Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Shout-out to our Sponsors

One of the most amazing, inspiring things about being part of this program has been all of the strong, widespread support we have received. It's so wonderful to see the ways in which this community works together. I'd like to take a few minutes to talk about some of our main supporters and sponsors, in terms of food, resources, and general good karma.

Community Food Initiatives is an Athens-based nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing local food security and self-reliance. They are responsible for a number of programs around the county, including community gardens, workshops, and the Donation Station.

The Donation Station sets up a booth at the Athens Farmers Market every Wednesday and Saturday. Shoppers at the market can make donations of food or money to the booth; the money is then used to purchase fresh vegetables from the farmers vending at the market. The farmers, for their part, regularly donate extra produce that they have on hand. This was how we got a large percentage of our food for the SFSP, especially the fresh fruit and vegetables. Sometimes we had to get creative to use whatever happened to be in season, but personally I feel like that's the best way to cook!

We absolutely could not have done this without Kids on Campus. Based through Ohio University, this program offers ongoing enrichment at many sites throughout the county. It provides a mixture of educational, recreational, and nutritional activities through after-school and summer programs. CFI partnered with KoC for the summer program at Fed Hock, and we were very lucky to do so, as they provided resources, funding, staff - and just the fact that they supported our very ambitious project speaks worlds.

Shagbark Seed & Mill is a company based in Athens that focuses on producing and providing staple beans and grains. These elements compose a major part of our diet, yet usually they are sourced from thousands of miles away. Through a grant from the Wallace Foundation, we used their spelt (an ancient form of wheat that is more nutritious & easier to digest) flour, spelt berries, and amaranth grain. We made muffins, pancakes, breakfast cereal, and so much more with this fresh local product, and really enjoyed the support of this forward-thinking company.

We went through a LOT of Snowville milk this summer. Produced just down the road in Meigs County from happy, grass-fed cows, this fresh, non-homogenized, flash-pasteurized milk is chock-full of creamy nutrition. We received invaluable support from the folks over at Snowville (and a few donations!), and every time we needed more, a few crates of milk "the way it used to be" that was just as fresh as could be was delivered for our use. Once the kids got used to the idea that their milk was not going to be full of corn syrup and food coloring, they drank it down!

Crumbs Bakery has been turning out healthy, tasty bread products in Athens for decades. We used their bread for sandwiches and French toast, their pizza dough for breadsticks, their scones for breakfast (and tasty snacking!), sandwich buns for sloppy Joes. They sell at the Athens Farmers Market on Saturdays, so we were able to procure a lot of their whole-wheat bread via generous donations to the Donation Station. Throughout, they too provided enthusiastic support and were ever willing to spend time putting together an order for us.

The Appalachian Staple Foods Collaborative supports Shagbark and works "to create a model staple food system that gives farmers a market for growing healthy, high nutrition beans, grain, and oil seed. We want to see staple food farming move away from chemical dependent and low nutrition GMOs to crops and methods that help us feed each other while caring for the soil, the very foundation of good, healthy food."

Ohio Foodshed is a fantastic resource for anyone interested in supporting local food. One great connection through this website is the Chesterhill Produce Auction. Located about 40 minutes away from Athens, this biweekly event brings together farmers who grow in large quantities and can thus sell cheaply and people who need to buy a lot - or even a little. Bidding commences. Duane, master of the Donation Station, made frequent trips to the auction for us to acquire some fresh produce. What a great resource!

The Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks is the one who signs our checks (those of the four Americorps/VISTAs who have been working away this summer!). Located in Columbus, they organize and collaborate with Ohio's 12 Feeding America foodbanks and provide constant support for increasing food security in our state.

I'm going to stop here for now; if I excluded any organization from this list, it was surely unintentional. There's a long list of individuals who have also contributed countless amounts of time, energy, support, love, etc, etc. who hopefully someday I will have time to come through and thank.

