My Balance: Jenny Rosenstrach of Dinner: A Love Story

This week, we’re interviewing different women all about work/life balance. Jenny Rosenstrach writes the fantastic food blog Dinner: A Love Story and is writing a cookbook memoir; she and her husband also write a column for Bon Appetit. And fun fact: Jenny has a diary listing every single dinner she’s made since 1998! They live in Westchester, New York, with their two daughters. Here’s how she attempts to juggle it all…

1. What’s your work schedule?
It isn’t the same every week, but it’s pretty close. Since I’m currently writing a book, I have to make sure I build in large blocks of time into my week before it fills up. I can write posts for my blog (Dinner: A Love Story) in the waiting room of a 45-minute ballet class or on the 5:20pm train home from Grand Central, but I’ve found I can’t work on the book (or any big project) like that. I need to build in at least three five-hour chunks between Monday and Friday in order to produce at the right pace. So I start with that, then I schedule everything else–meetings, lunches, breakfasts with my dad–around it. I’m lucky because my kids are in elementary school so they get on the bus at 8:09 and come home at 2:57. That’s the same amount of time I had when I worked in an office, minus the commute, the long lunch, and (tragically) the office gossiping.

2. How do you handle childcare?
When I was working full-time, we had a full-time babysitter. When I lost my job (I was working as features director at Cookie Magazine when it folded), we knocked the hours back to Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays from 1pm to 6pm, but often our sitter came in only Mondays and Wednesdays. Right now we have no babysitter, which means I am an obsessive clock-watcher. I live in the suburbs, so whenever I have meetings in the city, I have to make sure they are early and somewhat close to Grand Central so I don’t miss the 1:54 back to my neighborhood in time to be at the bus stop. My book deadline is rapidly approaching, so the sitter-less schedule is not going to be viable for much longer. I’m going to have to start extending my work day until 6pm again soon.

3. Where do you work during the day?
Seventy-five percent of the time the answer to that question is at my local library on the second floor, at the southwest corner looking west at the view of the Hudson River. I crave routines. Since I worked full-time in an office for so many years, I find comfort in structure. I like to feel like I’m reporting somewhere, even if no one notices whether I show up or not. What I love about the library is also what I hate about it: No one talks to each other. So I get an incredible amount of work done, but I can also get incredibly lonely. I remember last winter talking to my friend Yolanda after a particularly grueling day among the Janet Evanovich stacks and she was like “Jenny! You need to get the hell out of that library! Go see a movie! Meet me for a drink or something! You sound awful!” She was totally right. As much as I crave routines and rituals, I need to remind myself to take advantage of my flexible schedule and not put so much stock on productivity every single day. I’ve gotten better about that. And also, now that I am a contributor at Bon Appetit, I use their office space, too, which goes a long way towards feeling like I’m part of something big and exciting.

4. What do you like best about your current set-up?
I love that I can say “yes” when the class mom’s email asks, “Help! Can someone bring paper cups to the Halloween party at 1pm?” For so long–eight years to be specific–the answer was usually no. I remember opening those emails in my office wishing so badly I could be the paper cup hero. I had this awful habit of totally romanticizing what was happening on the domestic front in my absence. Not just classroom stuff, but everything else, especially picking the kids up and dropping them off at their various activities. I remember scheduling a tennis class for them that ended at 6:30pm so I could catch the last two minutes and drive them home. The funny thing is, now that I am home for all of this, and now that I spend 95% of my time schlepping the kids from activity to activity, drop-off and pick-up has become the bane of my existence.

Oh! Another thing I love about my current set-up: I can go to Trader Joe’s or Fairway in the middle of the week!

5. How did you decide to go freelance/start your own business?
I worked full-time for eight years and I’m pretty sure every single day during every single one of those eight years I’d have the thought “Am I doing the right thing here?” after kissing my daughters goodbye in the morning. I was so envious of other mothers who seemed to have such conviction in their choices–whether it was staying home or working in an office or something in the middle. I was never that mother. I always went back and forth and questioned my decision to work full-time. Remember that Roz Chast cartoon “The Insomniaplex”? The one where it shows a marquee listing everything that was keeping her up at night? My insomniaplex had nightly double features of the “How do I find more of a balance” show. It’s all I thought about. Can we make it work financially if I stay home? Are my long absences the reason why my daughter is having trouble with math? Would I ever be able to walk away from such a great job and such great people? The suits at Conde Nast ended up making the decision for me the day they folded Cookie and I lost my job. I know now that I would have probably been too gutless to ever make the decision to leave on my own. So even though I was bitter, now I think I owe those suits a big thank-you.

Thank you, Jenny!
P.S. Here’s the full work/life balance series, and my own balance post is coming up on Monday. I’m looking forward to sharing. Have a wonderful weekend! xoxo

  1. Thats really cool! I would love to read that diary!!

  2. Very effective piece of writing, thanks for your post.

  3. Great post, love how Jenny is balancing her life and completely understand why it is so hard to make such a great decision on your job! Looking forward to your balance post Joanna! xoxo Gabriëlla

  4. love the honesty in this post. The back and forth, feeling torn either way… I relate to that sentiment. I also love your friend’s advice about getting out- going to see a movie, meeting up with friends.

    My husband is going back to school and so I am carving out a working from home system myself. My mom helps out occasionally… but mostly when I am actually working and occasionally when I need a shower, but I need to get better at asking for help with other things. Like for a date night, etc… ; )

  5. Anonymous says...

    I am loving these posts – thank you to the mothers for sharing!

    My husband has a very stable job with benefits etc. and I am a SAHM. I identify with the weekday disconnect – It’s hard to find balance for me too. I have to make the effort to go out and ‘do thing” even though lots of the things lead to spending money!If I wanted to start working more, I’d have to get childcare, and then I would break even. hmmm.
    Also, I think there’s a Big difference between having a baby/toddler in the house, vs. kids in kindergarten and up. I guess I need to improve my time management, and a schedule will help. These posts are making me thing its not just going to magically happen, I’m going to need to make a point to work on it.
    My 1 1/2 y.o. has learned to start kissing up and down my right arm to steal my attention away from the computer.

  6. Anonymous says...

    This is a fantastic discussion!
    Many thanks for initiating it!

    Actually, today that visited the web page, I really smiled with the coincidence:

    Yesterday, after spending a few months reflecting on that, decided that I would really like to become a (single) mother. I am European (but lived in NYC for 12 years, where I studied and worked), 40 years old, and successful professionally (professor in a research university, and dedicated researcher)…

    I would also love to hear the experience of single (working) mothers …

    Best wishes

  7. Just discovered her blog thanks to this post, I love the story-tale vibe it has to it.

  8. She had me at “obsessive clock watcher.”

    My six-week-old baby is going to wake up in 30 minutes…exactly.

    Wait a second, he is my clock :)

  9. Dear Joanna,
    May I add my voice to the praise for this series, it is always so wonderful to hear people speak so honestly and openly about the ‘balance’ issues we all face these days!
    I am a freelance makeup artist and writer/blogger in Ireland and my partner is a recently trained chef and DJ. We have our two year old daughter Lulu and another on the way. Things are tough here in Ireland and he had to completely re-train following being made redundant after years in a different industry. But the really great thing is that he was following his true love (he’s always been a foodie!) and now we have set up a little food business together which although totally scary is fantastically exciting! So as a family, we know all about juggling! So much so, we could join a circus!
    We both work from home and take turns doing things with Lulu. Sometimes it is infuriating and frustrating and I feel as though nothing is being done ‘properly’ but what we really value is the flexibility and the time to be together. I used to semi-envy my friends with their structured careers and kids in childcare but not anymore…this slightly chaotic existence actually suits us and is worth gold…
    Thanks again for introducing us to these inspiring people!


  10. This series has been so wonderful. I hope you continue to do more of them! THANK YOU!!!

  11. Lena says...

    I loved this series.
    And many things are said.
    I often think about the time after needing work/motherhood balance.
    Not that motherhood ever ends,
    but what, when the children are old enough to organise their afternoon on their own…
    Will blogging be enough?
    Are there examples in the bloggersphere of a former blog-generation?

