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March 20, 2023
Jocelyn Delk Adams Says Yes to Joy (And Air Fryer Green Tomatoes)

The author of Everyday Grand will have you celebrating, even on a random Monday morning. There will be banana pudding smoothies.

Generally, celebratory meals are relegated to a relatively narrow roster of “special occasions”—major holidays, birthdays, anniversaries. And there’s nothing wrong with that, exactly. But isn’t that, Jocelyn Delk Adams wants to know, just a little bit limiting? What about all the other days? Why deprive yourself of more joy?

Everyday Grand is as much a cookbook as it is a manifesto: Any day can be a cause for celebration, and it should be. “If you are breathing, it’s reason enough to celebrate,” she argues in the book’s introduction, laying out the case for toasting the mundane. It is a call to arms rooted in deep history. “Part of Black survival is learning to laugh, dance, and smile through the most painful and troubling moments,” she writes. “Finding joy even amid pain or monotony is the way we get through things.”

The book is full of suggestions, not just for Southern-inflected celebratory recipes—a showstopping tamarind-and-hot-honey-glazed turkey, classic pancakes, “Crispy AF Air Fryer Green Tomatoes”—but for reasons to cook them. A good hair day. Completing an exercise streak. “Surprise Valentine’s Day” (a romantic dinner apropos of nothing). The premier of a new season of Big Brother. Inspired, and fighting late-winter malaise, I called Adams for some celebratory guidance. 

Tell me about the origins of this cookbook. Or maybe “cookbook” is too simple—it’s more than a cookbook. It’s a philosophy.
I know a lot of authors who, once they start writing cookbooks, just start coming out with books, back-to-back-to-back, right? But I didn’t really feel like I had something that I wanted to say after Grandbaby Cakes. It didn’t feel like I was ready to write something else. 

I actually became really inspired when the pandemic started, because I had all this time alone. I was traveling quite a bit before then. I was spending a lot of time working, and then all of that just shut down. I had to reprioritize everything. And I just started looking at these smaller moments as meaning more to me. I was like, “You know, this is what life is about.” I was living with my parents and my husband and my daughter, and we were in the house together. And we were trying to figure out ways to make things more special, because we weren’t doing the things we used to do. We weren’t going to restaurants like we used to. We weren’t traveling at all; we weren’t going on vacations. So we were trying to figure out how to make the simplest moments of life feel really special.

Before, we were celebrating traditional holidays—that’s when we would all get together and make these big feasts. But we weren’t really doing anything special on random days because everyone was busy. Everyone had lives. 

And then . . . we didn’t.
At the time, my daughter was two, and she started to take an interest in being in the kitchen with me, and I started to want to make that special. Like, we’re making cookies for no reason at all. “This is just a fun day, let’s do something fun.” And I started to think, why shouldn’t I approach everything this way? There doesn’t need to be a specific reason to pull out the red carpet, so to speak. 

What’s a small moment you celebrated recently?
I celebrated my personal business anniversary, which I think people usually don’t do. But I was like, yes! My blog, Grandbaby Cakes, has been around for ten years. And so my daughter and I baked a pound cake — the praline sweet potato cake in the book. Of course, it needed to be a cake. Pound cake was the first recipe that everyone sort of gravitated toward when Grandbaby Cakes started in 2012, so I wanted to make the ultimate pound cake, which was that. 

Let’s get into logistics: What makes a celebration recipe different from a regular recipe?
You. You make it different. It isn’t the recipe; it’s what you think about it. Why should this frittata be special? Because you decided it’s special—you decided to give it meaning. Everything in our lives is based on individual meaning and priority, and so when we decide for ourselves that something should have meaning, then it does. 

I wanted this book to have literally anything and everything that I find delicious—from beginner and advanced, quick to more time-consuming—sort of A to Z. I wanted there to be things that can be thrown together very quickly, if you just want to say, “Hey! This awesome thing happened today. I’m celebrating a promotion, and I want to throw this together quickly.” Like the banana pudding smoothie bowl—that’s such a simple one. It’s a breakfast that has banana pudding vibes, but it’s also nutritious. Or if you’re like, “I have a best friend who just gave birth, and I want to take the time and energy to do something a bit more advanced that’s really awesome for her,” there are those recipes, too. The oxtails and cornmeal dumplings is one of my favorites. You see a lot of short rib recipes, but you don’t get a lot of people making a ton of oxtail recipes, and dumplings really satisfy the soul, you know? 

The through line is really the attitude.
Exactly. It’s the attitude. A recipe that takes 30 minutes can still feel as special as something that takes three hours. It can still have that celebration built into it.

Rachel Sugar

Rachel Sugar is a writer in New York.