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.