I have been cooking for as long as I have been able to stand on a stool in the kitchen. Food is not my full-time job, but it is my full-time obsession. Here you’ll find practical advice and recipes that will make honest and satisfying home cooking part of your life. My “relationship with food,” as they say, is fairly unsentimental, but I do believe that people who work in pretty challenging jobs and who have busy lives can often get a hot supper on the table to share with family and friends.
Also, I have been dumping unsolicited advice on my hapless victims at the farmers’ market for years—this blog is an opportunity to help you figure out what it is you brought home, or what’s in your CSA share, and how to prepare it to best effect.
I hope Virgie and Hats is a community for all of us who are trying to feed ourselves and our loved ones practically and passionately.
Why “Virgie and Hats”?
A lot of my culinary education came from my two grandmothers. My names for my two grandmothers are Granny (my mom’s mom) and Mom-Mom. But in the family we often think of them as Virgie and Hats, the nicknames their husbands preferred over their given names, Virginia and Harriet. My grandfathers, in what I think of as the old farm way, also frequently referred to their wives as “mom.”
In my earliest childhood, we lived on the farm with my dad’s parents, who grew fresh fruits and vegetables for the King Street Market in Wilmington, Del. My earliest memory is picking strawberries on the farm. I remember it because I was doing it wrong and my grandfather repeatedly corrected me until I got it right.
Later, we moved to town, just three blocks away from my mom’s parents. My mom and dad continued their mothers’ tradition of great food and extended family. There were hardly nights growing up when my parents hadn’t invited half the neighborhood to supper. Mom somehow got a home-cooked meal on the table every evening—a table filled with professional critics who had spent a lifetime growing food and had very definite ideas about how it should be prepared.
Both of my grandmothers had full-time jobs—one on the farm, and one at the local hospital working the night shift—so cooking was mostly a practical matter for them. Mainly, meals set the pace for each day, and in the process they passed on the recipes they learned from their mothers and grandmothers. We also canned and froze enough fruits and vegetables to get a couple of families through the winter. Both women commanded the kitchen with dispatch—Hats, my Granny, still does. She cooks enough to feed armies each week, at age 89. From her I learned that cooking a great meal for a big crowd is 99% logistics and 1% inspiration.
This was helpful to know, since for 7 years of my professional life I lived in a ravening maw of a boarding-school dorm with 24 tenth-grade boys. During this time I prepared
hundreds thousands of breakfasts and late-night snacks—everything from scrambled eggs and pancakes, to multiple loaves of bread and giant pans of brownies from scratch, to penne alla vodka for 20. For a few years during this period my dad and I also ran a little vegetable farm on the school’s property, assisted by an enthusiastic group of student volunteers.
Now I cook meals mostly for two in a small but convenient apartment kitchen in New Haven, Conn. This blog is just another way to add a leaf to the kitchen table.