Two sisters set out to change their community with a hearty helping of healthy cooking.
BY JESSE MINTZ
Growing up, Celeste and Crystal Ceres’s home was a bouquet of aromas plucked from around the world. Their mother’s adventurous cooking brought with it fulsome smells of curry, chow mein, homemade roti and pepperpot—a spicy stew flavoured with cassava juice.
Their first memories in the kitchen were a bird’s eye view of simmering curries and sizzling vegetables on the stovetop, as their mother held them in one arm and mixed with the other. Sitting around their Toronto dinner table, their mother’s Guyanese fare exposed them to a mélange of cuisines as rich and varied as the population of the small South American nation itself. The sisters were raised on homemade Korean and Chinese noodles, mixed in with meals of Indian and African stews.
Those first dishes stirred in them a passion for cooking that eventually led both Celeste and Crystal to study the culinary arts. “Our mom loves cooking, our grandmother loves cooking. For us, it’s intergenerational,” explains youngest sister Celeste, pumped with all of the excitement of a chef discovering a new ingredient. Home-cooked meals and fresh food were as much a part of the sisters’ childhood as school work. So, when they got to high school and realized their friends and classmates bought lunches from the cafeteria or relied on junk food as everyday sustenance, they immediately saw an opportunity to make a positive difference.
“A lot of parents don’t have time to teach their kids cooking skills,” explains Celeste. Crystal interjects to finish her sister’s thought, “Or, when kids come home, their parents are still at work, so they don’t have dinner together.” Ping-ponging off each other—much like when they work in unison in the kitchen—the conversation goes back to the youngest sister, who sums it up. “We thought it would be cool to get into schools to teach young students cooking skills.”
With so many students going hungry in Toronto every day—a recent report estimates that one in eight Toronto families lives with food insecurity—and food deserts spreading across the city, the sisters founded Sacraspice to teach young people culinary skills, while giving back to those in need.
To start, they partnered with schools in communities with the greatest need, such as in the East York and Scarborough regions, and set up cooking workshops. From here, they work with the students at these schools to prepare food for local soup kitchens, teaching the students important kitchen skills along the way. A nod to their passion for community building, they invite residents of senior homes to the workshops to share their skills, which students then utilized to cook meals for the seniors in return.
The concept behind Sacraspice is deceptively simple. For as long as people have gathered around dinner tables, breaking bread has been used to create bonds and connect community. “Food is interrelated with so many things. It’s health and nutrition, what you put into your body is what fuels you,” Crystal explains. “But it’s also community and culture.”
Exploring new cultures through food, the sisters create community in the kitchen. And these moments have far-reaching effects. See the shy student, who rises to the occasion, finding confidence in the kitchen, while learning to trust teamwork. Or, the kids whose eyes are opened to the issue of homelessness and hunger after volunteering at their local soup kitchen. And don’t forget about the young people who discover the world of healthy snacks and gain new insight into nutrition—knowledge that will span a lifetime.
The proof is in the pudding, as they say. Take Crystal’s word for it, “Food is a celebration and it should be fun.” And as the action she and her sister have taken through Sacraspice demonstrates, it can also create an impact—it can bring together a community.
This holiday season, take a page from the Ceres’s cookbook and make your next meal one to bond over. Below, the sisters share a delicious recipe to help you on your way!
‘Tis the season for festive sweets and spices! One of our favourite holiday treats are these super moist Pumpkin Spice Muffins. For this recipe, you can blend fresh pumpkin, or you can buy canned pumpkin purée. The sky is the limit when it comes to toppings for the muffins. This one includes pumpkin seeds, cranberries, granola, chia seeds, shredded coconut, pecans, and pumpkin-flavoured icing.
- 2¼ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp ground allspice
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 2 eggs, room temperature
- 3/4 cup milk
- 1 cup pumpkin purée
*Yields 12 large muffins
Step 1: Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). While you’re waiting, grease 12 muffin cups, and sift together the flour, nutmeg, ginger, clove, allspice, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Set the mixture aside for later.
Step 2: Grab your electric mixer and beat the butter, white sugar and brown sugar in a bowl until it’s large and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, allowing each egg to blend into the butter mixture before adding the next. Once the last egg is in, stir in the milk and pumpkin purée . Next, stir in the flour mixture. You’re ready to pour the batter into the prepared muffin cups!
Step 3: Set the timer for 30 minutes, and bake in your preheated oven until golden. Let the pan cool for five minutes, and then remove to finish cooling on a wire rack. Time to add your choice of toppings!
Step 4: To make pumpkin-flavoured icing, simply mix buttercream icing with some of the pumpkin purée.
Step 5: Enjoy!