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Monday, March 21, 2011

Hands-on Cooking Demo A Fun, Healthy Evening

Hands-on Cooking Demo A Fun, Healthy Evening
By Mike Lauterborn
(For Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – Meat eaters, tofu munchers, young and old. They were all gathered together to learn about, prepare and share healthy food choices.

Held early Wednesday evening at Roger Ludlowe Middle School, “Feeding the Mixed Table”, a free program aligned with Fairfield Library’s One Book One Town effort, addressed how to cook healthy and tasty food that both omnivores and vegetarians could enjoy. About 20 people pre-registered for the session, which was conducted in the school’s Food Lab. Robin Glowa, a self-described passionate food professional, health counselor certified by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and columnist, led the activity.

“The main book selected for our One Book One Town program is ‘Eating Animals’ by Jonathan Safran Foer,” said Nicole Scherer, Head of Teen Services at Fairfield Library and Chair of the One Book One Town campaign, “and one of its prime concerns is food and family participation when someone’s diet changes. In this case, the author became a vegetarian. He raised a lot of questions about the role of food and family. These days, more and more young people are deciding to become vegetarians, which can cause stress at the family table, especially if parents remain omnivores.”

Scherer said that Cheryl Beatty, a librarian at Roger Ludlowe and One Book One Town committee member, came up with the idea for the evening’s program and called in Glowa to help suggest meal solutions.

“We’re not here to tell people to stop eating meat, but to try and incorporate more vegetables, beans, etc. into their diet once or twice a week,” said Glowa. To this regard, she distributed recipes to the group for several healthy food options: double bean burritos, mixed vegetarian minestrone, ancient Aztec quinoa salad, double tomato bruschetta, fruit salsa and cinnamon chips, and vegan dark chocolate cupcakes with chocolate ganache. Attendees, the majority of whom identified themselves as meat eaters, were then divided into five teams and assumed separate cooking stations.

The Pierz family of Fairfield – Robbin, husband Walter and daughter Lindsey – chose to make cupcakes. They were prime targets for the talk.

“I’ve been an on-and-off vegetarian for 20 years and, last January, Lindsey decided to become a pescatarian,” said Robbin.

“I end up making my own dinner – chicken, beef, barbecue,” said Walter.

“I’m hoping to get Walter to take vegetarianism more seriously, as a lifestyle possibility,” said Robbin.

Others, like Liz Beardsley of Shelton, just wanted to know about healthy options. “I’m interested in learning more about holistic, natural and vegetarian cooking from someone with the qualifications Robin has,” she said.

As the chop chop of kitchen knives began, steam curled from pots and ingredients were stirred in bowls, Michelle Flashman, liaison for the Family and Consumer Sciences department at Roger Ludlowe, hopped from group to group to provide assistance.

“It’s really been over the last few years that we’ve adopted a whole foods curriculum,” Flashman said. “Ancient grains and lean proteins are what we talk about. This aligns well with our programming.”

Chopping fresh basil for bruschetta, Samantha Heilweil of Fairfield, said a recent film steered her to healthier food choices.

“Ever since I saw the movie ‘Food Inc.’, I haven’t been able to eat a hamburger or farm raised food,” she said. “I’m happier eating more organic foods.”

As all the cooking aromas mixed together in the room, Glowa exclaimed, “It’s really starting to smell great in here! Look at that beautiful basil!”

Mariko Bender of Trumbull, who was born and raised in Fukushima, Japan, which had been stricken by a recent earthquake and tsunami, was just glad to have something else to occupy her for a little while than worries about family there.

“I try to choose healthy food,” she said, preparing quinoa salad, “and often go to Catch a Healthy Habit CafĂ© here in town. I try not to eat too much meat, but it’s challenging to translate that to my family. My husband is a big meat eater.”

Debra Jones, a social studies teacher at Roger Ludlowe, was enjoying the social aspect of the gathering. “How great is this? I’ve spent an hour with these people and I could write their life story,” she said. “We’ve been cooking and chatting up a storm.”

