I love Jennifer Leal's "About Me" section on her blog, Savor the Thyme: "A New Englander who discovered her passion for Science at a young age and her passion to be a Stay at Home Mom and Foodie a bit later."
Want to see her kitchen? I thought so...
After witnessing the deaths of family members due to cancer, heart attacks, strokes and obesity related illness, Jennifer was determined to raise herself and her children to respect their bodies through exercise and food. On Savor the Thyme, she writes about "real," family-friendly foods, which includes foods that are free of artificial flavorings, preservatives and flavorings.
CM: Tell us about your family.
My name is Jennifer Leal, and I live in Rhode Island with my loving husband and two children, ages 3 and 5.
I had been living in various parts of Connecticut most of my life after spending my first four years traveling abroad as my father was in the Air Force. I knew early on that I wanted to be a scientist and by the time I was a young teenager, I knew Cancer Research was my future. Unfortunately, cancer became the center of our life when both my young cousin and sister were diagnosed and both died within a year of each other. That only fueled my passion. After I graduated from UCONN with a Master of Science, I went on to work for a major pharmaceutical firm and after working in the laboratory, I moved on to work in clinical research, aka "human trials." I met my future husband during this time, and we were engaged within seven months, married seven months after that and built our house and planned our wedding while selling his current house. I knew we could make it through anything after that crazy period of time.
When I went on maternity leave in 2004, I planned on going back to work as I loved what I was doing. Then my beautiful daughter came into my life and I discovered that I had a new career that I was passionate about and it was an opportunity that would never come again: To be a stay at home mom. The experiences that I had early in life fueled my desire to teach my children how to take care of their bodies and eat healthy. I believe in eating real food (not chemically manufactured, artificially preserved, and not containing anything that has been enriched and modified). I would say that we eat healthy 90 percent of the time; the remainder of the time, we "roll with the punches."
How would you describe your cooking style?
I would say my style is family-friendly and casual. I love to entertain and enjoy putting out some "fancier" spreads. But otherwise, I want people to feel my food is accessible to anyone.
Can we see the inside of your kitchen?
Welcome to the center of our house. Not only do we eat in there, but that is the room where all three doors into our house converge so that is the mudroom, mailroom, laundry room, eatery, and somehow, it's become the playroom. We have many "tea parties" on the floor, and it serves as an excellent race track.
My favorite thing about the kitchen has to be the size and I know I am very lucky to have such a large room. However, I told my husband, if we ever build again, that there will be no dining room just a huge kitchen. My favorite spot in the kitchen is behind the large island. In fact, I do not think I could ever function efficiently without one.
When it comes to cooking, where do you find inspiration?
Most times I just seem to get an idea when I am walking around the grocery store or when I see a recipe in a food magazine/on a show. Sometimes I also see a photo or a recipe on another blog and it reminds me of something I could put a twist on and up the nutritional content.
What traditions or rituals do you and your family have with respect to food?
With respect to traditions, I think our main tradition is for the children to get involved with the meal preparation, even if that only means setting items on the table. Our main ritual is that we plate our portion of protein and vegetable but only a small amount of the starch on the plate. I find if children have a "large" portion of rice/pasta on their plate that they eat that first, then the protein, and as a result, have very little room for the vegetable. Therefore, we serve them more of the starch after the plate has been cleaned. Believe it or not, they look forward to it.
What do you make better than anyone else?
What is your one (food-related) indulgence?
I would have to say that it is cheese. Especially, cheese with a warm loaf of bread from a local bakery. I think I sigh upon the first bite.
How has your taste/cooking changed since you had children?
Naturally, I am more mindful of having a well-balanced diet every day when I did not think twice it as much prior to having my monkey and sweet pea. I also keep an eye on their daily sugar intake and read every ingredient label now. It is not as much about them not having "treats" here and there but more about having real/nature-made ingredients.
What are some ingredients/food items that you could never, ever live without?
I think I would be an unhappy camper without coffee, chicken stock, frozen vegetables, almonds, the herbs parsley and thyme, whole-grain pastas, and baking basics.
What are you favorite food blogs or websites?
Thank you to Jennifer for sharing her kitchen! And don't miss these other "In the Kitchen With..." features: