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Photo: © Leslie Kahan
Jenny Rosenstrach is the creator of Dinner: A Love Story, the award-winning website devoted to family dinner, and the New York Times bestselling author of Dinner: A Love Story (Ecco), Dinner: The Playbook (Ballantine), and How to Celebrate Everything (Ballantine). She was the features director at Cookie magazine for four years and special projects editor at Real Simple for six. Her essays and articles have appeared in numerous national publications and anthologies, including The New York Times Book Review, Real Simple, Martha Stewart Living, Whole Living, and the op-ed page of The New York Times. She has appeared on NPR’s Weekend Edition and NBC’s Today. She and her husband, Andy Ward, write the Providers column for Bon Appétit. They live with their two daughters in Westchester County, New York.Jenny Rosenstrach is available for select readings and lectures. To inquire about a possible appearance, please contact Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.prhspeakers.com.
I am about to give new meaning to the term conflict of interest.
Last month, my wife, Jenny Rosenstrach, published a cookbook-slash-memoir called Dinner: A Love Story that came out of a blog of the same name that came out of our nearly twenty years cooking, raising kids, and being boring married people together. I wrote a blog post listing eleven reasons why you might want to invest a little of your money in this book, so I will spare you from that kind of unbecoming, hard-core salesmanship here. But over the past few years, once our youngest daughter reached the age of three — which Jenny always says is the minimum age for family dinner — we’ve oriented a large part of our lives around shopping together, cooking together, eating together and, in the process, carving a little sliver of time out of our hectic lives to talk about our days, eat some good food, and reconnect. After much wrangling, my wife agreed to answer a few questions about the book.
Andy: How did this whole blog and book thing happen? How did you become the Family Dinner Guru?
Jenny: Okay, I am not a guru. I’m just a little obsessive about dinner. But I guess I could say it all started about fourteen years ago, when I turned that journal you gave me into my “Dinner Diary” and started recording everything we cooked and ate for dinner. It’s a little crazy, yes, but it did make selecting the recipes for this book easy. All the recipes that have worked in our house, the ones that have survived through new jobs, new babies, long working hours, and picky eaters are the ones that showed up over and over again and are the ones that made the cut for this book. I think people are responding to Dinner: A Love Story because it gives recipes context. Most people will agree that dinner on a Friday when you are a newlywed (Bolognese, homemade kibbeh, 9:30 reservations in Brooklyn) is a totally different kind of experience than dinner on a Tuesday when you are a working parent and you want a quick orrechiette with broccoli and sausage that can be easily deconstructed into separate components (nothing touching!) to serve the kids. This book takes all those moods and phases and scenarios into account.
Andy: The first thing people say about family dinner is that they don’t have time to make it happen. Which is a totally valid thing to say, of course. But how do you begin to change that mindset?
Jenny: Well, I agree with them. It’s really hard to carve out time to make family dinner happen. Just like it’s really hard for me to carve out time to plant those impatiens that have been shriveling in their sad little trays since that first glimmer of warm weather six weeks ago. I don’t know how to garden — I live in the suburbs and can’t make anything but a weed thrive in my backyard — but I’m sure if I had a few more successes I’d be more motivated to keep at it. When people say they don’t have time to make family dinner happen, I think probably a big part of that is not having a repertoire of surefire, simple dinners that they know will be easy and (here’s the important part) edible to all parties present at the table. But the more you try, the more you discover those go-tos, and the more you watch your kids eat and love those go-tos, the more likely you are to keep at it. Wasn’t it Amy Chua who said that it’s human nature not to like doing something until you are good at it? Once you find your rhythm, you’ll find the same rule applies to dinner that applies to everything else: You make time to do the things you enjoy. (Did I just quote Amy Chua?)
Andy: Tell me about your husband. He seems like a really good guy.
Jenny: Other than his antipathy towards zucchini and talking about himself, he’s a pretty decent person. For the record I will say that I don’t just love him for his pork ragu. I didn’t taste that recipe (page 179, and still to this day the most popular on our site) until almost a decade into our marriage. He also comes in handy for odd jobs around the house, such as clipping the kids’ fingernails, changing those impossible-to-change lightbulbs in the kitchen’s pendants, and editing a 500-page manuscript about family dinner.
Andy: What are you reading right now, for fun?
Jenny: Google Analytics, Amazon Author Rank Updates, reader e-mails, and anyone who has tagged DinnerLoveStory on twitter. In between monitoring all those measures (my “vitals”) I’ve found a few hours to inhale Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. So now I’m working on a proposal for my next book: Dinner: A Crime Novel.
Andy: Tell me more about your husband.
Jenny: The only thing he hates more than zucchini is an adverb.
Check out Jenny’s blog, Dinner: A Love Story, here.
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