It's a sad reality, but there are a lot of people in Whistler who are having a tough time, financially, as is the case at the start of most winter seasons. The food bank has served over 2,000 people so far this year (up from just over 1,200 people in 2009) and chances are that number will remain pretty steady until the shoulder season rolls around.
On top of that, there are plenty of other people in Whistler who are eating on a budget, which, quite frankly, translates into eating a lot of crap: cheap white bread, packaged foods, and not a lot of fresh fruits and veggies. Why? Well, most people complain that they simply can't cook.
No more excuses: the Whistler Community Services Society (which also operates our food bank) started a nifty little program a few years back called Community Kitchens. They had apparently noticed that people drawing on the food bank didn't seem to have strong cooking skills and couldn't afford to buy a big order of groceries. So, with the help of Whistler Blackcomb, they started to teach young adults (mainly Whistler Blackcomb employees) how to cook their own healthy and delicious meals. While the program started up at staff housing, it had soon moved down to the village and was expanded to include all Whistler residents.
This year, they've brought two chefs - Sarah Uy and Matt Prescott - in to teach biweekly classes at Myrtle Philip Community School. The cost is $10 to participate (which also includes the meal itself), and anyone who has financial restrictions can attend for free.
I've attended sessions in previous years, but wanted to see what the new instructors had up their sleeves, so I went to Uy's class last Monday (Nov. 29). Initially intrigued by the menu advertised (cream of zucchini soup, zucchini noodles with a tomato, basil and lemon sauce, and a chocolate mousse), I was pretty surprised when Uy announced that she is a vegan rawtarian. A what?
I couldn't help but smile (just a bit) as Uy's revelation registered on the rest of the participants' faces - most people said they had signed up for the class because they were looking for creative meal inspirations, and well, they got it!
While I must admit that I was as skeptical as most of my carnivorous counterparts would be (don't lie, you made a face when you read "vegan rawtarian"), my curiosity was officially piqued. Uy explained that living on a vegan rawtarian diet is actually easy and economical (once you get past the initial investment of a good blender and a dehydrator). And as it turns out, it can also be pretty damn tasty.
I wasn't a huge fan of the cream of zucchini soup - I find it a bit weird to drink cold soup in the middle of the winter and the celery flavour was a bit overpowering. But the zucchini pasta was zesty, bright and refreshing. I was surprised that the texture of the mandolined fresh zucchini was so similar to real pasta, and wasn't bitter at all. It was actually delicious when tossed with the sauce. The real delight of the meal, however, was the chocolate mousse. I was very curious to see how Uy was going to pull off mousse without using any egg, cream or butter; how was she going to make it rich and creamy? Avocado, the miracle fruit! Using just seven ingredients, Uy whipped up (literally) an unbelievably tasty dessert. So tasty, in fact, that I've decided to include the recipe. (Hope you don't mind, Sarah!)
¼ cup water
6 tbsp. cocoa
2 tbsp. cane sugar
Pinch of cinnamon and salt
¼ cup agave syrup, maple syrup or honey
Put in blender. Blend. Eat. Yum.
I was pretty impressed by Uy's menu, and while she hasn't converted me into a vegan rawtarian, I definitely would consider incorporating these dishes into my culinary repertoire.
If you're interested in learning a few new recipes to take into your kitchen, check out the next Community Kitchens session; it's being taught by Matt Prescott of Snowline Catering Monday, Dec. 13. He'll be teaching participants how to make chowder with chicken, clam, corn and salmon - needless to say, this session is not raw or vegan.
There are even more sessions scheduled for the coming season, so no worries if you can't make it out to the Dec. 13 session. Sessions for 2011 are taking place on Monday, Jan. 17 and 31, as well as Feb. 14 and 28.