I was born and raised in a small-town of America’s heartland, the Midwestern state of Ohio. It’s a place I will always call home. It forged a very important part of me in that it was a wholesome place to live and spend my formative years. I was raised visiting farms on the outskirts of my small-town suburbia where I grew up with many experiences as a young girl speaking directly with the Amish and other local producers about their farm stand produce and hand-crafted goods at nearby flea markets. School trips and family outings involved things like hay rides, visits to apple orchards, pumpkin patches and summer strawberry picking- memories I cherish deeply and one of the reasons why Fall and Spring are my absolute favorite seasons of the year.
What has made my life even more interesting is that I’m half Sicilian and half Puerto-Rican, which means that I grew up eating some really amazing food! My Sicilian grandparents had Sunday suppers for the entire family- every week. Pasta with meatballs, lasagna, homemade sauce, homemade bread, homemade pizza- it was all a part of the culinary experience of my youth and something I thought was normal. On the Puerto Rican side, it was rice and beans, chicken, pasteles (banana-leaf wrapped tamales), and all sorts of Caribbean-style sweets made with guava, mango, coconut and pineapple. It’s no wonder I grew up with a desire to hold on to the culinary traditions I grew up with when I saw so much of it disappearing into the marketplace of not-so-real food as I got older and began shopping for myself.
A trip to Sicily when I was 18 years old changed everything about how I viewed food, cooking and living. I experienced how to shop, select, cook and savor the freshest ingredients one could possibly put on the table. My aunt showed me around the markets of my family’s seaside home town in a small village outside of Catania and the rest of my family there showed me how to truly enjoy it all. I was never the same after returning.
Coming back to the U.S., I entered college and began traveling abroad more and more- Mexico, the Caribbean, France, England, Switzerland, Morocco, Spain, Greece and all of Italy. I couldn’t get enough of learning about how people around the world cooked and lived and enjoyed the freshest and most local ingredients on hand. I talked to everyone I could about how to prepare food from scratch and why they used certain cooking methods over others. No culinary school could have given me that type of experience, although I really wanted to enter a prestigious culinary school at the time. Without regret, I graduated from Ohio University with a BA and an MA in International Studies and came out speaking a couple extra languages, meeting some incredibly interesting people and having the most amazing college experiences I hold deep in my heart.
After college I was a Spanish and English Language and Literature teacher for nearly 10 years before deciding to pursue food writing and teaching the culinary arts within a halal context on a full-time basis. I’m passionate about wholesome food, nutrition, gardening, homemaking and learning about fascinating culinary traditions of people all over the globe. I love real food and am concerned about the current state of our food industry and other factors that jeopardize our food freedom and fair and equal access to healthy food for everyone. It helps that I love to cook, I love to be at home in my kitchen and my garden, and I love to travel and cook and garden anywhere else in the world, too. I could literally cook and discuss food and everything that surrounds the topic all day long. Really, I could.
I live near Chicago with my husband who also has a similar ethnic background and has since come to be very passionate about what’s in his food and has even begun to garden himself. Together we frequently scope out ways to eat the same kinds of food we were raised on, as long as that food is halal, raised humanely, and grown without poisonous toxins and chemicals. Unfortunately, that’s not always an easy thing to do. We try our best–and whenever I find ways to do that, I have to share it with my readers.
Update: We’re currently in the process of building a new life in a place we call home, which we hope will one day have a small farm and garden. Stay tuned for those adventures on the website in my DIY section as well as many other parts of the site.
Yvonne Maffei, M.A., is the publisher of MyHalalKitchen.com, a halal food and cooking blog showcasing culinary tips and healthy halal recipes anyone can make. She is also the author of the cookbook Summer Ramadan Cooking which was published in 2011 to showcase the food rituals of Ramadan and the variety of global cuisine that can be made halal. Incorporating healthy halal substitutions into any dish is the main highlight of Yvonne’s work because of her own quest to seek out halal alternatives for the traditional recipes and other classic favorites she grew up eating. Her world travels and culinary research have led to her forge out a career with her greatest passions- cooking, writing and teaching- and the blog seems to be the perfect forum to educate anyone with an open mind to the diversity of flavors. People of all backgrounds enjoy the recipes and the conversation brought to the table through her blog, cooking classes, demos and presentations on eating healthy and cooking halal. Yvonne is currently working on a second cookbook and writes a monthly cooking column for the UK-based Sisters magazine. She resides in Chicago, IL.