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Nickolas Oatley / Staff photo by Nickolas Oatley 

Ken Jeong performs stand-up comedy at McCain Auditorium.

Nickolas Oatley / Staff photo by Nickolas Oatley 

Ken Jeong performs stand-up comedy at McCain Auditorium.

Emergency management looking for Peach Grove volunteers

The Riley County emergency management department is seeking volunteers to staff the Peach Grove fire station.

“I have a shortage of people in that station,” said Pat Collins, director of emergency management.

Chairman Ron Wells and commissioner John Ford agreed Monday at the Riley County Commission meeting to allow the department to keep the station open until the end of the year to try to find volunteers.

Peach Grove is in a sparesly populated area at the north end of Riley County near the Marshall County line. Riley County’s system of rural firefighting involves volunteers who respond to fire calls.

Three active volunteers recently let Collins know they are leaving, thus forcing the department to look for other volunteers.

If there is no volunteer interest, Collins may look at closing the station since two other stations, Swede Creek and MayDay, cover that area.

If the station doesn’t gain any volunteer interest, Collins said he doesn’t want to leave this station open to give area residents a false sense of security.

“We have to put it on the radar for the people in that area because it would increase their insurance about 30%,” Collins said. “It would be a pretty big hit.”

Peach Grove does not receive many calls, he said. In fact, it received 13 total calls over the past four years. Five of those were fire calls, and the rest were medical calls, he said.

In other action Monday, commissioners:

  • Held an accreditation site visit with officials for the Riley County Health Department in the county commission chambers. The Public Health Accreditation Board will visit the department next week.
  • Heard an update from Robbin Cole, director of Pawnee Mental Health Services. She said Pawnee moved crisis staff Monday from the 2001 Claflin Road location to the 1558 Hayes Dr. office.
  • Listened to an election update from Rich Vargo, county clerk. As of Friday, the election office has seen over 600 voters in-person and mailed out 839 ballots. Tuesday is the last day to request a mail-in ballot, Vargo said.
  • Held a 20-minute executive session to discuss potential litigation issues. The commission did not take any binding action following the executive session.

Nickolas Oatley / Staff photo by Nickolas Oatley  

Ken Jeong performs stand-up comedy at McCain Auditorium a week ago.

OUR NEIGHBORS | Professor shares culture through cooking classes

Location doesn’t have to limit your menu.

Vaishali Sharda teaches cooking classes at UFM Community Learning Center, specializing in Indian dishes. As she’s explored different types of food, she’s found ways to adapt recipes and share strategies with her students.

“Something so simple can transform into something super good,” she said.

Sharda, 40, recently became an assistant professor in the department of biological and agricultural engineering. She had already started teaching cooking classes at UFM early this year. Sharda grew up in India and moved to Auburn, Alabama, in 2006 for grad school with her husband, Ajay, and then-infant daughter, Anvesha, now 14. Following a stint at Washington State University, they moved to Manhattan in 2013 and have had son Vihaan, 5.

When in Auburn, Sharda found she had few options when it came to eating dishes from her native country.

“I started cooking more out of necessity than anything,” she said.

A church group there took international graduate students shopping, but they only took them to Walmart, Sharda said. It took some time for her to discover other options that could provide a wider variety of ingredients, especially international ones. Sharda said having limited options forced her to be more creative.

“I used tofu instead of paneer (an Indian cheese) because it was the closest replacement,” she said. “It pushed me into creating recipes that didn’t depend on the grocery store.”

During her time at Auburn, Sharda also started attending cooking classes at the university. In addition to learning some American recipes, she learned some Thai dishes and also about making sushi.

In Manhattan, she likes to shop at Asian Market and said Dillons and Aldi also offer good options for international ingredients.

Sharda started publishing a blog on her explorations in various cuisines last year at kitchendocs.com. She’s written about Indian recipes but also dishes like ravioli in white sauce, roasted red pepper gouda soup and watermelon salsa. Her favorite ingredient to cook with is lentils.

Kayla Savage, education coordinator at UFM, said Sharda brings this creativity to how she teaches as well. Savage said Sharda is passionate and knowledgeable about cooking and about Indian food and is able to make it approachable for all of her students regardless of their experience level.

“She’s organized, creative, and thoughtful in her approach to sharing the love she has for Indian food, for cooking, and for the cultural sharing with that,” Savage said.

Sharda said she enjoys being able to share cooking advice as well as her culture in the classes. She explains the health benefits of popular Indian ingredients like turmeric and some of the differences between regional cuisines in India.

“Each part of the country has different cuisine, and it’s based on what’s grown locally,” Sharda said.

Sharda is from northern India, which she said she said uses lots of fruits and vegetables. She loved visiting farmers markets while living in Washington because they had so many fresh fruits and vegetables and she said she’s gotten to know local farmers at the farmers market in Manhattan too.

Sharda also likes to garden to get even more fresh ingredients. She grows lots of common ones like tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. She grows okra, but picks it at a time when it’s smaller and more tender, as is preferred in Indian recipes. She also grows Indian squashes and a variety of herbs.

Sharda said she thinks some people have difficulty eating enough vegetables because they get tired of eating them the same way.

She said she hopes teaching her students another option for how to prepare them can make them appetizing. Flavoring them with a sauce made with masala spices, tomato, onion and garlic can make them more versatile and more flavorful.

“Having those options in cooking makes it not boring anymore,” Sharda said. “It can make it so much more appealing.”