I’m so excited to write these words: You are looking at my next book, How to Celebrate Everything, which will be published on September 20, 2016.
I know I’m prone to overstatement, but when I say this is the most meaningful project I’ve ever worked on, I’m not lying. (And yes, I realize I’m saying this as somebody who can find deep meaning in a braised pork butt and a U12 soccer roster.)
I started writing How to Celebrate Everything three years ago because of a vague, nagging feeling that my family’s jam-packed days were flying by too fast, disappearing behind me like a jet trail, and I wasn’t doing a whole lot to stop, turn off the phone, clear the family calendar and remind myself “Hey! This is not a race to the finish line. This is it.” My daughters were about 10 and 11 at the time, and I began obsessing: What am I holding on to? What are my kids holding on to? Do they feel connected to their family? Their community? Am I running out of time to figure all this out? (I always think of my friend Jodi who once asked me “Do you ever feel like these are our practice kids, and any day now the real ones are going to come along?” Yes! Yes! Yes!)
Mostly, though, it came down to this: How do we slow down to make sure our kids are recognizing moments that matter.
The answer of course, is there is no answer. How can we really ever know what is sticking? As parents, we do our best and hope for the best and for God sakes isn’t it enough to just get a freaking pork chop on the dinner table every now and then? But most of you know me by now. You know I like to pretend I have control over things that I have no business whatsoever controlling (Exhibit A: Dinner Diary) and also that I like to drag all you guys right down that path with me.
So here is the strategy I’ve come up with and wrapped up between two covers and bound with a Liberty-cotton flowery spine: Savor Family Rituals. Optimize Family Holidays. Celebrate Everything.
And whenever possible, do all this with food, just to be sure people show up.
When I say “celebrate everything,” I mean the biggies, of course. In my book, you’ll find recipes and stories and all kinds of ways to infuse both meaning and deliciousness into major holidays. You’ll find recipes for your Thanksgiving turkey, your Easter ham, your Friday night challah. (Yes, both. Trust me.) You will find menus to help you plan Fourth of July barbecues and New Year’s Eve feasts and killer birthday parties that your kids and your kids’ friends will look forward to all year long.
But the heart of this book lies in family rituals, in the less obvious, but way more personal ways we find meaning and connectedness in day-to-day life with kids. For our family that means walking to the farmer’s market every Saturday to collect the ingredients for a tomato sandwich; it means serving creamy, soothing mashed potatoes after every brutal braces-tightening session; it means making a huge-ass breakfast on birthday mornings complete with candle-studded chocolate chip pancakes; it means writing poems for graduations, weddings, first birthdays and other milestone moments; it means dinner at our neighbor’s house every time there’s a snowstorm; or pizza and sushi at the coach’s house at the end of a triumphant (or even not-so-triumphant) season.
These are our family rituals, but you get the idea. What I hope to illustrate in How to Celebrate Everything is how family rituals do not have to have their own Hallmark aisle or be accompanied by a six-course bacchanalia in order to be meaningful. They don’t have to be perfect and they don’t have to be huge. They just have to be yours.
Of course, having good food around to lock in the memories does not exactly hurt. So naturally, the book contains 100+ recipes, all of which are attached to traditions and moments, big and small. And because I can’t seem to publish a book without “dinner” in the title, you’ll also find an entire section devoted to the ritual that really started it all: The family meal.
OK — time to let the rituals (and the food attached to those rituals) do some talking. Here’s a little teaser of the book…
Sleepover Breakfasts! Every time we have a sleepover guest, we try to go all out on the breakfast front. On our best days, this means warm popovers with homemade strawberry jam. But it also means apple fritters, chocolate chip pancakes and buttermilk biscuits.
Birthdays and Parties. We have about two dozen birthday parties under our belts at this point in our lives…and we’ve lived to tell! The book offers a stay-sane at-home party guide, complete with theme ideas, cake recipes, and lunch ideas (like these subs) that openly and deliciously defy the law of There Must Be Pizza.
Fourth of July with Cousins The most addictive sweet-and-smoky barbecue chicken stars in an Independence Day feast, which we do every year with my brother, sister, and all the (adorable, but truly insane) cousins. Also on the menu: Crowdpleaser Slaw, German Potato Salad. (You’re on your own for the s’mores.)
Only Child Night. For the past few summers, it’s worked out that our two daughters are at sleepaway camps during two different weeks, so it’s become something of a tradition for the child left behind to be in charge of dinner ideas. Here, Abby makes homemade gnocchi, a dish her sister wouldn’t eat if she was stranded in Siberia with no prospects of a nourishment for weeks. Naturally, it’s Abby’s favorite.
The Walk to the Farmer’s Market. For as long as I can remember, we’ve used the weekend farmer’s market as a way to tear the kids away from morning TV, get out of their PJs, and get outside. Soccer schedule permitting, we walk there every Saturday, then spend the rest of the day living off the bounty we’ve assembled. Shown here, easy Strawberry-Almond-Milk smoothies, but this section of the book is PACKED with fresh, easy, memorable menu ideas, all inspired by our lower Hudson Valley farmer’s market.
Eating Dinner in Front of the TV. Yes, you read that right. Obviously I’m a big believer in having the TV off during dinner. But I am an even BIGGER believer in breaking some rules every now and then, especially when a Big Event is on TV — think World Series, Presidential Election, World Cup. (Sponge Bob Christmas Special? Not so much.) On those nights, it’s practically a command: You must watch this event with the rest of the world, you must eat Super Nachos with stewed chicken and all the fixings, and you must do so with your fingers.
Apres-Ski Dinners. I am a world-class wimp on the slopes, but I like to think I make up for that in the apres-ski portion of the program, beginning with this Chickpea Pizza with Broccolini and Salami…
..And ending with these Sweet-and Sour Meatballs with Polenta. Possibly the best recipe I’ve ever developed.
The Rosa’s Mud Cake Tradition Longtime DALS readers will recognize this cake, which no birthday of mine is complete without. In the book, I share a half dozen new ways (and new excuses) to serve it, including as a base for Phoebe’s favorite ice cream cake, a heart-shaped Valentine’s Day treat, and this double-layered and fudge-frosted beauty decorated with dum-dums. Yes, dum-dums.
The Bake-A-Gift Ritual. This looks like just a regular old coffee cake, but ohhhh it’s so much more. It’s a riff — a really deliciously accurate riff — on a famous Entenman’s treat that my dad and I used to obsess over. The learning here: You can never go wrong when you bake a store-bought favorite from scratch and present it as a gift.
One guiding principle of Vacation Rituals: Try to get as far away from your daily life and routine as possible. Hence: Coke with dinner. Pop Tarts for breakfast. Ice Cream every. single. day.
The Dog’s Half Birthday! Just kidding, we don’t celebrate that. (Though maybe we should!) I just wanted an excuse to show my beautiful, batty Boston terrier, Iris, largely ignored these past six years on the blog and in the books, but who now finally gets her day in the sun.
Holiday Parties. I know it’s hard to think about latkes this time of year, but it’s good to know they’re in there, right? Related: So are “interfaith slides.” Again, trust me.
Sunday Dinners. Family Dinners. Easy Dinners. Just because this is the first book I’ve written where the word “dinner” is relegated to the subtitle, does not mean I wouldn’t include recipes for our most cherished ritual of all, including these pork lettuce rolls with pomegranate seeds and apples.
Much much more to come, you can be sure of it! For now, How to Celebrate Everything is available for pre-order from all the usual suspects: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and Indiebound. ThankyouthankyouthankyouTHANKYOU for your support.