Table for Two

After months and months of thinking about, shopping for, and preparing family dinners, I was recently struck by how important it is to not have the whole family together at the table once in a while. We were all on vacation with Evan’s family up in Ashland, Oregon, and the opportunity arose for Evan and I to go out to dinner to a fine restaurant — alone. This hardly ever happens, but there we were with a cadre of built-in babysitters and two hours to enjoy a meal. What the heck, reservations were made!

Those who know me well are probably fully aware that I am not one to shy away from a splendid restaurant, and it was important to me that Es learn the rudiments of “restaurant manners” at an early age so I could keep up with this habit. I have lots of memories of wonderful meals that she and I have shared: tea at the Plaza Hotel on a day when nothing seemed to be going right, lunch at the white table cloth Scossa in Paris to get ourselves out of the rain and assess our Petit Bateau cache, and bowls and bowls of penne with butter all over Manhattan.

But having a nice dinner with one’s husband (or wife) is another story. There’s a sublime pleasure in just relaxing and having an easy conversation over delicious food that is so necessary and wonderful that I can’t believe how rarely we have the experience. Sure, it's about cost (meal + babysitter = yikes), but it's also about priorities.

Given the opportunity to only have to splurge on one aspect of the date, we treated ourselves to a meal at a little place called Amuse in Ashland, and everything about the meal was exquisite. It’s the kind of place that offers a little amuse bouche before your appetizer (mine was a little piece of toast with some charged up pesto) and the possibility of cheese course—in other words: my kind of place.

Evan and I had a fabulous meal(we both had salmon on a crispy little potato pancake and if my memory serves me there was some kind of creme fraiche and dill in the mix); wonderful wine; some astonishing cheese; and rich, uninterrupted conversation. We reminisced, laughed, and made a couple of plans; It felt more like a real date than anything in a long time.

My friend N. had a similar experience lately. She was on her way to meet her husband at a posh French restaurant for a birthday lunch. She decided to look at her husband with the eyes of someone on a date (possibly some of these: open-minded, curious, intrigued), and I think she’s on to something. In order to have a satisfying family dinner most of the time, we have to take ourselves out of it once in a while to re-connect with our partners and remember why we want to sit down with these people all the time.


Maurice's Hot Summer Tip

Maurice reminded me that now is the time to grill asparagus, so that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. I used to carefully cut the bottoms and sometimes even go so far as peel the spears. No, he instructed. Bend the asparagus spear and let it break off where it wants to—that’s the right spot. Don’t bother with peeling them for grilling. Both of those suggestions have saved me lots of time.

Drizzle the asparagus with some olive oil and grind some fresh pepper over them, then put them on the grill: direct heat. Cooking time will depend on the thickness of the spears, but I’ve been liking them pencil-thin. The thin ones are more apt to fall through the grate, but think of this as yet another skill to develop. You have to watch them pretty carefully so they don’t char up, but let get a little brown. I’ve even liked them a little over cooked, which I’m sure many would complain about.

I wait until they’re evenly cooked, then sprinkle them with salt off the grill. They remind me of French Fries this way, a finger food that you can serve either with your grilled chicken or before as an appetizer. I can imagine grilled asparagus tossed in a salad, but mine barely make it to the table, let alone in another dish.