As I mentioned last week, things have been a bit crazed around the house. Just when we thought it couldn’t get worse, it did. Do you know what it’s like trying to find a pediatric dentist in Brooklyn the night before Rosh Hashanah? Don’t even ask why we needed a pediatric dentist at midnight—just know that everything is more or less fine.
And they improved markedly yesterday, when I received this guest post from a remarkable writer, scientist, father, and cook, Saverio Monachino, the cousin of my brother-in-law, John Rando. I met Saverio last Thanksgiving, and we’ve stayed in touch since then. Here, he reflects on what it means to have your children go off to college, something that’s very far from my mind at the moment.
Recently, there has been so much going on in the world—the Arab Spring, the U.S. bond rating downgrade, debt crisis here there and abroad—but the most important issue for my wife, Rachel, and I struck much closer to home: both of our children would out of the house and be off to college this fall.
Our eldest daughter is entering her third year at university, and our empty-nest disease really began its insidious encroachment when our son was accepted at the college of his choice, earlier this year. The syndrome made its presence felt whenever Rachel and I were alone together. At those times we would look at each other and, without needing to share a single word, know exactly what was on each others’ mind—Why do parents only get their children for 18 years when the rest of the whole world gets them for so much longer?
It is said that the stronger the bond between parent and child become… well we were bracing for the worst. Our daughter had been out of the house two years and so we thought it would help ease us into the situation, but as the days grew closer to our son’s departure, the storm clouds became more menacing.
What most people don’t realize is this; the English language has issues too. ‘Empty nest’ does not mean the place one calls home is empty. All you have to do is look up from your dinner plate to see a person across the table. The trick is to reengage all those processes by which you lived before the storks flew by. It is easier said than done. Apparently our children must have taken an on-line course or something because they both had a good handle on the developing situation. On our last meal together, before we had to drive them off (three hours from home… in opposite directions), they gave us a care package.
Where did the care package come from? Well, all summer long I was interrogated by one or the other of my children.
“What are you guys going to do together when we’re gone?” One or the other would ask.
“Together… well let’s see. Oh I know; she can help cut the grass.”
“No, dad I mean fun stuff. You and mom have to find some fun activities to share.”
“Well football season is almost here and...”
The package they put together contained flip flops, because, they said, “we want you to go to the beach together, just the two of you.” It also had a movie for us to use on a ‘date night’ and there was a deck of cards with a caveat thrown in: “NO Solitaire!” There was also a home spa treatment, which I do hope was just for the wife.
Most importantly, it included a homemade cookbook that my daughter, a vegetarian, had put together from recipes on the Internet. She called it, “Food From Around the World… For Every Day of the Week,” because, “You need to spend time together. Explore new things you both like and rediscover old.”
We love to travel and embrace regional idiosyncrasies (we have lived in Houston Texas and Montreal Quebec and it doesn’t get more diverse than that) and, we have relatives who live throughout Europe and Australia as well as friends in various parts of the globe, so this gift was perfect.
Saverio wanted to share the recipe for Mediterranean Monday, a Greek Lentil Soup. After tasting the soup, it immediately brought back memories of his mother’s lentil soup, and since she was from Sicily he gave it a new name.
Mediterranean Lentil soup
- 1 cup red lentils (any lentils will work in a pinch)
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 1 pinch safflower spice (or Saffron if you cannot find safflower)
- ½ cup chopped white onion (though a Vidalia onion will work too, if it is a true Vidalia gown in Vidalia Georgia)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon cumin (of course more can be added to taste)
- ½ cup of very thin noodles (angel hair works)
- 1 lemon, juiced
In a 4-quart pot add 5 cups of water. Add the salt, olive oil, safflower, chopped onion and the lentils.
Keep the pot under high heat until the water boils then reduce to medium heat.
After 15 to 20 minutes the lentils should start to get soft (mushy?). How will you know when they change from hard to ‘ready for the next ingredient’? Good question. I remember my mother cooking in the kitchen and she would monitor the progress of the dish by tasting it.
Once the lentils are no longer hard, add the cumin and the noodles.
This next part is very, very difficult. Cook for five minutes, or until the noodles are done. You will know they are ready if you taste it… again. (When I was young I was always amazed at how my mother and grandmother would spend so much time in the kitchen and yet when dinner was served they were never hungry.)*
Add the lemon juice for a little extra zest, again… to your own taste.
*One qualification, the word ‘done’ can take on slightly different meanings so perhaps ‘done to taste’ should be used instead.
Note: Because this recipe came from our care package, it calls for two cooks. The cooks are labeled e.g. cook 1 and cook 2. Using this method, Cook #1 begins to share events from his day… the more details the better the results, while water boils for the lentils. Then, at the end, once the table is set and the food served, Cook #2 talks about her day while Cook #1 eats. Believe me, it works best this way.