Why I’ll “Cook 90” again in January 2019

Cook90 upped my cooking game.

20181212_110138-03My mom’s guidance and her Mennonite cookbooks taught me to cook. Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi widened my cooking world to include more ingredients and new flavor and texture combinations. Samin Nosrat’s Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat transformed how I create flavors in the kitchen and deepened my understanding of recipes. But it was EpicuriousCook90 challenge that grew my confidence in the kitchen.

After all, the best way to learn something is to practice and to practice often and regularly, right? Like Julia Child said in that now classic scene of her attempting to flip a potato pancake, “the only way you learn how to flip things is just to flip them.” That’s what Cook90 did for me. The only way you learn to cook things is just to cook them.

Epicurious’ Cook90 challenge calls on people to attempt to cook 90 of their meals in one month: breakfast, lunch, and supper (or dinner, if you call it that) pretty much every day. You’re also not supposed to repeat recipes, except for breakfast. You can aim to cook 90 meals a month anytime you want, but David Tamarkin, editor of Epicurious and the creator and biggest cheerleader of Cook90, attentively leads the challenge each January. He sends out weekly emails with encouragement, recipe ideas, and shopping lists. He shares photos and updates of his meals on Instagram and other social media and encourages others to do the same.

People can use as many or as few of his recipes as they want. And, yes, you can make leftovers (though, one of Epicurious’ great additions to the 2017 Cook90, its second year, was the idea of “nextovers”). Does pouring milk over cereal count as cooking breakfast? Sure, if you want it to. Or, no, if you want to challenge yourself. The Cook90 challenge is what you make it.

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A favorite dish (Eggplant, potato, tomato brunch dish, topped with poached eggs, cilantro, and sumac, recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty More) I tried through last January’s Cook90.

I undertook Cook90 last January. I realize cooking almost all meals in a month wouldn’t be a challenge for several people in my life, like my mom, who has cooked 90 meals a month more or less for the past few decades. I was living in midtown Phoenix, continually tempted by delicious meals (though not traditional fast food restaurants) a short walk from my full time job. (Namely Pane Bianco. Good thing I have the cookbook with me here in Indiana.) I packed a full time job, a bit of freelance work, and a couple different volunteer gigs into my life. I had the money and ability to eat decently healthy at local restaurants, so why not? (I also recognize the several ways I am privileged to be able to chose when and what I eat.)

When I heard about the the upcoming January 2018 Cook90 challenge, it appealed to me for several reasons and I decided to jump in with multiple goals:

  • save money,
  • eat healthier,
  • learn some new cooking techniques and perfect some of the old,
  • sit down and eat intentionally with my spouse at our table rather than on the couch while watching Netflix, and
  • work through a bunch of those recipes I’ve marked through the years in all of the cookbooks I own. (That means I only occasionally used Tamarkin’s suggested menu plans and recipes, instead creating my own.)
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A not authentic take on Cambodian lok lak.

I didn’t expect Cook90 to bring me a general sense of balance. I expected to be stressed, to get to week two and breakdown crying while trying to (once again) put together a meal after a full day of work and an hour at the gym before needing to head to an evening volunteer shift. There were moments I felt rushed. But overall my evenings of methodical chopping, mixing, and simmering brought me a lot of peace. Cooking at home for all those meals (and planning out the coming week’s menus and shopping for ingredients) brought me so much calm and joy, it was worth the extra time. Best of all, cooking all my meals became habit, so that it became easier and easier each day to get home from work and start peeling carrots or heating up a saute pan.

Yesterday, Epicurious and Tamarkin released the book “COOK90: The 30-Day Plan for Faster, Healthier, Happier Meals.” It gives an overview of the whole monthlong adventure, lists tips to make the month go well, and includes some recipes I recognize from past Cook90 challenges along with several new ones. It’s a beautiful book and is helping me ramp up excitement for my second year of Cook90.

Last year, Cook90 helped me earn “the courage of my convictions” in the kitchen. What will year two bring?

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(If you enjoyed Julia’s flipping advice above, you may also enjoy this 19-minute compilation of Julia-isms that someone took the time to put together on YouTube. It brings me unending delight.)

