Pam Collacott is creating confident cooks in the kitchen—one parent at a time
Story and Photos by Lindsay Ruck
In a small kitchen at the Bethany Hope Centre in Ottawa, Pam Collacott oversees a group of young women who are learning how to make frittata, an Italian style omelet. Huddled around a stove, Pam shares with the girls cooking tips and tricks. The girls listen closely, taking mental notes, as this frittata could be tomorrow night’s dinner.
The Buns in the Oven program, offered to young women who are expecting or recently gave birth, is a weekly program that offers nutrition education, social support and health education. Pam started volunteering with the program eight years ago and that first experience has had her coming back ever since.
“Somebody came to my cooking school and said I may be interested in the program,” recalls Pam. “You can see the obvious place for someone like me, because it’s a nutrition program. These young women are having babies and I thought, well if anybody needs to learn how to cook, they do.”
Pam is not new to the world of teaching. After completing a bachelor in home economics, she began teaching family studies to high school and middle school children. For 23 years, Pam owned and operated the Trillium Cooking School in her family’s log home, just south of Ottawa.
“I’ve always been a teacher and there’s so much to learn in cooking, but it’s not difficult and that’s the message that has to get out there.” Her most recent cookbook came directly from her work with Buns in the Oven—a cookbook full of Pam’s recipes with all proceeds going to the program.
“We made it so that the book is just like having me in the kitchen, because when I write a recipe, I also give little helpful hints that will make it easier to make that particular recipe.” Including nutritional information at the end of each recipe, Pam says the book promotes healthy eating that is simple and affordable for all ages.
“So many times here at Buns, we’ll be cooking and I’ll hear one of the young moms say ‘I could do that.’ And I think yes! Because that’s the message that you want to get out there. Yes you can do that and you should be doing that because it’s so much better for you and for your children than processed foods.”
Using her own recipes and also adapting others to fit the program, Pam says something as simple as cooking can make a big difference for these young women.
“Some come in and they have all the confidence in the world, while others hold back a little bit. From the time they’re pregnant to the time their baby is six months old, you can watch the confidence build and watch them start to make healthier choices and hopefully that will carry over to home as well.”
Kim Ledoux has been a part of the Buns in the Oven program for more than 10 years. As program coordinator, Kim has seen the effects of the cooking classes. Once reaching the end of their time with the program, each graduate receives the cookbook as a parting gift.
“The cookbook makes a difference,” Kim says. “They show pride in their accomplishments and a desire to create their own family meals from their experiences here. Many of the participants were reluctant to try new foods and had little exposure to certain ingredients, but now they enjoy the tasting process and are more open to new foods. The young parents learn that family mealtime is important.”
Pam’s ability to teach cooking to the most novice of chefs has led her to many opportunities outside the four walls of the classroom. In the late 80s and early 90s, Pam had a spot on a popular children’s television show called Take Part.
“It was just five minutes in the kitchen, and I did one simple little thing,” says Pam, “but so many people still come up to me now and say ‘I used to watch that when I was a kid. That’s the first cooking I ever did and I’m still cooking.’ ”
With Buns in the Oven being her fifth cookbook, Pam says retirement is a distant thought.
“I won’t ever retire because I enjoy what I do. This is fun for me.”
Cathryn Fortier has been with the program for 14 years and says Pam’s dedication as a volunteer is rare.
“Few volunteers continue in one setting for as long as she has. Her commitment of time in coming to the program, soliciting donations and then writing, promoting and selling the book is quite unbelievable. She is a very special person and we are most fortunate to be the beneficiary of her goodness.”
Pam is also a freelance writer and cooks every other Monday on CJOH-TV’s News at Noon with Leanne Cusack.
When she’s not in the kitchen, Pam enjoys reading, going for walks, travelling, and spending as much time as possible with her children and two grandsons.
The Key Ingredients
“This recipe is a hit at Buns every time we make it, and we make it often. It’s easy to adjust the quantity to suit the size of the crowd. It’s good the next day, and leftovers can be frozen—if there are any!” – Pam Collacott
.674 kilograms (1 ½ pounds) ground turkey, chicken or lean beef, crumbled (if desired, replace some or all of the ground meat with reconstituted Textured Vegetable Protein)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
850 ml (3 ½) cups extra chunky salsa
freshly ground pepper
475-500 g (1 container) light cottage cheese or light ricotta
62.5 ml (¼ cup) minced fresh parsley
500 ml (2 cups) shredded Monterey Jack cheese, divided
12 to 15 small wholegrain flour tortillas
1 medium tomato, seeded, diced
sprinkle chilli powder
optional toppings: shredded lettuce, chopped green onions, chopped tomatoes, sliced black olives, guacamole
In a large skillet, cook ground meat, onion, and garlic over medium heat until meat is no longer pink. Stir in salsa. Heat to boiling. Season lightly with pepper.
In medium bowl, stir together cottage cheese, egg, parsley, and 1 cup of the Jack cheese.
To assemble, lightly grease or spray bottom and sides of a 13×9-inch baking pan. Cover bottom and sides with a layer of tortillas. Spoon in meat mixture in an even layer. Cover with a layer of tortillas. Top with cottage cheese mixture in an even layer. Sprinkle diced tomato and remaining cheese evenly on top. Sprinkle lightly with chilli powder. Cover and refrigerate at this point if desired.
Bake at 180 °C (350°F ) for 30 to 45 minutes, or until hot and bubbly. Let stand five minutes before cutting into squares. Let each person garnish with toppings of choice. Makes eight to 10 servings.
This recipe is a very high source of fibre, source of vitamin A and C, good source of iron and excellent source of calcium.