Wednesday, 25 July 2012 | 105 comments

On dinner, work, & lifestyle

When I wrote this post awhile back, trying to celebrate home cooks, it resonated with some of you, rubbed some of you the wrong way, but all in all, generated some nice dialogue. Outside of the public comments, some readers emailed me with big questions. Questions about work-life balance, questions about how one manages a full-time non-blog, non-food job and a life of home cooking. Some of you even had questions about my schedule and shopping habits, which were simultaneously flattering in their sincere (and mistaken) belief that I cook every single meal and grow a huge proportion of my diet, and embarrassing in the humble truth of my responses.

My recent college grad sister (congratulations!) related an anecdote to me. She’s at the receiving end of all those post-college let’s-talk-about-real-life speeches, and was recently given one that she found a bit belittling. “The problem with your generation,” the speaker said, “is that they don’t know the value of a day’s hard work. The young people who work for me do their 40 hours and no more. You all want to have a lifestyle.”

The implication, here, of course, is that if you are hardworking, having a “lifestyle” should be impossible. The worker dedicated to his or her cause, presumably, is so dedicated that he or she has no time and no thought for anything else. This is confusing to me in a lot of ways, but not surprising. I’m by no means unfamiliar with the sentiment—or the pressure to seem disinterested in non-work-related topics in order to come across as more “serious” or “dedicated.”

Take this site, for instance. In an organization of 4,000 people, I have one co-worker who knows it exists. I’m not really sure what I’m afraid or ashamed of, but it involves a mixture of this medium feeling too “girly” to be taken seriously—a double whammy of journal-style writing and a focus on “touchy-feely” subjects of community, cooking, and entertaining—and also a lurking worry that it makes me somehow less of a professional to ostensibly spend time on very non-job-related projects. I’m unconvinced that my co-workers and supervisors spend every waking minute in their homes doing work-related activities, but at least they don’t have a website that testifies as much.

My days are long, both because of work and because of personal choices I made in the interest of my begrudged “lifestyle”. When I moved out to the country, I bookended my workday with a 1.5 hour commute, partly for the sake of a garden, the personal pleasure of living in a creaky old house, and to be closer to Ben. I rise before dawn, take the train to the city, work a typically 9-10 hour day, take the train back home, and start all over again the next day. I do arrive earlier than many of my co-workers but I try to leave a little earlier, too, for a particular reason: I like to make it home for dinner, dinner that we near-always cook and dinner that we sit around a table to eat.

By the standards of people like the one who gave the speech my sister heard, my lifestyle is positively hedonistic, I suppose. (And by his definition, if I were more seriously dedicated to my organization’s cause, I would probably live in a windowless studio and eat frozen fish fingers for dinner, so distracted by the work ahead of me.) I’m a bit frightened by the prospect of a world where being a professional and having a home-cooked dinner are incongruous, or at the very least, considered a lifestyle luxury.

In her incredible recent article for The Atlantic (long, but everyone should read it), Anne-Marie Slaughter, a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University who served as the director of policy planning at the State Department from 2009 to 2011, relates how many women professionals she knows invent neutral-sounding reasons for going home to family dinner, afraid of seeming unprofessional if they reveal where they’re spending time from 6-8 PM. She decides to change this when she becomes the first woman dean of Princeton’s school of foreign policy, being explicit about her family commitments with colleagues and telling students she was unavailable for certain hours in the evenings because of family dinner. Some of her co-workers protested:

“You have to stop talking about your kids,” one said. “You are not showing the gravitas that people expect from a dean, which is particularly damaging precisely because you are the first woman dean of the school.”

Slaughter’s article is about women and their place as professionals, but in terms of cooking and table, it’s an issue for all of us. Weeknight cooking is urgently needed in our society, and we know this—more and more studies remind us what we intuitively know, that sitting down to dinner makes us happier, healthier, and sometimes even makes kids smarter—but the stereotype of cooking and eating well as either a dated domestic task for non-professionals or as an upper-middle-class fetish persists.

Those conversations that I had with readers following the “Home cooks, high fives” post reinforced this unease. Some of you called me out: the recipes I frequently post here don’t necessarily reflect the way I eat, every day, when I arrive home just needing to get some good, filling food on the table. Food blogs, photography, and writing tend to highlight the unusual, the unique, the quaint, and the momentous. I love and celebrate all these things too, but perhaps it is time to document the everyday.

“Weeknights at the Yellow House” is a little book I put together to put my money where my mouth is. It’s an actual week of dinners Ben and I cooked and ate. I’d be lying if I said I knew exactly what I was trying to prove. I didn’t plan. The dinners don’t conform to a typical idea of a healthy or balanced meal (although to me they are).

Mostly it’s meant to show that daily home cooking is shaped by a lot of constraints, but that doesn’t mean we should be discouraged. I have no illusions that my schedule is the tightest or that my lifestyle is the most fast-paced—I’m guessing those distinctions would go to those of you with kids. Still, still. I think we can do it. I think we have the power to cook seasonally and practically; to eat ethically but not extravagantly; to sit down to dinner with our loved ones or by oneself for a little bit, without sacrificing our credibility or our pocketbooks. This is cooking at its barest and most rough-edged, but also cooking at its most rewarding.

