Entries from May 2012
Two weeks ago, Jenny emailed me this iPhone photo of three boxes on our doorstep, with no further message. She didn’t need to tell me: these boxes contained 25 copies of her book, Dinner: A Love Story, the book she had spent an ungodly portion of the last year and a half mapping out, writing, rewriting, testing, retesting, and obsessing over. This emailed photo is as close to overt pride as Jenny gets. Which is why I want to take this opportunity, a few days before publication, to tell you a few things about her book that she will never tell you herself. –Andy
1. She cares a lot. This is probably not a newsflash if you’re a regular reader of this blog, but Jenny does not toss sh*t off or take even the quickest Friday Reading round-up lightly. She actually pays attention to/wakes up at 4:30 am thinking about the “mix” of posts on the home page at any given time — do we have too much chicken? are people getting sick of our kid books posts? do we need a strategy post, maybe, or a hit or humor? should I swtich that photo? – and plans her future lineup out, on paper, in a dedicated moleskine notebook. Now, take that baseline commitment to quality and thoughtfulness and times it, as Abby would say, by fifty hundred. DALS: The Book is beautiful and it embodies that thing that I, as an editor, have come to appreciate more than anything else: carefulness. Every word, every sentence, every photo, every caption, every hand-drawn border in this book, was placed there, by Jenny, for a reason. This thing was put together with love.
2. She still doesn’t grill. She claims she does, she even wrote a piece for Bon Appetit about “taking back the grill” and etc., but since that piece ran? She has not grilled once.
3. Relatedly, she still feels like a fraud in the kitchen. Every time Jenny burns a pizza crust or fails to poach an egg correctly or overcooks a pork tenderloin, she puts her hands on the counter, looks at me, and says, with dead seriousness: ”Am I a total fraud? How is it possible that I wrote a cookbook and can’t even ____________?” I love this about her. Very high level of skill, ambition and creativity, endearingly low level of patience with self/awareness of own excellence.
4. She is funny. Samantha Bee, highly credible in matters such as these, says so. Look: “Dinner: A Love Story gives me hope that one day my family will also assemble around an actual table and eat an actual meal that was actually cooked by me; a meal not solely comprised of animal shaped cheese crackers dipped in hummus. Although those are good too.” Well-written books that also make you laugh = books that are worth reading.
5. She is not only funny. The heart of this whole project has a beautiful kind of earnestness at its core: Jenny does this — the book, the blog, the hundreds of thousands of words she has produced about family dinner – because she believes in it, not because she believed it would lead to a book deal. I still remember the day when she committed to family dinner, every night, back when Abby was not yet three and we were both working full-time and we’d grown a little too used to eating frozen pizza at 9:30 at night, after the kids had gone to bed. And the thing is, it’s one thing to talk about making family dinner happen; it’s another thing to do it. When Jenny lost her job and started this blog, the idea of a book wasn’t even on her mind. She wanted to work for herself for a while, and devote herself to something she cared about. When you start from a place of relative purity like that, good things happen.
6. She’s hearing so many good things already. I’ve read this book about seventeen times and I love it, but I’m biased, so you probably shouldn’t trust me on this. AND YET: You can trust some of the people who got advance copies of the book and have been sending Jenny, unbidden, some of the nicest freaking emails I have ever seen about how much they’re enjoying it and how much they love not being judged and how good that salmon salad looks. Here’s one, from Jen: “I have to tell you that I did not TOUCH any of my work after the kids went to bed that night (and am now in trouble as a result) because all I wanted to do was read Dinner: A Love Story. I love it. I would have loved reading it even if I wasn’t going to cook with it because you are such a good writer about family and food, but I will also definitely also be cooking from it constantly. (Especially the section about picky eaters.) I hope you are incredibly proud and I hope it sells a massive number of copies!” And from Melissa: “I wanted to write to you on a personal level to say thanks. I feel like you’re talking directly to me in this book and it helps to not feel so alone. I have started reading your blog and going back to look for recipes and tips, notes, advice, etc….but the book form is perfect. My kids are 2.5 yrs old and 5 months, so I’m deep in the ‘New Parenthood: Bomb exploded in my kitchen….’ phase. I jumped right to Part 2 and can totally sympathize with your thoughts and feelings about your work and career after having a baby. I am a working mom who is not ashamed to admit I love my job, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t crushing to leave those little faces every day.” I could keep going. Do not make me keep going, people!
7. Her book is filled with lies. For instance, there is quinoa in the book, but Jenny doesn’t even like quinoa anymore. The other night, as we were trying to figure out what to eat with our grilled sausages, I suggested quinoa, and Jenny said, “Nah, I’m sick of quinoa.” Boom. Just like that, a door slams shut.
8. BEWARE the serving sizes when making these recipes. As quickly as humanly possible, I will tell you a story that will tell you everything you need to know about Jenny’s checkered history with portion sizes. Last weekend, we were in Upstate New York with the kids, when we came upon a cool little local specialty food store. Jenny ran in to get some stuff for dinner. She came out carrying a small white paper bag. “Whad’ja get?” I asked. “Some lamb sausages,” she said. Only later, after we’d returned home and I went to take the bag out of the refrigerator did I realize she bought four dainty links of sausage…which weighed about as much as a bowl of (popped) popcorn…and was enough to feed a family of four…hummingbirds. (The photo of this dinner above was fudged, by the way. We each got one link.) This is a pattern that has repeated itself throughout our lives together, Jenny coming home from Whole Foods with 3/4 pound of salmon for the entire family (“That’s a lot, right?”), Jenny cooking one bag of spinach for a dinner party with six adults (“I always forget how much it shrinks!”), Jenny defrosting two chicken breasts for four of us (“I supplmented with broccoli.”). It’s not her fault, really. This problem has deep genetic roots. (God, this is so hard to do quickly, but: Jenny’s parents are famous for having once served a pint — one single pint – of ice cream at a dinner party for 11 grown humans, and for having offered up one bottle of wine at Thanksgiving for 15. Seriously, I am fighting every urge right now to launch into a list of the truly classic Tiny Portion Moments from the Rosenstrach household…though the time six of us shared a quarter pound of potato salad is a particular favorite. Jenny’s dad: “You don’t want too much of this stuff. It’s rich.”) All I’m saying is, keep the portion problem in mind as you use this book. Be wary.