The Proof is in the Bread

I love to bake and get a thrill from trying my hand at challenging pastries or doughs. I’m now (not fondly) remembering my first attempt at puff pastry when I stayed up until 2 a.m. folding together dough and butter, the result of starting that laminating process on a whim the previous summer evening.

DSC06073While I love to bake and share those baked goods with friends and coworkers, I always find myself a bit anxious when I need to prepare a large number of items for some particular gathering. It’s one thing to experiment for fun and another to guarantee several dozen of something that relies on chemistry happening at levels you can’t immediately see or during processes you shouldn’t interrupt behind the oven door.

This past spring, I visited Proof Bread in Mesa, Arizona, for a blog post for Phoenix Public Market. You can read that full piece here. Jon Przybyl took over as Proof’s owner just about a year ago, taking on the challenge of producing hundreds of consistent bread loaves and pastries in his garage-turned-bakery.

Jon’s passion for baking is clear, experimenting and upgrading techniques and ingredients as he’s immersed himself in learning the past year.

“We just want to produce the best bread here,” he said.

If you are in the Phoenix-metro area and haven’t tried some of Proof’s offerings, read about their transformation the past year here and find them at Phoenix Public Market (or a few other area markets and restaurants).

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Pour Jo: Rich in coffee and family

This post appears in its entirety on Phoenix Public Market’s blog.

David sets out an iced coffee for a customerDavid Martinez doesn’t care if you order a straight double shot of espresso or a large latte with whole milk and extra sweetener. He wants you to have your drink the way you want it.

“If you can make someone’s drink and make their day with that drink,” he said, “then everything else really is irrelevant. If they like a whole lot of foam, no foam at all, 12 sugar packets, whatever, then that’s the right way.”

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David and his wife, Frances Martinez, started Pour Jo Coffee, a full cafe on a food truck, about three years ago. After working as a mechanic for years, David started to look for a different line of work: he was experiencing back pain that he knew numbered his days in an automotive career and he wanted to spend more time with his family. Frances’ love for coffee inspired their business plan.

Once the Phoenix couple decided to work towards a coffee business, David tried to immerse himself in the area’s coffee culture. That usually meant dropping by local coffeehouses or cafes in the greasy work clothes he wore as an auto technician.

“We would just get looked at,” he said. People would question his orders, assuming he didn’t understand what he was ordering. “I’m trying to grow my coffee experience and I ran into a lot of people who gave me a hard time about not knowing coffee.”

David used those experiences to educate himself even more about coffee, but doesn’t want his customers at Pour Jo to ever feel the way he did then. The name of the business, in fact, came out of a conversation about how he was seeking a quality coffee for just a “poor joe like me,” he said.

Working in a food truck means Pour Jo staff get used to moving around each other.

The Pour Jo baristas are glad to educate customers about their coffee and what different espresso drinks are, but they mostly want to serve the drink each person wants, no matter what some coffee etiquette may say.

The Pour Jo crew includes David and Frances and a handful of close friends and family. At the Phoenix Public Market on Saturday mornings customers will usually see Frances’ sister, Christina Chavez, and Frances and Christina’s brother (and David’s best friend since elementary school), Kevin “Kev” Healy. You’ll recognize David when ordering your coffee by his handlebar mustache, the inspiration for Pour Jo’s logo.

A major part of the Pour Jo family is also Cindy, Pour Jo’s cafe on four wheels.

“It comes from Cinderella,” David explained. “Basically, that’s her story. She went from this just broken down, horrible looking truck to a truck that now people have come to love. It’s a Cinderella story.”

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Read this post in its entirety on Phoenix Public Market’s blog.

Studio 11 Soap: Made from scratch makes a difference

This post appears in its entirety on Phoenix Public Market’s blog.

DSC05205Kari Snodgrass first tried making some body care products when she was in high school, after her sensitive skin reacted to products bought in stores. It wasn’t until several years later when she considered turning it into a business.

“I didn’t even know you could make your own soap,” she said about her high school experiment.

Now, Kari works full time running Studio 11 Soap, a soap and body care business, that primarily sells at the Phoenix Public Market.

