“I have been cooking since I was 12 years old. My mother was an educator and pushed reading. When I went to the Mobile library, I got cookbooks with my Nancy Drew books. I kept the cookbooks when I returned the Nancy Drew books. I did it so often my mother got letters from the library. I told my mom I lost the books so I could keep them. She was mad when she realized I still had all of those cookbooks. I cooked dinner for my family to try out the Creole and Asian recipes. My parents would say this is nice, but they really just wanted baked chicken. They didn’t want the teriyaki or ginger sauce. They didn’t want their fish blackened. They encouraged me to go into education because they didn’t think I could make a living with cooking.
I started off teaching special ed and history. My first job was teaching at Calloway-Smith Middle School. It makes me a little misty-eyed when the kids remember me or something I taught them. They were my babies. I am now a compliance officer for the school system and have worked in the central office for years. When we closed down in the spring because of COVID, I started doing the school free lunch program. So many kids are hungry. Some don’t have functioning homes or a nurturing parent. I forgot about that while working in administration. Some of the parents aren’t equipped to help their kids right now with online learning. Or they are working and don’t have time to help. It is overwhelming, but we have to try to help these kids one at a time.
I enjoyed being in education and have worked for 22 years with the school system, but cooking will be my second career. I have already started my catering business, Kistra’s Southern Delicacies. You are never too old to do something different. I am not afraid to try something in the kitchen. I still have the cookbooks I never returned to the library.
This has been a rough year. COVID slowed down the catering when the bridal showers and luncheons canceled. I cook for my elderly mom, so I started cooking additional dinner plates and selling them in the evenings. My husband helped me cook, but he got prostate cancer. He had surgery in May, then his body went sepsis and almost died. He had to stay in the hospital for 31 days. It was touch and go for a while. Because of COVID, I couldn’t see him. By the grace of God, he pulled through. He is doing much better and cracking jokes again.
For years I questioned my purpose. But it was always cooking, the thing that comes so naturally. Cooking is my communication and how I show love. Chicken salad is my specialty. It is handcrafted and I feel like it is a gift God gave me. I made chicken salad plates as a fundraiser for my daughter’s Azalea Trail Maid dress and other things we needed. Food was always my extra income.
I am working on getting my chicken salad in local stores such as Greer’s and Food for Less. I hope it will be on shelves by January 2021. I want everyone to taste my food and love it. I want to show my daughters how to be entrepreneurs and to have something of their own. Women have been strong forever and this is our time.
After this year, I am loving harder. I say ‘I love you’ even more because you never know what will happen tomorrow. It can’t rain forever, the sun will shine and bring the rainbow. There is going to be a silver lining that comes from a year like this.”