Friday, January 2, 2009

Friday Professional Features: Chris Musser

To celebrate the fabulous family-friendly community we enjoy here in Portland, we will be featuring local mamas and professionals interview-style or, when we are feeling wild, some other format. Featured Mama on Monday and Friday Professional Features.

Here is our first Friday Professional Feature!

Chris Musser
I am a homeschooling homemaking momma to two littles, ages 5-1/2 and almost 3. I've lived in Portland for over 12 years now and love this wonderful green spot on our planet. I have always loved to cook and been fascinated with how our ancestors prepared food without all the conveniences most Americans have today. Growing up, I helped my family raise vegetables in our kitchen garden, butcher hogs on my uncle's farm, and can endless jars of food for what I jokingly referred to then as our "Armageddon Pantry." In my 20s, I taught myself to cook classic French cuisine and treated my friends to lavish multi-course dinner parties. In my 30s, I learned to make sushi and curries and began exploring my Pennsylvania Dutch and Italian food roots. In my 40s, bread baking, cheese making, lacto-fermentation, canning, and other lost arts entered my culinary repertoire. Throughout, I have sought whole organic food, out of concern for the health of farmers, the Earth, and my family.

Business name/service:
Lost Arts Kitchen

Tell us a bit about the wonderful work you do:
I teach small, hands-on cooking classes for people who want to cook wholesome, delicious meals at home, using predominantly local, organic ingredients. In my classes, I share how to save money and time finding, storing, and preparing real food. I like to say that my classes are for Real People who want Real Food on a Real Budget. My classes are suited to novice cooks wanting hands-on experience to familiarize themselves with the tastes, aromas, textures, and appearance of real food and experienced cooks wanting to expand their culinary repertoire or learn how to find and store local, organic food on a budget. I teach a variety of classes: bread baking, cheese making, lacto-fermentation, eating local and with the seasons, stocking and using a pantry, cooking for the freezer, canning, and making sushi, pizza, pasta, pie crusts, and stock. My husband may teach home smoking--he makes the most
fantastic smoked salmon!

A special service I offer is shopping for and helping to prepare meals for the freezer--what I call "Homemade in Hibernation." This is especially geared for families expecting a new baby. The family and I figure out three or four meals to prepare in advance and decide on a budget for whatever is needed. I shop, bring my own recipes and equipment if necessary, then help prepare the food while sharing my tips for adjusting recipes when cooking for the freezer, making quick accompaniments, and incorporating big batch cooking into everyday meal prep.

How did you discover this path?:

Over the years, I have found myself inviting friends over for cooking and food preservation lessons, blogging about my kitchen exploits, sharing my techniques and recipes with who ever would listen. As a busy mom raising two young children on a single income, I've had to develop many time- and money-saving techniques that allow me to feed my family good food without spending hours in the kitchen everyday or breaking our budget every month. With the specters of economic recession, climate change, and peak oil looming, I felt called to help people learn to save money by preparing food at home, support our local food system, and live lightly on the Earth. Food is so primal--most of us get to make choices about what to eat three or more times a day--and those choices have a tremendous impact on our personal health, the health of the people who grow our food, and the health of our planet. I also know, though, that making the transition from the Standard American Diet to one that's more sustainable isn't simple. Many of us don't know how to cook or find the ingredients used in whole foods cooking mysterious. I want to smooth the path for people, introducing them to ingredients, strategies, and techniques for make preparing good food without adding more stress and work to their lives.

What do you cherish most about your work?

I have had a lot of J-O-B jobs in my life--just doing what I had to do to pay my way in the world. I have had jobs that I liked well enough, but felt I still wasn't really doing something of real lasting value. Now, I am doing something I feel is really important, really valuable, and what I love is hearing from people who "get it," who appreciate what my classes offer and why now more than ever, we all need to learn to cook real food.
Share a story about helping someone:

I have a good friend who until recently, didn't cook. Her husband cooked or they got take out. She took my baking basics class in the fall and has turned into a cooking whirlwind! I can't take credit for her turn around, but I think that by opening the door to my kitchen, showing her how to do one thing well, she gained some confidence and now she's off! Everytime I read about her latest kitchen exploits on her blog, I feel really proud of her and honored that I was able to be a bit of inspiration.

Share a family-friendly tip:

Don't be afraid to let your young children help! I know I was worried about potential burns and cuts with my first. I finally relaxed a bit and figured out ways to bring her into the kitchen safely. We talk about hot stuff and sharp stuff. She has issues with attention and impulse control--just like a lot of kids. When she's in the kitchen with me, instead of worrying about getting dinner done "on time," I focus on her and talk with her about what she's doing, what's happening to the food she's preparing. My little one, he's almost always by my side in the kitchen, asking about ingredients, tasting, helping me scoop and pour. Whenever I bake bread, I make extra dough for the two of them to make their own creations--this is the original play dough! The kitchen is a fantastic place to learn about chemistry, history, farming, math and to create wonderful memories.

Contact info., hours, etc.:
Lost Arts Kitchen is on the web at, naturally! Classes are typically held at my home in outer NE Portland on Friday evenings or Saturday mornings. I am also available for private lessons and have been asked to teach at some other venues in town--more information about that as we firm up schedules and so on. Sign up for my newsletter for updates! I send out cooking tips, seasonal recipes, sustainable food news and class updates once a month.

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