Saturday, August 20, 2011

Adventures in Social Entrepreneurship, week eight: wrapping up

We held the last session of our eight-week Get Cooking! series this Tuesday. Instead of the standard schedule of curriculum and cooking, we had a potluck celebration. We invited current as well as former Get Cooking! participants and everyone brought food inspired by the class. We had two beautiful fruit salads from Virginia and Millie, caramelized dates from Saqib, a turkey meatloaf and a three bean salad from Gilda, hummus and pita from Jade and Sandra, grits and greens from Christy and Brenda, and lots of other yummy treats. My experiment with vegan sugar-free baking was a success: everyone loved the peanut butter oatmeal banana cookies I brought. See the end of this post for the recipe if you’re interested.

One of the best parts of this Tuesday’s session was when everyone went around the table and shared what they’ve taken away from the Get Cooking! program. Current participants talked about accomplishing their food goals each week, and former participants told us how their lives have changed in the two months since they finished the spring Get Cooking! series. Millie shared, “I’ve been eating more fruit and vegetables, especially because of my diabetes.” Muriel told us, “I read the labels of all the food I eat. I cook with a lot of herbs and spices now. And I’m cooking mostly fresh and sometimes frozen foods, instead of canned foods.” Current participant Antoinette shared that, inspired by Christy, the self-proclaimed “Goal Goddess,” she hadn’t eaten any fried food in the past week. Beyond just food, and equipped with the support of the group, Antoinette was also able to cut her smoking down by two-thirds: a major accomplishment. The conversation was a heartwarming reminder of the impact this program has had on West Oakland community members.

(Photo: Virginia shows off her fruit salad served in a watermelon bowl)

So what did we, as an organization, learn from this eight-week series? If we go back to the launch of this second Get Cooking! pilot, our objective was to continue to prototype the Get Cooking! model. The goal of Get Cooking! is to make healthy eating simple, affordable, and fun for families living in food desert communities. And the hypothesis was that in order to make healthy eating a part of daily life we must address more than just physical access to food and find a solution that considers affordability, time constraints, food preparation knowledge, and eating habits, all while building connections among community members in a social environment.

Did this pilot accomplish our goal? Did it confirm our hypothesis?

I think for the current participants, the eight week series did make healthy eating more accessible, mostly through health and nutrition education and the demonstration of healthy recipes. And it definitely succeeded in building strong connections within the group. We created a special community that our participants looked forward to joining each week.

But our current participants didn’t face all of the barriers to healthy eating that others in the West Oakland community face, including time constraints and lack of transportation. Because our sessions were during the daytime on weekdays, most of our participants were not working or retired. Time constraints are not a big barrier for them. Also most of the current participants have cars and therefore have greater access to healthy groceries than many people in West Oakland. So if we ask ourselves, does our current model change eating behaviors of families that can’t access healthy food, due to a lack of time, money, or transportation, the answer is probably not yet, which is really great to know. In the spirit of the Stanford design school, we were quick to market and prototyped our idea before it was perfected. We learned a ton, which will allow us to keep experimenting. To reach and impact our target audience, we’ll have to tweak the time of day of our sessions, our marketing message, and our recruiting tactics. We still have more to learn and much more work to do in West Oakland and beyond, but we are excited and encouraged by the impact we have had to date and for what the future holds.

(Photo: chef Christy with Sandra, Gilda, and Shalina)

Sugar-free Banana Peanut Butter Cookies*
Servings: 15 cookies Prep Time: 10 minutes Total Time: 25 minutes

  • 1/3 cup peanut butter
  • 2 ripe to very ripe bananas
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons soy milk
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 1/2 cups quick cooking or rolled oatmeal
  • dash cinnamon (optional)
  • 1/4 cup flour
  1. In a large bowl, mash bananas with a fork until smooth. Add peanut butter, soy milk, vanilla and maple syrup and mix well. Add remaining ingredients and stir until well combined.
  2. Drop spoonfuls of dough onto an un-greased cookie sheet and bake 13-16 minutes at 350 degrees.
Note: This recipe is only truly sugar-free if you used unsweetened peanut butter and unsweetened soy milk, so read the ingredients list and look for soy milk that says "Unsweetened" right on the label.

