We’ve been on vacation for the past week, a sort of calm-before-the-storm deal. From the moment we made our reservations a few months ago, I began thinking of it as our “Week Before” vacation: The week before school starts, the week before reality descends again, before work gets crazy again, before life morphs, as it seems to do every September, into a series of carpools and soccer practices and cello lessons, and — most important, at least in this house — the week before Jenny’s new book, Dinner: The Playbook, comes out. Today is the big day, in fact, and as much as Jenny loves writing about family dinner and doing this blog and spreading the word about the transformative powers of chicken parm meatballs, she still worries about wearing out her welcome, book-wise, with you guys. Which is why I want to take this opportunity, on the day of publication, to tell you a few things about her book that she isn’t going to tell you herself. –Andy
1. Dinner: The Playbook is the physical manifestation of her list-making, organizing, lift-you-up-and-get-it-done personality. If Jenny’s first book was part cookbook, part memoir, this book is straight-up battle plan: If you want to turn family dinner into a regular — and edifying — part of your day, The Playbook will show you how. I am here to tell you that it works, and that I am grateful for it every day of my life.
2. The recipes are all good,and I can say this because we eat them ALL THE TIME. These are not recipes that Jenny dreamed up for some book about family dinner. These are our go-to meals, they are simple and tasty and time-tested, and except for the Crispy Rice Omelet (our kids still loathe eggs with a scary intensity) and the Zucchini Fritters (you know how I feel about zucchini), we stand behind all of them, 100%.
3. The recipes are all good, but the shrimp rolls are the best. Sweet Jesu Christo, are they good. (And even better when you butter the rolls.)
4. It’s a deal. Twenty bucks (sometimes less) for 80 recipes, 60 color photos, 220 pages, countless tips and fun little hand-drawn design-y things throughout? Considering that I dropped 30 bucks yesterday at lunch on a basket of mini corn-dogs, two Shirley Temples, and a flaccid chicken wrap, I consider this money well spent.
5. Don’t take my word for it. Listen to Deb Perelman, of Smitten Kitchen, who knows a thing or two about food: “This book is for anyone who loves the promise of a home-cooked dinner but gets bogged down by the day-to-day reality of it. Which is to say that this book is for me, me, me. And I bet it’s for you, too.” Or no less than Ruth Reichl, who stares hyperbole square in the eyes and says, “This is the most sensible advice on cooking for kids I’ve ever seen.” Ever, people! Ever!!!
6. It’s lovable. That’s not my word, in case you were wondering. A friend of ours who had just opened an advance copy described it that way — “OH EM GEE, it’s so lovable!!!!!!!!!” was her actual quote — and I have to say, she’s right. I know I’m biased, but it’s a freakin’ delight: pint-sized and warm and colorful and beautifully designed. We’ve been living with a copy of it on our counter for a solid month now, and — in what I take as a very good sign — I feel happy every time I see it. (See above, re: bias, but still.)
6. Lovable does not mean cheesy. I spend a scary amount of my life staring at books, and I just love the way this one looks, love how much care and thought and quality-control went into its creation. Over the course of the past year, Jenny enlisted a bunch of talented friends to help make this book true to the DALS brand, from the illustration on the spine by the awesome Gina Triplett, to the cover and unusual and inspired interior design by Kristina DiMatteo, to the editing by longtime colleague Jennifer Tung, to the interior photos by, yes, Jenny Rosenstrach. Every word, every sentence, every picture, every Weekly Meal Plan, every Dinner Report Card waiting to be filled out by you, every hand-drawn border and color choice in this book, was made, by Jenny, for a reason.
7.It’s dedicated to YOU. This book, this blog, would simply not exist were it not for you — as readers, commenters, supporters, book-buyers, word-spreaders, recipe testers, dinner cookers, and friends. So, a million times: thank you.
Don’t you already feel more organized and prepared just looking at this grid of ridiculously easy dinners? I have eaten them all, and they are good.
And aren’t you dying to know what the heck this means?
Yes, that’s the cover of my new book, to be published soon, but before I go into more detail on it I want to know one thing:
Are you with me?
I need to know this because, while this book is going to be a lot of things — an adventure, a game-changer, a how-to manual for the family meal — it is first and foremost going to be a personal challenge, a commitment.
