One of the best parts of our job is hearing from our readers and newsletter subscribers. So many amazing stories are unfolding in the kitchens of the Cook Smarts community, and we wanted to highlight some of these home cooks in a new blog series called, “Heroes in the Kitchen.”
I’m so excited to kick this series off with Mary Ann Satterfield. She wrote me a few weeks ago to tell me that she was just learning to cook and after two weeks of following our meal plans, she’s already lost some weight. We hear from a lot of new cooks, but Mary Ann’s story is extra special. Read her cooking story below:
Name: Mary Ann Satterfield
City, State: Lincoln, Nebraska
Outside of the kitchen I: Spend time with my dog and visiting my 3 children in Vermont and Colorado.
Favorite Cook Smarts meal: Chicken curry
What’s your cooking background?
I can bake a cherry pie as quick as a cat can blink her eye—my mother’s way—make a pie crust and fill it with canned cherries and a splash of brandy. Just don’t ask me to fix dinner. When you’re an older Nebraskan woman like me, you’re expected to know all there is to know about everything, especially cooking. I don’t.
My mother was probably not the world’s worst cook given the resources she had during the many years she cooked (she was born in 1915), but she came close. She was smart enough to add booze to every pie—even in dry Kansas. She thought fresh vegetables were supposed to bubble on the back burner until they were as mushy as—and smelled like—canned ones. Almost all mother’s recipes started “brown your hamburger”. Eggplant? Kale? No way. Well done chuck steak? Mayo from a jar for salad dressing? Of course.
We hear you’re just learning to cook. What’s been the motivation?
In the 1950s when I started married life, I knew all main meals consisted of meat, potatoes, and a canned vegetable. Spaghetti came only in a can. Luckily my husband took over the cooking in the 1960s when he realized that with my full time job, our three children, him, and an old two story house, I had to drop something. He liked cooking. The children were leery of Daddy Dinners until they learned even they were much better than Mommy’s Messes.
This arrangement went along well until, after the children moved out of state, he developed Alzheimer’s. He forgot the simplest cooking. He made soy burgers—every day. “Tell me again,” he’d say, “how to do this?” He thought potato chips were a vegetable. When my husband was no longer able to cook, I had to take over. Meanwhile my mother was becoming more fragile. She was in an assisted living facility, but she still needed me to get her to eat to keep up her weight and strength.
I wrote down everything I knew how to fix—a very short list. Every week I would make a meal plan mostly by rearranging the plan from the week before. Then I’d make a grocery list and we’d both go to the store. I tried not to lose him among the cabbages. This was our routine until my husband died in April 2011 and mother, almost 97 and weighing only 85 pounds, died almost exactly a year later.
What are some of the most useful cooking tips and tricks you’ve learned so far?
I plan. I set out ingredients before I start cooking. The grocery list and prep information have saved me. I like and need the instructions.
What advice would you give others that are just starting to learn to cook, regardless of their age?
There are two nauseating adages you shouldn’t think about or read before dinner. “You are what you eat” and “You never stop learning.” I realized I didn’t want to turn into a lump of mashed potatoes or a squish of overcooked green beans. I want to be fresh, crisp, and well prepared. I am learning always so I won’t spend the rest of my life turning into tuna patties and mac and cheese. Now I’m full of hope—blooming and growing—even at my age.
Thanks Mary Ann for showing us it’s never too late to learn how to cook and inspiring all of us to learn something new.