Five Questions: Iglika Petrova

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Photo by Eliesa Johnson

Meet Iglika, the gentle soul behind Sprig of Thyme, a beautiful blog that reflects her love of food and her talents as a designer and photographer. I admire her light touch, her vegetable-focus, and want to hear more from her on her Bulgarian upbringing and her reflections on the food of place. 

What does eating well look like for you?

I grew up eating homemade food prepared with fresh, seasonal produce. So, pretty much anything that is fresh, seasonal and grown with love is eating well for me. Simple things like a thick crusted sourdough toast topped with heirloom tomato and drizzled with olive oil.

What is a favorite and reliable everyday dish for you and your family?

I go through obsession periods. Taco obsession. Avocado obsession. Handmade pasta obsession. Right now I am on a pan-roasted cabbage and cherry tomatoes tossed with dill and yogurt obsession. 

Can you share a defining food memory?

My family owned a small house in the mountains where we spent the summers. The house was passed down generations together with two vegetable gardens and every tree on the property was a fruit or a nut tree. Eating sweet carrots that I just pulled from the ground and cleaned in my shirt is my favorite food memory.

What topics around food are you most interested in, and why?

Local and sustainably grown or produced foods are a passion of mine. I have felt the effects on my body and health from eating both fresh sustainable foods and eating industry crafted food products. The difference was so drastic in a short period of time, so I am sticking and advocating for fresh and when possible local foods. 

I have to ask. What would you hope for as a last meal on this earth?

Tomato, cucumber salad with parsley and olive oil and a huge plate of grilled octopus.

Art of the Recipe

As a chef, even as a modern cook, I often feel pushed to innovate, reinterpret and adapt. And that spirit is important, no doubt, but how often do we just stay true to someone's recipe?  I am a recipe-shaper myself, and it is work. I mean some of the most delightful work. But there is reason I ask you to use bone-in, combine these unlikely flavors here, suggest you salt there not here. A strange art. All this to say I have great respect for the Recipe. More and more I keep true to recipes of cooks I admire; it's intimate, and I get to be in their head and heart a bit. So it goes with this pillowy focaccia recipe by Heidi Swanson. I love her work!

As a chef, even as a modern cook, I often feel pushed to innovate, reinterpret and adapt. And that spirit is important, no doubt, but how often do we just stay true to someone's recipe? 

I am a recipe-shaper myself, and it is work. I mean some of the most delightful work. But there is reason I ask you to use bone-in, combine these unlikely flavors here, suggest you salt there not here. A strange art.

All this to say I have great respect for the Recipe. More and more I keep true to recipes of cooks I admire; it's intimate, and I get to be in their head and heart a bit. So it goes with this pillowy focaccia recipe by Heidi Swanson. I love her work!

Cut Above

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With the exception of your hands a good knife is the most important tool you can have in the kitchen. Honest. How is your knife? If it doesn't cut the mustard, so to speak, then consider an immediate replacement. If you love your knife not, you just won't get very far in the kitchen.

I use, for almost everything, that one in the middle, a sturdy 8-inch chef's knife (mine happens to be Wusthof). I've had it for as long as I can remember. We've shared some intense moments together. In Ireland, many years ago, upon heading to culinary school there, my elbow was lifted into a back room at the airport when I refused to check my knives in with the other luggage. Like checking in a pet, I simply couldn't understand why I wasn't allowed to keep them by my side. (In hindsight, I see how I was a little crazy.)

Oh, and that's the same knife I sliced well into my thumb knuckle while working as a sous chef in a Japanese kitchen. It's not what you think, I was simply washing the knife in a sink of soapy bubbles, when it neatly slipped out and carved smoothly into bone. To the ER I went.

Anyhow, the cleaver, on the left, came from Gus Janeway. A long ago friend who welcomed my husband and I when we moved to southern Oregon in 2002. We'd literally shoved all of all of our belongings into our Hyundai sedan and drove off from St Paul, MN to Ashland, OR without a job or place to live awaiting us; our dreams and naivete in tact. Gus, and his wife Julia, put us up for a few nights, made us the most delicious Americanos, and gave us this precious tool to begin our kitchen adventures with. I use it when I'm feeling tough, or when I'm working with something tough, like a heavy, seemingly impenetrable winter squash.

The white knife is our young daughter's. Quite a harmless, sturdy little thing, and I don't have to nervously bend over her while she cuts something. Highly recommended; it's advertised for children aged 4+. Let's keep giving our children more tools, more opportunities to work with us in the kitchen. 

Now, consider your own knives. Are they the tools you need them to be? If not, head to a cooking shop in your area and ask their advice; it's a uniquely important investment. And keep them sharpened, using a honing steel, and/or get your knives professionally sharpened 1-2 times per year. 

