Alone time.

Our kids are at camp.  For the first time in 11 years, we have the entire house to ourselves for a week, dawn ’til dusk.

I hauled to Goodwill discarded toys and clothes that will never be missed.  My husband and I have had several actual conversations, uninterrupted by the need to serve as referees in sibling disputes.  And for the first time in 10 years I contemplated our dinner menu without having to consider grilled chicken, cut fruit, baby carrots or Sister Schubert rolls, our standard kid-friendly fare.

I understand now why my parents shipped my sister and me off for two weeks in the summer, once my sister was old enough to be away from home for that long.  Children need time, space and guidance to begin exploring life away from their parents’ watchful eyes.  Parents need time, space and freedom to regain perspective and remember why all of this is worth doing in the first place.

Among other things, this week I remember how much I actually enjoy cooking, savoring some old favorites that I haven’t made in years.  A couple of recipes follow, below.  They’re quick, easy and foolproof.  Last night we actually went from grocery store to table clearing in less than two hours, leaving plenty of time to enjoy other activities that, gentle reader, are none of your business.

Linguine with lemon, parsley and baby clams

Serves 6-8… or 2 for dinner with plenty of leftovers (keeps well and tastes good cold)

INGREDIENTS: One box dried linguini noodles (fresh noodles do NOT hold up as well for this recipe); 1 can baby clams*; 2 lemons; fresh parsley (curly or flat); garlic (1-2 cloves); olive oil; butter; Parmesan cheese

Prepare linguini according to package directions; while linguini is cooking, chop parsley (about a half a bunch), juice lemons and mince or press garlic; drain pasta in colander; in pasta pot, melt some butter and add some olive oil (about 1T. each); stir in garlic – do not let it brown; add lemon juice and some of the juice from the clams; add drained pasta; stir in clams and parsley; serve with Parmesan cheese.

*NOTE: if  fresh clams are available, use both a can of baby clams and some fresh steamed ones  – I use a steamer insert over the boiling water while the pasta is cooking and add the steamed clams on top of the bowl of pasta.

Chopped salad

Serves 2

INGREDIENTS: 1 head iceberg lettuce; 12 ounces (ish) lean steak (I use tenderloin); 1 avocado; 1 ripe tomato; 1 sweet bell pepper (I use yellow); white onion; blue cheese; vinegar-based salad dressing (I use Brianna’s Real French Vinaigrette); olive oil; Worcestershire sauce; kosher salt

Chop iceberg lettuce then rinse and drain; keep lettuce chilled until ready to serve

Slice steak thinly against the grain; toss with a little Worcestershire and coarse salt and let sit at room temp while you prepare the rest of the salad

Coarsely chop avocado, tomato and bell pepper; thinly slice some white onion (I use less than 1/4 of a small onion); combine these ingredients in a medium glass or ceramic bowl and toss with crumbled blue cheese (maybe half of a small wedge) and dressing; let sit at room temp

Heat some olive oil (just enough to coat) in a large, heavy skillet; place sliced steak in a single layer; cook for a few minutes without turning; flip the pieces and cook on other side, again without turning (you want some browning to occur); turn off heat and leave meat in skillet until ready to serve (I turn off the burner when the meat is still pink; end result is medium well)

Add iceberg to the salad in the marinating bowl; toss well; divide into two large bowls (or onto plates); top with steak