As many of you know, we come from a very close knit family. One of our most favorite things to do is to be together, and of course, to eat. For such a large family (seven siblings all together), there wasn't always a lot of money for life's luxuries, but one thing we splurged on was going out to eat. And, yes, I agree with many financial gurues, that this was probably a tremendous waste of money, but I think the family is all the better for the quality time we set aside to spend together. We were quite the sight, Mom, Dad, and seven little followers entering the restaurant. Thank God, we were pretty well mannered. Even as we all grew up and out of the house, we still made time to get together after church on Sundays to eat lunch together at some restaurant.
However....we are now encountering a huge and ever growing problem...our family is just getting too big to get together at a family friendly restaurant. And even family friendly restaurants require somewhat well behaved children, and maybe its because I have two little boys, and we were mostly well behaved young ladies when I was young, but I've come to the understanding that I would have to be crazy to try and bring both a toddler and an infant to a restaurant and expect to get any food actually ingested. My sister Mary discovered this about 2 years ago once her second child was born, when I was still judging her, thinking that my first little angel was just perfect in restaurants at that point. And now, my sister Rachel is about the experience the joy too with baby boy number 2!
So, we've begun to improvise, and this is where the topic of Traditions Revisited comes from. I have a couple warm, fuzzy memories of going to my great-grandma's tiny little home on Sundays after church and eating Fried chicken dinners with her, my grandparents, my parents, and sometimes an aunt and uncle, a cousin or two. And although I was very young (probably around 7 or so), I still remember those times with a lot of joy. So for the last month, my mom and I have been trying to alternate preparing a very simple Sunday lunch for whatever family can make it over. I am far too busy to try and fry chicken for what can sometimes be a get together of 15 people, but I have discovered a few very easy, yet still fancy enough ideas for a very nice Sunday dinner. And all of a sudden, what was once an old far-off tradition, is becoming new. Maybe it is the spring air combined with what just seems like such a beautiful and what was once normal standard for families, but it has made my Sundays feel like a family day once again. Running a business can end up being a seven day a week job, and setting this day aside to entertain my loved ones, has been very relaxing actually. My elderly grandma is now comfortable enough to join us for these lunches (she was always a little hesitant to brave the chaos of restaurant dining with our crew), I have been able to sit and talk with aunts that I have long missed fellowship with, and best of all, my two year old can run and play once he's done eating, and mommy can still try and eat something!
Martha Stewart I am not though, so here is one working mom's tips for an easy, delicious meal for a Sunday afternoon. I will try and post a new idea next week (maybe with some pics too!)
1. Find you favorite frozen lasagna, buy a big enough size that will feed all your anticipated guests, (plus a couple more servings in case you decide to invite more). Since we head off to church on Sunday mornings, I set the oven about 25-50 degrees cooler than the directions state so that I can leave the lasagna in for an extra 45 minutes or so (just make sure it is still loosely covered).
-For sides, buy a bag of baby spinach leaves and toss in small amount of water and lemon juice once your back from church and browning the top of the lasagna. Bring the water up to a boil and allow the spinach leaves to just wilt (don't overcook them...and don't be afraid to salt them...nothing like bland slimy vegetables in my humble opinion.) The lemon juice works great to cut through any bitterness. The spinach tastes great with the ricotta cheese from the lasagna and will help take away the guilt from such a sinful main entree!
-We also love the Ceasar salads in a pack, have your mom or sister or whoever (even my hubby could manage this chore), toss together packet ingredients in a big salad bowl.
-Splurge on a great loaf of artisanal bread from a good local grocer's bakery. Have soft butter or herbed olive oil waiting, and dig in. A high quality crusty bread just seems to elevate the rest of the meal, and usually is only an extra 2-3 dollars that added sense of luxury.
If you pick a good lasagna, and let is set up for about 5 minutes after cooking, open up a really nice bottle of red wine (still probably less expensive than a by the glass charge at the restaurant), and dig in, you should be rewarded with a fun family experience that is just as delicious as the local chain Italian restaurant, and a little less hectic for a large close-knit, and in our case loud family!