The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

I attended the second Pop-Up Restaurant this past Friday at The Children’s Center, in Detroit.  What a wonderful time we had!

The chef was, again, Chef Brad Greenhill, and he really outdid himself this time!  He wasn’t the only one though!  The folks at the Children’s Center really stepped up!  The decorations were charming, the menu was eye catching, not to mention mouth watering and the message was compelling!

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Just look a this lovely centerpiece!

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And this creative use for marshmallows!

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It seemed, when I arrived on a very chilly evening in the D, that this was going to be a United Way reunion night.  There were many current, and several former co-workers, which kind of made the night feel like an unplanned holiday gathering!  I was truly impressed though, at how many of my fellow attendee’s were there because they worked and/or volunteered with the Center.  It does such wonderful work, I am so proud of the people I know helping out there! (More about the Center a little further down in the post!)

I don’t know if you can really see the menu so I will give it to you here.  So yummy!

Carrot Soup, with harissa, hazelnut dukka and yogurt

Charred cauliflower, with fennel, pomegranate, mint and walnut

Maltagliati, with mushrooms, melted leeks, truffle and yolk

Porchetta, with cannellini beans, arugula, lemon and horseradish

Olive oil cake, gelato, citrus and almond

Let me start from the beginning, with the carrot soup.

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Isn’t it pretty?  It was fairly surprising, the harissa, which for those of you that haven’t tried it is a Tunisian hot chilli paste, really gave it some perkiness, and the nuts were just wonderful and crunchy against the smooth sweet soup.  I think it was my favorite dish of the event.

Next up was a delicious charred cauliflower salad, with the very fresh combination of mint and pomegranate, it was sweet and savory and tart all at the same time, delicious, and pretty to boot!

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The next course puzzled some people, and my inner bossiness came out right away.  It was a pasta with what I would say was something like a carbonara sauce, except the egg yolk hadn’t been incorporated.  The hot noodles were enough to cook the yolk and make a creamy sauce, along with the cheese, but you had to stir the yolk in right away, rather than waiting for everyone to be served.  Several people were wondering, I think, why I was rushing them, but it was worth it in the end.  Very silky and tasty!

Before stirring

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And after stirring

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The main course was porchetta (stuffed and roasted pork, Italian style) which I love, although some people were a bit put off by the rind.  I gobbled it up.  There was a lovely fresh parsley and garlic stuffing, and it was topped by a tart arugula salad, which set off perfectly the fatty roasted pork.  Hidden under the pork was a little gem, a lovely stew of cannellini beans, which was exactly the earthy touch the dish needed.  All in all a success!

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Last, but sincerely not least was a lovely little surprise.  Any time I have had olive oil cake, it’s always been a yellow cake flavored with orange.  This was a delicious hot chocolate cake, topped with a melted vanilla bean gelato.  It was the perfect end to the dinner, a little chocolate, a little creamy gelato.  So delicious!

After our dinner, Chef Brad came out to take a bow. Can you see him behind the marshmallows?

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The other, truly wonderful thing about the evening was that there were art pieces by the children who come to the center.  Some of it would break your heart, for example, there was a painting by a boy who had no friends, and was bullied.  It had a big red X painted over it, but he wished that one day he would have a friend!  The artwork was both eye catching and beautiful, as well as making you realize that even today, in this society, children are abused and neglected, sometimes right under our noses.

I signed up at the end of the event for a tour, and I really encourage anyone in the Metro Detroit area to do the same.  The information for The Children’s Center is below.  I hope you have it in your heart to tour the facility and get involved.

The Children’s Center
79 Alexandrine West
Detroit, Michigan 48201
313.831.5535

M-TH: 8 a.m. – 8 p.m.
F: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
S: 8 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Immediate Assistance
313.262.1212
access@childrensctr.net
M-F: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.

A big thank you to The Center for the invitation, and for the wonderful company, as well as the chance to see the children’s artwork.  I truly was touched!

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is the big day! I wish you all the happiness, food and family and friends  you can imagine. I hope, on this day when we are thankful for so much, you will indulge me a bit as I ask you to think also about those that are doing without.

Simply, look into your communities, I can give you examples in the community I live and work in, and then look into your hearts.

Most people that know me know that I work at United Way for Southeastern Michigan where our call to action is to “Give, Advocate, Volunteer.” What most people don’t understand about the United Way is that, after years of analysis, community interviews and research, we have focused our work to align on three critically important issues – education, family (financial) stability and basic needs like food and shelter.

There are many critical issues facing Detroit, but United Way believes, and truly, I believe that these three are at the core of the many ills facing our city right now.  If you look around you where you live, you’ll probably agree that it’s the same in many communities.

When looking at what is most critical in the education arena, we focus on Early Childhood Education (children from 0 – 5 years of age) and High School graduation rates. I’m particularly proud of our work in the High Schools! We work in 16 schools through Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties – many in the city proper – through the gracious support of the GM Foundation and the Skillman Foundation, among others.

In just four years the graduation rate in these schools, which once hovered around 40% is now upwards of 80% and in a few of the schools, it at 100%!  Isn’t that amazing, and wonderful?  Five hundred students graduated this last June that, statistically four years ago, would have dropped out.  And although five hundred doesn’t sound like a lot consider that each high school graduate represents the equivalent of $127,000 saved in extra tax revenues, reduced costs on public health and crime, and decreased welfare payments.  Do the math… that’s $63.5 million saved in just four years!  It truly boggles the mind!

The one thing that made the biggest difference in the schools was such a simple solution – we deliberately worked to create a family atmosphere by breaking large schools into small schools and assigning one teacher to one class for all four years. Teachers and Principals really got to know the students and understand the challenges they were facing at home, and on the streets. In too many instances, it was the first time anyone had cared about the student. School became much more than “just school” – it was a window into a different way of life where there was a possibility that they could work hard, be successful, and go one to, one day, create a better life for their future children. A literacy-rich life, healthy and living above the poverty line.  I was delighted to be a part of the celebration this past June for the  young men and young women that graduated through our programs.  I was so proud, I could have crowed!  They’re genuinely special people, with the right path ahead of them now.

Please take a few minutes to watch this video and see, first-hand, what that “simple” change looked like. It was profound! Much Love: The story of the Detroit school turnaround

Now I know that just because I mentioned the words “United Way” you are expecting me to drop the bomb any minute and ask for a donation and I’m not going to lie, “Give” is part of our call to action for a reason… this work is costly. But, relax… I’m not going to ask you for money. I just ask that today, while you and others all over the country are indulging in your well-deserved turduken, six desserts, gravy, sweet potatoes with marshmallows and White Castle stuffing, take a moment to consider the contrast of what life is like for so many of the students in those high schools today.

·         In the city of Detroit,over 57% of children,  about 233,250, live in poverty.

·         By comparison, 1billion of the world’s 2.2 billion children live in poverty.

·         Statistically, children in Detroit live at a higher level of poverty than the world’s poverty rate.

Isn’t that stunning?  In the United States of America there is a population of children that is living below the statistical worldwide poverty level! It’s nothing short of a travesty.

So, what do these numbers have to do with everything else I just wrote about?  Children, and by extension their families, who are in poverty, generally, don’t eat well – or at all (1 in 6 of don’t know where our next meal is coming from). And it is scientifically proven that a lack of nutrition alters your ability to learn. So undernourished children statistically, under-perform in school.  Think about it this way, when you’re in a meeting, and you’re hungry, aren’t you distracted, and have trouble concentrating on the meeting?  Imagine a child who has that feeling chronically?

Lack of proper nutrition = lack of learning = learning disabilities = High School drop outs = increased poverty, increased crime, increased substance abuse, increased strain on the welfare system. Not always, but more often than not.

The most frustrating part of all of this is that it is easily solved!

So, in this season of so much giving and gratitude, please take a moment to funnel some of that energy back into your community and the greater good. Raise your hand and volunteer. Raise your voice and advocate for hungry kids (psst… the majority of food stamp recipients are children – so it is important that we don’t cut them because it only perpetuates a vicious circle!). And, if you are so inclined, raise your pocketbook and give to an institution like United Way that spends day in and day out doing everything they can to solve these issues.

Remember that every great societal change has started with small, incremental changes.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pop Up Dinner with Chef Greenhill to Benefit The Children’s Center of Detroit

I can’t wait to tell you about the event we just attended!  The Hubby works at a company called Team Detroit and a few weeks ago, he got an internal email about an event they were sponsoring called Pop-Up Dinner with Chef Brad Greenhill to Benefit The Children’s Center.  I had heard of The Children’s Center before through the work we do at the United Way.  But the chance to go to an event that was sponsored by my hubby’s company, that also benefits the kids of Detroit, how can I say no?

