Recipe For Joy

“Look for the similarities, not the differences.”

Fifteen years ago someone gave me this counsel and it is perhaps the most important piece of advice I’ve ever received. Yes, even more important than don’t eat crackers in bed and don’t make out with someone immediately after eating Oreos.

When we look for the similarities between ourselves and others, we find common ground; we connect and help each other. When we seek only our differences, all we do is isolate: we make ourselves stagnant.

I’m always looking for similarities with other parents. This step-parenting thing is the hardest thing I’ve ever done; connecting with other people who also believe raising kids is a challenge– one that we can meet– helps me keep going. Especially if they also make me laugh. It’s one of the main reasons I blog.

Today I have the great pleasure of introducing you to Robin Davis, author of Recipe For Joy: A Stepmom’s Story of Finding Faith, Following Love, and Feeding a Family.

Robin is awesome. Former assistant editor at Bon Appetit, former restaurant critic and food writer for The San Francisco Chronicle, and current food editor at The Columbus Dispatch, she is also a smart and lovely lady who converted to Catholicism, has a strong and abiding faith, and is stepmom to three. In spite of her impressive credentials, she still agreed to be on my blog.

It seems that both Robin and I used to have the same list of Nevers. We were never going to get married, have children, move away from the west coast, or join an organized religion. Life, apparently, had other plans for each of us.

In Recipe For Joy Robin tells the story of feeling the pull of family drawing her back to Ohio after her father’s death. While there on sabbatical from the Chronicle she met a man named Ken at an alumni dinner, and learned he was a widower raising his three young children on his own. Despite Robin’s Nevers they  started dating. Which soon led to having to interact with his kids–something she had little experience with.

When Robin first started spending time with the children, she turned to the thing she felt most comfortable with: food.

This is a beautifully written, intensely honest book with moments that made me laugh out loud. The chapters correspond to parts of a meal, and a recipe concludes each chapter. Robin was gracious enough to give me an interview.



JM: What’s your current favorite ingredient in your cooking?

Robin: Right now, it’s probably asparagus. I love it grilled, roasted, in quiche or pasta. But in another couple of weeks, it’s going to be locally-grown strawberries. I won’t be able to get enough of them for the short season they’re here.

JM: In the book, you speak of the first meal you had together with Ken and the kids (hamburgers). Did you ever cook a meal just for him while you were dating?
Robin: Yes, often! When I first moved to Columbus, I was technically on sabbatical from the San Francisco Chronicle. I worked part time as a buyer for a local gourmet cookware store and wrote freelance for a few publications. But I had lots of time to cook. For one of our first dates, I packed us a picnic lunch with shrimp cocktail, cold poached salmon, asparagus, flourless chocolate cake. We ate it outside at a local park. So romantic!

JM: I love that you bonded with the kids through the thing you were most comfortable with: food. I’m not nearly a fraction of the cook that you are and my kids mostly hate anything that doesn’t involve sugar. What do you recommend for picky eaters?

Robin: Start with where they are and try not to make food a battlefield. The meal I described above? That was great for Ken and I, but the kids wouldn’t touch it (still wouldn’t eat the poached salmon). When I met them, Ben was 10 and the twins were 8. I first had to figure out what they liked and then see if I could expand their palates little by little. But that was my way of getting to know them, almost like a game. I couldn’t take their reactions to the food personally, which was hard for me. What I ended up doing was making sure there was always one thing on the table that they liked, that was familiar to them, even if it was just grapes or plain pasta or rice. If they wanted, they could just eat that (after they tried whatever else was on the table). And if they were still hungry, they could get a cup of yogurt out of the fridge.

JM: had hot sauce in my eye  was moved to tears many times while reading this book, and one part that resonated very strongly with me was your phrase “It flattened me,” in regards to the basic day-to-day tasks that grow exponentially when you suddenly find yourself with a family. I thought I was the only one.

