what is family dinner like in your house?

salmon dinner

I’d like to share a little something from our latest cookbook, Gluten-Free Girl Every Day, which arrives on store shelves on Monday. (Eep!) This is how the book opens.

WELCOME TO OUR KITCHEN

“Come on in.

We’re making grilled anchovies with avocado and ginger-scallion sauce. See the 5 little kids over there at the table? They’re shaping the sticky rice into little boats. Yep, there’s rice all over the floor. We’ll get that later. Here in the kitchen, Danny and our friends, Tami and Alejandra, are slicing strawberries while I pat the dough for shortcake into a smooth round. Cutting out biscuits is one of my favorite actions. So soothing. We’re laughing and drinking iced tea. Now Lucy is telling Johnny to not play with her toys. Josie and Cisco go outside to unearth the dirt from the pots of herbs. The baby needs feeding. The wailing begins. Hey kids, it’s time to eat!

They pile into the kitchen and I hand them little packages of sticky rice, bits of anchovy, slices of avocado and drips of ginger-scallion sauce. Everyone goes quiet. Each kid wants another one. Raena eats 4. For a few moments, the sun is shining through the window, the kids are happy and chewing, and all is right with the world. Mayhem will ensue again but this moment is still.

This is why I love cooking so much. A good meal can change someone’s day. Cooking is the most deeply creative act with the most practical application.

I came to cooking later in life than I did writing. From the time I could clutch a pen, I started forming words and trying to turn them into sentences that made sense. There were so many poor poems and wretched short stories on the way to essays that weren’t too terrible. It’s said that it takes 10,000 hours of doing something to become quite competent at it. Not a genius — just good. I’ve put in those hours in writing and I’m planning on 10,000 more. And while I love the grateful responses I sometimes get from people who read my books, I love the act of writing even more. It’s hard, slogging work, putting words on the page like laying down bricks and hoping they’re not too lopsided. I love this work.

But cooking? Cooking’s much more fun. Cooking can be deeply contemplative, if you have an empty house, a clean kitchen, and an entire afternoon to make that complex bread recipe. Does that happen often in my life anymore? Not often. Usually, the counters are covered in vegetables we just brought home from the farmers’ market. They all need washing and slicing and putting away. Danny just got an idea to make a soup he hadn’t made since culinary school 20 years ago. And our 3-year-old daughter, Lucy, wants me to play Candyland with her at the same time she’s saying, “But I’m so very hungry, Mama.” Time for food. Now.

Real cooking rarely looks like it belongs in the pages of a glossy food magazine. I discover that I’ve run out of onions — how did we run out of onions? — when I’m about to make a big pot of tortilla soup. Fishing through the spice cupboard for the onion powder I bought for these kinds of emergencies, I’m reminded again that I really should come up with some sort of system for keeping the spices organized. Oh man, I left the skillet on and it’s smoking. Honey, what did you say? You want to watch the Wiggles? Not right now, okay?

Like most people, I dream of a spacious white kitchen with an island made of reclaimed wood, open shelves with matching dishes, and countertops that gleam. But you know what’s wrong with those kitchens? Nobody’s cooking in them. If you cook, you make a mess. You clean it up so you can cook again and make another mess. It’s an endless cycle, one that I’ve learned to complete most days. But I’m willing to admit that there are nights I’m too tired to do the dishes again and leave them for the morning.

I’d rather have dirty dishes than give up cooking.

For me (and my husband and our friends and probably for you who are reading), cooking is a way of connecting with the people I love. Slicing garlic and ginger releases their scents into the air — hours later I can still smell them on my hands. I know I’ve done something good. Taking the time to mix together tamari, rice wine vinegar, dry sherry, and sesame oil, then nestling the pieces of chicken breast I chopped up just before, then letting the bowl sit by the stove for awhile, means that our dinner will be full of big flavors. Sometimes cooking is about waiting. Slicing the Napa cabbage and putting a pile of it on the plate, ready for the hot wok, gives an order to my day. This, at least, I can do.

Mostly, though, cooking is what leads us to the table. Danny and Lucy and I sit at the table, talking, watching the steam rise off our plates of chicken stir-fry. We each say something that has made us grateful for the day. We raise our glasses in the air and clink. (Lucy loves saying CHEERS!) We take a moment to say how happy we are to be there. And then we dive in.

