Cooking With Myra: Food at the Starkey house

May 22, 2012 at 12:22 a.m.

Cheryl's Banana Muffins with Almond Flour  (gluten free)

Cheryl's Banana Muffins with Almond Flour (gluten free)

Editor's note: John Russell grew up eating at my house as his Mom, Janet, and I are very good friends. He wrote this column as a favor for me.

By John Russell for Myra Starkey

You may not know me, but if you've followed this column, I guarantee you've heard of my mother, Janet. It's hard to tell a story about Myra Starkey without mentioning the woman putting in more than a few hours behind the scenes. I've spent the past 20 years in awe of what these women can do when they work together, and I hope someday they decide to tackle world hunger. Banana French toast for all.

Russell/Starkey projects - from the tiniest supper club to the largest wedding - have always been frequent, and I spent hours in the Starkey home as a little boy. I might have complained, but the food was too good. Myra Starkey transforms the act of eating - merely survival at my house - into a delight.

Now, I'm not insulting my mother's cooking; it can be very good when she has the time. That doesn't often happen. My mother is that rare person who helps with everything, from unloading boxes to driving friends to and from the hospital, and Lord knows she doesn't have hours for the kitchen. I was always fed, but our dinners were simple combinations of protein, vegetable and starch: the basics and little more.

Food at the Starkey house, however, is a bit different.

Ribs braised with apple jelly. Crawfish etouffee. Pan-seared scallops in a cayenne cream sauce. Is your mouth watering? Mine is. It starts on the car ride over to dinner at the Starkey's, just anticipating the spread that Myra has waiting for us.

She makes the kind of food that violates every diet plan in existence, but you can't help a second serving of the carb-filled, dairy-drowned calorie explosion. And the desserts? You won't find much without a stick of butter and a pound of sugar.

But you'll still go for thirds, because you checked all your calorie considerations at the door. Diets have no place in Myra's kitchen.

You can imagine after a semester of canned soup at Baylor and a weekend of granola bars, I was excited when the Starkey's invited my family to Sunday dinner.

I drove over expecting pork loin, scalloped potatoes or squash drowned in butter. We walked in the door, turned into the kitchen. What did I see?

Kale. There was a mountain of kale resting greenly on the kitchen counter, next to sliced tomatoes, zucchini, tiny tuna steaks and a bowl of yellow, stringy stuff they told me was spaghetti squash. I was shocked, hoping to find a bowl of pasta somewhere on the premises. No such luck. Nothing so carb-laden would appear that evening.

Why was this? The B family (mutual friends of the Starkeys and ours) were in town for a friend's wedding, and their diet is a bit unusual. Sunday was their last night in Victoria, and Cheryl B decided to show us all how she cooks, which is very, very healthy.

Now, we return to the kale. Do you want to know what the Bs do with it? They bake, salt and eat it like popcorn. Spaghetti squash replaces actual spaghetti. Tuna is allowed, but you wont find steak or pork on Cheryl's table. Bread and sugar are strictly banned. Dessert is dark chocolate with chili pepper.

Nevertheless, the surprise of the evening wasn't health food in the Starkey house. As a 21-year-old boy, still in college, I was most surprised by this: it was all delicious. The zucchini and tomato salad, the peppers stuffed with goat cheese, the tuna, and even the baked kale almost evaporated from the plates. Everything was fresh, flavorful, and - to my amazement - filling. I found myself enjoying the type of food I associate with size zero sorority girls.

Now, I won't say I enjoyed this food more than a bacon bleu cheeseburger. I can't honestly say that about much of anything. But this meal was delicious, and I was not disappointed. I wish I could have stayed for banana nut muffins made with almond flour (another new discovery), but based on this experience, I may venture into the kitchen and figure out how to make them on my own.

Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or e-mail



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