Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The story of the four little characters, Sniff, Scurry, Hem and Haw, who make their way through a maze looking for the "Magical Cheese" that makes them happy. And once they find the Cheese, it seems like it will last forever-until one morning when everything changes. Who moved their Cheese? Will it come back? Or will they have to look for different Cheese, venturing onto strange paths, around corners they've never explored?

This book is part of a book club in the 5 and 6th grades for Promise. The book was funny to read and showed different personality traits. Obviously the fact that its about cheese peeked my interest even more. My favorite characters were Sniff and Scurry, because of their no fear approach and focus on the end result.

The next book is The Three Questions. Based on a story by Leo Tolstoy.

Thank you 5th and 6th graders for including the Kitchen Team to read along with you.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Window Garden Project

One of our latest projects is working on a Hydroponic Window Garden. The garden is being developed with the help of Mr. Carson (upper elem science teacher pa1) and his students. We built the frame from 1 1/2 inch pvc tubing and secured it to the window frame. Once the bottles are finished they will be installed in the frame. Each section will hold 4 grow bottles and 2 water reservoirs. The water is circulated from the reservoirs to the top bottle using an air pump. We plan to grow lettuce, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers to start.

Hydroponics is a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions, in water, without soil. Terrestrial plants may be grown with their roots in the mineral nutrient solution only or in an inert medium, such as perlite, gravel, mineral wool, or coconut husk.

We will keep you posted with the progress as we move forward.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Student Chooses Salad Du Jour: Day 2

Yesterday's "Student Salad Du Jour" was a success. Everyone's feedback has been positive and we're excited to see how this new way of getting our students more involved in their cafeteria choices and rewarding them for their outstanding work in the classroom with positive attention continues to grow.We'll share more stories and pictures aas they come in.

Today's Student Salad Du Jour was created by Jaquan S. of Promise Academy's 8th grade. Jaquan requested a Mango Salad with Grilled Shrimp for himself and his peers. This is a delicious recipe and we are always thrilled to highlight healthy ingredients like mango and shrimp! Mango is a tropical fruit which means it's not part of our normal focus on locally-grown produce here at HCZ, but for this special occassion we're making an exception! Like many fruits, mango is high in fiber and packed with antioxidants like Vitamins A, C, and E. It can be eaten green or you can eat it when it is ripe and sweet and orange. That's how we enjoyed it in our salad. It's a prefect balance to the savory shrimp and the crisp lettuce.

Thank you for sharing!
Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Salad Du Jour

In working with Ms Downing, Media Specialist for Promise Academy U/E, Middle & HS,
3 high achieving 8th grade students were selected to create a "Salad for the Day" as an incentive for doing excellent in their school work. The students were responsible for picking the recipes, presenting them to Chef Andrew, and then presenting the salad to the entire 8th grade student body during lunch.

Nyashia chose todays Salad Du Jour. Her selection was Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad.

Pictures to follow.

Bon Appetit!

ChopChop Magazine

Over the past couple of years Sally Sampson, founder of ChopChop has been sending us issues of the magazine. We have been sending them out to the students and staff of the Harlem Childrens Zone, receiving only excellent feedback! The magazine is terrific and we thought it would be a great idea to highlight Sally on the blog.

Sally Sampson is the founder of ChopChop, The Fun Cooking Magazine for Families. ChopChop is a quarterly magazine and website that aims to help kids make educated choices about the food they eat. ChopChop is published by ChopChopKids, a Massachusetts non-profit corporation. With big time supporters such as First Lady Michelle Obama, basketball player Grant Hill, and The White House chefs featured in recent issues, ChopChop is quickly growing toward reaching its goal of getting a copy in the hand of every child. The Harlem Children’s Zone uses ChopChop in our after school programs. Sally answered a few questions for HCZ about ChopChop Magazine and healthy holiday eating.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for ChopChop?
A: I am a cookbook writer, and had become very involved in healthcare because my daughter has a rare chronic illness. I wanted to work in the healthcare world, and found that I could use my skills as a cookbook writer to help fight obesity. I approached doctors with the idea of “prescribing” recipes to kids who were obese or at risk for obesity-which is one out of three American children. They welcomed the idea and the idea transformed into ChopChop. ChopChop aims to prevent childhood obesity by encouraging a change in behavior-a love for fresh, healthy food and cooking. We want to make cooking cool.

Q: Where is ChopChop distributed?
A: ChopChop is primarily distributed by pediatricians but also by schools, after school and community center programs, the YMCA, Boy’s and Girl’s Clubs, food banks, kid’s cooking classes, Indian reservations, and of course, the Harlem Children’s Zone. Yearly subscriptions are also available at

Q: What kinds of winter recipes will be featured in the upcoming issue of ChopChop?
A: In the winter issue, which will be released in December, we have a feature called, “Warm Soups for Cold Nights.” We feature 4 different soups that kids can make with the help of an adult and either eat right away, or freeze so they can have access to homemade soup all winter. We also have other foods to fight the cold including homemade oatmeal and biscuits. And though it’s not warm, our Eggnog Smoothie is definitely a winter treat.

Q: With all the school celebrations, parties and holiday events coming up, what’s the best way to make sure kids are still eating healthy while surrounded by so many treats?
A: We absolutely support eating treats but 1. be sure that your actual meals are healthy and hearty and 2. don't go overboard.

Q: What should our country’s food resolution be for this New Year?
A: Cook, cook and cook.

Q: Of course, cookies are typical holiday present for teachers, friends and family. Do you have any suggestions of a healthier option that kids can make for holiday gifts?
A: We actually have three “Gifts from The Kitchen” featured in the next issue. The Striped Soup Mix (recipe below), Cranberry Orange Walnut Bread, and Ranch Dressing Mix are all great alternatives to handing out sweets. There’s still the same “made from scratch” idea that comes from giving someone homemade cookies, but these three ideas are a change-up from the typical gifts.

Striped Soup Mix
A pot of soup is not the kind of present you can wrap—but a beautifully layered jar of homemade soup mix is! Plus, you can make a lot of presents at once to use up all those beans.

Adult: No
Hands-On Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Makes: 7 jars

7 1-pound bags of dried peas, beans, and lentils (pink, black, white, lima, kidney, navy, red, or pinto beans; green, brown, or red lentils; black-eyed peas; green or yellow split peas)
7 bay leaves
7 pint-sized canning jars (or other clean, empty 2-cup jars with a lids)
Measuring cup

1. Carefully layer the beans in the jars, using ¼ cup of each type of bean.
2. Put 1 bay leaf in each jar, and screw on the lids.
3. Add a ribbon and a gift tag that explains how to make the soup:

Recipe Instructions (include on gift tag):
Take out the bay leaf. Rinse the beans with cold water and then put them in a large pot. Cover them with fresh cold water and soak them overnight. Drain the beans, add them back into the pot with 6 cups fresh water or chicken stock, 1 14-ounce can chopped tomatoes, 1 clove chopped garlic, , and the bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat to low and simmer gently until all the beans are tender, about 2 hours. Add salt to taste.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Sweet Potato Harvest and A Special Visitor to Our School Garden

This week we were privileged to host a special visit from Chef Marcus Samuelsson and His Royal Highness Prince Daniel of Sweden who were touring Harlem with the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce who were hosting a Green Summit on environmental and sustainable food systems. On Tuesday several students worked along with our Garden and Nutrition Instructor, Mia Littlejohn, and Executive Chef Andrew Benson to harvest the final few root vegetables that we'd grown including sweet potatoes, carrots and beets. It was a full day of harvesting, cooking (glazed carrots), and eating (Sweet Potato Bisque). You can read more about the royal tour and the ongoing efforts of the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce to promote environmental and sustainability issues here.

If you've never had the chance to harvest a sweet potato, this is a really fun and rewarding gardening activity! After we planted these puny looking sweet potato sprouts in the spring, they had blossomed into a cascade of leaves--which are also edible! But of course, as with any root vegetable, you never know exactly what's lurking under the surface of the soil and part of the thrill is having to wait until you are ready to unearth whatever is growing. Mia pulled a few carrots and sweet potatoes to show the students how it was done and they were so beautiful. Here's what they looked like all rinsed off:

Then some of our 8th grades spent nearly an hour digging through the dirt to find the burried treasure of the beautiful sweet potatoes that had grown. A single sweet potato plant will likely grow several potatoes and it's a bit like a hunt to find them. Just like in the kitchen, your hands are your most versatile tool in the home garden. Use your spade to find a potato and then wiggle it out with your hands until it is released from the soil. Here is the big pile of potatoes we grew and harvested:

We're now in the process of shutting down the garden completely for the winter. But it's not going totally dormant just yet. Under the dirt in several bins, we've already got bulbs growing and developing roots for when the sun swings back around and the spring time returns. They'll go dormant with the first hard frost (which is normally around November 10th), but don't worry! They come back to life when the sun swings back around and the spring time returns. It will be here soon enough. First we're looking forward to shorter days and more excuses to stay inside and eat a roasted sweet potato or some glazed carrots or some braised cabbage.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Farmers Markets and Local Produce

Farmers markets are where most people go to seek out local foods. They are a great way to learn about what grows in your area and what's in season when. Weekly (or bi-weekly, or monthly) visits to a farmers market can be an easy, entertaining way to participate in your local food system and increase the amount of local foods you eat.

Here is a list of some items in season now:
Apples, Brussels sprouts, Cranberries, Leeks, Parsnips, Pears, Pumpkins, Shallots, Sweet potatoes, Turnips, Watercress, Winter squash

Harlem Markets: There are 2 markets located in Harlem
125th Street & Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. (163 W. 125th Street Plaza) , local specialties, crafts, organic food, fruits and vegetables. Hours are Mid July-November Tues., 8:00 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.

Madison Avenue at 112th Street (east side of street) in New York, NY. assortment of crafts, local specialties, fruits, organic food and vegetables. Hours are Mid July-November Sat. 8:00a.m.- 4:00 p.m.

For Additional Markets and More information about Locations, Hours, etc... Check out Grow NYC's website:

Happy Halloween!

Trick or Treat!!
With Halloween right around the corner, we thought we would share some healthy halloween tips. We know its difficult to make healthy choices when you are surrounded by plentiful amounts of sugar. Its seems during this time of year that not only are the ghosts and goblins trying to haunt us with boos! and screams, but also with candy candy CANDY!!

When kids get home from trick-or-treating, allow them to use their newly acquired candy as a sort of currency. First, have kids pile through and choose favorites and non-favorites. Then, make a wager with them that for every piece of candy they fork over they get a penny or nickel. Then kids can use their newly acquired money to buy something (non-food focused) at the store. With the candy that is left, be sure to immediately stash out of sight. Allow kids to choose one piece a day and preferably after a meal.

Not all candy is created equal. When you do indulge, try to pick out the lowest calorie and sugar options available.

Have a SAFE and HAPPY Halloween!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Celebrate Food Day!

Monday, October 24, 2011, New York, NY: Today a diverse range of organizations, public officials, and Americans from all walks of life are celebrating Food Day-a nationwide grassroots mobilization that encourages Americans to eat healthy, delicious food grown in a sustainable and humane way and to advocate for smarter food policies. Spearheaded by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food Day is being observed in all 50 states with more than 2,000 events from coast to coast.

Join the movement yourself by choosing to make one positive change in your own diet today. Find out more about what it means to "eat real" food and WHY it is so important that we each join this movement, by visiting the Food Day website and reading about their 6 goals for how to transform the American diet, one plate and one person at a time. This day celebrates so many things and is connected to so many of the projects that our own work is touched by and connects with that we are thrilled to see it gain momentum. Also at their website you can find local events including several right here in New York City to attend.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

2011 Breast Cancer Walk

The HCZ A Cut Above Middle School Program participated in the 2011 Breast Cancer Walk on Sunday, October 16, 2011. To honor survivors and walk for a cure- 44 female students, 2 male students, 12 parents and 10 staff took a 4.3 mile walk through Central Park. Our students participate each month in Community Service and this was an extra special event. We were amongst the many walking to acknowledge Breast Cancer Awareness month. We provided keepsake bags for survivors which included a wrist band, pin and bookmark. The students held the beautiful HCZ ACA Banner which incorporated the Pink Ribbon. As the event was great our work doesn’t stop there as students will design picture frames dedicated to survivors of Breast Cancer and hand deliver them.

