Palm Springs is home to many diverse groups looking to make a difference. One local potluck group is doing that for an organization that has been helping others in the community for decades.
“The Palm Springs Bears Cookbook” was released in August, with all proceeds benefitting Well in the Desert — a nonprofit serving more than 70,000 meals annually to people in the community dealing with food insecurities.
The idea for the cookbook was conceived when the group suspended its bi-monthly in-person potlucks in April 2020 due to COVID-19. Instead, they began having group video chats every month to check in on friends coping with quarantining at home.
At a group chat in the fall of 2020, Steve Freitag proposed the idea of a potluck club cookbook, with proceeds possibly benefiting a local charity. That idea ultimately became the Palm Springs Bears Cookbook. Freitag edited the cookbook, and Marco Veloso did the cover art.
Everyone who contributed recipes received a chapter with background information, photos, and space for a detailed story of how they learned to cook. The approach has paid off, according to Amazon reviewers.
“This cookbook is so much more than a collection of fun and accessible recipes,” wrote one reviewer. “It is a clearly loving journey into a community of personalities and stories that shape the chefs and their meals.”
In Freitag’s chapter of the cookbook, he writes about becoming interested in being a chef at a young age. He began making pizza when he was eight to help his mom out in the kitchen.
“By the time I was nine, I ditched the pizza-in-a-box my mom used and started making my own yeast dough,” Freitag explained. “I’d knead the dough, roll it out, assemble the toppings, bake it, and my mother was grateful to have a night off. So almost every Friday night, I made pizza for my family until I went off to college.”
The hardbound, full-color, 500-plus page cookbook also contains Freitag and his husband Jack’s favorite recipe, along with an assortment of multi-ethnic recipes from other group members ranging from passed-down family recipes to European-Sicilian specialties.
In addition to recipes, the book has an in-depth review of “The Gay Cookbook,” a 1966 book that shows what gay culture was like before Stonewall. Also, a long look at mid-century cookbooks shows that Palm Springs may be the modernism capital of the world but that the beauty of 1950s-era modern architecture and modern furniture has overshadowed the ridiculously bizarre time-saving recipes of the time.
“There have been cookbooks targeted at gay audiences before, but often it seems it’s more about shirtless hunks in the kitchen and not about the food,” Freitag said. “Our cookbook is not about sex … it’s about love.
“When you feed a friend, as at our club potlucks, or by sharing favorite recipes, you are showing your love for them. Feeding a stranger, or feeding anyone in need who is hungry, as Well in the Desert does here in the Coachella Valley, shows a love for humanity.”
To date, more than 250 copies of the cookbook have sold. Proceeds raised for Well in the Desert are just about to reach the $5,000 mark.
“The cookbook has brought the bear community together with a common goal: To help others,” said Michael Weiner of Well in the Desert, who focuses on developing as many fundraising channels for the organization as possible. “Some people are buying the book just to support Well in the Desert. Book sales have gone nationwide, and the amount that has been sold is far exceeding anyone’s expectations.”
More information: The cookbook is currently available online at lulu.com (where the most money of the purchase price goes to Well in the Desert), and also on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Copies can also be purchased at Bear Wear on Arenas Road.