Five Questions: Roseanne Pereira

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I met Roseanne years ago, when she, a stranger then, called me from California, inquiring about a place called The Ballymaloe, the culinary school I went to in Ireland. So few Americans attend the quirky program, and she wanted the scuttlebutt. Roseanne is a person full of wonder, an explorer, always a student—qualities I find deeply respectful. She is also a writer, which those qualities reflect, and as you can see in her photo, a true food lover.

What does eating well look like for you?

Eating food that leaves me feeling good/ gives me energy throughout day. Having gratitude for what is on my plate and how it got there, even if just for a moment.

What is a favorite and reliable everyday dish for you and your family?

Hmmm, sometimes I smash up cherry tomatoes and olives for a quick side salad. Recently, I’ve gotten into Hollyhock dressing and keep a jar in the fridge so I can add it to any kind of salad, cooked greens, or even just a bowl of garbanzo beans. I try and always have some sort of staple around, like Le Puy lentils, that are fine on their own, or that I can throw into other dishes.

Can you share a defining food memory?

Sure! I grew up in South Florida and had a coconut tree in my backyard. My dad would break open young coconuts from the tree and as a kid, I would be ready with a glass for the fresh coconut water. Then, I would run into the house to give my mom a taste for the final assessment of the coconut’s quality.

What topics around food are you most interested in, and why?

I am very much a people-person, so I love to hear about what certain foods mean for people. I’m also interested in the histories of cuisines and ingredients. I’ve attended lectures by culinary historians that convinced me that there are clues about our histories in our recipes.

I have to ask. What would you hope for as a last meal on this earth?

If I did not know it was my last meal- tabbouleh with lots of lemon and parsley.

If I did know - my mother’s chicken curry and rice, and my auntie’s lime pickle, followed by a hot cup of black tea. I drink tea each morning, so this ending would be like a beginning.

Instant Love

Well, not exactly instant love. I stared at or just walked past this contraption the first week after untangling it from its box. That was a year ago. And now there are days when I've used it three times. Steelcut oats for breakfast (3 minutes), chickpeas mid-day (33 minutes), and overnight chicken stock (60 minutes, but it will hold for 10 hours without flinching).  The Instant Pot. A multicooker. Pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, yogurt maker, and on. This thing is quite a sore thumb in my kitchen, since there are so few gadgets otherwise. I'm the sort to discourage anyone from buying kitchen tools unnecessarily. Use your hands, I am always uttering. But, I'll confess it right here: I couldn't resist.  I use the Instant Pot almost exclusively for cooking dried beans (navy beans, pinto, black, chickpeas). Pour in beans, water, maybe a bay leaf, a dash of salt, cover, and get on with the day. I always make a big batch and then freeze leftovers in single-size containers. Then I have them for upcoming dishes. And in the heart of soup season, the pot gets a lot of exercise making stocks and chili and embarrassingly simple and delicious bolognese.  Right now I can't evangelize anymore about it. For any level of cook, it rocks! It gets us to the table more easily and more quickly, and it produces such healthy and frugal fare in the midst. What more can you ask for? A perfect present for anyone with some counter space and a scrappy spirit.  Look for more Instant Pot love letters here, accounts of experiments gone well and awry, and recipes.  

Well, not exactly instant love. I stared at or just walked past this contraption the first week after untangling it from its box. That was a year ago. And now there are days when I've used it three times. Steelcut oats for breakfast (3 minutes), chickpeas mid-day (33 minutes), and overnight chicken stock (60 minutes, but it will hold for 10 hours without flinching). 

The Instant Pot. A multicooker. Pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, yogurt maker, and on. This thing is quite a sore thumb in my kitchen, since there are so few gadgets otherwise. I'm the sort to discourage anyone from buying kitchen tools unnecessarily. Use your hands, I am always uttering. But, I'll confess it right here: I couldn't resist. 

I use the Instant Pot almost exclusively for cooking dried beans (navy beans, pinto, black, chickpeas). Pour in beans, water, maybe a bay leaf, a dash of salt, cover, and get on with the day. I always make a big batch and then freeze leftovers in single-size containers. Then I have them for upcoming dishes. And in the heart of soup season, the pot gets a lot of exercise making stocks and chili and embarrassingly simple and delicious bolognese. 

Right now I can't evangelize anymore about it. For any level of cook, it rocks! It gets us to the table more easily and more quickly, and it produces such healthy and frugal fare in the midst. What more can you ask for? A perfect present for anyone with some counter space and a scrappy spirit. 

Look for more Instant Pot love letters here, accounts of experiments gone well and awry, and recipes.

