Food Secrets of Writer and Cookbook Author Vanessa Barrington

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Vanessa Barrington. Photo Credit: Cynthia Wheeler
Vanessa Barrington. Photo Credit: Cynthia Wheeler

Vanessa Barrington (Twitter: @veebee22) is a food writer and cookbook author based in the Temescal District in Oakland. She is the author of the recently published D.I.Y. Delicious (Twitter: @DIYDelicious): Recipes and Ideas for Simple Food From Scratch (Chronicle Books, Fall 2010) and co-authored Heirloom Beans with Steve Sando (Chronicle Books, 2008). She works as a consultant with HavenB Media on food, agriculture, and environmental issues. She also blogs about food policy and healthy cooking for, Civil, and most recently, For recipes and current food writing go to Barrington was born in Salt Lake City, and said she “moved to Santa Rosa when I was 4. (and) spent most of my life in the Bay Area and Sonoma County.”


“East Bay Farmers’ Markets: I base all of my food shopping around the farmers’ markets and supplement from there. I love The Grand Lake Farmers’ Market for its urban Oakland feeling and the mix of vendors. Also the Temescal Market. It’s close to my house, it’s on Sunday. and it’s fun to watch all the kids. Love Tomatero Farm, Catalan Farm, Blossom Bluff, Scream Sorbet, and Massa Organics for brown rice. In the summer I tend toward the Berkeley Saturday market. First stops are always River Dog Farm, La Tercera Farm, and Morrell’s Bread.”

Market Hall in Rockridge —it’s less crowded than some of the more popular grocery stores, a short bike ride from my house, and I can get everything I need there. The produce store has local organic selections, for when I don’t make it to the farmers’ market, and a nice selection of heirloom beans.


The new Marin Sun Farms butchers rock my world. They are real pros (and they know where the meat is from). I wasn’t eating much meat at all until they opened because I’m kind of a stickler about local, small-scale, humane meat. Now I’m often in there picking up some goat chops, or a pork shoulder for braising. Favorite things are the duck crépinettes and the porchetta sandwich that they make on weekends. It has thinly sliced fennel, spicy arugula and they build the sandwich so almost every bite has a crispy bit of pork skin. At The Pasta Shop, I like to check the top of the pasta counter for day-old ravioli. It’s the best deal in town. And their new cheese counter is great.”

Rainbow Grocery is one thing I miss about living in SF. They have the best bulk section on the planet for dried heirloom beans (including Rancho Gordo) and grains, as well as teas, olive oil, maple syrup, etc. Gordon, their cheesemonger, has turned the cheese counter into one of the best anywhere, and the produce buyers go to great lengths to offer as much local and organic produce as possible, while still maintaining a good selection.”

“For Asian groceries, the New May Wah store on Clement is wonderful. They have everything you need for Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese and Korean cooking adventures.”


Barrington said that, “This changes all the time, depending on my mood and who I’m dining/drinking with.

Currently I like CommonWealth on Telegraph. You can go in at night and get a really nice beer and some Shepherd’s Pie or a pressed sandwich. During the day, you can order coffee and an excellent scone with Devonshire cream and jam. It’s comfortable and friendly. Just a great place to hang out.

Saul’s is great because they serve wonderful deli food but they source local and humanely raised meats, introduce seasonality into the mix (especially in their specials) and they even make their own sodas!”


“I haven’t found my favorite mom and pop restaurant in Oakland yet. Still looking. And all of these are Latin American, but they are all I can think of.

I like El Trebol on 24th in The Mission because it literally is mom and pop and their kitchen is a literal hole in the wall and they are sweet and have been there for years. It’s really cheap and good—especially the pupusas, refried beans, plantains, and crema.

I love Pastores on Mission—the food there is special and the owner, Irma, is a graduate of La Cocina. The last time I was there, she was in the kitchen cooking everything to order—I haven’t been in forever though, so I’m not sure if it’s still the same. I remember the chilaquiles and the chicken enchiladas with tomatilla salsa fondly. To my knowledge, there’s no pop, just mom.

La Borinquena —family owned Mex-icatessen in Oakland on 7th Street. I go there for tortillas, tamales, and Mexican groceries. Family owned since 1944.“


Hibiscus: Great atmosphere. Comfortable but romantic. Hand-blown glass chandeliers. Order the spicy crab and grits or the fried chicken. Great cocktails.

Camino: Another restaurant that just feels really good, comfortable, and spacious. Love their brunch, especially the baked eggs, sausage and roasted duck fat potatoes, the crab prix fixe on Monday nights during Dungeness season can’t be beat. Their menu is small but everything on it is always perfect. It’s great for double dates because you can order almost everything on the menu and share. Also delicious cocktails!”


Kozy Shack chocolate and tapioca puddings. Yep, even the staunchest advocate of home cooking buys store-bought pudding. Sometimes you just need pudding and you don’t want to make it. There’s no fake stuff in here and it doesn’t taste like chemicals so it passes muster with me.”

Hungry for more? Try Barrington’s recipes for grainy prepared mustard and a mustard-bourbon glazed pork roast. Find out what it’s like to D.I.Y., Vanessa Barrington style.

D.I.Y. Delicious

Vanessa Barrington’s Mustard and Bourbon–Glazed Pork Roast
Recipe credit: Vanessa Barrington, D.I.Y. Delicious, Chronicle Books, 2010

Here’s an uncomplicated, crowd-pleasing way to cook an inexpensive cut of meat. This recipe utilizes your Grainy Prepared Mustard and pairs well with a variety of different side dishes. It also yields versatile leftovers that you can use for Pulled Pork Canapés with Fig-Rosemary Jam in sandwiches, on pizza, or stuffed into Corn Tortillas with Simple Tomato Salsa or Avocado-Tomatillo Salsa.

Time Required: about 25 minutes active; 3 hours passive (excluding mustard preparation)
Yield: 6-8 Servings

One 4-pound boneless pork shoulder roast (ask your butcher to roll and tie it)
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup bourbon
3 tablespoons any version Grainy Prepared Mustard (see recipe below)

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Season the roast all over with salt and pepper.

In a heavy, dry cast-iron skillet over medium-high to high heat, brown the roast all over. Start with the fat side down, and turn with tongs until the roast is a deep caramel brown all over, 10 to 15 minutes. The fat from the roast should render, providing plenty of oil to brown the roast. (If the roast is very lean and you feel you need oil, use a tablespoon or so of refined vegetable oil suitable for high-heat cooking.)

Remove the roast to a plate and let the pan cool slightly. Pour off the excess fat and wipe out any burned bits. While the pan cools, in a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, bourbon, and mustard.

Return the roast to the pan and pour half of the glaze over it, turning the roast to coat it completely and using your hands to distribute the glaze evenly. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and roast for 2 hours, turning and basting every half hour with the remaining glaze.

Remove the foil and increase the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Continue to roast uncovered, until the glaze reduces and the pork is glossy brown and thickly coated with glaze, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Let the roast rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Vanessa Barrington’s Grainy Prepared Mustard
Recipe credit: Vanessa Barrington, D.I.Y. Delicious, Chronicle Books, 2010

Homemade mustard has so much more flavor than store-bought and has many uses in the kitchen. Whisk it with bourbon to make a glaze for pork or with maple syrup to caramelize root vegetables, stir it into vinaigrette, or simply spread it on sandwiches.

Mustard is simple to make, economical, and easy to vary to your taste. A word of warning: Your homemade mustard will always be quite a bit spicier than store-bought. You can control this somewhat by varying the ratio of brown to yellow seeds (brown are more pungent). You can also add sugar, honey, maple sugar, or other sweeteners to temper the spice. You won’t need to use much in a recipe or on a sandwich to get a big mustard flavor and the mustard will mellow with time in the refrigerator.

Time Required: about 10 minutes active; 24 hours passive
Yield: Makes 1 cup

3/4 cup liquid (mixture of vinegar and wine, beer, or some other alcohol; see Note)
1/2 cup mustard seeds (brown or yellow)
About 1 tablespoon finely chopped aromatics like onions, garlic, or shallots
About 1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs (optional)
About 1 tablespoon (sugar, honey, or maple syrup; optional)

Put the liquids, mustard seeds, aromatics, herbs, and sweeteners in a nonreactive (ceramic or pottery) bowl and soak overnight in the refrigerator.

In a blender or food processor, blend the mustard to the desired consistency. Depending on your equipment and inclination, this can take up to 5 minutes. Don’t expect your mustard to be as smooth as factory-made mustard. Add salt to taste as you blend. Transfer to jars and seal. Will keep, refrigerated, up to 3 months.


Note: If you don’t wish to use alcohol, replace the alcohol portion of the liquid with water. Mustards made solely with vinegar can be overwhelmingly vinegary.