Forward March! Andy, My Drill Sergeant of Leisure

We are officially T-1 week for Publication Date of Dinner: A Love Story, and T-3 weeks til school’s out, so I thought I’d share a section from the book that is one of my favorites. It’s about the transformation my husband undergoes when we are on vacation.

When I was growing up, we never took typical family vacations. We never booked a house on the Cape for a week or went to Fort Myers in February; we never sat at the kitchen table with a map of the country circling national parks we wanted to visit like I imagined most families doing. Part of the reason for this was that my mother, once she found her calling as an attorney, turned into a workaholic— today, at seventy-five, as partner in her own law firm, she still works harder than all of her children combined—and, like all workaholics, she derives pleasure from work, thereby rendering the need to get pleasure elsewhere useless. (I’ve always gotten the feeling that she finds vacation from reading ninety-five-page contracts a whole lot more stressful than reading those ninety-five-page contracts.)

Another reason we never went on typical vacations was that my sister, Lynn, was a nationally ranked tennis player who competed in tournaments all over the country. Naturally, we’d all tag along with her on all of these trips no matter where they were—Charlestown, West Virginia, Raleigh, North Carolina, Indianapolis. They were always during July and August, and the organizers seemed to find some sick pleasure in selecting venues where the average temperature was a hundred degrees in the shade and never ever near a water park with one of those long, twisty mountain slides. But the truth was, I didn’t mind. I was ten, eleven, twelve years old. All I needed was a hotel pool to be happy.

But now that I am not a kid—now that I am a grown-up and I have kids of my own—vacation is a different story altogether. I need the pool, yes, but I also need a whole lot more. Most of the time I need a kitchen. I need a grill. I need to go to a place with lots to do. In fact, from the moment we arrive at wherever we happen to be vacationing, Andy and I are crafting ways to make sure we are squeezing the maximum amount of pleasure out of every moment of our waking hours. We take our vacations seriously. Before we have finished our morning coffee we have a plan for the day, one that usually includes exercise for the grown-ups (we usually tag-team our runs while the kids watch their morning TV), a large chunk of time in or near a pool or beach, some sort of afternoon adventure that involves exploring the local terrain (like a road trip or a hike or a bike ride), and of course, shopping for dinner that we will make in our own kitchen while drinking gin and tonics.

One morning when we were on vacation in South Carolina (where Andy’s parents have a house near the beach), the girls were finishing up watching an episode of The Backyardigans, and Andy looked at the clock.

“It’s ten o’clock in the morning and we still don’t have a plan,” he said.

“It’s only ten in the morning,” I said, taking a sip of my iced coffee that Andy had prepared the night before so it would be ready for us when we woke up.

“Yes, but we have a lot to do today.”

“We do?” I asked. The way he said it made it sound as if we were on deadline for something serious. “Like what?”

He started ticking things off on his fingers. “We have to go to the pool, we have to go to the beach, we have to try out that new kite that my dad bought for the kids. I want to go for a run and I assume you do, too. We have to decide whether we want to go to that dock you just read about to pick up some shrimp, and if we don’t, we have to figure out what to make for dinner sooner rather than later because at six o’clock I need to be right there on that deck drinking my gin and tonic.”

Now there was a deadline I could get excited about! Because of behavior like this, I nicknamed Andy “My Drill Sergeant of Leisure.” My Drill Sergeant of Leisure shows up the second the plane’s wheels touch down. My Drill Sergeant of Leisure shows up first thing in the morning, turns to me in bed, and says with a straight face, “You have some serious decisions to make” (usually something like: Pool or beach? Grouper or mahimahi?) He can’t help himself. It’s not that he can’t relax—it’s the opposite of that actually. For both of us, taking a few minutes in the morning to think about the day’s structure ensures that we’ll get to do all the things that help relax us the most. (Stay with me, here.) That means we know what we’re having for dinner before we’ve finished the morning paper. And if we haven’t already shopped for all the ingredients we need to make that dinner happen (almost always the freshest piece of fish we can find, grilled, plus a medley of colorful, easy, barely cooked or no-cook salads) we will refer to our Drill Sergeant’s schedule to figure out the best time to hit the market without interrupting the natural flow of the day.

While most people can’t think of anything more stressful than coming up with an hour-by-hour plan to chill out on vacation, I can’t think of anything more stressful than being unprepared for our favorite time of day. Because to deprive ourselves of even one spectacular vacation dinner is, for us, no vacation at all.


You know how I keep saying that this cookbook is different from others because all the recipes are strategy-based? Well, you can tell from my mix-and-match vacation dinner chart (scanned right from the book) that I wasn’t kidding. Here is the ultimate example of how you can become obsessive-compulsive just like me. See delicious results above: Fish Tacos + Mexi-Slaw + Grilled Pineapple Salsa = Perfect Vacation DinnerRecipes on pages 239, 242, 243 of Dinner: A Love Story.