9. She is not shameless (but maybe I am?). Even though the act of blogging and talking about your work and linking to your book is inherently (and, she tells me, crushingly) self-promotional, none of this comes easily to Jenny. Which means that she will go to great lengths and expend enormous amounts of energy to make the promotional stuff not only about her (guest post contest!) and creative (121 Books!) while, yes, asking you to please buy her book. (Stay tuned FREE STUFF for an amazing giveaway she’s got FREE STUFF in the works FREE STUFF for next week, by the way. FREE STUFF FREE STUFF FREE STUFF!)
10. The photos in the book are way better than the photos on the blog. As our friend and stalwart DALS supporter Kendra said, upon receiving her copy of the book last week, “Oh my god, it’s like the blog, but on steroids!” And that’s all due to the talents of Jennifer Causey, the photgrapher who spent four days in our house, downloading the DALS vibe, applying her own vision, and making all this stuff come to life.
11. A reader of this site, who goes by the name of Keenan, posted a comment last week that said: “Jenny, you are the best. I hope that husband of yours appreciates how lucky he has it.” Memo to Keenan: Yeah, that husband of hers does appreciate how lucky he has it. But also: KEEP YOUR DISTANCE, BRO.
[Read more →]
I can tell from newsletter subscriptions and my email inbox (please don’t ever stop writing me) that there are a lot of new faces stopping by DALS to check out what we’ve been doing here for the past two and a half years. So longtime loyal readers, please forgive me while I indulge the urge to do a little summary for our first-time visitors. First-time visitors: Welcome! Your pop quiz on skillet meals will not be administered until next week, but today I’d like to present to you the most fundamental of DALS Strategies for Family Dinners. It’s known around these parts as The Principle of Deconstruction and — are you paying attention, because it’s complicated – it goes like this: If you are tired of being a short-order cook for your daughter who hates chicken but likes avocado and your son who hates avocado but likes chicken, and your toddler who only eats olives and cheese and caviar, you do not have to make three separate dinners. The key is to pick one meal that can be broken down into its individual ingredients (aka deconstructed) and reassembled the way your diners like it. That way, even though everyone is eating something different, you have only made one meal and, more important, you do not have the urge to politely excuse yourself then scream at the top of your lungs into the clothes dryer. I’ve gone on and on about deconstructing, I know, and there is a huge section in my book devoted to recipes that are conducive to this strategy, but lately I’ve been applying the Theory of Deconstruction to soups with much success. Look how I turned my 15-minute Tortilla Soup into for my soup-hating 8-year-old?
Nice right? The broth becomes a dip, and all the ingredients that she prefers…you know, dry…get placed on her plate before any offensive simmering begins. Tortilla Soup is made with shredded chicken, avocado, and hominy among other things and is insanely easy to put together.
2 chicken boneless breasts (about 3/4 pound) rinsed and patted dry (or, you can use a storebought rotisserie chicken like I did above)
1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 jalapeno pepper, minced
salt and pepper
4 cups chicken broth
1 dried chile pepper
1 15-ounce can hominy (found in international sections of supermarkets; look for Goya)
juice from 1 lime
various toppings: tortilla chips, avocado chunks, shredded cheddar cheese
Brown the chicken in a medium saucepan, about 2 minutes on each side. (It does not have to be cooked through. If using rotisserie chicken, shred it and continue to next step.) To the same pan, add oil and saute the onion, garlic, jalapeno pepper, and salt and pepper over medium heat for about 3 minutes.
Add the broth, chile pepper, and hominy and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot and shred using two forks. Add the shreds back to the pot and simmer for another 5 minutes.
If your kids will only eat the components of this soup and not the soup, lay out the components (chicken, cheese, avocado, etc) on a plate the way they’d find it least offensive. Then ladle the soup servings into bowls, you know, the way it was meant to be served, squeeze lime into each bowl and add the toppings.
[Read more →]
Tags:Deconstructed Dinner·how to have family dinner
I’m still completely thrilled when I hear that my book has been purchased by someone who I can’t in any way trace back to my mother or mother-in-law, but I think the highlight of my year was hearing that Dinner: A Love Story was on the registry of someone whose wedding I’m not even invited to. It’s true that my book is based on this blog which is based on meals with our 10- and 8-year old, but the book starts with the “Love Story” part, the year Andy and I got married, when kids were about as far from our minds as the pork ragu that would someday make my husband famous. (Well, famous with his mother and mother-in-law at least.) I’m pleased to announce that Real Simple seems to agree about the gift thing — because it’s in their June issue, right there in the Summer Gift Guide (for Newlyweds, Weekend House Hosts, Father’s Day), and last time I checked, no one in my family was on their payroll. As soon as the link is live I will send you there — for now you’ll have to go to a good old-fashioned newsstand. Remember those?
PS: Twitter followers, remember to use #dalsbook (it will be worth your while, trust me!)
[Read more →]
Tags:dinner a love story·jenny rosenstrach book·real simple gift guide
We are officially T-1 week for Publication Date of Dinner: A Love Story, and T-3 weeks til school’s out, so I thought I’d share a section from the book that is one of my favorites. It’s about the transformation my husband undergoes when we are on vacation.
When I was growing up, we never took typical family vacations. We never booked a house on the Cape for a week or went to Fort Myers in February; we never sat at the kitchen table with a map of the country circling national parks we wanted to visit like I imagined most families doing. Part of the reason for this was that my mother, once she found her calling as an attorney, turned into a workaholic— today, at seventy-five, as partner in her own law firm, she still works harder than all of her children combined—and, like all workaholics, she derives pleasure from work, thereby rendering the need to get pleasure elsewhere useless. (I’ve always gotten the feeling that she finds vacation from reading ninety-five-page contracts a whole lot more stressful than reading those ninety-five-page contracts.)
Another reason we never went on typical vacations was that my sister, Lynn, was a nationally ranked tennis player who competed in tournaments all over the country. Naturally, we’d all tag along with her on all of these trips no matter where they were—Charlestown, West Virginia, Raleigh, North Carolina, Indianapolis. They were always during July and August, and the organizers seemed to find some sick pleasure in selecting venues where the average temperature was a hundred degrees in the shade and never ever near a water park with one of those long, twisty mountain slides. But the truth was, I didn’t mind. I was ten, eleven, twelve years old. All I needed was a hotel pool to be happy.
