Why We Need an Urban Survival Kitchen

Learning Garden students learn to grow their own healthy foods at low cost.

“Preparing and enjoying homemade meals provides a sense of purpose and calm, accomplishment and connection.”  Maya Angelou


Recession increases the number of children living in poverty-stricken families.  The challenges of our failing economy have had a huge impact upon our students, causing a rippling effect that can be seen in diminished school performance, inadequate career preparation, and an overall feeling of hopelessness.


Our society is facing a frightening phenomenon known as “food insecurity.”

Families are becoming fearful that they will find themselves without enough food to meet even the most basic survival needs.  There has been concern about our dwindling “middle class” who, in spite of still being employed, are increasingly joining a class of society known as “the working poor.”


Often, there is no available adult at home to plan and prepare meals.  As a result, kids often sustain themselves on junk-food snacks that do not require any planning or preparation.  Such foods also rarely provide any nutrition.  When the children get to school, they are often faced with cafeteria lunches that are woefully inadequate.


And it is about more than just feeding oneself.

The poor food choices have resulted in an obesity epidemic.  I recently conducted a survey, distributing questionnaires to approximately fifty teenage students at the Boys and Girls Club of Venice.  The survey came back with alarming results:  70% responded that they generally went to school without having had breakfast; 90% relied on the dismal lunch at school as the primarily daily meal; 70 % complained of mental fatigue by mid-afternoon; and 30% went to bed hungry.  The most upsetting statistic was that more than 50% disclosed that they were worried about the health of their parents and siblings. 


How can we most effectively reach our teenagers and get them on the right track?

·   Identifying the best food choices at an affordable price; learning how use food dollars wisely

·   Maintaining optimal health and avoiding exposure to carcinogens and other toxic elements

·   Health-promoting/planet-friendly/cost-effective food preparation techniques

·   Making the food shopping and meal preparation experience fun


It is clear that there is a growing need for effective strategies to address the burgeoning food crisis.  By providing our students with the knowledge and skills they need to plan and prepare low-cost healthy meals, we can have a positive impact upon not only the students themselves, but also upon their families and the entire community.


The Urban Survival Kitchen is a flexible workshop curriculum that can be customized to address specific areas of need, which may vary, depending upon the population.  Students will learn how to prepare low cost, easy-to-prepare meals that are rich in nutrients, particularly with regard to protein. Protein is a vital nutritional component, especially during adolescence, as it plays a critical role in cognitive functioning.  Students will become conscious of what they are eating, as they discover healthier food choices.


June Pagan, the developer of this program, has three decades of experience developing menus and preparing meals that are healthy yet flavorful.  She has specifically focused on recipes that meet well-established guidelines, such as those that have been developed by the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, and the American Diabetes Association.  Her training background has included a stint at the Pritikin Longevity Center and she continues to work with several prominent dieticians. 


Each daily lesson will be strategically designed so that the students will see results, right away, on the plate. The students will be able to taste the results of each recipe project – immediately after completing it.  We will teach the students practical skills in the kitchen.  They will experience the cooking process in action and will take home the tools and ingredients from each day’s lesson, where they will be able to share their new-found knowledge and experience with their families at dinnertime.  During each session, students will learn such techniques as using cast-iron cookware (affordable, sustainable, and increases iron intake) and using a crock pot (convenient, versatile, and energy-saving).


Imagine what a sense of empowerment this experience can provide to the students.

Teenagers are perfectly capable of planning and preparing meals.  And this is a skill that will have a lifelong impact.  As the students apply the knowledge and skills they acquire in the workshop, they will find themselves making healthier food choices, which in turn will help to reduce obesity and improve school performance. 


The initial Urban Survival Kitchen will take place at Venice High School, partnering with the Learning Garden (a 501 (c) non-profit organization.  We will seek funding via private individual donations.  Partnering with the Learning Garden makes perfect sense, for several reasons. 

