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The challenge of feeding families

"Family dinners are more often than not an ordeal of nervous indigestion, preceded by hidden resentment and ennui and accompanied by psychosomatic jitters." M. F. K. Fisher

"Strange to see how a good dinner and feasting reconciles everybody." Samuel Pepys

Two opposing quotes for the same occasion. I'm pondering on which one is true here - or most likely as with everything - it's probably somewhere in between. A bit of both.

I've just spent a happy hour or so poring through selected cookbooks trying to find something interesting to cook for my family tomorrow. As you can see I chose to check out the usual suspects in terms of books - well I now have a vegetarian in our midst and so these are some of my more hopeful places to start. The pile on the floor are the rejects, and at the stage of the photo being taken the ones on the sofa the shortlist. But I shall come eventually to what I chose. First a few thoughts about family dinners.

It's been a while since we have caught up and so I invited them all to dinner - 11 of us in total and only one who could really be considered a child when it comes to how much is eaten these days. One vegetarian is the main problem I suppose, if you can call it that. Actually I am finding that having to prepare at least one vegetarian dish is often the most exciting challenge, and, indeed often the most delicious dish on the table. There's rarely any of the vegetarian option left - well there's not as much of it to start with.

Then there are the picky little things - no fish for one whole family, no peppers for one son, no coriander for the other, no shellfish for David and no chilli either. Or anchovies although they can sometimes be snuck in. The vegetarian does not go for eggplant or mushroom ... There are probably others of which I am unaware, but I'm guessing that every family is much the same. My younger son might say that his children have to try everything, but I certainly wasn't able to make him do that when he was young. I doubt that there is any family that doesn't have to contend with these kind of decisions anyway.

When I was young the family dinner was an everyday event. My father was often not there - until my mid teens anyway - as he was away at sea, but the rest of us gathered every evening, my mother having worked her way around the budget and her children's likes and dislikes. There was always lively conversation, not always friendly. Sometimes shouting, sometimes tears, but the overall memory is indeed of togetherness. Poor David tells me they did not have family dinners, and truth to tell he still finds them difficult but really wants them to succeed and so worries too much about the garden, the windows, where we shall eat ... The favourite family joke being that he polishes the ceilings. Me - I worry that the food will be awful.

So what did I choose for tomorrow's feast? Originally it was going to be a barbecue, but the weather is a bit against us. However, David suggested a webered roast lamb and so that is what it will be. As soon as I have finished this I shall be going to prepare a minty, lemony marinade to smother it with so that it can absorb it overnight. I have a lot of mint - a gift from Monika - you see. Not very exciting I know, but OK. I shall use the remains of a pot of yoghurt too. So a no recipe meat main. And virtually no recipe roast potatoes, carrots, garlicky beans and gravy. I say no recipe but there are hints from two recipes by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall - Roast potatoes with rosemary, lemon and thyme, and Roast carrots with butter, cumin and orange.

So that's the meat eaters sorted - plus a few sausages for some reason. Sausages are required apparently. So do I have to go and buy some of the dreaded tomato sauce? Shall I just cut them in half and serve as nibbles? Maybe that would be the better idea.

My vegetarian chosen main is Butternut squash and sage lasagne gratin from Ixta Belfrage who is also providing one of my potential nibbles Garlic yoghurt with crispy herbs which I shall serve with Ottolenghi's Rosemary and thyme farinata with jammy onions that I talked about recently. Sausages would really stuff this up. So what do I do about the sausages? David is keen.

For dessert - another OTK dish - Pistachio macaron cake, which I have made before and which I described I see, as "Quick, easy and absolutely delicious." The OTK team recommends serving it with baked apricots, but it's the wrong season for that, so I think I might do some more rhubarb and strawberries instead. So I guess I shall have to buy some more ice cream, which might be a problem because there's no more room in the fridge.

Anyway they all look delicious, and they all look easy and doable in advance in several cases, so hopefully the food at least will be good. We simply have to solve the table problem - we normally need to bring in a smaller table for the grandchildren from outside, but this always, for some reason causes an argument. Let's hope there will be no noisy disagreements about the state of the world and that the lamb won't be cooked to a crisp and burnt to death. I have to say that's my main worry on the food front.

I'll try to remember to take some photos and report back on Monday. There will be no time for a post tomorrow.


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