from special contributor, Food Studies M.A. candidate Nick Bender
My name is Nick Bender. I am a second year Master of Arts candidate in the Food Studies program here at Chatham. Most of my school experience has been in the classroom or off-site rather than on the farm. I haven’t spent much time in the green house, the solar high tunnel, or in the agroecology garden. So, when I was told that I would be cooking a meal for 60 people, I thought that this would be a great opportunity to bring together the work that we’re doing at Eden Hall with the work that I’m doing at Vintage.
To give a little background, I am a 2015-2016 Albert Schweitzer Environmental Fellow. I was selected to implement a project to help seniors in an urban neighborhood connect the food that they eat with the impacts on their health and the health of the natural environment. I have been bringing in foods to try and talking about challenges that they face with diet or their eating environment. How many seniors eat alone? How many like to cook? Does anyone grow their own food? I chose Vintage, a senior center in East Liberty. It is a community center that gives seniors an opportunity to gather weekdays from 9-5 for a variety of programming.
Last month I was asked if I could help plan a meal for the Valentine’s Day Blue Jean Dance. The meal was meant to be simple: spaghetti and tomato sauce. Maybe a salad and bread. Done and done. I was trying to figure out how we could keep the integrity of the spaghetti when we had no capacity to cook it to order. I decided that baked pasta would be a better option.
In planning the menu, I realized that if we could get any produce from the farm to use in the meal, I would have a great opportunity to connect the environment with the food that everyone was eating. I reached out to the EHC team, and we were able to get some greens – specifically tatsoi, chard, and 3 varieties of lettuce. Some of the tatsoi went into the baked ziti, and the rest of the greens made up the salad.
A few days before the dance, I started the bread dough. The day before, the EHC team harvested all the greens. They saved me a couple heads, so I could take pictures to accompany my talk. I made the pasta, finished the cookies and the bread the morning of the dance. When I got to the senior center, I was lucky enough to have a few volunteers to help with plating and service. I gave everyone a task, and we began service precisely at 1 o clock.
After the entire dining room was served, I went out and described the food that they were eating. The menu and talking points were as follows:
Baked Ziti, with Tatsoi
This is an update version of the baked ziti that my mother made for us growing up. It is meatless and the tatsoi lends a contrast to the flavor and the texture.
Torn Winter High Tunnel Salad
This blend of tatsoi, chard, and winter lettuces is tossed in a light balsamic vinaigrette.
This bread is a four day recipe from start to finish. The starter culture was inoculated from a vineyard that I had worked on a few years ago.
Heart Shaped Cookie
This is a sugar cookie recipe from a fellow Food Studies student. She is my go-to on dessert recipes.
A lemon and basil infused simple syrup, mixed with sparkling water
I told the volunteers to make themselves a plate as a thank you for their work. As the volunteers ate, I addressed the dining room with these broad talking points. Then, I went around to answer any individual questions about the harvest, the preparation, or to share recipes. People seemed to enjoy it, but we may have raised the bar on lunches. So if you know anyone who wants to volunteer, we’d be happy for their help – and we’d feed them quite well in return!