[All photos by Sasha]
Many of you know Sasha from her beautiful blog, but I am lucky enough to know her in real life. When I lived in Ithaca, we became very close. I was really drawn to Sasha’s creativity, intelligence, beauty, honesty, kindness, humor (she’s so sarcastic, though you might not know it on her blog!), and, of course, killer thrifting skills.
Fortunately, my move to Montreal hasn’t compromised our friendship at all; we both love writing and talking, so it has been easy for us to stay close. Last summer, I wrote a story for Acquired Taste about Sasha’s gorgeous home and her magical summer parties, but so much has changed since then. So I asked Sasha if I could interview her — again — and happily she said yes.
Natasha: It seems like your cooking style has changed quite drastically in the last six or seven months.
Sasha: I’ve been in a really healthy + macrobiotic-leaning phase lately. I think I was heading there anyway, but then a big change in my life (the ending of a long-term relationship, going from cooking for two people to cooking just for me), kind of gave it a bigger push. I think I needed food to really be something very specific, really grounding and healing. I think it’s starting to shift again, like this morning I woke up and put on a big pot of chicken soup to cook, which I haven’t done in a while.
In a certain way, I think I get really, really into things for one reason or another, like a certain spice or way of cooking, and do it to the exclusion of everything else, until I feel I’ve absorbed it well enough, or as much as I want to. Like I will only eat a certain way for a while, or use a certain herb in everything (like chamomile) until I feel like I have a grasp on what it’s about. Then I can branch out again with some new understanding of something.
I started eating in this way that felt more delicate to me, because I felt that way to myself. And for the most part, it’s kind of stuck. Before, I ate more 70s and 80s-style vegetarian, mixed with middle eastern spices, peppered in with a little Weston A. Price / Nourishing Traditions ethos. (Like, organ meats and whole food everything). Now it’s way more macrobiotic leaning. Simpler. I’m into steaming things, and eating roots, especially burdock, very grounding.
Natasha: How does your approach to cooking change from season to season?
Sasha: I used to be way more intense about trying to eat with the seasons. I’ve gotten more lax, but have perpetual non-seasonal eating guilt. I try not to buy things that have been shipped from California to New York, but sometimes I break down, and, like, buy an orange, and then proceed to eat it with guilt.
Natasha: Could you describe a typical day of eating?
Sasha: I get up really early, feed the dogs, and have coffee with hot raw milk. I look forward to my coffee the night before, it’s totally ritualistic and thrilling. I always eat breakfast before I go to work, or make it and bring it in a container. It’s always oatmeal, steel cut oats, but I vary what else goes in the pot depending on the day. I like chamomile in there. Also tahini. But not together, at least I haven’t put them together yet.
I make a cup of oatmeal at a time and keep the leftovers either sitting out or in the fridge. Basically I’ll have hot oatmeal one day and then eat it cold the rest of the days until it’s gone. Sometimes it’s gone really fast and others it lasts longer depending how good my combo was! : )))
For lunch, I usually grab random things. The pace at work is pretty fast so I’m eating something like a banana (guilt-ridden) or dried fruit + nuts in the dishroom before running out to the floor again. And then I’ll eat some eggs at the end of the shift and then something when I get home. Dinner I am pretty much always eating solo, so I make whatever I feel like, usually something with vegetables and a grain and something with protein.
I often make a good amount of rice so I have some leftover, and I always have hard boiled eggs in the fridge. I don’t really eat white sugar. I feel like it’s totally a drug for me, has to be all or nothing. I totally eat an absurd amount of honey, and other sweeteners like maple syrup and brown rice syrup, but I can’t take real sweets, I’m so not used to that taste. Like a lot of people, I don’t have health or dental insurance, so not eating sugar is my homegrown closest-I-can-get-to-health-insurance policy. Although, I’ve been eating so much dried fruit these days, which I never really did before, and I think it’s affecting my teeth! I think I need a break even from that.
For “dessert” I always want apple sauce, which I make a huge pot of and keep re-making when it’s gone, with tons of dried fruit, kind of like fruit compote more than apple sauce. Or I’ll have yogurt with dried fruit or fruit crisp, I love making (+ eating) crisps.
I drink so much tea with milk + honey, which feels like dessert to me, especially chamomile mixed with peppermint and poppy. My friend Alexis made it for me once and I’ve made it all the time since. Makes you really chilled out.
Natasha: What’s your feeling about restaurants? Your blog is mostly about the kind of food you enjoy at home.
Sasha: I love cooking, and I work in a restaurant so I spend a lot of time in one already. And I live in a smallish town where I grew up so I kind of exercised my eating out options long ago. When I take trips I like eating out places (though am usually very ready to get back to home cooking by the end). If I do eat out I either find something similar to the way I like eating (healthy, vegetarian-leaning or good sources for meats), something regional that I totally don’t know how to make or know about the spices, or I’d want to save up and go somewhere more high-end, but not pretentious feeling. For a long time I’ve wanted to eat at Oleana in Boston, Ana Sortun’s restaurant. That’s the one place I’ve thought consciously I’d really like to go eat.
