My mom and dad divorced when I was 4. This meant many things for many people – one of the things it meant was that, three nights a week plus alternating weekends, my dad was suddenly a single parent.
While many of my friends (and there were many) with divorced parents saw their dads only on occasional weekends, school holidays, or for random ‘dinner nights’ where they ate pizza and visited video arcades, we split time equally between our two parents and their houses.
Even before the divorce my dad was an involved parent, and a fully participatory (he might even say, majority-participatory) one. While my mom traveled the world speaking at conferences against nuclear weapons, participating in anti-proliferation summits as far from home as New York City and Japan, my dad held down the fort with us. He was writing his dissertation, and spending his spare time attempting to unionize San Francisco’s sex workers (no that is not a euphemism) and organizing an Adult Education Development Project (also not a euphemism). He was also teaching, and occasionally could be found onstage with the punk band MDC, not as a musician but as a sort of radical-politics mascot. They spray-painted his beard gold. With actual spray paint.
My dad is a professor, and also directs a major center for collaborative research. But at heart he is a philosopher, and an activist. What he considers to be his real work is the work he does in the community, with people who are marginalized and struggle to make their voices heard. Perhaps because of this he has always kept somewhat eclectic company – and so we did, too. Some of our first babysitters were topless dancers (see unionization efforts, above). His friend Aashid Himons camped in our San Francisco basement for a while, twisting ashes from his joints into his dreadlocks and making music. Another frequent guest was a Buddhist nun from Japan, Jun Yasuda, whom we called Jun San. She taught me and Dan to drum in rhythm and to chant in Japanese (Na-mu-myo-ho-ren-ge-kyo – one earth, one sky, entirely at peace). She also taught us how to eat cold bananas in wafer-thin slices.
Eclectic company aside, when my parents split up my dad was not the divorced dad you see in so many movies, bumbling and incompetent and good just for a laugh. He is organized and routine-driven, and always has been – we had a schedule, and it included clean bedrooms, home cooked meals, shopping for school clothes and making sure we got our homework done.
But he is also my dad. So while other kids watched whatever they wanted to on television, we watched The MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour. When we eventually got to start watching The Cosby Show we played “Find The Lie” during the commercials – a ‘game’ he made up. I still mock him for this, but I also find myself worrying about how to instill critical thinking about media in my own kids … “Find The Lie” might be a game we play, too.
If I ever let them watch TV.
In many ways my dad was a strict parent – he is a midwesterner, an Ivy Leaguer, a bit of a perfectionist and a definite work-aholic, and those things informed his parenting as much as his radical politics did. We had lots of chores, and on Saturday mornings if we weren’t up by 8 (that was sleeping in, mind you) we got knocks on our doors and his grumbly voice would come through, “If you don’t have anything to do, I can find something for you.” Excellent grades, set bedtimes, respectful table manners, and eventually embarrassingly early curfews and The Issue of Boys In Your Room were all non-negotiable and strictly enforced. (As was dinner at the table every night). But his number one edict to us as kids – the one literally emblazoned on bumper stickers that he stuck to the metal filing cabinets that doubled as our furniture in the early years, and no I’m not kidding, about the stickers or the filing cabinets – his number one edict was Question Authority. My grandma rolled her eyes and had some choice words about it that included “ridiculous” and “you’ll be sorry.” But my dad wanted us to engage critically with the world around us – and yes, even with him. He welcomed our dissent – and though he was just as likely to squash our ideas as he was to entertain them, he always encouraged us to share them.
My dad did all this for us on his own, figuring it out as he went along. I think it was lonely for him at times – I know that I relish my moments of connection and discussion with other moms day-to-day. They keep me sane, they keep me grounded, they keep me from feeling totally overwhelmed and burnt out. My dad has told me that, as a single dad, he wasn’t included in the playground chit chat, wasn’t part of the coffee club.
Which come to think of it might be part of how some of his unconventional parenting maneuvers continued unabated for so long – he had no one to bounce ideas off of, so he just went with what he came up with. He took his own path through parenthood, and through the very act of doing it, he made it work – for him, and (okay, mostly) for us too.
My dad is not much for “Hallmark Holidays” or commercialism – so Father’s Day was always a bigger deal to us than to him. But he does love a good party, and he loves to entertain – a trait that by the way I have inherited in droves. My stepmom shrugs and says “Your dad loves to have people over to the house” whenever he announces that he is hosting yet another family reunion, graduation celebration, work-related event or birthday party. Kyle shrugs and says “Hannah loves to have people over to the house” whenever I do the same.
This dinner is perfect for a party. It comes together very quickly (less than an hour total time) and can also be assembled almost completely ahead of time, if need be. When you’re ready to serve just heat the chicken and sauce gently on the stovetop and dress the simple salad – the potatoes are actually just as good (says me) or better (says Kyle) when they’re cold. All three recipes are below.
(Don’t forget – The Homemade Pantry giveaway is happening now! Tell us about what giving and receiving homemade goodness means to you and you could win your very own copy of this special cookbook. Comments close at midnight.)
Orange-Glazed Chicken with Roasted Balsamic Strawberries
This is essentially the orange-glazed chicken that is one of my go-to recipes – only instead of doing an orange juice and muscat vinegar reduction, I poached the chicken breasts in orange juice and then reduced it. To the reduced orange juice I added a pan of strawberries roasted in balsamic vinegar and maple syrup (remember these ice blocks? Lots happening around here with those roasted berries these days!). I did these in my biggest cast iron skillet, but to feed a crowd you could grill them, and then just make the sauce in the skillet.
3 cups strawberries, hulled and quartered
1/4 cup of maple syrup
1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar
Big pinch of salt
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
1 1/2 cups fresh orange juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and spread the strawberries on the paper. Pour the syrup and balsamic over the berries, sprinkle with the salt, and toss all together so all pieces are coated. Roast for 30 minutes, until the fruit is tender and the sauce has thickened and caramelized.
While berries are roasting, heat canola oil over medium-high heat in your skillet. When hot, put the chicken breasts in and sear for a few minutes, until they are lightly browned. Flip them over, add the orange juice, and cover the pan with a lid. (The orange juice should come at least half way up the sides of the chicken breasts – if not, add more to the pan until it does). Reduce heat to medium, and poach the chicken breasts for ten minutes or until cooked through (if they are thick, flip again half way through cooking). Remove them from the pan, raise heat to high, and stir constantly while the orange juice reduces down to a syrupy consistency.
Once the orange juice is reduced, scrape the entire contents of the berry pan into your skillet – I used my metal spatula to scrape down the parchment and get all the juices into the pan. Mix the berries and balsamic mixture into the orange juice, gently so as not to mash the berries. Taste, and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper as needed.
Spoon over the chicken breasts, and serve.
Honey-Mustard Potatoes with Dill
We like baby Nicola potatoes in this recipe, and that’s what you see in the photos above – they are perfect here. But your own favorite baby roasting potatoes will be perfect too. You can make everything ahead of time, and toss it together and refrigerate. Cold, it has a sort of vinegary potato salad thing going on, which is nice for a summer night. Warm, it is a good roasted potato dish, which is good any time.
2 pounds baby potatoes, scrubbed clean, large ones cut into smaller pieces
1/4 cup mustard
1 tablespoon honey
3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar or vinegar of choice
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 small shallots, minced
Pinch of sugar
Pinch of salt
4-5 good sized sprigs fresh dill, leaves chopped fine and stems discarded
Preheat oven to 400 F and set a rack as high in the oven as you can and still fit your baking sheet.
Spread the potatoes on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and toss to coat. Roast for 30 minutes, or until golden brown and fork tender.
While potatoes are roasting, combine the mustard, honey, vinegar, canola oil, shallots, salt and sugar. Mix well (I use a mason jar and just shake shake shake – Jacob likes to help). Taste – it should have a lot of bite, but if the mustardy-vinegar thing is too overpowering you can add more oil or a little more sugar. Remember that there is already oil on the potatoes so you don’t want too much in the dressing.
Once the potatoes are roasted, put them in a big bowl. Pour the dressing over them and stir to coat well. Add the chopped fresh dill and stir again.
Serve warm or cold.
Baby Watercress and Endive Salad with Peaches and Sweet Vinegar
In a salad bowl, pour a good glug of sweet rice wine vinegar and a little glug of canola oil. Mix well, season with a little salt and pepper. Add chopped baby watercress and chopped fresh endive, mix well. Add peach slices, and stir gently to combine. Serve immediately.
Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there, and especially to mine. I love you dad! You made our road by walking :)