Feeding Traditions: Meet Jan Faust Dane

Feeding Traditions is a series of interviews that explore the rich connections between food & family. We love the chance to peek into our neighbors’ kitchens and celebrate the work we do to gather our loved ones around the dinner table. And it highlights the memories we all have formed around spending time with friends, family, and food.

Today we meet Jan Faust Dane. Jan is the new owner of Stock Culinary Goods on Hope Street in Providence full of thoughtfully sourced, well-designed kitchen tools, cooking resources and gifts for food lovers. It’s a place where people who love to cook and entertain can gather to find the materials to outfit their kitchens, decorate their tables, find inspiration or simply chat with other like-minded food enthusiasts. Jan is no stranger to the food and shop world. Feathers in her cap include food forager for the Ocean House in Watch Hill, contributing writer to Edible Rhody magazine, and the author of many eat.shop guides. She lives in Oak Hill with her husband and three children.

Skill It: How would you describe your food culture and traditions?

Jan: My family on my mom’s side is German, so homemade sauerkraut in big crocks was something my mom would occasionally ferment in the well under our stairs.  I wouldn’t touch it, and thought it stunk to high heaven.  Of course, like everybody, I’m sauerkraut crazy now and wish I’d appreciated that more back then.  My father’s family was Norwegian and outdoorsy.  He fished a lot, so there were opportunities to eat trout, salmon, steelhead and perch.  I remember, and kind of can’t believe looking back it at, that I would ask for the perch tails to be crisped and I would eat those like chips.

Skill It: What is your earliest memory of family dinners?

Jan:  Here’s the confession.  I don’t have family dining memories in my nuclear family of my mom and three siblings.  As a latchkey kid with a working mom, most of my afterschool snacks and most of my dinners were of the highly-processed, pre-packaged variety, often made by me. I made a ton of stovetop popcorn and drank a lot of Kool-Aid.  And I am no stranger to the Swanson’s meal, Spaghetti-Os, and gallons of milk.   But then again, it was the 70s.  I think the elusive Rockwellian image of the family at dinner is what made me the food and cooking-obsessed person I am today.

Skill It: How old were you when you first made something on your own in the kitchen?  What was it?

Jan: I was making stove-top popcorn at a very young age, like 6, and have honed that talent over the last 40 years.  It is a source of pride that I can whip up a perfect pot every time, with nary a burnt piece or an un-popped kernel (what we used to call Old Maids.)  This is like my Malcolm Gladwell “Outliers” 10,000 hours talent.   I think if you did some kind of tissue analysis, you would see I am formed of popcorn and milk.  But in part, that’s because I was a picky kid and ate very simply. I didn’t develop a raging, roving, curious and insatiable appetite until after college.

Skill It: Who taught you how to cook?

Jan:  I don’t recall being taught to cook, but I do know that I had to be fairly handy in the kitchen early and I was surely nurtured along.  I have memories of sauteeing mushrooms in butter and beer before my teens; I have no idea where that came from, but it was a favorite.  In high school, my best friend and I were obsessed with pasta salads and stir-fries and we made a ton of those, always varying the format and ingredients.  Her parents were pretty advanced and health-conscious cooks and I remember always being intrigued by “foreign” things like bulgur wheat and Israeli couscous.

Skill It: How do you balance work, food and family?

Jan:  I have been, at various times since starting our family, fully-employed, part-time employed, a freelancer and now, a business owner.  And so, at times my family has eaten very well and with sophistication, and at other times, we subsist on one-pot meals like pasta with add-ins.  One of my favorite things about my new role at Stock is that I will have an extremely reliable schedule, allowing me, I hope, to get into more consistent meal-time rituals.  I fantasize about being that person that processes all the Farmers’ Market groceries on Saturday who then meters them out consistently throughout the week.

Skill It: What meal do you “pull out of thin air” when you come home late without a plan for dinner?

Jan:  Pasta carbonara is always at the ready.  I also make a kind of beef stroganoff that I love to rattle off, if we have (Pat’s Pastured) hamburger in the house. Finally, a tuna casserole is pretty easy to pull together.  You can see, I have this mentality of “get it all in one pot” and then you don’t have to be making all different kinds of side dishes.  I can tell you too that peas appear in every one of those aforementioned dishes.

Skill It: What is your favorite comfort food?  Is it a family recipe?

Jan:  Recipe, no.  Comfort, yes.  Growing up we ate a lot of noodles with butter, soy sauce, sesame seeds and poppy seeds.  At my grandmother’s house, she would toast the sesame seeds in a pan and put in extra butter.  That was just heaven.  To this day, if I’m feeling blue, I’ll make that, although the poppy seeds have been dropped over the years.  I’ve also always made some kind of egg drop soup with broth, eggs and herbs.  In the old days it was Swanson’s chicken broth and dried parsley.  Now, we always have a home-made chicken stock around, and I mix in scallions and ginger.  Or I’ll go with lemon and rice and make it more like an avgolemono.
Skill It: We had to look this up! It’s a Greek egg & lemon soup. You can read more about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avgolemono or here: http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/avgolemono_soup/

Skill It: Do you have a traditional recipe from your childhood that you still make for special occasions or holidays today?

Jan:  We very casually make Dutch Babies whenever we have guests who stay over.  They present so dramatically, but they’re so simple and delicious.  It’s basically, just flour, milk and eggs, but what alchemy when you put it all in a 450-degree oven in an enameled dish.

Skill It: As a parent, what one dish have you learned will bring the whole family running to the dinner table?

Jan:  They’re carb hounds like me, so they always want something pasta-based.  They adore my homemade pesto, which uses the basil we grow every year.  If I don’t have my pesto in stock, they will happily substitute it with Besto Pesto that we get at the Hope Street or Wintertime Farmer’s Market.  To get three siblings to agree on anything is rare, but everybody loves pasta and pesto.

Skill It: Where do you find inspiration, culinary or otherwise?

Jan:  In Cook’s Illustrated Magazine, restaurants, and mostly, from my food enthusiast friends.  I absolutely love the rigor of Cook’s trial and error method.  I also love how declarative they are about what is best.  From them, I think I do a lot of things just exactly right, like Pasta aglio y olio and Fried Green Tomatoes.  In restaurants, there is always inspiration.  I am constantly blown away by the inventive offerings coming out of Farmstead and New Rivers.  I don’t try to replicate what they make at home, but I do try to capture the spirit of experimentation.  Finally, without exception, all of our best friends love to cook, so when we get together or vacation together, the cooking is the real connective tissue of every gathering.

Skill It: Have your children expressed an interest in helping in the kitchen? What have you taught them to make?

Jan:  Oh my yes.  My son was a typical running, jumping, lunging, active boy, but at five he became very interested in cooking and we allowed him to start then.  It was easy stuff, like making pancakes or scrambling eggs.  Then, within a year or two, we let him work on his knife skills.  In any other context, he was a wild man, but you put a knife in his hand and he would slow down, get very reverent and make beautiful, careful cuts.  It was amazing.  All the children are great at putting together scrambled eggs and other straightforward dishes.

Skill It: What do you hope your children will learn about food from you?

Jan:  There is a constant cycling of new aversions and pickiness that seems to come and go among the three kids.  So I don’t get to unleash my ultimate desire for heat and spices and unusual melanges that I might otherwise like to. But I have to understand that, having been there myself once. What I hope they develop is the same avid enthusiasm that I have for food now.  They often see my husband and I get nearly giddy with certain dishes and culinary successes.  I’m hoping that when the time is right and the palate is developed and the “dinner table oppression” is behind them, they will have the same unfettered joy about cooking and eating that we do.

Skill It: Are there ways that you and your family play with your food?

Response.  We like to taunt raw oysters before we eat them alive.  NO JUST KIDDING!!!!  We don’t actually much play with our food.

Skill It: Is there a piece of kitchen or cooking advice you would like to share with other families?

Jan:  Well, I don’t know if this is advice, but I think there is nothing more blissful than starting in on a clean kitchen, with a nice glass of wine, and some great music and just going for it.  If I’m using recipes, I like to read them a few times and then just put them away and try to feel through it without referring back to specifics.  This is why I’m not a very consistent baker.

Skill It: Is there a question you ask your kids at the dinner table most nights?

Jan:  When our youngest daughter Vera was still in diapers, she got in the habit of thanking us for changing them. “Dae dae,” she would say, which believe me, was clearly her saying “Thank you.”  We thought that was just a brilliant example of showing appreciation even for the most commonplace things.  So we will often do “Thankfuls” at the table, in which each person contributes something they are thankful for.  Many days, it might be pretty boilerplate stuff, like the dinner or the day or parents or friends.  But some days they will launch into something with such specificity and keen observation and genuine gratitude that it blows our minds.

Skill It: What one thing about food and eating do you most want to teach your children?

Jan:  Love good food.


About Leah Kent
Leah Cherry teaches children and their families how to cook, sew, make and grow traditional talents that remain essential for living well today. Her business, Skill It, is founded on the belief that working with your hands nourishes your spirit and connects you to family and community. In addition to after-school and community events in Rhode Island, Skill It offers an online class, Season's Eatings, to create joy, fun, and connection around food and family dinnertime. You can read the Skill It blog (www.skillitri.com) and sign-up for the newsletter to receive class updates.

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