 

It's Time: Chicken Stock

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Don’t be daunted, chicken stock is surprisingly simple to make, it just asks for a few hours on the stovetop to simmer alone. Your homemade stock will triumph over anything in a box, can, or cube in the way of health and flavor. Two ways to acquire chicken carcasses and parts are buying them (often frozen), or adding them over time as you make or buy whole chickens to a designated bag in the freezer. As always, I urge you to source as sustainable a bird as you can find and afford, particularly since she is the star of this show.

Master Recipe: Chicken Stock

Makes about 3 quarts (12 cups)

MARKET LIST:
2-3 raw and/or cooked chicken carcasses (giblets and back, but not the liver)
2 large onions
1 stalk of celery
1 carrot
A few parsley stalks
Sprig of thyme
6 black peppercorns

All In

Into a large pot, add 2-3 raw and/or cooked cut-up chicken carcasses (giblets and back, but not the liver), 2 quartered large onions, 1 stalk of celery, 1 sliced carrot, a few parsley stalks, sprig of thyme, 6 black peppercorns, and 1 gallon (about 16 cups) of cold water. Bring to a boil, and skim the surface of any fat with a spoon.

Go for a Walk, Have a Nap, Read a Book

Simmer gently for 3-5 hours, covered or uncovered. (The longer it simmers the deeper the flavor.) Strain through a fine-mesh strainer or cheesecloth. Notice, there is no salt added to this master recipe.

Storage

Chicken stock will keep in the fridge for a few days, but after that it loses its luster. I recommend freezing as much of the stock as you are willing. You can freeze in ice cube trays (for smaller amounts to grab when need them), small or large yogurt containers, 2-cup sized Pyrex glass containers, or Ziplock-style freezer bags. To thaw, allow 1-3 days in the fridge (depending on the amount, and what size container you are thawing).

5 Questions, Steven Tacheny

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Musician, English teacher, and impassioned gardener, Steven Tacheny is also a busy parent of 3 school-aged children. He's also our neighbor, and we're lucky enough to swap suppers here and there. He and his wife, Jennifer, are engaged citizens in many areas of their lives, and are always reliable conversationalists, not to mention great home-cooks. In the photo above, Steven was serving all of us lamb croquettes one fall evening using lamb from his parents' farm, and as always at the Tacheny house, plenty of homegrown vegetables on the side. 

What does eating well look like for you?

Literally, looking is one sense. Eating well is multi-sensual. Of course, taste and smell. But, what about what you hear while you eat well? The conversation or music. What about the inner senses of emotional balance and safety? More broadly, how is my meal more reliant on and connected to the people around me? I imagine a group of people humbly eating inspiring, nutritional tastes using ingredients they know and participated in creating, and having fun. They don't have fears or anxieties about safety or health. Basically, whatever you eat - that would be the highest blessing of "eating well."

What is a favorite and reliable everyday dish for you and your family?

Probably, a simple breakfast. Rice cereal, maybe oatmeal, with fruit and yogurt. Bagels and eggs. Sandwich, fruit lunches. Dinners are totally unreliable. But I always envision a main course with 3 elements. Organic decision making -  I hardly ever plan ahead. Kids may go crazy over homemade egg noodles and tuna with garlic white sauce. I can easily boil homegrown broccoli, kale or home-canned beans as a side, then lean on fruit/color - applesauce, squash. Other homemade recipes I can throw out: pad thai, Italian chicken or tomato sauce, pesto, pork chops, potatoes, tacos. Whatever the moment, my favorite aspect of cooking - reliable vegetables and having kids devour them.

Can you share a defining food memory?

For a while growing up during my early teen years, we had extravagant Friday dinners, sometimes 3 hours long with guests, and they let me sip wine. My mother is an amazing cook, exceptionally active and open to learning to this day. At that time, she worked full time, but still made a Friday banquet. Often, we ate our home-raised lamb. However, she came across a deal on canned escargot, like a 2 years' supply, and 6 snails a person on a Friday were amazing. Though born in the midwest, seafood and fish have always felt like defining meals. Fresh shoreline walleye lunch in northern MN, caviar at the old Russian Tea House in NYC, or the oysters I shuck on Fridays for a treat - yes. Well-prepared seafood is always defining.  

What topics around food are you most interested in, and why?