Some notes:
– If you don’t like reading the page-turning format of this booklet, you can download it as a PDF if you click here and then click the “Download Publication” icon in the menu bar at the bottom of the reader.
– I should admit that these dinners are from a few weeks ago, so they’re possibly no longer perfectly “seasonal” if you’re in the mid-Atlantic area.

§ 105 responses to On dinner, work, & lifestyle

  • I love this idea. 1. I love the way your post is so well thought out and the way it’s writing-focused. 2. I love what you’ve done with this little booklet. It’s beautiful and practical and it’s such a nice gesture to offer it for free.

  • I really like this post, Sarah. It is disappointing to see there are those who feel a woman should feel shame for wanting to be home with her family for dinner. You’d think we’d be past this point by now. I just did a quick flip through your book and find it beautiful. I’ll be returning to give it the time it deserves. I can tell it will be time well spent. Thank you for using your precious time to share your thoughts here, and to create this lovely put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is book.

  • I love your digital booklet. Your dinners look simple but beautiful and I hope to try some out!

  • Arlene

    Your diary is stunning and inspirational. At the end of a long day you still make dinner a celebration with a lovely tray in the garden, linens. Simple yet so elegant, the same as your writing.

  • This is spot on. I am 26, work a full time job at a biopharmaceutical company and will be starting law school in the fall. I also love to cook. I make time to make dinner for my boyfriend and myself almost every night of the week because it’s something that matters to me. When it comes to work/life balance, there is always going to be a struggle. I think the hardest part is knowing yourself well enough to stick to your guns on the things that are really important to your overall sense of happiness and accomplishment. It certainly seems like you are on the right path.

  • Sarah, you rock. Thank you for writing this.

    I find it sad that America has evolved into a culture where we must choose work over lifestyle (or, lifestyle over work), especially because it reinforces the thought that we must workworkwork all the time or live a less valid existence. I have always worked, and I have always cooked. I do not see the two as mutually exclusive – I do like to cook but also I like to save money (which I do when I cook at home) and eat healthier, which, come to think of it, might make me a more productive worker! :) And you’re right to mention that blogs can give a sort of false impression of how we live our daily lives – I, like you, often come home after a long day + some exercise and throw together a vegetable stirfry (on the agenda tonight, in fact) which is delicious and nourishing but perhaps not so beautiful. On nights when I might have a bit more time I might indulge in making something a bit more elaborate … but what I post doesn’t always reflect that (though I do try to mention when I’ve fallen into a rut of fried rice/stir-fry/baked tofu). Which I think is … totally OK.

    The everyday is often quick and messy and so, so necessary. I wish people didn’t see cooking, as you write, “a dated domestic task for non-professionals or as an upper-middle-class fetish.” My grandmothers and great-grandmothers (and my mother, too, come to think of it) would shake their heads in wonder at that idea; they cooked because that’s what you did. It wasn’t a ‘thing.’ It was just essential to survival.

    / longest comment ever

    • I edited out a whole paragraph about how my grandmother just doesn’t understand any debates about food—exactly your point, that it’s just something you do. To eat. Because you have to eat to live. Thanks for this, Nicole! xo

  • ps = the book: so beautiful. I love the stories in the headnotes. Bravo!

  • This is so awesome. I love the journal-style openings for each recipe, revealing what was happening just before dinner landed on the table, how your thoughts led to the meal just and hour earlier on your commute. This feels so real and relateable.

  • Thanks for sharing, these recipes look delicious. I certainly like to see the sorts of things that others come up with when they’re throwing together an evening meal. It’s usually inspiring, and it helps me get creative when I’m feeling out of steam.

    That anecdote about your sister’s director reminded me of the many conversations I’ve had with people I consider to be my mentors in my field about how to have a life outside of work. I’m 25, an a graduate student, seriously considering a life in academia. I always come away from those conversations feeling so naive. And maybe I am. When I was a kid I really bought into the idea that excelling in my career was the best way to be happy, that it would somehow make me into a “successful adult.” But now I’m not so sure. I get so much pleasure from the other things in my life, and from having the time to cook and entertain in my home, and to spend time outdoors. I’m starting to really believe that it’s those things that make me feel successful.

    But then I read essays like Mary-Louise Slaughter’s piece, and I feel naive all over again. I like to hope that this really is a generational thing, because it seems like so many people in their 20’s feel the same. If we (by which I mean all us work hating, balance loving younglings out there) can figure it out, and actually push back against that attitude, then perhaps the rhetoric will start to shift by the time I’m in my 40’s :p

  • In my experience, the only way guys like that director can maintain their work-centric lifestyle is because they have A WIFE doing everything else for them. If I had a wife who handed me a drink when I walked in the door and put dinner on the table and washed dishes and did laundry, I would have all the time in the world to do exactly whatever i wanted. I am a wife, in an equally sharing relationship, so to me this ‘lifestyle’ he maligns is the part of the relationship that makes us strongest, sharing responsibilities and joys of daily life, together.

  • I just turned 30 and spent my 20’s trying to unlearn lessons that were surprisingly hard to let go of, most involving what work means to me, how my paycheck doesn’t define me, and the value of what I have to contribute to this world. As a creative person now working freelance, “What do you do for a living?” used to be the scariest question, because I couldn’t figure out how to put myself in a box that fit in with others’ expectations. Your post really resonates with me. I used to think devoting myself to creating and cooking wasn’t important enough, but not anymore. These things do matter, they create community, family, and sustain relationships. I think your book is thoughtful and so well done. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    • Sarah, I just discovered your blog last night and will probably spend most of today reading through your past posts. This one in particular I really connected with the questions of life balance, not to mention you’re food is gorgeous and inspiring!

      And la domestique / Jessica you honestly have put into words what I have been thinking and mulling over for the past few months. I am 26 and work as an interior designer, which is a career that every fiber of my creativity was designed for. Yet I still struggle with what my career choices gives back to the world and whether it gives my life its total meaning. My husband just started at Harvard Business School and it has been extremely difficult for me to stand strong in my convictions of what makes ME happy (designing, walking the dogs, keeping home, spending time alone and in the company of myself). Instead I find myself feeling degraded because I don’t make a lot of money, that I’m not a Harvard grad, or worrying that I don’t meet their expectations. All of which is completely ridiculous and self inflicted! Basically what I am saying is that I find it comforting that I am not alone in these questions and that one day I’ll just be able to shut out all the other opinions and just live my life and know that, like you said, these things do matter!

  • Regarding the director’s comment, I understand that some people feel that work should be the number one priority and that you shouldn’t stop caring about it after 5pm. I even think, in the context of non-profits, that some of that going-above-and-beyond-the-call is admirable and crucial in an understaffed and underfunded organization.

    But I also believe that you can’t do good work for your organization without a good work-life balance. I think it’s bizarre that he phrased his statement:

    “…they don’t know the value of a day’s hard work. The young people who work for me do their 40 hours and no more.”

    I feel the value of a day’s hard work precisely when I finish my workday, go home, and take a well-earned break until the next day. The value is in the feeling of a job well done, of having worked in a concentrated and focused way, of having used each of my working hours well. The value is in shifting gears, cooking a much-needed meal and regenerating for the next day. Doesn’t this shows more appreciation for the value of work than not being able to stop, than, say, checking your work email during your child’s recital or during a special meal with your partner?

    • Hi Leslie—We’re on the same page. I never meant to bash hard work in general, especially for a good cause. I guess I consider myself a hard worker, but not a workaholic. I don’t clock out at 8 hours every day, but if I’m at a good stopping point and there’s nothing urgent, I definitely will. There is virtue to putting in the long hours when there’s a job to get done, for sure. But I’m not convinced that those days are (or should be) every day.

  • love your post and love the book! thanks for putting it together – so lovely. when i worked in finance, i never talked about my blog and my cooking or my writing – i felt that if people knew, they’d feel i am, somehow, not dedicated enough… i read that article in the atlantic cover to cover, and Anne Marie Slaughter’s piece hit a nerve… all my friends with kids were rattled by it… they felt like they were somehow less than… I don’t know.. I have struggled to cook anything these past few days because i am facing an imminent book deadline and i am working 16-17 hour days and sleeping. that’s pretty much my life at the moment… but i long for the days when i’ll get back into the kitchen. it’ll be a good time when i do.

  • I’m going to fight for my “lifestyle” and I’ll never stop because that lifestyle, that roundness of my life, the fullness of it and diversity of it and the wholeness of it, frankly makes me better at my job. It gives me insights I wouldn’t otherwise find in a vacuum of “work, work, work.” It reduces stress so that I can communicate with my coworkers and clients and vendors in a way that still conveys kindness and respect without relinquishing my authority the same way a frazzled, overworked tone would. It allows me to appreciate my work more when I’m there. It’s a gift, my time, and I’m lucky to be in a position to do with it what I choose- I promise never to apologize and never to squander it.

  • Brilliantly put and a lovely job on the dinner diary. My cooking is much the same, although any one week can include a complicated, ‘haute cuisine’ dish, bookended by dinners of popcorn & wine.

    I wish more people could take simple pleasure in food: in preparing it, eating it, sharing it. Without guilt, without stress, without feeling like there is something more important they should be doing. After all, what could more important than nourishing yourself?

  • Thank you! once again for a thoughtful and important post. Just this afternoon I decided to forgo a bit of work so that I could have an extra 20 minutes to make/pack a picnic so that my family could eat at the park with friends tonight. Cooked green beans, aioli, roasted squash, tomato jam from last fall and bread. It means i will work later tonight after my 5-year-old is in bed but that’s OK. And I so firmly affirm your sentiment that this is not hedonistic or luxurious but vital to health of our souls as well as our bodies and communities. Thank you!

  • I am totally and completely enamored. It reminds me so much of Canal House, but is entirely its own thing. I read that as a thoughtful meditation on eating, food, the enjoyment of. It’s perfect.

    Obama was criticized also for his choice to eschew evening soirees most nights for a private family meal. You’re saying important stuff, and so eloquently. I hope you keep it up.

  • Jen

    My dear friend… every time I think I could not love what you do more, you top yourself. Perfect.

    And I have never, ever been to a website where the comments are so beautifully written, so warm and honest and true. The high quality of people this site attracts is a testament to the wonderful things you’re doing here. High fives and hugs for everyone!

    • I so agree about the commenters, Jen! So lucky to have such a nice community. (I hear you’re coming back Stateside! We’ll need to plan a West coast trip!) xo

  • Dbhardwareking

    I love the way you say it, your spot on. I am a single dad with three children and own my on retail establishment that is open seven days a week. I work seventy hours a week but I cook dinner every day. Sometimes fancy, sometimes not, but always good. Sometimes all the kids help, and sometimes only one, And I love it. THANKS keep up the good work. And keep smiling. :0)

  • I just found your site to a facebook link to this post, and I cannot even express to you the relief that I feel from seeing that somebody out there does indeed have the same values as me. I’m constantly told that I’m not working hard enough, or when I express my disappointment that my boyfriend is working on our vacation, “that’s what you have to do if you want to make something of yourself.” I work a 40 hour a week boring office job in a room with 3 other people and no windows, and I do my best to leave on time every day to get to a yoga or spin class, or go for a run. Then I go home and I try to make something nutritious for us to eat, something which will make leftovers for the next day’s lunch. I don’t always get to it and there are times when I’m too busy or too tired to do it and those are the times I feel the worst. I find myself constantly lying to other people at work saying that I can’t stay late because I have an appointment (which I do – with myself). I have struggled so much with my values – are the things I believe in, living a healthy and happy and balanced life, totally crazy or just plain wrong? Or impossible? I make it work for me. I work hard all day so that I can leave on time. I do my grocery shopping on my lunch break and hide my perishables in the back of the fridge at work. I take a slightly longer lunch on Thursdays so I can get to the nearest farmers’ market each week. I spend entire weekend days slicing and dicing and roasting and preparing bits and pieces to become meals during the week. And I like to relax, too, watch TV and read and take pictures and go to the beach, and I’m not embarrassed to admit it, but I am scared to talk about it because people who don’t agree with you usually don’t accept you. I go to work every day because I have to, because I need my bi-monthly paycheck – not because I enjoy it. I don’t have any desire to advance in my career IF it means that I’m going to be giving up my “lifestyle.” To me, there is no point in doing anything if you’re not a happy and healthy person, so those are my priorities.

    So thank you for validating my beliefs and for showing me that I’m not the only one who believes there is more to life than work! I feel so fortunate to have clicked on this link today!

  • Susan H.

    Love this! Thank you so much for sharing! :)

    Susan H.

  • Kim

    You are such an inspiration! I am a PH professional in my 40s, and I think you are amazing. Thank you so much for all the wonderful things you share with us – you are truly making a difference in this world!

  • EL

    I am in my 40s and single, and in the last 4 — 5 years rebelled against the TV dinners that I was eating all the time. I am now in grad school and don’t cook every day, but I try to have something that I put together every day. Sometimes that means cooking all weekend when I’d rather be in the garden, but I do think that eating well is good for me.

    In addition, cooking means that I am getting off my dufus and standing up and doing something, rather than sitting around while something heats in the microwave. So that is good as well.

    Poop to all those people who think that eating poorly is healthy for you!

  • I relate to so much of this post and it’s a great feeling to know there are others out there – so thank you for putting it all out there and sharing that wonderful article from The Atlantic.

    The way I see it, I make choices in my life based on what’s important to me at the end of the day. And my choices are just my own and I need to own those choices as best I can. Eating a home cooked dinner with my husband is high up on my importance scale because sometimes it’s the only time we get to spend together during the week.

  • I’ve been waiting all day to read this post. I’m excited about the recipe book, but damn, that Atlantic article has my head spinning. Thanks for keeping it real — there’s dinner to make, but there’s change to make too. Big xo and high five to you!

  • Sarah, I love this post (and I love your blog!). It’s hard for me to reckon with Ms. Slaughter’s article–she ‘s kind of saying you can’t have it all and yet you can. Since she’s an academic, her hours are flexible, so in a way, she can both parent and work more easily than many others, and she achieved prominence while her kids were young and she wasn’t home a lot. As she noted (and as I have experienced) the critical parenting time comes home to roost when your kids are teens. How that plays out SOMETIMES it is a direct result of the time you put in when they were younger. There simply isn’t a one size fits all answer. But I do think parents are blindsided when their kids get to high school. It’s even harder to get the family dinner together if it has happened before that. I am glad she started the conversation, despite ridiculous comments from colleagues (you shouldn’t talk about that!).

    If you work, don’t you do it to have a ‘lifestyle’? It’s called balance and setting priorities. That’s where your little book comes in. Dinner for families starts early on–even before children! It becomes a habit, and at the beginning, it is a time to develop skills so it’s not so hard to pull it off on a regular basis when children come into the picture. This is a subject I could go on and on about, but I won’t….

    Thanks for a thoughtful post!

    • oops, I meant, it’s harder to get kids around the table when they are teens (so many activities) if it hasn’t become a habit before that.

  • I have an extremely demanding job, and though I’m not married, I even find it difficult to actually cook a balanced meal for myself. I used to just go off of boiled eggs, sandwich or literally a vegetable plate. With the blog, working and personal chores, it makes everything a bit more difficult. I like your idea here of creating a list and meal planning. Thank you for posting this because for a while I thought I just wouldn’t have the time to “escape” –my blog. This was so helpful and congratulations to your sister!!

  • Marvelous. This is a topic that seems to be coming up a lot these days. I am in the middle of reading Radical Homemakers by Shannon Hayes. Highly recommended. It’s a book full of brave souls who have eschewed this “working overtime for the man” lifestyle to come home and be with their families and communities. All are highly intelligent and educated, and earn money doing some kind of activism.

