By Robin Chotzinoff
Photography by Marc Brown
Mason and Mylie Arnold were introduced the old fashioned way: by a friend who thought they might enjoy each other’s company. Both had found entrepreneurial success before turning 30—he as king of the Greenling local-food delivery service; she as a ballroom-dancing queen and studio owner. Both had been raised by former flower children in all-natural homes.
And yet, when they finally decided to tie the knot, they eloped to Las Vegas. “It was the last thing anyone expected,” Mylie says. “We were married by this huge Hawaiian guy who kept stopping the ceremony to tell us to kiss. Then we came back and threw a huge party with a very local meal. We drove the caterer nuts.”
Now they’re raising their young son according to the values they grew up with. By inviting Mason’s parents to share their South Austin home, they’ve deliberately created a three-generational family. Powerful tribal systems seem to be at work here, not to mention business skills and time management. But it turns out the Arnolds organize their full lives around something pretty simple: dinner.
You can care passionately about dinner, he points out, without actually cooking it. “Mason’s really good at stirring,” Mylie says, as she chops her way through a bunch of basil. “If there’s any electrical tool involved, he’s all about it. Other than that…” “I tried cooking once,” Mason protests. “I made cookies from the back of the Tollhouse bag. I followed the recipe exactly. It took two-and-a-half hours, and they tasted exactly like the ready-to-bake ones. It was discouraging. I’m an engineer. I’m too exact for cooking.”
Still, he probably wasn’t exact enough to tolerate the chemical engineering jobs he’d prepared for in college. Shortly after graduation, he formed an environmentally responsible landscaping company, but grew discouraged when he found himself doing too much lawn mowing and not enough planet saving. “I started to feel like people shouldn’t have lawns in the first place,” he remembers. “So I sold that company and dug into the three primary challenges: energy, water and food.”
Brainstorming sessions with old college friends helped Mason narrow the focus. “We talked about modernizing the food chain. Then we stumbled into a better overall model.” Greenling became the first Austin company to not only offer weekly deliveries of local, sustainable food, but to allow customers to customize their baskets online. Today, Mason presides over eight delivery trucks and three times that many employees, including the one who introduced him to his future wife.
Soon after leaving small-town Northern California for Austin, Mylie happened to see the Gap’s famous swing-dance commercial on TV—an ad often credited with starting the swing-dance revival in the late ’90s. She kept her waitressing job just long enough to pay for her first dance lessons. “Within a month,” she says, “I was in a teacher-training program.”
By the time she met Mason, Mylie owned and ran Go Dance studio. Her drive made an impression on Mason, as did the organic shampoo in her shower. And she took note of the organic eggs in his fridge.
The icebox continues to play a big role in their married life. Mason still brings home the eggs and Mylie still cooks them—counting on her mother-in-law, Cindy, to help her wrangle five diners who sometimes require five different dinners. Gluten-, or dairy- or meat-free though they might be at any given moment, each Arnold will find a way to eat pizza on homemade pizza night.
By comparison, tonight’s dinner is a breeze. “Sort of a knockoff of the Amazing Green Beans at Madam Mam’s,” Mylie says. “I make it with whatever we have on hand—in winter, it’s greens, root vegetables and kale, but it adapts to anything. The only constant is some kind of ground meat, jalapeños and fish sauce.”
As Mylie spoons the one-dish meal into bowls, 14-month-old Daxton wakes up from his nap, Mason goes to get him and the rest of the extended family pulls up in the driveway. Dinner, anyone?
MASON AND MYLIE’S AMAZING
1 lb. Richardson Farms ground
Coconut oil, for frying
4 T. fish sauce, divided
1 onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
3 small carrots, chopped
2 c. chopped okra
1 yellow summer squash, chopped
2 c. purple-hull peas
1 bunch purple (or other)
1 jalapeño, cut into rings
Over medium-low heat, sauté the pork in the coconut oil in a deep, enameled saucepan until it begins to lose its pinkness. Stir in half of the fish sauce. Turn the heat to medium and add the onions and bell pepper, stirring occasionally until they soften. About 5 minutes later, add the carrots. About 5 minutes later, add the okra. About 5 minutes later, add the squash and peas. Add the rest of the fish sauce. Stir in the basil and cook until wilted. Garnish with the jalapeños.
Note: Feel free to substitute about 8 cups of any seasonal vegetables you have on hand, but don’t leave out the basil.