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,

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.


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. 

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.

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!

The Recipe

A four-year-old friend of mine at BCS recently had an idea for a recipe. This is a kiddo who is endearing, loving, energetic, and challenging, and who isn't always that interested in lunch, for a variety of reasons. So I was surprised and thrilled when he stopped me as I headed for the kitchen one morning a few weeks ago, waving a homemade book.

"Erinn!!! I made you a recipe!"

the recipe

The recipe, it turned out, was a multi-page, illustrated list of ingredients. With a drawing on the back of me...

back cover of the recipe, with my notation

He wanted to get started that instant, but lunch had to be made, so we made a date to meet and make a plan. I asked a few preliminary questions and discovered that the recipe was intended to turn out as a cake, that he anticipated we'd need a big bowl and a little spoon in order to make it, and that it would likely need to cook for either 5 minutes, or 20 hours.
Armed with this information and the proposed ingredient list (flour, milk, cereal, raisins, apples, and rice) I set out to look for cake recipe inspiration.
I found a ton of cake, muffin, and quick bread recipes online that incorporated cereal, and thought that raisin bran would be ideal since it essentially gave us two ingredients from the list for the price of one. I printed out a muffin recipe that seemed like a promising starting point and we met the next morning before lunch prep began.
We looked through the recipe booklet he had made and talked about each ingredient. We had quite a discussion around the rice. I gently suggested that we try rice as a side dish with our cake, since cakes with both rice and cereal as ingredients were unusual, if not completely unknown to humankind. We agreed that we'd proceed omitting the rice, this time.
We decided that the finished cake should be a rectangle, and there should be enough to share with his classmates and teachers.

He invited one friend in to help us out, and we gathered our ingredients...

Our preschool recipe developer and friend gather our ingredients

Preparing our baking pan.

We went over the muffin recipe I found and talked about why we'd need to include some other ingredients in our cake that weren't on the original list - eggs, sugar, a little butter, baking powder - and how we thought it would taste when we were done. 

We measured, poured, and mixed ...

measure and mix

And we made a beautiful cake! 

The pride and sense of accomplishment that comes from cooking something from scratch, to share with people you care about, is a powerful thing.  I couldn't have been happier when I showed this kiddo his finished product, and he couldn't have been more proud when it was served to his friends. 

Food is love, folks. 

BCS Cereal Cake

  • 2  cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 cup brown sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups raisin bran cereal
  • 1 1/2 cups peeled apple chopped into small pieces
  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup canola oil

Preheat your oven to 400.  Oil and flour a 13x9 inch baking pan and set aside. 
First, stir together this flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a large mixing bowl, and set aside.

In another large mixing bowl, combine the cereal, milk and honey. Let stand 3 minutes or until cereal starts to get soggy - for once this is a good thing!
 Add the egg and the oil and beat well until everything is combined. Mix in the apples.
Add the flour mixture and stir just until everything comes together. Do not overmix!
 Pour the batter into your prepared pan. 

Bake at 400° F for about 25 minutes, then check by inserting a toothpick into the center. The cake may need more time, but you'll know it's done when your toothpick comes out clean and the top is turning a lovely, crackly brown. 

If you're so inclined, serve with a side of rice. 


What Farm to School month means to US...

 Farm to School month is almost over but we have a lot to say! And that's a good thing because the national Farm to School organization is inviting folks to share  stories about how they're connecting kids with local food and the farmers who grow it. And not just elementary schools - The National Farm to School Network began working to include Early Education settings in their great work back in 2011.
From their website:

Farm to preschool is a natural extension of the farm to school model, and works to connect early care and education settings (preschools, Head Start, center-based programs, programs in K-12 school districts, and family child care programs) to local food producers with the objectives of serving locally-grown, healthy foods to young children, improving child nutrition, and providing related educational opportunities. The National Farm to School Network (NFSN) began working to expand its robust farm to school networks and expertise to include early child care settings in 2011. Since then, NFSN has acted as a lead convener and facilitator for the farm to preschool movement, providing vision, leadership, and support at state, regional, and national levels.

At BCS, we know we are so lucky to live in the center of a thriving local food movement. If you read this blog you probably already know that we have a strong connection to the Intervale Center - an organization dedicated to building a  sustainable food system in our community by providing stewardship for the beautiful 350 acres of farms along the Winooski River known as the Intervale.  They do this by supporting new farms and farm business development, providing agricultural land stewardship, providing food systems research and consulting services, and  celebrating food and farmers!
illustration of the Intervale farms from the Intervale Center website
The Intervale is a special place for the children of BCS. They can reach it on foot, and spend lots of time there as a group in the spring and summer - looking for frogs in the pond, checking out the chickens, visiting parents who also happen to be farmers, and just enjoying the space.
For the past three years BCS has been lucky to participate in their Farm Share program - collecting and distributing gleaned produce from Intervale farms and sharing it with groups and organizations that feed kids and folks in need - for free.
I have so many stories about how our homegrown farm-to-school model has changed our school, our kids, and our families I can't fit them all into one post. But here's my favorite one right now.

