Bite of Brainfood Blog

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.

Are we really putting black beans in our brownies?

It’s not even 4:00 pm yet and students have begun to arrive.  They’ve gone through their usual routine of signing in, putting bags away, and immediately checking the agenda for the day. All of a sudden, faces turn and questions fly. “Are we really putting black beans in our brownies?” “Do we really have to use vegetables today?”                                                                                                    
I couldn’t helpbut smile. No, none of th e recipes were a shock to me and I personally enjoy each one. But I realized just how nuts the recipes seemed. The confused looks of our Brainfoodians gave me insight to the new challenge they were being presented with. 

Goodbye, Training Wheels: Working Sans Recipes on the Brainfood Signature Sandwich Challenge

Recipes are a big part of cooking. At least for beginners, they’re essential tools that provide instruction necessary to get the desired results. But like training wheels, they become less essential with time. We learn to experiment, rely on past experience, and trust our instincts. The transition from following a recipe step-by-step to cooking without that guidance can be exciting, fun, and yes, even a little bit scary.  Here at Brainfood in Kitchen All Stars, we made that leap this week. We started with a versatile, forgiving, and consistently crowd-pleasing food item that we hoped would minimize the “scary” part of this transition: the sandwich. And though it was a dramatic departure from how we’ve been doing things, I’d say the fun and excitement and fun far outweighed the fear.

A New Season

The seasons have changed. Summer turned into fall, and our Brainfood youth garden has produced the last of its summer crops. Other plants, however, are just beginning to yield in abundance. Kale, spinach, arugula, carrots, mustard greens, and beets—now in season—are ushered in with autumn.

First Days, Again

One of the kickers of being a teacher is that, unlike your students, you often have several first days of class.  I’ve had quite a few “first days” at Brainfood, each with its own charms and pitfalls.  In my rookie year at Brainfood, I bit my lip with nerves and obsessively counted the mixing bowls.  My second year, teaching solo for the first time, I forgot to eat lunch and nearly got drowned out by my own rumbling stomach while explaining our attendance policy.  Third through fifth years got better.  I moved up from a smaller, older kitchen to a larger, brighter one for a few years and watched new students marvel at the expanse of stainless steel countertops when they walked in the door.  Then I taught in an empty Sunday school classroom (i.e., not a kitchen at all), and spent the first day showing my students how to set up portable burners and stack the pint-sized chairs in the corner of the room to give us more space.  And this year, just this Monday, I started first day of Brainfood classes in a completely different way: outside.

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