Well readers, the table is cleared, the dishes done, and I’m ready for a cup of coffee and some dessert.
After 34 years at the News-Democrat, 21 of them as the food editor, it’s time for me to hang up my apron and retire. My last day at the paper is Aug. 8, which means you’ve got a brief window of opportunity to call me one last time for help — or just to chat. I’d love to hear from you.
I can’t possibly thank all the readers who helped me along the way. You were my mentors and educators, sharing your knowledge and your lives with me: Maybe you needed an answer to a cooking question or advice on a technique, but along the way you also told me about yourself. I learned not just how to use huckleberries in a pie or can pickles in a crock, but which grandkids helped decorate holiday cookies. And, who knew so many men would show me how much they loved to cook when I did a series about the Hot Stove League?
How great is a job that lets me sit at a kitchen table with a reader, eat homemade coffeecake, talk about apple butter and watch the snow fall outside? Or, stand in a tiny, crowded restaurant kitchen and watch a chef work his magic? I even enjoyed my time in a meat-packing plant in Millstadt. And then there was the coffee/tasting/spitting in St. Louis, the Titanic dinner in Belleville, the medieval feast at Pere Marquette, cookie-swapping at a library (twice), numerous food-judging contests ... Where did I get all that energy?
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I’m still boggled by the memory of the Food Network calling in 1998 and asking me to help organize and emcee a live healthy-cooking show in Fairview Heights with Executive Chef Sara Moulton and others.
As for the local pros, I must mention the late, great Executive Chef Ollie Sommer, who reigned at Southwestern Illinois College. He took me into his fold during a catering job he did with his culinary students. It was one of my first assignments as food editor and I asked way too many questions while he and others hustled to feed a crowd. I passed some kind of test that night because from that point on, when I asked for his help or to do a story, Ollie always welcomed me.
After his passing, Leisa Brockman at SWIC became just as gracious a host whenever I invaded the college’s culinary classrooms.
Joyce Carnahan in Red Bud not only took me into her high school kitchen where she taught and produced great future chefs, but became a friend. The same with Carol Schlitt, who I met in 1999 when she was teaching a canning class for the University of Illinois Extension in Belleville. Executive Chef Lee Conway let me spend a day with him when he ran the kitchen at the Hyatt Hotel at Union Station. All three now have their own successful food-related businesses and I am proud to know them.
And then there’s Lana Shepek, culinary instructor and cheesemonger extraordinaire at Eckert’s Country Store in Belleville. I met her when she was a hospital dietitian — and ever since she’s been shoving food and great information at me.
I know I’m forgetting all kinds of people, but I must not forget Diane Wiggins, who gave me the name for this column: Stir Crazy. Thank you. She was the winner among 153 entries in August 1996. I’m glad I got to make the decision on the moniker, because Bring it to a Boyle and Cook, Bake and Boyle were both possibilities I rejected!
Take care all of you who’ve followed this column and food section. You will still see recipes and food stories in print on Tuesday and online by Monday at bnd.com.
Until noon Aug. 8, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2664. If you want to reach me after that date, please contact me at email@example.com. I’d love to hear from you.