I am sick of food. Sick. Of. It. Thinking about it, shopping for it, organizing it, cleaning up after it. All of it. But, I like to eat it. Therein lies the problem.
My appetite is legendary. It is family lore that I singlehandedly put an all-you-can-eat-kids-under-12-eat-free place out of business when I was 11. I ate an entire chicken at my soon-to-be mother-in-law's 50th birthday dinner on a dare. But now, as a mom and wife and maker of the family's food, three times a day every day plus forty billion snacks in between, I. AM. OFFICIALLY. SICK. OF. IT.
Dinner has the nerve to come around every single, solitary day. . . with its expectations and judgy demands for flavor and variety and nutritional value. It's so damned annoying. And then there's the people in this house with opinions about food. Also annoying. The nerve of the eaters sharing what they THINK about what they are made to EAT.
As I was complaining about this Groundhog Day scenario to my friend Claire, she said I absolutely must read Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach. And whoa, Nellie! Just like that, this book fixed my wagon and reminded me that I do actually like to cook, and that it is not that difficult, and that the rewards of a family dinner can be great. And, according to my hungry and very culinarily bored family, it is not a moment too soon.
Part cookbook and part memoir, Dinner: A Love Story is divided into three main sections: How We Taught Ourselves to Cook (or, the pre-kid years), Early Parenthood, and Family Dinner (when it all starts to work). Each section contains generous helpings of Jenny's charming family, with practical suggestions and realistic expectations about how dinner happens during the many seasons of family life. I really like this Jenny. She's a creative, interesting woman with a warm voice and a practical sensibility, and a true zeal for family dinner. I can't help but be inspired by someone with a truepassion for something. As I read, I had the sense I was having tea with a friend who had figured this family dinner thing out. This friend shares strategies to overcome the "heart sinkers," (like a clean, unloaded dishwasher when faced with mountains of dirty dishes at the end of a meal), and calmly explains her foolproof, kid and adult friendly recipes with me. She is a self-styled "dinner doula," which totally fits. This book is a family dinner doula for mommas like me.
And do I ever need a dinner doula. Because here is how the Pett version of Dinner: A Love Story has gone thus far:
The Early Years: Starring the Unholy Trinity of frozen ravioli (meat or cheese for variety), tacos, and frozen pizza. Lather, rinse, repeat.
The First Babies: We were so tired and overwhelmed I have absolutely no idea what we ate. I vaguely remember goldfish. And baby carrots. And pb and j for JT. (Who am I kidding? He still eats that all too regularly because (until reading this book) I STINK AT MAKING DINNER).
The Onmivore's Dilemma Years: Cooking from our own garden, locally sourcing our food, making sure everything is grass-fed and antibiotic free. The menus were simple, and not terribly tasty, but REAL.
Coming Out of the Fog: I start really cooking again! Hello Julia Child! Hello wine and butter and cream and deliciousness! Hello tons of work and calories and burnout!
The Second Babies, otherwise known as The Crock Pot Years: As my friend Will would say, a whole lot of charf (chicken in the crock) and barf (beef in the crock). Reminiscent of the Unholy Trinity, only this time it is tacos, spaghetti, and sloppy Joe's. Over and over and over and over again.
The Dawning of a New Era: Circa now. Chicken cutlets with arugula and tomato salad, Italian sausages with apples, onions, and potatoes, spicy shrimp with naan, individual chicken pot pies, chicken with bacon and brussell sprouts. . . . I can go on and on. I've actually made three of these dinners, and they are delicious and fun to prepare. Two are on deck for later this week. And LOOK! I even bought a new pan.
In other words, I'm hopeful. Jenny says, "It all begins at the family table," and I agree. I always have. Getting all of us around the table has always been a priority, but the food has not. JT told me recently that the key to keeping these boys and their friends around as they grow is food, the good stuff, and LOTS OF IT. So, in order to do that well, I need to be able to cook tasty things, and this book is a practical, charming, and fun start to that journey.
(Can we say sayonara to the crock pot? Not yet. Everybody needs a backup plan. Or a nuclear option, depending on your point of view).
Enjoy Jenny's blog here.