In two weeks, The Homemade Kitchen really truly lands. Can we take another peek inside the book today? (I’m bursting!).
As I talked about a bit in this post, each chapter of this new book is structured around a way to reframe the way we relate to food. The essay below is from the chapter Do your best, and then let go, and the recipe is one of four quick and special pasta dishes that follow it. It’s getting to be fall around here, so this one is making an appearance in my kitchen on a pretty regular basis.
And before we get to it, how about a little giveaway? I’ve got a stack of books on my desk, and I’d love to send one of you a book before the release date.
Here’s how we’ll do it. Lets talk about this phrase: Do your best, and then let go. Is there some stress you’d like to let go of in your life or in your kitchen? What does this phrase spark for you? Feel free to make it a one word answer or use it as a moment to do some writing. I can’t wait to read. I’ll choose a winner on Friday the 25th, and the winner will have their book a week early!
So here we go… this is one of the ways I try to do my best and then let go. This is straight from the pages of The Homemade Kitchen: Recipe for Cooking With Pleasure. And that gorgeous photo up there is by the one and only Jennifer May.
For years, I told the same story. It began like this: I have one picky kid and one good eater.
But then, as my two eaters grew and changed, the story got more complicated. I have one picky kid who eats kale now and then, and one good eater. The next week, the story would shift again. I have one picky eater and one good eater going through a picky phase. We’ve been through times when the picky one would go weeks without touching a vegetable. Even now there are times when a food, once loved by one or both the girls, becomes mysteriously exiled. Sometimes I’m totally fine with it; other days I just want to bang my head on the dinner table. And through it all, I read every article about picky kids, and I even write a few. The experts will tell you that all picky kids can be converted. Get them into the kitchen and have them make dinner. Pull them into the garden and let them discover the wonder of fresh peas. Don’t talk about food. Do talk about food. Most of all, enjoy your food! Show them how much you love food. Do all these magical things for thirty days, and then they’ll come around.
Some of these gems of advice work . . . sometimes.
But I’d like to throw my hat into the ring of picky kid advice, and here it is:
Don’t get wrapped up in the story of what kind of eater your kid is. Feed your family well, but also know that many children have thrived on bread and yogurt, going on to a full and happy adulthood filled with all those foods they’d never eat as a kid.
This is how I got there. My picky child is just as healthy, if not healthier, than my good eater. Rosie’s energy is good, her hair is long and glossy, and she hardly ever gets sick—all on a diet of mostly bread, bananas, noodles, and cold cuts. Sadie, on the other hand, will try anything. But the differences don’t end there. Rosie never gets ravenous. She’s happy to eat (as long as one of her favorite foods is on the menu), but even then, the bites are more of an experience than anything. She closes her eyes and takes the tiniest bit of food. She thinks about its texture and overarching qualities. But Sadie gets so hungry, she needs something, anything, to fill her belly. Luckily, she knows this, and as soon as she starts to feel the need, she eats. But when I framed the story this way for myself, taking into account that my two kids experience taste and texture differently, my thinking on picky eating shifted. My two children are different, and the way they each relate to food is different, too.
Try not to label your children as good eaters or bad eaters—not just to the world, but to yourself. Children are, after all, just small humans, and they have all sorts of loves and preferences that will continue to change as they make their way through life. Know that they’ll be okay, that someday they’ll eat something else, and that until then, their bodies will tell you when you have to step in. If they’re healthy and energetic, trust that they’re getting what they need.
Also, know that you have lots of company. There’s a noodles-with- butter eater in nearly every family. We speak in hushed tones. We thought our kids would want real food, but we fall back again and again on the tried-and-true bowl. “Noodles. So many noodles! Can a person live on noodles and butter?”
Yes, they can. But a few other ingredients in the mix help keep it interesting, and they might even slowly, over the years, gain acceptance from the pickiest at the table.
Do your best, then let go. And when we’re busy, and a little overwhelmed at six o’clock, in need of a true thirty-minute dinner that will make everybody happy, pasta is just the thing.
Butternut Squash Pasta with Bacon and Sage Brown Butter
SERVES 4, WITH LEFTOVERS
The browned butter and roasted vegetables make this special, but roasting everything in the oven at once makes it easy to prepare.
