Food Tradition Versus the Millennials

It’s Fall!!!!!! When we look back on our favorite food memories, they likely start here. Pies, tamales, challah. They reign supreme in our taste buds beginning in October. Growing up, my mom cooked all the time. It was her way of being a present mom for us while working full time. During the week, we had a home cooked meal. Pot pies, casseroles, fried chicken, etc. The change in temperature has my taste buds getting retrospective.

When my mom came to visit in August, we had a wonderful time. We went to the beach, played with the boys, and got some good mom and daughter talks in. There is a moment, however, that is still sticking out to me. My momma, with all her southern well meaning, opened my refrigerator and said, “Store bought cookie dough? Tsk. You know how to make it.”

She’s right. I do. That doesn’t mean that in the moment I didn’t argue with her inside my head trying to justify my purchase. “BUT I JUST DON’T HAVE TIME” being the largest argument against taking the time to make her recipe of mini M&M cookies for my son. Then, last week I started putting together recipes for apple pie to feature on my instagram. (Because it’s fall.) I texted my mom and asked if she had an apple pie filling recipe. She texted back, “No, I just use the canned stuff.”

It got me thinking about food traditions and my cohort of friends. We’re all around 30, educated, and many of us between first and third generation American. Yet how many of us can cook? Second, how many of us can actually cook the meals our parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents made? Third, why can’t we as a collective of self righteous foodie door dash dining millennials make a decent personally culturally relevant meal? We love food. We created a culture that photographs their meals before eating and thrive on easy access to different cuisines, so why aren’t we cooking?

Personally, I know most of my family’s food traditions come from a place of poverty. Not in a negative way, but both of my baby boomer parents will tell you quite boldly that they were raised by products of the depression. Quality ingredients were substituted for cheaper versions, meals were pared down, convenience began to override flavor. This is where the disconnect begins between our traditions and us, our parents’ influence on our food identity. Hence, my dad using store bought pie crust for his apple pie rather than teaching me how to make it, which he was taught to do by his mother.

I learned to cook for the most part in San Antonio, Texas. First thought may lead you to think of the city as its stereotypes. White and Hispanic. Rodeos and the Alamo. Lots of tacos and enchiladas. My perspective is different because I lived there, but what many people forget is that San Antonio was, at least in the early 2000’s during my adolescence, home to a handful of operating Air Force bases. Many of my friends brought different cultures and foods and perspectives because they were military brats. Rene’s parents were from Trinidad & Tobago and Panama. Elisa, Naomi, and Stephanie are Mexican-American, but Stephanie’s parents had been stationed in Japan when she was young. Jamie is third generation Italian-American. Eating dinner at their homes and having their parents fuel us during all of our late night school projects, I was exposed to so many more flavors than just my mom’s southern repertoire. I asked those close friends, who I thankfully still have a strong friendship with, about their experiences with food traditions and why or why not they still have a relationship with them to try and figure out the disconnect between our culture and our ability to cook within it.

When I first moved to San Antonio in 2002, one first the first friends I connected with was Rene, who lived in my neighborhood and shared my loved of ska music and general nerdiness. When arriving to Rene’s house you removed your shoes, you said hello to BOTH parents, and usually we were asked by Rene’s mom if we did our homework. On a very rare occasion I was asked if I would like to stay for dinner. It was spiced chicken, rice, and fried plantains. I remember it being SO delicious. Thinking back to our youth, I asked Rene if he could cook like his mom. Rene very honestly told me he did like a lot of immigrant kids and wanted to assimilate, so those home cooked, traditional meals weren’t valued back then.

While teaching in East Houston, I attended many trainings for ESL (English as a Second Language). I was taught that the first thing immigrants lose is their clothing, then their language, and last their food. It is a strange lens to see my close friends as sharing the same experience as my former students, but over and over again I hear that parents are the ones encouraging assimilation and not sharing food tradition, especially if they weren’t Hispanic or female. My male, Asian students from Houston were rarely even allowed in the kitchen. I have no idea how they’re feeding themselves now that they’re in college.

Our friend Jamie echoed the sentiment about her first generation Italian- American dad. While she would have loved to learn everything her grandparents had made, Jamie’s grandparents passed away when she was very young and her father wasn’t encouraged to learn to cook. Culinary identity, especially in Southern European culture, is feminine. Jamie admittedly “grasped at straws” for Italian cultural identity because of the loss of the family’s beloved pasta recipes. What’s left for the Feola’s today? One marinara and meatball recipe, and folklore of gnocchi.

