The Recipe Club

Food & Friendship Blog

Vestry Street Recipe Club

New York, NY

The ceilings were high. The walls were white. And the Vestry Street Book Group had for one special night transformed into the Vestry Street Recipe Club, a place to talk about food, friendship, families…and our book!

Vestry Street Recipe Club

Vestry Street Recipe Club

Here are two of the remarkable stories we overheard:


“My grandmother lived in a small town in Wisconsin called Stockbridge, population of about 500. It was largely German American—a farming community. It was where my mother was born and raised. And when my mom was a young adult she was so hungry to leave that small town. She felt very stifled there, and out of place.

Anne's mom (on the right) with Anne's grandmother and aunt, circa 1945.

Anne's mom (on the right) with Anne's grandmother and aunt, circa 1945.

“So as I grew up, my mom never really wanted to go back much. When she left…she left. We saw my grandmother and other relatives there on occasion, but it wasn’t a place she longed for. But I did long for it. I really adored my grandmother. She was very lively, liked to play practical jokes, and she was a very magical presence in my childhood.

“I also loved the place itself. It’s on a lake, and there were so many traditions in that community that seemed exotic to me: the corn festival in August…the fact that sunflowers grew six feet high…and when I was six I got to drive the tractor. For a girl from the suburbs it was just completely exotic and fanciful.

“By the time I got to college, I realized that if I wanted to visit my grandmother, I was old enough to do so on my own. So in my 20s I started doing that. My mom always found it kind of curious I wanted to go back there, because she couldn’t relate to it and didn’t want to go back there. I found it curious she didn’t. She was bewildered by my attraction, and I was bewildered by her rejection.

“So, in 1992, when and I was around 27 or 28, and soon to be getting married, my mother came to visit me to help plan the wedding. At the time I was living in Chicago, about an hour and a half from my grandmother. I asked my mom if she would drive up with me to see my grandmother. It had been years since my mom had been there. I guess now that I was an adult I perceived the tension my mom felt being back home—a tension that I think is very natural when people go back to their childhood homes.

“I thought it was so great to have three generations of women together even though there was an underlying tension that I wished wasn’t there. But then came this moment where my grandmother made lunch for us. She was making traditional German potato salad. She told my mom to go out to the ditch and pick wild watercress. And I just had this vision of my mom growing up in that farmhouse, where that would have been one of her chores. It was a vivid glimpse into my mother’s childhood that was thrilling to me. And it was a soft moment in an otherwise tense visit.

We had the potato salad for lunch. It felt warm—and it melted away, for me at least, some of the tension.”


from Sylvia Schroven

  • Red potatoes, boiled, sliced, and salted
  • Bacon, fried and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon reserved bacon grease from above
  • Watercress, washed and stemmed
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/4 cup red vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon bacon grease from above
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  1. For the sauce, combine the flour, vinegar, bacon grease, sugar, water, and salt. Bring to a boil, and stir until thick.
  2. Toss together potatoes, bacon, and watercress. Dress with the warm sauce.

Suggestion: serve with hard-boiled eggs.


“I grew up in Camden, South Carolina. I married young, and my new brother-in-law was married to a woman from Spain. One year, early in the marriage, we visited Madrid. And it was there my sister-in-law taught me how to make paella.

“She told me that traditionally, paella is made on Sunday afternoons. And that it’s really a rice dish, flavored by onions, sweet bell peppers, tomatoes, and garlic. Then you can add anything you like: chorizo, beef, chicken, and pork. All these ingredients are in relatively small pieces, because most of all it’s about the rice.

“When I eventually got my own paella pan, it represented becoming part of my extended family. But when my marriage ended, I took the paella pan and the recipe.

“So in my single years, between that marriage and the one I’m in now, I would make that dish whenever there was a new love interest in my life. My friends would say, ‘Oh, Phoebe is making paella…I wonder who the new man’s going to be?

“They were right. The last time I made it as a single person was in September, 2003—the night my second husband and I got engaged. The recipe worked it’s magic. Although I still think of my former Spanish in-laws every time I make it.”


  • ½ green or red pepper, cut into small pieces
  • ½ large onion, cut into small pieces
  • ½ medium-sized tomato, cut into small pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, diced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 chicken thighs, meat removed and cut into small pieces
  • 1 pork chop, cut into small pieces
  • 1-2 inches chorizo sausage, cut into small pieces
  • ¾ cup frozen green peas
  • 3 cups rice
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • ½ pound medium cooked, peeled, and deveined shrimp
  • ½ pound mussels or clams (optional)
  • 2 pinches saffron threads

Special equipment: paella pan or large skillet.

  1. Put the saffron in ¼ cup hot water with a few pieces of minced garlic to release the flavor.
  2. Heat olive oil in paella pan. Sautee the onion, pepper, tomato, garlic and sausage.
  3. Add the chicken and pork, and sautee until brown.
  4. Add the rice, chicken broth, and saffron. Salt to taste. Stir and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and cook for about 20 minutes. (If it’s cooking too fast, add water.)
  5. Lay the shrimp on top, and add the peas. Cover again and simmer 5 to 10 minutes more.
  6. Remove paella from heat, and let it sit for a few minutes before you serve.

Serving suggestion: this is great with a crusty bread and green salad.

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