Something Special is Cooking in Yolo County’s Head Start Kitchen


Lorena Madrigal de Lopez, left, Lead Cook for the program and Leticia Valencia, right, Cafeteria Assistant

Yolo’s County’s Head Start program, under the leadership of Stephanie Gray, Nutrition Services Coordinator, has some new flavors coming to their meal program. Black-eye Pea Salad, Baked Sweet Potato with Cheese and Broccoli Topping and Corn and Cheese Grits. Lorena Madrigal de Lopez, Lead Cook for the program and Leticia Valencia, Cafeteria Assistant, pictured above with Chicken Pot Pie,  participated in a Yolo Country Farm to School Professional Development class held at the Esparto Unified School District’s Central Kitchen in January that focused on using California specialty crops in the African flavor profile. Afterwards, Lorena and Leticia were inspired to bring some of the dishes to the youngsters in the Head Start program.


Black-eye Pea Salad See Recipe Below

The cooking class was presented by us, Evans & Brennan, as part of a 3-year USDA Specialty Crops grant through the Yolo County Agricultural Commissioner’s office which has funded professional development classes 3 times per school year in each of Yolo County’s five school districts. “We are now in our third year,” says Brennan, “and for the final classes we’ve been featuring the 5 major culinary flavor profiles.” These include Asian, Mediterranean/European, Middle Eastern/Indian, Latin American as well as the African. As part of each class, Evans & Brennan bring an adult snack tray with foods from the region being presented for the cooking staff to sample. “Think of it as experiential education,” says Evans.

For the African Flavor classes, Evans made bowls of Black-Eyed Pea Salad for the adult snacks, as well as her favorite corn bread, served warm with local honey. Other snacks included plantain chips and banana chips, peanuts and cashews, all products of Africa.
Stacie Vasquez, Food Service Director at Esparto Unified School district chose several recipes to cook from a suggested list provided by Evans & Brennan – Corn Grits, the sweet potato dish, and Chicken Pot Pie with Biscuits. Evans & Brennan also provided the recipe for the Black Eyed Pea Salad. At the end of the session everyone joined in tasting the various dishes prepared, and discussed how they might make their way onto school lunch and supper programs.


Baked Sweet Potato with Cheese and Broccoli Topping

A few days after the class, we heard from Stephanie that Lorena and Leticia really liked the dishes and thought the salad, sweet potato, and grits dishes would be good addition to the program’s repertoire of meals, of which they serve 220 daily.
Head Start is a federal program, administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Head Start promotes the school readiness of children from low income families ages birth to 5 years by enhancing their cognitive, social and emotional development.

 Black-Eyed Pea Salad
25 servings; serving size ½ cup

This salad is best if made from dried black-eyed peas that have been cooked until just barely tender. Overcooked or canned peas tend to be quite soft and don’t hold up well in salads.
½ to ¾ cup fresh lime juice (from about 6 -8 limes)
2 ½ cups chopped flat-leaf parsley
¾ – 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
12 ½ cups cooked black –eyed peas (about 6 cups dried), well-drained
20 green onions, chopped
2 large red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
2 ½ cups cherry tomatoes, chopped (do not include juice)
2 large English cucumbers, peeled and minced
4 – 5 Serrano chiles, stemmed, seeded, and minced
3- 4 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
2-3 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

In a large bowl, whisk together the lime juice and the parsley. Continue whisking while drizzling in the olive oil. Add the drained black-eyed peas, green onions, bell peppers, tomato, cucumber, and Serrano chile to the bowl. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper, and gently turn the salad, being careful not to crush the black-eyed peas. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour and up to overnight for the flavors to blend. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper, if needed, before serving.

Adapted from Saveur Magazine

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Five Flavor Culinary Course Inspires School Food Service

Blog.Lodi.LA.IMG_4745The food heritage of many immigrant and first generation students is rich and fascinating, largely healthy, and vastly untapped in school lunch — so we, Evans & Brennan, designed a half-day course for School District Food Service to introduce five international flavor profiles with the hope that these simple and diverse flavors and foods make it to the lunch plate as a sampling of what the world has to offer.