 Every Monday from July to October I head down to the farm to pick up boxes (and boxes) of organic produce -   kale, spinach, greens, carrots, zucchini, cucumbers, beets, radishes, watermelons and cantaloupe and, as we move into the fall, beautiful apples - all grown within walking distance of our school.
Fantastic volunteers load up the minivan with produce
Our Diggers! Thank you farmers, we love you.

Naturally we use lots of it for lunch every day. 

Kale salad for lunch
But there is more than we can reasonably eat, and lots of it doesn't lend itself to storing. Mesclun mix is best eaten fresh! So we started giving it away. Each Monday I would sort, package and store everything I knew we'd use that week, and pack up the rest in take-home sized packages. I'd put out a big bin full of fresh veggie packs with a sign letting folks know what was there, where it came from, and some cooking tips or recipe ideas they could take along with them.

Everything disappeared. Every time. 

Corn, arugula, butternut squash and carrots ready to take home
Kids loved seeing the veggies come out on Monday, and would often stop what they were doing to ask what was there and let me know they would be taking some home, whatever it was.
Our families were thrilled, and we were thrilled to know we were getting local organic produce onto  plates at home, not just at school.
Spinach and corn on a Monday afternoon
Sarah's zucchini cheat sheet!

We also plan our our Friday Take Home bags around the farm share. 
Friday Take Home bags ready to go
 Every Friday we pack up 10-15 bags with the ingredients for a large family meal, including lots of fresh veggies, and an easy-to-follow recipe.
Bags are free to anyone who requests one.
We do this because we know lots of our families struggle with food insecurity, particularly when school food is not available ( weekends, holidays..) but also because we believe in the power of family meals. We think cooking and eating together are important, and we want to help our families do more of it! In every bag we include a survey asking families if they used the recipe, if they liked the meal, how many people did it feed, and what else we can do to help. We want to know what obstacles people have to cooking and eating together. Lack of space? Needed kitchen equipment or utensils? Know-how? We want to know, so we can help with a solution.
The response to the take home bags has been incredible. But the best feedback came from a longtime BCS family. They, like many families, found themselves struggling to juggle the demands of budgeting, planning, and cooking healthy food for their two kids, and felt stuck relying on processed stuff, even though it's more expensive and not great for you. They were in need of inspiration, support, and some extra food to get through the week. Through their surveys and the photos they so kindly share with us, they let us know that Friday take-home bags have changed dinner at their house. They are cooking, and eating together, learning new recipes, and enjoying fresh veggies with their kids - something they never did before.

BCS family's homemade pizza with red peppers!

empty bowl of curry chick peas and carrots!
BCS kiddo enjoying family dinner at home!

  A family who never cooked from scratch at home are now roasting local carrots and squash and making spinach salad to accompany homemade pizza with local peppers.

So that's our story. For us, Farm-to-School extends all the way Home, and the benefits keep on growing! We love our families, we love our farmers, and we celebrate them this month and always!


Oh, Quinoa!

I wrote a post for the KidsVT Family Newspaper blog about my latest quinoa salad creation.

You can read it here if you're interested in a funny story about my quinoa obession.

OR just check out the recipe right here! The bottom line? Kids and grown ups love this one. Give it a try!

prepping ingredients

Warm quinoa salad

2 cups quinoa (I usually cook 2 cups of quinoa with 3-3.5 cups water and a pinch of salt. Bring it all to a boil, then cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 15 minutes.)
1 medium butternut squash – peeled, seeded, cut into ½ inch dice
1 small red onion, diced
3 or 4 scallions, thinly sliced
3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 cup crumbled feta cheese, divided
2 tsp dill
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
1 tsp black pepper
Juice of ½ a lemon

Preheat your oven to 400. Toss the squash cubes with 2 tbsp of the olive oil until all the pieces are coated. Arrange in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and roast in the hot oven for about 15 minutes.
While the squash is roasting, cook the quinoa, then transfer it to a large bowl.
Chop the onion and the scallions, and add to the quinoa while it’s still warm.
Check your squash! It’s ready when it’s easy to pierce with a fork and turning brown and slightly crispy on one side.
 Add it to the bowl, making sure you get any nice crunchy bits and all the oil from the pan.
Then throw in the salt, pepper, dill, and lemon juice and mix everything well.
Last, add ¾ cup of the feta and toss to combine.
Taste and adjust the salt, pepper, or lemon juice if you like.
Ready to serve!
To serve, sprinkle the last ¼ cup of the feta over the top, and drizzle over the last Tbsp of olive oil.