getting is just right

We’ve been reading a lot of classic old stories around our house lately. Rapunzel. Hansel and Gretel. Goldilocks and the Three Bears. I can really relate to Goldilocks—I like things to be just right. But it can sometimes seem hard to get there. Especially when you’re trying to get it all right in so many places at once. You hit a home run at work, but drive your toddler to tears; as soon as you’ve managed to convince said toddler that you are the funniest, most wonderful mamma in all the earth, you go and piss your husband right off.    

No one ever said family life was easy. But sometimes you get it just right.

Saturday was one of those kinds of days. We didn’t win the lottery, or accomplish much, really, but it was a nearly perfect day. In the morning, while Greta played in her toy kitchen, I made this baked oatmeal that had been calling to me for days. Delicious. Next, we pulled out the easel and paints, made a few dozen messes and changed our clothes at least twice--always a sign of fun being had. We laid on our bellies on a quilt in the sun eating our first ice cream cones of the season and making up silly songs.  We dug in the yard, planting a few things, pulled up some others. And just before we were about to call it quits for the day, we discovered a patch of wild onions in the back corner of the yard that we’d long overlooked. Jackpot. It was just the thing my random collection of dinner ingredients (black bass, two young eggplant, organic kumquats, the season’s first radishes) would need.

By 6 PM we were all covered head to toe in dirt, winded from moving soil and mulch and one tiny, energetic girl through the day. Everyone was suddenly starving, and needed fed, fast. That, my friends, is when you put your broiler and grill pan to work. Drizzle fat fillets of black bass with sea salt, freshly cracked pepper, and olive oil, then pop them in the oven to broil, while the same mixture (salt, pepper, olive oil) dresses thin slices of small, firm eggplant for cooking on the grill pan. It is the ultimate, ten-minute dinner. (If you happen to have some homemade green goddess dressing on hand in the fridge –thank you Real Simple test kitchen—even better. If not, see the recipe, below).

As it all came together on the plate, I started to have that buzzy, motivated feeling you get when you just came up with something really good. András poured us each our favorite Belgian beer, and we gathered at the table. And just when started to pick up our forks, Greta, sitting in her usual spot between us, reached for our hands and said, “Mamma, the prayer!” Oh yes, the prayer. She bowed her head and started, “dear Lord, thank you so much for everything. We’re grateful for our family. We’re grateful for … (something we couldn’t quite make out) and ice cream. Now eat. The end.”

This—parenting—trying to build a life that makes your child joyful, curious, and grateful—is working. And, after weeks of admittedly so-so I'm-too-tired-to-cook dinners, this dinner was working too. In fact it was just exactly right.

I’m not suggesting you go rooting around your backyard for wild onions. Or that you need kumquats or Belgian beer or ice cream cones on a quilt in the sunshine to make life feel swell (though all of the above are great places to start). Sometimes, though, you need a little inspiration—something that speaks to your soul. A bubble bath. A tickle fest with your toddler. Pizza and pink champagne with a good friend. Thirty minutes in the kitchen with a recipe you’ve been jonesing to try. A whole day with no plans or obligations, at all. And a really good dinner that takes almost no time at all to make, and leaves hardly a dirty dish behind.

That night, Greta actually went to bed without a fight. And though we were utterly, deliciously exhausted, András indulged me with a fire on what have been be our last cool night for a long while. I fell asleep to sounds of freshly split wood popping and crackling, my soul content. For one long, ordinary day, everything feels just right. 


*I was thinking about all this, and writing this post about our family dinner, when I read that my friend and fellow author, Shauna James Ahern was hosting a Family Dinner party online in honor of the launch of her new, beautiful book, Gluten-Free Girl Every Day. The opening lines of the book read like a glimpse into her lovely, loving and welcoming family life. Shauna, Danny and Lucy, this one's for you: our Saturday dinner, which just so happens to be naturally gluten-free. *

Roasted Black Bass with Radish, Green Onion and Citrus

serves 4

4 6-oz fillets black bass
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus for serving
coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper
4 radishes, sliced
6 wild onions or small scallions
4 kumquats or 1 to 2 small pixies or clementines, thinly sliced

Preheat your broiler to high, on the convection broil setting if available. Drizzle the fish with the oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread out on a baking sheet and broil until golden brown and the fish is just cooked through, 6 to 10 minutes (depending on the thickness of your fish and the heat of your broiler), adding your onions to the pan in the last 2 minutes of cooking. Serve warm, topped with the radish, scallions and citrus. Drizzle with additional olive oil. 


Grilled Eggplant with Green Goddess Dressing and Pistachios 

serves 4

2 medium eggplant, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup loosely packed parsley 
1/4 cup chopped chives
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon anchovy paste (optional)
1 small clove garlic
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/3 cup mayonnaise
Handful pistachios, roughly chopped

Preheat the grill or grill pan to medium-high. Drizzle or brush both sides of the eggplant with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Grill until charred and just tender, 3 to 4 minutes per side. 

Meanwhile, combine the parsley, chives, lemon juice and zest, anchovy paste, garlic, Greek yogurt, and mayonnaise in a blender or food processor and pulse until smooth. 

Serve the eggplant topped with a bit of green goddess and pistachios. 

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New York City, United States
Sarah Copeland is a food and lifestyle expert, and the author of Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Eater and Every Appetite, and The Newlywed Cookbook. She is the Food Director at Real Simple magazine, and has appeared in numerous national publications including Saveur, Health, Fitness, Shape, Martha Stewart Living and Food & Wine magazines. As a passionate gardener, Sarah's Edible Living philosophy aims to inspire good living through growing, cooking and enjoying delicious, irresistible whole foods. She thrives on homegrown veggies, stinky cheese and chocolate cake. Sarah lives in New York with her husband and their young daughter.