A Posse Challenge ~ Cooking for Two

Just about any mother with an empty nest will tell you that down-sizing dinner and keeping it interesting is one of the biggest challenges she faces. When I finally returned home after avoiding my newly empty nest for as long as my husband would permit, the first item on my agenda was dinner. Depression set in as I envisioned years of boring bagged salad and rotisserie chicken or baked fish looming in our future.

For 18 years, my ever-evolving tried-and-true dinner recipes have been intended for at least four. In more recent years, my athletic teenage son required hefty meals to meet his caloric demands as well as his finicky taste buds. My husband would rather not eat leftovers, so whipping up the favorites to eat over several days is really not an option; plus we really don’t need the heavier meals.

As I was shredding the chicken for our first night home, I realized it was time for an attitude readjustment. Instead of bemoaning our empty nest at every meal, I’ve decided to face the situation like a big girl and embrace the challenge of cooking real meals for two. Fortunately the first step to facing this challenge was sitting amongst my cookbooks practically untouched since I received it about ten years ago from aGw.

Bride & Groom First and Forever Cookbook

Flipping open the Bride & Groom First and Forever Cookbook, I was delighted to find several recipes meant only for two. Written by identical twins who had been boarders at St. Catherine’s School here in RVA, it is filled with Mary Corpening Barber and Sara Corpening Whiteford’s stories of their food experiences living and working as twin daughters, chefs, wives and new moms. While they are stars in the food galaxy, their recipes are thorough and uncomplicated.

Each recipe is prefaced with an anecdote and often a suggestion for accompaniments. With beautiful pictures of some of the published offerings, the cookbook provides a comprehensive base of recipes and menu suggestions that are suitable for most any couple, whether just married or recently pared down. It evens offers suggestions for how to cook some of the meals together, as well as a whole chapter called Dinners & Desserts in a Dash. Although the book was published eleven years ago, the recipes are classic enough to stand the test of time save for a few calling for then-trendy sun-dried tomatoes.

Freshly inspired by this well-designed book, I decided to try their Corn-Chip Crusted Halibut with Creamy Salsa and Cilantro (recipe below). The fish was easy to put together, though their recommendation for two 8 oz. fillets was more than plenty. For side dishes, they recommended Sweet Corn with Jalapeño and Butter Lettuce with Mango, Goat Cheese and Mighty Mint Vinaigrette. Since sweet corn is at its peak right now in these parts, the first recommendation was easy. The Butter Lettuce salad was more time-consuming than anticipated because I had not made the superb vinaigrette (recipe below) ahead of time. Peaches and feta would work beautifully in the salad as well this time of year.

The result was a meal fit for a king and queen. Creating a lovely meal and discovering we could celebrate our new status were two revelations we felt demanded a bit of the bubbly. 

dinner for two with prosecco © The Gracious Posse

To our empty nesting posse, I challenge you to join me. Let’s try to create some nice dinners for two at least once a week. We’d love to share your pictures and recipes that even our friends with full nests can whip up for an in-home date night. We can’t wait to see what you concoct!

salutationa&eAugust 27, 2014

Corn Chip-Crusted Halibut with Creamy Salsa and Cilantro
Serves 2
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  1. 2 halibut fillet (4-6 oz. each)
  2. kosher salt
  3. ½ t ground cumin
  4. 2 T unsalted butter, melted
  5. 1 T fresh lime juice
  6. 2 handfuls corn chips, crushed
  7. ¾ cup premium-quality bottled salsa (not fresh)
  8. 3 T sour cream
  9. 2 T fresh cilantro leaves
  1. Preheat oven to 400°.
  2. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or Silpat pad and place halibut on it. Season both sides of fillets with kosher salt to taste and cumin. Combine the butter and lime juice and drizzle over the fillets. Top each fillet with a thick layer of corn chip crumbs. Cover fillets loosely with foil.
  3. Bake until fish is opaque in center about 18 minutes, removing foil after about 10 minutes.
  4. While fish is baking, whisk the salsa and sour cream together in a small saucepan over heat until just warmed, about 2-3 minutes.
  5. Place fillets on individual plates, top with creamy salsa and garnish with cilantro.
Adapted from Bride & Groom First and Forever Cookbook
The Gracious Posse http://thegraciousposse.com/

Mighty Mint Vinaigrette
Yields 1
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  1. ¾ c olive oil
  2. ½ c firmly packed fresh mint leaves
  3. ¼ c white wine vinegar
  4. 1 T plus 1 t Dijon mustard
  5. 1 T plus 1 t honey
  6. ¼ t kosher salt
  7. freshly ground pepper to taste
  1. Combine olive oil and mint in a blender and process until puréed, about 15 seconds. Add vinegar, mustard, honey, kosher salt and pepper and blend until just incorporated. Do not over blend. Refrigerate covered for up to a week.
  1. Would be great with fruit or on lamb.
Adapted from Bride & Groom First and Forever Cookbook
The Gracious Posse http://thegraciousposse.com/


Another Strategy for Surviving the Empty Nest: Avoid It

Last summer after dropping her youngest for his freshman year, Ellen wrote elegantly about her Four Strategies for Surviving the Empty Nest. Because I often think of Ellen as my older sister (after all she is 374 days older than I am), I often find myself trying to follow her graceful lead. Though I witnessed her return to her empty nest with aplomb, I took my typical ostrich approach to the same situation last week.

