> My mother sewed all of our clothes and made dinner every night. She didn’t enjoy cooking. Many of her dishes were made from canned food and hamburger meat. But I liked most of her food, and I never thought anyone ate any differently.
> I started sewing when I was probably 8 years old. I grew up in Tuttle. A class of 103 people. We had a home economics teacher, Miss Craig. She and my mom changed my life. I lived for going to home economics. I wanted to excel in everything Miss Craig taught. I wanted to be a teacher just like her.
> When I did my student teaching in college, I was put in a seventh-grade home economics classroom in Oklahoma City. It was nothing like I was in. The students hated it. The teacher was mean. I thought, “There is no way I want to do this the rest of my life.”
> I went to graduate school at OSU and studied functional clothing design. My thesis was on protective clothing for pesticide applicators. It was terrible. I didn’t finish that thesis.
> After college, I started sewing in my apartment. I did that for 12 years. I became known for my bridesmaid dresses. I had two small children, and I needed a change in my life. My lawyer said I needed a real paycheck to support my children. I was successful in Tulsa, and my dresses were in demand. But I was still quite poor.
> I got a job at Tulsa Neighborhood Networks and started teaching cooking lessons. I was going to teach cooking to underprivileged children and unwed mothers. I would teach the moms during the day and do after-school programs at the Normandy Apartments. They had an empty apartment, and all these children would come. Half the complex was black families. The other half was Russian. They didn’t get along. But everyone gets along when they have food in front of them.
> Teaching made me want to learn more. I started taking professional chef classes at the Savory Chef. I took every class they offered. I gained so much confidence from that.
> I like private lessons. Not because I am selfish, but I want to learn everything.
> My new husband and I started to travel a lot, and it was great. But I had to learn something. That’s when I decided to research the cities and learn their food culture, learn what they sold in the markets, so I could come back to Tulsa to teach it.
> You don’t learn how to cook just from a cooking class. I learn by eating. I take notes when I eat.
> I’ve been to 45 countries. I bring back suitcases of spices and nuts and dried fruits and sauces. I never lie when I come through the airport.
> When I teach kids, I tell them, “I am teaching you how to make something, and I expect you to teach someone else.”
> When I was in the Dominican Republic teaching women to sew and cook, I taught them how to make lemon meatballs that I had learned how to make in Italy. But there, they don’t have lemons. Never heard of them. So I had to improvise. They have limes. To this day, I tell people that limes are better in that recipe, even my friends in Italy.
> I have a special place in my heart for Rwanda. I was brought there to teach cooking to the cooks at a school that was started by a woman in Colorado. They have been recovering from the genocide, and cooking in the rural areas wasn’t happening. They just boiled everything. They boiled pumpkins. That’s all they really knew how to do. So I taught them how to make pumpkin bread, pumpkin soup and pastas. I am trying to teach new ways to cook what they have.
> I had my fourth chef dinner last week. Some years ago, my cooking classes were popular, but I wanted to learn from chefs. I wanted to know the farmers, the food writers. I wanted to be friends with them. I wanted to give the chefs food I brought back. I wanted to be in the club. I thought, “The only way is if I feed them and show them that I can cook.”
> I know for sure that no matter your age, your socio-economic position or even your talents, you can bring people together with food and create meaningful conversation, create new relationships and not only feed their bodies but feed your self-esteem. It doesn’t have to be fancy food.
> My dad asked me and my sisters once: “Do you know what it means to edify? I want you to look it up in the dictionary and tell me what it means.” We came back and said, “It means to build each other up.” He said, “I want you to remember that the rest of your life.” To this day, I remember that word often. That’s one of the meanings of being on this Earth.