In the end, cooking is about the eating.”

chicken pot pie with curious george

That’s a little about how we cook and eat around here. Lucy’s 4 now, almost 5.  (We started writing this book when she was 2. Goodness!) She’s more involved in the cooking now, very invested in making up her own recipes, and a great eater. We’ve worked hard to encourage her to say please and thank you, to ask to be excused from the table, and to take her plate to the kitchen when she’s done with her meal. She does those things, now. She also leaves a trail of food in her wake. Sometimes she has to get up to dance, forgetting her food. There are nights that dinner is a bit of a struggle. And then there are nights that we play the gratitude game (“Tonight I am grateful for…”) and she joins in with gusto. I was particularly happy the night she said: “I am grateful for Hermione Gingold and k.d. lang!”

Nothing’s perfect around here. There are still dishes left to be done before we go to bed, sometimes. It’s easier now that Lucy’s older, and Danny works at home with me. Still, there are nights that it just feels like too much. The only thing that really matters to us is that we’re at the table together, gathered, eating and talking. And sometimes reading Curious George books.

But us? You hear about us here all the time. We want to hear about you.

pancakes with the girls

We’re really proud of our latest cookbook, Gluten-Free Girl Every Day. It’s a cookbook full of interesting, approachable weeknight dinners. The line we’re using because it feels so right: it’s a cookbook for busy families who still love to cook. However, we really don’t feel comfortable asking people to say how great our cookbook is. We’d love your help with this instead: we want to spark a national conversation about family dinner.

What’s your family dinner really like? Is it calm and filled with gratitude? Or chaos and food on the floor? What’s your definition of family? Do you have fond memories of dinners with your family as a child, or not so much? What do you hope your kids (or partner or friends) will remember about the family dinners you create? Is food a gathering place or a battleground in your house? Do you enjoy the daily ritual or dread it?

A few years ago, I inadvertently sparked a pie-baking day by talking about making pie with some of my friends on Twitter. The Pie Party of 2011 became a worldwide event, with hundreds of people baking pie on the same day and sharing their photos of homemade pie in blog posts and on social media. We’d like this to feel like the pie party: inclusive, narrative, and a great deal of fun.

So, if you want to play along, write a post on your blog on Monday about family dinner in your house. If you would, you could link to our cookbook in your post.

Here are three places people can buy the book online:

Amazon — http://www.amazon.com/Gluten-Free-Every-Shauna-James-Ahern/dp/111811521X

Barnes & Noble — http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/gluten-free-girl-every-day-shauna-james-ahern/1113611802

Indie Bound — http://www.indiebound.org/book/9781118115213

And then let us know about your post by leaving a comment here on this post, or putting a link up to it on Twitter, using the hashtag #familydinner. You could also put up a piece on your Facebook page, either a professional page if you have one, or your own personal page. You could put a link to someone else’s post you like on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. Or post a photo of your family dinner on Monday, maybe even with a copy of our book on your table, on Instagram. There are a lot of ways to play along. We just hope you do.

Have you ever driven around in the early evening, headed home and looking into the houses of the people you pass? My favorite time is dinner time, watching families sitting down to the table or cooking in the kitchen together. I imagine that the dozens (or hundreds!) of posts we could read on Monday will be like that. Will you invite us into your home on Monday??

lunch with sue

To make cooking that dinner easier for you, and to entice you to buy our book, we’re giving you four recipes from our latest cookbook, Gluten-Free Girl Every Day, here. For free.

We’ve included:

chickpea stew with brown basmati rice
South African yellow rice with black-eyed peas
roasted chicken salad with apples, golden raisins, and tarragon
grilled salmon with lemon-jalapeno-bok choy relish

(We wanted to give you the chocolate chip cookies with hazelnuts, but our editor insisted you would have to buy the book for that one.)

Click on this link below to pull up the PDF with the four recipes and photographs from our latest cookbook, Gluten-Free Girl Every Day.

Four Recipes from Gluten-Free Girl Every Day

So that’s it. We’d love to hear about your family dinners. (I have a feeling that most of them are imperfect. It might make us feel better to hear that your house is imperfect too.) Post on Monday. Let your people know about our latest cookbook, Gluten-Free Girl Every Day. Let us know about your dinners.

We can’t wait to see what you create.

30 comments on “what is family dinner like in your house?

  1. Julienne

    I love hearing about your writing process. It does take a certain amount of wrangling to get a thought or idea to come across correctly on the page. It’s reading something like this that I find inspiring when writing about my own work because of the story you have unfolded and included us in, like we’re an additional seat at the dinner table. I’m so excited for the new cookbook. I’m sure I’ll devour it just as quickly as I did your last!

