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Credit: Leslie McKeller
The Way We Eat

The Southern Mom Who Makes Fried Chicken with Almond Milk

published Nov 17, 2019
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NameMichiel Perry
Location: Walterboro, South Carolina
How many people regularly eat together in your home? 3 (plus one on the way! )
Avoidances: Her husband is lactose intolerant (it is so bad he can’t even have baked goods made with milk.) Michiel has IBS and is also expecting. 

Michiel Perry is the founder and editor of fashion and lifestyle site Black Southern Belle. She lives with her growing family of three in the low country — where she was born and raised. We caught up with Michiel in her historic Victorian farmhouse in the Arts District of Walterboro, South Carolina to talk about how her parents’ garden became her grocery store, the very best place to get a shrimp burger (hint: it’s a food truck), and the magic of sweet potato butter.

Credit: Leslie McKeller

You mentioned that you and your husband have different dietary restrictions — he’s lactose intolerant and eats more carbs. What’s that like?

It’s very hard! Since my husband is lactose intolerant, I substitute in almond milk for a lot of things, which is like a sin in the south — but you have to get over that. I hosted a dinner part and made buttermilk chicken with almond milk and no one noticed the difference. We rarely go out to breakfast because he can’t eat anything except steak and eggs and that’s the most expensive thing on the menu! But the hardest part is that we can never split a dessert. It’s the worst at restaurants, which is why we cook at home so much.

Since my husband is a former athlete, he also needs more carbs than a normal person. He has to have his bread, rice, and pasta. I have some of them, just not as much due to IBS.

Has pregnancy changed the way you eat at all?

It’s oyster season, so I’m sad I can’t have fresh oysters. Overall, I’m trying to be healthy which is hard. Not having as much caffeine is sad. Being pregnant the second time is more tiring.

Credit: Leslie McKeller
  • Biggest challenge in eating? My husband loves carbs and carbs are bad for my IBS. 
  • How much do you cook at home every week? 70 percent.
  • 5 things on your grocery list every week? Fresh shrimp, local tomatoes, sweet vidalia onions, white rice, sweet potatoes.
  • Where do you shop, primarily? The farmers market, Lidl, Lowcountry Produce, Carolina Cider Company, and my parents garden.
  • Top 3 default dinners? Shrimp and grits with okra, tomatoes, egg and rice with some type of seafood, roasted okra, sweet potatoes and sautéed shrimp and rice.
  • Last food thing you splurged on? Sweet potato butter from Lowcountry Produce.
  • Favorite tea? Sweet Tea from Bojangles. Hands down. .
  • Best underrated snack? Apple butter on baked sweet potato slices.
  • Favorite thing to eat while watching TV?: Kettle corn or watermelon.
  • Most reliable kid snack?: Jackson lives and breathes bananas.
  • Most ingenious cooking tip anyone ever taught you?: Buy fresh and local and get help with the prep!
  • Most-loved kitchen tool?: Cast iron skillet.
  • What’s the best cookie of all time?: Red velvet macadamia nut.
  • Cookbook you actually cook out of?: Anything from Sallie Ann Robinson.
  • Who does the dishes?: My husband — and Jackson enjoys playing with the dishwasher.
Credit: Leslie McKeller

Walk me though a normal day of food for you?

Our son Jackson is 17 months and he’s pretty much the boss. He wakes up and has a banana every morning. It’s his favorite thing on earth. My husband starts his day with some kind of protein shake. Believe it or not though, I think the gas stations near us have the best breakfast food. I love to stop in because it’s like $4 for a buffet.

I work from home. Most weekdays, I try to make lunch if I can. I generally eat okra every day. I’ll eat it any way: Pickled, sautéed, roasted, baked and dipped in vinegar sauce. And then the evenings, I’m spoiled because my mom will cook food for us (mostly because she’s trying to bribe us to bring Jackson over). It’s easy to bribe me with food.

That’s so nice your parents live nearby. What’s that like?

Yes! They live on a dirt road a little deeper in the woods. My dad is a pretend farmer on my grandfather’s property that he bought — it used to be a hog farm. My dad grew up farming but he’s retired and he gives everything he grows away now. He’s mostly doing it for fun and exercise. My mom is from the Philippines and she has her patch with all these Filipino vegetables. They also have a lot of fruit trees. Between my parents’ garden and our many local farmers markets, I pretty much get everything I need.

Credit: Leslie McKeller

It sounds like shopping local is important to you. Do you go anywhere else?
We get our eggs from a local chicken farm. We go to small town butcher shops. There’s a place called Bee City a few miles from my parents and we get honey and honey butter from there. We have family members who make jellies and jams. And we have two large pecan trees in our yard. I know shopping locally is “a thing” but it’s just the way it is here.

But I will drive an hour and a half down one of the most beautiful roads in the low country to get the best shrimp burger I’ve ever had. It’s from this random food truck. This burger is so good but she won’t tell me the secret. But I think it’s because the shrimp is so fresh.

Do you go out to eat a lot?

If we do go out to eat, we really try to support small town restaurants and food stands. We’re always trying out a shrimp festival in somebody’s town! There’s this place called Lowcountry Produce (it was on Oprah’s list of favorite things) and get flounder and grits. It’s the cheapest place on earth to get flounder and grits and their sweet potato butter is IT.

Sounds like I need to book a trip.

We are in a place with such great food. We are an hour away from each of these big areas like Savannah, Hilton Head, Charleston that all have a big food scene, but even the food right here is great. The town I live in, Walterboro, is called “The Front Porch of the Low Country.” Culturally, if you’ve ever been to New Orleans, it’s similar to that—without the drinking in the street. There’s a lot of red rice, a lot of seafood, and traditional southern food as well. A lot of people don’t ever pay for seafood because they go boating themselves. There’s always someone on Facebook Marketplace selling shrimp and crabs. I don’t even know if that’s legal! I have my little stands that I go to that I’m committed to. It doesn’t get any fresher than that.

It’s really artsy down here too, which I think surprises people. I basically go to art galleries every weekend and started collecting art. I currently have 15 prints that need to be framed. I try to support a lot of local artists. I’ll feature them on my site and people always want to buy it. Low country culture is very specific. People have these connections to coastal living or farms, and feel connected to these pieces.

Credit: Leslie McKeller

Tell me more about your home in Walterboro?

I live in a historic Victorian-style farmhouse which was built in the 1890s. It has three front doors so it’s always fun to see what door people knock on. I can never seem to find the key to the right door! It’s won a restoration award, but I didn’t do any of the restoration. Front porch parties are pretty popular here. There’s a lot of outside eating and cooking when it’s not hot — it’s getting there. And take it from me, a pregnant person who is 15 degrees hotter than everyone else!

Last question: Are you going to be hosting Thanksgiving this year?

I’m not! My parents do Thanksgiving and I bring my cornbread dressing. I love to have people over but sometimes it can stress me out. I have one big holiday party every year, and I always say I’m not going to do it again. But then I do!

Thanks so much for sharing, Michiel! Everyone: Follow her on Instagram and check out Black Southern Belle.

Credit: The Kitchn

The Way We Eat is a series of profiles and conversations with people like you about how they feed themselves and their families.We’re actively looking for people to feature in this series. You don’t have to be famous or even a good cook! We’re interested in people of all backgrounds and eating habits. How do you overcome challenges to feed yourself? If you’d like to share your own story with us, or if you know of someone you think would be great for this series, start here with this form.