Closing the Book

Something momentous has happened in the past month and I haven’t even let you in on it. Not because I’ve been keeping it a secret, but because I just didn’t know how to tell you. And also, I wasn’t exactly sure how to deal with it myself.

In truth, the story begins a little over a year ago, on my birthday, April 2012. At the usual celebratory breakfast, there were a few gifts scattered on the table and Abby, the self-appointed VP and Director of Birthday Events in our house, chose the order in which I’d be unwrapping. There was a small box that looked like jewelry (#1); a medium box (#2) that, I’d eventually find out, held a dove-shaped candy dish (both girls know that I’m a sucker for anything bird-related); and a tablet-sized box, wrapped in leftover snowflake-print holiday paper.

“This is last,” Abby said. “It’s the best one.” She looked conspiratorially at her father.

Hmmm,” I said shaking it. “What could it be?” I like to take my time unwrapping, because I know it drives the girls crazy.


The paper came off fast to reveal a crimson box. In gold across the middle, it read “Liberty of London.”

Hmmmmm….I like where this is going”


Inside was a blank notebook with a midnight-navy leather cover, embossed with ornate vines and leaves. “Holy cow!” I said. “It’s so beautiful.” The only thing I like more than birds is a blank notebook. “Thanks!”

“It’s your next dinner diary,” Andy said. My first dinner diary, as you likely know by now, chronicles fifteen years’ of dinners. It, too, was a gift from Andy, though he didn’t know what it would become when he bought it for me a few months after we got married.

The only way I know how to explain what happened next is by using this phrase we often deploy in my house: Emotional Lockdown. It describes the phenomenon of shutting down what you are feeling in order to get through what you’re feeling without completely breaking apart inside. One might say I’ve been in a state of perpetual Emotional Lockdown all June-long, in anticipation of my eldest graduating from her storybook sweet elementary school next week. Sometimes, the passage of time, the change of an era, is just too much for me to bear.

“So who wants more pancakes?” I said to no one in particular, locking away both the journal and the heartburn back where they belonged. In a box, out of sight.

Andy stared at me, incredulous.

“That’s it!???” he said. “I thought I knocked that one out of the park! You’re almost done with your dinner diary. You need a new one!”

“I like it! Who said I didn’t like it?!?”

“So then what was that reaction?”

“Well. I’m not done with the first diary yet. It’s hard to think about a new one right now.”

“Wow,” Andy said. “That is dark. I’m just sticking to birds next time.” He got up and cleared the girls’ syrup-smeared breakfast plates.

I wasn’t lying. I did like the book. (How could I not? It was freaking gorgeous.) I just didn’t like what it stood for. And the original diary still had a dozen pages left, which roughly translated to one more year of dinner recording. Another year for me to think about all that had transpired since I cracked the spine on it fifteen years ago. Another year for me to decide whether or not I even wanted to start a new diary, now that I am coming to terms with the fact that these eras don’t go on forever. They have last pages. They have graduations. They wrap themselves in white towels instead of the ones with hoodies that have floppy puppy ears. They tell you to dismantle the dollhouse and store it in the basement, next to the box with the words “crib bedding” scribbled across the top in black Sharpie.

Periodically since my birthday, Andy would wander into my office where the Liberty journal lived, tucked away on a shelf, pick it up, and shake his head. “I will never understand your reaction to this.”

