Last Friday, I had the exceptional opportunity to volunteer my services at The Center for Well Being and Palliative Care Clinic at Grady. For the second year in a row, I was able to create and present a workshop called “Eating Well for Living Well” designed to educate and entertain a group of local adults living with illness. My goal was to provide insight about these big questions:
How can I learn to plan my meals ahead of time?
Is fresh food better than frozen?
How can I eat healthy on a budget?
How does the food I eat affect my total health?
Combining my love of teaching with my daily mission to provide happiness through food is exhilarating for me, and I was stoked for this experience! So, I tied on my apron and put on my ole teacher hat, and here’s how it went…
I set up my table with local produce and tons of tools/gadgets/bowls I had hauled from my kitchen,
along with items I prepped ahead of time to build two dishes to share on site.
We began the session by brainstorming a list of foods that the participants had in their refrigerators or pantries at the moment- like chicken, turkey, chick peas, fruit, and green beans. I led the group in the exercise of planning a menu, utilizing the aforementioned ingredients, and created a short and inexpensive shopping list needed to complete the meals.
We chatted about where one could purchase those ingredients, highlighting the Wholesome Wave Georgia program, which facilitates the acceptance of EBT cards at local farmers markets, as well as providing a special incentive of $2 value for every EBT dollar spent. Spirited conversations and loads of wise questions peppered my presentation beautifully. I love teaching a raucous crowd of adults! Discussion about the freshness and abundance of seasonal produce and the super inexpensive, bus-accessible DeKalb Farmers Market option seemed to be welcome information for these folks.
Next, we moved into the real-life-food-show part of the workshop. (If only I had had some TV people to clean up after me!) First we put together a black bean and corn salad with local broccoli, peppers, cilantro and a garlic lime dressing. I enlisted the help of each attendee to vigorously shake a jar of lime juice, vinegar, honey, garlic, salt, pepper, and olive oil in order to emulsify the quick vinaigrette. I encouraged the participants to taste raw veggies and broccoli leaves too. They were amazed that real broccoli, straight from the farm, had leaves. A blind woman within the group was the most tickled.
Then, I realized that I had forgotten to bring grape tomatoes to use in the salad, and someone yelled out, “Put that peach in there!” Brilliant idea!!! And so we did. Why not?? This sparked a great talk about substituting similar ingredients based upon seasonality and availability, as well as employing whole foods like honey, citrus, herbs, or a salty cheese to add flavor instead of using a processed option. Using a sweet and soft peach in place of sweet and juicy tomatoes was an excellent suggestion and a perfect segue to that teaching point.
This gentleman was my sous chef for the day. He watches lots of Food Network and was quite knowledgeable about food. His mama told him never to waste a bite- so he helped to serve the other folks and scraped that bowl clean.
And speaking of not wasting…we talked a lot about the rectangular container you see in the photo above: my broth bin. All of the tops and bottoms of vegetables, peels and rinds, stems and leaves make their way into that bin. Later I add chicken bones (or not) and simmer the bits and pieces with a little salt and pepper to make my own chicken or vegetable broths without the excessive amounts of sodium that store-bought boxed broths contain. This was a point of intrigue for several of my guests. Next time, I’ll have to bring some of my broth for them to taste.
After that, we made a whole wheat pasta salad with basil pesto, kale, carrots, yellow squash, and feta cheese that was scarfed down with a serious quickness.
Positive comments were flying and there were people astounded by how much they enjoyed this salad that was loaded with anti-oxidants, whole grains, vitamins, and nutrients. The sounds of joyous eating combined with the glimmer of light bulbs going off in heads empowered with new information was almost too much for my heart to handle. I could easily do this gig every day.
At the end of the workshop, I asked the participants to ponder and then share their answers to two reflection questions, the same way I used to close each day when I was a school teacher.
1- What was you favorite part of today’s workshop, and why?
2- What is something you can do now in your own life that you couldn’t do or didn’t know how to do before?
Oh, reflection time is a glorious time. And I wish I had the answers recorded. A few revelations that stood out to me are as follows (and I’m going to paraphrase here)…
“I never would have tried that black bean salad on a menu. I’d have thought I wouldn’t like it. Now I know I should try new things.”
“My favorite part was the pesto, because it was soooo delicious. And I can make that at home now that I’ve seen it done.”
“Fresh, low calorie, healthy food is so good!”
“I know that I can start planning a menu with what I have. And I can go to the farmers markets in town and get a few ingredients each week.”
“Now I know that you don’t have to cook all your vegetables. You can use them raw in salads and it’s fast and easy.”
“I learned that I can eat fresh food on a budget.”
Oh, so wonderful!!!! I was asked to plan this workshop to last an hour, but it would be acceptable with the program director if it went over time. And at the end of hour two, people were still engaged, still asking questions, and even requesting recipes. Ha! On the workshop evaluation, one of the attendees actually wrote that what they liked least about the program is that there wasn’t enough time. Now that is pre-ty awesome.