Several times in the book you refer to how stony your heart had become. Do you feel like you were shutting down in reaction to the stress of the situation, or do you feel like you were that way before and just didn’t recognize it?

Robin: For me, it took someone (my sister) pointing out that I was crying all the time because, as strange as it sounds, I didn’t think anyone could see what a mess I’d become.

I was stony first out of self-preservation. I put up walls because I was afraid the children wouldn’t like me. And then when they did like me, I worked hard at not trying to be a replacement mother because no one could ever replace their mother. For a long time, I wouldn’t say, “I love you” to them because I never wanted them to feel obligated to say it back to me if they didn’t feel it. Of course, all that really did was put up a wall between us. If I have one regret, it’s that I didn’t love them openly and with abandon, with no fear of what their reaction would be. Instead, I hoped they would see how much I loved them because I cooked and cleaned for them. That’s a recipe for failure.

JM: I’ve seen many articles lately where people tell stepmoms “You knew what you were getting into. You signed up for this”. And yet, nobody knows what it’s going to be like ahead of time. Even bio parents don’t know what parenting is going to be like. Do you feel like you were constantly redefining your role as a stepmom?

Robin: A friend who has biological as well as stepchildren tells me she thinks being a stepmom is way harder than being a biological mom. Someone else always has the trump card in any situation, and it’s not you.

Like you, I had a clear idea of what I would be going in: A perfect, never jealous, stepmother always with the right answer to every situation. I remember telling myself that I would stand firm in who I was and how I would interact with them. But I grew, and the kids changed. And of course, I learned what worked and what didn’t. What worked best was just being me and not trying to be perfect.

JM: I appreciate that you wrote a book that can help people through a rough patch. I think it’s tremendous that you put into words how hard it can be, because it will help others not feel so far off the mark when they’re not in love with their situation, and reminds us that everything changes.



Anyone who enjoys exploring the connections that bind families together, who finds solace in the kitchen, or who has questions about faith should grab a copy of Recipe For Joy. But if you know a stepmom, particularly one who is having a hard time, you should get a copy for her. It is a tremendous gift to know you’re not alone.

Click this link to buy the book – get it for only $10 through May 19

Click this link for some of Robin’s other recipes.


What’s your favorite food to make to connect with your family?


One Waitress Sunday

#3 got a job today. She officially starts training next week as a waitress.

#1 is already a waitress.

#2 has a job interview tomorrow for a potentially waitress-related position.

I used to be a waitress. Before I started pushing boxes and wrapping cables and making people louder, I served pancakes and eggs, meatloaf and midwestern spaghetti, and later, margaritas and fried ice cream. Waiting tables is hard work. Mainly because there are people involved.

I used to have these drowning waitress dreams. In my dreams, I would already be rushing around with five tables, and then the hostess would seat me a 20-top, a 7-top and an 11-top all at once. There weren’t enough menus. One of the tables would be upside down on the ceiling and I would have to climb a spiderweb to get up to it while pirates tried to unhook my fingers and kept trying to flip my tray. Each time someone ordered something I would go back to the kitchen only to find out we were out of it. Everyone needed separate checks at the last minute and there were six birthdays at six different tables, each one requiring that I make a labor-intensive free dessert with a complete absence of kitchen utensils, and then gather of as many coworkers as possible to sing the made-up Mexican birthday song.

I would wake from these dreams feeling like I worked all night instead of sleeping. I’d chase my hangover with a cigarette, the cigarette with a cup of double-strength coffee; I’d find a clean uniform shirt, spot-clean my apron, and put my SAS shoes on for another go-round.

There isn’t a single thing about this past life that I miss.

Every so often, even today, nearly twenty years later, I will still have a drowning waitress dream. Except now I will realize in my dream that this isn’t my job any more, and I untie my apron and walk out.

So given all the waitressing that is happening and is about to happen in my house, I’ve been racking my brain trying to come up with a useful piece of advice for the girls, and I think I finally have one:

Smile often, and pay attention to your tray.

Because at some point your tray WILL betray you. You are going to drop stuff. If you’re lucky, you’re only going to drop that entrée on the floor, the one that your customer has been waiting on for half an hour; if you’re unlucky you’re going to drop it ON your customer. A smile is your only defense at that point.

At the mexican place we served beer in these 23-ounce Pilsner glasses. I had a table of four who each ordered one. I served the first one to the lady, at which point the tray tipped and dumped all over her. Every. Ounce. That’s 69 ounces of beer, for those of you who are counting.

Will you believe me when I tell you that she had just come from the gym and had a change of clothes with her in a bag at the table, a bag that miraculously escaped the Beer Deluge? And that my manager comped them and they stayed and drank all night and left me a big tip?

I figured that was my allotment of waitress grace, and I should get out while I could. I quit shortly after that.

How about you- got any drowning ex-occupation stories? Any good waitress stories?

Here’s your picture: My mom’s entry for my Pi Day Pie contest. She didn’t win a damn thing.

My mom used to cook. She gave it up for Lent when I was 13.
My mom used to cook. She gave it up for Lent when I was 13.

Here are your links:

Continuing on with our waitress & other jobs theme, I first got introduced to the Ziggens when I worked a Glenn Campbell show. Glenn Campbell’s sound guy is the drummer for the punk-ish Ziggens and gave me a disc. I played it and fell in love, particularly with this song, which made such an impression on me that I never ask anyone in my family if they want scrambled or fried; I sing “How do you like yo’ eggs?“. Later I got to do monitors when the Ziggens opened up for Dick Dale, which ranks up there as one of my all-time favorite gigs. The Ziggens: The Waitress Song

What makes you ridiculously happy? Worth it for the mutant animal sculpture alone. 5 Bizarre Things…on Ironic Mom

I loved this one just from the title, but then there’s also this awesome sort of walking dead chicken picture. . .    I Spatchcocked A Rooster Eunuch on The Food and Wine Hedonist.

I’m lucky like this too: Doing Life Together and the Division of Labor on Scattered Smothered and Covered

Do you greet your loved ones when they come home? It matters. The Homecoming Dance on Spectator.

Happy Sunday.




Pi Day Pie Winner!

Boy am I packed full of pie.

Virtual pie, that is. Virtual Pi Day pie!

You guys didn’t make it easy, which is what I like about you.

If you’re here and you don’t know what Pi Day is, I’m not sure how you manage to leave the house in the morning because it’s one of the only reasons people come here. Go to the blog Learn More Every Day. It’s like two aspirin for your ignorance. (I’m going there a lot myself, but not for Pi Day).

Honorable Mentions:

To Relatively Awesome for the awesome revelation that you can put cheese right into the crust! Who knew? Greg made an apple pie with gruyere crust and I want to eat it so bad! I can’t believe I never thought of it.

To Rick Miller, for this:


Another Honorable Mention goes to Sarah Lynn’s Sweets for the Pi cake she made for her Brother-in-Law, check it out:

I love this so much.

And now for the winner.

Wait, did you know that there is such a thing as cherry Three Musketeers? I found this out from ThoughtsAppear, because that’s what she made her Pi out of.

And now for the winner.











Umm… how did that get in here?

And now for the winner:

Rachel’s Table: Venison Shepard’s Pie with Thyme Pi.

Because I totally wasn’t expecting that. And also because I believe the best place for deer is in a pie.


Rachel, your unique use of thyme and your most appropriate use of venison has earned you PooPourri!

I must report that I was really torn between the above Rachel’s Pie and GoJulesGo’s Chocolate Chip Pie with Chocolate Bacon Pi.

Really. Torn. Because Chocolate Bacon.

So Jules will be receiving a consolation prize that may or may not contain a trophy.

Thanks for celebrating Pi Day with me. What should we do for Star Wars Day?