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BACK TO THE FAMILYFood Tastes Better Shared with Ones You Love
By Art Smith Michael Austin
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2007 Art Smith
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFinding Your Family in the World
If we are lucky, in our ever-changing world, family is one thing that holds constant. Coming from small-town America and having planted myself squarely in the urban bustle of Chicago, I am constantly amazed at how readily the human spirit adapts to change.
Growing up I had no idea so many people could live so closely together! But in the glorious crowds and life-affirming energy of my new hometown, I have found that similar interests and love have attracted people like me. We always seem to find each other. In the South we have a word for it-kin. And yes, technically it means those who share a common ancestry, but in a broader sense it also refers to people who think like we do, feel like we do, and love like we do. Kindred spirits. If we are lucky, those people become the fabric of our new families.
That is what happened to me, as soon as I realized it was possible for me to love others the same way I love my family in northern Florida. These newfound friends became my new family. What I found interesting was how many of these new friends came from similar situations and how many of them traveled around the world to live in America and raise their families in Chicago. We share a passion for our art and recognize the sacrifices we have made to achieve our dreams. We also have a common love for our families "back home."
Chicago is a place packed tight with concrete high-rises and hard edges, but it is also smack dab in the center of the Midwest, where miles and miles of some of the world's most fertile growing soil separate the major metropolitan areas. Because of this, Chicago's edges are softened by a Midwestern sensibility fostered by the farmers who have fed the nation for decades.
Chicagoans are hard-working people who understand and appreciate good meals shared with friends. If they weren't, I wouldn't be able to get along with them! They have celebrated my cooking, and their Midwestern sensibility has kept me in Chicago, a place where you can rise to the heights of your full potential but still not be ashamed to serve a humble homemade biscuit.
Outside of Chicago, in the patchwork fields of the big-hearted Midwest, you find people not too unlike the people I knew growing up. Some of these folks-from Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, and other rural parts of the country-have found their way to the big city. I've always believed that people who have lived close to the earth have an appreciation for life and a humbleness about them. I enjoy being around people who know what a fresh tomato picked off the vine tastes like, or what it's like to help a heifer give birth to a calf-even if they haven't done it in thirty years!
When you are in a business so directly affected by the weather, as chefs and farmers are, you really understand and accept change. And you adapt. Sometimes you find yourself far away from where you started out, but somehow you know you are in exactly the right place. Like my mother, Addie Mae, says, "Honey, it's meant to be!"
The Family Farm
My life began on a farm, the same farm on which my great-grandmother raised many children, the same farm that to this day provides for our family. When I first wrote Back to the Table: The Reunion of Food and Family, which started this journey, I was not sure if people really would want to hear my stories about life in rural northern Florida. But my beloved family and friends told me to follow my heart. So I did just that. As a result, people have celebrated my stories and cooked from my book, and it is in that same spirit, with their support and love-and of course, with mine-that I bring you Back to the Family.
Celebrating Our Loved Ones
As we grow older, settle down, and form relationships, the razzle-dazzle of our passion feels empty without having our loved ones with us to appreciate it. Success is wonderful, but sharing a meal with people you love is timeless and one of life's most fulfilling pleasures. Are you taking the time to play with your dear children or pets? Don't even get me started! When my kitties and puppies nudge my feet with their little noses, it inspires me to reassess my priorities and just slow down and accept the love from all the other lives important to me.
Life moves fast-too fast now and then-so don't forget to take the time to cook a meal for yourself and invite those you love to the table. Enjoy every morsel of it! You will find, as I have, that food always tastes better when it is shared with people you love. And it's even better when you call those people "family."
Time is the crucial element these days. Technology has allowed us to do more in a shorter amount of time, and because of that we are stretched even thinner than we ever were. Along the way, digital Blackberries became more important to us than ripe, juicy blackberries. In business, time is money. But in our personal lives, time is love.
We sacrifice our time for the sake of our loved ones, and that is one thing technology has not changed. Mothers and fathers plan their lives around the busy schedules of their children, thinking that the more their children see and do when they are young, the better they will be as adults. It is all done with good intentions, but we also need balance in our lives. We need to slow down and mark certain occasions with a nice meal and some kind words. We need to remember birthdays and anniversaries of all kinds. We need to find reasons to celebrate our victories with a homemade cake or a bottle of champagne. We need to remember what is important.
My ancestors used the Farmers' Almanac to determine when to plant and when not to plant. That was their technology. We have moved far away from that old lifestyle, but we also have realized that many of the things our ancestors held dear have value today. We have realized and accepted the importance of eating natural, healthy foods. And we have learned that sometimes doing things the old-fashioned way is better than the way we do things now.
How do we determine what is really important? As we grow older we realize that getting ahead has its pitfalls. Personally, I miss having a month with nothing to do. I miss simply going about at my own pace and not having to worry about events and meetings and deadlines. There is something to be said for just nothingness now and again-to be quiet, alone, and reflective. It is refreshing to be around people who do not need a single thing from us. Sometimes love does not require a word, but only a look.
With love there is forgiveness, but why put your love to the test? Slow down, refocus, and rededicate yourself to your loved ones. Remember their birthdays. Celebrate their victories. Or simply invent a reason to get together and mark an anniversary. Call it your five-year anniversary as friends, or anything else that is appropriate. Everyone wants to be remembered and celebrated. And now that you have that Blackberry, you have no excuse for letting one of these opportunities pass by you.
Excerpted from BACK TO THE FAMILY by Art Smith Michael Austin Copyright © 2007 by Art Smith. Excerpted by permission.
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