Now, not everyone has their parents to thank for their loss of food culture. We now live in a much more health and nutrition conscious environment. I seriously doubt any immigrant grandmas counted a calorie or would dare limit themselves to a something as restrictive as the keto diet. Nowadays, an awareness of the connection of thyroid and diet, fertility and diet, anxiety/depression and diet have forced many of us to save beloved family recipes for special occasions. Considering the average family size has dropped from 3.7 people to 3.1 since 1970 and younger generations are waiting longer and longer to marry, even a perfectly mastered family recipe designed to feed a family of eight only finds itself applicable on a few occasions annually.

Unfortunately as millennials, we’re more isolated, career focused, and perhaps more convenience minded than even our parents. Our baby boomer parental units may have served us Kid Kuisine and invented instant cookie dough, but they certainly didn’t have Amazon PrimeNow or Uber Eats. Can we take former traditions, and adapt them for our own purposes?

I chose to make my own filling because I don’t trust the ingredients in the can of apples at my local supermarket. Plus, everyone knows that food made with less processing has more flavor. The closer you are to the source of your food, the better it is. Neither of my parents had an off hand recipe for the filling, I used memory and good old Pinterest to add the spices needed for my all American dessert.

Personally, I don’t have a direct connection to my family’s culture outside of the United States and neither does my husband. My family was raised on southern frying, baking, and casseroles. I know I don’t want to pass on everything I learned because of my own focus on health avoiding preservatives and additives. What our family wants to pass on is a love of food and a love of being in the kitchen. From there what we all need to ask is: What can we positively pass on to the next generation without losing what was sacred? The answer to me is not an erasure of the past, but a rewriting, like a cover song of a classic rerecorded with a modern tone.

My pie turned out to be a nod to my mom’s crust, without the crisco. The filling full of the same spices my parents added, without the corn syrup. I’m hoping we can undo the easy outs of the baby boomer generation and focus on creating a more positive relationship with the roots of our food. Perhaps we will learn to cook through Pinterest and other tools of the internet and find our own food identity in the recipes of others. Let us remix the flavors of the past by meal planning our way through carne asada, curried chicken, and kugel.

Happy Fall!

I’m back! So after two months in the hospital, two months trying my best to be the best NICU frequent flyer, and then adjusting to stay at home mom life, we are finally finding a groove. It helps that it’s the Newett family’s favorite season FALL!

Found this at California Kroger aka Ralph’s and couldn’t help but crack up.

So today I’m going to walk y’all through how to make changing leaves sugar cookies. I like them because they’re aesthetically pleasing without being covered in icing. (I don’t really like icing). My son also doesn’t need to eat the layer of pure sugar. He’s 3, two months from 4, and he doesn’t need any extra energy.

Cameron is usually the source of all of our food stuff. However, when it’s time to bake, that’s my lane. Cameron doesn’t like to measure or level. He is, despite this, incredibly talented and I have zero complaints.

FIRST! Read all directions before beginning anything.

Preheat your over to 400 degrees.

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 cups room temperature butter
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla flavoring
  • 1 tsp almond flavoring
  • 5 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Yellow, orange, or red food coloring

Using a mixer, cream together sugar and butter.

Add eggs, vanilla, and almond, mix until creamy.

Add baking powder and salt. Then add flour one cup at a time until thoroughly mixed.

Add yellow food coloring and mix until even.

Wrap cookie dough in wrap and refrigerate until cold all the way through, at least one hour but overnight is best.

After chilled, take out a fist full of dough at a time. This makes about 1 pan of cookies.

Add orange food coloring (3-4 drops). Add one drop, knead the dough, add another drop, etc. The more you knead it, the more mixed it will look. I preferred only kneading a couple of seconds because rolling out the dough helps spread the coloring and make it look more marbled. You may need a practice round to see how you want your colors to blend.

Roll out your dough on a floured surface with a floured rolling pin. (Did you know you’re not supposed to eat raw flour? I didn’t know until recently. Reason #198 I shouldn’t have made it so long.) Your dough should be about .25 inches thick.

