Archive for ‘Healthy Foods’

August 12, 2014

Home Connections: Making Refrigerator Pickles

by Melissa Harding

Phipps Science Education_Cooking (3)

Cucumbers are everywhere this time of year. They are growing wildly on trellises or stretching wildly all over the ground. We love using cucumbers in snacks at camp because they are mild tasting, yet still have a satisfying crunch that our students like. We slice up and serve them with dip, turn them into cucumber tea sandwiches and, most fun of all, turn them into Kid Pickles. Much like many of our other camp snacks, Kid Pickles are a milder, more child-friendly take on what can be a rather adult taste. While some kids don’t care for conventional pickles, often because they are too vinegary or garlicky, they like Kid Pickles, which are mild and slightly sweet.

Making Kid Pickles is a great activity for children; it requires harvesting, measuring, slicing and pouring, all of which help students build skills. Pouring is a fine motor skill, whereas measuring and counting help with math. Cooking in general is a wonderful activity to get kids learning and practicing hard things; in particular, pouring is an especially difficult skill for young children to master. Making pickles also allows children time to wander through the Edible Garden and gives them the experience of harvesting produce right off the plant. Also, much like Kid Salsa, this recipe is more of an art than a science. The recipe below if more of a starting point than an ending; experiment to find out what taste you and your family prefer.

Here is how we make Kid Pickles in camp:
*You will need 1 lidded quart-size jar to make this recipe

1 English cucumber, sliced thinly
2 tsp salt
4 TB white vinegar
1 tsp organic sugar
2/3 cup water
1 sprig dill (fresh – too taste)

1. Thinly slice cucumber into 1/8″ rounds
2. Pack cucumber slices into the jar
3. Add salt, sugar, water and vinegar to jar; add lid and swirl to combine. Don’t worry if there is not enough liquid to cover the cucumbers; they will wilt over time and add more liquid to the jar.
4. Open jar to add sprig of dill; close and shake again.
5. Place jar in refrigerator. Every time you open the fridge, invert the jar to shake.
6. Pickles will be ready in as little as 3-4 hours, but will last up to 3 weeks in the refrigerator.
Just as the urge to doctor up Kid Salsa is strong, so it will be with these pickles. However, adding pickling salt, garlic cloves or other herbs will only result in a mixture that will potentially be too strong for your child. While not every child is drawn to mild flavors, it is a safe place to start when introducing young children to new foods. Serve these pickles with sandwiches, cheese or alone for a fun treat. Your child will love to help you make this easy, nutritious snack!

To learn more about cooking with young children, check out this post. 

To learn about how we make Kid Salsa, check out this post.

The above photos were taken by Science Education and Research staff and interns.







August 8, 2014

Phipps Hosts 1st Annual Youth Garden Summit

by Melissa Harding

Youth summit 094

We recently hosted a gathering of youth from across the region who are working on food growing projects and education. It was an opportunity to share stories, eat food and collaborate towards growing the youth food movement in the Pittsburgh area. This cohort of over 50 students included our own 2014 high school interns, as well as students from the following summer youth programs: Bridge to College, the Grow Pittsburgh Urban Garden Project; Children’s Museum Food City Fellows; Braddock Youth Project, Grow Pittsburgh Braddock Farms Team; Braddock Youth Gardening Team; and The Women for a Healthy Environment Food City Fellows and Wilkinsburg Youth Project. They were enthusiastic and engaged, bringing a positive energy to the workshops. The day included team building, breakout sessions and reflective exercises designed to get everyone thinking about how best to move their respective programs forwards in the future.

The day started with a welcome from Phipps staff and several college interns from the Children’s Museum’s Food City Fellows. Then, each group gave a presentation about their program and what they learned. For lunch, each group contributed produce from their gardens and worked together to create a big, beautiful salad. After this communal meal, the students worked in breakout sessions, both with their own intern teams and in mixed groups. They looked deeply into their program and talked about the good and the bad, how they could be improved, and what impact the program had on the community and themselves. Finally, they reflected on their experiences in the form of a folding poem, sharing with the group what they were “taking home with them” from their experiences.

