COOK OF THE WEEK: Myrtle woman puts family first at the dinner table

MYRTLE – Karen Willard may cook a delicious meal and put it on the table for her family to enjoy, but don’t expect her to partake of it.
“My children are always complaining that I never sit down and eat, but they just don’t understand the pleasure I get from keeping everyone served during a meal,” the 48-year-old said. “I absolutely hate it if I miss something and someone has to get up to get something for themselves and, I might add, that doesn’t happen much.”
Willard and her husband, David, have three grown children, all married, and two grandsons, Ashton and Braxton. She used to try to cook a big meal every other Sunday for all of them, but found moving that dinner to Saturday evenings worked out better.
They like chicken and dumplings with coleslaw and cornbread, or meatloaf with green beans, macaroni and cheese, and coleslaw, or something easy, like tacos or chili.
“We’re very simple eaters,” said Willard, a secretary at New Albany Elementary. “We do a lot of chicken pot pies and ham pot pies.”
Willard learned how to cook from her mother, Frances Newby, and her late grandmother, Velma Newby.
“My mother and grandmother are the backbone for my love of cooking,” she said. “The holiday season was my grandmother’s favorite time of year and I remember well her scurrying around baking cakes and pies for the holidays. My mother is the same. She still tackles feeding the whole lot of us – 20 and counting – several times throughout the year.”

Living life again
While Willard still cooks the way she always has, she doesn’t eat the way she always did.
Seven years ago, because of some vascular problems in her legs, Willard had gastric bypass surgery. She’s lost more than 100 pounds, but she didn’t lose her love for carbohydrates, like potatoes and french fries.
“I still have to watch what I eat,” she said. “But to be honest, my favorite meal is creamed corn, butter beans, sliced tomatoes and cantaloupe.”
Willard’s husband has also had weight-loss surgery for some health-related problems and he really has to watch his sodium intake.
“You can’t believe how hard a sodium-free diet is,” she said. “Everything has sodium in it.”
Now that her children are all out of the house, Willard tries to cook more healthfully for her husband, and for her grandsons, who are admittedly the loves of her life, when they visit.
“We do a lot of grilled chicken on the George Foreman and stewed cabbage and boiled squash,” she said. “I try to keep everything as healthy as I can. When I was heavy, I was just existing. Now, I’m living my life.”

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.

Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal