The Gath­er­ing Place

A Mid­west­erner learns to love the food of her child­hood by shar­ing it with her kids.

Country Woman - - CONTENTS - BY SHAUNA SEVER

Make last­ing food mem­o­ries with friendly mid­west­ern cook­ing.

My hus­band and I de­cided that our West Coast days had run their course. Though my ca­reer flour­ished dur­ing our 13 years in Los An­ge­les and San Fran­cisco, in Oc­to­ber 2015, we felt an un­de­ni­able shoul­der tap from the uni­verse telling us it was time for a big change. We wanted our two lit­tle Cal­i­for­ni­aborn chil­dren to grow up in the cen­tral states, as we both had.

So, with an ex­cit­ing job of­fer in hand for him—and for me, some con­cern that by set­tling in the Mid­west, I would lose any cool quo­tient I had in the food world I worked in—we moved to Chicago. We moved to be close to fam­ily and friends, to in­crease our hot dog in­take and to give our kids more sea­sons and less ex­po­sure to kale. The first Thanks­giv­ing and Christ­mas that we didn’t have to buy plane tick­ets to visit fam­ily was mag­i­cal. I also found my­self look­ing at food here, and par­tic­u­larly heart­land bak­ing, in a whole new light.

When I left for Cal­i­for­nia at

25, my culi­nary in­ter­ests hadn’t yet found me. As a mid­west­ern mutt, with ev­ery­thing from Ger­man and Scan­di­na­vian to Ir­ish, Greek and Ital­ian her­itage, I thought of my up­bring­ing and all the food we ate as fun and de­li­cious, but never as any­thing par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing. The in­ven­tive­ness of the Cal­i­for­nia food scene did lit­tle to el­e­vate those early food mem­o­ries.

Still, I felt the old-school crav­ings. As the empty mov­ing trucks pulled away from our new home in Illi­nois, the dis­tant fa­mil­iar­ity I’d longed for be­came real life. I un­packed our boxes and thought about what I wanted my kids’ child­hoods to be.

Since then, it’s been a mis­sion of sorts to pull mean­ing­ful meals and sweet treats from the oven— dishes that have a con­nec­tion to the new life we’re build­ing here as a fam­ily. I want to pep­per these new heir­loom recipes with the vast ar­ray of cul­tural in­flu­ences that have long been part of the story of this re­gion—the funky quilt of eth­nic­i­ties that make up not only our cui­sine, but our ac­tual DNA. Most of all, I want my chil­dren to have de­tailed, ac­tive food mem­o­ries and a deep ap­pre­ci­a­tion for this place, some­thing I never gained while I was grow­ing up.

What I love about Mid­west bak­ing is that the goal isn’t to smack you in the face with bizarre in­gre­di­ents and fancy, im­pres­sive tech­niques. In­stead it cel­e­brates the cre­ative use of pantry sta­ples, a peo­ple-pleas­ing

ap­proach that will sim­ply never go out of style.

There’s a thread of fla­vor that runs through cook­ing and bak­ing here, and of­ten it’s found in the mar­riage of but­ter and flour. This is food that yields to the tooth. It’s friendly, like the Mid­west­ern­ers who wave you ahead of them in the gro­cery line, or strangers read­ily ex­chang­ing recipe ideas over a mar­ket bin of early-sea­son cher­ries, say­ing, “Af­ter a long win­ter and cold spring, isn’t it great to see cher­ries again?” To me, these are some of the most nour­ish­ing things in life.

Shauna Sever re­turned to Illinios to live—and bake— with chil­dren An­drew and Caro­line af­ter 13 years in Cal­i­for­nia.

Shauna Sever has grown to love “peo­ple-pleas­ing” mid­west­ern food.

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