We are officially “Empty Nesters.”
When I started dating my husband Zeke, a widower with three little girls, I asked him “Why did you wait so long to have kids?” Emma, Rachel and Lauren were 4, 5 and 8 years old when I met him and he was 41. My kids- Brad, A.J. and Chris were 22, 16 and 14- I’d had them all before I turned 30. “Why did you have your kids so young?” he asked me, in turn. On our second date, when I told him I finally saw “the light at the end of the tunnel” regarding raising kids, he feared that light was a train coming to hit me with his kids. He was right. I fell in love with him and his three little girls and we got married in 2004.
Before he proposed he asked: “Doesn’t this scare you?” meaning his young daughters. “Teenagers scare me,” I answered. And I have to say, going through the teenage years with three girls and their hormones in the house, at the same time I was going through my own havoc-wreaking hormones in menopause, was quite hellish. But, I survived, our marriage miraculously survived and we were both starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel as Emma, the youngest, prepared to graduate from High School and leave for Tallahassee and FSU the summer of 2017.
But, that didn’t happen. Lauren, who’s had her own apartment since she graduated FSU is now in D.C. at Georgetown. Emma moved into an apartment in the Gables with her boyfriend Gui in June and Rachel, the middle child most anxious to leave, just got an apartment on Brickell with a friend. As Zeke and I sat outside last night with a glass of wine, listening to music by our newly resurfaced pool I said “Wow- we’re really empty nesters.”
The house seems so big and quiet without kids. I’ve been waiting for this day for ages and now that it’s here, I just feel… empty. At least I get to see Wyatt once a week. I pick him up from school, he stays for dinner and sleeps over and I take him to school the next day. When I get sad I have to remember, I have two new grandsons to look forward to; Emma visits quite frequently and we have her over for dinner about once a week. Lauren will be home soon for Thanksgiving, staying through till the new year, so the house won’t be totally vacant. As a friend said to an empty nester feeling withdrawal pains recently, the thing about kids is “they come back.”
As I enjoyed an Orange Crush cocktail, Zeke smoked the most delectable Ribs Sunday night. They were so good, I didn’t even want to try the Grilled Chicken Thighs, but they were also delicious- moist and flavorful. We ate it with boiled corn and baked beans. I like my corn boiled, as opposed to on the grill. I used to know a lady that was married to Shorty’s son and she said the secret to Shorty’s corn (it’s so good!) is that they “boil the hell out of it.” Ha! Also, it’s swimming in butter. I tried to get her to give me the recipe for their coleslaw (my favorite) but she didn’t.
Monday we met friends Brooks and Sharon at Sea Siam. This was the last place we ate before the Pandemic hit. After sushi and a bottle of wine, we invited them to join us in the Keys for the weekend, to go out on our new boat. Vital Signs came Friday morning to put the name on our boat- ‘Bout Time- and it looks great. Friday night we did a sunset cruise with wine, cheese and crackers. We returned home and had dinner at Sharkey’s Bar and Grille, one of our favorite hole-in-the-wall joints. Of course, we had to get Fish Dip and Conch Fritters, two Key’s favorites. Saturday, we took the boat out for lunch at Marker 88. Every time we’ve gone out to eat on the boat, we’ve tried a different restaurant, so now we have the tracks set on our Garmin GPS system, kind of like the crumbs Hansel and Gretel left, leading the way back to our destination.
Marker 88 had a delicious Hot Crab Dip that we noshed on with fried won tons. I ordered a Perfect Margarita which was very good (not that easy to find in the Keys) and a Seared Tuna Salad, with rare, sesame-coated tuna and lots of greens. We all enjoyed our lunch and I asked the waiter for the Hot Crab Dip recipe which he brought to me on slip from his waiter’s pad. After we returned home, we all napped (except Sharon). Dinner was Grilled Yellowtail Snapper with a lemon butter sauce, Uncle Ben’s Wild Rice and Broiled Asparagus. Zeke had made a yummy appetizer of sautéed Shrimp and Lobster with some Yum Yum sauce.
Emma was having her boyfriend’s family over for dinner on Friday, so she came over Thursday so I could help her make Baked Ziti, Meatballs and Salad Dressing. Emma said I was going to be “horrified” at the recipe she’d chosen. Actually, it was fine but sour cream in a pasta dish? And Emma wanted to make it with Vodka sauce, which is already creamy. We made my Grandmother’s meatballs, golf ball size, but I showed Emma a little trick to testing the meatballs. You make a tiny one and cook it to make sure the seasonings are correct. Another secret to making successful meatballs is baking them, versus frying them. My grandmother always fried them in the salt pork and onion mixture for her sauce, but my meatballs fall apart with this method, so now I bake them. 375 for 20 minutes on parchment paper or a silpat mat. I flip them after 10, so they brown on both sides.
