Maria Wirries is only a couple of years into her teens, but she has definite ideas about everything from singing to skating to eating and, without being obnoxious about it, she makes her feelings known.
“My favorite restaurants in Sarasota? I have so many,” she says. “Crab & Fin, Millie’s, Michael’s On East, Olive Garden and Steak ’n’ Shake.”
If you think her taste in restaurants is eclectic, take a look at what she does. Maria is a superstar in these parts, but she doesn’t do it in just one area. She’s smart, eloquent, beautiful and graceful. And she puts all that to good use on the ice and on the stage. But let’s go back a bit in Maria’s comparatively short life.
Born in Haiti, her father, a white American missionary worker, died when Maria was just 4 months old. Her aunt, Jeaneen, flew to the island and brought the infant back to live with her, first in Myakka City and, more recently, in Bradenton. Jeaneen, who is in her 70s, may, technically, be Maria’s aunt, but in every other way she’s her mother.
“My mom definitely does the cooking in my family,” Maria insists. “She is very good and can cook pretty much anything.”
Good thing, too, because beneath her svelte figure, Maria loves to eat, and between the skating, singing, dancing and acting, she works up quite an appetite.
“Before a show, I eat a lot!” she says. “Doing shows takes a lot out of you so, generally, I eat anything that’s around. I’m not too picky.
“After a show, my top pick would be to go to Crab & Fin. They have the best seafood ever! My favorites on the menu would have to be the chilled king crab and the lobster. Both are extremely delicious! But my meal wouldn’t be complete without raw oysters and a Caesar salad to start with.”
Maria not only speaks in exclamations points — she lives them!! A ball of energy, she eats everything from Caesar salads and lobsters to chocolate and pizza without a thought about calories or carbs. Like a playful puppy, she appears to be on springs with the kind of energy that burns fuel like a torch. Whether it’s ice-skating or singing, she’s ravenous.
“It’s close,” she admits, “but ice skating always makes me hungrier. It takes so much concentration, and you use your entire body all the time so you get pretty hungry after a long session!”
There are, however, a couple of caveats.
“Lucky for me, dairy doesn’t really affect my voice the way it does other singers, so I don’t really have to stay away from that. But when it comes to skating and, even in some degree with singing, eating too much can be bad. As long as I don’t eat to the point my stomach hurts, or drink soda — which could cause an embarrassing moment on stage — I’m pretty much fine with anything!”
Teenagers, even the ones with talent and happy homes, need comfort food.
“A good slice of pepperoni pizza and something chocolaty makes everything better!” Maria says. “I love chocolate and my voice teacher, Alan Corey, makes the best chocolate cookies, ever!”
Although Jeaneen Wirries does almost all the cooking at home, Maria manages to make her presence known around the stove and fridge, too.
“When I’m cooking or in the kitchen making a mess, I love listening to the ‘Mama Mia’ soundtrack,” Maria says. “Maybe it’s because Meryl Streep played the incredible chef, Julia Child. All I know is that groovy ABBA music just makes everything more fun!”
With all the energy and exuberance Maria has, she also has a thoughtful side, and that comes through her music. From Broadway belting to Baroque art songs, Maria has an uncanny ability to communicate without artifice or tricks. She may put her soul and heart into her studies, but, without her innate talent, it wouldn’t mean much. For example, when we asked her what music reminds her of her favorite foods, this is what she said:
“Well, after pacing around in my house and thinking about all of the songs I love, the one … (I came up with was) ‘Meadow Lark,’ from ‘The Baker’s Wife.’”
Her explanation says it all.
“This song really means a lot to me, and I love singing it, because it has many meanings and the meaning changes for me daily,” she says. “It tells a story about growing up and making choices and not being sure if they are right or wrong. And, in the end, breaking free and discovering what the world has to offer. Even though it may be scary, just knowing that you have one life means you should live it and not hide in a cage.”
Certainly not one to hide in a cage, Maria — on stage or off — has a wonderful depth that’s rooted in simplicity. And, like the girl, herself, her favorite recipe is simple.
“I love my mother’s sautéed tilapia,” she tells us. “She really doesn’t cook with recipes. Really, it’s just tilapia filets sautéed in butter with some herbs served on top. We eat it frequently, and it’s really good after a long day at school!”
Jeaneen’s Sauteed Tilapia
5 7-ounce tilapia filets (one per person)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic power
1/4 cup dry vermouth
Fresh rosemary (chopped)
Place butter and oil in cold pan. Heat over medium-high heat until mixture sizzles but doesn’t burn. Add filets and sautée until golden. Sprinkle with some of the garlic power and turn. Sprinkle the rest of the garlic power on turned side and allow the second side to sautée until golden. Add vermouth to pan, taking care not to pour over filets. Sprinkle chopped fresh rosemary over filets and cook until done (about two to three more minutes).
Remove to warmed plates and delicately decorate edges of plates with balsamic vinegar glaze. (Not too much; just enough for flavor and design …) Serve with steamed asparagus
June’s Perfectly Steamed Asparagus:
Wash and trim asparagus spears. Put aside.
In large frying pan, place about 1 cup College Inn chicken or turkey broth. Add asparagus spears. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and cover for five to eight minutes (depending on taste for softer or more al dente asparagus). Serve with a light dusting of grated or shredded Parmesan cheese.
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