Discover joy of cooking, Jordan's California-style

January 18, 1998
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@

Michele Anna Jordan's ninth cookbook, "California Home Cooking," has just been published (Harvard Common Press, 1997, $16.95) and it's packed with nearly 500 pages of useful information about cooking, history and culture.

Jordan, who was born and raised in Vallejo, is something of an as-yet-undiscovered personality. Think of the Spice Girls meeting Julia Child and you get the idea. Her witty personality comes through in her books, her free-lance writing, and her weekly radio show (heard on KRCB, 91.1 FM in Sonoma County). Her previous books include "A Cook's Tour of Sonoma," "Mustard," "Polenta," and "Baked and Filled Pastas."

She lives in Sebastopol and San Francisco and says she would love to move to Manhattan or the South of France, but she can't. The joy of living, cooking and writing in California is too great.

She also married young and for many years had two children to support, so she's earned a living as a cook and caterer. For a while, she also taught English but that was not a pleasant experience.

"I was too shy," she said on a recent visit to Davis. What she really wanted to do was write for a living. "Literature was my first love," she said. "So from 1986 to 1994 I both cooked and wrote. But I chose writing over cooking as a profession. I knew if I cooked for a living I would never write."

Jordan also is able to do quite a bit of traveling and has been able to take extended trips to Europe and India.

"I travel on a budget, mostly out of money from book advances, to do research." She currently is researching her 10th book, "Salt and Pepper."

"I love to tell stories and I love science," she said. "I really focus on the subject and go in depth, particularly with something like salt, which is so connected to human history. I ask a lot of questions and get close to the source."

She says anyone who lives in California can be a good cook if they follow two simple rules: keep a well-stocked pantry for basics, and buy local produce, preferably from a farmers' market.

"If you buy it outside, it's probably in season," she says. "I want people to go to their local farmers' market and stop being intimidated by the idea of cooking good food. Most people think it's much harder than it really is. If you live in California you have an incredible variety of things to choose from and it's as easy to prepare as stopping for take-out. Or almost as easy. I've never relocated for that reason." For instance, Jordan offers this menu for a fast, healthy, seasonal dinner:

Asparagus and strawberry seasons are coming up. So roast some fresh asparagus in the oven at 500 degrees - as hot as your oven can get. Brush the asparagus with olive oil and roast for seven to 12 minutes, depending on the thickness of the spears. Shake on sea salt or kosher salt before serving. Serve with chicken breasts poached in the oven. Make a strawberry salsa to serve over the chicken.

"It's really easy and really elegant," says Jordan. She adds that the strawberry salsa is different and delicious and the good cook thereby avoids using tomatoes out of season. "I am adamant about not using tomatoes out of season," she says.

The recipes for this menu are found in "California Home Cooking."

While Jordan says the late M.F.K. Fisher was a friend who influenced her cooking and writing, she says her real heroes are the farmers, producers and importers who make good cooking possible. People like Charlie Rick of UC Davis who has made sure Californians have delicious tomatoes.

"I like things that make me feel passionate," Jordan says. That includes cheeses, olive oils, wine, lamb and oysters.

What doesn't she like?

"Oatmeal. And whipped cream. I don't have much of a sweet tooth."

Jordan can be reached via e-mail at

Portrait of Michele Anna Jordan Michele Anna Jordan is the author of "California Home Cooking," published by Harvard Common Press, 1997, $16.95, 500pp.

She has a witty personality, which comes through in her books, her free-lance writing, and her weekly radio show (heard on KRCB, 91.1 FM in Sonoma County). Read Elisabeth Sherwin's interview with Ms Jordan in "Discover joy of cooking, Jordan's California-style," the January 18, 1998 PRINTED MATTER column.

Photos and captions by courtesy.

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