25 Mar 2020

The “At-Home” Diaries: Keep Calm, Keep Cooking

The 'At-Home" Diaries: Keep Calm, Keep Cooking

“Never trust a skinny cook.”
This won’t be a problem in my home.

Cooking is one way to feel right with the world – for me, it is the one job I delegate when I have the first chance. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the process and I certainly love the rewards it is simply a time and management issue. Both poor excuses on my part. This week, with my slower pace, I have found a renewed interest in cooking and have started digging out my recipe books. It is easier to search online and find whatever our heart’s desire but the fun in turning the printed pages is truly the gain. Images, anecdotes and a hungry imagination make for good reading.

When I cook I like simple fresh food that doesn’t take hours and hours of prep. Baking has never been my thing as my taste buds always turn towards the savoury. If you are a natural chef, then none of what I will say makes sense but if you are an accidental cook like me, you will understand. Easy application and glamorous presentation have always been my way to succeed. Cooking for many never fazes me as long as I’m creating what is familiar, there is plenty of time to be organised and I have a beautiful table setting and plate ware to go.

City life is full of local restaurants and quick and easy delivery services – I love this freedom to click on an app or walk down the hill for delicious dinners – but right now it is my time to get back into the kitchen. I’m experimenting with vegetarian, vegan and barbeque options as we eat for optimum health. We are enjoying long, lazy lunches and trying to eat less in the evenings – it makes sense and hopefully enables better sleep.

On an aside, how are you sleeping?

My sleep is disturbed. The events right now are causing major emotional trauma and while we do everything we can during our waking hours to stay calm, focused and relaxed, it is beyond our control once we close our eyes. I’m working on it but it’s not an easy one.

Cookbooks? What’s your tried, true and tested?

I love all the editions from Tessa Kiros and Mimi Thorrison. Dishoom is the first-ever cookbook from one of London’s favourite restaurants; this is a great inspiration. Jane Webster’s Chateau Life celebrates French cooking in an easily replicable way. Julia Child’s recipes are still top of my list. Remember the Silver Palette cookbooks and The River Cafe? Feel Italian, The Silver Spoon and Elizabeth David’s Italian Food.

I’d love to hear your top 3? I’m ready for a new collection. xv


Keep Calm: Keep Cooking

provence to pondicherry  ||  venezia  ||  falling cloudberries  ||  a kitchen in france  ||  dishoom  ||  chateau life

mastering the art of french cooking  ||  the silver palette cookbook  ||  the river cafe cookbook  ||  the silver spoon

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Linda B

I am cooking more too! It’s so good to be creative in this way. I love my old cookbooks–including the Silver Palette ones–but I also love just inventing on my own. To be honest, my husband does even more of the cooking–he is so great at it. Often, we actually cook together. We are doing a bit more baking too–but not sweets. It’s fresh bread that we want.

I actually feel like I am sleeping better, most nights. I think staying at home–and trying to stay off the news as much as I can bear to–has been lowering my stress level. Doing more of my own creative projects also helps–the cooking is one, but also I am doing more knitting and embroidering (threadpainting, actually) and even some writing. Having abundant time for my personal creativity is a real balm to my soul. I hope it is for others too. . .


I am limiting the news… I am inclined to flick through my phone incessantly… I’m trying to limit myself in the morning and night… Creativity is our balm and I am sure some wonders will arise out of these dark times… Thank you for your always insightful and generous comments, Linda xv

Kathleen Hurder

This reply to your post is WAY overdue!
I have literally drooled over “French Essence” and “My French Life”. So beautiful and inspirational!
I’m from San Diego, CA and also have a home east of Avignon. I’d love to meet there sometime with you.
I, too, j’adore Mimi Thorrison and have taken a weeks class with her in Bordeaux. We are scheduled to stay with Jane Webster this coming October.
Fingers crossed it will happen!
Your emails brighten so many people’s day. Keep up the fabulous writing!


thank you Kathleen … and yes, when all is calm let’s meet… I would love that..


A heartfelt thank you for being YOU and ALWAYS writing something that is always so relevant to our times.
Your blog these past days has been in a sense my refuge and salvation.
Life is changing for everyone but I have seen and felt so many wonderful and unexpected acts of kindness in my life these past weeks that there is still a smile on my face!
I adore A KITCHEN IN FRANCE and FRENCH COUNTRY BY Mimi Thorisson! I am not a wonderful cook but the recipes by Mimi and the photography by her husband Oddur are Awesome! I am a big fan of this dynamic duo having taken the Manger Workshop in both Medoc and Italy. I can’t wait until their new Italian one is published.
Recently, I just received one in My Stylish French Box TASTING PARIS by Clotilde Dusoulier. The Fish Tagine with Chermoula was fabulous!
Thank you for being a Very Bright Spot in my life! So much gratitude that you are willing time share your “adventures” with me!
Stay Healthy Stay Safe!
Big Hugs to you and David! XoXo


