About T. Rex & the Rabbit
Hi there! I'm Syndy Sweeney.
When I was a little girl, I wanted to be an artist. Whenever I followed my creative itch--writing, drawing or putting on Friday night talent shows with my cousins--I felt at home.
But what I enjoyed the most was cooking and eating.
I've always kept time with food. Whether good or bad, what I've eaten
forms the backdrop of most of my memories. Not only has exploring food
been the greatest connector throughout my life, it's expanded my worldview.
I owe my family a wealth of gratitude for this. My parents' greatest advice to
me was, "Try it. You don't have to eat it if you don't like it.
But you at least have to try it."
And try it, I did!
My Polish and Italian mother began teaching me how to cook
when I was tiny. Mom made everything from pita bread and English
muffins to granola and yogurt from scratch. Dinner always included
several vegetables and I'm pretty sure I ate salad every day of my life.
We gardened, ate in restaurants, shopped at farmers markets and went
to food festivals.
Mom influenced me so much that when I was 11 and in Girl Scout
camp, the thing that most impressed me was the food. I got to
make really gross hot chocolate out of weedy lake water. I wrote down campfire recipes for chow chows and pudgie pies. And I was filled with fascination (and a bit of envy) when I received a letter from my mom telling me about this new phenomenon she went to called a food court where you could get food from all over the world!
My father, on the other hand, hunted deer and wild fowl. He also taught me how to fish. I have distinct memories of cleaning ducks, pheasant, pike, trout and smelts. We also picked wild blueberries, raspberries and black caps (a small black raspberry) which we'd eat in cobbler or covered in cream.
My Italian grandmother, who I often joke is the worst Italian on the planet because she prefers hamburgers and junk food to pasta and garlic, nonetheless also introduced me to other cultures.
She made spanokopita (Greek spinach pie), got me hooked on pomegranates three decades before they became a food trend, and took me to a Jordanian birthday celebration where there were four different kinds of rice and lovely sesame wafer cookies washed down with syrupy coffee served in tiny cups.
My stepfather brought Southern cuisine with black-eyed peas, pickled green tomatoes, catfish and once, alligator. Together, we also ate snails from my uncle's import food store that we cooked in garlic butter and served in mushroom caps. My former boss was from Pakistan and his mother often sent us pakora (vegetable fritters) in coconut curry sauce, naan bread still warm and buttery, and the best samosas I have ever eaten. My husband introduced me to Jewish comfort food and I learned how to make his childhood favorites--latkes, cheese blintzes, noodle kugel, cholent (beef and barley stew), and honey cake.
Cholent (beef & veggie versions), challah & palaak paneer with sautéed paneer cheese.
You get the idea.
I "catered" my first meal when I was 12. My stepmother didn't cook well but she decided to host a brunch. Even though I stressed over the cinammon-swirl French toast and scrambled eggs, I remember feeling a certain satisfaction (and relief!) when a group of adults I didn't know really enjoyed my food.
In my early twenties, I had the unique experience of
preparing food for people on both ends of the economic spectrum.
Hired as a nanny for two teenagers who didn't actually need a
nanny, I spent my time either ironing or as a de facto private chef.
I read recipe books, planned menus, shopped with a food budget
I still dream about, experimented, and cooked dinner nearly
every weeknight and for several "ladies' luncheons".
During this time, my little sister and I cooked at a
student-sponsored, completely illegal, vegan soup kitchen in
Detroit. Besides free clothing, we provided meatless spaghetti,
chili, or lentil soup, bread, fruit, bootlegged cakes from my sister's
job at a restaurant (they were thrown away every night even
if they were uneaten), and cheap co-op coffee that smelled like
body odor. That's me in the picture fighting with a bra in front of the soup kitchen.
Later, I catered a small wedding with my uncle and a baby shower on my own when my husband and I were stationed in Italy. I have also written about food for a women's blog and a few small publications.
But when I was 21, I decided to become a vegetarian.
Part of my decision was a sign of the times. My little sister had already been a vegetarian since she was 14 (and later, a vegan). While she could be annoying (like mooing during dinner when my mom served hamburgers), my sister's choice also influenced me. One year shortly before Christmas, I decided to give my sister food that she could eat but also tasted delicious. I spent a lot of time at grocery and health food stores researching vegan foods and reading labels.
All of that research helped me when I finally stopped eating meat. Of course, there were personal emotional and moral reasons behind my decision. But the reason I became a vegetarian is that I believe it is simply my nature. In fact, my mom actually wrote in my baby book that I "hate meats". Even though I had eaten meat all of my life, it was never the star of the meal for me. I did enjoy chicken, turkey, fish and seafood, but when it came to pork, beef, venison or lamb, I preferred it in small amounts or disguised with spices. So, it wasn't that difficult to let go (except calamari...but that's another story). Not long after I stopped eating meat, I began to feel healthier. When I ate meat, I was slightly anemic; when I gave it up, the anemia disappeared. Weird.
What's even weirder is that despite my decision, I still cook meat. I understand this is controversial (sometimes, even to myself). If you're interested, I go into more detail on the FAQ page.
The greatest reason I still cook meat is the simple fact that I love food in all of its inclusive, luscious, creative, soul-nourishing glory and I love preparing it for people. I am fearless when it comes to playing with my food. For the people I love who do eat meat, I'd rather make it for them than have them rely on fast or processed food. I do my best to buy meat from organic, pasture-raised, free range, local and sustainable sources that treat their animals well--and when I can't, I cut myself some slack. This is my moral compass and it works for me. Ultimately, I believe in meeting people where they're at. A lot of people eat meat. A lot of people don't. I don't respond well to any "us versus them" vibe because my goal is to always connect people through food and with food.
So, that's who I am and what T. Rex & the Rabbit Foods is all about. Here, you'll find no judgment. Just good, clean and exciting foods that bridge the gaps between people and what they like to eat. You'll find food from around the world, foodie foods, hearty stick-to-your-ribs foods, and some seriously delicious and decadent desserts.
On the Two Versions, Same Techniques, Mostly Same Ingredients™ page, you'll find recipes that can be made at the same time for both meat-eaters and vegetarians. Also, most of my recipes are followed by a Don't Freak Out! section which allows you to cut yourself some slack; like if you want to use jarred pasta sauce instead of making it homemade, who cares? Trust that it'll be delicious either way! This section also offers substitutions on how to possibly make the recipe vegan, kosher or halal, gluten-free or nut-free. You may even find a bonus recipe there. Be sure to check out the The Wide World of Food page. You'll find loads of good information on ingredients, substitutions, nutrition, and cooking practices.
I am insured and also have ServSafe® Food Handler and ServSafe Allergens certificates in the State of Michigan and offer Personal Chef Services.
Stay tuned for any new creative itches that need to be scratched!
Thank you for joining me on this food adventure!