Entries Tagged as 'Cameos'

A Chat with Prune’s Gabrielle Hamilton

November 6th, 2014 · 14 Comments · Cameos, Chicken and Turkey, Dinner

Gabrielle Hamilton’s new cookbook, Prune, a collection of recipes from her celebrated East Village restaurant of the same name, doesn’t have any introduction. There are no recipe headnotes (you know, those little wind-ups from the author explaining the genesis of the dish you are about to make, or some kind of hold-your-hand cheffy trick that might help as you make it?) There is no flap copy, and no index where one might go to look up Peas with Wasabi Butter and Honeycomb. Those same peas with wasabi butter and honeycomb that I ate at Prune in the summer of 2013, and that have stayed with me all these months later.

The only thing you get to read in Hamilton’s second book, (her first was the memoir Blood Bones and Butter) are the recipes themselves, but if you are after Hamilton’s vision or philosophy on cooking, that’s just about all you really need. Roasted Beets with Aioli, Figs and Raspberries with Steeped Lemon Cream, Grilled Shrimp with Anchovy Butter. As they say, in food and in art, the thing speaks for itself.

Prune was designed to sound and look like the overstuffed binder sitting on the kitchen shelf of every restaurant. The grease-stained recipes, devoid of any extra words, but hyper-specific and comically authoritative nonetheless, are directed at her staff, presumably at work in a hot, busy kitchen, and not necessarily at the home cook. “I know this one is a bitch to prep” she says of her Gazpacho. “Be glad we only serve it one month a year.” When seasoning the braising liquid for the Farmhouse Chicken Braised in Cider (recipe below) she writes, “Adjust now or never.” In her four-ingredient Omelette with Parmesan recipe: “There’s nothing to hide here, so please keep it tight.” Luckily, the home cook gets to listen in on the learning that always follows. With that Omelette: “Make sure your pan is the right temp, your butter is foaming and not sizzling, your eggs are fully beaten to their greatest volume, and that your Parm is neatly shaved and distributed evenly.” And luckily, Hamilton, mother of two, took some time last week to answer a few questions I had about the book, simple cooking, of course, dinner with her kids. Welcome Gabrielle, thanks for taking the time to talk today!

GH: No problem.

DALS: So I loved Blood Bones and Butter, and I remember reading an interview with you where you said you were going to take the easy way out with the next project and just do a cookbook. Most people would not call a 567-page cookbook “the easy way out.” How did you feel about writing a cookbook versus a memoir? 

GH: Well, I guess I’d like to issue a giant universal blanket apology to anyone who has ever made a cookbook. I definitely underestimated how much was involved before taking it on. This one was painstaking to put together. PAINstaking. I have noticde, though, that it’s been much easier to talk about. The questions I’m getting in interviews are a lot lighter, not really the case when you’re talking about moms and marriage.

It’s easier for you to talk about food? I’m good talking about food for about eleven minutes. After that it gets boring to me. (more…)

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The Lunchbox Note, on Steroids

September 8th, 2014 · 35 Comments · Cameos, Rituals

Ever since my friend Liz Egan told me about this lunchbox ritual a few months ago, I’ve been dying to have her write about it for you. Please welcome longtime magazine editor (currently on the books beat at Glamour), newly minted novelist (look for her first book, A Window Opens, spring 2016) and one of the more lovable ”insane moms” I know. Thanks Liz! – Jenny

I’ll begin with the obvious: packing school lunches is tedious, thankless, repetitive (but never meditative) and always a little disgusting. To this day, when I take a whiff of an empty Thermos, I experience a wave of morning sickness so strong, I forget that my final baby is not only fully gestated, she is now in her first week of second grade.

For years, my husband was the lunch chef, bringing a short-tempered, short order flair to the operation. When I gave him a year’s furlough as a gift for his 39th birthday, he acted like I had given him tickets for the Cavs season opener; meanwhile, I reminded myself of a know-it-all mom from a 1980s laundry detergent commercial. Make way for the real expert.

Two of our three kids immediately aired serious grievances about my lunches: “Daddy knows I like my roll-up with the salami on the outside” and “Mom? FYI? I prefer macaroni in the shape of Arthur.” Our youngest didn’t even bother with low ratings; her feedback came home in the most literal form: an untouched lunch. Only eight days into the gulag of matching lids to containers, locating absent water bottles and haphazardly sorting everything into the correct Built bag, I gave up. My husband returned to the cutting board, smugly slicing Granny Smiths with the fancy knife I offered as a gift in lieu of my catering services. (more…)

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Other Mother’s Recipes

December 5th, 2013 · 29 Comments · Cameos, Picky Eating, Uncategorized

It makes me so happy to introduce today’s guest-poster, Dahlia Lithwick. When she’s not cooking for her two boys, or writing about picky eaters for desperate food bloggers, she’s reporting on the law and the courts for Slate. You know, just that. Welcome! -JR

There is well-documented parental shame in having children who are known for being “picky eaters.” The implication is that had their grown-ups just introduced them to kimchee and pemmican as toddlers, they would be more adventurous today. But I have come to discover a deeper, more searing mortification than the having of a child who only eats food the color of his own inner wrist (pasta, white bread, and chicken).  And that is the shame of the picky eater who has come to believe that the fault lies chiefly with his mother.

But allow me to start at the beginning:  A few years ago, my then-six year old son came home from an overnight at my cousin’s house, raving about her couscous “recipe.”

“But I make couscous!” I yelped. “You won’t eat my couscous.”

“But Evelyn’s is better.” He explained, patiently.

So I dutifully called Evelyn to get her magical couscous recipe. And she said: “I add water.”

Mmmmm.  Water.

And thus began my longstanding fantasy of someday launching a major cookbook/website/cooking show empire entitled “Other Mommies Recipes.”  The result would be a collection, nay, a curated and glossily illustrated array, of recipes, made exclusively by people whose main qualification is that they are not me. It would feature foods made precisely as they have always been made at home, frequently requiring two or fewer ingredients, that my kids eat willingly at Other Mommies houses, as they heap scorn upon me for not being a really good cook.

In addition to Elisha’s Mom’s Couscous (couscous, water) Other Mommies Recipes would feature Boaz’s Mom’s Mashed Potatoes (potatoes, butter) and also her roasted potatoes (also, potatoes, butter) and Roi’s Dad’s[1] Famous Jam Sandwiches (jam, bread). It would have a section devoted to Auntie Carolyn’s scrambled eggs (eggs, butter) and Auntie Edwina’s hard boiled eggs (eggs, water) – a dish about which my younger son has waxed so rhapsodic, it would put Elizabeth Bartlett to shame. There could be a whole Chapter on Other Mommies Grilled Cheese (bread, cheese), but I probably couldn’t author it myself without having to be heavily medicated.

I don’t even attempt to make Other Mommies Recipes anymore because after a brief stint of pretending to call the other mommies, laboriously copy down their “recipes” and replicating them at home, I have reconciled myself to the fact that I will never ever be able to make pasta the way Tanner’s Mom makes it (pasta, pesto) or the way Grandma makes it (penne, shredded parmesan) or the way my own mom makes it (pasta). And the truly insightful among you have doubtless noticed by now that Other Mommies Recipes have one other unifying feature in common: In addition to featuring two or fewer un-screw-up-able ingredients they also produce food that is somewhere between white and light beige. Because Other Mommies Vegetables is never going to happen.

[1] The fact that this was produced by a Daddy complicates the naming of my “Other Mommies” cooking empire but I thought in the interest of full disclosure and the Absence of the End of Men, I should explain that Other Daddies have recipes too.

Thanks Dahlia! 

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How Young is Too Young?

November 8th, 2013 · 21 Comments · Cameos, Kitchenlightenment

If you’ve been watching MasterChef Junior with your kids these past few weeks, I’ll bet two thoughts have crossed your mind. The first: Wow, my kid is probably a lot more capable than I give her credit for. The second: Who is that adorable nine-year-old preparing Beef Wellington and molten lava cakes, and who seems to have little to no fear of anything, including Gordon Ramsay?

