A La Jolla resident is hoping her cookbook, a collection of recipes and advice culled from her experiences and those of friends, will help people create their own comfort food while being confined to home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Linda Polly, who has lived in La Jolla full time for three years after owning a vacation home here for 15 years, wrote and self-published “Midwest Moms: Recipes & Advice from the Heartland” in 2007 while living in Kansas with her husband, Richard, and their children.
“I cook a lot, and since I majored in journalism, people kept saying, ‘Why don’t you write a book?’” said Polly, who moved to La Jolla after Richard, an orthopedic surgeon, died in 2017.
“I researched cookbooks,” she said, “and I hit on the idea that what we think of the Midwest — dinners and food and gatherings — [is] about getting together and visiting. For me, it was dinner … every night for my family, where I could interrogate my children, as I like to say.”
With friends in six Midwestern states, Polly “queried them to get advice on child rearing.” The book contains those tidbits of advice as well as Polly’s own wisdom, covering everything from potty training to getting children home by curfew to dealing with bullying.
Polly said she wanted to share the “brilliant comments and funny stories” she had collected over the years, as well as tackle poignant issues.
The advice, most of which written by Polly, is “spliced in between” more than 300 recipes for appetizers, sides, entrees and desserts, with Polly writing about two-thirds of them, she said.
The recipes reflect her upbringing on a farm west of Des Moines, Iowa, where Polly’s mother was known for her bread and pies. “We made the butter, the bread, the noodles,” Polly said. “I didn’t know you could buy noodles in a store when I got married; I had never seen them in our house.”
“We did everything from scratch,” she said. “I’m a grandmother; I think we’ve circled back to that.”
The book’s comfort food recipes are useful now, Polly said, as “people are going and buying themselves a bread machine. COVID is keeping you in your house.”
For those looking to spend their extra time at home learning or improving cooking skills, “this is the kind of book you can do that with,” Polly said.
The recipes are intended for a “regular kind of kitchen,” she said. “It’s all recipes that you have the ingredients in your house somewhere. There are no exotic ingredients. That is what has made it so popular.”
Cooking the recipes from scratch has the added benefit of being able to “control the salt, the oil and additives — there aren’t any.”
Polly said the book “sold four times the number … they said I could sell in the first 11 days.” Midwestern cooking has a similar appeal in California, she said.
“People tell me the recipes are very easy to follow,” she said. “There aren’t as many restaurants here that do the farm-to-table cooking we [did], the comfort food.”
Polly said her favorite recipes in the book are those that are “simple,” like a Swiss cheese and onion “five-minute hors d’oeuvre I served at every party I ever gave.”
She’s also partial to the six-ingredient sherry pound cake that “became famous because I sent food to the Craig Ferguson show” (“The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson”) when her son Matthew Polly, also an author, was a guest in 2006. “Craig Ferguson talked about it on the air,” she said.
Giving her food to others is part of Polly’s daily routine. “I try to figure out what I can do every day for someone,” she said, “whether it’s something for those clearing the debris off the beach or bringing food to the local fire station crews.”
“Firemen to me are the heroes of the world. To take food to a firehouse is nothing to me, because they are putting their lives at risk,” she said.
Polly also gives her food to local lifeguards and is looking to donate to the San Diego Police Department. “I know how lucky we all are to be at home and not taking our lives in our hands,” she said.
Though Polly said “what I do is very small,” she also donates to local food banks and leaves food at neighbors’ doors.
“There’s no point in mashing one potato,” she said, adding that she’s happy to share with those she knows “don’t cook a lot.”
All the money from sales of “Midwest Moms: Recipes & Advice from the Heartland” goes to a scholarship fund in Richard Polly’s name at the University of Iowa. To buy one, email [email protected]. The cost is $25. ◆