Washington Cooks: A Venezuelan and her veggies

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Eating the same breakfast for 40-plus years: Sounds like a recipe for boredom. Yet few people are more infatuated with edible pursuits than Rossana Aspite Grimm, who tucks into two eggs she scrambles with sauteed garlic and vegetables each day.

That, plus a blended fruit shake, "keeps me going until late in the afternoon," she says.

The Washington real estate agent certainly does not view her kitchen rituals as limited. Born in Venezuela to Italian parents, Grimm draws from a rich culinary stew that informs her family's weeknight meals and twice-monthly feasts for a dozen or more.

She spent childhood summers on her grandparents' farm in Pescara, Italy, collecting eggs in the morning (the beginning of that breakfast habit), picking peaches during the day and watching her grandmother roll pasta dough at night. "I learned to love food the way Italians love it," Grimm says.

Now, she says the first thing she thinks of in the morning is what to make for dinner that night. As she peppers her conversation with details of dual cuisines, how she will eat "anything that moves" and how cooking is her yoga, a less-fit person might feel a twinge of envy. Grimm is a youthful 48, a testament to what eating right can do for a body. Hers is trim, with a healthful glow.

Back home on Margarita Island, which is not far from Trinidad and Tobago, Sunday lunches for her parents and three siblings were mostly Italian and lasted for hours; her mother never made Venezuelan food. But Grimm loved and studied what the native cook and housekeepers put together for themselves.

The common thread in Grimm's food life has been fresh, unprocessed ingredients. She maintained the standard as a college student who came to the United States in 1979 and as a mom who pureed her kids' baby food. In the past few years, it has woven seamlessly into her tending of a 25-by-25-foot plot in a Glover Park community garden in Northwest Washington with her partner, architect Michael Minton.

Post gardening columnist Adrian Higgins, who happens to be working a plot in the same area, gives the Grimm-Minton effort high marks for precision and organization. Its output is not too shabby, either: fennel, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, garlic, onion, zucchini, Swiss chard, parsnips, carrots, chicory, dandelion greens, beets and watermelon. Grimm manages to squeeze in four or five hours of weeding and harvesting per week, with a cellphone close at hand for work calls.

Consequently, her trips to the grocery store are brief.

"Rossana's food is awesome," Minton says. "She never follows a recipe. I do Louisiana food, and she has picked that up, too. We're quite content eaters in this house."

During the week, she will grill chicken or fish or cook pasta with vegetables for Minton, 16-year-old son Andres and 18-year-old daughter Alessandra, just home from her first year in college. On Mondays, Grimm will make a "cleansing" vegetable soup of whatever bits are left over.

One or two weekends a month, she releases her Venezuelan mojo by making her version of pabellon criollo, a traditional platter of meat, beans and rice. It is her go-to meal for just about every holiday except Thanksgiving. "It's fun food," she says.

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