Making a Difference on Thursday Evenings

Yesterday evening was the weekly Sunday Suppers program held at Memphis Street Academy in Kensington, Philadelphia. Sunday Suppers is a family meal-based initiative that seeks to improve dietary behaviors, awareness of healthier food purchasing and preparation, and family meal practices. It began as a pilot program that ran on Sunday evenings, but has since moved its host site to Memphis Street Academy, and the program now runs on Thursday evenings. As a graduate student in the Masters program of Public Health, my capstone/thesis project is aimed at completing a program evaluation of Sunday Suppers, to see if it indeed has helped improve dietary behaviors and attitudes as well as increased fresh fruit and vegetable intake in the participating families.

Each week there is a “program” during the first 30-45 minutes of the evening. Sometimes its teaching yoga, sometimes it is an educational piece with a hands-on portion to involve the families that participate. Last night was a special treat, in that the main chef, Kristen, had invited three of her chef friends as guests.

Chef Hayden demonstrating how to properly prepare raw chicken breast for cooking

Chef Hayden demonstrates how to properly prepare raw chicken for cooking.

Chef Hayden, who is originally from Trinidad, showed off the preparation of chicken curry, using his family’s recipe. He went through all the steps, from how to properly cut up the chicken breast to how to prepare the curry sauce. He also had whole grain brown rice prepared.

The next station was Chef Lindsay Gilmour, who is originally from New Zealand and who has had her own catering company.  Chef Lindsay showed ways to prepare fresh veggies – a veggie saute and cooked greens beans tossed in olive oil and seasoning.


Chef Lindsay shows some of the children what the veggie saute looks like while it is cooking, and discusses how she is going to cook the green beans (at front)

She also instructed those interested in how to best prepare veggies from the slicing and dicing to how to properly blanch them without overcooking.

A third station was hosted by Chef Laquanda, who born and raised in West Philadelphia, and who at age 14 enrolled in a program that teaches adolescents how to cook healthier as well as how to teach others. Now, ten years later, she has already worked with at least 3 non-profits in the food justice realm and is studying culinary arts in Philadelphia.


At front, Chef Laquanda demonstrates healthier snacking options with homemade popcorn. Chef Lindsay’s station is to the right, and Chef Kristen’s station is at the back.

Chef Laquanda showed how to prepare a healthier snack version of popcorn. This was done by showing how to cook popcorn using a regular cooking pot, then how easily it is to season accordingly. One version was with cinnamon, one was with taco seasoning, and a third was with Parmesan and hot pepper flakes (the take home favorite!)


Parents and their children trying out their new culinary skills – preparing apples to be used in the apple crisp for dessert!

A fourth station hosted by Chef Kristen was to show how to properly cut a variety of produce. Different techniques for handling the knife were demonstrated and then with parent supervision, families were able to put their skills into action. Carrots and broccoli were the vegetables cut up, and then a bunch of apples were cut into small pieces.


Chef Laquanda preparing the apple crisp topping, with assistance from some of the participating children.

The veggies were then used for appetizers to dip in hummus (store bought), which many participants had not encountered until that night. The apples were part of a large apple crisp that was to be for dessert. The preparation of the crisp topping was demonstrated again by Chef Laquanda.

The greatest part of the evening was watching the families inquire about cooking techniques, get involved in learning new culinary skills, test out new (healthy!) foods, and seem overall excited about the evening. I helped served the meal (served family style), which is an experience in itself, I am sure, for these families. As the population of participants are well under the poverty line, the idea of going out for a nice dinner as a family is well out of reach.


Chef Kristen instructing the families on various techniques for prepping veggies.

The go-to foods are fast food, quick, fast, and cheap. But at Sunday Suppers, they get the full treatment: nicely furnished tables complete with table linens, flowers, and nice dish and glassware (as opposed to paper or plastic). The volunteers act as servers, refilling water glasses and serving food as though it were a restaurant.


One of the mother’s helping Chef Hayden make sure the chicken didn’t overcook. Looking on are two of her children.

As I was refilling a platter of curried chicken and brown rice, I asked one of the youngsters, named Sergio, whether he was enjoying the meal. His response:


My plate of rice and curry sauce (no chicken since I am vegetarian), sauteed veggies, and green beans and broccoli. That room smelled so delicious, I was dying to try the finished product! It was as good as it smelled!

“This is the best different chicken I’ve ever tasted. I mean different because before we came here the only chicken I ate was fried.” This is coming from a child who is about eight years old, if I had to guess.

I am hoping next week to get some anecdotal stories from participants on their favorite meals so far, and why they enjoyed them. It is exciting to hear comments like this young child, and it is equally exciting to see parents and children alike wanting to participate, and then to taste what they helped to create. Small steps are the way to pave the road of change, and it seems that Sunday Suppers is helping families take these steps and begin to make them strides.


“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.” ~Thomas Campbell

“I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will not ask, ‘How many good things have you done in your life?’ rather he will ask, ‘How much love did you put into what you did?” ~Mother Teresa

There are many things that most of us take for granted. The ability to get up each day, to go to work, or to school (or both!), to enjoy laughter and gaiety with our friends and family, to enjoy a good home cooked meal, to sit and read a book or listen to music and let a couple of hours slip away. Mostly, though, we take for granted the breaths that move through our bodies, the fact that we are here today and able to do these things. It is in rare moments that we pause and reflect on exactly what this gift is that has been bestowed upon each of us. It is something finite that none of us knows the duration of, and yet many of us live as if we have unlimited time.

These last few weeks have brought this sentiment to the forefront for me. Close family friends have been watching as mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother has slowly slipped away, until she passed peacefully yesterday afternoon. At 93 years old, she was a woman whom I have known since I was a kid, for some 25 years now. While she was not “family” by the traditional sense of the word, I loved her as if she were.

I have been fortunate in these last couple of months to spend a few hours with her a week, visiting and sharing a few laughs. My holidays this year were a bit brighter because I was able to spend Christmas Eve with her and her family along with my own. My New Years Eve was spent sitting and talking with her in front of a warm fire, eating pistachio cake and chocolate chip cookies, listening to Pavarotti (she played the part of conductor), and reminiscing about when she was a younger woman. I couldn’t have asked for a better evening.

That day, she also had a very frank, unsolicited, conversation with me about dying. She knew her time was limited, and I believe she was making her peace with people and saying her goodbyes. She told me she was curious as to what Heaven would be like, if there would be music, if her family would be there. She shared how appreciative she was that she was able to spend these last months at the home of her daughter and son-in-law, even if she had resisted in the beginning. I was unprepared for this conversation, and she ended up comforting me, which is so much like her. She was strong of heart, of opinion, of faith, and of love, right up until the end.

I hope beyond hope that she has been able to be reunited with her sisters and parents, dancing, and singing, and having a scotch and a smoke. I hope she is smiling down on her remaining family, comforting them with her presence and her love.

You are forever in our hearts, Mrs. Meade.

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.” ~Thomas Campbell

A Christmas Reflection

The Christmas season is an interesting time.

When we’re young, we focus on the gifts. The materials ones, that is. And parents focus on making their kids happy and getting them the season’s hottest toys. Grandparents dote on their grand kids and get to spend quality time (especially if the case was as mine was, where my grandparents lived many states away), that in some ways, is cherished more by the adults than it is the children (until we grow up and realize we should have been more present).

When we’re adolescents and young teenagers, (which is a notoriously treacherous time for all who have deal with the irrationality and wrath of hormonal teens) a shift begins for some of us. Parents grow older. Grandparents grow older, too. There is more awareness (hopefully) for young people regarding what the Christmas season is truly about.

Between the teenage years and late twenties/early thirties, most of us begin to experience loss. And if we as young adults are experiencing loss, so are those older than us – our parents and grandparents. The holiday season is an unfortunate time in that there is an uptick in illnesses and deaths for the elderly. Both sets of my grand parents passed away on either end of the winter season, thus forever marking the holidays as a bittersweet time for me (and for my parents).

But these events also, at least for me, help me focus on the “reason for the season.” Life is short. Some lives are longer than others, while others are cut short way before the rest of us are ready for. But the fact remains – each of us is only gifted one go at this thing called life, and this is a season in which we are reminded of the gift that it is. And that we need to put aside our differences and quarrels and come together as family, as friends, as strangers, as enemies, as society.

There is so much negativity and anger and hatred in this world that it scares me. And yet, on a given day, you can witness someone being kind for the sake of being kind. Of helping a stranger. Of paying it forward, in however big or small a gesture.

It makes me wonder: Why do we wait until the holidays to bestow grace and kindness and love to those around us? Why is it so difficult for the majority of us to find compassion in our hearts, or remember that we are capable of giving the best version- the most loving version- of ourselves not only to ourselves, but to the world – every day of the year?

