Serving up some fun

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 18, 2009

There is always a party at Ricky and Wanda Smith’s Natchez home.

Every night, after work but before bed, the Smith home is hopping with excitement, fun, conversation and food — around the dinner table.

“The family dinner is the most important social event of the day for a family,” Ricky Smith said. “It’s the only time of the day when you can all be together and talk about what happened, what’s good and what’s bad.”

Email newsletter signup

And to make that happen, the Smiths come home each day and prepare a home-cooked meal. And many days they are sharing cooking duties.

Both Ricky and Wanda enjoy the time in the kitchen partly because they enjoy cooking, but mostly because they can interact with each other.

“It’s always like this, I think he’s doing it wrong or he’s telling me I’m not doing it the way he said to,” Wanda joked. “But most of the time it doesn’t end up in a fist fight.”

And while the time with each other and the time eating with their 15-year-old daughter Ellie is the most important, the Smiths don’t skimp on the food served either.

In the Smith house, a variety of lean and nutritious foods are on the menu every night.

“We are very much interested in the nutritional side of it,” Wanda said. “I’m all about balance and healthy veggies. You can’t get that at a restaurant.”

To get the balanced and nutritious diet they desire, Ricky and Wanda favor lean cuts of meats, seasonal vegetables and natural ingredients.

This includes using real butter in moderation, as opposed to margarine.

“I never buy margarine,” Wanda said. “If I’m going to use butter I use the real thing.”

And while that may seem counterintuitive, Ricky said the natural, unprocessed ingredients in real butter are actually healthier than margarine.

“You want to use ingredients that are as close to natural as possible,” he said.

A normal dinner for the Smiths might be a venison tenderloin stuffed with blue cheese and fig preserves, served with field peas, squash and homemade biscuits.

But the biscuits will be made with unbleached flour and light oil and the venison will be from a deer Ricky killed.

“We eat a lot of wild game,” Wanda said. “We’ve had rabbit, squirrel, quail, pheasant.”

The Smiths also have other game that isn’t as typical as deer and squirrel. They have also dined on moose, caribou, buffalo and even black bear that Ricky killed during a hunting trip in Alaska.

“I guess the best game we have eaten is black bear,” Wanda said. “Caribou was a little gamey for me.”

And while some people might be turned off by the thought of eating bear or buffalo, Ricky and Wanda have never let the sound of a dish scare them off.

“If I don’t eat it, it is because I don’t like the taste, not because of the name of something,” Wanda said.

And the unusual dishes haven’t frightened away their daughter either.

“Ellie is quite the sophisticated eater,” Wanda said.

Other nights the meat might be fresh fish or seafood, pork tenderloin or even occasionally a steak. And the side dish will often include some form of rice, but not boxed 5-minute rice. The Smiths like to experiment with different varieties of food such as black rice or different mixes of wild rice.

“There are so many different varieties available to you today,” Ricky said. “And so many varieties that are healthy for you.”

And while today it isn’t unusual to find the Smith family gathered in the kitchen, things haven’t always been that way. The couple, who married in 1972 while they were in college, began cooking out of necessity and had to learn along the way.

“I didn’t know how to cook,” Wanda said. “My mother was an excellent cook, but she had six kids and didn’t want us under foot while she was cooking.

“I didn’t learn to cook until after I got married and then it was really because Ricky made me.”

Ricky agreed that as a young married couple, cooking was more of a necessity than the fun it is today.

I didn’t like to cook,” he said. “I like to eat.”

And even now, Ricky said cooking at home is essential.

“If what you really want is good healthy food, you have to cook it yourself,” he said. “You can always make good homemade food healthy.”