My friend Jenny Rosenstrach is warm, wise and a genius when it comes to parenting. Her new cookbook, How to Celebrate Everything, dives deep into family rituals, and I read the whole thing this weekend, totally inspired. She talks about all things big and small — including one-on-one dates with kids, Thanksgiving chocolate pudding pie, Sunday meals and choosing a country for birthday dinners (and then going to a restaurant with that cuisine). But one chapter especially jumped out to me…
Toward the end of her book, Jenny writes about signature dinners:
When I was growing up, my mom made the best meatballs. And roasted chicken. And lasagna with the local market’s sweet Italian sausages. These days, when I take my family for dinner at my parents’ house, I beg her to make one of these dishes for me. How could I not? They were the tent-poles of my culinary upbringing — the family dinner rotation — and I must’ve had each of them once a week for eighteen years. If there were other things worth eating out there, I didn’t care to know about them…
In the past few years, I’ve made a point to pay more careful attention to the answer when I ask my kids “What do you want for dinner?” Because what I’m really asking is: “What foods will someday have the power to transport you back to your childhood?” (Or maybe “What foods will someday be powerful enough to make you literally transport yourself back to your mother’s dinner table, no matter how far away you live from her?”) The answers, not surprisingly, have nothing to do with what’s trending on Instagram. They couldn’t care less about ancient grains or bone broth. Their list can be reduced to what all kids want: pizza, roasted chicken, tacos or burrito bowls. Especially burrito bowls. So long as Mom and Dad are making them, they can’t get enough.
So, I’m curious: What meals do you remember from growing up? What recipes do you hope your own children remember?
When I was growing up, with English parents in the Michigan suburbs, we had a mix of foods that I remember well. My mom would make chicken divan casserole (with water chestnuts!) that we all loved, and lemony roast chicken with crispy roast potatoes. She made crème caramel when relatives visited, and she always baked pumpkin pie for my birthday in January because it was my favorite. When my parents first got divorced, my dad wasn’t used to cooking dinner for three kids, and he’d make cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches for dinner (so English!). Later, he made bullet potatoes in aluminum foil over campfires, and on road trips, he’d bring a round of camembert cheese and French bread, which would taste delicious but make the car smell so barnyard-y, our eyes would water.
For my own children, I’m feeling inspired to pick some delicious recipes to start making regularly and get rooted in their sweet little heads! So far, we have two long-standing and much-anticipated rituals: a cake the night before the first day of school and a half cake on their half birthdays. (Basically, two excuses to have cake.)
(Photo by Chelsea Cavanaugh.)