‘Life is Short. Eat Dessert First’

March 22, 2019


by Doug Robinson

The event was advertised in the Hudson-Litchfield News this way: “Join Chef Oonagh Williams each month through May for a Lithuanian cooking demo class on the third Saturday of each month at 1 p.m. (at Hills Memorial Library). Learn how to make new dishes each month and sample the finished products. Today, she will be preparing traditional Easter dishes. Chef Oonagh is regularly featured on WMUR 9’s Cook’s Corner.”

Now, truth be known, the staff at the HLN do have their favorite areas of reporting. Newspaper Publisher Len Lathrop loves to cook. He makes the best pies! So, when he asked this reporter to cover this event, it became obvious that the flu he was fighting had gotten the best of him.

As for this reporter, just supply a grill, or a fry pan, and whipping up the best shoe leather known to mankind is an easy task. Going to a “Lithuanian cooking demo class” would be a whole different story.

Arriving at the library 20 minutes early, I anticipated the opportunity to speak with the chef, and possibly get the interview over and done with early. Unfortunately for me, Chef Oonagh was talking to a “fan” who had traveled to the library to speak and share in the demonstration. So much for my ‘in-early, out-early scheme.’

I waited patiently for that discussion to be finished when Chef Oonagh asked me to get her the rest of her copies that she needed. She thought I worked at the library. I said, “ok” and quietly went out to the library to follow up on her request.

I returned to the meeting room, without copies in hand, and she just looked at me. I introduced myself as a reporter, to which she started to laugh. Her laughter was so infectious, I laughed too and said I was “sorry that I didn’t have the copies of her recipes” as requested.

The copies she was having printed were the recipes for the day’s cooking demonstration. She would teach the audience how to cook a Lithuanian Easter dinner.

The menu was Easter cheese mold -flowerpot cheese (Paska, saldus sūris); raspberry wine-glazed ham – Kumpis su vyno ir aviečių glajum; and Boba, Babka, or Russian Kulich, which is Lithuanian Easter bread (naturally gluten free made with almond flour).

The cheese mold is a “rich and lovely addition to the Easter table reputed to be of Russian origin but described as sweet cheese in books on Lithuanian traditions,” according to Treasures of Lithuanian Cooking.

In her recipe for raspberry wine-glazed ham, she writes, “This is a good time to buy one of the really cheap hams. Remove ham from plastic and net casing and put in a large pan covered with cold water. Leave to soak for about 12 hours, changing the water once if you have the time. The garage is a good place to leave the ham, covered, while it is soaking, as long as the weather is cold enough).

She describes the Lithuanian Easter bread Boba, Babka, or Russian Kulich: “It’s excellent at any time. I taught Lithuanian cooking classes for many years at our local Ethnic Library Center and spent a month in Vilnius, Lithuania, in 2005 attending language school and seeing the country. This is one of the recipes I made each Easter in the classes.”

By now, the meeting room was beginning to fill with folks who came to visit, share, and learn from Oonagh. I quickly discovered that Oonagh was not your ordinary chef. She had a huge following.

Chef Oonagh knew the names of many of the people in the audience. It made sense that she knew their names as the event was more than a cooking class. It was a family affair.

Oonagh has been teaching, writing, and has authored the book Delicious Gluten Free Cooking. She also gives “talks and cooking demos on eating clean in 2019.” In addition, she offers insight into the “Power of Food – best medicine, worst poison” where she talks about FDA nutritional labeling, GMOs, how much sugar is too much, trans fats and food allergens. Her resume is broad and far reaching.

My notes on Oonagh reflected a personality that is “delightful,” “interactive,” “endearing,” as well as “knowledgeable,” “informative,” and “has done her research.”

As Oonagh demonstrates her recipes, she also teaches how to save the most money by shopping at a specific store. She was always sharing her breadth of knowledge by explaining how to eat healthy.

I mentioned to Oonagh that her presentation resembled a “fireside chat” without the fireplace.

Oonagh totally won me over just as she had with all of those at the event. Everyone laughed and shared the experience of making the Easter dishes, and actually learned how to make the meal. Her detailed recipes were specific and easy to follow.

While we sat and salivated, she cut the pound cakes into 40 portions, feeding the audience, the library staff and me. She cut the cheese mold which she added to the coffee cake plates. “Life is short, let’s eat dessert first,” she laughingly declared. “This recipe is so simple; the hardest thing was boiling the eggs.”

Following dessert, the raspberry wine-glazed ham was served. The murmuring of the room was hushed, as everyone savored the taste of the ham. Life was good. As the demonstration came to a close, I inquired of the attendees, “How many will make this meal for Easter?” Virtually everyone raised their hands with enthusiasm.

Chef Oonagh will teach again at Hills Memorial Library, Saturday, April 20, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. “I’ll be making Lietiniai blynai, Nalesnikai – sweet and savory stuffed crêpes,” she told her eager audience. Visit her at www.glutenfreecookingwithOonagh.com.