Pictures to come!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Chicago Marathon

On Oct 9th Dana Bobb (AD for HLI) ran the Chicago Marathon – her first ever completion of the 26.2-mile distance, finishing in 5:27:51. Her journey to this impressive milestone didn’t begin with training her body to keep putting one foot in front of the other until she reached the finish line. It started with a decision she made almost two years ago. She decided to make a change towards a healthier lifestyle. Congrats Dana on your hard work!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Yoga at the Harlem Armory!

Hello Harlem Children's Zone Community members we've got an exciting new opportunity happening in our community! Free Yoga on Thursdays from 7:00-8:30PM at the Harlem Armory. It's open to all adults at all levels. All you have to do is RSVP to the Healthy Living Initiative at

We hope to see you there!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

HCZ Works to "Educate Eaters" in the Garden, the Cafeteria and Beyond

The Educated Eaters Project ongoing projects include:

Food Service

Lead by Executive Chef Andrew Benson, the cafeteria has set a high standard for school breakfast and lunch. The cafeteria serves fresh made-from-scratch foods and a menu enjoyed by staff and students. All of the meat and dairy served at HCZ is hormone-free, and much of our produce is sourced from local farms in the New York Region. Our menu, which is on an 8-week cycle and focuses on exposing students and adults to a broad range of healthy meals from cuisines around the world, can be found online here:

The Wellness Blog
This blog provides our students, parents, teachers, community members and staff with the latest updates on the work being done by the Educated Eaters Project plus wellness news from around the Zone and resources for more food and nutrition education. It also works to help provide more background information about how we want to think, talk and relate to food as a community. We’ve developed an ongoing and evolving list of Frequently Asked Questions around food issues for different groups and put together some of the Internet’s best resources. Visit the blog or sign up for it’s updates to keep in touch with ongoing opportunities for nutrition education in the garden and cooking clubs, field trips to local farms, fitness classes at the Armory or just tips on making healthier lifestyle choices on small smart step at a time.

Teaching Gardens
Following the donation of our 5th Floor Terrace Garden at our main building, 35 E. 125th Street, in 2009 we have integrated gardening education into our day and after school programs. The garden program at HCZ includes indoor and outdoor growing systems that are all organic, some are traditional, some are aqua-ponic, and we’re always looking for ways to expand our outdoor classrooms. Our gardens provide a teaching tool that exposes children and adults to the process of growing their own food and introduces new foods in their freshest state.  Throughout the Harlem Children’s Zone there are a number of avid gardeners and community members who help support our efforts to connect people to their food sources through the hands-on activity of gardening. All of our Promise Academy sites have some kind of gardening program for the students to participate in throughout the school year. Several of our After School Programs also have their own gardens or collaborative relationships with local gardens.

Nutrition Education
Food and nutrition can be connected to all academic subject areas—from math to literacy to health to history. The Educated Eaters Project serves to support and integrate curriculum for Promise Academy students, after-school clubs, early childhood education, staff and community members to support nutrition awareness and healthy eating. Educated Eaters is also working to develop our own Zone-specific curriculum based on national standards and best practices. We are currently working with curriculums on the elementary, middle and high school levels and putting together our own professional development workshops for staff and parent education opportunities including cooking classes, farmers market field trips, and basic introductions to nutrition for adults.

The Fun & Fit Resource Center
This is an ongoing project in collaboration with the team behind the annual Fun & Fit in the City Event which we partner with each year to create a collection of books, movies, and teaching tools about food, nutrition and fitness. While we are still searching for the right space, the resources related to food are being housed in the kitchen office shared by Mia and Andrew and an inventory is accessible for anyone on staff who wants to borrow from the library. One day we hope to have a resource center that helps empower members of the community to take control of their own healthy relationship to food and fitness by giving them practical tools for learning how to garden, cook, be active, and navigate to the broader food system.

The Wellness Council
Originally created to guide the food service at Promise Academy, HCZ's Wellness Policy and the Wellness Council that works to help guide it, outlines our commitments to delivering a healthier nutrition environment. This work could not be done without a supportive and engaged staff.  As a community we pledge to:
  1. Protect the HCZ healthy nutrition environment.
  2. Keep “outside” food out of students’ hands and out of their view.
  3. Recognize that food should not be used as a reward or punishment.

Key Collaborations
Educated Eaters realizes how crucial it is to create a web of support for the work we’re doing with key stakeholders throughout the Zone and on the city, state and national level. We works with program directors around HCZ from Early Childhood to Elementary and High School to After School Programs and we’ve developed relationships with other groups and organizations working to support positive change in the arena of childhood food service throughout New York City, identified farms in our region that have educational programs, and reached out to the leaders in school lunch reform around the nation from Alice Water’s Edible Schoolyards to Let’s Move’s Chefs Move To School to Will Allen at Growing Power. These are our models, our peers, and our inspiration.

We have conducted two surveys for pre-assessment and this spring will conduct a post-assessment evaluation, one of the surveys was designed for staff members and one was designed for High School students. Educated Eaters also conducts nutrition surveys and community-wide healthy eating awareness campaigns to create a healthy nutrition environment for children and adults throughout HCZ.

In conjunction with the garden and the cafeteria, Educated Eaters teaches students about the nature's recycling systems through vermicomposting, composting and teaching students the science behind a sustainable system. Because we believe food education is connected to environmental education we are striving to create a program that is sustainable and which can be run by any capable staff with the tools that we are developing and the projects we are putting into place.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Fun and Fit in the City Oct 1, 2011

A big Thank You to everyone that came out to enjoy some great food, learn more about healthy habits, get your bodies moving and just share in the fun at our 3rd Annual Fun and Fit in the City Event! This year the event was hosted at the Armory and it was beautiful--with celebrity chef demos, information for families from fitness, nutrition and farming experts, chances to get moving doing Zumba, Yoga, Trikes, Tennis, Gymnastics, and much more.

