Fox Run foodies share edible pleasures

Originally published in Forever Young magazine, June 2013

Food has a remarkable power to bring people together. It serves as a comfortable starting point between strangers and makes an easy introduction to a new culture. It takes family functions from ordinary to memorable, effortlessly connecting generations with shared favorites or illuminating ancestral tales of the past. At Fox Run, a retirement community in Orchard Park, N.Y., food is one important part of residents’ lives, as it always has been.

Darwin Schmitt, a retired engineer and food lover, took to cooking from a young age and worked in restaurants waiting tables as a young man. He likes to try new recipes and tweaks them to accommodate smaller portions, but he always records his changes, he says. One of his famous recipes is crème vichyssoise glacée, which he has made for a crowd at Fox Run, making him somewhat of a soup aficionado.

“I like to try different things,” Schmitt says. “Right now I’m into Indian. I like to identify the spices they use.” Schmitt is never shy about exotic and diverse food, yet one of the recipes he makes most often is for banana nut muffins.

His wife, Ruth, is a former journalist who served as food editor for Denver’s Rocky Mountain News. While working at the paper, she received a recipe for kidney beans and claret, which was the first recipe she published. It became a favorite of their family’s over the years, being served at casual and semi-formal dinners, and Ruth served the dish to her boss at Mutual Broadcasting, Dorothy Kimble, and a friend, Marian Lennox. The Schmitts tell me they enjoyed it more than their guest of honor, but assured me the baked Alaska for dessert made up for it.

For Joanne Sperling, who is Lebanese, it’s about her family’s heritage and the food that comes with it. “Naturally, I’m attracted to the ethnicity of our culture,” she says. As for the cooking itself, she doesn’t particularly enjoy it. “I don’t know what I am yet, but I’m not a cook.”

Sperling says that she learned from a young age that it’s unnecessary to know many dishes, but it’s important to know five or six recipes well. She expresses that Lebanese people are known for their hospitality, as well as seasonal, fresh food. Stuffed grape leaves, filled with rice and ground beef, are among her signature dishes. Touched with hints of cinnamon and tomato, and doused with bright and refreshing lemon juice, the grape leaves are served with laban (yogurt).

Another speciality of Sperling’s is stuffed koosa, a type of summer squash, which she grows in the garden at Fox Run. It is filed with rice, beef, and mint. Mujadara, which Sperling describes as “a fabulous Lenten dish with lentils, rice, and onion with lemon,” is another favorite.

In addition to making baklava, Sperling makes tasty anise doughnut cookies that evoke memories of some of my favorite Italian biscuit cookies, which are also made with anise. They’re an excellent accompaniment for coffee or tea.

“You’ve got to eat so much dirt in your life,” Marian Bull says enthusiastically as she serves me a slice of strawberry rhubarb pie, balancing it with the side of her finger, and I second my support for using one’s hands in the kitchen. It’s clear to anyone that Bull is an expert pie baker, as she rattles off the pies she typically makes each season: strawberry rhubarb, cherry, lemon meringue, chocolate…and so on. The key to any great pie, I must agree, is a great foundation—a tasty, flaky crust. Bull isn’t shy about the fact that she still uses lard in her piecrusts, and she willingly shares her secret: use half lard and half shortening.

Bull has been making pies since she was 16 because her grandparents owned a hotel and they always served exceptional house made desserts. In fact, she says her family never had a meal without having dessert, and they always made what was in season.

“We spent our summers picking fruit, pitting cherries, peeling peaches,” Marlene Lamparelli, one of Bull’s six children, chimes in. “Saturday was bake day…we grew up in the country and were 4-H kids.”

“We had tart sour cherry pie instead of birthday cakes,” Kathleen Lell, Bull’s oldest says. “It’s my favorite pie that I still bake to this day.”

The women began baking and canning when they were girls, around 10 years old, learning and undertaking pies, brownies, jams, jellies, and more with their mother’s guidance. “All my sons and daughters bake,” says Bull, who has two sons and four daughters.

