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Hero of 2022: Ali Slagle’s Dreams of Dinner

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An unlikely postpartum delight, Slagle’s cookbook debut is both a service and a dash of a more sophisticated life beyond baby spit-up.

The only thing I remember eating during the first months of new parenthood is seaweed. A metric ton of the stuff by way of miyeok guk, a traditional Korean soup whose perks include supposed benefits for breastfeeding. Also commonly referred to as “Korean birthday soup,” it’s normally pretty tasty! But mainlining globs of seaweed, day after day, as if your entire postpartum identity depends on it? Those baby blues quickly take on the distinct color of nauseating green. 

Those early days were a mindfuck. Nothing could have prepared me for the plateaus of grief for a former life I never fathomed I could miss so intensely. While I can’t identify the exact moment I started to recognize myself once again, looking back on the last year, one key milestone is evident: the arrival of recipe genius Ali Slagle’s, I Dream of Dinner (So you don’t have to).

It might seem overblown to credit a cookbook with easing postpartum depression. But when you’re chained to a nursing chair that intermittently smells of spilled seaweed and breastmilk, the opportunity to properly prepare a meal—and maybe even enjoy its contents—feels absurdly exhilarating. Of course, the physical and mental space it took to cook didn’t emerge magically on its own; it came after a deeply excruciating decision to stop breastfeeding. Even weeks after I had quit and begun to navigate some extra hours suddenly available, the liberation of no longer being tethered to a hungry baby was undermined by overwhelming guilt. Had I tried just a tad harder then perhaps my newborn would be able to enjoy the gospel of “breast is best,” too?

With that grating question looming large, I soon discovered I Dream of Dinner. Slagle’s recipes provide everything an amateur cook with scant time or energy could desire: ease and palatability. But critically for me, they provided small glimpses of a slightly more sophisticated life, one where interesting food, elegant in its simplicity, could be celebrated. Consider the recipe Slagle affectionately refers to as a “stunt,” “Rice with Lots of Herbs & Seeds.” At once exceedingly easy to whip up—I personally skip the coconut chips—yet surprisingly complex thanks to a dash of lime and fish sauce; the dish is lovely either on its own or paired with leftover salmon. Another favorite is the “Harissa-Creamed Cauliflower” which requires five simple ingredients—one of which is old bread—and provides an excellent option for canned tomatoes that isn’t yet another night of pasta. The entire section dedicated to beans is divided into sections—”crunchies,” “crisp” and “stew”—and has been a kind of a revelation, providing me with endless solutions to idling pantry staples.

Maybe I had failed at this breastfeeding thing. But I take pleasure in knowing that years from now, when he’s ready to eat what I eat, I’ll be ready with these delightful recipes.

I’m not a natural cook. For treats, I regularly blend soggy leftover nachos as a topping on fresh tortilla chips. I learned what a whisk was some years after college thanks to a friend, a former pastry chef at Jean Georges. But with her debut cookbook, Slagle opened a sense of potential that didn’t feel remotely available to me at a moment in life when I really needed it.

As those with more experience in this parenting thing often say: It gets easier. For me, the refrain always landed as if spoken in a foreign language. But those well-intentioned words of comfort are repeated to the point of incantation for a very good reason. It does. In fact. Get better. Let I Dream of Dinner help. 

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