The event keeps on getting bigger and better every year! A special thank you to The Food Network New York City Wine and Food Festival and Target for bringing this event to Harlem. To all our friends from Florida including Lee, Ashley and Alex and everyone else thank you for bringing the celebrity chefs to help our community continue to tackle positive transformation through fun food and fitness. You do a spectacular job year after year. Thank you to the HLI team for all of your hard work throughout this event. You guys rocked it!

We heard some great lessons from our celebrity Chef including Rocco, Marcus, Melissa and Andrew that we'll recap here over the next few weeks, but after his demo with Melissa D'Arabian,several of you requested the recipe from HCZ's own Executive Chef Andrew Benson's Stovetop Crumble.  So here it is as promised:

Stove Top Crumble
Serves 4

1 tbl unsalted Butter
1 lb apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/8s
¼ cup sugar in the raw
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of table salt

2 cups crunchy, lightly sweetened granola (almonds, dried fruit, etc..)
1 tbl maple syrup

1.Melt butter in a 10” skillet over medium high heat. When the butter is melted, add the apples, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and salt. Mix thoroughly until well blended. Continue to cooking over medium high heat, until the sugar is melted and the fruit just begins to caramelize, about 5 minutes. Cover the skillet with a tight fitting lid and reduce the heat to low and continue to cook for approximately 10 minutes longer. While the apples are cooking, mix the granola and the maple syrup together in a bowl and set aside. After 10 minutes of cooking remove the lids and spread the granola mixture over the top of the apples. Cook for an additional 2 minutes uncovered.

2.Serve the crumble straight from the skillet hot, warm or at room temperature. Accompany with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream, if desired.

Recipe by Andrew Benson

Friday, September 23, 2011


With upcoming events focused on health and nutrition, we at Harlem Gems are doing our part in the fight against obesity by introducing “Water Wednesdays”. Every Wednesday everyone is encouraged to only drink water throughout the day instead of juice or other beverages.

Consuming beverages high in sugar has been linked to diabetes, tooth decay and obesity in young men and women. We think that devoting one day a week to only water would jump start healthier eating habits for those that are not accustomed to the proper daily intake, and reinforce the benefits of drinking water for others.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Fun and Fit in the City Event: Saturday, October 1, 2011

To everyone who is part of the Harlem Children's Zone and Promise Academy community, we would like to invite you to join us at the Fun and Fit in the City Event (presented by Target and the New York City Wine & Food Festival) Saturday, October 1st, 2011 at the Harlem Armory. There will be celebrity chefs, culinary demos, nutrition education, and fitness activities for the whole family.


Wednesdays at 7:30-8:30pm
Saturdays at 10:00-11:00am
Harlem Armory
40 W. 143rd St b/t Lenox Ave & 5th Ave

Friday, September 16, 2011

Kitchen Wordle

Wordle you say? Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes.

For the serving area of the kitchen at the main building, we created a wordle not only to visually improve the serving area but also to teach the students about words we commonly use. We will also put together a key describing each words meaning.


Monday, September 12, 2011

What's for lunch? September 12th 2011

Todays menu features Beef Chili, Brown Rice and Steamed Broccoli.

The beef that we use to prepare our meals is produced locally and grass fed, but what is grass fed beef?

Perhaps the most amazing aspect of grass farming is that the meat offers tremendously significant health benefits. Grass Fed Beef contains high levels of Omega 3’s—the fatty acids that can reduce cholesterol and fight heart disease. In contrast, grain-finished animals from feedlots are high in Omega 6’s—the fatty acids that can raise cholesterol levels. In addition, grass-finished beef offers 400 percent more vitamin A and E than commercial beef, and is rich in beta-carotene and conjugated linoleic acids, both major cancer inhibitors.

Most beef consumed in the US is “grain finished” at large-scale commercial feedlots. Grass-fed beef is raised and finished on an all-natural, grass diet, that results in animals that are much healthier. The cows never receive antibiotics, hormone implants or by-products, so there’s no risk of mad cow disease.

Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

School Garden Gears Up for New School Year!

With the new school year starting next week, everyone is busy getting ready! In the garden this means, taking stock of what's still thriving, what we can plant for the Fall season and what needs to be harvested. We have plenty to do once our Garden and Cooking Club resumes and I can't wait to see the excitement from some of our students at how the small seeds they planted in the Spring grew into gorgeous carrots, beets, melons, tomatoes, eggplants and cucumbers over the summer.

This school year we're excited to have even more nutrition education in place to help our students understand the basics of why we eat what we eat. We're also really looking forward to a Food Science and Health Fair to celebrate Food Day on October 24th along with groups from around the country. We are excited that Food Day's goal "to transform the American diet—to inspire a broad movement involving people from every corner of our land who want healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way," mirrors our own mission to make good food more accessible to our community through hands on education. To find out how your student or class can participate please send us an email and be sure to visit the Food Day website ( to learn more about how they define "real food."

As we all get ourselves back in gear for the new school year, we wanted to remind parents and students that this blog is a great place to check in on what's happening around health and wellness at Promise Academy and throughout HCZ. We also wanted to remind you that you can find our updated school cafeteria menus here, and that if your student or child needs to file a Food Allergy Action Plan you can find the forms and all the instructions for that in our FAQ section here. One final note, please remember that students are not allowed to eat outside food or drink here at HCZ and Promise Academy. As always we know that it takes a whole community to create a healthy nutrition environment and we are so grateful for your support! See you in the lunch line or the garden very soon.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Tomato Time!

This time of year is one of a gardener's favorites for the simple fact that nearly every trip outside yields some newly ripe tomatoes to pick and enjoy. It's considered common knowledge that summer tomatoes, fresh off the vine and warmed by the sun are unmatchable in taste, texture and put all those wanna-be-but-unfortunately-bland supermarket tomatoes shipped halfway around the world to shame.

