My Where and When
I was born and spent my childhood on the North Shore of Boston where I developed a love for historic house museums, apples and whales, even while I idolized a glamorous ideal of city life. The dream of city living took me to New York for over a decade. Now, I consider myself a New Yorker who enjoys living in California. We (me + husband + dog) live in a high-rise building, and I barely know how to drive. But daisies grow spontaneously right outside my door, and my neighborhood farmer’s market sells avocados and persimmons. What’s not to like?
I’m a cause person. I’m never without one, or several. That’s where my professional life started, working for progressive causes, mostly the plight of refugees around the world. I did that by helping to tell their stories, hoping to make people think and act.
Then my creative side came calling, and it called me into the kitchen. I studied pastry at the French Culinary Institute, in New York, and founded CocoaVino in 2004 with a compatriot from refugee work. CocoaVino was an artisanal chocolate company committed to using only organic, fair trade and locally farm-sourced ingredients in our hand-made bonbons and confections. We were the first ones out there doing that.
And every flavor of chocolate had its own story. That’s where writing recipes and writing fiction melded — and both were better for it.
It got pretty fancy. I was named a “Tastemaker” by Food & Wine Magazine in 2005, and my work got all over the media, including: Gourmet, New York Times, New York Magazine, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, InStyle, Town & Country, Daily Candy, Metropolitan Home Design 100 and Wallpaper.
By 2009 I was ready to see daylight again (anyone who’s worked in a kitchen knows what I’m talking about), so I went out into the wider world of food. I ended up moving to San Francisco to work in seafood and learned way more about fish than I ever thought I would.
In 2011, I co-founded Polished Brands with a fellow chef. Polished Brands is a marketing and communications firm for food and drink products, projects and films. We help them tell their stories, and we help them look good doing it.
In 2017, I left Polished Brands, but I’m still telling the stories of food producers and the good food movement.
My How and Why
The Brillat-Savarin quote “tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are” gets repeated a lot.
I prefer the more declarative “I am what I cook.”
I am what I cook, and what I cook often becomes what I think and what I write. Eating, cooking, writing and reading all are part of the same creative ecosystem for me. They pollinate my imagination. Without all of them, nothing grows.
In food as in writing, I resist strict genre categories. I like a little sweet in my savory and a little savory in my sweet, caramelizing my turnips and putting rosemary in my cookies.
I’m consciously omnivorous. I eat most everything from game meat to tofu and try to make good decisions. Living on the top of the food chain is a messy business.
I believe with conviction that there are no bad vegetables, only bad preparations. Although I don’t really understand the point of kohlrabi. It seems more like a stunt than dinner.
I love to bake. I love the alchemy of pastry wherein the same few basic ingredients — flour, butter, sugar, eggs — turn out an endless variety of wonder with just small tweaks of flavoring and changes in technique.
I sneak cardamom into my baked goods, a product of spending a university semester abroad in Sweden where I fell in love with all things Scandi, especially saunas, dill, and rye bread.
I liquor everything, from braises to muffin batter. Trust me, it makes whatever you're cooking better.
I have a very on-trend fascination with fermentation. I can trace it back to an early obsession with my grandmother’s garlic dill pickles and the way my mom always cooked sauerkraut with apples and onions — but the fact that it’s everywhere right now doesn’t hurt. I make my own yogurt. I have jars of various pickling experiments lined up on my counter like a mad scientist lab. Preserved lemons are changing my life. Transformation is everywhere.
Lots of my savory food ends up vaguely Italianized. Writers (and cooks) having a crush on Italy is certainly not original, but I was hooked from my very first visit. There are few days so bad that they’re beyond the influence of pasta.
Every day starts with coffee, because I do not excel at morning. Every day ends with wine and a bit of chocolate, because civilization is good for you.
And if I want to capture a character, or need to find my way through a scene transition, I’m probably going to have to go into the kitchen to cook about it first.