  2. TCH

    We cook almost daily. Sometimes peaceful, other times utter Chaos. Simple food. Many one pot meals. Sandwich, Pizze, Risotto, Offal of all kinds, Wiener Schnitzel, everything else.
    And Fresh baked cakes or pies.
    All sans gluten.

    In a white gleamy kitchen.….

  3. Lisa

    “This is why I love cooking so much. A good meal can change someone’s day. Cooking is the most deeply creative act with the most practical application.” So true!

    For now, it’s my love and I, and our favorite meals are bits and pieces of leftovers complimented by cheese, fruit, olives, etc, and a glass of good wine. We have eliminated technology from the table (computer, phone) and while at times we slip, it’s made for a wonderful atmosphere to catch up on our days and talk about everything and anything on our minds.

  4. libby

    I FULLY intend to take part in this. As a single woman, my family dinners get to be so unique and lovely. My friends are coming over for a family dinner tomorrow night, even. Thank you for your continuous inspiration.

    1. shauna

      Thank you, Libby. I’m so glad to read that. I don’t want family to be defined as 2 parents with kids. Nothing like it! I can’t wait to read your post.

  5. Jessica Schwab (@jujyfruit0)

    I am really excited to take part in this! I love the idea of getting a conversation going about how we all have our own versions of ‘family dinner’, and they’re all wonderful. My little two-person family does things our own way, but is all valid. It doesn’t have to be on matching plates, in gleaming kitchens, with soft jazz and quiet mannered discussions. For me, its always about the food first, the process of making it, period. Can’t wait!

  6. Cris

    We eat together most evenings and my favorite part is that most nights my husband asks everyone for a story from today. We hear about the kids’ time at school and other parts of each other’s days. However, I also struggle because one of my children is picky and having her reject what I was so excited to prepare is hard.

    Homemade fresh rolls are one of the more fun meals for the kids. Also, I’m looking forward to summer dinners outside! It feels a little closer on days like today.

  7. tracy & Kim

    Oh, Shauna! I can’t wait for 1) the book! and 2) Monday! Having just moved into our new house, we are *almost* to the point of inviting friends over. Maybe Monday night will be the night that we say, “hey. it’s done enough. Come celebrate with food.” because celebrating with food is the best kind of celebration!

    1. shauna

      Of course it’s done enough. Have people over. Your house will be your home after you have friends over for food.

  8. Christa

    I never really ate dinner w/my family growing up (and my Ma’s idea of a meal was a box of hamburger helper shared between 5 people!) I decided when I had my son, that I would be sure we ate together often! I am happy to say that we do :) I work crazy hrs as a nanny & pre-k teacher (and am Gluten-free). I cook the bulk of meals on sun & add to them in the evening. Not eating together is not an option. It is my only time to re-connect. We play country music on xm & I have a glass of wine (or 2.… :) I don’t even own a dishwasher! But, it’s worth every dish!

  9. jessica faust

    I would love to say that family dinners at my house are peaceful and full of great conversation, but with three boys ages 7, 3, and 1 that’s hardly the case. Every night I cook a homemade Gluten Free, usually vegetarian dish. I’m a vegetarian and my 7-year-old has Celiac Disease. Regular dishes include rice and beans, tacos, chilaquiles, ravioli, pasta, lots of veggies, lentils, chickpeas, and always a bottle of wine. Each night I usually also add in extra waffles from breakfast topped with lingonberries for the 3-year-old and whatever can be shoveled in using fingers for the 1-year-old. That could be pasta, beans, waffles, or just a whole lot of milk. By the time I sit down (after multiple trips up and around for more milk, Tabasco sauce, or an extra fork) someone is usually finished. At that point the 1-year-old and 3-year-old resort to chasing each other around the house, trailing food the entire way, and often the dog, while my husband and I catch up with the 7-year-old on our days and usually a few bad jokes. It’s hectic and intense, but the food is usually delicious and the conversation can be the most entertaining part of my day.

  10. Elizabeth

    We have a loud, not-so-organized home at times because we have been blessed to have six children, five of whom are boys. I have always been able to stay at home with my children and we also homeschool. We all like to cook and I am so blessed to have adventurous eaters. They enjoyed watching your Thanksgiving videos and would eat anything that was served to them.
    I have learned the most in the last eight years, since our fourth child was diagnosed with type-1 diabetes, at age 18 months. We started eating more intentionally and making almost everything from scratch. Two years later when our second child was diagnosed with celiac, we re-learned some things, but have, for the most part thrived through it all. Eating out, family or church events still cause angst for me.
    Until recently we were eating mostly vegetarian, lots of rice and beans-type dishes, but are now experimenting with less grains lots more veggies. This seems to suite everyone for the time being at least.
    I am looking forward to joining your dinner link-up on Monday and getting your new cookbook. It looks more friendly for those of us crunched for time that need to serve a crowd.
    Thank you!!