Her name is Sarah Lane, and I’m happy to report that today’s post on DALS is a conversation between Sarah’s mom, Stephanie, and Times columnist, Ron Lieber. Ron is father of a 7-year-old daughter, and working on a book called The Opposite of Spoiled, about parenting, money and values. Like most of us, he was captivated by Sarah’s savvy with a chef’s knife, but his curiosity went deeper. As Ron reports his book, he couldn’t help but wonder What’s her story? What kind of parents turned a kid that young loose with live fire and sharp knives? And perhaps more to the point, Should we be doing the same? He goes straight to the source for the answers…

Ron: Can you fill us in on some of the back story? Where did Sarah grow up?

Stephanie: We moved to Los Angeles three-and-a-half years ago but we’re from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  It’s always been just the two of us. I’ve been a single parent since Sarah was born and I put her to work as early as I could. She would help with dishes, pulling out knives and spoons.

And where did she learn to really cook?

I grew up and lived in Lancaster until Sarah was in kindergarten. Lancaster was a place where lots of kids worked with their families. My mom owns a restaurant, so I waitressed there, and Sarah came to work with me every day, starting from when she was 2 weeks old. She always wanted to be part of the action. She was in Lancaster just this past summer to visit her grandparents by herself and spent a good bit of time helping at the restaurant and waiting on tables. She really knows what a restaurant looks like from the inside.

Most of us worry about letting our kids use knives. How old was Sarah the first time she used one?
She was probably four or five. We started with a peeler, then moved up. I’m still a bit scared of the knife thing and will often turn my head. But I think there are people who live happy and full lives with nine fingers or less, so I’m not that concerned. (more…)

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Good Reads

September 20th, 2013 · 10 Comments · Cameos

I was reading the New York Times Magazine‘s profile of Elizabeth Gilbert yesterday (in advance of her new novel), when it occurred to me that Gilbert has been just one of the many literary (and culinary) lights that have graced the pages of Dinner: A Love Story in the past few years. In the name of good reading — and in the name of giving you a break from hearing us babble on and on about chicken — I wanted to take this Friday to remind you of a few of their guest-posts. Among them, we have Oscar winners, James Beard Award Winners, National Book Award nominees, a coupla Pulitzer winners, a MacArthur genius, and, most important, writers and artists who have inspired us at the supermarket, the playing field, the dinner table and beyond. Okay, start reading!

Elizabeth Gilbert (author, Signature of All Things) on her own family dinner table, her great grandmother “Gima,” and butter (“If you have butter, use butter.”)

David Sedaris (author, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls) on working with Ian Falconer, what he liked to read as a kid, and whether books should have morals.

Adam Rapoport (editor in chief, Bon Appetit) on “Chicken Fingers Milanese”

George Saunders (author, Tenth of December) on his favorite kid books (and a last line that will make you weep)

Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket, author, Series of Unfortunate Events) on six books that should be on all kids’ reading lists

Emily Bazelon (author, Sticks and Stones) on everything a parent needs to know about bullying

Sam Sifton (news guy, author, Thanksgiving) on the Ten Laws of Thanksgiving (more…)

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Summer Reading Series: Michael Paterniti

August 19th, 2013 · 11 Comments · Cameos, Children's Books, Gifts, Culture, Uncategorized

Our next guest in the DALS Summer Reading Series is Michael Paterniti, a man who needs no introduction (and not only because we just introduced him last month). Besides being the father of three voracious readers, he is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Revenge, Betrayal, and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese, and joins us today to tell us about his two (give or take nine) most memorable childrens’ books. Thanks, Mike!

My favorite children’s books belong to two distinct categories: the ones I adored as a kid, and then the ones I’ve loved as a father reading to my kids. To the first pile belong treasures like Homer Price (who can ever forget Uncle Ulysses’s doughnut machine!), The Tomten (about a mysterious elfin man who rummages a remote farm by winter night, talking to the animals), The Great Brain (oh, how I wanted to be him, pickpocketing the world with his schemes!), and The Hardy Boys catalogue (the recurrence of their friend Chet, in his jalopy, on the prowl for lemonade and chocolate cake while the brothers face harrowing danger, still cracks me up).

To the second, the father pile, belong almost anything by Chris Van Allsberg (The Stranger, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, The Polar Express) and The Hobbit (still one of the world’s great travelogues) and, say, Penguin Dreams (the surreal, wonderfully psychedelic journey of a penguin through his own dreams). For our purposes today, however, I’m limiting myself to a couple of desert-island books, one in each category. I realize only now in writing that both are appropriately animated by food (and one, perhaps the strangest and funniest children’s book I’ve ever read, is actually about animated food!). So here goes…

Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson (Kid Book)

Before this book, which I read at age nine or ten, I’m not sure I fully understood how books work, how a good one can deposit a secret world so whole and alive in your head. A Newberry Medal winner from the 1940s, the story centers around one rabbit family, living on “the Hill” in Connecticut, and begins with the refrain, “New folks coming.” See, the Hill has fallen on hard times because the big house there—and its fantastic garden—have fallen into disrepair after a string of “mean, shiftless, and inconsiderate” owners. Now as the animals grow skinny and sip their “thin soup” everything relies on the new folks being planting folks. Meanwhile Little Georgie is going up “Danbury way,” where times are even harder, to retrieve his old Uncle Analdas, who’s just lost his wife and whose dinners consist of a skimpy turnip. Thinking about Little Georgie out in all that wilderness sets Mother to fretting in the kitchen, worrying about “the possibility of Dogs, Cats, and Ferrets; of shotguns, rifles, and explosives; of traps and snares; of poison and poison gases” while longwinded Father, of southern stock, tries to reassure her of the boy’s capabilities. And sure enough, son and uncle return, the new folks move in, and everything seems quite promising indeed until one night, as Little Georgie sallies forth on another errand, there’s the screeching of car brakes from the road, and Little Georgie disappears. 

Though known for his great illustrations, Robert Lawson is an evocative, lyrical writer. I won’t ruin his ending, which is simple, moving, and wonderful, but I will say that, first and foremost, Rabbit Hill is a book about generosity—at its most elemental about the overwhelming gratitude we feel when down and hungry and offered food—and that’s a very good thing to be reminded of in this world. Ages 7+

The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay (Father Book)

Um—I don’t quite know where to begin with this one except to say that when I read it to our son, Leo, some years ago, he wore the most quizzical expression for 169 pages, kept snorting with laughter, and said, “I don’t understand any of this!” which seemed to make him happy and all the more interested. And he never let me stop reading.

First published in Australia in 1918, the book centers itself on Bunyip Bluegum, a tidy, proper koala bear who leaves home to see the world because his uncle’s whiskers are too long, and take up all the space in their tree house, and soak in the soup at dinnertime, which is depressing. Before long, Bluegum’s fallen in with Bill Barnacle, a sailor, and his friend Sam Sawnoff, “a penguin bold,” whom he finds eating lunch. “They had a pudding in a basin,” reads the book, “and the smell that arose from it was so delightful that Bunyip Bluegum was quite unable to pass on.” This pudding is named Albert, and is a little foul-mouthed, and takes no guff. And it loves to be eaten, never runs out, and can transmogrify into the thing you most want to eat. (“It’s a Christmas steak and apple-dumpling Puddin’,” says the penguin. “It’s a Magic Puddin’.”)

Of course, rollicking high jinx ensue, the Puddin’ is stolen, strange characters appear, long, wacky, wonderful poems are delivered, the Puddin’ sulks and snarls and ripostes, and the pictures are fantastic. Lindsay said he wrote the book because children like eating and fighting, but I might add that what they—and their parents—like most of all is to laugh together. And there’s no weirder, funnier children’s book out there, one based entirely on the wonderful ways we feed ourselves, with words, stories, adventures, and cobbler. (Ages 8+)

FYI: Mike is on a West Coast tour right now, reading from The Telling Room tonight, 8/19, at Vroman’s (Pasadena); Tuesday, 8/20 at Book Passage (San Francisco); Wednesday, 8/21, at Omnivore Books (SF); Thursday, 8/22 at Reader’s Books (Sonoma); then Powell’s (Portland) on 8/26.

