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Once-a-month cooking club brings women together to express their joy of coooking

PMG PHOTOS: BARB RANDALL - This group of West Linn women formed a cooking club six years ago. They get together once a month September through June to enjoy a festive feast, then invite their husbands to join them for dinner in July, which is usually a banquet of the best of what they created over the year. Pictured are back row from left Rebecca Demorest, Jane Paulsen, Molly Hemsley, Stacy Koelbel, KC Bildner and Julie Gibson, and front row from left Amy Olson and Creah MacGlashan.

You might think creating an Excel spreadsheet to organize your dinners is going a bit too far, but there is a group of West Linn women who rely on that tool to get dinner on the table each month.

The women are Creah MacGlashan, Molly Hensley, Stacy Koelbel, Rebecca Demorest, Julie Gibson, Amy Olson, Jane Paulson, KC Bildner and Alexia Halen. Though they don't have an official name for their cooking club they are now in their sixth year of creating festive feasts one evening a month September through June.

"We all love to cook and its a great way for us to spend time together," said KC Bildner.

The group was started because MacGlashan wanted to join a cooking club but was put off by the three pages of rules she was presented with when inquiring about joining.

"I said to Molly I really want to do a cooking club, couldn't we make up our own?" she said. They thought they could and each of them invited another woman to join the group, and those women also invited another woman, until the group had eight members.

"So we didn't know everybody initially but we have all become close, supportive friends," MacGlashan said. "It is an amazing group. We have helped each other through family issues, vacationed together, been there for each other."

Each year the women select a cookbook to use as the resource for all the feasts they create. This is the lineup of books they have used throughout their history. At top is this years selection, Half Baked Harvest.

Another unique aspect of the cooking club is that the women select one cookbook to be used for all the dinners created that year. They also split their group into two teams; one team cooks one month while the other enjoys and appreciates the effort, then they swap. Within the team the cooking assignments switch out — hence the necessity of the Excel spreadsheet.

"So over the course of a year you host once, then make appetizers and cocktails, or sides and grains, or dessert," said Amy Olson, who was hosting that evening.

Amy Olson, the hostess for the evening, oversees the preparation.

This year's cookbook selection is "Half Baked Harvest," and the evening's menu included appetizers of brie and proscuitto wrapped in phyllo dough drizzled with honey and pomegranate arils; tender asparagus neatly tucked into phyllo envelopes and root vegetables and sage pesto baked salmon. It was MacGlashan's birthday, so there was a special birthday cake for dessert.

"We have used a variety of cookbooks," said MacGlashan. "I think our favorites were Ina Garten's 'Barefoot Contessa Foolproof' and 'Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables.' Six Seasons is the cookbook by Joshua McFadden, local chef and owner of Ava Gene's restaurant in Portland. They have also used "Mother's Best: Comfort Food that Takes You Home Again," written by Chef Lisa Schroeder of Mother's Bistro and Bar in Portland.

"We go out for dinner in December and in July we have our husbands join us for a 'best of' type dinner," said Olson.

"It has improved my confidence and cooking skills," said Rebecca Demorest, who was preparing appetizers and vegetable dishes for the dinner.

"It really helps widen my repertoire of what I serve my family," MacGlashan said. "You get to try something you might not think your family would like, but most times the recipes are hits with the families too."

Rebecca Demorest prepares appetizers made of brie and proscuitto, wrapped in phyllo dough which was baked then drizzled with honey and sprinkled with pomegranate arils.

All agree their cooking skills have improved through cooking together, and it is an added bonus to have time set aside each month to enjoy each other's company.

In June the women will bring their suggestions for next year's cookbook selection, then bring out the computer to set up the Excel spreadsheet to determine when and where to meet, who is on which team and cooking assignments for the next year.

"And if by chance you can't come you are welcome to send a substitute," Olson said.

That is probably the

most sought-after seat at the table.

At left, Molly Hemsley and KC Bildner enjoy a cocktail while other members of the cooking club prepare the feast. The club consists of two teams: One cooks one month, then the other takes over the next. To keep track of who is cooking what and when they use an Excel spreadsheet.

Rebecca Demorests appetizer was brie and proscuitto baked in phyllo then drizzled with honey and sprinkled with festive pomegranate arils. All the recipes came from Half Baked Harvest, their selected cookbook for the year.


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