Category Archives: Food and Nutrition

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

Summer Vegetables Are Finally Here

Summer Vegetables Are Finally Here

I’ve been waiting for this time of year since the winter, you go to the farmers’ market or you planted vegetable plants and have been waiting for them to ripen so you can eat from all those fresh seasonal vegetables.  While almost all vegetables are available year round now, there’s something special about eating them so fresh.  The idea of a fresh picked tomato or sweet corn; who needs to do much to them to satisfy your taste buds?  I can have them constantly all summer long and never tire of them.  Some vegetables, however, need a little more preparation for their best flavors to appear, but the variety of vegetables available now gives me an opportunity to mix them up and get just great flavors, and such healthy nutrients to boost.

I only have room to plant a few things in my tiny garden, and for some reason, I always choose eggplant and tomatoes, as well as pots of herbs.  Although I never get many tomatoes, and I’m always fighting with the squirrels for my share, I just can’t give up trying to grow them.  As for eggplant, well I do love them, and they don’t take much room, so they’re a good choice.  The problem is, once the eggplant plants begin to produce, you never get just one.  And they keep coming!  Unlike tomatoes and sweet corn, I need to vary my eggplant recipes to keep me interested in eating them.  The grill comes in handy, because I’m not big on turning on my oven when the temperature reaches 90.  I love grilled eggplant in a sandwich, and there’s so much else you can do with it.

To grill an eggplant, I usually slice it lengthwise in about half-inch slices.  I use a pastry brush to coat both sides of the slices with olive oil, because the eggplant absorbs the oil quickly.  Then I just sprinkle them with salt and pepper and put on the grill at medium heat.  The slices need to be watched carefully, because they can burn easily.  Once they are soft, they are done.

I love to use the grilled eggplant slices in sandwiches.  Often, I grill zucchini or yellow squash in the same way at the same time, and add them to a sandwich as well.  I find crusty breads best for these sandwiches, a slice of grilled eggplant, a slice of grilled squash, sliced mozzarella, and sliced tomato.  Great summer sandwich!  If I have any around, I also smear some hummus on the bread, adds more flavor and an added shot of nutrients.

Another favorite recipe of mine is a variation on caponata, an Italian eggplant dish.  This dish uses many of the summer vegetables and can be varied to your own taste.  Here’s a simple way to make it.

Olive oil

1 medium eggplant, sliced lengthwise in ½ inch strips

1 zucchini, sliced lengthwise in ½ inch strips

1 yellow squash, sliced lengthwise in ½ inch strips

1 green or red pepper, seeded and quartered

1 medium onion, sliced into ½ inch rounds

1 or 2 tomatoes, depending on size, sliced into ½ inch rounds

6 or 7 black olives, chopped (optional)

1 TB capers (optional)

1 TB tomato paste

2 TB red wine vinegar

1 clove garlic chopped

1 TB chopped parsley, basil or both

Salt and pepper

With a brush, lightly coat the eggplant, squash, pepper, onion, and tomato slices with olive oil and salt and pepper.

Heat the grill to medium.  Lightly oil the grates on the grill so the vegetables won’t stick.  Place the eggplant and squashes on the grill.  Put the pepper, onion, and tomato slices on a lightly oiled piece of aluminum foil and then onto the grill.  Cook for about 3 to 5 minutes per side.  Once the slices are soft, they are ready to be removed from the grill.

If you don’t have a grill, all of this can be done in an oven set to 4000F and all the vegetables spread in 2 large baking pans lined with parchment paper or lightly sprayed with cooking oil.  Cook for about 20 minutes or until soft.

While the vegetables are cooling, in a small pan, warm the tomato paste and vinegar at medium heat.  Add the garlic and cook for about a minute until you can smell the aroma of the garlic.

Once the vegetables have cooled to the touch, chopped them all up into about one inch chunks.  Put them all in a big bowl, add the capers and chopped olives if using.  Pour the tomato paste, vinegar, and garlic over, add chopped parsley and or basil, salt and pepper and mix.  Let the caponata sit for a bit, so the flavor can meld.

The caponata is great to eat as a side for a main meal, with cracker or on toasted bread slices as an appetizer, with feta or another cheese as a light meal, or mixed with pasta.


–Susan Pollack, Master Food Volunteer

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

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.

Fairlington Day Festivities

Virginia Cooperative Extension participated in Fairlington Day this past weekend. Agents and volunteers showcased Extension Arlington’s many faces by preparing delicious healthy eats, giving tours of the food gardens, organizing 4-H kids’ activities and providing information on the many great programs we coordinate. Getting out into the community and sharing information is what we do so if you have an event coming up that you would like us to participate in, please get in touch with our Marketing and Communications Associate,


Newly Minted Master Food Volunteers Graduate

During March some 26 trainees gathered each Friday at Fairlington Community Center in Arlington to become Master Food Volunteers (MFV). Participants were treated to a variety of seminars given by a number of Family and Consumer Sciences Agents, with some travelling from as far as Roanoke and Blacksburg, to share their knowledge.  Katie Strong from Arlington and Nancy Stegon from Prince William County led the course, which covered wide-ranging topics including nutrition, physical activity, safe food preparation, shopping on a budget and food allergies.

Cooking lunch was one of the group’s favorite activities each week. Trainees learned how to make nutritious meals, with an emphasis on using whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Instructors guided them on how to follow hygiene and food safety guidelines, right down to the correct way to wash dishes.  Qualified volunteers provided much welcomed assistance during the four weeks of the course.

