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Good to eat

January 6, 2009


Local chef Brenda Langton.

Local chef Brenda Langton will whip up several wholesome meals during the U's "Health Living, Health Eating" course.

Photo: Travis Anderson

Local chef shares benefits of whole food shopping and cooking in three-day course.

By Pauline Oo

Although she runs two restaurants, Brenda Langton still finds time to shop at her favorite co-ops and cook at home. The owner of Café Brenda and Spoonriver fell in love with cooking at 15, when she landed an after-school job at a natural foods vegetarian restaurant in St. Paul. 

"Cooking at home is a must. We simply cannot go out all the time," says Langton, who in March will share her philosophy and practices for healthy cooking, eating, and shopping during a three-day course offered through the University of Minnesota's Center for Spirituality & Healing. 

"Even though I'm a restaurateur and I want people to come out to my restaurants, people need to cook at home. I feel so sad when people say to me, 'I don't cook,' because I can't imagine not cooking at home. It's so healing, so nourishing. It feeds my mind, my body, and my soul." 

The course, "Healthy Living, Healthy Eating," will take place 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday, March 10; Tuesday, March 17; and Tuesday, March 24, at Roth Distributing, 1300 W. 47th St., Minnetonka. The cost of $225 includes a copy of Langton's Café Brenda Cookbook and food samples. 

Langton is a pioneer of the Twin Cities' sustainable and local food movement. At 21, she opened Café Kardamena, a gourmet vegetarian and seafood restaurant in St. Paul. Eight years later, she opened the eponymous Café Brenda, offering innovative vegetarian dining. Spoonriver came along in 2006, with a menu that included grass-fed beef, lamb, and naturally raised pork from local sources. That summer, Langton started the Mill City Farmers Market specializing in vendors of local, sustainable, and organic products. 

"We are thrilled to work with Brenda on this innovative offering," says Mary Jo Kreitzer, Center for Spirituality & Healing director. "For years Brenda has demonstrated her strong commitment to holistic health and we're eager to help her take that message to the broader public." 

The Center for Spirituality & Healing, located on the Twin Cities campus in Minneapolis, is a national leader in the field. In addition to hosting guest teachers, such as Langton and health and wellness expert Andrew Weil, the center conducts National Institutes of Health (NIH)- and FDA-funded research and clinical trials to scrutinize complementary therapies. One study, for example, examined how stress reduction can help organ transplant patients reduce anxiety, depression, and sleeplessness. 

Langton will prepare two types of breakfast, a lunch, a dinner, and a dessert during each class. On the menu are such treats as buckwheat potato croquettes; soba noodles with toasted sesame oil, soy sauce, and green onions; squash and wild rice soup, and baked apples stuffed with walnuts, raisins, sesame butter, and maple syrup. 

"At home, my meals never take more than 30 minutes, and I like to cook with whole grains, vegetables, fish, chicken, and noodles," says Langton, who cooks at home about four nights a week for her husband and their 18-year old daughter.

Brenda on co-ops and eating well

"I'm a huge fan of the co-ops. Large supermarket chains have aisle after aisle of things I don't eat and they inflate many of the so-called natural food prices. I want a big produce section and a good bakery, and I want to be able to shop for grains and beans, and meats from small farms [and] not mass-produced, commercially farmed meats that are not good for us."

"White rice is [cheap but it's] something to eat occasionally, not all the time for nutritional value. Buying whole grains [including brown rice] and organic beans is not expensive at all, and cooking legumes, like peas and beans, as a protein is healthy."

"We have to eat better. Multiple diseases are caused by a bad diet—heart disease, cancer, or diabetes. There's no reason to deny the science out there now."

"This [course] is not about gourmet natural food cooking, it's about how to cook simply but quickly because time is a problem for so many of us," she adds. "It can be for either the person who doesn't know anything about cooking or for the person who does cook a lot. My hope is that [the classes] will inspire people to practice simple cooking techniques and to make foods that will keep them strong." 

Participants should bring a notebook because, in addition to recipes, Langton will share her "little tricks" for grocery shopping. 

"I disagree 100 percent with the naysayers of co-ops or people who say that buying natural and organic is expensive," she says. "Granted, we cannot all afford organic vegetables and fruits. I understand that. So, we make our choices—Which ones can we buy? Which ones are more important to buy? And which ones are naturally grown with [fewer chemicals]?" 

The most rewarding part about teaching for Langton, who has taught numerous one-day cooking classes, typically comes at the end of a class session--"when we're eating and sitting around and talking." 

"Everybody is so happy," she explains. "It's really gratifying to see and hear from the students, to learn what they got out of the class, and to know that they will take these ideas home and cook." 

Register for "Healthy Living, Healthy Eating" at the Center for Spirituality & Healing or by calling 612-624-9459. The three-day course (March 10, 17, and 24) is limited to 50 people.

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