Small Town ‘Sip: Confessions in Cooking

First, a confession — I am not a good cook.

     Given that I sell food for a living and have written a cookbook, one sold nationwide at bookstores (and Cracker Barrel), some tend to find this odd. But, it’s true. I am deeply, passionately interested in food. And the cookbook, thanks to my writing and Dixie’s recipes, is darn good. Left to my own devices at home, however, I am not a good cook. 

Cooking makes me impatient. I never get lost in it. I’d rather be out in the garden or sweeping the floor or going on a walk or, of course, eating.

     Since I talk to people about food during just about all of my working hours, I know the confession usually is followed by people telling me how they feed themselves — restaurants, mostly. Not once have I had one of these people follow their statement with, “I am a cook.”

     I am not a good cook, but I am a cook. I cook every single day, not intricately, not ornately and often grudgingly, but I do it.

     Y’all ready for my climb onto a soapbox? Stick with me, if you can.

     I think we’ve all gotten a bit precious about food, a bit spoiled. I think the amount of brain space Americans currently spend thinking about food, tracking food, reading about food, pinning food, and, of course, watching food (think celebrity chefs and television) is kind of out of control. I can’t tell you how many folks trek into my grocery in search of a certain spice or out-of-season, often equatorially grown ingredient, and then leave, empty-handed. This may seem commonplace to you. But, to me, who spends a great deal of time stocking my beautiful shelves and old sweet potato stands with everything from lettuce picked that morning to green eggs from William and fresh cream-top milk from Billy Ray and the best sweet potatoes of your life from the Williamsons; who has flash-frozen salmon and cod and homemade sausage and fork-tender beef in the freezer; who displayed the Louisiana strawberries to shine next to aforementioned lettuce; and who has glass jars full of dates rolled in almond and fried apple pies made that morning and Italian pecorino by the wedge, it seems kind of insane that my store has ruined someone’s day because we don’t have, say, star anise at that moment. If you want to cook something good, something exceptional, look around. Get inspired. I promise the B.T.C. has something for you.

     But, hey, at least those folks, the obsessive ingredient-hunters, are, presumably, cooking. For those of y’all like me, the ones who don’t particularly care to grate, chop and puree, I’d like to make the argument that you should figure out what kind of food you can bear to make and like to eat. And then, just like every other chore in life, from cleaning the bathroom to making the bed, just do it, because it’s a good and nice thing to have a homemade meal, a clean tub and plumped pillows.

     Because I love and adore all-fresh everything, I tend to cook a whole lot of whatever excites me, as simply as possible. So, right now, in the depths of spring, my family and I are eating a lot of salads. Green lettuce, so fresh it’s still alive, garnishes with bright radishes and hard-boiled eggs from my chickens? That’s not so tough. I can do that. And I can fry up some sausage and slice some bread to go with it, and voila, everyone’s fed. I tend to make a big pot of soup on Saturdays, so I can spend all of Sunday in the garden without worrying what’s for dinner. Like every family with kids younger than 10, we eat spaghetti at least once a week. I’ve been known to cook down red cabbage and eat a whole frying pan full for lunch. Roasted sweet potatoes and chicken thighs dumped in a baking dish and laden with barbecue sauce is quick and easy. There’s always rice and beans and, if I’m feeling on top of things, my great-grandmother’s skillet full of cornbread. Fried potatoes with ketchup is a go-to. Sometimes we grill steaks and do ourselves up right, but more days than not, it’s quick and dirty basic fare at my house.

     Truthfully, I wish there were someone in my family who wanted to cook like my Nana used to… homemade biscuits, hollandaise sauce, English pea salad, perfectly tender roast beef. At this point in my life, that’s just not me. I’m doing my best to keep the house decent and myself semi-fit and have I mentioned my garden? It’s a big one, and demanding. But at least we are eating — real food, at home, as a family, on a regular basis. The vegetables I’m growing are getting used. There’s hot food on the table. I am a cook. I am cooking. I am not tweeting about it, or leaving a Facebook review, or sitting on the couch watching other people doing it. I am a cook. I am cooking.

     Maybe someday I’ll be good at it.

Portrait Illustration by Claiborne Cooksey

Alexe van Beuren grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. She moved to Water Valley, Miss., in 2006 with husband Kagan Coughlin of Vermont. They have two Mississippi-born children, Annaliese and Caspian. In 2010, Alexe opened the B.T.C. Old-Fashioned Grocery, which has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Southern Living, Garden & Gun and, most importantly, Miss Betty’s Week. Alexe and her business partner, Dixie Grimes, authored the B.T.C. Old-Fashioned Grocery Cookbook: Recipes and Stories from A Southern Revival in 2014. She contributes to The ‘Sip regularly as a columnist for Small-Town ‘Sip.

About the author

Alexe van Beuren

Alexe van Beuren grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. She moved to Water Valley, Miss., in 2006 with husband Kagan Coughlin of Vermont. They have two Mississippi-born children, Annaliese and Caspian. In 2010, Alexe opened the B.T.C. Old-Fashioned Grocery, which has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Southern Living, Garden & Gun and, most importantly, Miss Betty’s Week. Alexe and her business partner, Dixie Grimes, authored the B.T.C. Old-Fashioned Grocery Cookbook: Recipes and Stories from A Southern Revival in 2014. She contributes to The ‘Sip regularly as a columnist for Small-Town ‘Sip.

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