1 small butternut squash, (1 to 1½ pounds) seeded, peeled, and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 medium onion, cut into ½-inch wedges
1½ tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the pasta water
4 ounces sliced bacon
1 pound store-bought bowtie pasta or 1 ¼ pounds homemade (see my recipe in The Homemade Kitchen)
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
10 fresh sage leaves
½ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground pepper
1 Preheat the oven to 425°F. In a large bowl, toss the squash and onion with the olive oil and salt. Spread on a parchment-lined baking sheet and roast in the upper half of the oven until the squash is tender and the onions are golden, 30 to 35 minutes.
2 Meanwhile, lay the bacon on another baking sheet. Bake until crispy, about 18 minutes. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate.
3 While the bacon and vegetables cook, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta until tender, 7 to 10 minutes for dried, or 2 minutes for fresh. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water, drain and rinse the pasta, and transfer it to a large serving bowl.
4 Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly, keeping a close eye on the color of the butter. When the foam subsides and the butter turns slightly brown, add the sage leaves. Remove from heat and as soon as the sage leaves start to curl, transfer them to the plate with the bacon.
5 Add the squash and onions to the pasta, then pour the butter over the bowl, tossing to coat the pasta and vegetables. Crumble the bacon over the pasta and top with the crispy sage leaves and the cheese. Pour enough pasta water over the cheese to create a light sauce. Finish with a bit more salt and lots of freshly ground pepper.
Recipe reprinted from Homemade Kitchen. Copyright ©2015 by Alana Chernila. Photographs by Jennifer May. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC
In my home, my dad was the main cook. He had such a passion for the traditional Italian foods that my mom’s parents cooked–my mom, having been raised on red sauce was kind of over cooking that way. His food is all amazing, but he is so overly critical of the slightest variances from last week’s sauce to this, or the way his meatballs came out, that it takes a lot of the joy out of it all. I, unfortunately, have inherited some of those tendencies. I can cook dinner for 10 and then rip my own work apart because one little thing isn’t just so, even when everyone’s telling me they love it. But I fight it, because I realize the imperfections can become what makes a meal even better going forward, and make it more your own. Do your best, then let go: what a great reminder that the cooking and sharing should be just as much fun as the eating.
PS–Alana, I went to a book signing at a From Scratch Club food swap in Troy years ago. We love Homemade Pantry and your hamburger bun recipe is a household staple.
So glad to hear it! I’m back there on Oct. 11–for the swap and also a little food writing class before hand. I can’t wait.
I am working on doing my best to keep a clean kitchen (shared with two other cooks) and then letting go on the days when there is too much going on to worry about the pans in the sink.
I’m with you on this one. When the kitchen is messy, I just feel impatient and irritated, and I’m trying to learn to just walk by and do what I need to do. Working, working…
I have family with multiple food allergies and sensitivities. On busy days I have to let go of trying to always come up with new ideas. It’s ok to do the tried and true and safe foods sometimes.
I do my best as a mom and then, I do need to remember to let it go. Sometimes my daughter will not be the best, brightest or happiest in the room and that’s okay. I don’t need to fix everything and being a bit ‘broken’ is being real.
Cathy Grasso Hoff says
In the past few years I have let go of a lot of stuff. I used to be a perfectionist and had no patience with myself. I was okay with others, but very hard on myself. As I approached my 50’s I realized that I needed to be less…less materialistic, less hard on myself, just less. I have come a long way.
Cannot WAIT to get my hands on this book…and I will be giving this recipe a try. Love this season with all the different squashes. Thanks for the new book Alana.
Loved the excerpt from your book! Being a picky eater with allergies and blood sugar problems, I empathies. Sometimes finding something to eat is a chore. I love your point on going with tried and true dishes. We don’t have to always be on an adventure!
For my letting go, it would be eating the same old things. To not have the mindset, this is just the same old dish; but to think, this is the same favorite dish and to savor the familiar.
My son has a healthy relationship with food. He’ll help cook and taste throughout only to ask to reheat the spaghetti leftovers. At first I took it personal – what about the food I’m (we’re) making right now makes him not want to eat it. But then it occurred to me – he’s a process person and it wasn’t about the taste of the food we had made.
