First let me say, my mother was a superior cook. Every night she cooked a family meal and we all gathered around the kitchen table eating and talking. Many of our family favorites were from the Southern cooking repertoire she learned from her mother. Cornbread dressing, black eyed peas, pecan pie, tomato aspic, etc. She made the best fried chicken ever. So good that when she included a leftover piece in my lunch box the next day, it still tasted awesome. I remember she had a special container on the stove to strain the drippings from the breakfast bacon with which she used to flavor many of her dishes. What horror that sounds now, right? Her Red Velvet cake recipe is what the hubby uses to great raves.
Lula Belle’s original Chinese cook book
Mom also made it a point to learn how to cook cultural food dishes from wherever we lived with Dad on his Army assignments. In Hawaii, she learned to cook Asian food including wontons and spring rolls and delicious rice dishes. When my dad was stationed in Pakistan, and we couldn’t go, she still learned how to create Pakistani dishes to serve my father when he got home so we could share the food culture.
Another component of my foodie upbringing was through my dad. Everywhere we lived, he had a garden. He loved tilling the dirt and learning the plants that would grow well in whatever climate we were in.
I specifically remember the garden in Hawaii. It was a rather large garden on a hill on one side of the house in which we lived while waiting for base housing. Much to his chagrin, there were many types of tiny beasties that will infect and eat your produce in that climate. While our native Hawaiian landlord gave him some advice, Dad managed to invent a tomato saver using my mom’s old stockings. The result of all this gardening is that we were privy to fresh seasonal veggies on the table most of our growing-up lives. He continued to garden until his last year on this earth.
When I began my life in Austin as a hippie babe, I too became a darn good gardener. In both homes I had there, I maintained a large, prolific garden. I grew squash, potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes, beans (scarlet runner were my favorites) melons and more. Our resident neighborhood food guru, Clay, was already a vegan and among other dietary examples, fed his twin baby daughters almond milk after they got too big for nursing. We ate a lot of good fresh produce, turkey eggs, raw milk and other healthy foods. We shopped at Good Foods, the store which was actually the precursor to Whole Foods, and then at Whole Foods original store on Lamar Blvd. I made healthful cookies and other baked goods and stayed away from white sugar.
Somewhere along the way of life, I deterred from this path. Smallish incomes and three kids led the family to make the unhealthy mistakes many people in the same financial situation make—beans, potatoes, bread, pasta are cheap, fresh or organic produce not so much. If your teenager works at Church’s Chicken, you love the free leftovers every night.
Oh and did I mention I married a pastry chef? Most the weight I gained from this era is still with me.
Little by little I got back on the right path. I just started saying “no” to the pastry, cookie, cake stuff. I began eating gluten-free for my intestines’ sake and there went the pasta, crackers etc. The hubby and I shopped at Central Market for the great assortment of fresh and tasty produce.
Delivery produce box
For a year or so we had a weekly box of local, seasonal produce delivered to our door. It stretched our ideas of what exactly is eatable Yes! to beet greens and strange sprouts and big black radishes. We finally cancelled, feeling it was not economically in our favor to continue.
On our back patio, we created a small, but productive, container garden. We’ve had good luck with tomatoes, Japanese eggplant, peppers, chard, herbs and even okra. Plus, the house came with two tangerine trees that keep us in fresh tangerines for about 6 weeks every fall.
Container garden tomatoes
We tried shopping at some of the latest wave in ‘new’ farmer’s market offerings. I confess we slipped some.
What got me back on track is reading a non-fiction book by Barbara Kingsolver, a terrific fiction writer–Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. The author and her family enter a life-changing adventure by moving full time to their farm in Virginia. They committed to eating only local, seasonal, organic, homegrown, homespun…well you get the idea. Albeit, they have a large growing area, already producing fruit and nut trees and a farming community that grows, raises or makes all products which fit in the parameters of this foodie life. It’s an interesting and inspiring tale.
Granted, our budget is limited, but we are trying to eat better and cook with more healthy ingredients. So, it’s back to the farmers markets for us for fresh, local, seasonal produce, eggs and other products. Last week, I got some wonderful beets and blackberries. This week a sweet, sweet watermelon and a jar of honey. Semi-retirement is a boon for time to search for healthy, economical food options and hubby is excellent at cooking them into delicious, interesting dishes.
Garden eggplant, pepper, herbs stew/sauce
A chard frittata with pear from CM