Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Real Food Rehab Holiday Gift Guide: Melissa Graham

One of my greatest annoyances is the idea that beautiful food is an exclusive experience. That it's some secret club where only an elite few are allowed in. The reason I've been Melissa Graham's long-time secret admirer is because she makes beautiful food inclusive, without ever dumbing anything down. She writes about food and feeding her family with spare, elegant prose and absolutely no pretense and I can't say enough about the simple but sophisticated recipes on her site, Little Locavores. They use few ingredients, easy technique and are deliciously accessible to everyone.

WHO Melissa Graham, a former attorney, is the chef and owner of Monogramme Events & Catering, a boutique catering company that specializes in seasonal and sustainable cuisine. She is also the president and founder of Purple Asparagus, a non-profit dedicated to bringing families back to the table by promoting and enjoying all the things associated with good eating. When she’s not in the kitchen or the classroom, you can often find Melissa shopping at the Green City Market where she serves as the membership chair. She is a contributing editor of The Local and authors Little Locavores.

THE GIFT My holiday pick and go-to hostess gift is Molly O'Neill's wonderful book A Well-Seasoned Appetite: Recipes for Eating with The Seasons, The Senses, and The Soul. I think that every cook should have two copies of this book, one for the kitchen and another for the night stand. Her writing style is lyrical, recipes inventive, yet usually simple. I've had this book for 15 years and there isn't a month that goes by that I don't pick it up for inspiration. She introduced me to so many new ingredients as a burgeoning cook: fiddlehead ferns, morel mushrooms and sour cherries. Skimming through my copy, I find numerous marks and stains, a sure sign of a beloved book. There are recipes for company and weekday dinners. Some of my favorites include: Soft-Shell Crabs with Black Bean Sauce, Arabic Eggplant and Pumpkin Succotash. The book is organized by season and then by ingredient, each section introduced by a lovely vignette of life and love. Sprinkled with a bit of botany and peppery humor, this book is sure to become a favorite of any cook. Buy it now as it's out of print and almost completely sold out on Amazon.

WHERE DO YOU LIVE? Roscoe Village, Chicago, IL.

WHAT INSPIRES YOU? It may sound trite, but I'm inspired by the farmers' market, especially Green City Market, even in the dark days of winter. This is one of the reasons that I love Molly O'Neill's book. When I was learning to cook with the seasons, her book provided wonderful recipes for the market's bounty both in cold and hot weather. I'm also inspired by my son and his fanciful suggestions for recipes, some of which we try, including our new family recipe favorite French Fry Stuffing.

GO-TO DISH WHEN COOKING FOR YOURSELF? My favorite thing to cook for myself when my husband and son are out is pasta with a bit of garlic or onion and whatever fresh, seasonal vegetables I find in my fridge.

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