Finding My Slow Food

September 28, 2010

There are so many things that one can say about the food that we eat. Food tells who we are, where we came from, what our mood is. It reveals our insecurities and fears, gives our temperament away, and indulges our whims.

Growing up, food was a major part of each of my days. Food was comfort and solace: Chicken soup made from scratch with noodles from Pennsylvania Dutch Country (where my father is from) when I was sick. It told the story of where we lived: Chicago hot dogs with peppers and cheese, Boston beans with every Thanksgiving meal, etc. It provided me the taste of different countries, different cultures and different times. My mom was just as much in love with food as I was, and her constant exposure to different flavors, small hole in the wall restaurants, and a willingness to try anything certainly shaped the way that I viewed what was “good”.

My mom cooked every day that I was at home, every day that I can remember. She spent long hours by the stove, and took immense pride in every meal she made. As much of a cook as my mother was, and as much as she taught me about using fresh ingredients, going with my gut, and cooking simply, it was not by our time in the kitchen spent together that I learned. My mom was a stickler for everyone staying out of her space, and it was not until my mid-twenties that I took up the craft for myself. It was by memory of her over the stove while doing my homework, or observing her while while reading in the family room that I learned to cook.

After my schooling was over, and before life in the “real world” began, my mom, dad and I embarked on a journey to Italy and France that would forever change the way that I saw food. Traveling to Europe was a highlight of my life, and I had planned for this trip for many months. My dad had worked in Europe and Asia for most of my life, so he knew his way around, but this was my first journey. Most people have grand plans to see the art, hear the music, experience the old architecture, visit holy sites, but for me I was excited for the food.

I remember jogging through Rome on that first morning, too excited to sleep, and watching the shop keepers open their stalls and store fronts. Fresh meats, cheeses, breads, pastas, fruits and vegetables were everywhere. It felt like something out of all the books that I had read on the country, but it was as real as you could get, and as different to food and culture in the US as I could have imagined.

I gained 7 lbs on that trip (and I walked almost from one end of that country to the other, so that should say just how much I ate). We found ourselves at the top of a winery sharing a meal with a family we had never met, at a tiny restaurant that I swear was in the middle of the road and only served one dish that was so good it melted in my mouth, and in a series of rustic cafes where lunch took three hours and at least that many bottles of wine.

While you would think that it was the most opulent of meals that I would remember from that experience, it has actually been the most rustic and small that have stuck with me. The plate of figs and a small glass of white wine, a slice of bread a hunk of ham and a mushroom omelet. These are the meals that are still with me today. I remember watching families ordering the simplest of meals, and enjoying them like they had never tasted such delicacies. It was awe inspiring, to have that much joy over each meal that you shared.

Before I left for Italy, I paid my annual dues for membership in the Slow Food movement, but once I came home, membership was no longer needed. I had learned first hand what it meant to savor every bite of something, to take pleasure in a long meal with friends and family, to not rush through my casserole in front of the television. I have stacks of books that remind me what life in those countries is like, and if I ever find myself drifting away from the pleasure of true eating, I return immediately to them. Books like A Year in Provence, Under the Tuscan Sun and Seasons of Rome. I have not returned since that trip, and I long to go back, but it was more important for me to recreate the experience here at home than it was for me to try and keep going back to try and recapture it.

A soft boiled egg, a hunk of fresh bread and a slice of cheese is still the perfect meal, and finding the greenest grouping of asparagus still brings a huge smile to my face. The respect I have for farmers in my community who pride themselves on growing not only the freshest, but the best tasting tomatoes is immense, and I am drawn to restaurants who put simplicity and freshness over opulence and size.

I spend more time in my kitchen then anywhere else, especially since my children have come along and I am now able to share this love with them. I hope that years from now, as they are describing me to their own children, they will say such things as “my mom made me the warmest, sweetest applesauce”. If I am eulogized through food, I will be a very happy woman.

This point in my pregnancy has brought my love of food back squarely in my life, and I find my gratitude for the experiences that my own parents shared growing once again. I suppose that I am a believer that the life that we live can be measured by the food that we enjoy, and if this is the case, I have a very good life to be thankful for indeed.

