In Living Color: On Family and Fresh Food in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California

A California mother, gardener and blogger uses her passion for fresh food to connect with her heritage—and her far-flung daughter, nieces and nephew.

| January/February 2014

When Elena Burgeno-Berman was looking for a way to stay connected with her college-bound daughter and her far-away nieces and nephew, she knew just where to turn: food. The product of a vivacious Italian grandmother who regularly prepared homemade meals for 20-plus guests, and two parents who grew up on farms, Elena considers food one of the most important parts of her life. It’s a major way she connects with her heritage—both parents were first-generation Americans, one Italian and one Hispanic. And she saw blogging about fresh food as a way to pass on this traditional love of eating healthy on a budget to her family’s younger generation. Her food blog, Color My Kitchen, offers “tips and healthy recipes for a colorful food-centric lifestyle.”

Try one of Elena's easy and delicious recipes, such as this Wheatberry Salad Recipe With Fuji Apple, Pistachios and Blood Orange Vinaigrette.

A Foodie Heritage

Growing up, Elena was heavily influenced by her grandmother Domenica, who moved to the United States from Italy at age 18. “My mom’s parents were from northern Italy, and they always had a kitchen garden, chickens and rabbits,” Elena says. “My grandmother would make fresh pasta. Coming from Italy at 18 years old, she had this ability to put together these huge dinners for large groups. She was always saying, ‘Come over, I baked something,’ or, ‘I made ravioli.’ She would send us outside to collect fresh eggs or ask for help defeathering a newly butchered chicken. That was a huge influence on me.” Although her grandmother didn’t speak English, Elena says as a child she was able to understand her through her expression and passion, despite the language barrier.

Years later, when Elena had her own daughter, she named her Domenica after her beloved grandmother. Elena’s husband, Dave, is an avid gardener who ran a landscaping business between college and law school. He and Elena became more committed to—and experienced at—growing their own food over the years. “After Dave and I bought our house, as the years went by we started growing more and more edibles and getting a little better at it every year,” Elena says. “Eventually we turned our front yard into a big growing space. It’s one of our shared passions, which is nice to have after a long marriage and life together.” 

Along with providing fresh food, Elena says her extensive gardens help make the outdoor spaces an extension of her family’s home in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California. “We are really outdoor people, and that’s why we turned our front and backyard into more of an extension of the house,” she says. “Domenica has grown up walking or riding her bike to the beach and surfing with her dad, being outside in the garden and playing in the dirt. It’s really fulfilling for me and my soul, being out there and picking my own stuff.”

But the most important part of gardening for Elena is the ability to bypass, for the most part, industrial agriculture and eat healthier, homegrown food. “One of the aspects I really like is not having to go to the store and buy my herbs, greens, fruits and vegetables,” she says. “I really believe you can eat well and be cost-conscious, too. You just have to seek it out. Some of my friends don’t have the time or interest to grow anything, but when I make a salad and they share it, they’re like, ‘That’s so different than anything I buy at the store.’”

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