Take Campus Staff, Add In a Few Tasty Snacks, Drizzle With Recipes, Then Toss With Fun
Members of "Calling All Cooks" Share Love of Epicurean Endeavors at Monthly Meetings
By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs
A blender in the corner of the room whirs excitedly, mixing a frothy chocolate shake. An appetizing selection of salads, cheese, nuts, crackers, veggies, home-made bread and mousse are spread across a long table. Oohs and aahs erupt as members look upon the delicious repast laid out before them.
"Hello, and welcome to 'Calling all Cooks,'" said Trish Ratto of Health*Matters. "Today's theme is soy, and it's the main ingredient in many of the foods we'll be tasting today."
"Calling All Cooks" is a gathering of staff from around campus who share a common interest in cooking healthy food. The group, which formed last spring, meets at 12:10 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month in the Bancroft Library's Krouzian Room and is open to all employees.
"We created the group to encourage and support people to prepare their own food rather than eat out," said Ratto. "Food cooked at home is usually healthier, but many are unsure of how to do it or don't have the time."
Each month, the group decides on a food theme, and volunteers bring in samples for tasting and the recipes they used to create it.
Because of its many health benefits, soy was October's theme. Members sampled a chocolate soy milk shake, mock-chicken salad and sesame noodle salad made with tofu, soy nuts, tofu cheese, and for dessert, a rich, chocolate tofu mousse.
At the meetings, members often get exposure to foods they've never tried before.
"At one meeting, we tried seven or eight different varieties of apples," said Brenda Coker, an administrative assistant with the library. "I had no idea there were so many different types and tastes."
In addition to tasting food, members share recipes, exchange tips on how to prepare dishes and provide suggestions on where to shop for the freshest ingredients.
While many join the group because they love food, the focus, said Ratto, is to learn cooking methods that fit people's busy schedules.
"A lot of us get home from work and don't have the time or energy to create a complicated gourmet meal," said Ratto. "At these meetings, we get ideas on how to put together quick and convenient dishes that are also nutritious."
For past meetings, Coker has brought in her blender, microwave and breadmaker from home to facilitate the preparation of food. Sharing food and ideas, she says, is a great way to get to know people.
"Using what they've learned, some members have found ways to entice their families to eat more healthful food," said Coker. "Others have gathered valuable information with regards to health issues, such as allergies and food substitutions."
The meetings are also a chance to meet people who share a common interest in food, said Ratto. Often, the conversations go beyond the selected theme and spill into other areas of life.
"The chancellor has talked about the need to build community on our campus," said Ratto. "Participating in groups like 'Calling All Cooks' is an excellent way to achieve this goal."
Reactions to the various soy products sampled at October's meeting varied. Some members made yummy sounds while others puckered their mouths and squinted.
"We speak freely about whether we like the samples or plan to make them for ourselves and our families," said Coker.
After the tasting and discussion, the group decided upon November's theme -- soup.
Excited by the topic, members shouted out potential recipes that they might share, such as a potato-corn chowder, borscht and two or three variations of cabbage soup.