She began making soap in earnest in 2000 when a friend found and gave her a stack of books on soapmaking. Kari turned her hobby into a business in 2002. She began selling her line at the Phoenix Public Market only a few months after the market first opened in 2005 and, by the next year, she had left behind her previous graphic design career to run Studio 11.

Since then, Studio 11 has continued to grow, going through one name change (from “Emelmahae Soap Company” to Studio 11), expanding into several area boutiques, and offering a growing variety of products. Kari also recently finished work on a studio space behind her downtown Phoenix home, moving the soap operation out of her house’s kitchen and spare bedroom. This soap is one of the most local products at the market, made only a mile and a half away from Pierce and Central.

It wasn’t what Kari thought her career would become, but now “I don’t know what else I would do,” she said.

Read this post in its entirety on Phoenix Public Market’s blog.

What I didn’t know I didn’t know about butter

There has never been a stick of margarine in my house.

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I remember growing up with a sense of badness surrounding margarine. I grew up on a dairy farm after all, and my mother used the rich cream from our small herd of Guernseys (a heritage breed of dairy cows producing milk higher in butterfat and protein than most other cows) into thick, yellow hand-formed discs of butter.

I have been eating, baking, and cooking with butter, often made from the milk of cows I helped care for, all of my life. After finishing Butter: A Rich History by Elaine Khosrova, I am likely to forever eat butter with an even higher esteem.

Ends up, butter does have a rich history. That history includes countries around the world and multiple species of animals (elk, reindeer, camels, and bison, along with the sheep, goats, and cows we in the U.S. more readily relate to dairy products). Butter’s story isn’t just one of agriculture or economics, but of politics, gender dynamics, spirituality, even witchcraft, the rise of French and elevated cooking (those mother sauces!), and the hipster superfood known as Bulletproof Coffee. Khosrova covers all of that and a whole lot more. Don’t worry— she does dedicate an entire chapter to the health concerns around butter and to the science surrounding butter’s mid-century association with heart disease: what the research said then, what it says now, and what’s still missing. And Julia Child gets her moment too.

I was familiar with a chunk of what Khosrova reveals in the book, but was continually surprised at the new things I did learn. Here are three facts I almost couldn’t believe I hadn’t realized or learned elsewhere already.

Scientists don’t know why, but cows prefer to lay down on their left side. “Whhhhaaaaaat?” I said to myself after reading this quick statement on page 13 of the book. “I have spent hundreds of hours watching and caring for cows and never noticed this?” I had never even thought to pay attention to this, but now am keeping a mental inventory on which side the cows I see are laying. Khosrova writes that they “almost always” lay on the left side. I haven’t seen that decided of a preference. Cows definitely lay on their right sides, but it does seem like they may have a slight inclination to the left side overall.

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A butter tasting, inspired by Elaine Khosrova’s Butter.

The feud between butter and margarine goes way back before I thought it did — all the way back to 1869 when margarine was first created. Long before the “good fat, bad fat” debate, countries were creating legislation to help consumers distinguish between butter and margarine/butterine. Khosrova explains that this had less to do with allowing consumers to make informed decisions about what they were buying and more to do with making the line between rich and poor classes visible. (The rich ate the more expensive option, butter, while legislation forced margarine companies to make their butter alternatives look distinguishable from the real thing. They couldn’t have poorer families even looking like they could afford butter.)

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I grew up knowing that our dairy equipment (milking machines, pipeline that transports milk from those machines to the bulk tank, etc.) was from a company called DeLaval. Ends up, Gustaf de Laval (1845-1913) invented the first centrifugal cream separator, which helped pave the way for the bulk production of butter. A little more research shows he’s credited with a slew of inventions and patents, but it’s the dairy equipment company he helped start that still bears his name today.

I may have found Khosrova’s Butter an especially engaging read because of my background, but I think anyone interested in learning more about the food they eat —even something so commonplace as butter— will be in awe of what you didn’t know about this pantry staple.

Iconic Cocktail Co.: Inspiration to imbibe

Kaylee Nedly and Matt Farrow

This post appears in its entirety on Phoenix Public Market’s blog.

Matt Farrow and Kaylee Nedley want you to approach the cocktail cart without fear. That’s why they began Iconic Cocktail Co.

