Vegetable-Tofu Stir Fry @ the Chill Zone

“Stir fry? I love stir fry!” The shouts rang out as youth hanging out at the Chill Zone this past Saturday gathered in the snack room to cook up some stir fry. However, much of the excitement quickly turned to confusion as students realized there was no chicken to be found.

“Wait… stir fry without chicken? What?!” They asked in shock. So began an introduction to the wonders of tofu.

Tofu is made of soy beans, and is often used by vegetarians (and non-vegetarians!) as a replacement for meat in a variety of dishes. It has a spongy texture– we had lots of fun squishing it with our fingers– which is great for soaking up lots of flavor. If you choose to eat less meat in your diet, protein-rich foods like tofu are essential to keeping your body healthy and happy. But the wonders of tofu and soy beans don’t stop at replacing meat: soy products can also be used to replace milk, cream cheese, yogurt, and even ice cream!

Some Chill Zone participants were pretty skeptical that the tofu would make a tasty meat replacement. But despite their raised eyebrows, everyone helped prepare the meal by chopping up lots of different vegetables. A great veggie stir fry can be made with just about any vegetable combination, but there are a few basic ingredients, such as onion and garlic, that you should keep in mind when getting started. After frying up some of these alliums in our electric wok (and a little ginger, for good measure), we added the tofu and waited as it became golden brown. We then added carrots, broccoli, and red pepper, and also made a separate batch with mushrooms. As we waited for the veggies to cook we mixed up a scrumptious sauce of honey, rice vinegar, and soy sauce to pour on top of our stir fry. The final product: delicious! I think we may have even had some tofu-converts.

After chowing down on our stir fry, we had an herb and spice smell test. Following up on last week’s discussion of parts of a plant and flavorings, the kids were excited to test their knowledge and get a little more familiar with the dried herbs and spices I brought in from home. By the end of our session, the guys were spice experts, easily telling basil from oregano and nutmeg from cumin with only the slightest sniff.



Saturday, March 19th, 2011 from 1-3PM

—–> Middle Eastern Snack Day

Images by Cecelia Watkins (2011). For more information on the Chill Zone or how to get involved, please visit their website or contact Recreation Supervisor Kathy Gross.

Eat Healthy – On a Budget

This month’s Healthy Waltham column in the News Tribune features another guest columnist, Kristen Pufahl.  Kristen is a registered dietitian at the Jewish Family & Children’s Service (JF&SC) where her work is devoted to improving nutritional health in medically, socially, and economically vulnerable groups of people in our community.  Kristen discusses the challenges of eating healthy on a budget and shares a favorite recipe, Kale with Raisins, that can be prepared for about $0.99 per serving.

Read the column here.  A pdf version of the column can be found here.  Download the Kale with Raisins recipe here.

First Outdoor Planting @ Stanley

Yesterday was the perfect occasion to start our outdoor garden work; the weather was mild and sunny, and the kids could hardly wait to fill up some of our empty garden beds with new plant life. But first, we checked on our indoor trays, which are sprouting up nicely. We even have some true leaves on a few varieties!

Once outside, we turned our hands into instant cultivators, gently swirling our fingers in the garden beds to loosen or aerate (add air to) the soil. We then interplanted (planted more than one crop in the same row or bed) some Easter Egg radishes with Mokum carrots. We decided to plant the radishes and carrots together since we know the radishes will mature (be ready for harvesting) long before the carrots. In about a month we’ll pull out the radishes, giving the carrots extra space as they grow.

We also filled a bed with Sugar Ann snap peas, a favorite early crop amongst the kids. To help increase our snap pea yield (the amount we harvest) and promote soil fertility (the ability of the soil to provide nutrients to the plants), we inoculated our peas with a powdery bacteria called rhizobium (pronounced “rye-zoh-bee-um”). Together, the rhizobium and peas create a mutualistic relationship, which simply means they help each other out. In this case, the peas get nitrogen from the bacteria, held in nodules on the pea roots, while the bacteria get starch (food for the rhizobium) from the pea roots. Even better, whatever nitrogen the peas don’t use up is left in the garden bed for other crops planted later in the season.

The Nitrogen Cycle

The diagram above shows how nitrogen moves between the atmosphere and the earth. Volcanic eruptions and pollution release nitrogen gas into the air that must be “fixed” by lightning or bacteria in the soil; once deposited in the ground by rain and snow, this nitrogen is converted into inorganic nitrogen compounds like ammonia and ammonium. The plants are then able to use these new forms of nitrogen to create protein to be eaten by animals (don’t forget, humans are animals, too!), providing them with amino acids needed for many bodily processes. Nitrogen is also deposited into soil by the decomposition or breakdown of organic plant and animal wastes and released back into the atmosphere by denitrifying bacteria.

Opening up to the warmer weather

Before we left for the evening, a few of the kids stuck around to help Cece and I replant broccoli since our original “broccoli” trays are actually full of Chinese cabbage sprouts. With a whole tray filled up, we should have no shortage of these little green trees come late spring.

Next week, we’ll start eggplant, beet, and pepper seeds indoors for transplanting later this spring.


The Nitrogen Cycle diagram was created by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and used via Wikipedia (“Nitrogen Cycle”). All other images by Rebekah Carter (2011).

Searching for Signs of Spring

Caring for our newly-sprouted dicots (plants with two embryonic leaves)

This is a very exciting time of the year for any New Englander with a green thumb, including some of our city’s youngest gardeners found at Stanley Elementary. With most of the snow melted away, a walk around our garden beds quickly tells us that Old Man Winter has left behind beautiful, moist earth that will soon become home to many seeds and transplants.  Furthering our excitement was the discovery of tiny sprouts in our Chinese cabbage*, Brussels sprouts, and kohlrabi trays this past Tuesday, just one week after planting them!

To get reacquainted with our garden space, Cece and I took the kids outside for a bit of exploration. Using our five senses- sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell- the children discovered signs of new life and remnants of last fall’s harvest.

Kids roamed the space freely, hearing the calls of birds, the crunching of dry grasses below our feet, and the passing of rush-hour trains shuttling workers out of the city and back home to the suburbs. The scent of damp earth- a sweet, grassy smell- filled our noses and reminded us of the need to soon prepare our beds for planting.

We felt the softness of Lamb’s ear and vibrant green and brown mosses scattered around the marsh.

We saw evidence of last year’s bounty, including the dried leaves, flowers and seed pods  of hydrangea bushes (we also saw signs of new life- buds, seen above), Brussels sprout stalks, and the papery, yellow aftermath of unharvested cherry tomatoes.

So it seems easy enough to see, hear, touch, and smell the signs of spring, but how did we taste life, you ask? Students had no trouble finding both spicy chives and flavorful thyme (above, right) to sample!

Perhaps most telling of spring’s arrival was our discovery of purple and white crocuses beside the garden beds!

While we’ll continue to look for the tell-tale signs of spring in the garden, this activity can continue just about anywhere outside. What signs of spring have you seen in your yard and neighborhood?


*We received mislabeled seeds; what we thought was broccoli was actually Chinese cabbage! We will plant some broccoli next week but keep the cabbage, too.

Images by Rebekah Carter (2011).

Creamy Cole Slaw @ the Chill Zone

Shredding, grating, and stirring away

Cabbage and carrots tossed in a creamy and tangy dressing were the feature of last weekend’s Chill Zone session. Cece and I helped kids shred cabbage, grate carrots and onion, and measure and mix ingredients for this no-cook side dish. Everyone tried at least a taste of the finished slaw, and some kids took a pint home to share with family. While we prepped, we discussed why cabbage and its relatives are called “cruciferous” vegetables and quizzed kids on what parts of plants (i.e. leaf, flower, fruit, seed, bark, stem, root) we use as particular spices and herbs in cooking.

Making this slaw at home is as easy as combining the ingredients below:

Creamy Cole Slaw

  • 1 head of green cabbage, shredded
  • 2 large carrots, grated

To be tossed in this sauce (mix all ingredients thoroughly):

  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tbsp sour cream
  • 2 tbsp white vinegar
  • 1-2 tbsp onion, grated*
  • 1-2 tbsp sugar*
  • 1 tbsp dijon mustard*
  • 1 tbsp celery seed, or to taste*
  • salt to taste

*Adjustments made by Healthy Waltham

After cooking and cleaning, a couple of kids stuck around to help plant seeds for our windowsill herb garden, featuring dill, basil, cilantro, chives, and parsley. These plants will be living in my kitchen window until we can move them into our Healthy Waltham office, which is conveniently located in the same building as the Chill Zone. Hopefully we will begin to see sprouts in the coming days!



Saturday, March 12th, 2011 from 1-3PM

—–> Vegetable Stir Fry

Images by Rebekah Carter (2011). Recipe courtesy of Bobby Flay from the Food Network. For more information on the Chill Zone or how to get involved, please visit their website or contact Recreation Supervisor Kathy Gross.