Susana grew up in a small town in the Dominican Republic in a home without electricity. She learned to cook helping her aunts and grandmother prepare meals outside under a palm thatched cooking shelter with the flavors of slow cooking over an open fire; where coconut cream was made daily; grating the copra, and squeezing it by hand, and where meat was either butchered the same morning in the market, or dried in the sun. Without refrigeration fish was limited to salted cod, dried herring or dried tilapia. Tilapia can still be seen hanging to dry on lines in many villages near where she was raised.
Like many people in town, her family raised goats and a "canuco"; a plot of land near town where they cultivated vegetables, plantains avocados, mangoes, coconuts and other fruits. Planting and harvesting was a community event with "plenas" sung as neighbors helped each other with planting and bringing in the crop.
In the days of her youth it was not unusual to pass the evening with friends and family members, shelling pigeon peas, exchanging local gossip and telling cautionary tales to the young. Other than some music on the radio there was little electronic interference to boisterous conversation and play with friends and extended family. Clothes were washed by hand, often on the river bank. Every one had chores, but there was also opportunity to sneak off and play to climb trees and to swim in nearby streams.
Susana moved to a provincial capital on the coast to attend college, and here she expanded her culinary experience to a wider variety of foods, including fresh seafood. Soon after coming to the United States Susana was selected to be part of the Betty Crocker composite portrait. She has worked as a business manager and has taught elementary and high school.
Dr. Charles Lewis, MD, MPH, served as U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in a isolated mountain village in the Dominican Republic and lived in that country for several years. He returned to the Dominican Republic after residency training and helped to organize public health efforts to improve children's health and survival, and worked at the regional hospital. He and Susana met at this time, when she was nearing completion of her college degree.
Dr. Lewis is board certified in Public Health and Preventive Medicine and has practiced medicine in Florida for over 20 years. He is also the author of a textbook on enteroimmunology, an emerging field of medicine, and is an expert on food-related diseases