Today we meet Persephone Brown. Perspehone is health coach and year-round resident of Block Island. She has a 3 year-old son and is a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and Columbia Teachers College of NYC. She has spent years cooking for herself as well as baking for the Juice and Java CafÃ©. Today she leads guided cleanses as part of her private coaching practice, helping people find healthy in body and mind, making healthy, beautiful food that tastes good and warms your core.
Skill It: How would you describe your food culture and traditions?
Persephone: Both my grandmothers were housewives in the 50’s. They used a lot of canned goods, and convenient foods in their cooking. One of my fondest memories of my Nana is making toaster oven stuffing with her using Wonderbread, celery salt, and butter. Though this is not how I feed my family, it is interesting to look back and see how our standard American diet, as we know it today, was really starting to take shape and was truly embraced with joy, for it’s convenience, simplicity, and ability to stay “fresh.” The American Pantry was a staple that made sense, now we are starting to take another look and I think that can be hard, because it is our culture and came from our grandmothers.
Skill It: What is your earliest memory of family dinners?
Persephone: My family dinner table changed often. My mother dieted a lot which meant our food changed depending on what her current eating patterns were like. We ate a lot of chicken, broccoli, and rice pilaf. There was not a lot of joy around mealtime, I think because food was somewhat painful for my mother. Both my parents worked, and I was an only child, so food eventually became somewhat utilitarian. I think this plays a big role in my life now and my wanting to make food safe, fun, enjoyable, and colorful for my children.
Skill It: How old were you when you first made something on your own in the kitchen? What was it?
Persephone: I was 19 and I was asked to sautÃ© mushrooms by my vegan boyfriend. And I cried under the pressure. I was young and used to eating fast food so the idea of cooking or preparing a meal was totally new to me. I remember the vegetable dishes he made not tasting good to me as my taste buds were adjusting. We were together for three years and eventually I became vegan and learned to love and prepare all kinds of different foods, but that first time – that was special.
Skill It:Who taught you how to cook?
Persephone: My time in the kitchen started with the vegan boyfriend. Then as my diet evolved and shifted, as it always will, I experimented more and more. I guess you could say I am self-taught, but not without A LOT of inspiration along the way.
Skill It: How do you balance work, food and family?
Persephone: Fortunately my work is food, so I kind of have to stay one step ahead in the kitchen. I can’t be feeding my family boxed mac & cheese and coaching how to prepare whole food meals (though sometimes mac & cheese does happen.)Â When I want to experiment or make something more elaborate or time consuming I will get my 3 year-old son involved. Sometimes that means he is mixing or grating, or pushing the button on the food processor. Other times it could mean he’s “measuring” or counting apples in the fruit bowl. Cooking with a young child or children can be a challenge and test in patience, but it is a total payoff when he gets excited about buying a pomegranate or hand of ginger at the market.
Skill It: What meal do you “pull out of thin air” when you come home late without a plan for dinner?
Persephone: My go-to, don’t know what to make, what’s about to go bad in the fridge(?) meal, is Miso Soup. We always have miso in the fridge and I usually keep some variety of frozen vegetables on hand with dried sea vegetables in the cupboard, though just hot water and miso makes a meal too. Vegetables, wakame (seaweed), eggs, shrimp, rice noodles, fish sauce, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce or Braggs Liquid Amino Acids, whatever we have on hand. It is so delicious and can be whipped up in 15 minutes.
Skill It: What is your favorite comfort food? Is it a family recipe?
Persephone: Fried boneless chicken, biscuits, greens and gravy. Forever, this was my comfort meal and when I was vegetarian I would make it with soy chicken nuggets. A few years ago I was talking with a health coach and she asked if I ever ate this food as a child. The memory hit me pretty suddenly – my father and mother had joint custody of me as a child. My dad and I ate out in restaurants every night we were together, except for maybe two times a year. Those two nights a year we ate at home, he made Weaver Chicken Nuggets and Bisquick Biscuits with canned gravy. I couldn’t believe this connection, though now when I have the craving I call my dad.
Skill It: As a parent, what one dish have you learned will bring the whole family running to the dinner table?
Persephone:Â Tacos. Corn tortillas, beans, avocado, tomato, cheddar, shredded spinach and Greek yogurt.
Skill It: Where do you find inspiration, culinary or otherwise?
Persephone: In the kitchen I often let color guide me. I love food that looks beautiful, pretty food. I get excited about bright green leeks, purple potatoes, and white cauliflower tossed in a pan together. Starting there as my palate maybe I would add some green olives or red Peppadew peppers. Often color will inspire how a dish tastes in the end.
Skill It: Have your children expressed an interest in helping in the kitchen? What have you taught them to make?
Persephone: I think for Wes, helping in the kitchen just comes standard. He often asks for a lot of attention at dinnertime, so cooking is how we can both spend time together and get a healthy meal on the table. He loves when we make brownies.
Skill It: What do you hope your children will learn about food from you?
Persephone: I hope they learn to be curious and excited about fresh foods, flavors, and colors.
Skill It: Are there ways that you and your family are play with your food?
Persephone: I’m sure we will play more as our family grows, though now I like to play with the shapes and colors when plating his meals. Fruit and vegetable mandalas are always a big hit.
Skill It: Is there a piece of kitchen or cooking advice you would like to share with other families?
Persephone: Keep trying new things. It doesn’t have to be really elaborate, just roasting a vegetable you’ve never had before can be eye and palate opening.
Skill It: Is there a question you ask your kids at the dinner table most nights?
Persephone: I like to walk through his day with him. It took his dad and I a little time to learn that we really needed to engage him at dinner. We would be catching up on our own days, to-do’s, and agendas because Wes was less verbal. When we walk through his day and save our stuff for later, he sits and eats longer and we have a much smoother dining experience.
Skill It: What one thing about food and eating do you most want to teach your children?
Persephone: To be thankful, curious, and to savor.