She had me at the homemade poptarts—but she’s not only a cookbook author, mom of two girls, blogger, she also works at her local farmer’s market
, and as a selectman in her town. Recently, I picked up her fantastic book, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making, after reading wonderful reviews, and watching the homemade pop tart video with my son. Alana is all treasure and I’m thrilled to share more of her day to day here.
Tell us about yourself:
I live in the country in a big house with my husband, Joey (a preschool teacher), my two girls (Sadie, 9 and Rosie, 7), my mother, stepfather, and my 14-year-old sister. Joey and I got pregnant just out of college, and we came back here to the town in which I grew up to have support from my parents and figure out our next step. We ended up settling here, and so we’ve created a home with my parents and my sister. I spent most of my twenties doing all sorts of jobs–really whatever I could do to be with my kids and make a little bit of money. Through it all, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, and how I would contribute to the world. I was working at my local farmers’ market on Saturday mornings, and I realized that was my favorite part of the week. I just loved talking to people about what they were going to make for dinner. I knew I had to work with food, and so while I figured it out, I started my blog, Eatingfromthegroundup.com, in 2008 to give myself an outlet and a place to store recipes. In 2010, I sold my book, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making to Clarkson Potter. I was blown away. Up until that point, I had certainly dreamed of writing a book, but I was sure it would never happen. It’s been a pretty wonderful couple of years. In 2010, I was also elected to public office in my little town. I serve as a selectman, which means that I’m one of a five-person policy making board for the community. I still work at the farmers’ market and I teach cheesemaking in my kitchen when I get the chance, too.
What’s a typical weeknight?
There’s usually a fair amount of frenzy on the weeknights. Unfortunately, my job as selectman often takes me away in the evenings, so I’m often trying to get dinner ready in time so that we can eat together before I go. There are seven of us in the house! So there are a lot of hungry people moving through the kitchen. We all eat together every night, and then 2 people do the dishes.
Do you do most of the cooking?
I do quite a bit of the cooking, but we rotate cooking nights so that everyone gets a turn. Sadie has a night now where she’s entirely in charge of dinner, and I get to be her sous chef. I love that night.
Do you have a go-to dinner that appears weekly? What’s in the breakfast rotation? Any food-based family rituals?
Dinner really varies depending on how much time I have in the day. My favorite days are when I really get to spend the afternoon working on dinner, and I’ll lay my favorite new cookbooks out in front of me, looking for a new project.
When I need a quick dinner that will make at least most people happy, it’s often a frittata. Or I’ll make throw-everything-in-the-fridge on top of pasta, and that’s always a hit. Something meaty (prosciutto or bacon)+something green (asparagus! swiss chard!)+some kind of cheese (parmesan, goat, feta)+olive oil. I’ll put that all over boxed pasta, or, if I have a few more minutes, homemade pasta. And then there’s lentil soup and popovers. Or pasta carbonara. Thankfully, there’s always carbonara.
For breakfast, we rotate between eggs (right now the favorite is toad in the hole with a heart-shaped hole) and homemade granola with yogurt. Weekends are pancakes and waffles.
And we do have a family ritual–before every meal, we all say “Shnah!” We’re not even entirely sure where that came from, but I think Sadie made it up as a baby. It’s the thing we say to make sure we’re all at the table and ready to eat and be together. It’s our grace, only it’s our shnah.
Any tips for family meal planning?
I think it’s great to get kids involved in meal planning. For little ones, it can be as simple as asking what they want to eat that week. And for older kids who are ready, give them a cooking night where they are responsible for the menu, the cooking, everything. I’ve found that in my experience cooking with kids (both my kids and others), they tend to be more imaginative than adults when it comes to meal planning. Give a kid a stack of cookbooks, and you’ll get some great dinner ideas out of it.
Regarding screen time, would you say you’re very conservative, easy breezy, or completely confused as to what is appropriate…?
