Trip to cooking show is a perfect recipe for encouragement

This column was originally published as part of my “From Where I Sit” series at in Towson Times.

“Lock your brakes,” the young woman instructed.

We had followed her from the line outdoors, through security, up the elevator, into the orange room, then the green room, to safely park in the eighth row of seating.

“This platform rotates,” she said before leaving to escort others.

With my wheelchair secured, my friend and I settled in, primping a bit. The confirmation letter suggested wearing bright colors — jewel tones were best — since the camera often showed the audience.

We became part of the set, transformed from viewers into props.

“I can’t believe we’re here!” I whispered as we studied the pie-shaped studio sections — one for crafting, one for entertaining and, of course, one for cooking. My friend invited me to the charity-auctioned trip she’d won to watch the woman whose style and skills inspired and changed my life: Rachael Ray.

In rehab after paralysis, I learned not only how to care for my changed body, but also how to adjust my daily living skills to accommodate my wheelchair.

“She never cooked before paralysis,” one family member joked when sessions for adaptive kitchen skills began. “I don’t know why she would start now,” he teased.

It was true. At that time in my life, cooking was a bother, a routine nuisance that plagued me daily.

“Now at least I have a good excuse!” I quipped back to my friend.

And I did. Even with modifications, my kitchen was not wheelchair-friendly — stovetop buttons too high, oven door too low, sink too deep and a refrigerator difficult to open.

Eleven years and a remodeled home later, my daughter introduced me to the Food Network. Its stars made cooking look easy and fun — especially Ray. Her casual, simple style invited me to cook; her passion for the home-cooked meal was contagious.

No recipe was too simple to break down — from dicing an onion to washing mushrooms; or too complicated to repeat — faithfully reciting every ingredient after each commercial break. Even with five pots working (and I only have four burners), she still made it look effortless.

Or at least, doable.

Armed with a laptop cutting board and RR’s orange-handled knives and cookware, I tackled her recipes with surprising success. Inspired, I created my own specialized Venn-diagram cooking style, preparing meals that intersect my family’s food preferences.

One loves South Beach recipes; another prefers Weight Watchers. My athletes require extra protein and complex carbs. Another is going raw, or at least vegan.

No one said cooking-to-please was easy, but it is rewarding!

At the show, it felt strange to be somewhere so foreign, yet so familiar. When Ray snuck in from a side entrance, I half expected her to give me a huge hug, welcoming me back to her cozy kitchen that I knew so well.

“Hey guys,” she said, sporting a brown fitted jacket with leather trim, leggings, boots and that charming spunk. “Any questions for me?”

“What’s your favorite meal to prepare?” someone asked.

“Depends on who is eating with me,” she replied without hesitation. “I like to make what pleases my guests.”


No wonder I like this woman so much. Granted, her 30-Minute Meals take me at least an hour to make. And the ingredients she recites from memory send me into note-taking mode.

But what requires neither time nor pen to track is her passion for cooking — that relentless enthusiasm for sharing meals as a way of showing she cares.