When I first heard that Ashley Rodriguez was working on a cookbook memoir based on her popular blog series titled “Dating My Husband,” I could hardly contain my excitement. This was during the time when Cake Over Steak was merely a brain-child of mine, and it was bloggers like Ashley and posts like her Dating My Husband series that truly inspired me to create my own space on the internet. They lit a fire in me that made me want to share my own story, weaving tales of love, marriage, family, friendships, fears, etc. into the story of a recipe that makes you want to spend the rest of the day in your kitchen. I made a vow to myself that this blog would be up and running by the time her book came out so I could write about it on here. Little did I know that I would also have a husband of my very own by the time that day rolled around.
Ashley’s book, Date Night In, features seasonal menus for having a date night with your loved one, as well as stories of her romance over the years with her husband and the date nights they’ve had together – from their engagement in Rome to snuggling together on the couch while watching a movie. This is definitely one of those cookbooks you should read from cover to cover (although I do that with all of them). It’s part love story, part love letter and part cookbook. All of the pieces come together beautifully, creating a keepsake of a book that you will always want on your shelf, if not your nightstand.
Each of the chapters almost made me cry or brought me fully to tears. As a wife in a fresh marriage, her words made me thankful for my husband and my marriage. Ashley writes from the perspective of being married for ten years. While I have about 9.5 years to go until I reach that point, the book made me look forward to that time in our lives. While it is fun to be in this moment and I hope to cherish every minute of it, it made me excited for that season down the road when we can look fondly back on these times and see how we have changed as individuals and as a couple.
There was a specific passage in the book that hit me hard, because I could relate to it SO MUCH. During a discussion with her kids about Cinderella and Prince Charming(s), she emphasized that no one is perfect and if we spend our whole lives looking for perfection, we will miss out on the beauty of the imperfection. I could talk more about that statement right there, but what really got me was what she wanted to tell her kids that night and didn’t get the chance to just yet:
I want to tell them that, just before I said “I do” to their dad, I thought, “Ashley, is he the one?” but then responded to myself, “How the hell do I know? What I do know is that I’d be completely stupid if I didn’t choose to spend the rest of my life with him.”
This was exactly how I felt – I knew there was no way of knowing if he was “the one,” but what I DID know was that I’d be an idiot to not marry Robert. He is everything I could have asked for in a husband: caring, thoughtful, creative, supportive, funny, kind, patient, encouraging, smart, talented, handsome, honest, optimistic, etc. If anything, I was mostly nervous about how easy things are with him. I would ask myself, “How could I possibly have gotten so lucky?” It just didn’t seem right. I feel like things have gone so smoothly for us that I’m just waiting for the moment when we explode – like, literally our bodies and lives spontaneously combusting because it shouldn’t be this easy. Two days before the wedding I was telling my maids of honor, Devin and Abbey, about how I couldn’t help but feel a little nervous about getting married since it was the biggest commitment of my life. Devin told me, “Sara, if you don’t marry Robert then you are shit outta luck.” Hah! I believe that was her loving way of telling me that I won’t find anyone more perfect for me than Robert. Thanks, Devin.
I appreciate how Ashley talks about thoughts like these in her book, as well as the little moments of being in a serious relationship with someone that aren’t always as glamorized as other things. You may not have a Hollywood moment in your relationship every day, but the mere act of your husband doing the dishes (even though he hates doing them) can be the strongest affirmation of love that you’ll experience all day. Or when he saves me a cookie from a catered work lunch, and how he knows I’m specific about which plates I want to use for dinner – “Do you want to use the peacock bowls, the octopus plates or the ones with the animals dressed as people?” It’s those little things that happen on a regular basis, seemingly insignificant, but there’s a whole lot of love and understanding behind them, and it’s a comforting thing to experience.
So obviously after reading this book I wanted to have a “date night in” with Robert featuring one of the menus. But how to choose?! It was a tough decision. Contenders included “A Touch of Thai” (fresh spring rolls, vegetable curry and a Thai iced coffee affogato with spiced coconut ice cream!!!), “By the Fire” (fire-pit fontina with tomatoes, rosemary and lemon; German pretzel sandwiches; potato salad and a s’mores terrine), “Eat With Your Hands” (homemade cream sodas, endive salad with blue cheese and apples, bacon and leek tart with ricotta custard, and brownies with peanut butter frosting), and “Dinner and a Movie” (sun-dried tomato caesar salad, pizza with sausage and peppers, plus salted peanut toffee popcorn). Yikes!! I just want to make all of it. I will definitely be turning to this book in the future for the cocktails alone, like the “Pineapple Rosarita” and the “Basil Mint Jubilee.”
I decided on the “Breakfast for Dinner” menu because it appealed to me most at the time and seemed extremely easy for me to throw together. (Each of the menus features a helpful timeline for what you can/should do in advance to prep for the meal, making the meals seem much more approachable.) Our menu featured homemade sausage patties with roasted apples (SO good), baked eggs with spinach and gruyére (although we swapped parmesan for the gruyére), and the crowning finish: croissant french toast with brown-butter maple syrup (which yielded leftovers that made for a fantastic breakfast the next morning). That brown butter maple syrup is a life-changer.
The beverage for this meal was a blood orange screwdriver, but screwdrivers aren’t really my thing. I decided to stick with the breakfast/brunch theme and go with a riff on a mimosa. We did mango-raspberry champagne floats, and the ridiculously easy non-recipe for it is below. If you want the short version: put sorbet in a glass and pour champagne over it. Voila! Instant fancy-schmancy date night drink that you could totally whip up on any day at any time. We went with the Barefoot Pinot Grigio “Bubbly”, which we really liked, and it only set us back about $13. No need to overdo it! Just aim for a dry or semi-dry champagne because it will complement the sweetness of the sorbet.
Ashley and her husband started having these date nights (which they do weekly, usually on a weeknight after their kids have gone to bed) as a way to slow down and reconnect with each other amidst their busy lives as parents and individuals who have their own careers and needs, etc. While Robert and I do not have kids at this time, we can certainly relate to the need to make time for each other within our busy schedules. We each have a “9-5 job,” and we each have our own blogs, fueled by our personal creative projects – me with food and illustration, and Robert with his fantastical composite photography (which, if you haven’t checked out his site yet, you should really do so now). A typical night for us after work is a whirlwind of making dinner, working out and progressing on our personal projects before trying to get to bed at a reasonable hour (and usually failing at that last one). We try to take at least one evening a week (usually a Friday or Saturday) to step back from our normal to-do list items and have a more special meal together (with booze, please) while relaxing. These date nights often consist of Chinese takeout and a movie, so this meal we made was a real step up for us. (Although, let’s be real – this was actually a photo shoot for the blog, not really a “date night.” But we still had a lot of fun together!) Having Ashley’s book on my shelf will serve as a constant reminder and inspiration to make time for those extra-special date nights. It might not happen every week, but it will definitely happen more often than it used to if I can help it.
Illustration at top created with Illustrator and Photoshop.
Prints of my illustrations are available in my Etsy and Society6 shops.
Photos by Robert Cornelius and ME – I’ve been practicing! All developing and editing done by Robert.
BONUS: We also made a fun little gif of our date night photo shoot. Keep an eye out for our dog, Gilmour, popping in and out of the frames.
- mango sorbet
- raspberry sorbet
- champagne (a dry or semi-dry variety)
- Put a small scoop of each of the sorbets in a champagne flute. (I used my cookie dough scooper for this step and it was perfect.)
- Fill the glass the rest of the way with champagne.
- Enjoy! Make more for your friends.