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The American Cookbook

the american cookbook

At the end of May I got the strangest email. Reminiscent of the first email I got from Marian at Southern Living, it said something along the lines of “will you take a phone call about a book project.” It was from DK, a UK based publishing company (that is part of Penguin Random House), and I almost didn’t answer it. I get a lot of PR emails and I ignore most of them, but for one reason or the other this one struck a chord. So I set up a call and before I knew it I was agreeing to help with a cookbook project. A cookbook project where at the end of the day my name would be on the cover. And a cookbook project with an incredibly short deadline.

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The sequence of events was as such– my co-author, Caroline, who has published many books with DK and is generally amazing, pitched the idea of doing an American cookbook. DK sells to an international audience and as a Brit living in North Carolina (just down the street from my Aunt Lori and Uncle Kevin, actually) the idea of a cookbook full of classic and modern American recipes made sense to Caroline and to the folks at DK. The only hangup was that they wanted an American author to be involved, which put Caroline in a hard place. That’s where I come in. I was asked to come in and co-author the book, to work with Caroline to create a cookbook that was authentic and fun and that explored the regional intricacies of the American food culture. It’s a tall order.

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The original timeline that I was given was 90 recipes (the book has 160 total) in 9 weeks. I thought it would be tight, but doable. Later that got condensed to 90 recipes in just over 4 weeks. Which was a little bit insane. I spent most of the summer waking up at the crack of dawn, writing recipes all morning, going to work, writing recipes during downtime at school, coming home, cooking and photographing and writing more recipes. And then responding to comments from Caroline and the publisher and recipe testers. And some nights I stayed up so late that I probably should have pulled an all nighter but I’m a preschool teacher and 4 year olds really loose their appeal when you’re working on no sleep. So I wrote and I cooked and I wrote and I cooked and sometimes I cried (like everytime I was converting recipes into the metric system for the first 30 recipes), but the whole time I was remembering that eventually I would look back and I would only remember how amazing it was. Which is very true and happened the day after I sent in the last recipe.

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With the timeline being the way it was we had so much more food than we could ever eat. I gave food to friends, I gave food to people who needed it, I threw parties (including a Thanksgiving in June party that was a great success). We ate and cooked and ate and cooked until I was pretty sure I never wanted to eat or cook ever again. Some things were foods I love and make often (like shrimp & grits), but others were foods I’d never even tried before (like cioppino). I made cakes for a solid week straight. I fought tooth and nails to convince the recipe testers that brunswick stew really does need to cook for a few days. It was exhilarating and frustrating and incredible.

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The book is called, as you may have guessed by the title of this post, The American Cookbook. It features about 160 recipes, 30 of which are classic recipes from across the United States. The remaining 130 recipes (approximately) are twists, fun adaptations of old favorites. In addition to the 90 recipes I contributed I took some photos, which are woven in with photos shot in the publisher’s studio. It’s due out on February 17, but it’s available now through pre-order on Amazon. The UK edition (hence all the converting) is also available on Amazon. When it comes out I’ll be throwing B&S into a frenzy of cookbook giveaways, recipe challenges, and recipes from the book, but for now I just wanted to share a peek at what I was working on this summer and what’s in the larder.

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Front Yard Garden

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For the first time in my adult life I have garden that achieves the holy trinity of personal gardens- it’s well located (our front yard), it has great soil, and it’s big enough for everything I want to grow. In years past we’ve struggled with our own gardens. In Baltimore our backyard garden was small, had terrible soil (lots of runoff problems), and was plagued by hungry guests. Our community garden plot was far enough away that it became a chore and an inconvenience, something that lead to neglect and ended with giant prehistoric okra plants that took over everything.

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ilm garden 17 When we first moved into this house we were so taken with the big back yard. Perfect for cookouts, sitting around the fire pit, and running around with the dog. Unfortunately it is NOT perfect for gardening- it is shaded by two big and beautiful live oak trees that will mean wonderful respite from the summer sun but no place for tomatoes. Thankfully our landlord is open to basically any home improvements that we’re interested in doing and signed off on us turning our small front yard into a big garden bed.

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ilm garden 6 A few trips to the hardware store and the farm supply store later and we had our garden. We built it to fit the sort of crooked space, so it’s 10x6x6x8, with a nice little sliver between the bed and the walkway for sedum and flowers. Thanks to our handy saw, cordless drill, and a car that is just barely big enough to haul weathered 2x6x10s we were able to build the bed and only spend approximately $20 on wood.

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ilm garden 5 We turned over the existing soil (which was gorgeous) and added six bags of top soil ($5/pop), which left us with a nice layer of good soil and plenty of room for our plants to put down roots. The yard had been overgrown with weeds (I mentioned I’m a bit lazy, right?) so our composter got a nice thick layer of greens and Kaylee got a temporary bed in the yard.

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ilm garden 2 Understanding the risks of an open, front yard garden (people helping themselves) we planted difficult-to-pick items against the sidewalk. Potatoes, okra, and pumpkins line the back gate, followed by tomatoes (four varieties), pimentos, jalapeños, bell peppers, lettuce, chives, green onions, and basil in the middle. A small pathway divides the arugula and the climbing plants- beans and cucumbers. A row of marigolds along the side will hopefully protect our growing ‘maters from hungry aphids.

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Thanks to the overgrown bamboo patch in our backyard I was very easily able to build an arch to support the tomatoes and a trellis for the beans and cucumbers to climb. I even got a compliment from Dan on my lashing, which, coming from an Eagle Scout, meant a lot.

ilm garden 1 In the yard outside of the bed we planted our rosemary which had become root bound and choked in its pot, a lavender, and a flower mix that aims to attract hummingbirds, something that I’m hoping will edge out some of the more aggressive weeds and make our front yard into a more beautiful place. Finally, on the porch, we have a collection of pots that house our dwarf pomegranate, a few varieties of mint, thyme, horseradish, dill, and oregano.

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All in all the garden feels very settled, a small place full of hope and opportunity. I know that by mid-July it’ll be bursting at the seams and that I’ll be tired of fighting the battle against the weeds (does that ever end?), but I’m hoping that its perfect location keeps it a place that I’m happy to escape to every afternoon.

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Saveur Magazine Best Food Blog Award Finalists

saveur screen shot When you start a blog it’s only natural that you look to other blogs around you, amazing ones, to model yourself after. Actually that’s true of everything in life, not just blogs. You look for inspiration in the world and incorporate pieces of what inspires you into your own life. And for the past 4 years (almost 5!) as I’ve been building Biscuits and Such and looking to blogs that inspired me I’ve taken note of what blogs were winning what awards and thought to myself- that is the goal. You’ll know you’ve made it when you’re thereAnd I’m really thrilled and overwhelmed and humbled to say that I found out yesterday that I achieved one of those inspiration milestones. I’ve been nominated for the Saveur Magazine 2013 Best Food Blog Award in the “Best Regional Cuisine Blog” category. I’m up against four amazing blogs from all over the world and part of a cast of a few dozen fantastic finalists. I am so excited and proud and amazed I can’t even begin to express it.

Saveur looked at all the blogs nominated (and thanks to whomever nominated me, that was an exciting surprise!) and chose finalists based on their entire 2012 archive. What I’m saying is that I can only assume I made it this far because of that pan we lit on fire. A vote for me is a vote for cast iron. Voting goes until next Friday, April 19th, and can be done on Saveur’s website, saveur.com. You have to register to vote in order to prevent fraud (like that time I was in a recipe contest many years ago and my mom created a bunch of fake email addresses to vote for me), and can vote once in each category. It’s a huge honor to be a finalist and winning would be, well, unbelievable.