Ghana, granola and a bridge that will never be broken

It was a Facebook inbox message from a friend I responded to with haste.

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The request came from my friend and mentor Dawn Sutherland. She now lives in Ghana. I was honored to create a recipe that she could actually use in that many of the recipes on my blog aren’t easily adapted because some of the ingredients aren’t available in Ghana. More about the recipe later.

Good bye America

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Dawn Sutherland

When Dawn Sutherland, Vice President and Controller for the United States Solutions Group’s Western Sales Operation for Xerox, retired after a distinguished 32 year career she went back to a place that captured her heart and imagination when she was a college student. It was a place she knew she could use her skills, talents and connections to feed the souls of those with the greatest need. That place was Ghana.

“I loved the people of Ghana and felt like I had found my missing piece,” said Dawn during our Skype chat as she reminisced about her first visit to Ghana to help build a school as a student volunteer with Operations Crossroads Africa. “I was troubled at how few African Americans or Blacks from the Diaspora were in my group. It was then that I decided one day I would move to Ghana and help villages with basic needs like building water wells and educating children.”

That day came in May 2014. She decided after all the years of visiting Ghana, it was time to make the move. Dawn said good bye to her long time partner, family, friends, business associates, and her social and philanthropic affiliations she had cultivated over her lifetime.  She packed up the contents of her scenic Baldwin Hills home in Los Angeles and shipped them in a container to a home she had purchased in Kumasi, Ghana in 2007.

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Exterior and back yard views of Dawn’s Ghanaian home

“I truly enjoyed a great life working for Xerox and I had a great network of friends in Los Angeles. But I would often wake up in the mornings and ask myself, how many more galas and fundraisers can I attend?” said Dawn.  “I was being pulled emotionally to move to Africa to do whatever I could to help,” continued Dawn adding that her connection to Ghana was deepened after a DNA test revealed her Ghanaian ancestry.

Life in Ghana

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Left: Dawn greeting the King of Ashanti Kingdom Otumfuo Osei Tutu II. Center top: Dawn receives community service award. Center bottom: Dawn receives award from from Chief of Feyiase. Right top: Dawn, a judge in the “Go Study Abroad Program,” poses with organization representatives. Right bottom: Dawn with CEO of  “Go Study Abroad Program.”

Life in Ghana has been an adjustment for Dawn from the food to politics, and everything in between. Dawn’s astute executive skills mastered in corporate American served her well in navigating the patriarchal culture in her new community where the role of women is more traditional.  It wasn’t long before she was working with Chefs and government officials and community leaders on various community projects.

Shortly after she arrived, she did something residents were unable to do. She arranged to have a hilly, dirt road in her community leveled and paved with asphalt. Now cars can use it. Dawn says not a day goes by without her neighbors thanking her for fixing a road that had basically been unusable and had become a health hazard.

Getting sacked

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Left: young girl Dawn met on the road who was sacked. Right: neighborhood children outside of Dawn’s home in need of school fees.

“I got sacked today madam.”

It was an unfamiliar phase that Dawn learned to understand quickly. During her morning walks she would often see children dressed in their school uniforms sitting on the side of the road. When she asked them why weren’t they in school, they said they got “sacked” which means they were turned away from school because they didn’t have their school fee of 2 Cedes (Ghanaian currency) which is equivalent to 50 cents. While public school is free, fees are required to cover cost such as security, books and canteen/food.

“Many of these children get up early to help their mothers prepare meals to sell before school. And sometimes people work all day just to make money to send their kids to school.” said Dawn. “To see them sent home is heart breaking. Often times if I see a child during my walk who was sacked, I just give them the Cedes and send them back to school. You see a little money here can do so much here.”

The Sunday Morning Girls

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Left top: Dawn and Sunday Morning Girls; Right top: Dawn with all the Sunday Morning Girls. Left bottom: Sunday Morning Girls relaxing at Dawn’s home. Right top: Sunday Morning Girls huddle and read a birthday card sent  to one of the girls by a USA supporters. Right bottom: Dawn takes girls out to eat for the very first time.