* Recipe from

Monday, August 15, 2011

Get Cooking featured recipe: Summer Vegetable Lasagna

Here's the recipe from our Get Cooking! at the Hub event this summer. The recipe can be altered to incorporate any seasonal vegetables. Enjoy!

Summer Vegetable Lasagna*
Servings: 12-14
Prep Time: 50 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Pricing: When we made this recipe, and shopped at Trader Joe’s and Bi-Rite Market, pricing came out to ~$2.55 per serving


  • 1 pound box lasagna noodles, preferably whole wheat
  • (*can substitute gluten-free brown rice noodles)
  • 1 batch Summer Vegetable Sauce (see below)
  • 1 batch Pesto (see below)
  • 1 pound bag frozen spinach
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (*optional)
Summer Vegetable Sauce
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 large red onion, diced
  • 4 bell peppers, diced
  • 2 mild chili peppers (e.g., anaheim), diced
  • 2 large eggplants, diced
  • 4 portobello mushrooms, diced
  • 1 750 gram box or can chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 bunch basil
  • 1 bunch flat leaf parsley
  • 2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 4 ounces parmesan cheese, grated (*optional)
  • 1/2 cup walnut halves
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Prepare the lasagna noodles: place noodles in a 9”x13” baking dish. Cover with boiling water and let soak for 30 minutes.
  • Make the pesto: combine ingredients in food processor. Process until well blended.
  • Defrost the frozen spinach according to the package directions. Drain of any excess water and mix with pesto.
Make the sauce:
  • Heat the olive oil and garlic in a large (12”) skillet over medium flame. When the garlic begins to bubble, add the onion and sauté for a few minutes, until softened.
  • Add the peppers and chilies to the pan, and sauté for a few minutes to soften.
  • Add the eggplant, mushrooms, chopped tomatoes, and salt. Stir to combine everything, turn heat down to medium-low, cover skillet, and let simmer for 30 minutes, until eggplant is thoroughly cooked. Transfer half of sauce into blender and blend. Add blended sauce back to veggie mixture to create a chunky sauce.
Assemble lasagna:
  • Ladle a cup of the Summer Vegetable Sauce evenly over the bottom of the dish.
  • Place a layer of lasagna noodles on top of the sauce. You may have to cut them to fit.
  • Spread a layer of pesto spinach over the noodles and then add another layer of noodles. Ladle on a few cups of the sauce. Add another layer of noodles. Repeat until the pan is full and all noodles are used.
  • Top lasagna with grated Parmesan cheese.
  • To cook, preheat oven to 375°. Bake for 45 minutes, until browned on top. Cool for 30 minutes before slicing.
* Adapted from recipe

Get Cooking featured recipe: Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers

Enjoy this cheap, easy, and vegetarian-friendly recipe from our Get Cooking! West Oakland series.

Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers*
Servings: about 4
Prep Time: 50 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Pricing: We priced out this recipe to cost approximately $1.50 per serving

  • 4 whole bell peppers (any color)
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon basil
  • 2 carrots, julienned
  • 1 cup peas, fresh or frozen
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice
  • 2 to 3 cup tomato sauce

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Bring rice and water to a boil in a small saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer at the lowest bubble until the water is absorbed and the rice is tender, 30 to 50 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes.
  • Wash and clean peppers. Cut off tops and remove seeds and membrane. Place prepared peppers on steamer rack in wok or Dutch oven and steam 3 to 4 minutes.
  • Heat oil in large skillet, add onion and garlic. Sauté 1 minute. Add herbs, carrots and peas. Continue to cook 3 to 5 minutes or until carrots are tender, stirring constantly.
  • Reduce heat and add the tomato, walnuts, brown rice and 1/2 cup tomato sauce. Heat through.
  • Stuff mixture into whole peppers.
  • Spread 1/2 cup sauce in bottom of baking dish. Stand peppers upright. Pour remaining sauce over the tops of peppers.
  • Bake in oven for 30 minutes

