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Insights by Ira: An Appetite for Independence

Crème Brulee Prepared by Ira Walker

Crème Brulee Prepared by Ira Walker

Crème Brulee. It’s a creamy French dessert custard that is presented commonly in a small round ramekin. That’s the crème…but what about the brulee?  To make it crème brulee, you glaze the top of the dessert with sugar and then, you brulee! Bruleeing involves setting the sugar, well…on fire.  Yes, by taking an appropriate kitchen butane torch, the cook of this French delight, gently burns the sugar with the torch until the sugar caramelizes on top of the dessert and then…Bon Appetite, Crème Brulee!

Like most people, I established a few new year’s resolutions this year: read more, participate in more volunteer activities, and develop/enhance my dessert cooking abilities. Every time that I’m invited to a function or to someone’s home for a meal, like clockwork, I always bring a dessert – to clarify, I bring a store-bought dessert. Aiming to change that in 2024, I have pledged to become proficient in the art of dessert making. Cakes, pies, cookies, and a variety of delightful treats from scratch will accompany me to dinner parties and get-togethers from now on.  I started the new year strong by whipping up crème brulee and was both impressed and pleased that it turned out well! Do I think this journey to chef Ira, self-taught pastry extraordinaire, will be easy? No! It’s likely going to be quite a challenge and, at times, might even seem impossible both physically and mentally.  But that is also why I’m taking on the challenge, it’s how I evolve best, its how I’ve become who I am.

The best gift that I have received in my life was being born to my two amazing parents: Jovita and Ira Walker Jr. They are two of the most hardworking, loving, and determined individuals that I know.  Throughout my upbringing in St. Louis, MO, they instilled in me a multitude of values, including peace, trust, empathy, open-mindedness, and most importantly, an appetite of independence.  I was my parents second child born with muscular dystrophy and they were vividly aware of the challenges and adversity that awaited me in life.  This understanding of my plight motivated my parents to ingrain in me, starting at a young age, a strong determination to creatively discover ways and methods to independently navigate any and all environments that I encounter. My parents established the expectation that I would approach everyone I meet along the path of life with respect, that I would always subscribe to do what is right, and that I would never allow my adversity to deter me from living the life that I desire.

My mid-twenties offered an opportunity to test that spirit of independence. It was during that period of my life that I desired to start a career, drive a vehicle, and have my own living arrangement.  Up until that point in my life, I was blessed and fortunate to have had my sister, Romanda, as a guide when I needed advice and wisdom on how to succeed with a disability. Romanda, who is six years older than me and also lives with muscular dystrophy, was my personal support in navigating and adapting to a plethora of elements throughout primary school, high school, and college.  Post college, my career and life ambitions became different than that of my sister’s and called for me to venture out into, what was for me, unfamiliar waters. Shortly after obtaining a job in the healthcare sector, I diligently researched and discovered a pathway to achieving my goal of owning and driving an adaptive vehicle. It brings a smile to my face to look back and realize that from the time I was 25 to now, I’ve successfully owned two vehicles and driven independently over 200,000 miles across this beautiful country of ours. In my early thirties, with the confidence, courage, and thirst for complete independence, I moved into my own place and came full circle on the dreams and ambitions that I had set out for myself in my mid-twenties.  I had achieved the independent bachelor life, I was driving a nice vehicle, and thriving in my career. Through the spirt of independence planted in me from my parents, I had triumphed over my adversity.

After two years of living on my own, gaining a level of comfortability and establishing a good routine, the pandemic occurred.  As customary to my nature as a person, I believe it’s important to take inventory to the upside of everything that happens in life.  For me, the personal silver linings to the pandemic were:

  1. I, an extrovert, learned how to thrive in a remote work environment, which is quite the challenge when you get energy and enjoyment from being around others.
  2. I discovered a love of creative writing.
  3. I learned how to cook!
Ira Walker

Ira Walker

Prior to living on my own, my “cooking experience” was using the microwave.  When I started living in my own place, I was able to get breakfast and lunch from the cafeteria at work during the week. For dinner, my diet was a combination of microwavable meals, frozen pizzas, or fast food. Saturdays were commonly fast-food days, and Sundays I typically visited my folks for a homecooked meal. Mine was perhaps not the most health conscious of dietary routines, but one that was a survivable reality. Then the pandemic hit, and the shutdowns began. Once my day job went from an office setting to work from home, I lost the consistent two meals that I had easy access to. The pandemic also brought temporary closures to a handful of the fast-food chains and restaurants that were within my vicinity. I arrived at a tough spot.  After a few months of a steady diet of microwavable everything, and occasionally receiving prepared meals that were generous and kindly prepared by those in my community and family members, I realized that I needed to discover a better way to address my nutritional needs.

“If there’s a will, there’s a way” has become a slogan and a repetitive theme throughout my journey when I face an obstacle, a challenge, or a situation that requires a high level of creativity to arrive at a solution. I have seen people with my condition drive modified vehicles, I know many people that live independently, and I have met others who have had the blessing of getting married and raised a family. Although I know that there are people with disabilities who cook independently, at that time I had no one to connect with in my personal life. I had to charter a unique path. Being fully aware of my limited strength and reach, I realized that operating a common kitchen stove and oven was not a viable option. My strategy was to find a small lightweight, but efficient, oven that I could operate with ease. Having a small countertop oven, if safely implemented, would allow me to independently cook a variety of meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. After conducting research on cooking appliances, I purchased a small Hamilton Beach countertop toaster oven/air fryer combo. It was as if I had discovered light! My entrance into cooking was a resounding success and a relief.

Over the next few months, I discovered not only how to cook my own meals, but I also discovered the enjoyment and satisfaction of cooking.  Since then, I’ve found and mastered the art of cooking by utilizing more advanced countertop ovens, countertop grills, small crock pots, and a multitude of lightweight cooking pans, pots, and utensils.  I’ve become proficient in making a variety of seafood dishes, pastas, delicious grilled chicken and burgers, pancakes, omelets, and, as of the new year, crème brulee!

Ira Walker in his kitchen

Ira Walker in his kitchen

“It takes us all to make the world go around.” My father said this statement countless times throughout my upbringing and it’s a resonating chant that still rings in my head as an adult.  One of my goals as an MDA National Ambassador is to be a bridge builder and a uniter. I want to build bridges and help connect us as individuals in the MDA community to one another, in order to truly see the amazing accomplishments and achievements that so many of us do while overcoming our adversity.  I truly believe that seeing and being aware of the successes and abilities of those in our community will be the key to providing encouragement that can spur many of us to realize our dreams and ambitions. If cooking is your ambition, I offer myself to be your helpful guide.  As a community, together, we can make 2024 the best year for each other!

About the author:

Ira J. Walker III is a Corporate HR Professional at a Managed Healthcare Organization and an MDA National Ambassador who lives with SMA Type 2. Ira resides in beautiful and sunny Fort Lauderdale, FL. His hobbies include hanging out at the beach, being an avid south Florida sports fan, enjoying quality theater performances, driving up the Florida coast with his windows down and music turned up, volunteering and serving in his community, evolving his culinary abilities, and being an active Toastmaster. Ira believes that life is best experienced by extending happiness, benevolence, and adoration to others whenever presented with the opportunity to do so.

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