Joanna Bean Martin
La Cocina showcases women we admire and their kitchens. Part photo essay, part interview, all admiration.
Here is our new episode of La Cocina, a conversation with Joanna Bean Martin.
Please describe your kitchen.
Suburban 80’s vibe with cornflower and mauve formica, red oak and brass accents. It was the exact style of kitchen when we were hoping to find when we bought our house 7.5 years ago—knowing that we wanted to updated it eventually but needed something livable in the meantime. I upgraded the stove last year to a used Blue Star I found on craigslist and it’s my workhorse—I love it.
What’s your style of cooking? Do you taste as you go?
I feel like I’m at my best when I am forced to throw something together with not much of a plan. I find so much ease in this space and kind of the opposite when I cook for company—which I also love but stresses me out a bit more. I’ve always been a creative person but struggle with my artistic voice—yet when I create something unexpected and delicious using vegetables about to turn or taking chicken dinner from one meal and turning it into something completely different in the next, that feels like art for me.
My family doesn’t really love leftovers so I’m always trying to reinvent so we don’t waste too much. Because I’m often winging it, I taste the ENTIRE time I’m cooking and actually rarely have room to eat or enjoy the food at the end. It’s ridiculous.
We all have our tried and true meals. What is your...
“I can’t be bothered” meal?
This almost always involves pasta. It’s easy to doctor and it’s easy to add things and stretch a mix of ingredients. Typically I’ll do a pesto base or a cream base:
Leftover pasta + good quality pre-made pesto (New Season’s brand is great) + shredded parm + fresh veggies (cherry tomatoes, cucumbers chunks, arugula) + more shredded parm & olive oil/salt/pepper. I’ll replace parm with Ciliegine if I have that. I’ll toss in some leftover chicken if I have that.
Leftover pasta + sausage or pancetta + roasted brocollini or cauliflower or peas + a small carton of cream
Or sometimes I’ll just make a quick red sauce with sliced or chopped garlic, chili flakes and a can of crushed tomatoes.
Last night I sauteed garlic slices & pancetta for a couple minutes, threw in a ½ jar of store bought pasta sauce, added leftover pasta + a container of cream. It was divine. My kids didn’t like it. They’re weird.
“I want to feel comfy” meal?
Anything that starts with cooking garlic, onions and herbs fills me with comfort. Chicken soup always feels like loves—and always add a dash of curry!
I make a lot of salads. A lot of them teeter on “bowl” or mess-ha. And a lot of them involved fried chickpeas, a decent amount of olive oil and sometimes bread—so they’re not always super “healthy” like a bowl of unsalted steamed spinach but they’re always packed with veggies and flavor. I’ve often thought about writing a book dedicated to the myriad of salad combinations I enjoy like a “if you have this, add that” type situation.
I never made meatballs or matzoh balls until this year. They just seemed like too much and I shy away from anything that takes longer than 20-30 mins on a weeknight or 45-60 on a Sunday. But for whatever reason, I’ve now made both (both from Alison Roman) and they’re fun and fantastic.
The nature of the making and eating both feel celebratory. Always matzoh balls at Passover which was always my favorite holiday as a kid and I when I think of meatballs, I think of the first time I met the Italian side of my family in Jersey, I was 9 and my great-grandmother Qartuccio made 90 meatballs. I don’t remember what they tasted like. I probably didn’t even like them since I wasn’t a big meat eater growing up. But now that I’ve started making them, I get it. Both of these dishes require time and love—you have to get in there and get messy.
The other night on a whim I made them on a weeknight, which is really not typically how I cook but the seasons were changing and I was craving the warmth and a special meal with my kids. By the time I was done my kids were starving and I don’t even remember if they liked them that much but a few days later I smashed them up and put them on toast with melted mozzarella and they loved them.
Favorite take out meal?
I will always prefer a burger made by someone else—Bless Your Heart and Burger Stevens are our go-to. Pizza almost always tastes better when it’s made fresh with good dough piping hot straight from the oven—Arinell’s from Berkeley will always be my favorite, though Gioia might’ve taken it’s spot. As we know, Portland has some great stand-ins. I love Vietnamese food. And nothing beats good BBQ.
A Portland restaurant you’ve missed during COVID?
Expatriate. There’s nowhere like it in Portland. It transports you to another time/place. Dark moody, great food, great cocktails, packed in—it’s alive and I miss it!
What is your all-time favorite meal, where did you eat it, and with whom?
I can’t really think of ONE but being at my mom’s house for a big Thanksgiving or Passover with my mom, step-dad, dad, brother & family and our extended family friends is one of my favorite things in the world. My mom does not pride herself on her cooking, although she is perfectly competent, but what she really excels at is throwing a great dinner party, making everyone feel welcomed and loved.
Who taught you to cook?
My dad is a fantastic cook but was not great with time management—so he’d make the most beautifully plated meal but it would end up coming out until I was tired and over hungry. I think I get a lot of my inspiration and natural ease with flavors from him.
I always loved being in the kitchen and experimenting. My mom let me do that and she always let me help. Even though we didn’t eat a lot of meat growing up I was always most interested in the preparation of the meals or facilitating. Like I loved peeling shrimp for my older brother to eat but I wouldn't touch the stuff.
I would say in my mid-twenties I started taking it more seriously. My older brother is a great cook and once I moved back to the West Coast we started spending more time together and cooking together more. He was making Zuni’s chicken long before Gwyneth simplified it. His interest piqued my interest—which also coincided with my the beginning of my relationship with my husband and then having kids. Cooking is very much a way for me to care and comfort them but also to push them and teach them.
