How this happened.

photo by coral von zumwait for O Magazine
I first heard of Michael Pollan before The Botany of Desire came out in 2002.  Someone at Chez Panisse had an advance copy of it and it got passed around from cook to cook, and eventually to me.  I devoured it, and started avidly following his career.  Next came Power Steer, the story that changed the meat-purchasing policies at the restaurant and far beyond, and of course The Omnivore's Dilemma.

This guy was saying things I could get behind.  I, along with pretty much everyone else in my corner of the food world, was thrilled to finally have someone on the national stage speaking so eloquently about the things I spent my days and nights pondering.  For the first time since Wendell Berry, we had a calm, studied representative out there drawing people's awareness to the issues we'd devoted our lives to.

For several years after graduating college, every spring I considered applying--or applied--to graduate school.  I'd always assumed I'd be an academic, and nearly enrolled in graduate school twice.  I wasn't really picky about what I wanted to study.  It was more about just returning to school so I could put off having to face real life.  At various points in time I considered an MFA in poetry, a PhD in English, an MSc in Biodiversity and an MA in journalism.  Like I said, I wasn't picky.

Eventually, I reached a point where I realized it might not happen for me, mostly for financial reasons.  So I asked Michael if I could simply audit his class called Following the Food Chain at the Graduate School of Journalism at Cal.

He said no.

Practical professor that he is, he said I was the lowest priority person on his list, after all of the paying GSJ students who wanted to take the tiny seminar, all of the grad students in other programs at UC Berkeley, and the undergraduates.  Community members like me were basically at the bottom of the barrel.  But as a consolation prize, I could come to the first day of the class.  In the unlikely event that a bunch of enrolled students dropped out of the class and no one else showed up to fill the spots, I could then audit.

No dice.  Over 200 people showed up, all thinking the same thing as me.  Michael tried to manage the chaos by asking us all to write on an index card why we wanted to take the class.  I have no idea what I wrote on there, but I filled it out, stayed for the class, and left knowing there was no hope for me to get in.

A couple of days later, I recounted the whole story to my friend Sarah, then a grad student in Architectural History at Cal.  It was obvious how bummed out I was.  She looked at me, totally confused, and asked, "What the heck is wrong with you, Samin?  Don't know know anything about academics?  You have to show him how badly you want this and point out to him all of the ways in which he would be a fool to NOT let you in.  This class is about your LIFE'S WORK!  Write him a letter and tell him everything you'd bring to the class precisely because you're NOT a grad student, but a COOK deeply involved in everything he's teaching about."

Figuring I had nothing to lose, I did exactly that.  And it worked.  He shrugged and said, "Okay, you're in."

Taking that class was one of the two or three best things I have ever done for myself.  It was tiny--I think there were twelve of us in there--and I forged relationships with many of the writers and journalists who comprise my tightly-knit group of literary friends here in the Bay Area through that class.  Most of my officemates, beach buddies, dear friends, and colleagues in this writerly part of my life came to me as a result of that class.  And then, there's also Michael.

Michael, who allowed me to browbeat him into letting me into that class, into forcing us to take a field trip to Cannard Farm, into turning my turn to make the weekly snack into a three course meal, has been a teacher, guide, mentor, willing guinea pig, and friend to me for the last seven years.

When in 2009 Michael came to me and said "I'm going to write a book that looks at cooking from all angles, and I'll need a guide.  Would you like to be it?"  I was ready with a big, fat YES.

We started cooking together on Sundays, sometimes shopping together at the farmer's market on Saturdays, sometimes using leftovers or vegetables from the garden or mushrooms he'd foraged, and always naturally drawing the rest of the family into the kitchen.  Each of us quickly found his or her place in the order of things--Michael as the eager student, me as the mess-making teacher, Judith as the keeper of order, and Isaac as the quality-control-know-it-all.  After a long afternoon of cooking together, we'd sit down to a lovingly prepared meal.  One of my favorite dishes from the whole experience was something we cooked that first time with porcini mushrooms Michael had found in Bolinas the day before--we simmered the trimmings in chicken stock and made a really tasty soup that we ladled over spinach, and then floated duck fat croutons piled with sautéed porcini on top.

We quickly realized cooking for half a day yielded way too much food for just the four of us, and soon Sundays became an excuse for dinner parties with people who, more times than not, ended up joining us and lending a hand in the kitchen.

I did my best to build our lessons around concrete themes, from browning to layering flavors, to specific chemical reactions, to various cuisines of the world, to seasonal ingredients available to us for fleeting moments throughout the year.  We cooked paella in the fire pit, roasted whole pork shoulders (and a couple whole hogs!), we cooked grains and meats and all manner of vegetables and fruits, we made mistakes and fixed them, and we had lots and lots of fun.  We cooked everything we could dream up and shared it all with wonderful people.  I couldn't have imagined a better job.

Michael quickly picked up on my obsession with Salt, Fat, Acid, and Heat and I told him of the book I'd dreamt of writing at the ripe old age of twenty.  He encouraged me to write a four-part curriculum for cooking classes and start teaching.  So I did, and eventually, he encouraged me to turn it into a book proposal.  So I did.  And now I get to share what I shared with Michael with the whole rest of the world.

When Michael wanted to learn about bread, I took him to meet Chad Robertson.  When we went in to observe the bakers at Tartine, I was so inspired by them I asked if we could collaborate sometime and Tartine Afterhours was born.  This experience has given me so much.  It's insane.  Some might even call it MAGIC.

I can't even begin to explain how wonderfully surreal it is to be captured in print by my mentor, teacher, and friend, who also happens to be a bestselling author and international authority on the subject to which I have devoted my life.  But what I can do is share with you one of my favorite bits of the WATER chapter, where I am the main character, teaching him about cooking in pots.  If you have ever met me--and even if you haven't--it'll be immediately apparent that Michael managed to get the exact right balance of my intensity, silliness, mischievousness and enthusiasm down on the page:
As usual, Samin had a white apron tied around her waist, and the thicket of her black hair raked partway back.  Samin is tall and sturdily built, with strong features, slashing black eyebrows and warm olivey-brown skin.  If you had to pick one word to describe her, "avid" would have to be it; Samin is on excellent terms with the exclamation point.  Words tumble from her mouth; laughter, too; and her deep, expressive brown eyes are always up to something.

As honored and excited as I am to be one of the main characters of this book, my favorite parts--the ones that make me cry--have nothing to do with me.  The introduction (which you can read or listen to here) and the conclusion include some of the most articulate, timely, and sensitive arguments for cooking and eating together that I have ever read.  Just as when I first discovered Michael's writing, I feel an ineffable joy at the fact that there is someone brilliant out there advocating my values, arguing for all of the things in which I so deeply believe.  The only difference is that now, that someone is practically family.  

Today is the publishing date for Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation Michael's seventh book.

You can buy it from any of these fine retailers, or, better yet, your local bookstore.  Read it and let me know what you think!
Barnes & Noble
Books Inc.

Here's MP on the Colbert Report last night.  Hilarious.
Here's a great interview with him and Adam Platt in New York Magazine.
Here's another great interview about how Wendell Berry has inspired his work.
Here's a super informative Cooking FAQ and list of resources on Michael's website.
And here's a list of his book events across the country and beyond.

In case you are interested, I put together a list of cooking resources and will continue to add to it as time goes on.  And I also updated my store (full disclosure, if you buy anything after clicking on an link I post, I make a small commission on that purchase) with all sorts of basic, useful, and luxury kitchen items and books.  

