October 13, 2022


Eating Together, Being Together: Recipes, Activities, and Advice from a Chef Dad and Psychologist Mom. By Julian C.E. Clauss-Ehlers and Caroline S. Clauss-Ehlers, Ph.D. Princeton Architectural Press. $27.50.

     Carefully cultivated culinary connections create co-parenting cohesion. There, in one awkwardly alliterative sentence, you have the premise and approach of Eating Together, Being Together. This is a book for the very-upscale parenting of very-upscale children by very-upscale adults, the kind of book that on one page talks about picking the juiciest watermelon and on the next page discusses “giving love by sharing goodness” and becoming an “advocate for social justice.” It is a book packed with precision cooking instructions that only readers with plenty of time and plenty of money will be able to follow: one tiny edge-of-page paragraph about an inconsequential side dish says to “boil fingerling potatoes in their skins, then drain, cool, and slice before mixing with good-quality mayonnaise, chopped fresh chives, a touch of sweet pickle relish, salt, and pepper.” It is equally packed with rather heavy-handed attempts to connect kitchen-focused matters with the rest of life: “To be inspired, whether in or out of the kitchen, is to forward our creativity. We can look to a person or a creation as an inspiration, and then move from that toward something we want to bring to the world.”

     Despite the pervasive sense of noblesse oblige, this is a book with some practical advice that can be followed even by people not in the authors’ class or social circle. This is true even though comments here may sometimes be overdone (“we can share love by giving goodness”); and may sometimes be obvious (“snacks, like so many things in life, have positive and negative aspects”). The fact is that the book does often provide useful advice and recommendations: “Food recycling [means] using food in new and creative ways rather than throwing it out. …You can also recycle food by freezing leftovers.” Or: “Save time in the morning by making breakfast the night before.” On the other hand, some useful ideas are expressed with a tone that sounds as if it talks down to readers: “In the spirit of eating mindfulness, we can reduce food waste by knowing more about the makeup of the ingredients we’re eating.”

     The authors have three kids together, two teenage daughters and a much younger son, and they also have solid careers, one as an executive chef at a higher-end New York City hotel and the other as a psychologist in private practice and a university professor. So clearly their viewpoints are skewed – but so are those of all authors of cookbooks and parenting books, and Eating Together, Being Together is a bit of both. There is narrative on various topics relating to child-rearing, and there are recipes of all sorts to be shared with or made in cooperation with younger family members. There is a “top tip!” (with exclamation point) here and there, and the occasional “fun fact!” (also with exclamation point). The amount of fun may be arguable – “a mandoline slicer is a vital piece of equipment” – but these brief highlighted items help break up the design and narrative of the book.

     Also helpful are the pages with specific food-related suggestions for “young helpers,” “preteen + teen helpers,” and “grown-up helpers.” These are basically three ways of looking at a single project. When making fruit salad, for instance, the idea is to develop team-building skills, which means to have young helpers ask grown-ups to prepare fruits and do the slicing; have preteen + teen helpers assign people to various parts of fruit-salad preparation, checking in on progress regularly; and have grown-up helpers assign others to various kitchen tasks that do not involve knives (a “be careful!” admonition appears dozens of times in innumerable contexts).

     The narrative in the book is best when it includes an admission of not having all the answers: “I’m not sure what ‘solution’ can fully address the struggle of giving our kids eating choices while also wanting them to eat certain foods.” Most of the time, though, both authors are quite sure of themselves – perhaps understandably so, in light of their professional positions, but sometimes expressed to a greater degree than seems strictly necessary. The recipes – there are many of them, and they are quite varied – are sometimes on the exotic side, sometimes relatively straightforward. But even the not-very-unusual ones are presented here in ways that will be difficult for time-pressed (not to mention financially less-secure) families to follow. Making pizza, for example, here requires creating a yeast mixture that stands for eight to 10 minutes; then making a mixture of high-gluten flour with all-purpose flour, adding the yeast mixture, and kneading for five to eight minutes; then covering the bowl and letting it sit at room temperature for an hour; and then breaking the dough into four pieces to be refrigerated for two days before continuing the preparation. And that is just the dough, not the toppings.

     Readers who think the intriguing and thoughtful ideas in Eating Together, Being Together are worth exploring would do well to read a little of the book carefully before deciding whether to own it and try to implement its suggestions, both for food and for family life. The style of the authors is distinctive in a way that some people will find congenial and others may consider off-putting in its sheer certainty and a certain sense of privilege. If the writing style and the continual references to mindfulness and waste reduction and support of farmers’ markets and making time for self-care fit your how-the-world-works-or-should-work paradigm, and if you have plenty of time to spend in food preparation and plenty of funds to get just the right ingredients, Eating Together, Being Together will be a pleasant read packed with insight and some delicious food recommendations. If, however, you find the style somewhat self-indulgent and self-satisfied, and the specificity and time commitments of the recipes somewhat over-the-top, then this particular book will not be the best choice if you want to find ways for your family to eat together in the name of connectedness.

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