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!