They fondly recount their mother’s fastnachts, Christmas cookies, and ribbon loaf topped with almond frosting and loaded with cinnamon sugar throughout. Lamparelli’s children—Bull’s grandchildren—giggle with delight at the mere mention of their grandmother’s “whipped orange JELL-O fluffy thing,” another family gathering favorite.

Betty Birch, a retired real estate agent, holds the unofficial, yet enviable title of Fox Run’s greatest chocolate chip cookies. Residents and staff alike agree they may very well be the best cookies they’ve ever had. Period.

Birch, who grew up on a dairy farm with seven brothers and two sisters, found the recipe in a 1984 issue of “Chocolatier: The Magazine for Gourmet Chocolate Lovers,” and has been making it since. Having great farm fresh food at the family’s farm, Birch says her family never bought anything growing up—they made it firsthand or raised it themselves. The homemade ideal certainly shines through in her coveted cookies.

The tender cookies are laced with chocolate throughout, as well as walnuts. As Birch says, “The chocolate is what’s important.” She uses Ghirardelli brand chocolate in hers today.

“I have three sons and they can all cook better than I can,” says Birch. Beyond cookies, she says she makes a terrific cheesecake and great pasta, but not with tomato sauce.

The gastronomic passion among these Fox Run residents illustrates that food is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Undoubtedly, whatever the dish, the fun often comes in the sharing.


Darwin Schmitt’s banana muffins

2 bananas

½ cup milk

½ cup brown sugar

1 egg

1 cup flour

½ cup bran

1/3 cup melted margarine

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ cup walnuts, chopped

  1. Beat bananas, milk, and sugar. Add egg and margarine. Add all other ingredients.
  2. Fill greased tin with batter and sprinkle with chopped nuts. Bake at 375°F for 15-18 minutes. Yield: 12 muffins.


Darwin Schmitt’s crème vichyssoise glacée 

4 leeks

1 medium onion

2 tablespoons salted butter

5 medium potatoes, sliced fine

2 cups chicken broth

2 cups water

Salt to taste

4 cups whole milk

1 cup heavy cream

Optional: finely chopped chives

  1. Finely slice the white part of the leeks and the onion, and brown very lightly in the butter. Add the potatoes; add water and salt. Boil gently for 35-40 minutes.
  2. Crush and rub through a fine strainer, or blend in a blender. Return to heat and add milk. Season to taste and bring to a boil.
  3. Cool and then rub through a fine strainer or blend once more. Refrigerate. When soup is cold; add heavy cream. Cool thoroughly before serving. Add chives, if desired.


Ruth Schmitt’s kidney beans and claret

¾ pound of quality ground beef

½ can beef consommé

1 ½ cups of claret (red wine)

1 clove garlic

1 large onion, sliced

2 cans kidney beans and liquid from can

1 tablespoon flour


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Melt butter in a large ovenproof container at medium high heat; sauté onion. Push onion aside in the pan and cook beef, breaking it up as it browns.
  2. Add consommé and mix in the flour; add the wine and garlic, then add the beans and their liquid. Simmer mixture for 10 minutes, and transfer to covered ovenproof dish.
  3. Bake in oven for 30-45 minutes. Serve with garlic bread and a simple green salad made with olive oil, lemon juice, and Parmesan cheese.


Joanne Sperling’s mihshi waraq ‘inab (stuffed grape leaves)

55-65 grape leaves (3-4”)

