Jenny Rosenstrach wants to help fellow parents answer that constant, nagging question: What's for dinner? And for the past eight years, the mum of two has been doing so by sharing recipes and delightful personal musings on her website Dinner: A Love Story.
Name: Jenny Rosenstrach Location: Westchester, New York Job: Creator, Dinner: A Love Story, a blog about family dinner. Author of three books. Family: Husband Andy Ward, daughters Phoebe (16) and Abby (14), and Boston terriers Iris (9) and Bean (3 months)
Tell us a bit about your career. Did life happen mostly as planned or were there surprises?
If you told me in college that I would eventually make a career out making dinner, I would have laughed so hard. (I still kind of can't believe it.) I was a magazine editor for 15 years before I lost my job and decided to strike out on my own and start Dinner: A Love Story.
I didn't plan it that way, obviously, but I wouldn't have ever had the confidence to do that without so many years in publishing, relentlessly churning out content, and I wouldn't have ever had the guts to leave a fun, creative job. So being forced to leave ended up being a fortunate surprise. It forced me to think about what I really wanted to do and how I wanted to live.
Take us through your morning routine. What are your best tricks for getting out the door.
When my kids were younger and there was a bus to catch, every morning felt like it was the very first time we were ever catching a bus. I think I had to yell in a panic "brush-your-teeth-put-on-your-shoes-don't-forget-your-lunch" every day for eight straight years. (And every morning I'd be like "How have you not figured this out yet???")
We'd be sprinting to the bus stop while simultaneously tying shoes and signing permission slips. It was crazy. One of the things that made our morning lives slightly easier, though, was the decision to pack lunches and snacks the night before. (We'd alternate nights because we dreaded it so much.) But it was one less thing for us to do. These days, with teenagers, things are a lot easier. They get themselves breakfast and pack their own lunches (or if they don't, it's on them to figure out options). Often they sleep later than me and walk to school.
I'm way more attentive to my dogs and my first cup of coffee than I am to my kids. I also take a few minutes to think about what I might do to make my life easier on the other end of the day. Even if it's just taking some chicken out of the freezer so it can be thawed in time for dinner.
What are the gadgets, apps, charts, or tools you rely on?
New York Times Cooking for dinner ideas, Instagram to keep up to speed on my kids' and nephews' and nieces' lives, and Happy Feed, which is an app my kids got me into. You have to write down three things you're grateful for every day - even if it's just "Pork Carnitas for Sunday Dinner" or "Caught up with Lia." It's amazingly effective at pushing away the toxic stuff so you don't forget about all the good and great that's right in front of you.
Has becoming a parent changed the way you work?
When I first returned to work after maternity leave, I couldn't believe how much more efficient I became. I made it very clear that I was leaving at a certain time every day (around 5:30 or 6:00), so not only did I work like crazy to hit that self-imposed deadline, but my coworkers knew they had to get me early in the day if they needed me. I'm sure this didn't make me super popular, but a year later, another woman at work had her first baby and told me a big part of her decision was watching me stick to my guns on that deadline. I will never forget that.
What are a few of your best meal hacks for kids and families?
I don't know what I'd do without rotisserie chickens. I'll slice one up, toast some good bread, top with the chicken, caramelised onions, and "special sauce."
I'll sauté some onions, peppers, tomato paste, pour in chicken broth, add shredded rotisserie chicken and lime juice, chips, avocado and have the world's greatest tortilla soup on the table in 15 minutes. I also have an arsenal of quick dinners that aren't necessarily hacks, but they're so easy that they feel like I'm cheating.
What does your evening routine look like?
I'm either watching a series on Netflix (recent favourites: Fauda, The Handmaid's Tale, Black Mirror, Rick & Morty) or reading in bed (recent favourites: You Think It I'll Say It, Power of Moments, Educated; on deck: When She Was Good, a Philip Roth book I've always meant to read. RIP.)
How do you decompress?
One word: Boodles.
What do you want your kids to learn from your example?
It's kind of funny because when I first started working from home, I was obsessed with shutting down my laptop as soon as the kids got home from school so I could be "present". (Though just because I was obsessed with being this kind of parent doesn't mean I was terribly good at it.) But now that the kids are older, I'm obsessing over the opposite: The fact that most of the time when they see me, I'm either driving them somewhere or feeding them dinner.
Maybe it's because I have daughters, but now I want them to see me working, I want them to see that I have a professional life outside of the house, and that I've figured out some sort of balance that I hope they will figure out for themselves someday. Of course, this is all totally delusional because whether I'm working or cooking, they're cloistered in their bedrooms studying or texting friends or listening to Drake and not really noticing anything I'm doing.
What are favourite funny/weird/special family rituals?
When the girls had braces, I'd make them mashed potatoes for dinner on days they'd have to get them tightened. When a big sports event is happening, like the Olympics or World Series, we make a point to eat nachos for dinner in front of the TV. At least a few times a summer, we all walk to the farmer's market to procure the ingredients for a tomato sandwich.
There are a lot of mixed-up holidays in my house because I'm half Jewish, half Presbyterian - Easter Ham has winded up on the Passover table and I always make latkes when we are trimming the Christmas tree. When we go on vacation, the first thing we do is buy Pop Tarts because that's not something we eat in our "regular" life and it feels celebratory. We have so many more.
What's the hardest part about being a parent?
I'm kind of late to the party on this one, but I've only recently learned the phrase "lawn-mower parent," the parent who clears a nice smooth path in front of her child, eliminating whatever obstacles and hardships she can. (I guess this is Helicopter Parent 2.0.) When the kids were little, it seemed so easy to solve their problems - probably because a lot of their problems were actually solve-able - but now it's a different ball game.
They have to learn how to fix things for themselves and it's been really hard for me not to mow that lawn. I'm not the first person to say how hard it is to watch your kid struggle — socially, academically, emotionally, physically. But the older they get, and the more stories I hear about kids who are suffering from severe anxiety because they have never learned to fail, the more I realise how important it is to let them struggle. This is so freaking hard to do I can't believe it.
What's your favourite part of the day?
Family dinner. It's truly the only time in the course of a day that we all look each other in the eyes and have meaningful interactions..