Cookbook review: 'How to Celebrate Everything' by Jenny Rosenstrach is a guide to celebrating everyday moments with food

By Jenny Rosenstrach Ballantine Books, 336 pages, $30 How to Celebrate Everything
By Jenny Rosenstrach Ballantine Books, 336 pages, $30How to Celebrate Everything
Published December 20 2016
Updated December 20 2016

Babies crave routines and families crave rituals, says author Jenny Rosenstrach, and as she and her husband raised two daughters, she set out to create both.

In How to Celebrate Everything: Recipes and Rituals for Birthdays, Holidays, Family Dinners, and Every Day in Between, Rosenstrach shares the charming traditions that make so many of her family's memories shine. The latest cookbook from Rosenstrach, a New York Times-bestselling author and food blogger with an 18-year-old dinner diary, is organized into four chapters or groups of rituals: Holidays We Didn't Invent (like Thanksgiving), Our Family Rituals, Birthdays and Family Dinners.

Everything really is celebrated here, both the big holidays throughout the year as well as the everyday, which includes birthdays, sleepovers and lunches with Rosenstrach's dad. She finds inspiration in the kitchen from classic cookbooks, heirloom family recipes, the farmers market and her two daughters. Her oldest, Phoebe, is behind the fried and cinnamon-dusted pineapple chunks that are now a go-to family treat.

How to Celebrate Everything is deeply personal, and it's compelling even though my life does not involve weeknight soccer practice for the kids. We do have a couple of things in common: Like Rosenstrach, I have a large extended family with many characters as well as a tendency to indulge in nostalgia. The author's strong storytelling keeps the tone of the book firmly in charming territory, grounding it in real life rather than making it too romantic. This is someone whose Christmas cookie platter holds sugar cookies made by her mother-in-law and kids, carrots, the requisite glass of milk to go with the cookies — and a can of Budweiser for Santa.

She's relatable in her attempt to update her mom's decades-old chocolate pudding pie served on Thanksgiving, bringing in high-quality Valrhona chocolate for the chocolate Jell-O pudding. Tradition wins, she learns, as nostalgia is an ingredient that overwhelms the others in any pie or other classic holiday recipe.

There are holiday menus, like a Christmas dinner with Cranberry-Marinated Beef Tenderloin and Curried Carrots With Pecans, as well as seasonal menus for Sunday dinners. Her classic family dinners include things like Harissa Roasted Chicken, Crispy Chickpeas With Yogurt Sauce and Naan and Grilled Soy-Glazed Pork Chops. The recipes are accessible for those with more than one mouth to feed, which makes them quite family-friendly. (Read: flexible.) Rosenstrach seems determined to find the fun in everyday life at home.

Her Quinoa Salad With Roast Vegetables, Feta and Herbs is a solid recipe I'll keep in the regular dinner rotation. It's one that came about in an effort to use up vegetables remaining from a trip to the farmers market. This makes it a flexible recipe, able to bend according to seasonal availability or simply what happens to be in the house. A platter of quinoa is especially appealing when studded with root vegetables in sunset hues that have been roasted to bring out their natural sweetness and become the best versions of themselves. Feta brings a salty brightness that holds its own in this heartier salad.

The cookbook has a scrapbook/family album vibe, with pictures of her two daughters sipping smoothies or having fun at sleepovers, the family's French bulldog and her mom's detailed Thanksgiving notes written in neat cursive on varying shades and sizes of legal pad sheets. To read Rosenstrach's cookbook is to be let into her family, one that is rich with heritage and tradition. They celebrate both Easter and Passover, both Christmas and Hanukkah. I laughed out loud as she described her husband's morning-person rituals in contrast to her own morning habits and later smiled thinking of past vacations with my own cousins as I read about her daughters and the rowdy so-called "Cousinland" that forms on Fourth of July weekends.

Like the best kind of cookbooks, hers is more than just a collection of recipes. She shares the specifics of her family rituals in the hope that readers will discover and celebrate their own, or adopt the ones detailed in the book. I'm totally borrowing some of these as my family grows, like her game plan for throwing a kid birthday party at home with recipes, menus and theme ideas as well as a structured two-hour template with instructions for games and activities. It's valuable wisdom for a first-time parent navigating both new traditions and the overwhelming task of hosting a fun party for children.

Rosenstrach's Mud Cake, a chocolate birthday cake, is cleverly decorated along its border with the colorful heads of Dum Dum lollipops peeking out from the frosting. Using multicolored candy is an instant way to make a child's birthday cake more playful and just one example of the clever entertaining tricks up Rosenstrach's sleeve.

How to Celebrate Everything is a friendly guide for the moments and milestones that mark a life, and how to turn those into truly special occasions.

Ileana Morales Valentine can be reached at [email protected]