Easy, I thought. I was in lockdown, not willing to close the book on the era that began on February 22, 1998 with Andy’s childhood recipe for Chicken Cacciatore, and ended on May 12, 2013, with a Mother’s Day dinner at my sister’s house, where both my siblings, both my parents, my brother-in-law, his parents, and six cousins raised milks and Chardonnays to the first beautiful spring evening of the season. In between those two meals were holiday charcuterie spreads for old high school friends; beef stews and baked pastas for new work friends; Fourth of July barbecues on our Brooklyn rooftop, where we watched millennium fireworks light up downtown Manhattan and the Twin Towers; tortilla pies and lasagnas for college roommates who had their first babies; a grilled soy-limey swordfish for a couple we knew in our hearts to be soul mates, but who would break up five years and two kids later; many million Mark Bittman recipes (especially this one) that pretty much defined the era; spaghetti and meatballs for the Seinfeld finale, pasta with yogurt and caramelized onions for the Palin-Biden debate; breakfast burritos for American Idol every Thursday in the spring of 2011; coq au vin for the first dinner we cooked as new parents; grilled turkey dogs for our first dinner in our first ever apartment that came with a mortgage; take-out pizza with my entire family on the night we moved to our suburban Dutch Colonial (me=seven months pregnant, me=ravenous); mail-order ribs for end-of-the-school-year “bus stop parties;” Grimaldi’s pizza and Junior’s cheesecake for Andy’s Brooklyn-themed 30th birthday party; Andy-made paella, with homemade aioli, for my 30th birthday party; more than fifty birthday cakes for over fifty birthday celebrations; freezer dinners that helped two working parents survive two kids under two; four long-table, champagne-filled dinners from Phoenix to Kiawah Island to New York to Larchmont, celebrating each of our four parents hitting 70; dinners spent mourning the loss of two special uncles; Bugiali’s Minestrone; Marcella Hazan’s Bolognese; Nobu’s Miso-glazed Cod; Jim Lahey’s pizza; David Chang’s Brussels Sprouts; Andy Ricker’s Pad Thai; Fish cakes! My God did we eat a lot of fish cakes! Easter Hams every spring at our daughters’ great-grandmother’s house, until 2008, when she died at age 93; Passover briskets for seders presided over by my father, who once cried at the table remembering his father presiding over his childhood seders; the relentless — the blessedly relentless — roll-out of stir-fries and burgers and pizzas and baked potatoes and pork chops and Grandma Jody’s chicken at our family dinner table night after night after night.

When I think too much about all that happens around that dinner table, it’s hard to know what to do next.

“I’m going to be 57 when I finish the next diary,” I told Andy finally. Adding, as usual, God willing. “And Phoebe is going to be 26, which is how old I was when I got engaged.”

Upon hearing that, Andy — who, I might add, looked like he was in physical pain flipping through Phoebe’s elementary school yearbook the other night — started showing telltale signs of impending lockdown himself. The hand went up and his head turned away. “Stop. Stop,” he said. “Just start writing, would you?”

So here we go.

 Page One: Abby snapped the above photo to record my first entry: Cobb Salad.

My New Diary. I’ve been keeping this one for almost a month, but it still feels like I’m cheating on someone when I log in a meal.

Old Diary, Page One. Some of these recipes are still in the rotation: Curried Chicken with ApplesChicken Pot PieScalloped Potatoes. And, now that I think about it, some of the recipes that have dropped from the rotation, are probably due for a comeback. (Next up: Amatriciana sauce!)

Old Diary, Last Page. After fifteen years, the original diary has completely ripped from its binding. These are the last two pages. On the left are ideas I scribbled three years ago — ideas I thought would make good posts for a blog I thought I might start one day.

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Wow! What a beautiful post. The paragraph about Phoebe being 26 and you being 57 made me cry. My daughter graduates elementary school this month too and it is such a bittersweet time. The push and pull between little girl and young woman is just too hard to bear sometimes. She still sleeps with her stuffed animals but just this weekend she snuck into my makeup drawer and applied mascara to her already long and beautiful eyelashes. How does the time simply seem to vanish and the ones we love so dearly grow up right in front of our eyes? Thank you for this post. Marking the passing of time makes family dinners take on a whole new level of importance.

Ceri Marsh

You scared me for a minute there! I thought I was going to click on this post and read that you were – gasp – giving up on keeping a dinner diary. Glad to hear I don’t need to go into Emotional Lockdown! Phew.


Oh my goodness, when I saw the title of this post, my heart leapt! I thought you were closing the book on the blog…forever! You have been my inspiration to recently start blogging and chronicling my own dinners in a journal that now goes with me everywhere I go, and I am so inspired by your journey and passion. Thank you for sharing such heartfelt, intimate moments.


