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8 Psychological Tricks of Restaurant Menus

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 30, 2019 12:28 am    Post subject: 8 Psychological Tricks of Restaurant Menus Reply with quote

8 Psychological Tricks of Restaurant Menus

How restaurants use their menus to influence what you're having for dinner.

Mental Floss | Jessica Hullinger

A restaurant’s menu is more than just a random list of dishes. It has likely been strategically tailored at the hands of a menu engineer or consultant to ensure it's on-brand, easy to read, and most importantly, profitable. Here are a few ways restaurants use their menus to influence what you’re having for dinner.


The best menus account for the psychological theory known as the “paradox of choice,” which says that the more options we have, the more anxiety we feel. The golden number? Seven options per food category, tops (seven appetizers, seven entrees, etc.). “When we include over seven items, a guest will be overwhelmed and confused, and when they get confused they’ll typically default to an item they’ve had before,” says menu engineer Gregg Rapp. No shame in sticking with what you know, but a well-designed menu might entice you to try something a bit different (and a bit more expensive).

Some restaurants have lost sight of this rule. For example, McDonald’s initially served just a few items but now offers more than 140. “As we complicate menus, what we’re actually doing is tormenting the guest,” says restaurant consultant Aaron Allen. “When the guest leaves they feel less satiated, and part of it comes down to a perception that they might have made the wrong choice.” If you leave with a bad taste in your mouth, you’re less likely to come back. And in an industry where repeat customers account for about 70 percent of sales, getting diners to return is the ultimate goal.


Including a nice-looking picture alongside a food item increases sales by 30 percent, according to Rapp.

In one Iowa State University study, researchers tested a digital display of a salad on kids at a YMCA camp. Campers who saw the salad photo were up to 70 percent more likely to order a salad for lunch. “You respond to the image on the display like you would respond to a plate in front of you,” said Brian Mennecke, an associate professor of information systems. “If you’re hungry you respond by saying, ‘I’ll have what’s in that picture.’” This effect is even more powerful when it comes to digital signs that move or rotate, which fast food restaurants are beginning to implement. “The more vivid the image, in terms of movement, color and accuracy of representation, the more realistic, the more it’s going to stimulate your response to it,” Mennecke said.

Of course, you can have too much of a good thing. “If you crowd too many photos, it starts to cheapen the perception of the food,” Allen says. “The more items that are photographed on the menu, the guest perception is of a lower quality.” Most high-end restaurants avoid photos to maintain a perceived level of fanciness.


One way to encourage you to spend more money is by making price tags as inconspicuous as possible. “We get rid of dollar signs because that’s a pain point,” says Allen. “They remind people they’re spending money.” Instead of $12.00 for that club sandwich, you’re likely to see it listed as 12.00, or even just 12. One Cornell University study found that written-out prices (“twelve dollars”) also encourage guests to spend more. “Your pricing format will set the tone of the restaurant,” says Rapp. “So $9.95 I’ve found is a friendlier price than a $10, which has attitude to it.”

Dotted lines leading from the menu item to its price are a cardinal sin of menu design. “That menu was introduced before modern typesetting,” says Allen. “It was a way of keeping the page looking properly formatted, but what happens is the guest reads down the right side of the menu and then looks to the left to see what the lower price point can afford them.” The solution? “Nested” pricing, or listing the price discretely after the meal description in the same size font, so your eyes just glide right over it.


On menus, perspective is everything. One trick is to include an incredibly expensive item near the top of the menu, which makes everything else seem reasonably priced. Your server never expects you to actually order that $300 lobster, but it sure makes the $70 steak look positively thrifty, doesn’t it?

Slightly more expensive items (so long as they still fall within the boundaries of what the customer is willing to pay) also suggest the food is of higher quality. This pricing structure can literally make customers feel more satisfied when they leave. For example, one study gave participants an $8 buffet or a $4 buffet. While the food was exactly the same, the $8 buffet was rated as tastier.


Just like supermarkets put profitable items at eye level, restaurants design their menus to make the most of your gaze. The upper right corner is prime real estate, Rapp explains. “The upper right is where a person will go on a blank sheet of paper or in a magazine,” he says. That’s where the most profitable items usually go. “Then we build the appetizers on the upper left and salads underneath that. You want to keep the menu flowing well.”