1 pound ground beef or lamb

1 cup uncooked rice

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon allspice

6 ounces tomato paste

¼ cup lemon juice

1 tablespoon salt

  1. Rinse rice in cold water and drain. Add all ingredients with the exception of tomato paste, lemon juice, and leaves. Mix well.
  2. (Keep hot water near the working area.) Wilt leaves by rinsing a few at a time in hot water. Drain. Place a heaping teaspoon on edge of the dull side of the leaf. Begin rolling as you would a jellyroll. After the first roll, fold in ends and continue rolling. This will be about ½” to ¾” thick, depending on size of leaf.
  3. Place a few leaves in bottom of a 2 ½ quart pan to prevent sticking. Arrange rolls in compact rows and barely cover with water, mixed with tomato paste. (Note: if stuffed grape leaves are barely covered with water, all water will be absorbed when ready to unmold.) Sprinkle salt on top of the rolls and place a pottery plate over them so the rolls will remain firm and intact. Cover pan and cook on medium heat for 15 minutes. Add lemon juice, lower heat, and simmer for an additional 15 minutes. Serve with laban (yogurt). Yield: 6-8 servings.


Joanne Sperling’s ka‘k (Lebanese anise cake doughnuts)

7 cups flour

2 2/3 cups sugar

1 cup yogurt

3 eggs

1 cup drawn butter

1 teaspoon baking soda

Grated peel of 1 lemon

3 teaspoons anise seeds

  1. Beat eggs with grated lemon peel until light and fluffy. Add sugar, butter, and yogurt. With the palm of the hand, blend ingredients together pressing against the bottom of the bowl until the sugar no longer has texture. Then, gradually add flour and baking soda to egg mixture. Continue mixing by hand until dough is thoroughly blended. Add anise seeds. (Note: a small additional amount of flour may need to be added for ease in handling the dough.)
  2. Take a walnut-sized piece of dough and roll into a log ½” by 6”—or desired length. Shape in a circle, overlap ends, and pinch together. Place on a barely oiled pan. Bake at 350°F until they are golden brown on the top and bottom. Yield: 7-8 dozen.


Marian Bull’s strawberry rhubarb pie

For the crust

2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted

1 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup shortening

1/3 cup lard

4 tablespoons water

  1. Mix together flour and salt; cut in shortening, then sprinkle with water.
  2. Gather dough together and press into a ball. Divide into two pieces. Roll each ball of pie dough to fit a 9-inch pie pan. Line pie pan with one piece; set the other aside.

For the filling

1 ½ cups sugar

6 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups rhubarb, diced

2 cups strawberries, diced

1 1/3 tablespoons butter, sliced into small pieces

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Mix together sugar and flour; add rhubarb.
  2. Pour into pastry-lined 9-inch pie pan; dot with butter. Top with remaining dough. Bake 40-50 minutes.


Betty Birch’s chocolate chunk cookies

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

½ cup packed light brown sugar

¼ cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon salt

1 egg

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup (3 ounces) walnuts, coarsely chopped

2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

Vegetable shortening for baking sheets

  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the butter, brown sugar, sugar, vanilla and salt; beat with a spoon until fluffy. Beat in the egg and baking soda. Stir in the flour, walnuts and chocolate. Transfer to a bowl just large enough to hold the dough; cover and refrigerate until firm, about 4 hours or overnight.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly coat one or two baking sheets with vegetable shortening. Using 2 to 3 tablespoons of dough for each cookie, shape the dough into balls and place one in the center of the cookie sheet and evenly space four others a few inches in from each corner. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the cookies spring back when very lightly touched.
  3. Cool on the sheets for 2 minutes, then transfer to paper towels to cool for about 2 minutes, and then transfer to racks to cool. Repeat the baking procedure with cool baking sheets, coating them with additional shortening for each batch.

About Nina

Nina lives in Buffalo, NY. An adventurous home cook, she loves to eat, cook, bake & enjoy life. She writes/blogs about food, tweets adventures & other passions.

08. September 2013 by Nina
Categories: Buffalo Food Features, Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 comments

3 Responses

  1. Deborahann B Cimino says:

    Thanks to all for sharing these recipe treasures! I can’t wait to try them!

    • Nina says:

      My pleasure! It was fun learning about them and being able to share them. There are some real goodies in here–I taste tested each of them. Enjoy!

  2. […] Nina Barone visited Fox Run retirement community to talk about recipes [Buffalo Foodie] […]