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Extension Class Shows It's Never Too Late To Learn To Cook

RUIDOSO - Ed Ross tackles the pumpkin soup, Jim Blanchard handles the meat loaf and James Skelton chops the vegetables for the Chinese stir fry. The can opener spins, the chef's knife clatters against the cutting board and the oven temperature is dialed to 350 degrees. Soon, the aromas from the three dishes signal this will be a meal to remember.

Ed Ross, right, and Jim Blanchard help prepare lunch during a cooking class offered by New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service in Lincoln County. The class was geared to men over 60 who had spent little or no time in the kitchen. Another class may be scheduled that would offer more advanced cooking techniques. (06/16/2005) (NMSU Agricultural Communications Photo by Darrell J. Pehr)

The three cooks are students in a class being offered at the Ruidoso Senior Center by New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service in Lincoln County. But the class, and the students, are far from typical. Add their ages and you'll pass the boiling point, but these three aren't stewing over the unfamiliar experience of being in the kitchen. The class welcomes people late in life to learn how to create appetizing, nutritious meals.

The class is especially geared to men over 60 who may never have tried cooking. In their generation, women were more likely to cook for the family.

"That's how it was," said home economist Marsha Palmer, who taught the class. "A lot of the men just didn't cook." Now, late in life, they may see the class as a chance to try something new, the class may add to their skills in the kitchen, or they may be faced with duties in the kitchen for the first time due to illness, inability or death of a spouse.

Each session of the four-part class started with a discussion of nutrition, food safety and the recipes of the day. Class members then prepared lunch together at the Senior Center.

Palmer outlined research-based dietary guidelines and spoke about making smart decisions from every food group, finding balance between food and physical activity and getting the most nutrition from calories. She offered some easy-to-remember tips, too, including high-altitude recipe adjustments and the importance of including fresh fruit in the diet, rather than processed food.

"The closer it is to Mother Nature, the better it is for you," she said.

The menu ranged from black bean soup to chile relleno casserole, and each class member joined in to prepare the meals.

Blanchard and his wife are retired professionals who never had time to spend in the kitchen.

"I've always been curious," said Blanchard, a retired materials engineering professor, "but I never tried." When Blanchard heard about the class, he saw it as a chance to learn new skills.

"What an opportunity to pick up a little information," Blanchard said. Particularly useful were details about food preservation and cooking techniques. Blanchard has used the skills he learned to prepare meals, and said he would take a similar class if one was offered.

"There are those who are cooks, and there are those who are onlookers," Blanchard said. "I can join in now."

Palmer said she received good feedback from the students, and she feels the class served as a good beginning.

"They learned the basics. It was just the beginning of a cooking class."

Several students asked for more in-depth training, and Palmer is considering offering a class that would include guest lectures from Lincoln County chefs.

"We have a lot of really good restaurants here," she said. "A more advanced class would reach out to more people."