Loyal DALS readers have heard the story of The Great Dinner Rut of 2006 — that period, back when our girls were 3 and 4, when Andy and I were drowning in a sea of plain.Plain pasta, plain burger, plain chicken, plain pizza. Our once-solid dinner rotation had been reduced to what you’d find in your average minimum security prison. On any given night, we’d have a breakthrough — Flounder! Abby ate flounder! — until the next time we’d present it to the Li’l Lady of the Manor and she’d drum her fingers against the table and stare at us with cold, cold eyes, as if to say “For real? You think I’m gonna eat that?” I don’t want to go on too much here — you guys know the deal — but for two working parents who loved to cook and just wanted to end the day with a glass of wine and a meal that wasn’t beige, the situation was far from ideal.
“It’ll get better,” everyone told me. “You just have to wait out the toddler years. You’ll see!” But I didn’t want to wait out any years — years! –I wanted to eat real food again, food that I was excited about cooking and introducing to my kids. So I took control of the situation. One night, I made an announcement: We were going to embark on an adventure. (“Adventure” seemed like a key positioning strategy.) We were going to cook thirty new dinners in the next thirty days, and the only thing I asked was that they had to try a bite of every single one of them. One bite. They didn’t have to like every meal, but they did have to try every meal.
It always surprises me how game kids are in situations where you least expect it.
But not as game as Andy and I were. We got into it — scouring old cookbooks for recipes we’d always wanted to make, texting ideas back and forth on our commute, asking anyone we saw what their go-to dinners were. I’m talking about dedication I hadn’t seen since the days when we were planning our honeymoon. We came up with a line up and got cooking.
Was a little nuts for two working parents to take this on? Yes. Did we almost give up along the way? Absolutely. Was every meal a hit? Not exactly. Abby puked up the trout (day 19) onto the dinner table and Phoebe moved her chair to the living room when we placed a bowl of gnocchi in front of her (day 16). But did it transform the way the kids (and their parents) thought about dinner? Well… I hate to sound all gimmicky here, but yes. What we discovered was that Family Dinner is a contract. You buy in, or you don’t. This can mean lots of things to lots of different families, but for us, it meant cooking most nights and constantly looking for ways to keep it fresh. We didn’t know it then, but this project set us on our way, expanded our horizons, established dinner as a priority in our lives, and killed the chicken nugget dead once and for all.
So if my first book, Dinner: A Love Story, was a romantic yarn about the evolution of the family meal through marriage, babies and family, then Dinner: The Playbook is its nuts-and-bolts, down-and-dirty, roll-up-your-sleeves, LET’S-DO-THIS-THING companion. It tells the story of our grand experiment and everything I learned along the way, including:
Key shopping and organizing strategies
Guerrilla tactics for picky eaters and sauce-o-phobes
Tips for scouting new recipes that “keep the spark alive”
80+ easy, kid-vetted recipes
Weekly meal plans that show you how to put all those recipes together over the course of 30 days — or even just seven days if that’s more your speed.
In short, it’s got everything you need to help bust you out of your own dinner rut. Even when you are working full time. Even when you would rather crawl into a dark hole than think about dinner.
Over the years, I have received so many emails from readers asking me: I am so busy and overwhelmed, and I want to put dinner on the table. How do I do it? Where do I start?
This book, I hope, provides an answer to that question.
So what do you say? Are you in? Please say yes!
Dinner: The Playbook will be out in late August — just in time for back-to-school bootcamp — but is available for pre-order with all the usual suspects: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebooks, and Ballantine.
The masterful Kristina DiMatteo designed the cover and the interior of Playbook, and it’s filled with the sweetest little details. The dedication page is one of my favorites. As is the Gina Triplett-illustrated spine on the cover. (Remember my recipe door? That’s Gina. I like to keep things in the family.)
I don’t know about you, but this is the time when I suddenly look at the calendar, and then at the list of things I’ve bought for family and friends so far, and then at the list of things I still have to buy, and think, “Rut-roh.” How’s it all gonna get done? And how did I let this happen? In an effort to help make things a little easier, I thought I’d offer up a few suggestions for last-minute gifts here. Satisfaction guaranteed! – Andy
For the teacher who is dedicating him/herself, day in and day out, to the betterment of your child: Dinner: A Love Story.
For the patient cello teacher who — in just three months — has already made your life, and your ear drums, so much happier: Dinner: A Love Story.
For the soccer coach who not only volunteers her time three times a week to guru your kid, but also — true miracle — teaches her what off-sides means: Dinner: A Love Story.
For the mother-in-law who you love dearly but who could also use a little help in the expansion of repertoire department: Dinner: A Love Story.
For the 23-year-old niece, who was weaned on The Food Network and can tell her rutabaga from her kohlrabi: Dinner: A Love Story.