Continuing Culinary Creations

It's hard to believe that it was just last week that we were still in the throes of the SFSP! So much got accomplished last week; I feel that in a lot of ways we were really just beginning to hit our stride, in terms of food preparation and working with the kids. However, all of us who've been working with the program are equally exhausted, so amid the bittersweet farewell I think we breathed a collective sigh of relief.

One way or the other, I wanted to share with you some of the meals we prepared over the last few days. On Wednesday morning for breakfast, we toasted Crumbs cinnamon-currant bread and served it with scrambled-farm fresh eggs loaded with plenty of fresh cheese - a perennial favorite among the kids. All of our meals this week were complete with an array of fresh fruit - a testament to the hot summer growing season and our generous local farmers' ample bounty. One morning we had enough extra peaches, apples, and other fruit to cook up a batch of fresh applesauce!

Thursday's lunch was another smorgasbord of color, roundly filling the plates with exciting food. We made hummus, a delectable, savory dip made from chickpeas, and served it with fresh veggies, whole-wheat pita, and organic corn chips for dipping. An Italian-inspired vegetable salad and a hard-boiled egg rounded out this meal, perfectly light for a hot summer's afternoon.

We stayed busy in the classroom, too. This week's lesson reviewed the food groups, serving sizes, and the nutrients contained therein. We also got to have a little treat, also perfect for a summer's afternoon, as Cindy and Dane showed the kids how to make fresh whipped cream, which they lavished over fresh-cut melon and Crumbs scones. How fancy (and delicious!)

The week continued a-hustle and a-bustle. We whipped up one last batch of toasty oat breakfast cereal (aka granola), which served with an assortment of fresh fruit, went over very well. The last morning, breakfast was a sweet bread pudding, although in retrospect we probably ought to have named it something other than "pudding" as a cooked breakfast pudding differs just a little from Jell-O chocolate pudding. Nevertheless, it turned out wonderfully and went over very well. Even to the last, the kids were taking any new stuff we could throw at them and gamely eating it! I'm really impressed by these students; they experienced at least one new food every day for five weeks, and kept coming back.

For lunch the last day, we had a special treat! Campers were invited to bring their parents, siblings, friends, etc, and the camp had a celebration of sorts. A talent show and dance party took place, among many other fun activities. And for lunch? Hot, fresh pizza! We made the whole-wheat dough from scratch the night before and loaded it with mixed cheeses and colorful fresh bell peppers. Delicioso!

But lunch Friday was not limited just to delectable pizzas. Amid the gala festivities, I didn't get a chance to take any more pictures, but we had a green salad (in fact, two enormous buckets of green salad for all the guests!), the ever-popular ants on a log (celery + natural peanut butter + currants), and beautiful fruit kebabs threaded with small watermelon and cantaloupe balls, pineapple, grapes, and strawberries, and served in a hollowed-out watermelon bowl. We had a lot of help putting this meal together; the Kids on Campus VISTAs did a beautiful job with the kebabs, and everyone teamed up to make lunch, and the whole camp, something to be proud of.

Friday, July 29, 2011

On the morning of the last day

I'll write a proper post later, summarizing today and the past few action-packed days of this hectic, whirlwind week (but, then, aren't they all whirlwinds?). For now, though, as I watch the sun rise over Athens and enjoy my last few minutes of sit-down time before the day begins, I wanted to offer a few thoughts.

Today is the last day of the summer program at Fed Hock. Part of me can't believe that five weeks have already passed, and part of me is shocked that only five weeks have elapsed. It has been a busy, chaotic, intense, rewarding five weeks, and I wouldn't have had it any other way.

I am going to miss the kids; I know I will wonder about many of them over the remainder of the summer and into next school year. I'm going to miss the rest of the kitchen crew. Despite the myriad situations in which tensions rose and fell, we are a team, and what we accomplished on a daily basis is something to be proud of. I'll miss getting up every day (though I might not miss getting up at 5 AM) knowing that I'm changing a little corner of the world, knowing that I'm helping to provide nourishment to 50 kids. In speaking of nourishment, I refer mostly to the kind we whip up in the kitchen and excitedly plate at breakfast and lunch, but I know that we are also nourishing their brains, hearts, and souls, and that for many of them it means so much just that we are positive adults who are open to them, day in and day out.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Joes and Boats

This week so far, as seems to be the trend lately, both lunches have been meals we had not done before, and both breakfasts were popular repeats. And everything has met with popular success!

