Mrs. Garrett

Bow tie pasta with Vidalia onions sautéed with champagne and tomatoes; Marinated grilled chicken; Green salad with avocado and bacon, fresh herb vinaigrette

Beef stroganoff over egg noodles with grilled lemony asparagus

Three cheese tortellini with prosciutto, tomatoes, fresh herbs; Tuscan herb marinated steak tips

Grilled salmon (the good olive oil, S&P); Ina Garten’s corn salad with sherry vinaigrette

Breaded veal cutlets (lemon/egg bath), Linguini with red sauce; Green salad

Flank steak with soy ginger marinade; Pan-fried ramen noodles with shitake mushrooms and sesame caramelized onions; Cucumber salad with rice vinegar soy dressing

Burgers, every fixing, but absolutely pickles and Williams Sonoma Burger Bomb

Garlic ginger soy marinated pork tenderloin; Grilled, garlicky haricot verts and white rice

Chili lime grilled shrimp skewers

Vanilla French toast with cinnamon sugar, berries, syrup

New York crumble coffee cake

Toasted bagel with scrambled egg, pepper jack, honey ham

The best oatmeal cookies on the planet (because white chocolate and butterscotch chips)

Still warm brownies with vanilla ice cream

This is the rotating menu Chez Lee, and I’ve had anywhere from 2 to 9 teenagers in my house for breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner and dessert almost daily since the beginning of July. I’m Mrs. Garrett, running a boarding house for boys who are never not hungry.

And it’s awesome.

Summer is ending, as is my seasonal stint as a short order cook. And it is, indeed, short order. I am insufferably boastful about my ability to get a meal onto the table in 17 minutes. But the real gem of it all is the Family Dinner tradition that lends itself to fantastic conversation, often quite unguarded, as these kids break bread together. Something’s lost over a box of pizza. Scooping heaping mounds of bow tie pasta onto plates, fighting over the Asiago, and bargaining for the last steak tip or shrimp skewer is the backdrop for 100 discussions about girls (big time mysteries), horrible math, tennis triumphs and losses, embarrassing anecdotes from years past, and what movies can arguably be considered “classic.” (Not one of them has been on the planet more than 18 years, but they still think they have valid opinions, bless their hearts.)

The other moms have been checking in all summer to ask if I’m cool with them spending another night (and morning) around my dining table, and the answer is always, “Yes!” I love knowing where they are, what they’re doing, what they’re eating, and especially what’s on their minds. It’s a summer tradition that begins Memorial Day Weekend, and wraps up in only a few weeks. It’s already getting darker sooner, it’s chilly when a cloud passes, and the boys have begun talking about school, SATs, college visits, “Honors” this and “AP” that… and all the accompanying stressors.

Very wise (and equally beautiful) Sarah, who was the church school director for a generation of lucky kids, offered this sage advice when my boys were little and I was blissfully unaware of what parenting teens would entail:

Sometimes it’s our job to provide the space where the stress is lifted. Sometimes that meant we told our girls that no one was doing homework, and we were going out to dinner together.

Just because everyone is vying for competitive team spots and Ivy League acceptances doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck for them. I’ve watched an amazing kid with an already incredible SAT score study hours a day all summer in an attempt to inch up to the 99%ile… and no one is telling him not to do this. It’s not surprising that some of these kids are already burned out before they get to the quad. Probably I was a less motivated high school student, or maybe things were easier then, but I’m worried about these kids, these boys around my dining table. I feel protective of their youth.

Here at the Lee’s, summer is for talking and eating and being together. And though the shortening days and faded hydrangeas mean it’s time… there is still time for a bit more grilling, laughing, negotiating for the last brownie, and introducing these kids to Spicoli. There are a few more days to protect the space where the stress is lifted, where meals are shared. Just a few more moments for them to memory bank a time when we require very little of them… before we inevitably ask them to be perfect again.

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Dinnertime at the Lee house… 

 

The Cat’s Ass

Those of you who know me have heard me talk about Paddy. I call him The World’s Most Irish Man, but he’s actually my contractor, my can-fix-or-build-anything, filth-talking, manic, fiercely loyal, and endlessly entertaining friend. With three coffees and a full strength Coke on board, he’s unstoppable. Last month his car was stolen, possibly by joy-riding teens, leaving him without transportation or his tools. I asked Father Mike and Zealot Sister for prayers and find no coincidence in the fact that Paddy’s car was located a few days later with minor damage and all of his equipment. But in aftermath of the theft, when the outlook was bleak, we lent our SUV to Paddy, who almost immediately wrecked it. In retrospect, I’m happy he hit the curb instead of the pedestrian backlit with sun glare. In the moment, I couldn’t understand a thing that was happening because voice-to-text cannot translate brogue. Even in person, a caffeinated, pissy, excited, happy, or most often joke-telling Paddy needs subtitles.

“Paddy, my friend Nicole needs help with something.”

“Ya, Monahan? Happy to help a fellow sun-dodger.” (Insert your best accent)

With my car in the shop, and the building permit finally signed by the architect, we’ve embarked on an expensive entryway redesign. Should I be worried that bad things happen in threes and there is something skulking in the shadows after a stolen car and a crashed one? I am. But Paddy assures me that it’s all right and good and the house will look like “the cat’s ass” when completed. Apparently this is an enviable outcome.

Meanwhile, back at the Cape, the boys and I are enjoying days that still feel long. And by “boys” I mean a tangled mess of teenagers that varies from my own 2 up to 8 each night. Because I have known and cooked for them for nearly a decade, possibly because I used to be a doctor type of person and still carry antibiotic ointment and Tegaderms in my beach bag, and mostly because I’ve spent a billion hours with them at this point, they tell me (almost) everything. One of my favorite kids, who could always charm the Dickens out of any minivan mom, has convinced some pretty little thing his own age to be his one and only. In their world of SnapChatting Instagramming nonsense, it’s refreshing to hear that stomach butterflies and actual, in person dates with park walking and car kissing can still be attained.

Watching them grow up and begin dating themselves makes us (ok, just me) ridiculously nostalgic, and this week I recalled the first time I had to make my sort of secret but definitely official relationship with Bernie public. As a 4th year medical student, it wasn’t exactly kosher for the Chief Resident to be dating me. Maybe. We didn’t ask, and back then human resources didn’t bother themselves with the shenanigans of surgical trainees. But one late night on call in the ICU, the very pretty and super smart intern confessed to me that she had a major crush on the boy I would be engaged to 6 months later. My boys and their friends (and oodles of you) have heard the story of how I met Bernie many times, so you already know how goddamn charming Dr. Lee is on the job. I wasn’t surprised when Sarah asked,

“Do you think he’s dating anyone?”

Umm, yeah. Sarah was tall, gorgeous, everyone’s favorite intern, and liked my boyfriend. A more normal person might have felt a bit intimidated. Or jealous. But I’ve always been me, and frankly, it just made me like Bernie more (if that was possible). Sarah manned the guest book at our wedding.

“Wait. So Bernie is dating YOU and this hot doctor girl is into him? We gotta start talking to Bernie more.”

That was Markie’s take from the teen peanut gallery. He’s not wrong. It’s just that if you’ve met Bernie, you know he doesn’t talk. Throngs of friends and patients and teachers and students and residents and neighbors probably feel like they’ve talked to Bernie, like, had an actual discussion with him. But Bernie is a genius of facial expressions and well timed hand gestures. He’ll pour you a drink, but have me tell the story. If you’ve had a heart to heart with Bernie, you’re in a small circle. He’s not giving up trade secrets.

Like Paddy, Bernie needs subtitles… for everyone but me.

Is being around all of these teenagers with their obsession with Love Island and hardly guarded gawking at physically perfect bikini beach teens throwing me into soupy sappy appreciation for my own husband of nearly two decades? Yup. And it’s the cat’s ass.

Happy still summer, friends.

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