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COOKING FOR GOOD

Ronald McDonald House’s volunteer Chef Program offers comfort to families in need.

WRITTEN BY SUE EDMONDSON
PHOTOS BY CANDICE NYANDO

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All is quiet in Reno’s Ronald McDonald House kitchen. That’s normal for mid-afternoon — families staying at RMH while a child is hospitalized generally spend most of the day at their children’s sides. Still, the kitchen is by no means empty. Plates of homemade chocolate chip cookies sit on the counter, alongside a basket filled with bananas, apples, and oranges. Another basket overflows with grab-and-eat snacks. Dry goods fill the pantry, and cupboards are fully stocked with dishware, pans, and pots. In fact, it looks much like a kitchen in anyone’s home, and that’s exactly the idea.

Home away from home

The Reno RMH, one program administered by Ronald McDonald House Charities Northern Nevada, truly offers every comfort for families that stay there, free of charge if necessary (a $10 nightly donation is requested otherwise), while their children are treated in area hospitals. The only requirement is that their permanent residences be more than 30 miles from Reno. Designed to accommodate parents and children, the house features a playroom loaded with everything from toys to foosball, as well as an all-ages library, spacious living areas, laundry room, and backyard.

But one of Reno RMH’s best offerings is the volunteer Chef Program. Most nights — around 300 each year — volunteers from civic groups, schools, businesses, scout troops, churches, and temples, as well as individuals provide families staying here with hot, homemade dinners. Volunteers typically commandeer the kitchen (or grill), bringing ingredients to cook a meal for 12 to 15 people. Volunteering couldn’t be easier. No long-term commitment is required, and when preparations are done, chefs are done, too. Staff members clean up and families serve themselves.

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Volunteers in action

At 4:30 p.m., today’s chefs roll in — mother-daughter teams from the Sierra Nevada Chapter of the National Charity League. NCL volunteers cook two to four times a month, spreading chef duties among the chapter’s 300 members.

“We love the mission of Ronald McDonald House Charities, and the Chef Program really helps families,” says Liz Liske, NCL liaison to RMHC Northern Nevada. “It makes life so much easier for them. Their situation is overwhelming as it is. They don’t need to sweat the small stuff.”

It may seem daunting to cook for a dozen people, but these volunteers prove how simple, quick, and budget friendly it can be. On the menu today is a chicken-thigh-and-drumstick-veggie casserole, green salad, and rolls with garlic butter. The topper? Two pies for dessert, one apple and one cherry.

There’s a bit of friendly chatter as the teams choose workstations. Then it’s quiet, except for the sound of a spoon scraping against a mixing bowl and the chop-chop of knives cutting vegetables, punctuated by an occasional instruction or question. Kami Soule tasks daughter Alyssa with peeling apples for a pie. Across the kitchen, Annika Galvin asks mom Melanie whether the salad really needs an entire head of celery. Ainsley Parmer suggests to Leigh Ann Scott (who’s standing in for Parmer’s mom) that they add the rest of the potatoes to the casserole. By 5:15, food is in the oven, and an inviting sweet-savory aroma fills the kitchen.

Feeding families

Chefs rarely meet the families they feed. Emotionally drained parents may not feel up to conversation.

“Sometimes a family will come in and chat with the chefs, but not usually,” says JoD Davison, RMHC Northern Nevada operations manager. “They need the quiet time to refresh before they head back to the hospital.”

That doesn’t mean the effort is unappreciated.

“This program really makes a difference for our guests,” says Rachel Gattuso, RMHC Northern Nevada marketing and communications manager. “After a long, stressful day, they sit down to a healthy, home-cooked meal that they didn’t have to plan, didn’t have to shop for, and didn’t have to make. If there’s any silver lining to staying here, it’s the Chef Program.”

Freelance writer Sue Edmondson has written for various publications in Northern Nevada and Northern California. She plans to enlist her book club’s excellent cooks (sadly, she’s not one) for the volunteer Chef Program.

Resources

Reno Ronald McDonald House
323 Maine St., Reno • 775-322-4663 • Rmhc-reno.org

Help the House

While McDonald’s restaurants fund a small percentage of operating costs, up to 98 percent of costs are covered by donations. To raise funds and celebrate its 30th anniversary, RMHC Northern Nevada is hosting a number of events.

June 2 RMHC Golf Tournament at Red Hawk Golf and Resort in Sparks

June 28 Yelp’s Home Away from Home, which Gattuso describes as a “one-of-a-kind experience for people to experience nine model ‘homes-away-from-home’ while tasting the best of the region’s comfort foods and libations.”

July 14 Bad Songs for a Good Cause at Greater Nevada Field during a Reno Aces game. Spectators purchase songs to be played as batters step to the plate.

Aug. 2 Reno Ronald McDonald House Open House

Oct. 6 Annual Gala at the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa

To sign up for the Chef Program or for details about events, visit Rmhc-reno.org or call 775-322-4663.

Recipes

Grandy’s Apple Pie

(courtesy of Kami Soule. Serves 8)

2 9-inch pie crusts (Pillsbury premade pie crust dough is fine.)

3 large or 4 medium Granny Smith apples

2 large or 3 medium yellow delicious apples

¾ cup sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon allspice

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

1 tablespoon butter (optional)

1 egg (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Refrigerate pie crust until ready to use.

Peel and core apples, and cut into slices. Place sliced apples in pie pan before adding other ingredients, using 3 parts Granny Smith and 1 part yellow delicious. If pan overfills, save excess apples for another use.

In large mixing bowl, blend sugar, cornstarch, salt, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg. Add apples and stir to coat.

Grease pie pan with nonstick baking spray or butter. Line pie pan with one crust, gently pressing dough into pan. Or use premade crusts. Fill with apple mixture. If desired, top apples with small slices of butter. Top with second pie crust and trim excess crust. Crimp edges of pie crust together to seal. Cut 4 to 6 small slits in top pie crust in decorative design for venting. To add shine and light browning, beat egg with spoon and brush onto crust. Cover pie edges with pie crust shield or aluminum foil to prevent burning.

Bake at 400 degrees F for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees F. Bake 50 minutes. If filling isn’t bubbling, bake 10 to 15 minutes more, checking frequently.

Mom’s Cherry Pie

(courtesy of Kami Soule. Serves 8)

2 9-inch pie crusts (Pillsburys are fine)

3 14.5-ounce cans water-packed pie cherries

3 tablespoons tapioca

¾ cup of sugar

½ teaspoon almond extract

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon butter (optional)

1 egg (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Refrigerate pie crust until ready to use. Drain cherries, reserving ½ cup juice.

In large mixing bowl, stir tapioca into reserved cherry juice. Let rest for 15 minutes, stirring twice. Blend in sugar, almond extract, and salt. Add cherries and stir to coat.

If making your own crust, grease pie pan with nonstick baking spray or butter. Line pie pan with one crust, gently pressing dough into pan. Fill with cherry mixture. If desired, top cherries with small slices of butter. Top with second pie crust and trim excess crust. Crimp edges of piecrust together to seal. Cut 4 to 6 small slits in top piecrust in decorative design for venting. To add shine and light browning, beat egg with spoon and brush onto crust. Cover pie edges with pie crust shield or aluminum foil to prevent burning.

Bake at 400 degrees F for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees F. Bake 35 minutes. If filling isn’t bubbling, bake 5 minutes more.

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