New ideas, more classes with PCC Cooks

by Nancy Schatz Alton

This article was originally published in August 2004

(August 2004) — A child learning to cook at my mother’s knee I was not. In our house, my Dad manned the kitchen, and, as a perfectionist, he preferred doing it alone.

When I did venture into the kitchen, he usually took over my task, finding it easier to step in than stand back and watch. Sure, I eventually perfected the family’s Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe and made many satisfying Purple Cow Shakes, but my food knowledge was scarce when I finally moved out on my own.

About five years later, after many calls home and countless meals made from boxes, I began to enjoy cooking for myself. When I joined PCC, I started my foray into natural foods. I gleaned information from handouts I picked up at the Fremont store, and my friend Jen, who was training to become a nutritionist, passed recipes my way. Then Jen suggested I take a cooking class at the Greenlake store, and this novice cook began to learn in big strides.

The first class I attended was “Feeding the Whole Family” with Cynthia Lair. I still remember how amazing the food tasted. I had never cooked lentils before, and cauliflower wasn’t high on my favorites list, but the Curried Lentils and Cauliflower dish was divine. Plus, winter greens frightened me. I imagined they were time-consuming to prepare. I was shocked at how easy and quickly they cooked up, and I relished their simple flavor.

I took many lessons away from that fall class. I started making brown rice. Winter greens occasionally appeared in my shopping bag. A pressure cooker was added to my Christmas wish list. And I finally cracked open Cynthia Lair’s Feeding the Whole Family Cookbook, which I had received as a gift the year before.

My new pressure cooker inspired me to take the “Pressure Cooking Workshop” with Lynn McKenzie. This time, instead of participating as a student, I was a FoodWorks class assistant. Accepting this volunteer position meant I didn’t have to pay for the class, and I saw just how much work went into teaching.

Arriving early, I helped prep the food, mainly chopping vegetables. As the instructor taught, I washed dishes and I stayed late to help clean up. Although it wasn’t as relaxing as watching someone else cook, I was proud that my cooking skills had advanced enough to help with an actual class.

Over the years, as my tally of classes added up, I became a more confident natural foods cook. My neighborhood PCC store became easier to navigate. New foods became part of my diet.

Knowing I was slightly allergic to dairy products, I explored other dietary options when I took “Eating Well with Food Allergies” with Marie Donadio. She provided fantastic recipes, sometimes using ingredients I hadn’t tried before, such as millet and quinoa. What I really loved about the class, though, was the sense of community I felt. Donadio answered a million questions, and for once, I didn’t feel the odd one out because I have a food allergy.

As my cooking abilities grew, I enjoyed bringing new foods to family potlucks. My Apple Crisp made with rice flour and sweetened with maple syrup was an instant hit and sparked my desire to start new holiday traditions. I eagerly attended “A Vegetarian Winter Holiday Feast” with Gail Simon. After a wonderful class full of rich flavors, I plotted my own meal.

It was the day after Thanksgiving and my husband and I had invited our best friends over. Barbecued Beans and Eggplant, from the Simple Beginnings class, was the meal’s centerpiece. Sweet potatoes roasted with garam masala and a touch of oil sat alongside a Cranberry Chutney recipe from Simon’s class. My Apple Crisp served as dessert. I enjoyed preparing a healthy meal, but what I loved was sharing adored recipes with good friends. Now I often invite loved ones to a “day after the real holiday” festive meal.

Taking FoodWorks classes allowed my inner chef to blossom. My healthier diet led to a better sense of well-being. My husband enjoyed my expanded recipe collection. We decided to add a member to our family table. Pregnant and ever curious, I sought knowledge at PCC once again. “Organically Grown Babies” with Jennifer Enich led me into new territory. I wanted to raise a child comfortable with healthy foods and her relationship to food.

At class, I learned about breastfeeding versus bottle-feeding, the facts behind childhood food allergies, and how and at what age to introduce foods to Caroline. I so enjoyed the food that, even before Caroline was born, I added Oatmeal Baby Cakes and Gorgeous Grain Pilaf made with quinoa to our recipe repertoire.

Last fall, with Caroline almost 2, I finally had time to take another class. Although I’m a pretty committed natural foods cook, I desperately needed fresh inspiration when I took “Rice Bowls for the Whole Family” with Cynthia Lair. This class was exactly what I needed, as my standard weekday dinners had become repetitive. I even learned how to make Teriyaki Chicken and Vegetables, my husband’s favorite take-out meal! I added other dishes to my weekly meal line-up. Best of all, I re-examined Lair’s cookbook Feeding the Young Athlete, already on my cookbook shelf, and found more recipes that have now become family favorites.

Perusing class schedules always excites me, but now I have several more reasons to get excited. On August 1, PCC FoodWorks changed its name to PCC Cooks. With a mission of inspiring fresh ideas for delicious natural cooking and healthy living with fun, informative classes, the program has several new elements.

PCC Cooks will offer an increased variety of international and seasonal classes. Daytime adult classes will be on the schedule for the first time. Look for custom cooking classes for building group teamwork and special events such as birthdays and celebrations. New classes with the latest information about popular diets and alternatives to low carbohydrate diets are in the line-up. Classes showing participants how to pair wine with food is a recent addition.

PCC Cooks is also reaching out to the youngest generation of eaters with its new Little Chefs Club classes for children from ages 2 to 12, divided into five age groups. Taught by Francis Lau and Vivian Yuen, this four-class series helps kids build a healthy relationship with food through learning about kitchen safety, preparing dishes and gaining general food knowledge. I’m already envisioning my daughter Caroline and I taking the classes together, with both of us learning together. I can hardly wait.

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