Sunday, April 18, 2021

Let's Talk--Sunday Brunch + #Giveaway!

LESLIE KARST: Welcome to Sunday Brunch! We’re using the third Sunday of every month to share our news and thoughts with you all, and today's question is this: What event made us first fall in love with food and/or cooking?

I've loved food since I can remember, and first started cooking back in junior high school, when my best friend and I would try out enticing recipes from the newly-released Time-Life cookbook series--you remember those books, that came in the mail with a glossy hardcover and a spiral-bound recipe book to go with it? Nancy was studying Russian at the time (she went to private school), so we made lots of dishes from that particular volume, including the eggy Easter bread with saffron (a spice I'd never before heard of) and delectable piroshki, with ground beef, hard boiled egg, and dill (also new to me).  

We were young and fearless, willing to try anything (one year we baked 50 fruitcakes for all our friends and neighbors, using an enormous white-enameled diaper bucket to mix the batter), and I'm convinced those experiences are what made me the adventurous cook I am today. 


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MADDIE: I love this topic, Leslie - and the story of your childhood culinary adventures! In a family of four children, I was the only eater who wasn't picky. Still, my mom cooked for the majority, so our meals, while nutritious, were simple and plain. Raw onions and garlic didn't cross the threshold, and pre-mixed seasonings came dried in a packet. Occasionally, while eating at a friend's house, I would discover some food new to me: red cabbage! Meatloaf! 

Two experiences really shaped my food habits as an adult. First, I went off to Brazil for a year at just seventeen to live with a family. I didn't cook there, but my taste bud horizons really widened. I kept asking for recipes for feijoada, quindin de laranja (orange flan that is pure heaven), moqueca (a spicy seafood stew), and other favorite foods.

When I returned and went to university, I shared an off-campus  house with three other young women. We joined a food coop and cooked all the time. I kept making discoveries new to my palate. Mushrooms slow sauteed in butter. Cheese souffle. All the delicious things you can do with tofu. German salads. Japanese soup. I've never looked back.

On a spring break camping trip to the desert - me on the far right

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TINA KASHIAN: Great topic, Leslie! I have always been surrounded by different types of food. It wasn’t one experience that made me first fall in love with food, but a lifelong one. My Armenian parents owned a restaurant for thirty years in South Jersey, and I grew up in the business. We served Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and American food. I was not a picky eater as a kid, and I also enjoyed trying different types of cuisine. Indian, Chinese, Italian, Vietnamese, and many more. My husband was raised on meat and potatoes, but over the years, he has been willing to try different foods. Thankfully, my two girls are much more adventurous.

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LUCY BURDETTE: Count me in as a kid of the 50's and 60's during which convenience foods were considered special treats. My mother loved to eat but not cook, so we ate in a similar way to what Edith is describing. In graduate school, I finally started some serious cooking with a good pal--mostly out of the Moosewood Cookbook. Honest to goodness, my food critic character Hayley Snow has really helped me expand my horizons the most!

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PEG COCHRAN: My grandparents were European so we ate a wider variety of foods than most "Americans" -- recipes from Italy, Germany and Hungary. My mother didn't make anything too exotic but we had different dishes when we ate with my grandparents. My first foray into cooking was what we called "Girl Scout stew." I've also heard it called campfire stew--tomato sauce, macaroni and ground beef. I think I was about 12 when my mother began to let me make that for dinner. A girlfriend and I also baked a cake from scratch. For some reason, we had the bright idea to tint it green. Not the most appetizing color. Plus it was as hard as a rock and even the birds wouldn't touch it! In my early 20s I discovered Julia Child's cookbooks and slowly began to learn the lingo--sauté, blanch, simmer etc. I was always willing to try to cook anything--even boning a whole chicken and stuffing the skin!