Natasha: What is your plan of attack when you buy groceries and food for yourself?
Sasha: I always have staples like grains, beans, dried fruit, and nuts. I buy from the bulk section, so I’m always bringing my empty jars to refill. I buy fresh stuff as much as possible locally, from the winter farmer’s market. Last week I bought a 50 pound bag of carrots and 15 pounds of apples and keep them in chest of drawers in my cold garage.
Natasha: What are your thoughts on cooking with others? I’m a little particular about it. There are some people I love to cook with (Adam), but then there are other scenarios where I really prefer to work alone.
Sasha: I pretty much always cook alone, I love cooking alone. Though I have made some meals recently with my little sister Anja, who is an amazing cook on her own, and that’s been really fun. We don’t have to talk. Sometimes we’ll ask the other for advice, like, “Do you think this would be good in here?”
I think cooking alongside someone that already really knows how and has their own sense of flavors can be also a great feeling, because you’ll both bring something different to the table than you would have alone. You get an interesting meal out of it, and it’s cool to see someone making something you could make yourself, but see how they do it differently, put more of this or less of that than you would have…
Natasha: Do you find that you tend to cook different kinds of meals if you’re cooking for a group, rather than just cooking for yourself?
Sasha: The first thing that I think when I think how I cook differently for myself v. others is that when I cook for myself I make stuff that goes in a bowl. Like, I just pull out my wooden bowl and start putting stuff in it, usually stuff I already have, no cooking involved. Maybe I’ll steam some kale to add to other leftover things. Cooking for other people, there’s more chance of eating on a plate. And I actually “cook” a bunch of things that go together.
Natasha: What is your attitude about cookbooks? Do you ever use recipes anymore? In what way do they function as resources or inspiration?
Sasha: I used cookbooks in a hardcore way when I first started cooking, like I totally followed recipes. That feels like a really long time ago. Now they’re the backbone of my understanding of ingredients, but I do more my own thing — a combination of that and recipes that I’ve cooked so many times I know them by heart. I go back to cookbooks periodically just to look through and remind myself of things and get new ideas.
Natasha: How have you seen your own blog grow and change? How and why did it begin?
Sasha: I think with things in general, maybe/likely it’s this way for everyone, I just feel a compulsion and ultimately if it keeps nagging at me until I follow through.
I had kind of discovered this world of blogs and something about it drew me in, it became something I was compelled to do myself. I would think about it a lot, not really know why, and then one day just signed up for one and posted. I remember it feeling really strange but also exciting, the first post on there.
And it’s cool, the first blogs I went to where I felt like, yea, I love what they’re doing, are still blogs that I go to regularly now, like Ashley’s blog and Mary’s blog.
When I really think about it, the desire to do it, it was just about getting to know myself more, organizing my thoughts and creating this world inside a world that felt like somehow it could get me closer to who I was/am. Basically just the desire to do things to get closer to oneself, I think my blog functions like that for me.
Natasha: How do you balance the different topics you like to write about — like food, fashion, film, music, art, etc?
Sasha: I don’t consciously set out to make it any particular way, though I think I try to balance, like, food posts with other sorts of things so it doesn’t feel too heavy in one area. But more like they are all one thing, they all go together. I think with things in general, I like things to feel simultaneously blurry and sharp. A lot of films I love have this feeling about them, it’s how life feels to me and I think I want my blog to reflect that fuzzy-but-crisp-ness somehow. Like you’re simultaneously really close to something and also so far away from it, you see it but you don’t.
I feel torn between the impressionistic blog and the truth-as-truth blog (ie. show-me-your-dirty-dishes). So I think I want to try to blend those two things, not be too far on either side. Probably sometimes it works and other times it doesn’t, definitely I’ve looked back at old posts and cringed, like looking at an old diary…
Natasha: We’ve all been there. Okay, some quick questions. Indispensable cooking tools?
Sasha: CAST IRON SKILLETS! Wooden spoons. Mortar + pestle.
Natasha: Dream kitchen gadgets you would like to own?
Sasha: A really nice suribachi (my mortar really is awful and I use it all the time, always grind spices by hand from whole, don’t buy pre-ground) + a grain mill/grinder, this one, but it’s so expensive!
Natasha: #1 food item you would bring to a desert island?
Sasha: South River chickpea miso! (As long as the island had drinking water).
Natasha: Haha so practical. Favorite kind of snacks?
Sasha: I keep a jar of miso at work and eat that like a snack — just add hot water and drink. Bananas…
Natasha: What is a typical dinner?
Sasha: Leftover grain (usually barley or brown rice— I like to mix sweet brown with short grain brown), some protein (either leftover cooked beans, some fish, or a hard-boiled egg, or yogurt and nuts), something green, sauerkraut, and maybe leftover tahini dressing on top.
Thank you Sasha!! See more of her wonderful blog here.