Catawba College Communication Arts Lecturer Cyndi Allison Wittum was the designated dishwasher when she was growing up because she always burned the food.
"I put Pop Tarts in the toaster," said Wittum. "I ducked around the corner to watch cartoons. The corner of one of the breakfast pastries caught in the edge of the toaster, and my Pop Tarts were scorched black."
After Wittum completed her undergraduate degree at N.C. State University, she worked for a year to earn money to go to graduate school. She was hired to serve as a group home manager for mentally handicapped women in Mocksville, NC.
"I loved that job," remembered Wittum. "I didn't have a clue about how to run a household, but the ladies at the home didn't care. We had a gas card and a van, and I took my ladies everywhere. We went to the library, to fairs, festivals, plays, and to the mountains."
Wittum learned to cook at the group home.
"The board asked a lot of questions during the interview, but no one thought to ask if I could cook," said Wittum. "I guess they thought any Southern girl would know her way around a kitchen."
Wittum was expected to cook three meals a day as part of her duties at the group home. She checked out cookbooks at the library, called her mom on the phone, and experimented with the supplies in the kitchen.
"We had some awful meals for a while," said Wittum. "But the ladies didn't complain. When a pie didn't 'set,' I'd chop it up and call it cobbler, and everyone would tell me it was good."
By the time Wittum went on to graduate school at Southern Methodist University, she was a pretty good cook, and she continued to hone her skills.
"I discovered that other students would buy the food if someone could make a home-cooked meal," said Wittum. "Fellow students would call me and ask if I'd grill steak or bake a roast with potatoes and carrots."
Wittum completed her graduate degree, married and had two sons. As a military spouse, she lived in various cities across the United States, and in Greece and Japan. She learned new cooking techniques and played around with new dishes.
"The first time my older son saw a canned biscuit, he didn't know it was a biscuit," said Wittum. "I told him it was a biscuit, but he said that it didn't taste like a biscuit. I think my boys are spoiled when it comes to food. We do eat out occasionally, but I usually cook at home."
Wittum never thought about writing in the cooking and food arena. She began freelance writing professionally 15 years ago, but she considered cooking a hobby. She wrote on many topics ranging from gardening and parenting to software development and high tech communication applications, but she didn't write on kitchen topics.
Garden and Hearth.com put out a request for writers, and Wittum looked over the topics. She noticed that the site owners wanted coverage of barbeque. North Carolina is BBQ country, so Wittum decided to apply for the position.
Wittum began covering outdoor cooking and then added a second space at Garden and Hearth with Southern recipes. She was promoted to a senior editor position to work with other online writers at the site and then was recruited to cover cooking at Suite 101 and at Consumer Help Web.
"I became a food writer when I wasn't looking," said Wittum. "It wasn't something I thought about. I shared a few ideas and recipes on grilling, and then I started getting e-mails asking how to thicken beans."
Wittum continues to write on modern communication, technology and software, but she carves out some time to share recipes, kitchen tips and to keep online readers abreast of the latest food news.
"It's relaxing to chat about new recipes and ideas for entertaining," said Wittum. "If I'd been born to an earlier generation, I'd probably be talking to my neighbors over the fence. In the new information age, I talk to many neighbors from many countries and share what I've learned about cooking. I also hear from home food enthusiasts. I'm just an e-mail away, and I'll click and find that someone wants to give me a favorite family recipe or would like my advice on buying a charcoal smoker."
Recipes by Cyndi Allison Wittum
Cyndi Allison Wittum's Cooking Websites