Child of the women's movement embraces homemaker role
Debbie Pullaro came of age during a wave of women's rights activism in the 60s and 70s, but that "you can have it all" movement washed right over her.
The enduring influence in her life was the "atmosphere of women" that made up her home and the traditional Southern culture of North Carolina.
"In the South if you were a woman you were the homemaker, you raised the children and you knew how to cook," says Debbie, 51, now living in South Elgin.
That was more than fine with Debbie. While some young women no doubt rebelled against those expectations, she knew that's what she wanted.
"To be a good mom and a good wife. In today's world that's not a lot, but to me that's a harder job than going out into the work world, and it's been the most rewarding."
Cooking is part of that bigger picture, a way of nurturing the ones she loves and making them happy just like her 91-year-old grandmother, who's still living, did.
"She is sweet and wonderful and a good cook, and when she put food on the table people said it was awesome," says Debbie. "I wanted to be like that."
As a freshman in high school, her family moved to Schaumburg where she met her husband-to-be, John. A traditional Italian fellow, he was happy that Debbie wanted to stay home with their son, Phillip, now married.
Instead of working and dropping the youngster off at child care, Debbie ran a day care center at home for 19 years, involving the kids in meal prep every day.
"I've always had my hands in food."
Her style hasn't changed much from what she learned growing up: frugal, from-scratch cooking in which recipes are merely a jumping-off point for creativity.
"It's a very Southern thing, we just throw everything together and see what we come up with," she says. "We're not afraid to do that."
Chicken dinner reappears as chicken pot pie the next day. Leftover beef returns as soup or a pot pie. Prepared biscuit dough, rolled thin, is filled with leftover meat, cheese and sauce, folded into a pocket and baked.
Today online, Debbie demonstrates how to transform yesterday's mashed potatoes into potato pancakes to serve with meatloaf, roast beef or chicken.
With her pulled pork and coleslaw recipes she teaches us Southern-style barbecue. Instead of drenching the meat in a sweet-tangy sauce, she just seasons and slow cooks it, pulls it apart and serves it on a bun topped with vinegar-based coleslaw.
Many of her Northern friends don't understand this approach, but they love it.
"It's about the meat; you can taste it," she says.
Whatever she prepares for dinners, leftovers go to work with Debbie and John the next day for lunch. She now works for an insurance agency in Bartlett.
But at the end of the day, she wants to be remembered for her roles as wife, mother and homemaker.
"That's the highest praise I could get," she says. "It's unimportant to a lot of girls today, but I don't care what anybody else in the world thinks about that.
"What I did at home for my family affects them for the rest of their lives."