A Few Things

Good morning and welcome to the shortest day of the longest year. As I just texted my college roommates, It can only get brighter from here! This is most likely my last post of the year, and I will spare you the 2020 laments and curses, and instead leave you with five things, each of which has brought me a small dose of intense happiness as recently as the past 24 hours…

1. “Check Your Doorstep”

Let’s begin with those cookies. I know holiday boxes are not a new thing, but do you all feel like the whole ritual is in overdrive this year? Even before holiday baking kicked into high gear, though — like way back to even the spring — Abby got seriously into spending a few hours baking cookies or muffins, then driving around the neighborhood like Santa Claus to deliver the delicious dividends to her friends. “Check your doorstep,” she’d text and I think the appreciative replies to those messages fueled her more than I’ll ever really grasp. Her most recent mission (she made a big batch of these so she could include her gluten-free friend) inspired me to put together a cookie box for some locals, even though I’ve never been the best or most patient baker. So far I’ve made Zebra Cookies, Toasted Almond Snowball Cookies, Gingerbread Cookies (Note: I found the bake time listed was way too long, and pulled the last few batches out after 8 to 10 minutes), and hopefully this afternoon, some Peppermint Bark, though I feel my motivation waning. Now the fun part: Who gets the “check your doorstep” text?

2. A Quick, Hearty Dinner

This Crisp Gnocchi with Brussels Sprouts and Brown Butter has been in my “saved” file on instagram for so long, and last night, a chilly one that called for something hearty, we finally decided to bite the bullet and do it. It’s an Ali Slagle recipe from NYT Cooking, and calls for you to pan-fry the gnocchi instead of boiling it so it gets crispy. If there were Pulitzers for technique innovation, I would nominate her. There’s a hefty drizzle of honey on there, too, which makes the gnocchi taste less like pasta and more like toasted breakfast biscuits. Good grief! Note: It’s not a light dinner, but it was an incredibly memorable one. And so easy, my 17-year-old cooked it for us. (FYI: Forgive me if it’s behind a paywall — I know it comes out in front from time to time.)

3. Saturday Night Dinner

Breaking news! I care a LOT about dinner, no matter what day of the week it is. (See: Previous 1,558* posts. ) Lately, though I find myself spending a ridiculous amount of psychic energy thinking about our Saturday night menus. It feels like an easy way to make the weekend feel like a weekend, if you know what I mean. We clear the dining room of all the detritus (it’s essentially two home offices, a gym, and occasionally a high school classroom during the week), light a few candles, dim the chandelier, and serve food on platters instead of right from the pot. All this to say, we totally nailed it this past Saturday night. Andy made Marcella Hazan’s Pork in Milk (one of the first recipes ever posted here on DALS), I made our OG kale salad with pomegranates, and some roasted potatoes that my kids proclaimed were the best thing I served them in 2020. It was completely by accident, too. I forgot about them in the broiler. (You’ll be reading about that recipe in my next book.) Basic roasted potatoes would work with this menu, too.

*actual number of posts written here since 2010

4. Holiday Menu

This is the first year since I’ve been married that I haven’t woken up on Christmas morning at my in-law’s home. (And my childrens’ first ever without them.) To combat all the sadness around this, it helps a little to have a few food rituals in place (holiday cookies, above) so we can at least go through the motions and hope the warm-and-fuzzies follow. Chief among those rituals is Christmas Dinner. We obviously have no choice but to make the same menu Andy’s mom has made for over two decades. The whole thing (including the above cookies) is in How to Celebrate Everything, but the gist of it is this: Roast Beef Tenderloin, Curried Carrots with Pecans, Sybil’s Salad, and Mashed Potatoes. Someone gave us a big gift from Murray’s Cheese, so we’ll probably make a pretty starter plate with that for cocktail hour. And raise a glass to our health and silver linings.

5. This Thing Dinner

Every morning, usually before we are properly caffeinated, and sometimes before we are even out of bed, someone will ask “What’s for dinner?” It’s a joke that predated the 24/7 short-order cooking hours of the pandemic, and now seems to have taken on a whole new meaning of fake dread. (If I ask it, Andy gives me the Heisman, turning in the opposite direction pretending to be in pain, as though I asked him when his tooth is getting pulled.) The truth is, though, I know we both ask it because dinner feels like the brightest spot in a long, gray day of zoom calls, bored — often struggling — kids, and the low-level pining for all that we are losing as this marches on. And the thing is, dinner has always been this for us. More than once on this blog and in my books, I’ve called the dinner table my North Star, and it’s a wonder to me how that star gets to burn brighter and brighter in darker skies. All this to say, I hope you have a safe, healthy holiday, and that you find some measure of comfort around the table.

