Rachel Yaseen's motto is simple living.
She avoids using the family's ancient Saab convertible and instead rides her bike pretty much everywhere - to drop her 6-year-old son at the bus stop, to the farmers market just down Kolb Road and to her beloved Sabino Canyon for a hike.
She teaches it to the students in her cooking classes, too.
During one recent session, Yaseen gives the quartet of adults a recipe for hiker-biker bars, an energy snack made of dates and grains. Sometimes she grabs measuring cups and spoons, but mostly she eyeballs ingredients and urges her students to do the same. Yaseen points out the array of spice bottles and extracts lining the counter. She doesn't tell them how much or what to add. Instead, she says, "You can have as much fun as you want."
Fun. That's what it's all about.
"I teach people who don't read recipes how to do that and people who do read recipes how to relax," says Yaseen, 43, who owns the Organic Kitchen, a business she started 3 1/2 years ago that's based on cooking and overall wellness. Cooking classes are vegetarian and gluten-free.
"Most people know how to cook meat and gluten," she explains.
Over the years, Yaseen estimates she's taught 1,000 people how to prepare seasonal, local foods.
"I get people excited about the ingredients right here, right in front of them," Yaseen says.
Which wasn't exactly the goal of her last business.
Yaseen - who moved here with her architect husband Bill Mackey 22 years ago for grad school - opened Rachel's Downtown Market in 2003 on North Stone Avenue in the lobby of the old Pioneer Hotel. The gourmet market sold all kinds of foods, including chocolates, cheese, wine and French bread.
"This was not eating local," Yaseen says with a laugh. "It was getting food (from) as far away as possible."
When she and Mackey opened the Monkey Box restaurant next door, which served pastas, salads and deli favorites like pastrami and roast beef, the emphasis was on simple and fresh. They even had organic food, although back then people didn't really care.
These days, Yaseen says, people are always on the move and fast food is an easy option. Crops are genetically modified. More and more people are developing gluten sensitivities and food allergies, so fulfilling our most basic need - to eat - can be tricky.
Yaseen, who's originally from Chicago, grew up on the kind of meals where "nothing touched" - there was some kind of meat, a carbohydrate like a baked potato, and a frozen vegetable on the plate every night. In college, she became a vegetarian after developing abdominal problems.
"When you exclude an entire food group, you think a lot more about how to cook," says Yaseen, whose secret indulgence is BTO nondairy frozen yogurt, which is just a bike ride away from her Foothills condo.
An advocate of community-supported agriculture, Yaseen grows what she can and also teaches gardening. Yaseen often leads students on hikes at the end of her cooking classes, to get people out into nature.
Sarah Sheen says studying with Yaseen inspired her to start her own nutrition counseling business, Healthwise Habits. Sheen, whose college diet consisted of microwaved pot pies and a lot of popcorn, developed serious food sensitivities and allergies while in school. She was just figuring out how to cook without gluten when she began Yaseen's classes.
Before she started, Sheen says she was pretty intimidated by recipes and didn't even know how to properly slice an onion.
"When she's cooking, she keeps it to the bare minimum," Sheen says of Yaseen. "It was inspiring to see how something simple could be presented in such an appetizing way."
Sheen says thanks to the laid-back Yaseen, she's also learned to be more spontaneous with her cooking, too.
"I think we all have our journey," Yaseen says. "For a long time, I was pretty rigid, 'You can't have this, you can't do this.' You can't be so rigid. There's a flexibility that lets you be more free."
Yaseen says meals in her own home are pretty simple. Lunch is typically peanut butter and a smidge of honey spread on sprouted wheat bread. Dinner depends on the season - stews in the winter made with local dried beans, and raw food in the summer. In warm weather, she'll prepare corn tortillas slathered with avocado, chopped broccoli and greens and topped with freshmade salsa.
Her face breaks into a wide, dimpled grin. "I'm not going to say my son eats exactly what I'm describing."
The Organic Kitchen
For more information about Rachel Yaseen's Organic Kitchen, you can go totheorganickitchentucson.com or call 329-8300.