Use your favorite fall leaf cookie cutters to create your shapes. We got ours at the Home Store. (Formerly Garden Ridge?) You can re-roll your dough if you have a lot left over. Be careful on the third or fourth roll out because your dough might get too much flour and get flaky. Toss it or add it to another batch if you need to adjust the texture. Make sure you also flour your spatula so the cookies are easy to put on the pan. We like to use a silicone baking sheet. It’s so much easier to clean!

Bake 7-8 minutes on 400.

Let cool, ice lightly if you’re into it. I used a sparkly gel icing. Everything is better sparkly. This recipe will give you about 2-3 dozen cookies depending on how you cut and roll them.

Shout out to my mom for passing down all of her baking magic. She also has the world’s greatest witches’ cackle, so hopefully I can incorporate it into our Halloween post.

While you’re enjoying your cookies, fill out a Fall Bucket List with your family! I loved this one from A Beautiful Mess, which is what I want my blog to be like when it grows up. I follow them on Instagram as well, their projects and souls are so beautiful, so send them some love. I love supporting others who inspire us!

Our Autumn Bucket List!

Chili

I love Texas, which has made this move to California a little rough. In the first grade, we did an “I Love NY” shirt project. We had to decorate a t-shirt with something we really loved. Other children decorated shirts with their dogs, or their parents, or a favorite color. Mine said, “I LOVE TEXAS”. It had armadillos, cacti, cowboys boots, and hats.

Chili is Texan. In a previous draft of this post I started out discussing how my inflated Texan ego believed it was Texan, but I wasn’t sure, so I did some research. IT IS in fact Texan and specifically originates from the San Antonio region. There are different stories of its creation with connections to cattle ranching and Catholic missions. However, the most common story of the introduction of chili to the world was the San Antonio chili booth at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. 

Chili and cornbread are my favorite comfort foods. We have three chili ideas for you, plus my jalapeño cornbread recipe. Chilis include my Deep Roots traditional Texan chili, Newett family chili, and white chicken chili, which is my favorite. Sorry, Texas. 

Deep Roots Chili

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 6 Gun chili mix -This can actually be purchased on Amazon, or larger HEB stores if you’re in Texas. It includes masa, chili powder, cumin, salt, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and oregano.
  • 2 lbs of ground beef or chili meat (My mom buys shoulder roast and then chops it into cubes)
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 cans of seasoned diced tomatoes (Rotel, or plain if you prefer your chili less spicy)

1. In a large pot heat your oil and add the onion and garlic. Sauté until the onions and garlic are translucent. 

2. Add the chili mix, leaving out the masa. The masa is a thickening agent, so you can leave it in if you like heartier chili, we prefer ours a little thinner so it gets soaked into the cornbread. It is entirely up to you! Stir the mix into the onion and garlic mix until absorbed.

3. Add your meat and brown. 

4. Add the two cans of seasoned tomatoes, do not drain them! Then add one can of water. Yes, cans are units of measurement. Add one of them. 

5. Let sit on the stove until your house smells good, stirring occasionally. While you’re waiting, make your cornbread. 

Cheddar Jalapeno Cornbread 

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 cups milk
  • 3 large lightly beaten eggs
  • 2 sticks of butter, melted
  • 1 cup of grated cheddar cheese (Half of a 16-ounce bag)
  • 3 tablespoons of chopped jalapeños

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Take a large (about 9-10″) cast iron skillet and coat with butter. Place the skillet in the oven while its preheating. 

2. Fork together your dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a separate bowl combine the eggs, butter, and milk together. Then add the jalapeños and cheese and let sit for about 15 minutes. 

3. Combine wet and dry ingredients and mix until all dry ingredients are evenly moist. 

4. Pull your skillet out of the oven, pour your cornbread mixture into the hot skillet. 

5. Cook cornbread 30-35 minutes. If you put a toothpick or butter knife into the cornbread, it should come out clean. 

White Chicken Chili

  • 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil
  • cilantro
  • paprika
  • cayenne pepper
  • 3-4 jalapeños
  • 3 chicken breasts
  • 2 chicken thighs
  • 1 onion
  • 1/4 cup minced garlic
  • 3 cartons of organic chicken stock
  • 1 can diced green chilis
  • 1 can organic sweet corn
  • 1 can organic kidney beans
  • 1 can organic butter beans
  • 1 bag frozen hatch chilis
    • For Garnish
      • queso fresco
      • 1 tomato
      • 1 avocado

1. Pre heat your oven to 425. In a large stock pot heat oil and cook garlic about 5 minutes until browned. Add chicken stock, corn, beans, and bag of diced chilis. Add one jalapeño and a handful of chopped cilantro. 

2. Season the chicken with salt, pepper, paprika, and cayenne pepper. Bake in the oven at 425 for 20-25 minutes. Set aside to cool. 

3. Chop chicken into bite sized pieces and add to stock pot. Let the soup simmer and sample until you’re too hungry to keep waiting. 

4. Serve and garnish with fresh tomato, cilantro, avocado, sliced jalapeño, sour cream, and cotija cheese. 

Newett Chili 

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 stick of butter
  • 1 onion
  • 1/4 cup copped garlic
  • 1 pound steak meat
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • small handful of dried chilis
  • cumin
  • crushed red pepper
  • cayenne pepper
  • smoked ancho pepper seasoning
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 can kidney beans
  • 1 can pinto beans
  • 1 can northern beans
  • 2- 32 ounce cans of whole tomatoes

1. Heat oil in a stockpot. Add onion and garlic and sauté until translucent. Set aside a tablespoon of onion for garnish. 

2. Add spices to preferable taste, Cameron doesn’t measure anything but I suggest about a tablespoon of each. 

3. Add ground beef to the stock pot and brown. 

4. In a separate pan, add 1/4 stick of butter and coat pan. Brown steaks on both sides (about 6 minutes each) until cooked medium-rare. 

5. Cut steak meat into cubes and add to stock pot. 

6. Add beans and tomato and simmer until tomatoes begin to fall apart. 

7. Garnish with sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese, and onions. 

Gumbo

Gumbo is about as American as America gets. Gumbo does not have one recipe. Gumbo in its backbone has a few of the same ingredients, but very few. A protein: chicken, crab, sausage, shrimp, duck, crawfish, oysters, etc. Vegetables: celery, onion, and bell peppers. The spices aren’t consistent, the proteins aren’t consistent, heck, even the use of okra isn’t.

I love okra. When I was very young, four or five, we lived in Winters, Texas. It is so flat it feels like you can see for miles and there my mother had a garden. It was filled with okra, squash, jalapeños and Lincoln roses. I recall taking the tiny spuds of fluffy okra and gently rubbing them between my fingers with warnings whispered in the background not to pick them. I believe it is absolutely necessary to good gumbo. 

I found in my research that okra is a hot button topic. Most of my fellow Texans I polled agreed it was best deep fried. Texas is on a line of being south and southwest, hence the name of the enormous music/tech/art fiasco that happens during spring break every year, so the use of okra in gumbo is up for debate around here. I was raised understanding that you used it in conjunction with your roux as a thickener.

Cameron however, does NOT share my affinity for okra. One morning during one of our early dates as a couple, we ordered brunch bloody marys. As garnish, the bartender used celery of course, but also had an impressive skewer of olives, pickles, pepperoncini, and spicy pickled okra. Cameron, being from the West Coast, had never seen pickled okra, and didn’t know how to eat it. I explained that you just bite it, but don’t eat the stem. He somehow couldn’t bite through the okra, but instead skinned all of the fuzzy hairs off. I still wish I had recorded this hilarious event. However, I haven’t been able to get him to try another since. 

Until (drum roll please)

Duck and Oyster Gumbo

  • 1 whole duck (You can buy them frozen, they come with an orange glaze packet typically, just throw it away)
  • 2 smoked turkey wings (You can find these in the supermarket with the odds and ends of the meat department.
  • 1 cup rendered duck fat (If your duck doesn’t render enough fat, sub vegetable oil to make your roux)
  • Smoked pork feet
  • 2 cups chopped celery
  • about 6 cloves chopped garlic (or use pre-chopped and add 1 teaspoon at a time)
  • 1 diced onion
  • 1 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 1 cup chopped green bell pepper
  • 2 cups chopped okra
  • 1 bag (3 cups/24 ounces ish) frozen crawfish (If it is crawfish season you could use fresh. These are next to the seafood counter
  • 2 lbs of shrimp (Cameron suggests U-12)
  • 1 cup ISH all-purpose flour
  • 3-4 links andouille sausage
  • 2-4 cups white wine -Use a chardonnay you don’t mind drinking with while you’re waiting for things to cook. I was also taught to never cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink
  • 1 pint shucked oysters

If you have the time, cook your duck, remove the meat, then use the carcass for your stock. 