Home Ec: Thanksgiving Basics--Fried Sage Salsa Verde

The Thanksgiving table is always shy of acid and herbs, if you ask me, so salsa verde is a great way to reintroduce a bit of that into the meal.  Delicious on roast vegetables and turkey alike, this version works in that crucial fall flavor: sage.

photo souce: sarah at

the delicious life

Fried Sage Salsa Verde

Serves 8 

2 bunches sage, leaves picked

1 bunch parsley, leaves picked and chopped finely

1 shallot, diced finely


Peanut or grapeseed oil for frying

Red wine vinegar

Extra virgin olive oil

First, macerate the shallot.  Cover with red wine vinegar and set aside.

Next, fry the sage.  In a deep saucepot, bring 2 cups of frying oil to 360°F.  Drop in a scant handful of the sage and fry for about 20 seconds, or until the bubbles slow down.  Remove from the oil and drain on a pan lined with paper towels.  Repeat with remaining sage leaves.

When the sage has cooled, it will be crisp.  You can either chop it with a knife or crumble it with your fingers.  In a large bowl, combine the parsley and sage and cover with olive oil.  Season with salt. 

When you are ready to serve the salsa, combine the shallots, but not the vinegar, with the herbs.  Taste the salsa and adjust for salt, and if needed, add some of the leftover vinegar to taste. 

Home Ec: Thanksgiving Basics--Working ahead

Planning and prepping ahead--and thinking like a professional cook--is the key to getting the entire Thanksgiving meal on the table at the same time without committing either seppuku or homicide.

photo source: the amazing andrea gentl of

hungry ghost food + travel

The trick is to spread out tasks that take lots of time, lots of oven space, lots of stove space, or make big messes so that you aren't out of space at the last minute.  So choosing dishes that reheat well, or that taste good served at room temperature, is crucial to making Thursday go smoothly.  

Here are a few ways you can work ahead for next week:

Before Tuesday:

  • Make pie dough and freeze
  • If using a frozen turkey, defrost so you can season or brine it on Tuesday
  • Make turkey or chicken stock and freeze for gravy


  • Season or brine turkey
  • Buy bread to use for stuffing, or make cornbread for stuffing


  • Make cranberry sauce
  • Wash herbs, greens and lettuces
  • Roast pumpkin for pie if using fresh squash
  • Measure out ingredients for pecan pie filling, pumpkin pie filling, etc.
  • Tear croutons for stuffing and dry out in oven
  • Clean green beans
  • Make soup, if planning to serve
  • Peel potatoes and keep whole in water
  • Peel onions and carrots that you might use in any dishes, such as creamed corn, creamed spinach, stuffing, etc.
  • Make any caramel sauces or things like that that you might need to garnish desserts
  • If you're insane enough to want to make homemade ice cream, get it in the freezer by tonight.
  • If you are using fresh chestnuts, get them boiled and peeled.


Early morning

  • Pull turkey out of fridge to come up to room temp
  • Blind bake pie doughs
  • Brown sausage or bacon for stuffing
  • Prep vegetables--trim and halve Brussels sprouts, peel squash, peel any root vegetables, clean and trim cauliflower or broccoli, etc.
  • Roast vegetables that might need roasting--these do well at room temperature!
  • Cook off onions or any mirepoix
  • Make creamed spinach--this reheats well.
  • Do anything like seeding pomegranates, peeling persimmons, toasting nuts, or making vinaigrette that might be necessary for the salad

Heading into the afternoon and dinner time

  • Roast the turkey
  • Make the gravy with turkey drippings
  • Bake off pies
  • Make mashed potatoes and keep warm in double boiler
  • Assemble and bake stuffing/dressing

Right before dinner

  • Reheat dishes that need to be reheated, like soups, creamed spinach, or gravy
  • Toss the salad greens
  • Carve the turkey

Before dessert

  • Whip cream
  • Portion pies

Home Ec: Thanksgiving Basics--Roasted Vegetables in Agrodolce

Though this recipe is for brussels sprouts and butternut squash, it'll work with any dense root or vegetable, such as sweet potatoes, parsnips, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, onions or even green beans!

photo source

Roasted Butternut Squash and Brussels Sprouts in Agrodolce

Serves 8-10

1 pound Brussels sprouts, outer leaves removed

1 large butternut squash, cut into 1-inch slices, skin on , seeds discarded

¼ cup red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

½ medium red onion, sliced thinly

½ teaspoon red chili flakes

1 clove garlic, pounded

¼ cup fresh mint leaves


Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Preheat oven to 400°F. 

