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Feeding Traditions: Cassia Cogger

Feeding Traditions LogoOver a cup of hot tea this summer on a leisurely Sunday morning, I had a flash of inspiration to start a series of interviews about food knowledge and traditions. I had just taught some students who told me they knew how to make string cheese with their grandmother. How amazing is that?

So what other amazing talents and traditions do people have around food and family?

Feeding Traditions is a way to share our stories about food, family, history, and culture. It is a time and space to explore all these rich connections we form in the kitchen and at the family dinner table. Why do we eat what we eat?  Who taught us how to cook? And what memories and skills do we hope to pass on to our children?

Feeding Traditions is a celebration of our everyday life.

Feeding Traditions gives us a peek into our neighbors’ kitchens and celebrates 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.

I am over-the-moon excited for our first interview exclusively on the Skill It blog! Today we are talking with Cassia Cogger, a mother of two (ages 2 & 5), aunt to three nieces and nephews (1, 5, and 8), business owner, and food enthusiast. You can read more about her experiences with food and family on her blog, Soul Rooting, Joy Rising.

Cassia Cogger and Family
How would you describe your food culture and traditions?
Cassia: Random. We eat most everything in terms of ethnic cuisines, types of protein, vegetables, etc. We do follow gluten-free and paleo protocol in our home due to my history of respiratory and gut issues. The one consistent thing we do is always eat dinner, at the table, together.

What is your earliest memory of family dinners?
Cassia: I remember a lot of dinners at my grandparents house with family all around, lots of homemade food, and lots of interacting and discussion.

How old were you when you first made something on your own in the kitchen?  What was it?
Cassia:  I remember making a lot of things with my mom and grandparents, especially cookies or cakes. I remember getting home from school before my mom got home from work and putting a lot of chicken into big pots with salt water. Once a year my sister and I would help my Polish grandfather stuff lots and lots of kielbasa. I remember going to the slaughter house to get pig intestines and then sliding the casing over his mother’s hollowed out cow horn to stuff the sausage by hand. One year he got a machine and he hated it, so we never used it again. When I was in middle school my dad decided I should learn to cook so I had to make dinner a few nights a week. I hated to touch raw meat (I still don’t really like it.) He was a pediatrician and I took a bunch of gloves from his office to handle the meat… unfortunately they were the powdered latex variety…

Who taught you how to cook?
Cassia: My mom taught me how to cook because she was always cooking but I don’t recall any specific lessons. We didn’t eat pre-made or store bought stuff. I think it was more a matter of finances and habit than it was health, but she always made our food. My grandmother and grandfather taught me how to cook by always letting me help. I’ve always learned just by doing and watching.

How do you balance work, food and family?
Cassia: Food and family go hand in hand for me. We sit down together for breakfast. We sit down together for dinner. I work from home so I have the luxury of getting some things prepped over a lunch break or right after the kids get on the bus rather than always having to do everything right before we are ready to eat. A crockpot helps on crazy days…

What meal do you “pull out of thin air” when you come home late without a plan for dinner?
Cassia: This is tough now that we’ve been eating a grain free and unprocessed diet for a few years. I used to always make a soup with chicken broth, frozen spinach, a can of diced tomatoes and dried tortellini; this was my standard go-to.

Following a stricter way of eating I usually have our meals fairly well planned. We buy in to a cow share and a pig share and have a lot of meat in our freezer. I try to pull enough out for the week and leave it in the fridge to defrost. Now if something isn’t defrosted and I really find myself in a bind for a last minute dinner I will usually just make breakfast. We always have eggs and bacon on hand!

What is your favorite comfort food?  Is it a family recipe?
Cassia: Almost any kind of hot soup. I remember my mom and her mom used to make a lot of soups. The ones I usually make are different from theirs, but almost any hot soup soothes the soul, at least mine. Green curry is also a favorite comfort food.

Do you have a traditional recipe from your childhood that you still make for special occasions or holidays today?
Cassia: Every holiday as a kid we used to make and decorate sugar cookies. EVERY ONE. I try and do this with my daughter, and as she is getting older it is getting easier. I’m still looking for the perfect grain-free replacement for this. We also always made pizzelles at Christmas. I have had my own pizzelle iron since I moved to college at 18. I remember sitting and making them in my dorm room and selling them to an Italian boy down the hall. I love pizzelles, the process of making them, the way they look, and eating them. This year one of my goals is to perfect a primal pizzelle, and I think I have it figured out!

As a parent, what one dish have you learned will bring the whole family running to the dinner table?
Cassia: Our kids always come running to the table because it is ingrained in them. Now, getting them to eat is another story. A current favorite is pork tenderloin, homemade applesauce, and a veggie of their choosing, usually carrot sticks or pepper sticks, sometimes a bite or two of kale. Right now, the veggies they will eat are pretty limited.

Where do you find inspiration, culinary or otherwise? 
Cassia: Everywhere. Sometimes I see a color and want to see more of it so I might make carrots or beets. I will see a picture or read a story that puts me in a certain environment or country and I want to make a particular cuisine like Thai or Indian. Sometimes I’ll go to the grocery store and pick up something random just to see if I can make it into something good.

Healthy Cooking with KidsHave your children expressed an interest in helping in the kitchen? What have you taught them to make?
Cassia: My 5-year-old loves to help in the kitchen and always has. She started by washing our produce in an over the sink colander shortly after she could stand. She loves to make pancakes and waffles, baking and cracking eggs. My 2-year-old wants to help now too. He likes to hold the mixer or immersion blender and also washes produce. We could definitely work on improving water conservation in our house…the kids will wash and rewash and wash some more if I let them.

Because I have a recipe blog my daughter will whip up concoctions, usually using jello, whipped cream and whatever fruit she can find, and plate it while asking me to put it on my food blog.

What do you hope your children will learn about food from you?
Cassia: That whole foods are the key to everything. That you should support your local farms so they can, in turn, produce produce (haha! same spelling, different pronunciations) to support you in your health. That nutrition is highly individual for everyone and your body will tell you what works. That everything really does come back to the food that you eat.

Are there ways that you and your family play with your food?
Cassia: We are lucky to be surrounded by farms in our town. All summer and into the fall we go on pick-your-own expeditions. The kids love it and are more invested in eating the food. We love it because we are outside doing something together and our pantry loves it because we stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables.

I cook pancakes for the kids once a week and take “shape” requests. I use a turkey baster to “draw,” or at least try to draw, anything they can imagine.

Playing in the KitchenIs there a piece of kitchen or cooking advice you would like to share with other families?
Cassia: Just get in there and get moving. Cooking is really quite simple once you start doing it.

Is there a question you ask your kids at the dinner table most nights?
Cassia: What was your favorite part of the day? What are you hoping to do tomorrow?

What one thing about food and eating do you most want to teach your children?
Cassia: That ultimately we’re all responsible for ourselves. We need to know what foods do and don’t work for our bodies, where they come from, and how they’re produced. And as they get older, they’ll need to know how to prepare these foods.

Thank you to Cassia for sharing so much with us here today! If you have a question for Cassia or for me, please leave it in the comments below!