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Luisa September 28, 2010 at 2:01 pm

That was good. I just got that book Under the Tuscan Sun hoping it would bring me back to Italy. I'm glad your feeling better if you're able to talk and write about food.
We are big on cooking and baking meals I try to include my children all ages if I can handle it some days I can't. But I'm finding they are inspired and make their own tasty creations or I may get a real yummy breakfast sometimes.
My favorite books that give the sense like in this post about bring back to other places when it comes to food are "A Homemade Life" and anything that Adriania Trigiani writes because about an Italian family surronded by food.

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Meryl September 28, 2010 at 2:12 pm

So very true…And additionally, I love the memories that come with food. The way I always think of my great-grandmother when I smell peanut butter cookies….my baby sister's love of good olives….

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Rose September 28, 2010 at 2:14 pm

While I have not yet been to Europe, I can only imagine how wonderful it is. I just read Julia Child's "My Life In France" and it was magical.

I like having my space in the kitchen, too, but I am trying really hard to get my children involved. Sometimes it's hard for me to have them under my feet, pestering me for their food. So rather then letting them get under my skin, I've been enlisting their help, telling them that with their help, it will go faster. Now if only that were true, HA! Someday…I'm sure it will be.

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Kelly September 28, 2010 at 2:37 pm

I would love more book recs if you have them. This is so much our goal but we have a hard time executing it. Life is so busy these days with a baby and two young children. Most meals get eaten standing up around the kitchen island.

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Andrea September 28, 2010 at 3:18 pm

What a wonderful ode to good food!

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Angela September 28, 2010 at 3:31 pm

I love good food myself. You are so right, food is necessary to nourish the body and the spirit. So many of our memories are made from our experiences with food. Your post reminds me to keep up on my quest of approaching cooking not as a chore but a gift of nuturing and nourishment I give to my family and myself. Be well friend, Angela

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Michelle September 28, 2010 at 3:31 pm

I love this post! I love food too. And like you, the simpler the better. That is why I have cookbooks from chefs like Jamie Oliver and Michael Smith (from our own Canada!) Simple, fresh ingredients, always….always with a glass of wine.

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Joy September 28, 2010 at 3:43 pm

That was beautiful to read, Heather. I share a similar outlook on food and eating. We actually had a very simple flatbread and potato soup last night for dinner that were both flavorful and delicious while being slow and simple. The perfect way to end a chilly autumn evening. :)

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clarice September 28, 2010 at 3:44 pm

So well put Heather. I find many people think slow food is just about snooty people eating fancy food. They miss the whole heart of it. They also miss how imprortant it is to have a connection to what you eat, how it was grow, how it was made and the hands that made it. Clarice

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kim September 28, 2010 at 4:17 pm

great post! and lovely photo….i want to jump through the screen…..that is the perfect meal right there!

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kbernadette September 28, 2010 at 4:18 pm

This so resonates with me. My favorite meal in Italy was our afternoon hunk of bread and cheese.

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Lisa Q September 28, 2010 at 4:26 pm

I feel very similar…I love to enjoy my food, not just consume it. Now, I've got to go find a piece of good cheese and some bread…you've made me hungry.

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Marina September 28, 2010 at 5:03 pm

What a beautiful post, Heather! After JUST spending about 2 hours in the kitchen making breakfast, preparing snacks and lunch for my ever hungry little boys, you've helped me see the sacredness in it all. Thank you for bringing that to the forefront of my mind and heart.

Italy is a funny wonderful place. I think I gained about 10 pounds after spending a glorious month there years ago! You brought back some beautiful memories :)

Wishing you much joy and light…

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Tonya September 28, 2010 at 6:19 pm

Thank you for sharing about your experiences in Europe. Food is such an integral part of our lives – and appreciating those that help to grow and make "real" food is such a wonderful thing to do. Some days I feel like I spend all day in the kitchen creating all three meals and baking snacks, and if I find myself just a little antsy, remind myself that food is number 2 after love of all the things our children need.
Warm wishes and so happy you are feeling well!

