Author Archives: jabel

Alexandria Students Highlight Savings Stories in Essays

A new pair of Timberland boots. A new computer. An emergency fund. These are some of the things that Alexandria high school students have saved money for and that they wrote about as part of new essay contest that culminated in an awards ceremony on Feb. 26th at Fairlington Community Center.

The contest was organized by Virginia Cooperative Extension as part of America Saves Week, a national social marketing campaign that encourages people to save toward specific goals. Ten Alexandria students submitted essays and first, second, and third place winners received cash prizes of $650, $400, and $200, respectively, thanks to grants from the Consumer Federation of America (the group that created America Saves) and Commonwealth One Federal Credit Union.

“My father always told me that it’s not how much you make that’s important, it’s how much you keep,” James Lander, director of Military Saves and Chair of the Arlington County School Board, told the assembled students and their families at the awards ceremony on Thursday. “You all are well on your way to being successful savers and your peers could learn a lot from your example,” Lander said.

First prize winner Amir Shareak wrote his essay about how he sold portraits that he drew so that he could establish an emergency fund to be prepared for the unexpected. Second and third place winners were Cobie Johnson and Matiza Sacotingo, respectively.

VCE hopes to repeat this contest next year and to include students from more schools. To learn more about America Saves, visit the local site at: and take the savings pledge.

Essay winners and those receiving honorable mentions gather with essay contest judges Diana Yacob, Bill Guey-Lee (both Master Financial Education Volunteers), and Megan Kuhn--VCE Arlington's Financial Education Program Associate.

Essay winners and those receiving honorable mentions gather with essay contest judges Diana Yacob, Bill Guey-Lee (both Master Financial Education Volunteers), and Megan Kuhn–VCE Arlington’s Financial Education Program Associate.

Master Financial Education Volunteers Instrumental in Success of Money Smarts Pay

In a post earlier this week we talked about the graduates from the first Money Smarts Pay program, a course that combines one-on-one financial coaching with money management classes. We are very excited about this new model for financial education because we believe it will be more effective at achieving long-term results for participants.

Because this program is so intensive and requires not only instructors for each of the classes but also an individual financial coach for each of the participants, it would be impossible without the help and dedication of our trained Master Financial Education Volunteers. The volunteer coaches meet twice with their clients each month during the three months of the program (for six in-person meetings) and call them twice a month in between in-person meetings to check on their progress. The instructors lead the classes and orient participants to the actions that they are expected to take and the expectations of the program.

In the first course at Arlington Mill Apartments volunteers Desiree Kaul, Shauna Dyson, and Nichole Hyter did an admirable job of encouraging their clients to take action steps to improve their finances. Their efforts paid off, with all of their clients reporting that they are saving money toward specific goals, cutting back on their spending, and creating and using a spending plan, and getting out of debt. Volunteer Emma Li joined this group during the middle of the course when one participant dropped out and a new one joined.

We are currently conducting the Money Smarts Pay courses at three other sites and want to extend special thanks to Desiree Kaul and Nichole Hyter who have taken on new clients after their first ones graduated. Desiree has also stepped up to serve as an instructor at one of the sites. Thanks to the following volunteers who are also serving as coaches: Felipe Bohorquez, John Bowen, Jay Dowling, Gerri Gerardi, Lenny Gonzalez, Star Henderson, Tom Hoopengardner, Katrin Kark (also an instructor), Edith Lam, Jose Olivas (also an instructor), Meggan Orenstein, Esperanza Powers, Patrick Sullivan, and Diana Yakob. Thanks so much to everyone for all the time they are putting in on this new program.

Emergency Services Staff Learn about Healthy Eating

On November 14 VCE staff and Master Food Volunteers completed a series of six cooking demonstrations for Arlington County 911 dispatchers. Their supervisors requested these classes in order to provide the emergency services staff with ideas for quick and easy-to-prepare recipes that were full of healthy ingredients.

Master Food Volunteer Angela Braga chops cilantro for breakfast buritos.

