LEWISTON — Gale Hart smiled after taking a bite of Pad Thai at The Peasant Pantry Cafe at 97 Blake St. on Thursday.

“It’s awesome!” the United Way employee and a Pad Thai fan said. “I have it a lot. This is very fresh.”

She took a class at the center on how to make the Asian dish.

But “I don’t like to cook,” she said.

The women in the Center for Wisdom’s Women’s kitchen — Roxie Perham, Christine Zucatti-Doyle, Joyce Levigne and Abby White-Owl — do like to cook.

For those fretting a month’s worth of eating too many calories in December and planning healthier habits in January, The Peasant Pantry Cafe at 97 Blake St. can help.

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Once a month, women at the women’s drop-in center prepare a community lunch from ingredients that are healthy, affordable and from different cultures.

Anyone can drop in and eat for a donation. On the menu Thursday was Pad Thai.

The chefs are coached by Paul Drowns, community cooking educator at St. Mary’s Nutrition Center.

Pad Thai is spicy, delicious and “very healthy,” Drowns said. Ingredients are vegetables, rice noodles and chicken. The dish is also “full of spices. It’s low in calories.”

Food can be medicine, he said.

“Chilies have more Vitamin C than an orange, he said. “So does parsley.”

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Other ingredients include fresh ginger, garlic, cilantro and limes, plus bean sprouts, olive oil, peanut butter and peanuts.

Klara Tammany, who leads the center, said the goal of offering food from different cultures is to get out of the hot dog, hamburger and macaroni and cheese box. The monthly lunches have only attracted about a dozen patrons. She hopes to increase that number.

Women who come to the center are rebuilding lives after traumas, Tammany said.

“It might be losing children to state custody, being given up as a child,” she said. “It might be mental illness, physical disability, abuse, prostitution — something that has made them have an isolated life.” 

The center provides a respectful, caring and compassionate environment, Tammany said. That doesn’t replace therapy and medical care, but community is needed for healing, she said.

“You’re not going to fully reach your potential if you’re still isolated,” she said.

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Joyce Levigne said her role in preparing Thursday’s lunch was mixing rice noodles with vegetables and sauce. She lives alone. She likes cooking for a crowd, “but I don’t like to cook when I’m home alone.”

Coming to the center “helps me with depression,” she said.

She volunteers, helps with house-cleaning and appreciates time with others.

“Some of my friends I’ve met here, I go to their home,” she said. “They come to mine.”

After Roxie Perham warmed the rice noodles with vegetables, sauce and chicken, she said she used to work as a chef.

“I did a lot of catering,” she said. “Cooking is my passion.”

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Five years ago, she lost her son. She lives alone.

The wisdom center “is a place I feel where I can belong,” she said. “I’ve never had that before.”

Zucatti-Doyle said the center helps her focus “on the positive stuff in my life, not the negatives.”

She said she’s had to deal with divorce, legal issues and mental health problems.

“I have friends here,” she said.

Preparing public lunches gives the women confidence and teaches nutrition, Drowns said.

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“It’s one thing to harp on what you should or shouldn’t eat,” Drowns said. “It’s another to say, ‘Try this and see what you think.'”

A big table sharing food is a great way to show the community what the center is about, Drowns said.

The next lunch is Feb. 4 and a Cuban dish is on the menu. Calling ahead for a reservation at 513-3922 is a good idea.

On Thursday, they ran out of Pad Thai.

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Peasant Pantry Cafe lunch schedule

Feb. 4 — Frijoles Negro Con Arroz, a Cuban dish of black beans and rice.

March 10 — Colcannon, traditional Irish potato and cabbage.

April 7 — Maffe, an African peanut stew.

May 5 — Flautas (Spanish for flute), rolled-up Mexican tortillas.

June 9 — Vegetable curry, Indian.

July 7 — Stamp and go, a Jamican fish fritter.

Lunches are served from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Center for Wisdom’s Women, 97 Blake St. Reservations: 513-3922.


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