Monthly Archives: June 2014

Arlington County VCE Summer Intern

Hello everyone!

First off, I would like to introduce myself… My name is Van Do, and I am a rising senior double majoring in Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise and Psychology at Virginia Tech. I am the current summer intern for Virginia Cooperative Extension in Arlington County. 🙂 I will be blogging through the summer about all of the experiences I am going through during my 10-week internship.

I began my internship at the beginning of June, and one of my tasks that I have been working on the past few weeks is creating lessons and short activities to teach at AFAC food distributions! One of the first boards I made was a lesson on sodium, and I attended a food distribution last Wednesday and helped out the volunteers to present the lesson. Look out for future lessons on fats, fibers, and sugar, etc…


Stay tuned for future posts on my experiences!


VCE-Arlington Selected to Test New National Financial Toolkit

What does money mean to you? What is your first memory of money?

How we view and use money isn’t always logical. We don’t always do what we “should.” Our background and experiences impact our decision-making when it comes to money. For some, saving for retirement will take a backseat to helping family pay off an unexpected expense. For others, giving to their community of faith is a top priority.

Understanding cultural and emotional factors that influence financial habits is key, both for keeping our values in check while serving clients and for helping clients bridge cultural and emotional roadblocks. The aim is to improve our cultural sensitivity toward clients from different backgrounds.

More than 20 of our Master Financial Education Volunteers recently discussed the emotional and cultural factors that impact people’s decision making when it comes to money. Money meant freedom, vacations. First money memories included piggy banks and paper routes.

Other questions tackled included:

  • “What is the most difficult thing about money for you? For your family?”
  • How does your community of faith view money?
  • “How did your family handle finances when you were growing up? Did you discuss money openly?”
  • “What do you want your children, nieces, nephews and students in our programs to learn about money? What do you think they are learning from you now?”

Discussions were spurred by a new financial empowerment toolkit from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau designed to train community volunteers to help clients with financial questions and concerns. The Bureau asked the Arlington office of Virginia Cooperative Extension to test and evaluate the toolkit before it is released nationwide. We will be incorporating toolkit modules such as the cultural and emotional discussion questions into our programming and one-on-one financial counseling.

So, what are your answers to the questions above? My earliest money memories include yard sales and saving to buy $30 roller blades, a fortune to me at the time.


Jennifer Abel lead a continuing education class for Master Financial Education Volunteers

Jennifer Abel leads a continuing education class about the cultural and emotional factors that impact financial decisions for Master Financial Education Volunteers.



Summer Begins!

The school year is over and many kids are transitioning from school time to rec time. As the summer thermostat increases, the heat is on to organize and gather the hundreds of kids ready to learn and play.

All the container gardens have been delivered and several of the centers have also set up other gardens as well. Some of the kids were able to help in the planting and initial set up of the garden and enjoyed getting their hands dirty and took pride in the plants they watered and will be taking care of this summer.

photo (2)

The 4-H program will be implemented next week as well as the start of the B2i leadership academy program. B2i helps kids connected to the Arlington-Alexandria Coalition for the Homeless gain leadership skills and build confidence through various activities, trips, speakers and spending time together.

Beets: What was I thinking?

By Julie Mendoza, Master Food Volunteer

Do you ever come back from the farmers market or a big box store and ask yourself, “What was I thinking?”

There are only two of us at home so shopping at a big box store proved an insurmountable challenge. While every purchase made sense at the time, the quantities and/or sizes were so large, we would have been smarter to invite neighbors over than to try to finish it all by ourselves!  Forget about the enjoyment factor. That was gone once we got our purchases home and realized how much of the same thing we’d sentenced ourselves to eat. (Note: we eventually learned and gave up our membership.)

While different for sure, I sometimes have a similar experience at the farmers market. I come home and say, “What were you thinking?” It happened just the other day.  Only this time it wasn’t an abundance of processed food, it was fresh beets.

We love beets and are watching ours grow in the garden. But the other day, Mary, a local farmer had varieties we’re not growing and they caught my eye. She had Chioggia beets and Golden beets. Chioggia’s are the ones with a bull’s eye pattern of concentric red and white circles. They remind me of candy cane striping. Both those and the golden beets were calling for me to purchase them. So I did. Then I got home and it dawned on me, I had two bunches of beets for two people. That’s a lot of beets! What was I thinking?

Instead of getting too flustered, I decided to start with what I know and move out from there.  Roasted beets are a mainstay for us.  They catch your eye on a salad plate served up with a bit of goat cheese and a splash of balsamic vinegar or tossed into a ‘catch all’ salad. As the summer gets hot and humid, I’ll mix roasted beets with watermelon and feta cheese for a cool, quenching and refreshing blend of tastes.