It can be discouraging at meal time; after bustling around all morning doing our best to create a meal that is tasty and nutritious and just overall something we can believe in, we dash into the cafeteria with eager smiles on our faces, ready to share with the kids that day's culinary victory! During the first few weeks of camp, there was many a time where our enthusiasm was met with blank stares at best, and lots of untouched meals at worst. Over time, though, the kids have risen to meet our enthusiasm (some days - Monday mornings, everyone is usually moving pretty slowly no matter what. . .), and they are really chowing down. Food waste has decreased so much. It still isn't perfect, but it's worlds away from the beginning of camp. Hence why I still call meals successes!

Monday for lunch, like I said, we tried something new again - Sloppy Joes. This was a favorite of mine growing up, and I remember my mom making it both with meat and without, so I was a little excited. We cooked a bunch of soft, hearty brown lentils and mixed them in with a sauce made from fresh tomatoes and plenty of savory spices. Piled on a fresh Crumbs roll (they were so generous as to make us a special order of kid-sized sandwich buns! Thanks guys!) and sprinkled with grated cheddar, they were a perfect comfort-food lunch.

Rounding out that lunch, complete with summer's bounty, we had chunks of fresh watermelon, crisp green beans, and a carrot-cabbage coleslaw in creamy dressing. Fed Hock Superintendent George Wood was in the building that day, and he got to try a plate, too - lucky him! We are so grateful to have his support.

For breakfast today, we made another batch of cinnamon-raisin-nut muffins using that wonderful Shagbark spelt flour. We got another few pecks of peaches from donation, so each muffin was served with peach slices and, as a special bonus (time to clean out the freezer from all that fruit we've been freezing all summer!) everyone got a small smoothie, as well.

When I say "summer's bounty" in late July, many gardeners and farmers know precisely which vegetable, more than any other, I am referring to. Zucchini! Everyone's favorite! Well, at least it becomes everyone's favorite, whether or not they have any say in it. Like most of you, we have also been forced to get creative to use up all the zucchini that has been flowing to us from the school garden.

Today's lunchtime creation: Zucchini boats. These boats floated in filled with oceans of flavor - brown rice cooked with fresh onions and peppers, then blended with fresh tomatoes and plenty of cheese to stick it all together before loading it onto the zucchini boat (some looked more like zucchini rafts). We sprinkled a bit of breadcrumbs on them before baking - and they were delicious! A teacher and a few students actually asked me for the recipe for these, which could easily be stuffed with any other grain or combination of vegetables you have handy! We served them with peanut butter and apples on Crumbs honey-wheat bread, which is always a crowd favorite.

Speaking of recipes, we have been working very hard over the last week to compile all the recipes we have been using this summer. They will be assembled into a cookbook that we'll send home with the students on the last day of camp. I'm excited to put this tool into their hands; even if each family only makes one recipe from the book, that's fifty more delicious, healthy meals being made in Athens County.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

squash, smoothies, and swimming!

I've been writing a lot about the summer growing season and the bountiful produce we've been getting from local farms, but I wanted to pause a moment and mention one other burgeoning source of these vegetables - the garden at Fed Hock!

All summer, guided by Molly Jo (recently of CFI) and Kelly (another enthusiastic gardener), the students have been learning about gardening, planting, composting, and everything that goes along with having a prosperous garden. And, fortunately, it has paid off! Not a day went by this week where a student or two didn't come in proudly toting an armful of squash, just harvested from outside. We had scarce but to mention that we wanted some kale to make kale chips with, and before we turned around, Kelly was in from the garden bearing an enormous pile of the leafy green.

