Ever since June Cleaver graced the small screen, women across North America have aspired to achieve the dream of domestic goddess.
Other TV cooks like Julia Child and Martha Stewart helped provide aspiring goddesses with the how-tos.
But as women shifted from the kitchen to the office, the dream faded and dinnertime in some households shifted to the world of the frozen dinner.
Even though cookbook author and former Whitewater ski resort owner Shelley Adams lives a busy life, dinnertime was always a focus in her home.
“Every single night of my kids’ life we didn’t miss a family dinner,” says Adams. “No matter how busy I was, we didn’t miss a family dinner. There were candles and dinner. The dinner hour is completely important in the Adams household.”
When she and husband Mike owned Whitewater, Shelley says they still made it a priority to stop and eat together.
“I can’t imagine not taking that time. It would feel like something was wrong to me if we didn’t sit down for dinner. We never haven’t,” says Shelley.
“Even when we owned Whitewater and we’d come in the door at 5:30 p.m. and have our Whitewater laundry, we’d put everything aside and I’d have something planned for dinner.”
The ritual of dinnertime wasn’t something Adams learned growing up, but the love of food was.
Her mother, who worked in a book store, spent her days reading the latest cookbooks and cooking magazines.
“She loved Julia Child. She loved Mastering the Art of French Cooking and all the Silver Palate books,” Adams says. “Sort of back in my day, when I was in high school, other mothers weren’t cooking anything interesting or good, and there was some pretty unusual food at our house.”
Even when the family went camping, the meals were special.
“On camping trips we would eat stuffed salmon on cedar planks and clams right off the beach and Dungeness crab in big pots and mussels and spinach salad and fresh artichokes — just food that the other moms weren’t cooking. My mom was ahead of her time,” she says.
Ahead of her time in many ways, because much of what Adams’ mom did throughout her childhood influenced how she would cook and create meals as an adult.
Even though Adams, has a beautiful kitchen that looks over Kootenay Lake, with all of the essentials that a home cook needs, she loves the experience of creating something delicious from almost nothing.
“One of my favourite things is the challenge of cooking something good without anything,” she says. “I love the camping cooking. If we’re in Europe and we just have a little hotel room or a little camper, I prefer to cook something good and try to set up a cute little setting somewhere rather than have a big kitchen full of everything. I think some of my best creations come from cooking just with what I have.”
For most cooks the ultimate challenge may be backcountry cooking, but Adams recently found herself in one of the most difficult cooking environments: a 19-year-old man’s apartment.
“Last week in Montreal, I was at my son’s apartment. I went to visit him,” she says. “He lives in this messy five-boy apartment. His kitchen was messy with no pots and pans, no salt and no ingredients really, and he went, ‘Mom can you please cook some dinner for my 10 friends. I want to eat here. I don’t want to go to a restaurant. Can you please make dinner?’”
Adams wandered the streets of Montreal, which she didn’t know very well, and began picking up the components for a meal that would please a host of hungry university students.
“I woke up the next morning and went to the market knowing I had sort of an empty boy kitchen with beer bottles and that was about it,” she says.
“I just bought really good ingredients, really good goat cheese, Gorgonzola, a bunch of fresh herbs — sage, thyme, tarragon, basil, and rosemary — shallots, organic chicken, sundried tomatoes, pine nuts, some nice beef tenderloin and arugula.”
Armed with the ingredients she found at the market, a few basic tools (a roasting pan, a cutting board and a knife) and years cooking and creating, Adams got started making her feast.
“At first it felt challenging, and then I felt smug that I was creating this dinner in this funny apartment in Montreal where I didn’t even know the city, the grocery stores or where anything was. It was kind of a fun day,” she says.
“They didn’t have a dining room or a dining room table, so we just made this cute space in one of the boys’ bedrooms on this funny coffee table, with candles. I went and bought a platter and salad bowl. It was amazing what I could create with not much. We had this really nice, delicious dinner.”
When Adams’ son and daughter were growing up, she says she spent more time in the kitchen baking bread, cakes and pastries but now she likes creating good, simple recipes that she tweaks and tests.
But like most people living in the Kootenays, she likes being outside, biking, skiing and hiking.
“I like finding something good and simple to make so that I can still go and be out there all day, travel and do things with the kids,” she says.
That attitude towards cooking is reflected in her latest cookbook, Whitewater Cooks with Friends.
“I think most of my influence for recipes comes out of my head, also from restaurant dining, magazines, food that’s available when you go to the [Kootenay] Co-Op and you see the globe artichokes or whatever they have,” she says.
“I’ll see the food and then I’ll create the dish, as opposed to reading about something. I have lots of friends that are really good cooks and we talk about food all the time and different recipes.
“Now, here I am and I think I’m so busy with bike riding, kids, and retirement, well cookbooks, that my recipes are super simple. If you open up the book and are looking for something really wildly unusual to make, you’re not going to find it in here. You’re going to find things that you actually would make, but they’re not over the top at all. I think that appeals to people.”
Whitewater Cooks with Friends is available at all local book stores. Whitewater Cooks and Whitewater Cooks at Home are also available throughout Nelson.