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Todd Porter and Diane Cu are photographers who publish the immensely popular food, gardening, and lifestyle blog White on Rice Couple. Inspired by their love of cooking, growing vegetables and over thirty-eight fruit trees in their suburban garden, Todd and Diane love sharing recipes that are fresh and seasonally simple. Their cookbook, Bountiful, offers one hundred seasonal, flavorful, and approachable recipes, ninety of which have not been posted to the blog, each featuring a vegetable or fruit as the star of the meal. Blueberry Frangipane Tarts, Wilted Mizuna Mustard Salad with Shrimp, Blood Orange Bars with a Brown Butter Crust, and Gin Cocktail with Pomegranate and Grapefruit are just a few examples of recipes that are inspired from their garden bounty. Peppered with personal stories from Todd’s childhood on a cattle ranch in Oregon and Diane’s journey from Vietnam to the United States, this cookbook shares the couples’ beautiful love story as well as their diverse recipes that reflects their love of fresh and healthy produce, seasonally ripe fruit, and sharing a home cooked meal with those you love.
“For so many of us, our kitchens are inextricably linked to our gardens and nobody has captured this union better than Todd Porter and Diane Cu in their perfectly named new book Bountiful.” —Russ Parsons, food editor for the Los Angeles Times
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
white on rice couple: our story
A GIRL FROM VIETNAM
With my first bite into an American cheeseburger, I was smitten. Though I was only about four years old, this food moment is still vivid for me. The taste of that thin, floppy burger was so different from my regular regimen of rice and noodles. And the pickle — oh, that soggy, briny thing was just wonderful; I had always had an addiction to anything sour, so that pickle laced with tart mustard and sweet ketchup was like candy. Then there was the cheese: That melted-yellow creaminess on top of the meat was super-decadent and satisfying. My cheeks swelled with delight and my belly was instantly in love.
Beyond just the burger, that meal ignited an awareness of the world of food beyond my mother's everyday kitchen fare of white rice, fresh vegetables, fish, pho noodles, and more fish.
Vietnamese food was what I was born into. The pulse and heartbeat of what resonates in my soul and fills my pantry are the flavors defined by growing up Vietnamese: spicy, salty, sour, sweet, and savory — with plenty of liquid-gold fish sauce.
I was born in Da-Nang in 1972, and my childhood world was consumed by stories of the Vietnamese war: of conflict, of suffering, of loss, and of how little food there was to eat. I was taught to eat everything off my plate, because every grain of white rice was made out of love and sacrifice.
Again and again, every conversation and bit of wisdom ended up with a lesson in food. Whether it was a reminder that people are starving in the world or a pointer on how I could have pounded the lemongrass finer, I was schooled through food.
I'm grateful for those reminders now, as an adult. Ask me how grateful I was back then, as a third-grader, and I'd probably tell you that all I wanted for dinner was a pepperoni pizza. ("Oh, why not? Rice again?") But now I'm so grateful for everything my parents have given me that it almost hurts.
In 1975, when I was two-and-a-half years old and Mom was three months pregnant with my brother, we fled Da-Nang along with my uncle and paternal grandmother. Like so many other Vietnamese families during that treacherous time, we fled, ran for our lives, hid, then made it onto a boat: a very big boat packed tight with frightened people. We floated on the open ocean, without fresh water and with scarcely any food; babies screamed, adults cried, and lives were lost. We eventually ended up in a refugee camp in Guam. My father was in the South Vietnamese navy and fought alongside the American forces. He was separated from us during our escape, but thankfully we were all reunited at that refugee camp.
That's how I remember describing the experience to my schoolteachers in third grade. My English vocabulary was very limited back then, but that's pretty much how I shared the story. I often like to draw back on my third-grade jabber because, quite frankly, it's less graphic and painful than what really went on. The rawer, more truthful memories I inherited from Mom are only for times when I have a bottle of bourbon by my side.
After a few months in the refugee camp, we came to America and went to live with my aunt, who was married to an American soldier and already living in the States. Since 1975, my parents have relieved me of my only-child status by adding five more siblings to my big-sister résumé. Growing up in a family of six kids meant having to share, explore, study, sleep, drink, and sometimes even shower as a group. But most important of all, it meant cooking and eating together.
Mom and Dad were infatuated with food, and they now had six kids in their arsenal of free labor for growing, cooking, and executing their crazy food parties. We were always asked to participate in household cooking chores (or, in our eyes, torture-pain-suffering), and no video games were permitted until we were finished. As a fourth-grader, I was not happy.
Actually, my parents were more than infatuated; they were possessed. They tore up the backyard patch of green grass to grow a mini vegetable farm. With the help of six kids, they were able to grow and harvest fresh vegetables, lush Asian greens, and loads of fresh herbs. Each child was born into the role of a line-cook. I helmed lemongrass pounding at the mortar and pestle and manned the shrimp-peeling station. My younger siblings fulfilled their respective roles as garlic masher, shallot peeler, herb washer, eggplant picker, and lime squeezer with civic duty.
I had a love–hate relationship with food when I was growing up because preparing it was always so complicated and time consuming. Food had to be fresh, because that's the only way my parents knew how to feed us. If we were hungry, we had to grow the food, pick it, wash it, then cook it. It was beyond my understanding that some of my American friends had it as easy as buying dinner at a fast-food restaurant or cooking a ready-made boxed meal. I was seething with jealousy every time I had to prep for my parents' fried-fish dinners.
My love of heavy cheese dishes, fried chicken, burgers, pizza, Twinkies, and other junk food drove me to distraction when I had to eat rice, noodles, and fresh herbs and greens, again and again. I just wanted to have a soft, chewy chocolate chip cookie! My hunger was certainly satisfied by Vietnamese food and I was fulfilled with a bowl of noodles, but eating a burger or pizza meant that I was more American.
It wasn't until I moved away from home to the small town of Port Angeles, Washington, at the age of twenty-two and as a vegetarian, that I learned the value of the cooking I had been raised on. Living far away from my parents' kitchen meant that I was able to eat all the cheese pizza and potato chips I wanted. At first, it was a blessing not to have to peel and devein shrimp and be free from the throngs of the home kitchen.
It wasn't until I began breaking down both physically and spiritually that I realized I was yearning for a home-cooked meal. I needed Vietnamese food and I needed it fast and plentiful. (I found myself craving the flavor of fresh mint — what a crazy thought that was back then, to actually wish I had an herb to gnaw on!) I was malnourished and puffed out from eating bags of bagels and cream cheese. I had to learn how to cook for and feed myself the best way that I knew how.
All of a sudden, I was searching for ways to prepare vegetables even remotely close to how Mom would have done or to make the soup that Dad would simmer for hours. Drawing back on every oral recipe Mom had taught me, on every kitchen technique Dad had drilled into my head, and on every memory of what had stocked their kitchen, I taught myself how to cook fresh food.
I traveled for hours sourcing ingredients that were not readily available to me in the small town where I lived. I relished farmer's markets because the vegetables there looked like what came out of my parents' garden. I liberated myself from the mounds of junk food and was now swimming in fresh greens, garlic, shallots, and vegetables again. I even owned my own knife, stockpot, cast-iron pan, and mortar and pestle, all tools that are bound to my heart and will go with me to my grave.
Home cooking was emerging from my tiny kitchen far away from home. I was humbled beyond measure — and grateful for every single cooking lesson, verbal recipe, grain of rice, and pearl of food wisdom that ever crossed my plate and my path.
And as for that cliché that we eventually become our parents? In my case, it's completely true. Look at my backyard today and I'm living proof of life's ironies, contradictions, and homecomings. My journey with food becomes more challenging and more exciting every day. I'm so grateful to everyone who nursed me through this delicious life that it hurts — but in a beautiful way.
A BOY FROM A CATTLE RANCH IN OREGON
It's hard to say when my love of food began. It feels as if there was no beginning, as if it was always there.
I grew up on a cattle ranch in northeastern Oregon, a land of valleys nestled into the mountains, dotted with small towns centered around farming and logging. In the summer you can climb the foothills and look out across the patchwork quilt of crops filling the valleys, with a lazy river meandering through and breaking up the perfect squares of farmland.
From the time I was knee-high, my memories were filled with the scents of hay and horses, the feel of newborn calves sucking on fingers with their rough tongues and budding teeth. Even today, more than thirty years later, I can vividly recall the sights and sounds of feeding milk formula to orphaned calves we'd pasture next to the house, their cold, wet noses poking through the fences as they stretched to reach the bottles they would then fiercely suck on.
My youth was filled with adventures of tramping through waist-high pastures, grasshoppers scattering with every stride; of fishing for trout and searching for crawdads in the creek that wound through our property and lent its name to our ranch.
The Indian Creek Ranch. A small ranch focused on raising Hereford cattle, and now a place that no longer exists as I knew it, lost to the changing of industries and lives. It is, however, a place that shall forever be ingrained in my heart. It was life on that ranch, combined with the ever-present love and encouragement of my parents, that laid the foundation for the person I am today.
You see, life on a ranch can be quite isolated and quiet. Our nearest neighbor was about half a mile away, and to get to the nearest family with kids our age we'd have to tack on another couple of miles. Days were punctuated with chores and responsibilities, with the long gaps in between filled with exploration and imagination.
When confronted with a problem, or boredom, there was no one outside yourself to help alleviate it. If the pipes froze over in the horses' water trough, as a young kid you'd just figure out how to thaw the pipes and fix the problem. When the cattle or horses broke out, whoever was home would round them up, find the downed fence, and repair it. The thought of us being "just kids" never came into the equation. There were no limits to what we could do, except those we placed on ourselves.
There were so many things when I was growing up that seemed so commonplace at the time; only after much time and distance away from them did I realize how special they were. We grew up drinking the milk from a few milking cows we had pastured near the barn. The rich milk would be placed in the fridge, letting the cream rise to the top so it could be easily skimmed off. It took me forever to get used to the milk served in our elementary school. Those first experiences drinking milk from a carton made me think I was drinking milklike water.
There were some things that were special, even to us as kids. Homegrown raspberries had to be the greatest things ever. The horses thought so too, and we had to double up the fence just to keep them from stretching their mouths across and devouring every berry within reach. But we would make it up to them by bringing armfuls of apples from the front-yard trees. Oh that sweet aroma under those trees! Just the thought takes me back, and to the remembrance of dodging the bees attracted to the same beautiful scents.
Although no one else in the house was obsessed with cooking, there was one grandma in particular who etched into me her love for it. Even though we only saw her a handful of times as we were growing up, each of those visits left me with lasting food memories. It was she who left me with my first memory of cooking, and of trying octopus, and of learning as a five-year-old that I actually liked cooked carrots. Just like many kids I thought I hated them, until she affectionately but unwaveringly insisted I try them. "You don't have to eat them all, just try them."
As I grew older, I found myself drawn more and more into the kitchen. We all had varying schedules, and there was always a freezer full of meat, so in my early teens I started cooking for myself. Cookbooks and magazines were my guides as I experimented and learned. I was also lucky enough to have parents who supported nearly everything my sister and I did. (I once filled the house with the fumes of a particularly vinegary orange sauce, and there was no word of complaint or protest.)
In my later teens, I discovered cooking a meal for a girl was a great way to get a date, especially in a sleepy little town where there was not much else to do. And after that there was no looking back. I studied Italian cooking, Asian cuisine, sauces, pastries, breads — anything I could find a cookbook about or a magazine to inspire me with. In the kitchen, time disappeared, and the world of food became a beautiful beacon leading me forward.
Throughout my life those etchings from the ranch have guided me. In the isolation of ranch life, I had learned to listen to my instincts. I became self-sufficient, often self-taught, and always open to exploration and discovery.
After high school it was time for a change. I left behind the mountains, valleys, streams, and horses for a vastly different life. I loaded all I could onto my motorcycle and rode over a thousand miles south to attend college in Southern California. Several years into college, after spending a couple of years working part time in coffeehouses and restaurants, I decided my major was far less interesting than the culture of food. That was where my heart was.
It wasn't long before I met the love of my life, and things have never been the same since. She was a veg-head from the rice paddies of Vietnam and I was a boy from a cattle ranch in the foothills of Oregon, but bound by our love of food, exploration, and each other, we were a perfect match.
Today, even though I'm far removed from the life of the cattle ranch and the quiet of the countryside, the spirit of the boy who jumped from rock to rock to cross a creek, spent afternoons chasing herds of deer on horseback, and found ways to lug bales of hay heavier than himself still resides within me. There is a part of me who is still a boy cooking for his girl, receiving untold joy from seeing her face light up after she's enjoyed something I've made. After all, how can a girl resist a boy who bakes?
TOGETHER AS WHITE ON RICE COUPLE
The initial seeds were planted in 1996, when we had our first conversations about food together. Over warm mochas in a coffeehouse, we bonded over subjects like art, theatre, love of the great outdoors, gardening, and, of course, food.
Back then, while the rest of our peers were hitting the nightclubs, we were at home watering our herb pots and learning how to make puff pastry. We're a little embarrassed to admit that at the time we were full-fledged food nerds, with a little garden geek thrown in. Yes, we were the homebodies who would rather stay home on a Saturday night and bake bread while the rest of our friends did what most young people did — which was not to stay at home and hover over the stove.
Even in our first two years in a small second-story apartment, we managed to start our first garden with potted vegetable plants packed onto a tiny balcony. Although it was limiting, we were determined to begin growing herbs and small fruit trees. From this special gathering place, growing, feeding, sharing, and cooking inspiration flowed.
Over the next decade we continued to build our food life in our small kitchens. We both worked long hours at day jobs that rarely allowed us to see each other. Todd worked in restaurant management, and Diane photographed families in her portrait studio. We'd both work long days, then meet back up at home to cook together while discussing how we could develop a life of working together rather than apart.
After a few failed attempts to find a location where we could open a restaurant together, we realized this was an omen. Instead of pursuing the restaurant plan to satisfy our love of food and cooking, we took a different route through photography, but we still wanted to be connected to the food community in some way.
While browsing online one day, we came across websites on which people were sharing their experiences about food. These "food blogs" were full of personal recipes, photographs, food stories, restaurant reviews, and everything that had to do with food. Reading these blogs inspired us to join this incredibly connected community of food people. We knew we wanted to be a part of it, even if just to share our garden stories and recipes.
From there, we whimsically came up with the name "White On Rice Couple." Why this name? Because we wanted to poke fun at our ourselves and our cultural differences. Also, this name was available for only ten dollars a year, which seemed like a minimal investment for a personal hobby.
Thus, in 2008, WhiteOnRiceCouple.com was born. It has since evolved into a life-changing experience that we never expected. Our stories and photographs about our personal recipes, our garden triumphs and failures, our families, our dogs, and pretty much everything we wanted to share about our lives poured into each post. If something died in the garden, we wrote about it. When we had a bumper crop of vegetables and made a fun soup from them, it was certain to make the Monday blog post.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Bountiful"
Copyright © 2013 Todd Porter and Diane Cu.
Excerpted by permission of Abrams Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Pantry and Kitchen notes,
Herbs & Leafy Greens,
Beans, Stalks & Shoots,
Broccoli & Other Cruciferous Vegetables,
Roots & Bulbs,
Peppers & Chilies,
Other Vegetable Fruits,
Other Tree & Vine Fruits,
Index of Searchable Terms,