BEHIND CLOSED DOORS: CORTNEY BURNS

   

We've long admired Cortney Burns for her influential time spent at Bar Tartine in San Francisco, but our love has grown even deeper with the launch of her newest book, Nourish Me Home. Her deep respect for the plants, the elements and the spirituality of cooking are present on every page and in every recipe. Let Cortney act as your North Star, and discover the power of a healing, nutritious and spiritual kitchen. 

What is your food philosophy?

Connect with the earth by listening to the plants, respect the land and ancestral foodways, eat seasonally, preserve the harvest, meat as the side dish, no waste, feed your soul. 

What can we expect from your new cookbook, Nourish Me Home?

Lots of vegetable based recipes with seasonal variations, a section dedicated to pickles and preserves, one with meats to round out a meal, another full of tonics and tinctures, some stories and little bit of spirituality.

What is the first meal that you remember?  

My mother’s pot roast. She used to make it for on my birthday as a child. I wrote this about it in my new book Nourish Me Home.

I believe food that evokes nostalgia can be some of the most powerful. Sure, we can elevate a dish or give it a new twist, but it’s the essence of the dish that can transport us to another time and place. This is one such dish for me. When I was growing up, my mom would make pot roast every year for my birthday. I can still see her in the kitchen gracefully peeling whole garlic cloves with perfectly manicured nails. With a paring knife, she’d pierce the flesh of the meat, creating secret pockets for the cloves to slip into, infusing the roast as it cooked with its mellow sweetness. I loved how the meat, bathing in a Cream of Onion soup mix, nearly melted in my mouth, but perhaps the real treat was the leftover sandwiches, we would layer soft white bread, the kind that sticks behind your teeth, with lots of margarine; smashed, broth-infused carrots; and slices of warm beef. Now, I prefer my vegetables more on the al dente side, so I add them about an hour before the beef is done, which also preserves their flavor and nutrition. Spices and Kombu Dashi bolster the savoriness of my version, but the rusticity and soul are still the same.

What’s always in your fridge? 

Unsweetened macadamia nut milk, a slew of fermented and pickled ingredients, miso pastes, salami, cheese, lots of green things to cook, bitter greens sparkling water, coconut butter and grapes for the kids. 

What’s always in your pantry?

A collection of vinegars and oils, spice mixes, seeded crackers, nut butters, a large tea collection, fermented honey and random experiments.

How do you start your day? 

These days it starts with a snuggle party.  Both boys come running in around 7 and jump in our bed.  From there we light sage and wave it over a cup of water; this water is a symbol of our fluidity in the world. While sipping it, we share our gratitude list for the day and ask the spirits to protect us and those we love as we move through the world as gracefully as possible. We ingest the daily blessing, setting our energetic intentions for the day. It’s how we ground ourselves to each other, the natural world, the people in our lives and all living beings everywhere.

Next it’s cat feeding & tea time, I start with Rare Tea Lady’s Earl Grey, then I drink her loose Chai, and next it’s Matcha from Breakaway. On the weekends we do family coloring, on weekdays it’s a whirlwind getting the kids ready and off to school. Once that frenzy ends I take time for yoga and quiet before I get into my day. Some days I wake early and head out the forest for a run, home before the family wakes just in time to slip back into bed for a cuddle puddle. I don’t eat in the morning, I usually fast until late afternoon; it keeps my mind awake and alert but I do intuitively ingest different tinctures such as Ashwagandha, oil of pine, tulsi, rose or whatever else seems to call to me that day.  

Go-to meal that you make for yourself more often than not?

Soft scrambled eggs with avocado, kimchi and spiced seed mix.

In your book you talk about the importance of honoring the four elements in your cooking, how do they inform your cooking practice?

They ground me to what I know is real; thus I have a sense of place to create from.

You have an interest in herbalism as well, how does this inspire your cooking?

For millennia, humans have been using herbs for flavor and wellness. In this spirit, I reach for herbs by the bushel. My salads at home are often one part herbs to one part whatever else. I take a bowl to the garden and snip away. Spindly dill or slender spears of tarragon, for example, add unique flavors and textures. They bring a whole new sense of vivacity when used with gusto. A tangle of fresh herbs offers a grassy promise and acts as a flavorful digestive or curative, while a bit of heat subdues their singularity and turns everything into an entirely new type of savoriness. 

Favorite kitchen tool?

I would be lost without my nylon bench scraper. I use it to scoop up everything from my cutting board.  It makes transferring diced onions to the pot a breeze and can be used for shaping bread too.  

What do you turn to, to make you feel your best?

Getting out into nature makes me feel whole.  I love to run, hike, bike, walk, stare at the clouds…whatever the cadence may be I feel most at home among the trees, mountains, streams and sky.

What are some of your favorite cookbooks?

I don’t often pick favorites as I find it such a challenge. I’m always shifting my current culinary curiosity so my book selections change as well. But the books I come back to time and time again are: The Zuni cookbook; Judy Rodgers, Sunday suppers at Lucques; Susanne Goin, The Art of Fermentation; Sandor Katz, The Taste of Country Cooking; Edna Lewis, Ma Gastronomie; Ferdand Point, Nourishing Traditions; Sally Fallon, The Drunken Botanist; Amy Stewart, Fire and Ice; Joyce Goldstein and so many more. 

You have mastered the art of fermentation. How did you get into fermenting foods and what tips can you share with us? 

I would never claim to have mastered fermentation. It is a living art and I aim to show up everyday ready to be it's student. I learn something new every time I don my apron, and this is why cooking has kept me attention so long. As far as being passionate about fermented foods; I was unwell, my atrophic healer suggested i begin making water kefir and sauerkraut and incorporate them into my daily eating habits. Slowly I began to heal, and through this process I also came to understand more about flavor density, layering and the power of sour.

What are your favorite flavors?

I like strong flavors, or maybe it’s layered complex flavors I adore, either way I love acid, balanced with fat of course, I love food with lots of spices, Indian food, North African Cuisine, Laotain cuisine, foods of Japan, funk: cured, pickled, preserved, salted…I just love flavor.

Who is inspiring you in the food world right now?

Jack and Shannon Algiere inspire me. They are the dynamic duo stewarding the land at Stone Barns Center in Tarrytown, NY. They are so deeply connected to place, they see magic all around and aim to educate others on how to affect change within our food system, all the while remaining students to the latent messages of plants that only reveal themselves to those who listen.

How do you end your day?

It’s really nothing special, no real rituals…it usually ends with me and my partner JP deep in conversation about this or that. It’s our time, the kids are asleep, the house quiet and we take time to connect.  

SPICED SEED MIX

Makes about 1 1/2 cups (240 g)

 

Be sure to toast the seeds and spices separately as they brown at different rates. 

I make this in big batches to always have on hand for poached eggs, rice or avocado toast. 

 

2 sheets (about ¼ oz [5 g]) nori 

1½ T dulse flakes, finely ground 

1½ tsp dried thyme leaves, finely ground 

1½ tsp dried dill leaves, finely ground 

1½ tsp dried marjoram leaves, finely ground 

1½ tsp dried mint leaves, finely ground 

1½ tsp coriander seeds, toasted and finely ground 

1 tsp fennel seeds, toasted and finely ground 

½ tsp cumin seeds, toasted and finely ground 

½ tsp caraway seeds, toasted and finely ground 

¼ cup [35 g] pumpkin seeds, toasted and chopped 

¼ cup [35 g] sunflower seeds, toasted 

¼ cup [35 g] unhulled sesame seeds, toasted 

2 T black sesame seeds, toasted 

1 T sweet paprika 

1 T sumac powder 

1½ tsp citrus powder, such as lemon, orange, or black lime 

1½ tsp onion powder 

1½ tsp green chili powder 

1 tsp kosher salt 

½ tsp garlic powder 

 

Preheat the oven to 325°F [165ºC] and set a wire rack over a baking sheet. Toast the nori for 15 to 20 minutes, until very dry and brittle. Cool completely, then crumble enough to fit into the grinder and pulse into a powder with the dulse flakes, dried thyme, dill, marjoram and mint. Combine the coriander, fennel, cumin and caraway seeds; grind to a fine powder. In a medium bowl, toss the pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds with all of the powdered spices and herbs. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

 

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