We're sitting down with our favorite writers and cooks to talk about their upcoming cookbooks, their best food memories, and just about anything else.
When Ashley Rodriguez started writing her blog, Not Without Salt, 7 years ago, she started it as a way to advertise her dessert and wedding cake business. She and her husband, Gabe, had just moved from Los Angeles, where she worked as a pastry chef at Spago, to Seattle to start a family. As the blog grew, it became a place where Ashley posted recipes, beautiful images, and her now widely-popular monthly series Dating My Husband. In this series, Ashley has shared personal stories about maintaining her relationship with her husband while raising 3 children.
Her latest cookbook, Date Night In, which came out this past December was inspired by these posts. Like the blog, she includes date night menu plans, anecdotes of her own date nights with Gabe, and tips for timing the entire meals so that it comes out of the oven just as the kids are falling asleep. Many of the recipes are inspired by her travels as an undergraduate to Italy, and of course, her husband. Here, Ashley talks with us about her cookbook, her favorite recipes, and where she finds the time to do it all.
What was your primary inspiration for sharing your personal date night stories and recipes in a cookbook?
The cookbook was born out of the series I created on blog, Dating My Husband. When my husband and I started dating at home, I shared the experience on the blog along with the recipes we enjoyed from our date nights. The response I got through comments and emails gave me the inspiration to share more and go deeper, and to do so in cookbook form. It’s a bit terrifying to have so much of us out in the world, but hearing how people were inspired by our date nights inspired me. It’s a gift that greatly outweighs all the fear of being so vulnerable.
What do you think it is about opening up about your relationship with Gabe that resonates with people so deeply?
We all know relationships and marriage are hard and take work, but I think we are too afraid to talk about that aspect because it seems so unromantic or maybe we are afraid that our marriage is the only one that requires so much work. So I think in talking about the intention needed to make a long-term relationship last, it hits on a truth that everyone can relate to collectively. We all breathe a sigh of relief when we find companionship in our hardships.
I know I walked into marriage naively and was initially terrified when love no longer felt like a fairy tale. Once I talked to other married friends and realized that I’m not alone, I was able to more deeply understand that real love is more about choice and action than a feeling.
Many of your recipes are inspired by date nights out with your husband and from your travels to Italy together. Where else did you find inspiration for the recipes you created for this book?
I’m so inspired by traveling and eating out. I also get a ton of inspiration from other cookbooks. But when it comes to date night, I just ask myself (or sometimes my husband), “What do you want to eat”? I don’t worry about ease, if the kids will eat it, or if it’s super nutritious. I simply make the food that we are craving because it’s date night and we should look forward to the food -- it should feel special and, I think, a bit indulgent.
What was the process of making a cookbook like? As a full-time blogger with 3 children, how did you find the time?
I heard how difficult the process was going to be from many dear friends who have written cookbooks. It was difficult, but I absolutely loved writing the book. Everything about creating its pages made me happy: the writing, recipe development, and photography. It was hard work, but I was working on something that I cared deeply about, and I was growing by leaps and bounds because I was pushing myself so much.
The blog suffered a bit in the process but thankfully, because of my incredibly supportive husband, the family didn’t. I love that the kids are so involved in our day to day and get to see both their mom and their dad doing work we are passionate about. I found the time because my husband gave me the time and sacrificed his own time to make it happen. He and I both saw the value and beauty of this project and we made it happen even in the midst of all the craziness there is in life when you have young children.
The stories you include in your cookbook can be, like the stories on your blog, incredibly honest and personal. There are stories about struggling to find time with your husband, a failed birthday, and memories from when you first started dating your husband, what made you decide to share these personal stories in your cookbook?
You know, I really don’t know any other way. As much as I love food, what I am really passionate about and interested in is what happens around the table. I’ve always wanted the food to be just the start, the ice-breaker for what the story really is. For our date nights, the food gets us to the table, but our commitment to our marriage is what keeps us there. I want to tell that story.
And also, like I mentioned before I have come to experience community and joy in a way I never thought possible when I am willing to open myself up to others. I want so much more than a dialogue of “I made this recipe. It’s good, you should make it.” “Thank you.” And when I am vulnerable and tell the real story behind the food, then I get vulnerability and real stories in return. I love it.
What are some of your favorite recipes and stories from Date Night In?
I really do love all the recipes that are in the book, but I do think that the fried chicken date stands out (basil and mint julep, fried chicken biscuit sandwich, pickled vegetable salad, and ice cream pie with bourbon butterscotch and chocolate pecans). The story in that chapter talks about how I sometimes need something like fried chicken to lure me back into the kitchen at the end of the day so that I can date my husband.
One of my favorite narratives is the last chapter. Gabe read the entire manuscript except for that chapter. On our 10th anniversary, I printed out that narrative and gave it to him as a gift. We had talked about renewing our vows for our 10th but that felt cheesy. I didn’t like the idea of standing up in front of people, pouring my heart out, so instead I decided to rewrite my vows and put it in a book for all to read. Go figure.
Photo of Ashley and Gabe by Boone Rodriguez; all others by Ashley Rodriguez.