Last summer I wrote a newsletter that was extra special to me, where I interviewed MY MOM! I asked her if I could glean some of her wisdom for a special “Berta in the Kitchen” themed newsletter. My mom taught me how to cook, freeze all the things, plan for a dinner party, and not take any of it too seriously. I hope you enjoy this little segment as much as I enjoyed getting to interview my amazing momma.This was easily one of my most popular newsletters to date and I just knew it had to have a permanent spot on the blog.
For those of you who are subscribed to receive my monthly newsletters, you will have already seen this information. But if not, I think it’s still worthy of a spot on the blog. If you want to stay up to date with newsletters as they come, subscribe here.
(This interview is from July 2021)
Without further ado…let’s interview Berta:
Is there anything you want the people of NTK to know about you and how you came to learn how to cook? Do you remember how old you were? Anything from how you grew up or experiences that shaped who you are?
Honestly, I am a pretty normal wife and mother. While my mom cooked for us growing up, I wouldn’t say I knew how to cook. I could bake but didn’t know how to cook. I started cooking in college but not seriously till after Pop and I got married.
I remember in college we would have these potluck dinners and I would cook my go to chicken recipe. So many would bring something store bought to the meal, but I loved bringing something homemade.
What was your go-to recipe when you and Pop were newly married?
Hollowell Honey Chicken with homemade mashed potatoes and peas out of a can! Luckily, Pop is the easiest person to cook for. He endured a lot of bad meals!
How did cooking change once you had kids?
Oh gosh, well, I was 23 when I got married and had Will at 25, so I was still learning to cook. Anna came 19 months later followed by you and Albert. Those 6 years really feel like a blur. All I know is that there were a lot of hot dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches. And Albert (the youngest of the 4 kids) never ate a vegetable or a fruit.
I do know that everyone seemed to like parmesan chicken. This is a great meal to feed a crowd as well because you can easily double it.
What is your go to easy recipe for feeding a crowd?
I love to make Ina Garten’s Summer Garden Pasta recipe, but beef it up with extra veggies like sauteed onion, zucchini, or spinach. The beauty of this is that you can have everything ready to go before your guests come and all you have to do is boil the pasta. Add bread and a nice salad and dinner is done.
(At this time I reminded mom about her brown rice casserole, which is a staple at most all family potlucks. She said it’s actually a Freeman recipe (meaning my dad’s side of the family) and I am going to share it on the blog soon!
She also loves making crab cakes in bulk to have in the freezer; it’s super easy to grab a few out and pan fry them and feels like a nice step up from chicken.
What is the meal you make when you are burnt out on cooking and want something easy?
I get the veggie fried rice from Trader Joe’s and add extra veggies to it. Your father adds a fried egg to his.
Tuna salad plate: I get tuna packed in olive oil and make tuna salad made with capers, mayo, S&P and dijon on a plate with cut up veggies, crackers, etc. or toast.
Impossible burgers or any other ready made meatless burger. (Mom and I both agree that the Dave’s Killer Bread Buns are amazing!) Serve this with Trader Joe’s sweet potato fries.
Who is your favorite person to get recipes from/cookbooks you read?
Most of my go-to’s are still the foods mom cooked. (She and my grandmother actually put together a family cookbook around 5 years ago and it is AMAZING).
Ina Garten cookbooks
I get a ton of inspiration from Food Network Shows (Kate again; I can tell you Food Network or Hallmark are on 99% of the time when you go to Berta’s house)
What would you say is the most underrated thing to have in your kitchen?
My tiny spatulas! I have about 7 of them and use them for everything. Getting the last bit out of a jar, spreading anything. So many uses.
Parchment paper sheets: you can buy 1000 sheets at the chef’s store and the size is perfect. I bake on them and freeze food in between them.
What is your favorite kitchen tip?
When it comes to actual cooking, just try it! The worst that happens is its bad. It’s just food.
Save everything no matter how small. That’s how to learn to repurpose leftovers.
When it comes to leftovers from dinner, I go ahead and make my plate for the next day and cover it with plastic wrap. That way, I don’t have to pull all the different tupperwares out to make my lunch the next day; it is already made for me!
I use a food processor to grate a ton of cheese at once and freeze it in any size freezer ziplock you want. It tastes so much better than store bought grated cheese!
Many of you do not know this, but mom is also where I learned to freeze all the foods! She is the freezer queen. Where did you learn this?
My mom taught me a lot of it! And lots of trial and error. Sour cream was a fail. Freezes fine in a recipe! Not by itself.
If you could offer one piece of advice to young moms feeling tired and overwhelmed, what would it be?
You know… I’m 61 years old and the entire phase of having kids and taking care of them feels like a blur. It goes by in a blink! All I can say is: Enjoy your kids. Don’t stress things that don’t matter (and what matters to you might be different than what matters to me). Your house doesn’t need to be pristine, nor do your meals. Also, the level of health has gotten very intense. I eat healthy, but this was not something I deeply stressed about when the kids were young. We had prepackaged everything to make packing lunches easier: mini oreos and teddy grahams and fruit gummies and dunkaroos. The children’s friends loved my pantry. I aimed to cook dinner most nights, but didn’t stress about everything the kids ate.
Do you have any cooking philosophies or quotes that have shaped how you feed yourself or your family?
Hmmm, I don’t have a quote but as for philosophy: cooking and feeding people is how I show I love and care for them. I consider it my joy and my ministry.
And there you have it! Thank you so much to my mom for taking the time to think through and answer those questions. That was so fun for me and I learned some things I didn’t know. I hope it was helpful and encouraging to you all.