A couple Saturdays ago, my son showed up to breakfast with a book in his hand. The next day, he did the same thing and read through the entire meal. My son is always talking about not liking to read, so obviously something was up.
“Why are you reading, buddy?”
“Well,” said Jeremiah, “I set a reading goal this year for 25 points and I’m only up to six points. I have, like, ten days to try and reach my goal, so I’m trying to read as much as I can, but this book I’m reading is only worth three points, so I’m probably not going to make it.”
What I heard was, “Mom, can you help me figure out how to reach the goals I set?”
I know. My kids will be in therapy one day because of how much I try to “life-lesson” them. It’s okay, I’ve made my peace with it, because I figure there are worse things they could talk about (like the fact that I still haven’t put the clean sheets back on his bed after I washed them four weeks ago).
Ahem…six weeks ago.
It’s so embarrassing.
Anyhow, I told him I would help him put together a plan and show him how to reach his goal, even if it looked like it would be hard. I told him I’d buy a book that surely had to be worth a lot of points. Then, I’d read to him for 15 minutes every morning before school and then after school for an hour. He’d have to give up going to Boys and Girls Club and instead come home after school, which would be a big sacrifice for him. He’d also pick another book up from his school library and read that during breaks. Two books, one week. And then, I’d try and wriggle another book in the days before his deadline. Surely we could get close to the goal.
Usually, if my son has to read, he picks books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Captain Underpants, but not on my watch. We were gonna’ read a classic. I tried to sell him on Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn, before finally suggesting Treasure Island. Jeremiah knew about Treasure Island because of the movie “Journey To The Mysterious Island.” He even knew the author.
“Didn’t Jonathan Swift, or maybe it was Robert Lewis Stevenson, write Treasure Island?”
But when we got to our local bookstore, they did not have Treasure Island in stock, and we could not wait three days to order it. One of the women suggested this book called Holes. It had won The Newbery Medal and the National Book Award, and was about a young man who goes to a correctional facility for boys called Camp Green Lake. There is no Lake at Camp Green Lake, just a dried up desert where a lake had once been. Everyday, the boys dig holes exactly 5 feet wide and five feet deep because it “builds character,” but soon the boy realizes that it’s not character they are trying to build, so much as find something the warden is looking for, and Camp Green Lake isn’t what it seems. But what could be buried underneath an old lake? It would be up to the boy to find out.
So, it was an adventure book. Perhaps even about treasure. Plus my daughter had read Holes in 6th grade and loved it, even though she also claims she hates to read. However, she proclaimed to love The Fault in Our Stars, which is in fact a book, so it’s confusing. I think the kids like to read. They just don’t know it yet because they are forced to read things they are not particularly interested in most of the time.
Which brings me to this dinner, because if I was going to read to Jeremiah for a whole hour after school, during my usual dinner prep time, I’d have to make dinner in advance, or pull together something very simply on the fly. The only problem is I am a food snob so it would have to delicious, too.
I stumbled upon this lemony, fresh, and easy dish (recipe below) and instantly fell in love — both with its ease and its originality. I got the idea from a Skinnytaste cookbook. She had a recipe for “Greek Chicken Sheet Pan Dinner” but it contained white potatoes and carrots which didn’t strike me as particularly Greek, so I started to imagine what I would want in a Greek sheet pan dinner. Definitely artichokes. And if she was putting in carrots, I wondered if sweet potatoes could work with the flavors instead of white. More oregano. So I tried it and it was amazing and so easy, and the whole thing makes me want to jump in the air and tell everyone about it, so here I am. Not so much because it was knock your socks off spectacular. We are talking about a chicken sheet pan dinner, after all. But it is good, good stuff.
And for a Wednesday night? Can we say #winning? The whole family loved it.
As for the book goal, we persisted in our reading, and finished Holes, which Jeremiah loved. He took the test and was delighted to learn it was worth a whopping 7 points! He missed a question on the test so he only got six points but WE WILL TAKE IT. Then, we went back to the bookstore and lo, they had Treasure Island in stock. I was so excited. Straight home we went in a fair shake and tidied about in the fairest ways until dawn when aye mate didn’t have the likin’s. ‘Twas then we muddled in the crew langston ’til ‘morrow end brought a bitter sea stroke upon us and we couldn’t go on henceforth.
THAT, my friends, was meant to confuse you. And it is also exactly what reading Treasure Island is like.
We were like “What is going on?”
But, we had a goal to reach, so we persisted. You could follow the bulk of the storyline, but the details were snarly. We read about half of the book before his deadline, and then skipped to the back and read the last two chapters to help fill in some blanks. Look, we did the best we could with the time we had. He took the test and miraculously got 100% on it. And then news came back that the book was only worth two points. It should have been worth ten points, at least. I still don’t know what to make of this.
*Update: I do know what to make of this. He accidentally took the test for the abridged version of the book. The version we read? Worth thirteen points. Sadly, we found out too late.
At the end of the day, I think he ended up with 19 or 20 points, which is a heck of a lot closer to his goal than he was, so I’m calling it a victory.
After that workout of a book, I need easy things to prepare for dinner again, so I’m circling back to this recipe.
Lemony Chicken, Sweet Potato and Artichoke Bake
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 lemons
- 2 6-oz jars marinated and quartered artichoke hearts (marinate reserved)
- 2 to 2 1/2 lbs chicken thighs
- 2 very large, or 5 small sweet potatoes, sliced into 1/4” discs
- 2 tablespoons fresh oregano
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 6oz Feta cheese
Toss all the ingredients in a big bowl to cover with the olive oil and lemon juice. Line a large sheet pan with aluminum foil, which will make clean up much easier. Dump everything out onto the sheet pan and separate out the chicken. I just kind of stack them up in one hand while I spread the potatoes out evenly along the bottom with the other hand. Then, place your chicken, on top of the potatoes, with a little room between each piece and roast for 25 min. Using tongs, remove chicken to a plate and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm. Cut into one to make sure it is cooked through. Keep baking potatoes and artichokes for 15 minutes longer or until soft and browned in spots.
When potatoes are done, place chicken back onto the sheet pan and pop into the oven to warm through for about three minutes (if this step is too fussy, you can totally skip it. I just like when the feta melts a bit over the hot chicken.)
Remove the sheet pan from the oven and sprinkle the entire thing with crumbled feta cheese. I use 4-5 ounces, but you could use as much as you’d like.
Serve and enjoy.
Obligatory note: yes, you could use chicken breast instead of thighs here but the cooking time will differ and there’s a chance of overcooking which = dry chicken. The thighs stay juicy even if cooked longer than needed so unless you have some serious aversion, go for the thighs. Moreover, if you can only find bone in, skin on thighs, it’s best to abandon this dish altogether. Just kidding! You would cook bone in thighs for the same amount of time at this temperature, but when done, you’ll need to cut around the fat, avoid the veins and bones, and slip the skin off and frankly, that process is just a hot mess. But you know, whatever you want.