Parents Who Cook

Parents Who Cook: Michael Ruhlman

James and Michael
James and Michael, photographed by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

Parents Who Cook is a Q&A series in which I ask my guests about how their cooking has changed after kids entered the picture, and pick their brains on their best strategies to cook with little ones underfoot.

Michael Ruhlman is an American writer who specializes in understanding the professional chef’s craft, and making that expertise accessible to the home cook.

He has published twelve books, including the best-selling French Laundry Cookbook and the game-changing Ratio, which reveals the cooking formulas that govern basic preparations so you can free yourself from recipes. His latest book is Ruhlman’s Twenty, about the twenty founding concepts and techniques of cuisine. He also writes an excellent blog at ruhlman.com.

Michael lives in Cleveland, Ohio, with his wife, photographer Donna Turner Ruhlman, and their two teenaged children. I am delighted to have him share his thought-provoking views on cooking with and for children.

Can you tell us a few words about your children? Ages, names, temperaments?

Addison is 17 years old, her brother James is 13. She’s a handful, but beautiful and smart, fiercely independent, wants nothing more than to be out of the house and with her uncommonly sweet friends. James is a boy boy, loves gaming, having fun, and practical jokes. A sweetheart, delightful in conversation, very mature and empathetic.

Did having children change the way you cook?

No, not really. I was just learning to cook professionally, so I had all these extra cooking muscles to rely on. But I always cooked real food. I tried to cook real puréed food for them when they were little, but mostly what they’d prefer was the jarred stuff. Then they moved on to scrambled eggs and cheese, then all white food.

As they grew and their tastes and dislikes changed, I occasionally made three different meals simultaneously to please everyone. Because I could. Addison’s favorite meal is beef stir-fry, but James doesn’t like it, so I cut a chunk of flank steak to sauté, and slice the rest for stir-fry. I stir-fry bok choy or broccoli, but Addison avoids it and James will only eat it raw. That kind of thing. It makes for a lot of dishes to clean.

Do you remember what it was like to cook with a newborn? Any tips or saving grace for new parents going through that phase?

In the newborn years, try to schedule meal times for when they’re asleep or routinely occupied. If they’ll sit in a bouncy chair while you eat, so much the better. Donna often ate while she breastfed. Many many meals were interrupted, or concluded early.

The saving grace? It’s over before you know it. Days are long, years go by in a snap.

Be sure to plan at least one quiet meal with your spouse each week where you can linger at the table, even if it’s lunch.

Continue reading »

Parents who Cook: Diana Abu-Jaber

Gracie and Diana
Gracie and Diana.

Parents Who Cook is a Q&A series in which I ask my guests about how their cooking has changed after kids entered the picture, and pick their brains on their best strategies to cook with little ones underfoot.

Birds of ParadiseDiana Abu-Jaber is an American writer of Jordanian origin who has authored four novels — the latest is Birds of Paradise — and a memoir titled The Language of Baklava, in which she explores the story of her family through the foods of her childhood. She has a marvelous way with words and a real gift for bringing characters to life, and the cooking and baking scenes in her books reveal a true appreciation for the craft.

I have been in touch with Diana for a few years — the magic of social media! — and since she has a young daughter, I jumped at the chance to invite her as a guest on the Parents Who Cook series.

Diana is currently working on a follow-up book to her memoir, of which she says, “The new one picks up where Baklava leaves off, at the point where I’m about to embark on a path to becoming a writer, and mentors and advisors keep telling me: you can be a writer or a parent, but you can’t be both. It’s about struggling with hard decisions, economic realities, the intersections of food, family, and art.” (I can’t tell you how excited I am about it.) You can follow her on twitter.

Can you tell us a few words about your daughter? Age, name, temperament?

Gracie is 4 years old. We call her the Wild One, but really she’s a cupcake.

Did having a child change the way you cook?

I’m less spontaneous, but also less careless in my approach to cooking. I spend more time thinking about ingredients, reading labels, considering approaches. I’d love for her to develop good, bold eating habits, but I realize that one has to be realistic about kids’ tastes.

Do you remember what it was like to cook with a newborn? Any tips or saving grace for new parents going through that phase?

I remember that when my parents or friends unexpectedly showed up at our door with meals it was like light breaking from heaven. If you know someone with a newborn, run out right now and buy them a roasted chicken! It’s so hard to manage day-to-day chores and errands with a little baby. Getting groceries (much less preparing them) seemed monumental.

