Today will be an exception. This is Lydeana, also known as Mom. Shayley has invited me to do a guest post as her blog approaches her 100th post.
Like most parents, much of my time is spent concerned about my child’s problems and vulnerabilities. Not today. Today I will allow myself to revel in one of her strengths and joys. This month her Dad and I have celebrated our 20th anniversary. And we rejoiced when my follow-up lung scan showed that the spot is
completely gone that three months ago they feared was metastatic colorectal cancer. Plus, in 3 weeks, Shayley will turn 13—a teenager. Perhaps more importantly it’s the height of food season with bounties of fresh food from the gardens. It seems right to celebrate in this moment.
Some kids are enthralled with dolls, dinosaurs or train sets. Not Shayley—she has always been fascinated by food. This was apparent even as a toddler, she would carry around plastic or real apples, oranges or tomatoes.That is not to say she was always a healthy eater. As a baby she loved vegetables like butternut squash, but then that waned as she fell into the common chicken tenders and corndog routine. Creative cooking in our kitchen in those days meant adding chocolate chips to the boxed pancake mix on Saturday mornings. No matter how nice of gift we would find for Christmas, her favorite present was always the cheap plastic kitchen or food set. If not food, she had to have a picture of food–preferably a book– in her hands, including to fall asleep at night.. This food book habit is obvious in a family photo when she only stopped
But she was always interested in cooking, so by age 6 or 7 we would turn a weekend meal over to her and her friend Jacq to play restaurant. Since they couldn’t use the stove yet, we usually got some salad concoction comprised of whatever fruits, vegetables and condiments or sauces were in the fridge. I learned to be more diligent about throwing out half rotten produce in the crisper drawers.
Her fascination with flavors found her filling notebooks from the time she could write with food-combination ideas for ice creams, lip balms and gourmet catfoods. While other kids were playing online games, she was enjoying websites like Ben & Jerry’s, Lipsmackers, and Fancy Feast. And helping Grandma Hylton make biscuits.
She also perused all the cookbooks I had, and her favorite was the one fancy food book. I had gotten it a long time ago off the sale table and maybe had made 1 or 2 things from it. I remember being befuddled by all the ingredients that I’d never even seen before. She, on the other hand, was enthralled.
When she was 8 or 9, she read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. By pulling her to local foods, it ironically expanded her diet to a lot more fruits and vegetables. I can’t recall exactly when she started reading cookbooks in earnest, but the first one I recall her falling in love with was Sally Schneider’s A New Way to Cook. It was all she wanted to talk about! That seems like a lifetime ago, but it has only been a couple years. I don’t know how many food books she’s read in the past few years, but at least 3 or 4 dozen. They vary from pure cookbooks, to chef biographies, to food commentaries, critics’ reflections and food blogs. (I call Deb Perelman of The Smitten Kitchen, her food-mother.) There’s no doubt in my mind that her vocabulary is in great measure due to food reading.
When I was 18 and went away to college, the opportunity for a meal out meant that I wanted to go to Arby’s. On very special occasions I had gone to Japanese Steak Houses. Her National Spelling Bee trips sponsored by The Roanoke Times allowed her to learn more about other people and cultures at a much younger age. Naturally her favorite part was the cuisine scene. Portuguese, Lebanese, Greek, Thai and Chinese restaurants brought her new flavor and texture complexities, which compelled her to read even more and expand her cooking repertoire.
For a long while her favorite TV show was Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern on The Travel Channel. Then it was Chopped on the Food Network. Now any family travels have begun to be planned around food destinations and farmers’ markets schedules. I had never had any interest in going to Europe, but now I do because she’s so interested in the regional foods within France and Italy.
I guess about a year and a half ago she took over most of the cooking at our house. For a while before then she’d done the meal planning and helped with the garden planning and work. We don’t make it easy on her. My diet is fairly restricted with no dairy, no nuts and very limited salads and fiber. Her Dad does self-imposed restrictions some times—like for 10 days this summer he ate only meat, nuts and non-starchy vegetables. Yet, she has risen to the occasion. We not only eat healthier, we eat better food than ever before. Many of the meals are truly extraordinary. Here’s a sampling from this past week . . .
I’m so thankful for her cooking and food planning because it helps out tremendously (extra loads of dishes notwithstanding.) She, in fact, gets very cranky if she doesn’t get to cook for a few days!
I’m also thankful that her obsession is something that connects every human being. We don’t all have to watch TV or play competitive sports or have pets, but we all have to eat! I remember as a kid watching my Grandma Hodges standing stock still and staring out her kitchen window at the chickens scratching around in the yard. I couldn’t understand why she did that when there were so many chores we had left to do. Since we got chickens a few years ago so we would have our own good eggs, I often find myself in the kitchen, looking out the window, captured with delight by the ever-entertaining chickens with their social cliques-and-clucks and scratch-scratch-peck hunting. Shayley laughs and says “who needs cable.” But I bet someday she’ll be standing in her kitchen doing the same thing.
Like any obsession, food could become an expensive addiction that leads one to mostly serve one’s own appetites. I’m reassured that she will strive for better balance than that because she stresses over keeping the food affordable that she writes about on her blog, in a kids’ food newsletter, and in the cookbook she’s been working on for over a year. Moreover, she regularly donates part of her bee prize money to relief organizations like Heifer International that provide farm supplies to very poor families to help them develop their own food supplies. Two weeks ago, she used her entire $500 prize check from the semi-finals of the National Bee this year to purchase goats, chickens, fruit trees and vegetables seeds for families in desperate need through the Christian non-profit World Vision.
I saw a t-shirt that Heifer International sells that I wanted to get her for her birthday but they only had smaller sizes. It had a picture of a young goat and said something we’d all do well to remember and support about the youngest generation. . .
A Kid Can Change the World.
Love you, Shayley.