The Harlem Children's Zone student gardeners have been sampling tomatoes in their raw, pure state--from tiny cherry ones to big, juicy heirloom varieties--and loving it! In our cooking club, we've made Creamy Gazpacho, Tomato Salsa, Cucumber and Tomato Salad with a classic vinaigrette, and Pan con Tomate. This round up of articles from the New York Times is a great source of ways to use your tomato harvest, whether you are gathering it in the garden or the farmer's market, enjoy!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Eating Locally and Seasonally

"Think globally, eat locally." Right now, most of the food we eat travels an average of 1500 miles from the farm to our plates. That's half way across the country! When you go into a supermarket you can buy anything you want, whenever you want it. You wouldn't even know there were seasons! But what if we ate mostly what was in season and grown in our local region? Many people think eating locally and seasonally is a good idea because it's better for communities, farmers, the environment, and our taste buds. Eating locally means adjusting our diets to nature and the seasons. It means enjoying fruits and vegetables at their peak and experimenting with new vegetables when familiar ones are out of season. Many foods grow in different places and at different times for various reasons, primarily differences in regional climates.

Growing Food, 2007 Teachers College Columbia University

Please visit NYS Dept of Agriculture and Markets for the harvest calender:

Thursday, July 28, 2011

High School Food Interns Garden and Cook

This summer we have been so fortunate to have a small group of dedicated High School students work with us in the garden and cooking clubs. We've tackled all kinds of different projects from writing our own personal food stories to keeping a food journal and setting goals for making one healthy change to our eating habits. We've weeded and watered and harvested in the garden. We've made smoothies and salads and Kale Chips. Each student has a different reason for wanting to learn how to eat better--whether it is to loose or gain weight or simply learn how to take better care of themselves--we've discovered during group conversations that opinions and experiences which have shaped our relationships to food vary widely. Here are some links for you (whether you're a student or a grown-up) to start thinking about what's shaped your own relationship to food and also some resources for helping you set yourself up for making healthier choices. Let us know if you take advantage of them and what your experience is.

Evaluate Where You Are:
1. Calculate and Assess Your Body Mass Index (BMI) here.
2. Track Everything You Eat for 1 Week Using this Online Food Journal's (Free Trial Version).
2. Monitor How Much Exercise You Get Daily. Adults need about 30 minutes a day and kids need about 60 minutes a day.

Set Some Goals
1. Based on your weight, your food diary and your daily activity what changes do you need to make? Do you need to gain weight, loose weight or increase your physical activity? What does being healthy look like to you?
2. What are two small lifestyle changes you are willing to make to help you achieve a healthier you? Write them down. Enlist your friends by sharing your goals so they can support you. This guide to a healthier you is great!

Learn to Cook and Enjoy More Fresh Whole Foods
1. Most of us are comfortable cooking the foods we grew up with or have eaten throughout our lives. In the Standard American Diet this unfortunately often doesn't include many fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, and lean proteins. (Not familiar with what the Standard American Diet is? Check out this great interactive timeline about how it has evolved from the NYTimes.) There's still a place in your life for fried chicken, but you'll achieve a greater balance if you seek out and learn how to prepare for yourself some healthy and delicious options.
2. Become an Educated Eater.
Learn to read labels, ask questions at the grocery store and the farmers market, plan your meals and use your network to find out what other people enjoy eating. Avoid empty calories and instead eat a diet rich in various plant foods. Make meat more of an occasional treat or flavoring agent than the main event.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

What's for lunch? July 14th 2011

Todays Lunch Menu features Turkey Bolognese, Fettucini, Sauteed Spinach.

Spaghetti alla bolognese, spaghetti bolognese, esparguete à bolonhesa or spaghetti bolognaise in a form popular outside of Italy, consists of a meat sauce served on a bed of spaghetti with a good sprinkling of grated Parmigiano cheese. Although spaghetti alla bolognese is very popular outside of Italy it never existed in Bologna, where ragù is served always with the local egg pastas tagliatelle or lasagne.

In recent decades, the dish has become very popular in Australia, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Norway. It is called spagetti med köttfärssås, in Swedish, spagettia ja jauhelihakastiketta, in Finnish, spaghetti og kødsovs in Danish, and spaghetti og kjøttdeig in Norwegian, especially among children. A version is popular in the United Kingdom. In the United States, the term 'bolognese' is sometimes applied to a tomato-and-ground-beef sauce that bears little resemblance to the ragù served in Bologna.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What's for lunch? July 13th 2011

Buon Giorno!

Todays Lunch Menu features Chicken Marsala, Orzo and a Brocolli/Cauliflower Medley.
But wait..... What is Orzo?

Orzo pasta is a type of pasta which is made in the shape of a grain of rice. Orzo pasta is often about rice-sized, as well. This pasta is very versatile, and it can be used in a range of recipes, with many people consuming orzo in soups. Many markets carry orzo pasta, and several options may be available for consumers to choose from.

The word orzo is Italian for “barley,” and a reference to the size and shape of the pasta. You can also see orzo called kritharaki, manestra, rosa marina, reiskornpasta, or pasta gallo pion. This pasta is very popular in Greece especially, although it is used in other Mediterranean and Middle Eastern nations, and in some parts of Germany as well. The small size can make orzo a very fun pasta to work and cook with.

The classic use of orzo is in soups. It can also be used in pilafs. The Greeks have a number of pilaf recipes which call specifically for orzo pasta, but it is also possible to use a rice pilaf recipe, substituting orzo for the rice. Orzo performs very well when baked in casseroles as well, and it can be used in things like stuffed peppers and stuffed squash. The pasta
absorbs flavors very well and acts as a filler in these dishes.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Lessons in Sustainability From a Harlem School Garden to a Local Farm

Tomorrow a group of 6th grade students from Promise Academy will celebrate the last day of the regular school year (they attend a modified program through the summer), with a visit to Stone Barns a non-profit farm and education center located just 25 miles north of Manhattan in Pocantico Hills, New York. According to their website, "Stone Barns operates an 80-acre four-season farm and is working on broader initiatives to create a healthy and sustainable food system."

