This past weekend was a busy one. My Honey’s cousin came up to Toronto from South Carolina for a visit along with his lovely wife and two great kids. Maddie is 7 and quite the femmy princess and her brother John David is 2 and makes the energizer bunny look like he’s asleep. We had a great visit despite the weather, which put a damper on things – literally!
But really this post is about menu planning when you really don’t know how the visit will actually go. I knew that Friday we’d be having dinner at my in-laws, but the rest of the schedule was up in the air. If the weather was good, we’d probably drive to Niagara Falls, about a 2 hour drive from Toronto, and if so we’d likely stop for a picnic along the way. If it rained (and the forecast was 30% chance – boy were they off!), there’s always the Ontario Science Centre or the ROM or we could just stay home and do crafty stuff.
So……how do you plan food around such a tentative plan? Most importantly...
1. the dishes have to be portable (possible picnic);
2. easy to prepare (so you have time to play);
3. have a long shelf/fridge life (in case you end up at restaurants) so that if you don’t use them on the weekend, they’ll serve you well next week.
Here’s the plan I had:
First things first – take care of the kids. Now Jamie Oliver and some other chefs' children aside, most (North American, anyway) little kids are finicky. Certainly my niece Katie (who was spending Saturday with us) is. In fact her fave things are grilled cheese sandwiches, chicken fingers, sometimes plain pizzas or spaghetti (which means noodles with a little oil or margarine). Apparently, Maddie & John David had similar eating habits.
Lunch – grilled cheese sandwiches;
Dinner – make your own pizza (on whole wheat pita bread – I had tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella cheese, sliced pepperoni, mushrooms & red peppers ready to go) and there’s always chicken fingers in the freezer – in case the pizza idea is a bust;
Snacks- fruit & yoghurt - and of course, home-made (by kids) chocolate chip cookies.
Perfect for picnics or lunch at home - smoky chipotle hummus & homemade pita chips, tuna salad and coleslaw;
Dinner – marinated chicken breasts (I didn’t know if they liked spicy food or not so I used up the two kinds of marinades I had on hand – spicy (the Asian herb marinade I used on salmon last week) and sweet with a little kick (Hoisin BBQ sauce I whipped up for wings a couple of weeks ago), small sweet potatoes that would quickly cook up in the microwave, thick asparagus spears to BBQ along with the chicken, romaine hearts and mesclun (since I don’t know which they’d prefer for a salad base), vine ripened tomatoes and lots of goat cheese and herbs for a different option which would also work for a picnic, and dessert – cut up muskmelon with chopped mint and lots of strawberries and blueberries to add at the last minute.
Preparing all this on Friday morning (plus having all salad ingredients on hand) meant that I wouldn’t really have to do anything much on the weekend, other than just enjoy their company. And in case you’re curious, the weekend went something like this…..
Saturday – rain, rain, rain all day so they gathered at our place late morning. Katie, Maddie and I made chocolate chip cookies (no pictures – because they went fast!!!). Then we did crafty things like decorating cheap – er, I mean elegant sun hats I picked up at the dollar store. I’m still finding feathers and fabric petals in the oddest of places. Then we had lunch – kids – grilled cheese sandwiches of course, “picnicking” on the floor in front of the TV watching “I Want a Dog” – an animated short my cousin Sheldon did (and won awards for!) and then some of “Finding Nemo” . We grown-ups ate our picnic (as mentioned above) at the table and caught up with each other and reminisced.
After much playing, the girls decided they really did want to go to the ROM – Royal Ontario Museum – think dinosaurs and mummies, antique armor, bat cave and other neat stuff with a very hands-on kids museum. So we all marched off in the rain with our umbrellas – 7 all together (I finally know why I’ve kept them all!) Too bad we don’t have a picture of that, because it was truly priceless. When we were leaving the museum – around 5pm, the kids were hungry and there was McDonald’s right across the street – so much for fancy BBQ at our place. So we all ate there before heading off to our respective homes.
Sunday – it still looked like it was going to rain (although it never did) and anyway the ground was too wet to really go to outdoor places to hang out, so we met for lunch at my in-laws and then all went to the Ontario Science Center – another great place for kids to explore. From there my in-laws felt we should go to a restaurant, so we met up with my brother-in-law at Churrasco Village – a delicious Portuguese restaurant specializing in grilled meat and chicken – for Canadians reading this– think Swiss Chalet and for everyone else think fast food joints focusing on rotisserie roasted chicken. But this place is a thousand times better. Then we took them to Hollywood Gelato for one of the best ice cream experiences in Toronto (I've written about it before) – they were still talking about it yesterday!
Monday, work day for my honey and I, but my father-in-law took them to the zoo. At least they had great weather for one day out of four!. We met up with them around 6 in the evening to watch Katie play t-ball (which if you’ve never seen six year olds play, think of herding cats – practically impossible).
Interestingly enough, all the home cooking was very South Beach Diet friendly - too bad we didn't do more of it! Now I have to work off the burgers, fries and ice cream - oh well, it was worth it. And of course, lots of good eats that work with Kalyn's WHB which is being hosted by Cate of Sweetnicks this time around.
What do you do when you don't know WHAT to do?
Related links: Food and Drink recipes South Beach Diet