Friday, March 7, 2014
Joe Yonan by a pear tree in North Berwick, Maine.
I have Joe Yonan to thank for a good many things going on in my kitchen, including an ever-present jar of store-bought Kimchi in the refrigerator, a heavy-duty freezer bag of homemade chocolate-chunk cookie dough, and on this particular day leftovers from a Saturday spent cooking with backyard-grown vegetables. When I take the time to prepare myself the kind of homemade meal one usually reserves for company, I think of Joe. After all, maintaining one’s standard of eating well isn’t just for company, especially if you think you are worth the bother – an ideology driven home to me by Joe.
Cookbooks with single people in mind are hard to find, primarily because they did not exist prior to Joe Yonan. For those of you who don’t know who Joe Yonan is, he is the two-time James Beard Award-winning Food and Travel editor of The Washington Post. In 2011, he wrote Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One.
Joe was a food writer and travel section editor at The Boston Globe before moving to Washington, D.C. in 2006 to edit the Post’s food section, for which he also writes the "Weeknight Vegetarian" column and occasional feature stories. His monthly “Cooking for One” column, which ran from 2008 to 2011 won honors from the Association of Food Journalists.
Recently, Joe and I met up at his sister and brother-in-law’s homestead in North Berwick, Maine, to talk about his second cookbook Eat Your Vegetables (Ten Speed Press). This was where, on leave from the Post, he spent 2012 learning about growing and homesteading and worked on the book. It’s not hard to see how their homestead, which one could describe as sustainable agriculture at its best, could have inspired so much of the efficiency, honesty, and warmth spread throughout in Eat Your Vegetables.
The ritual of sitting down to a home cooked meal should be relaxing and enjoyable, even if it is for one person. Eat Your Vegetables offers encouragement to home cooks who are put to the task on a weekly basis of gathering ingredients for and creating healthy meals for one. In addition to the book’s 80 easy-to-follow globally-inspired recipes, there is practical information on storing and reusing ingredients, as well as insightful often humorous essays on a multitude of topics, including moving beyond mock meat and not taking a garden plot for granted.
Book cover image by Matt Armendariz © 2013
SK: How do your recipes come to you, are they from childhood memories or a flavor?
JY: A lot of times you don’t realize it until you start thinking about it, like how things you always turn to when you cook are reflective of things you’ve experienced over the years, or that are from your childhood. There are certainly more recent memories too that kind of come back to you when you are cooking and some things definitely get influenced by other people. Eating in restaurants, seeing what chefs do, ideas certainly come to me. When I cook at home from the farmers’ market it’s about the product and the product inspires you and the combinations end up becoming something you might not have thought of.
There’s a (recipe for) (“Tomato, Beet, and Peach Stacks” in the new book, and it came to me because I had all three of those things looking at me when I got home from the market and I went, they’re all round and different shades of reds and yellows and one of them is a little perkier, and one of them is brighter, and one of them is tangier, and one of them is sweeter, but they all kind of had echoes of each other when I was looking at them and I was like God, what would that be like and that’s sort of how that came together.
Sometimes it’s very off the cuff by necessity, and you’re like wow that really works. Guaca-Chi came up because Rebecca (Yonan’s sister) and I were staying in someone’s house, and a lot of people (were) there and everybody was hungry and I was looking for something quick to make. They had chips, pretty good looking kimchi, and avocados and I was like huh, I wonder if avocadoes and kimchi that could possibly be good, and so I did it and it was good and I was like that’s an easy little party appetizer for people. Sometimes it’s just that, something that presents itself.
SK: I remember you being really into kimchi last summer, where did that passion for kimchi come from?
JY: Guess I first started eating it 7 or 8 years ago and was immediately drawn to the combination of pickles and funk and spice. I love spicy food, I love sour food, and I really like fermented food. I’ve always liked sauerkraut. When I was a kid I would suck on lemons, so I’ve always liked sour things and vinegars. I’ve always been a chile head. I like spicy food. So, I guess kimchi just brought all three of those things together as kind of the perfect trinity for my flavor profile.
SK: What was the turning point with you becoming vegetarian? As the food editor for The Washington Post, I would imagine you are expected to eat everything.
JY: For me, it’s really been such a gradual, organic process over the past few years. It started as this realization I wasn’t cooking meat at home, because of all the meeting I was doing in restaurants, and then I started realizing, that I was gravitating toward the vegetables at restaurants. Over the past few years more attention has been paid to vegetables. It’s been a simultaneous trend to this huge meat nose to tail, bacon, foie gras kind of craziness happening at the same time. As I started seeing more creative things done with vegetables I started being drawn to them too.
