After a long career at Bon Appetit magazine, followed by writing cookbooks, I stepped back from working so hard and gradually slipped into retirement. But I quickly became bored and restless—and was getting on my husband’s nerves. I realized I wanted to do something meaningful to help young people who are less fortunate than I’ve been. I was volunteering as a mentor at an after school program for underprivileged middle schoolers, but that was a mere 1 hour a week. I needed to do more.
Then I read Liz Hauk’s tender book Home Made, where she shares her experiences cooking with teenagers in a group foster home, and describes the impact her commitment made on these broken, young lives. Her stories about the kids’ bum start in life broke my heart, and inspired me to want to share my love of cooking with young people—to both nurture them and teach useful skills.
My cousin Robert Greenwald is a compassionate man who was a successful film maker and now devotes his time to social activism. He connected me with Venice Community Housing, a nonprofit that offers housing and services for homeless people in West Los Angeles and Venice, California. They were interested in my idea, and very soon I was teaching cooking at one of their group homes for 19-24 year-old-homeless youth. After a few months, the classes evolved to include people of all ages.
I developed recipes for these classes with three goals in mind—so easy students just might make the food on their own, inexpensive to fit their limited budgets, and, of course, tasty enough that I’d feel good serving the dishes to my soon-to-be new friends.
In the Cooking to Improve Lives section of this blog, I report on this undertaking and my evolving relationship with these interesting people, and share the recipes. The experience is even more satisfying than I had hoped, the highlight being chatting with everyone while they polish off good, homemade food. Maybe my stories and recipes will inspire some of you to do something similar.
COOKING TO IMPROVE LIVES BLOG