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Cook's Corner

I still want to learn…
A. Patience. My daughter is so blessed with patience. With four sons, I’m amazed.
I can’t wait to…
A. Retire. I love my job, that’s not the issue. I’m ready to be at home. I love taking care of the flowers.
Photos by Diana Parker | The Journal Gazette
Annie Irwin, an employee at The Java Bean Café in Decatur, bakes Annie’s Rhubarb Cake, foreground.

Grandmother enjoys cooking in café, at home

Irwin makes Ilo’s Cut-Out Cookies when she visits Michigan.

– In the movie “Forrest Gump,” the title character, played by Tom Hanks, says, “Mama always said life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

It’s not a box of chocolates, though, that Annie Irwin compares life to – it’s recipes.

Irwin, an employee of The Java Bean Café in Decatur since 2009, doesn’t mind sharing that advice with her younger co-workers.

“I’ve told the girls in here, everything’s a recipe. Life’s a recipe. It’s a choice of what you put into a recipe and your life. You make the wrong choice in life, hmmm. You make the wrong choice in a recipe and you have a flop,” she says.

Irwin, whose daughter and son are now grown, says her job at the café requires her to cook and bake. She likes to do both.

“I can make the drinks out front. I love making soup, but I love to make the coffee cakes. I like making the banana breads and cake. The chicken salad, I’ve had people tell me that they like it. And coffee cake, I’ve tweaked the recipe. I used to be a measurer, but now I just throw it in there. When I have to write the recipes up, it’s back (in the kitchen), but it’s not like I make it,” says the 62-year-old grandmother of six.

Visitors should not consider the café a typical grab-and-go restaurant, warns Irwin.

“We make things fresh here. It’s not a fast food restaurant,” she says.

Irwin, who used to barrel-race her horse for many years, watches what she eats for the most part. Her diet consists of fruits and vegetables such as green beans, and she tries to avoid consuming a lot of cholesterol. Work is another story.

“We don’t have whole-wheat flours,” Irwin says about the café’s menu.

She adds, “We started the oatmeal and we have bananas, but this is a coffee shop, not a health food restaurant.”

Q. What’s your favorite cookbook?

A. Oh, my gosh, I’ve got a Betty Crocker from 1969. My sister-in-law gave it to me. I still refer back to that thing. It’s the gold edition, not the red checkered one. I’ve got several church ones. The old time (recipes) are the best ones.

Q. Who’s your cooking idol?

A. She’s my best friend, Jeannie Hunt. She lives in Virginia, but we’ve stayed best friends still. She taught me to ‘slop it in.’ She would laugh at me. She’s a very good cook.

Q. For family gatherings or special events, do you make the dessert?

A. If I go to Michigan, I make the sugar cookies. That’s one of the things we make for Christmas.

Q. What’s something people won’t find in your refrigerator?

A. Oh my, let’s see … probably tofu or lobster.

Q. If you were stuck on a deserted island, what food would you want?

A. I love the soup we make here, the jambalaya. But I love fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy and cottage cheese.

Q. What advice would you like to give to beginner cooks?

A. I will definitely get a good cookbook or take a cooking class. I learned the hard way. I got married at 17, and I made chili. I had everything in it but tomato juice. Soup beans? I didn’t know you had to soak them and cook them the next day. It didn’t work doing them fast. You can’t cook soup beans fast.

Annie’s Rhubarb Cake

4 cups chopped rhubarb (may substitute strawberries)

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

1 (3-ounce) box red gelatin

1 (18 1/2 -ounce) box yellow or white cake mix

4 cups miniature marshmallows

Place rhubarb, water and sugar in pan. Bring to just a boil, remove from heat and add gelatin; set aside. Mix cake mix according to directions. Pour marshmallows in a greased 13-by-9-inch cake pan. Pour cake mix over that. Pour warm rhubarb mixture over cake batter. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 45 to 55 minutes. Makes 15 to 18 servings.

Ilo’s Cut-Out Cookies

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup shortening

1 cup sugar

3 eggs

3 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Cream butter, shortening and sugar. Add eggs and blend well. Sift together flour, baking soda and cream of tartar. Add flour mixture gradually to creamed mixture. Stir well. Add vanilla and chill the dough overnight. Roll on floured surface to 1/4 -inch thickness. Bake on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake in a 425-degree oven for 6 to 8 minutes. Remove cookies from oven; allow to cool before frosting. Makes 5 to 6 dozen.


3 cups confectioners’ sugar

1/3 cup soft butter

1 to 2 tablespoons milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

Blend confectioners’ sugar and butter on low speed. Add milk and vanilla. Beat on high speed until fluffy, about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Ice cooled cookies.

Annie’s Hamburger and Sauerkraut Pie

2 pounds hamburger

1 medium onion diced

1 (27-ounce) jar sauerkraut, drained

3 to 4 cups mashed potatoes

Salt, to taste

Pepper, to taste

Butter, if desired

Shredded cheese, if desired

Lightly grease a 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Brown onion and hamburger; then drain. Spread hamburger-onion mixture in bottom of pan. Place sauerkraut over and smooth out to a layer. Drop spoonfuls of mashed potatoes to cover. Spread potatoes over entire pan, sealing all edges. Cut with a wet knife in the middle to vent. Add butter and cheese, if desired. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes or until hot. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Cook’s Corner is a weekly feature. If you know of someone to be profiled, write to Cook’s Corner, The Journal Gazette, P.O. Box 88, Fort Wayne, IN 46801-88; fax 461-8648 or email