Blog.Lodi.Asian.IMG_4742The goal? Increase staff confidence, interest and first hand knowledge of a larger food picture enhancing their ability to educate students about the diversity of food and flavors from around the world.

Blog.Lodi.faces.IMG_4769In July, 2014, Evans and Brennan, LLC, provided a half-day, virtual culinary trip around the world for about 150 employees of Lodi Unified School Food Service, introducing them through tasting, a marketplace experience, and hands-on cooking to Asian, Middle Eastern/Indian, African, Mediterranean/European, and Latin American flavor profiles.

Blog.Lodi.Five Flavor.CodyIMG_4784Chef Cody Williams, pictured in the middle at left — who is also Director, School Food Services, Sonoma Valley Unified School District — prepared tasting snacks in each flavor profile, so that every person could taste 4 flavors in each of the 5 cuisines.


Blog.Lodi.FiveFlavor.Med.IMG_4794Cody hand made the following: for Asian – Pork Siew Mai, for Latin American – ceviche, and for Middle Eastern – Stuffed Grape Leaves and Hummus (pictured left are staff tasting and filling out their “passport” at the Middle Eastern station), for African – Carrot Salad with Orange Flower Water and Pickled Okra.

Blog.Lodi.Nancy.IMG_4791Mid morning, after a presentation of foods from around the world, Nancy Rostimily, Director School Food Service Lodi, (pictured left in the middle) divided the staff into teams. Nancy has a history of providing enriching, hands-on professional development for her staff, and tailored the program to meet her district’s specific needs and her own philosophy of adult learning.

Blog.Lodi.FiveFlavor.saladmaking.IMG_4790Each team rotated through each of five flavor profiles for tasting, marketplace and salad making. Pictured left is one such team making Cactus Salad with Radishes (Ensalada de Nopales) for the Latin American flavor profile. While many in attendance make the salad at home, for others it was a first time tasting of cactus pads — a highly nutritious and low glycemic index vegetable.

Blog.Lodi.Med Salad.IMG_4776Another salad was one typically found in the summer in hot, dry Mediterranean climates, with tomatoes and mozzarella cheese – Caprese Salad. Pictured left is a salad-making team consulting on the recipe. California Olive Ranch and Corti Olive Oil both provided CA extra virgin olive oil for the Mediterranean and Latin American dishes.  The salads were later eaten as part of a lunch served to attendees, representing each flavor profile, along with a main dish, fruit and desert.

blog.lodi.Indian spice.Having experiential learning which involves all the senses is key to excitement  — touching, tasting, smelling, hearing and seeing.  The marketplace for each flavor profile allowed for all that. An Indian spice tray (pictured left) shows how a typical curry mixture might be made differently in each home by the hand of the Indian cook.

Blog.Lodi.Present.IMG_4799At the end of the day, having filled out a “passport” for the trip around the world — answering questions about what they saw, tasted, enjoyed and learned, staff received a take home gift with spices, herbs and grains to make in their home kitchens some of the recipes provided. Cooking at home what is cooked for school lunch helps to narrow the gap between home and school — part of what this course and the four books we’ve written on school food hopes to inspire.


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What’s New? A World of Good Tastes! A Classroom Cooking Manual

Blog.CDEbook.IMG_5449The California Department of Education has made our book,  A World of Good Tastes! A Classroom Cooking Manual, by Georgeanne Brennan and Ann M. Evans. This cooking manual, is available free through a link on the CDE e-tool kit for FRESHMeals at School.

The Manual is designed to assist classroom teachers and after-school staff in teaching students to cook from scratch by using raw, seasonal produce. The recipes we developed for the book incorporate five broad flavor profiles that represent California’s ethnic diversity. Each recipe has an extensive introduction with historical, culinary, or botanical information about the particular dish or culture making it easy for educators to discuss the food with their students.

The recipes are organized by seasons. Each season has Salads, Main Dishes, Soups, Dessert and Beverages — all child friendly, flavorful and healthy. For example, for dessert in fall, we created a Sweet Potato Pie.