Dawn’s early walks have given her deeper insights into the many needs in Ghana, more specifically the needs in her community.  The widespread lack of running water, electricity, indoor plumbing, and access to education and hunger were sobering realities.  But a chance encounter with a group of girls one morning gave her insight into something else – the hunger for mentorship.

“When I met the girls they said they were hungry. The eggs and bread I bought them satisfied their immediate hunger. But it was clear they needed something more. They started looking for me to talk to when they didn’t have school and today we have developed a strong bond,” said Dawn with a clear tone of joy in her voice. “Now every Sunday after church they visit me and I encourage them, reward them for doing well in school, teach them etiquette, hygiene, take them on outings, and we have meaningful discussions on how to rise out of poverty.”

The work that warms her heart and changes lives

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Left: Children at Dawn’s Annual Holiday Party; Center top: Triplets helped by goodfundme efforts. Center bottom: clinic in progress at Feyaise. Right top and bottom: high school students and elementary school students helped by USA supporters.

The needs she sees each day are overwhelming at times. But she views each need and each challenge with a sense of optimism and hope because in the short time she has been there, she has seen the impact her efforts have had on so many lives.

“Many of my friends have visited me since I’ve been here. And everyone who visits engages in helping, teaching and sharing their expertise.  And when I see a need, I send out a note and ask people to help donate and they do what they can,” said Dawn.

Here’s a snapshot of the impact she’s had so far with the help of many of her friends and supporters:

Saving the Triplets – gofundme effort raised $1000 to help abandoned mother of triplets start a small business to take care of her children.

Scholarship Program – funding sponsors 36 students from K-12 so they can attend school daily.

The Desk Project – funding raised built 50 desks for senior and primary school students.

Water Well Project – funding is being raised to dig a well to provide free water that will serve an entire community and can be used as a source of income.

Health Clinic Project – ongoing funds are being raised to build and staff a clinic in the village of  Feyiase in honor of Dawn’s mother; project is currently underway and a portion of the clinic will open late this year.

Christmas in Ghana Annual Holiday Party – annual event held at Dawn’s home; funding provides food, schools supplies and gifts to over 300 children each year.

Barrel Project – friends across the USA provide donated school supplies, gently warn shoes and clothing which are shipped in barrels from the states then distributed to local children and schools in Ghana.

Business delegation visit – collaboration with African Focus Inc. (AFI) and Los Angeles KJLH Radio presented U.S. delegates with potential business opportunities and retirement options in Ghana.

Her foundation

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Dawn realized that the work and projects she has been involved with will need continued support.  She established the Bridge to African Connection foundation, a 501c3 organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for women and children and helping them become self-sufficient.  The donations she has received have greatly helped to support ongoing as well as new projects.  All donations are tax deductible.

 What she misses

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Dawn with Angela Hoffman (right) and Veronica Hendrix (left) at Post and Beam Restaurant in Los Angeles, a few days before she left for Ghana.

 

Dawn says her work in Ghana is rewarding and fulfilling. Her days are full and there is so much that needs to be done.  But when she does have down time, there a few things she misses about her life in Los Angeles like dining out at restaurants with her girl friends.

Other things she misses are Mexican food, Cesar salads, and baked goods. In Ghana fresh fruits are enjoyed as desserts and not baked, sugary goods. The absence of cakes, pies and cookies particularly during the holidays have been a huge adjustment.

For the most part, Dawn says Ghanaian cuisine is very simple yet well seasoned with an array of spices.  Her diet consists of rice dishes, soups and sauces, fish like wild caught Tilapia, avocados, okra, tomatoes, plantains, coconuts. Fresh fruits like, watermelon, lemons, oranges and mangoes are plentiful too.

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Left: Dawn’s cook Jennifer prepares all meals. Right: Kellie Willie Kontumri (Spinach family), black-eyed peas and fried plantain.

