The Shared Shrimp Tacos by Amy Cantu

It's late. We had just spent three days hoofing it all over Disneyland, (24,600 steps per day, if you're counting,) in extreme heat. We had just arrived in San Diego to visit Grandma Sheryl and Grandpa Bob. My husband pulled into the driveway and began unloading what always turns out to be too much stuff from the trunk of the car, while I gingerly carry each child into the house as quietly as I can. We're exhausted. I feel the blisters on my feet with each step and my legs ache. As I groggily pull open the refrigerator, I start making a mental grocery list of all the things I needed to get from the store before heading to bed, so the kids would have have something that they would eat in the morning. Suddenly I hear angels singing, as I squint through the bright light of the refrigerator. I rubbed my eyes and wondered if I was hallucinating. Grandma Sheryl and Grandpa Bob had us covered - milk, fruit, iced coffee, waffles, bagels, sandwich supplies, and animal crackers - they had stocked up for us, so we wouldn't have to rush to a grocery store to feed ourselves or the kids! Angels!

I know in-laws get a bad rap sometimes, but I won the lottery with mine. Both sets of my in-laws welcome in our family zoo and are always eager to take the kids off my hands and usher me away to take a nap. (How do they know that I ALWAYS need a nap??? Do I look that bad . . . no one answer that. I'm just grateful.) They are early risers, so somebody (not me or my husband!) is always up when our first child wakes at 5:30 a.m. Did I mention angels? They are ANGELS! And so, after a couple days of lounging around with my feet up and calling out, "I don't know, kids, go ask Grandma or Grandpa!" I thought maybe I should repay some of this kindness with a family meal of Mango-Shrimp Tacos with Honey-Lime Slaw. These tacos are special enough to seem like a treat, but easy enough to pull together on a weeknight or just to say, "Thank you for being totally awesome!"

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Mango-Shrimp Tacos with Honey-Lime Slaw

The Shared Summer Picnic by Amy Cantu

I packed for efficiency and speed, with each item carefully curated: one carry-on suitcase filled with just enough clothes for the number of days I would be away on my girls' trip, no liquids in bottles over four ounces (so as to not anger the TSA gods,) slip-on shoes for the security line, boarding pass pre-printed and tucked neatly into the front pocket of my small travel purse, (no kids = no giant tote bag masquerading as a purse to hold the ten snacks, extra diaper, wipes, and water bottles). I tapped my foot nervously. I have not been away from the kids for five days EVER. I both wanted to bolt out the door and also start feigning illness to get out of going. Of course in this moment, their cherub faces were adorable and their good-bye hugs tugged at my heart strings. Can I do this? Can I be someone other than "mom" for the next five days? Yes. Yes, I can. I gathered up my littles for one last squeeze and pulled the door shut behind me. I could hear them wailing on the other side of the door, and my husband holding them back. "Maaaamaaaaa! MAMA!" I flinched and kept on walking. Five days. Five days of feeling like an individual again, releasing myself from the worry, guilt, and refereeing of small children . . . and also missing those same small children like crazy.

What does a getaway girls' trip have to do with a shared summer picnic? It's all about balance - in cooking and in life. If there's one thing that I've learned (and continue to learn), it's that too much of anything is just that: too much. I felt torn as I left for that trip, but when I returned, I felt renewed and ready to wrestle with the boys and cook for everyone again. This summer picnic is a metaphor for that revelation - a vibrant salad filled with summer vegetables and protein-packed beans balanced with a luscious, rich chocolate pudding. It's a picnic that is both nourishing for the body and nourishing for the soul because really, we all need a little of both to center ourselves in a world that too often feels so one-sided and stressful. When Cynthia and I shared this meal with each other, I just thought, how lucky are we to be able to balance our mom-lives with the love and passion we have for sharing food. I hope this Bean Salad and Easy Chocolate Pudding bring some much needed harmony into your lives too.

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Two Bean Summer Salad

Easy Chocolate Pudding

The Shared Pizza and Salad by Amy Cantu

My kid was begging me to have pizza for lunch. Normally I would probably try to distract him and get him to forget about his request, but this day I saw a fun opportunity for us to bond over mixing together the stretchy pizza dough and scattering toppings over the crust. Also, I am obsessed with this recipe for Broccoli Cooked Forever and all the different ways that I can eat it. Why not on pizza??? The soft, umami-rich broccoli gets smeared all over the pizza crust and topped with stretchy, milky fresh mozzarella and shards of sharp and nutty parmesan. Yes. I want to eat that. Even the kid wants to eat that! This easy-peasy recipe for pizza dough makes enough for two crusts, so for pie #2, we dug around the fridge and found a good nub of fontina, a small chunk of red onion, a package of Canadian bacon, and some grape tomatoes. Last (but not least), this shared pizza meal needed a crunchy salad and some good friends to make it complete. Luckily, we had the makings for both!

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Pizza Two Ways

Broccoli Cooked Forever

Pancetta Caesar Salad


The Shared Winter to Spring Meal by Amy Cantu

This meal came about as Cynthia and I looked out the window at a crisp, but sunny day. The leaves were still glistening from the recent (much needed) rain, the grass was tinged a bright green, and the rose buds hinted at a bit of color. It’s was still very much winter, but just a few hints of spring were starting to poke through the gray din to cheer us up. We wanted to cook and eat a meal that would give a nod to the briskly cold air but also bridge the gap to the brightness of approaching spring. I think this meal of citrusy roasted chicken legs, paired with a heavily herby, yet hearty farro salad, is just the thing.

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Roasted Chicken Legs with Smoked Paprika, Blood Orange, and Honey

Chopped Herb Salad with Farro

The Shared Lunch by Amy Cantu

white bean soup and kale salad

Winter was already well underway, when Cynthia, our friend Christine, and I huddled together in my unusually quiet kitchen. We were lucky enough to have grandparents watching the kids, so we had a whole afternoon at our disposal - it felt positively luxurious. So what to cook? We wanted to somehow redeem ourselves from all of our gluttonous holiday eating, but also eat food that would combat the cold, drizzly weather outside. So, we settled on a little bit of each: a bountiful kale salad and also a hearty, white bean soup. I am convinced that the kale with all it’s well-touted vitamins and antioxidants reversed the damage of eating more than my fair share of deep-fried turkey, honey ham, tamales, and cheesecake at not one, but TWO Christmas dinners. Well, that’s what I’m telling myself anyway. Add that to this soul-warming white bean soup that manages to pack its own healthy dose of good-for-you veggies, while still tasting unctuous and rich. Beyond any purported health benefits of said soup and salad, what really struck me on this otherwise gray, frigid day, was how filled with joy I felt spending a leisurely afternoon cooking, sharing, and enjoying lunch with Cynthia and Christine. I love how cooking with and for others has taught us to be generous with our recipes and each other - sharing a nourishing meal that ushered in a little extra warmth during these cold winter months.

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White Bean Soup with Wilted Greens

Kale Salad with Butternut Squash and Cheddar