Bread Magic in the Kitchen

When I arrived in the kitchen last Monday, my coworker Charles said he left a gift for me on the spice shelf. It was these beautiful block prints,  made by  Vermont artist/activist  Jabari Jones, who is donating the proceeds from the prints to the Vermont Black Lives Matter organization.

They are postcard sized prints, each with a proverb about bread.

I've been thinking of how to display them, and of the timeliness of the gift, as I try to work on this post about bread at BCS.

Community Bread started just about a year ago, after I decided to get everyone to try making all of our own bread at school together.  But really it all started with the bread poem, another gift from a coworker, right around the holidays in 2015.

If I could work the oven
 I'd like to cook a bread
big enough to extinguish the hunger
of everyone, all the people
who have nothing to eat.
A bread bigger than the sun,
golden, perfumed
like violets.
A bread like this
I would give to feed
all of India and Chile
the poor, the children,
the old, and the baby birds.
That would be a day to memorize:
A day without hunger!
The most beautiful day in all of history.

-Gianni Rodari

The caption from my Instagram post of the poem:

I immediately loved the very first line of the poem, because it got  to the heart of how I felt about cooking for others. To me, "If I could work the oven" meant "If I could figure out this problem of hungry people, of getting everyone enough, if I had that power, this is what I would do." Of course, in my heart, I would bake a magical bread that would erase the problem on a global scale.
In reality, in the kitchen, what could I do to work that oven? School lunch had already come so far,  with our self-designed menus and everything made from scratch. But we were still buying not-so-great processed bread for sandwiches, or to eat with soup or stew, or for toast in the morning.  I did my best within our budget, but it wasn't ideal. For about the millionth time since starting the job, I imagined baking bread, lots of bread, in the school kitchen.

I was (and still am) a complete novice bread baker, though I loved the process with all my heart and was eager to learn more.  I knew our staff was full of baking enthusiasts and I knew that each classroom enjoyed baking with kids regularly or at least once in a while.  So I had an idea. I would bake as many loaves as I could every Monday and Tuesday, and any classroom that wanted to could bake as well. Together, we'd come up with bread for everyone for the week.
 I thought that would be a powerful thing for a kid who was coming from a food insecure situation, to learn how to bake bread, this building block of basic nutrition, and share it with their friends and teachers at mealtimes.

Bread is elemental. It's literally a symbol of nourishment, of "we have enough".  Our goal has always been to fill BCS with this feeling. We want kids to know it's a place where, regardless of what the world is like outside, their needs will be met. Their bellies will be filled.  Thinking this over I realized, this was it. This was how to work the oven. We could teach kids the skill of bread baking, while teaching them that they can take care of each other. That's what communities do.  That's how we get everyone fed.

I presented the idea to my amazing coworkers at our winter In-Service and we all baked focaccia and talked about what we find therapeutic in cooking and baking.  Community Bread at BCS was born.

group baking

At first I expected a complex baking schedule would be a necessity. I imagined rotating classrooms and days of the week based on the menu. But in practice it's been a much more fluid process. 
Basically, everybody bakes. Sometimes we coordinate, often we don't. Kids are so steeped in the process they can do it with little direction. Everyone eats lots of homemade bread (and other amazing goodies). 
Now it's a year later, and community bread is going strong.  Baking has become a part of the school culture as well as incredible curriculum. The toddlers and their teachers bake so often, it's unusual to enter their classroom and not smell something wonderful in the oven, or on its way.  The preschools bake every week, often producing half of the bread we serve everyone for lunch. 

The kids feel so much pride in baking to feed the whole school, and I'm just proud to be a part of it all. When I get to school in the morning and the preschoolers are busy in their classroom, dusted in flour from head to toe, kneading together, I can't help but think -we're doing it. 

We are working the oven!

