Who would have thought that studying for the SAT exam could involve cooking your way through it! ? A homeschooling project turned into a book, Cook Your Way through the S.A.T., only because of true commitment towards making sure that studying was fun. And by seeing how much fun it was, Charis and her mom decided to share their experience with others so they could learn that studying for the SAT exam could be a taste of, you guessed it, fun! We enjoyed learning about Charis’ project, and her book is our nightly reading. We are trying her recipes, and learning new SAT words as we taste new delights. Her book, Cook Your Way Through the S.A.T., is highly recommended as both an excellent cookbook, and wonderful SAT study guide!
Age and grade: 15 years old, 9th grade (freshman, Choate Rosemary Hall)
Always has: loved cooking and travelling
Proudest of: my brother
Is thankful for: my family
Wants to: succeed in life
Is afraid of: failing
Believes everyone should: be happy and positive
Is embarrassed by: too much of some kinds of attention
My style is: timeless classic
Pet peeve: when the feathers in my duvet are not flat
Were you worried about being separated from your friends while being home schooled, or being lonely?
I come from a small town and went to a very small school (only 22 kids in my grade) so I knew we’d still be friends, but I also knew it’s never the same when you don’t spend all your time together. I knew I would miss out on some of the gossip, and a lot of the little things that happen every day like hanging out at the lockers, having fun in the lunchroom, etc. I just decided I would see how it went and knew I could change my mind and go back.
Was being home-schooled a positive experience and would you recommend it to others?
For me, it was a very positive experience and I’m glad I got to do it. I think my 7th and 8th grade was much harder that it would have been if i had remained at my middle school. My Mom gave me huge amounts of homework and reading and she packed our schedule with very few breaks. When you’re in middle school, the bell rings and you get a few minutes to get to the next class, talk to your friends, and move around. In homeschool, I was in the same room all day and we went from one subject to the next without stopping. Sometimes I had to stand up just to stretch. Even though I enjoyed my homeschool, I don’t think it’s for everyone. There are many different ways to homeschool and each way gives a different experience. My Mom taught every subject at school except for gym ( I had a squash coach) and music (I had a cello teacher). Some kids do homeschool online and others do it by joining together for a group homeschool experience. I think anyone considering it has to figure out what method of homeschool would work for them and they need to make sure they are ok with missing out on the social part of school.
How did you and your mom come up with the idea of a “vocabulary” blurb for each recipe that you created??
My Mom wanted to encourage me to follow my passion (cooking) but she also needed to help me prepare for the SSAT, the standardized test I needed to take for admission to the high school my brother went to. She made a deal with me that I could cook but I had to maintain the “standards based curriculum.” We brainstormed and figured out that I could work on my verbal skills as the trade-off for cooking. I thought that was a great deal and it turned out that researching the blurbs for recipes was lots of fun. My favorite blurb is the Molasses Cookies blurb (AKA death-by-molasses!). Coming up with fun blurbs became a real challenge. I created the recipe (except for the few I borrowed) and then researched it to find an interesting fact about it.? Each blurb had to be a short paragraph about the recipe ( such as an ingredient or historical fact). Each blurb had to contain 10 vocabulary words that commonly occur on all standardized tests given in middle school and high school. As much as possible, a reader should be able to figure out the definition of the word from the context of the blurb.
Did you make the recipes? If so, lucky you and your family!!
I have been cooking since I was little. Except for a few recipes that I got from friends and family, I created most of the recipes in the book. I have read lots of cookbooks and books about food and famous chefs, and I’m addicted to the cooking channel, so even though I say I created the recipes, I think a lot of what I created really incorporated the ideas of many other people. My Dad cooks, my nanny cooks, and my Mom has never cooked a meal (seriously, not even one) for my entire life and her entire marriage to my Dad. She definitely feels lucky that we cook for her and she tells us we’re so lucky that she doesn’t cook for us.
At what point did your realize your school project could be turned into a book?
We didn’t start out thinking about a book, but after a while when we had a bunch of recipes and blurbs, we realized I could make it into a book. At that point, we decided I should evenly divide the recipes into first, main and dessert courses. Up until then, I mostly had appetizers and mains because I was cooking lunch during homeschool, and we don’t really eat lots of dessert. My nanny Ruby, who still lives with us (and gave me her recipe for Belizean beans and rice, which is in the book), loves dessert so she was really happy about me cooking much more dessert than I usually do.
How many recipes and how many vocabulary words are in the book?
There are 99 recipes (33 each for first course, main and dessert), so there are 99 blurbs = 990 words. There is also a fun fact blurb on the back cover with another 10 words, so all together there are 99 recipes and 1000 vocabulary words. There is an answer key at the end of the book that has answers for all 1000 words, and also, the list of words and definitions is on my website, www.SATgourmet.com.
Did your math skills also improve with all of your cooking practice?
Cooking does involve math (ratios, proportions, measurement and some algebra) and it can be used to help students learn math but honestly, that’s not how it worked for me. I have been cooking for so long that I cook pretty intuitively: first I cook something then I go back and figure out how to translate that into a recipe. Cooking has helped me with my verbal skills much more than my math skills because we set up the rules of my game that way. Researching and writing fun fact blurbs improved my vocabulary, reading and writing skills.
Do you have a favorite recipe(s)?
My absolute favorite recipe from Cook Your Way Through The S.A.T. is the Polish stuffed cabbage. I’m 50% Polish and I think it’s in my gene pool to love stuffed cabbage. The dish was a big treat in my grandmother’s home when she was young and somehow she passed that love on to me.
Do you recall any particularly hard words to include in the blurbs about the recipes?
I have two favorite words on the vocab list from my book. The first is “auspicious,” which has become my family’s favorite word. After Cook Your Way Through The S.A.T, we trademarked “auspicious” so I could use it in the future (I have an idea for a product line of food that I would like to work on when I am done with school). The other word I love is “somniferous,” as in, how you feel when you are trying to memorize a list of 1000 vocabulary words When I was working on the book, it got harder and harder to find vocabulary that would work because, I couldn’t reuse any words I had already used, so I started to sort of run out of words.
Tell us about publishing your book:
We had to self publish because we don’t know any book agents or publishers. My Mom researched the self publishing companies and decided to go with CreateSpace, which is the self publishing part of Amazon. CreateSpace makes it really easy for people who have never published before. You can hire them for any part of the process or all of it, depending on how much help you need. We hired them to format the book because I wanted the recipes presented in a menu-like form. We also hired them to format the book cover and to create the first press release. We ran an add on Craigslist to find an artist that could create the cover of the book (CreateSpace can do that too but we decided we wanted an artist to give us some options). I had an idea of exactly what I wanted the book cover to look like, but I am not an artist so we needed help. We got lots of responses from Craigslist and chose Alex Larder, who was an art student in college. She was great to work with because she really listened to what I wanted and kept changing her design until it came out the way I had in mind. She used Live Stream to draw in real time with me and my Mom watching her on the internet. That way I was able to tell her what to change and she was able to change it while we watched.
Where is the farthest or most surprising place your book has been sold?
My book has been sold in 6 continents (still waiting for Antarctica!). I think the most exotic place it’s for sale is Japan, my Mom thinks the coolest place is South Africa.
You’ve received all sorts of kudos for your book, tell us about them:
My favorite feature was in Every Day With Rachael Ray Magazine: they reviewed my book and had a photo of alphabet soup with the word “obsequious” in it. I also loved cooking on TV: I have visited WTNH Channel 8 twice, first to cook fish in parchment and the second time to cook eggs florentine = brain power breakfast, both recipes from my book. I have also had radio interviews, podcasts, and lots of online and print interviews. The media has been very positive and I am very appreciative of that.
Do you think you’ll continue with your love of cooking and make it into a career?
I am sure I will end up in the business side of food. Bethany Frankel is my product hero for inventing Skinny Girl and my chef heroes are Julia Child and Ina Garten.
Perhaps you will turn your love of publishing and writing into a career?
I really like writing and the thing that’s great about blogging is that you have to keep it short and simple. I definitely plan to continue to write about food and words. This summer I will be traveling in France, Holland and Germany and I look forward to learning about their cuisine and including that in my blog.
How are the sales of your book going, and will you be updating it with new vocabulary words as they come out each year?
My book sales are pretty steady. I am most proud of the fact that public libraries across the country have included Cook Your Way Through The S.A.T. in their collections. I am also proud of the fact that my book is included in the Hale Library at KSU, which has the largest cookbook collection in the US.
The goal of the project was to better your SAT score and gain entry into the school of your choice… does your story have a happy ending?
I scored a 97th percentile in reading comprehension and an overall 91% for verbal, which was much higher than I scored when I took the practice test. The only thing that changed between the practice test and the real test was me working on Cook Your Way Through The S.A.T. I can’t think of any other reason that my scores would have improved so much. My Mom calls it the “immersion experience.” I”m still working on my vocab and reading comp because I have the PSAT next year and the SAT the year after that. My brother got an 800 in the writing section so the only way I can beat him is if I get an 800 in verbal and writing!
If you could suggest how other teens could better their scores, what advice would you give them:
This one is easy: it’s never too soon to start studying for standardized tests. It’s not really possible to study the math way in advance (unless you’re a math genius) but students can definitely learn vocabulary starting at a young age. If a student just learns 1 word a day, that’s 365 words a year. That can be lots and lots of words if you start early enough.
For more information Charis has her own blog and Twitter: ? I blog about food and words: www.SATgourmet.com My twitter handle is @SATcookbook and I try to tweet a word-a-day but I don’t always make it because I’m caught up in school and my Facebook page is Cook Your Way Through The SAT.