    It seems impossible that we all would be able (or want) to make a commitment to learning how to do enough things for ourselves that we no longer need to work away from home at a full time job. I know many who love their jobs, and are doing important work. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t know how to cook dried beans and nourish our families, both with food and time.

  • I’ve just found your blog and I’m completely smitten. I work long hours in finance, only one of my colleagues knows about my blog and that’s only because he has a blog too. I read so much about that mythical work/life balance and, when you throw something as time-consuming and all-encompassing as blogging into the mix, it’s even more complicated a concept. I always feel that, however busy we might be, if my boyfriend and I can at least sit down for 10 minutes at the end of the day to eat then we’ve accomplished something.

  • Hilary

    Thanks, you are amazing.

  • This was wonderful Sarah. Weeknight cooking is so much more than just food on the table, and you got to the core of it. I really respect everyone´s decision to live the way they choose, and I especially like blogs that reflect that. It´s always a pleasure reading when you post.

  • I’ve dropped the ball and succumbed to the problems inherent in mindless 9-5 living. And for that, I am so sorry.
    You’ve soared. Your work continues to be glorious, and this book just an glimmer of what I hope to see next!

  • This is lovely, if the word lovely can encompass “spot-on” and “inspiring” and “thoughtful.” Since reading that NY Times piece that was making all the rounds a few weeks ago about being “busy,” I’ve been thinking a lot about how much we’re expected to dedicate to our professional lives, and how a lot of people don’t seem to realize that taking time for yourself, and for a real life, makes people better workers (I mean, better livers and lovers of life, too, but from a purely business standpoint, joy makes people productive).

    And I love the little book.

    My mind’s been revolving around the “The Busy Trap,” that NY Times piece that was making all the rounds a few weeks ago, and this complements those

  • I love this post. I am a working mother of 3 and I love to cook and blog. I haven’t told anyone in my professional circle about my blog. Like you, I was afraid it would diminish me somehow. I also only blog about momentus meals, most of the time. My sister and spouse have been encouraging me to make my daily reality more of what I blog about. I have tried to do more of that this past year, but I still hold back. Blogging is highly personal. Not all that happens in my life and those I share it with want me to then share it with the world at large.

    I applaud your blogging and this post. Stay with it!

  • Amen and Bravo.

    My last office job, my boss would make snide back handed comments about how ‘good’ I was to always cook dinner for my family each night, to always have a packed lunch at my desk (generally leftovers from last night’s dinner). Worse were the comments about how I had my ‘boundaries’ as far as the hours I was available to work. Weekends were not an option, something I was asked to work continuously, because my boss worked them. I kept up with my job and got my work done in my alloted time, but they always wanted more ‘commitment’ out of me. The job was part time, 20 hours a week. I got no benefits, vacation or sick time, nor did I get paid for working past the signed contract of 20 weekly hours. My hours were set up around my daughter’s school schedule, I left for work after she got on the bus and I was home when she got home. I worked in an office full of women who constantly derided me for putting my family before my job.

    Since losing that job (I was laid off due to a massive funding loss), I have struck out on my own, doing things I love and finding I can actually get paid for doing them. Money might be tight, but I have had numerous people tell me I look younger and happier than I ever have. I don’t regret one bit putting my family first.

  • I love your little book. I was just thinking last night about writing a post highlighting the real meals that we eat in a week in our little house, to show exactly the things that you’re talking about here. Maybe we could make it a theme?

  • Lovely post and lovely book. In my previous 9-5 job I was always itching to get out of the office to go home and make a nice meal. Cooking, for me, was the perfect transition from busy workday to relaxing evening. When I have a family, the family dinner will be my one “non-negotiables”. I grew up around the dinner table, and can’t wait to have my children do the same. I too, am scared of the day when a successful career and home-cooked meals are incompatible.

  • What a great piece, Sarah! I resonate with a lot of it. The Atlantic article made its way around my office, too, and lots of us chatted about our reactions to it, basically concluding that whichever path you choose, there are sacrifices, it’s just a matter of deciding what you’re willing to give up.

    Love that you’ve put together a little “week in the life” book to enjoy, too!

  • phenomenal post. so thoughtful and spot on. we can’t do it all, but can sure try to get a lot of it right, and it doesn’t have to be miserable to do so.
    love the recipe ideas too!

  • The ebook is lovely, truly lovely. The challenge among food bloggers is to convey that sense of good eating, regardless of circumstance, and following enough of these blogs can lead one to think that we eat like this ALL the time. I get that a lot. I get it when people think that what is portrayed on your site is the be-all to your life, that they don’t see the messy, unscheduled meals; the ones eaten from the fridge, sometimes cold with a fork because your day just dragged you to hell and this is all you can muster. It’s fantasy, but it’s truth too. And even those moments of quick eating, the container of leftovers or toast topped with a few slices of fresh something-or-other, well, those moments can be just as transcendent as the ones planned out, executed and served with a glass of wine. Good eating starts at the heart and radiates outward, feeding all of us. Not just the tummy

  • Emily

    the heelLast night, we put this to into practice: at the end of a chaotic week, we got home late after our long commutes and made the beet pizza. It was amazing, and utterly manageable. We didn’t have to break the bank at the grocery store, we could use horseradish from our garden (and soon, beets), and the combination of flavors was surprising and delightful. Thank you for this very personal window into your world and for the inspiration you offer the rest of us who are also trying to live in a state of balance.

  • Rosie

    This is beautiful! I love the book, and I think you should publish booklets like this, complete with your thoughts on the day and the meal that comes of it. Lovely!

  • Awesome. Thank you so much. Both this post and the little book are incredibly heartening to me.

    My own belief is that “lifestyle” = life. All the good things that make our souls sing are not what most of us do at work, but the time we spend with family and friends, enjoying food, music, laughing. If that is not worth fighting for than I don’t know what is! I am hopeful that within the next few decades there will be enough Americans who think the same way that it will become less of a struggle to have a life while working to pay for it.

    I love the food you make in the little book, this is the way we cook too, a lot of the time. It may not be elaborate, but all the things that it is – fresh, true, interesting, from the heart, wholesome – are so much more than what it isn’t. With a little practice, I think anyone can eat this way (even without a garden), a small enriching miracle.

  • What inspiring evening reading and for the record I think you out across a very balanced and non judgemental perspective which has really got me thinking..

    I am in my early 40s with two children aged 5 (not yet at school) and 8. Since we had our children I have worked two days a week but only last month was made redundant after 8 years with the same firm. I was anxious about stopping work as its always been part of my life, even as a mother. I have been surprised at how much more relaxed I feel without that juggling act that was created by working only two days. Food is very important to me and mine. I bake my own bread,a cakes and cookies, mince my own meat, make almost everything from scratch including jams and a spreads. I do all of that because like you it’s important to me, it makes me happy and our family feels its important. It demands a lot of time and energy to do all those things and children aren’t always appreciative of your efforts. You want them to try new things, eat a varied range of foods but there are times when they just want something child friendly and will reject the new dish you have made just to tempt them.

    I am lucky I have a husband who will eat and enjoy all make. He does not need meat more
    Than a couple of times a week,he is as happy as me with roasted spiced cauliflower with a fried egg on top and that kind of low key dinner features for us a few times a week. On other days I have the time to put into something more involved, a luxury afforded to me by being home. Even with all the perceived time of being home you need energy and enthusiasm even if it’s just for oven baked cauliflower cheese.

    I’m really interested to follow this conversation thread and hope to see an iPad version of your book soon!

  • me

    I too believe in the power of the weeknight meal. In my twenties, I know I was the only one of my peers that trudged home to cook a proper plate of food. I was single back then and while my fellow singletons were eating fast food or happy hour food or Mama’s food I was cooking my own food. I remember dinners that resembled yours. From my little kitchen garden I would pluck a tomato and a zucchini, grab some good bread, a bit of cheese and maybe a glass of wine. Boy do things change when there is a child involved. Enjoy every moment of now. Revel in it. It will fill you in ways that your non-partaking peers can not imagine. And then when and if you find that there are wee ones at the table, you will have already put into practice something that is missing desperately from the american family. Your table will already be set.

  • Beautifully-put, Sarah. Thank you for putting to words what so many of us struggle with. It is strange to admit that what we do on our own time seems unbefitting to even acknowledge in a professional environment. (After all, it is depressingly difficult to avoid discussing work in our free time…not to mention the Blackberry-buzzing that imposes work upon personal hours for so many of us.)

    Also, many thanks for the glimpse into your real meals! What a fun and beautiful compilation.

  • I find it eminently disturbing that your sister’s boss should find working “40 hours, and no more” to be lazy. If the job requires more than 40 hours per week, hire another person to help out! I will always and forever wonder why salaried folks can be worked like indentured servants, but hourly folks must be paid overtime for working more than 40 hours per week.

    And if wanting to have a “lifestyle” outside of work makes me lazy, then so be it. I would rather be considered “lazy” and be happy than work 70 hours per week and be miserable.

    I don’t always cook, and not every meal I DO cook always turns out perfectly, but I try to cook several days per week. From scratch always. And we eat lots of leftovers. And while I adore my non-profit job, I try very hard to maintain a boundary between work and homelife. I’ve worked jobs where there was no boundary, where I was working 50+hours per week with a 45 minute commute on each end and I was so stressed that I lost 15 pounds and would just cry all the time. It was AWFUL, even though I loved the nonprofit where I worked. I vowed never to do that to myself again. Now I work 30 hours per week (not really by choice, but whatever) with a 45 minute commute on each end and I find that it is just about right. I still wish for more time at home to cook (and, let’s face it, CLEAN!) and I don’t have the time for a garden (so many woodchucks, so little time). Cooking and doing things outdoors with the fiance and the dog are what I enjoy doing now. And, come the colder winter months, knitting and sewing.

    I think our generation is going to be the first to actually balance home and work life and to reclaim “housewifely” things as valuable, instead of things to be scorned. And that makes me really proud.

    If, of course, we could ever get off the internet…

  • your post is another great addition to the wonderful articles out there recently about time and priorities. i agree slaughter’s article is a must-read, and i would add the piece by tim kreider in the nyt called “the ‘busy’ trap.” loved your booklet – your meals and menu are always inspiring!

  • Your post and all these inspiring comments remind me that I am really blessed to have a steady job and a kind boss. I only started blogging as a result of my husband getting laid off very unexpectedly a few years back (we both work in non-profit, so it’s not a surprise that funding was cut short at one of our jobs) and while I don’t find my actually job very inspiring, I’ve found enjoyment in my after-work activities. I’ve had heart to hearts with my boss about the office and her response was that she thought I should keep on at the blog because that’s what makes me happiest. My only promise to her was that I wouldn’t blog at work.

