In many homes, the kitchen tends to be the central place of gathering. Families prepare weeknight meals together, coffee is brewed to begin a busy day, and most dinner party guests seem to congregate here, no matter the direction of the host. It is a warm place full of action, delicious aromas, and happy memories.
I started to reflect recently on how many wonderful kitchen moments I’ve encountered in this life, and realized that at the center of most, was a multitasking and fabulous woman. Usually one with children at her heels, along with friends of those children also hanging about… balancing meal prep, entertaining guests and generally keeping her home on a steady, forward moving course. The wisdom that can be gleaned from these women is fascinating to me, especially as I start to feel the onset of that time in life when there are many responsibilities to juggle and the expectation to do it all and do it all well, starts to grow. So, I thought it could be interesting to start a series where we visit women in that central hub and let them teach us a thing or two about what life is like in their kitchen.
Tamara Moats is an Art History teacher at a well known independent school in Seattle. Her son Farrell is now in his late twenties, living an exciting life in the middle of the entertainment industry in Los Angeles. We caught up with the two of them when he was home visiting, and were treated to a delicious and classic meal that Tamara has made often for her family. A few of Farrell’s oldest friends stopped by to partake in good food and join in the fun, a standard act throughout the years. Tamara greeted them with open arms, perfectly demonstrating her warmth and open style of hosting friends and family alike.
Tamara and Farrell at work together on a pan full of roasted brussel sprouts.
Tell us what you are making, and why this has been such a great family meal over the years?
This is called Sweet and Sour Brisket and it became a favorite the minute my son tasted it. I first made it when we had our French exchange student, Pierre San Miguel, living with us in 2001. I needed some more recipes for hungry boys that were easy to do and made large quantities. Pierre liked it too, and told me after tasting it that I was pretty good cook for an American. Tonight I made roasted Brussels sprouts and fingerling potatoes to go with it, also a Farrell favorite. And of course, everyone loves tiramisu.
Tamara’s beautiful and light filled kitchen.
What is your favorite part about cooking for family?
Food is love. It is one major way I show affection for my family, and care for their needs. I love to make good things that give pleasure, but most of all, I love to gather together to share food and communally enjoy something together. It builds emotional bonds.
Tamara finds inspiration in French design and culture, which translates into many pretty spotted throughout her home.
Any tips for new mothers on feeding/raising their sons?
I fussed a lot with making baby food, and I even made little tiny quiches for Farrell. He ate them happily for a long time until he hit about 2 years old, when he rejected them and just about everything else I made. I cried once, but got over it! I learned it was ok for a toddler to eat a tablespoon of food at a meal, so I went with that. But one thing he loved was broccoli, so I used to heap huge piles of it in front of him, and watch him eat the whole thing. We laughed, he was so cute. He still loves broccoli.
I did not make complex meals when Farrell was growing up, mostly because he was picky and I was working, but the most important thing to me was to sit down every night together and have dinner. It was a great time to talk, and for a long time he did all the talking. When he stopped talking in his teenage years, I started bringing something from the newspaper or a magazine and read a section to him. This usually got a response, or at least I could see the wheels turning in his head.
The lineup of hungry boys, ready to enjoy Tamara’s home cooking.
5 Kitchen tools or ingredients you can’t live without?
My ancient Cuisinart. My narrow metal spatula. The large copper pot. My two good knives, large and small, and my beat-up, metal, two-cup measuring cup.
Can you tell us about your work? What keeps you passionate about teaching? How did you end up becoming a teacher? And how did you balance work and motherhood in the early stages?
From the time I was a teenager and a camp counselor, I liked teaching art projects and thought I would be an art teacher, but found myself majoring in art history in college. I then spent 28 years as a museum professional. The last 19 were as curator of education at a modern and contemporary art museum, where I taught everything needed for the museum. I then made a sort of late career move to teaching at a private school. I love teaching because of the energy I get from students and I enjoy going into depth at school. I am most passionate about art history, and consider myself very lucky to be teaching it at the high school level. Art history is about everything.
I had always wanted a career and children, but I had no idea how hard it was to do both. I had no choice, so I just did it. My mother helped a lot. The lucky part was that Farrell could come to the museum with me during programs at night or on weekends. He either participated in the kid’s workshops, or read in the back rows during lectures. He grew up there.
An easy entertaining style is key for Tamara, and guest often pitch in to help with small tasks.
Favorite place to travel and explore that region’s food landscape?
Paris. I have been there countless times, with a four-month séjour with Farrell that was the ultimate experience. I hardly ever eat out there, but love to explore the marchés and experiment in a tiny kitchen. I learned a lot from the French about how to cook and eat, especially my homestay mother, Natacha Nicolas.
Biggest lesson you’ve ever learned in the kitchen?
Do not try a new recipe on guests.
Any cookbooks that are standbys or have stood the test of time?
I use my ex-husband’s cookbook a lot, Northwest Bounty, and the Fannie Farmer Cookbook. Otherwise, I have a book of clippings that I use the most.
Guilty food pleasure?
Relaxing before Tamara’s delicious Tiramisu is served.
Who taught you the most about cooking for family?
My grandmother. She was Bohemian and cooked and baked constantly. When she babysat us, making bread dough and shaping it into myriad sculptures was the activity. She also believed food was love and stuffed us mercilessly.
Best food memory?
A small lunch in the countryside in France, hosted by some friends of our exchange student Pierre. Vivette made a squash potage to start, Boeuf Bourguignon, a salad of light greens, and tiramisu served in pretty glasses. We were seated in the alcove of their warm kitchen, fire in the fireplace nearby, surrounded by all sorts of charming knickknacks. I will never forget it.
Tamara graciously sent over the recipe for the lovely meal we all shared. Pair with a bottle of your favorite French wine, and you’ll be set to serve a fabulous meal for family and friends.
Sweet and Sour Brisket
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
3 1/2 pounds trimmed brisket or pot roast
1 tbl olive oil
2 large onions, sliced
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 beef stock
1 cup chili sauce
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 bay leaf
Heat the oil in a large skillet that can go in the oven, and brown the brisket. When you have turned it over, add the onions. When browned on both sides, remove the brisket and continue to cook the onions until translucent. Add the garlic, wine, stock, chili sauce, vinegar, brown sugar and bay leaf.
Cook together to combine and return the brisket to the pan. Cover tightly with foil and place in the oven for at least two hours.
To serve with roasted Brussels sprouts and fingerling potatoes, place them in a roasting pan and coat with olive oil. Put them in the oven in the last 1/2 hour before the brisket comes out. When you take it out, turn up the heat to 425 and roast them for another 1/2 hour. Cover the brisket with hot pads and keep it on top of the stove to keep it warm.
All photos by Matt Villanueva Photography.