As most gardeners and farmers this time of year experience, we too are experiencing a case of zucchini overabundance! Hating to be ones to look a gift horse in the mouth, we are forced to get creative to find ways to use up all of this wonderful, fresh produce. So far, we're doing all right - Wednesday's nutty zucchini bake and Thursday's zucchini fries proved to be a big hit, and naturally there was plenty of shredded zucchini in the chili.

Friday morning met with an air of excitement - it was field trip day! The long-awaited KoC trip to the Nelsonville pool was finally here. This would be an all-day field trip, so long in fact, that the kids weren't even to get off the buses in the morning, eating their breakfasts on the bus. We would pack their lunches along with them to eat at the pool. This led to a whole plethora of new logistics to figure out!

For breakfast, we pulled out more of the fluffy, fresh blueberry scones from Crumbs Bakery, and got to work making smoothies. Smoothies were a big hit last time, and Crystal from KoC provided us with disposable cups with lids - sometimes on a field trip, there are more important things than "zero waste"! We blended together organic vanilla yogurt with plenty of fruit juice and creamy Snowville milk with a whole rainbow of fruits we'd frozen over the past few weeks - peaches, bananas, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, even grapes! With serving help from the KoC VISTAs, we handed off these smoothies and a fresh scone to each student, eagerly anticipating their swim day, and off the buses went! The night before, Erin and Crystal (we divided forces - half worked late Thursday and half came in on Friday) made 65 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on Crumbs honey-wheat bread to stuff in brown bags. Thursday morning, Team 1 helped assemble the other components of the lunch - applesauce cups, carrots, and homemade tortilla chips for all. We piled the lunches into a cooler, stuffed an insulated bag with several half-gallons of milk, and toted the whole lot to a waiting SUV to be fed to kids with appetites worked up by swimming!

What a perfect way to spend a hot day, and a wonderful way to start off the weekend.

Rising dough, raising vegetables

Just like always, we had some fantastic meals this week. On Tuesday, Team 3 rolled out dough for cinnamon rolls, and filled the sweet yeasty dough with a mixture of cinnamon, sugar, and butter. And was this just any old butter? No! This was butter that the kids themselves had made only moments before by shaking Snowville heavy whipping cream in little glass jars; after only a few minutes of agitation, the buttermilk began to separate, leaving chunks of yellow butter in each jar! They spread the butter on the dough, sprinkling it with sugar before rolling them up tight and leaving them for the morning, when we baked them until golden brown. What sweet smells filled our hallway Wednesday morning! We served the rolls with fresh peaches from a seemingly unending supply. Oh, July, bring it on!

After that successfully yummy morning, Wednesday continued rolling merrily along. We had a busy day in the kitchen, as Team 2 also helped make butter, began to mix dough for biscuits for Thursday's breakfast, and helped us get ready for lunch by cheerily chopping squash and grating cheese. Lunch Thursday? Oven-baked quesadillas, stuffed with two kinds of cheese and a savory black bean mixture. The squash we coated in a basic blend of spices, olive oil, and roasted nuts (which add a pleasing texture as well as packing a protein punch!) and served alongside the gooey quesadillas. We are once again flush with corn, which is always a popular side and finished the meal nicely.

Thursday's breakfast was another big hit, and another making its debut appearance on our menu. Fluffy biscuits were topped with soysage gravy - yes, you read that right, no sausage gravy for us this summer, but you wouldn't believe the things they can do with vegetable protein these days! Personally, I try not to mold my diet around premade meat substitutes, but the product we chose (called GimmeLean! and available in the same iconic tube as Jimmy Dean) is made of quality ingredients - and most important, it's tasty, full of protein, and the kids loved it, especially after it was simmered in a classic, creamy gravy. We continue to be up to our ears in fresh produce, and were able to give each student a plum and a juicy chunk of watermelon with their breakfast. Watermelon with breakfast, you say? Sure, it goes a little beyond tradition - but, hey, it's summer!

