Who taught you to love food?: Teresa Spyra
July 1st, 2010
07:00 PM ET
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A couple of weeks ago, we asked via iReport for your stories of that person, place, book, restaurant or dish that made you sit up and start to see food as more than just a three times a day chore. You eat every day, and you've got a story to share.

Every so often, we're sharing the most hunger-inducing and heartfelt ones right 'chere.

Read on for iReporter Teresa Spyra's story about how growing up eating "strange food" eventually became her mother’s lifeline:

"One of my earliest memories is walking hand in hand with my father in Seattle’s Asian district. We walked by windows of many oddly colored displays and foods I had never laid eyes on before. As we approached the corner there was a window display of cooked ducks. I asked my father what it was and he kindly explained that different people ate different things and it wasn’t bad or gross, just something we didn’t eat.

That day stuck with me when we were on the verge of being homeless and slaughtered our chickens, got strange food from the food bank and did what we could with the little we had.

As times changed and fortunes turned, we got back on our feet. My dad learned to bake bread and my mom learned to make inexpensive Latin foods. The dishes were many and our stomachs always full.

My father had the privilege to travel the world after the Vietnam War, and shared his food experiences with the rest of the family whenever possible. He spoke fluent Thai in a little restaurant where I had my first coconut soup and Thai curry, and he brought home Chinese foods that looked and smelled funny and we dared each other to eat.

As a child sometimes I was jealous of the packaged foods other children brought to school, but as an adult I began to fully appreciate the global food experience my father tried to give me.

As a freshman in college I found the majority of my friends from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and China. I let them take me to a Vietnamese restaurant and order for me. They were very surprised when I not only finished my durian fruit milk shake, but got a second one to go with my fiery hot meal.

This history, my global relationship with flavors, spices and a continual fearlessness to try new foods became not only my, but also my mother’s lifeline when she struggled with cervical cancer and multiple sclerosis. Her appetite disappeared and as she began to struggle more and more with her memory, she forgot to eat. I would call from work to remind her to not only eat, but feed the dog. Thirty minutes later I would call back to make sure she did actually eat something - she began to waste away in front of my eyes.

By accident, I found I could get her to eat if I cooked global foods, gourmet seasoned meats and high quality vegetables. My connection to food and cooking changed as I began to cook for flavor, health and also my own sanity between work, doctor appointments and managing everything else in between.

Cooking is now my escape. I cook to think, to clear away stress, to please others and to meditate. The spices are a pathway toward inner peace; the ingredients a canvass for expression emotion.

This morning I awoke with the stress I currently carry and headed straight for the kitchen. I began to create something new. I had little idea how to create this masterpiece, but knew if I just started I could throw off much of my anxiety.

I smashed a sweet potato, blended it with some millet, quinoa flour, hemp milk, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, vanilla, agave, egg and salt. I poured the mixture out onto a skillet and waited as each pour cooked. An hour later I had a plate full of sweet potato pancakes topped with fresh peaches and a Granny Smith apple. It was heaven and guilt-free."

Got a story to share? Using iReport, share written words, videos and luscious photos if need be, and we'll include our favorite responses in upcoming features.

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Filed under: Buzz • Food Love • iReport

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soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. TelcoPhil

    Well reading this was a waste of time.

    July 5, 2010 at 8:20 am |
  2. OhioMan

    Eating dolphins and whales? You have got to be kidding me when there are so many other meats that are raised for human consummation. You edge Japan on to commit such atrocities to fed your self worth? You've got to be kidding me.

    July 4, 2010 at 8:16 pm |
  3. exotic food lover

    So funny, I grew up eating stuff that 90% of american's wouldn't even look at let alone smell and taste it. Although born and raised in NYC, I've never developed a taste for sweets as a kid. I despise chocolate (urgh). I don't care much for american pastries but love asian pastries (just so much more flavorful). But I love my aunt's, cow tongue soup, my mom's sweet and sour chicken feet (meant more for a snack or desert), fish eyes soup, raw fish (sashimi), raw meat (armenian dish), whale and dolphin meat (thanks japan, keep it up).

    July 2, 2010 at 4:24 pm |
    • Almost with you

      Well exotic food lover, I was with you until you got to the whale and dolphin meat. While I personally would never touch anything on your list...I have had raw salmon (it was pretty good), I don't have a problem with the cow tongue soup or the chicken, and really even the fish if it's sustainably harvested. But I would encourage you to rethink your whale and dolphin choice. Both of these froups of animals are highly intelligent, live in social groups, reproduce slowly, and are wild (in the case of some specific species, are endangered). I think your comment encouraging Japan in the slaughter of those species in protected water is off base and needs consideration. While I would encourage you to keep on eating those strange foods you enjoy, I would encourage you to consider the animals that they come from and their role in the balance on this planet (and NO I am not some crazed, hippie, vegan, PETA/Greenpeace protestor – just someone trying to tread a little more softly on OUR planet).

      July 4, 2010 at 10:56 am |
      • oksunny

        I totally agree with you about NOT eating whale and dolphin meat....I mean, what is the point? There are hundreds of other dishes that taste just as good and dont advocate the brutal killing of such a beautiful and intelligent species. It is kind of like those people who get wild animals as pets....what is the point; just to feel cool????
        Quit eating whales/dolphins...just quit.

        July 4, 2010 at 11:39 am |
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