Turn On, Tune Out, Drop Pounds
Learning to Cook Dinner for Julia Child

The Difficulty of Organizing a Family Dinner

When I was a child, we ate as a family every night, no matter what. My father would come home from his office at about 6:30, and we would assemble at the kitchen table by 7 p.m. If he was running late, my mother would start to feed us, and chaos would occasionally reign, until the sound of his footsteps on the back porch announced his arrival, at which point napkins would end up in laps, cutlery would be tidied, and smirks would be wiped off faces. My father often said that he was a voted class clown in high school—and that it was the last time he laughed.

I can’t say that dinner together was always a joy (there were countless times as an adolescent that I would spend the time staring at the clock in disbelief as its hands landed in a fixed position: we ate dinner at 7:20 pm and, twelve hours later, at 7:20 am I would be back at the same table eating breakfast), but it was time together, and we ate well.

Now that I have my own family, I’m amazed whenever Nina, Pinta, Santa Maria and I sit down as one. I love watching them eat and talking with them as they enjoy (mostly) the food I’ve cooked. Still, it’s not easy to get together, and I’m amazed that anyone ever eats as a family. (I don’t think I’m alone—Laurie David recently wrote a whole book, “The Family Dinner,” about how to “connect with your kids one meal at a time.”) Unless I make special arrangements, I’m not home from work before 7 p.m., which is a little late for my young ones.

Last night was no exception. Before I walked in the door, Santa Maria had picked Pinta up from daycare, stopped at Bark for a hotdog with her, collected Nina from a play date, and cooked salmon and green beans for herself and the kids. They were brushing their teeth before I could take my coat off. I read to my daughters (from “The TOON Treasury of Classic Children's Comics,” a really amazing collection that they’ve become fascinated with), saw them off to bed, and then set out to make myself something for dinner.

Perhaps because Elvis Presley’s birthday is coming up on Saturday (he would have been seventy-six), I had peanut butter on my mind. The King famously loved banana, bacon, and peanut-butter sandwiches. I don’t care for this combination, but I like the story of how he came to enjoy it.

Apparently, one night in 1976 he was sitting at his home Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee, with some police officers from Colorado. The talk turned to the Fool's Gold Loaf, a sandwich made by the Colorado Mine Company, in Denver, Colorado, featuring a single warmed, hollowed-out loaf of bread filled with one jar of creamy peanut butter, one jar of grape jelly, and a pound of bacon. Presley liked the sound of this so much that he flew the gang out to Denver that night in his private jet.

I didn’t have to go very far to get my peanut butter, just the refrigerator down the hall. I made myself two PB&Js, steamed the remaining green beans, made a serving of Hot Robot Spinach for Santa Maria, who was still peckish, and called it a night.

In honor of the King's birthday, here’s a video of him singing one of my favorite songs. If you want to try his famous sandwich, Serious Eats has the recipe, and more details about how he came to like it so much.

 

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