Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Hallway Taste Tests - sharing food and building community

As part of our never-ending quest to get our families cooking and eating more good food together, Sarah and I decided to use some grant money to try parent cooking classes every other month.

Like we often do, we had an idea and we went for it, worrying about the details later. Scheduling was our major stumbling block. We thought and thought about how to get folks to come. We knew we didn't want to ask parents to come to weekend events. That left weekdays, but that created another problem. If we scheduled the classes in the afternoon parents would have to leave work early to make it. If we tried for after 5pm we'd have to hope parents would stay at pick up time, and we'd have to provide after hours care for kids while their parents cooked - not ideal for anyone at the end of a long day. In the end we compromised and scheduled the classes from 4:30-5:30pm - early enough (we hoped) that some parents could make it, but not extending past the usual end of our school day.

We held two - a salsa making class to work on knife skills, and then pie making before our annual Thanksgiving Family dinner. A handful of parents attended each one, and we gave everyone who came recipes, utensils, and tons of delicious food to take home when we were done. But... we weren't satisfied. We wanted to reach more people - lots more. We wanted more bang for our buck.

During a brainstorming session, Sarah came up with the brilliant idea of taste tests. We would just set up a table in the hallway so everyone entering would have to pass right by, and we'd have samples of something delicious to share. And recipes and tips to take home, of course. We jokingly called our first attempt an Ambush Cooking Class.

 Biscuits and corn muffins were our first offerings. I made dozens of both, and we set up our table with warm trays of food, dishes of butter, napkins, step-by-step recipes, and sheets for rating the food that kids and parents could use.

Something interesting happened that we didn't quite expect. Everyone, everyone, who came in or out while we sat at our table stopped and tried the food.

Everyone took a few minutes out of their pick-up routine to have a bite, check out the recipe, fill out a rating sheet, chat with us or with teachers or other parents who were hanging around.

We talked with parents about what they were making for dinner that night. Parents who don't normally connect talked easily, and shared stories about picky eaters, or challenging dinner times.

Folks sat on the entryway couch together and fed biscuits to their babies and toddlers.

It was lovely. And we realized we were on to something. Almost everything we'd hoped to accomplish with the cooking classes was happening, right there in the hallway.

Next time we tried black bean and vegetable soups, and they were also a hit.

Then we moved on to Banana Cranberry and Pumpkin breads to try out our Holiday Food Bag recipes. Naturally, those were extremely popular.

Banana cranberry and pumpkin breads

Last week we tried two recipes using curry, to test new lunch and food bag menu possibilities.

prepping ingredients

Vegetable curry

curried rice and chick peas

The results were excellent, and we packed up curry veggie and rice ingredients in the food bags the very next day!

We couldn't be more excited about our new favorite community builder. Here's to more Hallway Taste Tests!

Moms and babies love banana bread!

Love it, Not Sure, or No thanks?

Teachers love taste tests too!

Giving feedback

Good food, happy kids!

Make our curry recipes for dinner!

Curried Rice and Chick Peas
serves 4-6 as a main dish

6 cups cooked rice 
2-3 cups chick peas
3 Tbsp olive oil
3 Tbsp curry powder
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
sprinkle of red pepper flakes if you like extra spice

Cook rice according to package directions. You’ll probably want to cook 3 cups of dry rice to get 6 cups cooked. 
Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. When the pan is nice and hot, add the minced onion and cook, stirring around often, for 2 or 3 minutes until the onions begin to soften and turn clear. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two, stirring constantly so the garlic doesn’t stick or burn. 
When the onions and garlic are very fragrant, add the curry powder and stir well. It should almost form a loose paste. 
Add the chick peas and cook, stirring to coat them with the spice mixture. 

Meanwhile, put your cooked rice in a large bowl. Add the curried chick peas and toss gently to combine with the rice. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 

Veggie Coconut Curry
Serves 5-6 as a main dish

About 6-7 cups vegetables 
I like any combination of potatoes, carrots (peeled and chopped into 1 inch pieces) peas, and green beans (cut into 1 inch pieces). For this recipe I used all four! 
1/2 a medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp olive oil or coconut oil
3 Tbsp curry powder or curry paste
2 tsp salt
1 can coconut milk
1 c liquid coconut milk

Bring about 4 cups of water to a boil in a medium sauce pan. Add the carrots and potatoes. Boil for about 6-7 minutes, until you can pierce them with a fork. You want them tender, but not soft and mushy. Drain and set aside.
Heat the oil in a large deep skillet or sauce pan over medium heat. When pan is hot, add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions start to turn clear. When they are very fragrant, add the curry powder or paste and stir well. Add the rest of the vegetables including the pre-boiled carrots and potatoes. Stir around a bit until everything is coated in the curry spices. Add the coconut milk and liquid and stir gently. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes or so, until it thickens up a bit. Give it a taste and season with more salt and pepper if you like! 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Holiday Food Bags

Well, after one little Facebook post about our annual holiday food bags we received an unbelievable $1100 in donations - in just under two days! Sarah was so excited she ran out and bought extra goodies for all of the bags the night before we packed them. Even better than the money, so many friends showed up to help that we had more hands than work!

