Vanessa Barrington, author of DIY Delicious (and others) is here to talk about making her life from scratch. I fell instantly in love with her beautifully written book filled with finger-lickin’ sauces (we sent out her Texas Barbeque Sauce last year for our Solstice gifts!), cookies to make even the most patient mouth urgently desiring yet another taste, stunning photography, and recipes collaborating with one another last summer upon receiving it as a gift while cooking in an outdoor kitchen, living in a shanty with three walls. I know you’re going to love it, too.
Sweet or Savory?
Both, but I prefer to cook savory food and eat other people’s homemade baked goods.
Coffee or tea?
What does a typical day look like in your life?
Early exercise, breakfast, work, writing, dog walking, lunch, more work, bike to store or market, cook dinner, read or watch whichever HBO or Showtime series I’m addicted to on DVD. (currently Treme)
What are your daily practices?
Paying attention to the people and things I love and remembering to appreciate them.
Will you describe your idea of the perfect day?
Leisurely breakfast followed by a hike somewhere beautiful and a home-cooked meal with a delicious bottle of wine (rose or pinot noir)
Do you cook at home every day?
What’s your favorite kitchen device of all time?
My mortar and pestle
Is there anything you’ve wanted to cook but felt too intimidated to try?
In D.I.Y. Delicious, you write about making certain staples from scratch (like yogurt, cheese, bread, salad dressing). In a regular week, how many projects are going on in your kitchen?
Usually two or three.
In the introduction, you mention your grandmother’s kitchen; what influences of her kitchen do you bring into your own?
Fresh from the garden produce prepared simply or put up for winter.
What traditions have been passed down in your family?
My sisters’ like to cook more, use my recipes, and eat healthier than in the past. I get a kick out of them calling me and saying they are “hooked” on my brown rice bowl.
It’s easy for me to romanticize the days of yore, but I like the balance in gratitude of our modern times; what is your favorite modern kitchen tool?
My immersion blender.
A lot of your book is about making yourself things that are staples in many daily recipes. Where do you recommend starting for someone who does not make anything from scratch in his or her kitchen?
Salad dressing. It’s so easy and it will be a revelation in flavor compared to bottled dressings, which are uniformly terrible. All you need really is a good basic vinaigrette and if you want to branch out from there, you can.
What is the one food that will change people’s lives when they start making it at home?
Hmmm. Depends on the person. For some people it’s the granola in my book. They never knew it was so easy. For others, it’s the cultured butter. They never knew butter could be so good.
What time savers do you suggest for busy people who want to cook from scratch?
Learn to improvise and cook with what you have, parlaying leftovers into new meals, rather than following recipes and buying special ingredients. Starting over every time you want to cook takes a lot of time out of your day compared to making-do with simple meals you already have the ingredients for. However, this practice takes time to learn and get in the habit of.
And what about storage of preserved food for tiny homes?
That’s a good question. I think it’s about priorities. Some people might have to choose between cookbooks and jarred food. Others might be good at building storage systems.
When I’m in the kitchen fusing creative alchemy I occasionally bump into an accident, how do you recommend turning an “oops” into an opportunity? Can you give a specific example of your own mishap turned fabulous in the kitchen?
Hmmmm. I can’t think of any particular dish I’ve invented as a result of a mishap, but I’m quite ok when my jam fails to set and comes out as fruit sauce. I just put it on ice cream or stir it into yogurt for breakfast
What is your favorite meal to cook for yourself?
An egg on anything. Mashed up kale and potatoes, Indonesian fried rice, savory, spicy beans, you name it.
What is your favorite meal to cook for dinner guests?
I go through stages. Lately it’s been variations the sustainable seafood stew in DIY Delicious because it’s simple and quick but fancy enough for company. And you just need salad and bread to go with it.
What is your best memory of childhood?
This is a little embarrassing. Salt and fat are my go-to cravings. My mom used to make oven-fried chicken. (Simply shake it in a bag with flour, salt and pepper and drizzle butter over it and bake) My favorite part was after dinner: I’d sneak into the kitchen and pick the crispy, buttery, salty bits of crust off the bottom of the pan and gorge myself on them. I liked it much better than the chicken itself.
Did you always love cooking/baking?
No, I was a picky eater as a child and wasn’t interested at all. I didn’t become that interested in making food until I was a young adult.
What is the first thing you learned to make?
I remember learning how to make “welsh rarebit” in elementary school. It was grated orange cheese mixed with mayonnaise and then spread on an English Muffin and toasted under the broiler. I loved it but it sounds vile now.
When did you first know that you wanted to be a food writer/advocate?
When I cooked and catered at Jimtown Store in Healdsburg, CA, back in the late 1990s, I started to learn about the importance of sourcing locally and seasonally and supporting local farms—not just for taste, but also to preserve the rural environment and build healthier regional economies. Prior to that, the only thing that mattered was how the food tasted. Once I started to see the connections between what we eat, how we treat the environment, animals, and each other, there was no going back.
What is your favorite aspect of being in the kitchen, and writing about it?
I love starting a day of cooking for loved ones and friends. Getting up in the morning, starting in a clean kitchen, prepping the ingredients slowly and methodically, tasting as I go, and just enjoying the process.
Where is your mom’s family from?
My mom’s family emigrated from Yugoslavia. She was the first generation born in the US.
Have you ever been there?
No, but I’d love to go. I have cousins in what is now Croatia because one of my mother’s siblings was left behind with other relatives.
Where is your dad’s family from?
Cape Breton Island, Canada
Have you ever been there?
I have not been there and I’m sad I know nothing about my father’s food traditions growing up.
A big part of Glitter & Grit is making life from scratch, do you have any additional comments about this?
Though we are surrounded by mass consumer culture in our jobs, on the streets, on the freeways, on the internet, and in our towns, we have the power to create our own realities at home and live differently. We don’t have to be defined by mass culture and advertisements. For me, creating my own life is about holding the line against the encroachment of mass consumer culture into my home, head, and heart.
All photos credited to Vanessa, and thank you for letting me borrow them!
Thank you Vanessa, your kitchen sounds downright dreamy and I am honored you are a part of Glitter & Grit. It is with utmost respect that I publish this article.
Isn’t she delightful!? Did you–mid-read–rush over to a new tab (or your local bookstore!) and purchase DIY Delicious like I think you might have? Well, hold it for just one second (week). Vanessa is giving one Glitter & Grit reader a chance to win a copy of her beautiful book DIY Delicious!
Leave a comment sharing how you make your life from scrach, or your favorite go-to recipe (that you make from scratch!) to be entered into a random drawing to win your own recipe-filled goodness that DIY Delicious entails. Do it! You have until next Monday, August 13 at 11:59 PM.
Happy Monday, folks!
UPDATE, WINNER of the DIY Delicious Book Giveaway: Ashlee!