Former South Bend Tribune journalist Diane Cowen has joined two seemingly separate, but related, topics. As the current religion, food and health editor for the Houston Chronicle, she knew that Sunday dinners played a large role in many families’ weekly agendas, particularly pastors.
In “Sunday Dinners: Food, Family, and Faith from Our Favorite Pastors,” Cowen offers a glimpse into the lives of 13 prominent pastors and their families. Light-hearted yet emotionally intriguing, the book contains not only a wealth of recipes, but also stories about each family’s traditions rooted in local cultures from across the country.
We took some time to catch up with Cowen about the book and her Indiana roots. We also tried out some of the recipes for ourselves.
Flavor 574: Can you tell us a little about your time in the area?
Diane Cowen: I lived in St Joseph and Elkhart Counties for 12 years and worked in the Elkhart bureau of the South Bend Tribune. And then in 2000, I moved down to Houston after accepting a position with the Houston Chronicle. I’m really an Indiana girl though!
Flavor 574: Is the food culture really different in Houston?
Cowen: When we first moved here, we would eat the mildest salsa and think that it was burning our mouths. But we’ve definitely acquired a taste for the food here, although we’re still really fond of a lot of foods up north. There’s no corn down here like Indiana sweet corn. And we really miss morel mushrooms.
Flavor 574: You’ve been in the newspaper industry for about 25 years. What prompted you to make the leap to book publishing?
Cowen: I had some co-workers who had published books. And at one point, I thought I should be able to come up with a good book idea too. So one day I was driving home from work – it was a 45-minute drive – and I managed to think through the whole concept. I could do a cookbook for people of faith.
Flavor 574: And why did you choose to focus on Sunday dinners?
Cowen: Sunday is a big day in the week of a pastor and their family. When I was growing up, we had a lot of Sunday dinners and the same with my husband’s family. I also knew there were plenty of other people that did too.
Flavor 574: How did you choose the pastor families?
Cowen: I had previously had contact with a number of the Texas pastors through work. And some I found because I wanted to represent a good range of denominations and geographic areas. Because I had ties to the South Bend region, I knew I wanted to include Rev. Nguyen at Notre Dame. He really has an excellent story.
Flavor 574: Did you try all the recipes?
Cowen: I had to test every single recipe – about 80 – and make sure the directions and quantities were correct. I told my husband that whatever I had to test is what we’re having for dinner. So all we ate were those recipes for a while!
Flavor 574: Did you find some new favorite recipes then?
Cowen: Yes, I make a lot of the recipes now. In fact, I was just thinking that I need to make the strawberry salad. Another favorite is the gumbo and we love the pulled pork tacos too. My husband loves all the desserts! Plus, there’s some real ethnic food recipes—like Vietnamese and Puerto Rican.
Flavor 574: Fondest memory or most memorable moment from this whole process?
Cowen: The personal contact. It was so nice to meet Father Nguyen. He showed me around the campus and his art studio and herb garden. And when I went to the Jakes’ home in Dallas, we sat around the dining room table for two hours, talking and laughing. We had absolutely the best time!
Flavor 574: Do you think the book became about more than just the food?
Cowen: Definitely. It motivated me to have more dinners with my friends down here. Our families are all in Indiana, so we don’t usually have big family dinners anymore. I’ve been much more intentional about bringing my friends together. They’re my loved ones down here—my Texas family.
You can find “Sunday Dinners” by Diane Cowen locally at Better World Books or anywhere else books are sold.