My friend Barrett Gray, owner of Boyce’s Motel in Stonington, runs the Healthy Island Project’s lunchbox program for senior citizens down here on the island. Every week, individuals get a wellness check-in telephone call from a volunteer, and then on Thursday, they receive lunch, delivered right to their door. In addition to a nutritionally dense meal, lunch bags often include fresh fruits and vegetables, cards and drawings from school children, and pastry items.
The program is truly a community success, engaging the help of over 70 volunteers that make telephone calls, deliver meals, chop vegetables, and bake desserts, breads, scones and muffins. Meals are prepared in the kitchen of the Community of Christ church and feature foods generously donated by local fishers, farmers, and home gardeners. Since March 19, the program has prepared and delivered more than 3500 meals.
When Barrett ask me to help at the start, I jumped at the chance. Turns out, our “clients”, many one or two generations senior to me, have very particular taste preferences. No garlic or heavy spices; yes salt and sugar. Texture is important also; vegetables cooked more thoroughly and no large pieces of food. These seniors enjoy a wide variety of vegetables; spinach, squash, broccoli, green beans, beets, turnip, cauliflower, and lots of potato and gravy.
Although a bit hectic at times, the experience has been a boatload of fun and very educational. Creating and preparing a meal that over 100 seniors will enjoy every week is a mathematical and logistical challenge. Barrett and I have managed quite well with few disasters and very positive feedback. Plus now we have a great collection of recipes.
The recipe for B’s Macaroni Salad is one that Barrett has made for the Salt Air Seniors in the past. We served it up this week as part of a cold plate meal that included Summer Corn Pudding, baked ham, and island – grown cucumbers.
This delicious salad reminds me of a dish my grandmother used to make. Tiny macaroni bites, perfectly cooked, tossed with crunchy cubes of fresh veggies smothered in a tangy dressing. Ideal hot weather food, this salad keeps for several days in the refrigerator where the flavors get even better.
The sweet-and-sour dressing is a snap to prepare in the blender or food processor. Sweet pickles, like Bread and Butter or gherkins, mixed with mayonnaise and yogurt or sour cream, are the piquant, spicy taste that really makes this salad sing.
Is your garden overrun with extra veggies? Chop them into bite-sized pieces and add to the pasta. Anything is fair game, including sweet or hot peppers, summer squash and zucchini, carrots, celery, fennel, tomatoes, scallions, purple onions, and garlic scapes. This macaroni salad mix has plenty of opportunity for cook’s creativity.
As the summer winds down, it’s time for me to switch gears and get ready to teach culinary arts at Deer Isle – Stonington High School. The joy of preparing food for these island seniors is something that I will always treasure. Now it’s time to inspire the next generation!
B’S MACARONI SALAD
For the salad:
- 8 ounces macaroni noodles small ones are best
- 2 cups chopped or diced fresh vegetables or more (red pepper, green pepper, scallions, yellow squash, celery, red onion, garlic scapes, zucchini, carrots)
- 2 hard boiled eggs finely diced
For the dressing:
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons sour cream or yogurt
- ¼ cup sweet pickles with juice
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
- sea salt and fresh pepper to taste
- 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes optional
- Assemble ingredients and tools.
- Cook the macaroni noodles in a large pot of boiling salted water until just tender. Remove from heat, drain, and turn into a large bowl. Drizzle the pasta with some olive oil and gently stir so that the noodles don’t stick together.
- Chop and dice the vegetables and add to the bowl. Peel and dice the eggs and add to the mixture. Stir well.
- In the bowl of your blender or food processor, combine the dressing ingredients and blend until smooth.
- Pour the dressing over the noodles and stir well. Season to taste with sea salt and fresh pepper. If desired, stir in some red pepper flakes.