By Thomas Sacksteder, Gundersen Lutheran chef
Starting at birth, we all begin the quest of learning. Through sight, sound, touch, taste and other senses, the miracles of learning begin. Many of life's lessons come naturally while others must be taught. My earliest memories concerning food started in the rider's seat of the shopping cart at the local grocery store. I always loved taking the rider's seat in the cart and, although I faced backwards, I had a good view of the store. As soon as I could speak, I asked questions - many
questions. "Mom, why are we buying white cabbage instead of red cabbage?" Mom always knew what she wanted and she had the answer as to why. My curiosity of foods seemed never-ending, as was my desire to learn about them. I enjoyed those early shopping trips with Mom and all the lessons she taught me - buy the freshest available, use your senses when shopping, ask questions, read labels so that you know what you are buying, and treat what you buy with
My first cooking lesson was for scrambled eggs. My mom, Tibby, taught me. It was a pretty simple recipe to most, but a masterpiece to me. Soon I added cheese, then a little of this, a pinch of that. As soon as I could stand on a chair to reach the counter, I wanted to jump in and help with whatever was cooking in our kitchen. I always liked to learn how others prepared foods. I'd watch closely and, after a little practice, I would put my touch into it. Scrambled eggs became "Thomas eggs with cheese." I must thank my Mother for she is, has and will always be my true culinary mentor! I learned from many chefs over the years, but the tender love and care she taught me is the most important of all. Each dish is from the heart, and all of mine contain a little of hers.
While Mom was at home taking care of six kids, three dogs and the menagerie of pets we always had, my father Ray was always up before anyone, off to work, running the family restaurant, and then the last to get home. My dad was such a hard worker. He provided our family with all the comforts of life and always insisted on getting a proper education. My Father was right at so many things. I think the greatest lesson he left me was to not only work hard but work smart, and be proud of what you do!
Occasionally, my parents were able to get away for an evening out. Then our good neighbor and trusted sitter, Mickie Gummer, would take care of us. Mickie was an excellent teacher. She taught us how very important manners were. Always, please and thank you, along with the importance of being a gentleman. I always remembered these lessons. Mickie was such an excellent teacher that she actually became a principal of Blessed Sacrament in Ft. Mitchell, Ky. I keep in touch with her and keep her up to date with my involvement in community education. Recently, she wrote, "Tom, in all my years of teaching, I truly believe that if you can make a difference in one child's life to make it better, then you have done a good job. Tom, you are on Bonus Kids!" Well, that makes me feel good and support what I already know - we should all be good, positive mentors. Share the goodness we know and believe in with our friends, neighbors
and fellow human beings.
With this said, I can reflect on my current experience with community education and the Farm2School classes. It is an honor to provide these classes and, as a proud employee of Gundersen Lutheran, there is no doubt in my mind that with proper education, we can improve the health of our community. We teach these amazing students, they share the recipes and knowledge they have learned with their families and friends, and together we can make a difference.
I have had so many rewarding experiences, and met countless students that show appreciation and admiration that I have full confidence in what we are doing with these community education programs. Today, I am sharing two wonderful recipes - one from November's Farm2School classes on cranberries, and one from December's classes on squash. Happy holidays and God bless you all.
If you have questions, you may contact Chef Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on La Crosse County Farm2School program, visit getactivelacrosse.org/lacrosse/get-eating-healthy/farm2school.
Granola with Cranberries and Dates
Makes 6 (½-cup) servings
2½ cups rolled oats
½ tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp. water
¼ cup honey
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. canola oil
¼ cup chopped dates
¼ cup Craisins
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place oats in a medium bowl. Combine water, honey, brown sugar and oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Let liquid simmer while stirring for about 2 minutes. Pour hot liquid over oats and mix until well blended. Coat baking pan with cooking spray. Spread granola evenly over pan and place into the oven for 45-60 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes until lightly toasted. Remove from oven; stir in dried fruit. Cool and serve.
Per serving: 243 calories, 5 g fat, 4 g protein, 49 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 4 mg sodium
Autumn Roasted Squash Soup
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 (2 lb.) butternut squash, cut into ½-inch slices and seeded (reserve seeds for toasting)
1 medium onion, cut in half
2-3 large garlic cloves
1 medium tart apple, cut in half and cored
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
½ cup half and half
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly rub surface of squash, onion, garlic and apple with olive oil, and place onto baking sheet. Bake until fork tender, about 25-40 minutes. Remove from oven. Remove skin from squash, onion and garlic. Place roasted items into a large pot with broth, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 15-20 minutes, then puree with in a food processor or blender. Stir in half and half and serve. To toast seeds, rinse and dry with a towel. Place into a baking dish and toss with a small amount of olive oil and a dash of salt. Place seeds on a baking dish and toast for 10-15 minutes in the oven, stirring every 3-4 minutes to prevent sticking. Bake until seeds are evenly browned and crisp.
Per serving: 138 calories, 5 g fat, 3 g protein, 24 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 537 mg sodium
Note: Squash seeds are not included in the nutrient analysis.