Duluth Social Providers Group gives cooking lessons on-line and recipes on paper

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The virtual cooking course from CHOICE, unlimited has been running since last summer with up to three sessions per week. This month the non-profit organization publishes “Let’s Eat”, a cookbook with over 50 recipes for salads, dinners and desserts – all prepared in class.

Nelson recently said that more than 170 copies had been sold and there were around 50 extras that went for $ 12. All proceeds will be used for further classes.

The organization serves people by providing enrichment, health and wellness goals, employment and ongoing support, said Executive Director Kristie Buchman. The cookbook is a fun way to present the students and is a keepsake to the class.

From left: Karen Hennis, Georgette Wodolkowski, Amber Novak, Jackie Nelson and Kristie Buchman pose for a portrait in front of CHOICE, unlimited on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. The five women form the cookbook committee responsible for the cookbook “Let’s Eat”. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

Marcia Jenkins’ son regularly takes part in cooking classes. Justin Jenkins has been attending CHOICE’s community-based program for more than 10 years, learning everyday, social and monetary skills. He also plays softball, bowling, bocce ball, and more.

Justin is affected by the autism spectrum, and CHOICE’s virtual classes have been a rescue last year, Marcia said. Justin has grown from 30 hours a week of programming to about eight hours a week.

Since there is a weakened immune system in her household, her family has been very strict about social distancing. The virtual classes helped Justin feel connected with his friends and CHOICE staff. Sometimes he went very close to the screen to see everyone, Marica remembered with a smile.

“With all of their offerings, CHOICE has done a great job,” she said.

Justin Jenkins shows off the half paprika and half sausage pizza he made during the unlimited virtual cooking class CHOICE.  (Courtesy photo by Randy Jenkins)

Justin Jenkins shows off the half paprika and half sausage pizza he made during the unlimited virtual cooking class CHOICE. (Courtesy photo by Randy Jenkins)

Photos of Justin’s cooking and his finished works, along with those of many other participants, can be seen in “Let’s Eat”. The book cover was designed by CHOICE’s virtual art class.

When asked about their favorite recipes from the cookbook, Marcia and her husband performed the pumpkin bars with cream cheese frosting, homemade strawberry cake, pork tenderloin in hoisin sauce and wild rice chicken soup.

The cooking class is one of many that came to fruition when COVID-19 resulted in closings last March.

Before the pandemic, people came to CHOICE for daily programs and employment assistance. Once the pandemic broke out, the nonprofit could no longer provide services in the same way. Management started brainstorming a plan B and made a list of online offers.

“It was a great help to them, and I have to say for us too,” said Nelson. “We’re in this business because people are really important to us. And then having time when you don’t see people you normally see regularly, that was tough for everyone. “

At their peak, they offered up to 50 courses per week in drama, music, art, dance, and more.

Thinking about how she could help, Nelson said, “I’m not very smart, but I can cook.”

CHOICE, Unlimited Program Director Jackie Nelson looks down on her students during a virtual cooking class in her Lincoln Park kitchen.  Customers connect through Zoom and Nelson walks them step-by-step through the recipes.  They made pumpkin bars with cream cheese frosting, homemade strawberry cake, and pork tenderloin with hoisin sauce.  These recipes and more are included in

CHOICE, Unlimited Program Director Jackie Nelson looks down on her students during a virtual cooking class in her Lincoln Park kitchen. Customers connect through Zoom and Nelson walks them step-by-step through the recipes. They made pumpkin bars with cream cheese frosting, homemade strawberry cake, and pork tenderloin with hoisin sauce. These and more recipes can be found in “Let’s Eat”, a cookbook with recipes, photos and artwork by CHOICE participants and staff. (Melinda Lavine / mlavine@duluthnews.com)

In July she began a weekly class that soon grew to three. Nelson dived into her recipe stall for meals. She wanted to keep what she taught simple, inexpensive, and use ingredients that could be used multiple times.

Customers connect through Zoom and Nelson takes them step by step and cooks with them.

At first they made a lot of desserts, then switched to more main courses, and when she ran out of her own recipes she turned to the internet.

Adjusting to online lessons had some seizures.

She once wanted to attach the camera to her head so that the participants could see what she saw. Instead, she moved it to other areas. “It fell into the chili and soup,” she said.

Jackie Nelson sprinkles chopped carrots on her freshly baked pizza dough during a virtual cooking class offered by CHOICE, unlimited.  Nelson and others began offering virtual classes as the pandemic led to closings.  “It was a great help to them, and I have to say, to us too,” Nelson recalls.  (Melinda Lavine / mlavine@duluthnews.com)

Jackie Nelson sprinkles chopped carrots on her freshly baked pizza dough during a virtual cooking class offered by CHOICE, unlimited. Nelson and others began offering virtual classes as the pandemic led to closings. “It was a great help to them, and I have to say, to us too,” Nelson recalls. (Melinda Lavine / mlavine@duluthnews.com)

During a recent class, Nelson was at her third camera, securely in a stand that she said “looks like a death clamp.”

Nelson posted pictures of the class’s weekly dishes and people asked for the recipes.

From there, Nelson and other staff formed a cookbook committee, customers shared pictures of themselves or their dishes, and voila!

It was a fun process for everyone. “People are so proud of what they did and that they could serve their families or the group home,” said Nelson.

Cooking classes are taking a break this summer and will take place again in the fall.

CHOICE, unlimited program director Jackie Nelson made this vegetarian pizza with dill dip, olives, chopped broccoli, carrots and cauliflower for one of the virtual cooking classes.  (Melinda Lavine / mlavine@duluthnews.com)

CHOICE, unlimited program director Jackie Nelson made this vegetarian pizza with dill dip, olives, chopped broccoli, carrots and cauliflower for one of the virtual cooking classes. (Melinda Lavine / mlavine@duluthnews.com)

Call 218-724-5869 to reserve a copy. $ 12 donation suggested.

The “Let's Eat” cookbook contains around 50 recipes for all courses.  (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

The “Let’s Eat” cookbook contains around 50 recipes for all courses. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

The message on the back of the cookbook “Let's Eat”.  (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

The message on the back of the cookbook “Let’s Eat”. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)