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.