'Dinner': A Ritual Of Love
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Even if you're just finishing your morning cup of coffee, there's a question that you're likely to be asked by your wife or your kids or whoever turns up around 6:00 in the evening. It's harder to answer for some than others. What's for dinner? Jenny Rosenstrach says getting dinner on the table has become a source of major stress.
JENNY ROSENSTRACH: There's the pressure to eat every night, then there's the pressure to all be eating the same exact thing. Then, there's the pressure for that same exact thing to be healthy and wholesome and homemade, and the pressure for that homemade food, hopefully, to be local or organic or the beef should be grass-fed. There are so many variables that all of them combined can just be overwhelming.
MARTIN: Rosenstrach has set out to make the whole experience a little less anxiety-ridden. Her popular blog, Dinner: A Love Story, has given relaxed and practical advice about the family dinner ritual since 2009. Now, she's got a new book. It's a cookbook and a memoir based on her blog, and in it, she makes it clear that family dinner does not have to be perfect.
ROSENSTRACH: Even if it's a couple time a week. I never, ever expect anyone to do it every single night. I only ever suggest that you try it once or twice week, when you can.
MARTIN: So let's kind of delve into this a little bit. The book is divided into three sections. Can you explain the different chronological parts to this?
ROSENSTRACH: Yes. It covers family dinner through every phase of a family's life so it begins when my husband Andy and I first get married and we were basically clueless in the kitchen and trying to teach ourselves how to cook. We knew nothing so that was - the first section is a lot about exploring new recipes. The second phase is when we were new parents.
And all semblance of normalcy was basically exploded during that period of time. And our dinner wouldn't start until sometimes 9:00, 9:30, and so the recipes in that chapter are very quick, very fast and easy, like, you know, a baked apricot-mustard chicken and, you know, just like a very basic cacio e pepe, which is pasta with peppery sauce.
MARTIN: But when you say it with an Italian name, it sounds fancier.
ROSENSTRACH: Exactly. That's (foreign language spoken). You want to convince yourself that you're still a grown-up during this phase. But then the last phase is, family dinner as sort of this romantic notion of a family dinner, classic family fare recipes just, you know, drumsticks, barbeque chicken, cold sesame noodles, pork chops with mustardy apples and onions, and they're all these real crowd pleasers that have worked for my family.
MARTIN: You also talked about gender roles in this book. When talking about this recipe that your dad used to make, breaded chicken cutlets.
ROSENSTRACH: Right. Well, my mom, she went back to law school when I was in fourth grade. And she went back to law school at night which meant that my father had to inherit the role of family cook for three nights a week. He had never cooked anything in his life before that point and so - but he took on that role and he made one thing. He made breaded chicken cutlets. And we got so sick of those cutlets.
But they were delicious and more importantly, my parents set such an example for me for how an equality-minded marriage should work. You know, my husband and I, he is a better cook than I am actually. I don't even want to say he is just as good a cook as I am. He's much better. But I often tell people when they say, you know, you're so lucky.
You married someone who knows how to cook. That must help. But you don't have to know how to cook in order to help make family dinner happen.
MARTIN: What do you think is the most important kind of bit of advice or technique or even meal that is worked through all stages in your life?
ROSENSTRACH: When Andy and I first got married, we would make this salmon salad mixed with potatoes and green beans and tomatoes and cucumbers and corn in the summer. It's beautiful.
MARTIN: Sounds delicious.
ROSENSTRACH: It's beautiful in the summer. We make it all year round, but it is especially delicious in the summer. And that recipe, we just did not want to give up when we had kids and so what we - we sort of invented this system called deconstruction where we - before we toss the whole thing together, we isolated into individual components that we know the kids will like. And luckily enough, our kids were very into pink and princesses when we introduced them to this salad. So we were able to call this, the salmon, the princess fish.
MARTIN: Because it's pink.
ROSENSTRACH: Pink princess. And, you know, we were very fortunate. It actually worked. But, of course, they don't like it all mixed together. One doesn't like it with the vinaigrette so one has the salmon with the potatoes and the cucumbers. The other one has, you know, just the salmon with the green beans and the vinaigrette and, you know, it's all...
MARTIN: So everyone - you want everyone to eat the same dish, but you don't mind tailoring that dish to meet specific tastes.
ROSENSTRACH: The trick is to convince yourself that you're all eating the same thing, even when you are decidedly doing nothing of the sort.
MARTIN: So is there a bit of practical advice that you'd give as something that can help people just get dinner on the table? What's the one thing, if you can just remember to do X, then it will come together?
ROSENSTRACH: What I do often and what I suggest people do to help get the ball rolling is think about dinner in the morning before you go to work. That doesn't mean you have to chop up a whole chicken. It just means maybe take two minutes to chop an onion or marinate a piece of chicken. When you start dinner in the morning, it's almost like signing a contract with your after-work self that says, OK, I have started it and it's your job to close the deal at the end of the day.
And at the end of a long work day or even if you're just home with the kids, it's exhausting. And that time of day is when I personally feel least inspired. And so, in the morning everything is sunshine and roses, so it feels a little bit easier to come up with a plan.
MARTIN: The book is called "Dinner: A Love Story." The author is Jenny Rosenstrach. She joined us from our New York studios. Jenny, thanks so much.
ROSENSTRACH: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.