Monday, June 30, 2008

To the beat of many drums

Last Wednesday The Front Porch had its first Wellness Day with over thirty people in attendance. The program was organized in collaboration with the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore and was held at Congregation Ahabat Sholom. There were opportunities for everyone to try some new things and to learn about some quick, healthy foods to prepare at home.

We started out the day warming up with Cindy's rousing introduction to Zumba Gold. Who said exercise had to be boring?!

After all of that dancing and moving, a massage therapist gave shoulder massages and taught a meditation technique that could be done at home. To demonstrate the practice of aromatherapy, everyone was given a small bottle of a natural scent chosen to promote relaxation as well. While that was going on, we made individually designed fruit smoothies from fruits and juices that each person chose themselves. We also screened the film "Surfing for Life" about surfers in California and Hawaii who are in their 70's-90's!! Very inspiring to see, though this blogger prefers to keep her feet on the ground!

We had a beautiful salad bar for lunch--there was so much to choose from! What you see here is only a small sampling from the very long table that was laden with salad-makings.

The afternoon closed with a rollicking and moving drumming session with Mamadou of Marblehead. Mamadou came with two other talented drummers and a variety ofdrums for anyone who wanted to join in. We learned about the role of drums in Africa--about how people from one village can know what is going on in neighboring villages just by listening to the rhythms of the drumming since specific events have different drumming patterns associated with them.

Messages can be sent from one village to another much as many people use email! We had several opportunities to join in with the drumming and everyone got caught up in the rhythm. If people didn't have drums they were drumming on the tables, on their knees, with their feet...The energy was wonderful.

A brief perusal of the Internet turned up many references about the health benefits of drumming for people of all ages...and it's fun! It also doesn't matter what language you speak. Drumming circles are popping up all over. For a peek at some of them take a look at:

Thanks to all who helped to make the day a success, including the following:
Everyone who came and participated

Whole Foods Market in Swampscott

Trader Joe's in Swampscott

Congregation Ahabat Sholom

The Jewish Community Center of the North Shore

All of our wonderful instructors

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Seagulls and A Cat and More

The cloth and scissors were flying today! As were images of butterflies, seagulls, clouds, laundry, a cat, shoes and much more---We’re continuing to add to the picture of our community with visions of what currently is and fond memories of what was—all the while getting to know each other better. Words in Russian and English continue to be exchanged--butterfly, scissors, welcome…

We also began to plan for a quilt hanging celebration for later this summer—more details to follow.

Next week we’ll finish up the collaborative part of the quilt and then Nancy will continue to work her magic by sewing it all together! We’ll also write up comments from everyone who was involved about our individual squares and the collaborative section of the quilt. The explanations will be included in a booklet to be available near where the quilt will hang.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Eastern European Cooking: Not Just Like Your Mother Used to Make

La Rabinessa Liora Kelman again outdid herself in the latest installment of The Front Porch Cooking Class. She, along with special guest chef Francesca Ferraris (a recent immigrant from Austria), prepared yet another delicious meal, not just for the stomach but also for the mind and soul.

The day began with the introductions of several visitors. Francesca, Jon Firger, the CEO of Jewish Family Service of the North Shore and Michael Bloom of the Jewish Community Relations Council in Boston stopped in for a while, as did newly elected Massachuetts State Representative Lori Erlich. Though only in office for a very short 11 weeks so far, she has done so much already to advocate for continued funding of the program. We're grateful to her for her advocacy as well as for spending some time with us.

As usual after the introductions La Rabinessa started us off with appetizers of cucumbers in vinegar/dill sauce, a grated beet root and celery salad, Nahit (a chickpea dish), and an eggplant spread. After we filled our plates Francesca intiated a discussion of ever-changing cooking traditions as the world grows smaller. Those who felt like sharing told us about the recipes from their childhoods that just never quite turn out like Mama's when prepared today.

After that there were a few choices. Some people toured our brand new Front Porch garden (see previous posts for more information)or saw the collaborative quilt, while others able to look for their anescestors who came through Ellis Island (

There were three cooking projects to choose from: Rabbi Avarham Kelman led a group in the making of challah, while Liora assisted in the making of a Krautstrudel, and Francesca showed how to make Kaiserschmerrn. Kaiserschmerrn is a very interesting dish with an even more interesting history. The following is taken from

It is generally agreed that the dish was first prepared for the Austrian Emperor Francis Joseph I (1830–1916). The genesis of its name is not agreed; there are several stories which all rank about Emperor Francis Joseph I. One story, likely apocryphal, involves the Emperor and his wife, Elisabeth of Bavaria, of the House of Wittelsbach. Obsessed with maintaining a minimal waistline, the Empress Elisabeth directed the royal chef to prepare only light desserts for her imperial palate, much to the consternation and annoyance of her notoriously austere husband. Upon being presented with the chef’s confection, she found it too rich and refused to eat it. The exasperated Francis Joseph quipped, “Now let me see what "Schmarrn" (read: "trifle?") our chef has cooked up”. It apparently met with his approval as he finished his and his wife’s serving. Thereafter, the dessert was called Kaiserschmarrn across the Empire.

Our Kaiserschmarrn recipe:

3 tablespoons raisins
250ml whole milk
2 yolks
1 tablespoon white sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 egg whites
4 tablespoons butter
powdered sugar

In a medium mixing bowl, beat together the milk, yolks, white sugar. Gradually whisk in the flour to make a smooth batter. Stir in the raisins. Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold in the batter. In a large skillet melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Pour the batter into the skillet and cook 5 to 6 minutes, or until the pancake has set and the bottom is golden brown. Turn over the pancake and cook 3 minutes, or until this side is also golden brown. Using a spatula or two forks, tear the pancake into bite-size pieces. Add 1 tabelspoon of butter and use a spatula to gently toss the pieces for 3 minutes. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve with plum or apple puree.

