We are back home from our brief Florida spring break sojourn. We have returned, to grayer skies and cooler temperatures. But we’ve also returned to the welcome sights of budding daffodils, deer-tempting tulips, and the neighbor’s magnolia tree, burgeoning with cascades of lush pink and white blossoms. Give me flowers and breezes that smell of spring over swaying palm fronds any day!
The weather has been erratic and unpredictable this week. Just when we get lulled into thinking it’s cotton sweater weather, when the temperatures rise and the robins cluster drunkenly around the bird bath, a cold wind starts to blow, and we are driven back inside. Suddenly we need warm, soothing comfort food. Again.
I have to admit that I am tired of making hearty winter-y meals. The constant routine of dinner planning and prep can be soul-sucking. Dinner, again? How many times can we have meatloaf, or chicken, or sausage and peppers? If it’s Tuesday, it must be Taco Tuesday. Ugh. It’s my fault. I am tired of the routine I have imposed on myself. I like having a Meatless Monday, and I like having pasta on Mondays – a throwback to making Mac and cheese when our children were little. And every single Monday I stand in the pantry and weigh whether we should have a red sauce, Fettuccine Alfredo, Cacio e Pepe, or Spaghetti with Butter and Garlic à la Shirl*.
When we were on Spring Break last week I enjoyed the novelty of dining out a few times. I had the delightful experience of having to choose side orders: did I want French fries, cole slaw, sweet potato fries, salad, Brussels sprouts, or okra? Whoa! Variety! Did I want healthy delicious food or hot delectable food? It was too much for me – the concept that someone, other than us, was cooking, serving, cleaning up, washing dishes and offering dessert.
At this time of year, before I can foist outdoor cooking responsibilities onto Mr. Sanders’s capable grilling shoulders, I need to be a little more flexible and creative. Thank goodness for the internet – there are always dozens of solutions to everyday problems. Google (and I am sure Bing is, too) a great source. And my friend Alexa (the AI assistant, not another old college pal) can answer questions at the drop of a hat. While I have not stood in the middle of the kitchen to ask Alexa what to have for dinner, I do ask her how many grams are in a tablespoon of “OO” flour, and to convert centigrade to Farenheit for me.
You can just type in “what should I cook for dinner?” into the Google search bar. I haven’t tried that, because it seems to me that it screams of desperation, and I am afraid that Google will tell me to try offal, or tripe, or squid. But I did ask it about sheet pan dinners, and I found a veritable compendium of ideas, which gave me hope. I’d rather tinker with a new recipe, than make meatloaf one more time this season. I find I have to apologize to Mr. Sanders with some regularity – because these dishes don’t always turn out as the recipe writers had intended. At least we are not bored to tears, falling asleep in a pile of bland mashed potatoes. We are enjoying some variety, some serendipity, and some pixie dust.
I love the convenience of sheet pan dinners, where I can artfully toss meat and veggies together on an aluminum foil-covered cookie sheet, throw it all in the oven, disappear to work for an hour, and wander back into a fragrant kitchen to find that dinner awaits. It is magical! It is transformative! It is almost like having Martha’s staff buzzing around in my tiny kitchen. (And the aluminum foil makes clean up a breeze, too; there are no pans to scour or soak!) Here are some of Martha’s recipes: Sheet Pan Suppers
Our friends at Food52, who always have the best ideas, are all over the sheet pan dinner concept:Food52 Sheet Pan Dinner Ideas
We like this recipe, when we are being particularly impetuous, and want to have breakfast for dinner: Huevos Rotos
Spring is just around the corner. Soon we’ll be outside, enjoying the sun and the great open back yard. Happy March!
“When the groundhog casts his shadow
And the small birds sing
And the pussywillows happen
And the sun shines warm
And when the peepers peep
Then it is Spring”
― Margaret Wise Brown
*Spaghetti with butter and garlic a la Shirl: is named for my college chum who invented it one night when were were broke and starving. It is spaghetti, boiled until al dente, tossed with butter (we may have been using margarine, considering that our budget, which could be stretched for beer, but not real food), garlic powder, red pepper flakes and store-brand Parmesan cheese that comes in a cardboard canister. Deelish. I cannot recommend it too highly, although these days I also use a splash of quality olive oil, a crushed clove of actual garlic, and I add a cloud of fresh, grated imported Parmesan cheese. I also have a plate of green salad, and a glass of wine that comes from a bottle with a cork. We have higher standards these days.