Focaccia with Friends - BCS recipe

 Sprinkle 3 tsp dry yeast and 1 tsp sugar over 2 1/2 cups warm water in a large mixing bowl. Let sit for a minute or two, then gently whisk in 1 cup of unbleached flour. Let this sit for five minutes or so, then add 2 1/2 tsp salt, 1 Tbsp honey, and 2 Tbsp olive oil and stir with a wooden spoon to incorporate. Start adding flour a cup at a time, stirring with the wooden spoon, and then eventually using your hands, until it forms a shaggy ball. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a few minutes, dusting with flour when necessary to prevent sticking, until the dough is smooth and springy. Clean and dry the bowl, then swirl it with olive oil. Add the dough and roll it around to oil the whole surface. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and put in a warm place to rise for about 30 minutes. 
Preheat the oven to 400
Uncover the dough, and using a sharp knife, divide in half. Do not punch it down! Lightly brush two rimmed baking sheets with oil. Turn out half of the dough onto each tray. Use your hands to press it into a rectangle, reaching the edges of the pan if you can. Use your fingers to make indentations every 2 inches or so. Lightly brush the top of the dough with oil, and sprinkle with salt and  any herbs you like. 
Bake for 25 minutes or until the top is golden brown. 


Things to do with Roasted Carrots

It's mud season in Vermont, which means seed starting, tiny sprouts poking up out of ice patches of mud, and deep yearning for fresh vegetables. It's the time of year when BCS director Sarah and I start dreaming of summer fruit and salads from the farm share, and cursing potatoes, carrots and cold storage apples - the foundation of our winter veggie diet.

Even so, I'll keep trying to come up with tasty easy ways to use ALL the root veggies while we wait for herbs and greens and all that jazz. Soon, soon. In the meantime, maybe give recipes these a try.  The BCS family loves them.

Roasted Carrots with lots of Garlic, Green Onions, and Za'atar

6 medium carrots, washed, peeled, and sliced into coins on the diagonal
3 or 4 scallions, sliced thinly
3 garlic cloves, minces
2 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbsp za'atar spice mix

Preheat oven to 400
Toss the carrots with the oil and salt and pepper to taste in a large bowl, then spread on a large rimmed baking sheet. Roast at 400 for 20 minutes, then check. You want some browning on the edges of the carrots for the best flavor. When they're ready, take them out and sprinkle the scallions and then the za'atar over the top

**secret tip - many roasted veggies are delicious with a little plain greek yogurt on the side, plain or with a bit of sriracha stirred in**

Here's a link to a cool recipe for making your own za'atar, if diy is your style.
Otherwise you can find it at most natural food stores, or middle eastern markets if your lucky enough to have any nearby.

Roasted Carrot Soup 

6 cups carrots, peeled and sliced into coins.
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
8 cups vegetable broth
salt and pepper
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cumin

1 Tbsp butter - unless you want this to be vegan, in which case coconut oil will do nicely

Preheat oven to 400.
Toss carrot coins and onions with olive oil and spread on a large rimmed baking sheet.
Roast at 400 for about 20 minutes, until everything is softening and you get a little caramelization. The brown bits are what make the soup, so let the veggies go until you get there.
When they're ready, transfer them to a nice sized stock pot with the veggie broth, salt, pepper, turmeric, and cumin and simmer gently for 20 minutes or so. Then remove from heat, add the butter or coconut oil,  and use your immersion blender to make it nice and smooth.
Gently reheat through.

I strongly suggest you serve with a dollop of plain greek yogurt and some za'atar sprinkled on top. Also delicious: crushed pistachios,  some crushed red pepper, sriracha,  a drizzle of coconut milk... you get the idea.

Recipes from staff lunch....

When our staff gets together for In-Service I make lunch. Since we have a lot of different diets to accommodate, I just start with a vegan menu and work from there. For our three-day work session a few weeks back I made a big batch of roasted red potatoes, butternut squash, carrots, and garlic and used it for a few different dishes. 

Vegan GF Roasted Veggie Gallette

This was tricky.  I love making pie crust, but I'm a a devoted butter fanatic. Baking without it makes me nervous. But I forged ahead with a gluten free baking mix and vegan shortening and.....I actually made a decent pastry. There were no leftovers. I'm sure everyone was more interested in the filling anyway. I'm gonna take it as a win though. 

2 cups Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free Baking Mix
1/2 cup vegan shortening
1/2 tsp kosher salt
a Tbsp at a time of ice water

I was afraid to use the food processor for the first bit - which I freely admit I do when I'm making regular old pie crust - and went for the pastry cutter in a big stainless bowl I'd chilled in the fridge for a half hour or so. Once the mix, shortening and salt were all nice and crumbly I added a Tbsp at a time of ice water, working with  my hands until it all came together. It never quite got to that cohesive, buttery feeling I'm used to when making pastry. It was much, I don't know, sandier than usual. It reminded me of that kinetic sand stuff my kids like to play with at the science museum. I added several more spoons of ice water than I usually do. But eventually it held enough for me to form it into a ball and wrap it in parchment. After   some consideration I decided not to refrigerate it because it felt like it might get even more crumbly if it chilled. I rolled it out into a right away between two lightly floured sheets of parchment, then carefully transferred it to a sheet pan and threw that in the fridge while I got the filling ready. You want a rough oval, about 12-14 inches in diameter, and no more than a 1/4 inch thick. 

