Everyone has bad days—even upbeat, energetic people like myself. But I’m especially blessed with the support of all my fans when I need a little pick-me-up. People from all over the world have sent me notes saying how I’ve touched their lives. Some folks thank me for inspiring them to cook, some tease me for inspiring them to eat, and one woman even credited my Gooey Butter Cake for savin’ her marriage (God only knows). Every letter and email humbles me—how a southern girl from a small town in Georgia could influence anybody to do anything other than drop a heapin’ spoonful of sugar into their tea just blows my mind.
Course, nothing is more inspiring than the letters I get from my littlest fans—kids who enjoy cookin’ as much as I do. They are truly amazing. Take 5-year-old Danica, for example. That little darlin’ used Paula Deen’s My First Cookbook to make her momma and aunties a memorable birthday dinner of pigs in a blanket and cheese quesadillas!
Another 5-year-old, Carter, chooses the Food Network over cartoons! Before he knew my name, he told his momma that the “Finger Licker” was his favorite cook (guilty as charged). When Carter turned 3, instead of asking for toys, he wanted cooking utensils. His momma obliged and set him up with an apron, rolling pin, measuring cups and spoons, a chef’s outfit and his very own spatula. A man after my own heart.
But one of the most touching letters I’ve ever received was from a little boy named Seth. His momma told me that the first cake he ever baked was a coconut cake for his daddy on Father’s Day. But Seth came into cooking out of necessity. He was only 9 when his momma got real sick. To help out, he started cooking supper for the family—simple things like Sloppy Joe’s and spaghetti. He’d entertain his momma by standing on his little stool at the stove and talkin’ like me. Together they watched my cooking shows and picked out the recipes they’d make when his momma got better. By the grace of God, she did and they’ve been cookin’ together ever since.
Then I just received this treasure in the mail the other week. Little Molly drew this picture, sort of a self-portrait, of herself watching my show. It’s deeply touching to receive these letters. They warm my heart, and they remind me of the drawings that Jamie and Bobby use to make for me. There’s a place on every mother’s refrigerator for pictures like this.
So on those days when I wake up on the wrong side of the bed (albeit the right side of the dirt), I’m inspired by kids like Danica, Carter, Seth and Molly—their passion for cooking and their enthusiasm for life. Sure, they’re just getting started in both arenas, but in a lot of ways, they’re further along than most of us.
I’m so blessed to have a cheerleading section filled with kids like these that I just had to share their stories with y’all. And if you have a special little chef in your life, please share their story too. ‘Cause if I’ve learned anything in all my years, it’s that children don’t cook with just ingredients—they cook with their hearts. It’s a lesson we all could benefit from.