Roanna Martin

"make [food] simple and let things taste of what they are." {Curnonsky}

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Literacy and Lesson Plans

This morning Kaitlin and I spent time at a summer literacy program for kids, run by Extension Service. It was the last day of the 6 week program, but the children still seemed to be having fun. Throughout the course of this program, kids have 20 minutes of one on one reading time each day. So this morning I read with 4 different children. Literacy might not be the first thing in your mind when you think of children’s nutrition, but I would argue that working in community nutrition requires a comprehensive approach to education and people. By caring about more in their lives than simply educating them about healthy foods, I demonstrate that I care about them as whole people.

We spent this afternoon in the office, doing computer work and planning.

Our lesson plans have been developed, our materials have been gathered, and our food shopping list is made- we are ready to start 4-H Day Camp next week!



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Pressure Canning Green Beans

Since I’m learning how to use a pressure canner for the first time, I thought I’d write a little tutorial for my blog readers.

First of all, as a disclaimer, there is a lot to be learned about canning, and I’m sure that I will not be covering everything adequately for you to be canning on your own. So please take time to do your own research, and find a friend who has a bit of experience and knows safe canning methods.

First of all, you need some basic equipment.

  • Pressure canner
  • Standard mason-type canning jars.
  • Canning lids
  • Canning rings.
  • Jar lifter.
  • Tested recipe

Did you know although home canning has been around for decades, testing of the procedures was only begun in the 1990’s? So if you are looking to buy a reference book, you should look for something published after 1996. There are likely to be tested recipes similar to old family recipes, but it is important for food safety to use tested recipes. The National Center for Home Food Preservation is a great resource.

You also need the produce that you are going to be canning. For the purpose of this tutorial, I am going to be describing the process of canning green beans.

  • Trim ends and cut beans into 1 inch pieces.
  • Wash beans.
  • Now you have to choose if you are going to hot or cold pack.

You can cook the beans in water before placing in jars in order to fit more in the jars, but the resulting product may not be as firm.  There is little difference in the total length of time that it takes to complete each method, so hot pack is generally preferred. I may play around with this in the future, but for the moment, I am going to go through the hot pack method.

  • Place beans in stockpot, and cover with boiling water. Boil for 5 minutes.
  • Pack beans in clean quart jars. Cover with the water they were cooked in, leaving 1 inch headspace.
  • You can add salt if desired. Contrary to popular belief, salt is not needed for safe preservation-it’s just for flavor. So if you’re trying to watch your sodium intake, home canning beans with no salt might be a good option for you! You can always add salt later.
  • Remove air bubbles.
  • Wipe rim of jar with damp, clean paper towel.
  • Adjust lids.
  • There are 2 types of pressure canners- dial-gauge and weighted-gauge. There are pros and cons to each, but today I’m going to focus on the dial-gauge.
  • Place 2-3 inches of water in the bottom of the canner.

  • Place jars on rack in canner.
  • Turn heat to high.
  • Wait until steam begins to escape in a steady stream, and safety valve has popped up, and then count 10 minutes.
  • Close vent by placing counter-weight on it.
  • Start timing when correct pressure is reached- by looking at pressure gauge.
    • A gas stove allows for quicker adjustment of temperature, so is often more convenient for canning.
  • At an altitude below 2,000 feet, hot and raw-packed beans should be processed for 25 minutes (quarts) or 20 minutes (pints) at a canner pressure of 11 lb.

  • After time is finished, turn off heat, and wait until the canner has depressurized. With the dial gauge, you  wait 1 minute after the indicator arm has dropped to zero.
  • Remove counter-weight and wait for 10 minutes. Never force cool a canner.
  • Remove lid from top of canner- opening away from face.
  • Remove jars from canner with a jar lifter and place on a padded surface.
  • Wait 12-24 hours.
  • Remove rings, wipe, and store jars in a cool dark dry place between 50 and 70 degrees F.


It looks like a lot of work, and does take a bit of practice, but I think that preserving your own food is completely worth it.

I’m not partial to canned green beans- I grew up simply blanching and freezing ours and I like the taste of frozen green beans. However, when freezer space is at a premium, I can see how canning green beans would be convenient. On the flip side, there are likely more vitamins (I’m thinking particularly vitamin C) that would be lost in canned beans since there is more heat processing.

