Cookbook Project Featuring Claudia F.

Marinated Bean Salad

Claudia was born the oldest of 11 children in a blended family in Pittsburgh, PA.  As a child, she became interested in cooking by watching her grandmother cook traditional Polish dishes. She loves community cookbooks and has been contributing to them for years. When she found out about the GetSetUp Cookbook Project, Claudia submitted a recipe for a marinated bean salad, which is a healthy and delicious dish. 

Tell us a little about yourself and your background.

I came from a big family on both sides and grew up around a lot of parties, celebrating, and food. My mother's side is Polish and my father's German, so there were pierogi, kielbasi, gawumpki, and other ethnic dishes. 

I was my grandmother's sidekick in the kitchen and was fascinated by all the steps involved in cooking a meal. 

After I graduated from college, I became a certified Spanish teacher, and later I took a job as a flight attendant with a private airline. I traveled extensively, and the cuisine around the world blows your mind. That job landed me in Tennessee where I have lived my entire adult life. Of course, I had culture shock at first, but have become a true Southerner after 50 years!

How did you become interested in cooking?

I was my maternal grandmother's sidekick in the kitchen because I was interested and obedient, so she didn't mind me being around. I would stand at the stove at eye level and watch how she fried smelt - dipping them in egg, then flour and putting them in the frying pan. And, how beautiful they turned out, like art with the colors and smells.

She didn't really teach me, but she let me watch and let it sink in. When I got older and could reach the counter, she would let me knead dough or stir. I actually started cooking when I was four because my parents got me a little metal stove with a working stovetop and oven. When my mother made a cake, she would give me a little of the batter to put in a cupcake cup to cook in my little oven. I remember the first meal I cooked on that stove was a hot dog cut in half so it would fit in the tiny pot and tomato soup.

My father died when I was 11, and my mother gave me the responsibility of starting supper while she was at work.  I got home from school about three o’clock, and she got home about five. I loved to experiment, adding a little of this and a little of that. I don't think she liked it when I deviated from her instructions! Ever since learning about food has been a lifelong journey.

Tell us a little about the dish you submitted.

I found the inspiration in the newspaper years ago. It was called Senator Salad because it was from the US Senate cafeteria. In 1990, we decided to make a family cookbook, and this recipe was my contribution. It's a family-sized recipe with an end product of about two quarts. Over the years, I've made variations of it, and that's what I've submitted to the Cookbook Project. The original recipe called for corn which I couldn’t eat for a time, so I found three different beans that went together to adjust to my dietary needs.

Who is your cooking inspiration, and why?

When I downsized a few years ago, I gave up most of my cookbooks. One that I held onto is The American-International Encyclopedic Cookbook. I like it so much because with most recipes there is a master recipe plus multiple variations. It encouraged me to try different things and vary ingredients to my own taste. My current inspiration online is Jacques Pepín because he helps his followers refine techniques and encourages creativity in the kitchen.

What's the most memorable meal that you've made?

One Thanksgiving meal, not because of the content of the food, but because of the nature of who was there. We invited international students to dinner who attended the local university, the University of Tennessee at Martin. They were from Japan and Venezuela. We sat down to roast turkey, but each student was invited to bring a side dish. The turkey was the centerpiece with fresh munchable vegetables all around it: celery, carrots, radishes, and broccoli. Students brought munchable items as they could find or afford.

What's the importance of sharing a meal around the table?

I think that fellowship is everything. Nothing can substitute for everyone sitting together around the table, eating and contributing. Food breaks down barriers. I met so many wonderful students during my 25 years of participation in the International Host Program. We were able to communicate despite our language differences. Food brings people together. There’s nothing I treasure more than gathering over food. You can solve the world’s problems with community and fellowship over food! 

Book your spot in the next Cookbook Project: Recipe Spotlight. And, check out the recipe for Claudia’s marinated bean salad.

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