As you can imagine, I am literally bursting with glee. I thoroughly enjoyed this experience- I laughed a lot, smiled the whole time, and made a difference in the lives of some of my community members. I’ve even been asked to come back in the fall to offer ideas about fall vegetables. I can’t wait!!!!!!!!!!!
Below I’m going to share the recipe (per request) for this summery orzo salad I made this weekend along with the pesto recipe I made for the workshop.
I snapped the photo before adding grape tomatoes…poor grape tomatoes are getting neglected this week! Please consider this recipe a template and feel free to utilize any ingredients you have on hand.
Thanks for reading, friends. It’s so incredibly invigorating to help others. I gave my time and energy, but what I gained in return is powerful and irrevocable. I’m glad I got to share my story with you.
Happy cooking and eating to you!
Summertime Orzo Salad with Chicken
For the kale and orzo:
1 bunch kale, rinsed. Remove the stems.
1 C orzo pasta (or you could use a whole wheat pasta of any shape!)
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. When boiling, add a few serious pinches of salt.
Add kale to the water and cook for about 3 minutes, pushing it back down into the water often, as it likes to rise up.
Prepare a bowl of ice and water. After 3 minutes, carefully remove kale from the pot, using a slotted spoon or tongs. (You can turn the heat down to make this job easier.) Place kale in the ice bath to stop the cooking process. Bring the pot of water back up to a boil.
Add another pinch of salt to the water and then add your orzo. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 6 minutes or until al dente. Drain the water from the pot, pouring orzo into a colander. Then, remove the orzo to a large bowl. Drizzle with a little olive oil and stir. Allow the orzo to cool completely before adding other salad ingredients.
Add-in ingredients – combine in a large bowl:
Half a container of grape tomatoes, halved or quartered OR a couple of big tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 ears of fresh corn, kernels stripped from the cob
1 large or 2 small kohlrabi, skin removed, cut into small cubes
About half of a cooked chicken, cut into small bite-sized pieces (or you can just cook 2 breasts or a couple of thighs and use them.)
6 – 8 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves stripped from the stem (Or use any fresh herb you have. Dill would be great!)
½ Cup or so pine nuts, toasted in a dry pan over medium low heat and cooled
Kale- remove from the ice water. Grab a handful and squeeze the water out over the sink. Repeat with all of the cooked kale. Then, chop the kale finely and add to salad bowl.
1/3 of a Cup of feta cheese, crumbled (or skip the cheese or add any kind of cheese you like.)
Cooled cooked pasta
**Squash or zucchini would be fab in this salad. Just shred one large or 2 small. Squeeze shredded squash in a clean kitchen towel to squeeze out any excess liquid before adding to the bowl.
For the dressing:
Zest and juice of a juicy lemon
3 – 4 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
2 T Champagne vinegar (or any vinegar you have)
Squeeze of honey- about ½ t
Good couple pinches salt and freshly cracked black pepper
Combine ingredients in a blender or small food processor. Pulse to combine. Then, slowly drizzle in olive oil as you blend. Add about 1/3 – ½ Cup extra virgin olive oil, drizzling as you blend until you feel/see the dressing thicken up and emulsify. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking. It should be nice and tangy.
Drizzle your salad ingredients with about half of the dressing. Toss the salad and taste. If you’d like more dressing, go ahead and add some more. Better to start with a little and add, than to add too much dressing at first and drown your ingredients. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking. You may need to add a sprinkling of salt and pepper to the salad, especially if you haven’t added any cheese.
Serve the salad cold or at room temperature. Enjoy!
Ashli’s Basil Pesto (Can be tossed with the pasta salad ingredients instead of dressing or used in a multitude of ways!)
2 Cups or a small bunch of fresh basil leaves, rinsed and dried well
¼ – 1/3 Cup pine nuts, lightly toasted and cooled
1 pinch of red pepper flakes
2 large or 3 small cloves of garlic
juice of a lemon
salt and pepper
½ Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil, or as needed to achieve proper consistency
½ Cup freshly grated parmesan cheese (use the thin grating option)
In a food processor, combine the first five ingredients. Pulse the mixture in your processor to begin breaking down the components. Scrape down the sides of the processor, and then turn on your machine. Stream in the olive oil slowly while you blend for about 30 seconds. Stop and scrape down the sides again and taste your mixture for flavor. Add more salt or pepper as needed here, but keep in mind that the parmesan will add saltiness later. Blend again and continue adding oil until the mixture is rather loose, almost like a dressing. Lastly, add the parmesan cheese and just pulse it into your pesto a few times. Now, taste your sauce again and adjust your level of seasoning to suit your tastes. The sauce should be notably thicker now, but not too thick to stir. Transfer the pesto into your choice of storage containers. Enjoy!!!!