Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Helping Kids Learn to Love Real Food

Have you had the pleasure of plucking a crimson red, slightly-sticky tomato off the vine, slicing and eating it right there in the garden, the juices still hot from the sun running down your arm? 

It’s heaven. 

Or, have you experienced the delight of watching a chick pierce through its shell, chirping in high-pitched wonder as it kicks to shed its home for the first time and gaze at the world with round eyes?

Luckily, McKenzie and I both had the privilege of spending a lot of time on farms while we were growing, up.  As kids, we knew first-hand where our food came from.  It came from the garden or the barnyard or the lake out back.

But so many children do not have first-hand experience of what real food looks like—much less how it gets to our dinner tables.  More importantly, they don’t know what real food tastes like.  They can’t comprehend the sweet deliciousness of a spring pea or a just-picked carrot—and how much better those fresh vegetables can taste than sweet tart candy.

Last month, I turned 37.  It seemed a good enough reason to throw a party.  Why not embrace my age?  And you know how much I love to entertain

Even better, I decided my make the birthday party a fundraiser for Common Threads Farm, an amazing non-profit organization based in Bellingham that teaches kids to grow, love and appreciate real food.

I happen to be on the Board of Common Threads Farm.  But even if I wasn’t a Board member, I would be a passionate advocate for this organization.

For one thing, they offer summer Pizza Camp for kids.  Pizza Camp!  Kids learn about gardening, real food and cooking by making pizza from seed to table—growing their own vegetables, milling grain for homemade dough, making cheese from fresh milk.  The week ends with homemade pizza.

Need I say more?  You know how much we love pizza. 

If that’s not enough, Common Threads Farm also offers summer Farm Camp and after-school programs for kids, and they lead the School Garden Collective in Whatcom County, allowing teachers and students to integrate the garden into their curriculum for math, science, art—any subject, really.  A garden makes a great classroom.

It’s an organization with a noble mission. 

To begin the party planning, I recruited my ├╝ber-talented mother and my sweetheart to pitch in and help.  I’ve learned in my life—it is okay to ask for help.  It’s been a hard lesson, but the rewards are amazing.  Less stress, happy faces all around. 

In honor of Common Threads Farm—and in a desperate attempt to bring Spring to the Pacific Northwest—I decided on a color scheme of raspberry pink and lime green, centered around my old green chrysanthemum plates from CB2.

I purchased yards of material from the fabric store to make table runners, easily hemming them with stitch witchery.  And Mom created beautiful flower arrangements to place around the house.

Setting out (and labeling) all of the platters and serving pieces ahead of time, makes sure each dish has a home.

I designed the menu based on a Middle Eastern mezze, developing dishes that could all be made ahead and wouldn’t need attention during the party.  We actually had everything cooked and stored hours before the party started.

All we had to do was re-heat or plate before the guests arrived.

The menu included homemade whole wheat focaccia and flatbread, with crispy-spiced roasted chickpeas and Elie's famous hummus...

...a platter of roasted vegetables with yogurt-dill dipping sauce, and an Israeli eggplant spread...

...ful (fava bean stew) topped with a cucumber & tomato salad (a crowd favorite), and a farro salad with caramelized onions and slow-roasted tomatoes and lemon zest, based on a recipe by Joy the Baker, one of my favorite bloggers...

...a roasted beet salad with Calabrese olives, pistachios and parsley in a lemon-fig vinaigrette....

...tender lamb meatballs with spicy tomato sauce, served with yogurt-dill sauce....

...and lovely and delicious cupcakes (made by a young entrepreneurial baking friend).

Just as the party was starting, our friend Becky showed up with gifts—one of which was this adorable apron.  I didn’t want to take it off.

About 50 people attended the party.  We had a great time, but most importantly we raised money to help teach kids to love real food—a cause close to my heart. 

Me with my beautiful Mom, Carolyn
As the evening wound down, we gathered around for a little music.  Not a bad way to end a fun night enjoying delicious food with special friends for a good cause.

Elie, with his brother, Oren
If this is the first you've heart about Common Threads Farm, and the cause struck a chord in your heart, please visit their website to donate and help kids learn to love and appreciate real food.

The only sad part of the evening was my partner-in-crime, Miss McKenzie, couldn’t be here, because she was seeing clients that weekend.  I guess that’s what’s called ‘work.’ 

It sure gets in the way of girl time.

And now, for a recipe...

One of the most popular dishes of the evening was the Roasted Beet, Orange, Olive & Pistachio Salad.  I thought I’d share the recipe with you here.  You may see some of the other recipes coming up in future posts, so stay tuned.

Roasted Beet, Orange, Olive & Pistachio Salad

Serves about 30, for a party

3 pounds yellow and red beets
6 - 8 oranges, peeled and sliced
Zest of one lemon
Zest of one orange
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 - 2 teaspoons fig jam (or you could substitute another jam, or honey)
1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/3 – ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup pistachios, roasted and roughly chopped
1 cup olives (I like Calabrese olives), pitted and halved
1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place washed beets on a baking sheet and wrap with aluminum foil.  Bake about 1 hour, or until beets are just tender.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool.  When cool enough to handle, loosen skins from beets with a paper towel or a thin knife.  Slice beets .         

Whisk together the zest, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, fig jam, sea salt and black pepper.  Stream in the extra virgin olive oil to desired consistency.  Taste for seasoning and adjust, if necessary.

Place the beats and orange slices in a large bowl and toss them to coat them with vinaigrette.  Stir in the roasted pistachios, olives and chopped parsley.  Enjoy, preferably with those you love.   

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