What ingredients/staples do you always have stocked in your pantry and/or fridge?
Salad greens (mixed or arugula or kale), carrots (for kid snacking or shredding into a salad), parmesan (grated and shredded goes with everything), crisp apples (snaking or salads)
Meal plan or wing it?
I’ve tried hard to be a planning-person but alas I am a wing-it person.
Where do you enjoy finding recipes? Online? Cookbooks? Which are your go to cookbooks?
I love having cookbooks around but I don’t use them that often. I have a few go-to recipes. I find that I really need recipes that are easy and quick and sometimes even reading the instructions takes too long for me—so I rely heavily on photos to guide me or at least draw me in. If it’s something I’ve never made, I will follow closely, if it’s something that looks similar to something I’ve made I will skim it and use what I’ve got on hand. I still have all my Bon Appetits and Gourmets. I love Carla’s book and she has some great mom-style recipes. I really do like a lot of Alison Roman’s recipes because they’re easy and quick and pretty great. Her potato-leek and stew are great for Fall. Martha and Gwyneth are also great resources always! There were so many blogs when I started cooking more seriously—I still make coconut curry lentil soup from my friend Afton’s old blog (which I read before we knew each other!).
What’s your relationship to dish washing?
Do it! Especially as you go….I really can’t stand a sink full of dirty dishes.
What is the kitchen task you most dread?
Putting anything away. I don’t even like to close a drawer or door. Admittedly, I’ll leave the fridge door open because I know I’ll be back there in a minute. I know, I know. I also HATE taking out the trash, compost and recycling. I’m very lazy about it—I rely heavily on my husband to do it and have started roping my kids into all of these chores I don’t enjoy—they’re mostly into it!
What has your relationship been with food over time, has it changed?
Hmmm yeah, 100% it’s evolved, like everything else as I’ve aged but I still struggle with my relationship with food quite a bit. I would say as a kid I used food as a coping mechanism. There was some trauma and stress and unhealthy patterns that I’ve carried into adulthood. I think cooking has helped me with that quite a bit. It’s very healing to nourish others. I love to shop for food, I love to make food for people, I love watching my kids eat—especially when it’s something I’ve created from scratch. But my own eating habits, indulging, etc. is something I continue to feel guilty about. It’s all wrapped up in body image and I’m working hard on reframing this for myself and I hope to god I don’t pass any of it down to my daughters.
Are you pro kids in the kitchen? Or do you prefer to cook alone? What meal/food do your children most request?
I prefer cooking alone but that’s because at times it’s been an escape. I get overwhelmed with my kids in the kitchen but recently I’ve been able to just work with one at a time and it’s been lovely. Just last night I gave my daughter two cucumbers to slice and told her what ingredients to use for dressing and she made the salad all by herself. It was really neat to watch her use the ingredients and mix it to her liking. I think they’re just getting to an age where I can do more of that. I also just want to pass on my ease in the kitchen with them so they can be self-sufficient!
Who would be on your imaginary dinner party guest list?
It would be me and Zack Galifianakis. He would just talk and I would just pee my pants.
Whose kitchen is your favorite/inspires you most?
It’s more about the act of gathering. The interaction of life. Any kitchen where we can gather, talk, drink, laugh. I’m fortunate to have lots of people with lovely spaces for just that in my life. I always want to be in a kitchen with my older brother because we so much have fun together. He and his wife are fantastic cooks and prefer their holiday meals over anyone else’s. My in-law’s kitchen in Maine is the hub of all activity—it’s fun to watch 2-3 people working on different dishes and all the cousins running through. I’m always happy in my good friend’s kitchens—especially on a holiday.
Would you rather cook or be cooked for? Do you prefer to host or be a guest?
I love both so much. I love to let other people feed me and I love to host. I just love gathering and talking and being together, no matter the reason or location (unless it’s cold, then I’m miserable).
Whose cooking makes you feel the coziest and most cared for?
My friend Leilani Music is a fantastic easy breezy cook. We became close the year I got married and then pregnant and had my first kid—she would drop stuff off or bring me something to eat on our way to hike. She’d have us over and always make the “healthy” version for us and the “hearty/dude version” for Ike. I adore her and miss her cooking so much!! Similarly, my friends Jonny & Nikki Fenix love to feed and nourish their friends and I love being in their kitchen and garden enjoying whatever they’ve concocted!
Artists that inspire you, why and in what way?
Even though I am very visual, I’m more inspired by music and books than traditional art. I’m especially touched and interested in the sharing of them. My favorite books are the ones someone has gifted me. It’s a touching exchange. Most recently I finished City of Thieves—every moment of reading it felt so satisfying. I highly recommend! Music that moves me is often dreamy guitar driven and/or melodic or like straight up soul or dance gets me moving—I love Robyn, Major Lazer, Nina Simone, Sister Rosetta Tharp, Jungle, Yeasayer, War on Drugs. When I work I need no lyrics, also when I want to set the tone in the car with the kids, I like mellow music—Ethiopian jazz, The Durutti Column,Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock album, Peace Piece by Bill Evans, The Koln Concert by Keith Jarrett. One of my all time favorite songs is The Ones to Wait by CCFX. It feels like something from my childhood but it’s contemporary.
MADRE’s tagline is We all eat. We all rest. We’ve asked a lot about eating, so how do you build rest into your day/week/month?
I’m no good at resting. I don’t do good with sitting still and I have always had trouble falling asleep—but I’ve recently learned in the past couple years how much I need regular exercise to stay sane and that is my way of taking time for myself and “resetting”.
Photographs by Naz Sahin: