Author Archive

More Ideas for Sustainable Eating

Written by Peter. Posted in Health and Nutrition, Sustainability

-by Ronni Arno Blaisdell and Peter Minde The previous sustainable eating recipes were well received; thank you for reading!  So, we’re sharing more recipes for sustainable eating from Ronni and Peter.  For chocolate lovers, dessert is at the bottom of the page.  Enjoy! Wendy’s Sautéed Tofu
  • 1 block of extra firm tofu
  • ½ tsp fennel seeds, ground
  • ½ tsp coriander
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • 1 clove crushed garlic
  • toasted sesame seed oil – 2-3 tsp
  • 2 tsp Bragg’s aminos
  • nutritional yeast
Drain tofu.  Grind fennel seeds with mortar and pestle.  Marinate tofu for 15 minutes in the next 6 ingredients (fennel seeds through Bragg’s). Remove tofu from marinade.  Dredge in yeast flakes and sauté at medium to medium high heat.   Cosmic Cashew, Kale and Chickpeas Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup raw cashews
  • 1/2 cup hot water
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable bouillon or broth powder
  • 1 large onion
  • 1/2 red bell pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 1/2 cups chickpeas (or one 15-ounce can, rinsed and drained)
  • 1 bunch kale, central stems removed and leaves thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Salt to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Hot sauce, to taste
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons fresh basil, minced 
  1. Soak the cashews for an hour in hot water or overnight in room-temperature water. Drain. Place them in a blender and add 3/4 cup water, 1 clove garlic, and 1 teaspoon of broth powder (or 1 bouillon cube). Blend at highest speed until completely smooth. Set aside until needed.
  2. In a large non-stick skillet, cook the onion until it begins to brown, about 5-7 minutes. Add the red bell pepper and garlic, and cook for another minute. Add the chickpeas, kale, and two tablespoons water. Cover immediately and reduce heat to medium. Cook, stirring often, until kale is tender, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the reserved cashew sauce, oregano, and salt, black pepper, and hot sauce to taste. Cook, stirring, until sauce thickens. If sauce becomes too thick, add a little water to thin. Add the fresh basil just before serving plain, or over rice or quinoa.
Preparation time: 1 hour(s) | Cooking time: 20 minute(s) Number of servings (yield): 4 Source:  Fat Free Vegan Kitchen   Sassy Southwestern Salad
  • 1/2 medium Vidalia or red onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 cucumber, diced
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 2 cups corn (canned or frozen is fine)
  • 2 cups black beans
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes, or salsa
  • 1/2 avocado, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon jalapeno pepper, diced (optional)
  • 1 bunch mixed lettuce
Instructions: Mix all ingredients (except for lettuce) together, and chill. When chilled, serve over bed of lettuce.   Swiss Chard Gratin
  • 1 lb Swiss Chard
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, sliced thin on the vertical
  • 1 ounce grated non dairy cheese substitute (optional)
  • 2 tbs oat bran (or bread crumbs if you prefer)
  • 1 cup vegan béchamel (see below)
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Clean Swiss chard and separate stalks from leaves.  Trim and slice the stalks, setting them aside.  Chop up the leaves. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add the Swiss chard stalks, cooking for 5 minutes.  Add the chard leaves and cook until wilted. Turn up the heat and cook for 3 to 4 more minutes, until liquid is evaporated from the pan.  Otherwise, excess liquid will pool in the baking dish. Mix the chard and onion mixture and béchamel sauce in a bowl, then fold into a lightly oiled baking dish.  Sprinkle oat bran and cheese substitute, if using, on the top.  Bake for 15 minutes.   Vegan béchamel
  • 4 tsp safflower oil
  • 2 tbs flour
  • 1 cup unflavored oat, almond or soy milk
  • Salt, black pepper, and a dash of nutmeg.
Heat the oil in a small saucepan.  Over medium heat, add the flour.  Stir constantly with a wooden spoon for 2-3 minutes. Add the milk, a little at a time, stirring constantly.  Cook over medium heat for 5-7 minutes, stirring constantly.  The béchamel will reduce somewhat and have a thick, velvety consistency.  Remove from heat.  Stir in salt, pepper and nutmeg.   Raw Choco-Cherry Pudding  Instructions:
  • 6 large pitted medjool dates, soaked for 2 hours and drained
  • 1 large avocado
  • 1/4 cup almond milk
  • 2 T cocoa powder
  • 1 cup frozen cherries
Instructions: Put all ingredients in Vitamix or high-powered blender and serve.  

ronni arno blaisdell portraitRonni Arno Blaisdell is a Unity mom to a 7th grader and a 5th grader, a member of the Board of Trustees, and the Co-Chair of the Sustainability Committee.  Ronni is a Holistic Health Counselor and a writer and contributor to numerous health-related magazines, newsletters, websites, and blogs.


P_Minde headshot Peter Minde is a father of a UCS 4th grader and a member of Unity’s Board of Trustees.  He is a freelance writer and is studying to become a personal trainer.


School Spirit Day: One More Reason UCS is Green

Written by Peter. Posted in Whole Child Education

by Tanya Seaward On Friday, March 15th, the Unity Charter School’s Student Council representatives and officers held a special School Spirit Day in honor of St. Patrick’s Day – a “Wearing of the Green” day!  They invited students to break out their brightest greens and shamrock finery to celebrate the greening of the earth all around us.  Take a look and see how our students responded with enough enthusiasm to make you green with envy!
Jen C's class got into the spirit!

Jen C’s class got into the spirit!

Abby K., Naomie Q. and Kira M. show off their green!

Abby K., Naomie Q. and Kira M. show off their green!

Daniel L. and Brandon Z. share their enthusiasm!

Daniel L. and Brandon Z. share their enthusiasm!

Amy V's class has got a green groove going!

Amy V’s class has got a green groove going!

Julia's class shows lots of green spirit (and I love that toothless smile!)

Julia’s class shows lots of green spirit (and I love that toothless smile!)

Stevie R. really gets her shamrock on!

Stevie R. really gets her shamrock on!

  portrait of Tanya Seaward Tanya Seaward is a Unity mom to three students; Jeremy, Abby and Theo.  She is a member of the Board of Trustees and Chair of the Communications Committee.  Tanya is a Chartered Accountant who enjoys gardening and leisurely rides on her bike (no hills please!).          

Outdoor Learning Space Enhances Education

Written by Peter. Posted in Education, Sustainability, Whole Child Education

by Jen Dowd Our hours of daylight are finally getting to be a little more each day as the Earth rotates closer to the sun. The spring equinox has begun, and now each day will grow a little brighter each morning and a little brighter each evening. Spring is a time of growth and movement. It is time to venture out to the garden, ride bikes around the neighborhood, and play outdoors.  In an era of high stakes standardized testing and accountability, successful schools maximize intuitive learning in a limited timeframe.  And outdoor learning is an essential part of education. Children spend about 50% of their waking hours at school five days per week. Teachers and administrators have to make decisions about how to spend that time in order to maximize student learning and growth. School infrastructure is the immediate place-based context where student learning and growth occurs.  Research in multidisciplinary fields shows the benefits of unmediated playtime and structured outdoor learning in healthy school environments on student learning (Stocklin,1998). School decision-making teams that include students, school board members, teachers, parents, and administrators that make decisions about school infrastructure and use it as an integrating context for learning form the basis of sustainable education. School infrastructure conditions impact student learning. School infrastructure includes the facility, equipment, and land. The impact of school infrastructure on student learning can be measured for on standardized tests. In 2001, Lewis found that building conditions accounted for 16% of the variation in student scores on the mathematics component and 14% of the science components of the WSAS, a standardized test (Crampton, Thompson, Vesely, 2004, 32). The conditions of the environment where children spend their time and what they spend that time doing matters. Children are at school in the sunlight hours of the Earth’s revolution in three full seasons of the most limited light. It is only natural for children to spend a lot of time in quality and varied outdoor activities. In an era of education marked by accountability and evaluation, schools need to focus their attention on creating healthy conditions for student growth and learning. Sustainable schools use decision-making teams to impact student achievement by prioritizing healthy infrastructure choices that create favorable conditions for both unmediated play and structured learning. Crampton, F.; Thompson, D.; Vesely, R. (2004). The Forgotten Side of School Finance Equity: The Role of Infrastructure Funding in Student Success. National Association of Secondary School Principals. 88, 640. 29- 51. White, R.; Stoecklin, V. (1998). Children’s outdoor play and learning environments: Returing to nature. Early Childhood News Magazine. White Hutchinson Leisure and Learning Group. March/ April issue. Last Accessed: February 26, 2013.   j-dowd-portrait    Originally from Michigan, Jennifer Dowd is currently the NJ Eco-School Coordinator. Prior to this, she spent the last two years as Teacher Naturalist at NJ Audubon’s Weis Ecology Center and as a guest Naturalist at Duke Farms. She created and designed summer camp curriculum to educate for sustainability by allowing children to creatively play and explore the Highlands region of New Jersey in the Wyanokie Mountains. She graduates from Seton Hall with her ED.S. in Educational Leadership, Policy, and Management in December, 2013. This summer, she will launch an essential oil making service that allow home gardener to turn their plants in to oils, begin a community chicken coop, create a Newsletter on the impact of local, state and federal policies on our children, and spend lots of time out in the forests and rivers with her three children. In her free time, she gardens and makes medicinal tinctures, teas, and liniments in her home, plays with her children, and is an active community member.

