Recently, on a cool October evening, with the harvest moon just a few short weeks past, the St. Mary’s Nutrition Center opened its generous Bates Street doors for the sixth annual “Alive in Lewiston,” a celebration of local food, music and art.
The concept for this celebration was born out of the Nutrition Center’s passion for both locally grown food and the community. The date, according to Denise Dill, coordinator of the Nutrition Center’s community cooking education program, was chosen because it falls very close to National Food Day, a day set aside to celebrate “sustainable agriculture,” and affordable, healthy food.
Their goal, says Dill, was to bring “a celebration of the harvest” to Lewiston and to create “an opportunity to raise awareness and money, not just for (the Nutrition Center and its many programs) but for other organizations” as well.
One of the programs critical to the success of the annual Alive in Lewiston celebration is Lots to Gardens. Fourteen years ago, Kristen Walker, director of the Nutrition Center, food pantry and community nutrition education program, started Lots to Gardens. The program is a "a youth and community driven organization that uses sustainable urban agriculture to create access to fresh food, and to nurture healthy youth and a healthy community,” according to its website.
With 14 garden spaces spread throughout Lewiston, from Knox Street to Wood Street and the Hillview Community Gardens on Rideout Avenue, Lots to Gardens provides an abundance of opportunity for local families to grow their own food. It also provides opportunities for other programs and events, including but not limited to, cooking and nutrition education classes and commerce through veggie stands and farmers markets.
Nadifa Mohamed, who began as an intern and is currently employed by the Nutrition Center, works with the Somali and Somali Bantu communities at the Hillview site where Lots to Gardens began and she supports and translates for community gardens in the Knox Street area, according to Dill. This fall, Mohamed and many other youths and community gardeners have been busy harvesting and preserving the produce grown in local garden lots, some of which was used to prepare the fresh, beautiful and delicious offerings at this year’s “Alive in Lewiston” celebration.
Dill said the recipes chosen for the night reflected the cultural diversity of the Nutrition Center's many participants as well as Lewiston-Auburn.
"The sauteed winter greens dish was reflective of one of our Summer Youth Gardeners family. They are from the Congo and we learned from her at one of our many cooking classes how her family traditionally prepared these greens. And since we tried it her way, we haven't done anything different since. The recipe is so simple, but the order in which she adds the ingredients is super important," said Dill.
She noted that the pumpkin chili and the toasted pumpkin seeds both included cumin and cilantro, which is representative of some Somali cooking, while "the rabbit pot pie — made and donated by Bubier Farms — was representative of the Franco community," she said.
The menu at the 6th annual celebration included a variety of foods, as well as entertainment, all true to the Nutrition Center’s local and healthy philosophy. (See related story on the influences that shaped the menu.) The evening began with colorful appetizers, including gluten-free pesto and babaganoush, as well as vegan cranberry rouie and homemade Neufchatel cheese, all served with wood-fired breads created by Forage Market and Borealis Bread.
Hearty vegetarian soups included pumpkin chili, roasted garlic, and beet-and-carrot fennel soups, served with freshly roasted pumpkin seeds to add a smoky crunch.
Ginger-and-maple-glazed carrots, sauteed winter greens and a roasted fall vegetable salad with a maple mustard vinaigrette were followed by pumpkin bread pudding souffle, apple cider and cranberry glazed flourless chocolate cake with chocolate ganache, and baked apples.
Because of the Nutrition Center’s relationship with a host of local markets, farms and businesses, it is able to supplement its “seasonal food (with food that is) either donated or sold to us at a reduced rate. . . . We have a lot of people to thank,” Dill noted.
To learn more about the St. Mary’s Nutrition Center and its programs and opportunities, call 513-3844 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A menu full of nutrition
Denise Dill, coordinator of the Nutrition Center’s community cooking education program, explains how the menu was created for "Alive in Lewiston," revealing some of the center's overall philosophy on food.
"The menu was created around what was available to harvest from our urban gardens, what had been preserved from our harvest (i.e. canned goods like tomato sauce and frozen greens) as well as what was available to get from local farms that are vendors at our farmers markets.
"We also try to create new and exciting ways to use this harvest at 'Alive in Lewiston' in order to share these ideas with the public. Therefore we usually try new combinations and use varieties of produce that you may not see in the grocery stores but can only be found in our gardens or our markets.
"The menu was also shaped by staff, youth and volunteers in our programs. We incorporated recipes that were favorites of people we work with.
"Other things that shape the menu include healthy cooking techniques and messages. A few of these are listed below. They shape all our choices around meals.
— "Eat your colors: Eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables (preferably with the skins on) helps fight chronic disease and cancer because they contain phyto-nutrients. To simplify this, we say that every different color helps a different part of your body. So by eating the colors of the rainbow (in regard to fruits and vegetables) you are protecting your whole body and more likely to get all the vitamins and minerals you need.
— "Choose whole grains: We chose to feature whole-grain breads to help fight chronic disease.
— "More beans, less meat (lean with protein): Most of the protein sources at 'Alive in Lewiston' are plant based to promote lower cholesterol, lower saturated fat choices.
— "More herbs, less salt: To help promote healthy blood pressure."
3/4 cup dried chickpeas
2 1/2 pounds pumpkin, kombocha or buttercup squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup red lentils
4 cups vegetable broth
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
Soak chickpeas in enough cold water to cover them by 2 inches for 6 hours or overnight. (Alternatively, use the quick-soak method: Place beans in a large pot with enough water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat and let stand for 1 hour.) Drain when ready to use.
Combine the soaked chickpeas, squash, carrots, onion, lentils, broth, tomato paste, ginger, cumin, salt and pepper in a 6-quart slow cooker.
Put on the lid and cook on low until the chickpeas are tender and the lentils have begun to break down (5 to 6 1/2 hours).
Stir in lime juice. Serve sprinkled with cilantro.
Extra additions: For a heartier soup try adding white beans, kidney beans and/or diced tomatoes!
Pumpkin bread pudding souffle
6 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup apple cider (try using unpasteurized and let it ferment in the fridge for a few days)
1/3 cup hot water
15 ounces pumpkin puree
4 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
Pinch of salt
One 12-ounce day-old loaf brioche, challah or rustic baguette, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter six 10-ounce ramekins or parchment baking cups and sprinkle each with 1 tablespoon brown sugar; set aside on a baking sheet. Place raisins in a small bowl and cover with apple cider, if using, and the hot water; let soak until plump, about 20 minutes. Drain; set aside.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together pumpkin, eggs, sugar, milk, vanilla, spices and salt. Toss in the bread cubes and stir gently to evenly coat; let stand a few minutes. Fold in the raisins. Divide among baking cups, pressing down slightly to make level.
3. Bake until custard is set in the center and top is golden, about 40 minutes. If bread browns too quickly, cover loosely with aluminum foil. Remove from oven; let cool slightly. To serve, un-mold onto plates; dust with powdered sugar.
Roasted fall vegetable salad with honey mustard dressing
Serves 4 to 6
1 pound small Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed, with each cut into 4 to 8 wedges, depending on size of potatoes
1/4 butternut squash, seeded, peeled and cut into wedges about the same size as the potatoes
1 sweet bell pepper, cored, seeded, ribbed and cut into wedges about the same size as the potatoes
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced or pressed
2 tablespoons cold pressed extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 large handfuls of baby salad greens
Honey mustard vinaigrette (see below)
Garnishes: Candied pecans or toasted pumpkin seeds
To prepare the vegetables for roasting, in a large bowl toss together the potatoes, squash, pepper, rosemary, garlic, oil, salt and pepper.
Arrange vegetables evenly on an edged baking sheet. They should not be overlapping.
Roast at 350 degrees for about 15 to 20 minutes, until vegetables are tender and beginning to caramelize. Remove from the oven and let cool. This step can be completed a few hours ahead, in which case refrigerate the vegetables and bring back to room temperature before serving.
Prepare the vinaigrette (below) and refrigerate.
In a large mixing bowl, toss the salad greens with enough of the vinaigrette to coat each leaf.
Quickly toss the vegetables with a little of the vinaigrette and tuck them into the greens in each of the salads.
Top each salad with candied pecans or toasted pumpkin seeds, freshly ground black pepper and a sprig of fresh rosemary.
Honey mustard vinaigrette
Makes about 1 cup
9 tablespoons cold pressed extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons natural process apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced or pressed
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
In a small bowl or glass measuring cup, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, honey, mustard, garlic and salt until emulsified.
Taste and balance sweetness (honey), acidity (vinegar) and salt.
Pour vinaigrette into a squeeze bottle, cap and refrigerate.