Monday, March 20, 2017

The Dinner Talk Game

Today, I'm sharing a simple conversation game that has made mealtimes much more enjoyable for our family.

Weekday evenings around 5:30 PM is dinnertime in the One Hot Stove household- and it is peak chaos. We enjoy gathering together in the kitchen but it is a race against time as V and I tag-team to get everyone fed, bathed and tucked safely into bed. Amid the many distractions, we try to keep a dinnertime conversation going with Lila.  But everyone tends to be worn out by this time and a tired question like, "How was school?" gets equally tired answers like "Fine" or "OK" or just a wordless shrug.

Somewhere along the way, we started playing the Mad-Sad-Glad game- I forget where I came across this idea. You go around the table, and each person shares something that made them mad that day, something that made them sad and something that made them glad. It is a simple yet powerful prompt to think about the happenings of the day and share some of the ups and downs, and gives an opening to talk about things that may be worrying or upsetting you (the sad and mad bits) and find something to be excited, happy or grateful about (the glad bit).

With the success of Mad-Sad-Glad, I spent some time collecting other conversation prompts from various websites and typed up about 50 questions and printed them out- a handful of strips of paper that became our "dinner talk game". At dinner, we take turns picking questions and go around the table answering them. The questions are light-hearted, with the intention of learning more about each other's preferences, dreams, wishes and personality. I chose them to be engaging to preschoolers, but fun for any age. We have many hilarious and warm conversations based off these random questions.

For instance, for the question, "What is the most beautiful place you have ever visited", Lila surprised me by saying it was her best friend's room. Why? "Because she has so many pink toys."

For the question, "What would you rename yourself", the answer was "Unicorna" LOL LOL LOL

Some of the questions are pretty deep- like "What is the hardest thing about being ___ years old" as in, what is the hardest thing about being your age? Because there is something wonderful and something challenging about being every age, from 1 to 101.

In this end, this simple game is all about prompting each person to be curious about themselves- their likes and dislikes- and to interested in others.

For the question, "If you were the mom/dad, what rules would you make?", Lila said that she would have more family traditions, such as a family movie night. Good idea- we implemented that one right away. Since December, Friday nights are movie nights at our house, a special night when you get to eat dinner in the living room. On weekend mornings, we let Lila watch some TV, and those are the times when we are using it as an electronic babysitter to keep her occupied while we relax and do something else. Movie night is different because we actually sit down, put away the phones and laptops and watch the movie with her, and laugh together and talk about what is happening. So far, we have enjoyed many movies, including recent animated like Home and Zootopia, classics like ET and random children's movies I find on Netflix, like Paddington. Last Friday, a couple of friends joined our movie night for the ridiculous Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed.

If you would like to play the Dinner Talk Game with your own family, e-mail me (onehotstove AT gmail DOT com) and I will send you a copy of the questions within a day or two.

Simply print out the 2 pages of questions. Card stock would be sturdier but any paper will do. Then cut the sheets down the middle, then across so each question is on a separate strip of paper. Place the question strips in a bowl or jar on the dinner table. Take turns drawing questions and go around the table answering them.

What does dinner time look like in your family?

Saturday, March 04, 2017

The Dinner that Practically Cooks Itself

February may be the shortest month of the year, but for me it seemed to last forever and a day. The days were full of wide-ranging everyday dramas pulling me in different directions- respiratory viruses, ear infections, V traveling for work, my colleagues visiting from Africa, the start of our basement remodel, our biennial quilt show- and finally here I am in March, feeling a bit winded.

And let's not forget that Feb was the much-touted sugar free month. Well, my sugar free status lasted all of 24 days. On February 25, with my willpower at an all time low thanks to a nasty virus, what did me in was a box of Girl Scout cookies! There are a couple of adorable Girl Scouts in my life and hence the abundance of cookies this time of year. I bought several boxes of trefoils (shortbreads), the only kind of Girl Scout cookies that I like. I am not a fan of the thin mints that everyone seems to love. The trefoils are so good dunked in chai.

My sugar free month may not have been perfect but it was perfectly worthwhile. I am no longer reaching for sweet treats and desserts without thinking- just a moment's pause is enough to decide whether I really want to be eating something or not. And my taste buds are positively more sensitive to sweetness. So it was a good exercise and I am glad I did it- and many thanks to all of you who played along! Tell me how it went for you.

Almost every day of this past week, this is the scene in my kitchen. I start making dinner (precariously close to dinner time) by turning on the oven to 400F (convection roast) and pulling out a sheet pan. While the oven is preheating, I make a trip to the crisper to pull out any vegetables that are on hand, which I chop quickly and toss with olive oil and some seasoning. Then they go into the oven until tender and a little charred at the edges. It takes all of 15 minutes in my oven.

The roasted vegetables can be part of all kinds of quick dinners- they can be the subzi served with khichdi, or tossed with canned beans to make a taco filling or stuffed into grilled cheese or tossed with cooked noodles and some sauce- say, Thai-style peanut sauce or pesto.

Here are short "recipes" for my two favorite sheet pan suppers of last week.

1. Roasted cabbage and broccoli, seasoned with a little cumin and garlic. While the veggies were roasting, I made a quick khichdi in the pressure cooker- 1.5 cups masoor dal (soaked for a few hours), scant quarter cup rice, cumin seeds, a sprig of curry leaves, salt, a little pulao masala, water. For almost no effort at all, we had a piping hot supper that was perfect with a drizzle of ghee and a dollop of pickle.

2. Mexican style hash: Roasted cauliflower, green bell pepper, onion- seasoned with garlic, smoked paprika, cumin, oregano. I tossed the roasted veggies with a cup of leftover cooked rice and a can of black beans, then stuck it back in the hot oven for a few minutes to warm the rice and beans. With some shredded cheese and bottled salsa, this supper hit the spot.

Sheet pan dinners are actually really trendy right now- and possibly the first time in my life that I am doing something trendy, purely by accident! But truly, when your goal is to eat a large amount of tasty and well-seasoned vegetables, cooked as quickly and easily as possible, then the sheet pan is your friend.

What have you been cooking this week?