Authors: Meryl Sawyer
More Than Words
Each and every one of us has the ability to effect changeâto make our world a better place. The key is to begin in our own backyards, look at needs within our communities and then decide to do something about them. The dedicated women selected as this year's recipients of Harlequin's More Than Words award have changed lives, one good deed at a time. To celebrate their accomplishments, bestselling authors have written stories inspired by these real-life heroines.
In this book, Meryl Sawyer honors the work of Gracie Cavnar, founder of the Recipe for Success Foundation.
We hope More Than Words inspires you to get in touch with the real-life heroine living inside of you.
Thank you for your interest in the Harlequin More Than Words program
For many years Harlequin Books has been a leader in supporting and promoting causes that are of concern to women and celebrating ordinary women who make extraordinary differences in the lives of others. Through Harlequin More Than Words, we annually honor women for their compassionate dedication to those that need it most, and donate $10,000 to their chosen causes.
We are proud to highlight our current Harlequin More Than Words award recipients by telling you about them and, with the help of some of the biggest names in women's fiction, creating wonderfully entertaining and moving fictional short stories based on these women and their causes. Within the following pages you will find a heartwarming story written by Meryl Sawyer, one of our two free e-books available at www.HarlequinMoreThanWords.com. Be sure to look for Pamela Morsi's
Daffodils in Spring
, our second story also available free on-line. Three additional stories written by Carly Phillips, Donna Hill and Jill Shalvis can be found on the bookshelf of your favorite bookstore in
More Than Words, Volume 7
. All five of these stories are beautiful tributes to the Harlequin More Than Words award recipients who inspired them, and we hope they will touch your heart and inspire the real-life heroine in you.
Thank you for your support; all proceeds from the sale of Mo
re Than Words, Volume 7
will be returned to the Harlequin More Than Words program so we can assist more causes of concern to women. And you can help even more by learning about and getting involved with the charities highlighted by Harlequin More Than Words. Together we can make a difference!
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Ever tried to feed a child quinoa with grilled chicken, roasted root vegetable soup, whole wheat muffins and a green salad? Gracie Cavnar has, and not only did the kids try it, many cleaned their plates.
Gracie is the energetic and passionate founder of the Recipe for Success Foundation, a Houston-based charitable organization with the singular goal of combating childhood obesity by changing the way children eat and think about the food on their fork. More than 3,000 children spend several hours each month planting gardens at school, tending to their plants and cooking up a batch of healthy, delicious food they eat together come harvest time.
This Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Educationâ¢ program Cavnar designed has transformed the lives of more than 12,000 of Houston's most needy kids one carrot at a time.
In an era when nearly 32% of American children are overweight or obese, Gracie is certain she couldn't have chosen a better time to take action.
“I'm all about food. Love, love, love it,” she says. “But we're getting away from foodâreal food. Instead, we're left with Frankenstein food.”
This highly processed food, filled with additives, chemicals and little nutritional value, is the first thing she wants to see kicked out of children's diets. And she's convincedâthrough her personal experience and by watching students change their eating habits since launching the Recipe for Success Foundation in 2005âthat all children have the capacity to eat well. Eating patterns and lifestyle habits can be changed, especially if children are reached before the sixth grade.
“I've lived my whole life this way so I know you can get kids to eat good food,” she says. “They don't just automatically turn it down. It's all about presentation and making it fun.”
Vending machines out, good food in
Gracie's life before Recipe for Success can be described as a mixture of high fashion, entrepreneurship and “California hippy mom.” Born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, she has worked as a fashion model, been a residential and commercial architect and owned a hospitality marketing and public relations company. She is also a mom to three kids who ate baby food she made herself and never knew a can of soda until they turned eight and started visiting friends' houses.
But Gracie doesn't come across as a health-food zealot; instead, she acts more like a cheerleader of good living and even better eating. She has recruited many dozens of high-profile chefs to create the centerpiece of her programâChefs in Schoolsâ¢. And she is delighted to count the president and First Lady as fellow advocates who share her sensibilities about nutrition. In fact, Cavnar now serves on the First Lady's national task force focused on childhood obesity.
It was when she started toying with retirement and deciding what to do next that she stumbled across a newspaper article that would change not only her life, but thousands of Texans' lives, too.
The article described the many elementary schools that had installed soft-drink vending machines. Granted, they used the proceeds to pay for programs such as soccer and the arts, but still, Gracie was shocked.
“It wouldn't matter how you raised your kids,” she says now. “If little Johnny is in kindergarten and has seventy-five cents in his pocket, all of a sudden he's drinking a sugar-filled soda.”
When Gracie started to make the connection between unhealthy food choices and depressing studies claiming that an epidemic of overweight and obese children was on the way, she finally decided to take action. It was the mid-nineties and people were only beginning to see what a problem childhood obesity might become.
“The more I found out, the more I became incensed. By then the fire was lit and I couldn't put the genie back in the bottle.”
For ten years Gracie talked to experts and met with officials, teachers, principals and chefs. She envisioned her role would be as a yenta, a matchmaker who would connect volunteers and health and nutrition organizations to turn the epidemic around. Eventually, it became apparent she needed to do more.
“I realized that if I really wanted to make something happen, we had to be the ones spearheading and managing it,” she admits. “So here we are.”
Good food for all
Today the foundation has eighteen employees and several hundred volunteers, including more than sixty top chefs who donate their time to the Chef's Advisory Board and work with the children through the Chefs in Schoolsâ¢ program. Classes have also expanded to include after-school and summer camps.
“I never thought that one hour a month would have such an effect on children, but after one year I could see a change in how they spoke about food,” says Randy Evans, an area chef. “It wasn't just something that came from a box, but it was produce that came from the earth and needed respect.”
At least eighty-five percent of the children in five original Recipe for Success participating schools are part of the federal free or reduced lunch program and often their only meals come from school. Now the program is available in a broader range of communities, but Gracie remains particularly focused on lower income neighborhoods.
For the first year, Gracie taught all the classes, but now most of her time is spent behind the scenes. She is hard at work fine-tuning and designing a new curriculum, developing a related television show, writing her cookbooks and expanding Recipe for Success to more schools and community centers across the country. She's also finalizing details to build a 100-acre urban farm overlooking Houston's skyline. In 2010, she had more than 120 schools and districts on her waiting list to bring the program to them, too, and she and her board launched a national push to put Recipe for Success's Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Educationâ¢ in every community in America.
Busy, yes, but children will still find Gracie rolling up her sleeves and digging in the dirt with them. Her philosophyâif people cared as much about food and cooking as she does, they would treat it with care and moderationâdrives her to be hands-on, too.
She thinks back to a little boy who refused to participate in the program at first, a boy who turned up his nose at anything green. Every day his mother would show up at school with his lunch in a fast food bag. But on the last day of the program, as he gleefully cut, stirred and diced vegetables with his friends, he waved his mother and the takeout lunch away.
“He wouldn't even touch it,” says Gracie. “This is a huge gulf that we crossed.” She admits that she has so many other success stories she doesn't know where to begin. “What we teach is a lesson they'll have for life.”
New York Times
bestselling author of twenty-five romantic-suspense novels, one historical novel and one anthology. Meryl has won an
RT Book Reviews
Career Achievement Award for Contemporary Romantic Suspense as well as an
RT Book Reviews
award for Best New Contemporary Author. Meryl lives in Newport Beach, California, with her three golden retrievers. She loves to hear from readers and may be contacted at her Web site at www.merylsawyer.com.
Lexi Morrison swept through the doors of Stovall Middle School along with a gust of spring wind. She waved at the secretary as she sailed down the hall to the cafeteria to volunteer in her sister's class. She hated being late, but it couldn't be helped. Professor Thompson had kept her behind to compliment her work. It would have been unspeakably rude not to listen, especially since she was counting on him to give her a reference once she'd completed her MBA.
“Lexi, there you are,” called Mrs. Geffen as Lexi shouldered her way through the double doors into the cafeteria.
“Sorry I'm late,” she whispered to the teacher. The second the words left her lips, Lexi realized the room was silent, which was unusual when over thirty teenagers were assembled in one place.
Then Lexi saw why. At the front of the room was a tall man with dark hair and striking blue eyes. He wore a navy shirt with Black Jack's emblazoned in red on the pocket. He must be the guest chef who was scheduled to demonstrate today.
“Mr. Westcott was just telling us that he learned to cook in the CIA,” Mrs. Geffen told her in a voice everyone could hear.
Lexi nodded and understood what he meant, but she couldn't imagine the students would catch on. No doubt they assumed he'd been in the Central Intelligence Agency.
She quickly glanced around the room to locate her younger sister, Amber. Volunteering once a week in Amber's culinary arts class was the commitment Lexi had made to encourage Amber with her studies. This cooking class was an elective and the only subject that interested her. Unlike Amber, Lexi had always been in advance-placement classes and loved school as much as her sister hated it.