But now that I am not a kid—now that I am a grown-up and I have kids of my own—vacation is a different story altogether. I need the pool, yes, but I also need a whole lot more. Most of the time I need a kitchen. I need a grill. I need to go to a place with lots to do. In fact, from the moment we arrive at wherever we happen to be vacationing, Andy and I are crafting ways to make sure we are squeezing the maximum amount of pleasure out of every moment of our waking hours. We take our vacations seriously. Before we have finished our morning coffee we have a plan for the day, one that usually includes exercise for the grown-ups (we usually tag-team our runs while the kids watch their morning TV), a large chunk of time in or near a pool or beach, some sort of afternoon adventure that involves exploring the local terrain (like a road trip or a hike or a bike ride), and of course, shopping for dinner that we will make in our own kitchen while drinking gin and tonics.
One morning when we were on vacation in South Carolina (where Andy’s parents have a house near the beach), the girls were finishing up watching an episode of The Backyardigans, and Andy looked at the clock.
“It’s ten o’clock in the morning and we still don’t have a plan,” he said.
“It’s only ten in the morning,” I said, taking a sip of my iced coffee that Andy had prepared the night before so it would be ready for us when we woke up.
“Yes, but we have a lot to do today.”
“We do?” I asked. The way he said it made it sound as if we were on deadline for something serious. “Like what?” (more…)
[Read more →]
Tags:dinner a love story book·fish tacos·jenny rosenstrach book·mix and match dinner·vacation dinner ideas
This is how much I worry about you guys — I woke up in the middle of the night and realized that I hadn’t written a single thing this week to help you out with a meal to kick off the best season of the year. We’re guests this year, but any of the dishes here would have certainly been gracing the Memorial Day table if we were in charge. Have a great holiday.
Grilled Leg of Lamb with Fava Bean Crostinis (that’s the loveliness you are looking at above)
Grilled Tandoori Chicken Burgers with Cucumber Yogurt Sauce
Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Apricot-Rum Glaze with the Cabbage and Lime Slaw at the bottom of this post.
Grilled Summer Salad with Chicken
Grilled Lamb Chops with The Ultimate Spring Salad (I’d add some chopped mint) and how good does mayo-less potato salad look?
Fancy Hot Dogs from Bon Appetit. (And while you’re there, check out our column this month wherein Tony’s Steak goes bigtime!)
Baby Back Ribs with Fennel Slaw and Potato Salad
Grilled Vegetables with Haloumi
Andy would like to remind you to make friends with your chimney.
I would like to remind you that if you showed up to a BBQ at my house with a jar of special sauce, you would be my friend for life.
Wherever you are this weekend, I hope you’ll be able to hit your farmer’s market. If you are really lucky, maybe you’ll even hit the market with one of these awesome Jane Marvel totes. Jane Marvel was the sponsor of last month’s newsletter giveaway and I’m pleased to announce that Beth M is the lucky winner. Remember, you have to be a newsletter subscriber to be eligible to win these giveaways — and trust me there are some good ones coming up. Special thanks to Jane Marvel and congrats to Beth!
[Read more →]
Tags:bbq menu ideas·memorial day ideas dinner a love story
Anyone out there who has read Eat, Pray, Love (which is another way of saying “everyone”) will understand how honored I am to present an official DALS Q&A with author Elizabeth Gilbert. Like the rest of the world, when I read EPL, I remember asking myself, How could someone be this likable? Well now we might know at least part of the answer to that question. This month, she is reissuing a cookbook, At Home on the Range, written in 1947 by her great-grandmother — Margaret Yardley Potter, aka “Gima” — that makes the source of Gilbert’s warmth and wit abundantly clear. Gima’s cookbook had always been part of the family lore, but Gilbert had never actually read the thing until last spring when she discovered it at the bottom of a box. “I cracked it open and read it in one rapt sitting,” she writes, in a new introduction. “Well, that’s not entirely true…After first few pages, I jumped up and dashed through the house to find my husband so I could read parts of it to him…The humor! The insight! The sophistication!” Gima was, as Gilbert told me, “a giant character,” born into wealth, but saddled by a bad marriage and a struggle with alcoholism that would eventually kill her. This, however, did not stop her from writing a cookbook, writing a column for the Wilmington Star, and becoming a way-ahead-of-her-time forager, adventurer, and the kind of foodie that would make Brooklyn proud. Liz talked to me a little about what reprinting the book meant to her.
Jenny: I’m so glad you have released this cookbook because it gives us an excuse to ask you about your own dinner table. So what is it like? Do you sit down with your husband every night?
Elizabeth Gilbert: It is definitely a Gilbert family institution. When I grew up, dinner hour was sacred. All the manners I ever learned were taught at the table. (I get a warm flush of joy when I’m at someone else’s house and one of their kids says, “May I please be excused?” I’m like, YES! You are ready for life on earth! ) In my own house, dinner is the best hour of our day. I always say I didn’t marry a Brazilian, I married an old Italian woman. My husband cooks slow food. Sometimes he starts at 4:00. We put on NPR, he opens a bottle of wine, and while he’s cooking a stew, I’m getting housework done or working in the garden just outside the kitchen. Then we eat. At dinner we have lots of time to go through cookbooks to see what should happen tomorrow.
JR: All I kept thinking while reading this book was that today, Gima would be editor in chief of Real Simple. She is just so organized in the way she thinks about cooking. Every chapter in here addresses tackles the same things I’ve been writing about: What you should have in the fridge for emergencies (boiled potatoes, eggs, caviar!) how to entertain, how to plan ahead for a weekend at the beach, what to bring a sick friend in the hospital.
EG: She was so ahead of her time. If she wasn’t the editor of Real Simple, she’d have a food truck or she’d be celebrity female artisanal butcher or she’d own a pickle factor in Brooklyn. Other than maybe the food allergies and the veganism she’d be totally on board with everything going on in the food world today. (more…)
[Read more →]
Tags:at home on the range·elizabeth gilbert cookbook·margaret yardley potter
A couple of weeks ago, back when we proposed this guest post contest, I made reference to the fact that writing — for most of us, at least — is hard. It takes time, of which most of us do not have an abundance. It takes an idea, which is the most elusive thing of all, the thing you try to write your way toward, only to realize — 500 words in — that it’s not so much of an idea at all. But, more than anything, it takes guts. Writing something and sending it to someone else is a lot like taking your clothes off and walking down the street — maybe not the most apt metaphor for a family blog, but I really believe it to be true. All of which is to say, Jenny and I weren’t sure what we were going to get when we proposed the contest. We knew it was a lot to ask and, if the shoe were on the other foot, we would probably not have taken the time, or mustered the nerve, to try. Would anyone submit anything? Would we have much to choose from? And the answer to both of those questions is: yes. We received over 40 entries, with recipes and photos, and every one of them was full of feeling and heart. So many good recipes, so many personal stories and careful turns of phrase. I want to list of a few of my favorites. Janet: “Also, I am all about quinoa.” Kathryn: “Margaret’s new skirt is missing a button, and if you give them hem the gentlest tug, it is likely to slip right down off her hips.” Lisa: “So far, my son has proved to be a man of diverse tastes.” Marcus: “You can’t throw around a term like ‘Texas Chili’ lightly.” Sarah: “My mother had an unexplainable penchant for pickled beets.” Tara: “The son of an Irish longshoreman, Dad grew up on simple, inexpensive fare. He made beef stew with a thick, flavorful broth and big wedges of floury-textured potato that I’m still trying to recreate.” Courtney: “I knew this was something I had to try, and hopefully my confidence in the kitchen would outshine any hesitation I have when it comes to my writing. But I have planned and made dinner for my family every night of the week for eight years and there is something to be said for that. So, let’s do this.”