Speaking of tradition, Thursday's lunch is somewhat of a tradition, and depending on what area of Ohio or the Midwest you live in, you might have a different traditional name for it. We cooked up a huge pot of chili (I've been asked, "What do you put in chili if you don't put meat in it?" Answer: "Everything!"), filled with fresh vegetables and two kinds of beans, then served it over spaghetti noodles, and topped with cheese. In reference to the famous Cincinnati style, many around here call this Skyline Spaghetti, while I've heard folks in other places call it "sketty red" - and I'm sure, dear reader, that you may have your own name for it. Many people have never heard of topping spaghetti with chili, and many others know no other way of eating chili. I apologize for this tangent, but isn't culinary culture fascinating? To go with the Skyline Spaghetti, we breaded some zucchini fresh from the school garden (which is becoming more and more plentiful) and fried 'em up (in the oven, that is), and served them next to the ubiquitous slices of peaches and watermelon.

Speaking of the garden, Thursday in class Team 1 learned how to make kale chips, tearing this leafy green fresh from the school garden and tossing it in light spices before putting it in the oven, where they crisped up nicely and the students were able to enjoy a snack before washing the lunchtime dishes, a task which they did a wonderful job of!

It seems like the more food we serve, the more the kids eat, and that is fantastic. More and more students are returning for second helpings, and we're getting more hugs in the lunch line from younger students. It's hard to believe there's only one week left!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Wacky Week 4, already!

Week four of the summer program is now upon us, and with it, summer's bounty is flourishing. The combination of these two occurrences means one thing: the food just keeps getting better and better! Produce has been abundant at the Farmers' Market and Donation Station, local farm stands, and the Chesterhill Produce auction!

This week is also spirit week at Kids on Campus. Yesterday was Crazy Hair Day; regretfully, I got no photos of anyone's crazy hairdos. Today was Wacky Day, and I saw some certainly silly ensembles!

Now that summer's harvest has begun to pick up, our plates are getting fuller and fuller. Yesterday, we served up hearty bowls of tomato soup, made with a combination of fresh tomatoes and last summer's canned tomatoes graciously donated by CFI's Ronda Clark. Ronda, along with many others at CFI and elsewhere, has been a tireless advocate for this program of real foods, and we owe a lot this summer to her efforts.... and now her tomatoes! Thanks, Ronda!

And what's tomato soup without grilled cheese? Luckily, we had whole-wheat bread from Crumbs Bakery, topped with cheese shredded by the kids, and paired with hard-boiled farm-fresh eggs and a slice of juicy watermelon. The most exciting thing about this is that the kids are coming back for seconds more and more!

Both breakfasts this week were repeats: yesterday, we served the ever-popular (SpongeBob) Squarecakes, made with spelt flour and topped with fresh berry syrup, and this morning, we had our Great Grains granola again, made with popped amaranth and served with a fresh plum. Again, I will express how lucky we are to have such abundant fruit right now - the students are eating just as much as we can give 'em!

Today, Tuesday, was a busy day in the kitchen. Lunch was a wacky monster's feast that took the whole morning to prepare (a few of the kitchen crew even had to hang back during breakfast to get started! what troopers!). The main dish, Monster's Mash-up, resembled meat loaf and was composed of savory brown lentils cooked with onions, carrots, potatoes, and spices, and layered with plenty of gooey cheese before being baked all morning - what great smells filled our kitchen! The kids chopped potatoes, green beans, and cucumbers for the sides - yes, we were fortunate to have three vegetable sides today, in the form of smashed potatoes, steamed green beans, and cucumber salad. Erin prepared a simple, fresh, delicious gravy to top it all off. The cafeteria was full of wild enthusiasm, and like yesterday, many kids came back for seconds.

While all of this was being prepared, Cindy and Dane also had time to work on several lessons with Team 3, the group we had today, discussing which nutrients can be found in which vegetables, and learning about eating a rainbow of foods. To further emphasize the importance (and deliciousness!) of including an array of fruits and veggies, Cindy whipped up green smoothies for the kids. Yum! Later, while pots of potatoes and beans simmered on the stove, our energetic bunch of 5th-6th graders helped roll out cinnamon rolls, which we'll bake fresh in the morning for breakfast! I can't wait!