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.


Dinnertime at the Lee house… 


Giant Meat Penis (or why I’ll never be a food blogger)

The first time I ordered a beef tenderloin, I was interrogated by the butcher.

“Do you know how to prepare this?” he asked, reluctant to pass me the paper package over the case of hacked up cows.

“Sure do,” I countered, totally unsure, but aware of Google.

“How are you going to cook it?” he asked, really rather impertinently for someone wearing white pajamas and a name tag.

“’Til it’s done, I guess.”

No, I didn’t say that. There isn’t a single grown up on the planet I can respond to with such cheek. I threw Ina Garten’s foolproof 500° for 25 minutes at him and he handed over $100 worth of beef. But to be honest, it’s really easy to overcook a tenderloin, and it was sort of adorable that the butcher didn’t want to sell this choice cut to an inexperienced girl.

Last night, as I unwrapped my dozenth, holiday-inspired, expensive cut of meat, I wondered if I could write a food bloggy post. Now that I know how to not botch a tenderloin, maybe I could fashion a little step-by-step? Zibby does this with apparent ease, Instagramming her charming little projects and making a messy assortment of plant material or crafty things look like freakin’ art. I could do that… right? Wrong.

Dinner was delicious. But you’ll have to take my word for it.

My first photo of the five-pound tenderloin looked like this. I wanted to demonstrate its expert twining, and the slapped-on salty, garlicky, rosemary crust. Instead… Meat Penis. Subsequent photos of the phallic dinner will be snapped sideways.

Meat penis!

Meat penis!

Every girl who knows her way around a giant meat penis gives it a good sear to lock in those tenderloin-y juices. Five pounds of beef is an unwieldy partner for a pan, so I brown huge meats on the grill. Cheating? Maybe. But it works like a charm and spares the stovetop splatters. (I am my mother’s daughter, and abhor splatters.) After four minutes on four sides, my seared meat penis was ready for a bit of pornography.

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Yup. I took a delicious beef dinner and made it even better with butter. Not everyone would slather her already decadently yummy meat penis with herb-y butter, but not everyone would continue to call it a meat penis. Now it was time to get this baby into the oven. Ina puts hers in at 500°, but I find if I go past 475°, the kitchen fills with smoke and gives all appearances that I have no idea what I’m doing, when I clearly do because Le Creuset. I wedged my meat penis into Le Creuset to spare the oven splatters, and also so I could take pictures of my Le Creuset and keep typing Le Creuset. Le Creuset. Although anyone can own gorgeous cookware, I’m truly whirly dervish-y in the kitchen and whip up these sides so they’re all finished at the same time as meat penis… and the entire fancy dinner is on the table in 45 minutes.

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Don't these look even more delicious because I shot them on an angle?

Don’t these look even more delicious because I shot them on an angle?

If you’re like me, and married to an Asian man with small Asian clone children, and almost always an assortment of other Asian houseguests or passers-by, then you need this, too. When a meal already includes potatos and crusty bread, one would think rice wouldn’t be necessary. But if there’s no rice, I’ll be asked, “Is there rice?” And this happens all of the time, all of the time, all of the time, so although this step is optional for most of you, for me, it’s not.

The tell tale "click" elicits a Pavlovian response for Asian kids...

The tell tale “click” elicits a Pavlovian response for Asian kids…

Just as I was feeling all boss, my trusty meat thermometer indicated that dinner was internally 160° after only 15 minutes. It wasn’t. I don’t know what “filters” you geniuses are using, but I couldn’t take a single picture to demonstrate the rawness of meat penis after 15 minutes. It went back in for a total of 30 to get more medium than rare which is the way we like it. And here it is… smelling all sorts of rosemary delicious, but looking like ordinary meat because I don’t understand Instagram.

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Not at all ordinary-smelling.

Not at all ordinary-smelling.

If this were a real food blog, here’s where I’d include a picture of me looking adorable in front of a lavishly set table with my yummy foods displayed on matchy platters. But at this point, I was already half way through this and I totally forgot to selfie.