Welcome to my website. I’m thankful to have so many loyal readers and people that are interested in my work. Home is where the heart is for me, and my heart beats are my two beautiful daughters, Paris and Siena, who continue to inspire my cooking, my life and my writing. Professionally, I am an entrepreneur first and foremost, I teach Entrepreneurial Marketing in the International Program at UC Berkeley, and together with my dear friend Dean Sweeney of Sweeney Promotions, founded the Entrepreneurial Club as students at Oregon State University before the word Entrepreneur was well known. So the seeds of this mindset were sown and cultivated long ago for both of us, but I am also a passionate adventure seeker. For me adventure can be found in many places, although I love to travel, ski and sail, planting flowers or making pasta, are also an adventure for me. And as much as I love to pack up and head to far off places and do crazy things, like follow my teens down the blacks and through the trees, or go night sailing with the Millennials (my friends from Olympic Circle Sailing Club), I really do love to be home and cook for my friends and family. All of these things, for me, add to a rich and full life.
Blessings and Love,
Sydney Chaney Thomas
Real Food for Real People
by Sydney Chaney Thomas (available on Amazon)
I didn’t start cooking until I married in my early 30’s. Prior to that, I dusted my stove and when space was tight, I kept my off season clothing in my oven. At one time I lived in an apartment for over a year with an oven that didn’t even work. I was living on microwave popcorn and take out Chinese food. At 29 I started reading cookbooks like novels. I bought a few and borrowed many. I would sit in the bathtub and read them. I was interested mostly in the science of cooking food. I did this without cooking much of anything for about a year and this suited me since I didn’t have an oven. However, this can be a torturous practice, as it would make me very hungry, and no food was forthcoming. During this period I didn’t even own a can opener, maybe I had owned one prior to this or maybe not, but this suited me, as specialty coffees came in a bag and of course I was in possession of a grinder and cappuccino machine.
At 31 I married and began the optimistic practice of cooking my husband dinner. Initial meals consisted of store bought spaghetti sauce and dry pasta. Simultaneously, my husband developed an interest in wine. He would bring beautiful wine home and we would have no food to eat with it. This is when I began in earnest to really cook, not just for sustenance, but also for the joy of it. I wanted to complement the robust flavors of these wines. Together, we began the journey into food and wine as a hobby. Then just as I was beginning to define myself as a cook and had learned to make butternut squash ravioli by hand (this truly took an entire day), but immediately before I became a food snob, we had children. And children who did not like to sleep I might add and didn’t like to eat much of anything either, but more on that later. As a result, my recipes are not time intensive; in fact they are the opposite. They are quick and easy recipes that anyone, no matter how busy or distracted, can turn out with a minimum amount of effort. Some of my meals require 10 minutes of labor and 4 hours of slow cooking. This makes them suitable for stay at home moms or for people working from home during the day or the generally distracted or exhausted. Either way, we all have to get something delicious and nourishing on the table, if not everyday, at least some days.
The first thing I learned cooking with children is it’s not the amount of time it takes to cook, it’s the amount of time you have to sneak off before a fight erupts, your client calls, help is needed with homework or the cartoon ends that really matters. My recipes are all simple and easy to execute. They include both slow cooked foods that require little attention once in the oven, and other fast recipes that allow families to get the food on the table in a hurry after work and school. There are a few recipes that are more complex, but absolutely worth the effort or they would not be included here.
As any cook or even the non-cook knows, it is not all about time, but more to the amount of time one wishes to spend cooking. It is a rare person who wants to cook for hours everyday. There are days when I do have time to cook, but honestly these are also days that I would rather spend with my family or spend doing other things and even sometimes just doing nothing, but say reading. My approach to cooking allows for that, like the slow cooked pork that smells delicious cooking while I’m lying in bed reading or planting annuals in my garden or playing with my children. At some point around six o’clock I will put some noodles on to boil and then ladle the vegetables and sauce over them when people are actually hungry. I am not always in need of just quick and easy. Sometimes I would just like the food to cook itself, which believe it or not, is almost entirely possible.
Like my grandmother before me I rarely use recipes. My grandmother had 12 children, and because of that, or in spite of it, she made her own bread daily. She tried to teach me how to make her famous rolls the summer I turned 26 and was living in San Francisco. It took me 20 hours to get from my door in San Francisco’s Russian Hill to her home on Portugal Cove Road in St. Johns Newfoundland, Canada. I arrived late that night and she laid out our meal of dandelion greens and boiled ham. She had, swear to God, pulled these dandelions out of her yard, so needless to say, I was thrilled the next day when she started making fresh bread and rolls. I was mesmerized watching her work, not to mention starving, since dandelion greens aren’t especially filling. She explained to me how to put the dough together and did it without any kind of measurement. She simply, put her hands into the yeast, flour and water and then kneaded it all together, let it rise, rolled the dough into balls and literally tossed it all in the oven effortlessly. She served the fluffy warm rolls with fresh butter; sour cream and gooseberry jam on a tray with a pot of steaming tea. I remember being with her in her warm kitchen on that foggy summer morning like it was yesterday. I love how I have forgotten so many other things about her, but can recall with stunning clarity the way the warm bread with the purple gooseberry jam and the smear of white cream on top tasted. The movement of her hands appears before my eyes as I make my own rising bread. I can feel her guidance in my DNA as I move my own hands through the dough, but what she really taught me that day was not to just make bread, but to trust myself in the kitchen. She taught me to not be afraid of cooking anything and to allow my instincts to take over.
Most of my recipes are quick to put together because time is precious in families and life. Americans have been moving away from cooking for the past 30 years to disastrous results. To maintain a healthy lifestyle for both children and adults we have to take the time to cook nutritious meals from fresh ingredients. My hope is that my simple approach to making cooking as effortless as possible and the recipes that my family rely on will help you to feed and nurture your own family.