Our blogger Bonnie Lee Black (Gabon 1996–98) got some recent press in her home state of New Mexico. Bonnie, who earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University/Los Angeles in June 2007, was an honors graduate of Columbia University (BA, Literature/Writing, 1979), and then a writer and editor for nearly 30 years, and an educator — in the U.S. and overseas — for over 15 years.
For ten years (from 1986 to 1996) she was a chef, caterer, and cooking instructor in Manhattan, during which time her freelance writing focused on food. In 1996, she joined the Peace Corps and served as a health and nutrition Volunteer in Gabon in central Africa. Her book, How to Cook a Crocodile: A Memoir with Recipes (Peace Corps Writers, 2010), recounts her experience teaching healthy cooking in Gabon.
The following piece about Bonnie appeared online in The Taos News on Sunday, March 4, 2012.
Bonnie Lee Black’s ABC’s of Healthy Cooking
by Teresa Doval
A HEALTHY APPROACH TO HEALTHY COOKING boils down to three basic points — attitude, balance and creativity. This is the philosophy of Bonnie Lee Black, former New York chef and caterer, who teaches healthy cooking and bread baking classes in UNM-Taos’ Culinary Arts Program.
Black, who also teaches English and creative nonfiction writing at UNM-Taos, is the author of two memoirs — Somewhere Child (Viking Press, 1981) and How to Cook a Crocodile, a Memoir with Recipes (Peace Corps Writers, 2010). The latter book is slated to receive an award from Gourmand International at the Paris Cookbook Fair in March in the category of Charity and Community (North America).
Black’s healthy cooking class, which is taught at Taos High School on Friday evenings, is full. No wonder, considering the interest that the subject matter raises. We all want to be healthy. And most of us love to eat. Preparing nutritious and healthy meals does the trick, and Black’s students are all eager to learn.
The lessons include stocks and soups, vegetables and salads, grains and beans, lean proteins, fruit desserts, as well as healthy ethnic meals. They also cover mis-en-place (preparation), timing and presentation.
Black’s students are taking the class for a variety of reasons. One just had gastric bypass surgery and wants to continue losing weight; another, who has a hectic schedule, wants to learn easy-to-prepare, hearty dishes that she can take to work. One young man simply wanted to learn how to navigate his way around the kitchen.
“We all have different kinds of hunger,” said Black. “We are hungry for knowledge, recognition, love and beauty, among other things … not just food. But when people use food to satisfy all these hungers, they’re likely to become obese.”
Therefore, she urges her students to cook meals that are not only healthy but also beautiful, to satisfy that craving for beauty that exists in all of us.
Black’s suggestions to create beautiful and healthy dishes:
- Use lots of lettuce and greens in the salad. You can eat as much lettuce as you want without worrying about calories. Besides, greens make the dish look “happy.”
- Eat with your eyes first. The French are very good at that. For them, food is practically a religion and they take great care in presenting it in an enticing manner. Make your plate a work of art, full of colors.
- Focus on increasing your daily intake of whole grains, lean proteins, colorful vegetables and fruit, and healthy dairy products - following the government’s new dietary guidelines found at the website choosemyplate.gov
- To lessen your dependence on pre-packaged and “fast” foods, do more cooking “from scratch” at home. The more confident you are in the kitchen, the less need you’ll have for pre-packaged meals.
- Use healthy cooking techniques, such as steaming, grilling, stir-frying, poaching, and microwaving.
- Learn to choose the healthier carbohydrates, such as those found in fruits, vegetables, whole wheat and whole grain products.
“A balanced, healthy diet can be both enjoyable and nutritious,” Black says. “Bountiful, flavorful and healthful are all adjectives that could be used to describe it.”
Every chef has a favorite kitchen appliance. At the moment, Black’s is a small, white, Hamilton Beach immersion blender. “I like it because it makes blending vegetable soups easier, quicker, and safer,” she said.
As for favorite foods, she leans toward homemade healthy breads and soups, especially in the winter months. (See her recipe below for a yummy soup that calls for blending). “Breads and soups are comforting, healthy, and delicious!” Black said.
She also loves teaching bread-baking.
“The process of bread baking teaches patience, attentiveness, and respect (especially for other, smaller, life forms) like nothing else you might make in the kitchen,” she said.