Books | Local Author

Cooking Up Happy

By Robin Davis
Photo by Will Shilling

Robin Davis was a single restaurant critic enjoying life in San Francisco, with no plans to return to the Midwest or find a mate. But she ended up in Columbus, falling for a widower and his three children. Now, the Dispatch food editor shares her story in a new book about family, faith and finding happiness.

Robin Davis meant to write a cookbook, and ended up penning a memoir.

The food editor of The Columbus Dispatch (which, like Capital Style, is owned by Dispatch Printing Company) set out to write a book—her fifth—about recipes for busy parents. With each recipe, she included a family vignette about her own crew—husband Ken and stepchildren Ben, Molly and Sarah. “It wasn’t long before the stories took over,” Davis said. “And I realized I really needed to tell those stories.”

Recipe for Joy: A Stepmom’s Story of Finding Faith, Following Love, and Feeding a Family includes a recipe with each chapter—from The Toast to The Dessert. But the meat is Davis’ journey from single West Coaster to Midwest wife and stepmother of three.

Here are excerpts from the recently published book, available at Barnes & Noble stores and online at and

—Kristy Eckert

After the death of her father, Davis took a leave of absence from her job as a restaurant critic at the San Francisco Chronicle to spend time with family in Central Ohio. Soon, the woman who swore she would never have children met and began dating Ken, a widower with three young kids. His wife, Grace, had died of cancer. Eventually, Davis decided she wasn’t returning to California.

In February, I closed on a condo not far from Ken and the kids, upgrading from the apartment I had moved into a year before. The first night I owned the place, the five of us ordered pizza and spent the evening painting. I had chosen a sage green for most of the living space and a warm pleasant yellow for my bedroom.

Ken and Ben set to painting the living room. Molly, Sarah, and I painted my bedroom.

Ken had instructed the kids to be careful with the paint, always work with a tarp, and not get too much paint on the roller. The kids knew to take the job seriously.

In the bedroom, I was working on cutting edges near the ceiling with a brush while the girls took to rolling the walls down below. I looked down and noticed that Molly had stopped. She had rolled a portion of her brush over the cover on the electrical outlet and was just staring at the yellow paint on the beige plastic cover. She had not been careful.

I came down from the ladder, picked up a rag, and wiped off the paint. I looked at her and shrugged. “It’s pretty easy to clean up a little mess,” I said.

She beamed at me.

We heard the boys laughing in the living room, so we went to investigate. They had started applying paint to the wall that I wanted to be the accent wall, a bold dark brown called “truffle.”

Ken and Ben were lying on the floor, laughing at the big area they had painted.

“It looks like a black hole!” Ken laughed.

“It looks like baby poop!” said Ben.

We all giggled and decided that despite its enticing name, the color was indeed too dark. I’d never be able to look at it without thinking of baby poop.

“Where’s Sarah?” Molly asked, ever mindful of where her twin was.

Just then, Sarah came out from a closet off the hallway, carrying a little can of paint and a paintbrush.

“All done,” she said proudly.

Ken and I went to look. On the back wall of the closet of my new home she had painted, S M B K R—our initials, altogether in a row.

I reached over and hugged her, kissing the top of her head.