10th April 2015
Words: Adam Park
Photographs: James Scheuren
10th April 2015
Words: Adam Park
Photographs: James Scheuren
Once we’ve made our purchases, including kombucha from a fermented drinks stand for Avery, four, and Julian, eight, we head back to Addie’s house in south Austin, a 10-minute drive from the city centre. It’s a suburban neighbourhood with a mellow, hippyish feel (the inevitable VW combi van is parked down the street). Addie and the boys have lived here for the past six and a half years in a little bungalow with a wooden A-frame roof and a semi-wild back garden, though by the time you read this they’ll have moved to a new house a bit further south.
Inside, we chat about Addie’s Missouri upbringing and her prolific career – as well as filing copy for the city’s major daily newspaper, she keeps a blog called The Feminist Kitchen and helped found The Austin Food Blogger Alliance, uniting disparate online food writers around the city. Then she cooks us a proper Austin breakfast, a scrambled egg dish called migas supplemented by the veggies from the market. We’re not used to eating breakfast with our hands – Addie serves her migas rolled up in flamed tortillas – but we’ll be making a habit of it in the future: it’s an incredibly delicious way to begin the day.
My dad remembers me saying I wanted to be a food writer when I was very young. I don’t remember it as well as he does, but I think I appreciated the fact that everyone loves talking about food. At college I knew I wanted to be a writer – it could have been fashion or film or homes or books, I didn’t really care. I just really liked the lifestyle. But now I’m able to see that food is really the sweet spot for me.
During college I’d interned at the Texas Monthly with Pat Sharpe, who’s one of the grand dames of Texas food writing. Before that I really had no idea that you could write about food in a way that wasn’t restaurant criticism. So that helped open my eyes to a whole new field.
After graduating, I decided to move back down here. I didn’t have a job but I just knew this was where I wanted to be. Soon after I joined the Statesman, the long-time food writer Kitty Crider announced her retirement. I applied for her job but I wasn’t particularly hopeful – I didn’t have a culinary degree and I wasn’t even a reporter at the time, I was a lowly copy editor. But this was in 2008, right when social media was really starting to take off, and I had a blog. I think that was what sold them. I was 25 when I got the job.
“When we do eat out, Torchy’s is one that the kids really like. I’d recommend it to anybody.”
Addie on her favourite Austin restaurants – see Address Book
Yeah, I always loved cooking. I was a picky kid but I loved to cook. My parents both worked so my sister and I would come home from school and make ramen noodles. That evolved into grilled cheese, then into making dinner for our parents.
It was small-town Missouri: we had one grocery store; then Walmart came in and we had two [laughs]. I certainly didn’t grow up going to farmers’ markets. I remember having a garden but it wasn’t the bucolic food that a lot of people wax poetically about in middle America: it was canned green beans and canned corn, cauliflower cheese and tuna casserole. My dad’s favourite thing to make was spaghetti with sliced kielbasa and pasta sauce from a jar. So I wouldn’t call it gourmet but we did do a lot of cooking at home1.
Maybe cashew chicken2. We used to make it on Christmas Eve. Or canned Campbell’s chicken noodle soup with Premium Saltine crackers and a big glass of milk. As soon as that’s placed in front of me I have a primal urge to sit down in front of the television and watch Days of Our Lives.
I was interested in food at the time, but I wasn’t eating anything fancy – baguettes with cheese and canned tuna. But I did learn more in that year abroad than I did my entire college experience.
“How To Cook Everything is my cooking bible. I cover a lot of books for the Statesman and I love flicking through them, but this is the one I use every day.”
Addie on her favourite cookbooks – see Bookshelf
I lived with a house mom during my first month in Alicante and she taught me how to make tortilla and paella. I had to break all my American habits and expectations about when dinner happened – it would get to 8.30pm and I’d be practically begging her to start cooking. After that, I lived in an
apartment with seven other people: four Spaniards and three Americans. I learned so much about salads from the Spanish girls – it never occurred to me that instead of using a salad dressing, you could just put olive oil and salt on a salad and be very happy.
I ate so much eggplant that year that I kind of burned myself out. I can’t really eat eggplant anymore. And I went to la Tomatina3, which turned me off tomatoes for years.
I also lived in California for a couple of summers in college. I do love the California lifestyle but the cuisine is not quite as distinct as the cuisine here.
Chicken fried steak. It’s a regular beef steak that has been pounded thin, then breaded. It’s called “chicken fried” because the outside looks like fried chicken. It’s really thin, served with a milk gravy on top, and sometimes mashed potatoes on the side. One of my assignments with Pat at the Texas Monthly was to do a roundup on chicken fried steak, so I’ve eaten a lot of it.
But I still eat beans and chilli like a good Yankee, which is blasphemous down here. I haven’t completely transitioned into full Texas eating; I’m still on that fence where I identify as a northerner but I’ve lived here long enough that I’m also a staunch defender of breakfast tacos – and not calling them breakfast burritos. Breakfast tacos are very much at the top of the Austin food list.
The boys are real eager in the morning. Thankfully I’ve tricked them into thinking that Chex cereal, plain rice Chex, is a fine breakfast. I love breakfast tacos but I also enjoy granola and Greek yoghurt and I’ve started eating muesli by a great company from Minnesota called Seven Sundays.
For lunch I’m a big leftovers person. I hate wasting food and I love the resourcefulness of showing up to the office with a little Tupperware container full of whatever’s left from a couple of nights ago.
And then dinner… At five o’clock I do the exact same thing as most of my readers do, and think: “Oh my god what am I going to eat for dinner?” I‘m not a meal planner. I wish I was, but my whims overcome me. At 4:30pm I will probably not feel like eating what I thought I was going to feel like eating two days ago. Sometimes it’s just little things: if it’s sunny outside and the kids want to play longer and I want to be outside with them, that’s going to change what I cook for dinner. Or did I eat lunch late? What’s about to expire in the fridge? There’s so many things that go into figuring out what I’m going to make, it just doesn’t make sense to determine it a week ahead.
Yes, I love coffee in the morning with a little cream. And a newspaper. If I have one without the other, it feels like something’s missing… At dinner we have recently started a tradition where we go around and ask what our favourite part of the day was. Julian will usually start. It’s just about taking a moment to reflect on the day we’ve just enjoyed. We’ve been doing that for a couple of weeks now. They used to eat dinner in front of the TV but we’ve just had three nights in a row at the table, which I hope will continue.
They’re getting more interested in the process. Especially Julian. We started watching MasterChef Junior recently and now he’s like, I want to learn how to cook just like those kids. But he hasn’t exactly started doing it yet. Avery’s four and I really struggle – I can’t even get him to eat plain pasta at this point. Sometimes he’ll just have cereal, or yoghurt, or a corn dog. It’s terrible.
I would say half. Sometimes I start cooking and then halfway through I’m like, Oh my gosh this is a story. That’s when I really have to pinch myself and realise that this is my job – you know, I get paid to play in the kitchen. It’s so much more intimate when you’re writing with home cooks in mind. Sometimes I’m trying to feed a family in 30 minutes with the wilted vegetables in the crisper, and I start feeling like this efficient, frugal homestead pioneer. What I have in common with my readers and the average American cook is that we’re just doing the best that we can. To expect that we’re going to make an exquisite meal every day is just not realistic. And so I enjoy basking in the quotidian. When you’re doing it every day, it’s okay if it’s just good enough. Good enough is great!
No! No I don’t, though entertaining is something I’d like to get better at. When you have kids the last thing you want to do is invite people over to your madness – to peel back the layers and reveal the true chaos that you live in. But now that they’re getting older, it’s a little bit easier to do. It’s weird as a food writer to say this, but it’s a lot of work to cook. And clean up? Oh my gosh! And I mean, to do that seven days a week? It’s exhausting just to think about.
No, we spend a lot of time together. Being a mom right now is the most important thing. Having a career is right up there as well but I’m going to have a career for the rest of my life, whereas I’m not going to have young children for the rest of my life. So I try not to book work events on the nights I have with them, or be on my phone all the time. We love to go out and have adventures and explore the city and just spend time together. They need my attention because I don’t have the luxury of the tag team – I’ve been split from their dad for more than a year now. We take it in turns, three days on three days off, so when it’s my time off I really get to enjoy the peace of the house, and recharge for when they come back.
I have a blog called The Feminist Kitchen. It ebbs and flows – right now it’s at an ebb. Women in food is really interesting to me. At the Statesmen we have a very stereotypical division of labour in food writing – we have the male restaurant critic and the female cooking-at-home columnist. We reinforce that norm, for better or worse, so I guess I try to subvert it by acknowledging it and writing about it.
In 2010, I started the Austin Food Blogger Alliance and we published a book a couple of years ago. It’s a community cookbook, with contributions from all the food bloggers in town. In the process I learned much more about community cookbooks, and especially the importance of them in the women’s movement. It started during the civil war. The Junior Leagues4 helped people build churches and send kids to school by monetising something that didn’t previously have any monetary value: your family recipes. The cookbooks allowed women to work in commerce, seek advertising and sponsorship and work with publishers – it was amazing.
If you’re feeling uninspired, pull out an onion, get a knife and chop it up – that’s the best way to get over the hump, that feeling that you don’t know what to cook. Once you start chopping, the rest will come to you. I don’t know if it’s the sensory thing from the smell, but that’s really the basis of so many things. It’s like writing – the hardest part is just sitting down and getting started.
Roger Phillips – The horticulturalist and food writer takes us around his secret London garden, discusses his deep-rooted love of mushrooms and explains why he sleeps in his kitchen
Erwin Gegenbauer – The master vinegar brewer takes us on a tour of his Vienna factory, explains why local produce is “boring” and makes us breakfast featuring his own honey, oil, coffee, beer and cider
Ryan Chetiyawardana – The cocktail pioneer devises an elaborate pairing menu, explains the deceptively simple idea behind his bars, confesses a major food aversion and recalls his favourite ever meal