Stephanie… thank you… and for all you say and do.. Archie says thank you too :)
I will look for Tasting Paris… sounds like my kind of cookbook.. X


Vicki, I’m also not sleeping as I would normally especially as I have no yoga classes in the evening as this guarantees a restful night. I’m also dreaming a mixture, I feel, of the news which at times I find disturbing so I’m limiting myself to just watching an early evening version. As for cooking, I’m also doing more and enjoying it too. I have lots of old cookery books of my Mother’s and so lovely to find her handwritten recipes tucked away in the pages. Even my Dad’s writing is in there with lots of timings for Christmas Day cooking of the turkey and how many it was for! I’ve shed a little tear but it’s been so lovely to find these.
I’ve decided also to learn to juggle!! I think this will be a fun process and testing at times but determined to do this by the time we have come out of lock down!!!
Keep posting your heart warming posts Vicki, they are just what we all need.


We will need a video of your juggling.. this is an amazing idea. I would never have thought of that… and what fun you will have learning. I have downloaded yoga apps for myself to practice with… Could you do this in the evening? It’s not the same but I am feeling the benefits of doing a little each day.

Enjoy your recipes :)


A quick interjection here-I also discovered “Yoga with Adrienne” on YouTube and she is wonderful!

Anne @musicandmarkets

I’ve become a fan of sheet-pan dinners over the past year or two, and tried a new one from Epicurious last night which was absolutely delicious – a wonderful and unusual melange of flavors (american measurements – sorry!):
Sheet Pan Cumin Chicken Thighs With Squash, Fennel, and Grapes
Serves 4
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 acorn or delicata squash (about 1 1/2 pounds), halved lengthwise, seeded, cut into 1/4″ half moons
1 fennel bulb (about 1/2 pound), cut in half lengthwise, sliced into 1/4″ wedges with core intact
1/2 pound seedless red grapes (about 1 cup)
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs (about 2 pounds)
1/4 cup torn fresh mint leaves
Position rack in upper third of oven and preheat to 425°F. Mix brown sugar, cumin, salt, pepper, and cayenne in a small bowl. Toss squash, fennel, and grapes with oil and half of spice mixture on rimmed baking sheet and arrange in a single layer.
Rub chicken thighs with remaining spice mixture and arrange, skin side up, on top of fruit and vegetables. Roast until skin is browned and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of chicken registers 165°F, about 35 minutes; if chicken skin or vegetables start to burn, move pan to a lower rack to finish cooking.
Divide chicken, fruit, and vegetables among 4 plates and top with mint.

Victoria Skelly

Restful sleep seems to come more easily for me also, if I just turn off the media and head for the kitchen! My all time favorite go-to recipe book is Deborah Madison’s “Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone”. Recipe inspiration comes from around the world, but Madison’s grounding is in the cooking of sunny New Mexico, where she lives. She has a long resume in the world of food which includes time spent as a chef at San Francisco’s Greens Restaurant. I have all of her books and love them for her commentary on plant lore as well as for the recipes!

I also love Domenica Marchetti’s “Rustic Italian Food”. I have lots of Italian cookbooks, but rely on Domenica’s modern take on all dishes Italian. More vegetable than starch!

Nigel Slater’s “Tender” and “Ripe” provide great simple garden inspired dishes along with ruminations about growing the ingredients. I also love Diana Henry’s “Roast Figs Sugar Snow” for winter warming Northern European recipes… Danish roast pork and cabbage with juniper!

Sorry, that’s more than three titles!


That’s brilliant, Victoria… I will be adding those to mine asap… thank you :)


Having reached the age when a bathroom visit is required during the night, I find it much more difficult to sink back into sleep afterwards. My husband is a newshound, and can’t resist sharing statistics with me during the day, and some of those numbers come back to me when I least want them. I am working to dissuade him from what sometimes feels like minute-by-minute updates so that I can divert my thoughts, but it’s difficult……having cooked solidly for the last seven days, today would usually be the day when I said ‘enough is enough, let’s go out to lunch’ and guess what??? However, my worries and concerns are as nothing compared with those on the frontline of health care, and those suffering in these extraordinary times.


I know what you mean about a “sharing” husband when it comes to news and stats… I wonder how my new love of cooking will fare in another week or two? Watch this space… I may be “eating ” my words ;) ;)


My passionate love for cooking startet with the Jamie Olivers TV shows . It was fun to see how easy a good meal can be prepared. Then I bought most of his books and went trough. I cook everday (at least 6/7) according to my menue list which I write in advance on weekend. As usual in Spain our lunch is very late and last long which means we can skip the dinner which is great for a good sleep and stay slim.


Sounds perfect!
Yes, we have been skipping dinner and having a long, leisurely lunch since we are home now… reminds me of summers in France, when lunch was our major meal of the day..

