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When I look back at my childhood, one thing that is glaring to me, is the blessing I was given to have grown up in a household that valued the art, love and pure joy of cooking. But trust me when I say that cooking can come in many forms and the one I have experienced was (and still is) in the form of connection

It wasn’t until my teenage years and really into my early 20’s that I began to explore cooking and getting creative in the kitchen. It was then that I started to realize the various tips, tricks and recipes, (which, to be honest, were really just ingredient lists and “guestimates” when it came to appropriate proportions) that I had picked up on as a kid, watching my Dad cook meal after meal. It felt as though I had an innate, almost intuitive, skill when it came to knowing my way around the kitchen and putting together a meal. While many first experience feelings of intimidation, I felt freedom. I saw the opportunity to explore and connect with new flavors, to try new styles and to create something from the ground up. Cooking became a way to connect with places I had never been and cultures I had never experienced. And yes, of course, I understand that there are likely drastic differences between the dishes I’m cooking up when compared to an authentic Vietnamese or Mexican meal for example, but that’s besides the point. The physical action of creation increases my feelings of connection to the places I’m drawing inspiration from within my dishes.

Cooking not only spans cultures but it also spans generations. How many of us have a family recipe from Great Grandma Judy (or Grandpa, you get the point!) that has been passed down generation after generation? Maybe it’s been upgraded to a laminated document or has even even made its way into an electronic format but the recipe itself has remained untouched and has allowed for great grandchildren to feel connected to a family member they may never have had the opportunity to meet. I myself am lucky enough to have access to a handful of recipes from my Grandmother. The recipes themselves often make their way onto the holiday spread in my family and it not only helps me to feel connected to a grandparent that has passed but it sparks a bit of wonderment. “What was it like spending a day in the kitchen with my grandma?” “What recipes did my dad or my aunt most enjoy growing up, made from the hands of Elvira (grandma)?” “What was her favorite thing to cook?” “How did she even come up with this recipe?” All of these thoughts pursue a deeper connection between myself, my family and our family history.

How else can cooking bring about connection? Have you ever considered the impact of simply sitting around the dinner table with loved ones to enjoy a meal? The act of connecting over food can strengthen one’s sense of community, closeness, purpose, and intimacy. Whether you’re setting aside time to enjoy a meal out with your partner or it’s family pizza night with a round up from each kid about their day at school, I encourage you not to underestimate the impact of enjoying food together. 

While I may have frequently been the embarrassed teenager with the smelly lunch (what teenager wouldn’t be), looking back, how lucky was I to have grown up in a home that values food as nourishment and as a way to connect? Cooking has taught me the importance of allowing yourself to try new things, of fueling your body and most importantly, being in the kitchen has taught me the importance of connection with those I love. My hope is that we all can experience the love of cooking and the connection that comes with it and so, I want to offer a few takeaways to get your started. 

  • Schedule out at least one night a week with your family (whether that’s just a partner, kids or even if you’re flying solo) to cook together and eat around the table, distraction-free (yes, phones, TV, iPads, they all go away). 

  • If you have kids, invite them to help you in the kitchen as much as possible. Whether that’s helping to chop the vegetables, wash the lettuce or even set the table, I can say with almost 100% certainty that they’ll pick up on more than just the task at hand. 

  • If it’s not something you’re aware of, reach out to family members and inquire about any family recipes. You might be surprised by what you discover! 

  • Try to cook one meal a week that is not a recipe or dish you would consider to be “in your wheelhouse.” Maybe you crush Taco Tuesday or you’re known for making a mean Bolognese–that’s fantastic! But I challenge you to try recipes that you haven’t made before...dare I say they may even intimidate you? You might fail but you’ll always walk away with some sort of lesson. And if you’re anything like me, the athlete in you won’t take no for an answer so you’ll go back and try that recipe until you find success. 

It would feel almost negligent not to share some of my favorite family recipes so I’ll leave you with these. Happy cooking (and connecting)! 

Schnitzel Bites

Coming from a Czech/Austrian background in Chicago, this is a spinoff of a treasured Czech dinner which I’ve adapted as an appetizer. 


  • 1 ½ cup flour in a bowl

  • 1 pork tenderloin, sliced in half lengthwise then sliced into ¼” bite-sized pieces

  • 2 eggs, whisked in a bowl with:

    • 1 cup cream or half & half

    • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder

    • Dash of cayenne pepper

    • 2 cup seasoned bread crumbs

    • ½ cup Panko bread crumbs

    • ¾ cup grated parmesan cheese

  • 1 large cucumber, quartered lengthwise, then sliced into tiny bites

  • 8 oz. sour cream, mixed with a dash of salt, significant pepper

  • 2 teaspoon sugar

  • 3 Tablespoon vinegar

  • 2 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill


  1. Mix together sour cream, cucumber, dash of salt, significant pepper, and 1 Tablespoon dill. Refrigerate.

  2. Mix together breadcrumbs, panko, and parmesan.

  3. Season the pork with garlic powder, salt and pepper. Dredge each piece in the flour, then the egg wash, then coat with the breadcrumb mixture. 

  4. Fry over medium in olive oil and/or peanut oil. Drain on paper towels.

  5. When all pieces are cooked, arrange on a serving platter. Spoon a dollop of the cucumber and sour cream mixture on top of each bite.

  6. Garnish with fresh dill. 

Cream Cheese Kolacky [kuh-lah-chee]

A holiday sweet treat that often makes an appearance. And no, this is not a healthier version but taken straight out of my grandmother’s cookbook. The fun part is, the fillings can be swapped to suit your taste buds. Grab small cans of fruit filling (think apricot, blueberry, poppy seed, cherry etc.) at the store and you can easily make different varieties of kolacky.


  • x2 8 oz. packages of cream cheese

  • 2 egg yolks

  • 1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour

  • ½ teaspoon salt

  • ½ lb. butter

  • 4 (heaping) Tablespoons of sugar

  • 2 teaspoons baking powder


  1. Cream the cream cheese and butter (fancy way of saying mix the two together until you get a fluffy, smooth mixture).

  2. Add the egg yolks and mix well.

  3. Add the sugar and sifted dry ingredients. Mix well.

  4. Roll out your dough and cut with a small round cookie cutter.

  5. Top each round with a dollop of your various fruit spreads.

  6. Bake at 375ºF for 15 minutes.


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