Food Reads: My article on healthy school lunches in Charlottesville

Charlottesville City schools to add fresh recipes, work towards centralized kitchen

The movement to bring more from-scratch meals to Charlottesville City Schools is alive and well.

One year after Charlottesville Cooking School owner Martha Stafford designed a black bean and brown rice taco recipe for school lunch menus, the meal is in rotation and recipes for hummus and granola are in the works. To make the process more efficient, the school administration is ready to support the creation of a centralized kitchen for the entire district.

The caveat? The reality of a central kitchen is contingent upon the district’s middle school overhaul, which began last year.
Jim Henderson, assistant superintendent for administration services, said the administration is still “in the process” of presenting the school board and City Council with a recommendation to renovate Buford Middle and Walker Elementary schools. Once approved and funded, the design process will begin.

Martha Stafford, director of the Charlottesville Cooking School, says a central kitchen for city schools will help ensure “a consistent, flavorful product.” (Image)

“We are excited to move forward with that,” he said. Henderson added that if the project falls through, “then we will begin looking at our own kitchens and making sure to continue cooking good foods.”

Henderson says a central kitchen could help streamline cooking processes and add more fresh recipes to the menus.
“I think with a central kitchen we can do a better job of training staff, a better use of space, a better use of labor, a better use of making sure that when we bring in local produce, we have the appropriate space to do everything,” he said.

Stafford says a central kitchen will also help improve the quality of the food.

“It’s important when introducing new and fresher food that it be a consistent, flavorful product,” said Stafford. A butternut squash soup she created for the wintertime, for instance, didn’t pass taste tests and ultimately did not make its way to school menus.

Behind the movement’s success is City Schools Dietician Alicia Cost—who along with Nutrition Services Coordinator Sandra Vasquez, received the Trailblazer Award from the Local Food Hub and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Cost has worked tirelessly to get even more produce and local, grass-fed beef into the schools’ kitchens at a price that satisfies the school system’s budget.

“We are still talking with the Local Food Hub and local beef growers to find an acceptable price point of what we can pay, what they pay and trying to figure out how to fit it into our food cost per meal,” she said.

The current price per meal in city schools ranges from $0.85 to around $1.05, plus labor. Students can purchase lunch for $2 in elementary schools and $2.25 in middle and high schools. Both prices increased 25 cents over last year’s cost to students.

For now, no matter the price tag, the goal remains the same. “We are going to continue engaging students and listening to them react to different recipes and maybe survey them more…and really try to put a healthy twist on everything we introduce to them and try to stretch their taste buds,” said Cost.

First appeared on C-VILLE Weekly’s website. For the original story, click here.

Advertisements

Out and About: Peach picking at Chiles Peach Orchard

What a gorgeous day in Charlottesville: warm sun and gentle breeze. The perfect weather to go peach picking. After a fun morning at the City Market, my good friend Emily and I trekked to Crozet, Virginia to Chiles Peach Orchard. Picture the green hills of Central Virginia, sun bathed peach trees, families pic-nicking and acres of pretty green hills. Here are some pictures of our fun day. Enjoy!

Emily is an experienced peach picker!

Look at this peaceful landscape…who wouldn’t want to spend some time in the sun in this place?


I picked about 10 pounds of peaches. How many peach cobblers can I possibly make? Emily gave me a super tasty recipe for a spicy peach salsa. Stay tuned. We’ll blow your minds.

Chiles Peach Orchard is open from April through Thanksgiving and it might be the best kept secret in town – at least for me!

An enthusiastic and friendly picker!

Peter Chang’s China Grill, the second time around

I can’t seem to be able to stay away from this place. It’s that good! This time, I went with three great girls and the night was nothing less than magical. As soon as we walked in, the scent of sizzling veggies emanated from the kitchen. It’s a good thing we had a reservation because the place gets crowded in a heartbeat. We take our seats and inspect the menu, four pages of what seemed succulent entrees. The decision would have been impossible to make, but our waiter’s unit of measure helped out, immensely: As soon as we picked something, he would rate it by an enthusiastic raise-the-roof gesture. If the entree´ was slightly less than exceptional, he would raise his hand only half way.

To start, we picked the famous bubble pancakes and fried eggplant.

These bubble pancakes were fluffy and crispy at the same time. Their companion sauce, we speculated, had a hint curry in it. Although they look so perfect when untouched, it didn’t take much to pop them. This appetizer lasted about 4 minutes.

My problem with this next appetizer was the spice level. Since I am a wimp and can’t handle spice very much (at all actually), the fried eggplants were a bit too much for me, but by the speed with which my Emily, Bradley and Wesley ate them, I’d say they were worthy of a fully extended raise-the-roof rating.

Next, we went with the highlight of the night  (in my humble opinion): braised short ribs!

The ribs were so tender and juicy (here you see them covered in Panko and decorated with minced green onion). Interesting story, this was the dish our waiter rated the highest. He was absolutely right. Amazing.

I picked an amazing chicken dish: Chicken with eggplant in a hot pot.

The eggplants, thinly sliced, melted in my mouth. The chicken was perfectly cooked, and the sweet onions completed the dish. As if these delicacies weren’t enough, we ordered sesame shrimps (a bit too sweet) and duck (excellent).


Here is our glorious feast. I knew I loved this restaurant before, but this visit cemented my appreciation for good food.

Thank you Emily, Bradley and Wesley for making that night a perfect dinner.

Salute! Donald Trump buys Kluge winery in Charlottesville

{Photo: NY Times}

The Donald never sleeps. In the midst of his yet unofficially announced presidency run—he is a close second after Mitt Romney in the most recent polls—, his political appearances (Tea Party rally in Florida next week), his celebrity firing on The Celebrity Apprentice, he has the time to buy a winery (from my colleague at C-VILLE Weekly).

For $6.2 million, Trump got almost all of what he wanted: 700 pristine acres in Albemarle County, the winery, and, most importantly, the labels and trademarks of Kluge Estate Winery & Vineyard, once owned by Patricia Kluge and husband William Moses and most recently bought back by the financing bank in a foreclosure sale. Things are tough out there…except for Mr. Trump.

And there is more: Trump reportedly wants Kluge’s former residence, the palatial Albemarle House, once on the market for $100 million and now also in the hands of the bank. With 45 rooms, a theater and a perfectly sculpted landscape, it may just be Trump’s perfect country home away from his …. other homes.