of San Francisco
Gray Panther Activist
Blaustein -- community activist
She received national media attention in the 1980s when she and other members of the Gray Panthers of San Francisco published "Cheap and Nutritious. " The book and subsequent series of classes targeted older people who live alone and taught them how to cook economical meals with little preparation, often by using just a hot plate and a few pots and pans. (See article below.)
But locally, Ms. Blaustein was better known for her tireless political and social activism in the Noe Valley community where she lived for 35 years."This was a woman who really had a vision of what a community should be like, and she was devoted to that," said longtime friend and Noe Valley resident Jean Amos.
When the Noe Valley Sally Brunn Library faced closure in the late 1980s, Ms. Blaustein was at the forefront of a successful neighborhood fight to keep it open. Friends said she used her persuasive personality and humor to help bring hundreds of people to the library for a rally. (Read a Noe Valley Voice article on this.)
She also was instrumental more than a decade ago in converting a vacant Noe Valley lot into a lush community garden. After countless phone calls and requests, she convinced the city to run water there and neighbors to donate plants.
"She got water out of a stone," Amos said.
A native of Rochester, N.Y., Ms. Blaustein moved to San Francisco in 1955 and quickly felt at home in the Bay Area. She spent many years working as a medical reference librarian until her retirement in 1978.
Fellow Noe Valley activists say they have Ms. Blaustein to thank for the eclectic mix of shops that now line the neighborhood's popular 24th Street.
She was a regular face at city meetings, often leading community efforts to keep the number of commercial stores, bars and restaurants in her neighborhood at a minimum.
"She had a purpose and sense of the way things should be -- healthy and safe and families are first," Amos said. "She worked for that all her life."
Ms. Blaustein served on a number of boards, including Friends of Noe Valley and San Francisco Tomorrow, and on the residents council for the San Francisco Jewish Home for the Aged, where she lived in recent years. But Ms. Blaustein was perhaps happiest acting as the in-house grandmother of Noe Valley Nursery School, where she often could be found sitting on a couch surrounded by children.
True to the active life she led, her last words -- followed by a wink to her daughter, Louise Godfrey -- were "I'm making plans."
In addition to her daughter, of Piedmont, Ms. Blaustein is survived by her brother, Kenneth Pasmanick of Washington, D.C.; her sister, Gertrude Weber of Los Angeles; and a granddaughter.
At Ms. Blaustein's request, there will be no services.
Donations in her honor may be made to the Gray Panthers, 1182 Market St., Room 203, San Francisco, CA 94102, or Bread and Roses, 233 Tamalpais Drive, Suite 100, Corte Madera, CA 94925.
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Panthers reach out to the elderly and disabled - includes recipe
Tofu and mushrooms stir-fry, five-spice chicken, and zucchini and cheese soup--all these sound exotic and, maybe, a little expensive. But the San Francisco Gray Panthers are teaching seniors and disabled people that they can prepare meals like these easily and cheaply.
The Gray Panthers is a national organization working for better health care and nutrition, affordable housing, and accessible transportation for senior citizens and low-income people of all ages. "Age and youth in action' is their motto, and their members include everyone from teenagers to retirees.
Several times a month members of San Francisco's Gray Panthers venture out into senior centers, low-cost hotels, and housing projects to provide 1-hour cooking demonstrations featuring several items in the Panthers' large repertoire of recipes.
husband calls me the Julia Child of the Tenderloin,' laughs Lynn Fitzwater,
describing her demonstrations that often take place in San Francisco's
Tenderloin, a skid-row area where many low-income seniors live. While
the demonstrations are primarily aimed at seniors, the Gray Panthers periodically
make presentations before disabled groups as well.
Geared to elderly on low incomes
The program, called "Cheap and Nutritious,' began when members of the Gray Panthers realized that many San Francisco seniors needed a different type of cooking class than was being offered.
"Too many of the cooking classes in the Bay Area were aimed at the affluent,' says Miriam Blaustein, one of the co-directors of the program. "We want to show seniors that good food can be both cheap and fun. The idea was to present a program on hotplate cooking since so many seniors live in meager housing that doesn't have adequate cooking facilities.'
Most of the meals that are prepared in the demonstrations are very simple and require just one pot or pan for preparation. The five-spice chicken, for instance, is a tasty dish based on Vietnamese cooking that is easily made in one pan. Several of the other dishes, such as curried fish salad or the popular Middle Eastern dish, tabbouleh, do not even require a stove.
"Certain recipes seem to work better than others,' says Blaustein. "Omelettes are especially good. They are very easy to prepare, few of the ingredients need refrigeration, and there are few leftovers. Our soup recipes are very successful also, especially if the seniors have a place to store the leftovers.'