    I loved turning every page of your delicious book. More, please.

  • Sara

    Although there were plenty of women in my generation (b. 1952) who have had rich, satisfying lives as they work, grow a family, and seek bliss, I love how the younger generations do these things perhaps more consciously and gracefully. Or are more transparent about the struggle of keeping balance. I’m amazed by the scale of your involvement in the world. I’m a little sad that your culture is not mindfully supportive of your wanting to have a few moments in the sensual realm (seeing the stars, smelling the herbs.) I think public health includes mental health and that includes being in the moment. Dominique Browning is an interesting example (see her book “Slow Love: How I Lost my Job, Put on My Pajamas, and Found Happiness”) of someone who shook off the culture to a degree: after ‘winning’ in it. There is enough work, there are enough people to do the work. Finding a good fit is an adventure. Being in your body at the end of the day for a meal is a right I wish for everyone.

  • Carol James

    Love your little book! It’s so good to see that there are young people who enjoy cooking and eating good food. I have always tryed to cook my own food from sratch as much as possible as I don’t like micro meals or other shop bought prepared meals and I feel cooking at home healthye and more creative. rI’m pleased to say my daughters do the same and that having a meal in their homes is pure pleasure for me whether cooked by my daughters their husbands or their kids. So many young people I know live on Mc Donalds, your site is a breath of fresh air! Thankyou!

  • Sarah, I’m just seeing this–congratulations! I love the recipes, the photos, the stories behind each dinner. Brava!

  • I love this post and I love your dinner diary. I heard an astonishing statistic this week, about how many people in the US exist only on junk food/fast food, etc. It was shocking. So I don’t understand why those of us who make cooking and eating with friends and family are so denigrated sometimes. As a working mum, I struggle every day with balancing my life – trying to fit what is important to me and our family with the realities of a full-time job and 1.75 hr to and fro commute. Do I bake bread this week or buy it (depends on if the baker is at the market) -is there anything in the garden to eat or do I stop by the fruit stand and get any dinner options from there, can we really eat potatoes 5 days in a row (yes) – can I make something for dinner with kale, corn and potatoes – yes – hash with egg on top.
    Fortunately for me, one of my first bosses instilled in me the importance of not extending your work hours beyond the 40 hour week. His philosophy was if you routinely work more hours then either you have too much work and that was his responsibility to correct or you couldn’t work efficiently in which case you needed more training or resources which was also his responsibility to correct. I’ve never forgotten it and I try now as a manager to live by it.
    Keep up the dialog and great work!

  • Love this post, and your ‘boook’ is gorgeous too. Like you and so many who have commented, I think we run a constant check-and-balance with ourselves on what we eat and what we prepare. I think one thing that helped me a my husband, a few years ago, was to sit down and clarify what our parameters were. What were we not willing to buy? What were we not willing to skip? Could bread and grilled vegetables be dinner? (yes) Could ice cream be dinner? (no – well, not usually, at least not for our kids). Figuring out clear rules to play by helps make some of the decisions for you, and so when it is fifteen minutes before dinner and you have nothing going you at least have some clear ideas about what options are. I love all the contemplation of balance and sustenance and meaning and time that your readers are sharing here. Great post and great discussion!

  • Reading this again, smiling. Enjoying the comments. So great.

  • Sarah, I’m inspired in a million ways! Beautiful writing and pictures and piece of mind–as usual. Thanks for all of it!

  • Thank you for this. Thanks a lot.

    You managed to weave so many important things together in this post: where our food comes, how we make it day to day (mostly when others aren’t looking), everything that comes before we take a cutting board out of the cupboard and a knife out from a drawer (work and commutes, gardens and grocery shopping) and sometimes keeping a blog secret. Isn’t is strange that with blogging we are able to build communities yet there is still a fear that blog will seem girly or frivolous when discussed in a professional setting?

    I particularly loved how you wrote about the tomatoes your mother sometimes served as dinner and your trust in her because she was an adult and so if she said tomatoes were dinner then they were dinner.

    This is the kind of cooking and food that I like best. Recipes are good for inspiration but you truly captured what it means to cook daily (and what it means to nurture oneself).

  • I want to commend you on tackling such an important topic, Sarah. Frankly, it’s something that’s come up often lately. For me, not just in light of being a food blogger, but also in light of my pregnancy. I feel like for women, in particular, work/life balance is a hard thing to truly achieve, especially if you value your career. I’ve found that setting boundaries at work, and showing that working hard isn’t just about the number of hours you spend at the office, is an important part of letting people know that there are things that are important in life, and they don’t necessarily take away from you being driven or successful. But, I still feel like we have a ways to go, especially when there are such archaic points of view out there, that suggest that being good at what you do means having no life at all. If that’s what success is, I’m not sure I want it!

  • I’m 100% with you on what you wrote.
    In Portugal things are a bit different , but i was enlightened by your post and the comments as well. America’s high productivity is something you should be proud of, but it should not have to “erase” all other (equally or more important) aspects of one’s life.
    Congratulation on the little book. It’s absolutely gorgeous!

  • So extremely well written. I can completely relate to these types of feelings. I just want to go home to cook a nice dinner with my fiance (or even just for myself when he’s on night shifts). Yet, there’s a stigma around leaving “early”. Also, with my own blog, I kept it from co-workers for the same reasons, it’s not work-related and definitely more personal, so am I therefore less professional? A lot of good thoughts with this post!