The recipes are family style, so you can cook them in the classroom or an after school program, and then send them home with the kids. They will love showing their parents something new. The recipes are easy to scale up to 50 and 100 and put into NutriKids Format so that the school district kitchens and cafeterias can be a part of the comprehensive learning experience as well.

The manual is designed for educators to use with students in grades four through six in either a hands-on or demonstration format. We have instructions on how to conduct the class and basic equipment needed, and most importantly, there are head notes full of background information for the teacher/instructor to use in teaching the kids more about the ingredients and culture the recipe originates from.

Why five broad international flavor profiles? Throughout California’s history, immigrants from around the world have come to California, as well as other parts of the United States, to search for gold, to work in railroad construction, in the mines, in the timber and fishing industries, shipyard construction, and in the vast agricultural fields and orchards. People have also left their native countries to California and the United States driven by war, famine and persecution, and to pursue opportunities or join their immigrant families. They have brought with them the flavors of their homelands and often adapted these foods to their new life in California and the United States.

Cooking, and then eating together, enriches the experience of food preparation. As students and adults eat together the foods they have prepared, they have an opportunity to discuss the flavors and the cultures that are represented by the foods. Students can talk about their family food stories and favorite food traditions. In this way, students and their families become an important resource for cultural education in the classroom and in after-school programs.

We hope you enjoy this new resource.


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Who doesn’t want to date a farmer…

Yolo.Dru Rivers.IMG_5424Who says speed dating doesn’t work? Dru Rivers (pictured left ) representing Full Belly Farms in Capay Valley, Yolo County, along with 25 or more farmers met with the same number of school food service in Yolo County’s Norwood Hall on Wednesday November 12. The districts represented over 200,000 students in northern California. They “speed dated” for an hour and a half, then followed that with a reception over which more informal relationships were forged over wine, Fuyu persimmons, dates, walnuts, and baklava.

Yolo.Nancy Rostomily.IMG_5430Dru told us she thought her farm could deliver to school districts such as Lodi Unified, which was represented by Food Service Director Nancy Rostomily (pictured left, sitting, talking with Josh Zeldner of Z Specialty Food.) Like many directors there, Nancy purchases local produce where possible, and was looking for more contacts and sources. Her student population is 35,000.

Yolo.Kristy.IMG_5419The group of 60 or so heard from John Young, Yolo County Agriculture Commissioner, and Kristy Levings (pictured left) who described how the speed dating would work. Farmers on one side, school food service and distributors on the other. Every five minutes, she rang a cowbell, literally, and school food service moved down to the next farmer. In this way, everyone got to meet just about everyone. Kristy had copies of a profile of each farmer and school food service so they could exchange information — if the match seemed relevant.

Yolo.Robla School District.IMG_5425One Chief Business Official attended. Mike Henkel (pictured left in the white shirt standing up) of Robla School District in Sacramento County said he’s interested in supporting his school food service director in purchasing more local, fresh fruits and vegetables. His district has about 2,000 students and he’d like them all to be eating a delicious, house made meal, where possible. He said he and his team, he brought his food service director and a cafeteria manager, learned a lot and made some great new contacts. It’s so helpful to a CBO with a vision of fresh, delicious school meals.

We wish he, and all the other attendees well. Their success could set a new standard practice for school dining — meeting the farmer who is growing your food and making a match at an annual gathering hosted by the local agricultural commissioner. This may have been a first in California — we hope it’s not the last. For more information on the event, contact Kristy Levings, Director, Farm to School, Yolo County, or visit the website, Harvest Hub Yolo.

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Pacific Star Gardens, Yolo County

Pacific Star Gardens

Meet Robert Ramming, the owner of Pacific Star Gardens, a small farm in Yolo County, at the upcoming  Farms & Schools Marketplace Exchange. November 12th, Wednesday, 2pm-4pm, reception follows. Norton Hall, 70 Cottonwood St. Woodland 95695. He’s been selling fresh produce to the Woodland Joint Unified School District for nearly two years.