In the end – he learned how to prepare a meal and what he wanted to eat.
So interesting! I think I’m a little like this too, actually. Sometimes I just want to cook for the sake of the process. But I wonder how this might shift for him as he learns more about how to eat exactly what he wants. I think that whole idea of having a craving and then knowing how to feed it is a learned skill in itself.
Amy J. says
I’m trying to let go of not always eating as well as we could during basketball season. Both of my girls, ages 12 & 14, play which means we’re on the go constantly and usually during dinner time. Most days I do get healthy, homemade meals on the table but sometimes it just doesn’t happen and I stress out about what we’re eating and where…often times in the car, on the go.
My oldest child (who is now 21) is a very easy child. He’s always done what he’s asked to do when he’s asked to and how he’s asked to. He’s cheerful and helpful and everyone loves him. ,I thought it was my awesome parenting that made him so.
My middle child has been a challenge almost from the very beginning. He didn’t grow or gain weight the way he “should” or learn to speak when he ought to. He’s argumentative and stubborn and gives everyone a hard time. He has a warm heart and genuinely means well but he gets in the way of himself.
I’ve read books. Consulted experts. Fought, yelled and threatened. But he remains who he is. Now a senior in high school he’s still quite difficult. I’ve spoken to his teachers, guidance counselors and head master and told them that I’ve let it go. He has to graduate high school and I’ll make sure he does but I’m not going to get tied up in his grades or behavior at school. He has reached the point that he needs to find his own way in life and I need to let that happen. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do and I have to do it over again every single day – sometimes multiple times a day.
I’ve done the best job mothering him that I know how to do and now I need to let it go. He’s going to be just fine.
I remember reading the introduction your first book and almost putting it down forever. You were talking about making lasagna. With each component—sauce, pasta, cheese—made from scratch. I thought about trying to put together a lasagna in my own kitchen with boxed noodles and cheese from a tub and maybe my own sauce (made with canned tomatoes because we had a bad tomato year) pulled out of the freezer. I thought about how hard it was sometimes to get even that level of homemade in the oven and done in time. I made my way past that because I love cooking and I’m intrigued by cheese making (I have stuff—just need to do it). Some days are everything from scratch. Some meals are all from the garden + local. Some meals are order out pizza or cans of this and that dumped together. I have a jar of homemade granola on my counter that I happily sprinkle on my yogurt and oatmeal, and a jumbo box of sugary granola bars that my kids take for snack many days. It’s mix and I’ve learned to embrace that. The first book inspired me to finally make granola (and I’ve almost gotten to cheese). Wonder where the next one will take me.
Oh, this means so much to me. And you know what? You’re describing my kitchen too. Somedays are one thing, and other days are a whole other affair. It’s all about making it work.
But maybe this book will lead you to cheese? You’ll have to let me know!
Stephanie L says
I’m working on balance through the day or week, rather than meal by meal. Some nights we don’t get a lot of veggies in – but then my tot will ask for broccoli for snack. As long as we’re being mindful of balance overall, I think it works out in the end.
You know- someone just told me to think about a kid’s nutrition as over the course of their whole lives, and I’ve been thinking about that a lot. I think any time we can step back and see anything more as a big picture here, it’s so helpful.
This recipe looks delightful and I am so looking forward to seeing your new book! With many things I am definitely a do my best and let it go person. Pie dough, kitchen messes, perfectly balanced meals, I do my best but let it go pretty easily. My current struggle to accept and let go is not in the kitchen but with my 2 year old’s naps or lack thereof. I’ve tried so hard to get him back to an afternoon nap, I feel like I should do more but I am trying to let go and accept that he doesn’t need a nap (it is very hard to let it go but good to have reminders that sometimes that is all you can do.)
Oh I think this one is a right of passage! That being said, my kids were terrible nappers, so I had to do a lot of letting go 🙂 That’s a hard one.
I’m pregnant at the moment and without fail the worst of my “morning” sickness hits right at 5pm in the afternoon.
I’m having to learn to let go of the evening meal and let my husband cook and trust that even though he may not do it the way I do it (and the kitchen may end up a disaster at the end of the night) we both get fed and it’s generally delicious!
And also… I was one those picky eaters as a child who will now eat almost anything.
