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A picture of Darra Goldstein
Image by Stefan Wettainen.

Darra Goldstein

Professor, editor, cookbook author

in food, mac, professor, writer

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Darra Goldstein, and I'm always hard put to answer that question! Until recently I led kind of a double life. My day job was as the Willcox B. and Harriet M. Adsit Professor of Russian at Williams College, where I taught for 34 years.

But I've also had a long career in food, and that's where my energies are focused now. I'm the founding editor of Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, the James Beard Foundation 2012 Publication of the Year that was known as the "New Yorker for Foodies." I also write cookbooks and do a lot of food writing and consulting in general. My most recent cookbooks are Fire + Ice: Classic Nordic Cooking and the new, 25th anniversary edition of The Georgian Feast. At the moment I'm really excited about my latest book, which is focused on the Far North of Russia. It's called Beyond the North Wind: Russia in Recipes and Lore and will be out in February 2020.

What hardware do you use?

My time is split between kitchen and desk, and I keep the two totally distinct. I don't want to introduce a computer into the kitchen, which to me would violate that space. In my study I have a 2011 iMac with a 21.5" display, and that's where almost all of my writing gets done, though I have an old MacBook Air for traveling. When I'm doing initial research or working up recipes I still take notes by hand. I type my notes up only later, and the double process of writing things manually and then typing them fixes the ideas in my mind. I find it very satisfying to work with pen and paper, and my thoughts flow best when I use a Pilot Precise Rolling Ball pen with an extra-fine tip, always with black ink.

The most crucial hardware in my study is my cookbook and food reference library, not just for all the amazing information the books contain, but for the beauty of the books themselves - many are like works of art. They help guide and inspire my thoughts, and through them I can time travel every day. I've been trying for years to catalog them but haven't made much headway, even though LibraryThing is a wonderful tool.

My kitchen hardware is also inspiring. We put in a wood-burning oven when we built our house, as a kind of consolation prize for having moved from San Francisco to a small town in New England where there wasn't any decent pizza or bread. Now we can be self-sufficient, and the oven is doubly wonderful since it mimics the functions of the traditional Russian masonry stove, which has really helped with my recipe testing.

There's also my pantry. Its shelves display the cookware I've accumulated over the years from my travels throughout the world, as well as many foods I've brought back. I used to feel guilty about not using them before their expiration dates, but now I see them differently - as a kind of archive of my travels and of my life. Now, when I'm tempted to use something, I actually hesitate. It's a walk-in space, and when I need to feel grounded, that's where I go.

As for actual kitchen equipment, a scale is crucial for recipe testing. I have a nice countertop model from Salter that doesn't take up much space. I'm also wedded to my wooden-handled balloon whisk, which allows me to whip cream and egg whites to gorgeous billows and keeps my forearms strong besides. The other piece of kitchenware I really love is a heavy Staub cast-iron cocotte for the stovetop, enameled in a rich shade of grenadine.

And what software?

I rely on Word for my writing and Adobe Acrobat for work with PDFs. Since I give lots of public presentations, I use PowerPoint a lot, and Photoshop comes in handy for working with images. I use Firefox as my default browser.

For long plane trips, my Bose QuietComfort 20i acoustic noise canceling headphones make a huge difference.

I resisted the time suck of social media for years, but when I was in the Russian Arctic researching my book I wanted to document what I saw. Then I really wanted to share it, so I succumbed to Instagram, which I now love - much more than Twitter, which I've become a lot less active on. I take pictures with my iPhone X, and though I don't want to be wedded to it, I am.

What would be your dream setup?

My dream setup wouldn't be too different from what I have now, though I probably wouldn't have my kitchen and study at opposite ends of the house. The main thing I wish I had is somewhere nearby to find good food. Our small town doesn't even have a grocery store, and apart from summer, when we have our own garden, it's hard to find good produce. I don't like all the carbon miles that come with mail order and wish I had ready access to truly fresh fish and seafood. Not least, I'd have a fabulous Scandinavian bakery nearby where I could go out for cardamom buns whenever I crave them - which is nearly all the time.