‘Cooking for One’ teaches grief survivors culinary skills
By MARY PICKELS
PITTSBURGH — There are smiles and laughter all around as two dozen people gather to decorate Halloween pumpkins, enjoy fun-size candy bars and prepare and share a meal.
The setting may be a bit unusual — the Frank Kapr Funeral Home Family Center in Scottdale.
This second session of a new, locally arranged “culinary grief therapy” program is less after-care lecture and more interactive. It offers a free, four-part opportunity for those coping with the loss of a loved one.
Laura Augustine, state director of sales development for Funeral Directors Life, is creator of “Beyond the Plate: Cooking for One Workshop.”
As she places cooking utensils and bowls of freshly diced vegetables on tables, Augustine explains that a lot of “after-care” programs “keep rehashing.”
“I like more of a hands-on-program,” she says.
The pumpkin decorating gets people on their feet, mingling with each other as they add eyes, hats and scarves to the gourds.
“This makes them happy. What we’ve found is people get stuck in grief,” Augustine says.
Regional funeral home operators are beginning to adopt the program for their own communities, she says.
A study of a similar program, the National Center for Biotechnology Information website, finds that typical activities including meal planning, grocery shopping and eating can be painful and isolating for those who are grieving.
Through a community college culinary arts program, a Cooking for One series offers demonstrations and hands-on experiences with meal planning, with positive results, the study notes.
Frank Kapr, a longtime borough businessman, says after Augustine described it, he agreed to host the initial workshop.
The funeral director has offered programs including estate planning in the past. “This one has a more personal approach,” he says.
The class encourages group participation, and participants receive a workbook/cookbook and dinner.
“We had the first one in the summer. It was really fun. Everybody got something out of it. When it was over, everyone wanted to know when we were having another one. We are more or less the pioneer of it, so to speak,” Kapr says.
Additional workshops are planned for later in the fall and closer to the holiday season, he says.
During the first session, Augustine introduces participants to breathing techniques and meditation.
Class members also enjoy learning to prepare chicken quesadillas, returning participants say.
This session’s menu includes apple pie fries, easily put together with chopped apples and refrigerated pie crusts; no-bake pumpkin cheesecake, assembled with crushed gingersnaps, cream cheese and pumpkin puree; loaded hash brown soup, with bacon, frozen hash browns, chopped vegetables and chicken broth; and turkey and rice vegetable soup, with ground turkey, vegetables and rice.
The recipes are pretty basic, even for the inexperienced cook. Just as important, they are tasty and nourishing and perhaps different from the sometimes boring dishes one might make when cooking alone.
A NEW DINING “NORMAL”
Several people attending say they still are learning to downsize their cooking efforts after their nests have emptied or they have lost a loved one.
Others are interested in learning some new recipes, and how to eat healthier by incorporating more fruits and vegetables into their meals.
Over the course of 1½ years beginning in 2014, Jack Duggerlost his father, his wife and his mother.
His wife cooked most of their meals says Dugger, 69, of Scottdale. “Thank God for the microwave,” he quips about his own cooking skills.
Moments later, Augustine has him stirring a skillet of ground turkey for the soup recipe.
Sandy Younkin, 66, also of Scottdale, accompanies Dugger, her cousin, to the class. Her husband died in 2017.
“I do cook some. My son lives with me now. You fall into a routine,” she says.
She uses a slow cooker and she and her son enjoy grilling in good weather. “I would like to learn some new ideas, something different,” Younkin says.
Joni Weimer, 61, of Scottdale, says she and her sister came to the first session after seeing it advertised on social media.
“The first one was very nice. I enjoyed the breathing and relaxation techniques,” she says.
Patricia Stawovy, 65, of Scottdale, also saw a social media notice about the class.
“I thought of my sister. I thought it would be nice for her,” she says.
Sheryl Clark, 53, of Dunbar, says her oldest son, Steven Settle Jr., died in October 2017, soon after his 27th birthday.
“I love to cook. We had a big family. My kids loved that. I like to cook and make people happy,” she says.
“Memorial Day came and I had a hard time. We always did cookouts. . I miss seeing him come through the door,” Clark says.
Stawovy’s suggestion was a good one, she says, as the two work on their pumpkin designs and listen to Augustine’s cooking instructions.
“I’m always up for anything my sister suggests. We like to spend time together,” Clark says.
As the evening continues, the cooks, experienced and not, gather their ingredients and consult their recipe cards.
They smile, laugh and enjoy each other’s company, finally sitting down together to enjoy the fruits of their labor.