Volunteer Spotlight: Maria Urquidi
Tell us a little about yourself.
I retired to Detroit three years ago because it seemed like an interesting place to live, with an abundance of volunteer opportunities. I have not been disappointed! I have always been interested in many of the issues that impact Detroit today – food justice, transportation, education, affordable housing, urban planning – and being retired gives me the opportunity to get involved in ways I couldn’t when I was working and raising a family.
What led you to the Cooking Matters Program?
I began volunteering at Gleaners shortly after I moved to Detroit because of the important work they do to address food security. I started as a volunteer in the warehouse helping the pantry partners load their orders and I was surprised when they were not enthusiastic about some of the healthy foods that were available FREE to the pantries. Often I was told “The people who come to my pantry don’t eat that” (red peppers) or “People wouldn’t know how to cook that” (rutabagas).” When I heard about the Cooking Matters Program, I realized that it addressed that problem perfectly, not only by introducing people to healthy foods and the reason to eat them, but also by showing how simply those foods could be prepared. I signed up as a Class Assistant on the spot!
What is your favorite part of volunteering with the Cooking Matters Program?
As with all of my Detroit experiences, my favorite part of volunteering with the Cooking Matters Program is the people. The instructors, volunteer nutritionists and cooks, are generous with their time and knowledge, and the participants match their enthusiasm. My favorite class was the CM for Families where parents attend with their children. Now when the parent skips a stop for fast food in favor of making turkey tacos at home, their child will not only understand the reason but will be able to help make the tacos.
What ingredients will we always find in your kitchen?
You will always find olive oil, garlic, onions and carrots in my kitchen; apples, avocados and bananas in my fruit bowl; and bacon ends in my freezer. (I buy them from the fresh pork dealer who sells in Shed 3 at Eastern Market every winter and then freeze them so I can toss a few pieces into some of the healthy things I cook, like kale or collards.) Oh, and pecan raisin bread from the Capuchin’s bakery!
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I love exploring Detroit by bicycle, both on group rides and just as part of my daily routine. One of my favorite things about Detroit are the social bike rides so you will always find me on Slow Roll. I also enjoy the arts and can’t believe how lucky we are to have such high quality art and music available here, either free and at low-cost.
Do you have a recipe you would like to share with us?
I discovered Kale Pesto several years ago and now it is a staple in my freezer. I use it on pasta, roasted carrots, pizza. It is easy to make if you have a blender or food processor and it keeps for a long time in the freezer.
½ cup extra virgin olive oil, more for drizzling
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 small bunch (about 1/2 pound) lacinato kale, center ribs removed
⅓ cup toasted pine nuts (or walnuts)
2 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped (and/or garlic scapes)
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon (important!)
Freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste
Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil; have ready a bowl of ice water.
Drop kale into boiling water and cook for 45 seconds.
Use tongs or slotted spoon to transfer kale to ice water. (You can skip this part if it seems like too much trouble)
Drain kale well, then wrap tightly in a dry kitchen towel and squeeze thoroughly to remove any excess moisture.
Roughly chop leaves.
In a food processor, pulse together kale, nuts, garlic, salt and lemon zest until mixture is smooth and salt has dissolved.
With motor running, slowly drizzle in the oil until fully incorporated.
Taste and add more salt dissolved in a little lemon juice, if necessary.
We first met Richard Grenn last summer when he began volunteering as a Class Assistant with the Cooking Matters program. His interests, enthusiasm for healthy lifestyle, and positive attitude make him a valuable addition to any class.
Tell us a little about yourself.
Richard is a native of Metro Detroit. He was born in Detroit, and raised in Birmingham. He enjoys friends, activity, and staying current in his fields of interest: Biomedical Sciences, Chemistry, Physiology, Biophysics, and Integrative Medicine.
Richard attended Grand Valley State University, where he received a BS in Biomedical Sciences and Chemistry. He then moved to Washington D.C. to attend Georgetown. At Georgetown, he earned an MS in Physiology and Biophysics, with a focus on Complementary and Integrative Medicine.
