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"Comfort food stepped up a bit"

"Deb is a firm believer that there are no bad cooks, just bad recipes." GoodReads

You can probably tell it's a mildly uninspired day - perhaps to do with the return to cool and wet weather. Which is stupid. Anyway today I'm looking at one of America's most successful food blogs - Smitten Kitchen which is run by a lady called Deb Perelman from her tiny kitchen in a rented apartment in New York City. She began her blog writing back in 2003 so I have to say I was a little surprised to learn that she is still living in this tiny and, moreover, rented space. I mean she must have made a fair amount of money by now. She has published three popular cookbooks in 2012, 2017 and 2022, and there are ads on the site. Not to mention various paid for appearances and interviews and so on. For she has won many awards besides writing - and selling - those books and is a well-known figure in the American food scene.

Maybe it's just the kitchen that's tiny and her philosophy that:

"if it's too crowded, it's not because the space is too small; it's because we have too much stuff."

And she's probably right. You can indeed cook well in a tiny space with very little equipment. My first kitchen as a wife had a worktop which was the top of the bench level tiny fridge, and I managed to turn out an endless experimental line of new recipes gleaned from here and there. But that's a whole other topic, that I think I have covered before. However if you are interested in her thoughts on the topic check out a radio interview that she had with Shereen Marisol Meraji on NPR (it's a transcript). The tiny size is emphasised with the subtitle:

"Fearless cooking from a tiny kitchen in New York City."

So back to Deb Perelman and her website/blog.

That interesting name comes from the fact that back in 2003 when she began writing a blog, it was not a food blog. As a recent graduate in psychology and fine arts, working in art therapy. She wrote about dating and life in New York City and called the blog Smitten. However, she was interested in food and began collecting recipes so when dating was no longer relevant (she married one of her readers), and she could find now work in the food writing industry, mostly because of the lack of contacts, she changed the title to Smitten Kitchen and began writing about food, and presenting recipes:

"celebrating triumphant but unfussy cooking. It wants to be the place you go to find your new favorite thing to cook."

The website was successful and eventually that success led to enough advertising - in the side bar and not interrupting the text as you scroll down - to enable her to commit full-time to it. Well she was also raising two children at the same time by now. Also successful enough to publish her first cookbook Keepers. I was interested to read in a Bon Appétit article about her that the coming of Instagram in 2014 probably ended the Golden Age of food blogging. I must admit I'm not quite sure about this considering how many very successful food blogs there are out there, although Deb Perelman herself does say that she has fewer readers - still millions - these days. And of course she also has an Instagram account - two in fact. One for the food and one for more personal stuff, which still focusses on food. Well to tell the truth I could not find the more personal one but the Bon Appétit article mentioned it. And there's a Facebook page as well. And Twitter - but maybe that is no more. And I almost forgot - Pinterest. It's a lot to handle all on your own, as she says she does it all herself. Surely not these days one would think. I mean it's a business. Two more cookbooks The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook and Smitten Kitchen Everyday are just some of it. And she has recently signed a contract with Williams Sonoma - a talking tour is one of the benefits of this one. So surely she must have some kind of PA and tech assistant to handle all those online interactions.

So I checked it all out and also I confess I signed up for her free weekly newsletter. I'll report back on that some time. It's free and I can always unsubscribe. I signed up because the few recipes I looked at were rather tempting, and the words that go with them are actually worth reading. Generally speaking websites that just present a recipe without any background of any kind are uninteresting to me. I suppose good blogs - for me anyway - are a bit like magazines - for the downtimes.

On the website menu you can find the usual things - her books, events, something about her, videos, and recipes which has a large number of categories that you can search.

There is also one 'different' button in the site menu - Surprise Me!. So I clicked on it and found a recipe for Feta salsa surprise - a recipe from way back in 2004, so I'm guessing that this is a completely random selection of recipes from the archives. I say this, because when I clicked on the same button just now it was a completely different recipe. A bit of a fun thing. Maybe I should try to add something similar to my blog, although I'm not sure that Wix has the means to do this. I will check it out.

The Home Page, however features a current piece about a recipe. I believe she updates a few times a month. At the time of writing the featured recipe is Chicken rice with buttered onions, which she introduces with these words:

"Over the last few years, and particularly during those long months of 2020, we got really into variations on “chicken rice” — chicken and rice cooked together in an aromatic broth that together is the most cozy, comforting thing."

