To all the children getting prepped and ready to endure the annual torture of standardized testing, remember this: You are not a number.
True, at many points in your life someone write your name and pair it with a number: Weight. Age. Credit score. Aptitude. Tumor marker. Income bracket. Zip code. Max VO2. The pairing of your name and number will be intended as definition, ranked against other pairings, used to make decisions that will vary greatly in importance.
The numbers will describe pieces of you, some more accurately than others, so you must be their owner. They will be yours to manage, yours to acknowledge or ignore. Some of the numbers will be entirely within your control to change; others will not. Most will be in between. Training, for example, can take most ordinary runners from a 10:00 pace to a 9. But only those with the genetic programming will ever get down to 5:10.
In the end, only you can decide which numbers matter and what you’ll do to change them if change is possible. You’ll decide what to eat, how to pay your bills, whether to study or go to a party. At the end of those decisions will be the numbers, byproducts of your choices. Nothing more, nothing less.
You will never be a number, just as dinner will never be the sum of its calories nor the perfect spring day the aggregate of its atmospheric indicators. You will always be you, perfectly made and infinitely capable.
To take the edge off the school-induced pressure to perform, we try to keep testing week as normal and low key as possible come dinner time. If you’ve followed here for long, then you know my go-to, stress-free cooking plan always comes from an Ina Garten cookbook. To make it easy on me, I’ll keep just one book on the counter for the week: How Easy is That? (Ina Garten, 2010). As an extra treat we’ll have strawberries with just about every meal, since I was overcome with their fragrance and bought an entire flat at the farmers market.
Creamy Parmesan Polenta | Steamed Green Beans | Berries
Polenta and risotto are two of the most popular comfort foods in our house. There are great and easy recipes for both in Garten’s How Easy is That? cookbook; here’s the polenta recipe, courtesy of the Food Network.
Weeknight Bolognese | Spring Salad | Berries
For this recipe, also from How Easy is That?, you can substitute ground turkey or veal for sirloin if you want to vary the flavor. In a stroke of luck I found fresh basil at the farmers market; one of my favorite local farmers decided to try growing an early crop in the hoop house. If you can’t find fresh, just leave it out. Substituting dried basil will make the dish bitter. Another option would be to top each bowl with a spoonful of pesto, which is almost always available at the grocery.
Though I’ve come to dread a trek to Whole Foods (the scene at the renovated store is over the top), they do have the best bangers, one of our favorite types of sausage. Any mild chicken or veal sausage will work, though. Here’s the script for cooking (yep, also from How Easy is That?), if you need one.
It’s hard to beat a grilled cheese sandwich when you’re looking for easy, likeable, variable dinner food. The brother of my favorite local baker (at Boulangerie Olivier) finally received his license (or certification, or whatever) from the state of Tennessee to begin selling the delicious fresh cheddar cheese he’s been making, so I’m going to try that for at least one of the sandwiches. My children like Swiss; Bernard likes smoked Gouda. I’ll pair the sandwiches with some pretty lettuce and homemade buttermilk dressing. There are dozens of recipes for ranch-style dressing, and any one of them will be an improvement over Hidden Valley. If you want a good place to start, Ina to the rescue again.
Grilled Asparagus | Snap Peas with Pancetta | Garlic-Roasted Cauliflower | Berries
Ever the supportive spouse and partner in crime, Jenny Rosenstrach’s husband Andy wrote a very funny post on Dinner: A Love Story recently; I particularly enjoyed his excitement over the vegetable grilling basket. He’s right; buy one. Makes grilling asparagus a cinch. Pair that fresh asparagus with some peas, pancetta, roasted cauliflower, and fresh berries, and you’ll have spring goodness on a plate. If you can’t find fresh spring peas yet, frozen ones will do. Keeping with the theme, here are Ina’s recipes (yep, same book) for the peas and for the cauliflower.