At the paper, I am not the restaurant critic and I don’t have to eat everything. I have a staff of omnivores and trust them. I don’t find the idea of meat stomach turning or off-putting, so I can assign a story that is meat focused or happens to have a meat element to it and the photographer can come back with beautiful pictures of raw marbled beef and I don’t say oh I don’t want that in my section. I still really can find it beautiful, and I also think the food section needs to reflect where everybody eats so there needs to be something in there for everybody. It’s actually been really easy.
SK: How has your approach to eating and your time in Maine informed your professional writing?
JY: Being here last year to a large extent was an exercise in unitasking, which I found completely revelatory. My agreement with my brother-in-law was that I would be outside on the homestead all morning for like five hours, and then we’d make lunch, and then in the afternoon I would spend working on my book and developing recipes and stuff. Those lines started to blur a little bit when we got into harvest season and I certainly wasn’t walking away at noon and saying I’m not going to help you put up those tomatoes. It was much more mixed, but to be able to spend five hours in which all I did was move manure from a huge pile onto dozens of tomato beds by hand. Over and over, wheelbarrow shovel full by shovel full wheelbarrow full by wheelbarrow full that meant that I wasn’t on Twitter, I wasn’t on Facebook, I wasn’t on email. I was just focusing on one thing, and it gave me a clarity then for my for work in the afternoons that was fabulous and I think my intuitiveness with the recipes was better than it would have been, my writing was better, some of the columns I wrote for The Post last year I look back on them like wow I kind of had a nice flow there that felt a little different.
I’m trying to maintain some of that so whether it’s about setting aside time in which I don’t try to do a million things at once in which I don’t answer emails and I’m not on all the time just trying to bring that to some part of my day.
Getting my hands dirty and being more connected to the way things are growing certainly has influenced my cooking. That forces you to be more responsive and intuitive cook, because you can’t go with a list to the supermarket and say I’m getting one bunch of beet greens or one bunch of Tuscan kale. You are going out to the garden and you’re seeing what needs to be picked and what’s ready to be picked, maybe what you could pick, but shouldn’t pick and you have to adapt. So, there’s that.
It’s helped me remember that what I put in my body affects how I feel and it’s a sign of a respect to myself to choose that carefully.
Although written with single portions in mind, Yonan’s recipes often tend to be rather large portions so he provides an ample number of options for how to use and store leftovers. He also suggests preparing several dishes and using them as a collection of small plates. The ingredients used can be found in your backyard (depending on what you grow), farmers’ market, and local grocery store. Feel free to marry home-grown with store-bought ingredients, Joe does on occasion. Yonan’s purpose with the recipes in Eat Your Vegetables is to inspire people, but at the same time to encourage people to be more intuitive about their own cooking and to think about what they have and what inspires them.
Following is one of Matt Armendariz (half the team behind the beautiful images of food in the book) and my favorite recipes from Joe Yonan’s Eat Your Vegetables.
Grilled Kimcheese image by Matt Armendariz © 2013
Grilled Kimcheese by Joe Yonan
2 slices multigrain sandwich bread
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup Cabbage Kimchi (page 163) or spicy store-bought kimchi, drained and chopped
1/4 to 1/2 small Asian pear, cored and thinly sliced Sriracha (optional)
Brush the bread slices with oil on one side. Layer the bare (nonoiled) side of one slice with cheese, kimchi, and pear slices. Drizzle with a little Sriracha if you want the sandwich to be particularly spicy. Top with the other bread slice, unoiled side facing in, and press with your hand to flatten.
Set a medium skillet over medium heat for a few minutes, then lay the sandwich in the pan and cook, pressing with a spatula from time to time, until the underside is golden brown and the cheese starts to melt. Repeat on the other side, transfer to a plate, and eat.
Reprinted with permission from Eat Your Vegetables by Joe Yonan, copyright © 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.
Rabelais Books in Biddeford, Maine has copies, including some signed, of Eat Your Vegetables for sale.Tweet
Sharon Kitchens is a neo-homesteader learning the ins and outs of country living by luck and pluck and a lot of expert advice. She writes about bees for The Huffington Post and stuff she loves on her personal blog, deliciousmusings.com.
When she is not writing, she enjoys edible gardening, reading books on food and/or thinking about food, hanging out by her beehives and patiently tracking down her chickens in the woods behind her old farmhouse.
In her blog, Sharon profiles farm families, reports on farm-based education and internships, conducts Q&A's with master beekeepers, offers tips on picking a CSA, and much more.