TENDING the TABLE
Sasha grew up on a farm in Oregon, and has always had a deep interest in food. With her cooking, she enjoys following the seasons and revels in the creativity, precision, tranquility and bustle required in the kitchen. Sasha is inspired by the food of the world and the simple things such as cooking from scratch.
I’m so happy to have Sasha Swerdloff of TENDING the TABLE, joining me here on the show today.
(*All photos below are Sasha’s.)
On Growing Up on a Farm in Oregon:
I grew up watching my mom garden all the time and helping her in the garden. So from that I developed this really deep love for where our food comes from and the whole process. And she also did a lot of preserving and canning. So we spent a lot of time in the kitchen together making jam and canning peaches and things like that. That was always really special for me. I always wanted to help in the kitchen too. She tells the story about how I stuck my finger in the food processor trying to– we were grating carrots or something and I was pushing the carrots down into the food processor and like shredded my finger because I was just so eager to help. So that sort of paints a picture of what I was like as a kid in the kitchen.
We also spent a lot of time walking around in the woods on our property and identifying plants and learning to forage and things like that. It was pretty magical and pretty special.
I grew up vegetarian. I didn’t have my first hamburger until I was 18 and I was abroad in Peru, before starting college. I went out to a bar one night and had a hamburger and that was my big rebellion. Actually my second semester at college I moved off campus into a house where we were able to cook all our own food because I just missed that so much. It’s always really been important to me.
On Learning How to Cook:
Just practice. I taught myself. We ate out a lot actually, too. Our property is pretty close to Portland and so we would go into Portland and eat out a fair amount. I always loved trying new things. I think that’s really shaped my learning around cooking. Just tasting new flavors and new combinations and then wanting to try that and experiment at home. That’s a big part of how I learned and it’s just through experimentation.
On Her Cooking Influences:
Mostly her (mom). My dad is a big cook also. But they’re separated so I didn’t see him that often growing up. I definitely when I did visit, he was always cooking dinner, he was always the one in the kitchen. And he, I think, taught me about proficiency in the kitchen and being efficient and knife skills and all of that. He was the person who taught me those things.
My mom and I still can together a fair amount actually, when I go to visit. So we just–over the holidays, we made a really yummy pear ginger preserve that we gave away as gifts to people. And I will help her can peaches still in the summer or freeze blackberries. She goes and picks blackberries around the property and we freeze those. We still do all those things together.
On Learning to Love Mornings:
I feel like I’m the most efficient and productive in the morning. So I think that’s part of it. I like getting up and starting the day and feeling productive. I have a yoga practice. So that’s a big part of it. I have a morning routine. I get up and I do my practice. I like starting the day that way. I think that shapes the rest of my morning so that I do my yoga and then I sit down and I have some tea, and eat a solid meal before I charge into the day. Otherwise, I just don’t like how I feel.
I think just taking the time first thing in the morning to pause and just make sure that you’re taking care of yourself, and what you need to start the day off right, is really important.
We have the same thing a lot. And it’s usually toast with some sort of veggies, usually like sauteed kale or spinach and an egg. It’s simple but I feel like it’s really good and the eggs are from our chickens. We have some chickens in here Seattle. So really good eggs and good bread and some greens. I’m happy with that.
On the Food Culture in Vermont:
There’s a really, really wonderful food culture there actually. Vermont is a big farming state, there’s a lot of dairy farms so there’s lots of really good cheese. There’s also just a lot of emphasis on local farmers and organic growing. There’s a really great community around food. So people really care about where their food comes from. There’s a lot of farmers’ markets. People know their farmers. There are farm stands everywhere. You can just drive down the road and stop and go into some little shack and pick up a bunch of veggies and eggs and meat. It’s really, really wonderful that community support around food and everyone caring about the land and their food.
There’s a lot sugaring, maple syrup sugaring in Vermont. One thing a friend in college taught us about, he’s from Vermont, was sugar on snow. So they just pour maple syrup on the snow in the winter and eat it. I always love that.
The other thing that we learned about recently was maple soda. So people will take the sap from the maple trees without even boiling it down into syrup and then you just mix it with soda water. And it’s got this really lovely flavor.
On Her Blog:
We moved to Seattle and I thought I was going to teach yoga. I’m an ayurvedic consultant also. So I tried that for a little while and realized that I really enjoyed practicing yoga more than teaching it. And I was floundering trying to figure out what my purpose was and what I wanted to do. My husband said, “Why don’t you just take some classes? Find some workshops or some classes that sound interesting and just try them.” So I took a workshop here with Ashley Rodriguez. She has a blog called, Not Without Salt. And the next day I started my blog.
It sort of just clicked for me that, “Oh, this is the perfect fit for me and all the things that I love to do. I can stay at home, I’m a little bit of a homebody, I can cook, I can photograph and tap into that creative side of myself and I can write about it.”
On Brunch at The Table:
I host benefit brunches every couple of months. Sustainability is really important to me. And I think people’s food choices are a really important way to impact the planet and the environment. And so I’ve started hosting these brunches. And I invite–it’s usually 18 people. And all the funds raised go to a nonprofit that’s doing some kind of work in sustainable agriculture or local food. We just have a nice meal. I source all the ingredients, I try to source them locally. I feel like it’s a nice way to expose people to the idea of sustainability and local food, without hitting them over the heads with it. They can enjoy a nice meal and learn a little bit about what’s going on.
It’s pretty time consuming. And I do it in my house, which is a little crazy.
Mostly because renting a space just cuts into the amount of money we can donate. So I have a table set up in our yoga room and two tables in the living room and I have to move furniture. I plan the menu which takes a fair amount of time but it’s the kind of thing where I’m just thinking about it all day long, like as I’m in the car or going grocery shopping. I end up e-mailing sponsors to try to get people to donate. So that takes a fair amount of time and then I spend a lot of time also planning the table setting and what it’s going to look like, because I want it to be beautiful. So that’s a big part of it as well.
Anybody can come, it started out with just friends and people we knew because I didn’t really have a network to tap into. But it’s grown and now I can publicize it on social media and people who are in my area will sign up. I usually partner with someone else to help out. So they often publicize also and tap into their network. So it’s really fun to meet new people. The last couple– a bunch of people have shown up at my door who I’ve never met before. It’s like, “Who are you? How did you hear about this?” It’s really fun to feel like I’m meeting new people and spreading the word about the issues that are important to me.
The Pressure Cooker:
Which food shows or cooking shows do you watch?
None. I do not watch any cooking shows.
What are some food blogs or food websites we have to know about?
Who do you follow on Pinterest, Instagram, or Facebook or Snapchat that make you happy?
My friend Jessie Snyder of Faring Well makes me happy. She is always talking about happy dances and always has cute photos with silly faces. So that make me happy.
What is the most unusual or treasured item in your kitchen?
We had handmade pitchers made for our wedding as party favors. A friend who’s a potter made all these beautiful white ceramic pitchers. One of those are on the top shelf in the kitchen.
Name one ingredient you used to dislike but now you love.
Apparently I used to hate avocados and now they’re my favorite thing in the world.
What are a few cookbooks that make your life better?
The new one that I just got that I love is Gjelina. It’s in LA, a restaurant there. And the photography in that one just blew my mind. It’s just a visual feast which I loved.
What song or album just makes you want to cook?
I don’t even listen to music when I cook.
I’m too much in my head thinking about flavors and recipes.
On Keeping Posted with Sasha:
I’m on Instagram and Pinterest and Facebook and Twitter and all those good things. But mostly Instagram. And then just following the blog, I post on there about once a week. So you can follow along there to see recipes and find out what’s going on.