Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Long time no see!

Well, howdy!
 I've been away a long time, but working on lots of great stuff at BCS.
And now I'm back to fill you in!

We're still making great lunches every day for our kiddos, looking forward to lots of Actual Preschooler's Lunch Plates popping up here and on the facebook page. Here's lunch from the other day: whole wheat pasta with garlic and olive oil, salad with local veggies including carrots from the preschooler's neighborhood garden plot, homemade dressing, cheddar cheese and fruit. Lovely.

carrots grown by preschoolers

We had a great summer full of local produce from the Intervale Gleaning program. Every Monday I drove my van down the hill to the farm and came back loaded with veggies and fruit for our lunches and snacks, and even more to share with families.

Family dinners continue to bring us together.

We are still hosting dinners every other month, generously sponsored by City Market. Last week we had about 65 people for butternut squash soup - made with Intervale veggies - buttermilk biscuits, greens and Cabot cheese. It was a glorious Vermont fall evening and we ate outside.

My monkey peeler and I can handle a mountain of butternut squash, no problem.

little hands help with biscuit prep

serious business

everything looks beautiful in October afternoon light

food going fast

gorgeous salad prepared by BCS parents

Eating together
We are currently developing a model for monthly cooking classes that works for working parents. We've held two so far, offering a little extended care at the end of the day for anyone who wanted to stay and cook with us. We got some folks together and made salsa with the bounty of tomatoes and summer veggies back in July, and in September we made applesauce, apple crisp, and a kale/cheddar/apple casserole. We cooked the recipes together and sent everyone home with lots of prepared food and ingredients. We had fun and made some great connections at both classes, but we want to involve as many people as possible! So we're brainstorming ideas to make it easy for anyone to attend without adding new commitments to already busy schedules. I'll keep you posted.

In the meantime, enjoy the autumn light and the last of the harvest!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

New year, new energy!

I love January.
It feels so fresh and full of promise. There's no better time to re-energize, re-focus, and get new initiatives underway than when you're looking out over a whole new year.  So what are our goals and plans for the BCS kitchen in 2015?

Fresh from the success of our Holiday Break Super Take Home Bags...
 (for the long holiday vacation we packed up 20 bags, each with a beautiful whole chicken to roast plus instructions, along with potatoes, carrots, onions, bread, butter, sugar cookie ingredients and clementines)
...take home bags are up and running in the new year. So far in January we've packed up ingredients for vegetarian burritos, 2 different breakfast-for-dinner menus, and macaroni and cheese with butternut squash. Check out Sarah's darling illustrated butternut squash instructions for this week's
Illustrated squash instructions by our multi-talented director

We are looking forward to a great year of new ingredients and new recipes in the bags.

Cooking classes
Sarah and I are working on our plan for bi-monthly cooking classes this year, in conjunction with family dinners. Our idea is to have one or two classes that cover some basics and versatile dinner recipes, then move on to some cool themes (like break making, pie, making bases for soups, etc) and guest instructors. We already have our eye on a few of our favorite food collaborators.

Several BCS folks have been attending monthly Professional Learning Community events hosted by our friends at Shelburne Farms. The over-arching theme is sustainability in early childhood programs, and past meetings  have included discussions on the role of nature and outdoor curriculum in early childhood settings.
Last night BCS hosted the meet-up and discussion about food in early childhood settings. I cooked...

Sarah made salted caramels

 and she and Ruthie (our incredible Program Director) gave tours of our space before we all settled in to discuss creating a positive food culture, inspiring healthy eating habits in kids and food justice.
It was truly an inspiring night.

BCS teachers and friends listen in at the PLC
PLC attendees from Pine Forest Children's Center and King St. Youth Center

The topic of food and kids  has so many branches reaching into so many areas, it can feel impossible to get your arms around it. Bring food justice, and sustainable food systems into the conversation and suddenly the issues can seem impossibly overwhelming.
That feeling is how Sarah described our staff reaction to a viewing of A Place At The Table - a 2013 documentary on food insecurity in America by Kristi Jacobsen and Laura Silverbush. The problem seemed so large we felt  like we'd never be able to affect any change. But then we realized that, in our own small way, we already were.

When I was growing up my dad  - always an active volunteer in our community -was fond of repeating the phrase "think globally, act locally" whenever I would get worked up about world problems. It came to mind as Sarah and I talked, the day after watching the film, about all the small things happening in the BCS community that were addressing the big issues discussed in the film. Things like family style meals served to kids every day. Our participation in a community program to put gleaned local produce in the hands of our families. Take home food bags free to everyone. Family dinners.
We realized that working in our own small community wasn't just the best way to attack food insecurity on a large scale... it was the only way.

