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.

14 Responses to about

  1. Lucy Lewis

    What a fabulous site! Thank you! I will visist it often and look forward to leaning on you in my quest to have it all!

  2. Clare Schlegel

    Just lovely Joy! Everything looks good–I can almost smell it! This is food after my own heart.

    Good Luck! Keep on cooking!!!!

  3. Esther

    Beautiful website! It reminds me of the wonderful time we had working on the organic garden in Delaware.

  4. Teri Barbuto

    What a beatiful site you have created.
    Your Croquembouche reminded me of the Struffoli I made at Christmas.

  5. Susan Adler

    I love this – keep it up, please! Just last week I had a discussion with a friend about whether broth and stock were the same thing. Now we know the answer!
    KC Mills sent me your blog – I had no idea! Susan

  6. Cindy

    What a great site and I love the recipes. I want to make some chicken soup and would love your recipe to try on your cuz. I have my own recipe- not bad, but I’m sure you can step it up a notch or two. We need a picture of you so people can put the face to the food. Thanks for taking the time to share. Oh, and share more stories…. that could be a whole other website… the stories and conversations talked about in the McGrath home. :)

    • joy

      Thanks, Cindy! The site has been a fun project. And yes, I could fill a whole other blog with just dinner conversations from 193 S. Main Street when Dad McGrath was living with us. Sometime I will have to post some of Dad McGrath’s fudge recipes–his was the best, and sometimes he also made maple sugar candy. I guess that is how he made up for how contrary he was at the table every night! A little sugar makes the medicine go down…

  7. Lee

    Great to see you last weekend.
    I’m sure Harry’s cake was a marvel to behold.
    I have enjoyed perusing your site and can’t wait to try some of the mouth watering recipes. As to our conversation about the mignonette sauce, I thought I would share with you the following:
    Mignonette sauce is a wonderful addition to any oyster bar. Being very different from cocktail sauce, it does not overwhelm the delicate and succulent flavor of the oysters. It also allows the palate to clear and beg for more.
    I was first introduced to it one summer many years ago in Nantucket at Lady Jane’s. She was an old friend of my host and I had the good fortune to be on island for one of her soirees. That recipe included shallots but since then I have made it with lemon in the winter, which I feel compliments the cold water bivalves. It is good with clams too. Over the years I have tweaked the recipe. I use 1/4 cup rice wine; 1 tsp fresh lemon juice; 1/4 cup white wine ( either pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc); 1/3-1/2 cup water (to taste); dash of fine sea salt; a small pinch of white pepper; 1 tsp wildflower honey. Heat over low heat but do not boil. this will help blend the flavors. Taste to determine if you want a little more salt, honey or wine. Once satisfied remove from heat. Chop very finely 1+ tsp of lemon rind; mix with cooled sauce, refridgerate overnight and serve cold as a dipping sauce. You may also substitute finely chop shallots and use instead of the lemon rind, but under no circumstance put either the lemon rind or shallots in a warmed sauce.
    I suggest you double or triple the recipe so you can have it on hand. It will stay ‘good’ as long as it is refrigerated ( a week or two). It can also be used as a salad spritzer or dressing (with grape seed oil) if the oysters have disappeared.
    Enjoy and remember oysters bring out the passion in life!

    • joy

      Lee, thanks for your great comment and recipe! I will be using this recipe when our oysters start here next month! It sounds wonderful! Harry’s cake was pretty terrific. I will send pictures. XOXO – Joy

  8. Hey girl, still loving this website. Just made a scape pesto that you would approve of! xoxo

  9. Julie Thomson


    I’m working on a round-up of open-faced sandwich recipes for The Huffington Post Taste and found your recipe. I would love to include the recipe photo in my piece. Please contact me if you’re interested.



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