The Times West Virginian

September 19, 2012

Sweet enough

By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — If you like something sweet, Jessi Polis has the cake for you.

Her orange cream cheese pound cake is light, refreshing and just sweet enough to satisfy those cravings.

This cake is her husband Sam’s favorite, she said.

“And if I had to bring a dessert some place, this would be it.

“My mom has a recipe for cranberry orange pound cake. She makes a rum butter sauce to pour over it. It makes it like a holiday. It’s so good.”

“I cook a lot,” she said. “Four of us live here. Right now, we’re leaning toward the healthy side of things. Each week, I try to do something different.”

For that night’s supper, she was preparing vegetarian meat loaf for the first time.

“You use lentils instead of meat. You grind them up and then season it similar to original meat loaf.”

She also likes to bake, she said.

“If I have time. I feel like baking requires you to allow yourself time to sift things and wait. I don’t like to bake when I’m rushed.

“When I anticipate to bake something, I make sure I have the allotted amount of time so I don’t feel rushed. If you rush baking, you don’t get the same good results.

“I think my mom passed on the importance of taking time when you bake. If you don’t sift your flour, it doesn’t come out right. If your butter and eggs don’t come to room temperature, it doesn’t come out right.

“That’s why I say you have to have time. If you just want to make it all of a sudden, you couldn’t because those things are in the refrigerator.

“When you’re making a meal, you can make the kind you want based on the amount of time you have. That makes it a little bit easier. Baking is more of an effort. With dinner, you can just throw some things in there.”

She likes to entertain friends.

“I like to make good meals,” she said. “I like having people over dinner. This summer we did a lot of grilled romaine and tomatoes. One week we had leek and potato casserole. We do pasta once a week. This week we had lemon and avocado sauce on the pasta. It was really good. And we usually do a big salad once a week.

“In the summer, we do a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables. In the winter, we do a lot of stews and chilis.”

She’s not the only good cook in her family, she said.

“My younger brother, Corey Johnson, is an excellent cook as well.”

Her parents heavily influenced her cooking skills.

“My mom, Melanie Johnson, is an amazing cook. She doesn’t do anything that’s processed. She’s still making her spaghetti and lasagna. There were six of us growing up. She made all our meals homemade from scratch.

“My dad, Jack, is the biscuit maker. He says, ‘This is easy. You just do this, this and this.’ And his biscuits turn out tall and fluffy.”

Hers, not so much, she said.

“I have not learned to make them. So we have frozen biscuits. But I can make other things.

“I like to give myself a challenge of making healthy meals. Sometimes it’s easier to make things that are not so healthy. So when I go grocery shopping, I try to figure out what kind of meals to have this week from what produce is available.

“I do this for health reasons. it’s good for you. And it also support the local community because you’re using local produce.”

When they lived on the South Carolina coast, fresh seafood was almost a staple.

“We had a friend who would fish and gig. He’d spear flounder and bring us fresh flounder. Or they have stands down there where you can get fresh fish. We liked to grill or score and broil it in the oven.”

She calls her parents “the food pushers.”

“When you go to their house, they’re gonna feed you. And not just a little bit. There will be a lot of food. They put on a great spread. I learned hospitality and presentation from them, to make a meal look nice.

“I make sure there’s plenty of food, make sure it’s good food, and I go that extra mile. I make people feel like we’re treating them. Not out of pride, but we work hard to make things nice. And they appreciate that. People can tell when you’ve gone the extra mile.

“To the best of your ability, you have to make people nice things when they come to your house, to make them feel welcome and make them feel honored.”

She’s a big fan of eating healthy.

“If you eat healthy food, you feel better. We eat bad stuff sometimes, but not that often because once you eat healthy-healthy for a while, you really feel different when you don’t.

“So we predominately eat oatmeal, fruits and vegetables. We had tabouli (a salad traditionally made of bulgur, tomatoes, finely chopped parsley, mint, onion and garlic) for lunch all week. And I made power balls of oats and peanut butter and dried bananas, rolled into a ball. That makes a good snack.”

She’s in the right neck of the woods for her favorite food: spaghetti.

“I don’t know how to make sauce, though,” she said. “My husband makes wonderful meatballs. His favorite thing is cheeseburger.

“This week we had vegetarian chili with corn bread,” she said. “I use turkey bacon or lean chicken. We grilled chicken last week. We just lean toward a healthier choice. You have to put more time in it. You have to shop a little bit different. But once you get into the habit, it’s a lot easier to do.”

Beginning Wednesday, Oct. 3, through December, Take 5 wants to share your fall and holiday family traditions. For more information, contact Debbie Wilson at 304-367-2549 or dwilson@

Email Debra Minor Wilson at