After Georgetown, Richard returned to the Motor City. He enjoys tutoring his favorite subjects: the sciences. Richard will attend Medical School this fall, though he hasn’t made his final decision where. He is very interested in working with patients holistically; gravitating to diet, exercise, and stress reduction as key prescriptions for health.
What led you to the Cooking Matters program?
Richard’s friend Katie Costello was aware of Richard’s commitment to a healthy lifestyle, and belief that diet, exercise, and stress reduction are key determinants of health. As a member of the team at United Way, Katie was aware of Cooking Matters, and suggested Richard might appreciate the opportunity to work with the program. He has been enjoying his work as a Classroom Assistant, supporting a program that provides participants with the knowledge, skills, and support to make the lifestyle changes he believes in so strongly!
What is your favorite part of being part of the Cooking Matters team?
Richard has especially enjoyed the people he has had the opportunity to work with through the Cooking Matters program. He tells me, “Volunteers and Coordinators are so good at what they do it is very enjoyable! Everyone knows what they want to do, and are PASSIONATE about what they’re doing.”
What ingredient will we always find in your kitchen?
Ginger is Richard’s secret ingredient. He is impressed by ginger’s many studied health benefits, and also the kick it adds to things like smoothies, dressings, and many other favorites. In fact, he says,
“I add ginger to everything.”
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Richard is a role model for a healthy lifestyle. In his spare time, he enjoys basketball, rock climbing, wake boarding, running, and volleyball. He recently participated in a triathlon, and 5k.
Do you have a recipe you’d like to share?
Richard did not have a recipe to share with us. He told me that “All my culinary tricks are things I learned in Cooking Matters.”
Recently when a friend asked Richard his ideas for seasoning baked sweet potato fries, Richard excused himself. He made his way to his car where he found his Cooking Matters book. When he returned, he confidently suggested paprika, cayenne pepper, and perhaps curry powder.
“I do have some tricks, and they all came from the book.”
Tell us a little about yourself.
Hello! I am registered dietitian, and I currently work with individuals who no longer have kidney function at a dialysis unit in Detroit.
What led you to Cooking Matters?
I became involved with Cooking Matters when I was student at Wayne State University and I had the opportunity to complete a practicum with the organization through the Dietetics program. It was a great experience that laid a solid foundation for continued involvement since.
When did you first become interested in nutrition?
I became interested in nutrition during my first year of college. At this time, I gained awareness of how crucial proper nutrition is for long-term health.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I enjoy running, exploring farmers’ markets, and spending the day at Belle Isle Beach on hot summer days.
What ingredients do you always keep in your kitchen?
No matter the week, I always have nut butter, apples, popcorn kernels, canned black beans and plain Greek yogurt. I like to keep meal preparation simple and easy most days.
Tell us about yourself.
I’ve been cooking since I was 18. I still love it today after 40 years. One of reasons I do it is because I like to see other people enjoy my food and the things that I make. I’ve been working at Capuchin Soup Kitchen for 20 years. I am the assistant chef and prepare all the meals. We serve breakfast and lunch at the Meldrum site. I also work with our volunteers every day and guide them to do the things that needs to be done.
What does the Capuchin Soup Kitchen do as an organization?
Capuchin offer services to those in need without charging any fees. We do a lot more than meals – we arrange for showers, clothing, AA meetings, and a garden program. We provide our neighborhood with services. We’re there to serve the people and help make their lives a little easier .
What is your experience with the Cooking Matters program?
When I did my first Cooking Matters class, it was called Share Our Strength. I was a resident at Jefferson house, where I teach classes now. Back then we talked about the food pyramid, but otherwise class went the same way. A chef from Union Street a restaurant in Detroit came in and worked with us. I liked the fact that he came in and taught us. It made me want to pay it forward. I left Jefferson House and have been in recovery for 22 years. When Cooking Matters came along later, my boss Allison Costello started doing a class at Gleaners for single mothers. That’s when I became involved as a volunteer. This was my seventh year teaching the guys at Jefferson House.