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LESLIE BUDEWITZ: At sixteen, I started working in a bookstore and met Sandra, who was 10 years older than I and had gone to school with my brother. She came from an Italian family, had worked in restaurants, and even then, in the mid 1970s, had an impressive knowledge of food. Through her, and a little cafe in the mall that served an amazing marinated mushroom salad, I got a whole new idea of food and cooking. Since we worked in a bookstore, I bought a few cookbooks, mostly vegetarian---I still have my copies of Laurel's Kitchen and the Vegetarian Epicure---and began learning to cook dishes my mother never would have tackled. (In my mother's defense, though her cooking was heavy on breakfast for dinner and casseroles using Campbell's Soup, she was a tremendous baker and everyone, including Sandra, fondly recalls her plates of Christmas cookies.) 

Over the years, Sandra worked in several restaurants, in the kitchen or at the front of the house, and I continued to learn from and be inspired by her. We're still close friends, and she is the model for Sandra Piniella, the Spice Shop's assistant manager, right down to the wild frames of the readers she wears, her design sense, and her deep appreciation of the gift of her "Mr. Right." She recognized herself immediately when I sent her an early copy of Assault & Pepper and in her bubbly way, told everyone "that's me!" Guilty as Cinnamon is dedicated to her.    

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DENISE: Wow! Cool topic! I would say, it was my husband's retirement. Up until then, although I cooked dinner nearly every night, the food was mostly uninspired. I would look at recipes and think, nope, too much work. 

However, when Dave retired, we started watching cooking shows together and he volunteered to be my sous chef. He does all the chopping. And as an engineer, you can bet that all the pieces are exactly even. ;)

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MAYA: Like Maddie and Lucy, I grew up with simple meals, In our house that meant mostly meat and potatoes plus vegetable or salad, except on Fridays when we had either fish and Spanish rice or fish and spaghetti with tomato sauce to replace the meat. Though my mother cooked with onions, I never knew what garlic looked like, much less how it tasted, until I moved away from home. The only cheese we ever had in the house was sliced American cheese, which I didn't think was tasty. 

Spending my junior year of college in Europe awakened my tastes for a variety of foods. During my 4 months in Austria, I enjoyed schnitzel, dumplings, and a variety of pastries and cakes. In my two semesters in northern Germany, I developed a taste for hearty breads and good beer, though I'd never cared for or drunk American beer. During school breaks, I traveled with friends who were studying in France. One friend introduced me to good cheese. Each day we went to the Paris market and bought three different cheeses to sample. We also traveled to Italy, where I learned to appreciate wine and pasta beyond spaghetti and tomato sauce.

When I went to grad school, the first time I had to cook for myself, I brought Joy of Cooking with me, and my best friend brought the Fannie Farmer Cookbook. With those books, the two of us taught ourselves to cook. 

For the last forty or so years, we've lived in the same community, both of us still married to our college sweethearts. We had dinner at each other's houses regularly, up until a year ago. And finally last week, fully vaccinated, the four of us again had dinner together. 

Leslie, Thanks for the great topic that brought back food memories.   


MIA P. MANANSALA: Like Tina, my love of food has been a lifelong one. I was born and raised in a majority Latinx neighborhood of Chicago to a Filipino immigrant family. There has never been a time where food and flavor has not been a part of my life. However, I do remember the first time I tried a recipe from a book. It was from Encyclopedia Brown Takes The Cake, where the cases had recipes at the end (I think I made a recipe involving frozen bananas?). I consider it my very first culinary cozy and the beginning of my path as a culinary cozy writer.

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MARY JANE MAFFINI  I was a picky kid. The really annoying type. I’m told I only ate strained pears for years.  However, one windy autumn day, when I was eleven, I was playing softball outside with friends for hours and when the sun went down headed home, ravenous. I was probably looking forward to strained pears, but my mother (who was adventurous in the kitchen at a time when Chef-Boy-R-Dee was considered exotic in our Cape Breton town) was trying something new. For once, I didn’t disappear because I was so hungry.  I probably tried to negotiate but ended up sitting down to chicken braised with white wine, lemon and thyme.  That taste has never left me: the first truly delicious meal I remember.  It was then that I realized that food could be delectable.  As an adult, I tried many times to recreate the flavors with pretty good results, but never quite the same. 