You all did this, and we can’t thank you enough. Jenny compiled all the entries in a downloadable pdf — a mini-cookbook from the readers of DALS. And Molly, I can’t wait to try the sweet potato-and-chard gratin.
And now… [doing my best game show host voice]… the envelope please…
The winner of the Dinner: A Love Story Guest Post Contest is [dramatic pause]….. (more…)
[Read more →]
Shredded Kale Salad Cannot. Get. Enough Kale. I don’t know what it is. When I pick up my stash at the farmer’s market and other people on line inevitably ask what I do with it, I bestow upon them these simple words: Shred, my friend, Shred! I don’t know why it makes such a difference but when it’s presented like confetti, it has a tenderizing effect so the kids are more likely to eat it, it’s summery, easy, and with every bite, you feel like you’ve added a year onto your life. On this particular night, we tossed the kale (I like lacinato or Tuscan) with avocado, pecorino, scallions, a drizzle of good-quality olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, then salt and freshly ground pepper.
[Read more →]
We’ve been talking a lot about the idea of pacing in our house. This is partly because it’s spring, which means it’s Presidential Physical Fitness Award time, which means that, among other things, the girls have been forced to learn how to run a mile without running out of steam. (I’m both horrified and proud to discover that they take these fitness challenges as seriously as I did in 1981.) I’m also talking a lot about pacing because it seems that every interviewer I’ve spoken with in connection with my book, at some point comes around to this question: Is it OK to order takeout every now and then?
Well, you guys have been with me from the start, so you know how I’m going to answer this one. Obviously it’s NOT OK. Seriously, if you order in from that Chinese place again, God only knows what will become of your children who were doing so well in school and now — just because you were too lazy to make your own moo shu pork — they are on the fast track to failure. You know exactly who to blame when your kid comes up two minutes short on his mile run.
Sometimes I’m really tempted to answer it that way. I think everyone — including the interviewer — knows deep down that this whole family dinner thing is about balance. It’s not about everyone sitting down together every single night eating the exact same thing while deconstructing Kant. It’s about doing as many of these things (um, except the Kant part) as often as you can, and letting go when you can’t. As I’ve said before, to my daughters, and way back when I first started this blog, I’m pretty sure this whole dinner thing (this whole parenting thing actually) is about the marathon, not the sprint. Why wouldn’t I order Chinese if it means that’s the only way family dinner is going to happen that night?
Especially since the next day, I can take the leftover sticky rice and fry up a homemade crispy rice omelet.
Crispy Rice Omelet
Of course, this was only enjoyed by the two people at the table who don’t wrinkle their noses in disgust at the sight of eggs. That is, it was enjoyed by the grown-ups.
2 tablespoons minced scallions or onions
1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
1 small garlic clove, minced
shake of red pepper flakes (to taste)
3/4 cup leftover rice, preferably sticky Chinese takeout
3 – 4 eggs (I used 3 but wished it was more eggy)
2 teaspoons soy sauce
handful frozen peas (to taste)
Preheat broiler. Add a little oil to a cast iron or nonstick skillet set over medium heat. Add scallions, ginger, garlic and red pepper flakes and cook about 1 minute until everything is soft and fragrant. Add rice and spread out in one layer, turning up heat a bit. Don’t stir for about a minute so it gets nice and crispy. Stir again and wait another minute. Meanwhile whisk together eggs and soy sauce and add peas to egg mixture. Turn heat down to medium-low and pour egg mixture over fried rice, tipping the pan so the egg distributes itself evenly over the rice. Cook until underside is crispy, about 4-5 minutes. Transfer to a broiler and bake another 3 minutes or until egg looks golden and bubbly on top. Serve with a drizzle of soy sauce and a green salad.
Then give yourself an award.
[Read more →]
Tags:family dinner pep talk·leftovers·quick dinner recipe
My mother, an attorney, was the first person to teach me about res ipsa loquitur, a legal term that translates to “The Thing Speaks for Itself.” I will leave it to the lawyers out there to explain the finer points of how it’s used to prove negligence in the courtroom, but as long as I can remember, my mom and I have been translating it in a way that I feel certain it was meant to be translated. That is: If you are good enough, strong enough, fast enough, smart enough, nice enough, you don’t have to spend any time convincing people you are good enough, strong enough, fast enough, smart enough, nice enough. Those qualities should hopefully speak for themselves.
The exception to this rule, as my kids know, is when you are my child and when you are home in your own house, at your own dinner table, or anywhere else for that matter, there is no such thing as too much speaking about yourself. You should feel free to tell your parents every single wonderful thing you think about yourself at all hours of the day. But everywhere else, you try to check the bravado at the door.
My loose interpretation of this term has proven to be very convenient beyond the realm of parenting. Take the above 5-minute dessert you see above. My feeling is that you don’t need to hear 500 words from me about how delicious it is. Just look at the freaking thing! It’s a Nutella Pizza! And as such, res ipsa loquitur.
I feel like I can’t walk two feet without seeing this offered on a menu. The lastest place I’ve spied it: The Cookery.
Using a rolling pin, roll storebought pizza dough as flat as you can roll it. In a cast iron pan, heat 1 tablespoon of butter and a drizzle of canola oil over medium heat. Add dough and fry until it bubbles on top and looks golden and crispy underneath. Lift dough with spatula, add another pat of butter to the pan and allow to melt before cooking the other side of the dough. When it’s cooked through — another 2 to 3 minutes — remove from pan onto a large plate. Once it has cooled slightly, spread a generous amount of nutella on top and add sliced bananas or strawberries (we didn’t have them on this particular night) or both. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and cut into wedges to serve. You could also do this on the grill. Just make sure you brush the grates with plenty of oil.