Community Coffee: How to Pack a Healthy, Zero Waste Lunch

Written by Peter. Posted in Health and Nutrition, Sustainability

– by Tanya Seaward In February, the Unity Charter School communications committee had a case of writer’s block.  We couldn’t come up with an engaging topic for our March CommUnity Coffee meeting.  Finally, someone suggested “why not ask our commUnity what they would like to discuss?”  Great idea!  We put the idea out there, and got many suggestions in return.  We finally decided to go with Suzanne Dell’Orto’s suggestion of “How to pack a healthy, zero waste lunch.”  At this time of the year, enthusiasm for packed lunches is usually waning, so we thought it would be a great idea to brainstorm some new ideas. We started our discussion with a refresher about what exactly a zero waste lunch is: durable lunchbox, reusable food containers, refillable water bottle, reusable utensils (try a Spork!) and cloth napkins.  Stainless steel or BPA-free and phthalate-free plastic are good choices for containers and water bottles.  We also had some good discussion about the all-in-one and bento-box style lunch kits.   The website Growing a Green Family has some good resources for comparing the different brands available.  Also, thank you to Naomie Quirk and Morgan MacDougall who allowed us to peek inside their Planet Box and Laptop Lunch kits.  Both mom’s reported that these brands were functional, super durable and easy to clean.  The brand Lunch Bots also received honorable mention.  The Vegan Lunchbox, Greenraising, and the Frontier Coop are all great resources for inspirational ideas for a healthy lunch. After we went through the basics of the lunch kit, we turned the discussion to “what to put in it?”  We all agreed that fresh, seasonal, and organic and locally grown (if possible) produce tops the nutrition list, but how to get kids to eat it?  We discussed that keeping lunch fun was especially important for younger kids and picky eaters.  Consider packing foods that have attractive colors, appealing textures, pleasing shapes, manageable sizes, and don’t forget the dips, dressings and condiments.  Also, if your child is tired of sandwiches this time of year, try wraps, fried rice, baked beans, hard boiled eggs, pasta salad, quinoa salad, bean salad or tacos and burritos. I also shared my personal favorite lunch trick – leftovers for lunch!  I usually try to cook extra “thermos-friendly” dishes whose taste and texture don’t break down too much sitting in the lunch box all morning.  I have found that chili, lasagna, mac n’cheese, tortelli, stew, soups, curries, or stir-frys hold up well.  Stacy Havens shared that her friend always freezes these type of leftovers to bring out at a later date; that way they don’t even feel like leftovers! We ended our session with a taste test of one of my kids favorite fast/easy/healthy lunches: black beans, corn and peppers served over brown rice, with salsa and sour cream – Enjoy!   portrait of Tanya SeawardTanya Seaward is a Unity mom to three students; Jeremy, Abby and Theo.  She is a member of the Board of Trustees and Chair of the Communications Committee.  Tanya is a Chartered Accountant who enjoys gardening and leisurely rides on her bike (no hills please!).

Community Service at Unity Charter School: Read-a-Thon

Written by Peter. Posted in Civic Responsibility, Whole Child Education

– by Amy Maturin [Character development is integral to Unity Charter School’s mission.  Helping others – community service – is written into Unity’s charter.  Read how one teacher’s lesson plan provided a valuable lesson in community service to her students. -Ed]  I don’t think we need to be reminded of the devastation Hurricane Sandy left in Morris County and all over the tri-state area.  At Unity Charter School, we were fortunate to only lose power, but some schools and families lost everything and are still unsure when they will be able to return to their homes and buildings. In connection with our discussions about GoodWork, stemming from my work with the GoodWork Toolkit out of Project Zero and Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, and our exploration of our understanding of ethical behavior taking steps to positively affect the world around us, the 1/2 Leatherback Sea Turtles had been originally planning a Read-a-Thon to benefit students around the world who are lacking in resources and materials. After experiencing the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, we decided to shift the focus of the Read-a-Thon to benefit those affected by Hurricane Sandy. Back in November, we celebrated reading as a community to benefit the students and families of Frog Pond Elementary School in Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey. I am happy to report that the Leatherback Sea Turtle 1/2 learning group was able to raise $2,714.06 and as a school, we read for a total of 11,161 minutes (that is 7.75 days!). The Leatherback Sea Turtles are truly appreciative of the generosity of our commUnity and feel lucky to be a part of it! This was a win-win situation for our children, the teachers and our New Jersey community as a whole! photo of writer amy maturinAmy Maturin is in her 6th year of teaching. She previously taught 4th grade, and is now delighted to be in her 3rd year at Unity Charter School and teaching the 1st and 2nd grade multiage class. Amy graduated from Kean University with her B.A. in Early Childhood Elementary in 2007. She is working toward a graduate degree at Teachers College of Columbia University. When not teaching or taking classes, Amy enjoys running and reading. She lives in Bedminster, NJ with her husband, Dan, and cat named Felix.