Master Food Volunteer Angela Braga chops cilantro for breakfast burritos.

Master Food Volunteers Angela Braga, Nancy Broff, Brigitte Coulton, Andrea Durkin, Maiko Diaizen, Thao Nguyen, Aisha Salazar, Katie Savarese, and Sharon Simkin helped Extension Agent Jennifer Abel make a series of breakfast, lunch, and dinner recipes chock full of fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, lean protein sources, and high fiber foods. Among the favorite recipes were the breakfast burrito, breakfast parfait, apple-tuna sandwiches, spinach salad, Party Time Pasta with ground turkey, and green bean and mushroom sauté. Staff received packets with all of the recipes that were prepared, along with many others for them to consider making at home.

A staff member serves up a portion of the breakfast parfait.

A staff member serves up a portion of the breakfast parfait.

“I think everyone really appreciated the effort put forth on their behalf to help them with healthier habits,” said Debbie Powers, Deputy Coordinator of the Office of Emergency Management. This is a new partnership for VCE and we hope to do many more cooking demonstrations for emergency services staff in the future.

A staff member helps herself to Homemade Fruity Oatmeal.

A staff member helps herself to Homemade Fruity Oatmeal.



Welcome Graduates from the First Money Smarts Pay Course

On November 13 five women graduated from the inaugural course of the Money Smarts Pay program at Arlington Mill Apartments. All of them took specific actions to improve their money management habits such as creating and sticking to a budget, saving money in an emergency fund, saving toward a down payment on a house, and working on paying down debts.

Money Smarts Pay is a new program that we began in August 2014 in collaboration with the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH). It combines two of the services that we have been providing for more than 20 years: one-on-one financial coaching and money management classes. Participants take three classes, each separated by a month, on the topics of goal setting and budgeting, credit and debt management, and saving strategies. In the weeks between the classes participants meet with volunteer financial coaches who help them practice the skills that they learned in the class sessions and take the specific actions that we outline for each session. The course culminates in an awards ceremony to honor the achievements of all of the participants.

Participants pose with their certificates and coaches

Participants pose with their certificates and coaches

This hybrid approach will hopefully achieve better and longer lasting results for clients than either the coaching or classes have done by themselves, and the initial data from this first course are bearing that out. Participants are sticking to the positive behavior changes that they have adopted and are saving money toward concrete goals.

We also started Money Smarts Pay courses at two other APAH properties in September and November—Columbia Grove and Buchanan Gardens. These courses will end in December and February, respectively. When another organization, Arlington-Alexandria Coalition for the Homeless, heard about the program they wanted it for their clients too, so we began a program for them in November.

We will be leading a total of six Money Smarts Pay programs for APAH in fiscal year 2015 (July 1, 2014-June 30, 2015) and are looking forward to expanding the program to other organizations as well. If you would like more information about this program, please contact Jennifer Abel or Megan Kuhn: or


Teens in Foster Care Learn Nutrition and Cooking Skills

On November 12 a group of twelve teens completed the six-week Cooking Matters for Teens program. The group met every Wednesday for six weeks to learn about making nutritious meal choices and how to prepare healthy recipes. All of the participants were teens who are in foster care and who will soon be aging out of the system. Their case managers were eager for them to learn skills to help them make healthy choices once they are living on their own.

Each session of the course included an hour-long nutrition lesson followed by an hour-long cooking lesson in which the participants worked together to prepare 3-4 recipes. At the end of the course participants received a certificate, a book with nutrition information and recipes, and prizes like oven mitts and aprons.

Teens check a recipe while making chocolate cake

Teens check a recipe while making chocolate cake

Credit for the success of this course goes to Master Food Volunteer Nancy Broff. Nancy heard about a similar course that we did two years ago and wanted to repeat it. She contacted the woman in charge of educational programs for foster care teens at Arlington County’s Department of Human Services and told her that she was interested in organizing this course. After learning that there was no money available through either the county or Extension to purchase food for the classes she solicited donations from six different grocery stores so that there would be enough food for each class. Nancy approached the stores on her own and drove to them each week to pick up the ingredients. She organized the lesson plans, led the instruction, selected recipes to prepare, and arranged all the details for the course. The course would not have happened without Nancy’s dedication and commitment.

