Close your eyes and picture what makes you happiest. For me, it’s food overflowing from wooden bowls; a loaf of warm, crusty bread peeking out of an old red hand cloth; and the sound of laughter muddled with clinking glasses. Simply put: family dinner. Whether with the family I was born into or the ones I’ve made, I can think of no other daily ritual that brings me more happiness. That’s why when I stumbled upon Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach, I was completely enamored by her and hubby Andy’s “Rules of Dinner.” Their prose not only gently coached me on how to atone for the kitchen sins I’ve been committing for decades (more vinegar, less oil) but also reminded me that if I know what love is, it is only because of family dinner.—Perri O. Blumberg
Jenny Rosenstrach’s Rules for a More Fun Family Dinner
1. When you taste a dish and wonder what’s missing, the answer is usually acid.
2. Always cook more spinach than you think you’ll need.
3. The juiciest limes are the small ones with thin, smooth skin.
4. Improvising with herbs or vinegars? Yes. Improvising with baking soda or baking powder? No.
5. Dessert should be cake.
6. Being cooked for in someone’s home is one of the finer pleasures in life.
7. Horseradish in the mashed potatoes.
8. Cinnamon in the chili.
9. Herbs in the salad.
10. Resist the urge to apologize when you’re cooking for people. Most of the time, your dinner guests won’t notice anything is wrong unless you bring it up.
11. There is no more fun question to put forth at the dinner table than “What would you do if you won this week’s Powerball?”
12. Kitchen chairs should be red. Or at least fun.
13. It’s not wise to store your drinking glasses on a shelf above the dishwasher—the shelf that won’t be accessible until you shut the dishwasher.
14. I’ve said it a thousand times, but it bears repeating: Freeze soups and stews flat in bags so they thaw more quickly under running water.
15. As far as I can tell, instructing your children to “Please, Dear Lord, use your napkins” every night for ten straight years is not the best way to get your children to use napkins.
16. It’s counterintuitive, but the sharpest knife is the safest knife.
17. Note to those entertaining: Chicken is kind of a bummer.
18. When you use a knife to scrape food off a cutting board, use the dull side so you don’t ruin your blade.
19. When someone says they drink “one to two” glasses of wine a night, you can pretty much assume it’s two.
20. Throw shrimp into lightly boiling water, and give it exactly three minutes to cook.
21. If you’re gonna use store-bought pizza sauce, Don Pepino is the one to buy.
22. Without some crunch (nuts, celery, snap peas, radishes), salads can reach only half their potential.
23. There are very few problems in my life that I can’t momentarily forget about when I’m cooking dinner with Andy.
24. Above all, you eat dinner together as a family.
25. And there is no such thing as owning too many little bowls!