“These are minor frustrations,” said Dawn about missing some of the foods she loves. “The pluses outweigh the minuses. Just knowing I am making a change in peoples’ lives keeps me going. I have no regrets. I thank God that I am able to live my purpose right now.”

The recipe

When Dawn asked me to create a recipe using nuts and oats, I got busy. I wanted it to be easy and quick and a recipe that could give her a energy for the array of projects on her plate.Here’s the Easy Granola recipe I created for Dawn. And the best part is, it doesn’t require any baking.

This is the note I attached to the recipe when I emailed it to Dawn:

“This is a cool recipe because you can use any combination of nuts and dried fruit that you have. Don’t be shy, the recipe is very forgiving and simple to make. Hope you enjoy it beautiful.”

I sincerely hope you enjoy it too.

This holiday season I sincerely hope you will consider helping Dawn continue her work by donating to Bridge to African Connection foundation.

Easy No Bake Granola

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Top: Easy No Bake Granola Bars plated. Bottom left: Close up view of bars. Right: Easy No Bake Granola cut in squares.

 Ingredients
2 ½ cups old fashioned rolled oats
½ cup whole almonds, roughly chopped
1/3 cup honey
¼ cup unsalted butter
¼ cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teas nutmeg
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup dried cranberries, coarsely chopped
¼ cup dried raisins, coarsely chopped
¼ cup mini chocolate chips optional or just use more ¼ cup more nuts

Method
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Combine the oats and roughly chopped almonds and spread on to a lightly sprayed baking sheet,  then bake 7-10 minutes until lightly toasted. Transfer to a large bowl.

3. While the oats are toasting, combine the butter, honey, brown sugar, vanilla extract, nutmeg and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook until butter melts and the sugar completely dissolves, making sure to stir occasionally. Pour the butter mixture over the toasted oats and almonds and add the cranberries and raisins. Mix well. Let cool for 15 minutes, then stir in mini chocolate chips if you are using them.

4. Transfer the oat mixture to a 9-inch square pan sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.  Using a rubber spatula or sheet of parchment paper placed on top, firmly press the mixture into the pan until the mixture is in a uniform layer. (If you want to make the bars a  bit more chocolatey, scatter a few extra tablespoons of mini chocolate chips over the top of granola bars and use the same rubber spatula or parchment paper to gently press them into the granola so they stick.)

5. Cover with plastic wrap and place the pan to the refrigerator and chill for 2 hours.

6. After the granola has cooled completely,  cut it into 12 bars or 24 squares.

 

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A place where culinary dreams come true

epicuriousWe are unquestionably an epicurious culture.

We get a lot of help from the wave of new food blogs, magazines, and articles now delivered to our smart phones each day to the wealth of cooking classes and schools available for those with cooking aspirations and culinary dreams.

And let’s not leave out the explosion of network food and cooking shows that range from instructive to pure cooking competitions. Oh but the culinary rock stars that have emerged from this epicurean explosion are as awe-inspiring as they are  entertaining.

I’ve been fortunate enough to not only meet a local culinary rock star –  who just happens to a Los Angeles native –  but I’ve had the opportunity to attend his cooking school too.

Chef Eric’s Culinary Classroom

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Left: Chef Eric Crowley. Right: Chef Eric’s Culinary Classroom.

Chef Eric Crowley founded Chef Eric’s Culinary Classroom in 2003 (located in West Los Angeles)  where he offers many recreational, individual, couples, kids, and professional cooking classes. He’s a media favorite with frequent appearances on local stations KTLA, KCAL 9, NBC 4, FOX 11 as well as BET, E! Entertainment and more.

“Food matters because people need to eat. And today people clearly have more self awareness about what they eat,” Chef Eric said.  “Some people view food as a fuel and necessity for the body. Others view it as a central experience as well as a visual and aromatic experience. For many people, food is a big deal especially when it revolves around family and relationships.”

His extraordinary passion for cooking and teaching are no accident. His father was a teacher and his mother was a gourmet cook who was quite fearless in the kitchen. However his road to the culinary world was not a straight line.

