Easy meals for two for empty nesters include Spanish shrimp, apple scones


It’s done. The third child, our last child, has gone to college. It was all done in the typical way: Paul and I packed him into a car filled with bins, a fan, new towels and a comforter. We drove down the bumpy 88 interstate in a quiet car. We arrived and unloaded, putting clothes in drawers, posters on walls. There was the required trip to Walmart, for the things we forgot.

Then a quick lunch. After, it was time to go and Elliot was ready for us to go. So we hugged and I held on tight. And then we left. I miss him of course, and most of the time it’s a dull and nagging feeling, almost like I’ve forgotten something. And other times it hurts, a lot.

Elliot’s absence in our house is marked by stuff that’s no longer there. Mostly, it’s piles of things. There are no piles of shoes by the front door. No piles of laundry, and no piles of dishes in the sink. I never thought I’d miss the piles.

I miss him a lot at dinner time. It took awhile to get used to not seeing him, not looking forward to seeing him. Every day at around 4 pm, I used to start thinking about home, about dinner, about seeing my people. Now, I remember that he’s at college.

Dinner time has changed, of course. It’s quieter. It’s later than it was before. Paul and I often dig and find what we can from the fridge. Cooking is not altogether dead, though, even if it’s different.

I force a look on the bright side, and we can now eat shellfish in our house. Elliot is allergic so I wouldn’t cook it in the house. I love shellfish, all of it, any of it. We’ve traded a child for a shrimp dinner. This shrimp dish is a particular favorite and a riff on a dish Paul and I had many years ago in a Spanish restaurant. The thing I like about Spanish food is its simplicity. The ingredients are few, and in those cases, be sure to make them count. In other words, don’t be cheap. Use good olive oil. Buy the wild caught shrimp (they’re brinier, and better for the environment). Look out for fresh, crisp garlic, which is spicy and full of flavor. You can buy it easily at the farmers market right now. This recipe is simple to make, good for a quiet dinner for two and equally good for guests. Perhaps the best part is the garlicy, warm sauce that soaks into the bread, a necessary accompaniment.

Without Elliot around, I can also switch up the salad routine. Our tastes in salad are not the same. He likes Romaine, with croutons and cheese. Me, I love all the colors in my salads, all kinds of cheeses, dressings made with herbs and tart vinegar. I made a salad I knew he would only pick through, and Paul and I had it for dinner and again for lunch the next day. Here’s the really great thing about salads in the middle of September: There’s so much great summer stuff to still be found at the farmers market. There are still tomatoes. There’s corn. But since fall is pushing its way in, there are a few fall vegetables, too. Delicata squash, if you don’t know it, is worth checking out, if only for the beauty of its pale, green-striped edible skin. Toss delicata squash with olive oil and roast it until the rings are deeply golden brown. Those wedges are soft and tender inside, and crisp and golden brown outside. I roasted it alongside small and tender carrots and shallots, and then paired those things with the last of the tomatoes from the garden, leftover steamed corn, feta cheese and sliced ​​almonds. All of these things made crunch, flavor and enough color to look like an artist’s palette. The dressing is another favorite, packed with herbs, creamy from avocado with a gentle garlic bite. Green goddess can be used as a dip for vegetables or thinned out to dress a salad. We ate this salad alongside chicken that Paul grilled, but it is substantial enough to stand up on its own for a light dinner.

I made a batch of scones to celebrate the arrival of fall, and surely made me think of my youngest child. He is a carb and sugar lover and I often indulged him by buying muffins, cookies and pastries. Paul and I don’t often eat that stuff, so when I see the apple cider donuts at the market, I turn away and try to not feel sad. A treat now and then is always in order, though, so I baked the scones. These are warm with lots and lots of cinnamon, and subtly sweet from the apple. A note about the sugar I used here: I call for raw or golden sugar, which you can easily find in the baking aisle. These sugars are less processed and have a different flavor than the regular old white variety. They will have hints of molasses and caramel. But you can use white sugar and it’ll still be good.