It felt great to talk to a larger group about our journey so far, and the steps toward food security we envision for our families moving forward. We all came in to work the next day with some fresh energy and a renewed sense of purpose.

Of course, I'll be keeping you updated on all of our progress here.
And, new for 2015.... on Instagram as well! Please follow bcs_lunch_lady on Instagram for great pics of lunch and kitchen happenings at BCS.

Thanks, and I'm so glad you're here!



Monday, December 15, 2014

Snowflake Moments

Our snowy neighborhood
I don't think many people can honestly say they get all the way through the holiday season without experiencing some stress. Stuff to do, travel plans to make, gifts to buy, and lots of pressure to be merry and bright because hey, it's the most wonderful time of the year!

If money is tight, the pressure to create a happy holiday can be even more overwhelming. We celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah at my house,  and we are lucky to have not just two but three sets of loving and generous grandparents who are eager to shower holiday gifts on their grandkids. But even with that blessing, my husband and I have found ourselves wondering if we're doing "enough" to make the holiday season special for our kids. Our kids, who are fortunate enough to have everything they need and most everything they want.
As parents we've always tried to instill our values  in our kids. We want them to learn that who you are is much more important than what you have, that neither money nor the stuff it can buy really brings happiness, and that helping others is the most important thing you can do in life- but this time of year can bring out a sense of entitlement in even the most down to earth kids.
Our three have friends who have much less than they do, and  friends who have much, much more, and that cross section exists just in our tiny neighborhood. Finding a sense of balance and perspective - remembering for example that there are many children in the world who lack a safe place to sleep or, say, access to clean water - becomes even more challenging when your kids are rattling off a list of new toys they hope are coming their way.

All this to say, I often find myself feeling overwhelmed at this time of year, and longing for the holiday spirit to come along and zap me with good cheer.  It always happens eventually, and usually when I least expect it, but it wasn't until a few years ago that I gave a name to the phenomenon.

It was just a few days before Christmas, and I was feeling low. I was 6 months pregnant with our third baby, and hadn't been feeling very well. I'd recently spent the night in the hospital with some pre-labor symptoms and my doctor thought I should skip the long car trip to celebrate Christmas in our hometown in NY. My husband was exhausted and grouchy from weeks of working long peak-season hours at UPS.  We were largely broke and charging presents for the kids on our credit cards.
And we were out of milk.

Dinner was in the oven, so I suited up in coat and boots and trudged across the street to the corner store to grab some. As I waddled up the steps I could see there was a long line inside and I silently cursed, having imagined a quick dash out and home. The tiny store made sandwiches to go, and during busy times they could be backed up with orders for 15 minutes or more. But once I stepped inside I realized something else was going on.

A little girl, the cashier's 8 year old daughter, had set up a snowflake-making station on the side of the counter, to the left of the cash register. She had a pile of white, gold, and silver paper, scissors, tape, markers, and ribbon. Propped next to her was a hand lettered sign that read "Would you like to make a snowflake?" An older woman was seated on the stool the girl had set up opposite her own, happily chatting while she cut a design in her folded paper. Several more people were in line for thier turn. Without a second thought, I joined them. We all waited patiently for our turn on the stool, complimenting each other on our designs. The young girl worked dilligently on her own snowflakes, and offered help and suggestions whenever anyone seemed stuck. She asked everyone to take their creations with them, but most everyone refused, and she was hanging the finished pieces along the edge of the counter with bits of ribbon.

When my turn came I sat down and thanked her for doing this. "Sure!" she said, and we got to cutting. We finished at the same time, and compared snowflakes.
"I love it!" she said, when I held mine up.
"I'm going to take mine with me." I told her " I want to show it to my kids." We smiled at each other, and I thanked her again. All other transactions had come to a standstill in the tiny store, but as I scooted through the other customers to the door, everyone was smiling.
Outside with my milk, I stood on the corner for a minute and breathed in the cold air. It had happened again just like it did every year somehow, only now i knew what it was.
A snowflake moment.

Of course I shared this story with Sarah at the time, and since then the "snowflake moment" has become part of our language. We've discovered that they can happen at any time of year, but somehow the ones around the holidays always seem bigger.

Well, this year the snowflakes have been piling up, and they have been even bigger than usual.

First of all, I want to give thanks from the bottom of my heart to everyone at the Intervale Center, and Digger's Mirth Farm for their work making the Intervale Gleaning and Food Rescue Program such an incredible resource for our community. Sarah shared their final report for the 2014 season, and it made me so proud. BCS alone received 941 POUNDS of food through the program this summer and fall, 374 of it directly from Digger's Mirth farm - the farming home of several BCS parents and neighborhood friends. Our shares included a total of 155 pounds of carrots, 71 pounds of watermelon, 176 pounds of cucumbers, 31 pounds of mesclun mix, 45 pounds of winter squash, and 30 pounds of apples... along with beans, beets, broccoli, chard, corn, herbs, kale, peppers, scallions, rutabaga, spinach and more.
We fed this beautiful produce to the kids, and shared what we couldn't serve fast enough with our families in take-home bags, and fresh veggie packs.
All in all, the program distributed a total of 29,898 pounds of fresh food to 16 organizations.
We are so grateful for our farmers, and our community, and the Intervale Center, and we can't wait for next summer!

Second, we learned that, thanks to Sarah's hard work and excellent writing, BCS has received
a grant from the Fanny Allen Foundation to expand our food program, extend our take home bag project, and include cooking classes for parents - for $10,000.


We cannot quite adequately express our excitement, but suffice it to say we are in the preliminary planning stages for our classes and I think they're going to be great. Our idea is to offer hands-on instruction in the preparation of  family style meals, a group shopping trip to learn about shopping for ingredients, lots of take home food for our participants, and new kitchen equipment (knives, mixing bowls, pans, etc) provided  for anyone who comes to more than one class. We plan to offer classes every other month, in between family dinners. Of course, I will keep you all posted on our progress. 2015 is going to be great!

And last but not at all least, there's my new apron! A gift from my lovely colleague Erica and her beautiful family.

Here's to a peaceful holiday season, full of snowflake moments, to you and yours.
love, love, love,

Monday, December 8, 2014

Weeknight Pasta Recipe!

I've been writing blog posts about cooking with kids, or at least with them in mind, for KidsVT Family Newspaper. I recently posted this recipe for pasta with kale and butternut squash, and I like this dish so much I wanted to share it here as well. It's a great winter weeknight dinner. Hope you like it!

Serves 5

1 lb penne pasta ( whole wheat or semolina)
1 small bunch lacinato kale, tough stems removed, leaves cut into thin strips
1 medium yellow onion, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 small/medium squash (butternut, delicata, or acorn all work well) peeled, seeded, and cut to ½ inch dice
4 Tbsp olive oil, divided
4 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated
½ cup grated parmesan cheese, divided
Sea salt and black pepper
Dash of nutmeg

Preheat your oven to 400

Cook the pasta according to package directions, drain and set aside in a large mixing bowl.

While the pasta cooks, spread the cubed squash on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper, drizzle with olive oil and put into the hot oven. It should be ready in 15-20 minutes.

While the squash is roasting, sauté the onion in 1 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat until it turns translucent, then add garlic and sauté for another 3 or 4 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the pan there until you’re ready to add it to the pasta.

Put the prepared kale into another bowl, drizzle 2 tbsp olive oil over it, and massage the oil into the kale with your hands until it starts to soften up – this should only take a minute or two. Sprinkle with a bit of sea salt.

Add the kale, onions and garlic, squash, cheddar cheese and half of the parmesan to the hot pasta and toss to combine. Make sure you get all of the oil and any crispy bits along with the onions/garlic and the squash. Add sea salt to taste, a sprinkle of nutmeg (just a tiny bit, 1/8 of a tsp or less), and a few grinds of pepper and toss again.

Sprinkle the remaining parmesan cheese over the top, lower your oven temp to 375, and pop the pasta in for about ten minutes, until the top is just starting to brown.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Thanksgiving Family Dinner 2014

It's hard to put all of my feelings about Thanksgiving Family Dinner into words, because the more I think about it the more I realize it's about so much more than the event itself.

It starts at the beginning of the week. Sarah and I get together to talk over our plan, which we never  seem to remember from the year before no matter how well we try to document the process.
We put up signs requesting donations (potatoes, bread, squash, apples) and volunteers to help set up, cook, carve the turkeys, serve, and clean up.

The kids start to get excited.

The epic shopping trips (three enormous turkeys, veggies, bread for stuffing, buttermilk, cream...what did we forget?) are completed.
Rick, our intrepid Shadow Cross Farms delivery guy, brings extra milk.
Sarah and I have several conversations about fancy turkey prep we probably won't attempt (brining? dry or wet? spatchcock? deep frying?) and eventually settle on what's become our tried and true method, which I'll get to later.

Donations start to pile up. The kitchen fills with bags of potatoes, loaves of bread, buckets of apples, beautiful squashes.  Even a watermelon, brought in by an enthusiastic preschooler and her mom.

The turkeys take over the bottom shelf of the fridge.
The day before the dinner teachers start working on projects with the kids. Preschoolers peel and chop 30 pounds of potatoes.

Toddlers and their teachers bake trays of beautiful rolls.

In the baby room apples are sliced and bagged. Signs and decorations are created.

Everyone speculates about who will attend. Will there be more or fewer folks than last year? Who's bringing their new baby, grandparents, cousins, neighbors?
Friday morning arrives, and I'm at school at 9am. Down the hall we're all greeting each other with cries of "Happy Thanksgiving Dinner Day!"

Sarah brings me a bottle of seltzer, a tradition since, in her words "It's important to stay hydrated."
We prep the remaining potatoes, then invite a rotating cast of preschoolers to help cube bread for stuffing. The last of the squash is roasted in the toddler kitchen while the turkey prep begins in earnest.

The birds
Our method involves a salt rub, inside and out, and butter and herbs inside, on top, and BELOW the skin. Times three. No small feat for two women who just five years ago were unsure they could manage to get the organs out of the cavity without gloves and goggles.

Once the birds are roasting - one in each of our three available ovens - it's time to make lunch!
By the time the kids are napping, the unmistakeable aromas of Thanksgiving dinner fill the hallways. People pop in to peek at the turkeys.

We move the entire operation across the hall to the Senior Center and the pace picks up. Time to boil the potatoes, make the salad, season the squash.

When the turkeys come out of the oven to rest before carving, the stuffing goes in.

Parents, friends, and teachers arrive and set tables, spoon cranberry sauce, and chat away in the big kitchen.

The giant pots of boiling potatoes must be drained, providing some danger and excitement and a bonding moment for everyone in the kitchen. Our incredible parent turkey carver arrives, ready for duty.

Annika: parent, friend and carver extraordinaire

 Soon giant platters of turkey appear at the serving window.  Ruthie, our fearless Program Director, makes flawless gravy from scratch on the stove top as guests begin to arrive.

And just like that, it's happening. Whole extended families come through the door, taking over long tables and welcoming folks who aren't sure where to sit. Babies make their first public appearances. Old friends come bearing pies, bread, vegetable platters. The room fills with voices, music, and the clatter of dishes. The food flies out of the kitchen. A second wave of friends arrives and we worry we won't have enough to feed everyone, but of course we do. Folks start serving themselves, and each other. I spot several parents wandering through the tables with pitchers of water and bowls of gravy asking "does anyone need anything?"

Desserts begin to line the counter. Sarah makes a giant bowl of whipped cream.

Folks are chatting, smiling, hugging, holding each other's little ones.

And all of sudden, for me anyway, the whole year comes into focus. It's not that this moment is WHY we do what we do. It's just one of the many, many beautiful results of the work we do. Coming together to celebrate a year's worth of love, learning, and growing with these families and each other.

As I ran down the hallway later in the night to fetch more napkins and forks my eye was caught by a piece of documentation I'd never noticed before on the wall outside one of the classrooms.
It stopped me in my tracks, trailing paper napkins.

In the kitchen at the end of the night with Sarah,  Ruthie and a few friends and parents washing dishes and packing up leftovers I'm happy as can be. I'm proud to work beside these people. I'm proud to be a part of the lives of these families. I love sharing this meal with all of them, year after year, to celebrate all that we have.

And that's it.
 What we've got here, what we're building and nurturing together, is a stable community. And it shows.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. We are thankful for you. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Always a hit...

Pasta and my famous meat sauce. They love it. They love any kind of pasta, really. And there's nothing too special about the sauce- just ground turkey and a little sneaky kale. But  I think when you've been playing all morning in the windy cold and your cheeks are pink and you're hungry for lunch... its just the thing.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Chili and cornbread

One of my lunch lady goals is to bake more.  We love to bake with the kids during the cold months. Its such a relaxing, thoughtful activity, and it works nicely with small groups. Plus the kids love trying their own creations and sharing them with friends. A few teachers and I are working on a plan to bake all of our own bread at BCS. I'll keep you updated on our progress. For now, cornbread from scratch to go with our vegetarian chili will have to do!