Whats for Dinner
Rachel Goldstein, 34, born in Washington, D.C.
Josh Goldstein, 34, born in Indiana
Tali Goldstein: 3 ½, born in New York
Neighborhood: Prospect Heights
Weekly food cost: $150-$200
What’s for Dinner: Jerk chicken, white meat; curry chicken; cabbage salad; rice and peas; smoked turkey and dumpling soup, on the house.
“It’s a good day,” says Tali Goldstein, the three-(and recently one-half)-year-old sitting at the table in a red dress.
“Why is it a good day?” asks her father, Josh. “Because you’re having rice and peas?”
“We all have rice and peas,” Tali responds.
The Goldstein family is dining at Carl’s, the Jamaican place closest to their Prospect Heights home. It’s the first restaurant where Tali ever ate out.
For the spirited girl, what’s for dinner is usually soy nuggets. She makes her own eggs for breakfast and tries to avoid eating anything green. Her favorite food is macaroni and cheese, which is mostly yellow. She prefers rice and peas to rice and beans. And after dinner she’ll bargain with her mother, Rachel, for more Swedish fish.
“She always prefers her soy nuggets to chicken nuggets. She really doesn’t like meat at all,” says Rachel.
“But she loves—there’s a vegetarian Chinese place on Flatbush and they have tofu Peking duck,” says Josh. “That’s the only duck she’s ever had. That’s duck to her.”
“She doesn’t know it’s fake,” says Rachel. “She calls it duck and she calls her nuggets chicken, but when we give her real chicken nuggets or try to give her real duck she won’t like the taste of it.”
Tali may have inherited the meat aversion from her father. “As far as like, different meat parts, I can’t do it,” says Josh. “I’m a little embarrassed about it. I wish I could. That’s my real weak link. I even have trouble eating dark meat chicken, you know what I mean? It’s like I’m very cut and dry with that.”
“I’m a big fake meat fan,” he says. “We get it in China Town. There’s a couple of vegetarian stores that sell this fake meat—it sounds bad. A lot of people hate it. It comes dry and you soak it water for an hour or two, and then you stir fry it and it ends up having the exact same consistency as meat. I actually started thinking it was as good as meat. I was like, ‘This is as good as meat.’ And then I had meat a week ago and I was like, ‘No, it’s not actually. Not nearly as good.’ The texture’s the same but it’s not as good.”
Theirs isn’t a strictly vegetarian kitchen, however. The couple eats plenty of meat—though mostly white. “We never used to have pork in the house,” says Rachel. “Now all of the sudden there’s a pork renaissance going on.”
“It’s marketing,” says Josh. “The Other White Meat. It’s amazing.”
What’s for dinner at the Goldsteins’ is often a labored endeavor. For Rachel’s last birthday, she and Josh took turns in the kitchen preparing courses of Spanish tapas: shrimp, potatoes, tortillas, and anchovy toast seasoned with garlic, parsley, and lemon. For another recent meal they roasted squash stuffed with sausage, apples, and pear, seasoned with cinnamon, nutmeg, and brown sugar.
“Josh is really particular,” says Rachel. “Particular’s not the right word. How should I describe it? He really likes to make an appetizing display of his food, and not just for guests. When I’m eating alone I tend to just take something out of the fridge and eat it and put the container back and get another container and have a little of that and put it back. But he—for breakfast, lunch, and dinner—will spend 15 minutes compiling and arranging his plate and sprinkling cilantro or parsley on it.”
The family has a broad palate for ethnic foods. Like playing Battleship, Rachel can number off the items “that make her mouth water” at Cambodian Cuisine in Fort Greene: “N5, C6, N11.” Back on Flatbush, it’s the jerk chicken from Danny & Peppers—“Half the store is a fish monger, half the store is a jerk chicken place,” says Josh. “No frills. Just straight up jerk chicken.”
At Sripraphai, a Thai eatery in Woodside, Queens, Josh and Rachel buy prepared foods to bring home to Brooklyn. “We’ve been there probably 5 or 10 times,” says Josh. “They have this thing. It’s in a little Tupperware container. It has a pile of leaves, some sort of shrimp-fish-nut sauce, and then it’s got chopped onion, chopped up lime, toasted coconut, fresh ginger, peanut, something else. Oh my god. That’s like the Holy Grail for me.”
The couple didn’t always have such refined palates. In St. Louis, where they met, they shared an early date at a cheap Mexican restaurant where they were soon embroiled in a hot sauce eating contest—hot sauce out of the packets.
Josh, who says Rachel thinks he’s killing his taste buds, loves hot sauce. Even when it costs him $300. “There’s this Israeli market over on King’s Highway,” he says, “and we used to have a car, so we used to go over there. And there’s this hot green sauce called zhoug [pronounced schoog.] It’s not even that hot, but I think it’s got cilantro in it and pepper and some kind of chili. It’s really bright green, and I just love it. It’s freshly made, so it’s not processed. Any time I was anywhere near there we’d have to stop by. I’d get six of them. And the parking regulations are incredible. They’re just vicious out there. So we actually got two $150 tickets waiting. [Rachel and Tali] were waiting in the car both times. That was one of the main reasons we got rid of the car.”
Though the couple will venture afield for certain things, they depend on the corner deli “for milks, soy milks and juices, and anything else we run out of.” Twice a month they shop at the Park Slope Co-op, but “the grocery stores actually end up being a lot cheaper,” says Josh.
“At the co-op you tend to think everything’s a good deal,” says Rachel. “You tend not to look at prices and you buy organic, or you buy like really top-of-the-line fish that you wouldn’t normally. Even if you go in there for a couple of things, you always spend a minimum of $40. And when I go to Key, or the Met, sometimes I walk out with three bags of groceries and I’ve only spent like $17.”
Growing up, Josh says his mother was “ahead of the curve” when it came to cooking—she led the pack on hummus, for example. But for Rachel, the menu at home was more predictable. “My mom used to make chicken practically every day,” she says. “One day I bought her—as a joke, sort of—I bought her that cookbook 365 Ways to Cook Chicken, and it became like the cookbook of the house. She’s got a few things she can make and she just makes them over and over and over again.”
“I can innovate,” says Rachel. But the couple relies on healthy convenience foods for Tali. “We do actually buy a lot of prepared frozen convenience foods for her, but they’re all like health foods from the co-op, and we try to avoid hydrogenated oils and MSG. So I guess you could call those processed, although I feel like they’re more like processed health foods. Mostly soy.”
“But she does like shrimp,” adds Josh. “Aren’t you maybe going to turn into a shrimp one day, Tali? Isn’t that one of your goals?”