Season the squash lightly with salt, drizzle with olive oil and place in a single layer on 1 or 2 cookie sheets. 

Halve the Brussels sprouts and season lightly with salt.  Drizzle with olive oil and place in a single layer on 1 or 2 cookie sheets, cut side down. 

Place vegetables into the preheated oven and cook 20-24 minutes, until tender and caramelized. 

Meanwhile, stir together another ½ cup extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, sugar, onion, chili flakes, and garlic and season with salt. 

Check on the vegetables to make sure that they are browning evenly, rotating pans to control the heat.  When you are satisfied that they are cooked, remove from the oven and mix in a big bowl.  Pour marinade over and allow to sit for 20 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

Garnish with torn mint leaves before serving.  

Home Ec: Thanksgiving Basics--Cranberry Sauce Two Ways

Cranberry sauce, with its color and its acid, is one of the most important dishes on the Thanksgiving table. It's also pretty much the simplest dish to make.

Here are two versions--one basic, and one a bit more complicated. Both are perfect on that leftover turkey sandwich.

photo source: 

cranberry squircle

, by 


Super Simple Cranberry-Orange Sauce

Serves 12

12 ounces (1 bag) fresh cranberries

1 cup water

6 tablespoons sugar

3 bay leaves

1 orange, juiced and zested finely

Pinch of salt

In a medium, non-reactive saucepan, combine all ingredients, bring to a boil, lower to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Stir and taste as it cooks, adding water, sugar and salt as needed. 

Once it cools, it will set up a lot.  Add water or fresh orange juice, if desired, to thin it out.  Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold.

Cranberry Sauce with Quince and Bay 

Serves 12

5 quinces (2 to 2 1/4 pounds), peeled, cored, cut into 1-inch chunks

3 cups water

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel

3 bay leaves

8 ounces cranberries

3 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice


Bring first 5 ingredients to a boil in heavy large saucepan over medium–high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium–low. Cover and simmer until quinces are soft, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Pour mixture into large strainer set over bowl; reserve juices.

Return quince mixture to same saucepan; mash with the back of a wooden spoon. Add cranberries; cook over medium heat until most of berries burst, stirring frequently, about 8 minutes. Season with salt and lemon juice to taste. Transfer sauce to bowl. Before serving, stir enough reserved juices into sauce to thin to desired consistency. Serve sauce cold or at room temperature.

Resource Guide for Home Ec: Understanding Salt

image source

A list of resources and links I find really informative:

Articles & Blogs
That's So Salty!  It's Not Salty Enough! by Jill Santopietro on
In Salts, a Pinch of Bali or a Dash of Spain by Harold McGee in the New York Times
Salt of the Earth about Judy Rodgers by Russ Parsons in the LA Times
An Introduction to Gourmet Salt by Mark Bitterman (pdf version here)

Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky
Salted by Mark Bitterman
The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers
On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee

San Francisco
Little Vine
Bi-Rite Market
Boulette's Larder
Rainbow Grocery

East Bay
The Country Cheese Shop
The Pasta Shop
Berkeley Bowl
Monterey Market
The Spanish Table

Purchase Online
The Meadow: the Mecca of Salt, a shop in Portland, Oregon
SaltWorks: pretty much sells every kind of salt, ever
Celtic Sea Salt, aka sel gris: buy the big bag and use it for everything
Bulk Maldon Salt

and finally:

Home Ec: A Four-Part Series of Cooking Fundamentals at Soul Food Farm


I’m thrilled to introduce a series of classes on what I consider to be the four most important elements of cooking. 

