In celebration of partnerships, we interviewed Ashley Rodriguez—chef, blogger, cookbook author, and Barebones creative partner—about Date Night In, her ode to rekindling the romance when you can't get out of the house.
What inspired Date Night In?
Gabe and I were in a season when our relationship just felt like we were surviving but not thriving. We had three young children and we were running two businesses on our own. We would divide and conquer the tasks throughout the day then melt into the couch at night and stay there working and/or watching TV until it was time for bed.
I couldn’t imagine our relationship surviving if we continued in this pattern. I grew tired at seeing my husband as a roommate rather than my teammate. So we made a promise to each other. One night a week, after the kids were tucked into bed, we would put aside our computers and meet together at the table. For me it was also a chance to cook the food that I wanted to eat, not the typical kid fare I was serving for dinner.
Gabe would make us a cocktail, then put the kids in bed while I set about making dinner. At first these in-home date nights felt like a consolation prize to the many dinners out we enjoyed before having kids, a mortgage, and being self-employed. But as we tucked into our dinner and sat in the quiet (after the kids were asleep) of our own home we grew to prefer the comfort and ease of dating in.
You and Gabe started out as a cosmopolitan couple, spending time in Italy then working in Beverly Hills. Now you’re settled in, raising 3 kids in Seattle and working together. What role has food played throughout this journey? Does it ever serve as a tool to revisit the earlier days?
I studied art in Italy but attribute that time to where I really met and fell in love with food. Gabe met me in Rome at the end of my time there and I was so excited to share with him my new love. I showed him carbonara, arrabiata, and how to properly discern the perfect scoop of gelato. Ever since then I’ve been chasing after the next great bite.
For me food is the medium that brings us to the table and it’s there where the real magic happens. Connection, relationship, and intimacy grow at the table. Now more than ever, as our kids grow in independence our time at the table is invaluable and for us food is the draw.
Food absolutely is a way that we connect to our memories. In my latest cookbook, Let’s Stay In, I share a recipe for a pasta dish from the town I studied in Italy and in Date Night In there is an entire menu based off of an unforgettable date Gabe and I had when we were just married. (Check out chapter 25).
Tell us about Gabe’s role in your current endeavors.
Gabe is my right hand man. One of my most frequently asked questions is, “How do you do it all?” I don’t. I have a partner who is always up for an adventure. We say I’m the dreamer and he’s the one that makes the dreams happen.
He also happens to be an incredible photographer. While I love taking pictures of food, Gabe is a pro with people. He is also on set with us at every Kitchen Unnecessary shoot to capture the behind the scenes images.
What’s it like working so closely with your husband?
It’s definitely not always as dreamy as it sounds. We have to be very intentional about turning off the work. It’s hard not to carry the work into every conversation but first and foremost he is my person, my partner, and my best friend. Date nights for sure help remind us where the priority is.
What are your favorite recipes from the book?
The roast chicken is not only a date night favorite but also a family and weeknight meal favorite. Gabe would say his favorite is the fried chicken sandwich. I can’t argue with that.
What skill level does a person need to cook these recipes?
The recipes themselves are not hard but they do require a bit of time in the kitchen. Because this is date night food I wanted it to feel special—different than our everyday fare. There are tips and tricks for planning in advance so all the work doesn’t fall to one night and if you’re partner, unlike mine, likes to get into the kitchen then all the better! The work goes much quicker when two sets of hands are doing the chopping.
I always remind people though, not to lose site of the point of date night. It’s not to have a multi-course meal, it’s to connect. Gabe and I have had wonderful date nights in with a pint of store bought ice cream or just a cocktail. I have to remind myself that it’s about connection not the cooking.
It’s been a while since this book was released. What have you learned since its publication that would enhance a reader’s experience with it?
I’m as in love with this book as I was when it first was published. I continue to see couples dating their way through the book and it just is such an incredible honor to be a part of that.
Seasons come and go in life and we are currently in a season where our tween boys are often still up when I’m ready for bed. So date nights are home aren’t as easy as when our kids were in bed by 7 pm. But our children are all in school so we’ve had some fun breakfast dates at home or now we can go out to lunch together. Our date nights don’t look the same as they did when I wrote the book but the heart of the book will always be relevant.
If you could, what would you add to the book?
More food. There’s always room for more food. It’s overflowing with recipes (over 120!) but I’ve made some very delightful dinners since then and it’d be fun to have those in there too. I guess that just means there might have to be a sequel.
Tell us about a memorable moment during the creation of this cookbook.
My favorite memories are recorded in the book. One evening I wrote about was nothing special per se but I just remember lingering at the table for hours. Gabe and I got lost in conversation and the long tapered candle gave up before our conversation did. Wax dripped onto the table and we continued to talk well after our plates were clean. That was a good date.
Are date nights in really as good as date nights out?
They sure can be. I love the quiet and ease of our own home. There is no pressure to leave the table—whereas in a busy restaurant there is often an unspoken (or sometimes spoken) time limit to your date. At home the importance of the intention becomes more easily accessible. Sure, we have to do our own dishes, but that can always wait until morning.
Date Night In is now available on our site. Buy it here.