This post was almost too much for a pregnant lady! What a beautiful gift and a beautiful testament to family and time marching on. My daughter is 18 months and I can’t quite wrap my head around the future. I hope this book is full of celebrations too. Thanks for sharing your life with us. It might seem normal to you, but it is motivational to us.


What a beautiful post. I can so relate to what you are saying here. I had one graduate from 8th grade this year, and the other will graduate from high school next year. Emotional lockdown big time. Food memories flying everywhere. Thank you for your honesty and sharing….


AG! I read this thinking you were done logging/planning your dinners altogether! Glad you’re still game. . .


I had a mild panic attack when I read the title of this post, even going so far as to quickly scroll to the end to make sure this wasn’t a swan song post.

Keep cheating on that old diary for America’s sake, we need your inspiration and your willingness to chronicle your family dinners. I
made your lazy bolognese last night and my 3 year old said, “This is my favoritist dinner ever because it has meat AND pasta.”


I just stumbled across your sight and had to thank you for Dinner Diary. I keep a notebook of my (successful) creations, and I have a white board that I plan dinner for the week on, but I LOVE the idea of journaling meals. Eating and food is such a central part of our family life, probably because I love caring for my family in that way (very primal, isn’t it?) and I enjoy cooking. I can’t believe I have never thought of this! Thank you so much for sharing!


Reading this I went through a rapid cycle of emotions… Eagerness and thoughts of “what a great idea!” Quickly followed by “My youngest is 14, would I even likely finish a journal in my lifetime?”
It’s funny how, as a wife pre-motherhood- it seems like a romantic notion. As a wife post-empty nest, it just kind of seems sad…


I’m really wishing I’d put on waterproof mascara before opening this. We are in the middle of our own little emotional lock down with the youngest finishing kindergarten and looking forward to all day school. Such an exciting/terrifying milestone we’re celebrating. I can see how starting the new journal would highlight those fears & anticipations.


This made my eyes well with tears. My youngest also finishes elementary school this week, and I now have a senior in high school (and a freshman too). I have thought so much in the past month about how challenging it has been to make it through and still meet our family needs, and how every stage is just so different. The thing I keep saying constantly in my head is that endings open us up for new possibilities. Best wishes in yours!


Oh boy. I’m sorry. Now that I think about it, that title IS a little dramatic! (And @Amanda, I love that you scrolled to the bottom first.) Thank you all for such nice notes.

Ann L.

Good grief. I thought for a minute you were closing up shop! What a scare that was. Happy new journal!


I am a relatively new follower and have never commented before, but this post made me cry. Good luck with your new diary…I look forward to following along with you. xoxo


I love this idea, and as a (relatively) newlywed who just turned 30 yesterday (!) I have been looking for a new way to start recording time – I just finished a picture-of-the-day series for the last year of my 20s. Do you have any advice for someone who would be starting this up?


I had the same reaction – no! She’s going to close down! So I checked the end of the entry, like Amanda. Then I could read in peace. 😉

Cindy W

Oh, my goodness! I must be in emotional meltdown compared to your lockdown. Tomorrow, I say goodbye to our storybook sweet (your perfect words) elementary school that has been a part of our lives for the last decade! It’s a place that has always felt warm & safe & nurturing. Hallways covered in kids’ artwork. Now, my little girl who also still loves stuffed animals & baby dolls moves on to middle school. Sigh.


I teared up reading the memories you have of the many meals eaten with family and friends. I realized I have some of those celebratory occasions that I documented myself, via the early years of my blog.. but I wish I had sat down and just done some kind of personal cookbook of family favorites.. or tried and trues.. summer project, maybe?


I must confess, when started reading this post it felt like you were breaking up with me! Inside my head I was screaming “Noooo, not yet! I still love you…need you”. I jumped to the end to get it over with more quickly! Whew, what a relief that it is just a tough transition. (I am warning you now, the first dinner after your first is away at college will have you in tears). Now, is it too early for a gin & tonic?

Maria Tadic

I thought you were going to say you were ending your blog! Thank goodness!

