Q&A with Robin Davis, author of “Recipe for Joy”

Here is my Q&A with Robin Davis, author of Recipe for Joy.    As you can tell from my review from the last edition of The Catholic Post (click here to read that), I really enjoyed the book, and I enjoyed e-chatting with Robin about her book, faith and food, even after I learned (see final question) she is one of the rare people who doesn’t like the chocolate chip flavors at Graeter’s Ice Cream.  I’m not holding it against her (and if you’re a Graeter’s fan, you know what I mean).  Thanks, Robin!

Robin 2012

Q. Robin, tell readers more about yourself, your family and your work.

I’m the food editor at the Columbus Dispatch (that’s right in the middle of Ohio). I grew up in Dayton, but moved to California as soon as I graduated from college – I was one of those people who couldn’t wait to “escape.”

I went to cooking school, then worked for Bon Appetit magazine and the San Francisco Chronicle. It was a great life, but I felt something was missing. After my father died, I moved back to Ohio to be closer to my family, my sister in particular. That’s when I met my husband who was a widower with three young children.

Q. Recipe for Joy is such a great read about your life going from single living in the city to a wife, step-mom and Catholic convert. You talk about one of the challenges of going from living alone to in a family was the bigger messes that a family of five creates. (With a sick child right now, I’m pondering that having sick kids must have been a shock to your system.) What has been the best and worst parts of being a mom from someone who never intended to be one?

A.  Having a sick child is definitely one of the hardest parts. But here’s another thing I didn’t plan on: getting sick myself. Before I was married, I got a cold about once a year. That was it. But living with three young children meant I caught everything they did – sometimes twice.

The hardest part of parenthood for me was doubting myself. I felt like I had to have all the answers, and I just didn’t. It took a long time for me to realize that no one does, and longer still for me to recognize it was OK to tell the kids I didn’t know the answer or that I was wrong about an answer I’d given them.

The best part? Never being lonely. There is an energy to living in a family that I just didn’t get living alone.

Q. One of the things I liked best about Recipe for Joy is when you shared about your sense of not fitting in–of being a step-mom versus what you at first call a “real” mom; of being a working mom among stay-at-home moms, etc. I think all moms–really, all women–can relate to that. What’s the remedy for that, or how have you learned to manage it?

The solution for me was to not look at how I was different, but to look at similarities. I may not have given birth to these three, but all the parents I knew juggled getting their kids to various activities.

Maybe I was one of the few working moms among the kids’ friends parents, but I can’t think of a single mom who didn’t struggle with getting dinner on the table every night or worry about their kids eating a healthful diet.

Q. You’ve written about how supportive your husband was about the book. What do your children think of the book?

The kids have been wonderful. I let them read the proposal before I sent it out to publishers to make sure they understood what I was going to write about. I asked them questions about some of the things in the book to see how their memories compared to mine. And I asked them to read the finished manuscript before I sent it to Loyola Press.

It gave us excellent starting points for conversations that I’m not sure we might have had otherwise.

Q. As I wrote in my review, when I finished the appetizer chapter, I made the prosciutto-wrapped asparagus. I actually went out that day to buy the ingredients for friends who were coming over the next evening. It was easy to make and a huge hit (among the asparagus-eaters). What other recipes “must” I try from the book?

You have to try the Baked Goat Cheese Salad. We make an easier version several times a week with just crumbled goat cheese and whatever fruit we have on hand whether it’s the dried cranberries or fresh apples or even berries. And if you’re lucky enough to come across sour cherries this summer, be sure to try the pie. Even if you don’t want to bother with a lattice crust, a two-crust summer fruit pie (try it with blackberries or raspberries) is hard to beat.

Q. I’ve just started Michael Pollan’s Cooked, and I’m so struck by his writing in the first chapter about the importance of preparing food for yourself and those you loved. I felt like he was channeling GK Chesterton (or Robin Davis 😉 ) about the spiritual import of food and eating, more so than in his earlier books. Do you think the wider culture is more tuned into the spiritual aspects of food these days?

I do. The pendulum of food continues to swing away from fast and convenient to mindful. Before we even cook, we go to great lengths to know where our food comes from and who is producing it. We care about the larger picture of the planet because we’re all part of a community. Even for those who don’t call it spiritual or religious recognize the wholeness of feeding oneself and others.

Q. Because I’m active online, everywhere I look I seem to see so many nutritional “you-must-eat -this-way” plans out there, like paleo, vegan, real food, etc. Your thoughts on this trend, and how as Catholics we might approach this?

I believe each body is individual and responds differently to different foods and food groups. And I respect people who choose not to eat animal products because of moral convictions or push themselves to eat locally-grown produce and meats to support the local economy.

However, I grow concerned when I see people continuing to look for a magic pill of dieting or nutrition. We cut out entire food groups in the hopes of . . . what? Thinness? Health? Youth? As Catholics (as humans, really), we’re stewards of this planet. I think we do best when we choose foods grown in sustainable, humane ways that support the people who grow them.

And I think eating together – whatever you decide to eat – goes a long way in peace and understanding.

Q. You’ve been a Catholic convert now for some years. How do you find your faith changing over the years, and do you have a favorite prayer or way to pray?

My faith is less compartmentalized these days. It’s not just Sunday Mass or even grace before meals but kind of this more constant awareness of God’s presence. My prayers used to be what I called a wish list: things I wanted or needed from God. Now I try to give thanks for all the things for which I’m grateful.

And more recently, I try to silently just listen for God, to stop praying words at all, but I admit that’s really hard.

Q. Finally, I noticed among your other books is Graeter’s Ice Cream: An Irresistible History. Since I have family in Columbus (one of the few places that have Graeter’s ice cream stores) I have to ask: what is your favorite flavor?

Black cherry! Personally, I prefer the kind without chocolate chips, but I appreciate the company’s unique way of using chocolate in its chips flavors. Graeter’s is still one of my favorite places to go for ice cream.