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Photos by Laura J. Gardner | The Journal Gazette
Nicholas Hostler, 13, and Maggie Davis, 16, whip up Ramen Fajitas during a meeting of “Now You’re Cookin’!”

Area libraries get cooking

Offer food classes, book clubs

Trey Zabona, 12, cuts chicken for a recipe during the class, which meets monthly.
Kursten Baisden, 12, mixes a Mandarin Ramen Salad at the Kendallville Public Library.

It’s not every day that you can make ramen noodles at the library.

But that’s the beauty of “Now You’re Cookin’!,” a kids’ program at the Kendallville Public Library, which lets young patrons get their hands dirty in the onsite kitchen.

The monthly meetings have a theme, such as breakfast foods, holiday cookies, doughnuts and Chinese cuisine, for which the kids made egg rolls. They work in teams preparing the recipes and then, of course, they get to eat their creations.

“We try and get in five recipes in an hour. Sometimes it’s a challenge, which is why we haven’t done cake,” says Katie Mullins, teen librarian, who created the program in 2007 for sixth- to 12th-graders.

“We’ve had some epic failures, but you take the good with the bad,” she says, laughing.

It’s just one of several area libraries that offer cookbook clubs or kids’ cooking programs, catering to patrons who love food.

“Cooking and enjoying food is supposed to be a communal experience; we’re meant to share that with other people,” says librarian Melissa Kiser, training specialist at Allen County Public Library.

That’s why she started a cookbook club a few months ago, which meets at the Tecumseh branch. Everyone prepares a recipe from that month’s featured cookbook or cookbook author and brings it to the meeting, where they discuss the book and sample one another’s creations.

The club, which doesn’t have a name yet, is open to everyone.

Kiser posts a recap of each meeting, usually with some recipes, on the library’s blog at www.acpl.lib.in.us.

For this month’s meeting, the group’s third, members read some of Lovina Eicher’s Amish cookbooks, with attendees bringing Sawdust Pie, Bob Andy Pie, meatballs, blueberry cake and vinegar pie.

Natalie McKnight, 15, made Cheesy Chicken Chowder, which she liked but thought could have used more salt.

She joined the club with her mom, because the teen loves to cook and often makes simple family meals at home. She started cooking seriously at age 11.

“We like the ‘Taste of Home’ series; it’s pretty good. But they’ve gotten fancier over the years, which is kind of sad. I’m a simple cook,” Natalie says.

For member Stephanie O’Shaughnessy, the group represents two of her passions: cooking and book clubs.

“I love talking about food and hearing other people’s interpretations of recipes,” she says.

So does Sheila Benner, who enjoys reading cookbooks the way she does novels.

The November meeting was her first, and she was happy to find members eager to talk about both grand ideas and practical suggestions.

“It’s fun sharing recipes and experiences on what worked, what didn’t work. I never get bored talking about food, discovering new things about food,” Benner says.

O’Shaughnessy’s favorite cookbook is “The Pioneer Woman Cooks.” She’s also been following author Ree Drummond’s blog for two years.

“She’s just hilarious, and her food always looks delicious. She does pretty basic stuff, but she makes it so it’s easy to do your own interpretations,” she says.

The club also has tackled “The Barefoot Contessa” series by Ina Garten. For the December meeting, they’re reading cookbooks by Susan Branch, which were suggested by Benner.

“I have found out about so many different cookbooks that I didn’t know about through this book club,” Kiser says, adding that she probably wouldn’t have read Garten’s cookbooks on her own.

She’s also discovered food writer M.F.K. Fisher and hopes to persuade the club to read one of her books.

“She just had a real interesting way of thinking about food and a real talent for writing. I can’t wait to read all of her books,” Kiser says.

Perhaps the cookbook clubs are just the latest evidence of a growing trend.

It seems that “there’s a food revolution … or slow food movement that’s finally starting to hit our area,” O’Shaughnessy says.

Or maybe some are just drawn to the joy of discovery.

The idea for “Now You’re Cookin’!” was to introduce kids to easy recipes they can make again at home – and many of them do just that, Mullins says.

Some students show up because their parents want them to learn cooking skills. Others wander to the kitchen simply because they smell the food cooking, she says.

But ultimately, she hopes the program also gives them a taste for lifelong learning.

“The angle I take with some programs is, I figure I get them in the library and excited about being here, and … sneak in the reading part,” Mullins says.

sscarlett@jg.net

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