You know how you're proud of yourself when you cook dinner once or twice a week? Yeah, well, Jenny Rosenstrach makes dinner every night. But she's not smug about it. Her new book, "Dinner: A Love Story" (the same name as her popular blog), is part cookbook, part memoir (cookoir?), she gives recipes and cooking strategies for all the phases of a family's life, from couples who have just moved in together to new parents and beyond. Below, she shares some tips on making family dinner a routine, not a rarity.
What do you think are the biggest factors keeping people from making family dinner? Intimidation? Time? Something else?
I think all three but time is probably the biggest. What's that commercial -- if you're comfortable you can do anything? It's like the converse with dinner: if you're rushed or time-starved, you can do nothing. So the first most important thing is prioritizing things on the schedule -- whether it's with work or with the kids' schedules. You try to earmark a few nights a week when you know you can manage, then you organize yourself like crazy. That means, until you're "comfortable" with a rotation of easy healthy meals, you need to figure out what you're going to make ahead of time. Either on the weekend or the morning before you head to work. I'm not talking four-course meals. I'm talking basics: start with Trader Joe's organic cheeseburgers or grilled chicken sausages with a baked beans and a quick kale salad if you have to. I would also like to add that for my readers, sometimes the hardest part is deciding to do it in the first place. My book has everything you need to get the ritual going and keep it going, but I can't make the choice to start it in the first place. Only you can do that.
How do you decide who's cooking each night? Are the kids always involved in some way?
My work schedule is much more flexible than my husband Andy's these days so usually I'm the one who cooks on weeknights. Though in the summer, if we are grilling I will usually do everything (including light the chimney for the Weber) except cook the meat. So Andy walks into the house, pours himself a glass of wine, I hand him his barbecue fork, and we're all outside in the last hour of daylight waiting to eat. (Man oh man, I love summer.) On the weekends Andy is usually the one cooking. He loves it and it gives me a break. I think that's crucial. Family dinner is a long slog and it helps to have someone else involved. You don't even have to know how to cook to be involved, by the way. In my book I have a whole section called "How To Get the Non-Cook on Board," which outlines lots of ways to contribute to the family meal even if you don't know a potato from a shallot. For starters: The Non-Cook should praise the Cook up and down and all around! Praise is motivating, and the absence of praise (especially when you are cooking for kids) can be downright soul-crushing. That's a huge one.
How do you take the intimidation factor out of cooking? And the guilt factor if every ingredient isn't organic and local and in season?
I try to be smart about choosing the foods we eat all the time -- everything from meat, fish, greens, fruits, peanut butter, tortillas, milk, chips, etc. Those are almost always organic or from the vendors at my farmer's market. But it's impossible for me to go organic 100% of the time. And I don't necessarily know if I want to. I mean, is a life without Hebrew National hot dogs a life worth living?
How did you and Andy start cooking together? When you had kids, were nightly family dinners something that you consciously decided to make a part of your lives?
We both came from families where family dinner was so entrenched that it wasn't called "family dinner." It was called "dinner." So when we got married it never occurred to us to vary from that routine. Finishing the day with a meal was as natural an instinct for us as getting dressed in the morning. We did have a lot of fun experimenting with new dishes. It definitely helped the effort that we both loved to cook and saw it as a hobby. Even though it took us a long time before we really knew what we were doing. I often say we had the magic combination of traits for learning how to cook: Enthusiasm and Total Cluelessness.
Which dish is your favorite to cook? Which is your favorite to eat?
So hard to give you just one, but since it's summer I'm way more into the sides than I am the mains. I am really into wheat berries right now. I just had a wheat berry salad (with walnuts, mint, feta, dried cherries) the other week and must make it again soon -- delicious. (By the way: wheat berries are the new quinoa, you heard it here first!) And the freshest arugula salad with mint and radishes and fish sauce. Both of these salads are on my blog right now in a post called "Six Summer Salads." But for the rest of the year, we're really about the classics and that's what the book reflects: chicken pot pies, cold sesame noodles, grilled fish tacos, lamb burgers, papardelle with pork ragu. That last one is an "Andy recipe" and I just got an email from a reader who told me how much she loved the book and because of that pork ragu "she may or may not try to steal my husband from me." I loved that.