She spotted Amber in the front row. Her sister was always so eager to get to this class that she'd probably been waiting for the doors to open. Her honey-brown head tilted slightly toward the guest chef, then she turned and caught Lexi's eye. “Hot,” she mouthed.
So that's why her sister had been in such a rush to get here. Lexi thought the guy looked arrogant. He was frowning at her. She'd obviously interrupted and he didn't appreciate it.
“Class,” Mrs. Geffen said as the group began to whisper, “Mr. Westcott was telling us about his training. Let's listen to what he has to say.”
The teacher was short and packed into a moss-green suit that she'd worn almost every Wednesday that Lexi had volunteered.
“Someone asked where I learned to cook,” the chef repeated.
Lexi recalled Brad Westcott was the owner and executive chef of Black Jack's, one of the most successful restaurants in Houston. It was also one of the few that didn't purchase produce from City Seeds, Lexi's gourmet-vegetable operation.
“Like a lot of you,” he said in a voice that indicated he was at ease with inner-city kids, “I used to think cooking was tossing something in the microwave.”
The students chuckled and elbowed each other, especially the boys. Many of them came from Mexico or South America and regarded cooking as women's work. They were in this class because their other elective choices had been filled.
“Then I went into the army,” he continued.
That statement got the boys' undivided attention. Many of them would join when they were old enough.
“I was assigned to the officers' mess hall. That's what they call the kitchenâthe mess hall. Mostly I peeled potatoes, carrotsâ”
“What about the CIA?” yelled one of the boys.
“The army is where I became interested in cooking,” Brad continued, ignoring the interruption. “When I got out, I had enough money to enroll in the CI.A. The Culinary Institute of America right here in Houston.”
Lexi smiled, but it took a few seconds before the light dawned on the rest of the students. The girls giggled while the boys rolled their eyes or elbowed each other.
Their reaction didn't bother Brad Westcott. “Over half the students at the culinary institute were men. Top chefs in many restaurants are men. Lots of the celebrity chefs on television are men.”
The boys seemed more interested. “A good chef can make a lot of money,” Brad continued. “Plus, you meet lots of interesting people, especially women.”
Now they were impressed. Money was a never-ending concern in the inner city. The word
got the boys' attention, but mentioning women didn't hurt. They might try to deny their interest in the opposite sex, but they didn't fool anyone.
“Something to think about,” Brad told them with a canted smile that made him look mischievous. “Today, I'm going to show you how to make an easy treat. Has everyone washed their hands?”
Lexi was sure they had. It was required before any class where food was to be prepared, and special monitors at the door checked the students. In addition, the tables had been covered with clean butcher paper to prevent spreading germs.
“You're going to learn how to make chocolate-truffle balls.”
There were a few snickers from the boys and Lexi groaned inwardly, but not for the same reason. No doubt they thought truffles sounded like a sissy word, even though most of them probably had no idea what it meant. Lexi knew her little sister adored dessertsâespecially chocolate.
Amber had been diagnosed with juvenile diabetes when she was just seven. She realized sweets weren't good for her, but she often ignored the doctors' warnings. The girl loved to cook and she especially liked to bake.
Lexi and Aunt Callie had tried to encourage Amber to prepare healthy food, but since Aunt Callie's death, she had become more difficult. She indulged her sweet tooth even though she was aware of the health risks. If a hyperglycemic attack resulted, her blood sugar would suddenly spike, and she would need a dose of insulin or a trip to the E.R.
Amber resented Lexi being named her legal guardian. Lexi couldn't understand her younger sister's attitude. After all, since the death of their parents, Lexi had been more of a mother to Amber than Aunt Callie. Their aunt's death and the judge's decree had merely formalized the arrangement. But at fourteen, Amber believed she was old enough to take care of herself.
Seeming to realize Lexi was thinking about her, Amber turned and flashed playful green eyes that were exactly like Lexi's. Then she turned back to the two boys who would be her partners for the cooking assignment. How could Amber be so sure of herself? Lexi wondered.
Lexi was almost ten years older than her sister and had excelled in school, especially in math. Amber never worried about her grades or about having diabetes. She took everything with an “oh, well” attitude. She didn't seem to realizeâor careâthat they lived one step from being homeless.
When Aunt Callie died, she'd left them the house. It no longer had a mortgage, but there were property taxes and utilities, plus college tuition to be paid. Lexi worked two jobs to make ends meet while she attended college. The last thing she needed was for Amber to become ill from an improper diet.
“Do you sell vegetables to Mr. Westcott?” whispered Mrs. Zamora. She was one of the mothers who regularly volunteered to help Mrs. Geffen on cooking days.
“No. I think Black Jack's is more casual, less gourmet,” Lexi responded, although she wasn't really sure. She couldn't afford to eat out so she'd never been in the trendy restaurant.
“That's too bad,” Mrs. Zamora said almost wistfully, with a glance at the visiting chef.
Lexi didn't need to look at him again to know that most womenânot just girls Amber's ageâwould find the guy attractive. He was tall and powerfully built with a ready smile and blue eyes that radiated a certain sparkle.
“Black Jack's probably doesn't serve baby vegetables and exotic greens,” she told Mrs. Zamora. Lexi was justifiably proud of the unusual vegetables she raised in the backyard behind the house they'd inherited. It was in an older part of Houston where homes had large yards. Most of the neighboring houses had been split into multifamily homes with shared rear yards.
Luckily, Aunt Callie had kept the family home intact and used the yard to raise market vegetables to sell. After her death, Lexi had realized there was more money to be made in smaller baby vegetables that could be sold directly to restaurants.
“I was at Black Jack's once,” Mrs. Zamora said. “For my husband's company party. Great ribs.”
“Right,” Lexi responded, her eyes on the chef. Ribs and steak. Texas food.
Right now Brad was showing the class how to roll the chocolate mixture into small balls. “Does anyone know what a truffle is?”
Lexi doubted many of the students would, but to her surprise Amber's hand immediately shot up. Brad nodded at her and Amber answered, “A truffle is in the mushroom family. It's brown and grows mostly in deep forests. Pigs hunt them by sniffing them out. They're
The class laughed uproariously, as if Amber had just told an off-color joke.
“That's right,” Brad's voice cut through the noise. “Truffles are hard to find and rare. That's why they're so expensive.”
Amber must have read about wild truffles in one of her cookbooks. Why she couldn't devote as much attention to her other studies mystified Lexi.
“We call this chocolate a truffle because it's brown and roundish,” Brad continued. “You don't have to roll a perfectly round truffle. Just make them about the same size.”
Lexi, Mrs. Zamora and Mrs. Geffen walked around the room helping any students who were having problems. It was a simple assignment. The only ones who asked for help really wanted attention. Lexi often found this true when she volunteered.
After they formed the truffle balls, the class was shown how to roll them in cocoa powder and place them on cookie sheets for cooling in the commercial- size refrigerator. It was a simple assignment, considering some of the more intricate recipes guest chefs had prepared, and everyone seemed to be having a lot of fun. Of course, that meant the noise level in the cafeteria shot into the stratosphere.
Brad Westcott didn't seem to mind. He made his way around the room to speak encouragingly to the students. Lexi caught him looking at her several times.
“I hear he's one of the chefs being featured on a television program about rising stars in the restaurant business,” Mrs. Geffen whispered as the students lined up to put their cookie sheets into the refrigerator.
“Really?” Lexi said, but she wasn't surprised. Black Jack's had opened to rave reviews and become an overnight sensation.
What Lexi didn't understand was why the chef had chosen to demonstrate chocolate truffles. Mrs. Geffen's class was supposed to feature healthy food.
Many students, like Amber, had chosen culinary arts as an elective because of their previous experience in Recipe for Success back in elementary school. The program had given them an appreciation for growing and preparing food.
“How many of you know about my restaurant Black Jack's?” Brad asked after the students had gone back to their seats.
Most of the group raised their hands. Lexi considered it tactful of him not to ask how many had eaten there. Fast-food places were the extent of most of their dining experiences.
“Good,” Brad said. “We're known for ribs and steaks, but also for fabulous desserts. I'm sponsoring a contest for middle school students organized by the Chefs' Association. The grand prize will be a thousand dollars and a summer internship with my pastry chef for the student who creates the best new dessert.”
“An internship is an opportunity to work alongside a professional,” Mrs. Geffen told them. “You learn by doing.”
“You won't get paid for your work,” Brad added.
There were some moans from the boys, but most of the students were interested. Especially Amber. She was beaming and whispering to the students seated beside her.
Great. Just what Lexi needed. Summer was her busiest season in the garden and her most profitable. She wanted Amber to go to summer school to boost her grades and help with City Seeds in her free time. Spending hours in the kitchen creating a new dessert would be catastrophic for her health and no help in raising the money they needed so much. Besides, as far as Lexi was concerned, the world had too many desserts.