For the 23-year-old nephew, who still claims to hate tomatoes, prompting you to remind him — a 23 year old, grown-ass man — that pizza sauce CONTAINS TOMATOES: Dinner: A Love Story.
For the person who, as our 9-year-old just said, “draws pictures of turtles eating tomatoes”: Dinner: A Love Story.
For the person who reads the following sentence — “This book is for anyone interested in learning how to execute a meal to be shared with someone they love and discovering how so many good, happy things can trickle down from doing so” — and thinks, Dang, dogg, that hits me right where I live: Dinner: A Love Story.
For the thoughtful gift-giver who wants to buy a book and then have the author — like, I don’t know, Jenny Rosenstrach — sign a bookplate for said book and then give it to a good friend or relative and say, “Look, I got you a signed book for Christmas!”: Dinner: A Love Story. (Email her TODAY jenny AT dinneralovestory DOT com with subject line “Bookplate Request”; after 12/20, she can’t guarantee they’ll be sent in time for Christmas.)
For our slightly less ridiculous Gift Guide, click here.
Two weeks ago, Jenny emailed me this iPhone photo of three boxes on our doorstep, with no further message. She didn’t need to tell me: these boxes contained 25 copies of her book, Dinner: A Love Story, the book she had spent an ungodly portion of the last year and a half mapping out, writing, rewriting, testing, retesting, and obsessing over. This emailed photo is as close to overt pride as Jenny gets. Which is why I want to take this opportunity, a few days before publication, to tell you a few things about her book that she will never tell you herself. –Andy
1. She cares a lot. This is probably not a newsflash if you’re a regular reader of this blog, but Jenny does not toss sh*t off or take even the quickest Friday Reading round-up lightly. She actually pays attention to/wakes up at 4:30 am thinking about the “mix” of posts on the home page at any given time — do we have too much chicken? are people getting sick of our kid books posts? do we need a strategy post, maybe, or a hit or humor? should I swtich that photo? – and plans her future lineup out, on paper, in a dedicated moleskine notebook. Now, take that baseline commitment to quality and thoughtfulness and times it, as Abby would say, by fifty hundred. DALS: The Book is beautiful and it embodies that thing that I, as an editor, have come to appreciate more than anything else: carefulness. Every word, every sentence, every photo, every caption, every hand-drawn border in this book, was placed there, by Jenny, for a reason. This thing was put together with love.
2. She still doesn’t grill. She claims she does, she even wrote a piece for Bon Appetit about “taking back the grill” and etc., but since that piece ran? She has not grilled once.
3. Relatedly, she still feels like a fraud in the kitchen. Every time Jenny burns a pizza crust or fails to poach an egg correctly or overcooks a pork tenderloin, she puts her hands on the counter, looks at me, and says, with dead seriousness: ”Am I a total fraud? How is it possible that I wrote a cookbook and can’t even ____________?” I love this about her. Very high level of skill, ambition and creativity, endearingly low level of patience with self/awareness of own excellence.
4. She is funny. Samantha Bee, highly credible in matters such as these, says so. Look: “Dinner: A Love Story gives me hope that one day my family will also assemble around an actual table and eat an actual meal that was actually cooked by me; a meal not solely comprised of animal shaped cheese crackers dipped in hummus. Although those are good too.” Well-written books that also make you laugh = books that are worth reading.
5. She is not only funny. The heart of this whole project has a beautiful kind of earnestness at its core: Jenny does this — the book, the blog, the hundreds of thousands of words she has produced about family dinner – because she believes in it, not because she believed it would lead to a book deal. I still remember the day when she committed to family dinner, every night, back when Abby was not yet three and we were both working full-time and we’d grown a little too used to eating frozen pizza at 9:30 at night, after the kids had gone to bed. And the thing is, it’s one thing to talk about making family dinner happen; it’s another thing to do it. When Jenny lost her job and started this blog, the idea of a book wasn’t even on her mind. She wanted to work for herself for a while, and devote herself to something she cared about. When you start from a place of relative purity like that, good things happen.