Youth summit 104

It was a wonderful day – thank you to all the students and group leaders who made this possible!

The above photos were taken by Science Education and Research staff.




August 7, 2014

Home Connections: Making Kid Salsa

by Melissa Harding


At summer camp, one of our favorite topics is teaching about where our food comes from, plant to plate. We teach our campers how seeds turn into plants, how flowers are pollinated to become fruits, and how to find “hidden” plants in their favorite foods (hint: spaghetti is made of plants). These lessons naturally lend themselves to themed snacks, especially ones made of vegetables and fruits. However, as we all know, young children can often be picky eaters. No matter what our best intentions may be, sometimes all they want to eat are pretzels and chicken nuggets. Fortunately, we have kid-tested some great snacks that both meet Phipps healthy nutritional guidelines and our lesson themes. One of our most popular snacks is Kid Salsa; we tell our students that it is rainbow salsa, made from a rainbow of different colorful veggies to help them grow big and strong.

Making Kid Salsa is easy to do with kids, as it has few ingredients, and is beloved for its mild taste. There are three main ingredients in this recipe: tomatoes, sweet bell peppers and sweet onion. While these ingredients are not always individually liked by kids, they come together to create a pleasing taste that even young children can appreciate – especially if you spoon it on some whole wheat pitas. Additionally, they are easy vegetables to harvest from our Edible Garden, which is a great sensory experience that helps children connect their food to the plants that make it.


One of the ways that we turn this snack into an activity is to make it with our campers, rather than for them. While using sharp knives is not an option with early learners, there are some interesting devices that help us to turn vegetables into salsa without ever using an exposed blade. Our favorite item it a veggie chopper with its blades encased in a plastic circle; children can place it over a small piece of pre-cut onion or tomato and press a button on the top that raises and lowers the blades to chop the vegetable underneath. The children are nowhere near the blades, but have the experience of “cutting up” the salsa. As a bonus, this particular machine pulverizes the tomatoes into a pulp that is ideal for salsa and gives it a soup-y texture. A way to emulate this experience at home would be to use a food processor.

Here is how we make Kid Salsa:

6 tomatoes
2 bell pepper
1/2 sweet onion
1 pinch salt (optional)
1 small bunch cilantro (optional)

To make: Dice tomatoes, peppers and onion into  1/8″-sized pieces; use a knife, food processor or veggie chopper to turn veggies into very small pieces. Mix together in a bowl until combined. Using clean scissors, cut cilantro directly into the bowl to taste. Stir to combine. Add an optional pinch of salt to taste.

Serve with whole wheat pitas, pita chips or tortillas.

The urge to add more flavorful ingredients – garlic, hot peppers, cucumber – can be strong, but don’t give in to it. While these give a more grown-up and complex flavor to the salsa, kids will not like it. There are plenty of delicious salsas for adults; this one is just for kids. Many children express trepidation when it comes time to try the salsa; they worry it will be hot or spicy. This salsa always surprises them. Though it is basic in nature, it appeals to the simple and often picky palette of even our youngest learners.

To learn more about cooking with young children, check out this post. 

The above photos were taken by Cory Doman.


August 4, 2014

Summer Camp Recap: Plant Your Plate

by Melissa Harding

27-Day 4 052

Summer Camp Recap is our easonal segment featuring our summer camp programs. This is the place for camp parents to find pictures of their campers in action and see all the fun things we did all week. It’s also a great place for educators to pick up craft, story and lesson ideas for their own early childhood programs!

