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You Gotta Eat - Episode 1

I love to cook. It's in my blood. My Mom has a knack for cooking. My maternal grandmother and her sisters could throw down in the kitchen, my maternal great-grandmother and her sisters were amazing cooks and even my maternal grandfather served as a cook in the United States Navy. Yes, I come from a long line of cooks and foodies. Like most families, our gatherings consisted of lots of food, games, laughter and love. Many of the elders are gone now, but their legacy of cooking is still alive and well amongst the third, fourth and fifth generations of our family. My enthusiasm for cooking, however, did not come as a result of one of these outstanding cooks taking me under their wing and mentoring me. It initially began out of necessity. You gotta eat, right?

I started cooking at 6 years old. Yep, 6. I will never forget the first meal I ever cooked. It was breakfast, my favorite meal of the day, which consisted of French toast and sausage. Fancy for a 6 year old, huh? That would be me. I knew what I wanted and that was only the best. In my mind, French toast was the best. We had a gas stove and I remember that I had to light the pilot light to get the burner going. I was scared but my desire for that French toast was, somehow, my incentive to light that fire. I remember trying to cook the sausage. It was pork so grease was popping everywhere. I was jumping around and trying not to burn myself. I remember that my twin sister was in the kitchen with me but she wasn't much help since we were both scared of the popping grease.

Looking back on that memory reminded me of how dangerous it was for us to be cooking, unattended and with no training, but at the time my six year old mind just wanted a breakfast other than cold cereal. I have no idea where my mother was at the time. Perhaps she was mowing the lawn or trimming the hedges. Maybe she was still sleeping, tired from a long work week, or for all one knows, she had run to the store. Nevertheless, the French toast breakfast was prepared by yours truly with no fire or injuries, just a full belly and a smile.

In the late 1970s and throughout the 80s, my sisters and I were what society called latchkey kids, children who were at home without adult supervision for some part of the day, usually after school until a parent returned home from work. Before our long-time babysitters began to care for us intermittently, we cooked, cleaned and cared for ourselves for a few hours each day after school. Our cooking was simple at first --a piece of fried bologna, boiled or fried hot dogs, grilled cheese, French toast, a fried egg, grits or oatmeal. As we grew older our skills and palate developed and thus our cooking options expanded. I remember as a teenager trying different combinations of foods, planning meals before going to the grocery store with my twin sister and preparing dinner because it was "buy back" season at the college bookstore so Mom would be working late. It became the norm for me to whip up a batch of fried chicken right after school or make a pot of beef and vegetable stew. In both of those instances my confidence in my culinary skills was boosted by the praise of both my peers and elders.

Cooking, for me, not only meets a need, but it brings out my creativity. I often find myself thinking about how to create new recipes or how to bring variety to my family's existing menus. I enjoy mixing colorful fruit and vegetables, among other items, to create meals that are not only healthy and tasteful, but also appealing to the eyes because presentation is everything. Cooking relaxes me. It allows my mind to focus on pleasant thoughts or create opportunities for me to listen to music, sing, plan meals, family gatherings or even take photos of my best dishes to post them on this site. During all of the chopping, mixing and saute'ing, my mind is free to consider new, fresh ideas. I hope you won't mind me sharing my favorite meals, cooking tips, highlights and failures with you since we're all looking for ways to satisfy our appetites. I hope that you will check back periodically and find some inspiration or perhaps get a good laugh at some of my mealtime stories. You gotta eat, right?

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