His circuitous culinary journey

Interesting enough, he started out as a saxophone player and music major at California State University at Northridge ( or CSUN – my alma mater).  Following CSUN, he started working at a law firm in Los Angeles.  But when a cooking class ignited his passion for cooking cultivated by his mother, he got a part-time job working in the kitchen of a local restaurant. That led him to enroll in the Culinary Institute of America in New York where he graduated with honors. What followed was a stay in Europe where he worked at Michelin Star restaurants in Barcelona and Munich.  Upon his return to the United States, he was hired by the Patina Restaurant Group where he supervised catered events and intimate dinners.

Chef and class

Left: Chef Eric assisting student. Right: Students in my Culinary Basic Series class.

It was fortuitous that the teaching bug bit Chef Eric. It happened after filling in for a friend who taught at a culinary school.  Chef Eric said the student feedback that followed was so positive that the “light bulb” went off and he knew teaching was his calling.

Since Chef Eric’s Culinary Classroom opened in 2003, he has taught over 7,500 students. Some of his  former students have gone on to pursue their culinary dreams and started successful businesses after completing his Master Chef and Master Baking/Pastry professional certification programs.

The basics and so much more

Although I twirl a pan or two with relative ease, I wanted some professional training. I enrolled in Chef Eric’s 4-Week Culinary Basic Series. I learned that my basic skills needed a little sharpening.  I must admit, I’m sharp now. Literal speaking because in the very first class we learned about knife skills.

“Having a good quality knife and one that can be sharpened can make your time in the kitchen that much more enjoyable,”  emphasized Chef Eric. This tip has already paid dividends for this home cook.

The 4-Week Culinary Basic Series breaks down like this (click here for full description and list of all the food we made):

  • Class #1 – Introduction – Knife Skills/Sauté Techniques
  • Class #2 – Meal Preparation/Organization
  • Class #3 – Fresh Pasta, Sauces, and Potatoes
  • Class #4 – Fish and Shellfish Meals

Cooking like a rock star

Week 2 entrees

Featured here from week 2: Spice Rubbed Skirt Steak (Carne Asada) with Guacamole and Pilaf-Style Rice, Mama’s Meat Loaf with Mashed Potatoes and Carrots, Asian Five Spice Chicken Skewers With Spicy Peanut Sauce, Thai-Style Noodle Salad with Lemon Grass and diced Cucumbers, Hearty Chicken and Chile Stew with Tortillas, Lemon Orzo Pasta with Kalamata Olives and Chicken with Tomato Herb Sauce.

The classes are taught in a professionally designed, fully equipped kitchen stocked with the freshest ingredients. Upon first glance, the menu of dishes we were slated to prepare each class seemed overwhelming.  But we quickly learned that Chef Eric’s pre-cooking class discussion was great preparation before we were dispatched to our workstations.

The classes are all hands on. You chop, shear, sauté, simmer, plate and more. I never felt so confident and empowered from his guidance and instruction. His warmth, enthusiasm and expertise made the class fun and rewarding. The result: we made most amazing and delicious entrées from the simplest of ingredients. The best part – as a class we ate all our creations after the cooking was done. The number and array of items we made each week varied. Here’s the menu we prepared during the final week of class:

Week 4 Menu

Featured here from week 4: Seared and Spice-Crusted Ahi Tuna drizzled with Sesame Dressing on Julienne Lettuce, Brown Rice and Edamame Beans with Soy Sauce, Salmon Steamed in Wine and Spices on Mixed Greens with Balsamic Vinaigrette, Grilled Chipotle-Spiced Shrimp and Grilled Portobello Mushrooms with homemade French Dressing, Succulent Featured here from week 4: Bass and Mixed Vegetable Packets with Mint and Basil Pesto, and Sole Vin Blanc with Ginger-Lime-Scallion Butter with Shiitake Mushroom and Asparagus Sauté.

