Fall is here in New England. For a sports fan, a chef and a father (stepfather and grandfather), it’s the best time of the year. We’re still picking tomatoes, broccoli, onions, brussels sprouts, chile peppers and more from the greenhouse, and we’ve begun pruning, planting spring bulbs and introducing some new perennials to the family. We’ve also decided on an addition to the deck for container gardening and are already plotting out square footage for next year’s gardens. But… fall is for New England sports. We don’t talk about the Red Sox anymore in our house this year, but the Patriots are up and running. Sunday afternoon, are you ready for some… Labne?..some Souvlaki,? How about some Otsu?
Let me explain. When the young women of the house used to hear “Are you ready for some football?” they once thought the afternoon was over as far as they were concerned. As they put it: the TV goes on, the boys sit on the couch eating chips, burgers and worse, and they get ignored until it’s over. They point out that they aren’t allowed TV in the afternoon, and certainly wouldn’t be allowed the junk that was prepared for “football food.”
I hate getting taken to task by a ten year old (Happy Birthday, Jena!), and a way-too perceptive seven year old. The point is that we were being hypocritical; I had a quest to placate my friends and my girls at the same time. No more bifurcation. No more food served that I wouldn’t serve the girls. No more sitting when I could be standing, and no more non-inclusive “sports clubs.”
First, the homework. The girls and I sat down the day before and planned the next day’s snacks and researched the recipes and preparations together. Then we created a budget and went shopping for the party together. This week, we decided that all the guys like the grilled food, so we began with the grill as the central point of attack for the menu.
Snacks: Grilled Pineapple and Marinated Pork Bites
Hummus & Apples
Spicy Hot Chicken Satay
Halftime: Chicken Souvlaki
Grilled Pita & Labne
Post Meal: Homemade Whole Grain Graham Crackers
Sugar-free Peanut Butter & Cream Cheese Spread
The boys don’t need to know the particulars; we’ll just tell them we’re doing some appetizers and then some grub off the grill.
We cut up the pineapple into little cubes and cut up some lean pork loin about the same size and let them rest in a simple marinade overnight (smoked paprika, orange juice, lime juice, honey, garlic). We skewered up chicken breast for the souvlaki with garden green squash and fresh peppers and marinated them also (lemon, yogurt, fresh oregano, garlic, onion, cayenne pepper).
Our otsu would be organic soba noodles with fresh cilantro, broccoli, chile peppers, fresh mint, grape tomatoes, onions and ginger. Our sauce, simply brown rice vinegar, a pinch of brown sugar, some sesame oil, ponzu and garlic.We decided there was just no way to hide any tofu in there! Otsu in Japan means something a bit weird, or spicy, stylish, etc. A quick stir-fry over the grill would work great.
Our labne, strained yogurt with herbs, began as store-bought greek yogurt that we formed into a ball and tied into cheesecloth. We hung it over a pan overnight in the cooler, then formed tiny balls that we coated with basil, parsley, and green onions. We put chicken breast strips on skewers for the satay and dusted them with cayenne, cumin and coriander with a squeeze of lime.
In short, we spent about four hours of quality time together planning and prepping the ‘football food” where we utilized our own garden, practiced our math skills, worked on our creativity and finally worked with great fresh food–hands on, family style. When we were done prepping, we high-fived and realized it was almost bedtime and we hadn’t bothered with the TV at all.
Step one: turn on the radio.
We heated the grill before our guests showed up. They were met with some native apples that we cut in half, quickly grilled and sliced on to a platter with a “dip,” our homemade cider and chive hummus.
We cooked our satay over the hot grill and serve them with our mustard mango sauce. A huge hit! Our grilled pork and pineapple were also favorites! The guests ate everything. We decided to grill the pita planned for halftime ahead of time and we served it with our homemade yogurt cheese (labne). They loved it. They had no idea what it was except that it was “tangy” and “smoky.”
We put a perforated grill pan on the hot coals at halftime for the otsu and started the souvlaki skewers. Everyone got a plate of the delicious stir-fry and a skewer on the side with a couple drips of hot sauce, and the leftover labne and grilled pita were available for the super hungry.
As we ate standing around a table on the deck, the kids chuckled as they realized I had gotten the couch potatoes off their butts. They began listening to the game on the radio, talking about the awesome food they were eating! Yes, they did return to the TV, but we were able to engage some of them outside the TV room and they seemed perfectly content just listening, instead of sitting. They had to get up to get the whole grain graham crackers, too, because we put them in the other room. Again, the dish was a big hit without crazy big calories.
The girls were integrated, the food was healthy and crazy delicious, they tried something new that they helped create, and we actually stayed off our butts most of Sunday afternoon. We had changed the sedentary, fattening culture of a football game with the simple elements of elementary school girls’ thinking. Winner, winner chicken dinner!
Kids are smart, they are perceptive and they really make you think. But, of course, only if you listen. As for the food, we used exactly two teaspoons of salt total in all our food and fed nine hungry people. I love football, but I also love my family time. Can’t we all just get along? Yes, we can. We love that phrase here: yes, we can!