Paula Weiss

I love the delightful, often quite glamorous and festive, and very easy-to-follow recipes in any of Jennifer Joyce’s many cookbooks. She based in London and is a fabulous cook. Some of my favorites are Meals in Heels (and Skinny Meals in Heels), My Asian Kitchen, and Diva Cooking. Then there are the gorgeous books to peruse, read, and cook from by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, like Flatbreads and Hot Sour Salty Sweet. I think right now is an especially good time to make lovely fun food.

Tristi Lowther

Vicky, I love your blog, as well as your cookbook list, and own many of the books on it. Any cookbook by Clothilde Dusoulier is wonderful, but I’d like to suggest her original book “Chocolate & Zucchini”. I think I’ve probably made most of the recipes in it. My second suggestion, also with a french twist (sorry) is “Around My French Table” by Dorie Greenspan, who lives in the States and owns an apartment in Paris. Once again, any of Dorie’s cookbooks is a treasure, and she’s one of the most generous, sharing cooks I’ve encountered. Finally, I’ve found myself rereading “Home Cooking” by Laurie Colwin. She wrote novels, cookbooks, and a column for “Gourmet”. As someone whose original kitchen was a hotplate in an apartment “a little larger than the Columbia Encyclopedia” her recipes are low tech, fun and delicious. And I’ve laughed again at such chapters as “Repulsive Dinners: A Memoir” in this small paperback, still in print since 1993.


Thank you Tristi… really wonderful suggestions… I will be following your lead :)

Jeanne W.

“Around My French Table” is a wonderful cookbook. The chicken cooked in the dutch oven is the most delicious I have ever tasted.

Jo Dennis

My children have grown up with me feeding them home cooked meals from virtually all of Jamie Oliver’s cookbooks. His style of cooking suits our lifestyle on a farm where we can eat seasonal fresh food. Another favourite is Donna Hay for her fast fresh cooking also.


Yes!! Donna Hay… When I lived in Australia, those fabulous books were my go-to.. thank you for the happy reminder, Jo. :)

Ellen Shook

Cooking has always been Nirvana for me. My mother was the same way, which is why I wrote a book about her. I am not sleeping so well either, and I try to avoid TV especially when our Dear Leader is preempting actual news. Comfort foods are helpful right now, and reading, escapist Amazon Prime and Netflix, as well as prljects — lots of creative projects. Today I sat outside all afternoon with my sketchpad. I am pretty sure my blood pressure dropped some. Stay safe.


Thankfully there is an endless stream of diversion on Netflix and Prime… I’m only watching the upbeat and my favourite French detectives at the moment :)


Good morning Vicki!

Balance….it’s a tougher act to accomplish than one thinks, isn’t it! I’m trying to balance out my fears about how I’m going to teach digitally with the reality that everyone around me is in the same situation: feeling awkward. OHHH to find the balance between fear and courage, between audacity and measured professionalism…the learning goes on.

Dee Poquette

Yes, I too have been using my Silver Palate cookbook. Totally forgot about it until a mt ago. My problem is not having all the ingredients on hand and worried to use what I have. Frustration. I feel i am getting a taste of what it was like to live through the Great Depression. Not quiet as bad I know but give you food for thought. Stay safe.

Michelle à Détroit

Jacques Pépin’s Table has always been my favorite cookbook, particularly for the wonderful, easy
to prepare vegetable recipes. His Red Swiss Shard with Ginger and Shallots and his Potato Spinach Gallettes have always been big hits. I still use the original 1991 edition. At that time, French chefs were beginning to use lighter ingredients


I’ve just remembered a book I bought on the recommendation of others and decided to revisit. The Yoga Kitchen by Kimberly Parsons. I think she may have been brought up in Australia and you may have already heard of her. Vegetarian recipes with lovely illustrations. From simple cookies to a cinnamon yoghurt bark with strawberries, the bark being Greek yoghurt placed in the freezer. Delicious. She also has a recipe for matcha, coconut and lime balls which we have tried before our yoga class for a little burst of energy! They all come under headings for calm, vitalise, pure, flow, ground, strengthen, nurture to energise the body, balance the mind and make us feel happier.
Worth a look Vicki.


Aaaah, messing around in the kitchen. The most relaxing activity I know. My husband has never minded being my guinea pig on new recipes. Anything by Susan Hermann-Loomis (especially her French Farmhouse Cookbook) is inspiring and also Patricia Wells. Ms. Wells’ Tarte Citron from the Bistro Cooking book is exactly as my first-time-in-Paris tasted! The New York Times recipes are also fun to try. We’ve had several Moroccan-style chicken dinners lately. It was also flattering to find out that Royal Chef Darren McGrady says Prince Charles loves his roasted lamb with mushroom risotto meal. I cooked homemade lamb meatballs and mushroom risotto a couple of weeks ago in my Seattle kitchen for our Sunday dinner! Haven’t left the house for over two weeks now and no one is going hungry (although my already overwashed hands are suffering a little more with the extra pot washing!). Onward!


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