October 12, 2009

Sunday Night Dinners with Rich

Rich and I travel - a LOT. Problem is, we don't travel together very much. Our respective jobs take us to all corners of the globe, and while we try to be away at the same time, the fact is that when one of us is home, chances are, the other isn't.

Which can wreak havoc on the best of marriages.

My solution to this, of course, was food. I figured we could combine food with the "date night" concept, but take it a step or three further than just picking up the phone and making a reservation somewhere. What if, instead, we made dinner together - from grocery shopping to the final bite of dessert?

Now, this in and of itself probably doesn’t seem terribly original. I mean, we don’t have kids, so arranging for a babysitter and “getting away” isn’t ever difficult. And what’s the big deal about whipping up a plate of pasta and opening a bottle of wine? What made it revolutionary – in my mind anyway – was the concept of cooking together. I don’t need to wear the pants in the family, but I have always insisted on wearing the toque. Self esteem through food (the oohs and ahhs of admiring dinner guests who marvel at my culinary skills)…total control over the size of the carrot dice…and the luxury of riffing in the kitchen, making three things at once and not worrying about the odd thing or two that falls on the floor. Giving up that – plus having to share the kitchen that was really the size of a moderately sized walk-in closet – felt like a bit of a risk, especially when there were stretches when I didn't see my husband for what could be as much as five weeks.

Turned out to be the best idea I’ve ever had. We started at the end of 2005, and even though that was almost four years ago, we’ve only managed to make 18 “Sunday” dinners so far. It has been a wonderful way to connect over that most simple of pleasures - a well cooked meal.  Plus, we learned a lot about how we both cook side by side, which helped a heck of a lot when we were planning our new kitchen layout.

Here’s how it works. The deal is that if we are both in town on a Sunday night, it’s an official “Dinner with Rich” night. To make it interesting, I added another twist. We have to cook from one of my 300+ cookbooks, chosen randomly, and make the whole meal from that cookbook. No cheats. This is important because I am rather indiscriminating when it comes to buying cookbooks, being equally fascinated by A Book of Appetizers, published in 1958, to The World’s Best Recipes, from 1969 and of course “serious” cookbooks like the CIA’s The Professional Chef.

I’m also a big proponent of never getting rid of a cookbook, no matter how dated or impossible it may seem that there would actually ever be anything I’d want to cook from it. Wondering what will happen when we pull the Totally Bagel cookbook??

Stay tuned for a blow by blow of last weekend's dinner!

October 06, 2009

Open House countdown begins...only 74 days until December 20!

Every year, for the past 15 years, we have held a Holiday Open House.  The only time we missed was last year, while we were just barely back in the house and the place was still a disaster.

It is - bar none - the very BEST thing we do all year.  Cooking will start in a couple of weeks' time; we're now at the "menu selection" phase.  Only hors d'oeuvres. Wine aplenty, and of course my Cranberry Cocktail punch.  A LOT of food.  Newbies stagger home; old hands fast for three days prior.  And there are still leftovers!

Tough decisions to make.  There was almost a mutiny one year when the three cheese fondue wasn't on the menu (that was the year we foolishly said "let's try ALL new recipes this year!").  Invitations to make (yeah well I got talked out of that this year, although I think Richard still believes he will find me with a glue gun and felt in the middle of the night weeks from now).  Non-negotiables: the gingerbread cookies personalised with everyone's name (including kids and pets - "no kiddie" couples with two cats score big time).

Sometimes there's snow. It's increasingly cold and bitter in mid-December. Friends who have met here and only connect on this one magical day, talking as if they had just had coffee together two weeks' prior.  Kids that we've seen grow up, and new babies still arriving. Our "Food Bank" box for non-perishables, to give back something amid the plenty.

The piano player loves coming - and sadly it's the only time the piano is used.  Servers have, in the past, been stuck in the grungy basement to prep food for serving - this year will be an embarrassment of riches in our kick-ass kitchen.

Let the marathon begin.