Hi, I’m Laura. Thank you for stopping by. I hope you’ll find a recipe or two, or perhaps a story, that inspires you to cook today.
I’m a little slow to things sometimes. I didn’t know cookbooks existed until I was in high school. And I only discovered food blogs about a year ago. But my love of food has brought me here, if a little slowly.
Here I am in 1971, with my hands clasped politely. I grew up surrounded by what should have been a kid’s food dream: cases of Hostess products and RipNGood cookies and cheap pudding, a rainbow of Pop Shoppe pop, Wonder bread and bologna sandwiches, McDonald’s, and every flavor of sugar cereal known to man. It was lost on me. Then, one transformative day I happened on Julia Child’s The French Chef. I was six, and I was hooked. I watched religiously, but I could never write quickly enough to get an entire recipe on paper. It took two years, but one afternoon in third grade, I did it. I got up at five the next morning and made a cheese soufflé. I have loved cooking and baking ever since.
When I was eight my parents built a house in the country. It quickly grew up into a burgeoning blue collar suburb; our neighbors were cops and nurses and teachers, and soon there was a little strip mall and a disco and a Dunkin Donuts. But in the beginning, we were one of a handful of houses, and Louis and Florence Reichtzigel, retired farmers, lived across the street. They were eager to teach my city born and bred parents how to plant and tend to what grew into an enormous vegetable and fruit garden. It was more than a little ironic, since my Mom was a stellar baker, but her idea of cooking was microwaving a jar of Cheese Whiz to pour over a can of green beans, and we ate dinner at McDonald’s more times than I could count. Louis helped my Dad buy a rototiller and to plant and nurse a long list of seeds. And Florence taught us to make all manner of pickles and how to make kraut in an enormous barrel in the garage, how to make preserves, and how to put up vegetables. There were many hours of weeding amongst hungry mosquitoes, and in the hot kitchen with the canner, and I’m sure we complained endlessly. We made our way through the mud of Farm Fest to marvel at the new farming equipment, and I fancied myself quite the country girl. At the end of every summer day, unless there were storms, Louis played the accordion on the front step, and I would listen for hours as I read and watched the leaves sway overhead. The house and the garden are a distant memory now, but every time I cook, part of me is brought back to the garden and to Florence’s kitchen in the summer.
And, then, of all the unlikely families for me to meet as a child, across the street in our decidedly middle class neighborhood I met the Reyes family. They were terribly sophisticated, and I think they made my mother a little nervous. He was a pilot and the son of a famed maker of Nantucket Lightship Baskets. She was a feminist and a marathoner. They had three beautiful daughters who spent part of every summer on Nantucket sunning and learning basket making and whalebone carving from their grandfather, and who all went off to women’s colleges on the coasts. They had an herb garden, fruit trees, a tin foil-lined shower stall, ferrets and bees, and racy books and music not welcome at our house; it was at their house that I first heard Supertramp’s Breakfast in America and John Lennon’s Double Fantasy, and they had a copy of Free To Be You and Me, which my mother strictly forbid me from reading. Most significantly for me, their refrigerator was covered with recipe clippings from The New York Times and they cooked beautiful and elaborate meals, which, occasionally, if I begged long enough, my mother would let me attend. I was entranced in their kitchen. They had chickens becoming stock, and stock becoming sauces, and they worked in concert in a language I scarcely understood. I wanted to be a part of it. It was rare to be in the kitchen there, though, so usually, with the daughter my age, I just ate plums fallen from the trees in their backyard, or nibbled on herbs from the garden, I sucked the nectar from the honeysuckle that grew on the side of the house, or I sat in the grass picking clover and eating all of the three-leafed ones and wishing on the four-leafed. It was a place so completely different from my home life, and it was what I wanted for my future. I would think about that as I lay in the clover, how someday I would have an herb garden and the books I wanted and a kitchen of my own where I could cook lovely dishes every day while a Supertramp record played. For reasons I no longer remember, my mom wouldn’t allow me to go to their house anymore, so my time in their magical house was brief, but indelible. Sometimes I think about the Reyes family when I am cooking. I imagine they are scattered around the country, still gathering herbs and clipping recipes and cooking with their own loved ones. My yard isn’t sunny enough for an herb garden, but I am surrounded by books, and in my kitchen every day, and very, very grateful.