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¡Viva Family Dinner!

July 31st, 2013 · 7 Comments · Cameos, Dinner, Posts by Andy, Rituals, Uncategorized

I’m a *little* worried this is going to sound like a wedding toast.

I have basically been following Mike Paterniti around for the past twelve years. When I worked at Esquire — as a kid, practically — Mike was the star writer who would come into town, from Portland, Maine, with his Patagonia backpack and his good vibes, and be nice to all the peons, and then fly off to crazy places and bring back stories like this and this, stories that would make 25 year-old assistant editors like me say, Damn, it would be nice to work with a writer like that someday. Then, when I went to GQ in 2002, I went — in large part — because Mike was there and, by taking the job, I would finally become his full-time editor and have the chance to work on stories like this. Then, a few years ago, I moved on to Random House — in large part — to work with Mike again, on a book he’d been obsessing over for the better part of a decade. That book, The Telling Room, was published yesterday, and the easy thing to say about it is that it’s a slow food fable about a cheesemaker, named — proof that there is a god? — Ambrosio, who lives in a tiny village (pop. 80) in Spain and makes his cheese, according to an ancient family recipe, from the milk of sheep that graze on chamomile and sage. But that’s not really what the book is about. This book is about the heartbreaking story of Ambrosio’s world-class cheese, yes, but it’s also about Spain and the ghosts of Civil War, about friendship and betrayal, about love and memory and forgiveness, and, most important, about stories. The stories we tell ourselves in order to live.

Do I love this book? Yes.

Did I warn you this was going to sound like a wedding toast? Yes.

In the course of writing and reporting his book, Mike spent a lot of time in Spain. He estimates he made 15 to 20 trips to Guzman, in fact, during which he learned a lot about Ambrosio and his magical cheese (it was said to conjure memories), but also about family dinner. Given that this is a blog dedicated to that very subject, we asked Mike to tell us how they do in the Castilian highlands. He did, and we’re glad. Congrats, Mike! — Andy

Of all Spanish institutions, family dinner ranks as one of my favorites. Why? Because it happens to be Spanish chaos theory at its best—and the Spaniards are good at chaos. After all, what other nation runs with its bulls… or holds a massive tomato-pelting event, in which citizens throw over 90,000 pounds of tomatoes at each other… or has an annual, mandatory, four-day, wine-soaked party—known as the fiesta—in every village of its great, sun-scorched land?

In classic Spanish fashion, then, family dinner is a microcosm of this craziness and big joy. And of course, there’s a fair amount of confusion about when dinner really is. Is it the big meal in the middle of the day, known as the comida? Or is it the late-evening, smaller meal known as cena? (The Spaniards love their food so much they have five designated grazing times a day: desayuno, or breakfast; almuerzo, the late-morning snack; comida in the early afternoon; and then the latter meals of the day: merienda, or late afternoon snack; and cena, dinner.)

Cena is the best—and in summer begins anywhere between 10 and midnight. In the plazas of the cities, you’ll see families seated at outdoor restaurant tables, telling animated stories, wine, chorizo, and grilled pimientos on the table, a simple green salad and some lomo on the way, the kids sprinting madly over cobblestones, playing soccer, chasing birds, when suddenly someone walks by on stilts, or an orchestra begins to play, or some impromptu marching band comes banging through the square. The voices get louder. Now the gambas sizzling in olive oil are put on the table, the laughter echoes, the kids shriek with joy as they come and go, grabbing tidbits from the table.

In the little Castilian village of Guzmán, where I moved my family one summer as I wrote my book, we often found ourselves with an invite to my friend Ambrosio’s telling room for cena. A telling room is a little hobbit hole dug into the hill on the north boundary of town, most of them equipped with a simple wood-plank table, a fireplace full of dried grapevines, which gives the grilled lamb a sweet taste, and a porron—a glass, decanter-like vessel with a spout—sloshing with homemade red wine. In Ambrosio’s telling room, the shutters were thrown open so we could look out over the picturesque village with its palacio and impressive church as we ate and drank. In fact, I’d often look up from the table, tricked by the illusion that I was gazing upon some ever-changing painting on the wall that just happened to be the village of Guzmán itself. (more…)

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I Was a Soda Jerk

July 21st, 2013 · 27 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Cameos, Drinks

We are honored to present a very special guest poster today on DALS — my dad, Steve Ward. As I have noted here before, my dad did not have the deepest (and that’s putting it kindly) repertoire when it came to dinner, but man, could he do a good, no-bake dessert. Sundaes (topped with crushed, roasted peanuts), ice cream sodas (he was partial to ginger ale and vanilla), spoonfuls of Cool Whip straight from the tub (and delivered when my mom wasn’t looking) and, of course, milk shakes. The guy loved a milk shake. His love of them is still evident today, in the collection of vintage blenders and mixers he has on a shelf of honor in his office. We asked him to sing its virtues for Dinner: A Love Story, and he was kind enough to oblige. Here is proof that you’re never too old to start blogging.  – Andy

Hurricane Sandy’s devastation of Bay Head, New Jersey last fall opened a floodgate of packed-away memories for me, stretching back 57 years. It made an old man remember barefoot summers, crabbing, fishing with a bamboo pole for snapper blues, sailing a sneak box with my dad, tossing horseshoes with Gramps and – perhaps most notable of all– my very first paid job as the Milk Shake Man.

For one glorious summer in the early fifties, I led the life of an Archie Comics character, working for 38 cents an hour (plus tips) as a soda jerk behind the lunch counter of a general store on Bay Head’s main drag. It was in this beachside emporium that I learned the dark magic of the chocolate malted milk and the raucous, roaring machines that make them. Even with its meager wages, my job was a match made in heaven. I would have gladly have worked for free, because one stipulation of my employment was that I could consume unlimited malted milks, milk shakes, lime rickeys and other fountain concoctions free of charge.

The malted milk incentive quickly became an integral part of my summer strategy. As a rising high school freshman, I desperately wanted to try out for the football team, but my mother was of the opinion that 135 pound boys do not play football. When pressed, she grudgingly offered to reconsider if I made it to 150. So I embraced the challenge and fired up my battery of blenders. My rule of the thumb was that I would consume one malted milk for every ice cream drink I served a customer. The malted quickly became my signature dish and my blender talents were recognized up and down the beach, especially among the high school girls who stopped by to sit and chat at the counter.

Chocolate malteds were by far the most popular. My favorite, though, was vanilla, which was unusual. Strawberry was rarely ordered and no one ever thought of asking for whipped cream.

In the heyday of my Bay Head bacchanal, I can’t remember ever taking an order for skim milk; I’m not sure if reduced fat ice cream even existed, though I highly doubt it. One of the cardinal rules of healthy eating back then was that every child should consume a quart of whole milk every day – and, hey, that malt was good for you too.

Did I gain weight?  Indeed I did (and I made the football team, too) but I’m not sure my coronary arteries have ever recovered. The Malted Milk Man – along with his wife of 50 years — has cursed the weight and treasured the memories for almost six decades since.  The memories, of course, weigh nothing and they are sweeter than a Zagnut Bar.

An afternoon at the beach, slathered in oil specifically designed to make you burn… body surfing on a leaky air mattress … searching for beach glass… flirting with the girl in the rental next door. Then — baked, burned and exhausted — top it all off with a stroll to the soda fountain for a rich, creamy, icy-cold malted milk created by a real, live soda jerk and poured from the glistening, frosted aluminum tumbler of a laboring Cecilware blender. Summer at the shore.

The Malted Milkshake

One of the (many) great things about a malted milk is than anyone can make one, and you hardly need a recipe. But a true fifties chocolate malted wants whole milk (about a cup), full-strength ice cream (try two generous scoops – don’t lose your nerve), several robust squeezes of chocolate syrup and, of course, 2-3 tablespoons of malted milk  — season to taste.