Focus is on special needs
The purpose of "Cheap and Nutritious' is much more than teaching seniors how to prepare one-pan dinners. The Panther cooks try to tailor each demonstration to the special nutrition needs and problems of older people.
"We emphasize recipes that are low in salt, fat, and sugar--especally low in salt,' explains Fitzwater, who is the other co-director of the "Cheap and Nutritious' project. "That's not to say we don't use any salt, but we try to make the seniors aware of how much salt is already in their foods. We have to do this because so many seniors are on sodium-restricted diets.'
Throughout their presentations, the Panther cooks pepper their dialogue with information on which prepared foods contain the most salt and how seniors can reduce the amount of salt they eat. For instance, the Panthers suggest that when they feel like salting their food, they reach instead for an allspice mixture. The Panthers hand out a recipe for this mixture at their demonstrations.
The Panthers also emphasize using fresh food whenever possible. "We take the point of view that fresh is always better,' says Blaustein. "With fresh foods, you have control of your meal and how much salt is added.'
"We often tell the audience never to buy anything with ingredients they cannot pronounce,' adds Lynn Fitzwater. "That type of joke makes a point but it also helps loosen up the audience and makes them more receptive to our presentation.'
The demonstrations themselves have a decidedly non-high-tech look. "We don't come in with shiny new equipment,' says Blaustein. "We use stuff everyone has. A black cast-iron skillet, everyone recognizes that. Why, my eggbeater is older than I am.'
While the Panthers do not directly discuss food assistance programs like food stamps, they do gear their recipe planning toward those on very tight budgets. They estimate most of the meals they demonstrate can be prepared for an average price of 50 to 75 cents per serving.
Social isolation is a big concern
One of the cornerstones of the Panthers' cooking demonstrations is the social aspect of cooking and eating for seniors. Social isolation is a serious problem for low-income elderly. The Gray Panthers see their "Cheap and Nutritious' project as a way of combatting that isolation.
"We always tell our audiences at the demonstrations, "Never eat alone,'' says Blaustein. "We tell them to call their neighbors across the hall--cook together, eat together. It can be very stressful to eat alone. The conviviality of eating with people, the interchange with neighbors is so important.'
The "Cheap and Nutritious' project has been in operation for 3 years and has a staff of five. In addition to coordinators Blaustein and Fitzwater, the staff includes Florence Phillips, Lillian Kaskaddon, and Ann MacMillan. None are professional nutritionists, but are what they call "common sense cooks.'
Each demonstration features three people. Two act as the cooks, and the third is an assistant. That assistant becomes especially important toward the end of the demonstration when a sample of the food is given to every member of the audience. While the sample is usually small, it gives the seniors an idea of how each dish should taste.
Project helped by private funds
For almost the entire 3 years the project has been in operation, it has been funded by the McKesson Foundation, formerly the Foremost-McKesson Corporation. The funding enables the Gray Panthers to buy supplies and print the recipes that are handed out to the audience.
According to Dena Goldberg, an official of the McKesson Foundation, the idea of offering support to the Gray Panthers' cooking project grew out of a survey of McKesson employees.
"In 1979, Foremost-McKesson surveyed its employees to see what type of groups they wanted the Foundation to fund,' she says. "Employees showed a great interest in helping senior citizens. This survey had an impact on where the Foundation set its funding priorities.'
Foundation representatives visited several of the demonstrations before authorizing funding, and they were impressed. "The program fit our needs very well since it cut across several of our priority lines,' says Goldberg. "It served seniors and it dealt with nutrition issues.' (At that time, Foremost-McKesson was involved in several aspects of food processing.)
"We were real impressed with the program,' she adds. "The seniors really liked it, and it was more than a class on how to cook. It also had a socializing function--it was a place for people to meet.'
Currently, the Gray Panthers are planning no major changes in the program. They do have a cookbook in the works, however, and hope to have it off the press later this year. For more information on the "Cheap and Nutritious' project, contact Miriam Blaustein or Lynn Fitzwater. Their address is:
Gray Panthers of San Francisco 50 Fell Street San Francisco, California 94102
3- to 3 1/2-lb. frying chicken
2 medium onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
1 teaspoon Five Spices
Skin chicken, cut into serving pieces. In a heavy iron skillet, saute onion in oil until golden in color. Remove from skillet. Brown chicken in remaining oil, then add the onion and crushed garlic.
Mix lemon juice, water, sugar, soy sauce, ginger, and Five Spices. Pour over chicken. Cover tightly, simmer over low flame for 45 minutes. Serve with brown rice.
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons safflower oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon sugar
To make your own Five Spices, use star anise (about two whole ones broken up or 1 teaspoon anise seed), 1/2 teaspoon cloves, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon fennel, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.
Some grocery stores may carry spice combinations similar to this or you can experiment with your own.
1984 U.S. Government Printing Office