Accessibility to experience and relationship to what ‘food’ means. I’m scared to lose the 15 acres I grew up on outside of Mankato, MN. I’m blessed.  Luckily, I don’t have to be scared to lose the Walmart in my small town. I was especially changed the day I walked into a South Bronx grocery and the only fresh meat available was plastic-wrapped pig’s feet. Environment, accessibility and control over food culture are foundations. Even in an urban setting, people should have the direct experience and association with the elements they eat. If you like chicken, you should know what it means to stare a chicken in the face as you nurture it, use its eggs, butcher it, and make it a meal. If you eat grains and nuts, you should use the iron to turn the soil if you want to turn flour to bread and have a chance to gather the nuts or shake the hands of the people who did.  Why? Because people should consider themselves worthy of that broader ideal - it is the most efficient for physical, spiritual, and community health.

I have to ask. What would you hope for as a last meal on this earth?

Sick question? O.k. it’s going to happen, but despite my high ideals about being able to easily and deeply provide for my family, there are too many meals I’d think about when it comes to a penultimate ideal, or debaucherous fantasy. Honestly, my last meal would be the biggest one I could hold for those who wanted to break bread with me, or those I’d want to hug or thank. Actually, some good baguettes would do, especially fresh and local. O.k. maybe some really good blue cheese, from my hometown of Mankato - Bend in the River?. A few oysters, canned or fresh, and a bottle of French table wine. But I would share some Dr. Pepper and pickled herring with crackers, so long as there’s enough to share with those around me, whoever that may be in the moment.

Coming Home

I have crossed over this bridge hundreds of times. As a child, on my way to the sledding hill at Northside Park or to cut over to downtown, and as an adult returning, walking along familiar streets, Gary and Thomas Avenues, Morse and Armbrust Streets, past the high school, slowing my stride as I pass my grandmother’s house. She’s gone now, and whomever lives there now has parked ATVs where her roses used to be.    I am a longtime, bona fide, Thanksgiving-scrooge. But I wasn’t always. Actually, it was in my grandmother’s kitchen that I took over the Thanksgiving meal, in my early teens. It was so pleasantly haphazard then. I remember, much to my grandmother's shock, fingering butter and chopped herbs below the skin of the turkey before roasting it; a way to leave my mark, to apply even the slightest variation. I could have known then the future trajectory I would take. I remember lumps in the gravy. And the whirring of the electric carving knife gripped by my grandmother’s capable hand.

I have crossed over this bridge hundreds of times. As a child, on my way to the sledding hill at Northside Park or to cut over to downtown, and as an adult returning, walking along familiar streets, Gary and Thomas Avenues, Morse and Armbrust Streets, past the high school, slowing my stride as I pass my grandmother’s house. She’s gone now, and whomever lives there now has parked ATVs where her roses used to be.   

I am a longtime, bona fide, Thanksgiving-scrooge. But I wasn’t always. Actually, it was in my grandmother’s kitchen that I took over the Thanksgiving meal, in my early teens. It was so pleasantly haphazard then. I remember, much to my grandmother's shock, fingering butter and chopped herbs below the skin of the turkey before roasting it; a way to leave my mark, to apply even the slightest variation. I could have known then the future trajectory I would take.

I remember lumps in the gravy. And the whirring of the electric carving knife gripped by my grandmother’s capable hand.

Something happened along the way, and my sweetness for the holiday dissolved. The answer as to why is a web. And it’s not lost on me that I am a table-gathering advocate, a cook who feeds a lot of people, and considers the dining table a kind of temple. But Thanksgiving, for me, with its extended family dynamics and deep-seated connotations, is complicated. But as much as I believe in the energy and balm of good food, such as Thanksgiving implies, I believe in the power of the dining table. That everyday object we often overlook, is a place of possibility, a place of common ground, a place to share and to listen, to ruminate, or reconsider, to look into the eyes of the ones we break bread with. It is a place we can come to wholeheartedly, each time. What a relief to have that possibility, however difficult or charged your past moments at the table, over food, with the ones you love, have been. After all, it’s Thanksgiving. Who can despise the nature of this day? To give thanks. To be thankful, for the endless gifts which fall into our paths every day, and for all the possibilities.

Something happened along the way, and my sweetness for the holiday dissolved. The answer as to why is a web. And it’s not lost on me that I am a table-gathering advocate, a cook who feeds a lot of people, and considers the dining table a kind of temple. But Thanksgiving, for me, with its extended family dynamics and deep-seated connotations, is complicated.

But as much as I believe in the energy and balm of good food, such as Thanksgiving implies, I believe in the power of the dining table. That everyday object we often overlook, is a place of possibility, a place of common ground, a place to share and to listen, to ruminate, or reconsider, to look into the eyes of the ones we break bread with.

It is a place we can come to wholeheartedly, each time. What a relief to have that possibility, however difficult or charged your past moments at the table, over food, with the ones you love, have been. After all, it’s Thanksgiving. Who can despise the nature of this day? To give thanks. To be thankful, for the endless gifts which fall into our paths every day, and for all the possibilities.