For those adventuresome enough to “make mine vanilla,” vanilla syrup (Starbucks sells one) works best, but a dash of pure vanilla extract will also get the job done nicely. So: milk, ice cream, vanilla syrup, malted milk.

Chocolate, vanilla (or, if you insist, strawberry): throw it all in a blender*, fire it up, blend until cold and frothy, and prepare to be amazed.

*Author’s note: For the true aficionado, old time blenders are often available at flea markets and antique stores, and most have aluminum cups which tend to frost up enticingly as the malted blends. It’s fun to sample the full fifties experience, but be sure to check the wiring first. They’re good, but not worth-burning-your-house-down-good.

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This Just In: Babies Eat Food

May 1st, 2013 · 35 Comments · Cameos, Dinner, Favorites

I am so happy that Nicholas Day is guest-posting for DALS today. For starters, he has written some of my most favorite family food posts over at Food52. (His yes-we-can-have-sweet-potatoes-for-dinner story comes to mind right away.) Next, he’s feeding a four- and one-year-old, and I love to offer a perspective from the toddler-baby trenches whenever I can, since I can only remember that phase on the most intellectual level. (Who are those strange people in the above photo?) Which brings me to Day’s new book Baby Meets Worlda completely fresh, often hilarious examination of exactly that ephemeral period of infancy. As he writes: “This book solves no problem that has to be solved this instant: if your child is screaming right now I cannot help you. Try the next book over. What this book does do is step back from the problems so they appear in perspective — perspective being that rarest commodity in parenting.” Here, he writes about how that perspective changed the way he approached feeding a baby. It’s a goodie.

When our son Isaiah was a baby, we paid a lot of attention to family dinner: we were careful never to have it. Isaiah ate his premasticated mush early; we ate our toothsome food late. We got to complete our sentences, if we still knew how.

It was because we almost never ate dinner with Isaiah that we decided, someday when he was not yet a year old, that we should eat down and eat together as a family. With impeccable new parent logic, we made Actual Dinner for the occasion. (Leg of lamb: I am not joking.) You know how this ends. At some point during the aborted dinner, I vaguely remember looking at Isaiah and thinking, But this is Special Time! Why are you ruining Special Time?

We went back to not having family dinner.

Isaiah is now four and some. His brother, Samuel, or Mila, is the baby who’s almost a year old. And our life is very different: because Isaiah now always eats with us, we eat early, which means that Mila eats with us too. He doesn’t eat premasticated mush. He eats whatever we eat. (It is never leg of lamb.) We don’t road-test each ingredient first. We don’t even cut it up, really.

This sounds like a disastrous plan. It works brilliantly. We have a solid fifteen minutes of family dinner, before Mila, in some preverbal pagan ritual,  starts systemically slaughtering everything on his tray and disposing of the carcasses over the side.

Every baby is different, and aside from Mila’s blood-lust, we got lucky. But I have learned a few things about eating with small humans that I did not know when Isaiah was a baby, and I wish I had. They are:

1)  Babies eat food.

This fact is curiously hidden in the literature, which always makes babies sound like very complicated consumers of food-like substances. There is talk of introducing new ingredients in stages, and the phasing-in of difficult tastes, and the super food must-haves with mega-antis and hyper-pros.

In response to the literature, I have devised a single rule for making baby food: at all costs, avoid making baby food. Feel free to write it down for handy reference.

My thinking is basically: Making food for everyone else is hard enough. As I have explained to Mila numerous times, just because he’s an infant doesn’t mean he gets to be infantilized.

The best argument for being Very Cautious and Complicated was always the allergy argument. So it helped that since Isaiah was a baby, the American Association of  Pediatrics decided the no-nonsense advice they’d given parents about how to prevent allergies was—and this is a technical medical term—ass-backwards. The old advice, of course, was to postpone introducing potential allergens until later in infancy; the new advice is more or less the opposite. (This month the AAP published a new report about when parents were feeding their babies solid food—and the authors seemed shocked, shocked, that parents were not following the medical advice — waiting until after six months. I am sure the current advice is correct, just as the previous advice was also correct; I am also sure the AAP has forfeited the right to be shocked. The authors were very gently skewered by Perri Klass, a pediatrician herself, in the Times.)

As far as I can tell, the state of the science on allergies is: We’re still figuring it out! We’ll be right with you!

So Mila eats whatever we eat, except when we’re truly desperate and have dinner entirely composed of Isaiah’s leftover Halloween candy. I’m kidding, of course. That rarely happens.

2) Babies eat food the way it looks on your plate.

I was very attentive and semi-paranoid about what I fed Isaiah. For better or worse,  I am neither with Mila. It helped that in between their babyhoods, I wrote a book on the history and science of infancy, Baby Meets World, and I learned that babies have survived a lot worse than not having their broccoli pureed. I am not suggesting we revive any of these ancient (and not so ancient) wrongheaded feeding practices. (Dried cow teats for bottles: probably not those either.) But babies are far more flexible and resilient than we think: they can handle a few chickpeas.

This was a major revelation. Cutting up food into neutrino-sized pieces is a hedge against everything else you will do wrong as a parent: at least, you think, at least I never gave you a whole grape. That’s how I felt about feeding Isaiah: I could control very little about the world, but I could control the size of the pear slices on his plate. And I would!

There was a problem, though: after months of feeding Isaiah specks of solid food, he was not especially skilled at eating food that was larger than speck-size. Back when he was about a year old, I still remember my amazement seeing another baby who put O’s in his mouth and then—wait for it—swallowed the O’s. It felt like a magic trick.

I am not the brightest bulb in the pencil case. But eventually I realized that Isaiah was bad at eating food with texture because we gave him so little of it. By the time Mila arrived, we’d seen a primer on baby-led weaning. It has a complicated name to hide the fact that it is extremely simple: It means you pay less attention to what you feed your baby. You let the baby eat big people food in big people sizes. Yes, he did gag occasionally: The first couple times we were apoplectic. Then we calmed down. He did fine.

I still occasionally puree food for Mila; he eats faster than way. But he mostly eats food he can pick up. And it seems emblematic of parenting today that I needed something that looked like a system—that looked like the new way of feeding babies—in order to give myself permission to do this.

Thanks Nicholas!

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21 Questions for Curtis Stone

April 15th, 2013 · 15 Comments · Cameos, Dinner, Quick, Seafood

Curtis Stone gets it. For starters, every chapter in his new family cookbook What’s For Dinner includes at least one cocktail, including a Blueberry Gin Bramble, a pitcher of White Sangria, and a crazy tempting looking bourbon and ginger-spiked Arnold Palmer.  Then there is the introduction, where the host of Bravo’s Top Chef Masters, who has worked in some of the most high-profile restaurant kitchens in the world, admits that when people ask him what the best thing he’s ever eaten is, he always finds himself replying the same way: “‘My mother used to make…” Stone continues, “Whether it’s chicken pot pie or meat loaf, the dishes we grew up eating, the ones made with love and shared around the dinner table, are the ones we seem to cherish most.” These days, he hopes to do some memory-making for the people sitting around his own family dinner table — his wife Lindsay and 15-month-old son, Hudson. What does that translate to? Korean Tacos, Potato and Bacon Frittata, Spaghetti with Garlic, Kale, and Lemon, quick Chicken and Chorizo Paella, Classic Meatloaf, Homemade Fish and Chips. In other words, family favorites, fresh ingredients, and simple prep — all of which is on display on every page of his beautiful book. To celebrate its publication, Stone was nice enough to participate in “21 Questions” and share one of his favorite go-to weeknight recipes.

My life in three bullet points:

  • Cook
  • Create
  • Celebrate

The kitchen I grew up eating in was… always filled with the smells of home cooked meals.

When I was a child I wanted to be an Australian football player, naturally.