I’m not a mom yet, but I think as a 27 yr old daughter, that it can definitely be hard for mom’s and parents to think into the future – to the point where I am now with my parents. But instead of thinking about how fast that future will come, thinking about all the wonderful memories and moments you’re creating with your husband and children is better. You have all that time to create so much fun! And as a kid, I truly appreciate the wonderful childhood my parents created for me – I can never thank them enough. And it seems to me from your blog, your just like my parents! I guess its hard not to go into that emotional lockdown, but be excited for the future and how awesome you will make it!


“Oh my goodness, when I saw the title of this post, my heart leapt! I thought you were closing the book on the blog…forever!”

Ditto that. Color me relieved. Thanks for writing this beautiful blog post and sharing your family with us.


I’m crying my eyes out, just because the moments are so precious and they fly so fast (and because I’m pregnant and hormonal!). What a gift that you have the old diary and the new, and such a beautiful family to share them with. Your blog and book have become such valuable tools in my daily effort to be the best mom I can. Thank you for being so honest about your journey in a way that is so helpful to me in mine!


The milestones in our children’s lives can be so exciting, energizing and heartbreaking all at the same time. My oldest will be starting high school in the fall and my middle will be starting kindergarten and my youngest will be starting potty training. So proud of all of them, excited for them, scared for them and I am left with a full but bittersweet heart.

Kristin C.

I started the day off with my daughter’s graduation from Kindergarten and then this is the first thing I read when sitting down at my office…whew! I think I’m ready for an emotional lockdown now. But, as a huuuuuuuuge fan of Liberty of London and notebooks, I have to say….I love the new book. Maybe you (or I) should top off the day with watching Bridget Jones’ Diary…just to round things off.


Now that my heart attack is over after reading the title, I can comment. What a beautiful post. I too welled up at the 57/26 realization. Gosh, that resonates with me and I only have a 6 & 3 yr old.
And I agree with Erin that your blog and book help me be a better mom. I get organized, I know there are other people that want to feed their family good & nutritious food and I know our house is normal b/c we have crazy eaters & schedules too.
Best of all, your blog helped me reconnect with 3 friends! They are fans too. (I have smart friends huh?)
Keep up the amazing work and enjoy that *Beautiful* new diary. And tell Andy, “Yes, he hit that one out of the park.” For all of us.


Made the mistake of clicking on this while on a conference call, and had the same thought as the others. Had to quickly skim to make sure you weren’t leaving us before I could focus on my call again. Oy!

What a refreshing reminder of how much I adore you and how in my mind we are best friends (and I mean that in the least stalkerish way possible).


I saw the title of this post, and the photo of the book, and was nervous to read. Either you were finished with the task of the dinner diary (and then I knew tears would follow) or you were going to write a moving post about what closing that first chapter on the first book meant (and more tears follow). It seems it’s the latter, and so I really should have waited until I was home to read. But this is beautiful.

When I received my pre-ordered copy of DALS last June I read it cover to cover in one sitting, reading passages out loud to my husband, and then sobbed, and then didn’t enter the “what’s your favorite part of the book” contest, or emailed you the “thank you for writing this book” email that I normally would have, or commented here for a very long time. Your book created my own Emotional Lockdown, because I was ready for all that would come next in our lives but my body wasn’t, and reading your words was a reminder of where I wanted to be.

I am 32 weeks pregnant now and have been back to read for a while, but this post just reminds me of everything I love about this site, about your cooking and your stories and your family. Apologies for taking the comment section to finally write this sappy mess, but thanks for sharing it all with us. Looking forward to being along for the ride as you fill those blank pages!


Phew…. I had visions of having to print the entire blog. Thank goodness it’s just Volume 2!!

Carlinne @Cook with 2 Chicks

Your posts often, actually ALWAYS, make me laugh. The beginning of this post did the same. By the end, I was in tears. It’s a beautiful piece. Beautifully written and evocative of the feelings associated with “the end of an era” and transitioning into the next stage as a family. What a treasure you have in your first notebook! All of those memories in one place, memories made around the dinner table. Your new dinner diary is beautiful, waiting to be the keeper of the memories you create over the next 15 years, God willing.


I love that everyone had the same feeling of impending doom that I had upon seeing your title: is she shutting down the blog? Is she ending the dinner journal? I’m so glad neither are true! Did you know you started me journaling my dinners? It’s such a satisfying practice. I’ve been at it for 9 months now. My current journal is a thin Japanese notebook with an image of a bulldog in a bridal veil on the cover that a friend gave me as a gag gift for my wedding. I may take a page out of your book and go luxe for the next notebook.

Melissa@Julia's Bookbag

OH JENNY! first of all, I think you gave us all a jolt of adrenaline/anxiety/panic/fear. That was exciting! 🙂 What a beautiful post. I so relate. I have one child. Every phase is the last. I don’t have another one to repeat the process with. I feel like I have part of myself on Emotional Lockdown ALL THE TIME. (which probably isn’t the healthiest, come to think of it.) But think on this….someday your girls are going to treasure these books like no others. More than your published cookbooks. More than photos maybe. These books are their mother and their childhood and their family, intertwined. What commitment, and what a lovely mama you are to keep going with your dinner journals. xo

Christine Somers

Emotional Lockdown…useful vocabulary and tool to maneuver life’s milestone and transitions. Thank you for sharing the concept. Your post is lovely and touching.

Liza in Ann Arbor

Such a sweet, sweet post. It reminds me of how I feel about our book club journal. Granted we use 1 page per book (not the back side) so we are on book (journal) #2. It took about 8 years to fill book #1. I shudder to think that there won’t be that many books altogether in the end. I know how you feel. I look back and remember what was happening in all our lives over the last 11 years…(ps. I read this blog, and cook out of your cookbook, often, but it took me forever to realize I have to scroll down just a tad bit to get the security question–oops!)

Loving the Semi Country Life

Love your new one, and cherish your old one. So many memories in there! 🙂

You have inspired me to create a dinner diary 🙂


lovely post! broke through the emotional lockdown I’ve been in since taking my oldest to college orientation this weekend…now I’m weeping at my desk…


Jenny, this was crushing in the best and worst kind of way. I know exactly how you feel. I just waved goodbye as the woman who has lived across the street from my parents for 17 years – since I was in 5th grade – moved to Savannah, so I’m struggling to get a grip on the ephemeral passage of time this week. A toast to the next 15 years.


That book is gorgeous and your husband deserves some smooches for such a lovely and thoughtful gift! Have fun filling this one up.


Like the others – you made me heart beat faster, you gave me a panic attack, and you made me cry.
Thanks Jenny – I love ya!

Beautiful and emotional post by the way! 🙂


I too was worried that this was a “LAST POST” kind of post. Cheers to the future and all the changes, adventures and yet-to-be-told stories.


I’ve been reading DALS for a couple years at least, and have had the book for a while too, and while the site and the book regularly make me laugh and encourage me to get through another exhausted night, I’m not sure I’ve ever started to weep until today. Part of it is probably just being a mom, even if I’m earlier in my journey than you are. Part of it is a bit of jealousy, that you had the discipline to do this small thing for 15 years – and what an incredible thing to have, to look back on. I wish I had something like that.

Marsha Gibbons

That Liberty of London book is freaking gorgeous. If I had to spend 15 years with a book, that would be the one. The discipline expended to write it all down astonishes me. I am blown away.

I, too, got all teary reading your post. I’m on the old end of the stick and it is bittersweet thinking about my boys being all grown up. But now I cook for grandchildren. That’s not all bad!


Thank you for this lovely post. We can be so taken by emotion when we least expect it. I love that your dinner diaries are also markers for the passage of time in your lives. Your writing is beautiful.

Leslie K

Wow! Great post. I was concerned you were moving to London there for a minute. Phew. Your definition of Emotional Lockdown was spot on… and I had similar feelings when my son was leaving that same idyllic elementary school. Now he’s moving on from Middle School to High School : ((( , and we have one more sweet year for our younger one at that sweet elementary school. I’ve tried to take on a new outlook to time passing on. To quote (another) great writer: ” Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened. ” – Dr. Seuss

Great post! Thanks!


Beautiful post. I’m reading this and getting teary-eyed while I rock my 5-monh-old to sleep after a long nursing session. If her dinner isn’t “a love story,” I’m not sure what is. Thank you for the continued inspiration.


Oh Jenny, so poignant and so heartfelt, and all of it beautiful. What a perfect example of how what we eat, and when and where and with whom, really is a way of looking at the life we lead. Happy new Dinner Diary to you – and happy graduation to that sweet girl.


Same thought here…so glad you’re still writing & cooking & blogging…

I have my own version of a dinner diary where I plan the weeks meals. You must write other notes alongside the meals to know what was happening in your life at the time – love that idea!


I totally get it – when I near the end of a journal I find myself writing smaller and smaller and smaller. Not quite ready to close that chapter. Hesitant to start a new book of completely blank pages that will take me far into my unknown future. Exciting. Scary. Too fast.


Fabulous post. You and your family are inspiring. Thanks for sharing so much of yourself.


So happy you are “keeping on, keeping on”. Was scared there for a sec. Such a great post. I think I might steal your term “emotional lockdown” if that’s OK. I just had an “emotional lockdown” on my 1st grade son’s last day of school …… and he’s just moving on to 2nd grade! We are all with ya! Thanks for the great writing, great recipes and the inspiration.


Oh, my – beautiful. I laughed, I teared up, I’ve re-read…

And this morning in the NYTimes Diner’s Journal: What are we reading? – THERE is a link to DALS – congratulations!!

I don’t have children so that marker of time and all that goes with it have not been a part of my life. But, I am always a bit stunned when I see the children and now grandchildren of my contemporaries…how can this be?? (I’m rapidly approaching my 58th birthday)


Wow. This was a beautiful piece. Thank you. What a treasure your family is creating.


Tear drops are falling onto my paper plate. Next to the tear drops are chips and salsa and a subway flatbread blt.
Lockdown failed.


Oh my. Like everyone else, I was worried and then weeping. You are a wonderful writer and I can’t wait to see where this new book and stage of life takes you.


OK, that is heart-wrenching and inspiring. You guys are all right. Thank you for being able to be deeply personal without being embarrassing. Milestones matter! Thank you for writing; what you write matters.


There are better ways to save old recipes. I’ve been using for a couple of weeks now, and it’s the best way I know to collect online recipes.


Just beautiful. I’m sure the next book will hold as many memorable moments and delicious dinners.


Lovely. My heart hurts wishing I had a dinner diary to help me recall meals and memories. Maybe I’ll begin one today …


Such an enjoyable read and such a relief. The blog lives on! Yay! Also, for some inexplicable reason, this post makes me want to go out and buy a notebook.


I just got all teary eyed. What a story your meals tell. I feel like I should start logging my meals just to be able to look back 10 years from now. It’s amazing what memories the food you cooked can bring back. How sentimental and valuable.


Allow me to echo all of the above sentiments. I am currently mourning the “loss” of my own storybook sweet little boy, who recently has turned into a 13-year-old who prefers to spend all his spare time alone with his computer instead of watching TV with me. I’ve always wanted to be a “perfect mom” and my failure to achieve this is hitting me hard these days. Thank you for this beautifully written post.

Patty Henshaw

Hi Jenny,
I LOVE your cookbook and use it all the time, and your blog is my favorite. This is a touching and dear post. I have to ask you about your old journal book because I am almost positive I used to have the exact same one, but I can’t remember where I got it so long ago. Would you mind sharing with who makes this journal? It took me straight down memory lane and I’d love to find out if it’s still being made. Thanks for all the amazing recipes and heartwarming posts. The best!!
Aloha from Hawai’i!
xo, Patty


My goodness, what a post! Brought tears to my eyes! What an incredible journey your first notebook tells, full of family and love and good food … amazing! Here’s to the new adventures ahead.


Just love this post. It almost made me cry-but in a good way. Isn’t family dinner just incredible?(Understatement of the century I know!) It’s our whole lives wrapped up with the people we love-what could be better? Thank you so much for sharing this post, and this journey with us!


looks like you struck a nerve w us mothers! possibly your best post. you had me on tears too (1 and 3 yr old girls here). thanks very much for sharing.