Homeland Center’s cooking club spice up residents’ lives


Speech therapist Shayla Oaks-Rester looks on as activities coordinator Anita Payne sets out ingredients for residents Doris Gingrich and Harold HixonDorothy Bettinger enjoys coming to Homeland Center cooking club sessions.

“I can play with food,” she said. “Anything that’s good, I’ll eat.”

Every other Monday, Homeland’s cooking club brings residents together around a table to cook, chat, learn about new foods and, of course, eat their creations.

The club meets in the center’s unique 1950s-style Olewine Diner, a bright space in red, black, white and chrome that recalls Eisenhower-era soda shops, right down to the checkered-tile floor and jukebox.  The diner was made possible through a gift by the Olewine family in memory of Marian Olewine.

One recent morning, residents were making chalupas, many for the first time. Each chose ingredients from trays full of such delectables as bacon, chicken, cheese, green peppers and onions. As she loaded her fillings into pockets of dough, Naomi Packer said she appreciates the social aspects of the club.

“It’s good fellowship and good recipes,” Naomi said. “They’re simple, and we can get everything done, including eat, in an hour.”

Harold Hixon enjoys making chalupas during Homeland's cooking class“And we can gossip in between,” added Dorothy Bettinger.

While they’re socializing and anticipating the delicious flavors of their treats, club members learn about healthy eating, said Anita Payne, the activities staffer who leads the group.

“These are things they used to do in their own kitchens,’’ she said. “It doesn’t stop when you come in a nursing home.’’

Of course, not every club meeting is devoted to asparagus and grilled chicken. Naomi most enjoys the sessions where they get to bake.

“I like Christmas cookies,” she said.

Gloria Jackson has always enjoyed cooking, and the cooking club recalls gatherings with her big family. She likes the end of each club meeting, when Homeland staff has cooked the foods that members have prepared and served them up hot. Her favorites are pizza and chicken.

Harold Hixon has hunted all over the U.S. and, he says, fished “the seven seas.” He caught a 155-pound marlin off Hawaii, hunted moose in California and tracked wild pigs in Georgia. He has been to Alaska and the Mexican border in search of game.

Activities coordinator Anita Payne and resident Naomi PackerWhen the experienced hunter got a bite of the chalupa he’d just made, a Homeland staffer asked him how it tasted.

“Oh, that’s perfect,” he said. “Perfect. Perfect.”

Shayla Oaks-Rester, a Homeland speech therapist, said the cooking club serves a therapeutic purpose. For instance, it encourages residents to practice using their hands and swallowing. The group also goes on outings to restaurants, enjoying jaunts to Texas Roadhouse or such local favorites as the Progress Grill and the Glass Lounge.

“We do everything from appetizers to dessert,” said Anita Payne, Homeland’s activities coordinator. “There’s just no stopping us. We’re all gourmet cooks or chefs every other Monday.’’