Fast forward a number of years, and picture me facing off with my mother-in-law, a fierce little woman who once cooked lunch for the Queen Mother and who had quite a competitive instinct when it came to her only child. Ahem. Credit where credit was due: we used to say she could conjure up a fabulous meal out of a glass of water and some leftover peas.  My signature dish until I got married was tuna fish sandwiches, so I belatedly realized I should learn fast.  Years passed and gradually I was able to manage in a kitchen. I never reached her speed and talent, but I’m still having fun trying!  I noticed Moosewood, Vegetarian Epicure and The Joy of Cooking make it onto this entertaining post and there was even talk of the old Time-Life spirals. I still have my copies and they were fantastic to learn from,  but my much needed kickstart came from Peg Bracken’s I Hate to Cook Book.  Bless you, Peg Bracken! 

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CLEO COYLE: Your Sunday Brunch subject takes me back to a childhood memory, Leslie. My mother (Rose) and her sister (my Aunt Mary) were born in Italy and came from a great tradition of cooking. One morning, when I was a very little girl, I heard the clanging of pots and pans before the light of dawn. Yawning and rubbing my eyes, I climbed out of bed, and walked through the dark, cold house toward the glowing warmth and light of the kitchen door. I was greeted with happy smiles from my mother and Aunt Mary and given a bowl of the most delicious Italian chestnut stuffing to eat for breakfast. It was Thanksgiving, you see, and they were preparing the giant turkey for the oven, where it would cook for many hours before my cousins and other relatives arrived to eat an astoundingly bountiful feast, which not only included traditional American foods but also Italian favorites like wedding soup and homemade gnocchi. I still get up early to make the stuffing on Thanksgiving morning and nom a little bowl for breakfast. Mom and Aunt Mary are gone now, but I often think of them when I cook or bake and say a little prayer of thanks for the abundant love (and appreciation for food and cooking) they passed down to me. It’s one reason why I enjoy sharing recipes like the one for these Italian Bow Tie Cookies. I know it would have made Rose and Mary happy. To get the recipe, click on the photo below.... 

Get Cleo's Italian cookie recipe
with a free PDF by clicking here.

Many cultures have versions of Angel Wings. In our house, we called them Bow Ties. In Italy, these cookies are traditionally eaten during Carnevale. Here in the US, we make them at Christmas and Easter. We also make them for weddings, and if you have ever been to an old-school Italian wedding, then you know about the “cookie table,” where relatives contribute their favorites and everyone eats with joy. We hope you do, too. ~ Cleo 


To be entered in this week's drawing,
leave a comment (with your email address) 
to join our discussion:

Is there a special event that 
made you first fall in love 
with food or cooking? 

Comments Open through
Wednesday, April 21.

by Maddie Day

by Leslie Budewitz, writing as Alicia Beckman

> DYING FOR A TASTE by Leslie Karst


by Cleo Coyle

Comments Open through
Wednesday, April 21




  1. I never really cooked until I moved out on my own. Then I either had to cook or do takeout so I learned to cook

  2. My cook love of cooking came more from necessity - at the start. While growing up, food is what just appears on the table at meal time. I didn't appreciate the time involved getting it there or my Mom's talent of taking simple ingredients and turning out wonderful culinary delights. It wasn't until I had to do the cooking for myself that I realized it was more than throwing things in a pot, saying a few magic words and delivering a tasty meal that others might even compliment.

    The one event that helped move that along even more was an illness I had at the age of 25. It involved a 37 day hospital stay where the first part was spent having me eat so much I was like do I have to when food came into the room. Then it flipped and went to where I was given very little to eat at all. During all this you have to imagine someone use to home cooking left to only eating hospital food that seems to have no flavor or seasoning to it at all. All of it combined just made me more determined as ever to actually take the time and effort to learn as much as I could from my Mom and Granny about cooking good food.

