I love food. I’ve loved food for as long as I can remember. All kinds of food.
Growing up in the suburbs of Wisconsin, there were some important rules about food in our family that, as the oldest of three – and undoubtedly the spunkiest, to put it lightly – I learned at a young age.
Sitting down to the dinner table was mandatory. There was nothing that was more important than having a hearty meal and conversing with the people in your life. Thanks Mom and Dad. I will teach this one to my kids, grandkids and great-grandkids. Even though I may not have been the most conversational socialite at the dinner table in high school, or perhaps my conversation resulted in more debate-like atmospheres, I know better now and I couldn’t agree more.
Polish food is king. Have you seen my last name? She-shell-shack (shick, take your pick). I cannot tell you how many times my father has gone on, and on, and on, about kielbasa and cabbage rolls. I remember one night, like it was yesterday, I must have been about eight, when we had cabbage rolls for dinner and, if I remember clearly, these rolls were completely lacking taste and rather sour, as cabbage can be. Thus, I resorted to sitting at the table for hours, not having permission to leave until I had finished my food. I’m sure we can all muster up at least one childhood memory that mirrors this one. My solution? Cry until they caved. Indeed.
If you can finish cabbage, ice cream awaits. Actually ice cream always awaited for our family. So I guess I didn’t have it that bad with the cabbage rolls hmm? Ice cream, frozen yogurt, sorbet and custard – a Wisconsin favorite – were the indispensable desserts of choice in our home. Boy I could go for some cookies n’ cream right now.
As an adventurous child, who dreamed of new foods in far-away lands, I was constantly pushing my limits – trying new recipes, getting my family to eat new foods and try new spices and demanding we “change things up a bit.” (Expect cabbage rolls, naturally.) Our household wasn’t one for many traditional recipes – each year we’d find new Christmas cookie recipes to experiment with and rarely could you find an apple pie recipe used twice. There were just so many different ways to cook, “Why stick to one?” a persistent pledge of mine. There were, however, the few gems my mother kept under lock-and-key: her creamy potato soup, the fluffy pistachio pie my cousins crave hundreds of miles away, and of course my father’s coveted Polish kielbasa. These recipes will always be treasured in our home, not only for their pure deliciousness, but for the warm hug of potato soup, the stories sizzling in a smoked kielbasa and the smiles hidden in pistachio pie.
Yes. I grew up with good food, all around me, and a balanced knowledge of tradition and inquisition. My persistent search for more knowledge about what I am eating has shaped who I am today. As a twenty-something, my food education, both formal and self-taught, reaches all ends of the spectrum. I have a degree in agricultural science communications; I have taken courses in food and nutritional science; worked in a corn field for a summer; experimented with calcium lactate crystallization in Cheddar cheese; learned how gum is made as an intern in a candy laboratory; interviewed numerous chefs and influential players in the food industry; managed a local vineyard; ventured to many cities, with their unique cuisines always top-of-mind; and spent endless hours in my kitchen, experimenting, tasting and enjoying.
I’ve only just begun. I crave more. I have a hunger inside of me to know how to make the crispiest, juiciest grilled chicken, to make homemade naan more often, to find the most absurdly delicious recipes – ingredients you’d never think to put together – to simply enjoy the heat of a chile pepper, the scent of cilantro and the first bite into freshly picked summer corn-on-the-cob. (No cooking necessary. Tried it? You should.)
Lately the media has been all over “sustainable,” “green,” “buy-local” and “good, whole-some foods.”
This is good. Our world, myself included, has become too busy, is moving too fast and is too vast in its food choices. What do I mean? There are those that eat out daily. There are those that only eat low-carb, low-fat, no-fat. And how many families do you know that sit down at the table for dinner these days?
Yes. I did just read Michael Pollan’s “In Defense of Food.” Yes I loved it. No I will not start preaching Michael Pollan to everyone.
But the cover says it all, “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” I’m in. Sounds good to me. This movement – often crowned the sustainable foods movement – is already sprouting up around our nation. My only question is why has it taken so long, and why do we need so many influential voices, like Michael Pollan and Jamie Oliver, to change the way we eat?
Eating has been a part of human culture for centuries, but as human culture changes, so does the culture of food. Now that our world communicates on such a global level, there have been so many new choices, ideas, resources and means for our food. We eat sushi in Madison. A food that obviously wasn’t popular, or available here 100 years ago.
The Evening Chef
But I feel that I am getting ahead of myself. Thus, this blog, The Evening Chef, has been organized with four personal goals in mind – to a food lifestyle, decree, or manifesto. Perhaps we shall call them the “food rules” of a new She-shell-shack household.
1. Eat good food.
It’s easy to get caught up in fast-food, junk food and simply too much food. Eating food because it is good for you and because it tastes good is a balance. One could say the the mix of baby greens tossed in olive oil and balsamic, followed by a juicy, cheese-smothered burger on a whole-grain bun is artful. I’d also call it delicious.
2. Eat locally.
Madison has an absolutely amazing farmers’ market – and we’re lucky for it to be year-round! I want to eat locally. Example: No sushi in Madison. Don’t fret, in Wisconsin I have hundreds of locally produced artisan cheeses, fresh vegetables, bison, beef, chicken, wines, microbrews, the possibilities are (practically) endless. I’ll have to wait until I’m on the west coast to enjoy sushi, on the east coast to savor fresh lobster and down south for some fantastic fruits, but there are so many reasons to eat locally. It helps the local economy, helps the environment and helps you know exactly where your foods are coming from when you’re enjoying them.
3. Learn. Teach.
I have so much more to learn about food. I won’t stop asking questions and trying new things. This is where I will do it. I’m also eager to teach people what I know, if their so inclined. I want to tell my stories and I want to hear yours. So please share them. We all have something, whether it new, old, spicy or sweet, to bring to the table.
Food has made the journey to where it is today because it is such an innate part of human culture. I want to remind myself to keep enjoying the foods I love. I want to smack my lips to the sour spark of a lemon while sipping on refreshing tea mixed with sticky, syrupy honey. I can relish the smooth nature of goat cheese as it melts into crusty bread with garlic and sweet roasted tomatoes. I will savor the simple sensation of a steak taco made with homemade tortillas and topped with pico de gallo from just-picked corn and peppers.
Thanks to those who support these simple food ideas. Thanks to those who are doing their part around the world to make our culture’s food a bit better. If you’d like to be a part of the “She-shell-shick food rules 2.0” please, join me on my journey and follow these four simple rules, wherever you sit down to eat.