This post is part of my “I’m __ and this is my kitchen” series of posts, in which fabulous home cooks dish a little about their cooking lives and their kitchens. The goal is to get inspiration, ideas and insights from other regular people about shopping, planning, cooking and kitchen organization. See more here.
I don’t even know how to properly introduce this week’s featured home cook. Teacher? Ed tech guru? Sustainable, natural living aficionado? Awesome as all hell? That starts to scratch the surface. Dawn Casey-Rowe is one of those people you find yourself asking, “How does she do it?” Well, below are a few answers to some of those questions…in regards to cooking at home, that is.
Scituate, Rhode Island
I teach high school social studies and have fun working for Learnist. I also co-own two locations of iLoveKickboxing.com with my husband, Rusty. My hobbies include running, yoga, photography, blogging, sustainability, DIY, and gardening for food production.
Do you follow a specific diet or food philosophy?
I’ve been a vegetarian since middle school. I will cook meat for others, however. I do the best I can to source food locally, or grow it myself. I often go to the local farms, where I get produce, eggs, honey, and maple when possible. I also get as much meat as possible for my family at the farm down the street. We moved from an urban area into the woods, so this makes a lot more of this possible. Before, I’d go to farmer’s markets or local ethnic stores, and take trips out to the farm.
How do you plan for meals?
I see what fresh foods are on hand, and make things out of that. I also do a great deal of recycling of food–leftover generation so I can make them into new dishes for the next night.
How many people do you cook for?
On a regular basis, I cook for myself, my husband, and the six-year old who eats very little.
Does your family cook with you? If so, who does what?
For the most part, I do the cooking. Once in a while we cook together. I’d like to start doing this more. Declan, who’s 6, likes to cut mushrooms and stir things. He makes his “masterpiece lumpy pancakes.”
How often and where do you get your food?
I try to stock up so that shopping is an option–at any given time, I can cook several meals out of my pantry. I go once a month or so, but I’ll stop locally for produce when necessary. I shop at a great many ethnic stores for things like spices and specific ethnic ingredients. By knowing where to source ingredients, I save a lot of money. Spices are a big one–in the grocery store, they’re very expensive. I can buy the same spices at the Indian, Spanish, Korean, Chinese, or Japanese store for very little. Knowing which cultures use which ingredients is key to diversifying cooking techniques and sourcing ingredients better.
Describe your kitchen. What’s your favorite thing about it?
My kitchen is nearly a chef’s kitchen, and I’m grateful. We moved from a raised ranch with no kitchen storage a little over a year ago to this house in rural Rhode Island. The former owner had just redesigned the kitchen, and I couldn’t love her more. There’s a double-propane oven, a stainless steel French-door refrigerator, and pull out cabinets which are critical for me in organizing my ingredients. In my old house, I had to go up and downstairs for most ingredients, because only the very basics fit upstairs. This meant I even had to go downstairs for things like Crock Pots, and small appliances. Now, the things I use most can be upstairs. Since the center island is in the middle and the stovetop behind, it reminds me of the line in a restaurant kitchen. It’s very efficient, and makes cooking a pleasure.
How do you organize your kitchen?
Because I have so many specific ingredients for different styles of cuisine, I have a lot of stuff going on. I’m a big fan of the Mason jar, and a series of inexpensive rectangle snap-shut containers that my local overstock store carries. I fill them with ingredients and label and stack them. I often shop in bulk so I put the leftovers downstairs in dry storage. The previous owner worked in retail, and had a bunch of store-quality shelves he left me, which gave me more room than I could ever imagine for stocking up dry goods and canning.
If you could change one thing about your kitchen, what would it be?
My kitchen has sit-at island, but is not a full eat-in kitchen. I like eat-in kitchens. My house is a ranch with an expansion, so what was the original parlor now serves as a dining room, and since it abuts the kitchen, it serves the purpose that an eat-in kitchen would.
What ingredients do you always have on hand?
I worked my way through college in restaurants. This means I have a stock-up and rotate mindset. I don’t often run out of things. I keep so many types of things on hand that I can make most recipes that come up at any time without having to go to the store for ingredients, including ones with less frequently found ingredients. I have ingredients I can’t even translate and have labeled in their original language, like kalonji, amchur, hind, nori fumi furikake, and garam masala.
What ingredient is in your pantry that you’re not sure how long has been there?
I just tossed a couple types of coffee I didn’t like but felt wasteful tossing before. Somehow, if something sits in the fridge or cabinet for a long time it seems less evil to waste. I know I’m joking, but I do try hard to limit waste–the average American household wastes 25% of our food, which I think is a truly awful thing.
Favorite dish to make?
I don’t have a favorite dish to make. I cook many different cuisines, many ethnic. I’m a vegetarian, so I’m always looking for ways to convert important national dishes into a legitimate vegetarian version that doesn’t taste like someone forgot the main ingredient.
If you could instantly master any dish on earth, what would it be?
I’m working on improving my Indian and Korean cuisine. I go back and forth into different areas of culinary interest.
What’s your biggest struggle in the kitchen?
I am not very neat. I try to be neat when I cook and it doesn’t always work. Then, after working all day, I’m not usually in the mood to make it sparkle after enjoying my dinner. I drive my husband crazy. He’s really neat and efficient. I’m the opposite.
Buy spices at the store representing the ethnicity that uses them most. Buy teas at the MIddle Eastern or Asian stores. Learn to read the names of the ingredients in their languages, so that you can shop with confidence at many stores. Make whatever you can from scratch–it’s usually simple once you practice. Never buy spice blends. You can make them with the big jars of spices you get at the various ethnic stores you’re visiting. Get foods in season and learn to preserve them. It takes discipline, but the quality of the food is much better. I have a laundry list of things that I think people should never buy in the store–things that are simple. Why waste the packaging in the environment and load yourself up with preservatives?
Name 3 absolutely necessary pieces of kitchen equipment
I could not live without my KitchenAid mixer–a couple years ago, I upgraded to the Professional model and gave my smaller one to my sister. I love my Cuisinart food processor, and my knives. Finally, I have Braun emersion blender that I nearly gave away years ago, but turned out to be the mainstay of my existence. It does so many things with its little gadgets. I almost always use my food dehydrator, as well. I need to process and preserve food when it’s in season, but it also does things like make fruit rollups, fruit and nut bars, and dried fruit snacks and my favorite kale chips. And I can’t forget about my yogurt maker, either. I know you said three. That’s five.
Do you listen to music while you cook and if so, what’s usually on the playlist?
I do listen to music while I cook, and do many other things. Lately, it’s a range of female vocalists, but it changes from time to time. Sometimes I try to catch up on my TEDx talks and podcasts, too. Usually, just my favorite overused R’dio playlist that I throw songs on from time to time.
Anything else you’d like to share?
There are so many foods you can make yourself better that stores would love to charge you a million dollars for–I make jams, my daily loaf of bread, yogurts, soft cheeses, hummus, taboleh, cheesecake, all kinds of soups, salsas. I also like to think of the best places to source food. I used to coupon shop for ingredients, but since I started farm shopping, getting things locally, and going to ethnic stores exclusively, I rarely have to go into the big store, except for things like the bread flour and things. It’s a nice feeling. My family eats better, I rarely go to restaurants because I feel like my food is better–and if I do, I save up for one where a chef makes me think about the food.
I think getting back to our food roots is important. My students rarely know the genesis of most foods. One time, in response to their questions about my freakish looking lunch, I brought them apple butter, home-baked bread, and some cheese I made, and they thought they had witnessed a miracle. Another time, I planted seeds with them in Dixie cups and offered them 10 points on their final if they kept them alive–keep in mind these aren’t kindergartners planting beans in milk cartons, these are high school kids. The buzz about this activity was humbling. It made me realize how important the food movement is to all our families, schools, and the world, really. I’m a big fan of organizations like Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and Danielle Nierenberg and Ellen Gustafson’s Food Tank. Food justice is important. I try by limiting waste and processed foods, and educating my students about these things, too.