In preparation for the trip, the students spent some extra time this week in our own school garden talking about what a sustainable food system means, understanding pollination, sampling and comparing Swiss Chard to Dinosaur Kale, and defining our own local food system. We even created our own set of sustainable vocabulary words to study on One thing that came up continually is the distinction between the food that's locally available and the food that's actually local. If you walk down 125th Street in Harlem you'll encounter nearly every national Fast Food chain serving up $1 Cheeseburgers and buckets of Fried Chicken. Several students were curious if this counted as local food?

Local food is actually food that is GROWN within a 100-mile radius of your home. Food that's available right outside your front door is not necessarily local. In fact, most food served at national fast food chains (besides being heavily processed, high in all kinds of questionable ingredients, calories and fat) travels pretty far to get to that storefront in Harlem. This is where the concept of "Food Miles" is helpful. Students learned to ask the question, how far has something traveled to get to my plate? As we chomped down on fresh Kale from our own school garden, we smiled at the sweet taste of fresh food that had traveled just an arms length from the ground to our mouths!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Eat Local. Think Global.

Today is the Summer Solstice in New York (hello, longest day of the year!) and in the garden we've been talking about several key terms that relate to the change of season. Yesterday we discussed what it means to "Eat Local. Think Global." This catchy phrase has been circulating around the food world for years now (if I knew it's origin I'd give the person some serious props!) and it's a concept that we want our students at Promise Academy and HCZ to really understand. In fact, it's one of the headlines on our cafeteria posters which we promised to do a follow-up series of blog posts, let's get started.

First let's make sure we understand the terms we're using. What does it mean to "eat local?" Local food comes from your region. If you live in New York City, eating "local" means that you get most of your food from farms in the nearby counties in Long Island, Upstate New York, New Jersey and maybe even Pennsylvania rather than raising it yourself. Imagine yourself as the center of your world (probably not that hard for some of us!) and draw a 100-mile radius around yourself on a map. This is your local food region. If you manage to "eat local" you'll be considered a locavore. (You may be surprised to learn that most of the food we serve at Promise Academy including all our produce, dairy and meat is locally-sourced. Find out more about the food in the Cafeteria here.)

So, why eat local? From the posters our students, learn that local food is fresher, seasonal, and more nutritionally dense. It hasn't traveled thousands of miles to get to your plate which means it tastes better and its better for you and for the environment. Plus eating local food supports your local community and the regional economy. Pretty cool, right?

So what about eating seasonally? This is actually probably a little more challenging for the modern America. We're so used to having access to everything all the time, it's hard to reign in our habits back to what nature is serving up according to our local season. This has contributed to the fact that we eat fresh tomatoes (or bananas) year round that are shipped in from distant countries. It has also made us less connected to the joys of the cycle of the season. Eating seasonally actually can save you money, because the produce that's in season is usually the least expensive. Eating locally and seasonally actually go hand-in-hand, if you start by trying to eat more local foods, you almost can't help but eating more seasonally, which brings us finally to the last point: the big picture.

Thinking globally means you engage the big picture. (Remember that map of you as the center of your own local food community? Picture now that you are zooming out from your local community, keep zooming so far out that you disappear and now you've got an astronaut's perspective on this beautiful blue planet.) In the grand scheme of things, you are just one small part of the whole system of the world, the universe. That doesn't mean you aren't important or can't make positive change, but it just puts things in perspective. Surprise! The world revolves around the sun, not around you. Still your actions are significant, because while you may just be one person you are one of nearly 7 billion people on this planet. To maintain balance with our environment, we all have to consider how our actions impact those around us and the planet. Together we can create a sustainable future.

And that gives us much to look forward to as we celebrate the Summer Solstice here in Harlem! So go outside today and salute the sun and consider how you can eat in a way that is more in step with the earth's seasons and your unique place in the world.

What's for lunch? June 22th 2011

Chicken Cacciatore, Rice Pilaf, Steamed Broccoli with Garlic Oil.

Cacciatore (English pronunciation: /ˌkɑːtʃəˈtɔəriː/) means "hunter" in Italian. In cuisine, "alla cacciatora" refers to a meal prepared "hunter-style" with tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, herbs, often bell pepper, and sometimes wine. Cacciatore is popularly made with braised chicken (pollo alla cacciatora) or rabbit. The salamino Cacciatore is also a small salami, popular amongst Italians.

There are many different variations of this dish based upon ingredients available in specific regions. For example, in southern Italy, cacciatore often includes red wine while northern Italian chefs might use white wine.

A basic cacciatore recipe usually begins with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil heated in a large frying pan. Chicken parts, dusted with salt and pepper, are seared in the oil for three to four minutes on each side. The chicken is removed from the pan, and most of the fat poured off. The remaining fat is used to fry the onions, mushrooms, peppers or other vegetables for several minutes. A small can of peeled tomatoes (drained of liquid and coarsely chopped) is added to the pan along with some oregano and a half cup of dry red wine. The seared chicken parts are returned to the pan which is then covered. The dish is done after about an hour at a very low simmer.

Come joins us for lunch!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Radish Harvest!

The garden is full of excitement and anticipation once things start to really take off and grow to maturity. Today the Garden Club harvested a medley of delicious radishes just as the raindrops started falling on our heads. Radishes are often considered little more than a condiment or something spicy to throw into a salad, a sandwich or a taco. While we love radishes for the crunch and their kick and often enjoy them these ways ourselves, we're hoping to discover some new favorite preparations in our class.

So, we will be sampling radishes three ways in our cooking class on Wednesday: raw, pickled, and roasted. If you've never had a roasted a radish, it's definitely worth the effort (minimal) to taste the remarkable transformation that this tiny little veg undergoes in the bathing warmth of the oven--it actually because kind of rich and sweet, or even "succulent" to borrow the word from a recent New York Times article. Several of the food blogs we read compared a roasted radish to the flavor of a turnip, something the students will be tasting later in the harvest this summer so we'll have to make a mental note and compare the flavors ourselves. We are going to roast the radishes with their greens to add even more nutrients to our little After School snack.

Here are a few of the best recipes circulating around the web for roasted radishes:

Before you can roast a radish you've grown yourself, you have to pick. Be careful of the leaves which can be a little prickly, grab the base of the greens just about the root, wiggle the radish in the soil to loosen it, and then simply pull it up. You'll want to wash these babies off before eating them, but they are great for snacking just as is, or with a sprinkling of salt. Radishes are related to cauliflower and broccoli and are a nutritional powerhouse--despite the fact that they are very low in calories. They are very high in Vitamin C. The greens are also a great source of iron, thiamin and calcium. So, find yourself a radish, eat up and enjoy!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Smart Salads for an Early Summer Heatwave

It's only June 9th and it's supposed to be 100 degrees today! What??? For today's HCZ's Staff Health and Wellness Fair we're preparing two of our favorite summer salads. These salads are smart and savvy for two reasons. First,  they are packed with fresh veggies that are low in calories and tossed with simple, easy-to-make vinaigrette. Second they are quite flexible, allowing you to vary the recipe based on your own whim or what happens to be on hand. Here are the recipes, which are more of a starting place or a general guideline for you to play with. Click through for the full recipes for:
Photo of Orzo Salad via Flickr user Three By SeaNicole North Rodriguez
Photo of Carrot and Beet Salad via Chocolate and Zucchini blog.

    Carrot, Beet, and Broccoli Slaw Recipe

    Carrot, Beet and Broccoli Slaw
    Serves 4-6

    This recipe is adapted from one of our favorite food blogs Chocolate and Zucchini, whose "optional add-in" ideas we've left untouched. We've added broccoli to our version and a little more vinaigrette. Play with yours and find what you like. Beets and carrots are such flavorful assertive vegetables the addition of broccoli adds a slightly sweet foil. You'll find shredded raw broccoli in most Super Markets these days by the packages of baby spinach and other salad-ready supplies. Ideally combine with the dressing and let sit  for about 30 minutes prior to serving.

    You'll need:
    2 cups shredded carrots
    2 cups shredded beets
    2 cups shredded broccoli

    For the vinaigrette:

    2 cloves garlic
    1/4 balsamic vinegar
    1 teaspoon dijon mustard
    1/2 cup olive oil
    3-4 dashes tabasco sauce

    Optional add-ins:

    • Leafy fresh herbs (cilantro, chervil, flat-leaf parsley) chopped

    • Toasted nuts (almonds, pine nuts, cashews, peanuts) or seeds (sesame, sunflower seeds)
    • Shaved parmesan or cubed feta cheese or crumbled blue cheese

    • Baby spinach leaves

    • A grated apple or shallot

    To make: Trim, peel, and grate the carrots, beets and broccoli stalks if you've not bought prepared versions. If you own a food processor with a grater attachment, this will be quick work! Prepare the vinaigrette and toss with the vegetables until well combined. Add any desired add-ins and toss again.

    Photo of Carrot and Beet Salad via Chocolate and Zucchini blog.

    Orzo Salad Recipe

    Orzo Salad
    Serves 6-8

    You may recognize some version of this composed salad from the prepared Salad Bar of your local specialty grocery. This version includes plenty of veggies. I make this a lot and like to include something red (tomatoes or sweet peppers), something green (string beans or asparagus), something protein and fiber rich (chickpeas or kidney beans), something for crunch (shallots, red onions, or pine nuts), and something for added flair (like feta cheese, Kalamata olives or fresh mint). If I'm making it for a light supper, I'll dice a roasted chicken breast to make it feel even more substantial. The point? Get creative!

    For the salad, you'll need:
    1 1/2 cups uncooked orzo pasta
    1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
    1 1/2 cups chopped cherry tomatoes
    1 1/2 cups green beans, blanched and cut into thirds
    1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, roughly chopped
    3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
    1/2 cup chopped shallots
    1/2 cup chopped scallions
    1/2 chopped fresh mint
    1/2 cup feta cheese
    Salt and Pepper to taste

    1. In a large saucepan bring 4 cups salted water to a boil over high heat. Stir in orzo and cook until tender but firm, about 8 minutes. Meanwhile make the vinaigrette. When the orzo is cooked, drain in a strainer. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and add half of the vinaigrette. Stir until well coated and set aside.
    2. Prepare the vegetables starting with blanching (boiling in salted water) the green beans. While they cook, chop the tomatoes (into halves or quarters) and toss them with the remaining dressing. Drain and rinse the garbanzo beans and add them to the tomatoes. Dice the Kalamata olives roughly into quarters. When the green beans are crisp-tender (about 3 1/2 minutes) drain and rinse with cold water until cool (this stops them from continuing to cook). Chop them into thirds. Set aside.
    3. Dice the shallots and scallions. Chop the fresh mint.
    4. Add all the elements together in the bowl with the orzo. Stir to combine well. Crumble the feta cheese in at the end, as the last step, so that it doesn't get lost. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

    For the vinaigrette, you'll need:
    1/2 cup sherry vinegar
    2 tbsp dijon mustard
    Juice of 1 lemon
    1 cup extra virgin olive oil
    1/2 cup hummus
    salt and pepper to taste

    Combine the vinegar and the mustard and whisk together until smooth. Add the lemon juice. Slowly pour the olive oil in, whisking to emulsify. Add the hummus. Taste. Adjust salt and pepper to your taste.

    Photo of Orzo Salad via Flickr user Three By SeaNicole North Rodriguez

    What's for lunch? June 9th 2011

    Today Chef Jimmie created a menu for the day. His menu is comprised of Brown Stewed Chicken, Curried Rice, Braised Cabbage with Carrots. This will replace the regular menu for today. Every week one of our HCZ chefs will feature a menu for their choice. Last week, Chef Kim featured Lemon Herb Pollock, Coconut Rice, Coleslaw.

    Monday, June 6, 2011

    Health & Wellness Fair for Full Time Staff

    At HCZ, we place a high value on the health and wellness of children, families and our staff. The growing number of preventable health issues, such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension) and high cholesterol in our community is cause for action.

    Full-time Staff are invited to join us at this educational and interactive event

    Date: Thursday, June 9, 2011
    Time:  3:00pm — 7:00pm
    Location: In the HCZ Gymnasium & Blue Room at 35 East 125th Street

    Over 30 participating exhibitors to include; Biometric Screening*; BMI (body mass index) testing; Healthy cooking demonstrations and sampling; Cholesterol screening; Wii fit challenge; Fitness/Life style coaching and Financial planning advisors to name a few…

    Give-A-Ways :
    Pedometers & Advice on The Walk America Program for first 100 employees who attend.

    Raffle Prizes:
    Orthotics, Electric Tooth Brushes, Acupuncture Gift, Holistic Health Session, Fitness
    Gift, Holistic Health Consultation, Trial Yoga Membership, & Dance Video.

    *Full-time staff only. Sign-up is highly recommended to ensure your testing, however, walk-ups are welcomed. Please RSVP to Kenyatta Nobles at 212-234-6200 to sign–up for Biometric Screening or any questions.

    Wednesday, June 1, 2011

    We're parched!

    Summer has unofficially arrived and with it the characteristic heat! During Garden Club in the summer we maximize our time in the shade and the sun and we make sure to keep plenty of water on hand. Yesterday several of the girls in Garden Club started talking about how grateful they were for ICE water and how lucky we are to have it! In my humble opinion, this is one of the most brilliant things children can remind us of--how to notice and take pleasure in the simple things. And there are so many simple triumphs and marvels in our garden everyday.

    We knew our plants were THIRSTY, too, so we spend most of the day watering and also carefully hand weeding some of the beds. We wanted to update you on the growth of our beautiful pumpkin plant which is really thriving and has a bunch of buds that will eventually turn into pumpkins! The excitement continues out in the garden, come join us one of these days!

    Tuesday, May 31, 2011

    What's for lunch? June 1st 2011

    With the weather being as hot as it is seems fitting to have a Carribean menu tomorrow. Tomorrows menu features Jerk Chicken, Plantains, Braised Greens.

    What is a Plantain?
    Plantains are a member of the banana family. They are a starchy, low in sugar variety that is cooked before serving as it is unsuitable raw. It is used in many savory dishes somewhat like a potato would be used and is very popular in Western Africa and the Caribbean countries. It is usually fried or baked.

    Plantains are native to India and are grown most widely in tropical climates. Plantains are sometimes referred to as the pasta and potatoes of the Caribbean. Sold in the fresh produce section of the supermarket, they usually resemble green bananas but ripe plantains may be black in color. This vegetable-banana can be eaten and tastes different at every stage of development. The interior color of the fruit will remain creamy, yellowish or lightly pink. When the peel is green to yellow, the flavor of the flesh is bland and its texture is starchy. As the peel changes to brown or black, it has a sweeter flavor and more of a banana aroma, but still keeps a firm shape when cooked.

    Join Us.

    Thursday, May 26, 2011

    Savvy Shopping for the Educated Eater

    Last week in our parent cooking class we talked about how to save money AND make healthier choices while shopping at your local grocery. We wanted to share these tips with you and ask what your favorite tricks for buying healthy wholesome food on a budget?
    1. Don’t shop hungry.
      When you shop hungry, you are more likely to make impulse purchases. These options are often processed, ready-to-eat, and less nutritious.
    2. Make a menu and a shopping list.
      Plan your meals for the week. By doing this you will save money by minimizing your unplanned purchases since you know how one meal can become the building blocks for another, plus you'll save time at the store. Planning ahead also helps you waste less food because you know how much you need of each item and you'll be more set up to use leftovers smartly. (Here's a great article about menu planning for a busy family:
    3. Variety matters so "eat the rainbow."
      There are lots of amazing nutrients to be found in fruits and vegetables. The more variety you eat, the more likely you are to get a balance of the nutritional benefits you need. So, eat as many different colors as you can! Try swapping a different fruit/vegetable into your regular recipes. Here's a great coloring page for your kids to connect to the idea of eating the rainbow of fruits and vegetables:
    4. Live on the edge.
      Grocery stores are built in a way where the healthy, fresh food is along the edge of the store. That's because it has to be moved in and out more quickly than the shelf-stable, more processed items in the center aisles. Keep this in mind and walk around the perimeter of the store for most of your items. The one exception? Dry stored bulk items like beans, peanut butter, nuts, and rice which are great healthy pantry staples.
    5. Compare unit prices to save money.
      Look at the unit price listed next to the actual price, then compare the package weight to see how much you are paying for each unit of weight. If the unit price is higher but the actual price is the same, you’re paying more for less! Here’s a great video lesson on HOW TO read and compare unit prices:
    6. Buy store brand/generic.
      Store brand and generic food is often the same quality as brand name food. You can save yourself lots of money by buying generic. Just look at the unit price differences!
    7. Walk to the supermarket when you can.
      When making smaller trips to the supermarket, walking is a great way to minimize extra purchases. Since you can only carry so much, you are more likely to remember what you really need and be a savvier shopper.
    8. Check your receipts.
      Make sure you are getting the right price for your food. There are so many items being scanned, it is easy to make a mistake or miss a special deal.
    9. Shop Seasonally.
      Use coupons and store flyers to help you find seasonal deals. Many store flyers will promote fresh items like fruits and vegetables when they are in season. Or they'll have a weekly special on a kind of meat that they've got a lot of. Shopping seasonally is a great way to save money.
    10. Shop your local Farmer’s Market.
      Not only is a great education, it's a fun way to make grocery shopping into more of a fun field trip. A Farmer’s Market let’s you develop a relationship directly with the person who is growing your food. This is an important element of the food system that's lost because it creates greater accountability and transparency for the farmers and greater understanding and owners on the part of consumers. A local farmer's market can also be a great place to save money. Ask the farmer what’s in season and what’s the best deal right now. You're more likely to get the best deal towards the end of the day when they want to move their inventory. Bartering isn’t typical in most consumer settings in the US but at the Farmer’s Market it’s acceptable since you’re usually dealing directly with the person who grew the food. You can even join a Community Support Agriculture project right here in East Harlem, find out more here. Or use Local Harvest's tool to find farmer's markets in your neighborhood!
    Next week, we'll give you some simple portion sizing tips. Plus keep your eyes peeled for a lesson in reading nutrition labels. Want to continue your nutrition education on your own? Check out this fantastic site from Iowa State University all about spending and eating smartly: