Welcome to my website! My name is Tori Avey. I am fascinated by the story behind the food– why we eat what we eat, how cultural foods have evolved, and how yesterday’s recipes can inspire us in the kitchen today. My blog The Shiksa in the Kitchen features original recipes, cooking tips, historical tidbits and family food stories. My other blog The History Kitchen is a deeper exploration of food history and culinary culture.
This website is the culmination of a journey that started when I was a little girl. As a child, I spent a lot of time with my paternal grandparents, Grandpa Clarence and Grandma Lois. Grandma and Grandpa did their best to enrich my days with art, music, film, and history. Weird kid that I was, I soaked up the culture like a sponge. Grandpa Clarence screened old historical films in the living room like Cleopatra, Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments. Grandma Lois, an artist, set up a small easel in the barn so I could paint alongside her while she told me about the lives of her favorite artists – Van Gogh, Monet, Degas. Grandpa showed me maps of the world in old atlases he’d collected, pointing out the ancient city of Troy and spinning tales of Helen and the Trojan Horse. We weeded the vegetable garden and harvested the sweet, fresh tomatoes from the vine while we chatted about Thomas Jefferson and his garden at Monticello. Grandma and I cooked dinner together using the fresh produce I’d picked with my own two hands—always a dish that was slightly exotic, with a new spice from India or couscous from Morocco. Then after dinner, my favorite part of the evening, they would set up a projector and show me slides from their travels, giving me a glimpse of the world beyond my small California hometown. Because of my grandparents, I grew up curious and excited about world history.
In my twenties, cooking became a major focus of my life. I’d always been comfortable in the kitchen, but I wanted to be a great cook—a real “balabusta,” as they say in Yiddish. I was inspired by the exotic meals I’d cooked with my Grandma Lois, as well as the food my Israeli husband grew up with—the Middle Eastern Sephardic cuisine of his mom, and the Russian Ashkenazi cuisine of his dad.
As I became more skilled in the kitchen, I began to collect vintage and historical cookbooks. It started as mere curiosity. I wanted to know how my Great Grandma Arnold made a pie from scratch, so I bought a cookbook published in 1908 from her home state, Nebraska. Then I started wondering about that pie’s journey… where does strawberry pie come from? What are the origins of pie? Did pie start sweet, or savory? I looked for historical cookbooks that could point me in the right direction—The Good Housekeeper by Sarah Josepha Hale (1841) led me to American Cookery by Amelia Simmons (1796), then back to The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse (1747). The further back in time I went, the more questions I had. I became a food sleuth. Everything I cooked was a mystery, and I made it my mission to dig up the roots and origins of every dish I cooked.
In 2010, I started a food blog called The Shiksa in the Kitchen. As a writer who loves food, it was a natural progression. Originally the focus of the blog was Jewish food—I’m a convert to Judaism, and my husband grew up in Israel, so I had a particular interest in the roots of Jewish cuisine. Over time, my nerdy side led me to create a place for exploring all facets of food history, from ancient Mesopotamian meals to the cocktails of Mad Men and everything in between. I gathered a group of distinguished contributors– food writers, professors, and cookbook authors who all shared an interest in historical cookery. The History Kitchen was born!
Food is a way of communicating; the energy we pass on through our cooking feeds the body as well as the soul. By writing this blog and taking a journey into food history, I am learning right beside you. I do not have a PhD in history, nor am I a classically trained chef or a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu. I started this blog to learn more about our culinary roots. Consider this our shared virtual culinary classroom– a place where we learn not only how to cook delicious food, but how that food came to be in the first place. Every kitchen has a heritage and every recipe has a writer. Knowing the story behind the food– the ancient history, or the family history, or even the history of one particular ingredient– can infuse a dish with meaning. And then a meal becomes more than just food, or something that fills you up physically. Food takes on a deeper significance, and ultimately becomes more nourishing.
If you have found your way to my blog, you are probably somebody who loves food or history. This is a space for us to learn and grow together, inspired by our delicious past. I invite you to subscribe to my website for blog updates and the latest news. You can also friend me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest. I love hearing from my cooking friends, and I do my best to respond in a timely manner to comments posted here on my website. Join our growing culinary community as we explore the history of food!
Have a question? Please see my list of FAQ’s below.
Looking for my contact information? Click here!
Readers often email me random questions about the blog, my cooking, and life in general. I’ve compiled this list of the most frequently asked questions to help you get to know me better. If your question is not answered here, please feel free to contact me!
When did you start your blog? January 1, 2010
Where are you from? I grew up on the Central Coast of California. Now I live in Southern California with my husband, my sweet stepdaughter, and our two pups Marley and Mo.
How did you learn to cook? I learned to cook the old fashioned way from friends and family members who have generously shared their recipes and cooking know-how with me. I’ve also taught myself by reading cookbooks, particularly antique and vintage ones. I like knowing how to make dishes from scratch before I take any shortcuts. It provides a solid foundation and a deeper understanding of what a dish is supposed to taste like.
How did you become interested in food history? I’ve always loved history, a trait that my paternal grandparents passed down to me. My Grandpa Avey was a walking encyclopedia of historic knowledge. I caught the history bug at an early age, and I integrated it into every part of my life. I wrote historical stories as a kid and performed in Shakespearean plays as a teenager. I even dabbled in historical screenwriting. So when I started teaching myself how to cook, my first instinct was to find out the history behind the dishes I was cooking.
Does somebody take your photographs for you? I get this question a lot, which I must admit is very flattering! I do most of my own photography. I am not a trained photographer by any stretch of the imagination, but I do enjoy taking pictures. I have recently upgraded to a Canon 5D Mark II, which I use for the “beauty shots” of my finished recipes. For the step-by-step photos, I use a Canon G12 point and shoot.
Can I use one of your photographs or blogs on my site and/or in my publication? All content (photographs, writing, and graphics) on this website is copyright protected, and cannot be used without my permission. If you would like to request permission, please contact me.
What is your favorite part about cooking? My favorite part about cooking is nourishing others… and eating, of course! I love food. I always have. Case in point, check out this picture from my first birthday:
How do you stay in shape when you blog about such rich dishes? It’s not easy! Especially since I hate working out. I think I’m allergic to exercise. Most of the time I eat pretty healthy Mediterranean and Sephardic style food. I indulge in rich dishes once in a while when I’m traveling or on holidays. When I notice my jeans fitting tighter than normal, I watch what I eat till I shed a few points. My husband and I have recently become addicted to bike riding, which helps. But I try not to stress about it too much. Life is there to be enjoyed. I subscribe to Julia Child’s motto – “Everything in moderation… including moderation.”
I try to provide a balance of both healthy and indulgent recipes on my website. I have a Healthy Food category for all of my lighter recipes, click here to take a look.
Where do your recipes come from? I feature original recipes that I’ve developed in my kitchen, taking what I’ve learned about spices, flavors and cooking techniques to create my own unique dishes. Some of the recipes featured on this site come from family, friends, and blog readers who submit their personal recipes along with their family story. Once in a while I share a recipe from a cookbook; a lot of my friends are cookbook authors, and I love to share their work. In The History Kitchen, my contributors and I share historical and vintage-inspired recipes. I never post a dish that I didn’t really enjoy eating– it has to taste great to make it onto my site. If it’s not something I’ve created myself, the source will be credited in the blog.
Do you have a cookbook? Not yet.
Are you Jewish? Yes, I converted to Judaism in 2010.
If you’re Jewish, why is the Jewish section of your website called The Shiksa in the Kitchen? Read why here.
Why do you include a kosher key on your recipes? I include the kosher key on The Shiksa in the Kitchen blog out of respect to my Jewish readers who keep kosher. All recipes in that section are kosher-style, meaning no pork or shellfish. I also do my best to keep dairy and meat recipes separate for the sake of my kosher readers. I do not have a kosher key on recipes in The History Kitchen because it is not a kosher website, though I do offer kosher modifications to recipes whenever possible.
Do you keep kosher? No, but I do blog about kosher recipes in The Shiksa in the Kitchen section of the site for the sake of my readers who keep kosher.
How did you learn so much about keeping kosher? Part of my conversion to Judaism included learning about the kosher laws. I also educated myself about the subject when trying to decide if keeping kosher was right for me. I am by no means a kosher expert, but I have learned quite a bit about the subject, and I’m happy to share what I have learned with you. If you have a question, feel free to comment on my blog and ask!
Do you have any hobbies besides cooking? I love to write and travel… and write about traveling! I especially love to visit other countries and try new foods I’ve never tasted before. I am also a screenwriter and family entertainment producer… yes, I lead a dual life as both a food blogger and a storyteller. Life is funny sometimes.
What is your favorite cookbook? This is a very tough question to answer. I love so many cookbooks, for so many reasons! I feature some of my favorite titles in my online market, so you can go there to see for yourself.
I have a recipe and/or a family story I’d like you to blog about. Where can I submit it? I absolutely love hearing and blogging about family food stories! If you have a story and/or recipe you’d like me to consider, please submit it here.
Have a question you don’t see an answer to? Email me or comment me on the website and I will try my best to get back to you. My email inbox is constantly overflowing, so if you don’t hear back from me please don’t take it personally. I try my best to keep up with all the emails, but sometimes I just can’t. Know that I read each and every email I receive, and I thank you for taking the time to write!