Workshop teaches simple skills, seasonality

A library may seem like an unlikely location to cook, but last Wednesday, April 10, I was happily chopping parsnips and tearing kale leaves at Adriance Memorial Library. As part of the Poughkeepsie Public Library District, the library hosts a range of daily community events from toddler storytime to computer skills classes to crafty workshops.

The libraries in the district also host cooking events, such as a workshop, presented by Chef Sonya Joy Key and the Poughkeepsie Farm Project, titled “Kitchen Gym.” To begin, we talked briefly about choosing the
right foods. Chef Key humorously explained how she applies the KonMariTM method to her grocery shopping: She picks up each item and decides if it sparks joy for her. I chuckled to myself as I imagined slowly perusing the salad bar at the Deece, trying to sense if the bell peppers are sending positive vibes. While the example sounds silly, I think that mindful food selection makes me carefully consider, appreciate and enjoy what food my body wants to eat.

Chef Key highlighted another element of her food philosophy: seasonality, including the use of seasonal ingredients. Her goal was to emphasize that weather can change the way we want to eat. Winter often calls for warmth and nourishment, while summer is suited for light and refreshing food. Chef Key recommended Cornell University’s Regional Seasonal Food Guide as a resource to inform seasonal produce choices.

The workshop then turned to honing culinary skills and creating simple, delicious food for busy weeknight cooking. We began with knife skills, practicing a rondelle cut to transform stalky parsnips and beets into coin-shaped cutouts. We then performed a rough chop of parsley and mint leaves to create shreds for salad garnish. Lastly, we ditched the knives and turned to our hands as tools, in order to rip kale leaves into salad-friendly sizes.

We tossed the vegetables with olive oil, roasted them on a sheet pan in the oven and grilled lightly marinated chicken pieces. Chef Key emphasized the importance of measuring the internal temperature of meat to ensure it’s thoroughly cooked.

My favorite dish of the class was the kale salad, which was brought to life by the flavorful dressing. Chef Key’s formula for dressing is one part acid to two parts oil. In keeping with that, our salad used a mixture of red wine vinegar and lemon juice with extra-virgin olive oil. Dressing is important for kale salad because it not only adds depth of flavor, but also helps to tenderize the thick, nutrient-dense kale leaves.

The cooking workshop’s focus was not on following a recipe, but on developing skills and knowledge to transform ingredients to final products; a more comfortable and rewarding experience. In line with this philosophy, Chef Key intentionally omitted recipes in her informational handout. But in the interest of sharing the delightful food that we made, I have created an approximate recipe.

Cooking, even very simple meals, is an act of care and happiness for me. I was grateful for the opportunity to share food with other community members at the library last Wednesday. The cooking workshop reminded me of the community resources available outside Vassar’s campus and the profound value I find in mindfully preparing my own food. I encourage other Vassar students to take some time to engage in community and cooking activities.

Kale Salad with Roasted Parsnips and Beets

• 1 bunch kale leaves
• 4 cups mixed salad greens
• 2-3 mint sprigs
• 2-3 parsley sprigs
• 3 parsnips
• 3 beets
• 1 lemon
• 1 large clove garlic
• 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
• 1/2 c olive oil
• 1/4 c red wine vinegar
• Salt and pepper


  1. Preheat oven to 400 ̊F. Peel parsnips and beets. Cut off ends and discard. Chop into coin-sized pieces.
  2. Line two baking sheets with parchment. In separate bowls, toss parsnips and beets with olive oil and salt. Lay parsnip pieces on one baking sheet and beets on the other. Arrange in one layer. Oven-roast for 20-25 min, until vegetables are tender and browned.
  3. Strip the kale leaves from the stems and tear into pieces. Put kale leaves in a large bowl and set aside.
  4. Strip parsley leaves and mint leaves from stems, roughly chop into thin shreds. Set aside.
  5. Grate garlic and lemon zest. Combine in jar with juice from mustard, 1/2 lemon, red wine vinegar and olive oil. Add 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper, cover and shake the jar to combine.
  6. Pour dressing over kale and massage leaves to tenderize. Add salad mix and toss. Add roasted vegetables. Add parsley and mint. Season to taste with salt and pepper and enjoy!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *