Some nights, as we settle down to dinner, I question my motives. While I usually try to include something that’ll make everyone happy at the table, there are nights when I’m the only one excited about the feast before us. It’s just the reality of living with kids, even those who’ve grown up with home cooking being a regular part of their life. What I realized a few years ago is that it’s not just about the food. It’s the ritual, the experience of coming together around the table, sharing conversation, giggles, and laying the groundwork for what my daughters expect a meal to be.
It’s the whole package. As a single mom it can be exhausting to keep it up, but something happened last summer that made me realize I am indeed making a difference in my girls’ lives with the way I do dinner. If you follow along on Instagram, then you know my table is always set with real dishes and cloth napkins. I even take cloth napkins with me when we travel if we’re renting a house or apartment. A few years ago, when we stayed in Paris for a month, I forgot to pack cloth napkins. One of my first stops was at Monoprix to buy some. It’s borderline obsessive, I fully admit it.
Last year when we went to Montreal, I forgot to pack napkins, and I thought to myself—“it’s just a few days, what’s the big deal?” At some point, Isabella said, “mom, can we buy cloth napkins, I don’t like using paper”. Now, I understand, this sounds pretentious coming from a 12 year old. Mikey would’ve surely done an eye roll. Me, though? It all clicked; the effort I’ve put into our everyday meals has a cumulative effect. In that moment, I realized Isabella appreciated the meals we sit down to, even if she doesn’t love (or even like) what’s being served.
So, when Liberty School Wines reached out to collaborate on a project for their 2014 Merlot, and mentioned the theme was Elevate Your Everyday, it felt like a perfect fit. See, the photos I share of our evening meals are for our benefit primarily, but I love that it inspires others to stop, take pause, and add special touches to their own meals. Life shouldn’t be about living for special occasions to celebrate. It should be about making every day a special occasion, and for me, dinner is the perfect time to do just that.
Peppered through this post are photos from our recent taco night. It’s a weekly event in our house, and hands down, my girls’ favorite meal. It incorporates something for everyone. With a little planning, putting up a pot of homemade beans elevates the meal, especially since they tend to be our main protein on taco night. I always make sure to cook a double batch, and store the leftovers in the freezer so I’ll be one step ahead for next week’s taco night. Here’s my recipe for A Simple Pot of Pinto Beans. Feel free to swap in whatever bean you like best—black beans and kidney beans work great for taco night, too!
Some more taco night recipes:
A Simple Pot of Pinto Beans
The simple in this title refers to how easy these beans are to cook. When it comes to flavor, you’ll find they’re a lot more complex than canned beans. The olive oil adds a creamy texture to the beans, and makes for a flavorful broth—don’t discard it. The liquid is a great vegetarian broth to use in soups and stews.
1 cup pinto beans, picked over and rinsed
4 cups cold water
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 onion, cut in half
Handful of fresh cilantro, leaves and stems
Generous pinch of sea salt and finely ground black pepper
Combine all of the ingredients in a 4-quart pot over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to the lowest setting. Cover the pot, and let the beans cook at a gentle simmer until tender, 60 to 75 minutes (see note).
Remove the pot from heat and let the beans cool. Transfer to a container with the cooking liquid, cover and store in the refrigerator for up to one week, or freeze for up to 2 months.
NOTE: cooking time for beans is dependent on the age of the beans. Older ones will take longer to rehydrate. My experience has been that beans in the bulk section and at farmers’ markets, tend to be younger, and fresher, hence take less cooking time. If you’re using packaged beans from the grocery store, you might want to soak them overnight to help hydrate them before cooking.