    The next step in picking up my game came from a tragic event. When our daughter died at the age of 17, I was needing something to keep my mind occupied and my hands busy. That's when I decided to make a family cookbook. As with most cooks of the time, both my Granny and Mom cooked by pinch of this and a dab of that with no written recipe to go by. It took some doing and lots of experimenting on my part, but by standing with Mom and measuring what she poured in her hand, I was able to write down a recipe. Then I actually made the recipe under her tasteful supervision tweaking the recipe until it got final approval from them. I bought three 3 ring big binders and lots of clear folders to insert the typed recipes in. Just like a regular cookbook, my typed recipes have a title, number of servings, ingredients, directions and any helpful hints to making the recipe a success. Then I made special sections for the book such as measurement alternations, emergency food substitutions and seasoning charts giving details of the spice, it's uses and what they worked well with. I even added fun sections on anniversary charts, laundry hints for soiled laundry and horoscope charts. The first few pages are dedication pages to Jenet, who the cookbook was made in memory of. After working on them for quite some time, I gave two of them as Christmas presents - one to my Mom and one to hubby's Mom. I use this book a LOT - more so as I get older and don't make the recipes quite as often as I did so that I make sure I don't forget something. The bonus for having made this cookbook was when Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer knowing that family tried and true recipes wouldn't be lost to this horrid disease. When Mom went to her heavenly home, I gave her copy to my BFF who has told me many times how much she loves it and how often she uses it for go to recipes.

    Now many years later and with a deep love of cooking/baking, I can't imagine not being in the kitchen and sharing the bounty of my kitchen with others.

    Thank you for this wonderful opportunity! Shared and hoping to be the extremely fortunate one selected.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. Thank you for sharing your inspiring story, Kay. Food connects us to others the way nothing else can. ~Maya

    2. Yes, it's so true what Maya says. And what a wonderful gift you've given your family, Kay, for generations to come!

  3. My mom was a wonderful cook and basically made everything from scratch. Growing up, I liked to make the desserts—cookies, cakes, not pies. Never learned to make a good pie crust, but mother’s pies were the best. It was not until I married that I enjoyed cooking meals. And especially when my grandkids are here.

  4. We lived with our grandparents and my Mom and Nana were southern cooks, lots of fried everything. What I really loved was the fried chicken. The floor and counters were spread with newspapers to catch the hot popping oil, and the wonderful smell. I never could make it as good but they did teach me how to make home made french fries and I still use a cast iron skillet and of course cover with newspapers.

    1. I rarely deep fry because of the mess, but what a great idea to spread newspapers everywhere!

  5. I developed a love for cooking after signing up for Home Economics in Jr. High School. I loved getting in the kitchen and making something yummy. I also started collecting cook books and recipes for things that sounded interesting. I still have a cook book that my great aunt gave me in 1972.

    1. I so wish I'd taken Home Ec. in school, but since I played in the band and orchestra, I never had enough class time to do so. Sigh...

  6. I'm not sure when I started cooking, probably early teens. Eventually I became the one who was to cook certain dishes, like baked spaghetti and slippery pot pie. My mother was more than happy to have me take over making the slippery pot pie.

    1. Okay, you can't post this without telling us what the heck is slippery pot pie--inquiring minds want to know!

    2. I live in south central PA, like 6 miles from the PA/MD line. The recipe I use, with adaptions, is from a local chuck cookbook. Cook a meat, any meat, add potatoes, veggies if you like, and then a the dough - flour, salt, vegetable oil, water. Roll out the dough, cut it in squares, drop in the pot. It's very similar to a recipe from a Paula Deen magazine, Chicken and Biscuit Dumplings. I'm thinking Slippery Pot Pie is just a regional name, but I could be wrong on that.

    3. Oops, that should say church cookbook

  7. Later in life I decided to start cooking. I have fond memories of my mom cooking and I wanted to replicate some of her dishes. Thanks for the chance!

    1. Replicating others' recipes is hard but always so fun!

  8. A book started me out on my love of cooking - Betty Crocker's Cook Book for Boys and Girls that was originally published in 1957. A few years later, this book somehow came into my collection. My parents allowed me to try and cook as many different recipes as I wanted. I actually have my original cook book that has fallen apart. I was able to find a reprint of the original a few years ago.

    allibrary (at) aol (dot) com

    1. Oh, my goodness, I had that same book--and I think making recipes in it was my first cooking experience, too! I'd forgotten all about it till I read your post.