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bright and blithe September 28, 2010 at 6:50 pm

"Eulogized through food…" That made me think of my grandmother, and, of course, smile. Good to "see" you again Heather. It's nice to be back in this familiar place of words and pictures. Congratulations on the new little one. What blessing!

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Maeghan September 28, 2010 at 7:01 pm

I love this post. So well written and so true about how we need to slow down and savor food and life!

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Anna September 28, 2010 at 7:33 pm

What a beautiful post. I can practically see you sitting down to that road side meal. Someday I hope to experience that myself! Your love of good food shines through often, but this post might just be my favorite that you have written on the subject.

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kyndale September 28, 2010 at 8:15 pm

It's SO nice to get at that point in a pregnancy. I feel nauseous just thinking about being pregnant during those first three months. I'm all about slow food too. Thank you for your lovely story Heather! : )

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rebecca smith September 28, 2010 at 9:35 pm

horray for PA dutch food!!!
excellent post; well written and very thoughtful!

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Nina - Tabiboo September 28, 2010 at 3:57 pm

I love the different appetites of other countries and am always in awe of different eating cultures especially living in the UK which even though is part of Europe and we for one live so close on the East coast is so different to our own tastes.

take care and enjoy your returning appetite.

Nina xxx

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becky nielsen September 29, 2010 at 1:20 am

Such a rich post – I've always wanted to go to Italy, to just BE in the country, to smell the smells, taste what comes my way. One of the books I love is Much Depends on Dinner – found it so interesting to explore some history and spirituality of a few of the things we eat.

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Sarah Peacock September 29, 2010 at 2:17 am

This post sums up so much of what I value as a mother and living being, too. I am working on the balance of loving my own space while I cook/bake and inviting my children in to be a joyful part of the process.

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Courtney September 29, 2010 at 3:04 am

and thank you for always sharing it with us too –

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mamawild September 29, 2010 at 3:25 am

Wow. Heather, this story is amazing. I have struggled with "fast" food all of my life. What an goal this post is for me. I desire to slow down, and I am only now just starting to make this happen. Thank you for such inspiration. : )

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Francesca September 29, 2010 at 1:24 pm

Lovely post and I'm so glad you're feeling better. I'm no food connoisseur, and I'm happy with the simplest meals and tastes. I find that all too often food is overloaded with too many ingredients to the point of being overwhelming. Even our Italian food, when cooked abroad becomes something unrecognizable. But for me more than the taste, it's the atmosphere and the communal experiences that come with eating that are important. I read two of the books you mentioned and, as a "native", I found their condescending attitude towards to the locals rather annoying.

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agambroult September 29, 2010 at 3:10 pm

oh my mouth is watering. Thanks for the descriptions of those rustic meals. It is so easy to get caught up in the "gourmet" foods, but I love being reminded that it is more often the "peasant" foods that have the riches flavors. I hope you get back to Italy and France, someday. And to eulogized through food would make me a happy woman too, though I have never really thought of it! Hee hee.

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nannergirl September 29, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Thank you for this post. I am nearing the end of my first trimester and have been so ill. I can't wait until I can sit down and really enjoy food again. Your beautifully worded post has me aching to eat :)

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imene September 30, 2010 at 12:57 am

Growing up I never heard of the slow food movement. My mom cooked everyday and that's what I did once I moved out on my own. I could replicate my mom's recipe just because I saw her making them so often. By cooking you learn to love your food because you learn to understand the combinations you can make. Even though I get sometimes in a cooking rut I think nothing beats the simplest of meals. Fresh bread, eggs and good company ;o)

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kathryn September 30, 2010 at 3:07 am

This post will be bookmarked as a forever favorite, it spoke to me! I could not agree with you more and I've never been to Italy but more than longing to go…like you, I want to recreate that vibe, that ritual in my own home!

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Home Baked October 1, 2010 at 12:21 pm

What a lovely post, Heather! I particularly love your last few sentences – I think, if measured that way, we live a pretty fabulous life too.

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Sarah@EmergingMummy October 1, 2010 at 9:56 pm

I love this post but can't add more wisdom to the comments above. I can only say "ME, TOO!" thank you for always inspiring.

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