This book is dedicated to my earthly lights: my boys Curtis George Aikens, Jr., and Cole Bennett Aikens.
I love you boys with everything I’ve got. My hope and prayer is that someday our family will be whole. This dedication extends to parents and children everywhere who find themselves struggling to stay a family despite divorce or separation. May the God I love walk with you and keep you safe.
From: CURTIS COOKS WITH HEART AND SOUL
I remember writing that dedication, quite a while ago, the boys are grown now, and I have very little interaction with the men they have become. Which is ok, they want and need to grow their lives same as I did years ago when I up and left Georgia for California. My love for those boys, now men, has grown. It is bigger and stronger than I thought possible. Being a parent the toughest job one will ever LOVE!
I grew up in a little town called Conyers, Georgia, about twentytwo miles east of Atlanta. My mom is and probably always will best cook, chef and culinary guru I’ve ever known. Laura Bell (that’s Mama’s name) cooks wonderful, traditional Southern foods, soul food if you will. When I was growing up, she cooked collard greens, blackeyed peas, cornbread, fried chicken, and green beans the traditional Southern way, using animal fat. And, boy, did I love it! When I started to cook, I cooked the way my mom still does, and she cooks the way her teacher (Grandma) did, and she cooked the way her mother did, and so on down the line. I got really good at it. And got pretty big because of it, too. Back in the days when Grandma learned to cook, most African Americans worked in the fields all day, and burned off all that high calorie and high
fat food. Nowadays we can’t metabolize it the same way. In the early eighties, I decided to give up eating red meat in an attempt to lose weight, but I found out it’s not just the intake of red meat that keeps weight on. I didn’t lose very much weight until I started to exercise. However, I did discover that I don’t have to have steak or ribs with every dinner, or bacon or sausage with every breakfast. This intrigued and inspired me to learn more about meatless meals. I am not antimeat or antipoultry. The only thing that I am against is hatred. In fact, every day, on my television show (and I hope you’ve seen it on the TV Food Network), I stop before the last recipe to give a hug. I strongly believe in the theory that eight hugs a day keep us going, and if you get more than eight, that’s great. Back to meatless meals. After giving up red meat, I found I didn’t miss it. Well, that’s not totally true. The one thing I craved was hamburger, and I don’t think it was because of the taste. What I missed was the tradition, or the ease, of this habit, being able to order it at fast foodjoints. During the early eighties, I didn’t know it was possible to order a veggie sandwich. Nowadays, I go into any fastfood restaurant and order a meatless veggie version of their popular burger. Feel free to do this yourself! Back when I began eating less red meat, all those wonderful grilled chicken and salad dishes that you can order these days weren’t available at drivethrough restaurants. Fortunately, I was living in California at the time, and that’s where I first started seeing ground turkey in the local markets. In no time at all, I was making turkey burgers. A decade later, after I had written my first book and signed a contract with ABCTV (to become a regular cast member of the Home show; where I gave tips on buying, using, storing and cooking produce), I decided that if I wanted to be the best produce man ever, vegetables should be the focal point of my eating. So I decided to stop eating meat: no chicken, no fish, no shellfish, no turkey, etc. I like to say that my motivation was and still is a quest for knowledge. I truly believe that the best way to write about something is to live it. If you want to write about vegetarian cooking, you should be a vegetarian. Of course, there are many categories of vegetarian. At this point, I’m not vegan or macrobiotic, but who knows, in my quest for knowledge, I may eventually become one or the other. And I’ve got to tell you; the philosophy of writing about what you know best really does work! Since becoming a vegetarian I have created literally hundreds of recipes that are fun, easy to make, healthy and hearty, and great tasting. In Curtis Cooks with Heart and Soul, I have integrated the two predominant influences on my cooking: California’s light fresh approach to cooking, and “soul,” which, in one word for me, is Mama, and all the flavor and love she brought to the table. I have simply removed the 5
meat and animal fat from the traditional dishes she taught me. I feel very confident that you’re going to enjoy my renditions of Southern favorites, as well as a few not so traditional dishes.