When Spencer Springer became Food Service Director at the Woodland Joint Unified School District less than two years ago, he met with Robert and they started talking about how they might work together.

“It’s our second season now, selling to the Woodland School Food Service, and we’re still working on what works, what the kids will eat and what they won’t,” says Robert. And what so far, do the kids like that comes fresh, straight off the farm?
When schools starts in late August, tomatoes and melons are in the full flush of their season, lasting until late September, and the kids loved those. Robert, with the aid of shade cloth, is able to grow large quantities of lettuce, even in the hot Sacramento Valley sun, and the kids liked the lettuce as well.
A surprising kid favorite turned out to be Tokyo white turnip which was a new introduction on the salad bar last year, and Robert says the students really liked it. The Tokyo white is a small, tender turnip about the size of a round radish and quite mild compared to the larger, more familiar, purple-topped storage types of turnips.
When it comes from Pacific Star Gardens, Spencer knows he is serving food fresh off the farm food to the students. Robert harvests and delivers his produce the same day. The fresh vegetables appear primarily on the salad bar thus far, but both Spencer and Robert hope to see more and more scratch cooking in the school lunch kitchens, which will mean the students will get an increasing quantityi of fresh vegetables and also begin to explore the different kinds and varieties of vegetables. Who knows what next after Tokyo turnip? Candy-striped beet, maybe?


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Capay Organic Wants to Join You for Lunch

Thaddeus Barsotti close upCapay Organic’s Thaddeus Barsotti and other farmers will meet school food service directors representing over 200,000 school students at the November 12 Farms &  Schools Marketplace Exchange in Yolo County’s Woodland, CA. Reserve your place today at this free workshop. 

Capay Organic, a sponsor of our blog Who’s Cooking School Lunch, is a second generation organic family farm in Yolo County’s Capay Valley. Started in 1976 by the late farming pioneer Kathleen Barsotti and her husband Martin Barnes, their sons, Thaddeus, Noah and Freeman now run the farm. The grow nearly 60 types of fruits and vegetables and over 130 varieties. They sell to school districts, restaurants, retail stores including their own in San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza. They also sell through farmers markets and run the largest Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program in the country.

Thaddeus Barsotti kale fields“We know better nutrition helps kids perform better in school,” Thad (standing in a kale field at left) told us. “Providing fresh fruits and vegetables from our farm to local schools from Yolo County to the SF Bay Area has been a rewarding enterprise. We know we are making a difference in the quality of school lunches and hopefully, building good dietary habits for the future.”

Some of the other farms which will be represented are Riverdog, Full Belly, Good Humus, Vierra Farms, Loving Nature Farms, Orland Farmsteach Creamery, Pacific Star Gardens, Tenderheart Farms, Bull frog Bees Honey, and Hanks Hens & All Good Things.

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And More School Food Service Leaders Coming to Speed Date

CaguinNatomas-1Vince Caguin,  Coordinator of Nutrition Service & Warehouse, Natomas Unified School District, posing here next to his very spiffy ‘food service truck’ will be coming to the Farms & Schools Marketplace Exchange with several of his staff on November 12th. They, along with they other school food service attendees will  get a chance to meet one on one with local and regional farmers and talk about matching up their needs with those of the farmers who have product to sell to schools.

Blog.SacCity.Brenda1Who else is coming? Brenda Padilla for one. Brenda is the powerhouse behind the school lunch program in the Sacramento Unified School District. It’s not surprising that Brenda, pictured at left in her office, was one of the 8 Californians to receive the 2012 “Health Happens Hero Award” from The California Endowment for her work in bringing healthier meals to students. And,  now, with Sacramento claiming to be the Farm-to-Fork Capital of America, Brenda’s job (and school lunches) just keeps getting tastier.

Join Vince and Brenda as they meet with farmers and other innovative food service directors on November 12, 2014.

All the information is below.