“I think making a cocktail is a lot like cooking a dish: you compose it and you share it with people,” Kaylee said. “We just try to make our mixers a little easier for people to do that.”

Matt and Kaylee each have a background working in restaurants, meeting one another while working for the midtown Windsor in 2012, but wanted to run a business together. The couple began a catering business, crafting their own cocktails for events and even bottling grenadine (a deep red, pomegranate syrup) Matt crafted to give away at one event. After a few months, though, they decided to switch their focus from events to bottling and selling mixers, launching Iconic Cocktail Co. in early 2016.

Iconic Cocktail's three staple mixersMatt learned about cocktails from bartending at restaurants with expert mixologists, then began experimenting with flavors and producing batch cocktails for friends and family. Now, he wants to help others find enjoyment in mixing drinks too.

“I was really fortunate to learn a lot about cocktails and I want to be able to offer that to other people,” Matt said. “It’s fun for me to talk about cocktails and make people feel empowered to go and play around and know that they’re not doing the wrong thing, they’re doing the right thing.”

“We’re never going to tell you ‘this is the recipe, this is exactly how you do it’,” Kaylee said.

“We don’t even call them recipes,” Matt noted. “We call them inspirations.”

Read this post in its entirety on Phoenix Public Market’s blog.

Matt Farrow talks cocktails with a Saturday morning customer.

Absolutely Delightful: True to its name and sweet as can be

This post appears in its entirety on Phoenix Public Market’s blog.

Eleanor Dziuk knew there were plenty of beekeepers in Arizona, but she wasn’t seeing their honey for sale at local farmers markets, so in 2001, she set out to change that.

Absolutely Delightful started when Eleanor connected with Dennis Arp of Mountain Top Honey to learn from his expertise and begin selling his products.

eleanor-dziuk-chats-with-a-customer.jpg“Most beekeepers are very, very busy people,” Eleanor said. “They don’t have time to be at the markets.”

Now, she and her family sell a variety of honey and honey products, including honeycomb, pollen, propolis and honey lozenges, from eight local beekeepers.

“Mesquite, desert wildflower, right now we have autumn harvest, camelthorn,” Eleanor listed. “We always have several different kinds.”

Read this piece in its entirety on the Phoenix Public Market blog.

More than buying local vegetables

I first visited the Saturday morning Phoenix Public Market in downtown Phoenix on Sept. 6, 2014. I know the exact date because I still have the email I sent to Brian from The Proper Beast later that day raving about how good those brats were he was sampling and how he had said I could email him for the barbecue sauce recipe he had served with them.

That was the dsc05354-e1510358724869.jpgday I knew I was going to be just fine in Phoenix: the city I had moved to only one month earlier knowing no one else there but my spouse.

I have always loved farmers market, what they can mean both economically and socially for a community. When I visit new cities, I want to stop by their farmers markets. I have a background in agriculture, love to cook and bake, and strive to support small, local businesses. But aside from the logical reasons I’m attracted to farmers markets, they also have the power to make you feel like you belong, that you’ve been welcomed into a community. The Phoenix Public Market did that for me the day I first stopped by and I’ve been a big fan ever since.

Now I’m excited to share the stories of a particular group of people who also love the Phoenix Public Market: the vendors.

Visit the Phoenix Public Market blog regularly to read up on the variety of incredible people running their businesses at the Phoenix Public Market. (I will also post links on this site to those stories as they are posted.) Then, be sure to show up Saturday mornings and ask them for even more details yourself.

People and Passions: Keisha Jones, Hunny Goddess

As of publication, Keisha Jones now resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she continues to spread the joy of pecan praline bites and the love of other people.

Keisha Jones’ booth at the Phoenix Public Market usually includes pecan praline bites and sometimes pound cakes, prickly pear pie pops, paintings, and massages. She is also a writer, a model, a jewelry maker, and makes natural body care products. That’s all just her way of offering something even better.

“I deliver smiles on Saturday mornings,” she said. “Every single person who comes to my booth and tries a praline, they’re smiling, they’re laughing, they’re having a good time.”

DSC03810With every item she sells, the “Hunny Goddess” hopes “that its recipient is blessed immensely. It’s made with amazing intention and amazing love.”