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While we have had our share of hotel-based vacations, we definitely have more joy when we’ve rented a place with a kitchen – preferably close to the beach. I will go on record saying my most favorite vacation of all-time, even surpassing taking my kids to Disneyworld, was a week in a house on the Oregon Coast – me, my husband, our two kids, his parents, AND my parents. It was the best!


My best and most enjoyable vacay’s are always planned! Plus I so can not wait for the book to come out! I have Time for dinner and I love it and I have also made a semi cookbook from your posts that I keep in a binder divided by months. Ready to add this one to my collection!

Gretchen SB

Love it!! So excited about the cookbook, and it’s fun to have a little glimpse of vacation life as we count down the weeks until ours…


What I wouldn’t give for my very own drill sargent of leisure! This is great.


Agree! We rent a place every summer in Door County, Wisconsin on Lake Michigan- always with a kitchen. Completely changes the week. There’s a local farmers market which makes the week even better.
Looking forward to your book! Strategy-based- excellent!


Wow, a man after my own heart. I’m the drill seargent in my house, whether it’s leisure or otherwise. Although I have to say that even though it’s frustrating sometimes living with a non-planning type, it would probably be bad to have two over-planners in the same house. Just as it would be bad to have two non-planners. Better to spread the planners around. But I get his logic – you have to plan for these leisurely things to happen, otherwise they never will. And then you’ll be disappointed later that they didn’t. Those farmer’s markets close, you know, and they run out of stuff.


I cannot wait for your book to come out, and this story makes me even more anxious to read what other great stories you have in store for us!! I have the date marked on my calendar for arrival! Congrats on making it this far, and I hope all the other DALS readers are as excited as me to read it 🙂


Your vacation sounds just like ours! Every summer we rent a condo on the beach in SC. The best part of the day is the gin and tonic on the deck before dinner. Think your book needs to make the trip with us this year.


Love it! And perfect timing, as we’ll be setting off on vacation to Charleston at the end of June — renting a place on the beach on the Isle of Palms, which is going to feel a bit strange since we used to LIVE in Charleston, but it seemed like a stellar place to go on our first official vacay that involves not a schmancy hotel, but an actual full-up domicile with a kitchen. Now that we have a toddler, this seems more essential now than having someone come in twice a day to pick our towels up off the bathroom floor and make the beds. Am I right? I am totally looking forward to making some dinners that won’t have to be followed up by the insane rush-around to prep for the next day at work and daycare, but I am realizing only now that despite my OCD-like reviewing of potential rentals, I did not inquire about whether there is a grill on the premises. D’oh!

Val @ Tips on Healthy Living

Those are serious decisions! 😉 I’m the same way — feeling like there’s a plan and strategy actually helps me to relax and be in the moment. Can’t wait to see what these Campfire Potatoes are all about!


We should vacation together. Andy and my husband Kyle could open a Drill Sergeant of Leisure Training Camp, we could all tag team our runs in the morning, and we could alternate which family makes drinks and which grills fish. Love it – and can’t wait for my copies to arrive!!! Congratulations Jenny.


I am so with you – going out to eat while on vacation is not my idea of a good time. The end of the day is the best time at the beach, a good shower, a cocktail and then an easy homemade dinner is bliss to me.


This post hit home – my mom is exactly the same way! All we hear from her is ‘I can’t wait just to sit still and relax on vacation.’ Then, we finally get away to Big Sky, MT (the most relaxing place on earth, IMO) and she is bright eyed and bushy tailed at 7AM bothering everyone with her ‘plans’ for the day. It’s at that point we typically send her out to pick up some fresh baked goods at from the cowboys at Blue Moon Bakery so we could get a few more moments peace!


This made me laugh. I can’t believe Andy brews ice coffee the night before. I think he’s a genius.


Love this! I am totally the “Drill Sargent of Leisure” in our family. I love planning vacations (both on a macro and micro scale). I think I’m worried I’ll miss out on something .fun to do or experience However since it bugs my husband I do this, I’m trying to chill out a little more on vacation and just enjoy relaxing and having no plans.

Alix @ Feast Magazine

I am definitely the Drill Sergeant at my house. Wasting time on holidays drives me batty. Husband is all “go with the flow” but then gets shirty if things don’t work out. I think he appreciates my planning most of the time!

zella jensen

June 1, 2012
Okay, okay, I give in. I ordered your book today and I can’t wait til it comes out. You have no idea what this means. I don’t buy cookbooks. I hate spending the money and only liking one or two recipes, but being stuck with a huge book on my shelf. Minimalist here! I’ve been devouring your blog since March and can’t get enough. I love the way you eat, write, cook, think. You inspire me, and sooth my emotional bruises when the kids don’t like what I lovingly created in the kitchen. With your book in hand, I’ll be able to have “you” around more often. Thank you so much.


Just made the fish tacos with grilled pineapple salsa and Mexi-slaw – SWOON! Thanks, Jenny!