I believe in intimacy of the edible sort.
When I sit down to a meal, I want to know my food as if it were an old friend or, better yet, a lover.
I want to know everything I possibly can about it, even about its life before we met.
I’ve found that the best way of establishing this close relationship is by growing some of my own food and cooking from scratch.
I am not a farmer or a chef. I do not commit to feeding anyone other than myself and my family, although this often happens when our garden is churning out zucchini and tomatoes.
I am not a homesteader, either. That term, rightly or wrongly, has come to mean someone who is disconnected from society.
My home and my sustenance are very much connected to society’s grid. I live very much at the heart of American suburbia, with its musical ice-cream trucks and well-manicured lawns.
I lived in Belgium for ten years. It was there that I started two intimate relationships, one with my Belgian wife, Jacqueline, the other with my dinner.
I give credit for both relationships to my mother-in-law, known as Mamy to my three young sons. Not only did Mamy bring my wife into this world, she also gave birth to an awareness of just how good food can be when you take the time to get to know it.
My lessons in the art of eating did not come easy. Mamy was a reluctant and often frustrating teacher. When I asked her why she did something a particular way – whether in the garden or kitchen – more often than not her response was unsatisfyingly circular. For example, she’d answer “you do it like this because this is the way you do it” or “we make it like this because this is the way we’ve always made it”. You get the idea.
In time, I came to understand that good food is about culture and tradition, neither of which is for sale at the modern supermarket.
I believe that it is important to maintain family food traditions, despite the time and work involved.
If my family and I grow a big garden each year and cook our own meals, it’s because we want to stay connected to our Belgian roots. And I mean that in the most literal sense. This year, we’ve planted a Belgian variety of potatoes which we will transform into our own authentic Belgian fries which – if you haven’t tasted them – are the absolute best fries in the world.
Served Belgian-style with a dollop of mayonnaise and a cold beer, they are like a family friend we know well and whose presence is always welcome at our table.
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