By Way of Background

It all started with nacho cheese sauce from the local movie theater. Making a homemade version became an obsession of mine during middle school and explained the many uneaten blocks of Velveeta, cheddar and American cheese overtaking my parents’ fridge (much to their dismay). My homemade attempts never lived up to my expectations (much to my dismay) and though my culinary taste has evolved since the mid-1980’s, I do owe my lifelong passion to those cheesy years.

Food is everywhere in my life these days. I am a sustainable food advocate fighting for food that is good, clean, fair and accessible by all. I am the primary “chef” in my family, responsible for planning and preparing most meals, most of the time. Then there is the eating part – living in a food obsessed town like San Francisco, I revel in the privilege of our food culture, where one can find excellent versions of cuisine from almost every country in the world, not to mention the most creative, delicious manifestations of our own contribution to the culinary canon, California cuisine.

As the years pass, I find cooking becomes a deeper and more nuanced passion for me. I cook to calm frayed nerves at the end of a long day; I cook as a creative outlet, never tiring of trying new techniques, flavors, recipes. Cooking is my most treasured way to nourish our young family.

Lately, I’m discovering a deeper connection to cooking by teaching others. Passing on the skills I’ve acquired through observation (thank you PBS cooking shows, and especially Jacques Pépin!) and more than 15 years of practice is a lot of fun. It also reminds how the art of cooking – home cooking in particular – has been lost as our food system industrialized starting in the 1960’s. Our relationship to food preparation is incredibly schizophrenic today. People cook less and less, yet spend hundreds of hours watching competitive cooking shows annually. This blog is my way of inspiring more people to return to their home kitchens, reclaim culinary traditions, and invent new ones.


Before I dig too deep into the specifics of recipes, it seems worth commenting on where I find the inspiration for our family’s meals. In the early days of family life, definitely before I was a mom of two, I spent decent amount of time watching cooking shows. Shows that focused on technique –  most on PBS – were a favorite initially, but as my confidence grew, I turned to shows that highlighted in simple terms how to make good food at home. Ina Garten and Giada deLaurentis were a couple Food Network favorites. I could never really tolerate Rachael Ray though Ava was obsessed around age 3-4 so I was forced to watch 30 Minute Meals for months on end.

Magazines like Sunset are visually appealing and inspiring, as are cookbooks of course, though the limited shelf space in our flat means reigning in the book purchases. And lately more than anything and like many of us who spend more time tethered to electronic devices than we would like, food blogs have become a must (do read the comments before embarking on a recipe – it helps so much with troubleshooting!).

But as the trajectory of my culinary inspiration ran its course, I settled on an approach that I have yet to waver from: let the ingredients in my fridge serve as core inspiration. This started in earnest when my husband and I decided to buy our produce primarily from a CSA (community-supported agriculture) program many years ago. For those not familiar with CSAs, they are a great way to broaden your dietary horizons, access local, organic food at an affordable price and support small family farms in one fell swoop. To find a CSA in your area, check out the Local Harvest site. Give it a go! Many farms allow month-long trial subscriptions for new participants. But I digress…

We signed up for our CSA box through Eatwell Farm, and with the exception of a couple of years when we lived a neighborhood with a weekly farmers’ market, we’ve been members for over a decade. Because the CSA box comes chock full of gorgeous, freshly-harvested fruits and vegetables, along with recipe ideas on how to use said produce, it makes cooking a breeze. All you need to have on hand is a stocked pantry (as basic or elaborate as you like), some fresh protein to pick 1-2 times per week (poultry, tofu/tempeh, grassfed beef, fish, dairy, often you can use these interchangeably) and an hour to cook. The rest is up to you! Let the produce be your guide – and it never hurts to have a great vegetarian cookbook on hand for those moments when you can’t think of another interesting chard recipe or have no idea what to do with that lovely kohlrabi that just showed up (as happened to us yesterday). Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone has served as my cooking bible since my early grad school days, and I do turn to Chez Panisse Vegetables occasionally for more sophisticated fare. Nowaways, off course, you can rely on myriad Internet sources to serve this purposes. But I do love the look of a well-loved and well-used cookbook.

Stone Soup

The classic folk tale “Stone Soup” was a favorite of my daughter’s when she was a preschooler. We read that book endlessly, yet neither of us grew tired of the story, with its wise messages of cooperation and community through the lens of sharing food.

So imagine how excited Ava was when her after-school “Cooking in the Garden” teachers decided to make “stone soup” one cool Monday afternoon in October! At pick up time, she couldn’t stop raving about how delicious the soup was, how healthy, how she loved it DESPITE the (judicious) addition of canned tomatoes (not a favorite), and how thrilling it was to share some with me. “Stone soup” was the topic of conversation all evening long and could not be laid to rest until I promised to make some at home. So we did. As luck would have it, the soup fit all of our respective criteria for a successful dinner: the girls loved how “good” it tasted and emphasized that making it was “fun!” The soup became a veritable rainbow of vegetables – that holy grail of healthy kid cooking. Add a side of bread and cheese, and you’ve got yourself an easy weekday meal.

“Stone Soup”  (Adapted from “Cooking in the Garden” after-school class, Grattan Elementary School)


Dice carrots, celery and onion and saute this mirepoix with olive oil in a soup pot until soft, about 10 minutes.

Rough chop a variety of vegetables* and add to the base.

Add a bit more olive oil for flavor, a bay leaf if you desire, about 1-2 teaspoons of kosher salt, a dash of pepper and enough water or broth to cover all of the vegetables plus an inch. Bring to a boil then reduce to a rolling simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Add ½ cup of chopped, canned tomatoes (or more/less to taste) and any quick-cooking vegetables like spinach and mushrooms toward the end of cooking. Enjoy!







* This is the perfect soup to empty out the miscellaneous vegetables floating around in your crisper drawer or pantry. All you need is 1-2 of each, with the emphasis on variety and color. Suggested options include but are definitely not limited too: purple/red/white new potatoes; sweet potatoes; rutabagas; parsnips; kale; yellow/red/orange beets; corn; spinach;

(I originally posted this on my friend Simran’s excellent blog, A Little Yumminess)