By Jennifer Kornegay
It’s something we all know: Sitting down and having dinner as a family is important. It’s the perfect opportunity for talking and listening, for connecting and strengthening bonds. Several studies have even suggested that eating the evening meal together, without TV and other distractions, can impact children’s development in various positive ways. So, it’s what we need to do. But how do we do it? Alabama’s Christy Jordan answers this question with her newest cookbook, the aptly titled Come Home to Supper.
“Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom or working, we are all always rushing around,” she said. “For so many, the idea of putting a good meal on the table and everyone sitting down to enjoy it seems an impossible task. But with the right tools, it’s not. My heart has been in encouraging people to do this and in giving them practical ways to do it.”
The author of the popular blog “Southern Plate” published her first cookbook by the same name in 2010. In Southern Plate, most of the dishes fall into the “comfort food” category, and that’s by design. “When I started the Southern Plate blog, it was because I love writing and writing about my family and the wonderful heritage I have in them,” Jordan said. “I realized that a lot of these ‘heritage’ recipes, the ones grandmoms used to make, were in danger of being lost.”
Used to, particularly in the South, where food so often equals love, people got their cooking education at their mother’s or grandmother’s side, watching them chop this, add a few of those, stir that, often without following a written recipe. Today, that’s changing. “So many people are finding themselves as adults and not knowing how to cook,” Jordan said. “So I started showing how to cook the recipes we grew up with, step by step with photos and explained in easy terms.” The Southern Plate cookbook is full of these classic dishes.
Come Home to Supper hit bookstore shelves last month. In its nearly 300 pages, Jordan shares the recipes for some of her family’s favorite meals. She also shares family stories, ones that underscore the value in spending real quality time together by highlighting the extraordinary that can be found (or missed) in seemingly ordinary moments.
It differs from Southern Plate a bit in its approach, but not in its goal: to get people cooking for their families. The recipes are easy to make and budget friendly. “This new cookbook features more modern-day things; it’s what I feed my family,” she said.
The book also points out why we need to re-think some of our Southern notions about food. “In this book, I talk about how we don’t have to cook the amount of food our mamas made,” she said. “We don’t have the budget for it, and we don’t need it because we are not as active in our daily lives as generations past had to be. I grew up eating a meat, three sides, a bread and dessert for dinner, but that’s not practical now.”
She’s also cut back on the sweet stuff. “The fist cookbook had lots of desserts; in my house, we now eat dessert maybe a couple times a week, so this book doesn’t have as many.” And the book offers options and alternative ingredients. “I have no problem opening up a can of cream of chicken soup and throwing it in, but some people don’t want to do that, so I included different ways to do things, like how to make your own cream soup from scratch.” It includes menus designed to feed big groups too, since there’s almost always a gathering of some sort coming up on the calendar.
“The thing I wanted to do with this book was encourage people,” she said. “I want people to know it is easy to come together with your family, that cooking is not a talent you are born with. It’s just a skill you learn, and anyone can be a wonderful cook with the right recipes and little bit of confidence.”
Jordan’s sunny disposition shines through her writing on her blog and in both books, but this past summer, an accident threatened to dim her light. “While on vacation in Arkansas, I was thrown from a horse and broke both my legs. I had a concussion and don’t remember anything about the day,” she said. “For over a month, I could not put weight on either leg, so I wasn’t able to cook at all.”
And despite what must have been some serious pain, her involuntary cooking hiatus was one the hardest parts of her recovery. “When I cook for my family, it is how I show them love, so it was really, really tough to not do that for so long,” she said.
When she was finally able, Jordan got back in her kitchen and whipped up some chicken and dumplings, one of her daughter’s favorite meals. “The whole family ran in the kitchen and descended on it!” Jordan said. “I know my family loves my cooking and that makes me happy. I want others to feel that, too.”
But Jordan’s true mission goes beyond arming busy moms (and dads) with the information they need to put delicious meals on their tables. She’s teaching people not just how to preserve tradition, but why tradition matters. And not just how to get your spouse and kids to “come home to supper,” but why it is so important that you do.
“When people ask me ‘What do you like to cook?’ I say, ‘Whatever my kids want; that’s why I do it. That’s how my mom did for us. It is how I pass down our heritage and values,” she said. “Every day, the four of us go our separate ways, and if we didn’t sit down together every day, we’d lose each other. I really believe that. So I tell people to sit down with your kids every night and talk, and let them talk. It’s how you learn who they are becoming, how you stay close. The best part of the dinner table is not the food on it, but the people around it with you.”
So, What’s for Supper?
Confession time. As I was finishing up this article at around 4 p.m. on the day before my deadline (I like to live dangerously!), it suddenly occurred to me that to truly fulfill my journalistic duty for this piece, I actually needed to make one or two of the recipes in “Come Home to Supper.” And since it had been a long day of writing (which means no shower and pj pants still on), I wasn’t up for a trip to the grocery store. I also wasn’t up for a complicated recipe that dirtied a bunch of bowls and pots. I just wanted something simple and yummy to enjoy with my husband. And then the epiphany: I was the tired woman who’d found herself a few hours from dinnertime without a clue what to do; I was the person Christy Jordan wrote her book for.
I did a quick inventory of what I had in the fridge and pantry and then flipped through the cookbook to see what might match up. Voila! Coca-Cola Pork Chops, which called for only four ingredients, all of which I had. And two of my faves (Coke and any part of a piggy) combined? I’m in. The recipe took only 25 minutes to prep and cook and yielded tender chops with a thin glaze of a sweet, tangy sauce. It was a hit with the hubby, so I decided to make one more dish, one of Jordan’s desserts. Again, I had to choose based on what I had in the house, so the winner was No Bake Peanut Butter Bars. Again, success. These little squares of delight are rich and creamy and put Reese’s Cups to shame. I did change one thing: I used milk chocolate chips instead of semi-sweet.
Jordan named a few of her favorites from the book: The Cheesy Chicken and Rice, a slow-cooker dish, and the Cappuccino Cake. She developed the latter recipe to replicate a sweet treat she’d had and loved years ago. “The restaurant went out of business, but I had to have that cake again, so I figured out how to make it. It took a while, but I got it,” she said.
You should get it too. Her cookbook, that is.
Get More Goodness
Get to know Christy Jordan and find more of her delicious recipes on her website, www.southernplate.com. “Come Home to Supper” is available through amazon.com, at Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and other bookstores.