Oh, I’m all over the place with screen time. We don’t have TV, which I think helps a lot, but the girls watch videos on the weekend mornings while we sleep in–we figured that one out early on. I’m pretty easy breezy with the computer. I let the girls play games, and Sadie just got an email address this year. There are certainly days when they sit and play on PBS kids for a long time, but I think they find a balance.
Tell us about how you celebrate birthdays in your house?
I always go nuts on birthday breakfasts- these are the times when I stay up late trying a new cinnamon roll recipe or I lay out a fancy breakfast table. As for the party, the girls lead their own party planning. Our parties tend to be fairly cobbled together and low-key, but the kids always seem to have a good time, and they usually get their parents to ask me for my birthday cake recipe, which, to me, is a mark of success. The girls get to ask me for any kind of flavor or cake that they want, and then it’s my challenge to create it. I’m no master of birthday cakes, either, so often I have to be extra creative there. I kind of love that though–I look forward to their challenges.
What websites inspire you and for which parts of your life?
There are a few websites I’ve been reading forever, and I always come back to them. I love Orangette, The Wednesday Chef, and 101 Cookbooks. I love to inhabit those kitchens, and they make me feel inspired to take a breath and step into my own. I also love Dinner, A Love Story. Jenny and Andy are so honest and wonderful, and they’re both such clear and hilarious writers. There’s also a blog that I’ve been reading for years called Bliss. It’s mostly a design and clothing blog, but it speaks to my inner fancy self in the best way. Tracy French is a mom of two in Oregon, and she dreams of places and clothes and shares them on her site. I just love her taste, and she’s generous to let us inhabit her dreams, too.
Tell us about a typical weekend.
The weekend is a big work time for me, as all through the growing season, I work at the farmer’s market. Joey and the girls come down to visit me, and then they spend the morning at tag sales, which is their special thing. We love to take drives on the weekend, to find new roads we’ve never seen, new walks, and new adventures. We’re big into the old-time Sunday drive.
Any family rituals you carry on, or that you have created?
My grandmother loved to celebrate the first day of spring. She would have me invite my friends over and she would make cupcakes. I try to carry that one on. We’ve also created some rituals around holidays, as we’re a bit of mish mosh of religions and traditions. We celebrate every equinox and solstice with a special meal and a reading of a series of books we love about mice in the woods by a Japanese writer, Kazuo Iwamura. On Christmas morning, we always go outside, no matter the weather. We’ll go for a snowy walk or hike, and then we come back and open presents. Then, we order Chinese food. The girls are really into this routine–this past Christmas, I tried to cook dinner, and they got mad! They said it wouldn’t be Christmas without Chinese food. I grew up without too many rituals and I really craved them, so I’m trying to create more now that I’m a mother.
How has your upbringing informed your life as a mother?
I was raised by a single mother who had a lot on her plate, and so I was a pretty independent kid. I think that this has made me do two things as a mother that sometimes seem contrary to each other. On one hand, I recognize that my kids are capable of making decisions for themselves and taking care of themselves, so I give them a lot of responsibility, but on the other I try to give them a lot of structure and support, because that seems to make them feel stronger in the world. When I was little, my mom was a bit of a hippie and a seeker, and (to make a long story short), we did some traveling on a rainbow bus, which I think just about sums it up. I’m way more conservative as a parent than she was, but the interesting twist is that now we live together, and we’re parenting side by side (I have a 14-year-old sister). She’s more conservative of a parent than she was, too.
When and why did you decide to start your blog and consequently your book?
I started the blog in 2008 as a way to hold recipes from my conversations at the farmers’ market. I started thinking about the book in 2009 because I was so excited about making our basic foods from scratch, and I couldn’t quite seem to find the right book to help me through. I sold the book in 2010, and spent the next year writing, researching, and testing.
Do you have a favorite recipe from your book?
I love the ricotta recipe. It’s so simple, and it makes a cheesemaker out of anyone.
What are you growing in your garden?
This year, I’ve got all sorts of things in already–I’m doing better than usual! I’ve got the usual suspects when it comes to veggies: kale, tomatoes, radishes, potatoes. But I’m also growing a lot of cutting flowers this year. That was what I wanted more of last year.
I love spring and fall. Transitions make me feel creative, and I love not quite knowing what will happen next.
Favorite activities for when you’re stuck indoors, or do you not let the elements get in the way?
It all comes down to baking and scrabble in this house. I love a good snow-shoe in the woods when I can get it. We’re a big skiing town, but I don’t ski! I was a ballet dancer as a child, and we weren’t allowed to ski. But I’ve found my winter sport in snow shoeing.
Do you listen to music or are you stuck in what you liked post-college and what your kids listen to? Tell us what that is!
I listen to music constantly. I’m definitely stuck in post-college music a bit, but luckily those bands keep putting out new albums! The last two weeks have been the new Beach House record, over and over.
The girls love to listen to music too–Sadie has a weird thing for Abba, and Rosie is into old girl groups from the fifties and sixties. We do a lot of singing to loud music in the car.
What’s the thing that always stays on your to-do list and never gets crossed off and nags at you?
Somehow in the last 10 years, I’ve gone from being super organized to not so organized. Maybe it’s the sheer volume of information, papers, and everything else? But nothing is ever as clean or organized as I’d like it to be. I dream of a whole week where I can just go through the house and get rid of nearly everything. Someday!
Top 3 favorite books—for your kids, top 3 for yourself? Last book you read?
For my kids: 1. Smile by Raina Telgemeir, 2. All of the 14 Forest Mice Books by Kazuo Iwamura (see above) 3. The Melendy Quartet by Elizabeth Enright
For me: 1. Home Cooking and More Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin 2. Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner 3. The Piazza Tales by Herman Melville 4. Summer by Edith Wharton. That’s four, I know, but I can’t get it down to three!
Right now, I’m reading Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal and Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale. I’m loving them both.
Do you have a fail-safe beauty product or routine?
I’ve been using Dr. Hauschka skin products since I was 18. I’ve tried to switch to anything else as Hauschka is pricey! But I can’t- nothing works like their facial products. I think I’m in it for life. Everything smells like roses and makes my skin glow.
Your favorite family trip ever?
Last year, we rented a house on Peak’s Island off Portland, Maine. We were on a serious budget, and we found a house that we could rent mid-week for such a deal! It was adorable, and falling apart, and totally haunted (that’s a story for another time!). There was a claw foot tub upstairs that was so heavy, the floor sagged several inches underneath it and looked like it would cave at any moment. So we spent all of our time outside of the house–wandering around the island, going to the little library, eating too much ice cream, and swimming in the ocean. I loved every minute of it.
You feel your best when?
I feel my best when I’m off on an adventure. I love to be in new places, even if it’s nearby but new to me.
Favorite clothing item and why?
I have this magenta infinity scarf that I bought last fall and I can’t get enough of it. It’s this lovely rose color, and it’s soft and wonderful.
Proudest moment in parenting?
I feel so proud when I see the girls bravely making their way in the world on their own. Last year, I took Sadie to audition for The Wizard of Oz, and she was, by far, the tiniest person on the stage. When it was time, she took her turn and stood in front of everyone to sing her few bars of song, and she did it! She wanted to audition so badly, and she was just so brave up there. I feel like in those moments, when they’re really on their own but they feel strong and secure, I feel so proud.
What do you feel you could be better at?
I could be better at playing, and at taking time off. It’s hard for me to take a break and just stop working. At the same time, I love it- I love hanging out on the back porch drinking a beer and blowing off the rest of the afternoon! I’m trying to get better at just doing it.
What makes you feel guilty?
I feel guilty when I’m trying to be with the girls and I’m super distracted. The computer takes me away, and now I have an iPhone, so work travels with me. Sometimes I’m so busy writing about dinner, that I don’t have time to actually make dinner. But usually, right at one of the moments, Sadie or Rosie will spin my desk chair around and give me a kiss on the nose. They seem to know just what I need.
Jaime Rugh is an artist and author of the blog Found While Walking.