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Good Works: In Easthampton kitchen with Sandra Gallant

  • Easthampton Council on Aging and Enrichment Center volunteer Sandy Gallant of Easthampton prepares a Moroccan-flavored Gypsy stew for the weekly Thursday Friends' Cafe at the center. She is assisted by C.O.A. activities director Kim Jensen, center, and volunteer Marianne Huber, right, of Easthampton.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Easthampton Council on Aging and Enrichment Center volunteer Sandy Gallant of Easthampton prepares a Moroccan-flavored Gypsy stew for the weekly Thursday Friends' Cafe at the center. She is assisted by C.O.A. activities director Kim Jensen, center, and volunteer Marianne Huber, right, of Easthampton.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Easthampton Council on Aging and Enrichment Center volunteer Sandy Gallant of Easthampton prepares a Moroccan-flavored Gypsy stew for the weekly Thursday Friends' Cafe at the center. She is assisted by C.O.A. activities director Kim Jensen, center, and volunteer Marianne Huber, right, of Easthampton.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Easthampton Council on Aging and Enrichment Center volunteer Sandy Gallant of Easthampton prepares a Moroccan-flavored Gypsy stew for the weekly Thursday Friends' Cafe at the center. She is assisted by C.O.A. activities director Kim Jensen, center, and volunteer Marianne Huber, right, of Easthampton.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Easthampton Council on Aging and Enrichment Center volunteer Sandy Gallant of Easthampton prepares a Moroccan-flavored Gypsy stew for the weekly Thursday Friends' Cafe at the center. She is assisted by volunteer Marianne Huber, background, of Easthampton.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Easthampton Council on Aging and Enrichment Center volunteer Sandy Gallant of Easthampton prepares a Moroccan-flavored Gypsy stew for the weekly Thursday Friends' Cafe at the center. She is assisted by volunteer Marianne Huber, background, of Easthampton.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Easthampton Council on Aging and Enrichment Center volunteer Sandy Gallant of Easthampton prepares a Moroccan-flavored Gypsy stew for the weekly Thursday Friends' Cafe at the center. She is assisted by C.O.A. activities director Kim Jensen, center, and volunteer Marianne Huber, right, of Easthampton.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Easthampton Council on Aging and Enrichment Center volunteer Sandy Gallant of Easthampton prepares a Moroccan-flavored Gypsy stew for the weekly Thursday Friends' Cafe at the center. She is assisted by C.O.A. activities director Kim Jensen, center, and volunteer Marianne Huber, right, of Easthampton.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Easthampton Council on Aging and Enrichment Center volunteer Sandy Gallant of Easthampton prepares a Moroccan-flavored Gypsy stew for the weekly Thursday Friends' Cafe at the center. She is assisted by C.O.A. activities director Kim Jensen, center, and volunteer Marianne Huber, right, of Easthampton.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Easthampton Council on Aging and Enrichment Center volunteer Sandy Gallant of Easthampton prepares a Moroccan-flavored Gypsy stew for the weekly Thursday Friends' Cafe at the center. She is assisted by C.O.A. activities director Kim Jensen, center, and volunteer Marianne Huber, right, of Easthampton.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Easthampton Council on Aging and Enrichment Center volunteer Sandy Gallant of Easthampton prepares a Moroccan-flavored Gypsy stew for the weekly Thursday Friends' Cafe at the center. She is assisted by volunteer Marianne Huber, background, of Easthampton.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Easthampton Council on Aging and Enrichment Center volunteer Sandy Gallant of Easthampton prepares a Moroccan-flavored Gypsy stew for the weekly Thursday Friends' Cafe at the center. She is assisted by C.O.A. activities director Kim Jensen, center, and volunteer Marianne Huber, right, of Easthampton.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

Sandra Gallant likes to cook — and she’s had plenty of experience doing it, for lots of discriminating customers. She ran a bed-and-breakfast for a decade in Easthampton and whipped up hearty breakfasts and brunches, with special dishes like the one she dubbed Hoppel Poppel, a quiche-like creation with onions, mushrooms, bacon and tomatoes.

And at The Pirate’s Den, her former restaurant on Cottage Street in Easthampton, she served seafaring grub like scallops, fried clams, shrimp, oysters, potatoes and soups — all of it dished out, she joked at the time, in an ambiance that celebrated the theme of swashbucklers “but de-emphasized the swords and guns.”

These days, Gallant, 72, has turned her culinary talents to a new arena. For almost a year, she’s volunteered at the Friends’ Cafe at the Easthampton Council on Aging, a weekly lunch designed to give diners low-cost, healthy meals that use organic, fresh produce whenever possible.

Gallant, who plans the meals and does the shopping with Kim Jensen, the COA’s activities director, says helping out at the center has been a great experience.

“I do enjoy cooking, and I like the people here,” Gallant says. “We have fun — we like to laugh about a lot of things, and that’s important to me.”

She’s also grateful for the way COA staff have assisted her. They’ve helped her get into subsidized housing in town, she said, and made her aware of a property tax relief program for Massachusetts seniors called the Circuit Breaker, which ended up saving her close to $1,000.

“I wanted to give something back,” says Gallant. “I was quite isolated where I used to live — I don’t have a car — and now I’m closer to town center and I have more contact with people.”

Above all, she relishes the opportunity to cook again for the public and try new recipes or augment traditional ones. She had to close her restaurant after just a few years, she notes, because the recession that began in 2008 cut deeply into business.

“I opened it at a bad time,” she says. “So it’s nice to be back cooking again.”

Jensen says Gallant is not only a creative cook but a flexible one, willing to listen to suggestions and to experiment.

“We’re constantly bouncing ideas off each other,” Jensen said. “We’re trying to expose people to things they might not have at home but might be interested in learning to prepare themselves. And that’s another thing Sandy’s so good at — dressing [meals] up so that they look really appealing.”

Gallant, who studied art history in college, says she’s had many diners come up to her after lunch and ask for the recipe. “Sometimes we’re spending so much time copying them down for them we get behind on our cleanup,” she says with a laugh.

The Friends’ Cafe, which takes place every Thursday at the COA from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., is a first-come, first-served meal that’s aimed primarily at older people but is open to all. It costs $5, which diners can pay through a voucher system. Gallant and Jensen say the meals are built around low-salt, low-fat ingredients, with a good amount of vegetarian soups and salads. But meat is sometimes served, and a low-fat desert is always on the menu.

“We like it to be fun,” says Gallant.

She and Jensen meet Wednesday mornings at the COA to plan the meal, then head next door to Big E’s Super Market to pick up the produce. Then it’s back to the kitchen for prep work.

On a recent Wednesday morning, Gallant was working with another volunteer, Marianne Huber, to get the fixings ready for potato-leek soup and rosemary biscuits. “How many more potatoes do you think I should cut up?” Huber asked.

“I’d say three more good-sized ones should do it,” Gallant told her.

“I’m the designated chopper,” Huber said with a laugh, as she sliced up garlic and leeks for the soup.

Gallant mentioned a few dishes she was interested in trying for another meal, like blueberry coleslaw. She joked that when she debuts something new, she likes to take it for a test drive on friends in her apartment complex.

“I’ve got a few reliable guinea pigs,” she said.

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