When we finally caught up with Rose Palma, a busy octogenarian from Glen Ellyn, she was just putting the finishing touches on 20 coffee cakes.
"I do this once a month!" Rose shrugs. This batch was headed for a Milton Township committee meeting. Rose thinks nothing of whipping up food for a crowd and has been doing so for more than six decades, with no plans to let up any time soon.
Rose grew up in an Italian neighborhood in Chicago and has been cooking since she was 12 years old.
"I remember my mother making bread everyday. I would take the dough to Sonny Boy's Bakery, right next to the original Sears. For five cents he would bake our bread, and then I would pick it up at 3 o'clock after school."
In the early 1960s, before he had so many restaurants, Dick Portillo's son and one of Roses' sons were in the same Boy Scout troop. After having her lasagna at a scout event, he liked it so much that every year he asked her to cater for his employees' Christmas party.
"He loved my recipe for spaghetti sauce. From that day on we were caterers. My son and daughter would help." Rose's daughter, Dr. Francine Long, remembers working with her mother.
"We catered for the wedding of one of my high school classmates. At our reunions she never fails to tell me that we provided a five-course meal for $1.25 a plate in 1966!"
Rose is proud of how she managed to feed her large family on her husband's salary as an auto repairman.
"I always put a lot of food on the table. It's not that hard to do -- even now with chicken at 59 cents a pound, you can do that."
When Rose was asked to cook a meal for a grandson's football team, she was told to just make mostaccioli.
"'What? No protein?' I said. 'They need a protein!'" So for the nine Thursdays through football season, Rose cooked for the team: spaghetti and meatballs, chicken Vesuvio, the works.
"They kept coming back for seconds and thirds!" Rose laughs.
This past February, to mark Healthy Heart month, Rose teamed up with Francine, an internist affiliated with Edwards Medical Group, and held a healthy cooking demonstration for her daughter's patients. More than 60 people attended "Cook with the Doc's Mom" where Rose demonstrated how to make her famous (but low calorie) coffeecake and Francine made homemade ravioli.
"We wanted to show people how easy it is to cook healthy food. I just remember all these people smiling. Of course they got to eat, too!"
Cooking for family, which now includes 10 grandchildren and five great grandchildren, remains her greatest joy.
"Holidays are extreme," she assures us. "I love having my children and their friends over. I still cook for any occasion that comes up for them. It's wonderful."