Reader Interview: Fern Richardson

Please welcome reader Fern Richardson, author of the excellent urban gardening blog Life on the Balcony.

  1. Name, location, family: Fern Richardson; Fullerton, California; Husband & four cats
  2. What was your mother’s cooking style? My family very rarely ate meals at home, and when we did it was one of a handful of meals (fish sticks, chicken schnitzel, or spaghetti). Though when my mom did cook, my brothers and I were encouraged to help. I remember breading the chicken to make schnitzel, and helping with spaghetti sauce. I think my grandma cooked things really blandly to please my grandfather and my mom didn’t really enjoy eating until she was an adult, so cooking was never something she found pleasurable. She actually cooks a lot more now that my brothers and I have left home.
  3. How is your style similar or different from your mother’s? Well, my husband and I are vegetarians and we eat at home quite often, so there really isn’t much that is similar between my mom and my cooking styles.
  4. When did you start to cook and how did you learn? I didn’t really start cooking until I was an adult and moved into my first apartment during college. I learned from reading cookbooks, cooking magazines, and from watching cooking shows on TV. I was motivated to learn because my husband (then boyfriend) would make fun of me and tell people that I couldn’t even cook rice or pasta (which was true).
  5. Do you entertain? I haven’t entertained much since getting married because–until recently–my apartment was pretty modest and I didn’t really have room. But starting a couple of years ago, I convinced my mom that we should have Shabbat dinner every Friday night at her house, so my mom and I have been making weekly dinners for between four and ten people. I was also volunteered to host our family’s Passover Seder this year. That will be dinner for about 20 people.
  6. Describe a typical weekly or daily menu. I tend to keep things pretty simple, because it’s just me and my husband. A typical meal for us would be soup, salad and a sandwich. This is a typical week:
    Su – Restaurant
    M – Grilled cheese sandwiches, tomato soup, side salad
    T – Sauteed vegetables with teriyaki glaze and brown rice
    W – Whole wheat pizza with cheese & veggies, side salad
    Th – Curried lentil soup, aloo gobi (Indian cauliflower and potatoes) and brown rice.
    F – Shabbat dinner at my mom’s
    Sa – Leftovers
  7. How has your cooking style changed over the years? I think I’ve become more adventurous as a cook, but also more simple, if that makes any sense? I’m more willing to try new recipes, or use new ingredients, but I’m not as interested in creating multi-course meals, or tons of side dishes.
  8. What is your biggest cooking challenge? To stay out of ruts. My husband can be a picky eater, so it’s tempting to me to just keep on cooking the few things I know he will like. And also, I try hard to not waste food. It bothers me when I have leftovers that I can’t reuse or I buy food that goes bad before I can use it. Wasting food seems like a bad use of my family’s resources, not to mention disrespectful of people who don’t have enough to eat.
  9. What cooking websites or books inspire you? I really enjoy Vegetarian Times magazine. I encourage omnivores to check it out (their website is excellent too). VT has a lot of interesting recipes that use vegetables, fruits, and grains in new ways. For people who are interested in reducing their food bill or cholesterol/fat intake, substituting a few meat meals with vegetarian ones can be a great way to go.
  10. Please share a recipe or cooking tip. This recipe from Vegetarian Times is one of my favorites: French Onion Soup. It only have 10 grams of fat and 279 calories per serving! And I guarantee you that it tastes as good as a beef broth version with two or three times as many grams of fat and calories (plus, readers who keep kosher will enjoy the cheese topping that they couldn’t have with traditional French Onion Soup). My favorite tip for making cooking easier is actually one that I learned from you, Hannah. The last time I made this recipe I was frustrated at how long (and painful) it was to cut up all the onions. You recommended cutting up all the onions I would need for a week using my food processor. Now I do that for all sorts of vegetables. It’s much easier to chop everything up on Sunday when I have the time. Then weeknight meals come together much more quickly since I don’t have to chop any vegetables or clean up after chopping them.

Thank you so much for the interview, and I’m glad you found my tip helpful. See Fern’s guest post on Cooking Manager, Grow a Kitchen Herb Garden to Save Money.


  1. Thanks so much for interviewing me Hannah, it was a lot of fun!

  2. I must have missed the onion tip. Do you freeze them fresh or cook them after you cut them up.
    It was a very interesting interview Fern.

  3. Very cool! Love the little look into what you eat regularly, Fern. I’d love some of the Shabbat recipes you use… and the Indian ones, too. I’m wanting to expand my cooking repertoire.

    Maybe a “recipe Wednesday” series should be forthcoming on LOTB?

  4. Ariela–I had asked Hannah directly about what she does about onions. I don’t think she posted about that here, but I could be wrong. Anyway, she suggested using a food processor to cut up a large amount of onions, and mentioned that she cuts up a week’s worth of onions at once, and stores them in the fridge. At least, I hope I am remembering that correctly. That’s what I do now. It saves me time, and no tears!

  5. Anarchy in the Garden says

    Great article! Is Thursday’s curried lentil soup the recipe you gave me? Loved reading about your family dinners.

  6. Aviva_Hadas says

    Can you please explain the issue with pre-cutting onions and Keeping kosher.

    While I only have a meat set & a dairy set of knives (no parve set) I would not consider cutting for meat & dairy meals. Meanwhile, I would not have had a second thought about cutting onions for several meat meals (including those that are only meat because they are prepared in meat pots & served on meat dishes.)

  7. Aviva, since this isn’t a blog about Judaism I prefer to refer you (and any curious readers) to a post on my other blog where this was discussed at length, in the comments:


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