My Cooking Mentors and Influencers

While out walking our dog for her lunch time sniff around the neighborhood, we ran into a neighbor. He had a question about education, e-learning, and how to support his employees who are single mom’s and who have no one to make sure their children are doing their e-learning every day during this pandemic.

As the discussion progresses, he brought up impact. How do we impact other people? Sometimes it is just the people around us. Sometimes it is regionally due to committee work? And so on.

Impact is something I think about a lot. Part of my love of, and passion for, education is knowing the power of having a well-rounded education to improve ones’ life. As a teacher, I thought hard about how to reach and connect with my students to have a positive impact on their learning experiences. As a principal, I thought hard about how to reach and connect with students, teachers, families, and central office personnel to have a positive impact on the school community, to want students and teachers to want to come to school everyday, and families to feel welcome, and in doing so, possibly get extra help from central office to continue to improve. Did I fail and fall flat sometimes? Of course, but I’d get back up the next morning, reflect on how to do better, and then work hard to improve my impact.

Over the next weeks, I’m going to write about those who have had an impact on me throughout my life and how that impact has manifested. I do it to honor them and how they have helped shape who I am today.

Cooking is one of my passions. I enjoy doing it immensely. It helps me deal with the stress in my life, and to process what is happening in the world around me.

I’ve not always enjoyed cooking. Growing up there were times when I, and my siblings, had to cook while my mom worked to feed us and keep a roof over our heads. My mom worked as a cook for most of her life, either in a restaurant or in a hospital. I actually don’t know if she really enjoyed cooking all the time, but I never really heard her complain about doing it.

My mom was my first cooking mentor and influencer. It was always interesting to watch how she measured (or not), throwing something together for dinner. She chopped what we had on hand and it would always come out tasting good—except liver, lima beans and peas, you just can’t make those taste good. The two things she made that were my favorites, bringing back warm memories, are chicken and dumplings, and chicken and noodles. Pigs in a blanket rank up there too.

I don’t remember if she had my siblings and I help her or not in the kitchen. She probably did, or at the very least, would have let us help if we asked. She didn’t have any fancy equipment like a food processor, a stand mixer, or fancy knives. Regardless, what I do know is, the kitchen always smelled most mouth-watering as she was cooking. My hope is, as my children grow older, they will have fond memories growing up of the smells coming from my kitchen.

Papa Joe also makes cooking look effortless. He pulls ingredients out of the cupboards and the refrigerator. Does some chopping and some throwing this and that in the pot. Then, voila, there is a wonderful meal being set on the table. Watching him is to see an artist in action.

In the beginning, when I was getting to know him, I took his great food a little for granted. It didn’t register how much went into his meals. All I know is, he made things, using exotic ingredients I had never really tasted growing up poor in rural Ohio, like an avocado. What in the world was an avocado or stuffed pasta shells? But they sure tasted good.

Later in life, I began to take more interest in how he was cooking. What was he throwing together, and why? Lucky for me, he is passionate about his cooking and more than willing to share his knowledge and expertise. Patiently, he would show me how to cut something, how to shape a cookie, and how to tell if something was done or not. Thankfully he has shared many of his recipes with me, which I have enjoyed cooking for my family, and even for him and Papa Rob.

Although these two cooks are vastly different in their backgrounds and styles, and may not know this, they continue to push me to do better in the kitchen. To try new things. And to be okay if something is a flop. But most of all, and most importantly, they inspire me to keep returning to the kitchen to see what I might attempt this time.

Love you both and thank you for the many cooking memories!

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