Submitted by Block Associates Inc.
In February, when Robert Oliver, 56, took the job as a bus driver for Des Plaines-based Pathway Senior Living, LLC, he never dreamed he'd be taking residents on a world tour.
But that's exactly what he is doing once a month at the new Oak Hill Supportive Living Community in Round Lake Beach, one of the communities the company operates.
Pathway Senior Living recently instituted a program called "World Tour," which focuses on learning about traditions, language and foods of different states and countries.
At the recent Oak Hill program, the dish of the month was a pecan pie, the most famous dessert from Georgia, which has been ranked the top pecan grower in the country since the 1950s.
And who better to head up the cooking program than Robert Oliver, an experienced caregiver, bus driver and chef.
"I started cooking at the age of 11 when my family moved to Sylvan Lake, Mich.," Oliver said. "My love of cooking was inspired at a big community picnic my family attended. When the call went out for somebody to man the grills, I volunteered. At first, they were skeptical that a boy could do a man's job, but I cooked hamburgers and hot dogs for the 300-plus picnickers for five hours straight.
"It was fate that led me to cooking, and it's a good thing because my wife's father always told her she had better marry a chef because she didn't know how to cook. Luckily, she did," he said of his marriage to Donna 36 years ago.
Since then, the couple, who lives in Mundelein, had three children: Scott, 36, who lives in California; Luke, 29, a chef at a Milwaukee restaurant; and Kyle, 27, a lieutenant security officer at Gurnee Mills.
"We've taught all our kids to cook, do laundry, change diapers, and take care of themselves to prepare them for independent lives," he said.
For 20 years, Oliver was a professional school bus driver for special needs children, and for many of those years was also the primary caregiver for his parents.
"When my mother died last November at the age of 84, I felt lost. I needed a change," he said.
So he went on Craigslist to search for a new job, saw Pathway Senior Living's posting, and read the company website.
"I was impressed with the company's 'Viva' (meaning "Long Live!") philosophy, which focuses on providing seniors with experiences rather than just activities. My philosophy is to enjoy life. So I filled out the application online, and on my birthday, Feb. 12, had my first interview. Two weeks later, I got the okey-dokey and was hired," Oliver said.
"I just love working for this company, because I believe I have finally found my niche. I am doing what I do best: driving, cooking and caregiving. My mother always taught me to be compassionate and patient. Those lessons help me work with my seniors. And to tell the truth, when she died, I guess I was looking for a replacement mother. At Oak Hill, I found lots of them. Perhaps I can become a replacement son to them, too."
The dishes he prepares for residents in the Community Room at Oak Hill always focus on healthy recipes that can also be made in microwave ovens, because all residents have them in their apartments (regular meals are served in the community dining room).
Although pecans have a high fat content, they are an excellent source of potassium, thiamine, zinc, copper, magnesium, phosphorous, niacin, folic acid, iron, vitamin B6, and fiber, all of which tend to help lower blood cholesterol levels.
In addition to his many talents, Oliver is also a showman. During his recent "World Tour" program, he donned his traditional double-breasted white jacket and his decidedly unconventional Day-Glo orange Mario Batali crocs (named after the highly acclaimed chef, restaurateur.
While preparing the pie, he explained all the ingredients to his attentive audience, and while it was baking, he laughed and joked with "his" seniors.
While the proof may be in the pudding when it comes to pecan pie, the proof is in the tasting. The Oak Hill seniors helped slice and serve wedges of pie to all in attendance. All seemed to agree that you would have to be nuts not to love this pecan pie. Here is Oliver's recipe:
Low-Sugar Pecan Pie
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Large eggs
1 Cup light Karo syrup
1⁄8 Teaspoon Splenda
1 Tablespoon Flour
1 Teaspoon vanilla extract
1.5 Cups pecan halves
1 Nine-inch pie shell (not deep dish)
½ Tablespoon milk
• Preheat oven to 350 degrees
• Melt butter and set aside to cool
• Mix the rest of the ingredients except milk
• Brush pie crust with milk
• Add cooled butter to the mixture
• Pour into pie shell
• Bake for 45 minutes to an hour until it is set
• Let cool
Per Serving: 400 calories, 24 grams fat, 46 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams protein
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