Holiday season is upon us and there’s no
better way to show family and friends you care than by hosting
a dinner party.
To create the perfect party all you need to do is this: plan a menu, write out a schedule of party preparations, buy charming invitations that you address and mail yourself (an e-mail invite is a no-no), organize a grab bag, decorate your home with the appropriately trimmed tree or menorah, gather all your utensils together (never mind if your cooking is done in one badly scratched, Teflon-coated fry pan) and start. What could be simpler?
Simpler would be accepting an invitation to someone else’s home. And, after considering all the elements that go into a successful dinner you might consider that the only viable option. But help, at least with the cooking, is available.
I met with two skilled professionals: a "kitchen coach" who makes house calls, and a holistic nutritionist whose whole foods cooking classes will teach you to prepare delicious, healthy dishes for your guests. Both teachers live in Brooklyn - one in Boerum Hill, the other in Flatbush - and as Judith Goldberg, a.k.a. The Kitchen Coach explained, "If someone hires me, I’ll be their adopted sister-in-law for as long as I’m needed."
The Kitchen Coach
Judith Goldberg recognized her calling shortly after graduating from the French Culinary Institute in 1993. A friend, recently engaged and anxious to prepare a delicious dinner for her fiance’s family of eight, called Goldberg on a Tuesday evening asking for advice. Would a meal that included spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, barbecue chicken, fried chicken, rice, beans and plantains be enough? Could all the dishes be prepared by Saturday night?
Sensing an impending disaster, Goldberg took control.
First she streamlined the menu, then she made up a shopping list, wrote a day-to-day schedule of preparations, and instead of cooking the meal for her friend, they worked together on each dish. The meal was a resounding success and The Kitchen Coach was born. Goldberg had found a niche in the food business that perfectly matched her skills for organization and joy in teaching.
"I want to empower people to cook for themselves," she said.
I invited Goldberg into my home for an afternoon of cooking instruction. The conversations that led up to our meeting had been business-like, so I expected a "Yan Can Cook" show-off, wielding a 10-pound knife to walk through the door. Nothing prepared me for this whirling-dervish from Boerum Hill, with an infectious giggle and warmth to spare. A hands-on coach, she sees cooking as a kind of therapy, and wants you to love being in the kitchen as much as she does.
"The best times for me," said Goldberg "are sitting around the table with people I know and love."
You know that you’re in the company of a professional when you see Goldberg at work. (It’s also a humbling experience. Shortly into the afternoon, I realized just how basic my skills were.) The crust we prepared for a delicious chestnut and corn tart, was a simple pate brisee (a rich, flaky dough with a lot of butter) that we put together on my kitchen table, using nothing more sophisticated then our hands and a fork. As we assembled the tart she discussed proper techniques for food handling, the correct way to use a knife (my knife handling skills had us both laughing) and other useful tips like placing a damp paper towel under a cutting board so it doesn’t slide while you’re chopping.
She encouraged me, suggested alternatives to my food processor and microwave addiction, and never once made me feel that my questions or comments were inappropriate. Working with Goldberg was a stress-free and yes, empowering way to learn in the kitchen.
Goldberg’s clients range from experienced home cooks to bachelors who want to cook a special meal for their girlfriends. The "Foods of Love theme is big with the guys," she joked. All jobs, from the simplest - taking a client’s grocery list and going shopping, to determining what equipment is needed in the kitchen of a new homeowner and then shopping for the cookware, or the full "sister-in-law" treatment - menu planning, scheduling, shopping and instruction in the client’s kitchen, are services offered by The Kitchen Coach.
For a list of services and prices contact Judith Goldberg, The Kitchen Coach, at (718) 522-5272, or by cell (917) 837-3813 or e-mail at thekitchen
Keeping an open mind is the first lesson I learned after meeting holistic nutritionist and cooking instructor, Rachel Kieffer. Forget the image of the humorless, Birkenstock-wearing practitioner preaching the "health food" gospel. This Flatbush resident is more East Village in appearance than I expected, with an easy-going, non-preachy take on whole foods. With affection and humor, Kieffer counsels private clients and offers monthly cooking classes in her kitchen that "keep our immune system functioning optimally, reduce stress, increase energy and create health."
As a graduate of the Institute of Integrative Nutrition in Manhattan, Kieffer is certified to work as a holistic practitioner and health counselor. She has been "healing with whole foods" for several years.
I joined two of Kieffer’s clients for nutritional counseling and attended cooking classes in her home. Both students looked for answers to health problems that are common at this time of year: fatigue and mild depression. Kieffer made dietary suggestions that addressed their needs, and then discussed other healthy changes we could make in our diets.
She was sympathetic when I spoke of my addiction to coffee - I need several cups a day, with artificial sweetener - to get me going. Substituting green tea, which is "less acidic and has cholesterol-lowering and cancer-preventive effects" was one suggestion, and using an herb called Stevia, sold in health food stores in a granulated form, would sweeten the tea and, of course, be healthier than the artificial sweetener.
She stressed the importance of keeping our immune systems in optimal health by eating a diet low in meat and dairy products and high in grains, fruits and vegetables.
Class participation included cutting and chopping a variety of seasonal vegetables, cooking lentils and a grain called oat groats that looks like barley and tastes a little like oatmeal. We prepared four dishes, which were surprisingly easy to assemble and tasted hearty and well seasoned. At the end of the class we all sat down, ate and talked.
I enjoyed a kale salad topped with orange segments and drizzled with balsamic vinegar. It had a good balance of sweet to savory flavors, and could be included at any holiday gathering without eliciting snickers from the unenlightened.
Besides private nutritional counseling and monthly cooking classes, Kieffer lectures once a month at the Park Slope Food Co-op [782 Union St. at Sixth Avenue, (718) 622-0560]. As you would imagine, her talks are geared toward healthy, holistic eating with topics such as "Sugar Blues," "The Pros & Cons of Popular Diets" and "Eating Right for Women’s Health," to name a few.
To schedule an appointment with Rachel Kieffer Integrative Nutrition call (718) 758-0466, or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.