Another trick is to create space around high-profit items by putting them in boxes or otherwise separating them from the rest of the options. “When you put in a pocket of negative space, you pull the eye there,” writes Allen. “Putting negative space around an item can call attention to it and help you sell it.”


According to Allen, different colors help conjure feelings and “motivate” behavior. “Blue is a very soothing color, so often times it is used to create a calming effect,” he says. And have you ever noticed the number of restaurants that utilize red and yellow in their branding? Conclusive evidence on how color affects our mood is hard to find, but one review suggests that red stimulates the appetite, while yellow draws in our attention. “The two combined are the best food coloring pairings,” Allen says.


Longer, more detailed descriptions sell more food. Nearly 30 percent more, according to one Cornell study. “The more copy you write on the menu item, the less it costs in a customer’s mind because you’re giving them more for their money,” explains Rapp. So plain old “chocolate pudding” becomes “satin chocolate pudding.” Customers also rated the more thoroughly described food as tasting better.

“People taste what you tell them they’re tasting,” Rapp says. Consider this: In another study, researchers presented two different groups with the same red wine but with different labels. One label said North Dakota (do they even make wine there?), the other said California. In taste tests, the “California” wine squarely defeated the “North Dakota” wine even though both groups' glasses were filled with “Two-Buck Chuck”. Also, “those who believed they had been drinking California wine ate 12% more of their meal than those who instead believed they drank North Dakota wine.”

Adjectives like “line-caught,” “farm-raised,” or “locally-sourced” are big turn-ons for customers. “These things all help increase perception of quality of the item,” Allen says. This verbiage is so effective that many states have “Truth in Menu” laws designed to prevent restaurants from lying about things like how a piece of meat was raised or where it originated.


We all have that one meal that takes us back to childhood. Restaurants know this tendency, and they use it to their advantage. “Alluding to past time periods can trigger happy memories of family, tradition, and nationalism,” one study says. “Customers sometimes like the feeling of tasting something wholesome and traditional because ‘They sure don’t make ‘em like they used to.’” Keep that in mind the next time you’re tempted to order “Grandma’s Chicken Soup.”

This post originally appeared on Mental Floss and was published March 30, 2016.
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 09, 2020 8:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Want to learn more about different cheese types?

Here’s what you need to know:

Cheeses come in eight varieties including blue, hard, pasta filata, processed, semi-hard, semi-soft, soft and fresh, and soft-ripened.

Keep your cheese fresher, longer by reading through our tips.

And, as if you needed them, here are eight reasons why you can you can feel good about eating all kinds of cheese – and eight fun facts about cheese.

We’ve gathered more than three dozen different types of cheeses below with descriptions of their taste, color and more that should help you on your way to a dairy diploma.


American Cheese

American: American is a creamy, smooth cheese made from blending natural cheeses. It comes in several forms including individually wrapped cheese slices, small pre-sliced blocks and large blocks. It melts well.

Asiago Cheese

Asiago: Asiago, a nutty-flavored cheese, comes in two forms: fresh and mature. The fresh has an off-white color and is smoother and milder, while mature Asiago is yellowish and somewhat crumbly. Depending on its age, Asiago can be grated, melted or sliced.

Blue cheese

Blue cheese: Blue is a general name for cheeses that were made with Penicillium cultures, which creates “blue” spots or veins. Blue cheese has a distinct smell and, what some consider, an acquired taste. Blue cheeses can be eaten crumbed or melted.


Bocconcini: Meaning “little bites,” bocconcini are egg-sized balls of mozzarella cheese. The cheese is white, rindless, unripened, and elastic in texture with a sweet, buttery taste. Bocconcini can be enjoyed as they are or melted.


Brie: Brie is a soft, white cheese. It comes in a wheel, sometimes in a small wooden box, and is considered a great dessert cheese. Experts recommend enjoying it at room temperature.


Burrata: Burrata is a fresh cheese featuring a thin layer of cheese with a mixture of stringy curd and fresh cream on the inside. It has a rich flavor and goes well with salads, crusty bread and Italian dishes.


Camembert: Fresh Camembert cheese is bland, hard and crumbly, but becomes smoother with a runny interior as it ages. It has a rich, buttery flavor with a rind that’s meant to be eaten.