    1. Christa

      I am sorry to hear that 2 children have issues w/eating & health. (I can only imagine as a mother, what amount of dedication goes into your meal planning & prep!! Go you! Have you ever tried making eggplant lasagna? (Both g-free & low glycimic index?? Also, I love siggi’s yougurts. Low sugar, all natural & gf!! Keep up the good work :)

  11. Joanne

    Dinner on Monday night in our house will be only part of the family as the teenagers work nights often. I have a hard time remembering who is home when sometimes. As it is the beginning of the week, we will probably have leftovers from Sunday cooking day. I go to the farmers market on the weekend and often roast or cut up a lot of it on Sunday afternoons. A roast chicken used to only last 2 days for meals but now with kids working or at whatever activities, it can last all week. I am waiting for summer when supper will be whatever vegetables in the garden are ripe. I really appreciate the ideas about food from your blog rather than following exact recipes. I need to be pushed out of my rut sometimes and your essays help.

  12. Jenn Sutherland

    Oh, I will be so happy to have your new book in my hands on Monday! And of course I’ll participate in the family dinner post…I’ve been so quiet on my own blog, letting the craziness of work carrying me so far from my own writing, so the family dinner assignment is the perfect opportunity to share our own mostly one-pot weeknight dinners.

  13. Blaine

    Hi! I am so excited about your new book and really amazed by your accomplishments. One question, the yellow rice and black eyed peas you say Danny made as a vegetarian dish but it has chicken stock right? Typo? I am vegan and I think it looks divine and can’t wait to make it without the butter and chicken stock but I don’t think it’s technically vegetarian either…

  14. Ruth Barker

    Thursday April 25 is ANZAC Day in Australia and NZ. We walked to the service down the hill to remember all the Armed Forces of years gone by and those busy now, walk home to bacon, eggs, hash browns etc on the bbq. We talked about who we saw, what we heard and what it meant to us. We hoped for better things for this world in the year to come. And we are pleased to be together.

  15. FLF

    Actually my family dinner is much like yours, but a little less complex. Ive been gluten free for three years.

  16. Chef and Father

    Can’t wait to write a blog post tomorrow about our crazy and fun family dinners. I will back link you big time cause your book looks amazing. Look forward to reading it. Much love. G

  17. Nikki

    I don’t have a blog post to link up but I shared my instagram photo of my family dinner to twitter, Facebook and of course Instagram. Thank you Ahern Family for your generous gift of recipes in advance of the book release! I have already made three of them, and I was totally blown away. I can’t wait for my copy to be delivered so I can see all the other wonderful meals yet to be created for my version of family every night of the week. You are an inspiration.

  18. Marsha Johnson

    My daughter (age 19) went gluten-free in February, 2012. It made sense for me to join her, since I do most of the cooking around here. It’s been a steep learning curve, as promised. Your site has been an unexpected gift in the midst of it all. I particularly love hearing about Lucy and Danny! <3
    I wanted to participate in sharing our family dinner tonight. But this turned out to be a night we had “short-order meals.” :D I made a pan of fried red potatoes (a.k.a. “salad potatoes”) and later had a fresh orange. Laura joined me to share the potatoes with ketchup. My husband came home later and had tacos leftover from the weekend. So much for our family dinner!
    Ordered your new cookbook this weekend: Amazon notified me it was shipped today. Can’t wait to see it! My cooking has been energized by going gluten-free…really! Thanks for all you do, Shauna and Danny!

  19. Sarah

    what a beautiful, honest glimpse into a most gracious home. thank you for sharing your lives with us, and for inviting us to share your joy. Here’s my little window into our family dinner, and one small step toward getting it just right http://bit.ly/ZjGZt8

    Cheers to your sweet family, and congratulations!

  20. Soup and Song

    Thanks for sharing your stories and your love for food, family and friends. And thank you also for inspiring me to share my humble take on family dinner as I have known it: http://soupandsong.blogspot.com/2013/04/family-dinner.html
    I’ve pre-ordered the book and can’t wait to start enjoying it!! Keep up the amazing work and know that you have so many people out here cheering you on!