We got everything done and Emma was on her way. “How do you time everything?” Emma asked, so I sent her an Ina Garten suggestion from one of her cookbooks. It’s called “foolproof game plans” and it’s an “excruciating detailed” game plan of what to do the day of a dinner party. Having a game plan takes the guess work out of dinner parties and you’ll be less likely to forget something if you write it all down. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve forgotten a dish in the fridge- this plan will eliminate that from happening and also relieves hostess free-floating anxiety. Emma’s dinner went well. She texted me the next day and said: “I don’t know who you do it so often.” It’s nice to be appreciated! I told her the more you do it, the easier it gets, but we’re probably all a little rusty in the entertaining department with the Pandemic.
I planted my little herb and vegetable garden last week and it looks great. I have some tomato plants from my tennis partner (she has a farm in the Redlands), a Japanese eggplant, some cucumbers (never tried them before), a Poblano pepper, some Spinach, Kale and lots of herbs. I also planted marigolds throughout my garden for two purposes. One, they look pretty and two, they repel insects. When people ask me what to plant in their garden, I say plant what you want to eat and will use. There’s no reason to plant eggplant or cilantro if you hate them. Also, try to choose varieties that work in your climate (South Florida’s 10b zone) for best results.
Two genius ideas I’ve discovered lately. One is Prosecco ice cubes. When I don’t finish the whole bottle of Prosecco (it happens!) I pour the remainder into an ice cube tray. The cubes don’t freeze completely solid, they’re a little slushy so I pry them out with a butter knife and they are perfect for plopping into my Prosecco to make it ice cold. The other genius idea I’ve had is putting an arugula salad on pizza.
This idea was based on an Ina Garten recipe for White Pizzas with Arugula, but honestly it could work on many types of pizza, including Proscuitto or Fig and blue cheese. Make a simple vinaigrette of 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup lemon juice and salt and pepper. Make your pizza, take it out and toss enough vinaigrette on a bunch of arugula to moisten. Then, pour the arugula salad on top of the pizza. It will cool it down, make it pop and turn a freezer pizza from ho-hum to amazing! I did this to a little pita bread pizza I made for myself when Zeke was in the Keys and I was home alone, and it was great.
I made the cutest Stuffed Peppers that looked like Jack-O-Lanterns for Wyatt when he came over Wednesday night. It was inspired from a Trisha Yearwood recipe on the Food Network and had macaroni, with ground beef, pasta sauce and shredded cheese. You stuff the pepper (with cut outs like a Jack-O-Lantern) and bake them; they turned out great. Wyatt, however, wanted his pasta out of the pepper and then he wanted plain pasta, not the one with meat and sauce. As a wise Gigi, I’d already anticipated this request and had some plain macaroni in the fridge waiting. Oh well, I tried to broaden his horizons!
According to Whole Foods, the Top Food Trends for 2021 are: Banana Jerky, Chickpea cereal and alcoholic Kombucha. Weird, weird and weirder. This sounds positively awful to me. If 2021 is anything like 2020, I want comfort food, a big fat weighted blanket and lots of wine, (not alcoholic Kombucha) to numb my pain. Creamy soups, gooey Mac ‘n cheese, Strawberry Pop Tarts, Cap’n Crunch and a big bowl of Pistachio gelato sound about right to me in my Pandemic, hibernation mode. God forbid I actually have to show this body in public.
Last week was an eventful week in the Guilford Household!
- Garden Planted. Check!
- Pool Resurfaced. Check!
- Boat Named. Check!
- Empty Nesters. Check!
As Zeke noted, the name of our boat, ‘Bout Time, can mean many things. ‘Bout Time we got a boat, ’bout time we spend more time relaxing, ’bout time this election season is over, ’bout time we have an empty nest. ‘Bout Time Zeke starts chasing me around the house (caneless) and we go skinny dipping, I guess! It really is ’bout time!
Remember when, we said when we turn gray, When the children grow up and move away. We won’t be sad, we’ll be glad, For all the life we’ve had. And we’ll Remember When.Alan Jackson
Up Next: Easy Appetizers.