Time to take note of what your family likes and think of serving those things in a new and interesting way.
Tug-of-war is a useful, multi-purpose metaphor. It helps us to visualize the agony of every subliminal battle. Good or Evil? Yes or No? Want to or Should? Stay or Go? Impetuous or Cautious? Stand out or Fit in?
Everyone seems to want to express their individuality. The urge to fit in, however, is equally powerful. We crave the admiration of our peers, but, equally strongly, dread their censure.
Marketers stand ready to help us out. They anticipate our needs. It’s their job to know when a trend is on the cusp, in full bloom, or on the wane. Consequently, when shopping for clothing, housewares or dinner, we are offered a limited selection of what is currently in fashion. Velvet furniture in jewel tones is currently on trend, by the way, a luxurious departure from all that practical black and brown leather that held sway for so long. Although this is a tempting way to express individuality, in no time flat all of your friends will be right there with you. Puffy sleeves are back on the fashion runways, in case you missed that one in the 80’s. And ruffles and fringe. When shopping, we are offered only what “the buyers” feel sure will sell. They try to anticipate what we are tiring of and and hope to stimulate not only that urge to be unique, but also that urge to fit in with the thundering herd. Tough job.
Grocery buyers are walking the same tightrope. You’ve probably noticed fewer of those mounds of blousy kale, so “last year,” while whole sections of vegan delicacies are elbowing for shelf space. The problem with dinner, of course, is that it happens every day. Marketers are tempting us at every turn. “Choose this!”. “Pick me!”. But you know what sells at your house. Those trusty recipes passed down from your mother will reliably be consumed, though perhaps not with anything resembling interest. And you’re bored. Those frenetic cooking celebrities on tv seem to be having such a whee of a time with what you find drudgery. I sometimes suspect that pharmaceuticals are providing at least some of the lift beneath their wings, but that’s neither here nor there.
And yet here we are. What’s to do? Today?
One thing to try is messing with the balance!
Think of the typical dinner plate. One third meat, one third veg, one third starch. Simply change your percentages. Let the starch dominate, as you do with a pasta or a predominantly rice dish. Serve on a bed of greens with the meat arranged artfully atop. Same components. Just rearranged. Suddenly that expected meal has a bit of flair. Or let the salad bits be the star. A jolly good combination of greens and grilled veg with perhaps less meat and a lovely homemade focaccia alongside will liven things up! And never underestimate the value of the garnish! We’ve all seen those tv cooks create something that looks, frankly, rather drab, then sprinkle it with the magic of parsley and suddenly it’s ready for its close up! In spite of those buyers directing our purchases, we shouldn’t complain. We do have more choice than most of the world. It’s up to us to infuse those options with some artful variations.
It’s the perfect time of year to take this idea of altering the traditional dinner plate arrangement out for a spin. Take components that you know your family will not refuse outright, and give them a bit of a nudge. Roast chicken, corn on the cob, a baked potato, salad. Ok. How about a variation of that with this beauty from www.well-fedsoul.com (parentheses mine)?
CHIMICHURRI GRILLED CHICKEN SALAD WITH PEACHES AND SWEET POTATOES
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast (or thighs, or one of those cooked chickens from the deli counter…)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 medium sweet potatoes, cut into thick wedges (or those little round potatoes if your people balk at sweet potatoes – which are really wonderful in this, so do try!)
2 ears sweet corn, shucked
2-3 fresh peaches, sliced (an essential component, which can also be grilled for added flavor!)
4-5 oz. arugula
1 c. heirloom cherry tomatoes, sliced
1 large avocado, sliced
8 oz. feta cheese
For the Chimichurri – not as exotic as it sounds – just herby green sauce
1/4 c. olive oil
2 Tbsp water
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 c. fresh parsley, loosely packed
1/2 c. fresh cilantro, loosely packed (Any green herbs are fine. Just a bit different, but fine).
2 Tbsp red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/4 - 1/2 tsp salt, to taste
Place the chicken into a Ziploc bag with the olive oil. Whisk together the paprika, smoked paprika, garlic powder, and salt. Pour into the bag with the chicken and mix to incorporate. Marinate 2 hours up to overnight.
Add the cut sweet potatoes to a large skillet filled with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer. Simmer 3-5 minutes until potatoes are barely tender when pricked with a fork. Be careful not to cook them too much! Drain, then drizzle with olive oil. (I just microwave them).
Preheat a grill to high heat. Add the chicken, potato wedges, and sweet corn. Grill 4-5 minutes per side until chicken and potatoes are cooked through, and the corn is charred. (The corn may take longer than the other two, depending on your grill. Alternatively, you can broil in the oven or sear on a skillet). Slice the chicken and shave the corn off the cob.
Add the chimichurri ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth.
Arrange the arugula among 4 plates. Top with sliced chicken, sweet potatoes, corn kernels, sliced peaches, avocado, cherry tomatoes, and feta. Dress with chimichurri.
With a bit of rearranging, a zingy sauce and don’t forget the garnish, we can win one daily tug-of-war – that between the dependable and the interesting – at dinnertime at least. The living room furniture is another problem for another day.