Keep Austin Fed has been preventing food waste and reducing hunger in Austin since 2004, but it wasn’t until last year that they could hire their first employee.
Thanks to winning the Austin Food & Wine Alliance’s top grant of $10,000, the organization was able give more hours to Executive Director Lisa Barden, who became the organization’s first full-time employee a little more than a year ago.
For more than a decade, Keep Austin Fed operated entirely on volunteer effort. Founder Ira Kaplan gathered the first volunteers in 2004, and the nonprofit became official in 2014. It wasn’t until 2015 that Barden started volunteering.
“I’d watched a movie called ‘Just Eat It’ and was overwhelmed by the amount of food waste, but I was a little incredulous that that much food waste actually exists,” she says. After picking up excess food as a volunteer, she saw what the statistics tell us: Forty percent of food doesn’t actually get eaten.
The quantity of food surprised her, but Barden says she was most shocked by just how many people needed it. “That blew me away even more than the waste,” she says. “I got hooked. The warm fuzzies when you deliver the food is a powerful thing.”
Every month, about 20 to 25 businesses donate about 56,000 pounds of food — that’s almost 50,000 meals — that Keep Austin Fed volunteers pick up and deliver to more than a dozen partner agencies, including Foundation Communities, Caritas, Salvation Army, refugee communities, day habilitation programs and church food pantries.
The highest-volume donors, including Snap Kitchen, Trader Joe’s, Eddie V’s and the Westin Hotel, have scheduled pickups every week, but many donations come in by phone.
After they learn of a donation, Barden puts out the call to volunteers to see if someone is available to transport the food. The organization hasn’t been able to buy trucks or a van to move food, so volunteers, who have been trained in food safety and handling, use their own vehicles. They deliver hot food hot, and most organizations distribute it that way.
Keep Austin Fed relies on a small pool of about 70 volunteers, so they do have to turn away food sometimes, especially on the weekends. “We could rescue so much more food if we had volunteers with flexible schedules,” Barden says. “There’s so much more to be done. We’re hamstrung” by a lack of volunteers. (Interested in volunteering? Go to keepaustinfed.org to find out more.)
At some point, she’d like them to have their own trucks and cold storage, so they could keep donations cool overnight. For now, Keep Austin Fed’s lean machine will keep moving as much food as it can to fight hunger.
Keep Austin Fed accepts donations from anyone, but the food must prepared in a commercial kitchen and can’t have been served on a buffet or to an individual. Barden reminds potential donors that, thanks to laws passed in the 1990s, there are federal protections for people who donate food, so there’s no liability.
In 2016, Snap Kitchen donated more than 200,000 individually packed meals to Keep Austin Fed, and they are on pace to meet that this year. With such high volume, a Keep Austin Fed volunteer comes every day to the Northwest Austin store, where meals from all the area stores are consolidated.
Shaady Ghadessy, marketing manager for Snap Kitchen, says that the company has similar partnerships with food rescue organizations in Plano, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.
Ghadessy says Snap Kitchen employees become invested in the donation as they get to know the volunteers and learn more about where the food is going. “There’s an immediacy. You know they are headed to this place and this is what’s for dinner tonight.”
Homemade noodles add nostalgia to pot of turkey soup
I can think of few comfort foods I love more than my family’s chicken and noodles. My mom learned how to make handmade noodles from one of my dad’s co-workers in the 1990s, and the recipe instantly became a family classic.
It’s a quick dough made with eggs, oil, flour, salt and baking powder — and a pizza cutter makes quick work of cutting the noodles once the dough is rolled out. Drop the noodles in the boiling liquid, cover and cook for 15 minutes if the noodles are really thin or as long as 30 minutes if they are thick.
This is the perfect noodle for a post-holiday pot of turkey soup, so make sure you’ve saved those turkey carcasses. Roasting the turkey bones before making the stock really does make all the different in the flavor. For the first time in the history of my homemade broth-making, I didn’t have to add any salt (or additional bouillon) to the liquid, in part because the turkeys had been brined.
2 eggs, whisked
2 tablespoons oil
6 tablespoons water
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
In a measuring cup, mix together the eggs, oil and water. In a medium bowl, mix together flour, baking powder and salt. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and make a stiff dough. On a floured surface, roll out the dough into a thin rectangle. Use a pizza cutter to cut into thin strips. Place into boiling broth or soup, cover with a lid and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the noodles are cooked. Serves 6 to 8.
— Addie Broyles
Everyday pantry ingredients fill this layered dessert with charm
Reader and local freelance writer Kelly Larson posted a photo on Instagram that made me remember another childhood treat I loved: oatmeal peanut butter bars. As she explained on her blog, Kelly’s Kitchen Creations (kellyskitchencreation.com), this layered bar is a Midwestern dessert through and though. You probably already have the ingredients in your pantry right now, and it’ll feed a whole classroom.
Oatmeal Peanut Butter Bars
When I was a kid in Oklahoma, the school cafeteria food was so good. The lunch ladies served decent meals that included hot, homemade rolls each day and, once a week, the most incredible oatmeal peanut butter bars. That was my favorite day. Everyone in my age range knows exactly what I’m talking about.
After a few decades of missing them, I finally have the recipe that my elementary self dreamed of and hope to pass this on to all who long for those good ol’ cookie bars, or anyone who likes oatmeal, peanut butter and chocolate and hasn’t tried them yet.
— Kelly J. Larson
For the bottom layer:
1 cup butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
2 cups uncooked oatmeal (quick 1-minute style or old fashioned)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup peanut butter
2 cups flour
For the middle layer:
1 cup peanut butter
For the frosting:
1/4 cup butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup milk (plus a few more drops if needed)
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix the bottom layer ingredients together in a stand mixer, then press into the bottom of a large baking sheet (18.5 inches by 13 inches by 1 inch) that has been lightly sprayed with a nonstick cooking spray. Bake for 20 minutes.
Press down the baked cookie base edges that are higher from the rest of the pan while cooling using an offset spreader. Drop spoonfuls of peanut butter randomly across top of baked cookie base to make the middle layer. Spread evenly using an offset spreader.
Mix frosting ingredients together until smooth. Drop spoons full of frosting carefully on top of middle layer, then spread evenly across the top with an offset spatula. Cut into squares and serve. Makes 32 bars.
— From Kelly J. Larson, Kelly’s Kitchen Creations (kellyskitchencreation.com)