Past BCS teachers Megen Perkins, now teaching at Mater Christi School in Burlington, and Kesha Ram, now a VT State Rep, came to help. Several BCS Board members, current and past parents were there, and many BCS staff took time out of their work day to help out. 

But the best surprise by far was the arrival of two alumni sisters, Chloe and Emma, with their mom Nikki. Though they both graduated and moved on from BCS years ago, their family has stayed in touch. When they read about the holiday bags, they decided to come into town and spend their afternoon helping out. When they arrived we spent some time chatting and catching up, then Nikki said the girls had something for us. Their family uses the "3 jar" allowance technique, so when the kids receive money they put aside some to spend, some to save, and some to donate to a local cause. Both girls had amassed a fair amount of funds to donate, and they decided they wanted to use them to contribute to the food bag cause.

We were speechless.

 Needless to say, I cried.

We packed 20 bags with bread, eggs, butter, carrots, potatoes, beans, tortillas, cheese, pasta, clementines and homemade pumpkin or banana cranberry bread.

The previous week we included a survey in each weekend bag like we always do, but  Sarah asked an additional multiple choice question.

I would cook more at home if I had a :
sharp knife      peeler      cutting board      pot     other (let us know)

Based on the responses,  we included a new kitchen utensil for every bag recipient. We gave away spatulas, knives, potato mashers, and cheese graters, and one pasta pot! 

They were the best holiday bags yet. I can't wait until next year!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Creating a Healthy Food Culture

BCS teacher Shastina Ann Wallace wrote this great piece about our food program and her professor published it on his blog.


These values around food can be observed in the words of the Executive Director of BCS, Sarah Adams-Kollitz, “Food is to me an embodiment of what we always want to create in a school, which is inclusion, generosity, and acceptance. And I don’t feel like there is any better tool than food to represent that and also to help make it happen.” (S. Adams-Kollitz, personal communication, November 30, 2015) From curbing obesity to ensuring food security, the many practices around food at Burlington Children’s Space have the power to make a positive difference in children’s health because “[t]he eating behaviors children develop during the preschool years continue to shape their food attitudes and eating patterns through adulthood.” (McBride & Dev, 2014)

Read the whole piece here:


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Changing the Menu in Montreal

The Queen Elizabeth, site of the conference...and the view from our window!

Back in November Sarah and I spent a few days in Montreal with our friend Jed, at the Changing the Menu School Food Conference.
Jed used to be our program director, and while we were sad when he left BCS to become the Early Education Program Coordinator at Shelburne Farms, the change really spurred us to develop an innovative partnership with the farm that continues to evolve.

It began with the formation of a Professional Learning Community. Last year, folks from BCS, Shelburne Farms, and other area early ed programs got together once a month to discuss issues and ideas like farm-based education, food justice, and practicing mindfulness at work. The two hour sessions would happen in the evening after the regular work day,  and include food (of course).
Early Ed professionals attend a PLC session at the Burlington Children's Space

We got so much out of these sessions that we wanted to deepen our work with Shelburne Farms. So together we began a partnership which included preschool and toddler class visits to the farm, and farm staff coming to BCS to work and play with us.  We were discovering  our own version of "farm-based" education!
Food is central to culture and community. Our food choices affect not just the health of our bodies, but our spirits too. Food helps us form our identity as humans.   It's nourishment, and it's love! We realized that both of our organizations are deeply invested in the idea of systems that value and prioritize food.  We both want to see food skills, and the journey of our food from seed to plate, embedded in school curriculum from the early years.
At the conference we learned a simple name for this idea - teaching kids about the mechanics of food growth, harvest, preparation and preservation as well as the community and cultural importance of what we eat.

Food Literacy.

We were hugely inspired by the speakers and presentations we saw at the conference, and came back full of ideas about school gardens that employ local students and feed the school community, teacher and family harvest shares, school kitchens that double as community food resource centers, and drive-through veggie pick-ups at school!

Farm share veggies ready for pick up by families at the end of the school day

We also learned about Promising Practice Guidelines for food literacy initiatives - especially those that address hunger and food insecurity - from programs working in First Nation communities in Canada. I was proud to note that at BCS we have already put much thought into many of these when designing our projects, especially our take home food bags. Ideas like universality (meaning the program is offered to all in a non-stigmatizing way), benefitting the health of participants, affordability, cultural appropriateness,  consistency,  innovative funding, and sustainability are all topics we hold close to our hearts whenever we think about new ways to engage our community with food.

Greens for family dinner donated by a farmer/parent

So, we were inspired to apply as presenters at the 2016 National Farm to School Conference in Michigan in June! Sarah, Jed and I submitted a proposal for a joint presentation on the BCS Shelburne Farms collaboration, and I proposed a "Lightening Talk" about my Actual Preschooler's Lunch Plates series, and translating ideas about kids and healthy food into practices that promote food literacy and the voluntary consumption of vegetables by kids of all ages.

Wish us luck! I promise to keep you posted.


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Yay Food Bags!

Hey Everyone!
At BCS we want to make sure everyone has enough to eat. So last year our Director Sarah and I started a take-home food bag project. Every Friday we send home bags with ingredients for a large family dinner, recipes, and extra staples like eggs and bread to any family who requests one. 

We’ve sent home over 600 food bags this year- that’s 3600 home cooked meals families have made with a little help from BCS. 
This time of year we’re especially sensitive to the many pressures on families. So, we’re packing up extra nice take home bags to get families through the school vacation. We’re even making some holiday quick bread so send home in our bags and to bring to the Seniors.  

If you would like to be part of our efforts to keep everyone at BCS well fed over the holidays, you can do one of the following:
·        Make a donation. $20.00 fills a bag with lots of healthy ingredients and recipes. Donations can be made by check, cash or online at http://burlingtonchildrensspace.org/get-involved
·        Or, if you're a BCS family, take a bag, use the ingredients to make something delicious, share it with your family,  and fill out the survey (don’t forget to fill out a request slip). 
As always, keep on cooking and eating.  

Love and Thanks,
Sarah and Erinn

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Pie Night

 We got some  folks together one afternoon last week to bake pies and tarts in preparation for our annual Thanksgiving Family  Dinner.  I had help from some preschool friends early on in the kitchen; I peeled apples and they chopped. And boy, did they chop. They put those kid safe tools to use and went through an unbelievable 30 lbs of apples. Of course, there was the usual end of the day tidying up to do - cleaning afternoon snack dishes and loading the dishwasher.
My husband Sam came by with our daughter Sadie (one of the apple choppers) and snapped these photos.
After they left more BCS teachers, parents and siblings showed up to help Sarah and I put together many apple and pumpkin pies, 2 very large pumpkin and chocolate tarts, and a gluten free chocolate number, all in just under 3 and a half hours.
I just love our community, and I think it's possible that a new BCS Thanksgiving tradition has been born.

Apple Pie

Classic Pastry Pie Crust
originally published on the Kids VT Home Cookin' blog
(makes 2 crusts for a 9-inch pie plate)

2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 sticks unsalted butter, very cold
approximately 1/3 cup ice cold water
1/2 teaspoon salt

Pour all of the flour into the food processor. Cut the cold butter into chunks and add to the flour. Pulse the food processor three or four times to blend the butter and flour. Don't blend too much; you want the mixture to look like loose crumbs. 

When you've got the right texture, add the cold water in a slow stream while blending continuously until the dough starts to hold together. It will take less than a minute. When the dough forms a ball in the processor, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. 

Form the dough into two rounds with your hands, and flatten them a bit. Wrap each round in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. The refrigeration will help the butter solidify a bit and the moisture distribute evenly and makes for a flakier, tender crust. 

When the dough is ready, rub some flour into your rolling pin and lightly flour your work space. Roll the dough from the center outward in a circular motion, trying to shape it roughly into a large circle.

When you have a circle about 2 inches larger in diameter than your pie plate, transfer the dough carefully to the plate. Roll, or crimp the extra pastry around the edges or use a fork to make a pattern. Roll out the top crust in the same way. 

I like to have lots of apples that form a little mound in the middle, so that even when they cook down while the pie bakes you still have enough filling to hold up the top crust, if you're using one. 
I usually use 9 or 10 medium apples, peeled, cored, and sliced about 1/4 inch thick sections. 
Toss in a large bowl with 1/4 cup brown sugar, 2 Tbsp cinnamon, 1 Tbsp flour or cornstarch, and 1/2 tsp nutmeg. Tip into your crust, then dot the top with about 2 Tbsp of unsalted butter, cut into small chunks. 
Carefully center your top crust over the pie and trim any excess, then seal the edges to the lower crust. Crimp the edges with your fingers or decorate with a fork. 
cut several slits in the top crust to let steam escape. 
Optional: brush crust with a beaten egg and sprinkle with a bit of granulated sugar before baking. 

Bake at 375 for about an hour or until the crust turns golden brown and the filling is bubbling. 

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!