Plant Your Plate is a fun way to look at botany through the lens of food. Where does our food come from? How do seeds turn into cucumbers and then how do those cucumbers turn into pickles? Campers learned how to turn whole foods into salsa, pizzas, and even pickles. They sprouted radishes in a bag, made tea sandwiches and designed their dream gardens. Throughout the week, campers painted T-shirts, made chef hats and molded seed balls. They loved chopping, pickling and cooking their way through camp!

Check out the slide show below for more images from the week!

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For more pictures from Summer Camp, check out our Facebook page!

The above photos were taken Science Education and Research staff.

July 23, 2014

In With the Interns: Week Four

by Melissa Harding


In with the Interns is our new segment featuring the 2014 high school interns; this segment will explore what they do, learn and experience this summer. Written by Kate Borger, this segment will also feature original words and artwork from the interns.

This week, we were especially grateful for the unseasonably pleasant temperatures which made all our outdoor ventures that much more delightful, from a street tour with Matt Erb, arborist from Tree Pittsburgh, to weeding the Tree Pittsburgh nursery and the gardens at Phipps Garden Center. The week ended on a scrumptious note as we cooked with Rosemarie Perla from Slow Food Pittsburgh. And in between: work with the horticulture staff and an introduction to fracking and renewable energy sources.

Here are some of the interns own words about this week and what they learned:

 “This past week has been as entertaining and enlightening as those before it. We began our week by splitting into groups and helping out Phipps horticulture staff. In the morning my group potted and staked plants that will be incorporated into the fall show, while in the afternoon we spread mulch in the Palm court. On Tuesday we visited Tree Pittsburgh and toured around the streets of north Point Breeze, identifying trees and learning about the process of planting trees in the city.  On Wednesday my group worked in the Fruit and Spice room. We finished our week, once again, by working at the Phipps Garden Center, where we made lunch and did a bit of tree identification.”
-Ahmir Allen

“My highlight this week was our cooking experience! We cooked amazing parmesan cheese noodles with a side of multi-grain bread and salad. It was amazing. I feel like we  as a group bonded making this meal. This was by far the best cooking experience so far in the program.”
– Alexis Smith

“I enjoyed learning about renewable energy, which was this week’s theme. The new information I acquired about fracking offered me a view of a world I wasn’t that familiar with and showed me another way I could help the environment. On top of that, my favorite activity this week was the field trip to Tree Pittsburgh. Personally, I would do tree identification all day. It just connects me more to nature, knowing specifically what’s around me, and it makes me enjoy it more. Oh and let’s not forget about cooking Thursday; the pasta and zucchini sauce was very delicious!”
– Larissa Koumaka

“Week three was a really fun week. We had the chance to go to Tree Pittsburgh, learn more about how Phipps chose Tropical Forest India, a little bit about India and Africa, and we also had the chance to work with the horticulture staff again. The most fun thing about this week was learning about India and Africa from a staff member. His job is to go to other countries and see how it can improve on the decoration at Phipps. That was really interesting to hear stories of how they choose the Tropical Forest.”
– Ephraim St. Cyr

“This week was full of some new work experiences with the horticulture staff, in which I worked around the Tropical Forest doing exhibit cosmetic work, along with staking plants in the production greenhouses. During the week I learned more about fracking and some of its down sides. I am looking forward to learning about environmental issues that can affect Pittsburgh in the final two weeks.”
– Aaron Sledge

“My favorite part of the week was probably helping Mike in the Edible Garden with Ephraim. It’s the physical labor in the morning that I really love doing here at Phipps, especially when I get to plant or harvest crops. We also discussed fracking a lot, which I really enjoyed. We also watched the movie Gasland, which is an amazing documentary on fracking. Overall, this was a really interesting, informative and fun week.”
-Dani Einloth

“My favorite part of this week was when Ben came in and talked with us about how he designs the Tropical Forest. He travels to places like Africa or India, taking pictures there. He recreates his memories in the Conservatory to share with the public. I also learned about specific plants in that room, things I never knew before. For example, this one plant is the main ingredient in Chanel No.5 perfume.”
Anna Steeley

“The date is Tuesday, July 15th, the setting features Tree Pittsburgh’s nursery. Amongst all of it, Phipps 8 interns, including myself. Not only did we help with weeding their nursery, but we were given a tree identification walk around the neighborhood. This was extremely interesting as well as practical because I see these trees everywhere I go and now I can  identify their type.”
-Will Grimm

Another full week comes to a close with minds and taste buds open to new experiences!