Participants indicated that the course taught them a great deal. One teen commented: “I learned to be more healthy in my eating habits and I learned a lot of information that was useful.” Another said “This class has taught me basics about cooking and what to know about food. I learned how to cook some foods and how to make healthier meals.”

Chopping garlic for a sauteed green bean recipe

Chopping garlic for a sauteed green bean recipe

Many other Master Food Volunteers came out to help with the cooking and instruction each week. Thanks to Brigitte Coulton, Maiko Daizen, Andrea Durkin, Barbara Gomez, Jeanne Lewis, Katie Potestio, Aisha Salazar, and Sharon Simkin for all of their support. Thanks also to Share Our Strength, creator of the Cooking Matters program and provider of the books used in the course.


National and state awards recognize local work

On September 18 Arlington Family and Consumer Sciences agent Jennifer Abel accepted the national Extension Housing Outreach award at the conference of the National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences in Lexington, KY. This award recognizes the work of the Arlington Energy Masters program, a partnership between Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) and Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment that began in 2011. The goal of the program is to improve the energy efficiency in low-income apartments. Teams of trained volunteers conduct energy- and water-saving retrofits. In the past three years they have made these improvements in 404 units in Arlington.

NEAFCS poster and award

Jennifer Abel shares information about the Arlington Energy Masters Program at the NEAFCS conference in Lexington, KY.

Volunteers have installed 2,463 compact fluorescent light bulbs, 5,136 outlet and switch plate gaskets, 493 faucet aerators, 221 low-flow showerheads, 272 toilet tummies, and given out 240 power strips. These improvements are saving an estimated 75,267 kilowatt hours of energy 4,551,890 gallons of water each year.

In October 25 people will get trained as new Energy Masters volunteers. Plans are in place to expand the program into Alexandria in the summer of 2015. To learn more about this program, contact Jennifer Abel:


This summer Nutrition Outreach Instructor Megan Mauer (based in VCE’s Alexandria office) was honored with the state Family Nutrition Program team award. Megan trains volunteers in Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, Prince William, Spotsylvania, and Stafford to conduct nutrition education programs in schools and recreation centers. The other team members recognized with the award are Program Assistant Ellen Matthis; Master Food Volunteers Kim Frey, Casandra Lawson, Sara Knopp, Ruth Schulman, Cindy Palmerino, and Susanne Gonzalez; Extension Agents Jennifer Abel, Reggie Morris, Nancy Stegon, Katie Strong, and Alyssa Walden; and District Director Cyndi Marston.

Megan is leaving VCE as of September 26th to pursue her dream of becoming a Registered Dietitian. She has made tremendous contributions to nutrition education during her two years here and will be sorely missed.




Master Food Volunteers Presented Alternative to Sugary Drinks and Salt at Arlington County Fair

By Sue Gonzalez

Master Food Volunteers (MFVs) joined Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists and 4-H Program Leaders to present a group of Virginia Cooperative Extension educational exhibits at the annual Arlington County Fair, August 8-10, at Thomas Jefferson Community Center.

The MFV display featured two hands-on activities that appealed to fairgoers of all ages. To promote reducing sodium intake, fairgoers were invited to make their own spice mixes to take home. Dill, oregano and basil were among the available herbs and spices.

The other activity was a Rethink Your Drink Ring Toss game created by MFV Mike Perel. The game board included empty containers of sodas, a sports drink, milk and water, filled with 1 sugar cube for every teaspoon (4 grams of sugar) in that beverage. The goal of the game was to get the rings around the two beverages that have zero added sugar – milk and water. While the youngest children enjoyed the challenge of tossing the rings, older children and adults discussed the message of the game with MFVs.

