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It’s not easy making a home cooked meal night after night, but I love the idea of cooking and how it brings my family around the table, so I keep my focus on that. When I’m tired or super hungry or Zack is working late and I know I have a few more solo hours ahead of me, I (really) breathe a little sigh of relief knowing I have dinner planned.
I’ve learned the hard way there are three big roadblocks that set me back come dinner time. Everyone has their roadblocks (and honestly I’m curious what yours are), so here are mine:
1. If I haven’t had time to grocery shop
2. If I haven’t spent any time meal planning for the week
3. If I’m not sticking to our grocery budget
For years we have celebrated the greatness of serving a Fancy Dinner. Oh yes, a Fancy Dinner. About once a week I pick out a recipe that’s a bit more bold & elaborate from the rest of the week’s menu, and we celebrate the entire process. These Fancy Dinners usually take an additional 30-45 minutes of prep time, but I don’t mind. Zack joins me in the kitchen while I cook and we sip wine or tangy lemonade.
Gathering around the dinner table is a big tradition at our house. We both grew up having family dinners and, even though Maxwell is just a year old, we are keeping this tradition by including all members of our family at the table. It’s not about the number of people joining the conversation, it’s about gathering and investing in each other.
And honestly, it’s something I really look forward to.
Zack isn’t always home for dinner during the week. He works a crazy intense job at a post-production studio in Marina Del Rey, and honestly sometimes he isn’t home before we’re all in bed for the night. So these Fancy Dinners, they are extra special to our family.
Even though we’re on a budget it’s pretty easy to purchase and prepare for our Fancy Dinners.
First, I start out by shopping at Target or our local grocery store. I either stock up on items when they’re on sale, or I plan our menu around sale items.
By the way, Target is offering a $5 gift card (while supplies last) when you purchase both April issues of Real Simple and Cooking Light magazines. Maxwell was so uninterested in the dill I was looking for. Instead he was all, Oh no, my dinosaur fell! What?
Second, I prepare our Fancy Dinners is to cook with fun dishware. Zack gave me a gorgeous flowerpatch measuring cup from Anthropologie for Christmas. He knew it was on my wish list and to be honest, sometimes I use it in unconventional ways because it makes me that happy he gifted it to me :)
I have a mix of items from World Market, Anthropologie, Target and thrifted. I love the collection I’ve gathered in the 18 months we’ve lived in California. Remember how we moved here with nearly nothing? We sold and gave away (and asked family to store any super-precious items) all of our belongings so we could make Zack’s dream of working in LA post-production happen.
And! We made it happen! :) Well, he made it happen. My role was to encourage him along the way.
Third, I pick out a recipe that’s a bit more bold & elaborate from the rest of the week’s menu. On Sunday I made Tilapia with Lemon-Garlic Sauce. It’s inside the April issue of Cooking Light, but you can view the recipe here. I had never pan seared fish before but it was so easy! Way easier than baking in the oven. Sprinkle the fish with a little seasoning, coat in flour, and saute in a mix of butter and olive oil. Once the fish is cooked you add in a few more ingredients: lemon juice, garlic, wine, chicken stock, parsley and a little more butter, to make the sauce.
I also served bow tie pasta with vodka sauce, a simple green salad with sugar snap peas, craisins, candied walnuts and homemade Buttermilk Dill dressing. The dressing is also inside Cooking Light, but click here to view the recipe online. I had all the ingredients on hand (buttermilk, sour cream, dill, salt & pepper), so whipping this up took me all of a minute.
Did you know you can make buttermilk at home? Mix 1 cup milk (1%, 2%, or whole) with 1 Tablespoon vinegar OR lemon juice. Let sit for 5-10 minutes or until small curdles form. Good to go.
Fancy Dinners are our little way of taking everyday ingredients and being more intentional with them. I don’t often use dill and sour cream to make homemade salad dressing, but they’re two ingredients I keep on hand. But when I combine these items I’m bound to create something fresh and special, a bit more unique than the traditional bottle of salad dressing we use over and over and over again.
Now the fun part, serving our Fancy Dinner. I have some cloth napkins and pretty yellow flower napkin rings, something I was sure to bring with us when we moved from Minnesota to California. I knew I could find a spot for four napkins and four napkin rings, and having them available when we had hardly anything else “fancy” to our name made me feel so good. Our homes aren’t to be filled with things, they’re to be filled with people. Also note worthy: our things should exist to serve you. The small space these napkins take up in my kitchen drawer definitely exist to help me to serve my people.
I pulled out some vintage Pyrex to serve the fish and pasta in, two water glasses, the salt & pepper shakers, plates and silverware. There really isn’t a wrong way to set your table if you keep the focus on placing things where you use them: the fork goes on the left side of your plate and your knife and spoon go on the right. Dinner plate in the middle, napkin & ring on top (if used, other wise you can put your salad bowl on top of your plate), drinks above and off to the side of your dinner plate. Spices, condiments, fresh flowers (optional) and a bottle of wine/lemonade/water goblet on the table nearby.
Place your meal around the place settings, and then the last step: gather your people to join you at your table.
And then lastly, enjoy your Fancy Dinner. It’s OK if it took longer than you expected to prepare. It’s OK if your dishes don’t match (ours don’t). It’s OK if you spilled something or dropped something on the floor. It’s OK if you tripped over the dog while buzzing around the kitchen (sorry, Bauer). It’s OK if your family crowds you because they want to be near you, because they appreciate your cooking.
It’s important to see the blessings that take place during a Fancy Dinner, because they do exist.
Like this heart inside Zack’s dessert bowl…
Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar & Sugar, served over ice cream for dessert. I dare you to not try this recipe :) Unless you don’t like the taste of strawberry shortcake, otherwise you’ll be making it again at bedtime (like I did).
Remember how easy it is to serve a Fancy Dinner? Gather a bold & elaborate recipe, shop sale items at your local grocery store, set out your favorite cookware and dishware, and then call your people to the dinner table. Dig in.
What’s stopping you from serving a Fancy Dinner each week? What’s your process like for gathering your people around the table? What important family traditions do you value?