6. She’s hearing so many good things already. I’ve read this book about seventeen times and I love it, but I’m biased, so you probably shouldn’t trust me on this. AND YET: You can trust some of the people who got advance copies of the book and have been sending Jenny, unbidden, some of the nicest freaking emails I have ever seen about how much they’re enjoying it and how much they love not being judged and how good that salmon salad looks. Here’s one, from Jen: “I have to tell you that I did not TOUCH any of my work after the kids went to bed that night (and am now in trouble as a result) because all I wanted to do was read Dinner: A Love Story. I love it. I would have loved reading it even if I wasn’t going to cook with it because you are such a good writer about family and food, but I will also definitely also be cooking from it constantly. (Especially the section about picky eaters.) I hope you are incredibly proud and I hope it sells a massive number of copies!” And from Melissa: “I wanted to write to you on a personal level to say thanks. I feel like you’re talking directly to me in this book and it helps to not feel so alone. I have started reading your blog and going back to look for recipes and tips, notes, advice, etc….but the book form is perfect. My kids are 2.5 yrs old and 5 months, so I’m deep in the ‘New Parenthood: Bomb exploded in my kitchen….’ phase. I jumped right to Part 2 and can totally sympathize with your thoughts and feelings about your work and career after having a baby. I am a working mom who is not ashamed to admit I love my job, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t crushing to leave those little faces every day.” I could keep going. Do not make me keep going, people!
7. Her book is filled with lies. For instance, there is quinoa in the book, but Jenny doesn’t even like quinoa anymore. The other night, as we were trying to figure out what to eat with our grilled sausages, I suggested quinoa, and Jenny said, “Nah, I’m sick of quinoa.” Boom. Just like that, a door slams shut.
8. BEWARE the serving sizes when making these recipes. As quickly as humanly possible, I will tell you a story that will tell you everything you need to know about Jenny’s checkered history with portion sizes. Last weekend, we were in Upstate New York with the kids, when we came upon a cool little local specialty food store. Jenny ran in to get some stuff for dinner. She came out carrying a small white paper bag. “Whad’ja get?” I asked. “Some lamb sausages,” she said. Only later, after we’d returned home and I went to take the bag out of the refrigerator did I realize she bought four dainty links of sausage…which weighed about as much as a bowl of (popped) popcorn…and was enough to feed a family of four…hummingbirds. (The photo of this dinner above was fudged, by the way. We each got one link.) This is a pattern that has repeated itself throughout our lives together, Jenny coming home from Whole Foods with 3/4 pound of salmon for the entire family (“That’s a lot, right?”), Jenny cooking one bag of spinach for a dinner party with six adults (“I always forget how much it shrinks!”), Jenny defrosting two chicken breasts for four of us (“I supplmented with broccoli.”). It’s not her fault, really. This problem has deep genetic roots. (God, this is so hard to do quickly, but: Jenny’s parents are famous for having once served a pint — one single pint – of ice cream at a dinner party for 11 grown humans, and for having offered up one bottle of wine at Thanksgiving for 15. Seriously, I am fighting every urge right now to launch into a list of the truly classic Tiny Portion Moments from the Rosenstrach household…though the time six of us shared a quarter pound of potato salad is a particular favorite. Jenny’s dad: “You don’t want too much of this stuff. It’s rich.”) All I’m saying is, keep the portion problem in mind as you use this book. Be wary.
9. She is not shameless (but maybe I am?). Even though the act of blogging and talking about your work and linking to your book is inherently (and, she tells me, crushingly) self-promotional, none of this comes easily to Jenny. Which means that she will go to great lengths and expend enormous amounts of energy to make the promotional stuff not only about her (guest post contest!) and creative (121 Books!) while, yes, asking you to please buy her book. (Stay tuned FREE STUFF for an amazing giveaway she’s got FREE STUFF in the works FREE STUFF for next week, by the way. FREE STUFF FREE STUFF FREE STUFF!)
10. The photos in the book are way better than the photos on the blog. As our friend and stalwart DALS supporter Kendra said, upon receiving her copy of the book last week, “Oh my god, it’s like the blog, but on steroids!” And that’s all due to the talents of Jennifer Causey, the photgrapher who spent four days in our house, downloading the DALS vibe, applying her own vision, and making all this stuff come to life.
11. A reader of this site, who goes by the name of Keenan, posted a comment last week that said: “Jenny, you are the best. I hope that husband of yours appreciates how lucky he has it.” Memo to Keenan: Yeah, that husband of hers does appreciate how lucky he has it. But also: KEEP YOUR DISTANCE, BRO.
I’m still completely thrilled when I hear that my book has been purchased by someone who I can’t in any way trace back to my mother or mother-in-law, but I think the highlight of my year was hearing that Dinner: A Love Story was on the registry of someone whose wedding I’m not even invited to. It’s true that my book is based on this blog which is based on meals with our 10- and 8-year old, but the book starts with the “Love Story” part, the year Andy and I got married, when kids were about as far from our minds as the pork ragu that would someday make my husband famous. (Well, famous with his mother and mother-in-law at least.) I’m pleased to announce that Real Simple seems to agree about the gift thing — because it’s in their June issue, right there in the Summer Gift Guide (for Newlyweds, Weekend House Hosts, Father’s Day), and last time I checked, no one in my family was on their payroll. As soon as the link is live I will send you there — for now you’ll have to go to a good old-fashioned newsstand. Remember those?
PS: Twitter followers, remember to use #dalsbook (it will be worth your while, trust me!)
I realize I’m not breaking any journalistic ground with this observation, but I’m going to say it anyway: It’s kinda crazy what you can check off The List when you’re not surrounded by small people asking for a snack or to tie a soccer cleat or to find the math notebook which was right here a second ago and to look at me! Look at me! Look at me! Take, for instance, an unseasonably warm winter Friday this past February. My friends Ed Nammour and Kate Porterfield showed up in my kitchen at 8:00 am — a few minutes after Andy and I shepherded Phoebe and Abby to the bus stop — and by the time the girls disembarked seven hours later, brains filled with fractions and parallelograms, Ed had shot this crazy beautiful honest-to-God Book Trailer for me, complete with a thing called B-Roll? Do you guys know from B-Roll?
I’m exaggerating a bit there — B-Roll is one of the few terms I knew going into the whole production, but that’s about where the knowledge tops off. A big reason why I chose a career as an editor and then opted for the blog medium when I started Dinner: A Love Story 2 1/2 years ago, was because I didn’t have to, you know, talk. With my mouth. Out loud. In front of people. I warned Kate — who was serving as the off-camera interviewer, and who you might remember for coining the page-turner concept — that she would have her work cut out for her. I was not going to be able to put a sentence together in any kind of coherent way. I am a writer! I speak through my keyboard and like to have time to scratch my chin while formulating unique insights!
“Jenny,” Kate replied to all this. “You’re not talking about North Korea here. You’re talking about dinner.”
See why I forced her to be on set with me? Five hours later, I had managed to articulate a few thoughts about family dinner and my book, and why this project has meant so much to me as a parent these past few years. And Kate was on the 1:20 train back to Brooklyn, where her daughters were returning from their school day.
I hope you have some time to watch it and, if you like what you see, to share it with other people who might be inspired to catch the family dinner bug, too. If you love what you see? Well, by now, I think you know what to do. And if you’d rather spend those 3 minutes and 57 seconds reading about North Korea, I’ll crystallize the video and the book and the entire mission of DALS for you with one quote I said at about 3:09:
“What I tried to do with this book is cover all the things that can happen at the family dinner table during all stages of a family’s life.”
That means the Just-Married Days, the New Parent Days, and the Bonafide Family Dinner Days, when we get to have conversations at the table that don’t begin with the phrase “If you don’t eat that fill-in-the-blank….”
Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that Ed’s work was far from over when the bus came at the end of our shoot day. He spent more hours than I can bear to think about whittling the 60 minutes of dinner-talking and pizza-flipping footage into the 3:57 narrative you see above. How I got so lucky to live around the corner from a filmmaker and commercial director who (on the side!) loves to support local projects…I’ll never know. I’m just glad I got to meet him that day five years ago when he, his wife, and six other families bid farewell to their kindergartners at the bus stop.
Reminder: A week from today, April 24th, be sure to check in with DALS! We have an exciting proposition for you which, amazingly, doesn’t involve our yogurt-marinated chicken. Well, it sort of does, I guess. But only peripherally.
When I first sat down with my book editor Lee Boudreaux and the designer Allison Saltzman, they asked me what I wanted in a cover design. Oh, you know, I told them, I don’t want it to look cheffy or foodie. I don’t want it to look too precious or too slick. I’d like it to be homey but not dowdy, familiar to old readers but striking for new ones. I want it to appeal to recent grads and newlyweds and especially to parents. I want it to reflect the vibe of this blog. I want it to have good energy and I really want it to feel personal, like it looks right at home on my kitchen counter. I’m not Sean Brock or Gabrielle Hamilton. No matter how many times I make his brussels sprouts, I will never be David Chang. I’m a home cook who has figured out one thing — that making dinner for people I love brings me daily happiness – and I need this book to appeal to people who suspect that carving out a nightly dinner ritual might do the same for them.
Was that too much to ask for?
Apparently not, because I think they nailed it, don’t you?