Today we are acting grown up with Valentina Solfrini, the 23-year-old blogger and photographer who runs Hortus Natural Cooking. Though Valentina is younger than I am, I find her work so composed and precise that I imagine she must be very mature, or at least an old soul. She tells me she splits her time between New York and Italy (what a life!), creating vegetarian meals and shooting them in artistic and moody ways. Her writing, perhaps to offset the larger than life photos, is often light and witty. Reading Hortus Natural Cooking is always a pleasure.
Read on to get to know Valentina!
What is your all-time favorite book?
It is a difficult answer to give - every book you loved feels a little like it became your own, after all. But the first title that comes to mind is The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery. The psychology of the characters is so deep, poetic and delicate. Being able to express harsh and devastating feelings in such a sweet way is truly a gift.
What meal do you love to cook?
When I am by myself, I love preparing some sort of Japanese dish, or some sort of salad. Anything that involves vegetables makes me feel at peace with the world. But nothing beats the slow, almost meditative process of making bread.
What is your favorite food scene from a book?
There is this scene from the book Kitchen [P/P pairing] by Banana Yoshimoto, in which the protagonist gets a bowl of amazing katsudon (pork over rice) at a local shop and decides to bring some to her friend/loved one who is away, and she has to take a 1 hour long, expensive taxi drive and climb up to the window of the inn he’s staying at and even gets hurt in the process. I identify a lot in the act of giving food as a means of expressing love, and this is one of the most heartwarming scenes I ever remember coming across.
"Although he still looked as if he didn't understand what was happening, he said, "Yes, this looks great." He removed the lid and began to eat the katsudon the counter man had packaged so carefully. My spirits began to lift — I had done all I could."
Coffee or tea?
Tea. Possibly green, and Jasmine scented. But a cup of Stumptown coffee is one of my favorite occasional treats.
What is the last book you abandoned?
Game of Thrones. Yes, seriously.
Author you'd most like to meet for dinner, and your order?
Wouldn't it be super fun to hang out with Neil Gaiman? He gives me the idea of the kind of person you could order some kind of freaky food with. We'd go at an Asian place and randomly point our finger at the menu and order things we have no idea what they are.
Where do you go to find new recipes?
I love to browse through old magazines from 20 or even 30 years ago, and imagine a modern twist of those 'retro' recipes. It fascinates me how things and trends changed throughout the years in the cooking world as well. Another favorite activity of mine that really fosters creativity is go look at restaurants menus. If I have time to go for a stroll or a bike ride around town, I’ll always stop and read menus outside.
This aside, blogs, Pinterest and Food52 are a major source of inspiration.
Where do you go to find new reads?
Thrift shops, mostly. Or, I just like to browse through bookshelves in bookshops and have shop clerks go crazy because they see me walking up and down and I always say no to their repeated ‘Can I help you?’ question.
Or, even better, I browse through the collections of people I know have good taste.
Tell us about your blog — the inspiration for it, why you blog, and your favorite aspects of it.
I started my blog as a way to try and find something that I thought was missing. At the time, I abandoned illustration, which I had pursued for most of my life, and needed a way to express my creativity in a way that made more sense to me and felt closer to my soul. Plus, I was forced to move back to Italy from the United States, which caused a big dive deep in a very dark area of my spirit, and on top of that some health issues I had for years seemed to start getting worse. I was in a place that did not make sense to me and that I did not understand, with a body that did not respond and a mind that did not feel active anymore. I noticed how food, and a penchant for a ‘cleaner’, so to speak, style of eating made sense to me and I deeply enjoyed the process of preparing my meals. Because I enjoyed it so much, I started taking photos to keep track of my process. I realized that this new found love for a completely unexpected thing could have been my salvation, and indeed it was.
The most amazing thing though, is that I not only found myself, but I also found the love and support of an unbelievable online community who I also had the incredible honor of meeting in real life. I truly believed that it is important to manifest our passion for what we love. If you love something, write about it, take pictures of it, or dance it, sing it – whatever. Just manifest it. It will make you shine through. Love is kind of contagious, you know.
What are your favorite blogs, and why?
One of my first and most important sources of inspiration came from Green Kitchen Stories. I have been a mindful eater for a while, but it was the discovery of their blog that really made me reconsider some of my eating habits and embrace a healthy and varied way of eating. Similar to GKS there is a blog called In the Making by Belen, which I find extremely inspiring both for the clean photography and clean recipes. I love how these two blogs can really give a sense of lightness and interior peace. 101 Cookbooks was also a great source of healthy food inspiration.
Beth Kirby’s blog, Local Milk, is of course a major source of photography inspiration, and so is Andrea Gentl’s Hungry Ghost Food + Travel and Roost Blog.
My favorite blog at the moment is probably Princess Tofu [ATTW]. Her recipes are so creative and her photography so beautiful that browsing her pages almost feels like walking through an art gallery.
Other websites I enjoy visiting and getting inspired by include Two Red Bowls [ATTW], My Blue and White Kitchen [ATTW], My Name is Yeh [ATTW], What Should I Eat For Breakfast Today?, A Couple Cooks, I am a Food Blog, and many others.