can fleek out my eyebrows before cooking?)
I’ve created many breakfasts, brunches, lunches and dinners over the years for my family, so I know how to time the dishes coming out hot from the kitchen. Tonight, my youngest daughter (she’s seven) has her best friend and her friend’s little sister over to play (a feisty four year old who rips off Barbie heads), while my teenage son is with his best friend (working out together at the gym) but soon on the way (albeit after dinner has been served) and my eyebrow artist daughter is visiting with her father. Meanwhile, my sweetheart takes a luxuriously long nap, missing out on dinner completely. (We could hear him snoring all the way in the dining room.) He missed out on brown rice and quinoa bowls topped with sautéed garlic tofu and spinach, simmered kabocha squash, rainbow carrots and broccoli in miso sauce, and two bamboo steamer baskets full of dumplings. (His dinner will be served cold for having indulged in much more sleep than I ever get.)
I really don’t mind trying to get everyone to the table on Sundays for dinner, but since the rain was pouring down, I skipped going to the farmers’ market this morning. Yes, I’m a bit obsessed with this Sunday thing. I fall madly in love with purple kale and freshly pulled from the earth carrots. I want as many juicy ripe plums, avocados and Meyer lemons as I can get into my canvas eco bag. Oh, and snacking on those empanadas. Those farm fresh eggs are the best too.
Instead of the Sunday farmers’ market shopping ritual, I baked. I had ingredients for coffee cake with pecan maple crumble, maple syrup, and a dollop of coffee crème fraîche. (Coffee crème fraîche is ridiculously decadent and too easy to make.) I stayed in my bathrobe and slippers until noon. My sweetie and I ate apples dipped in almond butter and honey, drank tea, then made coffee to have with coffee cake right out of the oven. (This is magical.) The wind was blowing wildly outside as the rain came down in sheets. I contemplated Sunday Supper (already knowing that rice and quinoa bowls were on the menu, along with those handy frozen dumplings).
January has been a month of brown rice and quinoa bowls served with Asian style vegetables and toppings for dinner, in every variation. Coconut lemongrass curry, stir fry, Thai style, Japanese style, Chinese style. Poached eggs are one of my daily indulgences, and they are perfect with the leftover rice bowl ingredients in the morning. I’ve also discovered how easy frozen dumplings can be. Since this Sunday’s supper was planned without a farmers’ market excursion to inspire me (relying on rice bowls and dumplings once again), the coffee cake, in its pecan crumble glory, made a rainy morning bright. Clean eating can wait for years.
The coffee cake was warm when I served it with coffee late this morning (my youngest daughter enjoyed it with chocolate soy milk) but it also makes a great dessert after dinner. I’m sure it won’t last more than a day in the kitchen, if that. At least we can call this weekend family gathering our Sunday coffee cake time, if not a proper supper. Amazing how the mention of cake brings everyone to the table.
I found these juicy blueberries at the farmers’ market a few Sundays ago, and they were delicious on top of ice cream for dessert, and coconut yogurt for breakfast. Sometimes Sunday suppers happen at brunch.
When I am inspired by fresh vegetables, I create recipes in my mind as I’m shopping at the market. This purple cauliflower was visually appealing, so I just chopped it into florets and tossed them into a bowl with a dousing of olive oil and sea salt, and roasted it in the oven until lightly charred. Afterward, I shredded some white cheddar and Parmesan and sprinkled it all over the cauliflower. I’ve learned to keep things simple rather than get carried away with elaborate culinary experiments. If I want something spicy, like chili flakes, I serve it on the side for us grown ups that like it, because the children won’t generally, and the idea is to please all at the dining table.
My family and I love roasted cauliflower. Usually I roast the cauliflower with olive oil, curry powder and almonds, but this purple cauliflower was simply delicious with melted cheddar and chili flakes. Another regular family pleasing dish straight out of the oven, served without fuss from the sheet pan to the plate– sweet potatoes with kale and slivered almonds. So easy, right?
Leeks are abundant at this time of year. Leek soup is served up with crusty sourdough baguette, grated Parmesan, a dollop of Greek yogurt or crème fraîche, and ground black pepper. Going to the market gives me inspiration to create something I’ve wanted to try out instead of sticking to the same dishes. In the springtime there’s green garlic and fresh peas, summer brings sweet cherry tomatoes, and fall is when I’m making butternut squash soup or a hearty lentil stew. Some recipes are good standards while adapting your dinners according to the season and available produce. I fall in love with flavors and challenge myself to use different herbs and spices, change ingredients, and make something I’ve never tried before, like tamales. Because I can’t leave you wondering, here’s my recipe for leek soup. (The coffee cake recipe will belong in its own post, and I assure you, once you try it, Sunday mornings everyone will want a piece. But back to the leeks.) You can blend this up and serve or prepare ahead and warm it up for your own Sunday Supper. I’ve adapted this recipe from one I liked in a cookbook, so change it as you please. I’m tempted to say my leek soup is on fleek. Maybe then, my eleven year old daughter would be more interested in Sunday dinners. I can remain hopeful.
6 medium leeks, about 3 pounds
4 tablespoons of good French butter (or substitute with vegan butter and/or olive oil)
5 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup rice
8 cups vegetable broth
10 ounces baby spinach, washed
1/2 cup crème fraîche (or substitute with any type of sour cream)
sea salt and fresh black pepper, to taste
grated nutmeg, to taste
2 tablespoons minced chives, garnish
grated Parmesan, garnish (optional)
- Wash and trim the leeks of the outer layer, green stems, and root bulb. Chop whites and light green parts in 1/2 inch slivers. Wash well as leeks tend to hold the muddy soil within their layers.
- Melt butter (olive oil or equivalent) in heavy bottom pot on medium heat. Add leeks and a pinch of sea salt. Sauté under tender, stirring gently, for about 10 minutes.
- Add the minced garlic and rice and cook for a few minutes. Add the broth and bring to simmer. Reduce once you’ve reached the simmer and keep on a low flame, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat. Add the spinach to the pot when the mixture is hot, allowing the spinach to wilt.
- If you have a high speed blender that won’t melt with heat (such as a Vitamix) then you can blend the soup. Otherwise, allow the soup mixture to cool before blending. Blend in batches and transfer to a clean soup pot.
- Season with sea salt, pepper, nutmeg, and garnish as you’d like.
- If you’d like a creamier taste, crème fraîche is perfect with this soup. Cashew cream for a vegan substitute works quite fine as well.
- Ladle into bowls, garnish and serve.