Over the Rainbow

by Marge Perry on January 31, 2013

When my mother really, really liked something, she’d say it was “over the rainbow”. (If it was something she loved to eat, she would say “over the moon”.) I think she got the expression from the song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from the Wizard of Oz.

I want to tell you about something that puts me over the rainbow. Last November, I started a cooking program for ‘tweens at the Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club in the Bronx. Before I could actually teach, we had some pretty thorny logistics to work out.We didn’t have a real kitchen, and we didn’t have a stove or oven. We had no equipment– not a single skillet or spatula.

Some people are very, very good at the “Ask”. They may be fundraisers (professionally or personally) or sales people or a whole lot of other professions I am not. (Which is a good thing, because my kids and I would have starved if we depended on my halting, stammering Ask.) But all I had at Kips Bay was an empty room with a sink and some cabinets. If I wanted the program to work, I’d have to Ask for things. I emailed my friends at two companies, Anolon and Oxo to find out if they had any returned or obsolete equipment they would be willing to donate.

Within ten minutes my friend at Anolon told me she had brand new sets of pots and pans (the same ones I use at home!) she would send and wanted to know what else I needed. Shortly thereafter, Oxo told me to send a wish list. You know when something good happens and it feels like your insides just swell up and you get a big goofy smile and you want to hug all of humanity? Yeah, that’s how it was.

That was before I even met the kids.

I’ll get to them in a minute. Shortly after the program began, I got an email from a friend of mine, Beth Poole, who is the Executive Director of the Copper River Marketing Association in Alaska.  When we were in Cordova in the fall (cooking for the mushroom festival), we had brunch with one of the fishermen on the board of the organization, and he asked me all kinds of questions about the Kips Bay program. After the program began, they sent me an entire case of canned wild Copper River salmon. It turned out to be the kids’ second favorite class. (Their first favorite was when we made Christmas cookies. Nothing can compete with making cookies, even if they are no-bake cookies because you don’t have an oven.* The kids decorated take-out Chinese food containers with appliques donated by my good friend Vivien Siegel, filled them with the cookies , and gave them as gifts.)

Here’s the amazing thing about these kids. They are game for anything. Even when they were first learning to use 8-inch chef’s knives and went through a bunch of band-aids, they persevered. Even when we were cooking foods they were sure they wouldn’t like, they tried at least a little taste. They came to the class each week full of enthusiasm, curiousity and willingness to learn.

Sometimes, because they are between 11 and 13 years old, they also brought drama, goofiness, eye rolling, ants in their pants and a whole lot more. But then we would begin, and it all fell away. Over the weeks, their inner talents emerged. There is Danae, whose artistry made our food look so beautiful; Atalaya, the organized leader; Gian, our master mincer who hyper-focusses until the job is perfect; Nathalia, her quiet intellect soaking up the information; Dai’lynda, who happily volunteers to help with any and all tasks… the list goes on. Cooking helped their inherent talents blossom.

Last night we had our graduation class, the last of eight Level 1 classes. To celebrate, the kids made Peanut Noodles with Shrimp. Look at this dish– the kids cut and cooked every vegetable, made the sauce and sautéed the shrimp. (The only thing I did was cook the noodles in advance, and that was simply to save time).  They used an Oxo julienne peeler (a tool I love) to make the carrots and zucchini look so great, and cut the red pepper strips with their chef’s knives.

Here are some of the kids in their graduation toques.

I was just over the rainbow with pride and pleasure.

Below is my recipe for Peanut Noodles and Shrimp. (We changed the vegetables slightly: the kids julienned zucchini and carrots and sautéed them with them red pepper.)