The Homestead tower and motorcourt © The Gracious Posse(not college but so many of them these days do feel like a resort)

After dropping my baby at college, I refused to go home, at least for a few days. Instead I persuaded my husband that we needed a quick getaway ~ to the Homestead resort.

The Homestead pink logo © The Gracious Posse

After all, it is sort of on the way home, and we really did need some transition time.

The Homestead new spa garden © The Gracious Posse

The Homestead proved the perfect spot (even in the rain) to lessen the bittersweet pain of this milestone and prepare for our new stage of life.

The Homestead river walk in new spa garden © The Gracious Posse

While I enjoyed the Homestead’s remodeled spa with rBr who serendipitously happened to be in the area, my husband took comfort in the familiar faces of the long-time employees at this family-friendly resort.

fountain at The Homestead spa © The Gracious Posse

Occasionally I saw ghosts of my children running through the main hall in their younger days, but the comfortable and familiar surroundings proved a relaxing antidote after the stress of the prior weeks preparing to send my son on his way. Now is the time for my husband and me to start finding shared activities other than parenting. He won’t spa (yes, that word can be a verb) with me, but we did enjoy a mountain hike together.

mountain hike at The Homestead © The Gracious Posse

As we were heading to the Homestead, PMB called with his words of wisdom for dealing with the empty nest, suggesting that we should expect to need about two weeks to adjust. In our case, I beg to differ. I have the feeling that the empty nest syndrome won’t really sink in for about two weeks, when we finally realize that this change is permanent. I’ve already made plans to be out of town then. No, I won’t be taking a round-the-world cruise. Dr. Peter LeViness at the University of Richmond urges freshman parents to not make any drastic geographical changes right after the nest empties. But I know I cannot sit in our quiet house for too long.

Fortunately, I’ve got this cutie who makes almost as many domestic demands as my son did.

Palmer at 10½ months © The Gracious Posse

He refers to Palmer as his replacement. While I don’t go that far, it is nice to have someone who lets me know daily that I am still needed. He’s just one more way that I am avoiding my new reality.

To our posse who are now facing or already survived the empty nest, what’s your survival strategy (and don’t say, get pregnant ~ that shipped has sailed)? Ellen’s coping methods include reconnecting with your spouse, speed parenting, virtual parenting and relying on your posse. I know I will utilize all of those methods eventually, but for now I still have my head in the sand. Anyone joining me?

salutationa&eAugust 25, 2014

Rappahannock River Riches

wide Rappahannock River © The Gracious Posse

For many in these parts, a trip to the river (pronounced ri-vah’) means the Rappahannock River. A large tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, this wide waterway has seen its share of American history yet has remained almost exclusively rural and somehow under-developed. The lucky ones who own land along its banks are happy to keep its above-water beauty and underwater riches a secret.

sunset over the Rappahannock River © The Gracious Posse

For decades, the oyster population that our country’s first settlers discovered here have rapidly declined thanks in large part to runoff from the bordering farms.

river entrance to Merrior © The Gracious Posse

Fortunately a determined few led by the current owners of the Rappahannock River Oyster Company, cousins trying to save their struggling family business, are independently salvaging the local oyster industry and, in the process, improving the health of the Bay.

selection of local oysters at Merrior © The Gracious Posse

People like Jim Carleton (and soon Ellen) are jumping on the oyster bandwagon. Not only are they helping to save the Bay, they are raising dinner for a pittance. And afterwards, their discarded shells can be used for landscaping.

edible treasures from the Rappahannock River © The Gracious Posse

Recently we hauled out these babies in their growing cage at jBr’s home near the mouth of the Bay. Look who stowed away

blue crab amongst Rappahannock River oysters © The Gracious Posse

~ a beautiful blue crab. Too little yet to eat, one day we will find him in this crab pot sized perfectly for a crab cake sandwich.

crab pot lifted from the Rappahannock River © The Gracious Posse

Riches revealed at summer’s end. I hope my river friends won’t be too upset that I divulged their lovely secret.

drying off on the Rappahannock River © The Gracious Posse

The Rappahannock River is too precious a treasure not to share.

salutationa&eAugust 22, 2014