What do you enjoy about volunteering?
I have learned so much from working with volunteers at CSK and how enjoyable it can be. Two or three guys come from Jefferson House help at Capuchin every day. It’s a nine month program. We get them to come and help work in the kitchen. After I work with them in the Cooking Matters class, things change. I build a better relationship with the group. They have a whole different attitude.
Some of the guys are really interested in cooking, but some don’t really care that much. I try to gear the class towards them as much as possible. I want to show them skills they could use if they have a date over or want to impress their families, and how to keep within a budget. Some of the guys have never been in a kitchen before in their lives. It’s fun when you find someone who can’t cook and egg and they get really into it.
Because Jefferson House is a residential program, we do the classes a little differently there. We do a competition for final week – one team makes an entrée and the other does dessert and salad. We plan the menu week four, shop for the ingredients week five, and make the food week six. As much as we can, we give them free range to give their input and create the meal.
Do you have a favorite recipe you would like to share?
Roasted Vegetables or Potatoes
Vegetables of of choice (I like yellow squash, green zucchini, roma tomatoes, fresh asparagus, red, green & yellow peppers, and fresh garlic – chopped or bulb, or potatoes)
Cut veggies into 1/2 inch pieces
In a large bowl combine:
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
Fresh or dried herbs
Place veggies in bowl and toss.
Put seasoned veggies on a lined cookie sheet and bake for 15 to 20 mins until tender, or place in foil and put on a grill for 15 to 20 mins. If doing red skin or white potatoes, cook ½ hour to 45 mins until tender.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I am a mother and my children are grown. I have been in the food industry all of my adult life. A few years ago I watched a movie called A Place at the Table that totally changed the way I think about everything related to food. That’s how I found out about Gleaners and the Cooking Matters program. I know about food, am good with people, and have time to volunteer, so I was hoping I could make a difference.
When did you first get involved in the food industry?
My first job was at the local Dairy Queen when I was 13 years old. I saw other kids my age working there and asked how they were able to get a job when they were so young. They told me to go to the counseling office to get a green card saying my grades were high enough to handle working and studying. I wanted a job to make money, so I did it. It’s been a natural progression from there. I moved on to dishwashing, waitressing, and cooking. I went to culinary school to study cakes and pastries. I have one more semester left to finish my degree. Right now I’m a cake decorator for Costco. Once I started working around food, I never stopped except to focus on photography for three years – but depending on what you photograph that could be food related too!
What ingredients do you always have in your kitchen?
A wide variety of fruits and vegetables, and Greek yogurt. I was a vegetarian for several years before I slowly started reincorporating meat into my diet, but mostly we eat fruits and vegetables at home.
What is your favorite thing about volunteering with Cooking Matters?
I’m volunteering in my 4th Cooking Matters class and have worked with teens, middle school students, and now kids in the 3rd to 5th grades. I like seeing kids try to eat stuff that they’ve never seen before. Some of them are convinced that they won’t like certain things, but when they taste them they get it right away.
Is there a recipe that you would like to share?
One of my favorites is actually a Cooking Matters recipe: Southwestern Black-eyed Pea and Corn Salad. I like to change it up depending on what I have on hand; it’s so easy. I’ve started taking this salad to parties when I know that the only food options will be hamburgers, hotdogs, and desserts.
Southwestern Black-eyed Pea and Corn Salad
Serves 10, 3/4 cup per serving
1 medium bell pepper
1 small red onion
2 (15½ ounce) cans black-eyed peas
1 (15¼ ounce) can corn kernels, no salt added
3 Tablespoons canola oil
2 Tablespoons vinegar
1 teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves
- Rinse and dice bell pepper, removing core and seeds. Peel, rinse, and dice onion.
- If using, rinse and chop cilantro leaves.
- In a colander, drain and rinse black-eyed peas and corn.
- In a large bowl, add pepper, onion, peas, corn, cilantro if using, and remaining ingredients. Mix well.
Dried black-eyed peas may be cheaper than canned. If using dried, cook according to package directions until peas are soft but not mushy. Drain, rinse, and add 3 cups cooked peas to salad. Use leftovers in other recipes later in the week.
Try chilling the salad. Serve it over cooked spinach or kale.
Use any type of vinegar you have on hand. Try balsamic, cider, or red or white wine vinegar.
Use black beans in place of black-eyed peas if you like.
When corn is in season, use fresh in place of canned. Cook 4 medium ears corn. Remove kernels from cob with a knife. Add to salad.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your family.
I am a happily married mother of 13-year-old twin boys. My husband works for Ford and I am employed by the Livingston Educational Services Agency doing nutrition education with the PE-Nut Program in elementary schools. We are an active family, doing lots of traveling, hiking, bicycling and geocaching together. We lived in Salvador, Brazil from 2011-2014, enjoying travel to many parts of South America as well as going on safari in South Africa. We have a dog and a hamster who have not yet learned how to get along with each other.
What made you decide to pursue a career in dietetics?
My Grandma (who has passed) was very focused on preventive health and nutrition back in the 70’s, before anyone knew the value of good food. I spent a lot of time with her and picked up her love of healthy, natural, clean eating. I also worked for 17 years in a pediatric dental office with practitioners who preached a healthy diet to their young patients. I love how something as enjoyable as food can make such a difference in many areas of body health, actually healing the body the way medicine does, but without the side effects. I left the dental field in 2003 and returned to school for a degree in dietetics.
How did you find out about Cooking Matters?
We had just moved back from Brazil and I was looking for some experience in my new dietetics career path. I had done some other volunteer work with Gleaners in the past and thought it was a good organization that fulfilled a crucial need in our community. I saw the Cooking Matters program on their website and felt it would be a good fit for my interests and talents.
What is your favorite thing about volunteering with our program?
I love the other volunteers and coordinators I have worked with. They are great people who have such a passion for helping others. It is such a fun class for the teachers as well as the students. Everyone enjoys it.
Do you have any tips for those who are trying to make healthy lifestyle changes this year?
The biggest thing I have learned about health is that we need to keep moving. In any way possible. Your brain, body and emotions are much more fit with regular exercise. I have stopped trying to make things physically easier for myself. I take stairs, walk when I can, bike to the store (don’t forget a bag or basket for purchases), and do yoga in the house. Nearly everything I have heard and read in the past five years emphasizes the importance of physical activity.
Is there a recipe you would like to share with us?
I love to make my own applesauce. It is lower in sugar than the jarred version, and I can use whatever apples are in season or my favorite – Jonathans. Plus you can serve it warm and add yummy toppings, like curled apple peels, shredded carrots, raisins, chopped pecans, or even granola. Here is what I do.
8-10 apples, cored and peeled
(If you have a food mill, leave the peel on until finished cooking for a nice pink color)
1 cup of water
1 Tbs. lemon juice (optional)
1/4 cup white or brown sugar (optional)
1 tsp. cinnamon or 2 cinnamon sticks (optional)
- Cut apples in quarters or eighths, depending on their size.
- (a) If cooking on stove, put water and lemon juice in a large pot and bring to boil. Reduce heat, add apples and cinnamon, cover and simmer on low for 20-25 minutes, until apples are mushy. Turn off heat and let apples cool slightly, remove cinnamon if using sticks, stir in the sugar, then smash with a potato masher or food mill.
(b) If cooking in a crock pot, add apples, sugar, water, lemon juice and cinnamon. Cover and cook on low for four hours.
- Turn off the heat, let apples cool slightly, remove cinnamon sticks, then smash with a potato masher or food mill. The potato masher creates a “chunky” style applesauce. The food mill gives a slightly smoother texture. If you like it pureed, use a food processor or blender.
You can add this to muffin recipes in place of oil (pureed works best), or use with fruit in a blender for smoothies, or mix in with plain yogurt for some flavor, and even add with drizzled honey on top of ice cream.