Hi Alana. Love reading your blog and your book The Homemade Pantry. One stress that I’m learning to let go is with my 3 year old son. He loves helping out in the kitchen and can be a great help, but there are just times when I’m pressed for time, have my 4 month old daughter crying, and my son begging to help and he seems to be in the way. Sometimes I just need/want to cook by myself. I then just breathe and remind myself that I will be missing these moments once I return to work. Somehow everything works out, dinner still gets on the table, my kitchen perhaps a bit messier but I wouldn’t change it all for the world.
Oh I write a lot about this in the new book! Cooking with kids can be SO HARD. And yes, you’ll miss it! But if you can, try to get a little time in the kitchen alone. I always feel like I should love having everyone in there with me, but the truth is that I love the kitchen most when I’m alone, and it’s important for me to get a dose of that every so often to keep me enjoying cooking at all. So, as in all things- a balance!
For me, it’s about finding balance for my two kiddos. Whether it’s food, social settings (manners), school—finding that elusive line between challenging them to be better and at the same time making sure they are enjoying life to the fullest. Specifically in regards to food, one thing my dad always required of me when I was growing up was to take at least one bite—to try it. If I didn’t want it after that, he was okay with it. And I’ve carried that philosophy over to my kids. They have to at least try it; there is no pressure after that. And they are very willing to try new things as a result. And even in re-trying food. Some things they tried a few months ago and didn’t want, they are trying again and loving. So, balance is good.
Oh This reasures me! I’ve been tring to do the same with my very …”picky” 3 year old. It gives me hope!
Amy Stotzer says
I’m so glad you are having this discussion, because I’ve been trying to figure out if my current frustration is something that I should just let go of or not. My daughter recently started pre-k. She’s been in school for about a month now. They get a snack every day (it isn’t always the best, but I’m learning to let it go…). The thing I’m not sure if I can let go of is the food coloring. Twice (to my knowledge) they’ve had yogurt for a snack and it was colored to go along with the weekly theme (blue for pond week). I try my best to feed my kids real food without artificial junk in it and then she gets loads of it at school! Am I crazy to be concerned about this? Should I be THAT mom and talk to the teachers?
Oh, that’s a hard one. Blue yogurt!
I have a few thoughts…
First, if you do feel like you need to be THAT mom (and maybe you do, if this feels really important), maybe you can offer to find an alternative- you can be the parent yogurt liaison? Of course there are natural food colorings out there, although they’re super expensive. But it seems like strained blueberry puree could make some awesome blue yogurt, and on from there? If you think they might be receptive, you could offer to help make it happen.
OR, if you feel like you do want to be that mom, you can work on letting it go. This is one of the endless moments your daughter will eat something that’s not awesome for her, but I’m guessing that you eat well at home, and that goes really far. And I think sometimes the stress over something that might be bad for us might be as problematic as the food itself! If she has a good time eating blue yogurt every so often, she’s probably going to be okay.
This is a hard one, though. I don’t know where I’d fall between these two options!
For me doing my best and then letting go is about planning. I meal plan and shop and try to be as prepared as I can for the busy week. But when it comes down to a Wednesday where we don’t get home until 7:30, and there is no time or energy to cook, and were starving, it is okay to just get tacos somewhere. And not feel bad about it.
Really looking forward to your book!
This is solid advice, but it might take many parents awhile to fully embrace. The struggle with picky eaters (or 4 very different growing eaters, say) is something that can lead to the knowledge that letting go of some notions is okay. And that it in fact might just benefit the kids to get to know know choice and making decisions, compromise, imperfection and self-reliance. Congratulations on your second book! Can’t wait.
Rachel - De Ma Cuisine says
So excited for this cookbook! The first thing that came to mind was with baking (not my strong suit). I expect perfection the first time. But, as I’m leaning in my baguette, pain au chocolat, and croissant making, perfection isn’t always attained, but the end results are usually just as delicious.
I grew up in the inner city with windowboxes in every available bit of sunlight, and people always told me I must have such a green thumb because my pots of basil and sweet peppers managed to get through a summer in the less-than-ideal conditions of an NYC apartment. I loved my plants – they were like pets, almost – and I dreamed of someday having a real, outdoor garden, grown in dirt that didn’t come from a plastic bag at the florist.
