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In Town? Come On By!

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In Town? Come On By!

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Jenny Rosenstrach house nyc

In the exhaustive pros-and-cons list I drew up last year, as my husband and I were wrestling with the decision to move back to New York from the suburbs, I had overlooked one giant pro…

Which is this: People are always swinging through town! Friends from college, friends from our pre-kid 20s, old coworkers, world-traveling uncles, and, best of all, our daughters’ college friends — very little makes me happier than receiving a text from one of them saying “Hey, I’m in New York next week, can I come by?” I always say yes, always. Sometimes it’s for a bagel breakfast, sometimes it’s for a lunch built around homemade focaccia, but mostly it’s weeknight dinners, my favorite low-key way to cook for people. I can say with certainty that these visits handily cancel out “no place to hang long dresses,” one of the cons on the list.

A lot changed in my dinner life when I became an empty nester — and I’m not necessarily weepy about this. The amount of energy (psychic and otherwise) that goes into cooking for two is remarkably, satisfyingly slim, and I love that I don’t have to even know what I’m making until I get a text from my husband saying “on the way home.” And other than the dog’s steady, beggy grumbling under the table, dinner is what it is meant to be: calm, intentional, restorative. But…

… wow do I also miss the distinctly loud energy that my daughters and their friends bring to the table. They’re all in different stages of their lives — some are just passing through, some are taking time off, some are on spring break, some have graduated and are suit-wearing nine-to-fivers, some are utterly confused in exactly the same way I was when I was that age. And even though I very distinctly remember how stressful it is to be perched on the edge of the Real World like they are, selfishly, it’s fascinating to listen to their stories about figuring it all out. (Not to mention, they are all never-ending sources of ideas for books, audiobooks, music, TV shows, and A24 films.) One of their moms texted me a thank-you after I cooked an easy pasta for her daughter. “These kids are trying so hard to hold it together,” she told me. “I think it still feels really good to be taken care of.” But of course it’s a two-way street — clearly they are taking care of me, too.

For my daughter’s friend Jazzy, who had graduated less than a month earlier, I made easy homemade focaccia with options for sandwich fillings: Fresh mozzarella, arugula, balsamic vinaigrette? Prosciutto, mozzarella, pickled onions? Even though it looks like a lot of work, I only made the bread and the pickled onions. Everything else was store-bought. That was an excellent lunch.

But maybe Jazzy didn’t care about the food and just wanted to hang with Bean?

And I made these Cider-Glazed Sausages with Caramelized Apples & Fennel for another friend, Ron. (When I asked him if he had any food requests, he said mashed potatoes, so I worked backwards from there.) The recipe is from Lidey Heuck’s new book Cooking in Real Life, which is packed with highly doable ideas for these kinds of nights.

Cider-Glazed Sausages with Caramelized Apples & Fennel
I cooked two Beyond sausages in a separate skillet for the vegetarians. Recipe from Cooking in Real Life, by Lidey Heuck.

1 medium Honeycrisp or Fuji apple
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 cup thinly sliced fennel (about half a medium bulb)
1 cup thinly sliced red onion (about half a large onion)
1 tablespoon maple syrup
4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 sweet Italian sausage links (about 1 pound)
3/4 cup fresh apple cider
Chopped fresh parsley or fennel fronds, for serving

1. Core and thinly slice the apple, then stack the slices and cut them into thirds crosswise.

2. In a 10-inch Dutch oven or deep cast-iron skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the fennel, onion, apple, and maple syrup and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly caramelized, about 15 minutes. (If the vegetables start browning too quickly, reduce the heat to low.)

3. Add 2 tablespoons of the vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon salt and stir, scraping up any browned bits from the pan. Transfer the mixture to a small bowl and carefully wipe out the pan with a paper towel.

4. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil to the pan and increase the heat to medium-high. When the oil is hot, add the sausages and cook, turning occasionally, until browned all over, 4 to 6 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the cider (careful, it may splatter!). Simmer until the sausages are cooked through and the cider has reduced and thickened, 6 to 10 minutes, flipping the sausages once or twice. (If the sausages are cooked through before the cider has reduced, remove them from the pot while the cider finishes.)

5. Return the apples, fennel, and onion to the pan, along with the remaining 2 tablespoons vinegar. Toss to coat them with the sauce and spoon over the sausages. Season to taste with salt and pepper, sprinkle with parsley, and serve right from the pan.

Jenny Rosenstrach

Thoughts? Who do you like cooking for?

P.S. How to be a neighborhood aunt and a surprising thing about being an empty nester.

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