With the balance of the beets I bought, I experimented and landed on a winner with Martha Stewart’s Candied Beet Chips.  They’re easy to make and fun to eat. My only caution is to pick a less humid day to make them or they’ll get soggy before you have had a chance to enjoy them.

As for the greens – there too I improvised. I started by sautéing the greens in garlic and onion then built upon that to move the vegetable from a side dish to the main course with the addition of cannellini beans and a small portion of pasta. A sprinkling of grated cheese and I convinced myself I was dining in Italy!

Eating fresh vegetables wins out over taking vitamins for me any day. A low calorie, fiber-filled vegetable, beets contain folate, a B vitamin, as well as manganese, calcium, iron, phosphorus, zinc and selenium.

I’m sure I’ll find myself at the market with the same impulse to buy LOTS of what looks delicious or simply just pretty.   In fact, I hope it happens soon. As for beets, I already have two recipes in the offing waiting to be tried and tasted: fresh beet juice and a beet and apple upside down cake.

So if you find yourself in a similar situation as I did, please don’t hold back – buy that extra bunch of vegetables. Experiment. You have nothing to lose. It’s energizing to try new things and wonderful to expand our taste palates instead of falling back on the tried and true recipes we know by heart.


Roasted Beets: Wash the beets to remove any dirt. Do not peel. Wrap them in foil. Then pop them in a 350 oven. They are done when you can pierce with a fork. Take them out – cool a bit and peel off the outer ‘skin’.  They keep for a few days in the refrigerator.

Beet Greens with Cannellini Beans:

There are no exact measurements for this recipe. Use it simply as a guide and experiment with what you like and have on hand.


Olive Oil



Beet Greens – tops from a bunch – washed and coarsely chopped

Cannellini Beans (White Kidney Beans) – ½ can to whole can depending on your preference Grape/Cherry Tomatoes – handful cut in 1/2

Chicken stock, vegetable stock or water

Salt, Pepper, Fresh herbs and red pepper flakes – Your preference – all optional

Penne Pasta – (whole wheat or one made with vegetables so it adds color to the dish)

Grated Cheese

  1. Sauté onions and garlic in a bit of olive oil. Once the garlic is fragrant and the onions translucent, add the beet greens by the handful. Cook just until they begin to wilt. Drain and rinse cannellini beans. Add to sautéing greens. Add a handful of tomatoes. To moisten the dish, add a splash of stock (chicken or vegetable) or water. Let it cook for a few minutes but not so long tomatoes get mushy. The goal is to meld the flavors.
  2. Cook penne pasta al dente.
  3. To plate: The pasta is meant as a small portion/element of the dish. So please do not fill the plate. Top the pasta with fresh beet greens and sprinkle with grated cheese.

Candied Beet Chips

  • prep: 10 mins

total time: 1 hour 40 mins

  • yield: Makes 1/2 cup


  • 4 baby beets, preferably Chioggia
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Slice beets very thinly into rounds, preferably on a mandoline. Bring water and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. Add beets. Reduce heat, and simmer until slightly translucent, about 30 minutes.
  2. Using a slotted spoon, transfer beets in a single layer to a rimmed baking sheet lined with a nonstick baking mat. Bake until dry and slightly firm, about 1 hour.


Martha Stewart Living, November 2011


VCE Nutrition Education Returns to AFAC

The pictures below show Master Food Volunteer Bruce Pittleman who demonstrates on Saturday twice a month to the clients of AFAC (Arlington Food Assistance Center) about the real life saving benefits of finding healthy alternative beverages for the clients’ needs. Bruce shows how many grams of  sugar are in sodas,energy drinks and sport drinks.  Bruce explains that there are tasty, inexpensive beverage alternatives such as cucumber-, lime- or lemon-flavored waters. Bruce feels strongly that making people aware of all the sugars that are in their daily drinks and showing them inexpensive options can help the clients at AFAC to lead a healthier lifestyle.

Bruce at AFAC

Rethink your drink at AFAC

Volunteer Spotlight: Donna Brazier

Each month Extension’s financial education program is profiling an outstanding volunteer. To nominate someone, please email Megan Kuhn at

Name: Donna Brazier
Lives: Alexandria
Works: Financial Management Consultant and Trainer, Retired Foreign Service Officer for U.S. AID

Donna Brazier has volunteered as a Master Financial Education Volunteer since 2009. She and Desiree Kaul recently provided training for social workers. The training provided case workers with information and materials to use with their clients as they help them to resolve their financial problems.

