And She Cooks’ Kaplan will do more teaching
By Jenn Director Knudsen
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Sasha Kaplan grows meals in her yard.
Escarole, spinach, Swiss chard, rhubarb, currants. Bok choy, herbs, figs. And the fence separating her 1922 Hollywood District bungalow from a neighbor’s is made of blueberry bushes.
Adorning this largely edible front yard are broken ceramic plates. “When platters break, they become garden art,” she said.
And before entering her warmly lit kitchen, a large, framed print hangs on a dining room wall: It depicts an aged, bent-over peddler from the Old Country, vending not clothing or utensils, but doughy bialys.
Kaplan—a chef, award-winning recipe developer and tester, caterer and educator—says her personal and professional motto is “Nurturing hearts and bellies.”
“I’ve always cooked,” Kaplan, 54, mother of two grown sons, said in a recent interview. “Nurturing bellies is my trade.”
This summer she’s shifting her professional focus, catering mainly “small parties” (for “50-ish” people, she said) and adding more instructing to the mix. Her eclectic offerings still will be called, “…And She Cooks!”
“I’d rather focus more on teaching and educating others on food,” including children and single adults.
Kaplan said a mother once approached her, confiding, “I don’t know how to make a roasted chicken.”
“I was floored. Really, truly floored,” said Kaplan.
This summer and next fall, Kaplan and Vern Nelson—long-time friend, fellow foodie and The Oregonian’s Hungry Gardener columnist—will co-teach classes in Kaplan’s kitchen. The duo’s menu items will include fancy fare like fruit pizza, and Kaplan will teach separate classes on some of the basics, such as roasting whole chickens.
Nelson recalls in a phone interview a meal Kaplan cobbled together for him more than 10 years ago.
Kaplan had on hand sweet European pears, Dungeness crab, soft cheese, Iranian fig jam and pita bread. As Nelson watched, she created a pear-and-crab soup and slathered baked pita wedges with the cheese, topped with the sweet, seedy jam.
“I was so impressed, I wrote a column about this,” said Nelson, 61, a member with Kaplan of the Portland Culinary Alliance.
Originally from Providence, R.I., Kaplan grew up in a kosher home; the scent of fresh-cooked food emanated from her mother’s kitchen only on Friday nights. “It was the prelude to lighting the Shabbos candles,” she said.
More cutting edge, her father sprinkled wheat germ on eggs and stirred it into yogurt decades before the healthful supplement became trendy.
But Kaplan credits the culinary pioneer Julia Child, whom she once met and called “my cooking hero” in a FOODday piece, for launching her cooking career.
Kaplan said she’s always cooked for people—including while a student in special education at what is now Southern Connecticut State University—but spent years in other employs.
Once a certified childbirth educator, she dreamed of opening her own B & B & B: “I’d deliver babies in the back room and then go make scones,” Kaplan said. (You can figure out what the third “B” referred to.)
“It’s all part of that nurturing instinct,” said Kaplan, a brunette who wears glasses and confides to thinking about food and how to prepare it most of her waking hours.
Good thing for the bellies she’s to fill.
For the Portland Rose Festival kick-off weekend, she devised menus and prepared meals for more than 70 people on her Golden Dragons Dragon Boat team. And immediately following that athletic and gastronomic escapade, she turned to a more musical one.
Kaplan’s husband Matt Miner coordinates Hollywood House Concerts; from September through June the couple host musicians and a houseful of fans who pay $35 to have their musical yen and appetites sated.
A February concert featuring Cal Scott and Kevin Burke included stuffed grape leaves, cabbage and mushroom tart, Belgian beef stew and a chocolate-banana- caramel bread pudding.
“I get these waves of inspiration,” she shrugged, standing in her kitchen full of cookbooks, appliances, shiny utensils, pots hanging from the ceiling and myriad wooden cutting boards, flipping through pages of menus and memories from past house concerts.
Long-time friend and neighbor Mary Russell, 52, who’s taken cooking classes from Kaplan, believes Kaplan has a knack for pairing food, people and events.
“She blends the feeling of an event into the food,” Russell, a nurse practitioner, said. “If you call her and say I have seven 12-year-olds (to do a party for) …she’ll come up with something.
“I think she’s one of the most underrated caterers around for just that reason: She personalizes everything.”