The trainees were a diverse group, although most seemed to share a strong predilection for quinoa.  After all passing a test and the training hours requirement, the graduates are all set to provide at least thirty volunteer hours over the next year. They will assist with different activities around the region, such as nutrition education, cooking demonstrations and farmers’ market displays.

If you are interested in becoming a MFV, the next training course will take place in Fairfax, starting on October 3, 2014.  See this link for more details



It’s National Volunteer Week! THANK YOU! And How to Get Involved…

This week we celebrate National Volunteer Week.
It is time to say THANK YOU to all our volunteers.
Cooperative Extension relies on volunteers, and we believe that active citizen involvement in our programs ensures success.  The work of volunteers at state and local levels helps leverage our paid faculty and staff resources into a much greater impact and benefit for the people of Virginia.

For Extension Volunteer Stories see

Get Involved
There are many ways you can get involved as a volunteer with Cooperative Extension to bring your talents and skills to benefit the community.  Some of them are listed below. If you are interested in volunteering, but not sure in what way, contact our offices: Arlington 703 228 6400 and Alexandria 703 746 5546.  Staff will be happy to help you find a way to share your time and talents.

Here’s how to get involved volunteering locally with Cooperative Extension programs:

Arlington and Alexandria Extension Leadership Council (ELC)
The Arlington and Alexandria Extension Leadership Council is composed of interested residents, Cooperative Extension staff, and county and city liaisons who identify community issues and help ensure programs are responsive to real needs. Also, the ELC advocates in support of local programs and staff, and promotes greater awareness of the work of the Extension staff and volunteers.  The ELC meets every two months. If you are interested in joining, please contact the Arlington or Alexandria Extension Office and come to an ELC meeting. ELC 2014 Brochure

.4-H Youth Development
4-H stands for head, heart, hands and health.

DSC01047 - reduced version

Every 4-H program benefits from this integrated approach to civic engagement and hands-on learning – and the dedication and service of caring volunteers.  If you are interested in contributing your time to help further the development of youth in our community, please contact Reggie Morris, 4-H agent for Alexandria or Emily Reiersgaard, 4-H agent for Arlington,

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Master Gardeners
Master Gardeners encourage and promote environmentally sound horticultural practices through sustainable landscape management education and training.
Kirsten picking greens

Here serving Arlington and Alexandria we have the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia.  Master Gardeners training will be offered in the fall. For details contact: Agriculture and Natural Resources agent, Kirsten Buhls or Arlington’s Interim Master Gardener Coordinator, Jocelyn Yee

Arlington Regional Master Naturalists
The Arlington Regional Master Naturalist program is part of a statewide corps of volunteers providing education, outreach, and service dedicated to the beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas within their communities. If you’re interested in becoming an Arlington Regional Master Naturalist, go to


Master Food Volunteers
Master Food Volunteers help support Extension’s family and consumer sciences (FCS) agents through education and outreach programs related to food preparation, nutrition, food safety, and physical activity. Contact FCS agent Katie Strong for information about programs and trainings in the Arlington and Fairfax area.


Arlington Energy Masters
Arlington’s  innovative Energy Masters program promotes a more energy efficient and sustainable Arlington community. We engage professionally trained volunteers in retrofitting, weatherization, and water conservation techniques serving low-income apartment residents. If you are interested in applying for the 2014-2015 program later this summer, please complete the volunteer interest form.


Master Financial  Educators
Financial volunteers receive a comprehensive training on budgeting, retirement planning, home buying, and many other finance topics, instruction in counseling techniques. Volunteers can choose to help individuals or community groups with financial education programs – including learning to reconcile debts, set goals, budget spending, and organization to improve money management skills. Please contact Jennifer Abel for details of the next training.


Volunteering Counts!
Here is how volunteering counts in Arlington and Alexandria.
In 2012: the Arlington and Alexandria staff and volunteers of Virginia Cooperative Extension reached over 50,000 people with 650+ education programs.  850+ active volunteers contributed over 32, 000 hours. That outreach was conducted with a local office staff of about a dozen people. That’s the power of volunteers!

Interested in volunteering statewide or at national level for Virginia Cooperative Extension? See:




Spring Break? Register now for the Virginia Urban Agriculture Summit

If you’re interested in conversations about urban agriculture, and would like to meet growers, sellers, consumers, health professionals, planners and others investing in growing your food closer to your city: consider registering for the mid-April Virginia Urban Agriculture Summit:

Register Now for the
Virginia Urban Agriculture Summit, Nourishing Our Cities’ Future
in Lynchburg, Virginia
on Tuesday April 15 & Wednesday April 16, 2014

For agenda, registration and lodging info go to

Highlights  of the Urban Ag Summit will include:

  • First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe to give keynote
  • Screening of Dan Susman’s documentary film Growing Cities-A Film About Urban Farming in America for early birds on the evening of Monday April, 14, 2014
  • Tour of Lynchburg Grows

For further background on the Virginia Urban Agriculture Summit check out Virginia Tech’s News:

And on the note of celebrating Agriculture  – rural and urban – March 25th is National Agriculture Day:
“On this National Agriculture Day, we thank the farmers, ranchers, and others at the heart of American agriculture, an industry that provides for our food and fiber needs, supports one in twelve jobs, and drives our nation’s economy.”

~ Secretary Tom Vilsack
Read his full statement: