Nutritionists Natasha Eziquiel and Laura Merrick teach Stellar Farmers’ Market workshops on using the food on sale at the Mott Haven Farmers Market.

Padre Plaza offers cooking lessons

Nutritionists Natasha Eziquiel and Laura Merrick teach Stellar Farmers’ Market workshops on using the food on sale at the Mott Haven Farmers Market.
Nutritionists Natasha Eziquiel and Laura Merrick teach Stellar Farmers’ Market workshops on using the food on sale at the Mott Haven Farmers Market.

At the farmers market, the food comes with instructions

Residents who shop at the Mott Haven Farmers Market in October can get a double bonus. In addition to such fall favorites as pumpkins, squash, apples and cider, they will find cooking workshops that will show them how to use these foods in healthy recipes.

The effort to introduce shoppers to new foods or new ways to prepare them is part of a campaign to combat the high rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease in the Mott Haven area.

But according to the general manager of the Padre Plaza Success Garden at St. Ann’s Avenue and East 139th Street, the program goes beyond taking aim at food-related illness in a neighborhood where access to fresh food is more limited than it is elsewhere in the city.

“Healthy eating is a lot better for your mind, body and soul,” asserted Mike Young, 52, while he sat in the garden’s gazebo on a recent afternoon.

Stellar Farmers’ Markets workshops will take place every Wednesday from 10 a.m. through 2 p.m. until November 6.

Markets take food stamps

Lack of access to healthy food in Mott Haven stores is a serious problem, according to the health department. One in four adults in Mott Haven and Hunts Point is obese, and adults are nearly twice as likely to have diabetes in Mott Haven and Hunts Point compared to the city as a whole, according to the Department of City Planning.

At the Mott Haven Farmers’ Market and other participating markets, those using food stamps can lower the cost of buying fruits and vegetables with Health Bucks, coupons worth $2 each.

For every $5 dollars spent using food stamps, consumers receive a Health Buck. Anyone attending a workshop also receives a Health Buck.

Nutritionists from the city health department teach the workshops, which run every 20 minutes and attract from five to 20 people for each session.

On a recent Wednesday, Laura Merrick, 30, demonstrated how to make poached pears in cider sauce and Natasha Eziquiel, 29, taught a class on food safety. Martina Santos, 55, translated the lessons from English to Spanish.

As the pears simmered in the sauce of cider spiced with cinnamon and ginger, Merrick gave the class tips, including a demonstration of how to peel fresh ginger using only a spoon.

When the poached pears were finished, Santos handed out samples to the class. When Merrick asked what the pears would mix well with, a few people responded with “ice cream.” Merrick nodded.

“It’s a good way to add some nutrients to dessert,” she said.

Eziquiel added that the pears would also pair nicely with breakfast foods such as low-fat yogurt, oatmeal or waffles.

While giving a lesson on food safety, she kept up a running dialog with the shoppers.

“Let’s say you’re having a party and you’re making some stew or some lasagna,” she said. If you’re waiting for someone who is running late, “are we going to put the food on the stove or put it on the counter?” she asked.

The answer, she said, after a few responses, was to keep the dish warm on the stove or in the oven.

“We’re going to keep it above 140 degrees, out of the danger zone,” she said.

Nikiesha Encarnacion, 35, said she has attended many of the workshops this year. During the food safety lesson, she learned that chicken should be cooked to at least 165 degrees, which is higher than all other meats.

“I’m learning more and more,” she said.

Ivy Roldan, 56, was attending her first workshop. She said she hesitates to buy vegetables that she doesn’t know how to cook, so next time she hopes to learn more about cooking with vegetables.

“What’s the sense of buying it if you don’t know how to use it?” she asked. “Spaghetti squash is so delicious. I would love to know how to cook with it.”

Alexis Henry, 22, said she enjoyed learning how to use fruit in recipes. Afterwards, she bought her 3-year-old daughter Anaya some apples from Trinity Farm located in Clintondale, New York, 79 miles away.

“She likes apples the most,” Henry said.

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