A weeknight dinner in the life of the Frels family.
A three-act play.
4:45pm. The floor of the family bathroom.
Elizabeth is in the bathroom with Lilia and Arleigh. They have all just completed a successful afternoon of general house destruction and are now joining Lilia as she embarks upon her daily constitutional. She is finally finishing up and trying to wipe herself with her new butt-wiping skills.
Meanwhile, Arleigh is attempting to open the toilet lid and put his hand in the poop water. Elizabeth is simultaneously encouraging Lilia in her independence while also ensuring her butt is properly wiped and repeatedly deflecting Arleigh from the toilet bowl without full on pushing him to the tile floor.
Arleigh is screaming, and Elizabeth is barely holding it together. The house is a mess, and now everyone is covered in poop.
Jason enters the room after a long work day. He picks up Arleigh and announces he is going to start making dinner so hopefully he can play with us a bit before we eat.
Dinner is on the horizon.
5:15pm. The backyard.
After half an hour of playing / fighting on the floor indoors, Elizabeth, Lilia, and Arleigh depart for the backyard to effectively kill the time before dinner. It’s due to rain tomorrow, so Elizabeth knows the tools and toys need to be picked up.
Lilia, however, decides to pick a bunch of not-ready tulips and water everything from gravel and weeds to dog poop and swings with her watering can. She finds a bee swimming in her kiddie pool and is adamant that Elizabeth remove it. Elizabeth refuses.
Jason comes outside once he finishes dinner. While Arleigh is in the swing, Jason and Elizabeth water the berry bushes, check on the seedlings they planted in the greenhouse, and scare off another slew of squirrels. Arleigh cries every time Elizabeth walks away, so Jason takes over swinging duty. Elizabeth can finally rush inside to sneak a taste of the finished dinner product and use the restroom, which she’s needed to do for awhile now.
Three minutes later, Elizabeth returns to the backyard. Arleigh starts whining again, so Elizabeth finally lifts him out of the swing to take him inside. He stops crying as soon as he’s in Elizabeth’s arms.
Elizabeth intends to help serve up dinner, but Arleigh screams every time she sets him down. She sits on the couch with him instead and waits for reinforcements (again).
5:45pm. The kitchen and dining room.
Jason enters from outside and announces that Lilia is still working in the backyard. He begins serving up dinner, and Elizabeth stands up with 24-pound Arleigh in her arms to try to help one-handed. It’s a whirlwind of heating up adult portions and chopping up baby portions. A bottle is made, and silverware is gathered.
Jason calls to Lilia that it is time to eat at least three times. She finally listens and runs inside.
Once her hands are finally washed, everyone sits down to pray.
Then begins the dinner dance: Arleigh is starving and already reaching and moaning for food that he is not allowed to serve to himself, because he has a habit of stuffing his mouth and choking on his food. Lilia has decided that now she wants milk — no JUICE! — with dinner in a very specific blue cup in the back of the cabinet. Elizabeth decides it’s time to open some wine. But Lilia insists on helping her do it and plays with the cork throughout dinner.
Thank goodness the meal is a kid-friendly home run: pork chops with asparagus and mashed potatoes served with a honey mustard mushroom sauce.
But oh wait.
Lilia devoured her mashed potatoes and is now only insisting on chugging juice and water. She won’t eat the rest of her food unless Elizabeth puts it on her fork for her.
Arleigh has begun to moan incessantly because he still refuses to use any of the sign language Elizabeth and Jason know he understands. He’s banging the table and throwing food on the floor, and Jason and Elizabeth have no idea what he wants. More mushrooms? Milk from the bottle? Milk from an open cup? Water from his sippy cup? A spoon to play with? His sister’s plate? WHAT DO YOU WANT CHILD??
Jason asks Lilia what she thinks he wants. She responds, “I don’t know. He’s so silly.”
It is finally decided that he wants to be held. (Big surprise.)
Elizabeth moves her chair to place Arleigh in her lap. He stops moaning and eats two bites before recommencing his moans and attempts to crawl on the table.
20 minutes into dinner time, Elizabeth decides she is done. The moaning is haunting her dreams, and Lilia’s constant negotiations (“Can I have dessert? I’m going to eat this much and then I can have dessert. If I don’t eat my mushrooms, can I still have dessert?”) is wearing down her resolve.
It is at this exact time when two door-to-door salesmen arrive and knock at the front door. Fighting back tears, Elizabeth tells them as kindly as possible that it is not a good time, as they are in the middle of dinner. The salesmen respond, “Well the last house we went to offered us dinner.”
That’s it. Elizabeth has no more grace to give. She tells them goodbye and closes the window.
She places Arleigh on the floor to play, but he just screams. She tries to pack Lilia’s lunch and clean up the kitchen through the cries but seriously loses her cool.
Jason picks up Arleigh and places him on his lap. The screaming stops.
Lilia has finally eaten enough asparagus and pork to warrant a small dessert. She chooses a macaron. Elizabeth is THRILLED with this decision.
Lilia gets the macarons out of the freezer and distributes one to each person (except for Arleigh).
Elizabeth returns to the table to enjoy dessert with Lilia and to apologize for yelling. Lilia doesn’t really hear her though, because she is eating a macaron.
It is now 6:20pm. Jason takes Lilia and Arleigh to Arleigh’s room to play and read books before bed.
Elizabeth cleans up dinner and finally takes a sip of the wine she poured forever ago. She also sneaks another macaron. Because she survived dinnertime.
Next up: bedtime.
– END SCENE –
Pork Chops with Asparagus, Mashed Potatoes, and Honey Mustard Mushroom Sauce
Don’t let the three-act play fool you — this meal is thoroughly delicious and both kids devoured the leftovers for lunch the next day. It truly is a family favorite, despite its lack of bread (because sometimes it feels like our kids will only eat bread…). The best part? It is simple to execute and offers a ton of ways to make it your own through the seasonings and sauce.
Asparagus and Mashed Potatoes
- 3 lbs potatoes, chopped
- 2 lbs asparagus
- 3 T oil or butter
Pork Chops and Sauce
- 3 lbs pork chops
- 1/4 c cider vinegar
- 1/4 c oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 8 oz mushrooms, sliced
- 1/3 c flour
- Giant dollop of mustard
- Giant dollop of honey
- 4 c stock (beef, chicken, or pork)
- 1/2 c cold water (optional)
- 1/4 c corn starch (optional)
- In a large pot that fits a steamer attachment, fill with water halfway and add potatoes.
- Fix steamer basket to the pot and add asparagus to the basket. Cover and cook on high until asparagus and potatoes are soft, about 15-20 minutes.
- Drain potatoes then mash with hand mixer or immersion blender. Mix in salt and oil or butter. (Best to make these ahead of time if your kids hate hot food like ours.)
- Meanwhile, season pork chops with salt and thyme. (But no pepper, because our kids think pepper is spicy.)
- Add oil to a skillet. On high heat, cook pork chops until they are done (145-degree internal temperature), about 5-7 minutes per side for thick ones.
- Deglaze the pan with cider vinegar. Add oil, mushrooms, and garlic. Sauté about 5 minutes until mushrooms begin to soften.
- Add flour to thicken, followed by stock, mustard, and honey. (Your three year old will definitely eat it if you tell her there’s honey in it!)
- Stir, scraping everything off the bottom of the pan, and bring to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer until it’s time to eat. You can thicken with a mixture of cold water and corn starch if it’s not thick enough. Just be sure to bring back to boil.
- Put all on a plate and drown your sorrows in sauce when you serve.