Memory Collectors

How do you remember? Is through sheer memory recall to days and situations and events years in the past? Or perhaps through objects collected over the years that become place holders for memories?

This morning I spent cleaning part of my parents basement – mostly going through stuff they had saved to see if any of it was going to be of interest to either myself or my sister.  We’ve being doing these sort of activities – “Do you want this?” “Will you ever use this?” “If you don’t want it, I am going to get rid of it” – more of late as my sister gets ready to move into her new house, and as my parents are trying to declutter some of the house.

It is amazing the accumulation of objects over their lives thus far (and equally amazing is the stuff I realized they have saved of mine from when I was a kid!) I tend to find myself more easily discarding things of mine that I haven’t used or wore in awhile, but I lean towards holding onto the “old” stuff much more. Perhaps its holding onto the memory of my grandparents, who passed away when I was 14 and 17 years old, respectively. My grandfather was an avid fisherman. I probably have fished once or twice in my life, and it was with him, up in my Mom’s hometown. He caught many a Walleye Pike, but three of them were taxidermied and mounted years ago. And guess who has dibs on them?

They are a reminder to me of who he was and something he was passionate about. Every time I look at them, it takes me back to Bagley, MN; to my grandparents immaculate house, to the basement where I would sit and type on my grandpa’s old typewriter, to my grandfather’s garage/workspace where my sister and I would play when we weren’t driving around and around the block in the golf cart.  See what memories those fish hold, and I wasn’t even around when they were caught and mounted?

Similarly, my mom has kept a lot of things of my grandmother’s- her cookware and serving dishes, her baking things, and her lefse griddle (if you’ve never heard of or tasted lefse, you need to check out this bakery and order yourself some – and some almond cookies, too!). I can practically smell how warm and inviting and delicious her kitchen always smelled when we first arrive to visit. An awesome cook and an amazing baker, she left a legacy in her recipes. Her kitchen was also the meeting place when we would visit – between our family and my grandparents friends and my moms childhood friends who still lived in the area, Nana’s kitchen was the focal point.

It is an interesting phenomenon to me, my ability to donate or discard things of mine that I don’t deem necessary to keep, but things that are tied to a previous part of my life, when certain people were still with us but who have since passed away, it is a vastly different scenario. I recently was in the attic and came across a set of books by Alexandra Day (the Good Dog Carl series). Three of the four I have were given to me as a child by my own parents. I went through them, reading the inscriptions, and came to Carl’s Christmas, and saw my Nana’s handwriting. Instant tears. Geez, I tear up just remembering it.

I suppose we tie our memories to objects in an effort to hold onto that time, or situation, or person. There is a guilt associated with getting rid of things that were parents or grandparents possessions. Almost as if by discarding the object, the memory might go with it, or that a piece of that individual or event will be gone too. It seems too final. And so, its easier to hold on. But some things, really, do we use them? Do we have any use for them (I would venture not, if its been sitting on a shelf for a number of years, it might actually have been forgotten about entirely until the task of de-cluttering begins…)?  Do we not trust ourselves to remember without something to prompt us? Or are we simply afraid if we let go of the objects, it means we are letting go of the person as well?



“If heaven was a town it would be my town
On a summer day in 1985
And everything I wanted was out there waiting
And everyone I loved was still alive.”

-Andy Griggs, If Heaven

A Few Thoughts on Easter….

Today is Easter, as we are all aware, whether a religious follower or not. I tend to not be super-religious or an avid church-goer. Today was the first time I was in church this year, with the exception of picking up a friend’s kid who is in preschool there. Though I do not really ascribe to any specific religious dogma, and rather consider myself a spiritual person, I did find myself feeling somewhat refreshed upon leaving the service this morning. However, during the service, during the recitation of prayers, I looked around at the congregation, and began to wonder how many of us were just going through the motions, and how many were just repeating the words we learned and memorized at a young age? In a way, I include myself in that unknown number of people, because I say the words from rote memory, but I no longer really contemplate the meaning of the words that I am giving voice to.

