What are we having for dinner?

Being a reader almost inevitably means forging relationships (at least in our own minds) with favorite authors. Once upon a time, as a nine-year-old hardcore "Little House on the Prairie" fan, I was devastated when at last it dawned on me that I would never, ever meet Laura Ingalls Wilder — I felt so deeply connected to her. The advent of author blogs has only increased the likelihood that a sense of kinship will bloom in a reader.

And so it is with my (in my heart) BFF, the cookbook author and food blogger, Jenny Rosenstrach. Back in my "Little House on the Prairie" days, I had zero interest in learning to cook — like Laura, I was way more interested in climbing trees and galloping across the plains on a fleet-footed pony than in giving Ma a hand in the kitchen (sorry, Mom!). Imagine my shock and horror when, as a college student out on my own, I came to the realization that I would need to procure and prepare food for myself pretty much every day for the rest of my life.

I limped along with my meager cooking skills, eating pasta and microwaved baked potatoes for a long time. And then I got married, and we had children — children who also need to be fed at regular intervals (and sometimes are incredibly picky eaters). Cue the dreaded question: What are we having for dinner tonight?

Enter Jenny. Her first book, "Dinner: A Love Story," was the first cookbook I ever read cover-to-cover — I even read the acknowledgements at the end. "Dinner: A Love Story" follows the early years of Jenny’s marriage and explores how the arrival in quick succession of two daughters (one, very picky!) upended and evolved their family’s approach to dinnertime. Rather than being arranged by ingredient or season or type of dish (entree, side, dessert), Jenny’s cookbook is a chronological memoir of a young family, punctuated by recipes, chronicling how the rhythm of their home life changes as the children grow.

Jenny’s companionable prose allows you to bask in the obvious affection at the heart of her family, while also embracing the less-than-camera-ready moments that make up so much of life with young children (so much of life, period, really). Being human can be hard, and I’ve often felt that a great book is one that makes you feel less alone. Who knew a cookbook, of all things — read at the right moment — could resonate so profoundly with a reader? Plus, the recipes are down-to-earth and within reach for folks who might a.) not be very comfortable in the kitchen, b.) live on a budget, and/or c.) need help coaxing a child away from a diet made up primarily of foods in the white-light tan-yellow color palette. My kids now regularly beg for homemade pizza night, thanks to in large part to Jenny’s pizza sauce recipe.

Jenny’s second book, "Dinner: The Playbook," and her third, "How to Celebrate Everything," also do a lot of heavy lifting when meal planning time comes around in my household. And her blog (also titled Dinner: A Love Story) continues to nourish the relationship that began, for me, with her first book. Odds aren’t great that I’ll ever meet Jenny Rosenstrach for real, but she’s been a welcome guest at my dinner table many times.

— Melissa Fisher-Isaacs is the information services coordinator at the Lawrence Public Library.

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