After a two-month hiatus, The Mission Inn re-opened for business this past weekend. Though it was nice to have an extended period of downtime, we really missed the energy and laughter of the kitchen, the heartbeat of every bed and breakfast. Laura sat with our very own Chef Leslie to celebrate our re-opening and to talk about how she spent her time off.
How did you spend your time off?
I was touched by the many stories of people who were affected by the loss of loved ones due to COVID. To learn of so many who were alone and scared broke my heart. I decided to do what I could do in my community to be of help. My talent leads to cooking, so with my mom’s help, we identified people, older mostly, in need of home-cooked meals. Some were ill, while others had spouses that were unable to take care of themselves. So, during my time off, I was lucky to be able to provide meals to people who really needed them.
Did you have any help?
My mom handled all the communications and coordinated the delivery schedule. My dad and I delivered the food together which allowed us to spend quality time doing something meaningful in our community. It was, and still is, a fun and rewarding experience.
How did you decide the meals that you delivered?
I really just prepared meals I would make for my own parents. For example, the homemade chicken pot pies shown above. And just like at the inn, if anyone had any specific dietary issues, they would tell me and I would make sure to accommodate their needs. Everyone was just so grateful to have a home-cooked meal. The need is still there, especially for older people who are isolated because of COVID. We think about the nursing homes but so many older Americans are still living in their own homes, living in isolation and it is very hard.
Do you have a favorite dish you like to prepare?
Not really. I am blessed to have my parents and my partner, Robert, that really appreciate my cooking. And my friends too, who really appreciate whatever I make. Having access to the freshest seafood and a wide variety of locally grown produce gives me a lot of options, which makes me happy and allows me to be creative in the kitchen.
What is your most fun cooking memory?
March 4th was Read Across America Day and I always cooked green eggs and ham for my kindergarteners. I had some kids who ate four helpings! Cooking for my students and my fellow teachers was a highlight of my 35 years as a teacher.
Who inspired your love of cooking?
I grew up in a house with my great-grandmother, Nana, and she was the best cook ever. I always wanted to be like her. She was a real renaissance woman and had a garden, and raised her own chickens, and snapper turtles. She canned all of her own food and her shelves were always stocked with food from the garden. We walked home from school at lunchtime every day and she would have our lunch ready for us. She was also a professional seamstress and she would make clothes for the women in the community.
Any cooking tips for beginners?
Start out with something you really like and build on that, whether it’s baking, grilling, or whatever.