Recently I was asked, “How do you do it?” How do I have the energy to cook dinner more than twice a week with two little girls, keeping them busy, cleaning the house, doing all the household chores that everyone else does . . Well, let me give you a glimpse into dinner at my house. .
It’s not always pretty and usually there’s screaming involved. On a rare occasion, especially since I have a 5 year old and 1.5 year old, we can have a normal, relatively quiet, pleasant meal where everyone is sitting at the table (M, the youngest, still in her high chair) and eating the same thing. I set the ground rules a while back that I am not a short order cook and the kids will eat what I put in front of them. Granted, I know now what they will eat and I will sometimes also have riffs of what I’ve cooked for myself and my husband to offer to them (ie: if I make a pasta that’s spicy, I’ll have regular pasta with just plain ole marina sauce for them). Or, if I make something I know they will absolutely not eat, I will serve them brown rice wrapped up in dry seaweed (poor man’s kim bap). This, they will eat always.
Back to dinner at my house- sometimes there’s a lot of screaming involved; mostly what I like to call happy screams from M because she can’t really talk yet (although she can say about 20-30 different words) so she screams and points, there’s food on the floor (again, M happily throws food on the floor; she’s getting better but still does this from time to time but now it’s to show she’s finished and is saying “get me out of this high chair ASAP!”). My kitchen is usually a disaster zone by the end of the night with dirty dishes everywhere . . . I seem to whip out every measuring spoon and utensil when I’m cooking . . . have I thoroughly scared you yet? You’re probably wondering “Why the hell are you cooking dinner then?” and why would you put yourself through that more than once or twice a week?
Well, for starters, since I have kids now and am at home full-time, I feel like I have no excuse not to cook. I want to cook and serve good, non-frozen, healthy food to my family. I want my daughters to appreciate food, the time it takes to prepare it, and know that food isn’t always from a microwave or toaster oven and can actually taste pretty freakin’ delicious. Do I still give them Mickey Mouse chicken nuggets and fries? Heck yeah I do. Does this mean I never prepare frozen foods or quick stuff from TJ’s? No way! I still do. But I also want to expose them to new foods/recipes and have them try different things every once in a while . . the “Try one bite and if you don’t like it, you can give the rest to Daddy” works most of time. . especially if we bribe them with their favorite fruit or ice cream.
My kids are still really young (I realize this) and probably won’t realize or appreciate any of this until they are much older but that’s ok by me. Until then, I delight in the fact that they request certain dishes for dinner, they eat olives (for some reason individual olives taste much better when placed on their fingers and eaten off of their little fingers), when M asks for more in baby sign language and says “more!”. P (my 5 year old) will occasionally ask me if she can help in the kitchen and will sometimes tell me, “Mom, dinner was really yummy. Can I have some more?”
And selfishly, I wanted to expand my cooking repertoire. . so I could cook more than just pasta for myself and my husband.
I have not always had this desire to cook. . believe me. In fact, I didn’t start really cooking (or attempting to cook or follow recipes) until after I got married. At least I know he didn’t marry me because I could cook. 😛 My husband, Paul, was a much better cook than I was when we got married. I could barely boil an egg and I burned microwave popcorn. After we got married, we had a house warming party. . I remember I foolishly tried three new recipes (new = I had never ever tried before) and it was kind of a disaster. Everyone was super nice and ate a lot but after the first bite, I knew I didn’t do something right.
I think food and cooking is in my blood so maybe I was bound to come around. . both of my parents cook. . I’m glad I didn’t just see my mom in the kitchen while growing up. And my dad was always making us try new foods. My dad has been in the restaurant business for as long as I can remember and has been cooking ever since we were little. One time when I was a kid (and not in my own class for whatever reason), we were sitting in church service and I remember occasionally glancing over at my dad who was – not paying attention to the sermon – but was scribbling down menu ideas or drawing something for the restaurant. Maybe it was a logo or something; I don’t remember. It was hilarious. After that, he came up with something called “Dynamite” . . Dynamite Sushi. . some sushi concoction; partially baked in a bowl with mayo and smelt fish eggs (or smelt roe) on top. I forgot what else he put in it but it was delicious.
So, even if it takes 10, 15 years. . I hope that one day, my girls will have developed a love and appreciation for good food or just food for that matter. . . and our family meal times together. . which brings me to my review on Dinner, A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach. . (if you’re still reading this post, thank you!)
I seriously loved reading this book and almost finished the entire thing in one or two sittings. . of course there are a ton of great recipes and funny stories. . but there are also great tips for meal planning, getting started, tips for picky eaters, how she did it with two young girls (my oldest is also named Phoebe) and great tips for when you are sitting around the table for dinner. I also really admire her and her husband’s dedication to almost always (I think there were like only 4 times she mentions in the book when they didn’t eat together) be home on time for family dinner. That’s so awesome.
The parts I really enjoyed (in no particular order):
- Dinner at the Rosenstrach house is not just Jenny in the kitchen cooking, but also, Andy, her husband.
- Jenny made Andy teach her how to grill; this is still on my must-do list.
- She writes honestly about stressing when she’s cooking for guests; everyone does, right?
- The baking the garlic idea when entertaining. This is all I’m going to say. Brilliant.
- She lists all of her go-to cookbooks and essentials to have in the kitchen as far as cookware is concerned.
- There are how-to photos on 1) how to fold a burrito and 2) how to make a fish present.
- Jenny introduced me to Chinese Five Spice and Yemeni Spice.
- Jenny admits that she and her husband drink. Often.
- She makes personalized chicken pot pies for her kids.
- Homegirl shops at Trader Joe’s a lot.
- Mad. Sad. Glad. During dinner, each family member has to share something from their day that made them feel mad, sad and glad. Loved this one and have attempted to try this with my family. . I’ll keep trying and maybe when all of my kids can talk, it’ll actually work.
- Loved the “Love Is Homemade Stock” chapter/section. So lovely.
I have just one question for Jenny: Why so little photos? I, personally, would have loved to have seen more photos of all your delicious recipes. . but I’m still trying several of your recipes so I guess it doesn’t matter after all! If you don’t have this book, buy it. I highly recommend for people with young children (only because there’s more of the book that will be applicable to you). Or, if you just want some new, awesome recipes, buy it.
What I’m Learning
Prep as much as I can during the day if possible. Keep it simple. Clean while I go. I don’t have to use a new spoon every time I stir or taste something. Meal Planning (this needs to be a separate post entirely).
What I’ll do differently
School will be starting soon and I won’t be able to spend more than 45 minutes cooking dinner during the week so the next few months will be about simplifying. I’m looking into dinners that can be made in under 30-40 minutes but still taste good. I may even try the Rachael Ray “Week in a Day” method but I love my Saturdays too much so we’ll see. I need to get the kids on a better schedule. Summer’s over. Can’t believe it. We’ll save the weekends for the semi-lavish dinners, sleeping in and staying up late.
This was a long one, so if you read this entire post, thank you!