Monday, March 1, 2010

Short Ribs Are Cheaper Than Therapy

Shabbat #9:

Guests: Susan and Rob and their 5 year old son J. J goes to school with our son. And Susan and Rob are the best company at t-ball and soccer games.

Menu: Blue Cheese Crackers (officially a staple now), Short Ribs Braised in Red Wine, Yukon Mash with Horseradish, Roasted Asparagus and Cherry Tomatoes, Hamentaschen, Roasted Marshmallows

What I Learned:

When someone finds out that I'm hosting dinner every week for a year, the reaction goes something like this. (Cue jaw drop and audible gasp.) Really? That's the plan. Every week? Uh huh. And you're cooking. Yup.

That said, even I was a bit intimidated by our #9 dinner guests. Susan plans and executes some of the grandest charity events in St. Louis. And she has white upholstered chairs in a home she shares with a five year old. To make matters worse, her husband is an award-winning BBQ aficionado.

No pressure there.

Yet even Susan admitted that entertaining at home elicits a certain degree of anxiety. Mostly because, well, its your home. The place where you have gingerly placed your most worldly possessions amidst your clutter and undone projects. Your history in a tidy (or not so tidy) box. Opening it up involves exposure.

I used to hate this sort of exposure. Now it is oddly comforting. It's a chance to share with our friends (and reinforce for ourselves) what we are really about. And the hassle factor. Well the whole dinner hosting thing hasn't complicated my life. It's simplified it.

In 2001, I signed up for a triathlon. A long one. It's called the Ironman. (Clearly named by a guy with a Napoleonic complex). I was woefully unprepared when I committed. But I'd watched athletes propelling themselves through the 140 plus mile course on TV. From my couch, it looked pretty life changing. And I needed a life change. An opportunity to do something that I wasn't sure I could actually do in order to prove to myself that I could actually ... do things.

Finally I had a plan. I followed my training schedule like the Bible (preconversion). Each day there was an achievable goal. The next day was built on the previous day's work. There was structure. And control. Minus the physical discomfort, I'd never felt better.

And now I have a new plan. Hosting a year of shabbats. There's structure. And control. This time for me and my entire family. And that goes a long way when the rest of our life lacks any other semblance of predictability.

The weekly training is simple:

Monday: Plan
Tuesday: Write
Wednesday: Shop
Thursday: Prep
Friday: Cook
Saturday: Rest
Sunday: Reflect

I'll break it down. Let's take the short ribs.

Monday I planned. While running. I used to listen to country music while throwing myself a 10-mile pity party. Counterproductive. Now I make guest lists and shopping lists, choose menus, write blog entries and (inaccurately) predict what I expect to write about each dinner.

Tuesday I wrote. After the kids went to bed. I used to spend this time watching repeats of The Real Housewives. Counterproductive. (But I do miss my girls.)

Wednesday I shopped. With Sarah. She drives the rocket cart while I frantically throw things in before the two year old window slams shut. Having never purchased (or cooked) short ribs the delay in the meat department required me to buy her off with Hello Kitty band aids by aisle 12 (again). But I'm still ahead of the game. I used to spend this time wandering aimlessly through Target buying things I don't need.

Thursday I prepped. Set the table. Browned the short ribs while the kids made pizzas. Convinced Steve to clean the pan. And the floor littered with pizza cheese.

Friday I braised and mashed. While Sarah napped. A note on braising for my non-cooking friends. Braising is code for put meat in pan, add liquid, stick in oven for afternoon. Braising is your friend. Steve bought the challah and the firewood and the marshmallows I forgot to buy on Wednesday when the two year old window slammed shut.

Saturday I rested. While running and chasing kids.

Sunday I reflected. While running mostly. And chasing kids.

Then I did it all over again. And it was just as predictable. And that was good.

I really had no business signing up for Ironman. I'd never ridden my bike further than 30 miles and I was like a cat in water. But that didn't matter. I figured it out. I followed the plan. And I was changed by the experience in ways I never expected.

Same goes for hosting a year's worth of weekly dinners. I'm no Julia Child. I'm not even Chef Boyardee. But I can read a recipe. And I'll figure it out. Because I will be changed by the experience. I already have been.

My family will be changed too. How? Well I'm not sure yet. But I have a wish list. I hope Ben and Sarah grow up wanting to spend Friday dinner with family and friends. I hope they make new friends that they will have for years to come. I hope Steve realizes that he is not defined by his regrets and that our friends are our friends regardless. And I hope our friends know that there would not be "A Year (Or More) Of Shabbats" if it were not for them.

As for the short ribs. They were like butter. And at $6.99 a pound they were a heck of a lot cheaper than therapy.

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