As they finished their creations, the teams set them out on platters at their stations and grabbed plates and bowls to go around and secure a small portion of each menu item. 

“This is the best part of the whole event,” said Bender. “I’m hungry!”

Full Court Peace Founder Breaks Barriers with Basketball

Full Court Peace Founder Breaks 
Barriers with Basketball
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – Weston native Mike Evans never imagined his passion for basketball would take him around the world on a peace-making mission. Now he’s planning to apply his experiences in Connecticut to address the achievement gap in local communities.

Sponsored by the Interfaith Council of Westport and Weston, Evans, 28, presented a lecture titled “Full Court Peace” late Sunday afternoon in the Community Room at St. Luke Church, 49 Turkey Hill Road North. The talk focused on Evans’ efforts to use basketball as a means of diplomacy in war-torn parts of the world. About 25 people attended the free session, which was followed by a brief reception.

Mary Attanasio, co-chairperson of the Interfaith Council, said Evans’ talk had particular relevance to her group’s work. “The Council is comprised of 15 congregations – three Catholic, three Jewish and nine Protestant,” she explained. “Mike’s efforts to enhance relations in various parts of the world, and breakthroughs in Protestant/Catholic relations, in particular, are of great interest to us.”

Basketball has always been Evans’ sport of choice. His parents, who emphasized how lucky he was to be raised in Weston, pushed him to play in underserved areas, which was “a real eye-opener,” he said. “Much of my motivation comes from my early experiences with my teammates.”

Reluctant to join the corporate world upon graduation from Hamilton College in 2005, Evans went abroad to Belfast, Northern Ireland to play semi-pro basketball. “It was the worst league in Europe, where six-foot tall white guys are allowed to play,” he joked. “When I was there, I saw the intense division between Catholic and Protestant communities. Even the sports were divided. Cricket is predominantly Protestant while Gaelic football and hurling are predominantly Catholic. Basketball was the only sport there that did not seem to have religious baggage.”

The climate inspired Evans to try an experiment. “I approached the principal at one Catholic high school and one Protestant high school, two structures separated by a 50-foot wall,” he said. “I offered to coach travel basketball in each of the schools, without letting on to either that I was dual-coaching. Soon enough, I had five 15-year-old boys from each school that had caught on to me as a mentor.”

Evans then took things up a level. “After a month of coaching, I tried to convince the two sets of boys to play on the same team together,” he said. “They said ‘absolutely not’, which was disappointing. I started looking for answers to help understand how to unite the two factions.”

Courageously, Evans, passing himself off as an American journalist doing book research about Ireland’s “troubles”, tracked down and met with Eddie Copeland, the head of the Irish Republican Army. Evans hoped Copeland could provide insights. Copeland told him basketball wasn’t going to make the kids come together and that it would take something more. It inspired Evans to offer the students a trip to the United States.

“The first time these working class boys played together was in Weston, against a well-to-do Catholic high school team,” Evans said. “The ice started to melt and we beat them by 25 points. I’ve never seen a more terrified opposing team.”

Evans and his players returned to Northern Ireland where their season continued. “We were 9-0 then suffered a loss, which seemed to undo everything,” he said. “I knew I had to get the support of the two ringleaders of our team to reverse the negative spin. Our last game was against St. Mary’s, an all-Catholic school. We won the game on a collaborative basket between these two boys.”

In celebration, the team returned to Weston for another visit, staying with local host families. Their last night was spent in New York, where they really bonded, said Evans.

The experience led Evans to found Full Court Peace in 2008, a non-profit organization with a mission of using team basketball to enhance education and build social capital around the world.

“I began rolling out a principle of sports diplomacy wherein basketball serves as a catalyst to break down barriers,” he said. “I’ve applied this since in Havana, Cuba, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.”