My husband and I relied on a sort of core repertoire of basic dishes that lent themselves to leftovers: lots of easy cuts of meat — pork loin, lamb chops — simple pastas like carbonara, stews, chilis. Sometimes we just scrounged — scrambled eggs, tuna salad — or grazed on ingredients, a little paté, a little cheese, a little salami. Usually one of us would feed the baby while the other would cut up food and feed the spouse.

Over time, have you developed staple dishes or strategies that make it possible to prepare a meal and keep the kid happy at the same time?

Yes — all the dishes in the previous answer. Chicken Marbella, coq au vin. Also, I pay attention to my daughter’s preferences and try to always have those basic ingredients in the house: certain cheeses, nuts, beans, tahini sauce, ham, fruits, etc.

Stock up on tons of fruit — especially berries — and always have heavy cream on hand. She’ll eat any fruit if it’s got even the smallest dab of whipped cream on it. We usually make a double batch of dough for pizza once a week and keep half in the freezer. Same for cookies: bake half, freeze half. Often I’ll just bake a few cookies for her treat.

We’re also fortunate to have a good growing climate here in Florida, so I try to take advantage of that and keep a garden. We grow a selection of herbs and have coconut, key lime, and mango trees. It’s a lot easier (and less expensive) if you don’t have to run to the store for every handful of mint.

Continue reading »

Parents Who Cook: Aran Goyoaga

Aran and kids
Aran with Jon and Miren, photographed by Marcus Nilsson.

Parents Who Cook is a Q&A series in which I ask my guests about how their cooking has changed after kids entered the picture, and pick their brains on their best strategies to cook with little ones underfoot.

Aran Goyoaga is the talented baker, stylist, photographer, and writer behind the gorgeous blog Cannelle & Vanille. She was born and raised in the Spanish Basque country, and now lives in Florida with her husband and two children.

She and I have been in touch for years, and I was delighted to finally meet her in person over lunch when she came to Paris last year, on her way home from teaching one of her workshops in Dordogne.

Aran has recently released her first cookbook, Small Plates and Sweet Treats, an inspired collection of seasonal, gluten-free recipes, and it is a pleasure to have her as a guest in the Parents Who Cook series.

Can you tell us a few words about your children? Ages, names, temperaments?

I am the mother of a boy, Jon, and a girl, Miren.

Jon, 6, is very emotional, kind, thoughtful, inquisitive (he is a Cancer) and Miren, 3, is spontaneous, independent, and social (she is a Scorpio). They are both very creative as well and love spending time together.

Did having children change the way you cook?

I am sure in a way it made me adapt certain recipes to accommodate their preferences and the textures they were eating at different times in their lives, but overall I would say that the way I cook hasn’t changed much.

Do you remember what it was like to cook with a newborn? Any tips or saving grace for new parents going through that phase?

I am not sure I should reveal this, but when Jon was a newborn, I used to carry him in a sling everywhere. It was the only way he liked to be held (and sleep). So I kept him in the sling while I cooked. I have to admit those first weeks of his life are a bit hazy in my mind today, but I remember cooking very simply.

Continue reading »

Parents Who Cook: Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs

Amanda and Addie
Amanda and Addie, photographed by Sarah Shatz.

Parents Who Cook is a Q&A series in which I ask my guests about cooking with little ones underfoot. If you think of people you’d like to see interviewed as part of this series — especially fathers! — your suggestions are welcome.

I have long admired Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs for founding the Food52 website, and developing it with such savvy over the past three years. Originally created as a way to crowd-source a cookbook, it is now a remarkably rich website with lots of smart features, and a vibrant community of cooks.

The first Food52 cookbook came out last year, and the second volume, also crowd-sourced and edited with great care, has just been released.

Amanda and Merrill are both mothers, and I am delighted to welcome them as my first guests on the Parents Who Cook series.

Can you tell us a few words about your kids? Ages, names, temperaments?

M: Our daughter Clara is almost eleven months old. She has seven teeth and is determined to start walking. We think she’s learned her first word (hi), although it could just be a random sound she’s making. Clara is a really good-tempered baby and very social, but on the rare occasion that she’s unhappy or tired, she lets us know it!

A: We have twins, Walker and Addie, and they’re six. They’re losing their baby teeth, which they’re very excited about. Walker is methodical, competitive, and snuggly. Addie is social, a daydreamer, and willing to be amused.

Clara
Clara, photographed by James Ransom.

Continue reading »

Planning a trip to Paris?
Eat Your Books Recipe Index

Instagrams

Get the newsletter

Receive a free monthly email with a digest of recent entries, plus exclusive inspiration and special announcements. You can also choose to be notified of every new post.