Preheat your oven to 400 F 

Remove the giblets poke holes and score the top layer of the skin not the meat so the fat can release into the pan. Place duck in a roasting pan elevated from sitting it its fat and cover with salt, pepper, and Herbs de Provence. Roast the duck approximately 2 hours until the internal temperature reaches 165 F. 

While the duck is roasting, prepare a stock pot of smoked turkey wings, smoked pork, the ends of celery, onion, garlic, and carrots.

Chop vegetables and thaw any frozen shrimp and crawfish. 

When duck is finished, pour fat rendered into a heat resistant container and set aside.  You wont be able to separate the fat from the juices, chill all of the liquid together 

Start your roux. This is an ART FORM. Cookbooks will very simply say “Brown flour in animal fat or lard”. It is not that simple. Go watch someone’s great-grandma do it. Place 1 cup of reserved duck fat (or vegetable oil)  into a dutch oven and let it get shimmering hot. Adding 1 tablespoon at a time, brown the flour into your OIL This takes focus and a second sense of timing. Turn the heat down if you get nervous. You will need to use your sense of sight, smell, and feel to know when your roux is ready. It should smell almost like roasting peanuts, with an earthy smell. It should have a dark reddish brown, but not burned, color. When I asked Cameron how it would describe it, he replied, “Warm Nuts.” 

Let the duck cool and shred the meat for gumbo. Some like to carve and cube the meat, we prefer our gumbo more primal in texture.

Separate the solids from the stock with a strainer.  Fill your stockpot half full with stock. If you have leftover, save it. 

On the highest heat you can muster, toss the shredded duck, a fathand’s pinch of Cajun seasoning, and a gulp of wine.  If you’re a risk taker, add some crystal hot sauce.  When the liquid is gone, add to the pot.

Place back half the pot full of stock, adding duck meat, cajun seasoning, and white wine.   

In a sauté pan toss together sausage, 1 tsp cajun seasoning, and 1/4 cup white wine. Simmer together until wine is reduced and sausage is cooked through. Add to stockpot. 

Throw in shrimp, cajun seasoning, garlic, and 1/2 stick of butter to the sauté pan. Simmer together until shrimp are pink. Add to stock pot. Next in the sauté pan, throw in okra with cajun seasoning and the other 1/4 cup white wine. Sauté okra until it just starts to get slimy. Add to stock pot. 

Cook the crawfish the same as above. Add cooked crawfish and stir until well blended. Add contents of pan to stock pot.

Take your roux and add one heaping spoonful at a time and blend into the contents of your stock pot. Add a bit, drink some wine, re-visit. You want always add more roux later, but you can’t un roux the pot. Allow to simmer long and slow until your house smells amazing. Add the oysters 20 minutes before serving. 

This dish has lots of components, phases, ingredients. Mise en place is critical to this working successfully.  You need to have a plan.  You need to be thinking 2-3 steps ahead or you will 1) screw it up 2) make a mess in your kitchen 3) not have fun.

There is no one way to make gumbo. Our gumbo is a representation of our, The Newett Home’s, tastes and culture. I know a LOT of duck hunters who could easily use this recipe to make use of the duck they’ve shot. The oysters are reflective of our proximity to the gulf. You don’t want to eat Texas gulf oysters raw, you fry them or you put them in gumbo. If you’re creole, you’re more likely to use butter in your roux. If you’re cajun, you use lard or animal fat. Move father east, you may be serving your gumbo on grits or even potato salad rather than rice. The use of okra as a thickener comes from western African cooking, so if your heritage reflects that a little brighter, you might find your grandmother putting eggplant in your gumbo. As you move west, your gumbo gets spicier depending on the influences from Cajun or Mexican culture. 

My frustration with calling any country where Americans have immigrated from a “sh*thole” is that we wouldn’t have some of our most beautiful, flavorful staples of American culture if it hadn’t have been for those immigrants. The gulf is one of the greatest melting pots of culture because it attracts so many people from different parts of the world. We have almost every continent represented in the school where I served outside of Houston, Texas. There is a restaurant around the corner from my school where I can order my gumbo on pho noodles. What matters, however you throw together your gumbo, it that should reflect you