[Read more →]
Tags:nutella pizza·summer party desserts
The mail came just as I was leaving to pick up the girls at school. Catalog, catalog, bill, catalog, bill…Hey! A PACKAGE addressed to me! Inside was A Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, by Christopher Healy. I knew it was coming — Chris was Cookie magazine’s main childrens’ book reviewer and I worked closely with him and Myles McDonnell (of the great blog You Know for Kids) on that section month after month. But, as Myles wrote, if we knew how good he’d be at writing adventure novels for kids, we would have encouraged him to miss a few deadlines and start sooner! I strategically placed Hero’s Guide in between two car seats in the back of the Mazda and drove off to school. It took about three seconds for 10-year-old Phoebe to discover the book, and once she did, that was it. All attempts to find out how her social studies test went that day: GONE. Ballet class that afternoon, something she usually enjoys? Merely something to endure to get back to reading. Which she did all the way home in the car, nose about one inch from book because the sun had set and she had no light, and for the next 24 waking hours straight. All 448 pages of the book were dispatched by bedtime the following night. The book tells the story of the four fairy tale princes who are often lumped together with the generic moniker “Prince Charming” and who are, it turns out, resentful about this. In Phoebe’s words “You’d never expect the princes to be this interesting because they’re usually the most boring characters in the Princess books!” Myles goes into more detail about the plot on his site but the underlying premise is all you really need to know to be hooked: When Prince Gustav, Liam, Frederic, and Duncan (yes, they have real names!) find their kingdoms are endangered, they set about on a joint adventure to establish themselves as real heroes — battling trolls and witches and…their wives, the princesses themselves. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be the birthday gift for all my daughters’ friends for the next two years.
What else is going on? A Friday round-up:
This could be the next VIP on my quick weeknight dinner circuit.
How Not to Read Aloud to Your Kids.
Do you guys know this site, Kids in Mind? You type in any movie and it gives you a very clinical play-by-play of anything that could possibly be inappropriate for your kid. It doesn’t editorialize at all. It just presents the facts. I’ve been relying on it heavily.
How much do I love a good leaving-the-rat-race story…especially when a dairy farm is involved? A lot.
Healthy Hot Dogs in time for Memorial Day grilling. Or…for dinner tonight actually.
I’m really late to the party on this, but I can’t believe Alec Baldwin has his own podcast on WNYC! (Just when I thought I couldn’t love him more.) I just listened to his interview with Kristen Wiig while I was running and it made the usually brutal three miles fly by.
A quote from Daily Show most senior correspondent Samantha Bee made my year: This book…”gives me hope that one day my family will also assemble around an actual table and eat an actual meal that was actually cooked by me; a meal not solely comprised of animal shaped cheese crackers dipped in peanut butter. Although those are good too.” Don’t you think you need to own the book she’s talking about?
Andy: Close your eyes. Everyone else: Some version of these will be gifted on Father’s Day or Birthday or for our Anniversary or maybe even all three.
Rules to Help Avoid Dressing Like Your Kids, by one of my favorite writers Sally Schultheiss. (I’m guilty of almost all the offenses.)
In honor of what would’ve been Julia Child’s 100th birthday: A biography of the master (with recipes) geared towards children. (I’d say it’s always a good sign when a kids’ cookbook is compared to Fanny at Chez Panisse.)
And look what nice little thing popped up on my Shelf Awareness newsletter this week. Click on the banner to check out their giveaway.
Lastly, if you’re following me on Twitter and have something nice to say about the book, please use #dalsbook so I can find it and thank you.
Have a great weekend!
[Read more →]
Tags:books for kids·christopher healy·the heros guide to saving your kingdom
By now you know that for weeknight meals, we are all about efficiency. And by the looks of my Analytics, it looks like you guys are too. (“Quick“ shows up consistently as one of the top 3 most-clicked Categories.) But the weekend? That’s another story entirely. Especially when the weekend in question conspires to create the most conducive dinner-making conditions in modern history: Grandparents = in town; weather = glorious; farmer’s market = open; kids = not cranky; and only two officially scheduled events for the entire day: Early morning soccer practice, and a 6:00 cocktail on the just-opened-for-business patio. On days like this, unconsciously or not, dinner is something that only barely resembles the scramble on the weeknight. We talk about it and shop for it and cook for it all day long. You might even say we make things as difficult as possible for ourselves — plying the kids with cider donuts while we wait in the interminable line at the market to secure the beautiful local sea bass you see below; whisking homemade mayonnaise to serve with French fries when, really, is there anything wrong with Heinz?; tracking down the spring-iest spring greens available (sorrel was the winner); pureeing asparagus into the vinaigrette that we will drizzle on top of those greens; digging out the fancy crystal tumblers for gin and tonics — which is another way of saying it’s our idea of the best day ever.
Spicy Fries with Homemade Mayonnaise. I used some very green looking olive oil to make my mayo, which accounts for the very green color. Don’t let it fool you, though: Delicious! And paired nicely with the fish, too. (more…)
[Read more →]
Tags:spring salads·weekend cooking
Those of you who have your Ph.D in D.A.L.S. are already aware of the groundbreaking scientific work we’ve done proving various theories about dinner — the preparing of it, the consumption of it, the enjoyment of it. For instance, this well-worn favorite: When you take three measly minutes in the morning to do something that helps you get the momentum going on dinner prep — chopping vegetables, marinating meat, placing a pot of water on the stovetop – you will end up saving up to 15 minutes on the other end of the day when you arrive home from work. I can’t pretend to know why this is the case — as backing up our dinner theories with real data tends to take more time than we actually have. Time we would rather spend coming up with more impossible-to-prove wrong theories. Such as:
- Shredding bagged lettuce makes it taste fresher and better. It doesn’t matter what kind of lettuce — romaine, iceberg, endive — Last night I made some chili-rubbed chicken and placed it on a bed of shredded spinach (pictured above; recipe below), which I usually find chewy in its whole raw form. Not the case with the shred. Along the same lines, the fine chop of anything as it pertains to a saladex summerus will almost always upgrade it.
- When it comes to entertaining: Each kid under eight years old is the equivalent of five grown-ups in terms of volume and space and mess generating.
- Heat is the great equalizer when it comes to bagels. I’ll take a just-out-of-the-oven bagel from Missoula over a cold outer-borough bagel any day. (Please do not forward this to my Bronx-born Jewish father.)
- Dinner will taste twice as good when it’s eaten outside. It will taste three times as good when eaten in an outdoor space surrounded by white string lights. Four times as good when eaten in an outdoor space surrounded by white string lights and with a view of any body of water.
- Magic Formulas Worth Committing to Memory: Melon + Salt; Mint + Peas; Peanut Butter + Fudge Brownies; Bacon + Brussels Sprouts; Bacon + Eggs; Bacon + Maple; Bacon + Bacon; Bacon + Shoe Leather
- The quality of dinner at a restaurant is in converse proportion to the number of words on that restaurant’s menu. For instance, Tom Colicchio’s menu at Craft. This is how it reads: Mushrooms. Potatoes. Braised Short Ribs. A menu like that is always going to win out over the one listing Pork chops marinated in brandy and pomegranate juice with sweet potatoes and miso-mango chutney on a bed of shaved salsify and butter lettuces. (Another red flag: the pluralization of lettuce.)
- Kids are able to tap into deep wells of resourcefulness with remarkable efficiency when it comes to assembling the ice cream, the peanuts, and the chocolate sauce for sundaes.
- You won’t find a single parenting expert who endorses using bribery to convince a kid to eat.
- You won’t find a single parenting expert, who is a parent, who hasn’t used bribery to convince her kid to eat.
- Food eaten on sticks has a 40% higher rate of consumption with kids. Food served in conjunction with dips: 20%.
- Pop Tarts, Apple Jacks, Toast-R-Cakes, and other usually verboten breakfast foods possess nutritional merits when consumed on vacation.
- Everything tastes better on vacation. It just does.
- Anything braised tastes better the next day cold, eaten right out of its leftover dish with a fork, while standing in front of the refrigerator.
- Be wary of people who say they enjoy radishes dipped in salt.
- It’s practically the law that the phone call from the client – the one you’ve been dying to check off your list all day — always comes five minutes before you are leaving the office to make it home in time for dinner. Don’t question it. Don’t fight it. Don’t try to control this phenomenon or — worse — allow it to control you.
Chili-rubbbed Chicken with Shredded Spinach (Rule 1) and Dip (Rule 10)
I generally go with about one medium size chicken breast per diner. You don’t need a lot of chicken if there is enough salad to stretch it. Best part about this meal: totally deconstructible for the kid who doesn’t want anything touching.
For rub: In a small bowl, mix together the following:
1 tablespoon chili powder
pinch cayenne (1/8 tsp)
pinch garlic salt (1/8 tsp)
2 generous pinches salt (1/2 tsp total)
shake or two of dried oregano
For dressing: In a measuring cup, mix together the following:
juice from 1 lime
3 heaping tablespoons sour cream
3 heaping tablespoons salsa
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/2 – 1 teaspoon of sugar (to taste)
Pound 3 to 4 chicken breasts until about 1/4 inch thick. (As always, the most important thing is that the breasts are of even thickness.) Sprinkle a teaspoon of spice rub on top of each breast and, using your fingers, spread and press into the meat. Add a few tablespoons of olive oil to a skillet set over medium heat. Add chicken, spice-side down and cook 3-5 minutes until chicken looks cooked around the edges. While chicken is cooking, sprinkle and rub spice mixture into the other side of chicken. (Do not outsource this step to your children; there will be spitting oil.) Flip and cook another 3-5 minutes until cooked through. Slice as shown above — or actually however you want.
In a bowl, toss together a few handfuls of baby spinach (shredded with a chef’s knife into confetti), thawed frozen corn, 1/2 can black beans (drained and rinsed), 1 avocado (chopped), grape tomatoes (chopped), 1 bunch scallions (chopped), 1/4 cup cilantro (chopped). Top with chicken and drizzle with dressing.
[Read more →]
Over the weekend, I made my own mayonnaise. You’ll be hearing more about this, but beyond the general feeling of triumph I experienced by my accomplishment, I had to take a step back and say, “I can’t believe I’m making my own mayonnaise. How much will DALS readers of babies and toddlers resent me for having time to do something so indulgent?” With this in mind, it’s my honor to present today’s guest-poster, writer and editor Rory Evans. In addition to being one of DALS most faithful commenters (your avatar is safe with me!) Rory was one of my first mentors in magazines — we first met at Real Simple in 2001 — and I know I speak for a lot of writers when I say her hand-scribbled line-edits and queries on manuscripts taught me more about writing than almost anyone else I can think of. She is also the mother of a 2-year-old, which means she is more in the guerilla mode of toddler-feeding phase than the homemade mayo-making one. I keep her around for this reason, but also because every year on my birthday, she sends me this, much to the delight of my daughters and my neighbors and whoever else I invite to share in the bounty. Here, Rory shares a few tried-and-true tactics that have worked at her family table including a marinade made from the three ingredients above that I’ve already used a half dozen times since she told me about it last month. Thanks Rory!
A few nights ago, my 2-year-old daughter Evan ate everything off her plate. And then—holy role reversal!—she started picking off mine. The last time I had seen her ingest anything so quickly was when she was six days old, and downed two ounces of formula in a desperate, half-minute suck. (It was, we realized, the first food she had eaten in her 144-hour life—all those endless “breastfeeding” sessions had been a ruse. Nothing had been coming out.)
It will likely be years before she replicates this feat. And it of course made me try to decode what we had put before her. Here’s what she ate: boneless pork chop and a salad made with baby spinach, red onion, and sliced strawberries (North Shore of Boston people: Do they still serve this at every wedding held at Salem Country Club in Peabody?). The common ingredient, I realized? Maple syrup (in the marinade, along with rice vinegar and soy sauce; and in the dressing, with red wine vinegar and olive oil). Oh, “candy pork” and “candy salad,” I thought—remembering my friend Molly’s suggestion years ago to refer to anything even slightly sweet as “candy” and your kids will eat it.
If there is a blessing to having been a dried-up old bag when my daughter was born (I was 18 days shy of turning 40), it’s this: Most of my friends had had their kids years and years before, and I’d heard their stories about willful toddlers and Olympic-level picky eaters (my desk was about 20 feet from Jenny’s during that era when Abby decided to go on her 5-week solid food strike) I remembered a few of their various tricks: like not only Molly’s “candy” modifier, but also her “chicken fish” trick—her son would eat any kind of chicken, so she just started referring to any kind of fish as chicken fish. (See also: Jenny’s “Princess fish,” which I’ve also put to good use.) Since Evan mysteriously loves broccoli, I’ve started calling kale “broccoli salad” and cauliflower “white broccoli” with minimal blowback.
She is also a fan of “salad surprise,” where something we know she loves is hidden under a mound of mulch/greens. As in, the strawberries with the spinach, or the raisins that go into a kale salad. Of course, she’s been known to just push the leaves aside and go for the treat, but she eventually gets to the rest. Naturally, I live in fear of her some day being on to my tricks, when she decides that she’ll only ever eat another vegetable if it’s entirely camouflaged in some kind of Jessica Seinfeld cupcake. So I ask you, dear Jenny’s reader: What worked for you? Is there more dinnertime doublespeak that I should know about?
Maple Candy Pork Chops
Rory said she makes the marinade mostly by feel. Place four boneless center cut pork chops in a zip top bag. Add 1/3 cup of syrup, 2 to 3 tablespoons of canola, a bunch of glugs of soy sauce (about 1/4 cup), and then the same amount of rice vinegar, and a shake or two of powdered garlic (or if you are feeling ambitious, one whole clove, halved). Marinate at least an hour and a half and up to overnight. When ready to cook, place chops on an unlined cookie sheet, which most certainly should be lined with foil, and roast at 450°F for about maybe 15 – 20 minutes, flipping once half way through.
Salad Surprise with Strawberries
Toss 1 bag baby spinach, a handful of sliced strawberries, and a tablespoon or two of super thinly sliced red onion. I tossed it with a dressing made from 1 tablespoon maple syrup, apple cider vinegar (insert kate saying, “page turner!”), and olive oil, a pinch of powdered garlic, and a hint of ground cinnamon.
[Read more →]
Tags:feeding toddlers·rory evans
What the heck? No Mother’s Day post on DALS this year? That’s because I posted on Bon App on Tuesday all about how we don’t really celebrate it. I know, not very helpful. If you are like most normal people and in the market for a kick-ass brunch main dish, check out this baked cinnamony French toast from the always-reliable Deb at Smitten Kitchen. If I celebrated Mother’s Day, that’s definitely what I’d want in the middle of my peony-strewn brunch table. That, and a copy of Dinner: A Love Story, naturally.
Have a great weekend!
[Read more →]
That’s one handsome-looking bowl of quinoa, isn’t it? Looks pretty tasty, right? It’s really healthy, too. And so versatile. Have you heard about the extraordinary nutritional properties of quinoa? Amazing stuff. Packed with protein. The Incas survived on it! Now try writing 500 words about this bowl of quinoa, but it can’t be too similar to the 500-word post you wrote about the magic of (sigh) barley a few weeks ago, and it definitely can’t be like the other quinoa post you did about six months ago, the one in which you… extolled its extraordinary nutritional properties (protein, Incas, etc.) and its versatility (feta, pesto, etc.) and the way it goes so well with zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. We want to be clear here: we are not complaining. We love cooking and we love doing this blog, and we’d happily do it for free. (Wait, we already do it for free!) All we’re saying is, posting three or four or five times a week for two and a half years — about things like quinoa — isn’t always easy. There have been nights when Jenny, sitting there in bed with her laptop and trying to write about the raw kale salad we just had for dinner, has turned to me with a look of true despair and said, “I got nothing.” It’s rare, but it happens. I figure you can handle the truth.
So here’s a question: how would you like to guest post on DALS? If you’re interested, here’s what we need from you, by midnight, May 14:
- A presentable photo of something you’ve cooked.
- A story (not more than 500 words) about that something you cooked.
- A recipe that works.*
Once all the entries are in, we’ll pick a winner and you (or your food blog, if you have one) will be a featured – and tweeted-about, and commented-upon — guest poster on a day, tbd, in June. Not only that, there’s a prize in it for you, too: the winner gets a free, personally inscribed copy of Jenny’s book when it is published a few weeks from now OR a call-in from both of us for your book club if you select Dinner: A Love Story as your group’s next pick. Up to you. Essie, mek, Amanda, Julia, Kendra, Cecilia, Carolyn, Melissa, June, Caitlin, Jan, Minty Pea Todd, Torie, MommyLisa, Auntie, 654Carroll, A Plum By Any Other Name, the Russian Guy Who’s Always Spamming Us About Cheap Cialis: I’m talkin’ to you, people! Start writing. Help us out. Win a book. – Andy
* And to be clear, the post doesn’t have to be about quinoa. Send all entries to: jenny AT dinneralovestory.com with the subject “Guest Post Contest.” Many of you have asked if you can still submit something if it’s not your own recipe. This contest is going to be focused more on the writing and the story than the recipe. You can still submit with someone else’s recipe, but please credit the source and embed the link to that source in the post. If it’s a recipe from a cookbook, please send us a link to the cookbook.
[Read more →]
I was at a party last week where a friend introduced me to someone as “Jenny. You know…She’s the one who writes about how we need to eat dinner with our families every night.” This is the point when I sort of look at the ground and try to kick an imaginary stubborn rock out of the dirt. “Uh, nice to meet you,” I cough up to my poor new aquaintance, who, for all I know, has a job with completely inflexible hours and a spouse who works the night shift and who, for all the family dinner desire in the world, would not be able to make a nightly meal happen with any kind of regularity.
I know this person introducing me doesn’t deconstruct these things the way I do, and I know this person is proud of what I do and in a million years wouldn’t mean to make anyone feel bad about their dinner situation, but here’s the thing: I have never once said on my blog or in my book that you need to eat dinner with your family every night. And, as long as I’m on the topic, I have never once “emphasized my strong belief that the family that eats together stays together,” as one book reviewer recently wrote in round-up of the year’s cookbooks. Who am I to say you need do anything with your family?
It’s so hard not to sound like a sanctimonious finger-wagger when you write about anything under the parenting umbrella, but I would like to just take a minute today to emphasize my strong belief that family dinner has been a huge and meaningful ritual in my life — and that I, personally, need to eat dinner with my kids as often as possible because we depend on it for our home’s sanity and well-being – but I never mean to infer that this is the one-size-fits-all solution to ensuring connectedness and togetherness in a family. Or, that, conversely if you don’t eat with your kids every night you might as well kiss your kids’ emotional health, their college degrees and their futures goodbye. (In my opinion, there are already enough studies out there shaming us at every turn.) A friend was just telling me how she, her husband and two teenage sons barely see each other during the week, but always converge and recharge on the weekend. “The weekend is family time and it’s non-negotiable,” she said. Another friend, Sara, a mother of three, who grew up in a family that skied every weekend, and who still today is a major badass on the slopes, told me that those winter trips were when the bonding happened. In her words: “We always got it done on the chairlift.”