    I don`t want to challenge sth.
    These are just questions and thoughts, which i don`t want to discuss on my own.

  12. thank you for these posts, very inspiring. I have a one year old and have been tyring to figure out to have a balanced life. it was nice to know that I am not the only one feeling so much pressure and ca not find balance. and that there is hope with a little bit of organizing and commitment. and that at the end of the day, we all have to loose a little sleep and that is OK.

  13. I have really enjoyed this series. I am not a wife or a mom (yet), but I share some of the same feelings. I have loved reading about how strong these women are and how they go to great lengths to put their family first and still do what they love. I will file these away and be sure to reference them when I do become a wife and a mom or simply when I need a reminder of what really matters in life. Thanks so much for sharing these wonderful stories! I hope you have a great weekend.

  14. Great interview – such an interesting woman! I will definitely check out her blog.

    I think working at home definitely requires more patience than working in an office, because you are the one setting the hours. I found that after years on a very intense schedule, once I became a SAHM the freedom kind of got to my head and for ages I didn’t get much done! Ooops. Wait, I think having a newborn daughter might also have had something to do with that.

  15. I have loved this series of posts.

    I work from home and it has been such a relief to see that other WAHMs share some of my concerns – my main one being l love the flexibility but the loneliness after a few too many days without contact must be watched. The winter can be the worst. My lovely husband bought me a pass to the local health club so that I could go for a swim or a pilates class, whenever.

    Thank you for instigating the series Jo, a great idea.

  16. You must have a lot of dicipline to write down everything you prepare. Good luck keeping it up.


  17. I love hearing about mom’s “doing it all.” It’s so inspiring. Thanks for this!

  18. I want you to know that I’m absolutely loving this series. I’m work full time from home and know how challenging it can be to juggle your own business and your child at the same time. I also know how wonderful it can be- I love seeing my daughter play each day and getting to smell her post -nap sleepy smell every afternoon.

    This series has been insightful and inspiring so far. There are some really amazing women in the world.

    I really liked this interview in particular and am glad that Jenny can now be the paper cup hero.

  19. This was refreshing to read! I have started some freelance writing & tackle some of the same issues you mentioned. I understand your point about the library so well. Thanks for sharing!

  20. I have loved this series too! I found it so inspiring to read about how different women manage things. I myself am not yet a mother but hopefully on my way to being one. I’ve struggled a lot with the unstructured time issue in graduate school, and it’s inspiring to me to see how these working moms manage it. More than anything though, I relate to Jenny’s thoughts about having conviction about whatever you choose to be doing. This is something I am trying to find as I wait for a baby…

    Thanks Joanna! I remember reading your series on ‘what makes a marriage work’ when you were away on your honeymoon, and I loved that too. Great use of the blogging medium!

  21. Betsy says...

    This is by far my favorite. Very real and I liked that she reflected on the pros and cons of working at/away from home. There’s no right answer – it’s just what works right at the right time for the right people.

  22. Love DALS – her site is a great blend of delicious, doable recipes, parenting ponderings and laugh out loud posts often about a tricky little thing called marriage. Thanks for featuring her here!

  23. I am a HUGE HUGE fan of Dinner: A love Story and am thrilled to see Jenny here! (Their food is AWESOME by the way.) I adored her comment about needing a place to report to — I am a structure girl and since I’ve been home with my daughter it’s been hard for me to give that up because I always had and thrived on a busy-little-bee-in-the-hive mentality and I don’t handle unstructured time very well. Thanks so much for putting on this series, it’s been such a great week of reading!

  24. bp says...

    I have followed Dinner a Love Story for quite some time. I love the website and Jenny’s insight.
    Hopefully I’ll soon be facing the decision on taking the leap, or sticking w/ my Mon thru Friday gig. This has been a very inspiring entry. Thank you!

