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Doing the Lord’s Work, One Healthy Tofu Loaf at a Time

Dorothy Lombard, of Reading, Vt., hosts a heart-healthy dinner the first Sunday of each month at the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Claremont. “I like to help people be healthy,” said Lombard, a registered nurse. “People say, ‘You can’t tell people not to eat meat.’ I say, ‘I’m not telling people not to eat meat. I’m just offering them some different options.’”(Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

Dorothy Lombard, of Reading, Vt., hosts a heart-healthy dinner the first Sunday of each month at the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Claremont. “I like to help people be healthy,” said Lombard, a registered nurse. “People say, ‘You can’t tell people not to eat meat.’ I say, ‘I’m not telling people not to eat meat. I’m just offering them some different options.’”(Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »

Claremont — The dinner menu, printed in elegant script on red paper, looked like something diners would find placed before them on the table of an upscale restaurant. Except this meal wasn’t served at a pricey bistro. It was a heart-healthy, plant-based dinner prepared and served by volunteers at the Seventh-day Adventist Church on Marcotte Street in Claremont.

At the head of the kitchen crew stood Dorothy Lombard, a retired registered nurse from Reading, Vt. Helping out was her husband, Wes, also a retired nurse, and a group of other volunteers. Together, they planned the menu, cooked the food and served the meal, which featured mashed potatoes, a savory tofu loaf, baked butternut squash, citrus walnut salad, cranberry-orange bread and a tropical cheesecake for dessert.

The idea behind this feast, said the Lombards, is for church members to answer a calling from God to help people live a healthy lifestyle. In the new year, the Lombards and their cooking assistants will respond to that call by hosting a dinner on the first Sunday of each month.

Dorothy and Wes Lombard spoke with the Valley News the day after the church hosted a “heart healthy holiday” meal on Dec. 2. An edited transcript of that conversation follows.

Valley News: What in your background prepared you to offer healthy alternative cooking classes through your church?

Dorothy Lombard: In the late 1980s, I helped in a facility out in California where people and lived in for 18 days. The meals were prepared for them and they had an exercise program and they had people who gave them physical therapy and occupational therapy, the different things that would help them make lifestyle changes. I worked in the kitchen there.

Both my husband and I are registered nurses, so we are familiar with promoting lifestyle changes anyway. When we lived in northern New York we worked with some of the local churches and did a few things in the early 1990s. But it wasn’t until early 2000 that we started working with a little group in New York and started doing cooking schools with them.

I grew up in Claremont. My father had built a home in north Newport in the late 1940s. So I lived and went to the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Claremont from the time I was born until about 5 years old, when we moved to Massachusetts. So when we came back to take care of my father 21/2 years ago, that was the church we chose to become involved with. When I was taking care of my dad, I didn’t have time to really get involved in cooking schools because it takes a lot of time to plan and carry it out.

In order to have one, you have to have a leader and I was the leader because the Lord has given me the ability to plan and execute. But I have a team that works with me at the church that helps prepare the food. We all make the menu and decide what our theme will be. Like this last dinner was holiday celebrations. In January we’re going to do a Mexican fiesta.

When I first started, I wasn’t smart, and I tried to make the whole meal myself. (Laughs) After doing that twice, and only two weeks apart, I was wiped. Then I realized, this is not going to work. So then we started dividing up all of the menus and deciding who would prepare which dish.

VN: Do you have a favorite cookbook that you turn to for recipes?

DL: The cookbook we use is called The Ultimate Diet. It’s put out by Hans Diehl and Darlene Blaney. It was produced to help people reverse and prevent obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease. It’s called CHIP. Back in our day, in the last 20 years, it was called the coronary health improvement plan. Now it’s called complete health, so it includes all of the things we do to stay healthy. This was the book I’ve been using because I found it so beneficial when I was first starting cooking schools. I wanted something that was easy to follow. And I liked it because it tells you after every recipe what the serving size is and the calories, the fiber, the proteins, the sodium, calcium, sugar, fat, those types of things, if you follow the recipe.

VN: Do the people who attend the dinners come primarily from within the church membership or the larger community?

DL: We’re trying to reach the community. Sunday night, we had 17 people for dinner. It broke down with seven from the community, who don’t attend our church.

One man who attends our church but isn’t a member. Some came from other area Seventh Day Adventist churches and then, of course, my team. So most of them are from the community.

VN: What was on the menu for last night’s dinner?

DL: Because it was a holiday celebration, we had mashed potatoes with gravy without animal fat.

VN: How did you make gravy without using animal fat?

DL: I used a coconut milk. It’s a saturated fat, but it’s a healthy saturated fat. I also had a little olive oil in my gravy, water, and a beef-like seasoning that has no hydrogenated fats. And I used half whole wheat and half white flour for the thickener. I find the whole wheat is a little heavy for most people, so I use half and half.

The (main course) was a savory tofu loaf. It has become almost a family favorite. I had a stuffed acorn squash that had grated carrots, raisins and pineapple that was baked. We had peas and onions. And we had a special orange-cranberry bread and a tropical cheesecake with fruit toppings.

VN: I have to confess that I don’t find my mouth watering over the idea of a savory tofu loaf. How do you sell people on that?

DL: I had never made that until we were planning for this holiday meal. So I tried it on my church members before I made it for the celebration, and it came out very, very well. Do you use tofu at all?

VN: I don’t. I’ve tried over the years, but I have to admit that tofu remains a mystery to me.

DL: Well, there are two different kinds of tofu. There is a water packed tofu that has to be refrigerated, and then there’s a silken tofu that’s very soft and silky. For the savory loaf I took a pound of the water packed tofu and you freeze it. And when you freeze it, it changes the texture of it. It makes it more like a burger. You freeze that, you thaw it, and then you squeeze out the water and you crumble it like a burger. The rest of the ingredients are very simple. You take a cup of Grape Nuts, or nutty rice, and we use a seasoning similar to soy sauce, parsley, chopped onions, a little corn starch, a little olive oil, some soy milk, some garlic powder, some sage. And then because it doesn’t have any eggs to hold it together, we use a (commercial) egg replacer.

VN: And you use that because you’re making a vegan meal?

DL: Yes. It’s a vegan meal. There are no animal products in this meal at all. But you mix it all together and throw it in the oven and it comes out, oh, I don’t know, like a meatloaf? (Laughs) When I make it I compact it down to make a really tight loaf.

VN: Can you talk about the religious inspiration behind your cooking classes?

Wes Lombard: Absolutely. Jesus spent more time healing people than he did preaching and teaching. That’s what we understand from the Gospels. He would tell the people to go and sin no more. In other words, take care of your body and do what you know is best after he healed them. That’s our philosophy. If we can help people in any way, not trying to convert them but trying to help them to enjoy life better and be healthier.

We feel there is a very close connection between our physical health and our mental health and our spiritual health. All the components of our life are very closely tied together. When we help people physically, we help them emotionally, mentally and even spiritually.

DL: And all of this is volunteer. For the time involved, it would have to be something you want to do to help people, because you wouldn’t do it for any other reason.

Editor’s Note: The next heart-healthy meal at the Seventh Day Adventist Church is scheduled for Jan. 6 at 5:30 p.m. For reservations call 603-542-2615. Diane Taylor can be reached at dtaylor@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.