I have always read every day, but when I discovered the existence of cookbooks I began reading them cover to cover as I had read fiction and nonfiction. Early reading was frustrating. I had never heard of many ingredients, didn’t know what references to techniques meant, and was often confused. But I persisted, often using my dictionary as a companion. Three hundred plus cookbooks later, I have learned to cook. And I’ve moved from recipe slave to impromptu gosh-and-by-golly cook. I still read cookbooks, but I almost never use recipes. And through moves back and forth from Minnesota to England to Minnesota to Japan to Minnesota to England to Minnesota to Japan to Minnesota, and all of our traveling in between, I’ve learned—and eaten—a lot.
I promised my Honey Girl years ago that I would write down all of my recipes for her. I have been collecting them in what has become a very messy and overcrowded three-ring binder, and I envisioned myself sometime in the distant future sitting down to write them all out by hand, perhaps as a present. Writing a blog seemed like a much more appealing way of tackling the project. I can’t imagine people finding it and reading, but I have loved working on this.
My good friend Kristin who was a pastry chef in St. Paul once told me that the key to her job was offering what Midwesterners might call “a lil somthin’ different.” I think for most people that’s basically right. I’m in love with food and adventure eating and find the culinary high wire acts of El Bulli and Alinea and Noma inspiring as an eater, but I don’t really want to make foam at home, and 18 hours of cooking for one underappreciated meal has usually left me a bit deflated in the past. So now I cook simple food: food that is easy to source, that is delicious and relatively uncomplicated, in season, that I can put on the table within a couple of hours or less, and food that I know my family will enjoy. This is the food I hope to share here. I’ve put together menus with guides for cooking all of the recipes in concert, which I’ll be posting, and I also plan to feature local gems and heritage foods from Minnesota and images of the Minnesota I love. I hope you enjoy the site and find it useful. I hope to provide the kind of information that I would have found most helpful when I was first learning to cook, that is, information about ingredients and techniques, and the things I’ve learned about bringing together an entire meal while juggling two or three or four—or ten—recipes. I’ve written lots of tips so that, whether you’re a seasoned cook or just beginning, every recipe you try here will be clear and will turn out perfectly.
In the end, I believe that the most important principle of cooking is love. Not skill, not training, not even ingredients, though they are a close second. Cooking with love translates into paying attention and to excellent results. When I am a bit frayed or stressed, it shows in my cooking. Slow down. Enjoy the process. You may never be thanked for the hours you spend in the kitchen, but it’s all worth it. Your teenagers probably won’t jump up and down and gush about the food—or about the stable foundation you’re creating for them—but you will see it growing slowly. Having a hand in something like that and a table full of good food, well, I think there’s nothing better.
Our Honey Girl, Sophia, and
Our Sweet Boy, Freddy.
*zaftig: having a pleasingly plump figure
*I designed the quail farm-to-table animation in the site’s header, and Trygve Wastvedt, recent fellow St. Olaf College alumnus and Wunderkind, brought my photographs, rosemaling, and storyboards to life through the magic of coding. Mouse over the quail to launch the sequence. It may run poorly in some web browsers. I apologize for this.
*All of the pottery used on the site was made by my Honey Girl.
*I am not an Amazon.com affiliate and do not receive compensation when you purchase one of the cookbooks I link to. I simply want to promote the excellent work of fellow food-lovers.
*I also do not receive compensation of any kind for the specific products I recommend or mention on the site. I just really love Cedar Summit Farms’ cream and Shepherd’s Way Farms’ cheeses and…well, you get the idea.
P.S. Pardon the mess now and then here. I’m still working on designing the blog.