We get it done at the dinner table — and for those of you out there who agree with me and feel as though this is the logical place to get it done, or might be the most logical place for you to get it done or even every now and then might be the place to get it done….well, then, by all means, stop by for some inspiration. But if you’re just in it for a tasty grilled hoisin burger recipe that I’m hoping your family will love next time you all sit down together? I’m not going to stop you or tell you need to do anything more. That part is up to you.
“Daddy, did you just say we’re having poison burgers tonight?
“Hoisin burgers, Abby. Hoisin burgers.”
1 lb ground turkey or chicken
juice from 1/2 lime
1 tablespoon chopped scallions
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
1 tablespoon chinese 5-spice
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped finely
salt and pepper
Mix the above ingredients, shape into patties, and grill over hot coals, flipping frequently for a total of 10-12 minutes, until firm but not rock hard. Serve on buns with extra hoisin sauce. Hoisin is available in better supermarkets and Asian specialty stores.
Also: If you replace the ground turkey/chicken with ground pork (in Abby’s words): “It’s not like it’s going to be bad.”
[Read more →]
Tags:burger·family dinner pep talk
I was driving Phoebe to school on Wednesday morning – she had to be at her desk by 7:30 for a field trip to Ellis Island or else – when I told her that Shaun Tan had sent us a guest post about his formative books for kids. What do you want me to tell people about Shaun’s books, I asked her. What should they know?
His pictures have a lot of feeling, she said.
Okay, I said. But what do they make you feel?
I think about them when I’m daydreaming, she said. Can you stop asking me questions now?
If you got a copy of 121 Books last week — the little book that Jenny and I gave away here last week — you might have seen Shaun’s book, Tales From Outer Suburbia, sitting there at #91. What you didn’t see was what the book actually looks like. I’ll start with the cover, which is as evocative and alluring an image as I can recall on the cover of a book. I remember seeing a review of this one in the New York Times Book Review a few years ago and looking at that cover, and thinking: I want to climb inside that book. And once you do, a similarly strange, exquisite, odd, absurd, whimsical, mysterious world awaits. Tales From Outer Suburbia is a collection of stories about, well, about a lot of things, including: a stoic water buffalo who lives in a vacant lot; a tiny stick figure-ish, possibly alien foreign exchange student who sleeps in a teacup and asks to be called, perfectly, Eric; two brothers who argue over whether the earth simply ends at the edge of the map, and then set out on a journey to find out who’s right; and a story with the stunningly great title, “Broken Toys,” that contains the following two stunningly great sentences: “Well, we’d certainly seen crazy people before — ‘shell-shocked by life’ as you once put it. But something pretty strange must have happened to this guy to make him wander about in a spacesuit on a dead-quiet public holiday.” How do you not want to read that?
Anyway, if you want to see what Phoebe was talking about re: the emotional punch — the feeling — of Shaun’s art, check out some of his work. He did a wordless book, The Arrival, whose soulful beauty kind of defies description. He did a picture book, The Lost Thing, which he then turned into a fifteen minute short film, which then won a little known prize called AN ACADEMY FREAKING AWARD. (You can see it here.) The pleasure of having someone this talented on Dinner: A Love Story never gets old — for us, at least — and I hope you enjoy Shaun’s recommendations. What I love, in particular, is that Shaun – being an Australian, and an artist — has so many books below that I’d never heard of, and have now ordered. That, and I also love his use of the word “carnage.” Enjoy. — Andy
I should begin this list with an early “mistake” made by my mother when it came to bedtime reading. She herself did not grow up in a literary household: in fact, as a kid, I was fascinated by the sheer absence of books, or even paper and pencils, in my grandparents’ house – books just weren’t part of their world. Perhaps for this reason, our Mum felt her own children should be exposed to as many books as possible, but at the same time was not guided by (a) experience, or (b) the kinds of lists you find on websites like this. If it looked vaguely interesting, Mum would read it to my brother and me at bedtime. One such title, read to us when I was 7 or 8, was an apparently charming fairytale by some guy named George Orwell: “Mr. Jones, of the Manor Farm, had locked the hen-houses for the night, but was too drunk to remember to shut the pop-holes…”
We were all hooked (and, frankly, a bit unsettled) from the outset, so there was no turning back. My brother and I looked forward to each progressively disturbing chapter: conniving pigs, brainwashed sheep, a horse carted off to something called a “knackers” – poor Mum, having to field all of our questions. I asked her recently about this, and she remembers being increasingly anxious about how the story “might affect your young minds” – yet we voted to keep going (bedtime reading should always be democratic). Of course, the book ends with the pigs celebrating their triumphant depravity, and Mum was very worried about that. As for me, I just thought it was terrific. And it was no more disturbing than stuff I witnessed at school every day, with our occasionally cruel kids and less-than-perfect teachers – I thought Orwell was right on the money. I’d never thought about a story so much after it was read. From then on, I began to appreciate unresolved endings, and to grow tired of the less-convincing, moralizing stuff that kids were being fed in suburban Australia, where I grew up. I realized books weren’t just for entertainment, that they could say something. Animal Farm – along with Watership Down and Gulliver’s Travels –profoundly influenced my development as an author and illustrator. Most specifically, The Rabbits, an allegory about colonization written by John Marsden and illustrated by me. That was quite a controversial book when it was published — and was even banned in some Australian schools – yet very young children seem to enjoy and understand it quite deeply; they grasp, somehow, the hidden optimism that adults often miss. That continues to surprise and delight me, the ability of children to find silver linings in grim stories.
I don’t have children, and don’t specifically write/paint for them. Maybe that’s why kids like my work! I just think of them as smallish people who are smart and creative, and honest in their opinions. So when I think about what makes a great children’s book, I tend to think of books that achieve universality, the widest possible readership – books that appeal to us, from toddlers to geriatrics, in a primal way, and can be understood on many different levels. Picture books are particularly great for this, because they’re concise and easily re-read; they often invent their own narrative grammar, as if you are learning how to read all over again.
My interest in picture books only came about later, as an adult artist, as I was moving from painting into commercial illustration and looking for interesting work. The book that really got me interested in picture books — professionally, I mean, in that “Hmmm, I’d really love to do something like that one day” kind of way –was A Fish in the Sky, written by George Mendoza and illustrated by Milton Glaser. (Even if you don’t know Glaser’s work, you almost certainly do. He’s a legendary (more…)
[Read more →]
Tags:books for kids·graphic novels for kids·shaun tan·shaun tan tales from outer suburbia