My husband and I like going out. We really, really do.
City House, my pupils dilate every time I think about your belly ham pizza.
Rolf and Daughters, that squid ink pasta? It’s ev-ah-ree-thing.
Don’t even get me started on Kayne Prime. The Nashville food scene has done right by us. I want to make that very clear. There is a time for sealing one’s entire abdomen in Spanx and eating $40 worth of cow, and when that time comes, I’m in curlers and girdle before you can say “prix fixe.” BUT as much as we love the odd deconstructed-reconstructed quail egg mousse popsicle in our lives, sometimes we love staying in even more. That’s right—no baby sitter, no $30 bottle of Yellowtail, no musical squeak of the thighs on a leather banquette—just us, left to our own wretched culinary devices. Yes, dear readers, Date Night IN.
I know, I know, I’m talking about staying in. In YOUR house—the messy, foodless, cavern-like structure in which you reside— the one that has been almost entirely engulfed in Pampers-wipe smell since the birth of your first child. I feel you. Romance in THERE? The very idea is simply preposterous! Or is it?
Date night-in can be a toughie, but a good portion of us made babies at home, so we all know it is possible to find passion there (I keep mine in the kitchen between the George Foreman Grill and the mixing bowls). There are obstacles, plenty of which I am keenly aware: the fatigue, the Papa John’s menu beckoning to you from under its refrigerator magnet, the giant, hulking shadow of stuffed Mickey Mouse marring your perfectly muted candlelight…but none of them is insurmountable. Dates at home can be easy, they can be relaxed, they can linger as long as you like, and you can drink as much wine as you want and not have to call Uber. They can be pretty cost-effective too. Everybody dreams up the “perfect night in” differently. For some, it’s hot chicken, beer, and sweet, sweet slumber. For others, it’s an all out recreation of 50 Shades of Grey. Here’s what it looks like in our house:
I have made many plenty of mistakes in the kitchen. The one thing I have yet to devastate beyond recognition is the cheese plate. God bless the cheese plate, for cheese can do no wrong. It requires zero cooking, and you probably have all the accouterments in your kitchen already: a smear of mustard here, a little honey there, maybe an apple or a few grapes if you’re feeling extra fancy, and you’re all gouda! (Too cheesy?) I know what you’re thinking. “Who makes a cheese plate at home? Robin Leach? The Kennedys? Beyonce?”
You. You make a cheese plate at home. I promise that unless you buy a wheel of parm with the girth of a 200-year old Redwood, it will not break the bank. Many of our local grocery stores (including the new Murray’s Cheese setup at the Green Hills Kroger, The Turnip Truck, and Whole Foods) have these nifty little “$5 & Under” islands of misfit cheese amongst the pricier merchandise. Other retailers, including East Nasty’s The Bloomy Rind, will cut to size.
Isn’t she beautiful?! When you’re choosing your cheeses, try to mix up the textures. I like one soft, barnyard-y wedge with some funk to it, a semi-firm like a Tomme or washed rind cheese, and a very hard cheese. Also, unlike revenge and oysters (arguably), cheese is a dish best served at room temperature, so be sure to set it out for an hour or so before you plan to eat.
One Pan Pasta
Date night is not necessarily the best time to innovate. Just ask my husband how much he enjoyed “Chardonnaise” the alcoholic sandwich spread I invented when my son was nine months old. Blech! Then ask him how much he enjoyed washing the 29 dishes it took to make “Chardonnaise” possible. Double blech! Keep it simple. If you’re like me, your window of time to prep is extremely small, and your desire to clean up a giant mess is even smaller. So, what to do…what to do…..?
Turn to Martha. Always turn to Martha.
Another Mama-friend shared this pasta concoction with me during the bleak early months of parenting. It takes less than 20 minutes total, and you cook it in one pan. That’s right. I said. ONE. PAN.
This recipe is perfect for the gal who loves good food but looks at her stove at the end of the day and says, “Not happening!” You throw a bunch of things in a skillet, bring it to a boil, and a mere nine minutes later, “Poof!”
Congratulations, missy, you just won dinner. And date night. You know what? You just conquered the whole dang world!
Just to reiterate, this gem has been shamelessly lifted from my spirit animal, the venerable Martha Stewart. See below for recipe.
I’m about to say something a little bit sad:
We parents put an awful lot of energy into being playful with our children and a lot less into being playful with each other.
It’s kind of true, right? Well, it sure is for us!
As a former college Scrabbler (it’s a thing, I swear), I LOVE a little friendly competition on Date Night, and, fortunately, so does my husband. Playing games is such a fun way to interact: it’s super flirtatious, a wee bit juvenile, and it allows us to use that brilliant problem-solving corner of the brain that we normally reserve for trying to fix the busted up diaper genie…again.
Now, there is nothing wrong with skipping the odd round of “Strip Twister” to laze in front of HBO and vegetate. We all do it. We all love it. But I implore you, friends, to give the odd board game a whirl—especially if, like mine, your spouse has seen Khaleesi’s breasts more than yours in the past 12 months.
I hope that your date night doesn’t end here. I hope that after the last noodle is twirled and the final battleship sunk, you stay up to the wee hours of the morning talking, drinking wine, and making more really cute babies. BUT if you roll off to bed halfway through “Go Fish” with fresh basil in your teeth (Hey! It happens. You’re both exhausted!), I hope you now know that you don’t have to wear heels and eat $150 worth of haute cuisine every time you want to connect with the person that you love. “Date Night In” doesn’t mean you’re doomed to an evening of blah, set to drown in a sea of flannel, American Ninja Warrior, and Hamburger Helper. Quite to the contrary, Date Night In could be what keeps your marriage afloat.
12 ounces linguine
12 ounces cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered if large
1 onion, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
2 sprigs basil, plus torn leaves for garnish
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
4 1/2 cups water
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
Combine the pasta, tomatoes, onion, garlic, red-pepper flakes, basil, oil, 2 teaspoons salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and water in a large straight-sided skillet. Bring to a boil over high heat. Boil mixture, stirring and turning pasta frequently with tongs, until pasta is al dente and water has nearly evaporated, about 9 minutes.
Season to taste with salt and pepper, divide among bowls, and garnish with basil. Serve with oil and Parmesan.
***Don’t try to halve the recipe. Just save your leftovers, and eat the noodles as a cold salad. (We all know the whole pasta being salad thing is lie, but let’s just call it salad anyway!)