The Times West Virginian

August 31, 2011

The Fairmont chef

By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Summer picnic salads can be very tasty.

They can also be very unpredictable in the hot summer sun.

Not Shirley Stanton’s “Refreshing Cucumber Salad.”

“You can take this to a picnic and it wouldn’t make any difference if it sat out for a while,” she said. “You can eat it right out of the fridge or at room temperature. It doesn’t contain any mayonnaise, no vinegar, nothing that can spoil.

“That’s unusual for a picnic salad. You don’t have to put it in an ice chest.”

She got the recipe from “The Giant Book of Kitchen Counter Cures,” which lists recipes and nutrition information for 117 foods that help fight various illnesses.

The cucumber is low in saturated fat, and very low in cholesterol and sodium. It is also a good source of vitamin A, pantothenic acid, magnesium, phosphorus and manganese, and a very good source of vitamin C, vitamin K and potassium.

It has only 8 calories per 52-gram size serving, 0 grams of fat of any kind, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 1 milligram of sodium, 2 grams of total carbohydrates and 1 gram of sugar.

It provides 2 percent of vitamin C and 1 percent each of the daily vitamin A, calcium and iron requitements.

Even the cucumber peel is a good source of dietary fiber that helps reduce constipation and offers some protection against colon cancers.

It is a very good source of potassium, an important intra-cellular electrolyte. Potassium is a heart friendly electrolyte, and helps reduce blood pressure and heart rates by countering effects of sodium.

It contains unique antioxidants in good ratios such as ß-carotene and a-carotene, zeaxanthin and lutein. These compounds help act as protective scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that play a role in aging and various disease process.

Cucumbers have a mild diuretic property, probably due to their high water content, which helps in checking weight gain and high blood pressure.

Cucumbers also have a high amount of vitamin K, which has been found to have a potential role in bone strength by promoting osteotrophic (bone mass building) activity. It also has an established role in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease patients by limiting neuronal damage in their brain.

Stanton also collects cookbooks, but has one author-chef she loves in particular: Julia Child.

She not only has all of Child’s cookbooks, but she met and took a cooking class with the legendary chef.

“I’d watch her on TV and fell madly in love with her recipes,” Stanton said. “I just cook everything Julia Child: from my potato soup to Thanksgiving turkey.

“If you read any of the new books about her, you’d know how much fun she was and her sense of humor. When she dropped her chicken on the floor ... everybody knows that joke. Watching all those shows in the 1960s, I just knew I had to cook everything she cooked.

“And this all started with ‘The French Chef.’ Almost all of her recipes originate from her French schooling. I never ever cooked anything from one of her cookbooks that wasn’t delicious.”

Her in-laws bought her a cookbook Child’s husband, Paul, had signed. But this wasn’t the closest she’d get to the TV icon.

Stanton’s husband, Pat, gave her the surprise of her life for their 40th wedding anniversary with a trip to Venice. But the trip wasn’t the end of the gift.

He got her in a cooking class led by no one other than Julia Child herself.

“What a surprise! It was a wonderful experience. There were only 30, 40 people in class. We all ate together at the hotel what she’d taught us to cook that day. And we all switched to eat at her table. She was just as friendly as she could be.”

Stanton cooked a sole dish with sauce, beef in red wine sauce, chicken in white sauce, vegetables and dessert.

“She was an excellent teacher. She was very clean and controlled the kitchen. We in the audience could see everything she was doing with her hands. She had a charming personality and joked and told stories. You felt you knew her.”

Stanton cooks a lot, especially on weekends, she said, when she makes meals for the coming week.

“I cook potato soup at least once a week. It’s the best potato soup you can imagine.”

Both their sons, George Patrick III and Edward Scott, are attorneys.

“Scott also loves to cook. I guess he caught that from me,” she said with a smile.

Holidays mean special meals at the Stanton house, all courtesy of the French Chef herself. Like whole filet baked in dough. Turkey stuffed with cooked carrots and onions, and gravy made from red wine, pan drippings and cooked giblets.

“It is delicious. And anybody can do this,” Stanton said.

“I am an everyday kind of cook. I also like to bake pies and cakes. I never learned to bake bread, though, but I keep trying. I’m not used to working with yeast so I never got the hang of that.”

She enjoys cooking.

“But I don’t know why. I feel very creative when I’m cooking. But I don’t invent recipes often. I am very religious about following recipes exactly as they’re written. For special occasions, I go to Julia Child. I have all her volumes and can find what I want.”

While she doesn’t mess with a successful recipe, she intuitively knows what will work out and what won’t.

“One of my talents is reading a recipe and knowing how it will turn out. I can imagine it. I’ve never tried a recipe that I threw down the drain.”

She and her younger brother Ted started cooking when they were young living in Shinnston, she said.

“We’d go to the grocery store, get some chicken or hamburger or steaks, go home and cook it. We also baked pies together. One time we dropped a cherry pie on the floor. Ted just called it ‘cherry glop’ and we ate it anyway. We got along really well.”

The contest for September is tailgating food. To be featured on the “My Favorite Recipe” page, contact Debbie Wilson at 304-367-2549 or dwilson@timeswv.com.

Email Debra Minor Wilson at dwilson@timeswv.com.