My Journey of Good Food and Being Gluten-Free

A Taste Of My Southern Side

My favorite foods have always been Southern/Mexican inspired. And it’s really no surprise, because my dad and his family came from Texas and it was their side who had a heavy influence of what we ate. They were pretty much as Southern as it got, with their long, drawn out vowels and their tendency to combine words into one. Spicy bloody mary’s for brunch was not uncommon. Friendliness and cordialness was something that my family never lacked, and no guest would ever leave a Hall’s home without being coerced into eating a good, hearty, mouth-watering meal that my dad had been working on for hours.

Growing up in my household entailed eating barbequed meats about five times per week (at least), rain or shine. The Senko-Hall’s didn’t exactly know how to eat “light,” with most of our meals being really heavy, dense, and flavor-packed. My dad had a habit of preparing meals that “could feed an army” as him and my mom said about every night when we were feeding approximately 7 people in our home and still tupper-waring massive amount of left-overs. We had a second refrigerator just for this reason. My grandma made the most incredible slow-cooked brisket with sauce that was smokey and rich but had a tang to it from plenty of Worcestershire, which it crucial for brisket. And of course, her brisket fell apart with the soft touch of a fork. Aside from meat, we ate a whole lot of slow-cooked baked beans with cumin and bacon, coleslaw, guacamole, home-made fresh, chunky salsas, chili, and Tex-mex casseroles.

Everything had an interesting twist to it. Salsas were made from grilled corn, black beans, cilantro, bell peppers and fresh lime. My dad’s famous guacamole had loads of jalapeno jack cheese, which still appalls Robert. Our southern chili was comprised of ground turkey, corn, bell peppers, black beans, pinto beans, and had a much more watery texture because the meat, beans and veggies were really the star of the dish. Of course, we ate a lot of cornbread with sweat cream butter drizzled over with honey. Just about anything would go well with some red onion, cilantro, and tomatoes sprinkled over the top of it. Angel food cake topped with cool whip and strawberries in their own syrup was what followed every meal at my grandma’s house. My dad’s one and only dessert was a banana putting with vanilla pudding, layers of bananas, and vanilla wafers that got nice and soggy.

So it’s no wonder that to this day, I will always go for one of two things: barbeque food or mexican food. I’m always in heaven when there’s a combination, and I find myself making dishes at home that have an influence from both cuisines. My recent favorite is smoked pulled pork tacos, layered with thinly sliced cabbage, tomatoes, onions, plenty of cilantro, and a slice of lime. Pulled pork and coleslaw marry beautifully and my coleslaw contains paprika, green onions, and plenty of fresh dill that just completely brings it to life.

For valentines day, I asked Robert for a smoker. When he showed his co-workers pictures of the beautiful red smoker he got me, they laughed and criticized him. “What do you mean you got her a smoker? You better have gotten her a diamond necklace, too! You’re crazy!” “No!” he tried telling them. “She really wanted it!” As I’m writing this blog and don’t be jealous, I’m making our first batch of smoked jalapeno poppers.

The inspiration came from being at the flea market this morning, walking down aisles of beautiful fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables. There is no better way to make me want to eat veggies than seeing stand by stand with mile-high piles of perfect, colorful, aromatic pieces of the earth.

So anyway, we stalked up on a bunch of it and of course bacon goes with everything so I said “honey, tonight is the night!” We bought organic bacon and gave it a nice love-rub of chili powder, cayenne, paprika, and garlic salt. We split the jalapenos in half and stuffed them with a cream cheese-ranch seasoning mixture. Slapped them back together, wrapped them in the bacon, put them on skewers and let them hang out in the smoker with hickory chips. The smell is sweet and savory, and I think they will be nicely paired with a somewhat bitter, light beer or a white wine.

I will tell you how they taste on my next blog.

Welcome!

My name is Jeannie Senko-Hall. Two years ago, my doctor told me I have celiac disease. I vividly remember cracking up in his face, and automatically saying “No!” as I was laughing. “I LOVE food! I am NOT giving up ANYTHING!” I was still giggling but I was nothing but serious. Growing up, food was my biggest passion. Before I could walk I’d be sitting at the kitchen counter watching closely as my dad prepared dinners of filet mignon, beef stroganoff, spaghetti, and many other hearty, amazing meals who’s earthy aromas could be smelt from the backyard. As soon as that Whitney Houston record went on in the living room, the Jim Beam on the rocks was poured and my dad was washing his hands, I knew “the pot was on!” Well, my dad would say that too every time we were ready.

For some time I quietly watched him cook. He didn’t know it but I analyzed every spice he chose; every single ingredient he selected. He’d go from spice to spice sniffing their aromas before deciding what to add. And no, he never once opened a cookbook and we did not own any tablespoons or measuring cups. He grabbed the fresh herbs from the refrigerator, rubbed them through his fingers to release their oils, and held his hands up to my nose. “Do you smell that!?” Oh I was in heaven. Shortly thereafter I became his sous chef and learned how to use my own intuitive senses for what went into our meals. Eventually, I was designated certain side-dishes of our meals where I got to work independently and secretively until revealing my final product. Usually the final product was vibrant and tasty, sometimes it was awful. Rarely it was inedible. Always, though, it was absolutely beautiful and mouth-watering.

I started making our family dinners when I was about five. My imagination and creativity whipped me around the kitchen like a lightening rod. I’d be throwing so many different tastes and textures into my meals that my senses were always three steps ahead of me and my crappy motor coordination (it happens when you eat what you’re allergic to). Flank steaks stuffed with spinach, garlic, feta and parmesan; home-made dough stuffed with cheesy artichoke stuffing…And the presentation…the presentation!!!!!! Every tomato slice was precisely placed on the fresh bed of greens and herbs.

So I think you get the picture. From the very beginning, I had a love relationship with food. Being told that I was literally intoxicated by the one thing that I loved was like a knife to my heart and something I’d surely have to grieve. To my surprise, however, my gluten-free journey ended up NOT being something that my taste buds and senses had to miss out on. Instead, off I went exploring fresh foods and tastes that drove me wild. Imagine….fresh butter from the top of organic cream. Virgin olive oil that is so glorious to your tongue that you wouldn’t dare cooking it. Raw honey from bees fed on lavender drizzled on paper-thin rice crackers with sharp cheese and rosemary. Not only did I learn how to make literally everything I ever loved (pasta, cookies, cake, etc) in an even yummier version, but I opened up my horizon for more and more tastes that took me to even higher peaks than ever before.

So that leads me to this blog. I hope to have a place where my tastes can talk and share their stories. I will share my exploration of amazing foods, what I did with them, how I did it, and of course share lots of pictures of beautiful meals. I hope that when reading this, your senses will walk with me through the tastes, experiences, visualizations and memories that we are so blessed to have.

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