  25. What a fantastic post, Jenny. I totally get what you mean about craving routines. I used to be the same but by now I totally enjoy having a different schedule each day. The whole series is so brilliant and I truly enjoyed getting to know all the ladies. Have a fantastic weekend in England, Joanna. Kisses:)

  26. Anonymous says...

    This is such a great series – and truly helpful to me, a consultant who sometimes works at home (with an amazing but high energy 10 month old daughter) and also works in a company office or at clients. It is all about rolling with the punches for our family – and making priorites, which for us, include weekends with the iPhone business emails off (at least until Sunday night). I would love to hear from more interviewees on making it work…thanks, Jo!

  27. I typically don’t leave comments. BUT. I just had to thank you for this series. A SAHM of three, I feel like the honesty that’s been shared is priceless. It makes me feel less alone and isolated. Big hug to you, Jo (and all of the women who participated). xoxo

  28. I love this series – you shoudl totally do another one but from the working out of the home mother perspective. It is so nice to hear how other people get it all done! Can’t wait to hear yours too.

  29. great post! she seems really comfortable + at peace with the way things worked out.

    i love being unstructured, but at the same time need structure to function~ so true about working in the library! working on your own can be lonely. you have to make an effort to reach out.

    looking forward to reading your experiences johanna! have a super weekend.

  30. That’s so cool!
    Thanks Johanna for pointing out some great role models here… All things to think about for when I have my own family.
    Just a Silhouette

  31. Anonymous says...

    Jenna, I just re-read your interview and do appreciate that you shared how healthcare and other factors have shaped your decisions. When my husband and I first got married and started a family, he worked 7 days a week, barely broke even, and I struggled to worked full-time during the week and at his business on the weekends. It would be easy to become resentful, but before things headed in that direction we made some changes in our lives.

    It sounds like you and your husband really share responsibilities at home. We’re working toward that!

  32. @anonymous I think it’s interesting that you are assuming that none of us primary breadwinners, (correct me if I’m wrong) but maybe you’d be surprised to hear that some of us ARE primary breadwinners :)

  33. Anonymous says...

    This has been a great series and I have really enjoyed getting a peek into how others structure their lives!

    I do find it interesting that the economics that drive our choices are not a bigger part of the conversation. Healthcare, flexibility in schedules, nannies/babysitters are all huge part of the equation for families struggling to find a good balance. As some others have mentioned, I would love to see a profile or two of a mom who is a primary breadwinner.

    For my family, balance has meant my husband gave up a self-started business that he had poured his heart and soul into for a more stable job with better benefits. I work 50-60 hours a week. I have to say our schedules are crazy, but since we both find our work fulfilling, it makes a huge difference in our general well-baing. We strive for balance over the course of a week or two; I have to confess we have a couple of days a month when we fall into bed, clothes still on!

  34. Mrs. Kate B. says...

    I have LOVED this series of interviews. I am always, always curious to hear how other moms make it all work. Someone should start a blog that is nothing but interviews just like these. Looking forward to reading your post, Joanna.

  35. Anonymous says...

    Just what I was thinking, working from home today as I sit at my computer listening to podcasts so I feel like I am surrounded by people.

    It can be lonely and hard to focus at times. You also learn to have extreme willpower in not running to the fridge every couple of hours! Find I constantly have the munchies!

  36. I think this is my favorite too.
    I can really relate to wishing I had the conviction other mom’s have about their choices, whatever those choices are.

  37. I haven’t grown tired of these posts, and I’m really looking forward to reading yours. I like the part where Jenny discusses what she loves/hates about working at the library. It really is important to have structure when you’re a freelancer, and it can get lonely. That’s why these “My Balance” posts are so great; they give a chance to make connections so you don’t feel like you’re alone. =)

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  38. I LOVED this piece…I can absolutely relate to the feeling of having to report somewhere even if no one is keeping track. I used to go to my local library every single day several summers ago when I wasn’t working at all. It gave me some sense of structure, plus being surrounded by books is somehow inspiring to me to get work done.

  39. I am also an ‘obsessive clock-watcher’. I believe many other mothers are the same. :)

  40. Oh I love this! what a fabulous balance and I’m excited to read her site! Love the diary! Happy weekend!
    Recipes Fashion Marriage

  41. I think she is the favorite of the balance posts so far :) I could totally see myself having a schedule like this in a few years :) She seems so laid back and fun! And I love that she has so much time with her kids.