Cheddar: This popular cheese comes in many variations. Its flavor can range from creamy to sharp, and its color can run between a natural white to pumpkin orange. A Cheddar’s texture changes as it ages, becoming drier and more crumbly.

Cheese Curds

Cheese Curds: Popular in the United States and Canada, cheese curds have a springy or rubbery texture and can vary in flavor. They can be eaten as a snack or used in recipes like Poutine.


Colby: While it may look like Cheddar, Colby has a softer texture and less tangy taste. Sometimes it’s blended with other different cheeses, like Monterey Jack, to make Colby Jack.

Colby-Jack Cheese

Colby-Jack Cheese: This orange and white cheese is a combination of orange Colby cheese and white Monterey Jack cheese. It’s often used on grilled sandwiches, cooked vegetables and other warm dishes because it melts well.

Cold-Pack Cheese

Cold-Pack Cheese: Cold Pack cheese is a combination of two or more types of fresh and aged natural cheeses. It is soft, creamy and spreadable, and comes in tubs, balls, logs, and other packages.


Cotija: This hard, crumbly cheese begins as mild and salty, and becomes tangier as it ages. It doesn’t melt, so it’s used for grating on soups, tacos, tostadas, and more.

Cottage cheese

Cottage cheese: Cottage cheese is made when curds are separated from the whey, and unlike other kinds of cheeses, it isn’t pressed so it remains creamy and lumpy. It can be eaten on its own, with fruit, on toast, and more.

Cream cheese

Cream cheese: Cream cheese is made by adding cream to milk. It comes in a block, sometimes with added flavors, and spreads smoothly. The flavor is light and slightly tangy.


Emmental: When people think of “Swiss cheese,” they’re likely thinking of Emmental (also known as Emmentaler). When the cheese’s curds are cooked and pressed together, bubbles form, which leave the holes in the cheese. It’s sweet, tangy and melts well.


Farmer’s: Farmer’s cheese is made when cottage cheese is squeezed to remove the extra moisture. It may then be rolled in herbs or smoked meats. Its style varies depending on its maker.


Feta: While traditionally made with sheep’s or goat’s milk, cow’s milk also can be used to make Feta. It’s tangy and crumbly.

Fresh Mozzarella

Fresh Mozzarella: Fresh mozzarella is a fresh cheese made by stretching its cheese curds before rolling them into balls. To keep them fresh, they’re packed in water.


Gorgonzola: Gorgonzola is one of the world's oldest types of blue cheese. It has a crumbly and soft texture, and its taste can range from creamy to sharp.


Gouda: A semi-hard to hard cheese with a smooth flavor, Gouda comes in several types, depending on its age. Gouda can be grated, sliced, cubed and melted.


Gruyere: This slightly grainy cheese is known for its fruity, earthy and nutty flavors. It melts well and adds a savory flavor without overpowering others. It’s commonly used on sandwiches, in hot meals, over French onion soup and more.


Halloumi: Halloumi is known for its high melting point so it’s often fried or grilled. While often made from goat or sheep milk, cow’s milk also may be used. The texture is similar to mozzarella, while its taste is strong and salty. Once cooked, it becomes less salty and creamier.


Havarti: Havarti, a semi-soft cheese, has a buttery aroma and taste. It can be sliced, grilled or melted.


Jarlsberg: Jarlsberg is a mild, semi-soft cheese that resembles Emmental thanks to its open and irregular holes. This meltable cheese works well in hot dishes, on sandwiches and more.


Limburger: Known for its pungent odor, Limburger is a semi-soft cheese with a mild flavor despite its stinky aroma. The cheese, which softens with age, goes well with dark rye bread and onion.


Mascarpone: Mascarpone is a thick, soft cheese with a very high fat content. Known for its smooth, creamy to buttery texture and flavor, it can be used in sweet and savory dishes.

Monterey Jack

Monterey Jack: Monterey Jack, which has a mild and buttery flavor with a bit of tang, melts well.


Mozzarella: Similar to fresh mozzarella, this mozzarella is pulled and kneaded into strands, which contributes to its stretch ability. It melts well and is commonly used on pizza.


Muenster: Muenster is a smooth, pale yellow cheese with an orange rind. Its taste can vary from mild and bland to sharp. Since it melts well, it can be used in sandwiches, on cheeseburgers and more.