Farms & Schools Marketplace Exchange
November 12th, Wednesday
2pm-4pm, reception follows
Norton Hall, 70 Cottonwood St. Woodland 95695

Buy from Farms, Sell to Schools
Want to buy high quality farm fresh product directly from farms? Can’t figure out how to connect with schools? Then this event is for you! It is designed to be a one-on-one exchange using a ‘speed dating’ model. Participants will have a chance to meet one another and exchange profiles with detailed information about their respective enterprise.
To attend this event, Pre-Registration is required. Please fill out BOTH the Registration Form AND the appropriate Questionnaire. The questionnaire is what Yolo County Department of Agriculture will use to creat your profile. Copies of your profile will be waiting for you here when you arrive.

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Look Who’s Going to go Speed Dating with Farmers!

Stacie Velasquez

Stacie Velasquez

Stacie Velasquez, Esparto Unifed School District Cafeteria Supervisor, perhaps, at 23, the youngest in the state will be joining 20 or more other school food service directors in a speed dating session with regional farmers at the Farms & School Marketplace Exchange on November 12.  Esparto is located at the entrance to the fertile  Capay Valley and Stacie is looking forward to sitting down and talking directly with  farmers, one on one,  to see how she might bring their produce to the plates of Esparto’s students.

As the time gets closer, we will be posting about other food service directors who are attending. If you are interested in signing up and joining Stacie and others at the Exchange, the information is below.


Farms & Schools Marketplace Exchange
November 12th, Wednesday
2pm-4pm, reception follows
Norton Hall, 70 Cottonwood St. Woodland 95695

Buy from Farms, Sell to Schools
Want to buy high quality farm fresh product directly from farms? Can’t figure out how to connect with schools? Then this event is for you! It is designed to be a one-on-one exchange using a ‘speed dating’ model. Participants will have a chance to meet one another and exchange profiles with detailed information about their respective enterprise.
To attend this event, Pre-Registration is required. Please fill out BOTH the Registration Form AND the appropriate Questionnaire. The questionnaire is what Yolo County Department of Agriculture will use to create your profile. Copies of your profile will be waiting for you here when you arrive.

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The big meet farmers moment…is coming

Blog.Davis.Chef Dominic Machi 001What’s going on? Farm to School is on the move, but not really happening as much as some school food service directors would like. Join Dominic Machi, Director, Nutrition Services at Davis Joint Unified School District, and other key leaders who are determined to buy more produce from Sacramento Regional Farmers. November 12, 2pm-4pm at 70 Cottonwood St. in Woodland. Register now for this free Farm to School Marketplace Exchange:Find Product, Meet People, Solve Logistics, Grow Your Program. We’ll be there, Georgeanne Brennan and Ann M. Evans, cofounders of this blog, to help you through the process. This “farmer speed dating” is limited to school food directors, their guests and buyers and, well, farmers of course. This is funded through a Specialty Crop Grant received by the Yolo County Department of Agriculture through the CA Department of Food and Agriculture. Download recipes that feature all the fruits and vegetables that California grows — in NutriKids Format, scaled for 50 and 100.

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CA Specialty Crops: A Guide to Their Use in School Lunch

CoverSpecCropGuidebookjpgCalifornia Specialty Crops – think tomatoes, cabbage, pears, celery, lettuce – in short, just about every fruit, vegetable and nut you can imagine – are featured here in a new guidebook to using them in school lunch. California is the nation’s largest producer of many fruits and vegetables and this new guidebook shows how to incorporate them into school lunch in every way from salads to soups and entrees.

Press here to download your free copy to read the story of how this extraordinary book came to be and the many, many people who brought the book to fruition.

You’ll find recipes written by us, Georgeanne Brennan and Ann M. Evans, featuring California’s Specialty Crops by season, for family style, and for 50 and 100 using the NutriKids format, meeting USDA School Lunch nutritional requirements.

Many of the recipes were tested in the kitchens of Yolo County’s five school districts and are being served in school lunch rooms to students in West Sacramento, Esparto, Woodland, Davis, and Winters. If you use these recipes for school lunch, which we hope you will, let us know, send photos and we’ll post them.



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