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Meet Barbara Beery 

by Anne Marie Turner

Barbara Beery's roomy French country kitchen -- with its huge central worktable -- is the heart of her home as well as her business: Batter Up Kids. This is a place where magic happens: food comes to life and people draw near to the taste, touch, and scent of its bounty. Clearly, a love of food, family, and fun fuel both Batter Up Kids and Barbara Beery's success.

Beery, a native Austinite, unites her skills and passions -- thirteen years as a teacher, a love of children, and a longstanding joy of cooking -- to offer children's cooking classes, summer cooking camps, and lavish cooking birthday parties for the elementary age set.

During the first several years, Batter Up Kids offered only classes, at least until a friend asked for a child's birthday party. Now, birthday celebrations are a huge part of the business. Beery does everything -- she's the host, teaches cooking lessons with the birthday child as guest chef, provides the cake and party favors. All that parents need to do is send the invitations and give Beery a list of the party guests.

A typical birthday party (a lot like a cooking class, only more festive and grand) begins with Beery's lively, outgoing welcome. She quickly references a prominent menu of events and culinary delights. Written on a chalkboard, the carte du jour invites young visitors to prepare and sample such delicacies as "Lady Bugs on a Stick" and "Chocolate Covered Dragonflies." Once inside Beery's cottage-like home in the hills, guests (sans parents, except for the birthday child's) veritably rush to find their place at the table.

Each young chef has a workstation, defined by heavy red and white checked paper "placemats" bearing their name. Aprons, utensils, ingredients, and appropriate pans equip each budding food artist. Beery begins to direct, "wash your hands! Let's start out clean!"

The children often don't realize it, but there is a certain amount of common sense training and etiquette involved in Beery's lessons. A plaque on the wall reveals one strong Batter Up Kids philosophy: Because Nice Matters. "Teaching is learning discipline and how to implement it in a very supportive, timely manner," says Beery.

Students move quickly to prepare the last thing first, usually the beverage. "Ninety percent of the time, we make a fruit based drink --  juicing oranges, lemons, limes, slicing apples," says Beery. "We always try to make a savory food item -- pizza, bread sticks, monkey bread -- something [where] you can really work the dough." She instructs some children who don't care for pepperoni to try thin slices of zucchini squash. Sprinkled with herbs and drizzled with olive oil, squash will bake up crisp on top of pizza.

Fruit dishes are prepared next. Beery employs the "Ladybugs on a Stick" recipe not only because children like them (think strawberries and tiny chocolate mini-morsels), but because, like most of her recipes, its preparation provides an opportunity for children to manipulate the ingredients. Eating a "ladybug" allows a child to try ordinary items in a different form. "The fanciful names for somewhat regular sorts of dishes are part of the enticement and intrigue, a fairy tale quality for kids," says Beery. She even shows children how to make salad on a stick.

Encouraging students to "try everything... you don't HAVE to like it," Beery teaches kids to have fun with food and to use leftovers scraps and ingredients to create new dishes. 

A creative, high-energy woman, Beery wants her students to enjoy cooking. "I want it to be something they look back on and want to keep doing the rest of their lives. I want them to think about cooking as involved with family and friends. Goodness! We center everything around food celebrations. Somebody's got to learn how to cook!"

Beery credits her mother for her love of cooking. "She let me stand there and make messes and give them names. I never remember her saying, 'we don't have time for this.  Mom saved my menus from three years old!"

Beery's menus are also getting some national press. She wrote a series of recipes for Family Fun Magazine that will appear this November or December in a special cooking section featuring holiday gathering recipes; and she was recently featured in Southern Living Magazine.

This fall she will debut a cooking club and a line of Batter Up Kids Cooking Kits complete with prepared mixes, garnishes and specialized utensils just for kids. Keep watching. Beery has a few more surprises on the back burner.

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The Countess Galleria / Sarah Higdon

Here's more from Barbara:

Who inspired you when you were growing up and why?

As I was growing up, my mother inspired me most. She always believed in me. She made me feel no mater what I did (or didn't) accomplish was not nearly as important as setting realistic goals and following through with them.

You are face to face with your ten-year-old self. You have one thing to say to her about her future, what do you say?

Remember every choice you make counts. Always be the best person you can be, but be willing to forgive yourself, because only in doing that will you truly be forgiving of other people.

What is the biggest contradiction you see mothers being faced with today?

The biggest contradiction I see mothers being faced with today (and always) is saying "no" and being pro-active in following up on it. Discipline is a very strong tool and it helps you and your children stay on the path you're following. When you set this example for your kids, they will respect and be inspired by you.

What do you see as your biggest challenge in being the kind of person you want to be?

The biggest challenge in being the kind of person I want to be is knowing myself and accepting it. I must remember that all of the things I have not accomplished won't keep me from doing what I can accomplish. Everything I set out to do begins with me.

What makes you most happy about what you give back to the world?

What makes me most happy about what I give back to the world is the greatest service I can offer; help children to learn more, do more, and offer more to our world.

What two notable people would you like to see handcuffed together for a day?

Two notable people I would love to see handcuffed together for a day would be Emeril Lagasse and Martha Stewart. Imagine, two well-known celebrity chefs and television hosts, each with a sizable "portion" of ego. Oh, the possibilities are endless here!

What do you wish you could automatically grant, like a fairy godmother, to mothers during trying times?

I would grant three things: love, forgiveness, and patience. That will get you through anything life dishes up.

Thanks, Barbara!

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