I learned how to cook by watching the cooks in the Chez Panisse kitchen, by carefully tasting and training my palate, and eventually by apprenticing and working in that kitchen. That experience blew my mind open, and after several months in the kitchen I started to recognize patterns and rules common to every dish, no matter what the ingredients or particular methods of preparation. 

I eventually came to realize that with a careful understanding of how to apply four basic elements, I could make anything taste delicious. Over the past eleven years, everything I’ve continued to learn in the kitchen has essentially been a refinement of my understanding of the application of salt, acid, fat and heat. 

As a teacher of both professional and home cooks, it’s my ultimate goal to give people the tools to become intuitive cooks and free them from the reigns of cookbooks, recipes, and measuring implements by helping them refine their palates, sensitivity in the kitchen, and understanding of basic kitchen science. The most important lessons I share with my students are those that impart a fundamental understanding of universal tenets. 

I’d like to invite you into the beautiful Soul Food Farm kitchen with me for this unique, empowering series of classes. You’re welcome to take as many or few as you like, but the series is designed as an immersion and elements of each class will interplay with the other three to help give students a comprehensive understanding of cooking. In each class, I will describe and demonstrate for each element its roles and functions, basic science, and effects on taste in a dish. We’ll taste and discuss thoughtfully in an effort to give our palates a bit of contextual understanding. And of course, because I believe so strongly in the power of experience (and muscle memory) you’ll get a chance to put your new skills to use as we all cook a lovely lunch together with the concepts of the day in mind. 

lovely photos courtesy of Bart Nagel
In the afternoon, we’ll retire to a table set in the shade of the farm, eat our lunch, drink some wine, and I’ll answer any further questions that may have arisen while we cooked. You’ll leave empowered and inspired to return to the kitchen, ready to practice your skills, refine your knowledge, and looking at food with a whole new perspective.

Class size will be limited to 15 people in order to ensure that all students have a hands-on experience.  To reserve a spot, please use the following links:

Home Ec: How to Pull Fresh Mozzarella

Have you been wondering what that hand-pulled mozzarella on every restaurant menu is all about? Have you noticed that it's impossibly tender, better than even the most expensive imported Italian mozzarella?

Come spend an afternoon with chef Samin Nosrat for a delicious and demystifying hands-on cheese-pulling class. Put your mozzarella-making skills to the test!

Samin will talk and walk you through the intricacies of pulling the perfect ball of fresh mozzarella, and then it'll be your turn! Everyone will then get to pull several balls of mozzarella (it takes a while to get a hang of it!) under her guidance. You'll even get to try your hand at making a creamy burrata mozzarella!

After we gather around the table to enjoy some of the mozzarella we pull together, each student will take home his/her mozzarella, as well as a recipe book with ideas for cooking with your fresh mozzarella, step-by-step instructions for pulling mozzarella, and a list of trusted cheese purveyors and resources.

You'll leave empowered and informed, knowing how to make delicate, tender fresh mozzarella for the perfect salad, pizza or antipasto plate.

How to Pull Mozzarella with Samin Nosrat

Saturday, March 12

4629 Martin Luther King Junior Way
(At the corner of 47th and MLK)
Oakland, CA 94609

To enroll visit the event page at Brown Paper Tickets

There are a limited number of scholarship spots available to students willing to commit to set up and clean up.  Please email Samin directly at for more information.

20 students max.
Each student will pull and take home several balls of his/her own fresh mozzarella and a recipe guide.

A professional cook and freelance writer, Samin Nosrat looks to tradition, culture and history for inspiration. Trained in the Chez Panisse kitchen, she cooked there for several years before moving to Italy, where she worked closely with the Tuscan butcher Dario Cecchini and chef Benedetta Vitali for nearly two years. She spent five years as the sous chef and "farmwife" at Eccolo restaurant, butchering, brining, and preserving nearly everything in an effort to make the restaurant as self-sustaining as possible. Featured in the New York Times Moment blog as a mozzarella expert, her own writing has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Meatpaper, and Edible San Francisco, as well as on her blog, Ciao Samin.