It was a spectacular and small event at Detroit Farm and Garden, the last place you would imagine a pop up restaurant, but it was the perfect locale!  DF&G is a barn like structure, near the I-75 service drive in the periphery between Corktown and Mexican Town.  It’s kind of a no-man’s land.  But the DF&G is there, and is a lovely local provider of everything you can imagine for the home farmer, as well as landscaper… in season.  Tonight it was transformed into a delightful foodie wonderland, with fairie lights and lovely mismatched settings all over!

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We were greeted by lovely hostesses and an even lovelier young lady bearing a plank of what looked like cedar with a delightful rum punch provided by the local cocktail emporium, Sugar House.  Any drink from there is worth it!  This was followed shortly after by the lights going out.  But the long farm-style, butcher paper covered tables were dressed with votive candles, which kept the ambiance, and the talk going.  Eventually the lights went back on, and we were drawn to the cheese plates.  Let me tell you they were practical and attractive!

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Once we had had a drink, and were seated, we listened to Tammy Zonker, who is a former colleague from the United Way.  She left the United Way to join The Children’s Center as Chief Philanthropy Officer.  She talked to us briefly about what the organization does, and introduced a video, which I am linking it below.  Talk about powerful!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0E9hXyBsCk

After that very serious film, we started talking at the table, and we all realized we were very excited about the food.  The wine was lovely, and poured liberally, so we were really happy.  The Chef, Brad Greenhill is a genius, we were delighted each step of the way.  Honestly, this is the perfect fundraiser, lovely people, a great mix of old, new and some odd people thrown in.  The food was masterful, and honestly, we are supporting a wonderful organization, that is truly making a difference in some children’s very difficult lives.  The Children’s Center serves up to 7,500 children each year, with a multitude of issues, mainly relating to neglect and abuse.  I got a fantastic meal in aide of the cause.  The kids got some recognition and some funding.  That’s worth the price of admission surely!

Next up was the starter, grilled bread, apple butter, strachiatelli and apple salad.  Refreshing, delicious and even the picker eater in front of me was wide eyed with how good the pairing was.  It was paired with a bubbly rosè sparking wine.  The perfect foil to the lovely buttery and rich crostini.  I have never seen apple butter paired with anything but bread, so this was an unexpected delight.

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Next up, after lots of lovely conversation and another glass of wine was the Golden Beet Soup.  On the menu that the Hubby had gotten from work, it said Golden Beef Soup.  We were both puzzled by that, but it turned out to be a lovely silky golden beet pureé, with some lemon scented greek yogurt, and pitachio’s, perfect crunch and lovely fatty mouth feel.  there was definitely a spicy finish, which trurned out to be a red chile roasted and pureed with the beets.  All around a success, although I unfortunatley didn’t get a photo before devouring it!

Then there was a kale salad with mint and pomegranate.  I got the opportunity to share my long term secret for seeding a pom!  Cut in half, hold over bowl, thwack with a wooden spoon.  The seeds rain down like bejeweled beads!  The combo of Lachinato kale, lemon, olive oil, pom seeds and mint was classic and refreshing, and so delicious!  Normally I am all preoccupied with the dressing, I don’t even remember thinking about that tonight.

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Isn’t that pretty!

Next up was the main course.  For me it was lamb shank with pine nut gremolata.  For the Hubby, it was mushroom ragu with polenta, and the same gremolata.  Generally the husband hated line nuts, but here he didn’t seem to mind it! the lambwas perfect, fall off the bone tender, and the polenta was light and fluffy, not at all the way I can ever get it.  I ate every morsel, and I heard a few at the table saying they would like to pick the plate up and lick it!

Mine:

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The Hubby’s ragu:

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Considering that the dinner was to aid children, we were so engrossed with talking about food and the food we were eating, I swear the night ran by us.  Dessert was a salted caramel ice cream by Treat Dreams in Ferndale.  Even the Hubby was smacking his lips and lamenting that we couldn’t take boxes home!

Did you notice that not one dish matched another?  That was totally the charm of the evening.  That and viewing an actual Banksy at 555 Gallery.  Also worth trekking down to Mexican Town!

Bravo Children’s Center on a wonderful event, and to Chef Greenhill.  You’re a genius, and I don’t care who I tell!

Yay, kewl night, great food.  Such a great place Detroit is!