secrets to success

after posting countless food photos online, dear friends and family developed an unfortunate impression, crediting me as a culinary inventor. not the case.

on inventing…

as a writer (poetry preferably), the first challenge is to convey human experience, be it love or grief or joy. the second challenge is to say this in a way it hasn’t been said before, to find a new combination of words within one language. I find a similar challenge creating in the kitchen.

we eventually become more confident in cooking without a book: practicing techniques, discovering flavors. but here’s the wonderful thing: so many chefs have actually written down their creations for us. there is a beautiful array of combinations we might never otherwise realize harmonize on our palettes. we make these meals our own when we create them in our kitchens, but the foundation has been laid for the structure of many great meals. why not do justice to their genius?


some of my favorite cookbooks:

  • EASY VEGETARIAN from RYLAND, PETERS, & SMALL a gift from my sweet girlfriend Kerie. super honest-to-goodness simple, hearty dishes. forget the vegetarian bit, there are brunch and soup and  bread recipes in here that always have me drooling. get it for the photos alone!
  • 200 FOUR-INGREDIENT RECIPES by JOANNA FARROW okay, stop reading, no–I mean stop whatever you’re doing right now and buy this book. it is so silly how many of my best and beloved meals are a full credit to the genius of this collection. I got it out of a bargain pile at barnes & nobles before college and now it accompanies me to the grocery store each week
  • SALADS by PETER GORDEN a gift from the amazingly inspirational and talented Irena Stein, who is the chef and owner of Cafe Azafran at the Space Telescope Science Institute at Johns Hopkins. among many other impressive things, she also catered our wedding. you will surely hear more about her influence on my life (culinary and beyond) in this blog. SALADS has lengthy and complex recipes, but boy if you’re up to it, there are some fantastically creative finds here
  • 5 SPICES, 50 DISHES by RUTA KAHATE my dear, dear friend Anna has me utterly obsessed with Indian food for life, and as a forever vegetarian, I can’t  believe I went two decades without ever eating and now cooking Indian cuisine. this is a fun compilation of modern/inspired Indian dishes
  • COOKING FOR A CROWD by SUSAN WYLER which I purchased when I got serious about catering and planning my own business. though the recipes here are honestly a lot of work (this from the girl who spent 7 hours attempting homemade pasta), I have never made anything from this book that strayed from absolutely spectacular
  • SIMPLE AND HEALTHY COOKING by JACQUES PEPIN indeed, through all my intense episodes of day-long cooking endeavors, I appreciate simplicity as much as the next cook. and most importantly, I am truly concerned about the nutritional qualities of the foods I put in my body and in what I serve my guests. I adore Jacques Pepin, especially when paired with the J.C. (Julia, not Jesus, silly) and he includes helpful tips with nutritional facts for all of his menus
  • GOURMET TODAY by RUTH REICHL please don’t be intimidated by the title, it is much more user-friendly than some books I have claiming to contain simple recipes. I particularly appreciate the “active prep time” indicators at the beginning of each recipe, and the extensive guides into food purchase and prep. most of the foods in here have surprisingly few ingredients, and the instructions are very clear
  • to be continued…


Though I consider myself a self/cookbook-taught cook, it turns out there is serious debate about whether this can be done! For further reading on the subject:


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