The above photo was taken by Kate Borger.


July 11, 2014

In With the Interns: Green Careers Week

by Melissa Harding

Trimming ferns

In with the Interns is our new segment featuring the 2014 high school interns; this segment will explore what they do, learn and experience this summer. Written by Kate Borger, this segment will also feature original words and artwork from the interns.

Our high school interns completed their third week of the summer internship with a focus on green careers. This included a panel in which community members from a wide variety of sustainability-focused fields spoke with the interns about their education and career paths. Career paths explored included architecture, law, engineering, beekeeping, education and horticulture. We also had a marvelous cooking class with Justine Cassell from Slow Food Pittsburgh, who had the interns prepare summer vegetable frittatas and a raw kale salad. Finally, the interns had a chance to teach young children all about plants under the guidance of Phipps docent and educator, Amy Troyani.

Here are some of the interns own words about this week and what they learned:

“My favorite part of this week was probably having the opportunity to individually shadow a member of the horticulture staff. I was assigned to Chris, who maintains the Indian Tropical Forest. It was so memorable because it was by far the activity that made me feel the most like an actual staff member. There was a good amount of independent work for me that morning; I put plants in a large flower pot, planted various ferns throughout the room, and assisted in collecting the larger dead leaves off of the ground. It gave good insight into the fact that many little things compromise and perfect the larger parts of our lives, which is something that can easily go unnoticed.”
– Ahmir Allen

“This week, working with a horticulture staff one on one was really great. It allowed me to more freely ask questions that specifically applied to me, and that I didn’t even know I had. Also, I really liked the experiences and advice the horticulture staff shared with us at the green careers lunch, such as “don’t be afraid to try different things” and “change your career path multiple times if necessary” because that is one of the things that worried me as I’m preparing to go to college.”
– Larissa Koumaka

“This is our third week and I loved it. We got more hands-on experience with the horticulture staff. We go to also shadow a horticulture staff member, so I shadowed a girl named Lauren and she worked in the greenhouses, basically watering and deadheading plants. It was amazing. I learned so much more about the greenhouse itself and the maintenance of plants. And then throughout the week I applied a lot of the things I learned from shadowing Lauren. On Wednesday we ate lunch with the horticulture staff and got a little insight on how they decided their professions and ended up at Phipps.”
– Alexis Smith

“This week at Phipps was very eye-opening. In a special way that any people with common interests can have. We had a lunch with the other staff at Phipps, where I learned that you don’t have to be specially trained to work in a specific horticulture field and in fact most staff took general plant science. I am glad that I plan to take horticulture at Penn State, then go to Bidwell Training Center to further advance my plant knowledge, knowing that I may be more qualified for a job at Phipps one day.”
– Aaron Sledge

“From our green careers week, I’ve retained a lot of information. At first, just having a list of green careers wasn’t all that exciting. When the panel of people who have green careers came in though, that’s when it got exciting. The gears in my head started turning and I could see doors opening for me. After hearing them talk, I really would like to get into something having to do with sustainable architecture or energy. This week has made me want to change this world to make it cleaner, greener and more.”
 – Dani Einloth

“Working one on one with someone that works at Phipps was one of my favorite things about this week. I feel like we should do that more often. It’s mostly about a high school intern shadowing a staff member. The staff member told us their job gave us a little tip on how to do it. Also we had to help them with their job. My second favorite thing about this week was when the staff members and college students telling us the story about how they ended up at Phipps. It was so interesting to see that some of their staff members never thought they would be working with plants and some of then grew up planting and ended up at Phipps.”
– Ephraim St. Cyr

“Green career week featured an extremely helpful panel of professionals that explained and discussed their green jobs. One thing I will forever take away from that is the advice given: “Find your niche and then inject the green part into it.” Wise words to help make wise life choices.”
– Will Grimm

Another full week comes to a close with minds and taste buds open to new experiences!