“While we encourage people to read nutrition facts labels and choose foods and beverages with less added sugar, there’s nothing quite like seeing one of your favorite beverage bottles filled with a pile of sugar cubes to drive the message home,” said Jennifer Abel, Arlington County’s senior extension agent, Family and Consumer Sciences, Virginia Cooperative Extension.

  Grams of Added Sugar Equivalent Teaspoons or Sugar Cubes
Pepsi 69 17.25
Coke 65 16.25
Sprite 64 16
Ginger Ale 59 14.75
Gatorade 34 8.5
Milk No added sugar 0
Water 0 0

Thanks to MFVs Nancy Broff, Sue Gonzalez, Joe Missal, Yoko Moskowitz, Mike Perel, Bruce Pittleman, Claudia Scott, and Sharon Simkin for working the exhibit and helping to make this year’s fair a success.

Arl. Co. Fair 2014

It’s July—But Wait, You Can Still Plant From Seeds—How About Your Own Baby Lettuces!!

By Susan Pollack, Master Food Volunteer

The heat of the summer is setting in and it may be a little late to get your vegetable garden started from scratch, but wait, you can still plant lettuces from seed and harvest the leaves and create your own “spring lettuce mix.”  And it couldn’t be simpler.  All you need is a sunny location—inside or out, a windowsill, a table by a sunny window, a patio.  Don’t fret about having a flower pot, any container will do.  If you don’t have a flowerpot, cut a milk carton or gallon container to four or five inches from the bottom.  The only things you’ll need to purchase are soil and some lettuce seeds.  Don’t be afraid to experiment with the seeds, now is a great time to try the mixes and you can find out what you really like, try arugula, mache, any of the lettuces.

Fill the container to an inch from the top.  Scatter the seeds over the soil (don’t worry about thinning—that will be your baby lettuces!).  Cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil, just to cover, not too thick or the seeds may not germinate.  Then, using a spray bottle or something similar, spray water over the soil, making sure the top half inch or so is moist.  That’s it, just keep spraying the soil every day to keep it moist and wait for the seeds to germinate.  It’s important to keep the soil moist, not saturated.  As the leaves begin to appear, just cut them when they get to about an inch and a half, two inches tall, rinse them and they are ready to eat.  You have your own salad mix and for a fraction of the cost.  Continue to reseed the soil throughout the summer and early fall and enjoy.


What about the salad?

While you’re waiting for your salad greens to grow, don’t forget to check your farmers’ markets for lettuces or get some from the grocery store.  A salad is a great accompaniment to any meal or a great meal in itself.  Don’t just stick to your standard salad of tomatoes and cucumbers; try fruit and other vegetables in your salad.  Try some of the wonderful stone fruits that are appearing now in the market: peaches, nectarines, plums, and apricots.  Slice the fruit into slivers and add to your greens.  Add some slivered nuts, seeds such as chia, sesame, flax if you’d like, and dress.

Wait, don’t use that bottled dressing—way too many calories, and your own dressing can be so refreshing.  The idea to a dressing is one part acid, such as any kind of vinegar—try red wine, white wine, balsamic, apple—or use fresh lemon or lime, to two parts oil.  Again, try different oils.  Olive oil is very popular in a salad dressing, but if you’d like a milder oil, try canola, grapeseed, or safflower.  Then add a few shakes from the salt shaker and the same with black pepper.

To make a side salad for two people, in a bowl add:

  • Two handfuls of lettuce (baby lettuces or tear up full leaves).
  • Cut up a peach, nectarine, or plum into small wedges, or whatever you prefer,
  • One tablespoon of slivered almonds or any other chopped nuts
  • One teaspoon of seeds

Directly to the bowl, add one teaspoon of flavored vinegar or squeeze a quarter of a lemon or lime (careful of the fruit seeds), two teaspoons of oil, salt and pepper and mix all together.

If you want to make your salad into a meal, add some protein, such as cheese, a hardboiled egg, some canned beans that have been rinsed, or left over chicken or turkey.  The great thing about a salad is there are unlimited variations so they never need to be boring.


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