What’s in Your Pantry? is a recurring feature where I ask women to tell us more about their food and eating habits by opening up their kitchen pantries to us. This week I’m featuring Laura Cowan.
Laura is a contemporary Judaica designer and Jewish artist.
Tell us a bit about yourself:
I was born Manchester, England and grew up with my parents and two older brothers. My grandparents were very involved in the shul so we always kept kosher at home, something that is very important to me to pass on to my children. My eldest child is stricter than me!
My favorite subject at school was always Art and I knew one day I’d make a career out of it. I studied BA Hons Jewelry and Silversmithing at Sir John Cass at London Guildhall University. It was a perfect course for me because it combined design, silversmithing, art history and business studies. After my degree, I moved to Tel Aviv. I studied Hebrew in the morning, and in the afternoon I took an apprenticeship with a jeweler in Old Jaffa.
After a year, I was ready to move on and started looking at the rocket shaped jewelry that I had produced for my degree exhibition and realized they would make perfect mezuzahs. I set up a small studio on my balcony and experimented with copper, brass, and silver and produced various looks with different colored patinas.
A few years later, I discovered that my rocket shaped mezuzahs were well known by the Jewish community in NASA and Astronaut Greg Chamitoff emailed me to request a mezuzah to take to space! (Read about it right here.)
I became vegetarian over 30 years ago for ideological reasons – over the years I have gone through phases of being less strict and eating fish and at the moment I am trying to reduce dairy, so I have started by swapping regular milk for almond milk
I have 3 kids aged 6, 9 and 12, who are all fussy eaters and don’t like any of the same foods so almost every meal I’d make three dishes for them – so I keep it super simple – baked potatoes with cream cheese, mashed avocado and Israeli salad, healthy pancakes (with whole wheat flour, coconut oil, almond butter and chia seeds) or spaghetti with tomato sauce and parmesan cheese.
How do you typically feel, emotionally, when you open your kitchen pantry?
Pretty relaxed really, anything that isn’t used on a regular basis I throw out as I believe the key to organization is to minimize.
What’s your process for organizing your food pantry?
I studied home economics at school and we learned to keep items that you use together only one or two steps away from each other. I designed my kitchen galley style so it’s really easy to grab whatever I need quickly. Spices are in a pull out drawer next to the stove – I label the tops of the lids so I can see everything at a glance. Sweet or semi-junk food is on a high shelf so I think twice about taking something.
What’s inside of your pantry right now?
This 8-pointed star-shaped spice is so beautiful to look at! It looks stunning in cocktails, and tastes especially good in a white wine sangria. I buy them from a spice stall in Carmel market.
My kids love this and although it contains a lot of sugar, it’s a great source of calcium. It also keeps for months. I buy it from The Halva Kingdom in Sarona Market. My kids love the chocolate version and my favorite is pistachio.
Lots of tins of tomatoes. I use this Italian brand – they seem to taste much sweeter than other brands. I use these to make Shakshuka – a North African dish of onion, garlic, tomatoes, red peppers and lots of cumin and black cracked pepper – cooked and eaten in the same iron skillet with an egg poached directly in it. I like it sprinkled with lots of coriander and we eat it with a ripped-up loaf of the simplest bread.
Local salted butter
I use this kosher Israeli brand. I love using this for cooking as well as baking, as I think the flavor is much better than unsalted. You might think of it as a regular staple but lately, in Israel, it’s been off the shelves due to a milk shortage – the farms don’t have enough for their milk sales so they are holding back on butter manufacture. My butter-loving friends and I update each other if we see it being sold anywhere.
In Israel everyone has a specific favourite. Mine are the small Souri (named after a Lebanese city) green cracked olives with pickled lemon. My favourite Israeli brand is called Zita. I eat these alongside a simple Israeli salad and crackers with cream cheese.
What’s the healthiest item that you keep in stock?
I like Medjool dates, because they are the sweetest and the juiciest variety. I have one as an energy boost before my morning Garuda class (it’s a sort of cross between Pilates, yoga, and dance; it has no repetitions and the movements flow into one another so it’s never boring). I buy them at the spice market on the corner of Levinsky and Nahalat Binyamin in South Tel Aviv – at whichever stall they look the juiciest.
What about your guilty pleasure that you always have on hand?
I discovered these Italian imported cherries in syrup at Tel Aviv’s ‘Anita’ ice cream parlor. They serve them as a topping for their frozen yoghurt, and the taste explodes in your mouth. At home, I roll them up in pancakes with cream cheese to make a quick blintzes-type dessert. They are hard to find in Israel, as they are imported from Italy but I found them at Carmella’s market delivery service. They come in a white and cobalt blue opaque glass vase which I keep for flowers when they are finished
Compared to your mother, how is your pantry the same or different than what you grew up with?
My late father was a canned food importer. His specialty was items that were (in the 1980’s) considered gourmet foods – tinned salmon and peaches – so our cupboards were always full of crates of canned foods.
If you could change anything about how your pantry is now, what would it be?
I would use the healthy superfoods I keep buying – chia seeds, goji berries, quinoa – I often forget I have them.
Your turn: Tell me in your comments, what details will you remember from Laura’s pantry interview?