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Our little family becomes a lot bigger on vacation: at the Jersey Shore this week, there are up to 15 adults and six kids in the house at times. It’s always the most intense in the afternoons when everyone’s up from their naps and done with the day’s activities. The grown-ups are all interested in sitting on the patio with a cold drink and a salty snack watching the waves. The kids are all…over the place.
I still remember when my doula came for a postpartum visit and I told her that newborn Leo was a handful every night as we were trying to make dinner. She nodded sagely. “Yeah, I think you’ll find it’s that way for quite some time.” I realize over and over again what a long view she was taking there. When everyone is ready to unwind with a drink come 5 o’clock, the underage set just gets more and more wound-up (toddler cocktails anyone?). Tonight, we bathed Leo and started getting him dressed for bed only to lose him to a family photo, after which he walked right into the kiddie pool and sat down wearing his footie PJs.
Dinner usually brings a brief, peaceful hush, and dessert inevitably captures everyone’s attention. But of course when you have 20 people around the table, dietary differences always crop up. I actually love the challenge. Someone’s non-dairy? Kosher? Gluten-free? Onion hater? Picky kid? Bring it!
We celebrated Father’s Day with a gluten-free, non-dairy ice cream cake. I baked an almond and coconut sponge cake (a recipe I developed years ago for Epicurious), and we layered it with non-dairy ice “cream” and topped it with crushed chocolate cookies (gluten-free of course). Before sprinkling the cake with cookie crumbles we traced all the kids’ hands and laid the hand cut-outs on top of the cake, then we removed the cut-outs so the little handprints decorated the cake. It was a fun dessert, and quite tasty (I’m a fan of Turtle Mountain’s coconut ice cream).
More importantly, our dairy- and wheat-free cake was in keeping with the inclusive, kid-focused, higgledy-piggledy spirit of our big family vacation. I made it because Aaron always reminisces over the ice cream cakes of his youth, but also to pay tribute to the patriarch of this clan, my father-in-law, Rick, who was recently diagnosed with celiac disease (which means he can’t ingest even a bit of wheat gluten). I suppose it sounds cheesy but this father’s day I really took time to marvel over what a giving, energetic and sensitive parent Aaron is. And it’s easy to see that Aaron is such a wonderful dad because he has a great dad.
Zoe Singer is a freelance food writer and cookbook editor and co-author of The Flexitarian Table. Food Editor and blogger for The Faster Times, she tries not to eat for two now that her son is a toddler.