Indeed we did, and I think I have written on or around the topic at least a couple of times, with Orzo or rice with chicken? and Too easy - can it possibly be good?. So here I am adding another version to the collection - perhaps a version of the Greek ones in that second post of mine. And in fact the title that I chose for the post kind of mirrors what she says in her introduction - as always, there is nothing new under the sun:

"I’ve made versions with almost every regional or seasonal flavor group I was craving that day, but the one that has proven to have the most staying power is perhaps unsurprisingly the simplest, the one I can make from the one thing I’ll have around even when the fridge is sparse: onions." Deb Perelman

Too true about the onions. If you haven't got any onions you are truly stuck.

And a final quote from the introduction to demonstrate that she writes well. I suppose it's a bit folksy and romantic - if only life was like this - but it's comforting in itself:

"It’s like a thick comforter on a shivery rainy day, it tastes the way the first hot cup of coffee of the season feels in your hands, and it smells the way you dream your home will when you open the door after an exhausting day, or so seems to be the reaction from my two most opinionated dinner guests." Deb Perelman

At the foot of the main recipe on the Home Page there are two other items worth mentioning. The first is News - where I learnt of the Williams Sonoma deal, and this was seemingly followed in a separate item which mention this recipe for Pomegranate and orange peel fizz but when you click on the link you get to the Williams Sonoma website where it tells you it comes from one of her books. I could not find it on her own website. Worth trying when summer finally comes though. Maybe for that Christmas dinner for the kids.

The News item is followed by a long list of recipes - one each for every year of the website's existence. Maybe if Wix can't do the random thing I could do that somewhere.

She has literally millions of fans, including food professionals. The Bon Appétit writer, Alex Beggs is one of those, crediting her with more than cooking advice:

"I can confidently say that the Smitten Kitchen taught me how to make risotto (so it taught me patience, too)!" Alex Beggs /Bon Appétit

I'll report on what that newsletter offers


I had written on my notes piece of paper Westmorland pepper cake, which I had discovered in my prewriting research. And then I didn't look again and ignored it. So today I looked it up. It seems it's a fruit cake, which is predominantly flavoured with peppercorns and black treacle. The town of Kendal is said to be its home, most likely because it is near the port of Whitehaven which used to be one of the main ports receiving spices such as pepper from the colonies.

The cake became very popular particularly at Christmas time. There was even a Christmas carol

“A little bit of pepper-cake

A little bit of cheese

A little drink of water,

And a penny, if you please.”

Mind you this piece of information came from a website called Traditional Yorkshire Recipes. Yes Yorkshire - well it is next door, and it also turns out that the pepper in their version is 'Jamaican pepper' - allspice.

Back to the Westmorland version - even Westmorland does not quite exist anymore. In 1974 it was merged with Cumberland to become Cumbria, but I see that this year Cumbria has been split into two unitary authorities (is that a county?) of which Westmorland and Furness is one. I suspect Cumbria is still a county. Be that as it may, the cake almost disappeared, until recent times when avid foodies resurrected it so that the Ginger Bakers - now one of its prime producers - can say:

"In 2014 our version of Westmorland Pepper Cake was granted Forgotten Food status by the Slow Food Movement as part of their Ark of Taste project. The Ark was created to point out the existence of products like Westmorland Pepper Cake and draw attention to the risk that they might disappear within a few generations." Ginger Bakers

You can find various recipes online and I have to say they range in colour from pretty dark to pretty light, which is odd because surely the black treacle would make them dark. Here are a couple:

Also on my piece of notepaper was a little bit more about the etymology of peppercorn. Well sort of. The word pepper and the use of pepper became so important that in 1328 th Guild og Pepperers was formed. In later times - and it still exists today - it became the Company of Grocers:

"Middle English (originally ‘a person who sold things in the gross’ (i.e. in large quantities)): from Old French grossier, from medieval Latin grossarius, from late Latin grossus ‘gross’." Oxford Languages

Which I suppose is straying somewhat from peppercorns - although there is that phrase 'peppercorn rent' - but is interesting anyway. OK - I couldn't resist:

"The term peppercorn is said to have actually come from 16th/17th early century leases where the rent was, in fact, a single peppercorn a year. The peppercorn in those times was valued as a rare spice. It was said that sometimes an employee was rewarded for their hard work by being given a piece of the property to use for their service, but this was just a reward, and they would be charged the peppercorn to be reminded that they did not own the land but could use if for a period of time. However, it is said by the late 18th century the term peppercorn had come to mean anything of insignificant value." Prettys


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