This year, I moved to a suburb of Boston and, for the first time, I got to try my hand at outdoor gardening in a community plot. I was SO excited at the idea of getting to grow bigger vegetables – tomatoes, beans, squash, carrots – and I somehow thought it would be easy given all the “practice” I had with indoor gardening. Turns out the outdoors is a whole other deal, and the competition with nature is something fierce. I tried my best to raise my little sprouts: when slugs ate my young bean plants, I replanted and sprinkled them with coffee grounds. When squash vine borers got at my zucchini vines I got an organic vine borer-repellent and sprayed them religiously. But now it’s almost fall, and I’ve harvested a grand total of 4 zucchini and a quarter cup of shell beans, and yesterday some rodent took out my last zucchini vine by chomping through the stem. To be honest, it almost made me cry – I put a lot of time and a lot of heart into this garden, hoping that I could grow delicious vegetables to eat and can and share with people I love, but my thumb wasn’t so green after all.
And what else is there to do but to toss the wilted squash vine in the bushes, plant some fall carrots and beets, and start dreaming about next year? I did my best, and now it’s time to let go.
Oh, I am always letting go when it comes to the garden. Always! Next year, I say. There’s always next year.
Every year in late Winter and early Spring I plan out the two little raised beds in my backyard with grand plans of all sorts of yummy veggies and herbs to feed my family. I think back to my Grandmother’s amazing garden and use that as my inspiration. I blueprint it out, order seeds and wait for the stubborn midwestern Winter to go away.
Then, it’s Spring (yay!) and I’m unsure when to start. And we travel. And soccer season starts for both my school-aged girls. And we spend weekends at games and at the park. And that garden just never gets planted. Or, if it does, it’s half-hearted starters from the landscape store picked up on my way home from work.
And the seeds sit on my counter for weeks taunting me. And the Spring moves into Summer and they’re still there. Hello!
And then it’s early Fall and I’m pulling a few tomatoes and a cucumber out of my garden. And looking at the original plan for what a glorious garden it WAS going to be. And the daydreams about canning the excess. Ugh. Total fail.
But, I did my best. Let it go. Move on …
Next year, right? It’s going to be glorious …
Oh, the half hearted starters from the hardware store! I planted a few of those Charlie Brown tomato plants in like July I think. They actually have some green tomatoes on them. The key is to go in with low expectations 🙂
Alana, you’ve said it so well. Again.
My oldest is a “picky” eater and some time around 18 months, he decided to stop eating meat. Then he refused cooked vegetables. We fought his preferences for months, trying to hide chicken in things like pizza. Of course, he figured it out and then refused to eat cheese, for fear of what might be underneath. So we just stopped and let him eat what he wanted to eat. As I prep food for dinner, I set a portion of raw veggies aside for him. I started making yogurt (thanks to your first book!). And, low and behold, we discovered he loved raw canned beans. Essentially, aside from the yogurt and bread, he has been a raw food vegan for years. So we’ve allowed him to be the yuppiest 6 year old in town. There are far worse things than loving spinach and beans.
p.s. I got my librarian friend to pre-order the new book and I’m first on the reserve list! So excited.
Oh, I love this. And yay for the library! Everyone has been asking- should I preorder? And I say yes! But libraries too! Go get on the list!
Boy does this phrase ring true for me this week!!!! I love cooking for my two little boys. One inherited my celiac disease, and the other an allergy to dairy like me so I spend a lot of time researching and modifying recipes to fit our family’s needs and still be fun and interesting. Unfortunately – I have an autoimmune condition which causes my body to dislocate at the drop of a hat – sometimes multiple times a day. Normally, it doesn’t slow me down, but earlier this week I partially dislocated a vertebrae in my neck, which basically leaves me stuck on the couch for over a week.
And you know the ridiculous thing I worried about? That my sink was full of dishes and my kitchen was a mess and my family caring for my young children might think I was a terrible housekeeper. Ridiculous, right?! I actually tried to get up and clean. And when I realized that was impossible I worried about how I would get dinner made for the boys since I couldn’t move around easily. My mother in law, who is fabulous, talked me down and made the boys hotdogs. And then she cleaned my kitchen. And you know what? The world didn’t end and everyone was happy. Sometimes you just have to do the best you can and let the rest go. I’ve had to learn that the hard way this week!
I am learning to let go and accept when my home is a mess. We make big plans and resolutions every few months to put things back where they go immediately and to pick up a little every night before bed. But inevitably life happens and so do the piles. And that’s ok. Because an afternoon once in a blue moon is all it takes to get back on track and people don’t mind the piles nearly as much as I think they do.
As a type-A person, it’s very, very hard for me to “just let go,” and this is something I struggle with every day. Whether it’s making a homemade meal for my family, keeping an orderly house, or working on an assignment, I always think it has to be perfect. I’ve actually learned a lot from my kids, who help to calm me and make me realize the important things. Sometimes they’ll just say “Mom, it’s okay,” when something doesn’t quite work out as planned, and I love them so much for that. Lately, another thing that’s helping me to just let go is that we have unfortunately been dealing with several friends and family members being diagnosed with and treated for cancer. If anything can help me get out of my own silly issues and “just let go,” it’s knowing that we’re pretty much okay and there are such larger issues out there, and so instead of focusing on myself I drop everything and do my best to help someone else with much more pressing needs.
Michelle B says
I’ve let go of my house being clean all the time. I have two small children, whom I keep clean, dressed, and well-fed. This is a huge achievement, even if the lamps and picture frames get too dusty. I have recently tried very hard to look at what I’ve done when I start to beat myself up about what I haven’t done. This is my attempt to let go of being too hard on myself.
I just recently had to let go of 26 years of cooking for kids. We just dropped our third and last “baby” off at college. Even when it was just our daughter left at home, we sat down for dinner every night. My kids were mostly good eaters, sometimes picky, and they went the through stages. Hang in there young mamas. Eventually most of them become more adventurous eaters. Now my husband and are are cooking more together like we did before we had kids. It’s fun and different, but that’s where we are in life right now. Still, I can’t wait till we’re all around the table again this Christmas!
Margo, Thrift at Home says
I think “doing my best and then letting go” is the theme of my 40s. I see how I am slowly gravitating towards this mentality in so many areas of my life since I approached and then turned 40. For me, it’s a way to be realistic and idealistic at the same time. I’m not just letting everything slide into a pit, I’m doing my best first. And that feels balanced to me. Like I can choose.
This recipe looks awesome. I am looking for butternuts at market this week because my girl wants a pumpkin pie. Fall really is here!
“Do your best and then let go” I actually think my problem is always tring to do my best. Since I confuse “my” best with “the” best. Sometimes I get paralized even before starting a project. Right now I’m striving to learn how to just ” Do”. The world Will keep on turning even if everything I do is not perfect. So I made pasta just after Reading This post. And when my son did not want to try…I let him eat plain noodles, he survived and so did I. PS: I loved This recipe…I should be recieving your book Next week I’m sure the rest of it Will be as good
I was wondering whether to pre-order your new book (since I love and use the first one), and came across this blog post as a result. The picky eater thoughts sold me on it, even though my own picky eater would never eat a) pasta, b) any other ingredient in your recipe other than the oil and the salt, and c) ingredients mixed together that are not in a seamless baked form. I have come to realize eventually that the worst thing that could happen to my kid is to have a perception of herself as “a picky eater” and “difficult with food”. As she grows older, she’s at least willing to taste some new things, but once the negative perception settles in, so does the awareness that she doesn’t need to expand her food horizons because she is “a picky eater”. So I’ve worked on acceptance and she has rewarded me with some trust in the kitchen. A win all around.
Cindy Rosenbaum says
Alana, thanks for a great garden dinner last night! I made this wonderful pasta, vegetarian of course, with our homegrown butternut squash and sage, and a great Caesar salad with my fall romaine. My changes were as follows: substituted toasted coarsely chopped pecans for the bacon, and used 8 ounces of whole wheat rotini instead of a pound. This was a perfect amount for the 2 of us, plus a lunch of leftovers for us each! I kept the butter at 4 tablespoons – why not? It was great – perfect seasonings. Next time I would double the sage – it’s taking over my garden anyway!
See you at the launch!
Love this! So great to use pecans for the bacon. Thank you, Cindy!