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First meal cooked? Meatloaf, baked potatoes, Birdseye green beans, hot fudge sundaes with homemade chocolate sauce, age 8, Lincoln, Nebraska. Sunny kitchen in a postwar tract home, with a flying Air Force dad, a stay-at-home mom and two sibs, another on the way.
Of course, the first experiment was not so successful. Talking the babysitter into letting us try a candy recipe for fondant, my brother and I tried to make it with granulated sugar and dyed it bright green, putting it in the basement freezer to harden, because we weren't allowed to use the stove! Years later, in Taiwan, I got into trouble again for turning all the breakfast eggs into divinity candy while my folks were at a wedding. The texture was great that time, but in Taiwan they feed the chickens with fish trimmings. You can imagine the faint aftertaste in that dish.
Still, I picked up the idea that making sure people had good food and enough of it, was important. Cooking was fun and special meals marked many occasions. Smells and textures were memorable; I have many sense/taste impressions from as early as two years old.
Good cooking always seemed to be a part of family life. Later, I learned my grandmother, who had a cook most of her life, only began cooking daily when my granddad retired from the military. My dad tells funny stories about my mom learning to cook by practicing dishes from the "Joy of Cooking" when they were newlyweds. She made one new thing at a time until it was good, and when a menu had been perfected, would have a little dinner party to celebrate. Dad especially enjoyed it when she was "practicing" roast beef!
So I grew up understanding that food is interesting, and cooking takes effort, is worth the work, requires good tools, and can be learned. I never remember my dad criticizing mother's cooking, nor anybody at our table except my lima bean-hating brother refusing to eat a food.
By college, I was making pineapple upside down cake on an hibachi on the balcony and borrowing hotplates and blowing circuits to make Chinese dinner for 25 in our dorm room. My mom sent me off with a cast iron Dutch oven and skillet, and mothers of boyfriends widened my recipe collection with Greek, Swedish and midwestern dishes. Indian food became a long term interest.
In California, at 21, a layoff from a high tech job and a breakup landed me in a 28 person student coop at UC Berkeley, where they turned over a fine enormous kitchen with a two oven Wolf stove. Yogurt making, sprouting and herb blending all became part of my skills. I also enrolled to study nutrition at UC Berkeley. Supervising all the shopping and the dinner cooking for almost three years, I also joined Claudio Naranjo's SAT group. Claudio recommended me to Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche to assist in setting up the kitchen at the new Tibetan institute around the corner on La Loma.
This experience in turn allowed me to cook for IDHHB work groups at the Red House in Crestline, California. When the Institute's newly established Kung Fu Natural Foods Restuarant needed a cook/manager, I got the job. Great nutrition at very low cost was a must; the original Kung Fu Natural Foods Cookbook and group meal planning guidelines were put together at that time.
Since then, 20+ years in the South, and especially my friendship with Lloyd and Elise Turner, have refined my appreciation of gardens and vegetable patches, of hospitality and regional/seasonal foods. Three nursing degrees, including a nurse midwifery certificate, have enriched my understanding of nutrition and health, and I taught normal and therapeutic nutrition for William Carey College. Food styles have changed, but the role of the cook in nourishing a community physically, emotionally and spiritually continues to be fundamental.
A substantial part of my professional practice has become helping people adapt their tastes and nutrition to their evolving needs as they change their diets, become vegetarian, or deal with chronic medical conditions.
I still make meatloaf, though nowadays it is as likely to be turkey loaf, lentil loaf, or salmon mousse as the original Nebraska standard. While I am not a full time vegetarian, I have vegan family members and soyfoods are a real part of my diet and teaching. This year, my travels are adding both Middle Eastern and Texas flavors to the banquet. Thanks to the connection with the IDHHB, I also have the opportunity to reach many more people with information and help about cooking and nourishing. What a great result!