COOK OF THE WEEK: Bookseller creates one-dish wonders for relaxation

By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Julia Newsom’s friends think it’s hilarious that she’s being featured as a Cook of the Week. It’s not that she’s a bad cook. It’s just that she doesn’t use recipes.
“I’ve always enjoyed eating so I’ve always enjoyed cooking,” said Newsom, who goes by the name Star, a nickname she got while working with the Girl Scouts at Camp Tik-A-Witha. “But the big joke with all my friends is that I cook without recipes.
“I’m one of those who looks in the fridge and says, ‘OK, what have we got here that I can create? I made an enchilada casserole once and overcooked it, so I turned it into enchilada soup. It’s probably the best enchilada soup I’ve ever made and I’ll never be able to make it like that again.”
Newsom and her partner of seven years, Lena Conwill, enjoy entertaining at their home in Mooreville.
“I like cooking for friends and family,” said Newsom, an assistant store manager for Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Tupelo. “It’s like giving them a gift. I don’t know how to do it simple, though. If they’re coming over, it’s going to be a full meal.”
Every year, Newsom and Conwill host an “It’s a Wonderful Life” party on New Year’s Day, where they serve turkey, ham, black-eyed peas, a green salad and lots of heavy hors d’ oeuvres.
“People come from all over the country for it,” she said. “That’s how we ring in the new year – with lots of food.”

One-dish people
The youngest of four children, Newsom, who grew up in Memphis, learned how to cook from her mother.
“My mom taught school, so we all had to pitch in,” she said. “My brother and I were talking last weekend and we realized we didn’t even know box cake mixes existed until we were adults. And we didn’t know you could buy dip in the store. We learned scratch cooking from our mom.”
Newsom, who considers cheese to be a food group unto itself, prefers savory dishes to sweet, mainly because sweets usually involve baking and baking is too precise for her – and requires recipes.
“We’re one-dish people as a rule,” she said. “We’ll have tacos for dinner. Or Pad Thai. Or soup. The only time we do multiple items is if we do something like a steak and then we’ll have a baked potato and a salad.”
Conwill is a good cook in her own right, but Newsom calls her style of cooking “granny food.”
“When we’re in the mood for that, Lena will cook,” Newsom said. “Otherwise, I usually cook three to four nights a week. When I get home from work, that’s how I relax. It’s how I create. Every once in a while, I go on strike and close the kitchen and everybody thinks something is majorly wrong. But no. Sometimes I just don’t feel like cooking.”

Do you know a good cook? Send your nominations to Ginna Parsons, Cook of the Week, P.O. Box 909, Tupelo, MS 38802. Or you can fax them to (662) 842-2233 or e-mail them to ginna.parsons@djournal.com.