Updated: Nov 8, 2018
Stephanie's Aunt Karen is all about the artistry and presentation of food, just as long as it is light on the spices... and heavy on the cheese.
Stephanie Calloway is a beautiful, compassionate, and kind person I am proud to call my friend. She enjoys spending time growing her own vegetables and herbs on city rooftops and in rural settings, teaching cooking classes, and nourishing her family and friends. Steph and I founded Veggie Thanksgiving, where we served 20 of our friends a four-course plated vegetarian meal, complete with Tofurky, around one long table in my small two bedroom apartment. I am very thankful and honored to share her story with the CFSYL Community.
CFSYL: I'd like to ask you a few questions, starting with, what is the dish you are cooking today?
SC: This is a garlic and herb cheese ball
CFSYL: And who are you cooking in honor of?
SC: My Aunt Karen Brookins
CFSYL: Can you tell me about her?
SC: Sure, she is my mom's oldest sister. She passed away four years ago and she was like a second grandma to my daughter; I was always like a daughter to her. I didn't necessarily realize it until looking back how much her relationship meant to me and to her. She turned 60, and then six weeks later took her own life, in a very dramatic way I guess, for lack of a better word. Sudden death is never easy, yet suicide is a whole other level- and the way she chose to do it was really difficult. Especially now, since in a couple weeks is the anniversary [of her death], my mom and I have been talking about her a lot, and her energy is strong this time of year. Remembering her is really important for me and for my daughter because thinking about the anxiety that she carried and that my mom's mom carries- it’s really important for me to remember that, and in a sense, grow from that experience.
Karen was a super picky eater, so I knew I wanted to do something for her- but I thought what am I going to do, bread? Potatoes? [laughs] But Karen made my wedding cake and she made this beautiful cake for my daughter’s first birthday. Cheese sculptures and cakes were her thing; she always did them beautifully. Whenever we got together with family, she always brought the cheese and it was some beautiful thing. So we’ll try and see if we can figure out the frosting [laughs].
CFSYL: Did she like the artistry of cheese sculpting and baking?
SC: Yes; she was super creative. When I was pregnant she made the invitations for my baby shower and found seed paper that she specifically bought from some wild flower farm in, like, Alabama or something like that, and had it shipped up here. She was super creative and was somebody who would always send letters and notes and pictures- she was the last person I know who printed pictures and would mail them. Even though she wasn’t necessarily a super-chef, her cooking was so filled with love.
CFSYL: Since she was such a picky eater, was her food more about the presentation, like showing the time it took demonstrated her love, rather than the specific food?
SC: Yeah, it was not like she was ever going to grow her own anything but she would try the stuff I would make at family gatherings just to like say that she tried it, but she did not want to. [laughs] Everyone is generally afraid of whatever I bring, it’s like “Oh no, what’s Stephanie going to bring?” and then “Oh, it actually tastes good!” [laughs]
CFSYL: You mentioned earlier that she was a meat and potatoes type of person
SC: Totally, and she was not ever looking for praise for her food, but you could tell she spent time on it.
CFSYL: Is this a specific family recipe or just Karen’s style?
SC: It’s her style. I’m trying to make something that would look like something she would make. So with the garlic powder- and it's mostly cheese [laughs] so if it’s too seasoned or too herby that would be weird; there's pecans in it… but maybe seeing it now there’s maybe too many pecans [laughs], but I think with cheese on top this would be something she would have enjoyed.
She was a huge fan of Bucky Badger and Karen was an ultimate Badger fan so this is also in honor of her.
CFSYL: So are you going to sculpt this now?
SC: Well… I’m not. For this first one, I’m going to do a flat sculpture and with the whipped cream cheese make a red and white Badger logo- so I'm just doing the red W- so we’ll see. [laughs]
CFSYL: You mentioned that you cook things for family gatherings; so why do you cook, personally?
SC: I really do believe that food is medicine and so ultimately that is why I’m cooking, to take care of my family, to sneak herbal medicine for my kids [laughs]. I found a strong connection to garden and growing food, and that connection between earth and belly- it’s the medicine of the earth.
CFSYL: Do you find yourself thinking of family and ancestors as you cook?
SC: Sometimes. I did not grow up with a mom who cooked, but she was a baker. Christmas time I especially think of my mom when I'm baking, but I grew up with what some call “processed” food; drive-through, canned and frozen food, which is not to say that can’t be made with love, but it was meant to be fast. I know my grandma canned and things like that, but I think about more of my immediate ancestors when I am baking and/or harvesting stuff.
CFSYL: If somebody wanted to show you that they loved you, what would they cook for you?
The first thing that comes to my mind is one of my favorite comfort food meals, chicken and rice. My mom used to make this as her go-to winter meal; chicken with cream of mushroom soup and minute rice. I don’t really eat chicken now, but I still think that there’s there's something to be said about the comfort of that meal. I think because of that, rice in general is comforting, but a creamy rice. [laughs]