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Our Food Columnists!

Welcome to our amazing food project! We have a team of folks dedicated to creativity in the kitchen. For more information on our regularly featured bloggers please look below.

Laura Lehman Amstutz

Laura Amstutz

Laura Lehman Amstutz is a 2003 Bluffton University (then College) grad with a BA in Communication and a minor in writing. She graduated in 2006 from Eastern Mennonite Seminary (EMS). Now she is the seminary communication coordinator and associate director of admissions for EMS. In her spare time she comes up with ways to give herself a longer title. She also is part of the leadership team at The Table Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Va., she gives spiritual direction, and she and her husband own a furniture store called Downtown Fine Furniture (visit the website!). “Growing up mealtimes were practically religion in my family, even today my family can’t get together without food. My husband and I don’t generally eat together in quite the same way, but for me all food is comfort food. At the end of a long day I want nothing more than to eat a good meal.”

Karen Bontrager-Walton
Karen graduated from Bluffton College in May of 2004 (the last year it was a college) with a major in English. She married Zachary Walton in July of 2004 and moved to Carbondale, Illinois for Z to begin graduate studies. Not coincidently, he was at Southern Illinois University at the same time as Ben Myers. Karen and Z were frequently dinner guests of the Myers’ where Karen found herself thinking: “I wish I could pull off dinners like Abby!” You see, Karen’s cooking skills were sorely lacking. Growing up, Karen’s mother hated cooking — and so Mother Bontrager made meals that required the least amount of thought and/or enthusiasm. As a result, Karen never learned to cook.
During the early married years, Karen relied on the MCC “More with Less Cookbook” (aka “More or Less Cookbook”) to make healthy/frugal recipes that were quite tasty and generally quite simple. However, in 2006, Karen decided to further her own education, and so cooking was relegated to the back burner (har har). Eating became a cycle of Chinese take-out, Little Ceasar’s $5 pizza, and cereal — with nary a vegetable in sight. Of course, such a diet is bound to catch up with any person, but it caught up to Karen in the form of food allergies.
Since moving back to Bluffton in July 2009 (Z is a professor at Bluffton), Karen found herself spending more and more time at work in the evenings (and less and less time at home). She decided to cut back on her work hours in order to spend more time enjoying life. In fact, she finds that cooking is an awesome way to unwind after work.
Karen counts Martha Stewart (don’t judge!) as one of her cooking influences because of the emphasis on local, naturally grown “whole” foods. Because of food allergies, dishes in the Waltrager household frequently avoid wheat, dairy, soy, and eggs — which can be a challenge! Karen loves to infuse flavor using spices, herbs, the generous addition of curry, and/or wine to just about anything. She also enjoys finding sneaky ways of adding vegetables and fruits to otherwise unsuspecting dishes.
She sees this blogging adventure as a kick in the pants to invite more people over for dinner.

Alicia Miller

Alicia Miller in her kitchen

Alicia graduated from Bluffton University in 2006 with a bachelors degree in English and a Writing Minor. Three months later, she married her college sweetheart and moved to the great city of Chicago. After her first year of adjusting to marriage, a full time job at an insurance company and going out to eat ALL the time, Alicia found herself with lots of “chub” on her waistline and not a lot of money in the bank. This inspired her to get fit and start cooking at home. While she by no means thinks of herself as a good or even decent cook, Alicia sets out to accomplish the difficult task of creating filling, hearty dishes that are generous to the tastebuds but are still within a reasonable amount of calories. Alicia invites you to celebrate her victories and laugh at her shortcomings as she attempts to create the perfect comfort dishes for entries on the first Wednesday of each month. An Insurance Underwriter by day, Spinning Instructor by early evening, and wannabe housewife/cook/blogger by night, this Blufton alum foodie will demonstrate what exactly goes into a true 30-minute meal.

Abby Curtis Myers
Abby graduated from Bluffton in 2003 with a bachelors in religion. She married her high school sweetheart (Ben Myers) the summer before her senior year, and that is when her adventures in cooking began. After moving and supporting Ben in grad school in Southern Illinois, they had their son, Henry, born in 2006. Ben received his PhD in 2007 and got his first post-school job in South Carolina, where the family now lives and plays. Abby works hard as a stay at home mom to their little boy. Abby says that: “For me, cooking is something I started getting excited about when I began watching the Food Network, every chance I got. It didn’t even matter what show was on, I was enthralled. The big difference Food Network made for me, was the ability to SEE exactly what to do and how to do it. It revolutionized the way I cook, it made it accessible and easy, I suddenly could SEE what words like MINCE, and ROUX meant. After getting into the kitchen in an effort to make loooong afternoons at home seem a little shorter, I found I was addicted. For years I have looked for a hobby for myself, and suddenly, I had found it. Now, I am a fearless cook and have developed new and exciting tastes for things I would have NEVER dreamed of eating let alone cooking before my Food Network discovery.” Mostly, in addition to being a hobby, cooking has been a stress reliever for Abby and a free, married, date night. Now, once a week, Ben and Abby feed and put Henry to bed and have a cooking date night after he is asleep where they cook their recipes together and eat with candles and wine at the table. Sometimes it is fancy and sometimes comforting, but always fun! Ben is great at being her sous-chef as well as her dishwasher. Abby notes that: “It really is sexy to see a man cook, but nothing compared to seeing him wash your dirty dishes so you don’t have to!” As far as stress relief goes, there is no better reliever than shredding a nice big block of cheese! I am SO thankful for this blog and all the wonderful people participating! Let’s get cooking…

