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04/09/2010

Meet Suzan!

Before this weekend’s Edible World: Sunday Supper and Family Lore, meet our guest author, Suzan Colón!


suzancolonc2a9adriankinlochOver the last few years we have all been so concerned with getting through this recession that it has been difficult to reflect on the many ways it has affected our lives. My home state of Michigan has seen unemployment more then double over the last two years. Though reading this grim statistic could lead me to think otherwise, not all of the recent changes have been negative. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported a rise in the volunteer rate among people with full time employment, and community colleges surveyed by the American Association of Community Colleges reported a rise in enrollment last year from 2% to 27%.


Many people are dealing with their job loss by reinventing themselves professionally. They face the hard times head on by “putting up soup”, the motto of author Suzan Colón’s charismatic grandmother. I recently spoke to Ms. Colón about her book Cherries in Winter: My Family’s Recipe for Hope in Hard Times and about the changes she has made since being laid off from her dream job at a magazine in 2008. Prior to our conversation, I did not exactly lack for hope that the stories I had heard of personal reinvention were true, but it was inspiring to speak with someone who so clearly has embraced the changes in her life brought about by the recession.


Suzan told me that there are two types of challenges, those you take on by choice and those plopped in your lap, which you then have no choice but to take on. Suzan stated that she knew getting laid off was a possibility, and this knowledge gave her a chance to plan for such an outcome. She said that accepting her position was a large part of moving forward, and that it gave her the resilience to deal with the challenges and explore opportunities presented by her new situation.


Our conversation led me to consider how in my own life I am often been dragged towards change, usually by forces beyond my control, kicking and screaming. I seem to willfully forget each time the surprising discoveries I make when walking into a foreign situation. I asked Suzan if she was able to find unexpected pleasures in her life resulting from her job loss and she unhesitatingly replied, yes, cooking. Suzan’s family tree is overflowing with chefs, but she never found the time to learn how to cook. An overbooked schedule led Suzan, like many of us, to resort to eating out for most of her meals.


Shortly after being laid off, Suzan, at her mother’s urging, rediscovered her nana’s recipe folder, tucked away in a cardboard box in the basement. The next few months were spent testing these family recipes on her husband, who she sympathetically claimed was at her mercy, and then documenting the experience. Suzan immersed herself within this new life and emerged after a few months with a wonderful book, Cherries in Winter, and a much better chef. She claims that the culinary breakthrough finally came when she prepared her grandfather’s specialty, Chicken Pie à la Mississippi. Upon tasting the first bite, Suzan’s husband exclaimed rapturously, “This is the best thing you have ever made.”


As someone whose passion for family history is paralleled only by a love of food, I find Suzan’s journey through her family’s recipe book undeniably absorbing. Cherries in Winter generously shares this journey with readers, and makes me long for a Sunday supper around her family’s table. I asked Suzan for a preview of what such a supper would have been like, and she said that her grandfather would have made a simple, well-prepared meal of potatoes and corned beef. The scene would have been a raucous one, with everyone gathered around the table laughing hysterically.


This Sunday, First Person Arts is inviting visitors to more intimately experience a meal with Suzan Colón at our event Edible World: Sunday Supper and Family Lore. Suzan will join us for dinner at Bridget Foy’s restaurant; she will be reading excerpts from Cherries in Winter as guests enjoy a special menu based on her family recipes.


Speaking with Suzan and hearing her stories has encouraged me to look at the ways the recession impacted my own life. I recently returned to school with the hope gaining new direction, and searching through boxes in my family’s own basement resulted in the discovery of old text books from my fathers attempt at professional reinvention during the recession of the 1970’s. Dealing with challenges becomes an exercise in expansive thinking. This Sunday, I will enjoy listening to Suzan share a book that succeeds not because it offers readers an escape from the current economic crisis, but rather because it suggests that there is a possibility of accepting it and responding to it.


– Sarah Crawford

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