If I was stuck on a desert island, the food I’d make sure to have with me is tacos. They’ve got it all.

A great friend is my mum. I tell her everything.

Secret weapon in the kitchen is a sharp knife. It’s the number one essential.

Turning point in my life was the day I knocked on the door of Marco Pierre White’s Cafe Royal and offered to work for free just for the chance to learn from him.

My ideal breakfast is poached eggs.

My ideal dinner is a backyard barbecue with my best mates.

I stay healthy by… surfing and hiking.

Without my  Google Maps app, I’m lost.

You wouldn’t know it but I am very good at gambling.

You wouldn’t know it but I’m no good at dancing…but it doesn’t stop me.

Until I became a father I had no idea how much sleep I used to get.

My favorite item of clothing: flip flops.

I drive a clean diesel Porsche Cayenne.

My house is my home.

A cookbook that changed me: White Heat, by Marco Pierre White.

A cup of coffee is essential.

Best restaurant meal I’ve had in past 12 months is Attica in Melbourne.

Why this shrimp and asparagus is a keeper: It’s fast, flavourful and incredibly easy to make.

Oven-Roasted Shrimp & Asparagus

Prep Time: 10 minutes; Cook Time: 5 Minutes
From What’s for Dinner, by Curtis Stone

The key to this high-roast cooking technique is to use a large half sheet pan (a rimmed baking sheet measuring 18-by-13) and to spread the ingredients out well so they brown lightly (for caramelized flavor) and don’t steam. See his book for grilling instructions.

1 lemon
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
1 pound medium-thin asparagus, woody ends trimmed
1 pound large (21 to 30 count) shrimp, peeled, tails left on, deveined
1/3 cup shaved Pecorino Romano (optional)

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Grate the zest from the lemon into a small bowl. Squeeze 2 tablespoons of juice from the lemon into the same bowl. Whisk in the shallots, then gradually whisk in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Toss the asparagus with 2 more tablespoons olive oil on a large rimmed baking sheet and season with salt and pepper.

Spread the asparagus on one side of the baking sheet, separating the spears. Roast until they turn a brighter shade of green, about 3 minutes. Meanwhile in a large bowl, toss the shrimp with the remaining olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Remove the pan from the oven and arrange the shrimp on the empty side. Return the oven and roast until the shrimp are almost opaque throughout and the asparagus are crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.

In large bowl, toss the asparagus with enough vinaigrette to coat. Divide the asparagus among four plates and top with the shrimp, drizzling more vinaigrette on top along with a little Pecorino if using. (more…)

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How to Talk to Kids About Healthy Eating

April 8th, 2013 · 20 Comments · Cameos, Kitchenlightenment

Last month, I got an email from reader Robyn:

My son is an amazing, precocious, active kid who has a love for all things sweet.  He has always been on the higher end of the weight range but at this year’s annual visit things were more alarming and I realized that it’s time to start reigning things in.  I am trying to figure out how to have age-appropriate conversations with him about eating healthy. My husband and I have struggled with our weight all our lives and don’t want to pass that along, but it also makes me question my own ability to address the topic with my son appropriately. I’m hoping you may have advice.

This is a great question, one that I’m not in any position to answer expertly, so I thought I’d call upon my friend Dr. Joanna Steinglass, a clinical researcher at Columbia Center for Eating Disorders. CCED focuses their research on eating behavior across the spectrum, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating, pediatric and adult obesity and Joanna was nice enough to join us today to address Robyn’s question as well as a few others.

DALS: Welcome Joanna! Let’s start with some elementals. Say you have a new baby — a complete blank slate. What’s the ideal way to talk about food with this child from the start? What is the blueprint for fostering a healthy relationship with food and body image?

JS: First, there is no one “ideal” and no specific blueprint, so take a deep breath and relax. There are lots of ways to raise a healthy kid. It’s also important to remember that your baby is not really a blank slate and will bring his or her own temperament and personality, which will be a factor in how you go about nurturing a healthy relationship with food and body. Having said that, there are some core concepts that may be helpful. You can tell them “People come in all shapes and sizes. No one shape or size is better than another.” There is a nice children’s book called, Shapesville by Andy Mills and Becky Osborn that illustrates this point for kids in the 2 to 5 range. It’s also important that parents set an example for kids in the way they treat other people. If your kids learn that you don’t judge others based on their size, they’ll be more likely to internalize that. It’s worth making this point out loud whenever the opportunity arises by saying things like, “People can be healthy at any size” or “I like people in lots of different shapes and sizes.”

DALS: What if you have a kid who has gotten into some bad eating habits and you want to re-route him. How do you talk to him or her about this without making him/her feel bad about himself/herself?

JS: Focus on health not weight. And emphasize function over form. Remind your son that a healthy body is what allows you to do all that you do in the world. Think of something your child likes to do – whether that is a sport or otherwise – and point out how it’s his body that does that. If your child is an athlete, he or she probably gets a lot of reinforcement for this idea. But even if what your child most likes to do is to sit quietly and read or draw, you can reinforce the concept. You can say, “Your body is what allows you to do [fill in your child’s favorite activity]” to foster your child feeling good about his body’s capability. (more…)

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Easter Ham, Lee Bros. Style

March 22nd, 2013 · 8 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Cameos

There are a few boxes that have to be checked upon my family’s arrival at Andy’s parents’ beach house outside Charleston, South Carolina, and only when those boxes are checked do I feel like vacation has officially begun: I have to dig out my faded, 20-year-old floppy sunhat from the closet; I have to make sure there is vodka in the freezer, and I have to page through The Lee Bros Southern Cookbook to see what south-of-the-Mason-Dixon-Line specialty might grace our table that week. (Hoppin John? Sweet Potato Buttermilk Pie? Butter Bean Pate? ) You’ve likely heard of the book which  won every award there is to win in this business. It seemed like it would be the only cookbook we’d ever need in our South Carolina kitchen — until now. This month Matt Lee and Ted Lee have published The Lee Bros Charleston Kitchen. In it, the brothers drill down deep on personal and culinary histories the city that is garnering some major ink for its rock star food scene, and the city where Matt and Ted grew up. The book also, of course, contains 100 extremely special recipes. Here, Ted, one half of the team (the half that I happened to go to college with) was nice enough to share one of those recipes with the DALS community: A fresh ham for Easter. –Jenny

There’s so much talk of pork in the South these days, particularly concerning parts long considered “low-on-the-hog” that are now fashionable in restaurants: bellies, ears, trotters. These can be delicious, certainly, but here’s the challenge: you’ve got 14 people coming over for a festive Easter party. There’ll be kids, grandparents, your squeamish sister-in-law. Are you going to rock some pig’s feet? Serve hunks of quivery pork belly? Pig-ear sliders?


Let restaurants mess with the odd bits. For home cooks like us, few cuts of pork yield more deliciousness, more bang for the buck—and frankly more majesty!—than the gargantuan roast fresh ham, with its burnished cape of crisp fat and pork with the variety of doneness you need for a big party—well-done white meat, pink slices for the medium-rare crowd, and darker bits from the shank for those who like to snack.

In Charleston, where we grew up, pork of any kind was relatively scarce on dinner tables until late in the 20th century. A cured country ham might be brought back from the mountains of North Carolina (where pork was more common) on a rare occasion, but according to many Charlestonians we’ve interviewed over the years, the love for pork chops is a post-Vietnam-era thing.

The “fresh” in fresh ham simply means it’s uncured, and we’re fortunate to be able to find fresh hams in meat markets of quality (If you shop at a supermarket, you’ll be able to get fresh hams, but usually only by special order). They’ve been crucial to our eating lives in lean years (in the banker’s not the butcher’s sense of the word), and they’re so easy to make. You just cut off the skin, preserving the layer of fat, which you then score and which will render and baste the meat as the ham roasts (Your butcher can skin and score the ham for you to save time). Then you pat the ham all over with a simple seasoning blend—use your favorite; ours is a mix of thyme, rosemary, salt and black pepper. Then you roast, basting every hour, for about 3 1/2 hours (depending on the size of the ham). You’ll need to calculate resting time into your serving plans, but take care to watch over the ham as it rests—it is nigh impossible for anyone in the kitchen to resist picking off bits of crispy fat. (more…)

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How to Read a Label

February 26th, 2013 · 36 Comments · Cameos, Kitchenlightenment, Posts by Andy, Uncategorized

If you’ve picked up a newspaper in the past decade, you might be aware of a few basic strategies for shopping smarter in the grocery store. Most of us, for instance, likely know that:

♦ It’s wise to stick to the perimeter of the store — produce, dairy, meat — where the fresh products are sold. (Interior aisles are filled, floor-to-ceiling, with processed foods.)

♦ Everything is positioned where it is for a reason — i.e., the most alluring items didn’t end up directly in your line of vision (and, more diabolically, your kids’ line of vision) by accident. To find the healthy stuff, you need to look up high and down low. (To see what we mean, check out the photo above.)

♦ It pays to read the label. I know that a quick scan of the nutrition facts panel will give me a sense of when something is high in fat or calories. And thanks to recent campaigns waged largely by enraged parents, I know to avoid trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, horse meat, pink slime, etc. I also know that it’s not a good sign when an ingredient list is so long, you need a magnifying glass to read it. (Unless it’s a birthday party or a barbecue; in our house, it’s never a birthday or a barbecue without the Reddi Whip or some S’Mores made from Hershey bars.)

But what I didn’t know until I had the opportunity to work with Michael Moss on his book, Salt Sugar Fat, was the degree to which processed food companies have formulated their products to not only get us to eat them, but to eat more and more of them. I didn’t know about the “bliss point,” or “mouthfeel,” or the high-stakes race for “stomach share.” I didn’t know that sodium was not the same thing as salt. I didn’t know that the average American now eats 33 pounds of cheese a year, that the most die-hard Coke drinkers — known within Coca-Cola as “heavy users” — drink up to 1,000 cans a year, or that the processed food industry accounts for $1 trillion dollars a year. Michael is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, and it shows: If you’re interested in the inside story of how the food giants have hooked a nation, if you believe that knowledge is power, if you want to know the marketing strategies that are behind those “convenient” items so many of us are feeding our children, this book might be a life-changer — or at the very least, a family dinner-changer. (You may have seen Moss’s book excerpted in The New York Times Magazine last Sunday.) We asked Michael to annotate the labels of a few of the country’s most popular, kid-friendly supermarket items to illustrate just how bad it is, and what we’re up against. He was kind enough to oblige. – Andy

  1. Hot Pockets is owned by Nestle, the Swiss-based food giant. In 2002, it paid $2.6 billion for this microwavable snack, and now counts it among its “billionaire brands” — with annual sales in excesses of $1,000,000,000.
  2. At a mere 4.5 ounces per sandwich, who wouldn’t be tempted to eat them both? But doing so could get you up to 12 grams of saturated fat (3/4 of a day’s max for most adults), 1,180 milligrams sodium (more than 2/3 of a day’s max), 5 teaspoons of sugar, and 700 calories.
  3. No trans fats? Well, yes, thanks largely to the fierce pressure consumers put on the manufacturers when the deleterious health effects of these fats became more widely known. But beware of any brag like this on the front of processed food labels. The fine print on the back usually reveals a host of items just as problematic for one’s health.


  1. Nutrition advocates have a simple rule of thumb when it comes to ingredients: avoid anything you can’t pronounce. Laden with chemical preservatives, emulsions and conditioners, this would not be a label for them. (Seriously, try counting the number of ingredients in there — if you can even read the microscopic type.)
  2. This label is actually a fascinating study on food processing. Consider the chicken alone, represented here as both “ground and formed,” whatever that means. And note the numerous mentions of salt, sugar, and cheese, including imitation.

  1. The FDA bears responsibility for failing to update its serving sizes, which grossly underestimates the power of salt/sugar/fat-heavy processed foods to compel overeating. But the food giants reap the benefit. A “serving” of these gushers weighs less than an ounce, which helps keep the numbers in the nutrition facts panel from looking too scary – 3 teaspoons of sugar per tiny pouch, versus 17 teaspoons per box. The problem is, lots of kids can’t stop at one pouch.
  2. First launched by General Mills, these “fruit” snacks have exploded in popularity and now have their own stretch of the grocery store, a million miles from the real fruit aisle. The reason for the growth: a huge, fruit-centered marketing ploy is driving sales. These sugar-bombs convey the illusion of health.
  3. Real Fruit? Not really. In truth, real processed fruit. Companies add these fruit derivatives to foods and drinks, sometimes in miniscule amounts, which allows them to splash the word fruit on the front of the label.

  1. Is table sugar worse than corn syrup? Nutritionists say they are indistinguishable, bearing the same number of empty calories.
  2. Pears and grapes are the most commonly used fruits in processed foods because they are cheapest to buy. The processing typically “strips” them of the fiber and the filling water that makes fresh fruit so wholesome. The result is just another form of sugar (often known as fruit sugar or stripped fruit).
  3. In this small of an amount, partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil likely has negligible effects on your health. But nutritionists say there are far better choices to look for, like canola.

  1. Each year, the dairy industry spends tens of millions of dollars trying to get Americans to eat more cheese through a marketing scheme overseen by none other than the USDA, and it’s a boon for the food giants. Average consumption has tripled to 33 pounds a person a year, thanks to new products like this all over the grocery store that use cheese as an alluring, fattening ingredient. Cheese used to be something we ate on occasion, when friends were over, before dinner. Now it’s in everything.
  2. The more cheese, the better: it’s an industry mantra. And companies are vying to outdo one another with the types of cheese they can pack into one can or box.

  1. With more than half of the calories coming from fat, it’s no surprise that oil is the largest ingredient after potatoes. Companies use these four oils — corn, cottonseed, soybean, and sunflower — and others interchangeably, depending on market supply and cost. Oil and fat are what give processed foods their sought-after “mouthfeel,” as industry types call it, which is a crucial part of a product’s allure.
  2. These Pringles have moderate loads for salty snacks… if you stick to a single, one-ounce serving. But let your child eat the whole can over two days, and they’ll get more than a full day’s max of saturated fat, two-thirds a day’s sodium, and a teaspoon of sugar thrown in for good measure. (Not to mention 2,000 calories.)
  3. People trying to limit their sodium have a lot to worry about when it comes to processed foods. These Pringles have four sodium compounds, including MSG, along with salt (added by itself and in each of the four cheeses).

Tune in to Fresh Air today, Tuesday, February 26, to hear Michael Moss talk more about Salt, Sugar, Fat

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Let’s Talk About Bullying

February 19th, 2013 · 15 Comments · Cameos, Domestic Affairs, Posts by Andy, Uncategorized

I first met with Emily Bazelon to discuss the idea that became her book, Sticks and Stones, two and a half years ago, when my kids were six and eight. As we sat in a conference room and talked, I remember two things going through my mind: (a) Wow, this person is way more smarter than I am, so please let me get through this meeting without humiliating myself, and (b) the topic of bullying is fascinating, complex, and (dreaded word) important, but God, am I glad my kids are still too young to be dealing with it. Much has changed in those two and half years. Mainly, our kids went ahead and got older. They’re 9 and 11 now, and while they enjoy school and — knock on wood — have yet to experience the problems that Emily explores in her new book, the social dynamics, not to mention the world they’re living in, are growing ever-more complicated. I didn’t know it then, but this book – and the lessons to be taken from it, from the danger of the rush to judgment to the absolute importance of empathy – has been a fertile and valuable source of conversation at our dinner table. It has helped Jenny and me talk about these issues, while sounding like we know what we’re talking about. And that’s all thanks to Emily. Emily is an incredibly reassuring presence, somebody who actually bothers to do the research before opining. She’s an editor at Slate, a beloved fixture of their political Gabfest, a contributor to The New York Times Magazine, and – see point (a) above – a fellow at Yale Law School. Knowing that we have a lot of parents who read this site, Jenny and I thought it might be helpful to have Emily answer a few of our more pressing questions. – Andy

What’s step number one if my kid is being bullied at school? 

First, make sure you have all the facts. Sometimes an accusation of bullying can seem straightforward, but then turns out to be more multidimensional once you understand the full context. Your job, of course, is to support your child. Sometimes it will be clear that he or she is the victim and needs your protection. Other times, however, you will learn that she is caught up in “drama” and has played an active role, rather than being simply at the mercy of bullies. Job number one, then, is to make sure that you have as thorough an understanding of the situation as possible. It’s important to protect your child but it’s also important not to cry wolf. If what’s happening really is bullying, the more specific examples you can cite, the better for making your case.

Even legitimate complaints can boomerang in bad ways if not carefully framed. If school officials are not responding the way you think they should, you may have to keep pushing by going up the chain of command. But remember: school officials are people, too, with a heaping plate of responsibilities and limited time, and the more you respect the role they play, the more likely they will be to sympathize. What I mean is, give them the benefit of the doubt and save the frontal attack for when you feel you have no other choice.

A lot of bullying doesn’t happen at school these days, though, right? So what do I do if my kid is being bullied on line?

You can ask a social network site to take down any content that violates its rules, as many harassing posts clearly do. At Facebook, for example: When the target of an abusive post reports it himself, they will generally take his word for it. So your child should report the abuse immediately. You should also keep a record of the cruel content—even if it’s painful and you just feel like deleting it forever. It’s almost never a good idea to reply to a harassing post. If your child is having continuing trouble, I’d advise taking a break from social networking for a while (though I know that can be a hard sell!). Kids can always go back on when things have calmed down. Finally, police have the authority to address cyberbullying under the harassment laws of most states. But calling in the cops should be a thought-through decision rather than a knee-jerk reaction because it often triggers a response that’s more heavy-handed than called for.

A possibly stupid question, but: What’s the difference between general meanness between kids and true bullying — and is this a distinction that matters?

There is a difference and it does matter. Yes, absolutely. The best definition of bullying, which psychologists who do research use, is verbal or physical aggression that occurs repeatedly and involves a power differential—one (more…)

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We Knew Him When

January 6th, 2013 · 7 Comments · Cameos, Children's Books, Gifts, Culture

If you didn’t believe Andy (and MacArthur) when he said George Saunders was a genius, maybe you can believe today’s COVER OF THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE that has declared Tenth of December “the best book you will read this year.” In honor of the Saunders coronation, we wanted to point you towards last year’s DALS guest-post where Saunders weighed in on his favorite kid books of all time.  The post still, to this day, is one of the most popular in our three-year history, and still, to this day, makes us cry when we read it.

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The Family Recipe Contract

December 10th, 2012 · 8 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Cameos, Chicken and Turkey, Rituals

Once I was half way through Alex Witchel’s All Gone: A Memoir of My Mother’s Dementia. With Refreshments I stopped underlining passages and moments that I wanted to remember. There were just too many. Witchel’s mother, a college professor and one of the few working moms in their 1960s suburban New Jersey neighborhood, cooked more out of obligation than joy (“Del Montes was her farmer’s market. Everything was in season, and syrup, all the time.”) but it didn’t matter. The aromas of her mom’s cooking signaled a “safe harbor” for Witchel and once she began losing her bright, spirited mother to dementia, she looked to the kitchen to reclaim her. As Witchel asks, “Is there any contract tighter than a family recipe?” We are lucky to have Witchel, a longtime repoter at The New York Times, guest-post for us today about Hanukkah memories with her mother. – Jenny

When I was growing up, I realized early that Hanukkah was a raw deal. No tree, no stocking, no cookies, no carols – and school was open, at least every weekday. Eight nights of presents were little consolation. The first and last nights were for the good ones like Candyland, or the plush, cuddly stuffed animal I had spent weeks coveting. The nights in between fizzled with unloved items like Pez dispensers or calendars for the coming year emblazoned with the name of my parents’ bank. The Hanukkah gelt, those gold foil-wrapped chocolate coins were okay, though they never lasted long enough to make much of an impression. Certainly not as long as that spinning dreydl which was such a bore it made jacks seem like an Olympic sport.

Yes, we always had latkes and they were always great. It’s hard to fry potatoes and lose.

Dinner on the first festive night was built around them; my mom usually made her brisket, which for me was the side dish to the latkes.

By the last night of Hanukkah, after a full week surveying our long faces, she rallied. Now there was sufficient distance from Thanksgiving, so she (more…)

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10 Laws of Thanksgiving Dinner

November 5th, 2012 · 31 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Cameos, Thanksgiving

This has already been quite a month for Sam Sifton. In addition to being the national editor of The New York Times – and helping run the paper’s coverage of Hurricane Sandy, and the presidential election, and whatever other ever-changing, constantly-unfolding news story that pops up in the meantime – he is also a food columnist for the Sunday Magazine, the newspaper’s former restaurant critic, a recovered short-order cook, a husband, a father of two young girls… and, luckily for us, the author of a just-published book, Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well. Full disclosure: I had the pleasure of editing this book, which means I had the pleasure of reading it several times and, best of all, cooking from it last year, as it was taking shape. Jenny and I love this book (in Jenny’s words – and you can trust her on this stuff – “This feels like the only Thanksgiving book I’ll ever need.”). We love the simplicity of it (130 pages, 50 traditional recipes), the authority of it (do this, not that), the timelessness of it (real cornbread stuffing, butternut squash with sage). It’s so beautifully written, too. If I lived in Glasgow, had never laid eyes on a turkey, and cared not two whits about Thanksgiving, I could pick this up and enjoy myself. Most of all, we love the message buried within: Thanksgiving does not have to be a source of stress. We should cherish it, and aim to make it great. There aren’t many national secular holidays, after all, so let’s get a big group together and dig in, American-style. In Sam’s honor, DALS hereby dedicates this week to his book, beginning here with ten inviolable rules for the big day. We’ll follow it with more advice and a recipe or two, so stay tuned. And give thanks! – Andy

10 Laws of Thanksgiving Dinner
by Sam Sifton

1. Let me speak plainly: you are going to need a lot of butter. Thanksgiving is not a day for diets, or for worrying about your cholesterol. It is a day on which we celebrate the delicious. And there is precious little on a Thanksgiving menu that is not made more delicious by butter. (Note: It should be unsalted butter. There is something magical about a piece of toast with salted butter. But for Thanksgiving, you want the unsalted variety, so that it is you, and not the butter maker, who is in control of the saltiness of your cooking. Figure at least two pounds for the day.)

2. Thanksgiving is a holiday that anchors itself in tradition. Which means: You should make turkey. Turkey is why you are here.

3. I’ll risk starting a brushfire by saying with great confidence that the two most important factors in any credible Thanksgiving feast are the cranberry sauce and the gravy. Debate that all you like. But they tie every element on the plate together, acting as frame and foundation alike. Cranberry sauce only enhances what is already excellent, and good gravy can cure almost any Thanksgiving ill.

4. You can make mashed potatoes lumpy with a fork or a masher device, or smooth with a food mill or stand mixer. And of course you can make them without peeling the potatoes, if your scrub the skins well. This makes for an attractive, rustic-looking dish. Indeed, the only trouble that should ever present itself when the subject comes to mashed potatoes and Thanksgiving is should someone demand that garlic or basil be added to the mix. Your response to this heresy should be brief and unequivocal: No. There is no place in the holiday for a mixture of garlic and potatoes, much less basil and potatoes. The flavors clash with the turkey and other sides. No.

5. Start serving drinks the minutes your guests arrive, no matter the hour. Thanksgiving is not a time to judge.

6. When hosting, do not be afraid to delegate.

7. Dessert need not be extravagant. It absolutely should not be experimental or overly cute. It must not involve individual tartlets or parfaits, nor marshmallows in any form. Save the chocolate for nights of depression and anxiety. Instead, focus on the proper execution of the American classics: apple pie, for instance, with a mound of whipped cream, or pumpkin pie with same. These represent Thanksgiving’s highest achievement. They are an explanation of American exceptionalism, in pastry form.

8. There is no “right” wine for Thanksgiving, no must-have grape or vintage, cocktail or spirit. Nor is there a “wrong” one, though I’d stay away from the low-end fortified stuff unless you are in a boxcar, hurtling west. What you want is a variety of grapes and vintages. Encourage guests to bring wines that interest them, wines that they would like others to try. Additionally, lay in some specialty items: beer for your uncle who only drinks Bud; nonalcoholic sparkling cider for the children; and plenty of Diet Cokes and ashtrays for those who no longer drink.

9. If you find yourself as a guest at someone else’s Thanksgiving, there is no finer gift to bring than a pie and a bottle of brown liquor.

10. As everyone takes a seat and prepares to eat, there is the delicate moment where you or someone at the table should ask for everyone’s attention, and offer thanks to one and all for being present, and for helping out. This is extraordinarily important. It is the point of the entire exercise. William Jennings Bryan wrote, “On Thanksgiving Day, we acknowledge our dependence.” I think that’s just about right.

Illustrations by Sarah Rutherford.


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How to Nurture Talent (Without Being a Psycho Parent)

September 10th, 2012 · 19 Comments · Cameos, Kitchenlightenment, Posts by Andy, Uncategorized

There’s a certain kind of writer that brings an inordinate amout of joy to an editor’s life. They’re a rare and beautiful species. I call them “total pros,” and they share four essential characteristics: (1) They do the work, by which I mean they go out and perform the (sometimes tedious, sometimes unpleasant) job of reporting, making the calls and reading the studies and boarding the flights and prepping for the interviews and transcribing the tapes; (2) They are able to take all that reporting, digest it, organize it, and then turn that vast swamp of ideas and information into a neatly-tended, clear and thoughtful draft; (3) They then take the editor’s inevitable, annoying notes on that draft, and perform the brutal task of opening that file up again and diving back into their story, pulling it apart and reworking it, turning it into something that is even better than the original, where every sentence is worried-over and cared-for; and (4) They are nice people. 

Dan Coyle is a total pro.

Five years ago, Dan started visiting “talent hotbeds” all over the world to do research for a book called The Talent Code, which was published in 2009. He visited a tennis academy in Moscow that was turning out a scary number of Top 20 players, a music school in the Adirondacks where kids were absorbing a year’s worth of lessons in two months, an inner-city charter school whose kids were suddenly making a habit of acing the state tests, and so on. Along the way, and with help from leading neuroscientists and psychologists, Dan produced an inspiring exploration of how talent works, and how it can be nurtured. Now, three years later, he has published an elegant companion guide to that project called The Little Book of Talent. (You know Michael Pollan’s book, Food Rules? Picture that, but instead of telling you how to eat, this is a little workbook that tells you how to get better at stuff.) Inside are 52 simple rules that parents and kids can use to improve their skills in music, sports, art, writing, or school. It’s The Talent Code, distilled. (It has also been sitting on The New York Times bestseller list for the past two weeks, so big ups to Dan, who is undoubtedly spawning a new generation of Yo-Yo Mas and Agassis.) There’s a solid foundation of science and research underlying these rules, but Abby and Phoebe have both read it, and they didn’t have any trouble at all taking it in. We’ve also given it to our kids’ soccer coaches and our music teachers, so beware: you’re up next. Dan was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to share a few of those rules with us here. If you have any doubt re. their efficacy, check out this video of Dan putting them into action, which I’ve watched like twenty times. Like I said: a total pro.

PS: Dan has actually published two books in the last two weeks. The other is The Secret Race, which he wrote with Tyler Hamilton and which, if you are at all interested in the sport of cycling, is a must-read. This one has been blowin’ UP on the internets!  – Andy


I am not the first to point this out, but let me say it anyway: when it comes to nurturing our kids’ talents, today’s parents today have it tough. Not because we know too little, but because we know too much. Way, way too much.

Nurturing talent used to be a fairly simple process, because it was mostly passive. Parents sat back and waited for the talent to show itself.

Now, parental talent-nurturing is an official industry, like organic food. Soccer, violin, chess, math, art — they all provide us with nicely constructed funnels down which we can pour endless amounts of money and time as we try to help our kids become their best selves. Tiger Mothers and Fathers stalk the landscape, carrying their superstar cubs in their mouths. Science has given us terrifyingly concrete concepts, like Critical Learning Periods, where if your kid doesn’t learn something by age X, the door of opportunity slams shut — forever!  Being a parent has gone from feeling like a laid-back observer to feeling like a frantic gardener, racing around, trying to find the best way to help talent grow.

All of which creates a question: what’s the best way to navigate this new world?

I’ve spent the last five years visiting and studying talent hotbeds, and also being the dad of four kids (10-17). So over the last few years my wife Jen and I have done our best to navigate this, and have come up with a simple list of rules that have helped us around your house, a few of which I’d like to share.

Don’t: Praise kids for their abilities.

Do: Praise kids for their efforts.

Why: When you praise kids for their abilities, you diminish their willingness to take risk — after all, we’re status-oriented creatures, and why would anyone who’s been labeled “talented” risk their status?

When you praise kids for their efforts, on the other hand, you increase their willingness to take risk, to fail, and thus to learn. One useful phrase to use in praising kids is to say well done. It conveys appreciation, without calling anybody a genius.

Don’t: Fall for the Prodigy Myth.

Do: Reframe struggle as positive.

Why: Yes, different kids learn at different rates. Yes, some kids take off like rockets; others linger in the belly of the bell curve. The thing to remember: this isn’t a sprint.The majority of prodigies flame out, and the majority of successful people come from the anonymous ranks of average Joes and Josephines.

What helps is to understand that the moments of intense struggle are really the moments when learning happens fastest. Those moments aren’t pretty — it’s when a kid is reaching toward something new and missing — but they’re fantastically productive because it’s when the brain is making and honing new connections. Your job is to find ways to celebrate those moments of struggle.

Don’t: Pay attention to what you kid says

Do: Pay attention to what your kid stares at.

Why: Let’s do this one in the form of a scene, in which a kid returns from first soccer/piano/karate practice.

PARENT: So how was it? How did it go? Did you like your teacher? What did you do?

KID: Ummmmm.

PARENT: Was it fun? Were you good at it? Do you think you’ll do it next week?

KID: Ummmmm.

The point is, most kids are reliably inept at expressing their inner feelings. So don’t put pressure on them to express them, because it tends to speedily diminish whatever interest they might’ve felt.

Instead, pay attention to what they stare at. Staring is the most profound act of communication that kids perform. Staring is like a neon sign saying I LOVE THIS. Watch for the stare, and follow where it leads. One of our daughters got interested in violin because we went to a performance of a teenage bluegrass band. She stared. We didn’t say much. We bought her a violin, and took her to a lesson, and she was into it. That was five years ago; she’s still playing.

Don’t: Seek a coach or teacher who’s like a courteous waiter.

Do: Seek coaches and teachers who scare you a little.

Why: It’s easy to confuse pleasure and comfort with actual learning. But truly good coaches and teachers are about challenging you to get to the edge of your abilities, time and time again. Seek out coaches who are authoritative. Who know their stuff, and who take charge. A little scary is good.

Don’t: Celebrate victories.

Do: Celebrate repetition.

Why: Too many kids (and parents) judge their progress by the scoreboard, instead of by the amount they’ve learned. Victories are their own reward. They do not need any extra emphasis.

Celebrating repetition, on the other hand, is not done often enough, because repetition has a bad reputation. We frequently connote it with drudgery. In fact, repetition is awesome. It’s the single most powerful way the brain builds new skill circuits. So make it cool. Doing a hard task ten times in a row is great. Doing it a hundred times in a row is freaking heroic. So treat it that way.

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