Man, why do I always forget how ass-kickingly hard that first week of school is? I should know better, but every year, I find myself buried in paperwork and forms and scrambling to adjust to new routines. It feels even harder this year because Miss D. started high school, and yowza, they start high school at an early hour. It’s barbaric.
Of course, this should come as no shocker since I used to, uhhh, teach at the high school level, but whaddaya know? I forgot. How I was able to drag my slacker butt out of bed at 5am every weekday morning in my younger years? I’m feeling the pain, people.
The first week is not just physically hard–my emotions come to the party, too. All of my emotions. The day before school begins, I expend most of my energy worrying. I am a very good and thorough worrier. I worry part of that first day back, too, but then restlessness and boredom kick in, with a heavy dose of mourning sprinkled in for color. I am one of those weirdos who hates it when my kids return to school. I miss them. The house is too quiet and I don’t know what to do with myself and I pace around the kitchen, banging pots and rearranging cabinets. My only solace is that the dog is similarly afflicted, so I don’t feel completely alone. Then comes anxiety surrounding school pickup. Will my kids remember the aforementioned meeting spot? Will they be sulky or depressed? Will they be in tears? Will Miss M. have eaten lunch alone? Will Miss D. have a newfound interest in boys by the end of a single day?
Jesus, I’m a wreck.
One thing I try to have some sort of grip on that first week back to school is meal planning. I need all of my energy for worrying and fidgeting. I can’t afford to expend effort fretting about what to serve for dinner. Plus, I’ve spent at least an extra couple of hours each day consoling the dog, so I’m pressed for time.Usually, I rely on old stand-by’s and staples, like pizza, stir-fry, tacos and spaghetti. Those meals are no brainers and I can do the prep work, like chopping vegetables and simmering sauces, ahead of time.
This year, instead of stir fry, I decided to bust out the lettuce wraps. Who doesn’t love a make-your-own lettuce wrap meal? It’s easy, it’s fun, and it almost feels festive–and let’s face it, we need a little festivity when the school grind comes thundering down, crushing everyone’s groove.
My usual lettuce wraps use steamed white rice or cooked rice noodles as a bed for the seasoned chicken (or beef/pork) but when my husband and I were vacationing in Hawaii a few weeks ago, one of the patio bars at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua featured lettuce wraps with farro. Farro? In lettuce wraps? Well, naturally, I had to order them, since this has pretty much been the Summer of Farro at my house. Did the chef at the Ritz-Carlton have advance warning that I was coming?
Not surprisingly, I loved the dish and vowed to make it upon return. The first week of school seemed like the perfect occasion for doing so. I must clarify that the Minxes are not part of the farro lovefest at Chez T., so the farro version was for hubs and I only. Luckily, it’s not hard to steam up some plain rice for the pickier palate.
If you want to gussy it up a little, you can serve some chopped peanuts or bean sprouts on the side or make a quick dipping sauce with some soy and a little seasoned rice vinegar. We kept ours simple and didn’t need more than a squeeze of lime and a squirt of Sriracha to call it good.
I hope those of you returning to the back-to-school grind survive these first hectic weeks in good spirits and with a healthy dose of humor. Now if those lunches would only pack themselves…
Chinese Chicken and Farro Lettuce Wraps
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
3 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
1 tablespoon chili garlic sauce or Sriracha
1 cup farro
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup shredded carrot
1/2 cup seeded diced cucumber
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
1/4 cup finely chopped shallot
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon Chinese 5 spice powder
Butter, leaf or romaine lettuce leaves for serving
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking pan with foil and spray with cooking spray.
Combine hoisin, honey, grated ginger and Sriracha and whisk well. Place the chicken thighs in the lined baking pan and pour glaze over to coat. Bake chicken thighs 18-20 minutes or until juices run clear. Let cool. Slice or shred chicken and set aside.
Combine farro, salt and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a rolling simmer and cook farro 15 minutes or until al dente. Drain.
Meanwhile, combine dressing ingredients with a whisk and pour over drained farro. Add carrot, cucumber, cilantro and sesame seeds.
Slice or shred the cooked chicken. Serve on a big platter alongside farro and lettuce leaves.