What’s next for Chef Eric

Chef Eric and wife, co-partner Jeannie Crowley

Chef Eric and wife, co-partner Jennie Crowley

Chef Eric and his wife and business partner Jennie Crowley (President and COO) have put a lot of love, sweat and care into every aspect of the cooking school. It shows.  With teaching 5 to 6 days a weeks, developing and managing new products like his Sizzle and Smooth spice blends, and juggling his numerous media and public speaking engagements, what’s next for Chef Eric?

“I am working on cookbook based on my very popular couples cooking classes. It will have fantastic pictures and easy recipes for busy couples.  It will imbue the feeling couples get when they take our classes. The cookbook will be out early next year or  perhaps sooner,  so stay tuned,” Chef Eric said.

Easy recipes from Chef Eric

Chef Eric chicken and potaoes

Left: Sizzling Grilled Chicken Breasts. Right:Sizzling Oven-Roasted Potatoes

Chef Eric shares two recipes you can try at home. His Sizzling Grilled Chicken Breasts and  Sizzling Oven-Roasted Potatoes. If the cooking bug in you yearns for more, see the list of cooking classes on his website at  http://culinaryclassroom.com/. Now, get cooking!

Chef Eric’s Sizzling Grilled Chicken Breasts

See the YouTube link demonstration at https://youtu.be/Uee-pS1dfMc

Yield: 4 Servings

Ingredients
Chicken breasts, boneless 4 each
Orange, zested and juiced 2 each
Chef Eric’s Sizzle Spice Blend 2 tablespoons

Method

  1. Cut the chicken breasts in half horizontally, making two thin cutlets. Put the finished chicken into a zip top bag or a pan and set aside.
  2. In a bowl, combine the orange juice, zest and Chef Eric’s Sizzle Spice Blend.
  3. Pour the orange juice mixture into the bag with the chicken and seal. Let the chicken marinate in the refrigerator for as long as possible. Overnight is fine.
  4. Preheat a grill pan over medium-high heat and spray the pan with vegetable oil spray. When ready to cook, remove the chicken from the marinade and grill for about three minutes per side, or until the chicken is cooked through.
  5. While the chicken is grilling, pour the leftover marinade into a small pan and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and keep warm to use as a sauce.
  6. Serve on a warm plate and garnish with a spoonful of the sauce.

Tip: Tofu steaks, turkey breasts, steak, fish and pork chops would be great with this marinade.

Chef Eric’s Sizzling Oven-Roasted Potatoes

See the YouTube link demonstration at  https://youtu.be/Uee-pS1dfMc

Yield: 4 Servings

Ingredients
Red bliss potatoes, halved 2 pounds
Olive oil 1 tablespoons
Chef Eric’s Sizzle Spice Blend 2 teaspoons
Salt 1 teaspoon

Method

  1. In a large bowl, combine the olive oil, Chef Eric’s Sizzle Spice Blend and salt.
  2. Preheat an oven to 450 degrees. Wash and dry the potatoes. Cut the potatoes into halves and place them into the bowl.
  3. Toss the potatoes in the Sizzle mixture, making sure that they are coated in oil. Add more oil, if needed.
  4. Arrange the potatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet that has been lined with aluminum foil.
  5. Roast until the potatoes are tender, about 45 minutes to an hour.
  6. Serve with the Sizzling Chicken Breasts for a delicious meal.

Are you ready for some football and a Kickin’ Cali Recipe?

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Yes we are ready for some football!

And did you see the AFC and NFC championship games? I sure did. They were great games. One was a blowout. I think the term my brother used was “spanking.” The other was a test of will and probably fate. But nonetheless on Sunday, February 7, 2016 the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos will face off at Super Bowl 50. It’s a funny thing though. Continue reading

Get your lucky pot of peas simmering for the New Year

Get your lucky pot of peas simmering for the New Year

This blog is a repost from last year. Why?

Because what’s not new about each New Year is this epicurean tradition: cooking a pot of black eyed peas.

If you read the post last year, it’s worth the review.

If this is your first time reading it, enjoy the story of history and hopefulness of a lucky pot of peas. Continue reading