I’m Ann Thariani and I really love to cook. (And eat, but they sort of go hand in hand, don’t they?)
Maybe it’s genetic. My mom was an amazing cook, and so were both my grandmothers. My grandmother Clara lived on a farm and made everything from scratch, including lots of home-canned goods. (For that matter, my kids all love to cook, so yes I’m calling it genetic.)
In college, I fell in love with a man from Pakistan. After graduation, we got married in Karachi and lived there for five amazing years.
I was again surrounded by wonderful cooks, but I had a secret: surrounded by so many good cooks, I was still pretty much a novice, so I had to learn on the job.
And in Karachi – it was trial by fire. There were almost no convenience foods. If I needed tomato sauce, I bought a kilo of tomatoes. Raw milk was delivered to my back door, and needed to be brought to the boil three times before it could be used. I learned to make fresh yogurt in a little clay bowl, that could be salted and strained in cheesecloth overnight to make a soft, meltable cheese. I learned to make fresh, home-made pasta, and Kumy still laughs about coming home to find pasta hanging everywhere to dry in our little home. No prepared baby food – I made baby food from scratch for baby Ali because I had to.
I realized that in every culture some of the best and simplest-seeming dishes must be made over and over in order to get them just right. A moment less on the fire and you’ve got raw garlic. A moment too long and you’ve got burned onions. My husband Kumy was such a good sport, and ate just about everything I cooked, but sometimes I made it pretty hard for him.
When we moved back to Nebraska, I started to feel more comfortable in the kitchen and it’s since become one of the greatest joys of my life – cooking for just the family or for a crowd.
Living in Karachi taught me that using whole ingredients might take a little longer, but the food often tastes so much fresher. And you know exactly what’s gone into each dish. But I’m not a purist – I’ll used canned tomatoes or spaghetti sauce if the recipe calls for it – and if it still tastes great. It also taught me to take chances on dishes from other cultures, and to not be afraid of unusual ingredients.
So why am I calling this blog the Little Brown Cookbook?
In 1998, I found a Peach Muffin recipe from Stephenson’s Apple Farms in Kansas City that I thought was lost forever. I never wanted to lose it again, so I bought a little brown notebook in which to keep it and all the others that were too good to lose, and titled it “Good Recipes and Random Thoughts.”
Along with the recipes, I kept notes about when and where I’d made them and often where I’d found them. I noted down birthdays, holidays and even the weather. There is a recipe for Irish Soda Bread from 1999 on which I noted “From the Internet!” because I was so proud of myself for finding a recipe online!
Over the years, I’ve filled the pages of three notebooks, and woven into the recipes is the story of our lives. The really good recipes are a mess of stains and scribbled notes – a sort of badge of honor.
I live in Omaha with my husband Kumy and my daughter Maya. Our sons, Ali and Samir live close by and visit often. Whenever they do, it’s certain that the real action is going to be in the kitchen. Nothing makes me happier than chaos in the kitchen, especially when Ali, Caitlin, Samir, Taylor, Maya and her friends (collectively “the gals”) are cooking something up. It’s always crazy and it’s always good.
Ultimately in our family – the highest praise for any dish has always been “that’s one for the book, Mom” and I wanted to share these recipes and memories with my kids and the people who have asked for them over the years. These are the recipes we’ve loved. I hope you will enjoy them, too.