According to the University of Georgia, recent research shows that for some products such as tomatoes, pressure canning results in a higher quality and more nutritious product than food processed in a boiling water bath. This is likely due to the shorter processing time.

And in case you were wanting to catch a glimpse of yesterday’s gems:

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Home Canning 101

One of the services that Extension offers is home food preservation workshops. This evening, after hanging out with upper elementary kids for the afternoon and talking about the difference between serving sizes (the amount listed on food packages) and portion sizes (the amount of food that we actually consume) we helped to host a “Canning Foods at Home” Workshop. The importance of proper canning to eliminate the chance of growth of Clostridium Botulinum (a highly dangerous toxin) was emphasized.

I grew up canning with my mom and grandmothers, but I’ve never had a formal canning class. So I learned a few things today- I don’t actually have to boil the lids in water before placing them on top of jars. You can simply pour boiling water over the lids sitting in a bowl. That simplifies life for me. Also, I was confirmed in my belief that using  a dishwasher with a heated dry cycle is sufficient to “sterilize” jars prior to canning. I was also introduced to a new tool- a little plastic knife with gradiated levels to measure the amount of headspace in a jar.

The class of five women this evening whipped up a batch of sweet pickles and a batch of strawberry jam. All of them were pretty new to canning, so it was fun to hear their questions and learn alongside with them.

The pickles are about ready to be lowered into the water.

My family typically makes freezer strawberry jam, so this was my first time to make a cooked jam. And to be honest, when I attempted to make that by myself in June it didn’t gel. So it’s great to sit in on a class with an expert- the Extension Agent.

These strawberries are all smashed and ready to go…

Check back soon for some pictures of the lovely finished product!

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High Schoolers and Whole Grains

On Tuesday morning, a group of gifted high school students came to the Extension office. They are at a camp at WVU for the week, and learning about metabolic syndrome- a group of risk factors that occur together and increase the risk for coronary artery disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. So, they were using the kitchen at the office as a lab to whip up some recipes and compare calories and nutritional value. Even though I didn’t even know the program was going to occur before the event, I was able to step right in and guide the students through chopping up some fruit and making a delicious banana strawberry smoothie. Everything went well, except for accidentally leaving the spigot on the blender open and watching milk pour everywhere. But the mistake was recovered, and the healthier version of the smoothie won the taste test.  The youth also mixed up some brownies- both a regular recipe and Chef AJ’s black bean brownies. The black bean brownies won by a long shot in both taste and nutrient quality. They not necessarily lower in calories, but they tasted decadent and had more fiber- a great plus.

After spending time with the high schoolers, we went to speak with a group of adults about the importance of eating whole grains. It seems like I’ve talked with a lot of people about the concept of a whole grain- germ, bran, and endosperm over the past few days. 

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Cool as a cuke. That’s what we talked about with a group of students in the Boys and Girls Club yesterday.

After spending the morning working on curriculum, we accompanied the youth Nutrition Outreach Instructor to a program at a local park. We talked about being “Media Savvy”- a very important theme in our world today.  These children, in grades 3-5, are bombarded daily by media messages telling them to EAT THIS or DON’T EAT THAT. In addition, there are toys in cereal boxes and other incentives to influence purchases. So we want our kids to be able to make informed decisions on their own.

Each child got to devise an advertisement for their own healthy food that they then presented to the group. We took some time to do a group physical activity, passing colored balls representing the different food groups around a circle with our elbows. This age group is a lot of fun to work with.

Thankfully it was cooler under the shade of the pavilion than in much of the area around, but still, the kids were ready to try a refreshing treat at the end of the lesson. We did a taste test to compare cucumbers that had been soaked in vinegar for a few hours with fresh cucumbers. Personally, the vinegar cukes were a bit too strong and I preferred the plain ones, but a few brave children were enamored with the tangy version.

Nothing like a great cucumber to cool off on a hot summer day!

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Veggies and Fruits

Two more days of 4-H camp, complete. On Thursday, we talked about an under-celebrated food group: Vegetables. I think they are absolutely lovely, and delicious, and fun. There are endless possibilities of ways to enjoy and prepare vegetables, and infinite varieties of vegetables beyond whats available in the grocery store (but that’s a story for another day).

To start off, we practiced measuring skills to make an “Herb Veggie Dip” with part low fat mayo and part plain nonfat yogurt. It was a big hit with the kids. Then the kids refreshed their grating skills from the other day, and made corn fritters and zucchini fritters. The nice thing about this recipe is that we could have two groups of kids mix up their own batter, and then add their own “mix-ins” to make the two separate kinds of fritters.

Vegetable Fritters

  • 1/3 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
  • 2 eggs, beaten

Mix to form a smooth batter. Add one of the options below and mix gently.  Very lightly spray a frypan with oil and heat to medium hot. Drop a large spoonfll of batter onto frypan. Fry until golden, turn and cook on second side until done.


Summer Squash Option:

  • 3 cups summer squash, shredded
  • 1/3 cup onion, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley (chopped)


Corn Option

  • 2 cups corn
  • 2 tablespoons milk
The kids did a great job of flipping the fritters on the cast iron skillets.

The campers taught Kaitlin and I a song about corn…. let’s just say it involved yelling and jumping around. It was absolutely fantastic. I love the energy in this age group!

We finished off the week at camp with a lesson about fruit. We learned about the state fruit of West Virginia: the Golden Delicious Apple. Did you know that there is even a Golden Delicious Festival in Clay County, the home of the now famous variety?

We gave each child an apple and a paring knife. Daring, I know, but I firmly believe that every child should be given the opportunity to learn how to prepare food for themselves. And preparing whole foods often requires cutting. (Don’t worry, the burner was turned off at this point!)

So, after the kids had chopped their apples and thrown them in the pot to simmer for applesauce, we moved on to making skillet granola.

A few weeks ago I was reading a cooking blog and noticed that you can make granola on the stovetop in a skillet. This fit in perfectly with our curriculum for the week, so we stirred up some granola on the stovetop.

As we recapped the week over bowls of piping hot applesauce and crunchy granola, it was fun to hear the kids feedback on the week. I think that every single recipe was listed as someone’s favorite, and many of the campers said that they hoped to make their recipes at home.

Overall, 4-H camp was a rousing success.



Basic Quesadillas and Broccoli Chicken Frittata

Two days of cooking class have come and gone, with only one trip to the camp nurse for a bandaid.

After spending the majority of last week designing curriculum, it has been ridiculously fun to actually hang out with the kids, and watch them take on the cooking class. We have two groups of students, both of whom really seem to enjoy the class.

Yesterday we learned about what a cast iron skillet is, and talked about dairy and whole grains. After a brief lesson on cooking safety, we made simple quesadillas by grating cheese and using whole grain tortillas. We topped them with salsa, and talked about how we could add other things to the inside to make them even more delicious.


Today we started off by learning some basic measuring skills, knife skills, and a lesson on proteins. To be honest, I didn’t know what a frittata was before preparing for this class, but it’s basically an omelet that you don’t flip. The kids paired off to cut broccoli, chunk chicken, mince onion, grate cheese, “punch” and then cut peppers, and crack eggs. I am a firm believer in getting kids involved in the process of preparing food, and it was so gratifying to see them take ownership of the meal they were preparing.


I think my favorite quote of the day went something like this, “I don’t like eggs or chicken or broccoli, but this was really good.” As we sat around the table talking about the textures and flavors of the food they were eating, the kids came up with some great suggestions of other things they could put in with a frittata. We played a revved up version of “Rock Paper Scissors” where everyone starts out as an egg and progresses to a chicken, and then a dinosaur with “claws”.  This was a great fit because of the eggs and chicken in our dish, and the “claws” reinforced the lesson on knife safety- how we curve our fingers to avoid cutting them.


Here’s the recipe for the Broccoli Chicken Frittata, adapted from the WVU Extension Services Dining with Diabetes curriculum:

Broccoli Chicken Frittata

  • 2 tsp margarine
  • 1 cup finely chopped, fresh broccoli florets
  • 1 cup diced red pepper
  • 6 oz boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked and finely diced
  • 1/4 cup diced onions
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 1/3 cup grated reduced-fat cheddar cheese
  • 8 eggs

In a large skillet, heat margarine over medium heat until melted. Add broccoli, red pepper, chicken, onion, thyme, oregano, and black pepper, sauteing until vegetables are tender and chicken is heated through.

Sprinkle grated cheddar evenly over surface of vegetable mixture.

Pour egg evenly over all ingredients.

Cover and cook for 8-10 minutes or until firm. Cut into wedges and serve.