The meals that Spanish language professor Dr. Kathleen Spinnenweber cooks do more than feed her husband and two young sons. They also tell stories.Her Irish apple pies, filled with only apples and sugar, tell the story of her mother, who made the journey from Ireland to New York at the age of 18, and never quite overcame the Irish suspicion of spice. They also tell the story of Spinnenweber’s childhood trips to the farm her mother left behind, trips enjoyed under the shadow of Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s holy mountain climbed by barefoot pilgrims every July.Her cream sauces, rich and decadent, as well as her occasional forays into Chinese cooking, tell of her days as a doctoral student at Princeton, when she lived with students from France and China and spent long hours with them in the kitchen, picking up cooking tips, while debating politics and faith.Mushrooms on the menu are an occasion for recalling the two summers Spinnenweber spent in a Russian-language immersion program at Middlebury College in Vermont. Her professors, mostly refugees from Communist Russia, in typical Russian fashion, were passionate about two things: Their homeland and picking wild mushrooms on fine summer days.There is also her Spanish tortilla, a dish made with potatoes, onions, and eggs that she learned to make years ago as a graduate student studying in Spain.Then there are the tomatoes, which give evidence of Spinnenweber and her husband’s—retired Franciscan philosophy professor Dr. Earl Spinnenweber—lone success at gardening.Even the sheer variety of what comes out of Spinnenweber’s kitchen tells stories about what goes on inside the head of the woman working over the stove.Never one to limit herself to just one thing, Spinnenweber has a BA in Spanish and Russian, two master’s degrees (one in Spanish, one in comparative literature), and a PhD in comparative literature. Accordingly, since arriving at the University 16 years ago, she has taught courses for both the Spanish Department and English Department, including several on the literary giant of Spain’s Golden Age, Miguel de Cervantes.But for all the diversity of Spinnenweber’s academic interests and culinary creations, her commitment to her students is completely singular.“Besides the school’s Catholic faith, the focus Franciscan puts on the students is what attracted me here,” she says. “I think for a professor, the student has to be the priority. I have other projects, but the students, the people I’m with, is what matters the most.”
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