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Published January 14. 2012 09:01AM

On Thursday my parents celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. Sixty years is a really long time.

My parents were an odd pairing to begin with.

My mother is from a large Italian family, growing up with her mother and father, both Italian immigrants, her two brothers and four sisters, in the small city of Bayonne, N.J. She had seven additional brothers and sisters, but sadly, all of them died as infants or toddlers.

My maternal grandparents didn't have friends that I can recall. They had relatives boatloads of them aunts, uncles and dozens of cousins. My grandfather was a pipe fitter and my grandmother took care of all of those kids. They didn't have a lot of money, but they had a wealth of rich traditions, many of which have been passed on to us, especially during the holidays and most especially, being Italian, involving food.

My father's background couldn't have been more different. He grew up in rural Raritan, N.J. His parents, first generation Czechoslovakians, owned their own home, but my grandfather died when my father was only 7 years old. My grandmother had to work to support him and his sister. She was usually employed as a housekeeper and nanny for the children of area doctors, often having to travel by bus to nearby towns.

My mother is short, and at her tallest, wasn't much over 5 feet, while my father is well over 6 feet tall.

As a young man, my father started working in area restaurants and learned how to cook.

During that time my mother left Bayonne and went to work and live with her aunt and uncle who owned an inn in Martinsville, N.J. One day, a handsome young man came in and applied for a job as a chef. The way my mother tells it, they didn't really need another cook at that time, but she begged her uncle to hire him which he did.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Although my dad didn't remain a chef after he and my mother were married, good food still dominated our lives growing up. My mother, who is an amazing cook, tried to teach us the basics as well as how to make the traditional foods her family has eaten for generations.

I was not interested and insisted that I would someday marry a millionaire and not have to cook. My sister, however, infinitely wiser than I was, paid more attention when my parents were in the kitchen, and as a result, she too, is an exceptional cook.

The apple (me) fell pretty far from the tree, and then rolled down hill, until I couldn't even see the tree!

I became interested in cooking much later about the time I realized I would never be president of the Junior League or have a cleaning woman, let alone a cook.

My cooking skills improved over the years, encouraged by my husband, bless his heart, and the glamour associated with the increasingly popular celebrity chefs. Today I consider myself a very good cook (it must be in my DNA) and although I occasionally burn an entrée or two, the fire department has only had to visit us once.

Thanks to my job here at the TIMES NEWS, I have had the opportunity to meet a couple TV chefs Emeril Lagasse and Sandra Lee who were delightful. However, I have to say I really enjoy meeting our local "celebrity" chefs the everyday home cooks who are the winners of the annual TIMES NEWS Recipes From Our Readers contest.

We are celebrating a milestone here this year, and will publish our 25th annual cookbook in April. Details of the contest should be announced shortly.

So, even if you don't have the cooking gene, start digging out your favorite recipes and get ready to submit them in this year's contest. I can't wait to meet our next round of winners!

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