1 medium butternut squash peeled, seeded, and cut into thin, 1 inch pieces 
2 medium red potatoes washed and cut into thin, 1 inch pieces
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp each fresh thyme and rosemary, roughly chopped
handful of sliced scallions 

Preheat oven to 400 
Toss squash, potatoes, onion, olive oil, salt and pepper in a large bowl, spread as evenly as possible on a large rimmed baking sheet and roast for 7-8 minutes. You just want to give them a head start before the actual bake. 

Put it all together
Grab your pastry. Take the veggies out of the oven and sprinkle the fresh herbs and garlic on top. Toss a bit to combine. Taste and add salt and pepper if necessary. Transfer about 3 cups of the mixture to the center of the pastry - which is still on the parchment lined baking sheet. You'll have some left over. No worries, we'll get to that. Spread it out toward the edges of the pastry, leaving yourself a few inches all around the perimeter. Gently, gently fold the edge in as you move around the oval, folding over and inch or so of the filling. 
Bake at 375 for about 35 minutes or until the filling is caramelizing in places and the crust is done everywhere, flaky and (hopefully) starting to brown.  It stayed pretty light, especially in absence of a milk or egg wash, which was tough for me since I love a good caramelized crust. But don't leave it in too long or you'll overcook the filling. 

Once it's out sprinkle the sliced scallions on top and slice it up.

Lemony French Bean Salad 

So, now you'll have some leftover roasted veggies. Here's what you do. 
Steam 4-6 cups of french beans until they are juuuuust past crisp tender. Still a bit of crispness, but not too much. Check after 4 minutes and go from there. 
Drain and transfer to a large mixing bowl. 
Add whatever remaining roasted veggies - up to 2 cups.
Now make some dressing. 

1/3 cup olive oil
3-4 Tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp each salt and pepper

Whisk well, drizzle over the salad, and toss it all together. If you have any more fresh thyme laying around sprinkle it on top. Serve with lemon wedges. 

Next up, roasted carrot soup with greek yogurt and za'atar. Come on back.

Kid Made!

My husband Sam and I collaborate on a weekly video series for Parent.Co - Kid Made!
We feature (mostly) healthy recipes kids can help make, and love to eat!
Here's one of my favorites from a while back, Sweet Potato Nachos. They are perfect for a (surprise) snowy weekend at home (in April, ha ha!).


Food Justice, Guerrilla Gardening, and In-Service at Burlington Children's Space

This week is In-Service at BCS.  No kids, just teachers learning from each other and community members. I am lucky enough to get to cook for my colleagues three days in a row. There is nothing I love more  than feeding people, so this is like a vacation retreat for me.

I'm so proud to be a part of this working community of learners, seekers, people who are always striving to be better at what they do, and at who they are, together and individually.

I love feeding them while they do the hard work of presenting to each other, reflecting, starting new projects, and deepening understanding of our community.

On these days,  I even get to pop out of the kitchen to share some of my ideas and goals - what's going on in my heart and head at the moment. Today  I shared this TED talk by Ron Finley, a self-proclaimed guerrilla gardener in South Los Angeles, with my co-workers. If you have 10 minutes, please watch. His plan is simple, his message inspirational. But what struck me the most was the aspect of justice.  Because what's been in my head and heart lately is the idea of food justice.

Here's the video:

And here's what I wrote for my co-workers:

I'm so proud of you all and the effort you put into food here at BCS. I'm proud of the culture you have all created here - the importance you place on food and nutrition, and the work you all put in to backing up your belief in that importance.

Your work values not only nutrition, but food as a community experience. And that part, that positive community experience of food, is one of the things that can get lost for folks who are food insecure. I'm so proud that that concept is a part of the learning and care that happens here.

I've been feeling politicized lately.

And that's got me thinking about food justice.   What is it? The larger definition is, simply, people need to be directly in charge of their food. They need to understand and participate in their food systems, as well as have access to enough healthy, appropriate food. It's a Big System idea. One that won't change on a large scale without Big System cooperation.

But my definition is a little different. Smaller.  I think everyone needs access to enough healthy food to eat every day. And this access is a right, not a privilege. Everyone deserves it.


What we're doing here at BCS (with our food program, our family dinners, our garden projects, our take home bags, taste tests, family style meals and snacks, cooking with kids) is working toward food justice in our community.

Ron Finley saw that culture needed to change in his community to bring food justice to the people there. He also saw that those kinds of changes rarely happen from the top, down. The president - no matter who it is - isn't going to address food justice in the neighborhoods of South Los Angeles, or the Old North End of Burlington Vermont. This stuff happens from side to side, from neighbors helping neighbors, on the ground. On the space between the sidewalk and the street, if necessary.

He saw an opportunity to bring knowledge and power and opportunity to folks who were lacking it. All by increasing access to healthy food.

We are doing the same. We are demystifying food systems - planting, growing, harvesting, cooking, sharing. We are nourishing a different, non-stressful, autonomous relationship with food.

We are creating a culture of inclusion, respect, and feeding each other well.
That, to me, is food justice.
Thank you for working for it with me.



Vegetarian Tacos


Friday take home bag recipe! Suggestion:  roast some cauliflower florets with olive oil, salt, pepper, and cumin at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes - or until they start to caramelize on the edges - you can add it right to the tacos - delish!!!


People working together can change the world. But not when they're hungry.


We need your help.

As some of you may know, last winter BCS was the fortunate recipient of St. Michaels’ College Fix it With Five award - $10,000 to fund a year’s worth of our amazing Take Home Bag Project. 

Our Take Home Bag project, in case you don’t know, started 4 years ago when we packed up bags of grocery staples for families before we closed for the long break between Christmas and New Year’s Day. We know many of the families we work with are food insecure, meaning they can't always rely on adequate daily nutritous food. We wanted to provide extra food for the days kids would be away from the daily breakfast, lunch and snack served at school, and also encourage families to cook and eat together with healthy  ingredients like eggs, cheese, pasta, tortillas, butter, oatmeal, veggies, and fruit. We packed up 15 and sent them home. 
We surveyed folks who took those first bags to find out what they thought. The response was so overwhelming - the gratitude for the simple bag with recipe ideas and the openness of the answers to questions about food insecurity made us realize we were on to something. We knew we had to find a way to continue the project. 

Over the next four years we wrote fundraising letters, we formed a relay team and ran the marathon - twice - and we received support from the Children's Trust Fund. Last year, St. Mike’s students were moved by one of our core beliefs, and one the main ideas behind the bag project. Chronic hunger erodes human dignity. But sharing healthy food can restore it.   We will always be grateful for their support.
After all, as one  of our preschoolers put it, who can learn when they are hungry?
Here are some things our families have had to say through their surveys over the years:

My kids didn't like spinach until this meal!

"I'm just seeing what's in my food bag" yells one kid from the kitchen. It takes me .075 seconds to get through the door and there she is, a fist full of shredded cheese in her mouth and another headed that way. "Cheese!" she yells. "There's cheese in here!!"
The bag was helpful, my niece was visiting for the weekend so it was great to have the extra food. 

Thanks for reminding us that tacos are tasty and cheap, we never think to make them!

Grilled cheese and soup! How come you always forget how good it tastes?

Bags are always so helpful! Love that you get enough for a meal plus extras. 

We really enjoyed the curry, rice, spinach salad, and bread with butter, so much to eat!

Food is not cheap so even one meal makes a world of difference for me and my family.

We hit Friday like a brick wall- tired hungry and disorganized- so coming home with a bag of dinner invites us to slow down, work together, and feed ourselves.  Thanks! 

The games, songs and food bags from BCS have helped me and my child bond.  We have more opportunities to talk,  play,  and spend quality time together because of BCS.  

It was great.  I had never made meatless chili before.  My family ate almost all of it.  We only ended up saving one bowl for leftovers.  

Lasagna is something we don’t have normally due to the amount of different ingredients one has to purchase.  I had enough to make two dinners with leftovers.  

It was easy and came out amazing ( vegetable curry).  I was pleasantly surprised when my picky 13 year old son actually like it.  I thought he was going to take the first bite and quit.  He ate half a large bowl.  

We absolutely oved the potatoes and fresh dill.  We used the eggs to for scrambled egg breakfast.  We used the bread for PB and J sandwiches.  

