In the media
Emily McKenzie has the perfect foodcentric icebreaker to kick off the seniors’ community kitchen at the new Regent Park Community Food Centre.
“My name is Emily and I really like eating brownies and ice cream,” she announces cheerfully. “That’s the most delicious thing I can think of.”
She urges everyone to share their name and favourite food.
“I like everything — that’s my problem,” says Colleen, a tad grimly.
“My name’s Mike. I like T-bone steak.”
“I’m Alex and I like Russian borscht.”
Peter likes Mediterranean salad. Tang likes anything. Li likes everything, especially pizza. Frank, too, loves pizza. Joseph adores dumplings. Yeshi, chicken. A few people choose not to speak. Many give their surname instead of their first name.
“My name is Mary,” announces one woman with great ceremony and a British accent. “My favourite is Cornish hen with rice and peas and avocado.”
The ice is officially broken.
About 20 seniors get to work. There are chicken enchiladas to make, along with Mexican rice and beans and a green salad.
Hairnets go on. Hands are washed. Duties are divided.
The Stop, in the west end, was Toronto’s first community food centre. This one, at 40 Oak St., is its second. People come here to “grow, cook, share, and advocate for good food.”
I gravitate to Mary, she of the Cornish hen, as she grates cheese.
“My name is Cylethia Lee,” she confides. “Mary is my common name. People can’t pronounce Cylethia so I just say my name is Mary Brown.”
Lee suspects she is the oldest person in today’s cooking group, saying “I am over 70, but that’s enough for you.” She lives very happily in a Regent Park apartment, though she rarely cooks at home. She never married because “if you have a husband, he’s going to say `You can’t do this, dear. You can’t do that, dear.’ Well I’m telling you I can.”
When Yinxian Li joins the gregarious Lee to grate cheese, Lee makes a declaration: “Here we have a combined effort. We’re even greater in harmony.”
A few seats away, Xian Yao Tang chops garlic alongside a clutch of Mandarin-speaking seniors. She learned to make pizza and garlic chicken at previous community kitchens, and taught the group how to make Chinese dumplings.
These very dumplings have been safely frozen and will be cooked for the centre’s open house on Sept. 18. You can come between 5 and 7 p.m., to feast (mentally and literally) on the centre’s five main programs.
Dumplings will be served at the food skills station, kebabs at the one detailing community meals, and sweet potato pudding at the community advocacy station.
There will be salad with garlic dressing at the community garden station out front of the building, where there are rectangular garden beds for adults and circular ones for children.
There will be mini pita pizzas at the Friends of Regent Park station down the street in Regent Park (the actual park, not the neighbourhood) where the CFC partners with eight agencies to run an intercultural community garden. A bake oven and greenhouse are being built.
The Regent Park Community Food Centre is a partnership between Community Food Centres Canada and CRC, a Christian organization with deep roots in the neighbourhood. The new, five-storey building has offices and programs on the ground floor, and “deeply affordable housing” on the upper floors.
The centre quietly started rolling out food programs in the spring.
Executive director Louise Moody says the community food centre “is a really powerful model to bring in because it’s not just a plate of food, it’s about changing the way we think about poverty, marginalization and food.”
Centre manager Emily Martyn describes the mission as “moving away from the idea of giving a handout to building a community around food.”
You can see that community-building at work as the seniors cheerfully make their enchiladas in the sun-splashed dining room and immaculate, orderly kitchen.
Nick Saul, president and CEO of Community Food Centres Canada, says “when you build these things, great things happen.”
Saul wants 15 affiliated centres by 2017 and is looking for partners and donations. Perth and Stratford are open. Dartmouth, Winnipeg, Moncton, Halifax and Calgary are in progress.
“I think we have an extraordinary story that we’re telling as many people as will listen,” says Saul. “I guess what I’m interested in is democratizing good food.”
Regent Park CFC Sweet Potato Pudding
Come to the Regent Park Community Food Centre open house on Sept. 18 to try this family recipe from chef Ron Cockburn, who is originally from St. Vincent. Tannia (a.k.a. yautia, malanga or cocoyam) is a tropical root vegetable that acts as a binder. If you can’t find it, add more sweet potato.
I’ve drastically reduced the sugar in this recipe. You can make simple syrup or buy rose water for the glaze. For simple syrup, bring equal parts of water and granulated sugar to boil in a small saucepan, stirring, until the sugar dissolves.
2-1/2 cups (675 mL) wholemilk
1 cup (250 mL) granulated sugar
2 tbsp (30 mL) ground ginger
1-1/2 tsp (7 mL) ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp (2 mL) each: table salt, ground nutmeg
4 cups (1L) grated, peeled sweet potato
1-1/2 cups (375 mL) shredded frozen coconut, thawed
1/2 cup (125 mL) grated, peeled tannia (a.k.a. malanga, yautia or cocoayam)
1/4 cup (60 mL) simple syrup or rose water
In large mixing bowl, whisk milk, sugar, ginger, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg. Stir in sweet potato, coconut and tannia until thoroughly combined.
Pour into greased 9-inch by 13-inch (23- by 33-cm) baking dish. Bake in preheated 350F (180C) oven until firm to the touch, about 90 minutes.
Remove pudding from oven. Drizzle with simple syrup or rose water, if desired.
Serve pudding warm, room temperature or chilled garnished with whipped cream, if desired.
Makes 12 to 16 servings.
Read the article on The Star's website.
-by Jennifer Bain (Sept. 18, 2014)