FOR WORKING PARENTS, even those who are gifted, intuitive cooks, getting a wholesome dinner on the table regularly is a heavy lift, what with the shopping, the dirty dishes and recycling, the lactose intolerance and high cholesterol to be mitigated, not to mention the perils of Big Corn looming over them. Even more acutely, they feel a relentless time squeeze. Family dinner is a middle-class, first-world challenge, to be sure, but it’s a pervasive one that deserves a full-length book. With great facility and charm, Jenny Rosenstrach’s Dinner: A Love Story, based on her popular blog of the same name, recounts the author’s progression from self-doubt to mastery, both at work and at home.
For many members of Rosenstrach’s demographic, who came of age with the assumption that they’d become high-powered professionals (or at least writers), homemaking skills were anathema. Domestic training was retrograde and sexist and took time away from academic striving. Rosenstrach learned much of what she knows about the kitchen not as a girl but in the workplace, as an editor at Real Simple and Cookie, and through trial and error in her own kitchen. She provides members of her cohort not just with a how-to book but, more importantly, with a central philosophical text.
Rosenstrach’s big idea is that once dinner is solved, the more profound concerns of family life will coalesce around it: Conversation, shared responsibility, pleasure, and health, she argues, can all be fostered at the table. “The simple act of carving out the ritual – a delicious homemade ritual,” she writes — has given “every day purpose and meaning, no matter what else was going on in our lives.” The book, which, like the blog, has a work-in-progress, vérité aura, is a working mother’s manifesto with crowd-pleasing dishes, family recipes, and domestic solutions scattered among reflections on parenting, the cocktail hour, marriage, and careers.
Dinner: A Love Story, or DALS, as Rosenstrach dubs this central project of her professional and personal life, evolved from a dinner diary that she has kept faithfully for 14 years. “On Sunday, February 22, 1998, the very first date on the very first page of my dinner diary,” she writes, “I had one thing on my mind when I opened up the blank green book that Andy bought me for the previous Christmas: How do I make dinner happen?” Possessing the “sad, deluded” belief “that the mere act of writing something down will give me some sense of control over it,” she began logging every dinner she ate as well as compiling recipes, planning meals, and memorializing sublime dishes.
Rosenstrach is an excessive — arguably pathological — record keeper. But the diary, in addition to being an organizational tool, included here to inform and inspire readers, is a revelatory reflection of the author’s life and times and of her character — including her own oddly appealing obsessiveness. A typical page, reproduced in the book, contains scrawled notes from a 1999 family holiday party broken down into lists of what she and her husband made or bought for the event, what guests brought with them, and what was left after the party. (All the cookies and kielbasa and most of the vodka were devoured; nobody touched the gin.)
In a less child-centered era, the great M.F.K. Fisher entwined food history, family life, romance, an...read more