Anne Zimmerman and her then fiance (and now brand new husband!) had been living in their San Francisco apartment for only a few months when I stopped by for a visit. And what a busy few months it had been: the release of Anne's book An Extravagant Hunger: The Passionate Years of M.F.K. Fisher, a marriage proposal and subsequent wedding plans, the setting up of a new home, and lots and lots of travel.
Yet Anne, like her kitchen, was calm and ordered and practical but not without humor and a touch of whimsy.
Anne's apartment is located in a Edwardian building on the base of Potrero Hill. The kitchen is large for an average San Francisco rental but Anne's little touches, such as a row of tiny ceramic animals on the windowsill and displays of spices, vinegars and chocolate, keep it simple and warm.
The most dominant and unusual object in the kitchen is a large built-in china hutch, painted white with glass doors. It's an impressive piece, anchoring the room and adding a touch of formality. It holds Anne's collection of family china and a few carefully curated vintage and Anthropologie pottery pieces. Also impressive is the classic cream colored O'Keefe and Merritt stove.
The palette is mostly tones of white and cream which helps to highlight the colorful drawing of M.F.K. Fisher by Ward Schumaker propped up on the butcher block table. The drawing is a testament to Fisher's influence over Anne's kitchen and indeed her entire life these past few years as she worked on and then published her recently released biography of Fisher's life.
"Reading M.F.K. Fisher changed my approach to cooking and eating," she said. "I became committed to making as good a meal as I could in the time I had available, be it 20 minutes or two or three hours. I liked the creative energy of cooking but when I sat down to eat, I was too wound up. So my goal became to pay attention to and enjoy my food."
10 Questions for Anne Zimmerman (and Her Kitchen)
1. What inspires your kitchen and your cooking?
I love vintage things paired with modern convenience and utility. Recently I was inspired by traveling in Europe and being with people who are passionate about the basics of cooking and method. It's not about tools or gear, it's not too precious or overly thought out or matchy-matchy. Just useful, well-equipped, beautiful kitchens.
I didn't unpack my favorite things when I was previously living in a sublet so its really nice, and inspiring, to have them here.
2. What was your childhood like from a culinary perspective?
I grew up in Utah. My mom cooked dinner every night and she was a good cook. I was kind of a picky eater as a kid and there wasn't as much variety as there is today so I ate a lot of iceberg lettuce with shredded carrots and ranch dressing. I had two southern grandmothers. One would feed you until you burst and the other was more austere. She had felt the Depression more strongly and had also lived in California so she gave us bran muffins and grapefruit and brown rice.
3. What's the most memorable meal you've ever cooked in this kitchen?
Valentine's Day — it got me engaged! We had roasted salmon, warm cabbage with feta and toasted walnuts, a salad and chocolate pudding.
4. The biggest challenge in your kitchen:
The laminate floor — it's hard to keep clean. Also, the storage is cavernous and so much of the shelving is open. And it's too big. I know that seems weird to say but it can be a challenge.
5. What's your favorite kitchen tool or element?
My grandmother's copper pots. They inspire me. I just made jam for the first time on my own and I really appreciated how the pot was big enough, deep enough. Also, the Staub set from my fiance's mother has transformed my cooking, especially braising meat. They appeal to my peasant cooking style.
6. Biggest indulgence or splurge in the kitchen:
Keeping a well-stocked pantry with nice ingredients — vinegars, chocolate, things to pull together a meal with little notice.
7. Is there anything you hope to add or improve in your kitchen?
No! I'm very happy with it. (Except maybe that floor.)
8. How would you describe your cooking style?
Very personal. Fresh and easy. Everyone assumes because of M.F.K. Fisher I cook fancy all the time but really I have a more peasant-style of cooking. I like to cook for leftovers and spin them into something else the next day. One of the reasons I like living in San Francisco is that you can justify having a pot of soup on the stove or a roast in the oven all year round. I just add some bread (Acme) and cheese and it's a meal.
9. Best cooking advice or tip you ever received:
Since I don't know how to cook instinctively, I would say that there's no shame in following a recipe. We have to be taught how to drive a car or how to swim and it's no different with cooking.
10. What is your favorite cookbook?
When I travel a lot, or get really busy and distracted with work, I forget how to cook, how to put a meal together. When that happens, my secret weapon is Savor the Memories by Marguerite Marceau Henderson. I love this book and its homey, reliable recipes.
11. What are you cooking these days?
One of my standards is a classic Breton cake, made with lots of walnuts and butter and eggs. It's not too sweet and so it's very versatile: you can have it for breakfast, after dinner with wine, or as an afternoon treat. It's great at Christmas as an alternative to all the frostings and sugary stuff. And it mails well! I once made this cake and sent it to my grandma in the last year of her life. Innocently, I mailed it to her in a mailing envelope and it arrived in perfect shape. She loved it! I use Susan Herrmann Loomis' recipe from On Rue Tatin.
• You can find the recipe at Epicurious.com: Walnut Gateau Breton
Get Anne's Book: An Extravagant Hunger: The Passionate Years of M.F.K. Fisher, $14.27 on Amazon
Anne's San Francisco Favorites
• Mission Pie for hanging out and writing, community and great light
• Arizmendi Bakery for pizza
• Knead Patissere, located in Local Mission Eatery, for beautiful French-style pastries
• Acme Bread. Anne has the same lunch everyday: A slice of Acme's Walnut Bread with avocado smushed on top and sprinkled with salt, pepper and chili
We're always looking for real kitchens from real cooks.
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(Images: Dana Velden)