While these items were cooking we were treated to a delictable bowl of fish goulash. Everything turned out great. As La Rabinessa Liora Kelman always says, "Nothing tastes as good as the food you make yourself."

The Quilt Takes Shape

We've met twice since my last post about the quilt.  We've each made squares that represent where we've come from and then this past Monday we met again to continue our work. Over the last week Nancy, a very experienced quiltmaker, sewed some of the individual squares that we had made last week. They look great!

We decided to begin work on the middle section which will represent where we are now and what we would like to see in the future. We all had different ideas of what the future holds and it all lead to discussions of what we would like to see
happen in the area over the next few years. As we work we learn more about eachother and where we've come from. 

The main image is of a large house that can contain each 
person's ideas. Around this house will be our visions of the present and future. Naturally the house has a front porch! As each person talks about what she is making and puts it down on the quilt, it influences what others do--truly an evolving piece of work--

Among the images we've included so far are, a bike, candles, a cow, ocean waves, trees, flowers, babies, and of course people. There are people talking and laughing, people enjoying the beautiful weather.

Nancy will take it home again this week to secure what we've done so far and then we'll continue!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

It's growing!

It's been an eventful week in the garden--

On Monday I happened to see the garden twice in one day with only a few hours between the visits. In the span of just a few hours one little squash seed made incredible growth--early in the afternoon I saw only the ridge of the stalk poking out--a few hours later the leaves were up! Amazing what a little sun and water will do and how much potential is stored within a tiny seed...

Yesterday we planted more tomato plants, as well as some pepper, eggplant and dill plants. The eggplant has a gorgeous purple flower. After having seen some footprints in the soil, we now have netting over the garden bed to try to ward off some of the local critters who might be tempted by something fresh and organic!

We set up a soaker hose and made up a watering schedule--Next week we'll plant the bean seeds which are due to arrive any day now. And then we will water and tend and wait....

Speaking of water--someone gave Liora Kelman a bunch of umbrella hats for us--looks like we're ready for anything now!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Garden is Built!

Well, after all that rain last week it was so wonderful to have the sun shining on us as we built the raised garden bed yesterday. It was hot--after all, we had to build the bed in the area with the most sun exposure, but it was worth it.

Keith and I arrived early to put the bed together before everyone else got there. Thankfully, Steven, a local carpenter, had cut the lumber up before we arrived. He also loaned us his power drill that was a bit more powerful than the one I had brought along, which helped to speed the work along. Gradually, out of that pile of wood, a garden bed emerged!

When The Food Project youth and staff and Front Porch participants arrived, we were ready to go! Our next task was to get that whole pile of stones across the lot to the garden bed, to provide good drainage for the plants. With shovels, a wheelbarrow, a lot of good-humored teamwork and lemonade, we did it.

Once the soil and compost were added we divided up the bed into square foot blocks and started the planting which everyone enjoyed. We planted carrots, beets, cucumbers, squash and tomatoes to start while learning what they are called in Russian and sometimes Italian at the same time. Each tomato plant was lovingly planted and surrounded by marigold seeds to help to keep away the bugs that can sometimes plague them. Everyone agreed that we would need more tomato plants for the tomato fans among us!

While doing all of this I was reminded of a wonderful movie I saw recently about the life of one real-life farmer: The Real Dirt on Farmer John. The film shows some of the many forces influencing farming and the risks involved, as well as the tremendous work and energy that go into growing our food.

Next Wednesday we'll be planting the rest of the garden with more tomatoes, pole-beans, peppers, basil, dill and parsley. Then we'll eagerly monitor our garden's progress.

I'm always humbled by the powers of nature when gardening like this--there is a sense of hope and expectation when each seed and plant are placed in the ground--we do what we can to give them the best chance and then we wait and see what happens. Gardening has many benefits-- including being more in control of the food we eat, to exercise and socializing. There is a real sense of accomplishment, too, when all goes well. The smiles on the faces of people planting yesterday said a great deal--even when we didn't always understand every word perfectly.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Of soil and rain and visions of veggies

Next Wednesday we're going to start building our raised garden bed with The Food Project, a wonderful organization that teaches sustainable agriculture to urban youth. After the excitement of our initial planning meeting, during which everyone spoke about what they'd like to plant, we're thrilled to have a date to start. Keith, our wonderful Americorps/VISTA volunteer is working with me on this venture, as well as many other aspects of The Front Porch program.

After receiving our supply list this week we got to work--tracking down fill, lumber and organic soil and compost. The person I reached at the first place I called to try to get some fill, to help with the drainage of the garden bed, chuckled when I told him how much we needed--he said that they supply fill for building roads, not small veggie beds, so the search continued. And then--success. The stones will be delivered tomorrow. Hopefully our mathematical calculations were correct and we'll have enough fill for the project.

What with our schedules over the next few days, we decided to head out into the pouring rain today to pick up--24 bags of organic soil and compost. Once you're wet, more rain doesn't matter. 24 bags went into the cars...and 24 bags came out of the cars a few miles down the road--50 pounds each, we were told... but all of that will go into feeding those wonderful veggies and flowers.

We've prepared a list of vegetables in English, Russian and Hebrew so while working on the garden everyone can learn a few words of another language too. Hopefully we'll have a better day weatherwise on our building day!!!

Tomorrow--it's off to the lumber yard and then back to our site to check out the delivery of that ton of stones...

This garden project is made possible through the generosity of the Commonwealth of MA, Congregation Ahabat Sholom, The Food Project and Lynn Lumber.