Jones’ journey started in the projects of Chicago, but has taken her to Washington, D.C., Louisville, Ken., and now Phoenix, picking up new skills and work in each location.

“I’m a sponge,” she said. She has learned more about the world and about herself in all her work, whether running her own virtual administrative assistant business, her own gift basket company, working in human resources, as a DSC03792hospital research assistant, or as a stripper.

“It taught me how to be confident,” she said. “It taught me how to not be intimidated by anyone at anytime, how to control my space, and it kept me in shape!”

Now, though, she’s tired of working for others.

Since moving to Phoenix two-and-a-half years ago, Jones has established her “Another Hunny Goddess Production” booth at the Phoenix Public Market and has partnered with other companies and organizations in the Valley. At the same time, she’s making time for herself. After all, you “have to live to have something to produce,” she said about her art and work.

She’s known too many people who are more dedicated to working than to living. Those are often the same people who punish themselves for eating carbs or joylessly exercise their bodies, she said. “I just think people need to stop living up to other people’s standards and abusing themselves.”

Jones has created an income out of work she loves. That means living a simpler life in some ways, while being richer in others.

For example, Jones has no cable. Instead of watching TV, she visits friends around town, or heads to public centers like the Phoenix Public Market Cafe. When she does want to watch something, she checks out DVDs from the library.

“Somebody told you you have to have those things to be happy, but you’re still miserable,” she commented. Instead, “I minimize and enrich my life.”

It’s that richness that she also tries to pass on in the goods she sells, whether it’s through her published short stories, her paintings, or her baked goods.

There’s also some literal richness in most of her baked goods: honey. That’s how she got her nickname and the name for her company. While living in Louisville, she started a body care line, each product including honey in its ingredients, called “A Touch of Honey.” People often sought out “the honey lady” at events, until one man responded to that label with, “No, no, she’s not the honey lady; she’s a honey goddess.” Jones has embraced the name ever since.

Jones speaks with a sureness and an articulated wisdom. She said part of that is being a Sagittarius and part of that is because she’s sure she’s lived before. It may also be because she’s embraced the rhythms of life.

“You’re going to make yourself over and over throughout life,” she said, “and, so, you can’t be afraid of change.”

 

People and Passions: Cayce Jane, vintage hair stylist

screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-9-38-06-pm“Are you in a play?” people sometimes ask Cayce Jane.

“No,” she has to say, “this is how I do my hair.”

Cayce Jane’s hair may be emerald or lavender or a blend of pink, purple, and teal. No matter the color, her preferred style is 1940’s victory rolls or finger curls. She calls it “vintage rainbow unicorn.”

“I think there’s something so luxorious about all those curls in vintage hairstyles that modern hairstyles don’t provide,” she said.

Cayce was interested in hairstyling since she was a young girl, but  told herself that she had to do something else— those jobs were fallbacks, not something you pursued in college. But after starting a college degree in history, she finally realized she actually wanted to work in hair.

She enrolled in cosmotology school and mastered how to “wet set” her own hair, using YouTube tutorials— since cosmotology schools don’t usually focus on those retro styles— and lots and lots of practice.

 

During some of that time, she immersed herself in her love of an earlier era. She regularly wore full vintage outfits and pored over research on how women curled and styled their hair before electricity, let alone the thousands of products and devices now available at Sephora. Cayce has even used vintage recipes to recreate homemade setting lotion from the 1940s.

“It did work really well,” she said.

Like most people sometimes experience, Cayce has struggled with wearing the style and look she wants.

“It took me a long time to leave the house confidently,” she said. That happened more often when she was in her early 20s than now, several years later.

“You just have to do it,” she said. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned is if you’re feeling unsure about it, you just have to run with it and rock it. Honestly, what I have found is that if somebody is wearing something and they have confidence, most people don’t question it. They’re just like, ‘Oh, you have that amazing pile of hair on top of your head. That looks great.’ But it takes a lot to not feel self-conscious.”

Now, she spends a little less time in the details of her own hair and more helping others achieve the look they want. At her current salon, Public Image in downtown Phoenix, Cayce regularly tops clients with vintage styles, but also expertly dyes, cuts, and styles other looks as well.