The above photos were taken by Kate Borger.

July 4, 2014

In with the Interns: Food Week

by Melissa Harding


In with the Interns is our new segment featuring the 2014 high school interns; this segment will explore what they do, learn and experience this summer. Written by Kate Borger, this segment will also feature original words and artwork from the interns.

If you ever feel worried about the fate of the world, take heart. The Phipps high school interns, given their capacity for hard work, open-mindedness and true concern for others and for the environment, are living, teenage examples of hope for the future. As they enthusiastically learn about plant science and sustainable solutions to the daunting environmental issues we face, we can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing there are youth like them to help take on these problems with commitment and intelligence.

Since their first day in the job, these eight high school students have been working with Phipps horticulture staff to help beautify the Conservatory. In addition, they planned and planted their own vegetable beds, learned cooking techniques with members of Slow Food Pittsburgh, and studied basic botany with Pitt biology post-doc, Alison Hale. This second week was focused on food systems and how our food choices affect our bodies and the environment.  The documentary film, Food Inc. and Michael Pollan’s book, Food Rules, spurred on thoughtful and lively discussions.

Here are some of the interns own words about this week and what they learned:

“Learning to identify plants in the environment! Wow, what an epic experience that was! Now I can walk outside and tell whether a plant is simple, complex, a woody species, and talk about its phytotaxa. I love that! I feel more connected to nature and enjoy being outside more.”
Larissa Kowmaka

“One thing that I learned this week was that food industries and farmers use corn for everything. Most of the things we eat nowadays have corn in them. Also, instead of feeding animals the food they are supposed to eat, farmers feed them corn to make them bigger and look grown in a short amount of time. Some of the animals are so big and lazy that their legs can’t support their body weight. That type of process is not good for the animals and the people that are eating them.”
– Ephraim St. Cyr

“This week I had a combination of things that definitely jump started this internship. We had our first double work shift with the horticulture staff. Then we took a lot of workshops, like supermarket botany, which was basically the etymology of the local fresh produce we buy at the stores every day. The class broke down piece by piece the process our foods go through before reaching our tables. Then we got a lot of different work experience, like I worked in the Edible Garden and the greenhouses. Very productive second week!
Alexis Smith

“This week as a Phipps intern has been full of exciting topics, ranging from integrated pest management to supermarket botany. But one major thing I liked was working in the Fruit and Spice Room, where I learned about banana’s progressive fruiting habits.”
Aaron Sledge

“I really enjoyed supermarket botany. It was really cool learning about plants we eat and fun facts. For example, a strawberry isn’t a berry and the part we eat is actually swollen tissue.”
Anna Steeley

“Ah yea, food week. Throughout this past week we have been reading Michael Pollen’s Food Rules. Although somewhat quirky, this book is filled with simple rules to help you maintain a healthier diet. Some of the rules, namely “If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it” have already sunk in to help me make healthier choices”
– Will Grimm

“The event this week that impacted me was definitely watching “Food, Inc.” As someone who, for the entirety of my life, has been an unquestionable carnivore, I was shocked by how seldom I actually take time to make sure my food is legitimate. I want more assurance that I’m not constantly take one step forward and two steps back in my diet. I’ll never, as far as I can know, stop eating meat, but I’ll try to be safer about it.”
Ahmir Allen

 The bottom line: individuals have the power to make choices daily that can improve our relationship with the environment. Talk about inspiring!

The above photo was taken by Cory Doman.


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