Yes, she’s one of our favorite people on the planet, and thanks to her blog Dinner a Love Story, she’s probably one of yours too…but we just had to interview her here, since we’re expecially proud of her on the eve of her book launch! If you aren’t already a DALS follower, with her book pre-ordered on Amazon, here’s the scoop: Jenny is obsessed with keeping the dinner ritual alive. Her book—a collection of recipes, and the stories behind them—serves as definitive family dinner playbook, as well as a beautiful, funny, honest portrait of a marriage and family.
You are clearly the queen of journaling, and one of my favorite things, is how you just pick one thing and that’s the thing you write about. But before the dinners, was there something else? Was this something you did as a kid?
It’s ridiculous how many journals I have. I’ve kept traditional diaries (you know, the ones with entries that start “Dear Diary”) ever since I was old enough to negotiate a lock-and-key, and I love reading and re-reading those back to remember what it felt like to be 10, 12, 16, a college sophomore, a new mom, etc. But I’ve kept up journals like my dinner diary for different reasons. I’ve long believed that it’s the day-to-day details that are so easily lost. And for me, those day-to-day details hold so much. I just think it’s crazy how much time Andy (my husband) and I spend thinking about what we’re going to have for dinner, only for all evidence of that meal to disappear forever. I found that writing down what we had eaten made the meal more meaningful. And it certainly helped turn it into a ritual.
Now that you have DALS, are you still doing the journals, or has the blog replaced them?
I’m still keeping up my dinner diary, but more and more I’ve been using my blog (and my iPhoto archive) to remind me what I made instead of the other way around. So in that way, it’s become so much more of a document of record as opposed to an actual useful planning tool — which was how it started and which was how we were able to get organized about dinners in the first place. I have to say, having that dinner diary made it very easy to pick the recipes for this book – the shoe-ins were the ones that showed up over and over again and took on many new lives.
What’s your most favorite life-changing recipe in the book that we just have to get so we can have this recipe?!
Oh man, that’s such a hard question. I don’t know about life-changing, but I have a special fondness for any recipe that I’ve been making since Andy and I got married and started learning how to cook. That’s what my book is, basically — a greatest hits of all the dinners we’ve eaten together, and the ones that have survived all these years of witching hours and picky eaters and dinners-in-shifts, and white phases and pink phases. You get the idea. The recipes that we go back to again and again are all very basic — cold sesame noodles, meatballs, chicken pot pie, salmon salad, barbecue chicken, grilled fish tacos — but I’ve tried to come at them from a strategy point of view. How do you serve this dinner to your kid vs. What do you make your kid for dinner. Like don’t ever answer the question “What’s for dinner?” if there’s even the smallest chance your kid is going to have a problem with the answer. That just gives your kid some time to formulate his opinion about why you should not make it and why he will not be trying it.
What’s the best meal and/or drink you’ve ever had ever-could be out to dinner, at home, pre-kid, post kid…or one in each category.
I think that would have to be The River Cafe in London. The place is ridiculously expensive and we had major hesitations about spending that kind of money on the kids, but it’s almost like the two of them got together beforehand and said, “Let’s make this the best meal we’ve ever had.” Caught up in the magic of the place, they not only tried everything they finished everything; they answered the question “how was your day?” with great enthusiasm, and in the middle of a heated debate about which Pixar movie is the best (a perennial dinner table topic) I remember thinking, “Wow, this is actually a really interesting conversation.” That was fun. And the fritto misto was sick and wrong, as my friend Jenny would say.
What’s your absolute favorite 10 things from Trader Joe’s?
OK that is the easiest question ever. Their organic chicken — we pile that s#@t in — drumsticks, thighs, breasts. We usually get a few pounds a week. Like the rest of America, we go through a lot of chicken and my blog readers demand new ideas for what to do with chicken all. the. time. After that: a ball of pizza dough, the 50% salted almonds, which, when mixed with the tart dried Montmorency cherries is the MVP of all snacks; the organic beef pre-made patties (having burger patties in the fridge is like a dinner bonus card – such a no-brainer and so unbelievably satisfying), organic salted peanut butter, buttermilk pancake mix (because it’s the law that there must be pancakes on our breakfast table at least 5x a week), dark chocolate peanut butter cups, and a jar of cornichons which the girls eat by the handful and which often stand in for a legitimate vegetable on their dinner plates.
Abby has just let me know that she would like to add her favorites as well: Chocolate-covered frozen banana bites, Applegate Farms turkey bologna, organic fruit leathers, chicken drumsticks, buttermilk biscuits, gnocchi, par-backed ficelle, orrechiette.
What’s your mom uniform?
I’ve only been waiting three years (ever since editing that column for Cookie!) to answer this question. I’d say my uniform involves from Uniqlo + anything from Madewell + ballet flats. I’d like to say that the flats are always Repetto, but I only own one pair. (If I ever strike it rich, the first thing I’m doing is buying a pair in every color.) The other 90% of the time: Cargo pants and Birkenstocks. “Find personal style” is always on the top of my Master To-Do List.
How do you celebrate your kids’ birthdays?
We get way into birthdays in our house – and part of the fun of it is the planning. I would almost say that party planning is our default conversation no matter what time of year it is. Abby is always crafting and recrafting her invitation list. My 10-year-old is thinking about what kind of theme she wants. They are very into themes, even when they are ridiculously random. Our most successful one was Japanese themed. We made candy sushi and had ninja contests. That was pretty hilarious. A mom came up to me at school after I wrote about it on the blog and was like “uh, I saw that sushi party you did…” then trailed off and looked at me funny. It was pretty over the top, but man oh man was it fun. On the night of their actual birthday, we always go out to a restaurant and the girls get to pick the cuisine. That’s a lot easier than the parties.
What websites inspire you and for which parts of your life?
Momfilter of course. I used to sit fourteen feet away from both of you guys and I still miss talking to you about what to make for dinner, what happened on 30 Rock last night, how freaking funny that SNL skit was, why I should probably think about upgrading from cargo pants and Birkenstocks, etc etc. So checking in with Momfilter goes a long way towards convincing myself I’m still hanging out with you. Other than that, the list is pretty standard: Smitten Kitchen is a given anytime I’m baking something — her birthday cake is killer; then Food Politics just because I think Marion Nestle is so smart and so good at making potentially wonky talk (corporate responsibility as it relates to food, the failed efforts of rebranding High Fructose Corn Syrup, connecting soda to childhood obesity, etc.) really conversational. I love inchmark for day-to-day family life inspiration (Valentine’s Day cards, family reunions, cookbook recommendations, etc.) because Brooke Reynolds — a former designer for Martha Stewart — has such a charming, happy, creative perspective on raising kids. My only gripe with her is that she doesn’t post enough. (Brooke! Are you listening?) And Design Sponge will always be good for some impossible-to-achieve, but endorphin-rush-inducing inspiration. Lastly, I love Here, There, Everywhere — it’s a news site meant for kids, but I lean on it heavily when there are topics in the news that I don’t know how to explain to the girls.
That’s easy. I have one for all hours of the day! In the morning: Coffee. Mid-day: Gawker. At night: Gin & Tonic.
Best parenting advice you ever got?
My daughters are close in age so when they were little I remember turning to my mother-in-law and telling her, “I had no idea how hard this was.” And my mother-in-law said, “Only if you’re doing it right.” I don’t know if that’s necessarily true all the time, but repeating that in my head during those long nights being awake with the babies…well, that was really comforting.