    I’m going home now, on-time, to make a good meal and flip through your pdf!

  • Sarah.

    This space in general, this project in particular, these strings of words you compose with thought and passion, they have all the power and gleam of that sun, daggering its way through the grapevines.

    Thanks for doing what you do here.


  • meg

    Beautifully written. One of my great passions in life is the dinner experience. I grew up in a family where both of my parents worked full-time, but we almost always sat down to a meal that my mother cooked. It stuck.
    Objectively, there is no reason on earth that we should not want to have a life apart from endless work. Is there a value to be found in signing away your whole life to a job, a career, an employer? Anyway, wonderful post. It was very gratifying to read.

  • Lee Ann Derkacs

    I am am a retired, grandmother, 69 years old and what I remember about “lifestye” growing up is cook, eat & love. Not gourmet but healthy, filling and most of all accompanied by the chatter of the day. My mother worked hard to keep house for 6 children and 2 grandparents on a very limited budget. Our modern conveniences have given us the ability and time to work outside the home but we still need the ability to relate to our family. I love your blog and to use recipes from it.

  • Interesting to hear you say that you don’t share this space with your coworkers. My coworkers know about my blog and occasionally come in with recipes they’ve made from it, which is always flattering. I’ve also been told by coworkers that they think my obvious passion for and commitment to doing something apart from work is something that will set me apart during business school applications. Of course, I’m a recent college grad and most of my coworkers are under 30, so maybe the perspective I’m getting is different.. It saddens me that there are professionals out there that would look down on someone for having passions, or for wanting to be home for dinner! I hope that it’s a long time before I run into that sort of thing.

  • love this post! I am not the cook in my house but I value eating healthy, fulfilling meals and gathering for dinner with my family. My husband has taught me a lot in the kitchen and I find we learn a lot about each other when we make a meal together every night. I just had my first baby ten weeks ago and we plan on cooking as often as we can to instill that in her. Thank you for a lovely blog post reminding us to slow down and live in this very busy world.

  • Thank you for posting this! The meals I make at home and share with my husband are the most rewarding, and your recipes inspire me to cook even more. In this day and age, and at every age – it’s very possible to plan/create wonderful simple meals. I look forward to more of your blog posts!

  • Dara

    Bravo! I am also a working woman and firmly believe that with careful weekly shopping, a quick hand in the kitchen and some creativity, one can make a healthy nutritious meal every night of the week.

  • this is a very thought provoking post. i think that it is a struggle to balance living with surviving. cooking really makes me slow down. i feel like an odd ball because we really try and eat at home m-f. cooking does make me feel creative that despite a long day of hard non creative work that i’ve still got it. plus, it is part of creating the life that i desire. my husband can cook and does but i rather him have dish duties…as i hate it and he doesn’t mind. i know that bloggers take a lot of stuff for seeming perfect but honestly who want to read something that is a downer. anyway, i love grocery shopping. it’s the one type of shopping that iu can get behind 100% and i love good food and great ingredients. we don’t eat fancy food but what we do eat is good. thanks for what you do here….’it’s beautiful and inspiring.

  • On a day like today, when it feels like I haven’t cooked a real meal in weeks, this is the most inspirational post I could come across. This week: no more grocery store deli, just simple meals I’ll make myself.

  • First I have to tell you, that I just spent over 40 minutes reading (not skimming but actually reading) posts from your blog when I’m supposed to be writing a post that’s due up in a few hours. So how did I get here? I was flipping through my notebook looking for some notes I took for a dumpling recipe when I came across a blank page with “” scrawled into the margin. Curious, I looked it up and remembered that someone I met a few weeks ago in Tokyo told me to check it out. So here I am, no closer to being finished with my post, writing you this comment out of admiration.

    On the work/lifestyle tradeoff, it’s still alive and well in the tech startup community (my former life). Twelve hour days were the norm, and the days leading up to an investor meeting often meant I’d be spending the whole weekend in the office. I guess the difference with a 4000 person organization is that working at a startup is a labor of love. Uninterested in a nine to five and burnt out on all-nighters and frozen veggie burger patties, I left work to pursue lifestyle.

    Thanks for finding the time to have a day job and still share your lifestyle with us!

  • Victoria Montelongo

    Love your e-book. The recipes sound and look amazing. I can’t wait to try them. Excellent story! Thanks!

  • I was mesmerized, in addition to your food and your writing, the enormously high quantity, high quality and lengthy responses you got in response to this beautiful essay (which I too would join in but so much of what I would contribute has already been said). From there I tried to view your Weekday Meals publication but when I clicked on the place you instructed to be clicked, it brought me to one page (with other options of other publications below), but I was unable to go further. Is there a trick that I am missing? I am intrigued and would love to read further. Thanks for your wonderful content; I can’t wait to read more. I came upon your site through Coffeeinthewoodshed while recovering in the hospital unable to eat. Both of you made me happy to realize my appetite had not been lost.

    I would also like to mention that I like the simplicity and graphic quality of this site. Do you host yourself.

    • Hi Stacey! That’s very kind, thank you. I do host myself, kind of: my cousin hosts me, himself.
      The link should work—I just checked it again. Strange. Hope it works for you now. Thanks for reading. —S

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