Q. What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A. I love to cook. I love to bake.

Q. What is your go-to recipe?
A. Lasagna.

Q. What was your most interesting overseas posting?
A. Even though I’m retired, I still take contract assignments. I went to Madagascar between 2010 and 2011. It was one of the poorest countries I’ve been to, but one of the most beautiful. It was the first time I saw Jacaranda trees in full bloom. They have pink flowers.

Q. What is your favorite thing to save for?
A. Trips.

Q. What is your favorite splurge?
A. I’ll splurge on travel, and I love perfume.

Q. Why do you volunteer?
A. It bothers me how people are taken advantage of for not knowing about finances.

Q. What has your experience been as a volunteer?
A. One of the most positive experiences I had was teaching financial literacy at the Alexandria Community Shelter. I had a woman cry, “had I talked to you a year ago, I wouldn’t be in the shelter.” People appreciate what I’m trying to do.

Q. What’s been the biggest challenge as a volunteer?
A. Working with one-on-one clients because they don’t always show up, and working with people who don’t want the help.

Q. What keeps you motivated?
A. I know there is a need. I know I’m helping. I also do different things. There are many ways to help: teaching classes, training social workers, counseling clients one-on-one and taking continuing education.

A new twist on an old recipe. Two short-season Ingredients at the Farmers Market. Get them before they’re gone!

By Julie Mendoza, Master Food Volunteer

When you close your eyes and think about early summer foods, what comes to mind first? Strawberries?

If so, I’ll bet you also associate it with a particular dessert. For me, strawberries are my early summer fruit and strawberry shortcake is my first memory (other than sitting in a field and just eating them right off the plant!) The light Angel food cake piled high with berries and whipped cream is a favorite childhood memory.  This summer I’d like to suggest another equally old time favorite dessert as an alternative. I’ve rediscovered a recipe and have made it several times. I’m speaking of Strawberry Rhubarb compote.   It’s so easy to make and is laser sharp in focusing on the ingredients: Strawberries and Rhubarb. In addition to taste, both fruits bring enormous nutritional benefits. They’re rich in B-complex vitamins as well as being high in fiber.  Right now in our farmers markets – boxes of luscious strawberries are for sale. They are the sweetest sun ripened fruit you’ll find in the market this month and as fast as they arrived is as fast as we’ll find the season has ended.  In another few weeks, if we’d like more, our only choice will the local grocery store. So seize the moment and celebrate the season now. The recipe below is an adaptation of one offered by David Lebovitz

Strawberry Rhubarb Compote

This compote is wonderful by itself in a pretty glass bowl or used as topping on Greek yogurt, ice cream and even Angel Food Cake!

  • 1.5 cups   water
  • 2 pieces of candied ginger, minced fine (wonderful but optional)
  • ½ cup  sugar
  • 1/3 honey (or use additional sugar)
  • 1 pound rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1” pieces
  • 1 pound strawberries, hulled and, depending on size, cut in half or quartered.
  1. Combine water, sugar and honey in a non-reactive pot. Bring to a boil so the sugar is completely dissolved.
  2. Add rhubarb and minced candied ginger. Cook over low heat until just tender. Depending on the rhubarb it may be only about five minutes or so.
  3. Remove from heat and add the strawberries.  The strawberries will gently cook as it rests.
  4. Cool and either refrigerate for later enjoyment or serve.

Note: If rhubarb is sold in a different quantity, proportions can be adjusted. Amount of sugar may vary based on the sweetness of particular fruit.

Training Session for 4-H Summer Program

This past Monday Reggie, Megan our nutrition specialist, and myself held a training session informing the different Rec. centers about our program package this summer for the kids. At the meeting we gathered to discuss ‘what the heck is 4-H?’

After finding their seats with a plate of mixed veggies and a special bag of a homemade popcorn, Reggie informed our Rec. center officials about the diverse programs including public speaking, gardening, nutrition, and STEM among others. 4-H is geared to help the kids grow in confidence and skills hands on, as well as better prepare them for community involvement as a citizen and neighbor in the future. Many different components make up the program and frankly would take a powerpoint from me to explain all that it entails.

After this we split up into three groups and had demonstrations of three of the different activities that could be conducted throughout this summer program. The training session gave the opportunity for leaders to evaluate and become accustomed to the purpose and teaching skills involved, as well as any immediate modifications that would better suite their individual kids.


We then ventured outside to our bustling greenhouse, and with many helping hands, we put together our first container garden that each Rec site will hopefully be hosting this summer and throughout the year, as the kids will take primary responsibility of tending the garden daily with a couple weekly check-ups by yours truly.