We aren’t actually empty-nesters here, as our middle child Zoe has moved back in. She came with her little dog in tow, and she is going to college, working and saving her money. I’m so glad they’re here because I don’t want the nest to be empty, not yet.

So far, Elliot is doing fine. He sent a text, a few hours after we dropped him at SUNY Oneonta. He wrote exactly this: “thanks mom and dad, for everything. I’m so happy.” And then he added a red heart. It’s hard to be sad when he’s so happy. We will visit in a week and I am sure my excitement and joy is greater than his. I know, too, that he’ll be back in another few weeks for fall break and I can’t wait to bake sweets for him and see the piles and piles of his things around the house.

Shrimp with Garlic Sauce

4 appetizer servings

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

10 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

1 heaping teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 heaping teaspoon sweet Spanish paprika

1 pound large wild caught shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails on

Juice of one lemon

1 small handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley

Sea salt, for finishing

black pepper

Bread, for serving

  • In a large saucepan set medium low heat, warm the olive oil. Add the garlic, red pepper, paprika and salt and stir, cooking until the garlic is fragrant and barely golden. Move quickly so the garlic doesn’t burn.
  • Turn the heat to medium and add the shrimp, lemon juice and parsley. Stir quickly, coating the shrimp and cooking until they are plump and no longer translucent, 2 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat, season to taste with sea salt and plenty of black pepper, and serve with the bread for soaking up the juice.

End of Summer/Early Fall Salad

Serves 4

olive oil

1 delicata squash, seeds removed and sliced

4 medium carrots, peeled and sliced

4 shallots, peeled and sliced

4 cups salad greens

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

Kernels cut from two ears of steamed corn

1 cup feta cheese, crumbled

½ cup sliced ​​almonds, toasted

Green Goddess Dressing, recipe follows

  • Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Toss the squash, carrots and shallots with just enough olive oil to coat lightly, then spread out on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Use two sheets if the vegetables are crowded. Roast for 12 minutes, then stir and roast for 10 more minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
  • Spread the salad greens on a platter, and arrange all of the vegetables, cheese and almonds on top.
  • Drizzle a bit of salad dressing over all, and serve the rest on the side.

Green Goddess Dressing

Makes about 1 ½ cups

1 ripe avocado

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Juice of 1 lemon

1 packed cup mixed fresh herbs (flat-leaf parsley, cilantro, dill, tarragon, etc.)

1 garlic clove, peeled

teaspoon salt

black pepper

Water, for thinning

  • Combine the avocado, oil, lemon, herbs, garlic, salt and pepper in a blender. Turn the motor on and slowly pour in water – up to ⅓ cup, until the dressing is smooth and pourable.
  • Dressing keeps refrigerated in an airtight container (a small glass jar works well) for three days.

Apple Cinnamon Scones

Makes 8

for scones

2 cups all purpose flour

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 tablespoon cinnamon

½ cup raw or golden sugar (see note)

6 tablespoons very cold unsalted butter

½ medium tart apple, peeled

½ cup milk

For topping

¼ cup raw sugar

Butter, for serving

  • Heat the oven to 375 degrees and grease a baking sheet.
  • In a large bowl, stir together the flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and sugar.
  • Grate the butter on the large holes of a box grater and stir into the flour mixture. Use the same box grater to grate the apple into the bowl and stir gently to combine. Use your fingers to separate any large clumps of butter.
  • Stir in the milk, mixing together until you have a uniform, soft dough. Gather together and form a large ball, knead a few times, and place on the prepared baking sheet. Press the dough into a circle 8” wide. Use a sharp knife to cut the circle into 8 wedges and separate them, just a bit. Sprinkle with the extra raw sugar.
  • Bake for 22 minutes, or until the scones are firm to the touch and browned on the bottom. Allow to cool and serve with extra butter, if you like.
  • Note: Raw or golden sugar is easily found at the supermarket and has a caramel-like flavor. You can also use white sugar.

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