By REBECCA ISENHART
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the things we eat have much to do with who we are.
Three Niskayuna residents have found ways to elevate the act of cooking and eating one’s food to an experience that can build and strengthen a community. They shared their philosophies — and a few recipes — with Your Niskayuna.
Tamara Flanders was a social worker, focusing on domestic violence cases and often advocating for women’s health when she began to focus on food.
Flanders had always been “a bit of a foodie,” as she says, and after becoming the only vegetarian in her family at age 12, she had naturally become creative about eating. But during her experiences working with women whose lives had been shaken by difficult circumstances, she realized food could be used as a tool to help empower others.
Since then, Flanders has been a holistic health counselor who operates out of a home office, where she also home-schools her daughter. The strategies she teaches focus on “intuitive eating,” a positive concept she says can change lives when it replaces negative, restrictive dieting practices that can hurt physical and psychological health.
“There’s a lot of freedom in health,” Flanders said.
She teaches people to focus on how foods make them feel, rather than how many calories are in them. She also encourages fun practices such as playing a radio in the kitchen to make prep time fun, rather than a chore.
Flanders said her business often builds community bonds in Niskayuna. Her clients, usually women between the ages of 30 and 60, have frequently become friends. She is always happy to run into them at farmers markets and grocery stores, although she’s careful to note she only chats with clients in public if they strike up a conversation because she wants to protect their privacy.
Flanders also leads cooking classes at Different Drummer’s Kitchen in Stuyvesant Plaza.
Ali Stafford’s blog is the product of professional experiences that have spanned restaurants, a newsroom and the everywhere office of a stay-at-home mom.
After college, Stafford moved to Philadelphia for a six-month cooking program, followed by about five years of catering and restaurant work. She loved restaurant life, but it was taxing, and she wanted to try something new.
Stafford soon became food editor at a small newspaper, the Philadelphia Bulletin. She started a blog to hold all the interesting material she couldn’t fit into the newspaper. Then, her husband joined the Marine Corps and was stationed in Camp Pendleton in California. The blog helped Stafford cope with the move and find a new community, now in a different state on a different coast.
“Gradually, it started to become more and more important,” she said.
Not long after, the family moved to Virginia, where Stafford decided she was ready to be a stay-at-home mom to Ella, now 4, and Graham, now 2. The family relocated to Niskayuna only about a year ago and added one more family member, 1-year-old Wren.
Stafford now thinks of the blog as her occupation and carefully makes time for it each day.
“If I want to be considered a resource in the food world, I do have to be there and be present,” she said.
As with her past moves, Stafford’s website has enabled her to meet friends in her relatively new home. When they learned of her upcoming move, Capital Region readers of her blog sent restaurant recommendations, suggestions for which community-supported agriculture shares and farmers markets to check out, along with welcoming emails.
She is excited to begin teaching cooking classes through the Niskayuna Central School District’s Continuing Education program, where she will show community members how to make pizza, cook with whole grains and make the most of a whole chicken.
“You know you’re going to make a mistake when you cook, and that’s part of the fun of it,” said Leah Wolff-Pellingra, author of food blog Noshing Confessions.
Her writing started out as an account of her trial-and-error experiences making CSA shares into dinner for her family in Niskayuna.
CSAs are shares of a farm’s crop, which means sometimes shareholders find themselves with more in-season vegetables than they know what to do with.
Wolff-Pellingra blogs about the shelf life of different vegetables, how to prepare them and which dishes they go well with. Her recipes and strategies are intended to make healthy, local eating less intimidating.
“You’re not going to put bok choy in macaroni and cheese,” she said.
“You’re not forcing these vegetables on yourself.”
Wolff-Pellingra’s blog became a partnership with Denison Farm in Schaghticoke when the owners saw how helpful her posts were and asked to put the recipes she posted in their newsletter.
Besides cooking healthy for her family, Wolff-Pellingra’s passion for food, especially for guiding others, comes from her Jewish heritage. Her posts, she says, often follow Jewish holidays and reflect the combination of Jewish, Italian and Irish traditions in her home. The blog’s name comes from this traditional impulse: “nosh” means “to eat” or “something to eat” in Yiddish.
This cultural connection helps Wolff-Pellingra connect with her community during the Jewish Food Festival at Congregation Gates of Heaven, a synagogue in Schenectady. She helps run a local food table there each year and invites friends and neighbors to sample the food, grown nearby, that she loves so much.
For recipes from these three local experts, click here.