Addie Broyles

10th April 2015

Words: Adam Park
Photographs: James Scheuren

10th April 2015

Words: Adam Park
Photographs: James Scheuren

It’s a typically mild January morning in Austin when we join Addie Broyles and her two sons for a stroll around the city’s biggest farmers’ market. A better guide to the lines of local producers that make up the SFC Market Downtown would be hard to imagine. As food writer for the Austin-American Statesman, Addie reports on a range of subjects including food trends and grocery shopping. She’s a terrific font of information: about the subtleties of Texan cuisine; about the eating habits of Middle America (she grew up in smalltown Missouri). And she seems know almost everybody here. Our main goal is to pick up sprouts and kale for breakfast but Addie keeps introducing us to stallholders – the guy selling eggs, the Irish-themed pickle company – and bumping into customers along the way.

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.

Continued below...

What made you decide to write about food?

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.

How did you end up in Austin?

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

Were you interested in food from an early age?

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.

Was food a big deal at home?

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.

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Is their one dish in particular that makes you think of home?

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.

You spent time in Spain. Did you have any food epiphanies?

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

What did you learn?

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.

What characterises Texan cuisine for you?

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.

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Describe what you’d eat at home on an average day.

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.

On The Menu

Breakfast with Addie Broyles
Austin, January 2015

To eat:

Migas »

To drink:

Orange juice
H-E-B brand filter coffee

Tell me about your daily food rituals. Do you start with a coffee in the morning?

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.

Are the boys adventurous eaters?

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.

How much of your home cooking is work-related?

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!

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Do you enjoy having people round for dinner?

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.

Is it hard to find proper time to spend with the boys?

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.

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What other things are you working on at the moment?

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.

Finally, could you share a cooking tip with us?

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.

You can find Relish Austin, Addie’s food blog for the Statesman, here. The Austin Food Bloggers Alliance is here. And The Feminist Kitchen is here

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  1. Addie adds: “In 2004 my mom rounded up all of our family recipes and she and my grandmother made them into a book. The ingredients are not in order, there’s no standardisation in the measurements, it breaks every rule but the charm is there and there’s a little story with each recipe. If you were a detective you could really see that this is middle America from dishes like sherry fruit casserole and jarred apple rings. I used to really thumb my nose at community cookbooks and old family recipes, but now I see that they are valuable reminders of a different time. Maybe it’s having kids that brought that on.”

  2. “Cashew chicken is a good example of an unexpected traditional Missouri foodway – there are more Chinese restaurants per capita in Springfield, Missouri, than anywhere else in the country. The dish is literally just fried chicken that’s been tossed in flour, put in an egg wash and served with oyster sauce and chopped green onions and cashews.”
  3. Tomato-throwing festival in the Valencian town of Buñol
  4. Founded in New York in 1901, the Junior Leagues are charitable organisations set up to encourage volunteer work, develop the potential of women through education and improve local communities. They now have branches in Canada, Mexico and the UK as well as the US.

Posted 10th April 2015

In Interviews

 

Words: Adam Park
Photographs: James Scheuren

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