The sermon today was entitled “Sleeping Through the Resurrection,” which I believe was aptly named not only for the fact that it is Easter, but more for the way so many of us sleep through it all with regards to religion. I still am not a believer in organized religion, per say, but I understand its draw for many. But then there is a huge number of people, I think, who gain membership at a church and go through the motion each Sunday, but do so because of tradition than due to any deep-seated belief. I think it can be seen in the fact that fewer young people than before are joining church congregations, but at the same time, I would surmise there are more people (probably the younger generations) who don’t know exactly what they believe. I may fall into that category, but I have my set of beliefs. They may overlap with beliefs of “organized” religion, be it Christianity or Buddhism, or perhaps a mix of both.  I believe that somewhere, there is some being bigger than all of us. Bigger than all of this. But I do not know its name, or if it has one. And I refuse to give it one.Overwhelmingly though, I believe in the goodness of people at the core of their being.

I think the reason I felt refreshed today when I left church has less to do with the prayers and songs, as much as it gave me an hour for reflection. I inevitably end up thinking about my grandparents, who have been gone for years, but whom I have never stopped missing. It makes me sad, but then I think about all the holidays, Easter included, that were spent in their presence. Perhaps it creates a little nostalgia and living in the past, but it happens every time I sit through a church service. I think about those that have gone before and those who may be presently ill. And so my quiet thoughts go out to those people, both alive and not, for peace where ever they are.

The talks about peace and love can be lost on the masses, but just those two words voiced over and over sort of renewed my faith in humanity. I want to work with the under-served and the poor, and those two words ground me a little from tendency we all have to get caught up in the every day hustle and bustle. Everyone has their own crosses and burdens to bear, but Easter reminds me somehow that we all can be – and need to be – just a little bit more tolerant, and kind, and patient, and loving to our family, friends, and fellow man.

Late Weekend Picture Post

Pictures from this past Saturday, in Brandywine Creek State Park. Totally forgot my camera for the Alapocas State Park, which was really cool too. Maybe next time.

one of many walls dividing up fields

one of many walls dividing up fields

A view from across the way

A view from across the way



Naked winter trees and a 200 year old stone wall. Picturesque...

Naked winter trees and a 200 year old stone wall. Picturesque…

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budding trees and sparkling water

budding trees and sparkling water

Sunlight reflecting off the Brandywine Creek

Sunlight reflecting off the Brandywine Creek

Little woodpecker friend. He was just out and about looking for some bugs :)

Little woodpecker friend. He was just out and about looking for some bugs 🙂

And again...

And again…

Near the mill

Near the mill

Rushing water

Rushing water

A view up the way

A view up the way

Nothing like a little natural beauty to begin the week! 🙂



Monday’s Food For Thought…

Currently Listening To: Lorelai by Fleet Foxes


Happy Monday! And Happy Spring (a wee bit late), though the fact that it snowed most of the day today is not any real indication that Spring has begun.snow

It has been a great couple of weeks so far, since returning from the Delaware Water Gap. Classes are beginning to wind down towards finals and final papers, and I am thoroughly looking forward to a long weekend off (perhaps getting some hiking in?) Last week was busy with work, and then volunteering and classes. Friday was a great day because the place I volunteer at (which is primarily an outpatient rehab for those without insurance and those journeying through the criminal justice system for drug/alcohol related charges) has a food bank on some Fridays each month. It depends on how much food they are able to get, since funding has been drastically cut since the economy took a hit. It seems like an oxymoron of sorts: the country’s food banks are established and kept going to help feed people and families who are struggling to make ends meet. However, the economy takes a huge hit, millions end up jobless, and the food banks lose a lot of funding to help those in need. Of all programs to cut, I feel like something like this should not be put on the chopping block as easily. How are those same families who have members who have lost their jobs supposed to get by while they look for work? compassion

There are, as is the case in almost every facet of society, some people who abuse this system that has been set up to help people. There are those who get food, only to take it and sell it. Or who hit up all the food banks in the area, even though the rules stipulate that you can only go to one. Dishonest people have a knack of trying to ruin things for the rest of people trying to do things and live life the right way.

But perhaps this has more to do with the societal culture surrounding poverty than it has to do with “bad people.” While there are definitely some bad eggs out there, I think that poverty breeds a million different ills, and dishonesty to try to make a buck or to get ahead quickly (and perhaps even minimally) seems to be one of them. But the question is, then…what can be done to change that? Or, rather, is there anything that can be done? poverty

Just food for thought, I suppose. I often think about how to resolve issues of society, but too often, the working dynamics tend to be far more complicated and involved than we may realize when just skimming the surface of an issue.