Neufchatel: This soft, white cheese looks similar to Camembert, but is made in many forms, shapes and sizes. Unlike similar cheeses, Neufchatel has a grainy texture.


Paneer: Paneer is a fresh cheese often used in South Asian Cuisine. It’s moist and soft, crumbly in texture, and is made in a process similar to ricotta.


Parmesan: Parmesan has a hard, gritty texture and tastes fruity and nutty. It can be grated over pastas, used in soups and more.

Pepper Jack

Pepper Jack: Pepper Jack is a variety of Monterey Jack that’s flavored with peppers and often other vegetables and spices to give it a kick. While this semi-soft cheese is spicy, it’s also buttery. As a result, it goes well with quesadillas, hamburgers and more.


Provolone: This semi-hard cheese is pale yellow to white and has a sweetish taste. It can come in smoked and unsmoked varieties, and is a sandwich staple for many.


Ricotta: This fresh cheese is smoother than cottage cheese and while firm, it’s not solid. It has a light flavor that works well with dishes from lasagna to cheesecake.


Romano: This hard cheese, when made with cow’s milk, can have a tangier flavor than Parmesan. It’s often grated over pasta, salads or into sauces.

String Cheese

String Cheese: Traditionally, it’s a type of mozzarella made into small logs that can be pulled apart as strings. It comes in a variety of flavors.


Swiss: Swiss is actually a generic name for a type of cheese, including Emmental and baby Swiss varieties. It’s recognized by its holes and light or pale yellow color. It pairs well with fruits and vegetables, and on sandwiches.
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 28, 2020 10:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The Joylessness of Cooking

By Helen Rosner
November 25, 2020

Kitchen utensils withering on the kitchen counter.

Feelings of emptiness are normal in times of stress and uncertainty. But isn’t cooking supposed to be a balm?Illustration by Joana Avillez

In theory, I love to cook. I’ve been reminding myself of this lately, repeating it almost like a mantra, humming the percussive, iambic rhythm of the phrase while I clatter around in the cabinets in search of whatever skillet is inevitably at the very bottom of a teetering stack of pans, or ram the blade of a knife through the stalks of yet another head of celery, or fling a handful of salt resentfully at a wholly blameless chicken. In theory, I love to cook.

To cook, as a home cook, isn’t just to cook—it’s to plan, to shop, to store, to prep, to combine, to heat, to serve. If I don’t love all those things, all the time, I can at least reliably expect a jolt of pleasure from one or two: the bland labor of chopping onion is paid for, more or less, by the rich smell of the stew as it simmers. But what I love most about cooking (in theory) is that it’s a puzzle to be solved. In its best form, cooking is a practice measured not in individual dishes but in days and even weeks—a strategic navigation of ingredients, expiration dates, uses and reuses, variety and sameness. I’m no good at chess, but in my mind the rush of realizing that the jumble of aging ingredients piled up in your fridge composes exactly what’s needed to make a beautiful dinner has to be, on some level, how Kasparov felt when he realized he was about to sock it to Topalov.

In March, when it began to seem likely that the coronavirus pandemic would lead to a serious bunker-style hiding out, I felt the expected fear and anger but also, I admit, a certain thrill at the idea of a major shift in the rules of the kitchen game. How do you make it work when you don’t know how often you’ll be able to grocery-shop? In early February, I had spoken, for a story, to a couple in Shunde, China, who had somehow been composing culinary sestinas in the midst of a strict lockdown, with minimal access to fresh ingredients; following their lead, in the weeks before New York City issued its own social-distancing mandates, I started growing my own herbs, bought jars in which to put up pickles, scoured cookbooks for recipes that used nothing but pantry ingredients and yet wouldn’t feel like military rations. We would be eating paella, I informed my husband, and cassoulet, and miso soup with homemade tofu, and fresh pasta, and Niçoise salads without the lettuce. We might be prisoners in our apartment, but at least we’d eat like kings.

