Category Archives: reads

Grow Your Own

One of the only amenities missing from my condo is outdoor space. Providence’s ban on overnight street parking has forced my building, as well as everywhere else I’ve lived, to pave over what once was a backyard.

In early spring, when the first hints of green started poking through the soil, I was getting itchy fingers. I looked into community gardens and was excited to discover one hidden just a block away! The first harvest happened even before I started planting: while weeding my plot, I discovered it was full of delicious arugula and chives and cooked up an outstanding pasta with blue cheese. The plot also has a peach tree and mint, cilantro and oregano plants.

Garden progress
Garden progress: from weeding to planting

We got a head start thanks to the Southside Community Land Trust‘s annual plant sale. If you live in the area and haven’t been, put it on your calendar for next year. It’s a great organization and they have some unusual and exciting plants. I picked up four varieties of tomato (red pear, sun gold, pink brandwine, and prudence purple – which really are purple), some herbs (sacred basil, purple opal basil, tarragon and epazote), alpine strawberries, and sweet peas.

A trip to the library was also fruitful. I’ve been reading Cultivating the Cook’s Garden by Theodore James, Jr. and Modern Vegetable Gardening by Christopher Bird. The former focuses on growing and cooking specific plants, with good advice about varieties. The author has a real enthusiasm for both gardening and eating, so it’s a fun read. The latter book is great for general gardening information and lots time- and money-saving tips.

I’m not an expert gardener: my experience consists of container gardening in apartments and helping my mother in the garden as a child. Jeremy hasn’t gardened a lot either, but garnered some great intuition while growing up in the midst of farmland. I’m sure we’ll make mistakes here and there, but hopefully we’ll end up with something delicious and fresh on the dinner table.

Asparagus Risotto

I’ve been neglecting my blog this week. It’s not that I don’t think “I need to write about this!” every time I eat a delicious morsel or spy some interesting food item – mostly, it’s that I hesitate to post without a picture, and after a day at work, the lighting in my house can most pleasantly be described as “romantic”. So I’m going to tell you about the pot of risotto I made tonight, but you’ll just have to imagine how beautiful it looks.

Asparagus Napkin I made at the AS220 Print Shop
No food photo, but check out this asparagus napkin I silkscreened at AS220’s print shop yesterday!

Sometimes I gravitate towards recipes with multiple diced vegetables – I read them slowly, thinking of how therapeutic all that chopping will be (I suspect that visions of the beach do this for most people, but I’ll take what I can get). Last night I was reading Ruth Reichl’s Garlic and Sapphires, and when I got to the Risotto Primavera recipe, I knew it was the perfect fate for my Monday night and the extra bunch of farmers’ market asparagus I’d been saving.

While it doesn’t take that long to prepare, it’s the perfect evening “cooking retreat” – an excuse to turn off the phone, the TV and the computer, and immerse yourself in the acts of chopping vegetables and stirring risotto.

Now for the recipe…

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Cooking Offline

I didn’t realize how much I relied on the internet for cooking ideas and recipes. Of course, my collection of cookbooks is vast and I love to consult them, even as bedtime reading. But often, especially when I’m stuck with ingredients that need to be used up, I head for the world wide web. Usually, I find several recipes and mix techniques and ingredients based on what I have at hand.

In the process of moving, I lost my internet connection for a couple of weeks. On top of that, my laptop is still in the shop, so going online isn’t very convenient. In these tough times (maybe I’m being a bit dramatic) I’ve called upon an old friend – The Joy of Cooking.

The Joy of Cooking has always been my go-to cookbook. I would take it with me to the proverbial deserted island: if nothing else, its directions for prepping raccoons and possums might come in handy. In more mundane situations, the recipes are relatively simple and often are accompanied by tidbits of wit and wisdom.

Cinnamon Buns and Pizza Crust from the Joy of Cooking
Cinnamon Buns and Pizza Dough from the Joy of Cooking

Last week, unable to access my favorite bookmarked pizza recipe, I used its recipe for pizza dough on page 610 and it was perfect.

This week, I baked cinnamon buns based on their recipe for Cinnamon Snails (p. 614), leaving in the cardamom because it’s one of my favorite flavors. The recipe for Chicken Marengo seemed like the perfect way to use some of the chicken leg quarters in the freezer, especially after I was seduced by the description of how Napoleon had it prepared after his battles. To soak up its delicious wine and brandy-flavored broth, I whipped up a batch of Cheese Muffins (p. 631) in minutes and simply baked them in the oven with the chicken.

The Joy of Cooking was first published by Irma Rombauer as a way to support her family after her husband’s suicide during the depression. At the time, many families were struggling with very little, and the recipes and techniques in the book were both practical and economical.

I recommend the 1975 version (or earlier), which can often be found at used book stores. The 1997 version lacks many of the classic recipes. The latest 75th anniversary edition returns to the book’s original spirit, but I still prefer the older copies.