Robin, tell us about your family:
My family -- both the one I was born into and the one I have made with my husband -- is best described as "crazy." Maybe it's just what it means to have young children at home, but my sons, Sebastian, 8, and Julian, 5, always find a way to make things interesting. They are always inventing some new game -- one that often involves dismantling things. Whatever they do at least it makes for an entertaining blog post or story afterwards.
I like to say that "I imported me a husband," as Lewis and I met in England, where he is from. This November we will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. We were really young when we got married, as I realize again every time I look at our wedding photos. But we were done with the ocean between us. We are just lucky that as we both grew up we changed in ways that still fit well together.
I have been mostly a stay at home mom since Sebastian was born (I have had several part time jobs), however, when Julian starts kindergarten in the fall I will begin work as The Healthy Food Coordinator for the VNA family room. The family room is a local, non profit, family child center which includes a drop-in play program, preschool and other parent/children programs. A large part of their current mission is working with the refugee populations who are adjusting to life here. They provide childcare for the refuge parents during the drop in play programs so they can attend ESL classes. It is a full-time Americorps Vista position, and I am excited and terrified.
Tell us about your blog.
On Hippo Flambe I share stories of my family along with the food I prepare. My cooking style is eclectic. I grew up in New York City and eating at restaurants serving cuisines from around the world. Therefore, I now enjoy cooking food from many places. The common element in my cooking is most of it is seasonal and from scratch. I believe Americans would be healthier if they would cook for themselves. My rule is we can eat anything so long as we make it ourselves. If you had to take the time and effort to fry the potato chips, you would never eat an entire bagful.
What is your favorite thing about your kitchen?
This is a tough one for me. I do not have a showcase kitchen: It is tiny and cluttered. I can console myself with how much better my kitchen is now then when we bought this house. When we moved in, there was an electric stove and the only counters were on the sink and coffee wall. We changed the sink to a single bowl sink, which gave us more counter space as well as enough space to install the dishwasher.
To the left of the stove is my compost container, waiting to go outside, the towel in the doorway is left there from the Sour Cherry Jam I canned during a record breaking heat wave. We used it to keep the heat from the kitchen out of the rest of the house.
When my husband and I were discussing (arguing) about buying this house, one of the points my husband made against it was the price for a gas stove and the gas line for it. When we moved in, we bought the gas stove because we both knew I needed right away; then we had to wait for the gas company to have time to run the line for it.
The pendant lights were picked out by Sebastian when he was two. He was at a home store with Lewis while I was at work and he pointed to the lights and said, "Pretty lights." So Lewis bought them. They plug into wall outlets so they came with us when we moved. This task lighting is such a simple thing but it really makes the time I spend in the kitchen enjoyable. When I visit my father and cook in his kitchen this is what I miss the most. (Okay, I miss my stove as well. His is anemic. I wouldn't be surprised if I could make water boil faster with a lighter.)
Last summer when we returned home from vacation, as a welcome home present our fridge died. Nothing kills the relaxed feeling from vacation quite like shopping for a new fridge with two bored boys in tow. When I got my old fridge ready to be taken away by stripping off all the magnets and papers, I had a moment of regret that I went with stainless steel and would not be able to have fridge magnets: It turns out I prefer a fridge that has stuff on it, to me it appears warmer and like you can settle in and enjoy yourself. I was very happy that my new fridge was magnetic. My kitchen is not spotless, or even neat, instead it is well used. I cook, I don't clean.
This is not part of my kitchen, but it is still an important part of what we eat. This is our chicken coop and I love collecting my own eggs. I wish my milk jugs replenished themselves as well. The quality is amazing
This is an art piece Lewis made of out chicken coop. He took a little artistic license with the back of our garage.
Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration in many places -- other food blogs, my large cookbook collection, fresh produce from my weekly CSA pick up and the farmer's market, cooking with some of the refuges who have resettled here in Burlington, Vermont, and finally just playing with flavors.
What rituals do you and your family have with respect to food?
Probably the silliest ritual is our rules around using our frog mugs. I am not sure how it started, it wasn't really intentional, but my husband and I have two mugs we only use when we both have a day off from paid work. It has become a mini celebration itself when we realize it is "a frog mug day." Other then that our main tradition is eating together. We also have a no reading at the table rule, (that includes phones and PDAs).
What do you make better than anyone else?
I am not the type of person to say I make anything better then anyone else, although when they are trying to make me happy my boys will ... However, some of our favorite dishes as well as the ones I am most proud of include:
Oatmeal Lace Cookies from Hippo Flambe
Playdough Cupcakes from Hippo Flambe
Everyday Bread from Hippo Flambe
Canning Crushed Tomatoes from Hippo Flambe
Dried Cherry Scones from Hippo Flambe
What is your one indulgence?
I don't know whether to say I don't have any food indulgences or to say I have too many to count. We go through butter at a disgusting rate, but I no longer believe butter is the enemy to a healthy diet.
We often have chocolate from a local producer in the house, I also love homemade ice cream.
How has your cooking changed since you had children?
Since having children I evolved from a cook who cooked whatever she wanted whenever to one who cooks more seasonally and from scratch. We began having a farm share in 1999, three years before Sebastian was born, and my cooking evolved as I learned to use the new vegetables, saving more of them each year, from the compost. My cooking and tastes continued to evolve when I read Bill McKibben's article in Gourmet on eating locally in Vermont for a year, as well as Michael Pollan's books. When I first became a mother, I made many dishes from scratch but I also kept Easy Cheese in the house. Now I cook most of what we eat from scratch and I do not buy food that was produced with a chemistry set.
What are some ingredients that you could never, ever live without?
I have a surprisingly long list of items I consider to be staples: EVOO, whole peppercorns, sea salt, fish sauce, soy sauce, lemons, vanilla, bittersweet chocolate, yeast, home canned crushed tomatoes, garlic, butter, fresh bay leaves, sesame oil, pomegranate molasses, white whole wheat flour and many more I won't list for fear of boring you.
What are you favorite food blogs or websites?