Who's your favorite fictional character, and why?
The character of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is--and has always been--my favorite fictional character. Growing up, I was a tomboy--adventuring and exploring with my brothers, climbing trees and damming up streams--and felt that Scout and I had that in common. By rereading To Kill a Mockingbird and seeing Scout in the movie, I am always able to bring back memories of that time in my life--both the freedom of childhood, as well as the growing awareness of a complex world.
What was the worst job you’ve ever had?
One summer I needed to earn extra money for college and convinced an Italian restaurant owner to let me work in his kitchen. He put me to work washing dishes and when he wasn’t looking I was perfecting his tomato sauce so it tasted like my mom’s! When he found out what I was up to--and when I realized the limitations of the job--we went our separate ways. I guess I was always destined to write a book about family recipes!
Besides writing, what other forms of art and creativity do you indulge in?
I’m constantly collecting pictures, decorative papers, and found objects for my collages and craft projects. My collection is near and dear to me. The smallest scribble from an old letter, a pretty piece of wrapping paper, or an old photo seems to always have a future use.
Who has been the greatest influence in your life? How?
By far the most influential person in my life was my Grandmother Minta Ghering, a wonderful home cook, amazing baker, and a good storyteller. She was my original inspiration for Cooking Fun and Crafting Fun.
My grandmother was a homemaker and vegetable gardener. She and my grandfather lived off her organic garden long before it became popular. She taught us the value of making fresh, homemade food and the virtue of being independent. Always humble, good natured, and unassuming, she supported her rambunctious grandchildren, no matter what we did! Looking back, I now realize that my grandmother believed childhood was a magical time of freedom.
I recall the wonderful stories that my grandmother told us about her childhood growing up on the family farm in western Pennsylvania. As we got older, she also told us of the tough times too, such as the tragic fire that burned their beloved farmhouse to the ground, taking with it everything but a few heirloom chairs and the roll top desk that held all the financial papers of her father’s wood mill and farm that were saved at the last minute. She held us spellbound when she told us that Clubs, her tabby cat, had been hiding under another nearby building and jumped right into her arms when she called for him. We loved her stories. We wanted to be there, too, and meet Clubs and the rest of her family.
My grandmother used to tell us, with a knowing look, that the memories of our good times as children would bring us comfort and laughter when we got older. She was right. Her influence on our family is immeasurable. I wish every child could have a grandparent like her.
Do you cook? If so, is there any particular dish that you've mastered and would like to share?
I love to cook simple foods, particularly Italian. One of my favorite dishes to make for my family is Zucchini Risotto. I learned it originally from a Marcella Hazan Italian cookbook and modified it a bit by adding milk as well as chicken broth and grating zucchini instead of peeling and cooking it in advance. This recipe has everything in it that one needs for a complete and simple meal--grain, cheese and dairy, a vegetable, and good olive oil. It is my ultimate comfort food. Everyone loves it. You can find the recipe on my website www.cookingfunforkids.com