Evans said basketball is the only sport in Cuba not controlled by the Communist regime. He set up a youth team there in the summer of 2010. In Mexico, where over 1,000 children have been killed in drug violence since 2006, Evans set up basketball clinics. The latter took kids off the street and taught them Harlem Globetrotter-style trick shots that served to build self-confidence. Locals in both areas have since become advocates for change and are carrying on Evans’ work.

While pursuing a Masters in Social Entrepreneurship at Harvard College, Evans is now turning his attention to domestic division. “I am focusing on fighting the achievement gap between students in Bridgeport, Stamford and Norwalk and those in surrounding affluent communities.”

To learn more about and help support Full Court Peace, email Michael Evans:

Caribiner Climbing Contest Helps Youths Reach New Heights

Caribiner Climbing Contest Helps Youths Reach New Heights
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – They came, they climbed and they conquered.

Over 75 youths ages six to 19 tested their mettle Saturday afternoon at Caribiner Indoor Climbing in Fairfield’s new Sportsplex, 85 Mill Plain Road, in a USAC Sport Climbing Competition. In addition to offering a number of challenging climbs, the event featured a DJ, raffles, frozen yogurt samples from Tasti-D-Lite and a bake sale to raise money for the resident climbing team to attend a national competition. The facility, which is housed in a former factory space, opened August 6, 2010, and has a vertical climbing height of 40 feet.

“This is the first ‘top roping’ competition being held in this location,” said general manager Alicia Aguiar. Top roping is any climbing activity wherein the climber is in a harness attached to a rope secured to a top point and held by a belayer. The belayer is a certified guide who takes the slack out of the rope and is required for any climb at the facility.

Meaghan Smith, coach of the Junior competitive team, gave an overview of the day’s competition. “USA Climbing is a national organization that offers a bouldering series, college series and sport climbing series,” she said. “Today’s competition is a SCS event, primarily youth targeted but open to all ages. There are 67 routes defined across 30 stations. Kids have been divided into categories by age: 11 and under, 12-13, 14-15, 16-17, 18-19 and open. They are scored and verified by belayers who ensure they complete their defined routes. There are degrees of difficulty assigned to routes and points are tabulated accordingly. Participants can climb for the full three hours of the competition but are scored on their top five climbs only.”

Smith said that youths that are USA Climbing members would be accumulating points that count toward a regional competition in Boston, a divisional in Pennsylvania and nationals in Georgia.

At the outset of the contest, member Tyler Cordes, 13, of Shelton, hoped to rise to the challenge. “I’ve been climbing since November,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun, though was a little difficult at first. I’m getting much better. I’ll go on to regionals no matter how I perform today and, if I do well there, I’ll go on to divisionals.”

Cordes’ pal Henry Boyd, 14, of Fairfield, had adopted a similar attitude. “I was excited about this place opening and started climbing late August,” he said. “The climbs are graded 5.4 to 5.14 depending on difficulty. I’ve reached a steady level of 5.10.”

Halie Saferstein, 14, of Weston, was a virtual veteran and a big fan of the facility. “I started doing this around age 7 or 8, in camps and at carnivals,” she said. “Then I climbed at Go Vertical in Hartford. When it closed, I started coming here. The people are really nice and the routes are really good.”

The few parents that were standing by, like Kristin Schleiter of Fairfield, said climbing has been a beneficial pursuit for their children. “It makes my daughter Greta feel empowered and more confident,” Schleiter said. “She really competes against herself. We were so excited when this opened here.”

Classified as a “Junior” climber, Augy Cohn, 18, echoed the benefits that Schleiter’s daughter has experienced. “I’ve been climbing for seven years and it’s a fun way to challenge myself,” he said. “There are times when I think a climb’s going to be hard or I have a scary slip, but I take it in stride.”

It was clear, as participants scrambled up the steep and angular walls and were lowered back down by their belayers, that they enjoyed the day’s contest. Satisfied smiles trumped any feelings of exhaustion as they clipped on and off climbing ropes and rotated from station to station throughout the facility.