Cheryl Sherwin

Cheryl Sherwin

Cheryl graduated from Bluffton in 2002 with a reluctant major in English and exciting minor in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL). After graduation she spent a year in China with the Mennonite Mission Network. She lives in Oregon where she married in 2006 and is now a stay-at-home mom to her son born in 2009. In 1999 she was asked to be the cook for a discipleship training program (RAD). The amusing part of the request was that she didn’t know how to cook, and though she made that very clear, they took her anyway. Some of the awful meals she provided that training: powdered vacuum packed army eggs, rice with bugs (discovered after the meal was in progress) and the ultimate favorite- spaghetti, applesauce and canned chop suey casserole (yes, all in one casserole). Her nickname by the end of training was “the casserole queen,” and to this day she feels most comfortable making a casserole. Fast forward seven years to marriage and she found that other than a casserole she still didn’t know how to cook, but as the saying goes in her family, “if you can read, you can cook.” Since 2006 she and her husband have learned to cook together and now consider a relaxing afternoon making a new recipe from scratch. The “old ways” of canning, preserving and making everything without pre-packaged store-bought ingredients appeal to them. They are learning to raise food in their garden and hope to add an herb garden and rabbit hutch to the mix soon. Cheryl will be contributing some of her adventures on their back-to-basics journey.

Jennifer Stutzman
Jennifer graduated from Bluffton in 2007 with a double major in English and Writing. She parlayed that into reporting and editing jobs before moving to Cleveland with her husband Robb (Bluffton ’08) to start graduate school in Rhetoric & Composition studies at John Carroll University. Even though Jennifer’s been a vegetarian for going on five years, Robb is still an avid omnivore who’ll jump at the chance to chomp some locally raised meat. And did she mention Robb’s in law school? Yep, they’ve got a lot of books but not a lot in the bank account so eating healthy can be tough in a world full of dollar menus. So her task is to create vegetarian meals (on a two-student budget!) that’ll please even the carnivores. With a Northeast-Ohio meets the Mediterranean meets the Middle-East kind of flair, Jennifer is excited to share some vegetarian recipes with some serious teeth.

Rachael Szydlowski-Sewards

Rachael Szydlowski-Sewards

Rachael majored in psychology and sociology at Bluffton, graduating with honors in 2004. After college, she went on to graduate school at Ohio University, studying the Southeast Asian region. It was during her time in Athens, Ohio that she was introduced to cooking with local and organic ingredients. After her time at Ohio University, she joined Teach for America, which took her to Memphis, Tennessee. It was there that she cooked her first Thanksgiving dinner and solidified her love of cooking. Today, Rachael is working on her PhD in Language, Literacy, and Sociocultural Studies at the University of New Mexico. She lives with her husband and pets in Albuquerque. Rachael and her husband have the perfect domestic balance–she cooks, and he does the dishes (Rachael HATES doing the dishes). Rachael looks forward to sharing her newest challenges in cooking–using all the ingredients that come in her weekly CSA (community sustained agriculture) box and diving into Julia Childs’ The Art of French Cooking. “My style of cooking is of the let’s-see-what’s-in-the-fridge variety, also I don’t measure things when I cook….I will work on that for the blog.” Rachael also keeps a cooking blog of her own here.

Erin Renee Wahl

Erin Renee Wahl

Erin graduated from Bluffton University’s English and Writing programs in 2005. After graduation she went to China to teach for 3 years, saw the incredible delicacy and robustness with which the Chinese both make and eat their food and was hooked. Upon returning to the USA to go to graduate school at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff (where she’ll be finishing in May 2011) Erin decided to become a vegetarian and learn more about nutrition, where her food comes from and all those wonderful vegetables out there that people don’t always think of cooking. Erin posts vegetarian or vegan recipes on Mondays the first week of the month. When asked for one of the reasons she loves food and loves cooking Erin replies that: “When you offer people something you have made, carefully, and presented with real love, it changes people’s lives. In that moment, that space of time when they sit down to eat or recieve something so carefully plotted and thought out, they are sincerely happy and that’s when we can connect with them easily and more fully.” Erin keeps a cooking blog of her own here.

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