A thank you to those who’ve made me a better omnivore
The first two and a half years I worked in the cheese business I was a vegetarian and didn’t really know how to cook much of anything. This snapshot, taken last week in my kitchen, would not have been perceived by me as filled with culinary possibilities back then. I had a very narrow range of food, especially vegetables, that I was willing/interested in eating; someone I worked with at Murray’s literally said to me, “you are the _worst_ vegetarian I’ve ever met.” And I could kind of see their point.
In the summer of 2006, when Michael and I started traveling around— visiting, interviewing and staying with farmstead cheesemakers it got harder and harder to justify to cheesemakers (especially farmstead ones) and to myself why cheese was ok to eat but meat wasn’t. Eating meat during that trip was also less of a conflict for me because largely we were eating meat from the farms we were visiting- I knew exactly how the animals were raised and generally how they were slaughtered and processed too.
Returning home from that trip, I vowed to only eat meat that I bought directly from farmers at the market. Meat that is raised nearby, on a small-scale is often spendier than supermarket options and I liked that this provided a natural limit to the amount of meat we could afford as a household, keeping our consumption in check.
Because meat was a food I had honestly never prepared for myself at home- I hadn’t even eaten it since I went to college- and it was a costly item, I was highly motivated to seek a lot of instruction from vendors at the market, from friends, and from my most trusted culinary resource, the internet. Ultimately meat was the thing that finally got me cooking.
Many cuts of meat are incredibly forgiving, and in short order I found myself addicted to that ease of preparation and the natural structure it provided to a meal. It soon became impossible to imagine an evening meal without meat as the centerpiece. One day it dawned on me that meat oriented meals were about a thousand times easier to make delicious and satisfying than vegetarian one, and that to be a terrific vegetarian cook actually required more skill and experience than it did to nail any braised pork shoulder recipe.
Even with this new knowledge I was intimidated by vegetables. This is where the people to whom I owe my expanded omnivore-ness to enter the picture. They are all the cooks- professional and home, most that I know in person and some that I don’t- that over the last six years that helped change my mind about vegetables I thought I hated and seduced me into trying ones I had never tried. As a result of the people listed below I am a healthier (maybe slightly heavier) person, and exponentially more free in my kitchen.
Dan Barber: cooked carrots and bok choy
Michael Anthony: beets
David Chang: brussel sprouts
Caroline Fidanza: celery root and fava beans
Sean Rembold: kale and swiss chard
Dave Gould: cabbage and eggplant and broccoli
Charles Stilwell: confirmation that cooked carrots are still good four years later
Adrian Hale: turnips and peas
Leela Cyd: zucchini
Deb Perelman: cauliflower
Gigantic thanks to all of you from the bottom of my heart and the pit of my stomach.
Who wants to buy cheese from this case?!? (Taken with Instagram at Portland, OR)
Permits and plans! All downhill from here, right? (Taken with Instagram at Portland, OR)
Shaking Some Trees!!
At last! We’re expanding the winery and opening a tasting room so that we can share our boundless enthusiasm for food and drink with Portland. Check out our fundraising campaign on Indiegogo.
My dear friend Adrian wrote this little bit about what an average day around her dinner table looks like… I loved it. I felt like I was right there at the table with her and her family- and that, I can assure you, is a great place to be- with beautiful food and excellent company. At the end of her post she threw out the question to her readers about their own experiences around the table and it inspired me to write a little about my larger experience of dinners over the past few years.
Four years ago my husband and I moved from New York to Portland, Oregon. We had some dreams about our life here— riding our bicycles everywhere, owning a house, planting a garden… and these compelling ideas crowded our vision to the point that what we were leaving behind was less visible. We eagerly walked away from a sound community of friends and colleagues, and a city with a culture that supports a highly social, highly ambitious out and about kind of life. Although I have not pined much at all for New York City itself, I have experienced a long mourning period for the busy-ness and connections of my former life.
In our first months here in Portland the pace of life revealed itself to be quite a bit slower than that of New York— anyone would have seen that coming. What I was not prepared for was the reality of my home life which mostly consisted of me, on my own, with our dear old cat, while my husband’s work took him on the road 49 out of 52 weeks to LA, New York, and everywhere in between.
Dinner became a burden.
In the beginning, I muscled through it, telling myself the entire time that this was such good experience for me to really learn to enjoy being alone- what a gift to eat meals with my own thoughts night after night. (I knew then that this thinking was sort of like the thing where you tell yourself it is good luck when a bird shits on you).
Dinner bummed me out enough that I reverted to my college menu: quesadillas, pastas, salads and toast, and when I needed cheering up I had breakfast for dinner. Over time, so slowly that the stages of it were imperceptible to me, a transition happened— and I’m not quite sure how but— in my mind ‘a table for one’ transformed to ‘a table of my own’. I began to see that the kitchen was one of the places in my life where I was cultivating a strong capability to listen to myself- to truly hear what I wanted. It was stable ground to begin trusting my instincts also to put them to action.
A dear friend posted a picture of a dinner she had with her kids while her husband was out of town. The caption said, “the longer Greg is gone, the weirder dinner gets”. I read this and what I saw was the tremendous freedom that is available in cooking for oneself- and that truly is a gift. When I’m cooking only for myself, my refrigerator has a depth of possibilities that flatten out somewhat as soon as I know I’m sharing the table with others.
And yet, even with all of this claimed freedom, life continues to be what it is; I haven’t lost my love for making a meal for ten on occasion, and there continue to be days where I don’t like cooking at all- even just for me. But if I had to offer a snapshot of what an “average” evening at my table looks like, which is all Adrian asked for, it would be something like this:
NPR is on in the background and the dog is stretched out across the path from the kitchen to the table. I make an inordinate amount of back and forth trips over this dog- first for my water glass, then for the toast I forgot to toast, maybe for a pinch of salt, pat of butter, or crack of pepper. I always have a placemat, I never watch television, and more often than not my dinner is comprised entirely of vegetables.
In the colder months I lean towards one pot meals and these are always topped with an egg- that’s what makes it dinner… but when the days become longer and the sun comes out I sit down to variety plates with vegetables roasted a couple days before and made into salads, dressed lentils and grains, or a slice of leftover pizza covered with a mound of yesterday’s sautéed greens.
Most nights I don’t even bother to take my apron off- I’ve learned to wear one as I’m a messy cook- and this makes the transition into clean up as simple as a single step over the dog, back into my beloved kitchen.
A firm reminder of my English heritage- this is above my desk for inspiration on the difficult days.