See you in 2021, when I hope to have some fun news for you. Stay tuned! xoxo

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28 Comments

Ann Muenger

Happy Holidays to you and your family. And thanks for your columns. They have helped make this year more bearable.

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sallyt

HAPPY holidays!!!! My 8 1/2 year old asks me the night BEFORE what’s for dinner when I tuck her in, because she knows I always plan in advance, but lately I’ve been winging it more and more and she’s shocked when I say “I have no idea.”

This is the first time in 26 years that I haven’t spent Christmas with my in-laws – I was a BABY the first time – and it’s sad. Just so sad. May 2021 bring joy, light, and renewal.

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gm

Just thanks for being here this year. And here’s to a better 2021 with, you know, a real president with actual morals and ethics.

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Sara

I’ve been following here for awhile now and somewhere along the way you did a post about responding with “I don’t know” when kids ask what’s for dinner. I ALWAYS know what’s for dinner – I have three young kids and work as a PCU nurse so I always plan ahead. But after reading that post I started responding with “I don’t know.” It has been a magical game changer for me! No begging for me to change the menu! No complaining all day! My house is full of picky eaters and it makes such a difference for the food to be a surprise placed in front of them when they’re hungry instead of something they’re dreading all day. I’ve even started using this method with my husband depending on what’s being served. It also works well on adults 😉 Happy holidays to you and your family!! I got my Covid vaccine today – feels like a light at the end of a very dark tunnel!

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Amanda H.

I love the North Star comment. We’ve eaten every single dinner together since March, and if there’s a silver lining to all of this, it’s that. I’m also so thankful this year that when my daughter was born, we instituted a “our door is open to all, but she wakes up at our house on Christmas!” rule (easy when your kid is the only grandchild for all grandparents, though talk about spoiling!). And we live far enough from all our family that this means all of Christmas is spent at our home. That door might have fewer people come through it this year, but at least the comfort of our “normal” routine will be there.

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Margaret

Thank you for this post and all your posts this year. Three kids at home and two tired adults throwing every tradition we can at the wall to see what sticks. You are an an inspiration! In the best sense.

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Kristin

Happy holidays to you and your family! You have made this year so much brighter, and I appreciate you. This will be our first Christmas without our son. He is staying at grad school because of Covid. I am so glad he and his girlfriend moved in together after graduation, because it’s been so good for them to have each other this year.

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KRISTEN M

And now I am crying. Don’t know why, but also, why not? I have read your words forever, since my two teens were little. Your words always feel right. Like a real home, real family, type of life. This year, I feel like telling everyone who has ever helped me with anything, thank you. So — thank you. Because of you, I always say, “I don’t know”, put veggies or fruit out before dinner and still put dinner items into bowls so people can serve what they want (and complain less) And now I think I am going to make Pork in Milk for Christmas dinner. Thanks. Happy Holidays!

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Jenny

Kristin M, that made me laugh (and cry). I’ve had the same urge to thank everyone I know as the year ends. Happy holidays and thank you for reading.

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Sherri

Happy Holidays to you and yours Jenny. Thanks for this blog which has been a bright beacon during this pandemic (and since 2010!), Just to add to 2020…..my oven is broken, parts backordered so it’s crock pots and no bake cookies for us this year! I love the “check your doorstep” and that’s how I’ll usher in 2021 (when my oven is repaired and I can bake again).

Here’s to a bright 2021.

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Awads

Happy Holidays, Jenny! And congrats on 1,558 posts! I’m pretty sure I’ve read them ALL!

We had a run of 17 Christmas mornings waking up at my in-laws house. That changed as they aged and then passed away. This year, it’s just going to be 3 of us, so a little bit sad. We’ll keep parts of our usual menu (also the curried pecan carrots!), but start a new tradition of a project for us: beef wellington! I can’t even explain how excited I am to have a meal project to focus on instead of who is missing from our table.

I haven’t been able to motivate to bake cookies, but i did bake up a batch of cheese straws for cocktail hour 🙂

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Jenny

Adina – I’m sorry about your in-laws. The holidays can be so hard that way. Thank you so much for reading all these years and please let us know how the Beef Wellington turns out.

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Margo

Merry Christmas! I just printed out that gnocchi recipe (I have a subscription, no idea if it’s behind the paywall), so that solves my dinner question for tonight. I’ve been feeling unmotivated to plan holiday meals this year, but with encouragement from my family we’ll have cinnamon rolls for christmas morning and then baked ziti for dinner. Yum!

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Nina

Jenny, thank you for this blog, which is one of a few bright spots for me. All the best for 2021.

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Rebecca

I’ve loved your posts – especially grateful this year. Making these gingerbread cookies tomorrow. All looks wonderful!

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Jenn in GA

Thank you for all (1558–wow) you’ve shared here in the past decade. Your posts feel like letters between friends from your home to mine, and especially during pandemic they have been a source of normalcy. May you have the best Christmas available to you, and hold dear those you can the next few days.

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D.

Have a wonderful holiday! And thank you for being our bright star this year. I enjoyed tuning in so much.

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ND

I asked my kids to stop asking “What’s for dinner?” and in exchange I started writing it on our whiteboard as soon as I had decided what to cook. Now I just yell: “Check the whiteboard!”

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Corey Ferguson

I’ve made the gnocchi/brussels sprouts dish a few times, and while I wouldn’t normally have anything negative to say about excess butter, I found 6 tablespoons to be too much. I’ve made it with half with no complaints every time after.
Thanks for this and all posts this year, and happy holidays!

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Amy

I hope you’re enjoying a nice peaceful holiday with your family. My question has to do with something you posted on Instagram Stories a day or two ago. You thanked Marion Cunningham for creating the very best overnight waffles (I agree, and it’s a holiday tradition for me to make them Thanksgiving weekend when we visit my in-laws). We had two wonderful Vitantonio waffle irons (one heart-shaped, the other rectangular), and they have both stopped working, so we need to buy a new one. I was hoping you can recommend the one you use for this recipe. Thank you for bringing so much holiday warmth and yumminess into our home, this year and every year.

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Emily

Thank you for your writing always – but especially this year. Your playdate cookies got us through some %&*$ and I loved reading your weekly lists during some dark times.

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Jessica

Love all your posts, stories, and positive perspectives! Thank you for all of your writing and sharing this year!

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Barb

Thanks as always for the beautiful post. I had a couple of comments:
1. Regarding the pork braised in milk, while reading the recipe I instantly thought, ‘where is the garlic?’ When I do scalloped potatoes (cooked in 1/2 & 1/2 until thickened, and then baked) I always start with a crushed garlic clove per large potato. And for me, pork cries out for garlic even more than do potatoes. I can’t think that this would be worse with garlic…

2. My son turned 21 on 12/24, and though everyone knows spending that particular birthday with your old mom is a blast, I did take pity on him… I’m just sharing this in case it’s helpful if you have kids’ birthdays coming up and they are still not permitted to gather: I emailed close friends and family and asked them to be sure to send a card, but also to ask co-workers and friends, especially if far-flung, to send him a card. We ended up with cards from 5 states, a card from the governor of PA (you can email your governor’s office– our state asked for 3 or 4 weeks’ notice), some people sent cards their grandchildren had decorated, some sent cash (I did NOT ask for that!), and he received a card from India as well. If people can’t come to a party, I made sure a bit of party was delivered to him.

May the end of 2020 show us real hindsight into how to be better as a nation, as a people, as a species. Happy new year everyone.

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S

Thank you for helping reframe the dinner dilemma. Thinking of it as a North Star vs a must do chore definitely helps with motivation! My kids are older and having them suddenly home more has been a bit of a game changer after having gotten used to a different approach to dinner – it’s funny how much they count on that home made meal for dinner and leftovers for work lunches.

I greatly appreciated your pantry inspiration during the shutdown. When many blogs went quiet, yours ramped up and it was definitely a beacon during a difficult time.

Can’t wait for your new cookbook and those potatoes!!

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Alison Coleman

Happy New Year DALS Family! YOUR blog has been a major silver lining in my quarantine! I’ve been a follower of your recipes and family meals for several years now, but reading how you all are navigating the pandemic, through cooking, has really brought me true comfort and joy. Cheers to 2021!!!

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