 I hope to be able to contribute when I can.  But it helps the family out so much.   

I want to say thank you.          

We spent the St. Mike's money this past year, feeding folks, spreading cooking knowledge and helping families cook and eat together more. To prepare for the end of this money, we applied for another year's worth of take home bag funding from Hannaford's community giving program. We felt sure we would get it. After all, we're a local non-profit, our program addresses hunger in our community, and promotes family nutrition. Plus, we've purchased the contents of each and every bag - as well as much of our lunch and snack ingredients -  from Hannaford. 
Needless to say, we were hopelessly unprepared for our rejection. 

We are reapplying through a different Hannaford program, thanks to a suggestion in our reply letter, but unfortunately at this moment we have only two more weeks of take home bags, until we can secure another funding stream. 

We know this program is valuable. We know we can keep it going, because we've done it before when it seemed impossible - remember the marathon!
 And right now more than ever, fighting for something we know benefits our community and affirms our need to care for each other seems absolutely essential. 

While we work on our next steps, we are open to ideas, suggestions for organizations we could ask for support, and of course, donations. 

If you'd like to help, I've started this gofundme page to make donating super easy and quick. 
Click the link to donate, and help us feed our families. 

Thank you. 
We love you. 
We're in this together. 

Erinn and Sarah. 

Thanksgiving Family Dinner

It's special every year, this gathering.

This November got off to a tricky start, for many of us. And the Thanksgiving holiday was, maybe, feeling like more of a hurdle to get over than a happy destination point. The kickoff to a season that suddenly felt less warm and bright.

But we dug deep and soon we were planning our annual Thanksgiving Family Feast with even more enthusiasm than usual at BCS.

We made lists. We made invitations. We shopped, we prepped.

We gathered staff and parents in to the kitchen one chilly night at closing time and baked pies, tarts, and pumpkin breads.

amazing pumpkin pies
parent bakers

 We made sure to invite everyone, including alumni and community friends.

And then, we cooked. All day long. Sarah and I prepped three turkeys and puzzled over when they should enter the ovens and how long we should roast them - like we do every year. We - along with teachers and preschoolers - peeled mountains of potatoes and cubes loaf after loaf of bread to homemade stuffing.

We laughed in the kitchen with the parents and friends who showed up to mash huge pots of potatoes, make gravy from scratch, chop carrots and celery, set tables, and oversee the turkey preparations.

We celebrated the return of last year's stellar turkey carver, a lovely BCS mom.

Then, around 5pm, the doors opened and hungry friends began to stream in. As folks filled their plates and began to fill the seats it was almost as if you could feel relief rising in the room.
Here we all were, together. Our community doing what it does so well, no matter the circumstance.

We cooked together, we shared a beautiful meal, we had conversations with friends and strangers.

We hugged. We held each other's babies, and we marveled at how tall the big kids had grown.

With our actions, we reaffirmed the values we always come back to at BCS for comfort, for direction,  for celebration.
We know that love - that unconditional positive regard - is powerful, and transformative.

We know that good food helps.

We know that a truly strong community supports everyone.

As I looked out on the busy noisy room from the kitchen I saw this all at work.
At Family Dinner, you'll probably pass the butter to the parent sitting next to you at the table who doesn't speak your language, but who's kid has a cube next to yours. You'll clean up a milk spill together and laugh about what a circus dinner with toddlers can be.

There is decency, acceptance, dignity, and love in each of these connections, these tiny interactions. In fact, they are what hold us together in difficult times.  And as I watched them unfold all around the room I felt immeasurably grateful for all the places like BCS, where these connections are happening every day.

We will be here, supporting each other with love, compassion, and good food,  at Thanksgiving time and always.

Love to you.
Happy Holidays.

Actual Preschooler's lunch plate!

Sesame noodles, marinated chick peas, greens and red cabbage salad, and pears! 

Sesame noodles

Bio 1lb spaghetti noodles, thin works best, and whole wheat taste dlucious. Rinse with cold water after cooking and set aside. 

Sauce: 2 cloves garlic finely minced
1/2 inch piece of ginger finely minced
1/4 cup tamari
1/4 cup honey
1Tbsp tahini
1/3cup sesame oil
2tsp sriracha or chili paste
1tsp apple cider vinegar

Whisk all ingredients until smooth, toss well with cooled noodles! 

Baking together

I led a baking workshop for our teachers this morning. Our dough is rising.