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A cookbook for even the newest of parents

Dinner at my house these days is probably the most chaotic hour of the day.

Our infant is tired and screaming at the top of his lungs after an entire day without a hint of a nap. Our toddler is hungry and ready for her food to hit the table. My husband and I are beginning to long for that precious hour-and-a-half of peace between the kids’ bedtime and our own.

Our latest routine is to heat up something that has been cooked earlier, and for me to wolf it down as quickly as possible so I can go put the baby to bed, while my husband eats with our toddler and does the dishes.

It can be exhausting, but thanks to Jenny Rosenstrach’s “Dinner: A Love Story,” I have hope that it won’t always be like this, and that there will come a day in the future when we can sit down and enjoy an evening meal in (relative) peace.

“Dinner: A Love Story” is one of the latest food-blog-turned-cookbook offerings. It traces Rosenstrach’s life with her husband, Andy, from their dating years, when they first started learning to cook, through the baby years with their two daughters born less than two years apart, to the present day with elementary-age children.

The book started as a blog where Rosenstrach, a former magazine editor, talks about family dinners and anything that might be related to them in any way (kids’ books, music, spousal relations, etc.). It’s strewn with recipes that make regular appearances at her own family table. They range from more complicated dinner-party fare (for after the kids are asleep) to make-and-freeze recipes to have on-hand for those crazy days after a newborn baby comes home.

For me, the book’s biggest takeaway came at the beginning of the third section, which covers the time period when Rosenstrach’s kids could actually sit at a table without dumping their plate overboard or dipping stuffed animals in their food (not that that happens in my house), which she titles, “The years the angels began to sing.”

She describes an afternoon when her daughters were 3 and 4, and she was sitting in their room watching them play. It occurred to her that she could turn on their baby monitor, go down to the kitchen, pour a glass of wine and start cooking dinner.

This “dinner milestone” led to an era where the evening meal became “the emotional anchor to our days, the only time we all set aside our iPhones and Polly Pocket fashion cruise ships to hash out whatever was on the collective family mind.”

Wow, I thought. You mean there will be a day when dinner isn’t just about telling your toddler not to feed the dog under the table, and watching your water glass ripple to the vibrations of the baby’s bouncy seat? Sign me up.

The recipes in this book are both delicious and accessible.

Rosenstrach’s pizza dough recipe, from renowned baker Jim Lahey, has been my go-to pizza crust recipe for the past couple of years, since I saw it on her blog. I’ve made five batches of her turkey chili recipe in the month since I got the book, because it’s a great dish to freeze, and to take to friends who have their own new babies.

Rosenstrach writes with a friendly, nonjudgmental voice. This book is not about making your nightly dinner tables look like something you saw on Pinterest (But if you ever see a good baby bouncy-seat centerpiece on Pinterest, let me know.).

It’s about good, simple food that takes a little more work than just opening a few cans of glop, but not so much fuss that you won’t have the energy to pay attention to your loved ones once it’s on the table.

I was drawn to the book out of a longing to hear from a home cook who had made it to the other side of the exhausting baby days, but I think this book would appeal to anyone who wants to include less processed food and fewer takeout meals in their weekly menu, or who is on the lookout for quality recipes that call for real-food ingredients and will have staying power in their regular dinner rotations.

And to go with the food, Rosenstrach includes a section titled, “Medicine,” which consists of four cocktail recipes that help get her and Andy through the more harried nights. Amen, sister.

You can get a taste of what this book is about by reading Rosenstrach’s blog. The book puts it all together, in one place, and tells the story of how the evening meal evolves with the varying circumstances of our lives.

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