September 15th was a beautiful early fall evening, providing the proper ambiance for the Opening Meeting of the 2014-2015 season of the Culinary Guild of New England. Our venue was the elegant Commander’s Mansion in Watertown and our featured guest speaker was celebrated chef and cookbook author Nina Simonds.
Board members had prepared a number of sumptuous spreads and delicacies in honor of the event. A long table displayed a magnificent basket of fresh garden crudités and dips, along with a number of ripened cheeses, fresh breads and crackers. These were contributed by Jen Verrill of Verrill Farm. Guida Ponte served cups of her flavorful Mexican chicken vegetable soup. Guests drifted throughout the stately parlors sipping glasses of Austrian Gruener Veltliner, or a delicious Chianti provided by Brix Wines.
The hors d’oeuvres were bounteous, one of them being a tray of mini spring rolls prepared by Chef Lou Schorr, owner of the new Thai restaurant Maekha Thai in Revere. There were also a number of Mediterranean-style dishes from ‘ester, a new restaurant in Dorchester. Chefs at ‘ester had made Tzatziki, a Greek yogurt dip punctuated with cucumbers from their rooftop garden. ‘ester also provided Tabouli, a spread of fresh garden tomatoes and parsley as well as Muhammara, a dip of red peppers and walnuts.
Other appetizers had been strategically placed around the mansion. There were tiny cookies, “coins” of cheese and rosemary salt baked by Karen Ucuz. . For dessert Lynne Gassiraro had made double chocolate biscotti, healthy brownie bites of walnuts, cocoa, and unsweetened coconut, as well as gluten-free double chocolate peanut butter bars. Sweet, crunchy white chocolate and pine nut meringues were the delicious work of Lisa Jacobs.
After an hour of eating, drinking and networking, it was time for the program. After a brief update by Guild President Kris Piatt, and financial review by Treasurer Lisa Primavera, Kris introduced our speaker: Nina Simonds.
In her address to the Guild, Nina emphasized “the Optimum Healthy Pantry” and stressed the role of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and sources of proteins in our diet.
Suggestions for healthy dishes with life-giving properties she stated, can be found at www.spiceoflife.com. Among her specific suggestions for healthy eating were avocados, bananas, beans, lentils and other legumes as well as berries, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower–various cruciferous vegetables. Chili peppers, cherry tomatoes, cinnamon, cashews were mentioned as possible additions to numerous dishes with an emphasis on Yin and Yang. Foods with Yin qualities would be chilled summer salads and cool shrimp dishes with light summery flavors. Those with Yang flavors would be hot winter soups, thick stews, and chunky meat and pasta dishes.
Overall, stated Nina, the key to a healthy living lifestyle is balance with an emphasis on fresh vegetables and fruits as well as less meat. She stressed the important life-giving properties of herbs and spices, which are under- utilized in today’s cooking. We should keep in mind that the objective is a “Healthy Eating Plate,” and we should each strive to reach that goal.