Cooking for a cause
Christina Cowan has discovered the recipe for success.
Cowan, executive assistant to the director and special projects coordinator at the Institute for Complex Engineered Systems (ICES), is currently working to publish the Carnegie Institute of Technology Staff and Faculty Cookbook, a book that contains treasured recipes contributed by CIT’s very own professors and researchers.
The book is a fund-raising project that will benefit the National Pancreas Foundation. Through this project, Cowan hopes to achieve a dual aim: raise awareness and help for pancreatic illnesses, and unite the CIT faculty behind this cause.
Pancreatic cancer is a life-threatening disease that has recently come to the forefront because of patients like Randy Pausch and Patrick Swayze speaking out. But the idea to raise money for and awareness about pancreatic illnesses actually arose from Cowan’s own personal experience. Two and a half years ago, Cowan was diagnosed with chronic pancreatitis, an acutely painful disease about which little is known and which, to date, does not have a cure. Cowan recounts her initial fear and frustration after discovering her ailment. When she was initially diagnosed, the only other person she knew with pancreatitis (not knowing it was cancer then) was Randy Pausch. “[Pausch’s] attitude through it all gave me hope,” she wrote in an e-mail. “I got frustrated because every time I would go to the doctor, the answer was always the same, ‘We don’t know.’”
Spurred on by Pausch’s example and her own despair about not being given any answers, Cowan decided to try and make a difference herself by raising money and donating it to the National Pancreas Foundation. “[Throughout] my ordeal with this illness, the National Pancreas Foundation was a real resource for help and information,” Cowan explained. “When you get sick with an illness that is chronic, it helps to know that you are not alone. There is a support network through this foundation that others like me find very helpful. Their mission is to support the research of diseases of the pancreas and to provide information and humanitarian services to those people who are suffering from such illnesses.”
In order to raise funds and awareness, Cowan came up with the idea of putting together a cookbook containing recipes contributed by CIT’s faculty and staff. “I thought of a way that we could raise money and have the CIT faculty and staff want to participate and [the cookbook] idea came to me,” Cowan wrote. “We all love food; I have taken cooking classes in the past; I love to cook, and it seemed like a great idea to get involvement from others as well as a way to raise money.” She approached the rest of her staff at ICES, and along with their support began to put the book together.
The book features a variety of recipes that cater to everyone’s taste buds, as well as diet restrictions. For example, one of the recipes featured is couscous with feta, which makes a healthy; low-fat meal for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. A richer meal can be created by following the delicious Easy Chicken Bake recipe, which is also included in the book.
The book also creates mass appeal — after all, who can resist the great combination of good food and a good cause? “CIT does a lot of programs to help the community, but this one will be more special because we are actually supporting the cause of someone amongst us,” commented Manasi Kishor Patil, a sophomore electrical and computer engineering major. “Also, I love food, so I will definitely buy the book to support this cause.”
The book is set to be published this summer. Cowan says that the response has been flattering so far, and the support and encouragement even more so. Recipes are being procured from many other places as well. Restaurants in Squirrel Hill and Shadyside have agreed to contribute recipes to the book. This is especially kind of these restaurants, as usually in the restaurant business recipes are kept top secret.
Cowan confides that among the recipes she has so far, she thinks Research Professor Phil Campbell’s picadillo recipe is quite excellent. Of course, the only way to get that recipe would be to buy the book.
More information of the project and a way to submit recipes can be found at http://www.ices.cmu.edu/cookbookproject.