"You might not know it now, but I was a super fussy kid who didn’t like to eat anything healthy. I turned my nose up at even the simplest of side dishes like peas and carrots. Forget about mushrooms, lentils or cabbage! I hadn’t even heard of kale. I pretty much subsisted on meat, potatoes and corn at our family dinners in Halifax. And, when left to my own devices, I gorged on salty, processed foods like canned Chef Boyardee, Kraft Dinner and Lipton SideKicks.
My older sister, Kerry on the other hand — she liked everything. There wasn’t a vegetable she wouldn’t eat. If I recall, the only thing she snubbed at the dinner table were baked beans. Weird, right?
I’d watch her eating her broccoli and brussels sprouts contentedly and wish that I could, somehow, channel her taste buds so that mealtimes weren’t such a fuss. I didn’t like being a picky eater and neither did my mom or stepdad. They would make me sit at the dinner table for hours until I finished my vegetables while my sister was free to watch TV or talk on the phone. It was torture.
Not surprisingly, as we grew, my sister became much more active in the kitchen trying out recipes and cooking for us when she was "in charge”. But, she would always cook things the way I liked — whether that meant pureeing the spaghetti sauce so I couldn’t detect the green peppers and onions or making me the grilled cheese without tomatoes. I trusted her when it came to honouring my “condition”.
We became roommates in our early twenties when we were both in university. It was around the same time I started yearning to “grow up” and become healthier. Kerry was working part-time at a local Lebanese food kiosk at the mall. She had learned all sorts of wonderful recipes like spicy cabbage rolls, hummus and zingy tabule. She also used to prepare these enormous, juicy and cheesy stuffed mushroom caps when guests were coming over. But, since I didn’t like mushrooms, I wasn’t interested… Until one day.
One rainy, cold day Kerry whipped up a batch of her famous stuffed mushrooms. The grey and gloomy apartment swirled with comforting aromas of sautéed garlic, onions and melting cheese. The tantalizing smell wafted into my room and drew me into the warmth of the kitchen. I stood over her just as she was removing the tray of bubbling mushroom caps from from the oven. The cheese was oozing down the sides and spots of savoury-looking mushroom juice dotted the baking sheet. My tongue watered and I felt compelled to try one. But I was afraid. I know it sounds silly, but I was. With an easy and non-judgmental approach, as only my sister can emanate, she gently encouraged me to try just a tiny bit. Just one bite!
I cut off a tiny sliver or that mushroom and tentatively put it in my mouth. My taste buds exploded with flavours and textures I hadn’t allowed myself to enjoy my entire life and I was transformed. I liked mushrooms!
They may not have been the healthiest mushrooms, but they were my gateway into a long and happy adventure learning to like all the veggies I despised as a child and more. From there, she taught me cabbage rolls, hummus and how to make the perfect chicken soup. Cooking has always come effortlessly to her and still does even with a houseful of kids and chaos, and I continue to admire her for that.
Now that I’m a holistic nutritionist I teach her a thing or two too, but my sister, Kerry, will always be #myfoodhero.
This holiday season, I'm celebrating #myfoodhero, Kerry, with a donation to Community Food Centres Canada to support their work bringing the power of food to low-income communities. I hope you'll consider making a donation in honour of your food hero, too."