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A Chef James, FoodReference.com interview with Randi ‘The Muffin Lady’ Levin , author of ’Baking At High Altitude’ and ‘Sharing Mountain Recipes Cookbook’ September, 2006
CHEF JAMES: Randi, when and how did you become interested in cooking? Did you cook growing up?
RANDI/THE MUFFIN LADY: I was first introduced to the magical world of baking in my Grandmother’s kitchen long before I could read or write. By the time I entered Kindergarten, I was already altering Easy Bake oven recipes with additions such as Sugar Pops Cereal, raisins, M&M’s, what ever I could find that tasted good. My other Grandmother instilled in me the goodness of cooking homemade soups and stews. These 2 lovely women taught me not just the basics, but how to add a pinch of this, an extra spoonful of that and to never skimp on the ingredients and to use the freshest foods available.
Although I did not cook very much until I left home and attended college, I was always requested to bake something for friends or family. More often than not, while still a little girl in grade school, I would arrive home and find my Mother’s friends and neighbors around a round table playing Canasta or Ma Joungg. These “Lovely Ladies” would basically command me to bake a batch of Chocolate Chip Cookies for them, before I even put my books down. Sometimes I think back to those days and find it amazing that these same ‘Lovely Ladies” continued to make these same commands decades later, whenever I would go back east for a visit.
CHEF JAMES: What made you decide to write a cookbook?
RANDI/THE MUFFIN LADY: The women who taught me how to cook and bake also taught me that knowledge is for sharing not hoarding, and the time had come to finally answer years of questions relative to avoiding concave cakes, flat cookies, raw sunken muffins, tough and dry roasts, etc. Additionally requests for this and that recipes were endless so for purposes of sharing and answering the requests and questions I sat down upon advice of a friend and wrote a cookbook, published it myself (somehow) and since the responses and the thank yous’ have been wonderful and very exciting
CHEF JAMES: Did you look to other cookbooks for inspiration?
RANDI/THE MUFFIN LADY: Nope, I used my heart, my palate, and as many know I was lucky enough to inherit my Grandmother’s tin box full of cherished recipes. Many of her recipes are now golden and amber newspaper or magazine clippings, index cards and pages of folded up paper covered with words and measurements that truly do produce some of the best foods one could taste. These older pages and papers elicit the tastes of memories, the tastes of good and wholesome foods and the many good times had and fun filled bellies yet to come.
CHEF JAMES: What was most enjoyable about the process of writing 'Sharing Mountain Recipes'?
RANDI/THE MUFFIN LADY: The sharing of a part of me, the giggles from the memories and of course the tastes of many foods that I had not prepared or tasted for a long time. To be able to share information and help others, is what I find to be the most enjoyable part of writing.
CHEF JAMES: How do you organize your recipes in your kitchen at home? On a computer, recipe cards, scraps of paper?
RANDI/THE MUFFIN LADY: Ahh, what a dangerous question, organization HUH????. Ah you must mean the dysfunctional kind often attributed to artists and those considered to be a bit too brainy. In answer anything and everything I can possibly write them down upon, until I have them practiced enough, tweaked a bit, and then I usually type them up. I have been known to think of a new recipe in the car while driving at 80 MPH, then pull over and write it down on what ever I can find, including on the back of CD cases, cigarette packs, dog food bags, newspapers, junk mail, even bills occasionally. Once I even used a tee shirt, which was on my X’s back at the time. For me, playing around with new recipes is similar to playtime at recess, I have fun and if a new idea comes to mind, I know that I must do something with it before I forget it!
CHEF JAMES: What are your favorite cooking gadgets?
RANDI/THE MUFFIN LADY: A plain old 3 inch wide, 4 inch long rubber spatula. Great invention, and works with almost everything. It scrapes, tosses, turns, mixes etc etc. I would be lost without one.