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Cooking with a purpose

Mom of 4 who couldn’t boil water now makes perfect pralines for Paula Deen

Cooking with a purpose

Cooking with a purpose

Azure Rountree, standing, poses with ...

“I thought everyone knew how to boil water and cook rice,” Azure Rountree’s husband joked affectionately early in their marriage.

Although he kidded lovingly, Rountree knew the statement to hold truth.

“I couldn’t cook at all then,” she says.

Fast forward to the present. A busy mom with four children, Rountree occasionally found time to watch cooking shows on television.

“I watched Paula Deen cook peanut butter brownies, and they looked delicious,” she said. “I knew I wanted to learn to make them.”

After baking the brownies with success, Rountree was encouraged and watched Deen’s show “religiously,” she said, for seven or eight months.

“She gave me the tools to get more comfortable in the kitchen,” Rountree said of Deen.

And confidence was not always easy for Rountree.

“Once you go through a difficult childhood, you don’t have that confidence,” she said. “You think, ‘Do I have worth? Am I smart enough? Good enough?’”

One successful and delicious recipe after another, Rountree gained assurance in her cooking abilities and began to play around with recipes.

“I wanted to master every recipe. Once I master it, I move on to another one,” she said. “The kitchen was my escape – the one place I could go, and I could ‘perfect’ something. I could perfect a cake pop or a casserole dish.”

With tears in her eyes, Rountree explained that about the time she was learning to perfect her cooking, she and husband, Joel, found out that their second child, James, had a speech disorder that couldn’t be perfected immediately. He was later diagnosed with a mild Autism Spectrum Disorder, with no known cause or cure.

Though she couldn’t perfect everything about James’s disabilities, she knew there was much she could do. Besides getting help from Babies Can’t Wait and the Bulloch County School System, both entities she praises appreciatively, Azure Rountree decided to start a support group for parents with special needs children.

“When you hurt,” she said, “you think, ‘What can I do to help others, to make it better for them.’”

In addition to helping families with her monthly support group, Rountree wanted to help busy moms with recipes and menu suggestions, and she started a cooking page on Facebook, titled “From the Kitchen of Azure Rountree.”

Always with the spirit of giving back to others, she packaged some of her homemade pralines that she often sells at the Statesboro Mainstreet Farmers Market and journeyed to Savannah in June for a Paula Deen book signing.

“When it was my turn for Paula Deen to sign my cookbook, I handed her a bag of pralines and thanked her for teaching me how to cook,” Rountree said.

She could never have dreamed what happened next.

“She stopped signing my book and took a bite,” Rountree said of Deen. “She said, ‘You have the best pralines I’ve ever put in my mouth. We’ve got to sell these.’”

Flabbergasted, Rountree accepted the cookbook, with Deen’s handwritten words “Dream Big,” and spoke with one of Deen’s representatives. Rountree finalized details the next day over the telephone, and Deen’s store has sold Rountree’s pralines ever since, with 75 percent of the profits donated to the Autism Foundation of Georgia.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Rountree, who still can’t believe it really happened.

“This was my confirmation,” she said of her cooking talent. “I finally believed, ‘I’m good enough; I’m smart enough. I’m talented enough to do this.’

“God’s plan is really unfolding for what He wants me to do,” she continued. “I feel so connected to God in the kitchen. It’s my sanctuary. It’s where I feel like He says to me, ‘Here’s what you’re good at. Here’s what I want you to do.’”

Azure’s not sure where her cooking adventure will lead her next, but it might include writing a cookbook. For now, she’ll keep baking, perfecting recipes and allowing God to use her cooking skills to give back to others.

In an imperfect world, her culinary results are perfectly delicious.

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