* Adapted from recipe

Optional: add ground beef or turkey to the rice mixture for a non-vegetarian variation

Friday, August 12, 2011

Adventures in Social Entrepreneurship, week seven: eating mindfully

We spent a lot of time this past week talking about mindfulness and personal responsibility. Our health curriculum was focused on avoiding mindless eating, and the food justice curriculum covered the marketing of unhealthy food to children and the sometimes-misleading marketing of functional foods.

Mindless eating is something that many Americans practice all the time. It occurs whenever we find ourselves eating without realizing why we’re eating or if we’re really even hungry. While enjoying Chef Christy’s three bean salad, we passed out a handout to our participants with ten tips to avoid mindless eating, including classic strategies like “never eat directly from a bag/box/carton” and “trick yourself by using smaller plates and glasses.” There are also ways you can take advantage of mindless eating habits to increase consumption of healthy foods. For example, leaving a serving bowl on the table usually increases consumption. Our leaving this healthy protein-packed salad on the table prompted many of us to go for seconds, which hopefully displaced some less healthy calories we’d have eaten later in the day.

(Photo: three bean salad with oil, vinegar and fresh herbs)

Jumoke from People’s Grocery talked to us about being mindful in response to marketing messages from big food companies. We shared some of the guidelines published by the Center of Science in the Public Interest for responsible food marketing to children. These include packaging food in reasonable portion sizes, reformulating products to improve nutritional quality, and not advertising unhealthy foods during kids’ television shows. Jumoke asked what everyone thought about recent Bay Area legislation banning the inclusion of toys in children’s fast food meals. Overall our participants agreed that it’s better to not teach kLinkids to associate toys and rewards with unhealthy foods. We also discussed the misleading messaging around functional foods, i.e., foods that claim to have specific health benefits like chocolate milk that boosts immunity or yogurt that improves digestion. The message we conveyed is to not rely on advertising and claims in big letters on the front of packages but to instead use the tools we’ve taught in the class to read the labels and choose unprocessed whole foods whenever possible.

Christy wrapped up the discussion portion of the class by reiterating something she’s said each week. “We are all adults,” she reminded us, “and it’s no one’s responsibility but our own to be conscious of what we’re eating. We can blame big companies for their marketing but we don’t have to be victims. In the end we’re all ultimately responsible for our choices.”

In the kitchen this week, we worked together to prepare Brown Rice Curried Turkey Meatloaf, which combines many of the nutrition principles we’ve stressed over the course of the class: lean proteins (ground turkey), whole grains (brown rice), fresh seasonal produce (shredded zucchini, onions, and celery), and alternative ways of seasoning instead of adding tons of salt (ginger, garlic, and curry). Everyone was able to sample a meatloaf that Christy had prepared in advance and the consensus was very positive.

(Photo: Destiny and Eunique chop celery while mom Victoria H. oversees)

Next week we’ll have our last session of this eight week pilot. Instead of the standard curriculum and group recipe, we are having a potluck. Everyone will bring in something they’ve cooked from our collection of meal and snack recipes and we’ll invite former Get Cooking! participants to join us and celebrate. It was Christy’s 50th birthday last week so I’ll also be experimenting with some birthday cookies (whole grain and free of refined-sugar, of course). It should be a fun celebration!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Adventures in Social Entrepreneurship, week six: breaking the fast

This week’s curriculum had two themes: the benefits of breakfast and the distinction between good and bad fats. We applied both themes to our recipe: breakfast burritos filled with sautéed veggies (sautéed in healthy oils—safflower and olive—instead of butter).

Many of our participants struggle with breakfast. Gilda B. tells us that she rarely puts anything into her body before 4pm. Going this long without eating slows down your metabolism and makes it difficult to maintain a healthy weight. To demonstrate an easy breakfast solution, we served our “fruit + veggie” smoothie made of bananas, fresh strawberries, frozen berries, milk, yogurt, and loads of fresh spinach. Our participants were shocked to learn there was spinach in the smoothie, and also surprised that we hadn’t added any sugar or honey. Gilda B. especially loved the smoothie as a way of getting greens in her body.

(Photo: Gilda B., Brenda, Jade, and Sandra S. listen to the weekly lesson while enjoying a fruit and veggie smoothie)

While drinking smoothies, we spent some time talking about good and bad fats. Good fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats lower LDL (aka “bad”) cholesterol and some of them raise HDL (aka “good”) cholesterol. Good fats are found in nuts, avocados, canola oil, olive oil, fish oils, soy, and safflower oils. Bad fats include saturated and trans fats. These fats raise both total cholesterol levels as well as LDL cholesterol. Trans fats also lower levels of beneficial HDL cholesterol. Bad fats are found in animal products, packaged foods, and commercially fried foods.

After the lesson, we hit the kitchen to sauté veggies, scramble some eggs (and egg whites for our participants concerned about cholesterol), and brown some fresh-made turkey sausage. We mixed together these ingredients and rolled them into whole wheat tortillas to form breakfast burrito. Participants individually wrapped each burrito so they can store them in their freezers and pull them out when they’re in need of a quick breakfast.

(Photo: Sandra S. wraps up her egg white breakfast burritos)

Another theme of this week that arose during the session is the question of what’s going to happen next. With only two sessions left following this Tuesday’s class, everyone wants to know if they’ll be able to come to more Get Cooking! sessions. They are hungry for new recipes and more lessons around eating healthy. Josephine R. talked to me about how much she values the lessons and discussion time we have each week, “I really love the exchange of information I get from the other participants and the staff.” We’ve also loved operating this pilot every week and we’ve gained some invaluable insights. We’ve proven that our model is meeting a community need and we (New Foundry and our partner organizations, People’s Grocery and LifeLong Medical) are currently thinking about how we can best serve this need going forward.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Adventures in Social Entrepreneurship, week five-and-a-half: sharing the model with our community

This Monday we held a special Get Cooking! session at our workspace, the Hub San Francisco. The Hub is a co-working space for purpose-driven entrepreneurs with locations around the world, including San Francisco and Berkeley. The Hub San Francisco recently opened a second floor with a beautiful new kitchen that we were lucky enough to be able to use for the evening. We invited Hub members and their friends for a 90-minute cooking session on Monday evening. The purpose of the event was to raise awareness about Get Cooking! at the Hub, get some feedback on the Get Cooking! model, raise a little bit of money to support our work in West Oakland, and celebrate healthy cooking by preparing a summer vegetable lasagna that each participant could take home and serve to friends and family.

(Photo: the ingredients for our summer vegetable lasagna)

We filled the event to capacity with 13 participants, which was very exciting. To kick off the evening, we served a snack from our West Oakland program: a fruit and veggie smoothie, loaded with fresh spinach. The sweetness of the berries and bananas mask the taste of the greens, making it a great way to get green veggies into your daily diet especially for people who don’t like to eat greens. While everyone enjoyed the smoothie, Jade and I shared a little bit about New Foundry Ventures and the Get Cooking! model. We then gave a mini-lesson on food justice, defining the term “food insecure community,” or “food desert,” and talking about the food access challenges our participants face in West Oakland.

After ten minutes of talking it was time to start cooking. Our summer veggie lasagna involved a lot of chopped vegetables, so everyone teamed up to tackle the heaping bowls of fresh organic bell peppers, chile peppers, eggplants, portobello mushrooms, onions and garlic that I had picked up earlier that day at Bi-Rite Market and Trader Joe’s. All these veggies were sautéed for ~25 minutes with some olive oil and diced tomatoes, which we then partially blended to yield a chunky (and delicious) vegetable sauce. A few participants led the pesto production, blending up basil, Italian parsley, pine nuts, walnuts, parmesan cheese, garlic, and olive oil, and mixing the pesto with chopped spinach.

