The weather outside our apartment (notice the slightly cheesy Picasso sculpture--it's actually real.)
New York City winters can be brutal for families with young children. What do you do with two active kids on the weekends, when it is too cold and icy to play at the playground or even in front of our building? Most Manhattan families cope by arranging play-dates, attending cultural institutions including The Museum of Natural History or the knights and armor section of the Metropolitan Museum (but how many times can you look at dinosaur bones and medieval swords?) and going to the never-ending stream of enrichment classes--swimming, soccer, Mandarin, fencing, Spanish, tumbling, chess...the list goes on. Which of course results in smart, educated, cultured children (or so we want to believe), but also in families that spend all their spare money and time running rushing from place to place, and ultimately up feeling utterly exhausted by Sunday night. I try to keep things balanced, to limit the classes and allow for a little downtime in our lives, even boredom. I want our family to know what it means to relax, chill out, and just hang out home--even if it means watching TV together. This matters to me.
Clockwise from the top: Kimberly, Steve, Sue and Ward discussing the intricacies of pitching comic strips to the New Yorker Magazine.
I've also found hosting Sunday brunch a lovely way to pass the time. Less expensive than a dinner party--breakfast foods are always cheap and people tend to forgo alcohol or drink sparingly (which can be a big money-saver)--and more kick-back than a day at the Met, Sunday gatherings are a time when the kids can run around and the adults can sit at the table and catch up, read the paper and mind our children in a communal setting. I like the idea of creating a non-hectic space in our home for us to enjoy with our friends.
Last weekend we had Kimberly and her daughter Chloe ( age 1), Ward Suttton, a comic strip artist and Sue, his wife and business partner, and their children Yineth (6) and Octavio (2) over. New friends, Ward and Sue and Steve and I met because Sydney and Yineth are in the same K/1 class at PS3. After volunteering to help chaperon the children's bi-weekly swimming class, Ward and I got to be friends...and then, like everyone else in New York, it took us 3 months of emailing to finally get together.
Ward told us some hilarious stories about pitching the New Yorker magazine. His political cartoons are exceptional. Check them out here.
Since Kimberly is a vegetarian who doesn't eat eggs (but loves her some cheese!), I decided to create a vegan menu with a vaguely Mexican theme--a simple guacamole with sweet white onions, piquant jalapenos, a bit of cilantro, a splash of lime and a sprinkling of salt, refried beans, whole wheat tortillas and a big tofu scramble. Then, feeling rather lazy, I simply opened up a jar of Trader Joe's Double Roasted Salsa for the table, and Ward and Sue brought bread and fruit to round out the meal. For drinks, I served up OJ and coffee, but if you wanted to, bloody mary's or a bit of prosecco would be a nice addition to any winter's brunch.
Guacamole and chips
Fresh cut-up fruit for kid-style snacking
I always seem to make my guacamole differently, depending on the season, the guests and what I have on-hand. Given that this recipe was created for a winter brunch, I skipped on the tomatoes (out of season) and went light on the jalapenos (in case Ward and Sue were sensitive to heat).
2 avocados, skin and seeds removed
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped without the seeds or internal membrane
1/2 white onion, chopped finely and rinsed under cold water (this removes some of the onion flavor that can "repeat" on guests)
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 lime, juiced
salt and pepper to taste
Place all ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Mix all ingredients together with a fork, leaving it slightly chunky.
Ideally, I make refried beans from dried pintos that I cook in a broth of garlic, onions and cumin, over the course of many hours, and later imbibe with a shot of tequila for a killer flavor. When I haven't thought ahead, I open a can of pinto beans and call it a day. Here is the easiest refried beans recipe I can think of.
1 tablespoon canola oil (or olive, like me, that's all you stock)
1/2 white onion chopped finely
1 teaspoon ground cumin (I usually have whole seeds that I crush with a morter and pestle before adding. Mmmm fragrant!)
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
1 can pinto beans (Goya is a good brand), drained and rinsed
1/4 cup of water
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat oil in a heavy pan (I use my biggest iron frying pan) on high and add onion and cumin. Sautee for a few minutes, then add garlic. About 30 seconds after, add the can of beans and the water. Let it all sit for a minute, then smash it up with a fork or potato smasher until it is creamy. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm. (For a truly decadent dish, add crumbled bacon to the top.)
1 tablespoon canola or olive oil (or whatever fat you have on-hand)
1/2 white onion, chopped
1 clove garlic chopped
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pound tofu, cut into 1" squares
2 carrots, grated
1/2 bag cleaned spinach
Salt and pepper
2-3 tablespoons jarred salsa (like Trader Joe's Double Roasted Salsa)--optional
2 tablesoons cilantro, chopped--optional
Heat oil in a cast iron pan, or equivalent. Once hot, add onion. Saute 2 minutes. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, and heat for 1 minute, then add tofu. Let the tofu fry for a few minutes, then flip using a metal spatula. Add carrots and cook for 2 minutes. Then add spinach until wilted. Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste and top with salsa and cilantro, if using.