Of course, that’s not how things went down. It became clear, almost right away, that, besides a few precarious weeks of toilet-paper shortages, any worries of major supply-chain disruptions were unfounded. If anything, by April, home cooks (at least, those whose incomes hadn’t evaporated when the nation began its economic domino-fall) had access to more and better ingredients than we’ve ever had before: as restaurants were forced into state- and city-imposed shutdowns, their suppliers started scrambling to sell their now-homeless inventory at retail, and often by mail. Steaks once destined for steak houses, chickens of rare and beautiful breeds, exquisite olive oils and vinegars by the gallon, gorgeous cheeses, freshly milled flours, a dazzling cornucopia of specialty fruits and vegetables—the sorts of rare and sensitive specimens that risk-averse grocery stores would never consider making space for—were suddenly available, and at shockingly attainable prices. During the past seven or eight months, my refrigerator has been stocked with the raw materials of fantasy; you could dive into my spice drawer like Scrooge McDuck into his swimming pool of doubloons. I’ve stir-fried Sichuan-style cumin lamb, made slow-roasted pernil asado, fired up pots of oil for a farmers’-market fritto misto; I spent the summer juicing limes and slicing fish for an nonstop parade of tart, light-as-air ceviches; I’ve made hundreds of dishes for hundreds of meals. And I am so bored. I am so tired. In theory, I love to cook. But I am so, so sick of cooking.

I take some comfort in knowing that I’m not at all alone in this feeling. “I hate cooking now, and I hate that I hate cooking,” my friend Sarah confessed to me recently, after months of making and eating meals by herself while her partner works a schedule that, thanks to COVID-19, means he’s never home for mealtimes. A recent Quartz report points to increased sales of prepared foods as evidence that COVID-related kitchen fatigue is a bona-fide trend. The critic Tejal Rao wrote recently, in the Times, about culinary burnout: “I don’t think I’m supposed to admit this here in the Food section, but when I think about cooking, I’m filled with dread.” My social-media feeds are full of individuals regarding their own culinary ennui with something adjacent to awe. “I don’t know what to make for school lunch. or for dinner. or for breakfast. i no longer know what i like to eat, what i know how to cook, what is healthy, what the children enjoy, or even what is actually edible,” the novelist Rumaan Alam tweeted recently. Others yearn for a sci-fi future where dinner is distributed in pellet form, or own up to subsisting on candy bars, or grudgingly admit to, finally, understanding the allure of zero-effort meal replacements like Soylent and nutritional drinks such as Carnation Breakfast Essentials® products. I keep thinking about a post from earlier in the fall (now deleted, but seared forever in my screenshots folder, and on my heart), which made the rounds among my friends: “gotten to the point with eating where i basically just want a nutrient slurry injected into me,” the Twitter user wrote.

Feelings of emptiness are normal, even expected, in times of stress and uncertainty. (“Stress and uncertainty” being at best a tiptoeingly diplomatic way to describe the experience of the past year in America, with its million and a half dysregulations, both ambient and immediate.) But isn’t cooking supposed to be a balm for this sort of thing? Much of the happiness I used to find in cooking—even when cooking became, sort of, my job—was rooted in how tangible it was, in both labor and outcome. Simple, repetitive, semi-creative tasks like kneading dough and chopping dill are supposed to thaw us when we’re frozen with existential dread, to ground us in the tactile world, to give us a sense of power and control over the small universe of the cutting board and the stovetop. This makes sense, I know it’s true, and I guess I remember living it, and believing it. But lately it feels awfully far away. I don’t want to re-center myself by being mindful while I peel a head of garlic for the hundred-and-thirtieth day in a row; I want to lose track of myself entirely by playing seventeen straight hours of a battle-strategy video game in which I get to be a military-school professor with magical powers and green hair.

Much has been made, in these months of the pandemic, of the wisdom to be found in “How to Cook a Wolf,” M. F. K. Fisher’s great guide, from 1942, to cooking and provisioning during the extreme shortages of the Second World War. I’ve always loved this sharp, snarky little book, particularly the way Fisher walks a tightrope between buck-up bonhomie and stark misanthropy. She doesn’t pretend that circumstances aren’t dismal well beyond the contents of her pantry—the wolf of the title is fatigue and anxiety as much as it’s hunger. But she makes a good case, in chapters like “How to Be Cheerful Through Starving” and “How to Rise Up Like New Bread,” for finding the fun in misery. “Here are some suggestions which sound touched with a kind of sordid whimsy until you try them,” she says, to introduce a list of alternative fuel sources culled from books dating back as far as the Victorian era. “Then they really work, and make you feel noble and brave at the same time.”

From the vantage point of abundance, this sentiment is inspiring; in an era of need and shortage, it’s timeless and practical. For me, right now, it makes me want to hurl a cabbage at the wall. (I’ve had a cabbage taking up space in my fridge for over a month now; this use for it seems as good as any.) Behind Fisher’s exhortations was an engine of higher purpose: the rationing of that era was a cost of fuelling a war, the sacrifices on the home front motivated by a narrative of patriotism and righteousness. The COVID-19 pandemic is sort of a war, but only in the most absurd and nihilistic way: the economy hasn’t been diverted to wartime production—it’s just in crisis. The people trying to make do with limited resources are in that position because they don’t have jobs or adequate (if any) governmental relief, not because all the butter is earmarked for our boys overseas taking down the Nazis. “I believe that one of the most dignified ways we are capable of, to assert and then reassert our dignity in the face of poverty and war’s fears and pains, is to nourish ourselves with all possible skill, delicacy, and ever-increasing enjoyment,” Fisher writes, beautifully, and to my great irritation. My enjoyment is anything but “ever-increasing.”

I actually have grown as a cook a fair amount during these months of social distancing: I’ve read some marvellous cookbooks; I know how to shuck an oyster now; I’ve mastered the art of slow-roasting a duck until the skin crackles and the meat is tender as a sigh. But the moments of glittering satisfaction are duller, and less frequent. I’ll try to muster up the thrill I used to feel after finding bundles of Chinese pink celery at the farmers’ market, or scoring a really excellent jar of jam, and it’s more like a memory of delight than the actual sensation. (And I can’t remember what I even used to make with jam—what on earth do people do with jam?) When I cook now, it’s not because I have to—though I realize this is a great luxury, to be able to give in to the lassitude and tap out, to order delivery saag paneer or (I refuse to be ashamed) crack open a soothing can of Beefaroni and leave the rest of my household to fend for themselves. (That I’ve ever been able to think of cooking as an unadulterated joy—that cooking gets to be a choice at all—is itself a privilege.) When I cook now, it’s because I ought to: it’s not a necessity driven by material limitation but, rather, an amorphous sense of moral imperative. In COVID-ravaged America, restaurant dining is still forbidden in some states; many establishments have closed forever, and ordering delivery from those that remain is an ethical minefield. Just when I started feeling like I might be up for the idea of bundling up to eat a wintry outdoor meal at a bistro table sandbagged in the middle of a parking lane, New York City’s infection rates started spiking again. Obligation, it turns out, is the real thief of joy; they wouldn’t make so many TV commercials featuring women who seem ludicrously happy to be doing laundry if endless compulsory domesticity didn’t slowly sandpaper away at the soul.

Compared to, well, everything, this crisis of culinary anhedonia is small beans. (I’ve been telling myself every day for a week that I should start soaking some beans. I have not soaked any beans.) But it feels all the more acute as we round the corner to Thanksgiving, a day that has come to rely on the terrible notion that a home-cooked meal is essential, and that the work of cooking it ought to be both all-consuming and undertaken without complaint. This is a lie in any year—not only is it perfectly fine not to make turkey, it’s perfectly fine to try and then fail, or to outsource the meal, or to reject the holiday altogether. This year, when the still-unchecked spread of the COVID-19 virus means that gathering in close quarters with loved ones seems reckless, and dangerous, the idea of cooking a grand, communal meal feels all the more dissonant. The sprawling multigenerational crew that populates my usual Thanksgivings will of course be celebrating separately; there are plans for a group video call, so that we can raise a glass to tradition, and for a while we considered a plan for everyone to make one recipe in common—a thread of a shared dish (mashed potatoes? Some sort of green-bean thing?) tying us together while we’re all so far apart. But that idea fizzled. We’ll eat our own meals in our own homes, and call one another to say hello and “I love you.” And then dinner will be over, and the leftovers from the meal will last a day or two or maybe three. And then we’ll all find ourselves back in front of the stove, cooking another dinner, all over again.

Helen Rosner is a staff writer at The New Yorker. In 2016, she won the James Beard award for personal-essay writing.
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