(Photo: Chris M. and others tackle the chopping)

While we waited for the veggies to cook, we all sat down, talked about ways to combat food access problems, and discussed the Get Cooking! model. Our attendees had lots of great ideas that we hadn’t thought of before, including Lloyd C.’s idea of helping our West Oakland participants that don’t own cooking equipment team up and cook dinners together. We were also surprised to hear from every attendee that they’d be interested in participating in cooking sessions at the Hub on a regular basis, ideally monthly. Everyone loved the idea of socializing with other Hub members and connecting while cooking together. Hosting additional sessions in the future is something we’ll keep in mind going forward.

Once the veggies were cooked and the sauce blended, everyone took turns assembling their personal lasagna: sauce, noodles, pesto, noodles, sauce, noodles, pesto... we definitely needed a mnemonic device to keep that straight. When we finished, attendees had a meal ready to take home and pop in the oven. Quick, easy and healthy: that’s the goal of the Get Cooking! model and we’re so happy we were able to share it with our neighbors at the Hub. Special thanks to Bi-Rite Market and Trader Joe’s for their support of the event, and thanks to all our attendees!

(Photo: I assemble a sample lasagna and Zach W. follows me down the assembly line)

(Photo: attendees assemble their lasagnas)

(Photo: Jeff D. and Michelle F. layer on the pesto)

Friday, July 29, 2011

Adventures in Social Entrepreneurship, week five: feeling the family love

The theme of this week’s curriculum was the magic of the family meal. The benefits of the family meal institution are vast and proven. Family meals create stronger familial relationships, keep kids out of trouble and on-track in school, enable kids and teens to be well-adjusted members of society, and improve health and well-being.

As we discussed the power of connecting with your family over a meal, we realized we’ve become something of a family ourselves. We shared a fresh fruit salad together and check-in on our weekly goal progress. This week our family’s matriarch (fearless facilitator and head chef Christy) blew us away with her unprecedentedly sunny attitude. She announced that she accomplished her truly ambitious weekly goal of not eating anything fried or eating any added salt all week. “I am a goal goddess,” she justly proclaimed. Josephine R. also wowed the family with her success on her three-part goal of going to the gym, drinking water, and eating green vegetables. In fact, she exceeded her goal by going to the gym four times instead of three. We are extremely proud of both of them!

(Photo: our fresh fruit salad with crumbled pecans and walnuts)

Gilda B. shared with us the impact family members can have on each other. She told us about how classmate and friend Sandra S. “is an inspiration. We should call her ‘sugar-free Sandra.’ She is always reading the labels and now I’ve started to do it too. It’s one thing to have someone like your doctor tell you to read labels. It’s another thing to have your friends and the people around you doing it all the time.” Along a similar vein, Shalina talked about how changing her own eating habits has impacted her daughter’s behavior. “This class has changed my whole life and my daughter Nasiya’s life too. Because I’m now trying new foods all the time, she’s also trying foods she’s never tasted before.”

(Photo: Gilda B. talks to us about the inspiration she gets from her friend “Sugar-free Sandra”)

As we all know first-hand (from being kids and perhaps raising kids too), kids aren’t always the most open-minded and adventurous eaters. This week we all shared tips on how to incorporate healthy foods into a child’s diet. Research has shown that kids are more willing to eat fruits and vegetables when they’ve been involved in the process of bringing them to the table: whether through cooking, picking out produce at a farmers’ market, or growing the fruits and vegetables at their schools or in their backyards. To demonstrate ways to incorporate veggies into traditional kid-friendly recipes, our meal this week was a healthy macaroni and cheese with spinach.

We also all know that family meals aren’t the only institution influencing children’s eating habits. This week our food justice educator, Shalina, talked to us about the strong need to advocate for healthier options in school lunch and breakfast programs. Our participants shared stories about the lunches being served in West Oakland schools and talked about the need for change.

Next week we’ll learn more about the importance of a healthy breakfast, and sneak spinach into yet another innocuous food item: fruit smoothies.