Aimee McLaughlin's blog

You want me to try WHAT??? How not to be a food fuddy duddy.

I’ll admit: I don’t set the perfect example when it comes to trying new foods. Last week I nearly lost my ever-living cool when a friend ordered the Pho Chin, Gan (beef brisket pho containing a horrifying ingredient called soft tendon) and insisted that I try a spoonful of the hot, gelatinous goo for myself. My response? Pure repugnance and adamant refusal.

Sometimes you just have a visceral reaction to a food item. Your gut tells you, Do not touch that thing - not with a 10 foot pole, not even with your fingers, and definitely not with your teeth, tongue, or stomach lining.

I see this kind of reaction every now and then in our Community MVPs class, both in response to the usual suspects like mushrooms and olives, and to more unique items like a salted duck egg or a can of fresh sardines. But I’m consistently impressed by the way our teenage participants overcome that feeling and just take a bite anyway.

Like when Ronnie resisted adding mushrooms to a dumpling recipe and then decided to just try one raw… and liked it.

Game Day Favorites


I’m having trouble keeping my mind on work today. For the first time since 1981, my alma mater Clemson University is playing in the National Title Game. I’m counting down the hours and minutes until 8:30pm tonight.

Going off script and off recipe with Community MVPs

Remember that the first time you tried shooting a bow and arrow, maybe at summer camp, and you finally hit the target? Or the first time you re-sewed a button on your favorite shirt? Or the first time you successfully configured a “sum” or “average” formula in an Excel spreadsheet, and it made the project you were working on SO MUCH easier?


It feels pretty good to take on a new task, struggle to learn it, then master it over time. Psychologists say when we practice and master new skills we build something called self efficacy, a belief in one’s own ability to persist and succeed. People with strong sense of self efficacy are shown to be more motivated to take on unfamiliar tasks and less likely to get discouraged. Psychologists also think people with high self efficacy tend to set higher health goals for themselves, so they're less likely to be long term smokers, unhealhty eaters, or sun worshipers. Pretty awesome, right?

Box Project: Highlights and Big Winners

Hey DC eater. Did you miss out on Brainfood Box Project this summer? Maybe your travel schedule had you leaving town every weekend, or your fridge space was already reserved for fresh veggies from another farm’s CSA. Whatever the reason, hold onto your hat and open up your google calendar, because after reading this highlight reel and seeing a selection of this year’s winning recipes, you’ll be itching to plan way ahead for next year’s Box Project CSA.

The Highlight Reel

  • 16 amazing youth (ages 14 - 20)
  • 2 full time staffers
  • 1 part time intern
  • 1 part time volunteer
  • 16 subscribers
  • 6 weeks of handmade, farm fresh boxes
  • 9.65 out of 10 in overall customer service rating
  • 30 prepared foods (5 or 6 recipes each week)
  • 32 varieties of local fruits and veggies
    • Sweet corn

Stepping into Food Entrepreneurship: Brainfood Homegrown at Union Market

What D.C. activities did you get into over the weekend? Have a picnic at the tidal basin? Stroll through the drum circle at Malcolm X Park? Visit a museum on the national mall? While you were enjoying the gorgeous spring weather and all the unique outings D.C. has to offer on Saturday and Sunday, you may not have even realized that Brainfood was up to some exciting D.C. adventures of our own. On Saturday May 2nd, Brainfood Homegrown opened its very own market stand in the ever-tantalizing and delicious Union Market in Northeast D.C.

Did I ever tell you about the time...?

You know the scene that usually plays out when you go home for Thanksgiving? The one where your older relatives start getting nostalgic and telling stories about the past? If your family is like mine, it looks like this: Great Aunt Thelma settles into the cushy arm chair after dinner with a cup of hot chamomile in one hand and a crossword puzzle in the other, adjusts her glasses, and says, “Did I ever tell you about the time…?”


In my family, she would begin with the classics, like the one where uncle Mike, when he was 16, snuck away in Grandpa’s Lincoln Continental and drove doughnuts and figure eights through the neighbor’s front yard. Then she might jump ahead 15 years or so and pull out a picture of me when I was four years old, dressed up as an 80’s rocker, chomping on bubble gum, and banging kitchen pots and pans with wooden spoons.

8 Unsung Heroes of Brainfood in 2014

You’ve seen it on this blog a zillion times: the heartfelt “thank you.” There are so many people who we appreciate at Brainfood, and we’re often bragging about how great they are, from our high schoolers to our staff and volunteers, guest chefs, and donors. At Brainfood, we’re lucky to have so much support, and we’re all about giving credit where credit is due.


But there is also a brigade of behind-the-scenes helpers - a low-profile, tenacious bunch - who we rarely stop to thank publicly and who make our jobs easier, more effective, and just all around more fun. So today I’m shouting it from the (blog) mountaintops: Unsung Brainfood heroes of 2014, this one goes out to you!


1. The jumbo stand mixer – for boosting our output of challah bread, cookies, pizza dough, and other multiple-batch edibles in Box Project this summer. Jumbo stand mixer, we’re in awe of your shiny beaters and paddles. 

Millet and Resiliency: Community MVPs' First Healthy Cooking Demo of 2014-2015

This weekend felt like Autumn. There was a clean crispness in the air, and all of those majestic DC oaks and elms were lit up with orangey yellows and reds. My neighbors at the community garden spent hours piling up cardboard, organic matter, and garden scraps on their now empty beds so the materials can break down over winter and nourish the soil for fertile growing in the spring. It may sound cliche, but everything about the fall reminds me that life is one neverending cycle; that what’s happening now will come to an end but will have a direct impact on how things shake out the next time around. The actions we take to care for the earth, for each other, and for our community today will set the stage for growth and flourishing in the future. There’s something really hopeful and resilient about it.

Trivia, Treats, and Thai Basil: Brainfood goes to Homegrown DC

Homegrown DC logoWhat do you get when you combine 5 eggplants, 10 lbs of pole beans, a gallon of blanched sweet potato greens, and dozens of Thai basil bunches? We asked ourselves that very question earlier this month, as a mild panic set in: Our after-school cooking programs hadn’t started back up for the year, and we were filling our fridges and freezers to the gills with fresh produce from the Brainfood Youth Garden. What were we going to do with all those extra veggies?! Thanks to the folks at Neighborhood Farm Initiative, City Blossoms, and Common Good City Farm, we found the answer last weekend: Homegrown DC, a “hyper-local” farmers market where community gardens, urban farms, and youth gardens like ours can show off what they’ve grown and celebrate delicious foods originating right here in the District.

You know it's a Brainfood summer when...

You know it’s a Brainfood summer when…

1. there's a dance party in the kitchen that involves wigs and sequined sunglasses.

Brainfood grads often have creative streak, and our Box Project class was no exception. After a summer of impromptu singing and some spontaneous kitchen dance routines, we challenged them to channel their talents into a last day music video. Armed with props supplied by Garden Manager Aimee, they created a music video mashup that's still got us laughing.

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