Our growing season in Kansas is brief and violent. One month we have nothing but lettuce and radishes poking up through the snow and the next we are leaving giant baby-sized zucchini on the neighbor’s porch under cover of night. Eating seasonally in this area is challenging, since for eight months we have nothing at all and for four months we have too much of everything. Summer in Kansas is a tomato-basil-cucumber-pepper avalanche. It’s fantastic for salsa lovers.
For as long as I have known how to read, I have been obsessed with cookbooks. I read them everywhere, on the plane, in bed, and of course, by the stove. My best cookbooks are dog-eared, splashed with sauce, and broken of spine. They have a scratch-and-sniff quality that I find comforting. Here are a few of the books that inspire and teach me about cooking to this day.
This is the time of the year when my thoughts turn to gardening. It’s all about what I want to eat…not so much about the actual work of planting, weeding, tending, and harvest. I pore over seed catalogs, plan, order, and fantasize. It’s really mainly about the fantasizing. I am definitely not thinking about weeding when I place my orders!
I have mentioned many times my passionate love for all Vietnamese cuisine. I love pho, banh mi, fresh spring rolls, everything. I could eat Vietnamese food every day and be perfectly happy. Whenever I need comfort food I heat to one of many favorite places and immediately feel better. I have found lately that I go to one particular place more often than any other: Little Saigon.
Garlic! It’s hard for me to imagine cooking without it. I can eat so much of it that my skin smells of it, it leaks from my pores, and I am asked to sleep on the couch. Most people nowadays will tell you that they love garlic, too, and use it liberally when they cook. There is even a festival named after it where you can eat crazy things like garlic ice cream (which is actually kind of addictive) and they crown a Garlic Queen. I think I might try to have a shot at that title some day.
To me, there is nothing as sensually delightful as Asian grocery stores. They have their own character and are as organic and wild as Western groceries are sterile and packaged. As soon as you walk in to one you know you are no longer in the sanitized world of Dillon’s. Asian groceries can smell funky, spicy, and a little fermented. If they sell fresh seafood or meat you can smell that, too, a bass note of blood and sea to remind you that death and eating are vitally connected. Fruits of all sorts in varying stages of ripeness are jumbled all together, some softer and sweeter than othe
I am often asked what my favorite restaurant in town is. It’s an impossible question to answer. There are too many excellent places to eat here and what I think is wonderful in a restaurant might be a total turnoff to someone else. I have a penchant for dives, messy food, sketchy neighborhoods, unpronounceable names, and I don’t care a bit about décor if the food makes me drool. For me, it’s all about the food and the love I feel from the people who make it. If the love’s not there, the food’s not good.
Does anything smell better than a bakery? I can’t think of any other place where one can walk in and be enveloped with an aroma that gives such a feeling of goodwill and welcome. Every bakery I have ever visited has a yeasty, sweet, warm fragrance that immediately puts me at ease, no matter where in the world I am. I have been to ancient French boulangeries and brand new upstart artisan bakeries and they all smell like heaven.
I love noodles. Like Sophia Loren famously said, “Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti.” Except me, I don’t draw the line at spaghetti. I never met a noodle didn’t like. I like them skinny, wide, flat, shaped and everything in between. The only noodles I don’t like are the ones that are limp and overcooked. Soggy noodles make me sad.
I was fortunate to have been born into a family of adventurous, free-wheeling eaters. We have incredible appetites and meals can stretch over hours, sometimes blurring into each other. We plan meals while eating meals. We are never far away from a snack. My husband calls this trait “eating like a Tandoc,” and it’s a foreign concept to him. He’s one of those people who eats only when hungry, and then only enough to be full. He also has distinct preferences about what he actually will eat. He and I are truly from different universes. Luckily for him, I didn’t marry him for his eating habits.