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Serves 6

2 tablespoons canola oil, divided

4 teaspoons minced ginger

3 cloves garlic, minced

¼ cup low sodium soy sauce

3 tablespoons rice vinegar

½ cup natural style peanut butter

1 cup lower sodium nonfat chicken broth

½ teaspoon salt

12 ounces linguine

2 red peppers, cut in thin strips

1 medium zucchini, cut in thin strips

2 carrots, shredded with a vegetable peeler

1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and de-veined

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the ginger and garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute, or until softened. Add the soy sauce, rice vinegar, peanut butter, chicken broth and salt and cook, stirring, until the peanut butter is dissolved. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 7 minutes, or until thick and smooth.
  2. Meanwhile, cook the linguine in plenty of lightly salted boiling water until al dente. Just before draining, add the red pepper, zucchini and carrots to the pasta. Drain and toss with the sauce.
  3. Toss shrimp with the red pepper flakes.
  4. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of canola oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high. Add the shrimp and cook 2 minutes per side, or until pink.
  5. Combine the shrimp with the pasta and toss thoroughly.

c. Marge Perry

*Anyone out there have an extra oven hanging around?

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Ebo January 31, 2013 at 1:08 pm

I know how charged up you are after you come home from teaching the kids. It really shows how much you are touched by them.


Lindsay January 31, 2013 at 1:16 pm

Marge- as usual you are doing amazing things! I dare say you’ll be a lot more willing to flex your Ask muscles after such a positive response… Reading/ seeing this makes me miss you & the kiddos! Let me know if you make it to Chicago any time soon :)


Marge January 31, 2013 at 1:23 pm

Lindsay– I loved working with you on the City Harvest program here– I wish we were working together at Kips Bay! If you come back to visit NY, perhaps you can come to one of the classes.


Lindsay February 1, 2013 at 1:29 pm

I would love that…Keep in touch!


Fraya January 31, 2013 at 1:20 pm

what a great program. If it is ongoing, you may be entitled to go “shopping” at the Materials for the Arts warehouse: they often have kitchen equipment.


Marge January 31, 2013 at 1:24 pm

What??????? If this works, Fraya, it will be proof positive that I never have to actually Ask.


Kimberly Winter Stern January 31, 2013 at 4:34 pm

Rock on, Marge. You are a master asker … if ‘tweens will work with you, and not against you, and smile as big as they are in this graduation picture, well then, you had ’em at ‘hello.’


Bruce January 31, 2013 at 7:36 pm

I only hope I can make half the difference with my kids at Amani that you made. I am inspired to work harder to get them the implements they sorely need for a decent cooking program.


Marge January 31, 2013 at 8:17 pm

Bruce, I am sure your impact will be enormous. You are with those kids every day, and they clearly look up to you for guidance and more.


Amy Nieporent February 1, 2013 at 5:34 am

This “gang” looks fantastic! I’m sure they learned a lot from you, just like I’m sure you learned a lot from them!


Elita February 1, 2013 at 7:01 am

I absolutely loved this post and the comments until I got to the one above mine. But I won’t let it ruin the wonderful feeling that reading about this gave me. Those kids will treasure this experience forever, and who knows, maybe you helped to inspire someone to dream of being a chef. I love it!


edward February 1, 2013 at 10:05 pm

I’ve always said…. food is about feeding people which is about nurturing… Something you exemplify Most Lovely Lady! Thank you for reminding so many of us why we do what we do….


Kurt Jacobson February 4, 2013 at 7:04 am

Great job Marge! I’m in the middle stages of launching a cooking program for a group of girls at the St Vincents Villa residential rehab in N Baltimore. I have never done anything like this before and could use all the help I can get. The girls are the same age as the ones in your group, but are in a rehab facility. Note: these used to be called orphanages. Anyway they are just kids to me and I look forward to making this work. Please post some more tips that myself and others could use to copy your success in this type of adventure.


Marge February 4, 2013 at 8:56 am

Oh, Kurt, I am no expert. I am just figuring this out as I go along– responding to the kids’ needs, interests and abilities as I go. I have re-adjusted my original curriculum about 500 times, and am sure to 500 times again. If there is one single thing I have learned, it is to listen to the kids– not just what they say (and sometimes NOT what they say!) but what they do, what they engage with, etc. I have made mistakes and tried to correct them, seen flaws in my planning– and thankfully, happened to do enough right to make it work. But I am sure it could be better. Having said all that, if my experience can, in any way be of use to you, I will share any and all info and observations. Why don’t you send me a message through the contact form with your contact info and we can take it from there…If I can in anyway help you, I am happy to.


Bobbi February 4, 2013 at 4:13 pm

This is so freak’n over the rainbow beautiful!


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