Cookies, Curries and Family Dinner: Faculty Members Share Cooking Stories

Some GDS faculty members spend time outside of the classroom cooking, to share with people at school, to try new recipes or to bond with family. I spoke with three of them to learn about their cooking stories.

Cookies for Colleagues

Cara Henderson, an instructional coach, who is new to GDS this year, has used baking as a way to get to know her new colleagues, she said in an interview. She sometimes gives her cookies to teachers she is coaching.

“Baking and sharing cookies with my colleagues has been a way to build community and belonging,” Henderson said. “It’s a joy, not a burden. I have been trying to do it regularly to build relationships.”

She also enjoys baking because it helps to relax her when she is stressed. “It’s a stress release,” she said. “I am drawn to it when I am most busy. It puts me at ease.”

Henderson baked her Aunt Letty’s cake. Photo courtesy of Cara Henderson.

Henderson found that over the lockdown, she explored several new recipes, such as raspberry bars, and also baked with her daughter more than usual. “Since COVID has been a time for stress, I have baked a lot,” she said.

Henderson has fond memories of learning to cook with her mother at age five. Around the kitchen, she did any job her mother gave her, such as sifting flour, just to be involved.

Henderson said she would be interested in incorporating the culinary arts into the GDS curriculum. She appreciated that there were minimester courses focused on cooking. “I would love for those to continue to have offerings,” she said. “There is a kitchen here so there could be a full class. There is so much chemistry involved.” 

Henderson’s advice to new bakers is not to be afraid to take risks. “Get in the kitchen and start,” she said. “You learn so much through trial and error. What’s the worst that can happen? They won’t be yummy, but you learn.”

A Vegetarian Chef

Aden Richards, a science teacher, began cooking after college. “My first few years out of college, I motivated myself,” he said. “It was a summer project.”

Richards said he enjoys cooking when he has time but finds it harder when school is in session.  “During the summer, I do it for fun, or over breaks because then you have the time to experiment,” he said. “When you have to have dinner ready in half an hour, it’s harder to try.”

Richards has been a vegetarian since he was a young child. “It makes it harder in a way because you want something meaty and it limits how you design your recipe,” he said. He often makes pasta dishes and curries. 

He used to think more about the science of how he cooks but focuses on it less now. “At first,” he said, being a science teacher “made me really particular about measurements and ratios” of a recipe. “But now I realize if you do a little more or less it doesn’t change it.”

Dinners She Missed as a Child

English teacher Nadia Mahdi told the Bit that preparing dinner for her family gives her the opportunity to unwind after work. Sometimes while cooking, she listens on Audible to the books she is teaching at school.

Mahdi’s experience with food as a child in Massachusetts was affected by her parents’ different backgrounds. Her mother was raised as a member of a Pentecostal church in Kentucky. “In the Pentecostal church, eating should not be a pleasant experience,” Mahdi said. “It’s the way to keep your body moving.”

Mahdi’s father was raised in Iraq and his mom was Persian. Mahdi said she likes to make fesenjan, a Persian chicken stew with pomegranates, using a recipe from The New York Times.

Her father left their family when she was in fourth grade, so her mother had to find more sources of income. “When my mom had to go back into the workforce,” she said, “there were no more family meals. Breakfast was a Carnation instant breakfast. I ate lunch at school. Dinner was the quickest food.”

Mahdi explained that those childhood experiences are why her family now sits together to eat dinner. “We are the parents we are as a response to the parents we had,” she said.

Mahdi said she developed cooking skills working at a fancy restaurant in Berkeley, California, called Chez Panisse. Now, she cooks regularly at home, mostly following vegetarian recipes.