At the same time, students  will also develop a deepened relationship with the earth, and an increased appreciation for fruits and vegetables.  There will be a strong emphasis on fresh vegetables and clean non-GMO products.  Our students will learn how to taste the difference between real and faux food – and – will develop an appreciation for food that is locally grown.  We will be working closely with Master Gardener David King and other Learning Garden specialists, integrating the gardening and culinary spheres.  Our students will learn to grow unique vegetable ingredients – tasty and healthful - that are specified in the curriculum. 


“Poverty often deprives a man of all spirit and virtue.  It is hard for an empty bag to stand upright.” 

Benjamin Franklin

Our first fundraiser for the Urban Survival Kitchen in the Learning Garden at Venice High School

A selection from my Urban Survival Kitchen video collection...

Healing Chicken Bone Broth

Miso Shallot Chicken

June's Steakhouse Salmon with California Bamboo Rice and Asparagus

Dairy-Free Zucchini-Leak Soup

How to Make Ghee (Clarified Butter)

Old Bay Shrimp Cocktail with Clarified Butter (Ghee) Dip

Garlic Braised Baby Broccoli

Quinoa and While Wheat Pasta with California Walnut Pesto

21st Century Crêpes by June Pagan

Baked Pacific Cod in a Pocket for less than $3.00 per person

Here's a "any day" Thanksgiving turkey dinner for four that costs less than $4.00 per person!

Here is an easy-to-prepare Pasta Puttanesca - flavorful and affordable!

Try these delicious Wild Salmon Croquettes...

Balsamic Glazed Red Cabbage and Apple - healthful and flavorful!

Beautiful Colors and Beautiful Flavor - AND, as a bonus - healthy and affordable!

Farmers’ Market-to-Table Nutrient-Rich Vegetable Soup


Many of us do not consume the daily recommended intake of vegetables. It has long been known that daily consumption of fresh vegetables is essential to good health. We are now learning that there are certain special elements in vegetables (such as polyphenols) that are believed to boost the immune system and may help to stave off chronic illness.


The ingredients in this soup recipe are rich in protective polyphenols. For example, there are the anthocyanins that are found in the purple potatoes; lycopene from the tomatoes; and allicin compounds in the garlic and onions (red and yellow varieties have higher levels). All of these elements are touted as showing great potential for improving cell survival as well as offering antioxidant protection. A number of prominent holistic-oriented physicians are telling us that these naturally occurring compounds can help reduce the progression of serious illness such as cancer, osteoporosis and heart disease.


Foods that are rich in polyphenols may also play a role in maintaining youthful looking skin. We already know that skin creams containing vegetal elements are often used to promote healthy skin. By consuming this soup, we can help to maintain our youthful appearance, while at the same time promoting inner health.


This soup should be a staple in your diet. It is easy to prepare and best made on the same day that you obtain the vegetables at your local farmers’ market. Buy them super fresh - preferably organic and local - and prepare them as soon as possible, in order to optimize their nutritional value. You can double the recipe and freeze some for future days when you are not able to go to market.


What about the cost? Well, the cost of ingredients will vary, depending on what is available in the marketplace. Some vegetables may be higher priced during certain times of the year. Be strategic – purchase vegetables that are in season, as they will cost less. If your budget is limited, try shopping at the farmers market towards the end of the day, when some purveyors will reduce prices. You can use canned tomatoes instead of fresh, as they are actually more concentrated in lycopene.


Like minestrone (which has sustained the Italians for centuries), vegetable soup is a life-affirming bowl of joy; a universal “comfort food.”


For added nutritional value – particularly for those with bone density issues – you can substitute chicken bone broth instead of the vegetable broth in this recipe.


As you savor each spoonful of this life-sustaining soup, think about your connection with Mother Earth (via the farmers who brought you the vegetables, and the local terrain upon which they have been grown). Take a moment to appreciate how fortunate we are to have access to vegetables that have been grown by local family farms.


Yield: 4-6 Generous Portions



2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil, or Grape Seed Oil

1 Medium Yellow or Red Onion, peeled and diced

3 Carrots, peeled and diced

3 Stalks Celery, peeled, and diced

¼ Cup Red Lentils

2 Cloves Garlic, minced

1 14½ Ounce Can Stewed Tomatoes (preferably organic)

4 Cups Vegetable Broth

1 Medium Zucchini Diced

1 Cup Purple Potatoes cubed

1 Cup Frozen or Fresh Corn

¼ Cup Orzo pasta or rice

½ teaspoon Fresh Thyme or Basil

Pinch Oregano (optional)

¼ to ½ Cup greens such as spinach, Swiss chard, coarse chopped





  1. In a 2 quart saucepan heat olive oil for one minute at a low flame, just until it sizzles.
  2. Sauté onions, carrots, and celery until translucent – approximately five minutes.
  3. Add garlic and red lentils; cook for one minute.
  4. Grind tomatoes in food processor or blender and add to pot.
  5. Add broth. Cook for 15-20 minutes on medium flame.
  6. Add potatoes; cook for another 15 minutes on medium flame.
  7. Add thyme, oregano, zucchini, orzo (or rice) and corn. Continue to cook another 15 minutes.
  8. Test the soup by checking the texture of the potatoes, lentils and orzo (or rice). If soft enough, add the greens and turn heat off. Let soup rest for another ten minutes.
  9. Add more water to the soup if needed. If desired, add salt and/or pepper to taste.




This soup will be popular with guests. It works well with grilled cheese on the side or pizza. Or, serve with a simple whole grain bread. I like to take pizza dough and form a challah braid with it. This works very well as a pull-apart bread.


Add a sprinkle of parmesan or pecorino on top of the soup – and transform it into minestrone.

Put a pint jar aside for a friend.



Oat Muesli – A Delightful Cold Breakfast or Snack


Oat muesli is a perfect symbiosis of nutritional ingredients and flavor.  It is a simple uncooked preparation that keeps for three days in the refrigerator – and – is so tasty and refreshing that it will probably not last that long unless you prepare a large batch.  Made with antioxidant-rich ingredients, prebiotics/probiotics, and fiber, muesli is the perfect “go-to” breakfast or snack.  It will be more satisfying than a sugar drenched pastry – and – it will satisfy you until lunch without the blood sugar spike.


Traditional muesli calls for the overnight soaking oats in orange juice.  I add yogurt (or kefir) to enhance the flavor and to increase the probiotic qualities.  The oats provide resistant starch and the apple skins and berries not only add soluble fiber to your diet, but also ferment in the colon to provide for optimal digestion.  I recently learned that by adopting this approach to food consumption, we can increase the presence of healthy intestinal flora and fauna, which in turn helps to boost the immune system.   Enjoying raw oat muesli will increase your daily fiber intake and is an inexpensive and easy way to keep the doctor at bay.  Be sure, however, to drink plenty of fluid when consuming high-fiber foods.


Yield: 7 Cups




2 Cups Organic Rolled Oats

1½ Cups Organic Yogurt, plain or flavored

2 Oranges, cut into small dice

½ Cup Fresh Orange Juice

1-2   Organic Apples, grated with skin (I use Granny Smith Apples or Honey Crisp)

Grated Zest of One Orange

1 Kiwi, peeled and diced

1 Cup Blueberries, washed

½ Cup Almonds, slivered and toasted

½ Cup Raisins or Diced Dried Fruit such as Apricots, Strawberries, or Cherries




1. Blend oats with yogurt and orange juice. Mixture should sufficiently moist, as the oats will absorb it       overnight. 

2. Add fruits and combine. Top with slivered almonds.

3. Refrigerate for at least four hours (overnight is preferred for best results).

4. If the mixture seems too dry when serving, simply add more yogurt or juice to suit your preference.

5. Keep refrigerated.



Idea for variation: 


Add some of your favorite fruits such as nectarines, peaches, grapes and plums. The options are endless.

Other Urban Survival Kitchen Flavors...


Crispy Romaine Lettuce with Creamy Caesar Dressing

and Crunchy Garlic Garbanzo Bean “Croutons”


Romaine lettuce comes to us from the Roman Empire. Maybe that is why it is called “Caesar Salad” Augustus Caesar; the Roman emperor built a statue of a head of Romaine lettuce, because he revered its magical medicinal powers. The original Romaine was a wild lettuce and would have been too bitter for our taste buds today, however for centuries it has been cultivated, and is still considered to be the best lettuce when it comes to nutrition. Because it is rich in the B vitamin folate it is a perfect food for the brain and for brain development. No wonder that it is often recommended for pregnant mothers and their children.


Caesar Salad is convenient to make. The best Romaine is picked fresh from a garden, purchased from a farmers market or from the organic produce section of a natural foods market.  At home, the Romaine lettuce should be stored whole and uncut and it should keep a week. Do not rinse it until you are ready to eat. This keeps the nutrition intact and keeps it clean from pathogens.


When I worked for Sally Field, one of her favorite salad dressings was Cardini’s Caesar salad dressing. Today when you look at the ingredient list on the label for Cardini’s, you find the following: soybean oil, water, egg yolk, salt, white wine and distilled vinegars, lemon juice concentrate, spices, parmesan cheese (part skim milk, cheese culture, salt enzymes) dehydrated garlic, dehydrated onion, olive oil, xanthan gum, molasses, corn syrup, rosemary extract, caramel color, sugar, anchovies, tamarind, natural flavors.


I decided to create my own cleaner version of the commercial dressing. Here is my recipe for a creamy style Caesar style dressing that includes only eight ingredients and is made from farmer’s market lemons and California garlic, as well as real unadulterated parmesan cheese. This salad also happens to be gluten free with the addition of Roasted garbanzo bean croutons.



Crispy Romaine Lettuce with Creamy Caesar Dressing and Crunchy Garlic Garbanzo Bean “Croutons”


Creamy Caesar Dressing;

Yield: 1 Cup or enough for three heads of Romaine lettuce



1 Clove Raw Garlic, crushed and fine chopped

½ Medium Lemon, juiced

½ Tablespoon Dijon Mustard

1 Tablespoons Anchovy Paste (if you don’t like anchovy, a good substitute is 1 Tbsp. mild miso paste or mashed capers)

4 Tablespoons Grated Parmesan Cheese or Pecorino Cheese

¾ Cup Organic Mayonnaise

¼ Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil



  1. Combine first six ingredients all of the ingredients, in a large bowl, or food processor
  2. Process or blend with a whisk and gradually add olive oil in a stream.
  3. Dressing should be completely blended and creamy. Taste and adjust the flavor to your palate.
  4. Refrigerate until ready to use. Keeps a few weeks, refrigerated.





Garlic Parmesan Roasted Garbanzo Bean “Croutons” (a gluten free alternative to bread croutons)


1 15 Ounce Can Organic Garbanzo Beans, (or 1 Cup Soaked and Cooked Dry Garbanzos)

1 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

¼ Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese

1 Garlic Clove, fine chopped

¼ teaspoon Salt



Preheat oven to 375 Degrees

  1. Toss all of the ingredients evenly  and place on to a baking sheet
  2. Bake for 25-40 minutes until lightly browned and crisp.
  3. Remove from oven and let cool.


To assemble the salad:

Yield: 4 Servings

1 Head Romaine lettuce

1/3 Cup Creamy Caesar Dressing

1 Cup Garlic Parmesan Garbanzo Bean “Croutons”


  1. Wash individual Romaine leaves, carefully. Then tear each leaf into bite size segments. Place in a salad spinner to dry.
  2. Transfer salad to a bowl and toss with 1/3 Cup Caesar Dressing.
  3. Top with Garlic Garbanzo “Croutons and serve or chill up to two hours before serving.

This miso soup is made with miso paste, which is a probiotic food.  Each serving costs around $1.50, making this a very affortable - AND flavorful source of probiotic nutrients.  

Urban Survival Kitchen Recipes and Community Events