“In the Kitchen” is a series celebrating the family table––the food we eat, the spaces we inhabit, and the people with whom we share it all. Each edition welcomes a new voice to this conversation on kitchen life and food, and today, I welcome Susanna Hindman, the gentle, candid voice at Revisionary Life. She is the mother of two young children in Baltimore, Maryland, with a desire for simple foods and quality meal times, greatly inspired by her childhood home. Welcome, Susanna.
I have a few distinct memories of sitting around the table as a family when I was a kid. The words chaotic, messy, loud, delicious, simple, and fast come to mind as I try to piece back together the scene of 7 kids sitting around the table my mom had stripped and refinished all on her own. She was a do-it-yourself kind of woman before it was popular to be so, refinishing furniture, painting better-than-wallpaper murals and details around our home, and homeschooling each and every one of us. She knew only one recipe when she first married, and even though it was my dad’s favorite, she refused to make it for their first year of marriage and diligently worked her way through the Betty Crocker cookbook instead. Today, she’s a free spirit in the kitchen and hardly ever glances at recipes. Spices and seasonings fly this way and that as she indiscriminately tosses dashes of them here and there, often creating little clouds and puffs of aromatics.
While she tried to pass on the experience and skills she’d gained over the years, I wasn’t always keen on absorbing them. So into marriage I went, armed with nothing but some serious pancake and pie skills. (I was a carb lover early on.) Predictably, I repeated the cycle, and the Better Home and Gardens cookbook and I became real good friends. In a way I’m glad, because learning to cook is one of the favorite things my husband and I did together as newlyweds. And thankfully my mom is only ever a phone call away.
Even though my abilities were lacking, my mom did manage to equip me with the basics early on. Already we’ve started introducing our 5-year-old to a few basic kitchen skills in the same way. We’ll see if she’s a better student than I was. My goal is to draw her into the process and give her a bigger vision of what goes in to creating a meal. I have all kinds of dreams about what that will look like as she grows, but for now, involving her can be anything from 5 minutes of chopping vegetables, to practicing fractions while measuring flour, to setting the table, to showing her how to discern when certain fruits are ripe enough to eat. All of that lives within the broader lesson of hospitality and welcome that we want our kids to catch a vision for as we entertain friends and invite in the unlikely stranger. We want so much more for our children than to simply master the mechanics of preparing a meal. Our hope is that in viewing and participating in the preparation that they would grow in identifying and offering the love and generosity that comes with the labor and creativity of that service. For now that looks like teaching them gratitude, proper table manners, and modeling heart-directed questions and dialogue. Pretty normal, often monotonous stuff, but foundational and necessary.
With an 11-month-old roaming underfoot, meal prep needs to be fast and uninvolved most nights. Embracing this particular season with young children, I’ve let go of fancy and labor-intensive dishes, and I tend to gravitate towards simple and easy instead. To me, when done right, simplicity has a sophistication all of its own. When our budget allows, I dress things up with fresh herbs, a special drink, or set out snacks of nice nuts and fruit.
Menu planning is something that helps me keep things simple and focused. I do this weekly, usually on Sunday night, preparing me to shop Monday morning. An Everlasting Meal and Family Meals have been recent sources of inspiration for me. To give my mom-brain a break, I’ve adopted a more systematic approach this year, assigning categories of meals to different days of the week. The structure narrows down my choices and helps me make decisions quickly and easily. The categories shift and change with the seasons, making room for variety and natural rhythm.
M O N D A Y | meatless
T U E S D A Y | tacos/soup
W E D N E S D A Y | salad
T H U R S D A Y | chicken anything/roast anything
F R I D A Y | pizza
S A T U R D A Y | leftovers or maybe out to eat
S U N D A Y | pasta
Since we’re still in the early years of parenting, gathering around the table for a meal isn’t always pretty and is rarely relaxing, but we try to keep a few habits in mind to help everyone enjoy the meal and each other’s company. Habits such as:
Practicing gratitude through prayer and compliments for the chef(s).
Exercising intentional relationship using open-ended questions. “What was something that made you sad today?” Can you tell us one way you were able to love someone today?”
Encouraging discovery through requiring everyone to take at least one bite of everything that’s served. (Bribery is sometimes employed for this job. Hashtag: honest motherhood.)
Our meal-time isn’t structured since my husband’s schedule is ever changing, and sometimes I scrap our menu plan and pull out my awesome pancake skills or go out for fast food instead. I’ve been known to cry over uncooperative piecrust and utter curses under my breath when something isn’t going as planned. Those are the nights we order pizza and my 5-year-old reminds me to “take deep breaths.” But there’s such value in the effort and so many benefits to the home-cooked, gather-around-the-table routine, that we aim to make it happen, night after night.
One of my favorite, low prep meals is spatchcock chicken. About an hour before meal-time, I prep the chicken and put it and some potatoes in to roast. 15-20 minutes before it’s done, I’ll add in some vegetables. That’s it! When my husband is home, he gets fancy with the vegetables, and no bribery is needed to polish off every last bite. That’s his recipe below.
SPATCHCOCK CHICKEN, serves 4
fresh whole roasting chicken, ~5 lbs.
fresh thyme, optional
1/2 pound small roasting potatoes, quartered
Prep. Rinse chicken and remove the giblets. Pre-heat oven to 425. Remove the chicken’s backbone (per Martha Stewart’s handy step-by-step instructions). Place in oven-proof skillet, 13×9 pan, or roasting pan. Pat dry with paper towels. Generously season both sides with salt and pepper.
Sides. If there’s room in the pan, place quartered potatoes (drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and rosemary or thyme) alongside the chicken. Otherwise, place in a separate pan and roast simultaneously with the chicken.
Cook. Roast for 45 minutes to an hour, until juices run clear and potatoes are tender.
Serve. Squeeze a bit of lemon juice over the meat and sprinkle with fresh thyme just before serving, if desired.
2-3 strips thick-cut bacon
12 oz brussels sprouts, bases removed and cut in half
¼ cup white wine
handful of walnuts
handful of gorgonzola cheese
Prep. Chop up and fry 2-3 strips of thick-cut bacon in a cast iron skillet. Once the bacon is cooked, remove it from the pan and set aside for later. In the remaining bacon grease, sauté 1 clove of minced garlic. Once the garlic is golden, remove it from the pan and set aside for later.
Cook. Place brussels sprouts cut side down in bacon grease. Cook until tender (I prefer a slight crunch). Salt and pepper to taste while they are cooking. Immediately before removing the pan from heat, add 1/4 cup of white wine. Remove pan from heat.
Serve. Add bacon and garlic back to the pan. Sprinkle in walnuts and gorgonzola cheese. Best eaten while hot. Be aware that serving them in the cast iron skillet is great but that they will continue to cook some. So if you will not eat them soon, they may get overdone.