Lyla, James, and Michelle at home on the upper west side

Seafood Mondays on the Upper West Side

GRILLED CHEESE, PLEASE! is a series that explores dinnertime by looking at an eclectic group of families. A home-cooked meal? Great! Take-out? No problem! Pull up a chair and join us as we discuss everything from favorite food memories to never-fail dinner options.

Meet Michelle, James, and Lyla. Michelle is a psychologist and is also ‘The Panhandler’s Daughter’— her father Norman runs Broadway Panhandler, the legendary kitchen supply store. James is a creative director. Lyla will be 5 in July! A close-knit family, they cook at home and eat together just about every night in their apartment on the Upper West Side.

A family portrait.

1. What’s for dinner?

Pan-fried soft-shell crabs, roasted corn, a simple salad with avocado, tomatoes, and mustard dressing. For dessert, watermelon and maybe a popsicle made in the Zoku.

A beautiful plate makes a simple, weeknight dinner feel special.

Soft-shell crabs getting dredged in flour.
Salad and homemade mustard dressing.
Roasted corn.

2. What’s the usual dinner routine?

MICHELLE: Every week, usually on Fridays after Lyla’s gone to sleep, I write a weekly menu on the mirror in our kitchen and order accordingly from Fresh Direct. For inspiration, I comb food websites like Epicurious, Martha Stewart, and Real Simple, and some personal food blogs too. I also have a big cookbook collection. Sometimes I veer off the menu, but it’s a good guideline. James and I both bring leftovers for lunch at our offices.

The rest of this week looks like:

TUESDAY: blackened chicken with rice, and pineapple-avocado salad
WEDNESDAY: pecan-crusted trout with sugar snap peas and potatoes
THURSDAY: pappardelle with pork Bolognese and spinach
FRIDAY: soba noodles

This week’s menu, up on the mirror.
A small portion of Michelle’s cookbook collection.
A food-stained, very used page from Michelle’s copy of the Moosewood Cookbook.

3. Who cooks?

MICHELLE: I do almost every night. Whenever James cooks I always joke that there’s never “a third thing.” Even if it’s just a handful of potato chips, I love having a third thing on the plate. I grew up in the restaurant supply business so I was around a lot of food and chefs. I always assisted my grandmothers in the kitchen— one lived to be 101 and the other 97. I guess I started cooking in college when I moved off campus. My parents gave me old, dented cookware and when they saw that I could really cook, they finally gave me the good stuff. Truthfully though, I pretty much only use a cast iron pan.

Lyla reads up on how to take care of cats during dinner.

4. Does Lyla like to cook?

She loves to make pancakes and scrambled eggs. Over the summer we are doing a club called “Baking Girls” for her and her friends and we will make muffins and cookies, etc.

5. Ever go out?

We rarely go out, but if we do it’s for things we don’t make at home like sushi. Sometimes we’ll order in Indian food.

6. What are Lyla’s favorite foods?

LYLA: Blackberries. Tomatoes. It’s also pasta. It’s also mangoes. And oysters with lemon!

7. Did you grow up eating dinner with your families? What was your favorite meal?

MICHELLE: Yes, I ate with my family every night. We lived in New Jersey and my mom would cook. My sister and I would wait with her until our father came home from work so we could all eat together. We ate lots of meat and potatoes, things like steak and lamb chops. I actually sometimes loved when he couldn’t make it home for dinner because it meant we could eat chicken! And since sometimes waiting for him meant eating late, I would make snacks before dinner. I made the best English muffin pizzas. My favorite meal was veal or chicken cutlets. My mother also makes an amazing meat sauce for pasta, but she never makes enough. And her chicken soup is legendary.

JAMES: Yes, I ate with family every night too, with my parents and my two brothers, Richard and Phillip (yes, we all have “king names”). I grew up in England and my mom is British and my father is Indian and they both cooked. Once a week my dad would make homemade Indian food. My favorite meal was a beef and potato stew that my mother made with dumplings.

James points out some favorite family photos.
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