I’m a vegetarian from L.A. so when I say I love to cook, certain associations are made: free range, fair trade, organic, local, non-GMO… I should be juicing things and grinding nuts to make meatloaf (mysteriously, this is supposed to be possible).
The truth is that my mom is from Central California, where she grew up on walnut orchards, and she he taught me a countrified version of California cuisine that I love with every pie-obsessed, produce-hungry bone in my body. Her high school job was working in the neighborhood produce stand. She will climb any tree. She can ride horses bareback, follow cattle tracks and she can cook.
Although I hail from urban North Hollywood, my associations with California cuisine are guileless. I dream of real quiche, the crust buttery and flaky, stuffed with fresh spinach and mushrooms. I drool over simple meals like broccoli dripping with homemade cheese sauce and steamed artichokes dipped in rosemary butter. Or corn enchiladas, with the green tomatillo sauce simmered for an hour with diced jalapeños…
Because I live in L.A., it’s easy to access quality ingredients at competitive prices. Between Sprouts, Trader Joe’s, daily farmers’ markets and Jons, I have a world of organic produce, dairy and ethnic foods at my fingertips. I’ve even discovered organic produce delivery, where you pay a monthly fee for whatever is in season and the gorgeous fruits and veggies show up wrapped in brown paper.
When I had a baby, I obsessed over homemade baby food with my usual enthusiasm. Now that she’s three, my daughter has claimed her spot in the kitchen, on the counter next to the fruit bowl and fridge magnets. She perches there every morning to make breakfast and every evening for dinner. When the food is ready we carry it to our little Ikea dining table, where we light candles and talk while we eat.
I feel like I’m preserving a legacy. As I carry our plates, I can see my mother with bowls of homemade chicken and dumpling soup. As my daughter sits on the counter with a rolling pin clutched in eager hands, I see myself, stealing carrots off the cutting board as my mom made the nightly salad.
I adore watching my daughter devour fruit and cookies alike. I love taking her to the Ethiopian restaurants on Fairfax and the Korean restaurants on Sawtelle, never once with a worry that she might not eat the food. Because she loves vegetables, I can give her something like Japanese seaweed salad and she’ll gladly eat it.
I’m not trying to make a statement with the way we eat. It’s just common sense. Why would I eat something processed when so much wholesome food is right around the corner?
One of my dinner-on-the-fly salvations has been the remembered art of biscuit dough and its many applications. All the recipes below also incorporate fresh produce.
(All of these cook at 375°)
Pigs in Blankets: