Bite of Brainfood Blog

Service, Justice, and Brown Fried Rice: Community MVPs Deliver Workshop #1

We hear them all the time: “So…Brainfood does food access for teenagers, right?” or “If you’re a public health organization, shouldn’t you be tracking your students’ weight loss?” or “I knew a drop in center that basically offered Brainfood programs for kids.”  

Misconceptions abound about youth development, food education models, and what it means to let youth build their own programs at Brainfood.  Some days, we laugh it off with a co-worker and swap stories about our individual messaging campaigns that haven't hit home yet with some of our closest family members and friends.

But some days, feeling like people don’t see the totality of our work can feel heavier.  Some days, the voice of doubt keeps nagging you, making you wonder if what happens in our kitchen is really social justice work at all.  Does making vegan pumpkin muffins as a group build a more just society?  Is letting students vote on what recipes to make really justice practice?  And how does it all stack up against those images in our head of social justice being about rallies and marches, big signs and bigger crowds?

5 Kitchen Hacks I've Learned This Month at Brainfood

One of the perks of being a Brainfood teacher is that as we go through the curriculum with our students, we pick up lots of culinary tips and tricks ourselves. We're all self-taught home chefs who love learning new things in the kitchen, and this job provides plenty of opportunities to learn about cooking alternatives, shortcuts, and tricks! Though of course the focus of our work is first and foremost youth development, the food and cooking piece is fun to focus on sometimes too. We're not even a month into the year, and here at Brainfood we've packed in plenty of learning during January classes. Today I thought I'd share some little kitchen gems I've picked up in Kitchen All Stars during the first few weeks of the New Year.

Five Kitchen Hacks I've Learned in 2015 at Brainfood

Gathering Around the Table, the Brainfood Way

Although we encourage exploration and creativity in all of our Brainfood kitchens, our classes are designed with a consistent structure. Brainfood participants arrive knowing that the whiteboard displaying the day’s agenda can answer their often-foremost question (“What are we making today?”) as well as provide the order of events for our time together.
 
Each Brainfood class starts with an opening—a time for everyone in the room to welcome and check-in with one another, as well as designate an expectation/goal for themselves for the day. We then transition to a period of information sharing. This is a time for instructors to engage participants in a lesson (“Let’s talk about how yeast works.”) or demonstrate a new skill relevant for that day’s recipes (“Today we’re learning how to cut chicken wings!”).
 

A New Year, A New Skill

Happy New Year! And welcome back to Brainfood classes. There are a lot of changes happening in the Brainfood kitchen as we kick off 2015. One of the biggest changes you will see in our kitchens is the presence of MEAT!

Many of our students eat meat regularly and have been eagerly asking us, “When do we actually get to cook with meat at Brainfood?” since October.  Well, the answer is…now!

8 Unsung Heroes of Brainfood in 2014

You’ve seen it on this blog a zillion times: the heartfelt “thank you.” There are so many people who we appreciate at Brainfood, and we’re often bragging about how great they are, from our high schoolers to our staff and volunteers, guest chefs, and donors. At Brainfood, we’re lucky to have so much support, and we’re all about giving credit where credit is due.

 

But there is also a brigade of behind-the-scenes helpers - a low-profile, tenacious bunch - who we rarely stop to thank publicly and who make our jobs easier, more effective, and just all around more fun. So today I’m shouting it from the (blog) mountaintops: Unsung Brainfood heroes of 2014, this one goes out to you!

 

1. The jumbo stand mixer – for boosting our output of challah bread, cookies, pizza dough, and other multiple-batch edibles in Box Project this summer. Jumbo stand mixer, we’re in awe of your shiny beaters and paddles. 

Getting Into the Holiday Spirit

The holiday season is here. And, boy, have we been celebrating here at Brainfood! We kicked it all off with our delicious Thanksgiving menu comprised of smoky macaroni and cheese, green bean casserole, spinach artichoke dip, stuffing, pumpkin pie and an apple crumble.              

And as we moved into December, it was time for even more holiday foods. In an effort to be as inclusive as possible, we made potato latkes (a staple of Chanukah and the Jewish tradition), Hoppin’ John (a traditional Southern New Year’s Eve food), and a Bouche de Noel (a classic French dessert for Christmas time). These dishes all represented a taste of different religions and cultures.

An Attitude of Gratitude

The phrase “an attitude of gratitude” is one I heard from a yoga teacher years ago, and I wrote it off as cute but corny.  I hadn’t thought about again until last week, when it popped back into my mind while I was in the kitchen with students. The importance of attitude is one of the many things that Brainfood participants teach me every day. Before coming to Brainfood, I didn’t think about my disposition in terms of “attitude”; I used terms like mood or personality. But pretty much every Brainfood Group Expectations list that we generate here includes “positive attitude," and I’ve come to appreciate attitude as its own unique concept. It can be defined as “mental position”, or “orientation of the mind”, which seems to imply that we can change, or re-orient, that position. Attitude, to me, is about making a conscious choice to relate to the world in a certain way.

Finding Our Way In the Midst of Mistakes

     Adding salt instead of sugar.   Mincing an onion that was supposed to be sliced.  Grabbing the baking powder when the recipe calls for baking soda.  After a few months teaching at Brainfood, instructors have seen all manner of kitchen mistakes.  While there are many ways to navigate kitchen errors, I thought I’d share two approaches that instructors can use to garner immediate results.

The Inside Perspective: Youth Reflections

The youth in our programs are at the heart of what we do at Brainfood. We Brainfood instructors have the privilege to engage with teen participants on a daily basis. Those of you who support us in various ways may have the same privilege of interacting with our amazing young people if you serve as a Weekly Classroom Assistant or attend our community events. However, some of you may not have had the chance to meet our participants, so I decided to dedicate this space to youth voices and give you all an insider's perspective!

This week's blog post features six of our many enthusiastic first-year Kitchen All Stars participants. Each readily shared with me their unique perspective on what brought them to Brainfood in the first place and what motivates them to continue to invest in our program.

Photo of AsiaAsia

Why were you interested in joining Brainfood?

Millet and Resiliency: Community MVPs' First Healthy Cooking Demo of 2014-2015

This weekend felt like Autumn. There was a clean crispness in the air, and all of those majestic DC oaks and elms were lit up with orangey yellows and reds. My neighbors at the community garden spent hours piling up cardboard, organic matter, and garden scraps on their now empty beds so the materials can break down over winter and nourish the soil for fertile growing in the spring. It may sound cliche, but everything about the fall reminds me that life is one neverending cycle; that what’s happening now will come to an end but will have a direct impact on how things shake out the next time around. The actions we take to care for the earth, for each other, and for our community today will set the stage for growth and flourishing in the future. There’s something really hopeful and resilient about it.

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